Dugald Buchanan (Dùghall Bochanan) died on the 2nd of July, 1768.
Dugald Buchanan was an 18th Century Scottish Calvinist preacher who is famous as a Gaelic poet and as the translator of the New Testament into Gaelic. His poetry was intrinsically bound up in his occupation and preoccupation as he wrote, exclusively, on religious topics. Buchanan was a popular local preacher and, although he published only eight poems, amounting to a mere 1590 lines or so, in his lifetime, he brought Christian themes to Scots Gaelic literature. That was a significant departure from epic tales of myth and legend, such as Ossian, and led to Buchanan being lauded as 'The Highland’s Sacred Bard'. His contemporaries, such as James MacPherson in particular, are far more famous Gaelic poets outside Scotland, but Buchanan was unique, because he used poetry to promote the twinned values of salvation and righteous living. As befitting a Calvinist,
Buchanan's poetry is pretty sombre in tone, with subjects such as Judgement Day.
Although they are poems, Buchanan's book, published in 1767, was entitled, 'The Spiritual Songs' (Laoidhibh Spioradail). The poems have always been known as 'Buchanan's Songs' and they became very popular in the Highlands, where parts of them (because they are all quite long) were occasionally sung in Gaelic. There were English language translations published in 1849 and 1884. In the introduction to 'The Spiritual Songs of Dugald Buchanan', edited by the Rev. Donald Maclean, is the claim that it has always been said that these [nine poems] formed only a portion of the author's poetical compositions, and that he intended to publish others later. We shall never know.
Buchanan also left behind a 'Diary' that spanned the ten years of his life between 1741 and 1750. That diary, written in English, was published in Edinburgh, in 1836, and presents Buchanan's personal anguish and dread of “the day of judgement” when he saw himself “entering the flames” and awakening “in great fear and trembling.” No wonder then that his most notable poem is called Latha a'Bhreitheanis (The Day of Judgment), with its 127 four-line stanzas being a sustained, and “brilliantly conducted” (according to Derick Thomson as quoted by James Robertson in 'Kettillonia: New Scottish Writing') description of the apocalypse.
Robertson is a fan and responsible for a new translation of The Day of Judgement, but not into English. Robertson refers to Buchanan's “startling display of linguistic fireworks,” which his Scots translation wonderfully conveys as you can read in this awesome stanza:
“Doun in the caverns they cling thegither,
Their fate nou firm in Satan's nieve:
Mansweirers, murtherers, bevvy-merchants,
An aw that hure an curse an thieve.
Buchanan was a catechist, but his lack of education ruled out his becoming a minister in the Church of Scotland. However, his that didn't impact his other claim to fame, which was for assisting in translating the New Testament into a first edition in Scottish Gaelic. Buchanan was chosen to superintend the issue of the translation made by the Rev. James Stewart of Killin. The result of that collaboration was published in 1767 after Buchanan had accompanied Stewart to Edinburgh to oversee the printing.
The trip to Edinburgh also enabled Buchanan to publish his 'Songs', most of which had been composed in Rannoch. Whilst there, he also attended classes in the University; Natural Philosophy and Anatomy included, and his signature can be seen in the University Album. Buchanan must've made quite an impression as the bookseller, John Reid, said that Buchanan's poetical genius was of the first order and was moved to call him “the Cowper of the Highlands,” in a reference to the English poet and hymnodist, William Cowper. It is also said that Buchanan met and was able to hold his own in debate with the great David Hume.
Dugald Buchanan was born at the Mill of Ardoch, Strathyre, near Balquhidder in 1716. Dugald's mother died when he was six years old, but the family soldiered on and he managed to get a decent education. At the age of fourteen, Dugald went to live in Stirling, where he attended classes, and then, later on, he lived in Edinburgh. By the time he was seventeen, Dugald was apprenticed to a 'house-carpenter', first in Kippen and then in Dumbarton. It is also said that, for a short time, Dugald acted as tutor to a neighbouring family and that he didn't complete his carpentry training.
That latter idea fits with descriptions of Dugald as a “dissolute as a young man” who seems to have spent a lot of time in “spiritual anguish and self-doubt.” Quite a number of years in fact as it wasn't until 1744 or thereabouts, the time of the Jacobite Rebellion, that he finally found himself. He appears to have been influenced by the evangelical preaching of George Whitefield on his visit to Scotland in 1742. Some years earlier, around the mid-1730s, Dugald's his sister is said to have encouraged him on his journey to being 'born again' and prepared the ground, you might say, for his epiphany.
Buchanan married in 1749 and returned to Strathyre, where he became an itinerant teacher, travelling widely through the country of Lochearnside and Breadalbane. He then conducted an informal school in Balquhidder until, in 1755, Buchanan procured the job of schoolmaster and catechist (a licensed preacher) at the tiny hamlet at the east end of Loch Rannoch, now known as Kinloch Rannoch. That school was established by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge in Scotland, and Buchanan's role was specifically intended to help 'civilise' the district and establish Presbyterianism. Civilisation was needed, of course, to tame the wild rebels of the Struan Estate, forfeited after the 'Forty-five'.
Dugald Buchanan died, it is said, of a fever that also killed his eight children, on the 2nd of July, 1768. He was buried at Little Leny, in the parish of Callander.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.