Dùsgadh agus Mosgladh: Catrìona NicGhille-Bhàin Ghrannd, Dùsgadh na Féinne (1908) & Calum Mac Phàrlain, Am Mosgladh Mòr (1914-15)

This post written by Dr Sìm Innes, Oilthigh Ghlaschu

[English translation follows below]

Is iomadh uair ri linn an Athbheothachaidh Cheiltich a chualas gun robh na Gàidheil, neo na h-Albannaich gu lèir, air dùsgadh, no an impis dùsgadh, air neo gun robh an t-àm aca dùsgadh. Thug Lachlann MacBheathain (1853-1931) òraid do Chomunn Gàidhlig Inbhir Nis ann an 1896 air an robh ‘The Mission of the Celt’. Bha MacBheathain, a thogadh ann an Cill Taraglain, na fhear-deasachaidh air a’ phàipear The Fifeshire Advertister. Bha e ri eadar-theangachadh agus sgrìobhadh na Gàidhlig cuideachd.[1] Na òraid, thòisich e le bhith a’ toirt sùil air eachdraidh an Athbheothachaidh is thuirt e:

The Gael suddenly awoke to the alarming fact that his native tongue, which more than anything else was the distinguishing mark of his tribe, was dying out before the tongue of the Southron. The thought touched his sensitive and melancholy nature as nothing else could…. Having now glanced over this heaving tide of new Celtic life which has overflowed the fields of literature, music, customs, and social progress, it remains for us to ask, What of the future? The Gael are awakening to consciousness, and as a man when he becomes conscious, first asks, What am I? Whence am I? What am I here for? So the Gael must ask, What are we? What are our capabilities? What is our destiny? … Well, now, we have looked at these three curents of our times – the rising tide of Celtic revival among ourselves, the flow of Celtic sentiment and ideas in English life and literature, and the stream of Celtic blood into city life – and we should now be in a position to guess what is the mission and destiny of the Celt. It is surely by infusion of ideas and transfusion of blood to leaven modern civilization with its own awakening spirit.[2]

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A thousand years of Star-Eyed Deirdre

In this post, Kate Mathis explores the significant achievement of Louey Chisholm’s *Celtic Tales Told To the Children(1910) —    a portrait of Deirdre which preserves some of the intricacy, danger, and violence of a thousand-year-old Gaelic tale…

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Sarah’s recent post on Ella Young (1867-1956) introduced us to her best-known, beautifully-illustrated work, Celtic Wonder Tales, published in 1910 in collaboration with Maud Gonne. The copy belonging to the Museum of Childhood, owned formerly by our elusive reader, Dora Rose, contains two of the loosely-linked group of tales known to scholars of medieval Gaelic literature as ‘The Three Sorrows of Storytelling’, whose origins extend at least as far back as the fifteenth century. Ella included ‘The Children of Lir’ as well as ‘The Eric-Fine of Lugh’ (a simplified version of Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann, ‘The violent death of Tuireann’s children’, in which three brothers attempt, unsuccessfully, to placate the king of the Tuatha De Danann), but she omitted the other, which is of even greater antiquity and by far the most famous of the three.

Often referred to, erroneously, as ‘the story of Deirdre’, it is more than a thousand years old, composed in Ireland during the eighth or ninth centuries, written down in the twelfth (as Longes mac n-Uislenn, ‘The exile of Uisliu’s sons’), and a regular source of inspiration to historians of the Gaels like Seathrún Céitinn (ca. 1569-ca. 1644) as well as to their poets and seanchaidhean (tradition-bearers). The prominence of Deirdre, by no means the tale’s original focus, was developed most notably during the Celtic Revival (ca. 1880-ca. 1920), when the various tragedies of her short-lived life were explored, by both Scottish and Irish writers, in nearly thirty plays, novellas, and epic poems. One of these authors, ‘Fiona Macleod’ (alter-ego of Paisley-born critic and travel-writer William Sharp), exclaimed approvingly that “the name of Deirdre has been as a lamp to a thousand poets”. Continue reading

Mona Margaret Noel Paton (1860-1928), ‘a gifted teller of tales’

A visit to the Museum of Childhood’s archive one afternoon uncovered a forgotten Scottish Victorian children’s writer. Here, Sarah introduces the fairytale, folkloric worlds of Mona Paton…

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In 1871, Charles Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll, paid a visit to the island of Arran to see the Edinburgh painter, Joseph Noel Paton, bearing a letter of introduction from George MacDonald. Paton had a reputation as a distinguished artist of religious and mythic subjects but it was as a painter of beautiful and bizarre fairyscapes that he had piqued Carroll’s interest. Though John Tenniel’s images for the Alice books are now much loved, it was Paton whom Carroll had initially wanted as an illustrator for Wonderland’s first publication two years prior.

