Tuesday 28 June 2011

Alexander Carmichael’s Laureation Address

Dr Alexander Carmichael, 1909
Sir Ludovic Grant (1862–1936) addressed Carmichael in the following terms when he had his degree conferred upon him. It may also be of interest to say something about Sir Ludovic’s style of lecturing who had held the chair of Public Law from 1890 to 1922:

Sir Ludovic Grant held the chair of Jurisprudence and Public International Law. He was the son of a Principal of the university. He was very tall, rubicund, moustached and of an aristocratic personality. He was easy on notetakers, repeating each sentence as he went along and all in a very loud and explosive tone of voice. The names and concepts of his subject were accordingly highly flavoured and memorable. ‘Pumperdink’, ‘Bynkerschoeck’, the ‘mare clausum’ and such reverberate still in one’s ears. We heard with pleasure from him that the first essay in English on the law of warfare at sea was the work of a Scotsman, the notable John Clerk of Eldin …

His career, however, was more that of a university administrator than scholar: he was Dean of the Faculty of Law from 1894 to 1910 and it would have been in this role that he addressed Carmichael:

The Western Isles of Scotland have been Mr Carmichael’s happy hunting-grounds, and his learned labours in these picturesque realms, extending over nearly fifty years, have been crowned with fruitful results. He has made many interesting contributions to philology and archaeology, but none of his achievements is more deserving of commemoration than his work in collecting and recording large portions of the Gaelic folklore, which, but for his timely exertions and pious care, must have perished irretrievably. The task of salvage was no light one. It was from the lips of aged cottars and herdsmen, amidst circumstances often of difficulty and sometimes of danger, that the precious harvest of ballad and legend, of rune and incantation had to be slowly and laboriously gathered in. English readers have now been afforded an opportunity of acquiring themselves with the simple dignity, the beauty, and the power of this literature of the unlettered, for Mr Carmichael had translated considerable sections in his “Carmina Gadelica” – an undertaking of unique character, of which we may be permitted to hope for further instalments.

But there is another aspect of his work which must not be lost of sight to-day. Mr Carmichael has been a close student of social conditions in the Outer Hebrides, and it is beyond question that his sympathetic and illuminative papers on the system of holding and working land, and on the grazing customs in these islands, were instrumental in awakening public interest in the condition of the crofters, and in preparing the way for remedial legislation. I present Mr. Carmichael to you as an eminent Gaelic scholar and archaeologist, and as a literary salvor whose services may be fitly recompensed by the Degree of Doctor of Laws.

Image: Dr Alexander Carmichael’s Graduation Photograph from The Oban Times.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [© carstenflieger.com]