Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Macbain, Alexander

MACBAIN, ALEXANDER (1855–1907) Celtic scholar, born at Glenfeshie, Badenoch, Inverness-shire, on 22 July 1855, was son of John Macbain, crofter, of Glenfeshie. Educated at the schools of Insch and Alvie, he became a pupil-teacher; subsequently for a short time he was engaged on the Ordnance Survey in Wales. In 1874 he entered the grammar school of Old Aberdeen, and in 1876 matriculated as a bursar at King's College, Aberdeen. He won distinction in both classics and philosophy, and graduated in 1880 with honours. For a brief period he acted as assistant at his Aberdeen school, and in 1881 was appointed rector of Raining's School, Inverness, under the government of the Highland Trust. In 1894 the school was transferred to the Inverness school board to form a higher grade school, and was incorporated with the high public school, where Macbain taught till his death. His leisure was devoted to Celtic studies. In 1901 Aberdeen University conferred upon him the hon. degree of LL.D., and he received on 1 April 1905, on the recommendation of Mr. A. J. Balfour, then prime minister, a civil list pension of 90l. He died of apoplexy in an hotel at Stirling on 6 April 1907. He was buried in Rothiemurchus churchyard, Badenoch. A study for a picture-portrait of him was made in 1885 by Colin J. Mackenzie, and was in possession of F. Maciver, Inverness. He was unmarried.

Macbain was recognised as one of the most learned Celtic scholars of his time. His first book, 'Celtic Mythology and Religion,' was published at Inverness in 1885. His useful book, 'Personal Names and Surnames of the Town of Inverness,' was issued at the same place in 1895, as was also 'An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language' in 1896. Macbain's 'Dictionary,' which occupied him from 1882 till 1896, contains 6900 words, traced etymologically with great erudition. The first edition was exhausted in a year; and Macbain was arranging for a new edition at his death. In 1892 he edited Dr. Cameron's 'Reliquiæ Celticæ,' and in 1900 he edited and recast Alexander Mackenzie's 'History of the Mathesons,' which had come out in 1882. Macbain also edited Skene's 'Highlanders,' 'The Book of Deer,' and MacEachen's 'Gaelic Dictionary,' all of which were published at Stirling. He edited the 'Celtic Magazine' (Inverness) from 1886 till 1888, and was joint editor of 'The Highland Monthly' (Inverness) from 1889 till 1902. He was a frequent contributor to these magazines and to the 'Proceedings' of various societies, notably the Inverness Gaelic Society and the Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club. He wrote on the Picts in 'Chambers's Encyclopædia.'

[Inverness Courier, 9 April 1907; Northern Chronicle, 10 April 1907; Celtic Monthly, April 1907; private information.]

A. H. M.