Mona’s father, the painter Joseph Noel Paton; the family lived at 33 George Square, Edinburgh

One of Paton’s most famous fairy paintings, The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania (1847)

Despite it being a ‘rainy and misty’ September day, Carroll records that he had a delightful time with Paton, his wife, Maggie, and their large family who were holidaying, as they frequently did, on Scotland’s west coast. This marked the beginning of a long-standing acquaintance with one of Paton’s daughters, Mona Margaret Noel (1860-1928), who was then eleven years old.[i] In a later memoir, Joseph Noel Paton’s granddaughter gives this lovely description of Mona as having:

 more than her share of artistic temperament (the ‘DAT’ as those of the family who suffered from it most, called it). High-spirited, determined (sometimes pigheaded), a gifted teller of tales, a not unaccomplished pianist, a sweet singer, a clever mimic, Mona also had ‘the sight’. She grabbed life with both hands and  thereby suffered much. Her appearance was striking. She adored her father and, with hair waving crisply back from her forehead, appears in a number of his paintings, sometimes as angel, sometimes as devil’.[ii]

Mona, for instance, is known as ‘the curly headed imp’ who appears as a group of wild yet cherubic fairy children (three of her siblings) in one of Paton’s most popular paintings, ‘The Fairy Raid’.[iii]

Eighteen years later Mona would have a volume of fairy tales published by a small Edinburgh printer  —  retellings of Beauty and the Beast and Jack the Giantkiller.  The former is essentially drawn from the literary fairy tale culture of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, particularly associated with women writers, though stories of forbidden, ‘monstrous’, or cross-species desire go deep in terms of cultural and historical lineage (the tale of Cupid and Psyche, for example). The latter, on the other hand, springs out of indigenous folkloric and popular tale traditions of the British Isles.

This is a beautiful book —  sharp, funny, tender, and bizarre —  but scarcely well-known,   forgotten amongst a plethora of Victorian fairytale literature. But amidst the depth of a dusty box in the Museum of Childhood’s archive it surfaced one day. With a pale ivory background, text and image in what might best be termed a ‘rusty’ or garnet-coloured ink, and marginal embellishments at the top and foot of each page in neo-Celtic design, Paton’s book was designed to have an ‘antique’ feel even then. Read in an afternoon, it convinced us that Mona Margaret Noel Paton deserves her own place in the history of Scottish children’s literature.

Here, then, is a little taste of how she reimagines such two ‘very old’ fairy tales…. Continue reading

‘Celtic Tales Told to the Children’

Eighteen months on from our first descent into the Museum of Childhood’s basement vault and every box still tells a story. In one we opened lay two beautifully illustrated volumes from the early twentieth century. Several threads bound them together —  pooled from the same body of legends and stories from the great literary cycles of Irish and Scottish tradition, they show how the development of children’s literature pierces at the heart of questions about culture and identity, tradition and ‘belonging’.   And how the seedstore of myth and legend is an ever-present inspiration for creators of children’s stories…

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‘It was Aibric who remembered the story of the children of Lir, because he loved them. He told the story to the people of Ireland, and they were so fond of the story and had such pity for Lir’s children that they made a law that no one was to hurt a wild swan, and when they saw a swan flying they would say: “My blessing with you, white swan, for the sake of Lir’s children!’ –  fromThe Children of Lir’
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Celtic Wonder Tales (1910) was the work of Ella Young (1867-1956), an Irish nationalist, Republican sympathiser, and poet. Born into a Presbyterian, unionist family in the north of Ireland, she learnt Irish Gaelic and became a member of the Dublin Theosophical Society (and a correspondent of W.B. Yeats). Absorbed by traditions of Irish mythology and storytelling, in 1910 she produced this volume of stories — each of them quite short but diverse in their range and scope.

