ON the stormy coasts of the Hebrides, amongst seaweed and shells, fishermen and kelp-burners often find certain hard, light, floating objects, somewhat like flat chestnuts, of various colours--grey, black, and brown, which they call sea-nuts, strand-nuts, and fairy-eggs. Where they are most common, they are used as snuffboxes, but they are also worn and preserved as amulets, with a firm or sceptical belief in their mysterious virtues. Old Martin, who wrote of the Western Isles in 1703, calls them "Molluka beans," and tells how they were then found, and worn, and used as medicine; how they preserved men from the evil eye, and cured sick cattle by a process as incomprehensible as mesmerism. Practical Highlandmen of the present day call the nuts trash, and brand those who wear them, like their ancestors a hundred and fifty years ago, as ignorant and superstitious; but learned botanists, too wise to overlook trifles, set themselves to study even fairy-eggs; and believing them to be West Indian weeds, 1 stranded in Europe, they planted them, and some (from the Azores) grew. Philosophers, having discovered what they were, used them to demonstrate the existence of the Gulf Stream, and it is even said
that they formed a part of one link in that chain of reasoning which led Columbus to the New World.
So within this century, men have gathered nursery tales. They set themselves earnestly to learn all that they could concerning them; they found similar tales common to many languages; they traced them back for centuries; they planted them in books, and at last the Brothers Grimm, their predecessors and their followers, have raised up a pastime for children to be "a study fit for the energies of grown men and to all the dignity of a science."
So at least says the learned author of the translation of "Norse Tales," and there are many who agree with him.
Men have now collected stories from most parts of the world. They have taken them from the dictation of American Indians, South Sea Islanders, Lapps and Samoydes, Germans and Russians. Missionaries have published the fables of African savages; learned men have translated Arabic, Sanscrit, and Chinese manuscripts; even Egyptian papyri have been dug up, and forced to yield their meaning, and all alike have furnished tales, very similar to stories now told by word of mouth. But as some of these are common to races whose languages have been traced to a common origin, it is now held that nursery stories and popular tales have been handed down together with the languages in which they are told; and they are used in striving to trace out the origin of races, as philologists use words to trace language, as geologists class rocks by the shells and bones which they contain, and as natural philosophers used fairy-eggs in tracing the Gulf Stream.
The following collection is intended to be a contribution to this new science of "Storyology." It is a
museum of curious rubbish about to perish, given as it was gathered in the rough, for it seemed to me as barbarous to "polish" a genuine popular tale, as it would be to adorn the bones of a Megatherium with tinsel, or gild a rare old copper coin. On this, however, opinions vary, but I hold my own, that stories orally collected can only be valuable if given unaltered; besides, where is the model story to be found?
Practical men may despise the tales, earnest men condemn them as lies, some even consider them wicked; one refused to write any more for a whole estate; my best friend says they are all "blethers." But one man's rubbish may be another's treasure; and what is the standard of value in such a pursuit as this?
"And what are you going to do with them stories, Mr. Carnal?" said a friend of mine, as he stood amongst the brown sea-weed, at the end of a pier, on a fine summer's evening, and watched my departure in a tiny boat.
"Print them, man, to be sure."
My friend is famous for his good stories, though they are of another kind, and be uses tobacco; be eyed me steadily for a moment, and then he disposed of the whole matter monosyllabically, but forcibly,
It seemed to come from his heart.
Said a Highland coachman to me one day, "The luggage is very heavy. I will not believe but there is stones in the portmanteaus! They will be pickin' them up off the road, and takin' them away with them; I have seen them myself;" and then, having disposed of geology, he took a sapient pinch of snuff.
So a benighted Englishman, years ago in Australia, took up his quarters in a settler's hut, as he told me.
[paragraph continues] Other travellers came in, and one had found a stone in a dry river-course which he maintained to be partly gold. The rest jeered at him till he threw away his prize in a pet; and then they all devoured mutton chops and damper, and slept like sensible men.
So these tales may be gold or dross according to taste. Many will despise them, but some may take an interest in the pastime of their humble countrymen; some may be amused; those who would learn Gaelic will find the language of the people who told the stories; and those who would compare popular tales of different races, may rest assured that I have altered nothing; that these really are what they purport to be-stories orally collected in the West Highlands since the beginning of 1859. I have but carried drift rubbish from the place where I found it to a place where it may be seen and studied by those who care to take the trouble.
The resemblance which the collection bears to others already made, is a strong argument for the common origin of the stories, and of the people who tell them. But, as a foundation for argument, I am bound to give the evidence on which I have formed my belief in their antiquity, for the stories would be rubbish indeed if they were not genuine traditions.
This is the account given by Mr. Hector MacLean, parish schoolmaster at Ballygrant in Islay, whom I have known from his boyhood, and who, at my request, collected stories last summer in the Long Island:--
"In the Islands of Barra, the recitation of tales during the long winter nights is still very common. The people gather in crowds to the houses of those whom they consider good reciters to listen to their stories. They appear to be fondest of those tales which describe exceedingly rapid changes of place in very
short portions of time, and have evidently no respect for the unities. During the recitation of these tales, the emotions of the reciters are occasionally very strongly excited, and so also are those of the listeners, almost shedding tears at one time, and giving way to loud laughter at another. A good many of them firmly believe in all the extravagance of these stories.
"They speak of the Ossianic heroes with as much feeling, sympathy, and belief in their existence and reality as the readers of the newspapers do of the exploits of the British army in the Crimea or in India; and whatever be the extravagance of the legends they recite respecting them, it is exceedingly remarkable that the same character is always ascribed to the same hero in almost every story and by almost every reciter. Fingal, or rather Fionn, is never called the king of any country or territory, but the king of the Finn, a body of men who were raised, according to the traditions current in the Long Island and other parts of the Highlands, in Ireland and in the Highlands, to defend both countries against foreign invaders, more especially against the Scandinavians. The origin these illiterate people assign to them, according to the traditions handed down to them, is, that the largest and strongest bodied young men and women were selected and married together in order to produce a brave and powerful race capable of withstanding and repelling the incursions of foreign foes. Any hero that came west, east, north, or south, and 'Cothrom na Finne' (the chance of the Finne), is the term still used for fair-play in the Highlands.
"In no tale or tradition related to me regarding these heroes have I heard the name, 'Righ Mhòr-bbeinn' (king of Morven), ascribed to Fionn; nor have I heard him described as the king of any territory or country-always 'Righ na Finne or Fēinne.' Fēinn or Fìnn is the plural of Fiann, which is probably derived from Fiadh dhuine; either a wild man, from his strength and bravery, or else the man of deer, from their maintaining themselves by bunting deer, extensive tracts of land being allotted to them for that purpose. The last etymology I believe myself to be the correct one.
"The most of the people in Barra and South Uist are Roman Catholics, can neither read nor write, and hardly know any English. From these circumstances it is extremely improbable that they have borrowed much from the literature of other nations. In North Uist and Harris these tales are nearly gone,
and this, I believe, to be owing partly to reading, which in a manner supplies a substitute for them, partly to bigoted religious ideas, and partly to narrow utilitarian views."
This clear statement is accompanied by a description of each of the men who contributed, from which it appears in detail that the greater number speak Gaelic only, that many of them can neither read nor write, and that they are clever though uneducated; and this account I know to be correct in some cases, from my own personal knowledge of the men. Hector Urquhart, now gamekeeper at Ardkinglas, whom I have known for many years, agrees with MacLean in his account of the telling of these stories in other districts in former times.
This is his account:--
"In my native place, Pool-Ewe, Ross-shire, when I was a boy, it was the custom for the young to assemble together on the long winter nights to hear the old people recite the tales or sgeulachd, which they had learned from their fathers before them. In these days tailors and shoemakers went from house to house, making our clothes and shoes. When one of them came to the village we were greatly delighted, whilst getting new kilts at the same time. I knew an old tailor who used to tell a new tale every night during his stay in the village; and another, an old shoemaker, who, with his large stock of stories about ghosts and fairies, used to frighten us so much that we scarcely dared pass the neighbouring churchyard on our way home. It was also the custom when an aoidh, or stranger, celebrated for his store of tales, came on a visit to the village, for us, young and old, to make a rush to the house where be passed the night, and choose our seats, some on beds, some on forms, and others on three-legged stools, etc., and listen in silence to the new tales; just as I have myself seen since, when a far-famed actor came to perform in the Glasgow theatre. The goodman of the house usually opened with the tale of Famhair Mor (great giant) or some other favourite tale, and then the stranger carried on. after that. It was a common saying, 'The first tale by the goodman, and tales to daylight
by the aoidh,' or guest. It was also the custom to put riddles, in the solving of which all in the house had to tax their ingenuity. If one of the party put a riddle which was not solved that night, he went home with the title of King of Riddles. Besides this, there was usually in such gatherings a discussion about the Fein, which comes from FIANTAIDH, giant; the Fiantaidh were a body of men who volunteered to defend their country from the invasions and inroads of the Danes and Norwegians, or Lochlinnich. FIUNN, who was always called King of the Fein, was the strongest man amongst them, and no person was admitted into the company who was less in height than he, however much taller. I remember the old black shoemaker telling us one night that FIUNN had a tooth which he consulted as an oracle upon all important occasions. He had but to touch this tooth, and whatever he wanted to know was at once revealed to him.
"The above is all I can at present readily call to mind of the way in which the evenings were spent in the Highlands thirty or forty years ago. The minister came to the village in 1830, and the schoolmaster soon followed, who put a stop in our village to such gatherings; and in their place we were supplied with heavier tasks than listening to the old shoemaker's fairy tales. From that period till I collected the few in this collection, I have not heard a tale recited. On going to visit my friends last summer, I expected that I would get some old tales among them, but I found that the most of the old men who used to relate them in my young days had died, and the few who were then alive of them were so old that they had lost their memories, so that I only got but a trifle to what I expected.
John Dewar, a labourer, whom I never saw, but who has written and sent me many stories, agrees with the others. These men have never met, and have acted independently; and yet, in many cases, I have received versions of the same story from each and from other sources, and I have myself heard the same incidents repeated by their authorities, and by others
whom they had never seen; sometimes even the very words.
The name of every narrator is given with his story, and I am satisfied on direct evidence that most of these were known in the Highlands at least forty years ago. Now, for the benefit of those who know as little of the subject as I did, let me give the theory of the distribution of popular tales, as I have gathered it from the able introduction to the Norse Tales and other sources, and then let me point out the bearing of this, collection on that theory.
It is supposed that the races known as Indo-European came from Central Asia at some very early period, and passed over Europe, separating and settling down as nations; retaining words of their original language, and leaving the traces of their religion and history everywhere as popular tales; and that they found the land occupied. Each wave, it is said, "pushed onwards those who went before," but, as it seems to me, each in turn must have stopped as it arrived at the great sea, and there the waves of this stream of men must have mingled and stagnated.
As the flotsam and jetsam of American rivers and of the Gulf Stream is constantly drifting northwards and eastwards, and finds a resting-place on some western shore, so the traces of the great human stream, which is supposed to have flowed westwards, should be found in greatest abundance stranded at the western sea. If this be correct, and if the plains of Asia sent migratory hordes eastwards as well as westwards, the tales and languages of the far East and West should most resemble each other, and should also resemble more than others the oldest forms of the myths and languages of those from whom they sprang. Brittany,
[paragraph continues] Scandinavia, Ireland, and the west of Scotland, from their geographical position, should contain more of this light mental debris than Central Europe; for the same reason that more of the floating rubbish of American rivers is found on the shores of Europe than anywhere on the great ocean; and if mankind had a common origin, and started from the plains of Asia, and if popular tales really are old traditions, then the tales of Ceylon should resemble those of Barra, and those of Japan should resemble the others, because men travelling eastwards and arrived at Japan, could not easily advance further. Mr. Oliphant tells us that both in China and in Japan groups are commonly seen listening to professional story-tellers in the streets, and it is to be hoped that some one will enable us to judge of their talents.
Be that as it may, fairy-eggs are not the only foreign products found on the shores of the Hebrides, and the people who dwell there know stories of larger growth than mere nursery tales. Great logs of driftwood find their way to shore, and are turned to use. Such a log I once found, and used myself, long ago. It was half buried in the sand; it had been long tossed by the sea, and battered against rocks, for it was heavy with water, splintered and ground. No tree like it grew anywhere near. There was no mark of a tool on it. The stumps of its roots and branches remained, and it seemed as if it had been torn up and wafted to its resting-place by winds and waves alone. I have now no doubt that it came from America. Had it been insignificant and useless, like a fairy-egg, we might have left it, or preserved it as a, curiosity; but it was a useful log, and we were a party of chilled otter hunters, so, after a few speculations, we
hoisted the prize on our shoulders, carried it to our dwelling, a neighbouring cave, and there we burned it. I see it often, hissing and spluttering, and lighting up the bivouac with its red glare. Its ashes may be there still, but that tree is a tree no longer; its origin and wanderings cannot now be traced; it has shared the fate of many a popular tale. It was found and used up.
