StAnza 2009 - Poets of the Scottish Enlightenment and 18th Century Gaelteachd
- Simon Dessain
- 24 March 2009
The complexity of the title and the juxtaposition therein were neatly represented in the two speakers - St Andrews academic Prof Robert Crawford and Gaelic speaking poet and actor Angus Peter Campbell from the far west. Angus Peter Campbell was most recently in the public eye for his performance in Seachd – The Inaccessible Pinnacle, shot in Gaelic by Skye film maker Chris Young.
Robert Crawford outlined how, as the Jacobite cause faded away, the Enlightenment opened a way of thinking about the Highlands and far west of Scotland that had not been possible before, particularly for urban intellectuals. But argued that the Enlightenment should not be separated from the Romantic movement in general, with Crawford reminding us that Burns was an admirer of Ossian and that we could view Burns' contribution as the ‘versification of Adam Smith’. It was a broad movement. He concluded by noting that the term Scottish Enlightenment was only coined just over a 100 years ago.
Angus Peter Campbell, while strongly agreeing with Crawford’s views, portrayed the competing visions coming from with the Gaelic and Highland communities at that time. On the one hand the ideal of Gaelic unity and solidarity with Gaels across the sea in Ireland, and on the other the view led by James McPherson who argued against this unity and in favour of the Empire ambitions of a London-centric United Kingdom. The latter view prevailed ultimately, with James McPherson succeeding in his wish to be buried in Westminster Abbey.
Both speakers moved well beyond the realms of poetry, but the talk seemed very much in the right place at StAnza and provided rich pictures of the nature of the Scottish Enlightenment and the Gaeltachd.