Letters to the Editor
THE PROPOSED GAELIC UNIVERSITY FOR THE HIGHLANDS
[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.]
SIIE—Your South African correspondent, a crofter's son and native Gaelic speaker who would welcome the extinction of Gaelic, is clearly as far from the land of his fathers in spirit as in body. One recalls a comment made by Dr. Johnson, during his tour of the Hebrides, on finding that a certain Highland chief, whom he had previously met and admired in London as an Oxford-bred scholar and man of the world, had aban- doned the old patriarchal attitude of the chief to his clansmen for that of the feudal lord to his vassals. No Highland chief, he asserted, ought to be allowed to go further south than Aberdeen ; for whilst a sufficiently strong nature might be improved by a southern education, the majority would be spoiled by it. Apparently our crofters' sons are no more immune than their chiefs from the insidious influences of our modern materialistic civilization. " Give us more English ! " cries your correspondent. By all means ; but less Gaelic does not mean more English : on the contrary. Here is a recent utterance of another • native Gaelic speaker—Sir Donald McAlister, Principal of the University of Glasgow :-
" We believe, nay we know from experience, that a Highland (hind, who is taught from the outset bilingually, is more susceptible of higher education in all subjects than a chad, whether in Scotland or England, whose elementary instruction is given through English only. We therefore urge that every child, whose home language is Gaelic, should be taught in our Highland schools to read and write Gaelic as ho is taught to read and write English. The effect of this training has proved to be not only that he gains access to Celtic literature, but that his progress in English becomes surer and speedier, and his intellectual grasp becomes wider and stronger. Having already command of two tongues, differing in structure and idiom, he can make comparisons and compare analogies. He gains in fact the mental aptitude and versatility that, in the public schools of the South, the Southron is supposed to gain from his training in Latin or Greek. And he gains it the more certainly in that his second language is to him a living vernacular, in which he can con- stantly exercise himself colloquially, and not a dead language that he never speaks. Moreover, his Gaelic is a language so rich pho- netically, and so diverse from English in its grammar and phrasing, that he is thereby prepared, as no Englishman is, for the easy acquisition of other modern languages. Not only his tongue, but his mind becomes adaptable, and he is the better fitted to make headway in foreign lands and new surroundings, wherever his lot may be cast."
The education authorities of a generation ago were so strongly of your correspondent's view that the school-children found guilty of using their barbaric mother-tongue within the school precincts were systematically ridiculed and thrashed. The education authorities of to-day arc hard put to it to undo the mischief wrought by the misguided zeal of their prede- cessors ; but thanks to a steadily increasing number of native enthusiasts, supported by foreign (mainly German) scholars who have restored to our ancient tongue its lost prestige, its high place in the Aryan group, there are to-day six times the number of children receiving instruction in Gaelic in Highland schools than there were twenty-five years ago, whilst higher Celtic studies are being pursued in places as far apart as Aberdeen and Oxford.
Not only would the individual Gael suffer if deprived of the spiritual heritage contained in his language and literature, but English literature would be the poorer by the drying up of one of her main sources of inspiration.
It has been said that nearly every Irish writer of distinction is of at least partial English stock. Might it not with equal justice be claimed that nearly every distinguished English writer has a Welsh grandmother ? Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Keats, Byron, Burns, to cite but a few—one can almost tell by a pricking of one's thumbs where the Celtic blood has leavened the Saxon. In a word, the genius of this great com- posite British race is essentially not Anglo-Saxon but Anglo- Celtic, and if the Celtic element is allowed to perish at its source well may our poets go a-keening. "• The Highlands, the Highland people, and the Gaelic tongue,” wrote a Lowland enthusiast the other day, " these
are the essential, inseparable components of the Celtic spirit in Scotland. Keep them together, and the Celtic spirit
'Ives. Separate them, and it will evaporate like some precious essence that only Nature can compound and distil." As to the proposed Gaelic college : is it not a curious and arresting fact that in this twentieth century u number of citizens of the United States of America, most of them hard- headed business men and many without a drop of Highland or even Lowland blood in their veins, should have banded themselves together for the purpose of presenting Scotland with " an educational institution for the preservation and encouragement of Celtic culture, and Particularly the culture of the Scots Gael," in token of their appreciation of the Scottish Highlander's contribution to American civilization ?
The name, "The American Iona Society," is suggestive, for was not Iona in fact the first Scottish University, a centre of learning as well as of religion, " the Lamp that lighted pagan Europe " centuries before Oxford or St. Andrews came into being? The idea appeals to the imagination. Is it practicable ? At least let us not condemn it without the fullest consideration. " No further south than Aberdeen;' said Dr. Johnson. But Aberdeen is too far east. Aberdeen is in essence Scandinavian. And if there is no room in Lochaber or in all our gulden West for a full-blown University like the great four, surely there is room for what we may call a College, where our language, our literature and our music may be cherished and draw sap from Highland soil ; a college that will draw not only native scholars but those of many lands, who will give out freely to the world, as did the monks of Iona in days gone by, the riches of our racial heritage. Are these American business men the victims of mirage, or arc they, as I for one believe, just keen business men with a finer set of values than most ?-