Such a log I lately saw in South Uist. No tool mark was on it; it had lost its own foliage, but it was covered with a brown and white marine foliage of seaweed and dead barnacles, and it was drilled in all directions by these curious sea-shells, which are supposed by the people to be embryo geese. It was sound, though battered, and a worthy Celtic smith was about to add it to the roof of a cottage, which he was making of boulders and turf. It was about to share the fate of many popular tales, and become a part of something else. It may be recognised as an American production hereafter, and its history is deeply marked on it, though it forms part of a house by this time. So a genuine popular tale may be recognised in a play or a romance.
Another such tree I saw in Benbecula, with bark still on the roots, and close to it lay a squared log, and near that a mast with white paint and iron bindings, blocks and crosstrees, still attached to it. A few miles off was a stranded ship, with her cargo and fittings, a wreck about to be sold, and turned to any use that the new owners might think fit. All these were about to be changed, and as it was with driftwood in the Highlands, so, as I imagine, it has been with popular tales everywhere. They are as old as the races who tell them, but the original ideas, like
the trees from which logs, masts, and ships are made, have been broken up, cut, carved, and ornamented--lost and found--wrecked, destroyed, broken, and put together again; and though the original shape is hard to find, the fragments may be recognized in books, and wherever else they may now be found.
But as there are quiet spots in the world where drift-wood accumulates undisturbed, so there are quiet spots where popular tales flourish in peace, because no man has interfered with them. In Spitzbergen, according to the accounts given me by Norwegian bear hunters and adventurous English nobles, trees, such as those occasionally found in Scotland, are piled in heaps. Trees, logs, broken spars, and wreck, gather and bleach and decay together, because there are no men on that wild shore to use them. So in the islands where the western "wanderers," "Albanich," settled down, and where they have remained for centuries, old men and women are still found who have hardly stirred from their native islands, who speak only Gaelic, and cannot read or write, and yet their minds are filled with a mass of popular lore, as various as the wreck piled on the shores of Spitzbergen. If such as these get hold of the contents of a story book, they seem unconsciously to extract the incidents, and reject all the rest,--to select the true wood, and throw away foreign ornament, just as they chip off the paint of a stranded mast, or scrape the sea-weed off a log when they build it into a roof. I have given one specimen of a story, which I believe to be derived from the "Arabian Nights," though it is quite impossible that the man who told it to Hector MacLean, and who told it to me also, in nearly the same words, can have got it directly from any book;
for he cannot read at all, and he does not understand English.
I have found very little notice of these West Highland prose tales in books, but they are referred to. In 1703, Martin says that his countrymen then told long tales about Fin MacCoul, but he adds that he will not trouble the reader with them.
In 1780, Dr. Smith, in his book on Gaelic poetry, says, that prosaic tales should be preserved in the same manner may seem strange, but so it is. He condemns the "urskels" as "later tales," unworthy of notice, probably because they were different from the poetry of which he collected so much.
Gaelic dictionaries mention "legends" as sources from which words have been taken. Amongst the Gaelic MSS. now in the Advocates' Library, there are several which contain tales similar to those now told in the Highlands. One passage about the sailing of a boat, which I have got, with variations, from a great many people living in various parts of the Highlands, I find in a MS. which was lent to me by the secretary of the Celtic Society of London. It is dated 23d December 1808, signed Alexander Stewart, A.M., and marked, Poems of Ossian. It contains 7721 lines of Gaelic, mostly poetry, which by the references seem to have been copied from something else. The passage to which I refer, occurs in a "Fragment of a Tale," p. 17, which occupies thirty-seven folio pages, and treats of carrying off a lady from an island, and her recovery by her husband.
Dr. MacLeod, the best of living Gaelic scholars, printed one old tale, somewhat altered, with a moral added, in his "Leabhar nan Cnoc," in 1834, but even
his efforts to persevere and use this old lore were unsuccessful.
Those, then, who understood Gaelic, thought popular tales unworthy of notice; those who did not understand Gaelic, could know nothing about them; and there are many now living in the Highlands, who speak Gaelic and yet believed, till they searched at my request, that stories had become extinct in their districts. One good Highlander, who has helped me much, Mr. James Robertson, living at Inveraray, so believed, till he heard his own nursemaid repeat No. 17, and a neighbouring fisherman tell No. 6. In the Highlands, as elsewhere, society is arranged in layers, like the climates of the world. The dweller on an Indian plain little dreams that there is a region of perpetual frost in the air above him; the Esquimaux does not suspect the slumbering volcano under his feet; and the dwellers in the upper and lower strata of society, everywhere, know as little of each other's ways of life as the men of the plain know of the mountaineers in the snow.
Highland stories then, have been despised by educated men, and they are as yet unchanged popular tales. It so happened that a piper was the instructor of my babyhood. He was a stalwart, kindly, gentle man, whose face is often before me, though he has long since gone to his rest. From him I first heard a few of the tales in this collection. They had almost faded from my memory, but I remembered their existence, and I knew where to search, so I began at the beginning of 1859 by writing to my Highland friends, of all degrees, for stories of all kinds, true stories excepted; and here let me thank them cordially for the
trouble which they have taken, for they are too numerous to thank in detail.
I begged for the very words used by the people who told the stories, with nothing added, or omitted, or altered. Those who could wrote Gaelic, those who could not did their best in English,--translated, at first or second-hand, from Gaelic; and when I had so gathered many versions of a story, I thought I might safely conclude that it had been known in the country for many years, and was essentially a popular tale.
My next step was to go at Easter to a Highland district, near the lowlands, where a gamekeeper had marked down a lot of tale-tellers, and I was soon convinced that there was plenty of game, though hard to get.
This difficulty may be worth some explanation, for it exists elsewhere, and bears on the collection of tales everywhere. Highland peasants and fishermen, especially those dwelling near the lowlands, are shy and proud, and even more peculiarly sensitive to ridicule than peasants elsewhere. Many have a lurking belief in the truth of the stories which they tell, and a rooted conviction that any one with a better education will laugh at the belief, and the story, and the narrator and his language, if he should be weak enough to venture on English, and betray his knowledge of Sgeultachd and his creed. He cannot imagine that any one out of his own class can possibly be amused by his frivolous pastimes. No one ever has hitherto. He sees every year a summer flood of tourists of all nations pouring through his lochs and glens, but he knows as little of them as they know of him. The shoals of herrings that enter Loch Fyne know as much of the dun deer on the
hill-side, as Londoners and Highland peasants know of each other. Each gets an occasional peep at the other as the deer may see the herrings capering in the loch--each affects the other slowly but surely, as the herrings do drive away the wild deer by attracting men to catch them; but the want of a common language here as elsewhere, keeps Highlands and Lowlands, Celt and Saxon, as clearly separate as oil and water in the same glass.
The first step, then, towards the acquisition of a story is to establish confidence. It may be that the would-be collector sees before him a strapping lad dressed in the garb of a west country fisherman--a rough blue bonnet, jacket, and trousers. He steps out and ranges up alongside. The Highlander glances from under his bushy eyebrows, and sees with his sharp grey eyes that the new comer is a stranger. He looks rather like a Saxon; Highland curiosity is strong, and he longs to ask whence he comes; but politeness is stronger, and it would be uncivil to begin questioning at once. So with a nervous kick of one foot, and a quick shy glance, the fisherman jerks out, "It's a fine day." "Tha n' latha briagh" (the day is fine), replies the stranger; and as he speaks, the whole face and manner of his companion change as if by magic; doubt and hesitation, suspicion and curiosity, become simple wonder; his eyes and his heart open wide at the sound of his native tongue, and he exclaims, "You have Gaelic! You will take my excuse by your leave, but what part of the Gaeldom are you from?" And then having found out all that is to be discovered, the ice being broken, and confidence established, it oozes out gradually that the fisherman knows a story, and after much persuasion he tells it, while he rows the gentleman who can talk Gaelic across a Highland loch. At parting, he
adds that he has only told it to please a "Gael," and that he would not have said one word to a Gall (stranger). But the man who is fluent in his boat, is shy and backward when set down to repeat his story for transcribing, and it is only when set with one of his neighbours whom he knows, that his story is got on paper.
Or it may be an old dame in a tall white mutch with a broad black silk band, a red cloak, and clean white apron. She is 70, and can walk ten miles; she has known all the neighbouring families for generations. If you can claim cousinship with any, she is your friend; but she will praise the ancestors and tell of the adventures of Rob Roy the Gregorach, the last of the freebooters. "But, Mary, can you say Murachag and Mionachag?" Huch! my dear, that is an ursgeul that is nonsense. The Good Being bless you, I knew your grandmother," etc., etc. So one must rest contented with the fact, that old Mary knows one tale, and probably many more, which a week's persuasion might perhaps extract.
Or it may be a pretty lass, whose eye twinkles with intelligence at every catch-word, thrown out as a bait, but whom nothing will induce to confess that she knows the foolish tales which the minister has condemned.
Or it is an old wandering vagabond of a tinker, who has no roof but the tattered covering of his tent. He has pitched it in a quarry under a giant fir, the knarled roots, half bare, hardly support the tree on the edge of a red clay bank, and form a kind of hollow, a "cos," in which the tinker and his tribe have nestled at odd times for years. A thin blue smoke is curling amongst the blackened roots, and winding itself about the noble tree.
[paragraph continues] A stately mansion and a wide domain, and a blue highland loch, with a shoal of brown herring boats, can be seen through the wood from the door of the, tinker's tent; and there he lies, an old man past eighty, who has been a soldier, and "has never seen a school"; too proud to beg, too old to work; surrounded by boxes and horn spoons, with shaggy hair and naked feet, as perfect a nomad as the wildest Lapp or Arab in the whole world. It is easy to make friends with such men. A kind word in their native language is all that is required, but to get their stories is another affair. "Donald, did you ever see the like of this?" Up starts the old man on his elbow,--"Och! och! that's a fairy arrow, I have seen that; och! och! no fairy arrow will ever hit the man who has that--no fire will ever burn the house where that is. That's lucky, well! well!" and the old man sinks down on his bed of fern. But the elf shot has hit the mark, and started a train of thought, which leads at last to a wild weird story; but before that story can be written, the whole tribe decamp, and are lost for a time.
The first difficulty, then, was the nature of the people who knew the stories; and the second, the want of men able and willing to write Gaelic. It was easy to write English versions of tales heard in Gaelic, but I wanted the Gaelic as it was told, and I had neither time nor ability to write it down myself. I therefore sought out two men on whom I could rely, to collect and write for me, and the largest share of this book has been collected and written by them. One is Mr. Hector Urquhart, gamekeeper at Ardkinglas on Loch Fyne; the other, Mr. Hector MacLean, schoolmaster at Ballygrant in Islay, who has superintended the printing of the Gaelic. They entered into the spirit of the
work at once, and they have executed their share of it with the greatest fidelity. But while these are my chief aids, I am largely indebted to many others for written Gaelic; for example, to one of my earliest friends, Mrs. MacTavish; to the Rev. Mr. MacLauchlan of Edinburgh; to Alexander Fraser, Esq., of Mauld, near Beauly, to many of the schoolmasters on the estate of Sir Kenneth MacKenzie; to Mr. Donald Torrie, Benbecula; and to many others, including John Dewar, a self-educated man of advanced age, whose contribution does him the greatest credit.
The next step was to spend a summer holiday in studying the actual condition of this popular lore, where I had found that it existed in the greatest profusion. I landed at Lochmaddy in North Uist, and walked with a knapsack to the sound of Barra, and back to Stornoway; crossing the sound of Harris in a fishing boat. I found a population differing from that of the mainland, perhaps the least changed from their old ways of any people in the kingdom. Gaelic is their usual, often their only language. Every English word which has crept in has a Gaelic head and tail. Many, I know not how many, "have no English" at all, and have never been taught to read. In many islands the people are living undisturbed, where their ancestors have lived time out of mind. They are a small, active, intelligent race, with dark hair and eyelashes, and grey eyes; quick, clever, and pugnacious. I had expected to find traces of Norwegian occupation in the people and their language. I watched carefully for Norwegian words and features; and I found the people a complete contrast to Norwegian peasants, whom I know well, who are large, bony, light-haired fair men, sagacious rather than quick; and generally slow to anger.
I could find nothing Scandinavian, except certain names of places, and certain ruins, which it is the fashion to attribute to the Lochliners. Even the houses and the old agricultural implements, where they are still used, are peculiar. For example, the old crooked spade still used in islands in the sound of Barra, and elsewhere, has no resemblance to any agricultural implement that I have ever seen anywhere out of the West Highlands. It is in fact a foot plough used without horses. It is remarkable that a steam plough should be at work at the same time, on the east coast of Cromarty at Tarbert. Every horse I met on the road stopped of his own accord. Every man asked my news, "whence I took the walking," where I lived, and why I came? Saddles were often sacks, stirrups a loop of twisted bent, bridles the same, and bits occasionally wood. Dresses were coarse, but good; but there was an air of kindly politeness over all, that is not to be found in homespun dresses in any other country that I know. When I was questioned, I answered, and told my errand, and prospered. "I was not a drover come to buy cattle at the fair;" "Neither was I a merchant though I carried a pack." "I was the gentleman who was after Sgialachdan." My collector had made my name known. I spoke Gaelic, and answered questions. I am one of themselves, so I got on famously.
Men and women of all ages could and did tell me stories, children of all sizes listened to them; and it was self-evident that people generally knew and enjoyed them. Elsewhere I had been told, that thirty or forty years ago, men used to congregate and tell stories; here, I was told, that they now spend whole winter nights about the fire listening to these old world
tales. The clergy, in some places, had condemned the practice, and there it had fallen into disuse; stories seemed to be almost exterminated in some islands, though I believe they were only buried alive; but in other places this harmless amusement is not forbidden and there, in every cluster of houses, is some one man famed as "good at sgialachdan," whose house is a winter evening's resort. I visited these, and listened, often with wonder, at the extraordinary power of memory shown by untaught old men.
It is perhaps beyond the province of a mere collector of old tales to be serious; but surely Gaelic books containing sound information would be a vast boon to such a people. The young would read them, and the old would understand them. All would take a warmer interest in Canada and Australia, where strong arms and bold spirits are wanted, if they knew what these countries really are. If they heard more of European battles, and knew what a ship of war is now, there would be more soldiers and sailors from the Isles in the service of their country, At all events, the old spirit of popular romance is surely not an evil spirit to be exercised, but rather a good genius to be controlled and directed. Surely stories in which a mother's blessing, well earned, leads to success; in which the poor rise to be princes, and the weak and courageous overcome giants; in which wisdom excels brute force,--surely even such frivolities are better pastime than a solitary whisky bottle, or sleep, or grim silence; for that seems the choice of amusements if tales are forbidden and Gaelic books are not provided for men who know no other language; and who, as men, must be amused now and then.
I have never heard a story, whose point was obscenity,
publicly told in a Highland cottage; and I believe that such are rare. I have heard them where the rough polish of more modern ways has replaced the polished roughness of "wild" Highlanders; and that where even the bagpipes have been almost abolished as profane.
I have heard the music of the "Cider Cellars" in a parlour, even in polished England, when I had failed to extract anything else from a group of comfortably dressed villagers. A half-polished human gem is but a spoiled crystal anywhere; and I prefer the rough diamond or the finished jewel.
But this is foreign to my work; my visits were to the tellers of old stories, and had nothing to do with political economy and public morals. I paid my visits, and heard the stories; and a goodly audience often gathered to share the treat, and all seemed marvellously to enjoy it. If there was an occasional coarse word spoken, it was not coarsely meant.
Let me describe one of these old story men as a type of his kind. I trust he will not be offended, for he was very polite to me. His name is MacPhie; he lives at the north end of South Uist, where the road ends at a sound, which has to be forded at the ebb to get to Benbecula. The house is built of a double wall of loose boulders, with a layer of peat three feet thick between the walls. The ends are round, and the roof rests on the inner wall, leaving room for a crop of yellow gowans. A man might walk round the roof on the top of the wall. There is but one room, with two low doors, one on each side of the houses. The fire is on the floor; the chimney is a hole above it; and the rafters are hung with pendants and festoons of shining black peat reek. They are of birch from the mainland, American
drift wood, or broken wreck. They support a covering of turf and straw, and stones, and heather ropes, which keep out the rain well enough.
The house stands on a green bank, with grey rocks protruding through the turf; and the whole neighbourhood is pervaded by cockle shells, which indicate the food of the people and their fishing pursuits. In a neighbouring kiln there were many cart-loads about to be burned, to make that lime which is so durable in the old castles. The owner of the house, whom I visited twice, is seventy-nine. He told me nine stories, and like all the others, declared that there was no man in the islands who knew them so well. "He could not say how many he knew;" he seemed to know versions of nearly everything I had got; and he told me plainly that my versions were good for nothing. "Huch! Thou hast not got them right at all." "They came into his mind," he said, "sometimes at night when he could not sleep,--old tales that he had not heard for threescore years."
He had the manner of a practised narrator, and it is quite evident he is one; he chuckled at the interesting parts, and laid his withered finger on my knee as he gave out the terrible bits with due solemnity. A small boy in a kilt, with large round glittering eyes, was standing mute at his knee, gazing at his wrinkled face, and devouring every word. The boy's mother first boiled, and then mashed, potatoes; and his father, a well grown man in tartan breeks, ate them. Ducks and ducklings, a cat and a. kitten, some hens and a baby, all tumbled about on the clay floor together, and expressed their delight at the savoury prospect, each in his own fashion; and three wayfarers dropped in and listened for a spell, and
passed their remarks till the ford was shallow. The light came streaming down the chimney, and through a single pane of glass, lighting up a tract in the blue mist of the peat smoke, and fell on the white hair and brown withered face of the old man, as he sat on a low stool with his feet to the fire; and the rest of the dwelling, with all its plenishing of boxes and boxbeds, dishes and dresser, and gear of all sorts, faded away through shades of deepening brown, to the black darkness of the smoked roof and the "peat corner." There we sat, and smoked and talked for hours, till the tide ebbed; and then I crossed the ford by wading up to the waist, and dried my clothes in the wind in Benbecula.
Another man of the same stamp, Patrick Smith, lives near the sound of Barra; and a third, "Donald MacDonald MacCharles MacIntyre," in Benbecula; and I heard of plenty more, whom I had not time to visit. I found them to be men with clear heads and wonderful memories, generally very poor and old, living in remote corners of remote islands, and speaking only Gaelic; in short, those who have lived most at home, furthest from the world, and who have no source of mental relaxation beyond themselves and their neighbours.
At Gearrloch on the mainland, some old namesakes of mine are of the same stamp, but in these regions the schoolmaster has made himself at home. Tales have been forbidden, but other lore has been provided. There are many well attended English schools, so old men have access to books and newspapers through their children. Tradition is out of fashion and books are in.
Farther east stories are still rarer, and seem to be told rather by women than by men. The long romances
of the west give place to stories about ghosts and fairies, apparitions, and dreams-stories which would be told in a few words, if at all, in the islands. Fairy belief is becoming a fairy tale. In another generation it will grow into a romance, as it has in the hands of poets elsewhere, and then the whole will either be forgotten or carried from people who must work to "gentles" who can afford to be idle and read books. Railways, roads, newspapers, and tourists, are slowly but surely doing their accustomed work. They are driving out romance; but they are not driving out the popular creed as to supernaturals. That creed will survive when the last remnant of romance has been banished, for superstition seems to belong to no one period in the history of civilization, but to all. It is as rife in towns as it is amongst the hills, and it not confined to the ignorant.
I have wandered amongst the peasantry of many countries, and this trip but confirmed my old impression. There are few peasants that I think so highly of, none that I like so well. Scotch Highlanders have faults in plenty, but they have the bearing of Nature's own gentlemen--the delicate, natural tact which discovers, and the good taste which avoids, all that would hurt or offend a guest. The poorest is ever the readiest to share the best he has with the stranger. A kind word kindly meant is never thrown away, and whatever may be the faults of this people, I have never found a boor or a churl in a Highland bothy.
Celts have played their part in history, and they have a part to play still in Canada and Australia, where their language and character will leave a trace, if they do not influence the destiny of these new worlds. There are hundreds in those distant lands whose language is still
[paragraph continues] Gaelic, and to whom these stories are familiar, and if this book should ever remind any of them of the old country, I shall not have worked in vain in the land which they call "Tir nam Beann, 's nan Gleann, s nan Gaisgeach." 1
So much, then, for the manner of collecting the tales, and the people who told them. The popular lore which I found current in the west, and known all over the Highlands in a greater or less degree amongst the poorer classes, consists of:--
1st. That which is called Seanachas na Finne, or Feinnie, or Fiann, that is, the tradition or old history of the Feene.
This is now the rarest of any, and is commonest, so far as I know, in Barra and South Uist. There are first fragments of poems which may have been taken from the printed book, which goes by the name of the History of the Finne in the Highlands, and the Poems of Ossian elsewhere. I never asked for these, but I was told that the words were "sharper and deeper" than those in the printed book.
There are, secondly, poetical fragments about the same persons, which, to the best of my knowledge, are not in any printed book. I heard some of these repeated by three different men.
Patrick Smith, in South Uist, intoned a long fragment; I should guess, about 200 lines. He recited it rapidly to a kind of chant. The subject was a fight with a Norway witch, and Fionn, Diarmaid, Oscar and Conan, were named as Irish heroes. There were "ships fastened with silver chains, and kings holding them;" swords, spears, helmets, shields, and battles, were mentioned; in short, the fragment was the same
in style and machinery as the famous Poems; and it was attributed to Ossian. The repetition began with a short prose account of what was to follow. Smith is sixty, and says that he cannot read. He does not understand English. He says that such poems used to be so chanted commonly when he was young. The same account of the manner of reciting similar poems was given me by a clergyman in Argyllshire, who said that, within his recollection, the "death of Cuchullin" used to be so recited by an old man at the head of Loch Awe.
Donald Macintyre, in Benbecula, recited a similar fragment, which has since been written and sent to me. The subject is a dialogue between a lady and a messenger returning from battle, with a number of heads on a withy; the lady asks their story, and the messenger tells whose heads they were, and how the heroes fell. It sounded better than it reads, but the transcriber had never written Gaelic before.
John Campbell, generally known as "Yellow John," living in Strath Gearrloch, about twelve miles west of Flowerdale, repeated a similar fragment, which lasted for a quarter of an hour. He said he had known it for half a century. He is a very old man, and it is difficult to follow him, and the poetry was mingled with prose, and with "said he," "said she." It was the last remnant of something which the old man could only remember imperfectly, and which he gave in broken sentences; but here again the combat was with a Norway witch, and the scene, Ireland. Fionn, Diarmaid and other such names appeared. Diarmaid had "his golden helm on his head;" his "two spears on his shoulder;" his "narrow-pointed shield on his left arm;" his "small shield on his right;" his sword was
[paragraph continues] "leafy," (?) leaf-shaped. And the old man believed that Diarmaid, the Irish hero, was his ancestor, and his own real name O'Duine. He spoke of "his chief MacCalain," and treated me with extra kindness, as a kinsman. "Will you not take some more" (milk and potatoes). "Perhaps we may never see each other again. Are we not both Campbells?"
I heard of other men who could repeat such poems, and I have heard of such men all my life; but as I did not set out to gather poems, I took no trouble to get them.
Two chiefs, I think one was MacLeod, sent their two fools to gather bait on the shore; and to settle a bet which fool was the best, they strewed gold on the path. One fool stopped to gather it, but the other said, "When we are at 'golding,' let us be 'golding,' and when we are at bait-making, let us be bait-making," and he stuck to his business. My business was prose, but it may not be out of place to state my own opinion about the Ossian controversy, for I have been asked more than once if I had found any trace of such poems.
