THE DUNVEGAN DIARY OF EDWARD G. COX;
A GAELIC STUDENT IN DUNVEGAN ALMOST A CENTURY AGO
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edited by Royce MacGillivray, with an introductory essay
In the early to mid 19th century, a number of distinguished travellers visited Glengarry and left valuable eyewitness descriptions of the pioneer county in their books: Lord Selkirk, John Howison, Adam Fergusson, the Rev. F.A. Cox, Sir Francis Bond Head. From the opening years of the 20th century, we have a similar travel record written by Edward Cox, a young American graduate scholar and intellectual. For two months during the summer of 1904, he lived at Dunvegan in Glengarry County, studying the Gaelic language. Edward Godfrey Cox was born in Ottawa, Ohio, in 19 Sept. 1876. By the time of his arrival in Glengarry, he already had his M.A. degree from Cornell University, and he had been teaching at Cornell as a graduate assistant. He was already deep into the work on his Ph.D. degree, which the lively but intently serious young scholar duly received from Cornell in 1906, two years after his Dunvegan sojourn. He taught at the University of Washington, in Seattle, from 1911 to 1947, published a number of scholarly books, and served as the managing editor of one of the major scholarly journals, the Modern language Quarterly , from 1943 until his death. He travelled a great deal, was a man of varied interests, worked hard at his recreation of long-distance yachting, and by the admiring accounts of contemporaries lived his long life to the full. In his later years--though not necessarily in his sterner youth-- he was known to friends and colleagues as Eddie. He died, unmarried, at Seattle on 2 Dec. 1963. His diaries, which include the description of his visit to Dunvegan, have been preserved in the archives of the University of Washington.
Why did Edward Cox want to learn Gaelic? To satisfy the requirements of the Ph.D. programme in which he had embarked, he would need to demonstrate the knowledge of a number of languages-- and most likely he had chosen Gaelic as one of them. But beyond this, we must suppose that there was some reason, probably now beyond recovery, which led him to choose the exotic and retreating language of the Scottish Highlands rather than one of the major European languages, or some other minority tongue. He seems to have had a natural talent for languages. He had taught French and German at Ithaca, N.Y., before coming to Dunvegan, and in 1909 we find him studying in Germany. It is not clear how much Gaelic Edward Cox knew when he came to Dunvegan, or even how much he learned while he was there. We are told, however, that in later years he learned not only to read but to speak Gaelic. A clipping pasted into his diary, undated but certainly belonging to a period many years after the Dunvegan visit, announces that he is offering prizes to the school children of Tiree, in Scotland, for essays written in Gaelic.
If we could go back to the Dunvegan of 1904, we would find it smaller than the Dunvegan of today, but many of the buildings and the general layout of the village would be instantly familiar. Then as now, the big, stone Kenyon Presbyterian Church was the most noticeable structure in the village. Standing close beside it, there was its predecessor, a smaller log church still used in 1904 for some of the services. This pioneer log building was demolished in 1915. The imposing brick manse a few hundred feet from the pair of churches was only two years old when Edward Cox was entertained there by the Rev. Mr Gollan and his family. The old manse was a quarter mile away, and worthily survives to this day as a private home and a well known landmark of the village.
The small, unincorporated village of Dunvegan at the time of Cox's visit had a population consisting largely of farm people who had moved there for their retirement years, and of families which were operating small local businesses of one kind or another. Many of the people involved in business had not been born at Dunvegan, and would move elsewhere when they retired. As a village caught up in a system where residence tended to be only temporary, whether for retirement purposes or for business, the little crossroads settlement lacked continuity from generation to generation. It was the unstable, nomadic encampment at the centre of the much more strongly defined, immensely more stable Dunvegan farming community which surrounded it. In this larger Dunvegan, extending irregularly for a few miles in every direction from the village, virtually all the families lived by farming, or by some combination of farming with shanty-work and local wood cutting. Most families in the village and the larger Dunvegan community attended the Kenyon Presbyterian Church. In fact, the outer boundaries of the larger Dunvegan community more-or-less coincided with the boundaries of the geographical unit of the church congregation.
There is a good Historical Sketch of the Dunvegan church, [see note 1 below ] first published by the Rev. Donald MacMillan in 1940, and reissued by him in an enlarged 2nd edition in 1993. There is also a history of the Dunvegan Church in his Kirk in Glengarry [see note 2 below] . There is no printed history, however, of the Dunvegan village considered as a unit in itself, or of the entire larger Dunvegan farming community around it. There is, however, a most interesting history of the Skye portion of the larger Dunvegan community in Madeleine McCrimmon and Donaldson MacLeod's Lochinvar to Skye,[see note 2 below] published in 1988.
By 1904, the Gaelic language was in deep decline everywhere in Glengarry. It is impossible to chart its decline with statistical precision or anything even approaching scholarly rigour, because the evidence we have is so fragmentary. First of all, there family traditions and various kinds of anecdotes, many of them none the better for being up to a hundred years and fifty old. There are the disappointingly few printed references in the old newspapers and in a few books and magazines, plus the meagre contributions of the census. However, within the limits imposed by the evidence, there is an attempt in the MacGillivray and Ross history of Glengarry to trace or define the outlines of the story of how the old language declined and died in Glengarry. By 1904, the Dunvegan area was distinguished, not only in Glengarry County but elsewhere in Canada, as a place where Gaelic had survived with unusual strength. The Kenyon Presbyterian Church there had long combined Gaelic services with its English ones, and did not totally abolish the Gaelic services until 1934. At Dunvegan, Edward Cox lived in the home of Mrs Nicholson, who was born in the Isle of Skye and who may be supposed to have had the old language with a little more purity than people whose families had been steadily North Americanizing over several generations. The minister at Dunvegan was the affable and energetic Rev. Kenneth A. Gollan (1863-1928); he too was a Gaelic speaker, born in Lochaber, Invernessshire, Scotland. Besides preaching sermons in Gaelic, he conducted prayer meetings in Gaelic, and of course he spoke it daily with his people, or rather with as many of them as had not yet lost their ancestral language.
I will attempt no deep analysis here of Edward Cox's character. So far as we can tell from the Dunvegan diary, the local people liked him, though in a community where strangers were always taken seriously, there was no doubt much private discussion of his opinions and character-- all of it lost now in the darkness of history. Aged 27 at this time, Edward Cox still ranked as a young man, but one senses that he was probably in personality rather an old 27-year-old. He was capable of joining in with the local fun and festivities, but there seems also a certain austere and puritanical tone in the diary. In later years he became noted as a connoisseur of "good food and drink" (to quote one of the obituary tributes); but may guess that at the Dunvegan stage of his life he did not drink alcohol, and he never tells us what he ate at Dunvegan. Perhaps Mrs Nicholson secured some city-boarding-house-type fodder for her paying guest, but much more likely he ate the local food, namely meals built every day around hard, fried pieces of salt pork from the pork barrel in the cellar. While still new to Glengarry, and testing the waters of local custom, he may have offered in his urban, middle-class, enlightened way to dry the dishes after the meal, being possibly the first male in the history of Dunvegan village to make the offer-- but local opinion would never have approved this wild venture, and the good Mrs Nicholson would never have allowed such a catastrophic collapse of hospitality and sound housekeeping under her respectable roof.
I have not thought it necessary to add detailed notes to this diary. There are biographical sketches of the Rev. Mr Gollan in the books by the Rev. Donald MacMillan which I have already listed. Notices of the storekeepers Edward Cox met in Maxville, namely Robertson and Wightman, appear in the two excellent histories of Maxville, published in 1967 and in 1991[see note 3 below]. These volumes also cover the two medical doctors mentioned. The French village Cox mentions in his entry for Aug. 10 was St. Isidore, which was beginning to establish itself in the role it was long to enjoy of being an important business town for the Scotch farmers of the Dunvegan and Skye area. The place he calls Centermore was St. Amour. The following Gaelic vocabulary may be helpful:
Orain - Songs
Salm - Psalm
Soisgeul Eoin -- Gospel of John
Before arriving in Dunvegan, Edward Cox visited Cornwall and Montreal. He was not impressed by Cornwall, where he arrived by steamer. "Cornwall has a most dilapidated dock. The walk up to the town was hot and depressing. My heart begins to sink, but I suppose this is the worst part of the place." In Cornwall he met the Rev. Dr Neil MacNish, a well known Gaelic scholar who had just retired from his long pastorate at St. John's Presbyterian Church in that rising factory town (not yet officially a city). Cox declared MacNish to be "a delightful man." At Cornwall, Cox crossed the St. Lawrence to his native country to visit Massena Point, where he "Met a pretty girl--Miss Harkness--of Lancaster." He found Montreal beautiful and enchantingly foreign. "It has quite won my heart," he confessed. While in Montreal, he "Called at Drysdale's bookstore and bought a MacLeod & Dewar Gaelic Dictionary (4.50) and the Psalms in Gaelic."
Cox left Montreal for Glengarry on 7 July. From this point, I copy his diary word for word:
D.K. McLeod - storekeeper
Duncan Campbell & wife
Donald Campbell & wife
N. M. Stewart & wife
John MacRae & wife daughter
Duncan McMillan & wife (postmaster)
Angus McMillan & wife (daughter)
Dr McEwen & wife
Dan McPhee & wife daughter
Alex McLeod & wife daughter
Alex Urquhart & wife (hill)
Alex Urquhart & wife (7th
Ken. Urquhart & wife (saddler)
Big Findlay MacRae
Malcolm Dewar & wife
Keith [or Kenneth?] Campbell & wife
Dan Urquhart (Alexandria)
Robert Urquhart (Greenfield)
Chas. Stewart (Precentor)
Mrs._____ McCuaig (widow)
Wm. J. McRae & wife
Norman McRae daughter (Alexandria)
Miss _____ McDougal
Mrs & Miss _____ Nicholson
Donald Stewart "piper"
This diary was transcribed by Royce MacGillivray from photocopies of the original
diary in the archives of the University of Washington.
The following notes are by AWF.
NOTE 1: This title The Historical Sketch of the Dunvegan Church may still be available, I think. If interested Contact Rev. Dr. Donald N. MacMillan, RR#2, Finch, Ontario K0C 1K0 I believe Rev. MacMillan is now deceased awf 4/10.
NOTE 2:The books, Kirk in Glengarry hard cover and Lochinvar to Skye, softcover, 2 editions, to my knowledge are now out of print, but if you are lucky, you might be able to come across a copy at an auction or 2nd Hand Books Store.
NOTE 3: This title Maxville; Its Centennial Story in soft cover, 1991 edition, may still be available, hard cover edition is long gone, if interested contact Gordon Winter, Peter Street, Maxville, Ontario K0C 1T0.
NOTE : Two of the above mentioned 4 books are available on interlibrary loan, see list of 130 titles at Local Books Available on Interlibrary Loan
Printouts of the above three articles, or any one or two of them, can be obtained
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