1 SEPTEMBER 1866, Page 19


WE are informed by Sir Walter Scott that when, in company with a party of friends, he first set foot on the Isle of Skye, his first thought and that of all his fellow-voyagers, as all simultaneously stated, was of Johnson's famous Latin Ode. They were all haunted by it ; and we suspect that few travellers have visited the Hebrides since the Journey was published without some over- shadowing from the spiritual presence of the adventurous and enthusiastic lexicographer. In Iona especially, as the present writer can testify, the words of Johnson keep sounding iu the memory of the visitor, and we must in honesty confess that in opening this delightful volume our first wish was to ascertain if the Bishop of Argyll had reproduced the passage on the " Ruins of Iona" which took our ancestors by storm, the respectable Presi- dent of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, being, as Boswell tells us, so much struck on reading it, that he clasped his hands together, and remained for some time in an attitude of silent admiration! The rolling apostrophe has its place of honour in Dr. Ewing's pages, and due reverence is paid to the memory of the gallant pilgrim, who, when oppressed with years and failing health, braved the storms of the Hebrides in the late autumn, in an open boat, " happy as a lover," resting not until he could write, "We were now treading that illustrious island which was once the luminary of the Caledonian Iolanda, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion."

If we fancy that we can afford to smile now at the rhetoric of Johnson, historical research is every day justifying the instinct of wonder and veneration which led him to Iona, and is revealing to us how much Europe owed to the island, and to the Celtic Christianity which made it the head-quarters of a very wide- spread missionary enterprise.

The volume before us consists of two parts, an account, with illustrations, of the ruins of the Cathedral of Iona as they now exist, and a sketch of the history of early Celtic Christianity, and specially of the mission of St. Columba. The former, by the Messrs. Buckler, of Oxford, is very complete and satisfactory. The letter-press is luminous and uupedantic, and with the aid of the plates will enable even the reader who is but slightly acquainted with the mysteries of Church architecture to form a very clear conception of the form, size, and style of the noble abbey and adjoining monastery, as they originally stood, occupy- ing an area of more than three acres.

No portion, however, of these magnificent remains dates from that period of the history of Iona which has most interest for us, and readers of the Record and of the Religious Tract Society's publications should be duly warned against a false enthusiasm, in case any of them may be meditating a visit to Iona during these • The Cathedral or Abbey Church of Iona. A series of drawings and descriptive letter-press of the ruins. By the Messrs. Bucklers, atchiteots, oxford ; and some account of the Early Celtic Church and of the Mission of at Cul:stubs. By the Bight Rey. the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles. London: Bay and Son. holiday weeks ; for the ruins are not, as one of the Society's writers affirms, " memorials of the zealous and devoted labours of St. Columba and his associates." Their architecture is that of the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, and, as the author to whom we have just referred tells us truly that a general conformity with the Church of Rome, doctrinal and ritual, had been established throughout Scotland in the eleventh century, the builders must have been children of the " Scarlet Lady." Consequently, what remains of their handiwork—being, moreover, so exceedingly un- like the style of Exeter Hall—" cannot fail," indeed, "to excite the deepest emotion in the heart of the Christian ;" but then, if he be of the genuine Tract type, that emotion will be one of profound thankfulness for the light which was denied to them. For clearly, in " taking our walks abroad," either among the ruins of the past or the raggedness of the present, gratitude for favours withheld from others should be the burden of our song, unless Dr. Watts was not the poet elected of Heaven to teach our nurseries philan- thropy.

For ourselves, we must regret that we can only speak in general terms of the many tokens of architectural genius which Iona still pre- serves, and which will survive, we cannot but think, in the pages of the volume before us, when the symmetry of circular massive doorway, the flowing grace of pointed window, and the exquisite sculpture of the sedilia in the choir, and that of the canopy and corbel of the adjacent piscina will have passed away from the ruins themselves.

But, as we have said, it is the earlier chapters of the history of Iona which have the chief attraction for us. These are furnished by the Bishop of Argyll, and having had occasion recently to record our sympathy with Dr. Ewing as a theologian, we have equal satisfaction now in speaking of him as an historian. Within a wonderfully brief space he has told us the story of the life of the remarkable Irishman to whom Iona owed its European celebrity, and in a graceful, temperate, and coherent narrative he has given us the results of the latest researches into the origin, peculiarities, and activities of the ancient Celtic Church in Scotland and Ireland. We say Celtic, for the Christianity which Columba carried with him to Iona had not reached Ireland through a Romish channel. It had come to those Scots of Erin, who afterwards impressed their name upon the whole of the northern half of Great Britain, by means of the intercourse which existed between the members of the one great Gaelic family.

The European head-quarters of this family were in Gaul ; but Galatia, in Asia Minor, was a Celtic colony, being either a portion of the original Celtic wave which had broken off, so to speak, and never advanced further westward, or a refluent stream of popula- tion ; and as it is undoubted that the Celtic-speaking Churches of Vienne and Lyons derived their Christianity from the East, it is highly probable that Galatian missionaries introduced it. It is but natural, and scarcely an assumption, if we further suppose that, either directly or indirectly, the Celts of these islands were also indebted for their Christianity to brethren from Galatia. In any case, the differences between the Roman and Celtic Churches in such matters as the time of celebrating Easter, the celibacy of the clergy, and others of considerable moment, were presumptive proofs that the early British Church had not been an offshoot from the Italian vine. But the question now is removed beyond the sphere of conjecture ; for fragments of liturgies, which may be as old as the third century, and which are certainly not of later date than the fourth or fifth, have been discovered, and these pronounce unmistakably in favour of the Asiatic origin of the first Christian Church in this country.

In old Ireland, however, all Celts were not of equal calibre. There was an inferior type which did not embrace Christianity, and their defeat in battle by their abler brethren has been sung to us by their own Ossian. Our readers must not suspect our gravity as we thus write, and in Bishop Ewing's volume they will find speci- mens of Ossianic poetry of which Johnson himself could scarcely doubt the genuineness and antiquity, in presence of the proofs now before us. One element of this poetry is too characteristic not to be noticed here, and that is a certain defiant tone (ultra- Broad Church, some might say) in which the bard indulges when speaking of the exclusive claim to heaven advanced by the Christian priesthood. A forger of a later day would hardly have ventured to employ such language, or rather, as Dr. Ewing suggests, the notions conveyed by the language were almost incon- ceivable by the mediaeval mind. The following lines, in a very dramatic dialogue between St. Patrick and Ossian, call to mind very forcibly the words of the Teutonic chief who chose to go without baptism, preferring to join his ancestors anywhere after death rather than to be in heaven without them. We can only

quote them and leave them to tell their own story, with the remark that, on the whole, Ossian the pagan is to us fully as Christian in his sympathies as those who hold that for moral heathens and immoral Christians alike the one certainty is everlasting damns- tion :-

"'Tell ns, 0 Patrick! what honour is ours ?

Do the Feine of Ireland in heaven now dwell ?'

In truth, I can tell thee, Ossian of Fame,

That no heaven has thy father, Oscar, or Gaul.'

Sad is the tale thou. tallest me, priests

I worshipping God, while the Feine have no heaven.'

`Shalt thou not fare well thyself in that city,

Though ne'er should thy father, Caoilte, and Oscar be there?' Little joy would it bring me to sit in that city,

Without Caoilte and Oscar as well as my father.' * * e a e * a •

How different Mac-Cumhail, the Feins* noble King ! All men uninvited might enter his great house. Reproachful are the words thou speakest of the great King. I will forgive thee, Cleric, though thou dost not tell.' "

The victorious Celts—Scots or Milesians—having become dominant. in Ireland, in course of time passed over to Cantyre—only some twelve miles distant from Rathlin—and there established a colony which gradually spread itself as far as Breadalbane in the east and the Isle of Skye in the north. To this division of the Celtic family St. Columba belonged, and Iona was already part of its possessions, when in 563 the great missionary first landed on its. shores. He was then in his forty-second year, having been born at Garten, in Donegal, in 521. From the King of the Scots, who was his own near kinsman, he received a grant of the island before he made it his home, and from the hour of his arrival he began those labours from which he never rested until, amid the great lamentation " of his associates and in the seventy-ninth year of his age, he went up to still nobler work.

We find St. Columba, with his " tall and gentle aspect, and a voice so loud and melodious that it could be heard at a mile's- distance," losing no time in beginning his missionary journeys. He visits the pagan Pictish King in the neighbourhood of Inverness ; and then, so incessant and so successful are his undertakings in preaching, founding monasteries (some fifty-one in Scotland alone), and in erecting churches, that there is scarcely a parish in the north and west of Scotland, or the west and south of Ireland, where his name is not fresh and venerated to this day. But for further details we must refer our readers to Bishop Ewing's attractive pages. There exists a somewhat curious Gaelic prophecy, one well known to most Highlanders, that " Iona shall one day be as it was," and possibly some may even dream of a resuscitation of monastic life in the island. To alter slightly Johnson's words, such a resuscita- tion would, as we think, " be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and foolish if it were possible." St. Columba's mantle, we cannot but believe, has fallen on his successor, the present Bishop of Iona, and we can scarcely imagine a greater boon, not only to the diocese of Argyll, but to the whole estate of the Catholic Church, than that the " Celtic Christianity" of Dr. Ewing, in its bearing: especially on the three great questions left open by the Privy Council—Inspiration, the Atonement, and the Future discipline of the human family—should be proclaimed from all our pulpits.