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The Man Who Gave Away His Island: A Life of John Lorne Campbell of Canna Hardcover – 1 Sep 2010
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About the Author
Ray Perman was a journalist for 30 years in London and Scotland. He first met the Campbells in 1977 and corresponded with John until his death in 1996. He has been given exclusive access by the National Trust for Scotland to the Canna House Archive and the private notebooks and letters of John and Margaret Campbell. He lives in Edinburgh.
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Canna is a small island, and Campbell was no ordinary `laird', so while the story of their relationship may not be typical of the Hebrides as a whole, it nevertheless provides a fascinating insight into some of the tensions that arose between traditional and modern ways of life in the islands during the early decades of the last century - tensions that continue today, and in the case of Canna, pose an interesting challenge to its new owners the NTS.
There is the story of the island itself and John's commitment, as a practical farmer and fisherman, to its society and economy. There is the central story describing how John Lorne Campbell and his wife, Margaret Fay Shaw, recognized Canna's place and destiny as the centre of a world-wide network for the study and preservation of Gaelic language, literature and song. Thanks to John's gift of the island to the National Trust for Scotland, this story continues.
There is the personal story of John's family background, describing how he spent most of his life in the mistaken belief that he was a disappointment to his father because he had turned his back on the `county set' in Argyll. Finally, there is the riveting story of his sixty year marriage to his American wife, herself an authority on Gaelic, especially Gaelic song.
Within its relatively modest 250 pp., the author does justice to all these stories. As a work of scholarship, the book makes full use of sources, printed and manuscript, in the Canna House archive, but it never loses the general reader's attention. It begins and ends with two poems; the first by Kathleen Raine, describing the disparate objects in Canna House including books on birds, cases of butterflies, and piles of Paris-Match, The Scotsman and The New Yorker,
"all this learned and happy accumulation,
Held together by the presence of John and Margaret Campbell."
The second by Margaret herself for John's birthday, contrasting his shabby coat and shirt, "covered in dirt", with her own new suit from Jaeger, and concluding
"What a contrast in coverage, alas we can say,
But we love nonetheless--and so Happy Birthday."
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