They were accompanied by illustrations made by her friend, Maud Gonne (1866-1953), the English-born Irish revolutionary, campaigner, and suffragette — and famously beloved by Yeats. The volume was a labour of love which stemmed from the shared artistic and political interests of these two women. These in turn had grown out of the movement usually known as the Celtic Revival which had gathered energy from the 1880s onwards, building on earlier folk-collecting impulses and political movements to forge a new distinct sense of Irish vernacular culture, language, and identity (the National Literary Society was founded in 1892, for example; the Gaelic League in 1893). Continue reading

Jessie Saxby (1842-1940) – Shetland’s first children’s writer

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, our blog this week is the first in a series on the unmarked contributions of early women writers to the history of Scottish children’s literature. Today it’s the turn of the prolific Jessie Margaret Edmonston Saxby (1842-1940) who transposed the Victorian boys’ adventure story to the Shetland islands, where she was born, and invented beautiful worlds of fairytale wintriness in her poetry and short stories for younger children…

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Katherine Cameron’s beautiful cover for *Celtic Tales told to the Children*

J.K. Rowling is the inheritor of a neglected tradition. From the early nineteenth century onwards, women have written children’s literature in Scotland but their books, and their lives, have largely been forgotten. Scottish women have also played a significant role as the illustrators and designers of children’s books —  Jessie M. King (1875-1949), for example, who created images for Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, among many other works of fantasy and fairytale, or the less well-known Katherine Cameron (1874-1965) who produced illustrations for Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies as well as for collections of Celtic ballads for children. And for centuries, of course, they have been the transmitters and inheritors of oral tradition and its wealth of ballads and folktales who are occasionally remembered as the nurses, (grand)mothers, or sisters acknowledged by nineteenth century folktale collectors and antiquaries. Robert Louis Stevenson was grateful to his nurse Alison Cunningham for sharing her storehouse of stories and lore.

RLS-Alison Cunningham

RLS dedicated *A Child’s Garden of Verses* to Alison Cunningham, who nursed him as a child

 

Scottish women writers also played a role in the emergence of the literary fairy tale in print at the turn of nineteenth century in Britain (as opposed to the longer chapbook tradition or transcribed collections of folktales and ballads). Catherine Sinclair (1800-64), for example (who has a commemorative monument to her in North Charlotte Street in Edinburgh) published Holiday House. A Series of Tales in 1839.  This was innovative in its presentation of two orphaned siblings as ‘two of the most heedless, frolicsome beings in the world’. Harry and Laura (who is Alice-like in her insatiable ‘curiosity’ for things) are often disobedient, unruly, and untidy —  but their wholly child-like spirit for play and freedom is not chastised in conventional moralistic fashion. Even the fairy tale encased within the realist narrative is wry and funny and dark at the same time.

And because equality is not just for one day, SELCIE will be introducing many more female poets, novelists, short-story writers, and artists for children as we work towards our 2018 exhibition! Continue reading

Helen Douglas Adam (1909-93), child-poet of the pixie-pool

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A portrait of Helen from the frontispiece of The Elfin Pedlar (1923)

Meet Helen Douglas Adam  –  the ‘infant poetess’ from Glasgow whose uncanny ballad poetry would find a home in the radical San Francisco artistic scene…

 

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‘A little wee elf in coat of green / Dwelt in a tree so gray, / In the tiniest house that ever was seen, / Lit by the things that might have been, / And the light of yesterday’.[i]

This poem was written by a young girl called Helen Douglas Adam when she was between the ages of ten and twelve. Born in Glasgow, raised in Dundee and, for two years a non-matriculated student at Edinburgh University, she grew up to become a radical literary figure on the San Francisco Renaissance scene. Helen Adam’s life is a little like a fairy tale of a slightly surreal kind; but both she, and her work, have remained rather a well-kept secret.[ii] We discovered a copy of her first published volume, The Elfin Pedlar & Tales told by Pixy Pool (1923), whilst unpacking one Thursday afternoon in the Museum of Childhood’s book-vault.

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