I believe that there were poems of very old date, of which a few fragments still exist in Scotland as pure traditions. That these related to Celtic worthies who were popular heroes before the Celts came from Ireland, and answer to Arthur and his knights elsewhere. That the same personages have figured in poems composed, or altered, or improved, or spoilt by bards who lived in Scotland, and by Irish bards of all periods; and that these personages have been mythical heroes amongst Celts from the earliest of times. That "the poems" were orally collected by Macpherson, and by men before him, by Dr. Smith, by the committee
of the Highland Society, and by others, and that the printed Gaelic is old poetry, mended and patched, and pieced together, and altered, but on the whole a genuine work. Manuscript evidence of the antiquity of similar Gaelic poems exists. Some were printed in 1807, under the authority of the Highland Society of London, with a Latin translation, notes, etc., and were reprinted in 1818. MacPherson's "translation" appeared between 1760 and 1762, and the controversy raged from the beginning, and is growling still; but the dispute now is, whether the poems were originally Scotch or Irish, and how much MacPherson altered them. It is like the quarrel about the chameleon, for the languages spoken in Islay and Rathlin are identical, and the language of the poems is difficult for me, though I have spoken Gaelic from my childhood. There is no doubt at all that Gaelic poems on such subjects existed long before MacPherson was born; and it is equally certain that there is no composition in the Gaelic language which bears the smallest resemblance in style to the peculiar kind of prose in which it pleased MacPherson to translate. The poems have a peculiar rhythm, and a style of their own which is altogether lost in his English translation. But what concerns me is the popular belief, and it seems to be this--"MacPherson must have been a very dishonest person when he allowed himself to pass as the author of Ossian's poems." So said a lady, one of my earliest friends, whose age has not impaired her memory, and so say those who are best informed, and understand the language.
The illiterate seem to have no opinion on the subject. So far as I could ascertain, few had heard of the
controversy, but they had all heard scraps of poems and stories about the Finne, all their lives; and they are content to believe that "Ossian, the last of the Finne," composed the poems, wrote them, and burned his book in a pet, when be was old and blind, because St. Patrick, or St. Paul, or some other saint, would not believe his wonderful stories.
Those who would study "the controversy," will find plenty of discussion; but the report of the Highland Society appears to settle the question on evidence. I cannot do better than quote from Johnson's Poets the opinion of a great author, who was a great translator, who, in speaking of his own work, says:--
"What must the world think . . . After such a judgment passed by so great a critick, the world who decides so often, and who examines so seldom; the world who, even in matters of literature, is almost always the slave of authority? Who will suspect that so much learning should mistake, that so much accuracy should be misled, or that so much candour should be biassed? . . . I think that no translation ought to be the ground of criticism, because no man ought to be condemned upon another man's explanation of his meaning. . . . ." (Postscript to the Odyssey, Pope's Homer, Johnson's Poets, pp. 279, 280).
And to that quotation let me add this manuscript note, which I found in a copy of the Report of the Highland Society on the poems of Ossian; which I purchased in December 1859; and which came from the library of Colonel Hamilton Smith, at Plymouth.
"The Reverend Dr. Campbell, of Halfway Tree, Lisuana, in Jamaica, often repeated to me in the year 1709, 1801, and 1802, parts of Ossian in Gaelic; and assured me that he had possessed a manuscript, long the property of his family, in which Gaelic poems, and in particular, whole pieces of Ossian's compositions were contained. This he took out with him on his first voyage
to the West Indies in 1780, when his ship was captured by a boat from the Santissima Trinidata, flagship of the whole Spanish fleet; and he, together with all the other passengers, lost nearly the whole of their baggage, among which was the volume in question. In 1814, when I was on the staff of General Sir Thomas Graham, now Lord Lyndoch, I understood that Mr. MacPherson had been at one time his tutor; and, therefore, I asked his opinion respecting the authenticity of the Poems. His lordship replied that he never had any doubts on the subject, he having seen in Mr. MacPherson's possession several manuscripts in the Gaelic language, and heard him speak of them repeatedly; he told me some stronger particulars, which I cannot now note down, for the conversation took place during the action of our winter campaign.
(Signed) "CHARLES HAMN. SMITH, Lt.--Col."
The Colonel had the reputation of being a great antiquary, and had a valuable library. James MacPherson, a "modest young man, who was master of Greek and Latin," was "procured" to be a preceptor to "the boy Tommy," who was afterwards Lord Lyndoch (according to a letter in a book printed for private circulation). As it appears to me, those who are ignorant of Gaelic, and now-a-days maintain that "MacPherson composed Ossian's Poems," are like critics who, being ignorant of Greek, should maintain that Pope wrote the Odyssey, and was the father of Homer; or, being ignorant of English, should declare that Tennyson was the father of King Arthur and all his knights, because he has published one of many poems which treat of them. It was different when Highlanders were "rebels;" and it was petty treason to deny that they were savages.
A glance at "Johnson's Tour in the Hebrides," will show the feeling of the day. He heard Gaelic songs in plenty, but would not believe in Gaelic poems. He appreciated the kindness and hospitality with which
he was treated; he praised the politeness of all ranks, and yet maintained that their language was "the rude speech of a barbarous people, who had few thoughts to express, and were content, as they conceived grossly, to be grossly understood."
He could see no beauty in the mountains which men now flock to see. He saw no fish in fording northern rivers, and explains how the winter torrents sweep them away; the stags were "perhaps not bigger than our fallow-deer;" the waves were not larger than those on the coast of Sussex; and yet, though the Doctor would not believe in Gaelic poems, he did believe that peat grew as it was cut, and that the vegetable part of it probably caused a glowing redness in the earth of which it is mainly composed; and he came away willing to believe in the second sight, though not quite convinced.
That sturdy old Briton, the great lexicographer, who is an honour to his country, was not wholly free from national prejudice; he erred in some things; he may have erred in a matter of which he could not well judge; he did not understand Gaelic; he did not believe in traditions; he would not believe in the translations; and MacPherson seems to have ended by encouraging the public belief that he was the author of poems which had gained so wide a celebrity.
Matters have changed for the better since those days; Celt and Saxon are no longer deadly foes. There still exists, as I am informed, an anti-Celtic society, whose president, on state occasions, wears three pairs of trousers; but it is no longer penal to dispense with these garments; and there are Southerns who discard them altogether, when they go north to
pursue the little stags on the ugly hills, and catch fish in the torrents.
There are Celtic names in high places, in India, and at home; and an English Duke is turning the Gaelic of Ossian's poems into English verse.
This, however, is foreign to my subject, though it bears somewhat on the rest of the traditions of the Finne. I have stated my own opinion because I hold it, not because I wish to influence those who differ from me. I have no wish to stir up the embers of an expiring controversy, which was besprinkled with peculiarly acrid ink, and obscured by acid fumes. I neither believe that MacPherson composed Ossian, nor that Ossian composed all the poems which bear his name. I am quite content to believe Ossian to have been an Irishman, or a Scotsman, or a myth, on sufficient evidence.
Besides these few remnants of poetry which still survive, I find a great many prose tales relating to the heroes of the poems; and as these personages certainly were popular heroes in Ireland and in Scotland centuries ago, I give what I have gathered concerning them, with the conviction that it is purely Celtic tradition. 1
The Seannachas of the Fine consists, then, of poetry already printed; fragments which are not in print, so far as I know, and which are now very rare; and prose tales which are tolerably common, but rapidly disappearing.
In all these, according to tradition, Fionn, Diarmaid, and the rest, are generally represented as Irish worthies. The scene is often laid in Ireland; but there are hundreds of places in Scotland in which some of the exploits are said to have been performed. I know not how many cairns are supposed to contain the bones of the wild boar, whose bristles wounded the feet of Diarmaid when he paced his length against the hair; Kyle Reay, in Skye, is named after a giant warrior who leaped the strait. There are endless mountains bearing Ossianic names in all parts of Scotland, and even in the Isle of Man the same names are to be found mixed up with legends. In April 1860, I met a peasant near Ramsey who knew the name of Fin MacCoul, though he would not say a word about him to me. In Train's history of the Island, published by Mary Quiggin, 1845, at page 359, is this note:--
"In a letter, dated 20th September, 1844, from a highly respected correspondent in the Isle of Man, he says--'Are you aware that the septennial appearance of the island, said to be submerged in the sea by enchantment near Port Soderick, is expected about the end of this month?' Though the spell by which this fancified island has been bound to the bottom of the ocean since the days of the great Fin MacCoul, and its inhabitants transformed in blocks of granite, might, according to popular belief, be broke by placing a bible on any part of the enchanted land when at its original altitude above the waters of the deep, where it is permitted to remain only for the short space of thirty minutes. No person has yet had the hardihood to make the attempt, lest, in case of failure, the enchanter, in revenge, might cast his club over Mona also."
And in Cregeen's Manks dictionary, by the same publisher, 1835, is this Manks proverb--
Ny three geayghn s'feayrey dennee Fion M'Cooil,
Geay henneu, as geay huill,
As geay fo ny shiauill."
[paragraph continues] Which I understand to mean-
The three coldest winds that came to Fion M'Cooil,
Wind from a thaw, wind from a hole,
And wind from under the sails.
[paragraph continues] In short, I believe that the heroes of Ossian belong to the race, not to any one set of poems, or to any single branch of the Celtic language.
2d. There are tales, not necessarily about the Fin, consisting partly of plain narrative and dialogue, which vary with every narrator, and probably more or less every time the story is told; and partly of a kind of measured prose, which is unlike anything I know in any other language. I suspect that these have been compositions at some time, but at what time I cannot even guess.
These almost always relate to Ireland and Scandinavia; to boats, knights, swords, and shields. There are adventures under ground, much battle, generally an island with fire about it (perhaps Iceland), and a lady to be carried off. There is often an old woman who has some mysterious vessel of balsam which brings the dead to life, and a despised character who turns out to be the real hero, sometimes a boaster who is held up to ridicule. I believe these to be bardic recitations fast disappearing and changing into prose; for the older the narrator is, the less educated, and the farther removed from the rest of the world, the more his stories are garnished with these passages. "Fin MacCumhal goes go Graffee," published in 1857, from Mayo, is evidently a translation of a tale of this kind. In all these, the scene is laid in Eirinn and Lochlan, now Ireland and Scandinavia; and these would seem to have been border countries. Perhaps the stories relate to the time
when the Scandinavians occupied part of the Western Isles.
3d. There is popular history of events which really happened within the last few centuries: of this, I have gathered none, but I heard a great deal in a very short time, and I have heard it all my life. It is a history devoid of dates, but with clear starting points. The event happened at the time of Shamas (James) at the battle of Shirra Muir; at Inverlochy; after Culloden. The battle was between MacNeill and MacLeod. MacLeod came from that castle. They met on that strand. The dead are buried there. Their descendants now live in such a place. He was the last man hanged in Harris. That is called the slab of lamentation, from which the MacLeans embarked for Ireland when the MacDonalds had conquered them, and taken the land. MacLean exposed his wife on the Lady Rock because she had made his servant blow up one of the ships of the Spanish Armada, for jealousy of the Spanish lady who was on board. The history is minute and circumstantial, and might be very interesting if faithfully collected, but it is rather local than national, and is not within the scope of my work. It is by far the most abundant popular lore, and has still a great hold on the people. The decision of a magistrate in a late case of "Sapaid" (broken heads) was very effective, because he appealed to this feeling. It was thus described to me: "Ah! he gave it to them. He leant back in his chair, and spoke grandly for half an hour. He said you are as wild men fighting together in the days of King Shamas."
4th. There are tales which relate to men and women only, and to events that might have happened anywhere at any time. They might possibly be true, and equally
true, whether the incidents happened to an Eastern sage or a wise old Highlander. Such tales as Nos. 19 and 20. These are plentiful, and their characteristic is sagacity and hidden meaning.
5th. There are children's tales, of which some are given. They are in poetry and prose as elsewhere, and bear a general resemblance to such tales all over the world. The cat and the mouse play parts in the nursery drama of the Western Isles, as well as; in "Contes et Apologues Indiens inconnus jusqu' a ce jour," etc.; a translation into French, by Mr. Stanislaus Julien, in 1860, of Chinese books, which were translated into that language from Sanscrit in 1565, by a Chinese doctor, and President of the Ministry of Justice, who composed "The Forest of Comparisons," in twenty-four volumes, divided into 20 classes, and subdivided into 508 sections, after twenty years of hard labour, during which he abstracted about 400 works. This is the name of one; Fo-choue-kiun-nieou-pi-king.
Let those who call Gaelic hard, try that; or this Tchong-king-siouen-tsi-pi-yu-king.
Let those who contemn nursery rhymes, think of the French savant, and the Chinese cabinet minister, and the learning which they have bestowed on the conversations of cats and mice.
6th. Riddles and puzzles, of which there are a very great number. They are generally descriptive, such as, "No bigger than a barley corn, it covers the king's board"--(the eye). I have given a few. If any despise riddles, let them bear in mind that the Queen of Sheba is believed to have propounded riddles to Solomon, and that Samson certainly proposed a riddle
to the Philistines. I am told that riddles are common in India now.
7th. Proverbs, in prose and in verse, of which 1515 were printed in 1819, and many more are still to be got. Many are evidently very old from their construction, and some are explained by the stories, for example, "Blackberries in February" has no very evident meaning, but a long story explains that difficulties may by vanquished. A king's son was sent by a stepmother to get "that which grew, and is neither crooked nor straight"--(sawdust); "Blackberries in February," which be found growing in a charnel-house; and a third thing, equally easy to find when the way was known.
8th. There are songs, of which there are a vast number, published and unpublished, of all sorts and kinds, sung to wild and peculiar tunes. They are condemned and forbidden in some districts, and are vanishing rapidly from all. These used to be sung continually within my recollection, and many of them are wild, and, to my ear, beautiful. There are songs composed in a particular rhythm for rowing, for washing clothes by dancing on them; songs whose rhythm resembles a piobroch; love songs; war songs; songs which are nearly all chorus, and which are composed as they are sung. The composer gives out a single line applicable to anything then present, and the chorus fills up the time by singing and clapping hands, till the second line is prepared. I have known such lines fired at a sportsman by a bevy of girls who were waulking blankets in a byre, and who made the gun and the dog the theme of several stanzas. Reid's Bibliotheca Scoto-Celtica, 1832, gives a list of eighty-one Gaelic books of poetry printed since 1785. There
are hymn books, song books, and poetry composed by known and unknown bards, male and female. Of the former, Mackenzie, in his Beauties of Gaelic poetry, gives a list of thirty-two, with specimens of their works and a short biography. Of the latter class, the unknown poets, there are many at the present day; and who is to guess their number in times when men did nothing but fight and sing about their battles? A very few of these bards have become known to the world by name, and, in all probability their merits never will be known. Let any one translate Sir Patrick Spens or Annie Laurie into French or Greek, or read a French translation of Waverley, and the effect of translation on such compositions will be evident.
9th. The romantic popular tales of which this collection mainly consists.
I presume that I have said enough as to their collection, and that I may now point out what seems to me to be their bearing on the scientific part of the subject; that I may take them as tradition, and argue from them as from established facts. I have endeavoured to show how, when, and where I got the stories; each has its own separate pedigree, and I have given the original Gaelic, with the closest translation which I was able to make.
Now, let me mention the works in which I have found similar tales, and which are within the reach of all who can read English. First--Tales from the Norse, translated by G. W. Dasent, published 1859. Many of the Gaelic tales collected in 1859 resemble these very closely. The likeness is pointed out in the notes.
It is impossible that the book could have become known to the people who told the stories within the time, but if it were, a manuscript which has been lent
to me by the translator, proves that the stories were known in Scotland before the translation from the Norse was made public.
It is a verbatim copy made by a clergyman from a collection of fourteen tales, gathered by "Peter Buchan, editor of the Ancient Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland." It is dated 1848, Glasgow; and signed, Alexander B. Grosart. The tales are written in English, and versions of all except three, had previously come to me in Gaelic. For example, (No. 2), The Battle of the Birds closely resembles "The Master Maid" from Norway, but it still more resembles Mr. Peter Buchan's "Greensleeves," found in Scotland thirteen years before the Norse tales were translated. The manuscript was sent by Mr. Grosart, after he had read the Norse tales, and it seems to be clearly proved that these stories are common to Norway and Scotland.
I have found very few stories of the kind amongst the peasantry of the low country, though I have sought them. I find such names as Fingal in Mr. Buchan's stories, and I know them to be common in the islands where the scene is often laid. The language is not that of any peasantry, and I have come to the conclusion that this collection is mostly derived from Gaelic, directly or indirectly, perhaps from the shoals of West Highlanders and Irishmen who used to come down as shearers every harvest, and who are now scattered all over Scotland as farm-servants and drovers, and settled in Edinburgh and Glasgow as porters. I know from one of these, a drover, who goes every year to the south with cattle, that he has often entertained lowland farm-servants by telling in English the stories which he learned as child in South Uist. I know
of men in Paisley, Greenock, and Edinburgh, who are noted for their knowledge of sgeulachd. But while I hold that this particular collection was not told in this form by lowland Scotch peasants, I know that they still do tell such stories occasionally, and I also know that Englishmen of the lower ranks do the same. I met two tinkers in St. James's Street in February with black faces and a pan of burning coals each. They were followed by a wife, and preceded by a mangy terrier with a stiff tail. I joined the party, and one told me a version of "the man who travelled to learn what shivering meant," while we walked together through the park to Westminster. It was clearly the popular tale which exist in Norse, and German, and Gaelic, and it bore the stamp of the mind of the class, and of the man, who told it in his own peculiar dialect, and who dressed the actors in his own ideas. A cutler and a tinker travel together, and sleep in an empty haunted house for a reward. They are beset by ghosts and spirits of murdered ladies and gentlemen, and the inferior, the tinker, shows most courage, and is the hero. "He went into the cellar to draw beer, and there be found a little chap a-sittin' on a barrel with a red cap on 'is 'ed; and sez he, sez he, 'Buzz.' 'Wot's buzz?' sez the tinker. 'Never you mind wot's buzz,' sez he. 'That's mine; don't you go for to touch it,'" etc., etc., etc.
In a less degree many are like the German stories of the brothers Grimm. That collection has been translated, and a book so well known may possibly have found its way into the Highlands. It is impossible to speak with certainty; but when all the narrators agree in saying that they have known their stories all their lives, and when the variation is so marked, the resemblance
is rather to be attributed to common origin than to books. I only once heard of such a book in the Highlands. It was given to a gamekeeper in Sutherland for his children, and was condemned, and put out of the way as trash.
The Gaelic stories resemble in some few cases the well-known tales of Hans Andersen, founded on popular tales told in Denmark.
And they resemble sundry other books which are avowedly founded on popular tales collected in various countries.
Some are like the French tales of the Countess D'Aulnoy which have been translated. One is like part of Shakespeare, but it is still more like the Italian story in Boccaccio, from which part of Cymbeline is supposed to be taken. Perhaps Shakespeare may have founded Cymbeline on a popular tale then current in England and as well as in Italy.
A few resemble the Arabian Nights, and in some cases I believe that the stories have been derived from early English translations of that well-known book. I used myself to read an edition of 1815 to my piper guardian, in return for his uregeuls, but he seemed more inclined to blame the tyranny of the kings than to admire the Eastern stories.
MacLean has himself told the story of Aladdin in Gaelic as his share of a winter night's entertainment, and I have beard of several people of the poorer class who know the Arabian Nights well. But such stories are easily known after a little experience has been gained. The whole of a volume is run together, the incidents follow in their order, or in something like it. The difference in style is as marked as the contrast between a drift tree and a wrecked vessel, but as it
is curious to trace the change from Eastern ways as seen through an English translation of a French view of the original Arabic, I give specimens. These contain the incidents embodied in stories in the Arabian Nights, but the whole machinery and decoration, manners and customs, are now as completely West Highland as if the tales had grown there. But for a camel which appears, I would almost give up my opinion, and adopt that of MacLean, who holds that even these are pure traditions.
In support of his view it may be said that there are hundreds of other books as well known in England as those mentioned above, of which neither I nor my collectors have ever found a trace. Jack and the Bean-stalk, and Jack the Giant-killer, Beauty and the Beast, and the Sleeping Beauty in the Woods, as known in England, are unknown in the Highlands. None of the adventures of Mr. Pickwick, or Sam Weller, or Jack Shepherd, or Gulliver, or Robinson Crusoe, are mixed up with the prose tales. No part of the story of Wallace, as told in the "Scottish Chiefs," or of "Waverley," is to be found in popular history. There is nothing like "The Mysteries of London." There are none of the modern horrors of which ballads have been made, such as "Sad was the day when James Greenacre first got acquainted with Sarah Gale." There are no gorgeous palaces, and elegant fairies; there are no enchanters flying in chariots drawn by winged griffins; there are no gentle knights and noble dames; no spruce cavaliers and well-dressed ladies; no heroes and heroines of fashionable novels; but, on the contrary, everything is popular. Heroes are as wild, and unkempt, and savage as they probably were
in fact, and kings are men as they appear in Lane's translations of the Arabian Nights.
Eastern tale tellers knew what Haroun al Raschid must have suffered when he put on the fisherman's clothes, and Mr. Lane has not scrupled to follow the original Arabic.
If the people of the West Highlands have added book stories to their traditions, they have selected those only which were taken from peasants like themselves in other countries, and they have stripped off all that was foreign to their own manners. The people have but taken back their own.
Besides books accessible to all English readers, I find similar stories in books beyond the reach of the people. I have pointed out in the notes all that were within my reach, and came under my notice, but this part of the subject is a study, and requires time to acquire knowledge which I do not possess.
Such, then, is the evidence which bears on the immediate origin of the stories. I believe them to be pure traditions, very little affected by modern books, and, if at all, only by those which are avowedly taken from popular tales. A trip of five days in the Isle of Man in April 1860 has but confirmed this opinion.
That island, in spite of its numerous rulers, is still peculiarly Celtic. It has belonged to Norwegians. English, Scotch, Welsh, and Irish have fought for it. It has a Law Court with a Norwegian name held on a mound; half the names in the island are Norse, such as Laxey (Salmon isthmus), Langness, Snafell; but these names are not understood by the people who live at the places. Peel has a descriptive Gaelic name, which means island port; a Salmon is Braddan, not Lax; and of the poorer classes living in the mountain farms, and
on the points and distant corners of the island, there are still many who can hardly speak anything but Manks. Their hair is dark; the sound of their voices, even their houses, are Celtic. I know one turf dwelling which might be a house in North Uist. There was the fire on the floor, the children seated around it, the black haired Celtic mother on a low stool in front,--the hens quarrelling about a nest under the table, in which several wanted to lay eggs at once.
"Get out, Polly! Drive her out, John!" And then John, the son, drove out Polly, the hen, with a stick; and the hen said "Gurr-r-m;" and ran in under the table again and said, "Cluck, cluck," and laid the egg then and there. There was the same kindly hospitable manner in the poorest cottage; and I soon found that a Scotch Highlander could speak Manks as soon as he could acquire the art of mispronouncing his own language to the right amount, and learn where to introduce the proper English word. "La fine"--fine day--was the salutation everywhere; and the reply, "Fine, fine." But though nouns are almost the same, and the language is but a dialect of Gaelic, the foreigner was incomprehensible, because he could not pronounce as they did; and I was reduced to English. Now this island is visited every summer by shoals of visitors from the mainland; steam-boats bring them from Liverpool, a thousand at a time, and they sweep over the whole country. If visitors import stories, here there are plenty of strangers, and I was a stranger myself. If stories are imported in books, here are the books also. The first picture I saw on landing was a magnificent Bluebeard in a shop window. He was dressed as an Eastern potentate, and about to slice off his wife's head with a crooked scimitar, while the two
brothers rode up to the gate on prancing steeds, with horror on their faces and swords in their hands. But there was not a trace of any of that kind of story to be found amongst the peasants with whom I spoke in the Isle of Man.
I found them willing to talk, eager to question, kindly, homely folk, with whom it was easy to begin an acquaintance. I heard everywhere that it used to be common to hear old men telling stories about the fire in Manks; but any attempt to extract a story, or search out a queer old custom, or a half-forgotten belief, seemed to act as a pinch of snuff does on a snail.
The Manksman would not trust the foreigner with his secrets; his eye twinkled suspiciously, and his hand seemed unconsciously to grasp his mouth, as if to keep all fast. After getting quite at ease with one old fellow over a pipe, and having learned that a neighbour's cow had born a calf to the "Taroo ustey," water bull, I thought I might fish for a story, and told one as a bait.
"That man, if he had two pints, would tell you stories by the hour," said a boy. "Oh, yes, they used to tell plenty of stories," said the old man, "Skyll, as we call them."
Here was the very word mispronounced, "sgeul," so my hopes rose. "Will you tell me a story now?" "Have you any churches in your country?" "Yes, and chapels; but will you tell me a story?" "What you got to sell in your bag?" "What a shame now, for you, an old Mananach, not to tell me a story when I have told you one, and filled your pipe and all." "What do you pay for the tobacco?" "Oh, will you not tell the man a story?" said the boy. "I must go and saw now," said the old man; and so we parted.
But though this was the usual thing, it was not always so; and it soon became evident that the stories given in Train's history of the Isle of Man, are nearly all known to the people now; and these are of the same nature as some known in the Highlands of Scotland; some are almost identical; and nearly all the Manks customs are common to the Western Isles.
Thus I heard of Fairies, "Ferish," who live in green mounds, and are heard at times dressing mill-stones in haunted mills; of Taroo Ustey, the water bull; of Dinny Mara, the sea man, and of the Mermaid; of Caval Ustey, the water horse; of Fion MacCooil; of a city under the waves; of a magic island seen in the far west. I heard of giants. No one would tell about them; but in a book I found how Goddard Crovan threw a vast boulder at his scolding wife, and how a Norman baron, named "Kitter" and his cook; "Eaoch," and his magic sword, "Macabuin," made by "Loan Maclibhuin, the dark smith of Drontheim;" and "Hiallus-nan-urd, the one-legged hammerman,"--are all woven into a story, and mixed up with such Norwegian names as Olave and Emergaid, exactly as a story is jumbled together in the Western Isles of Scotland.
I got some stories which I have not found in the Manks books, so I give them here, in the hope that some Manksman may be induced to gather the popular lore of his own country. This from a woman who lives near the Calf of Man.
"Did you ever hear tell of the Glashan?"
"No; tell me about the Glashan."
"Well, you see, in the old times they used to be keeping the sheep in the folds; and one night an old man forgot to put them in, and he sent out his son, and he came back and said the sheep were all folded, but there was a year-old lamb, oasht, playing the mischief with them; and that was the glashan.
You see they were very strong, and when they wanted a stack threshed, though it was a whole stack, the glashan would have it threshed for them in one night.
"And they were running after the women. There was one of them once caught a girl, and had a hould of her by the dress, and he sat down and he fell asleep; and then she cut away all the dress, you see, round about this way, and left it in his fist and ran away; and when he awoke, he threw what he had over his shoulder, this way; and he said (something in Manks which I could not catch).
"Well, you see, one night the ould fellow sent all the women to bed, and he put on a cap and a woman's dress, and he sat down by the fire and he began to spin; and the young glashans, they came in, and they began saying something in Manks that means 'Are you turning the wheel? are you trying the reel?' Well, the ould glashan, he was outside, and he knew better than the young ones; be knew it was the ould fellow himself, and he was telling them, but they did not mind him; and so the ould man threw a lot of hot turf, you see, it was turf they burned then, over them and burned them; and the ould one said (something in Manks). 'You'll not understand that, now?' 'Yes, I do, pretty nearly.' 'Ah, well.' And so the glashans went away and never came back any more."
"Have you many stories like that, guidwife?" "Ay," said she, "there were plenty of people that could tell these stories once. When I was a little girl, I used to hear them telling them in Manks over the fire at night; but people is so changed with pride now that they care for nothing."
Now here is a story which is all over the Highlands in various shapes. Sometimes it is a Brollichan son of the Fuath, or a young water horse transformed into the likeness of a man, which attacks a lonely woman, and gets burned or scalded, and goes away to his friends outside. In the islands, the woman generally says her name is Myself; and the goblin answers, when asked who burned him, "Myself." This Manks story is manifestly the same, though this incident is left out. I have
beard it in Lewis, and in many places besides, and part of it is best omitted.
The Glashan, as I found out afterwards, frequented neighbouring farms till within a very late period. He wore no clothes, and was hairy; and, according, to Train's history, Phynodderee, which means something hairy, was frightened away by a gift of clothes--exactly as the Skipness long-haired Gruagach was frightened away by the offer of a coat and a cap. The Manks brownie and the Argyllshire one each repeated a rhyme over the clothes; but the rhymes are not the same, though they amount to the same thing.
Here, then, is a Gaelic popular tale and belief in Man; and close to it I found a story which has a counterpart in Grimm. I heard it from my landlady at Port Erin, and I met two Manksmen afterwards who know it--
"The fish all gathered once to choose a king; and the fluke, him that has the red spots on him, stayed at home to make himself pretty, putting on his red spots, to see if he would be king, and he was too late, for when he came the herring was king of the sea. So the fluke curled his mouth on one side, and said, 'A simple fish like the herring, king of the sea!' and his mouth has been to one side ever since."
It seems, too, that the Manks version of "Jack the Giant Killer" varies from the English; for
"Jack the Giant Killer,
Varv a Vuchd in the river,"
killed a pig in the river; and the English hero did nothing of the sort. In short, the Isle of Man has its own legends, which have their own peculiarities; they resemble others, and do not seem to be taken from books. The same class of people tell them there as elsewhere; the difficulty of getting at them is the same; and the key to the secret is the native language. From what I gleaned
in a five days' walk, I am sure that a good Manksman might yet gather a large harvest within a very narrow space. And now to return to my own subject.
I find that men of all ranks resemble each other; that each branch of popular lore has its own special votaries, as branches of literature have amongst the learned; that one man is the peasant historian and tells of the battles of the clans; another, a walking peerage, who knows the descent of most of the families in Scotland, and all about his neighbours and their origin; others are romancers, and tell about the giants; others are moralists, and prefer the sagacious prose tales, which have a meaning, and might have a moral; a few know the history of the Feni, and are antiquarians. Many despise the whole as frivolities; they are practical moderns, and answer to practical men in other ranks of society.
But though each prefers his own subject, the best Highland story-tellers know specimens of all kinds. Start them, and it seems as if they would never stop. I timed one, and he spoke for an hour without pause or hesitation, or verbal repetition. His story was Connall Gulban, and he said he could repeat fourscore. He recited a poem, but despised "Bardism"; and he followed me six miles in the dark to my inn, to tell me numbers 19 and 20, which I have condensed; for the very same thing can be shortly told when it is not a composition. For example.
In telling a story, narrative and dialogue are mixed what the characters have told each other to do is repeated as narrative. The people in the story tell it to each other, and branch off into discussions about their horses and houses and crops, or anything that happens to turn up. One story grows out of another,
and the tree is almost hidden by a foliage of the speaker's invention. Here and there comes a passage repeated by rote, and common to many stories, and to every good narrator. It seems to act as a rest for the memory. Now and then, an observation from the audience starts an argument. In short, one good story in the mouth of a good narrator, with a good audience, might easily go rambling on for a whole winter's night, as it is said to do.
The "Slim Swarthy Champion used to last for four hours." Connall Gulban "used to last for three evenings. Those that wanted to hear the end had to come back." One of my collectors said it would take him a month to write it down, but I am bound to add that he has since done it in a very much shorter time. I have heard of a man who fell asleep by the fire, and found a story going on when he awoke next morning. I have one fragment on which (as I am told) an old man in Ross-shire used to found twenty-four stories, all of which died with him.
There are varieties in public speakers amongst the people as amongst their representatives, for some are eloquent, some terse, some prosy.
But though a tale may be spun out to any extent, the very same incidents can be, and often are, told in a few words, and those tales which have been written for me are fair representations of them as they are usually told. They are like a good condensed report of a rambling speech, with extraneous matter left out. One narrator said of the longest story which I had then got--" It is but the contents;" but I have more than once asked a narrator to tell me the story which he had previously told to one of my collectors, and a collector to write down a story which I had previously heard,
and I have always found the pith, often the very words. In no instance have I found anything added by those whom I employed, when their work was subjected to this severe test.
This is the account which one of my collectors gives of the old customs of his class--he is a workman employed by the Duke of Argyll; he tells me that he is self-educated; and as he repeats some of the stories which he has written, from memory, his account of the way in which he acquired them is valuable.
I remember, upwards of fifty years ago, when I was a boy, my father lived in the farest north house, in the valley called Glen-na Callanach. I also used to be with my granfather; he lived near Terbert, Lochlomond side. I remember, in the winter nights, when a few old people would be togather, they would pass the time with telling each other stories, which they had by tradition. I used to listen attentively, and hear them telling about the ceatharnaich, or freebooters, which used to come to plunder the country, and take away cattle; and how their ancestors would gather themselves togather to fight for their property, the battles they fought, and the kind of weapons they used to fight with; the manners of their ancestors, the dress they used to wear, and different hardships they had to endure.
I was also sometimes amused, listening to some people telling Gaelic romances, which we called sgeulachds. It was customary for a few youngsters to gather into one house, and whither idle or at some work, such as knitting stockings or spinning, they would amuse each other with some innocent diversion, or telling sgeulachds. Us that was children was very fond of listening to them, and the servant maid that was in my father's house would often tell us a sgeulachd to keep us queit.
In those days, when people killed their Marte cow they keept the hide, and tanned it for leather to themselves. In those days every house was furnished with a wheel and a reel; the women spun, and got their webs woven by a neighbouring weaver; also, the women was dyers for themselves, so that the working class had their leather, their linen, and their cloth of their own manufacturing; and when they required the help of a shoemaker, or
of a tailor, they would send for them. The tailors and shoemakers went from house to house, to work wherever they were required, and by travelling the country so much, got acquaint with a great maney of the traditionary tales, and divulged them through the country; and as the country people made the telling of these tales, and listening to hear them, their winter night's amusement, scarcely aney part of them would be lost. Some of these romances is supposed to be of great antiquity, on account of some of the Gaelic words being out of use now. I remember, about forty years ago, of being in company with a man that was watching at night; he wished me to stop with him, and he told me a (sgeulachd) romance; and last year I heard a man telling the same story, about therty miles distante from where I had heard it told forty years before that; and the man which told me the tale could not tell me the meaning of some of the old Gaelic words that was in it. At first I thought they were foreign words, but at last I recollected to have heard some of them repeated in Ossian's poems, and it was by the words that was before, and after them, that I understood the meaning of them. The same man told me another story, which he said he learned from his granfather, and Denmark, Swedden, and Noraway was named in it in Gaelic, but he forgot the name of the two last-named places.
It appears likely to me, that some of these tales was invented by the Druids, and told to the people as sermons; and by these tales the people was caused to believe that there was fairies which lived in little conical hills, and that the fairies had the power of being either visible or invisible, as they thought proper, and that they had the power of enchanting people, and of taking them away and make fairies of them; and that the Druids had charms which would prevent that; and they would give these charms to the people for payment; and maney stories would be told about people being taken away by the fairies, and the charms which had to be used to break the spell, and get them back again; and others, on account of some neglidgeance, never got back aney more.
Also that there was witches; people which had communication with an evil spirit, from which they got the power of changing themselves into aney shape they pleased; that these witches often put themselves in the shape of beasts, and when they were in the shape of beasts, that they had some evil design in view, and that it was dangerous to meet them. Also that they could,
and did, sometimes take away the produce of people's dairy, and sometimes of the whole farm. The Druidical priests pretended that they had charms that would prevent the witches from doing aney harm, and they would give a charm for payment. When the first day of summer came, the people was taught to put the fire out of their houses, and to place it on some emince near the house for to keep away the witches, and that it was not safe for them to kindle a fire in their house aney more, until they bought it from beil's druide. That fire was called beil-teine (beils-fire), and the first day of summer was called beil-fires day; and also when the first night of winter came, the people would gather fuel and make blazing fire for to keep away the witches, or at least to deprive them of the power of taking away the produce of the farm, and then they would go to the Druid and buy a kindling of what was called the holy fire. The Druids also caused the people to believe that some families had been enchanted and changed into beasts, and as the proper means had not been used, the spell was never broken; and that swans, seals, and marmaids had been different beings, familys that had been enchanted.
Beil or Beul was the name which the Druids gave their god, and the Druids of Beil pretended to be the friends of the people; they pretended to have charms to cure different kinds of diseases, and also charms to prevent fairies, ghosts, and witches, from annoying or harming people. It is a well-known fact, that the superstitions of the Druids has been handed down from generation to generation for a great maney ages, and is not wholy extinct yet; and we have reason to believe that some of the tales, which was invented in those days for to fright the people, has been told and kept in remembrance in the self and same manner. The priests of Beil was the men that was called Druids, the miracles which they pretended to perform was called meur-bheileachd (beil-fingering), and their magic which they pretended to perform was called druichd (druidisem), and we have plenty of reason to believe superstitious tales as well as superstition, originated among the Druids.
"J. Campbell, Esq.
"SIR--I hope you will correct aney errors that you may find on this piece which I wrote."
I have corrected only two or three errors in spelling, and the writing is remarkably clear, but I have left some words which express the Gaelic pronunciation of English.
The derivation Of MIORBHUIL, a marvel, from the finger of Bel, was suggested by Dr. Smith (see Armstrong's Die.) J.F.C.
Now let me return to the cottage of old Macphie, where I heard a version of the Sea-Maiden, and let me suppose that one of the rafters is the drift log which I saw about to be added to a roof in the same island.
The whole roof is covered with peat soot, but that may be scraped away, and the rough wood appears. There are the holes of boring sea shells, filled with sand and marine products. It is evident that the log came by sea, that it did not come in a ship, and that it was long enough in warm salt water for the barnacles to live and die, and for their dwellings to be filled with sea rubbish; that it floated through latitudes where barnacles live. The fairy eggs, which are picked up on the same shore, point to the West Indies as a stage on the way. Maps of ocean currents shew the gulf-stream flowing from the Gulf of Mexico past the Hebrides, but the tree is a fir, for there is a bit of bark which proves the fact, and it appears that pines grow between 40° and 60° in America. It is therefore possible that the rafter was once an American fir tree, growing in the Rocky Mountains; that it was swept into the Mississippi, and carried to the Gulf of Mexico; drifted by the gulf-stream past the West India Islands to the Hebrides, and stranded by a western gale on its voyage; to Spitzbergen. But all this must have happened long ago, for it is now a rafter covered with the soot of generations. That rafter is a strange fact, it is one of a series, and has to be accounted for. There it is, and a probable account of its journey is, that it came from East to West without the help of man, in obedience to laws which govern the world.
That smoked rafter certainly was once a seed in a
fir-cone, somewhere abroad. It grew to be a pine tree; it must have been white with snow in winter, and green in summer, and glittering with rain drops and hoar-frost in bright sunshine at various times and seasons. The number of years it stood in the forest can be counted by the rings in the wood. It is certain that it was torn up by the roots, for the roots are there still. It may have formed a part of one of these wonderful natural rafts of the Mississippi, of which one in 1816 was "no less than ten miles in length, two hundred and twenty yards wide, and eight feet deep." 1 It has been to warm seas, and has worn a marine dress of green and brown since it lost its own natural dress of green branches. Birds must have sat on it in the forest,--crabs and shells have lived on it at sea, and fish must have swam about it; and yet it is now a rafter, hung with black pendants of peat smoke. A tree that grew beside it may now be in Spitzbergen amongst walrusses. Another may be a snag in the Mississippi amongst alligators, destined to become a fossil tree in a coal field. Part of another may be a Yankee rocking chair, or it may be part of a ship in any part of the World, or the tram of a cart, or bit of a carriage, or a wheel-barrow, or a gate post, or anything that can be made of fir wood anywhere; and the fate of stories may be as various as that of fir trees, but their course may be guessed at by running a back scent overland, as I have endeavoured to follow the voyage of a drift log over sea.
Macphie's story began thus:--"There was a poor old fisher in Skye, and his name was Duncan;" and every version of the story which I have found in the Highlands, and I have found many, is as highland as the peat-reek on the rafters. The same story is known in
many districts in Scotland, and it is evident, that it has. been known there for many years. It is a curious fact. It is worth the trouble of looking under what is purely highland, to see if its origin can be discovered.
First, then, the incidents are generally strung, together in a particular order in the Highlands, but, either separately or together, every incident in the story is to be found in some shape in other languages. Norse has it as "Shortshanks." Irish has it. German has it. It is in the Italian of Straparola as "Fortunio." In the French of le Cabinet des Feés, 1785. It is in every language in Europe as "St. George and the Dragon." It is in Mr. Peter Buchan's English of 1847 as part of "Greensleeves." It is in "Perseus and Andromeda." The scene of that story is placed in Syria, and it is connected with Persia. There is something in Sanscrit about Indra, a god who recovered the stolen cattle of the gods, but here the scent is very cold, and the hound at fault, though it seems that the Sanscrit hero was the sun personified, and that he had horses of many colours, including red and white, which were always feminine, as the horses in Gaelic stories are, and which had wings and flew through the air. These were "Svankas," with beautiful steps. "Robitas," red or brown; Gaelic horses are often described as "Seang," "Ruadh"; and here seems to be a clue which is worth the attention of Eastern scholars.
There is a mermaid in the story, and mermaids are mentioned in Irish, and in Arabic, and in Manks, and Italian: men even assert that they have seen mermaids in the sea within the last few years, amongst the Hebrides and off Plymouth.
There are creatures, Falcon, Wolf and Lion. Two
of them were natives within historic times, one is still; but the third is a foreigner. There is an Otter, and a Sea Monster, and in other tales, there are Bears and Doves, and other animals; but every one of them, except the monster, is to be found on the road to the land where Sanscrit was spoken, and all these, and many more, played their part in popular tales elsewhere, while no real animal is ever mentioned which is peculiar to lands out of the road which leads overland to India.
Nearly all these have Gaelic names, and most of them are still living within a few days' journey of the Hebrides under other names. I saw a live wolf from a diligence one fine morning in Brittany, and I have seen bears in Scandinavia and in Germany. The only far-fetched animal is the Lion, and in another story a similar creature appears as "Cu Seang." Here is a fresh scent--for Sing is Lion in India--and may once have meant Lion in Gaelic; for though Leomban is the word now used, Seang is applied to anything slender and active. Shune is a dog in Sanscrit, Siunnach a fox in Gaelic, and there are many other Gaelic words which point to the "eastern origin of Celtic nations." The story cannot have crossed the sea from the West. It is therefore probable that it came from the East, for it is not of home growth, and the question is, how did it get to Barra?
It seems to have been known along a certain track for many ages. It is possible that it came from the far East with the. people, and that it has survived ever since. It is hard to account for it otherwise. Those who have most studied the subject so account for popular tales elsewhere, and therefore, Donald Macphie's
story of the Sea-Maiden acquires an interest not all its own.
Much has been written, and said, and discovered about the popular migrations which have poured from East to West, and which are moving on still. Philology has mapped out the course of the human stream, and here, in the mind of an old fisherman, unable to read, or to speak any language but his own, is the end of a clue which seems to join Iran and Eirinn; as a rafter in his hut may link him with the Rocky Mountains.
Admit that this so-called fiction, and others like it, may be traditions, which have existed from the earliest of times, and every word and incident acquires an interest, for it may lead to something else.
The story certainly grew in the mind of man, as a tree grows from a seed, but when or where? It has certainly been told in many languages. It is worth inquiring how many races have told it.
The incidents, like drift trees, have been associated with people and events, as various as birds, fish, alligators, walrusses, and men; mountain ranges, and ocean currents. They have passed through the minds of Ovid and Donald Macphie. They have been adorned by poets, painted by artists, consecrated by priests,--for St. George is the patron saint of England; and now we find that which may have sprung from some quarrel about a cow, and which has passed through so many changes, dropping into forgetfulness in the mind of an old fisherman, and surrounded with the ideas which belong to his every-day life. Ideas differing from those of the people who first invented the story, as the snow of the Rocky Mountains differs from peat-reek.
Now, to look forwards, and follow in imagination the shoals of emigrants from Germany, Scandinavia, France, Ireland, and Scotland, who are settled in clumps, or scattered over America and Australia; to think of the stories which have been gathered in Europe from these people alone, and which they have most certainly carried with them, and will tell their children; and then the route of popular tales hereafter, and their spread in former ages, can be traced and may be guessed.
I have inquired, and find that several Islanders, who used to tell the stories in Gaelic, are now settled in Australia and Canada. One of my relatives was nearly overwhelmed with hospitality in an Australian village, by a colony of Argyllshire Celts, who had found out that he was a countryman.
I was lately told of a party of men who landed in South America, and addressed a woman whom they found in a hut, in seven different languages; but in vain. At last, one of them spoke Gaelic, which he had not done for many years, and she answered, "Well, it is to thyself I would give the speech," for she was a native of Strathglas.
There is a Gaelic population in Upper Canada: there are Highland regiments in India: many of the Arctic explorers were Highlanders, and most of the servants of the Hudson's Bay Company still are: Dr. Livingstone is in South Africa; and what is true of Highlanders is equally true of Germans and Scandinavians, they are spread over the world. In short, the "migration of races," and "the diffusion of popular tales," is still going on, the whole human race is mingling together, and it is fair to argue from such
facts, and to try to discover that which is Unknown from that which is proved.
What is true of one Gaelic story is true of nearly all; they contain within themselves evidence that they have been domesticated in the country for a long time, and that they came from the East, but they belong to the people now, wherever they came from; and they seem also to belong to the language.
Poems and compositions clearly do. In the prose tales, when animals speak, they talk in their natural key, so long as they speak Gaelic, and for that reason, among others, I believe them to be old traditions. The little birds speak in the key of all little birds (ee); they say, "beeg, beeg." The crow croaks his own music when he says, "gawrag, gawrag." When driven to say, "silly, silly," he no longer speaks the language of nature. Grimm's German frog says, "warte, warte," he sings, "mach mir auf," and talks his own language. So does his Gaelic relative, in No. 33, when he says,--
"A chaomhag, a chaomhag,
An cuimhneach leat
An gealladh beag
A thug thu aig
An tobar dhomh,
A ghaoil, a ghaoil?"
[paragraph continues] He then imitates the quarking and gurgling of real frogs in a pond in spring, in sounds which no Saxon letters can express; but when he sings,--
"Open the door, my hinney, my heart,
Open the door, my ain wee thing,
And mind the words that you and I spak',
Down in the meadow, at the well spring,"
he is speaking in a foreign tongue, though the story, has been domesticated in the Lowlands of Scotland for
many a long day, and is commonly told there still. The Scotch story has probably been found and polished by some one long ago, but when the frog comes "loup, louping," he is at home in Low Country Scotch, and these words are probably as old as the story and the language.
If Motherwell's beautiful nursery songs were to be collected from oral recitation anywhere, they would prove themselves Scotch by this test: The watch-dog says, "wouff, wouff;" the hen is "chuckie;" the chickens, "wheetle, wheeties;" the cock is "cockie-leerie-law;" the pigeon, "croodle-doo;" the cow says, "moo." And so also the wood-pigeon who said, "Take two sheep, Taffy take two," spoke English; but the blackcock, and cuckoo, and cock, in the Norse tales, who quarrelled about a cow, are easily known to be foreigners when they speak English, for the original Norse alone gives their true note. The Gaelic stories, tried by this test, certainly belong to the language as they do to the people; and now let us see if they can teach us anything about the people, their origin, and their habits, past and present.
First, the manners are generally those of the day. The tales are like the feasts of the pauper maniac, Emperor of the world, who confided to his doctor that all his rich food tasted of oatmeal brose. Kings live in cottages, and sit on low stools. When they have coaches, they open the door themselves. The queen saddles the king's horse. The king goes to his own stable when he hears a noise those. Sportsmen use guns. The fire is on the floor. Supernatural old women are found spinning "beyound" it, in the warm place of honour, in all primitive dwellings, even in a Lapland tent. The king's mother puts on the fire
and sleeps in the common room, as a peasant does. The cock sleeps on the rafters, the sheep on the floor, the bull behind the door. A ladder is a pole, with pegs stuck through it. Horses put their noses "into" bridles. When all Ireland passes in review before the princess, they go in at the front door and out at the back, as they would through a bothy; and even the unexplained personage, the daughter of the king of the skies, has maids who chatter to her as freely as maids do to Highland mistresses. When the prince is at death's door for love of the beautiful lady in the swan's down robe, and the queen mother is in despair, she goes to the kitchen to talk over the matter.
The tales represent the actual, every-day life of those who tell them, with general fidelity. They have done the same, in all likelihood, time out of mind, and that which is not true of the present is, in all probability, true of the past; and therefore something may be learned of forgotten ways of life.
If much is of home growth, if the fight with the dragon takes place at the end of a dark, quiet Highland loch, where real whales actually blow and splash, there are landscapes which are not painted from nature, as she is seen in the Isles, and these may be real pictures seen long ago by our ancestors. Men ride for days through forests, though the men who tell of them live in small islands, where there are only drift trees and bog pine. There are traces of foreign or forgotten laws or customs. A man buys a wife as he would a cow, and acquires a right to shoot her, which is acknowledged as good law.
Cæsar tells of the Gauls, that "men have the power of life and death over their wives, as well as their children." It appears that an Iceland betrothal was
little more than the purchase of a wife; and in this the story may be a true picture of the past.
Men are bound with the binding of the three smalls--waist, ankles, and wrists--tightened and tortured The conqueror almost invariably asks the conquered what is his "eirig," an old law term for the price of men's blood, which varied with the rank of the injured man; and when the vanquished has revealed his riches, the victor takes his life, and the spoil; his arms, combs, basins, dresses, horses, gold and silver; and such deeds may have been done. The tales which treat of the wars of Eirinn and Lochlann, and are full of metrical prose, describe arms and boats, helmet, spears, shields, and other gear; ships that are drawn on shore, as Icelandic ships really were; boats and arms similar to those which are figured on old stones in Iona and elsewhere, and are sometimes dug out of old graves and peat mosses. I believe them to be descriptions of real arms, and dresses, manners, and events.
For example, the warriors always abuse each other before they fight. So do the heroes of Ossian; so do the heroes of Homer; so do soldiers now. In the Times of the 29th of December 1859, in a letter from the camp at Ceuta in this passage:--
"While fighting, even when only exchanging long shots, the Moors keep up a most hideous howling and shrieking, vituperating their enemies in bad Spanish, and making the mountains resound with the often-repeated epithet of 'perros' (dogs). To this the Spaniards condescend not to reply, except with bullets, although in the civil war it was no unusual thing to hear Carlist and Christina skirmishers abusing each other, and especially indulging in unhandsome reflections upon each others' Sovereign."
Again, the fights are single combats, in which individuals attack masses and conquer. So were the Homeric combats. What will be the story told in
[paragraph continues] Africa by the grandson of the Moor here described, when be sits on his flat roof or in his central court in Tetuan, as I have done with one of the Jews now ruined; he will surely tell of his ancestor's deeds, repeat the words in which Achmed abused the unbeliever, and tell how he shot some mystical number of them with a single ball.
"Upon the whole they stood their ground very stoutly, and some of them gave proof of great courage, advancing singly along the ridge until they caught sight of the first Spaniards posted below it, when they discharged their espingardas and retreated."
"Stories" had begun in Morocco, by the 9th of January 1860, when the next letter appeared:--
"The Moors have been giving out fantastical histories of their victories over the Spaniards, of their having taken redoubts, which they might have held had they thought it worth while, and in which they would have captured guns if the Christians had not been so prudent as to remove them beforehand. These are mere fables."
It may be so, but Moors seem to have fought as wild, brave, undisciplined troops have always fought as Homer's Greeks fought, as Highlanders fought, and as Fionn and his heroes fought, according to tradition. Omit the magic of Maghach Colgar, forget that, Moors are dark men, and this might be an account of Diarmid and Conan in the story, or of their descendants as they were described in 1745 by those who were opposed to them:--
"The Moors are generally tall powerful men, of ferocious aspect and great agility, and their mode of coming on, like so many howling savages, is not calculated to encourage and give confidence to lads who for the first time find themselves in action. It seems nearly impossible to make them prisoners. In one encounter (most of these little actions are made up of a number of
small fights between a few companies of Spaniards and detached bodies of the Moors, who seem to have no idea of attacking in battalion or otherwise than irregularly), in which a number of Moors were killed, one of them was surrounded by four Cazadores, who came down upon him with fixed bayonets, shouting and signing to him not to fire, and that they would give him quarter. The Moor took no heed of their overtures, levelled his long gun, and shot one of them, whereupon he was, of course, put to death by the others."
So, looking to facts now occurring, and to history, "traditional fictions" look very true, for battles are still a succession of single combats, in which both sides abuse each other, and after which they boast. War is rapine and cruel bloodshed, as described by old fishermen in Barra, and by the Times' correspondent at Tetuan; and it is not altogether the chivalrous pastime which poets have sung.
In another class of tales, told generally as plain narrative, and which seem to belong to savage times, a period appears to be shadowed out when iron weapons were scarce, and therefore magical; perhaps before the wars of Eirinn and Lochlann began; when combs were inventions sufficiently new and wonderful to be magical also; when horses were sacred, birds sooth-sayers; apples, oak trees, wells, and swine, sacred or magical. In these the touch of the cold steel breaks all spells; to relieve an enchanted prince it was but necessary to cut off his head; the touch of the cold sword froze the marrow when the giant's heads leaped on again. So Hercules finished the Hydra with iron, though it was hot. The white sword of light which shone so that the giant's red-haired servant used it as a torch when he went to draw water by night, was surely once a rare bright steel sword, when most swords were of bronze, as
they were in early times, unless it is still older, and a mythological flash of lightning.
This CLAIDHEAMH GEAL SOLUIS is almost always mentioned as the property of giants, or of other supernatural beings, and is one of the magic gifts for which men contend with them, and fight with each other; and in this the Gaelic tradition agrees with other popular lore.
Fionn had a magic sword forged by a fairy smith, according to a story sent me from Islay, by Mr. Carmichael. King Arthur had a magic sword. The Manks hero, "Olave" of Norway, had a sword with a Celtic name, "Macabuin," made by a smith who was surely a Celt,--"Loan Maclibhuin," though he was "The dark Smith of Drontheim" in the story. 1 King Arthur and his sword belong to the Bretons and to many other languages, besides Welsh; and the Bretons have a wild war song, "The wine of the Gauls, and the dance of the sword," which is given in Barzaz Breiz (1846). 2
There is a magic sword in the Volsung tale, called "Gram," which was the gift of Odin; 3 I and a famous
sword in the Niebelungen lied; and there are famous swords in many popular tales; but an iron sword was a god long ago amongst the Scythians. 1 "An antique iron sword" was placed on a vast pile of brushwood as a temple in every district, at the seat of government, and served as the image of Mars. Sacrifices of cattle and of horses were made to it, and "more victims were offered thus than to all the rest of their gods." Even men were sacrificed; and it is said that the weapons found in Scythian tombs are usually of bronze, "but the sword at the great tomb at Kertch was of iron." It seems, then, that an iron sword really was once worshipped by a people with whom iron was rare. Iron is rare, while stone and bronze weapons are common in British tombs, and the sword of these stories is a personage. It shines, it cries out--the lives of men are bound up in it. In one story a fox changes himself into the sword of light, and the edge of the real sword being turned towards a wicked "muime," turned all her spells back upon herself, and she fell a withered fagot.
And so this mystic sword may, perhaps, have been a god amongst the Celts, or the god of the people with whom Celts contended somewhere on their long journey to the west. It is a fiction now, but it may be founded on fact, and that fact probably was the first use of iron.
Amongst the stories described in the index to the Gaelic MSS. in Edinburgh is one in which the hero goes to Scythia and to Greece, and ends his adventures in Ireland. And in the "Chronicles of the Eri," 1822, by O'Connor, chief of the prostrated people of his
nation, Irish is usually called "the Phoenician dialect of the Scythian language." On such questions I will not venture. Celts may or may not be Scythians, but as a collector of curiosities, I may fairly compare my museum with other curious things; and the worship of the Scimitar, 2200 years ago, by a people who are classed with the Indo-European races, appears to have some bearing on all magic swords from the time of Herodotus down to the White Sword of Light of the West Highlands.
If iron weapons, to which supernatural virtues are ascribed, acquired their virtue when iron was rare, and when its qualities were sufficiently new to excite wonder--then other things made of iron should have like virtues ascribed to them, and the magic should be transferred from the sword to other new inventions; and such is the case.
In all popular tales of which I know anything, some mysterious virtue is attributed to iron; and in many of them a gun is the weapon which breaks the spells. In the West it is the same.
A keeper told me that he was once called into a house by an old woman to cure her cow, which was "bewitched," and which was really sick. The ceremony was performed, according to the directions of the old woman, with becoming gravity. The cow was led out, and the gun loaded, and then it was solemnly fired off over the cow's back, and the cure was supposed to be complete.
In the story of the hunter, when the widow's son aims at the enchanted deer, he sees through the spell, only when he looks over the sight, and while the gun is cocked, but when he has aimed three times, the spell is broken and the lady is free.
So in a story (I think Irish) which I have read somewhere, a man shoots from his hip at a deer, which seems to be an old man whenever he looks over the sight. He aims well, and when he comes up finds only the body of a very old man, which crumbles into dust, and is carried away by the wind, bit by bit, as he looks at it. An iron weapon is one of the guards which the man takes into the fairy hill in the story of the Smith, No. 28. A sharpshooter fires off his gun to frighten the troll in "the Old Dame and her Hen;" the boy throws the steel from his tinder box over the magic horse, and tames him at once in the Princess on the Glass Hill. 1 And so on throughout, iron is invested with magic power in popular tales and mythology; the last iron weapon invented, and the first, the gun and the sword, are alike magical; a "bit of a rusty reaping hook" does equally good service, and an old horse shoe is as patent a spell against the powers of evil as any known; for one will be found on most stable doors in England.
Now comes the question, Who were these powers of evil who cannot resist iron? These fairies who shoot stone arrows, and are of the foes to the human race? Is all this but a dim, hazy recollection of war between a people who had iron weapons and a race who had not? the race whose remains are found all over Europe?
If these were wandering tribes they had leaders, if they were warlike they had weapons. There is a Smith in the pantheon of many nations. Vulcan was a smith; Thor wielded a hammer; even Fionn had a hammer, which was heard in Lochlann when struck in Eirinn, according to the story found midway in Barra. Fionn may have borrowed his hammer from
[paragraph continues] Thor long ago, or both may have got theirs from Vulcan, or all three may have brought hammers with them from the land where some primeval smith wielded the first sledge hammer, but may not all these smith gods be the smiths who made iron weapons for those who fought with the skin-clad warriors who shot flint arrows, and who are now bogles, fairies, and demons?
In any case, tales about smiths seem to belong to mythology, and to be common property. Thus the Norse smith, who cheated the evil one, 1 has an Irish equivalent in the Three Wishes, 2 and a Gaelic story, "The Soldier," is of the same class, and has a Norse equivalent in the Lad and the Deil. There are many of the same class in Grimm; and the same ideas pervade them all. There is war between the smiths and soldiers, and the devil; iron, and horses' hoofs, hammers, swords, and guns come into play; the fiend is a fool, and he has got the worst of the fight; according to the people, at all events, ever since St. Dunstan took him by the nose with a pair of tongs. In all probability the fiend of popular tales is own brother to the Gruagach and Glashan, and was once a skin-clad savage, or the god of a savage race.
If this theory be correct, if these are dim recollections of savage times and savage people, then other magic gear, the property of giants, fairies, and bogles, should resemble things which are precious now amongst savage or half civilized tribes, or which really have been prized amongst the old inhabitants of these islands, or of other parts of the world; and such is often the me.
The work of art which is most sought after in Gaelic tales, next to the white glave of light, is a pair of combs.
CIR MHIN OIR AGUS CIR GHARBH AIRGIOD, a fine golden comb and a coarse comb of silver, are worth a deadly fight with the giants in many a story.
The enchanted prince, when he ceases to be a raven, is found as a yellow ringletted beautiful man, with a golden comb in the one hand and a silver comb in the other. Maol a' Chliobain invades the giant's house to steal the same things for the king. When the coarse comb is forgotten the king's coach falls as a withered faggot. In another story which I have, it is said of a herd who had killed a giant and taken his castle, "He went in and he opened the first room and there was not a thing in it. He opened another, and it was full of gold and silver and the treasures of the world. Then he opened a drawer, and he took a comb out of it, and when he would give a sweep with it on the one side of his head, a shower of gold would fall out of that side; and when he would give a sweep on the other side, a shower of silver would fall from that side. Then he opened another room, and it was full of every sort of food that a man might think there had ever been."
And so in many other instances the comb is a treasure for which men contend with giants. It is associated with gold, silver, dresses, arms, meat, and drink, and it is magical.
It is not so precious in other collections of popular tales, but the same idea is to be traced in them all. There is a water-spirit in Grimm which catches two children, and when they escape they throw behind them a brush, a comb, and a mirror, which replace the stone, the twig, and the bladder of water, which the Gaelic prince finds in the ear of the filly, and throws behind him to arrest the giant who is in pursuit. In the nix of
the mill pond an old woman gives a golden comb to a lady, and she combs her black hair by the light of the moon at the edge of a pond, and the water-spirit shews the husband's head. So also in Snow White the wicked queen combs the hair of the beautiful princess with a poisoned comb, and throws her into a deadly magic sleep. That princess is black, white, and red, like the giant in No. 2, and like the lady in Conal; and like a lady in a Breton story; and generally foreign stories in which combs are mentioned as magical, have equivalents in Gaelic. For example, the incidents in the French story of Prince Cherie, in which gifted children comb jewels from their hair, bear a general resemblance to many Gaelic and German stories. Now there is a reason for everything, though it is not always easy to find it out; and the importance of the comb in these stories may have a reason also.
In the first place, though every civilized man and woman now owns a comb, it is a work of art which necessarily implies the use of tools, and considerable mechanical skill. A man who had nothing but a knife could hardly make a comb; and a savage with flint weapons would have to do without. A man with a comb, then, implies a man who has made some progress in civilization; and a man without a comb, a savage, who, if he had learned its use, might well covet such a possession. If a black-haired savage, living in the cold north, were to comb his hair on a frosty night, it is to be presumed that the same thing would happen which now takes place when fair ladies or civilized men comb their hair. Crackling sparks of electricity were surely produced when men first combed their hair with a bone comb; and it seems to need but a little fancy and a long time to change the bright sparks into brilliant
jewels, or glittering gold and silver and bright stars, and to invest the rare and costly thing which produced such marvels with magic power.
There is evidence throughout all popular tales that combs were needed. