Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 35.djvu/34

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Macdonald
Macdonald
28

of great physical strength and endurance, belonged to a cadet branch of the family of Clanranald, and maintained the spiritual direction of his wide mountain parish long after his deposition from his living as a nonjuror in 1697. The poet was intended by his father for holy orders, and by his chief, Allan Macdonald (d 1715), twelfth of Clanranald, for the law, and, apparently with the assistance of the latter, attended several terms at Glasgow University. His university career appears to have been cut short, but his works abundantly illustrate his familiarity with classical literature. An early marriage with a clanswoman, Janet Macdonald of Dalaneas in Glenetive, tended to throw him early on his own resources. It appears from the records of the presbytery of Mull in September 1729 that he had then for some time occupied the position of teacher and catechist in his native parish of Ardnamurchan, in the service both of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge in the Highlands and Isles, and of the committee for managing the royal bounty granted by George I to the general assembly in 1725. He thus associated himself with the presbyterian church, and becoming an elder as well as a schoolmaster, he moved his residence several times within the bounds of his wild and extensive parish, teaching first at Eilean-Fhionan (Ellan-Finnan), afterwards at Kilchoan, and finally at Corrieoulin, where his farm lay at the base of Ben Shianta, and near the ruins of Mingarry, with views over Tobermory and the Sound of Mull. At Corrieoulin he wrote his ‘Gaelic and English Vocabulary,’ published in Edinburgh in 1741, on behalf of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. It was the earliest book of the kind. Although successful as a teacher, his part as an elder was less happily sustained. He appeared as commissioner from his parish with a petition to the presbytery of Mull on 6 Dec. 1732, ‘to moderate a call’ for a minister, when his own candidate, Daniel Maclachlan, was a man of very bad character. In another case of ‘fama clamosa,’ he, in company with Kinlochmoidart and Hugh Macdonald [q. v.], Roman catholic bishop, lodged in March 1744 a complaint of immorality against Francis Macdonald, presbyterian preacher in Strontian, and at one time Roman catholic priest in Moidart. It is probable that at this time Macdonald had become a Roman catholic; at any rate he threw up his appointment under the presbyterian society at the beginning of the following year, and, as an avowed member of the old religion, joined the Jacobites in support of the Chevalier.

Macdonald held a commission in the highland army under his cousin, Charles MacEachainn, who mustered Clanranald's tenants in Arisaig and the neighbourhood; and in many an impassioned address to the clans, notably in the song still sung in the district, in which the Chevalier is addressed as a highland maiden, he proved himself the ‘sacer vates’ of ‘the '45.’ He took his full share of the campaign of 1745–6, and after Culloden wandered with his elder brother Angus from one hiding-place to another in his native district. The passing of the Act of Indemnity gave him again a settled home. He had lost his property, and Clanranald made him baillie or land-steward of the Isle of Canna, and afterwards gave him the farm of Eigneig on the Glenuig estate. There he seems to have composed most of his poems, which he published in a collected form in 1751 in Edinburgh, under the title of ‘Ais-eiridh na Sean Chanoin Albannaich.’ The volume breathes the most determined spirit of antagonism to the government and detestation of the Hanoverian family. Yet, except in its most virulent stanzas, it is a fine contribution to martial literature. Its publication so soon after the rising was an act of audacity which caused his friends much misgiving, and some verses of a licentious character, published by Macdonald about the same time, seem to have led to his expulsion from Eigneig, and enforced migration to Knoydart, treatment which he resented in very stinging verse. Later he was settled in Arisaig, first at Camus-an-Talmhuinn, and later at Sandaig. Here he lived to a great age, and died about 1780. His last act was to correct some of his own verses which two of the watchers in his chamber, thinking him asleep, were reciting to each other in low tones. He was buried in the cemetery of Kilmhoree, Arisaig.

His eldest son, Ranald, also a poet, removed to Eigg. The farm of Laig in that island remained in the family till the emigration of the poet's great-grandson Angus to the United States about 1850. Angus Macdonald, when the American civil war broke out, received a commission in the 11th Wisconsin regiment, and was distinguished for his gallantry. He was desperately wounded and died at Milwaukee after the war; with him seems to have ended the poet's direct line.

By common consent Macdonald was excelled by none in the merit of his war-songs, such as the ‘Moladh an Leoghainn’ and his addresses to the clans. The ‘Birlinn Chlainn Raonuill,’ with its redolence of the sea, is probably the best piece he wrote, and has been paraphrased by Professor Blackie with as much success as a translation of Gaelic poetry ever admits of. Macdonald's wealth of lan-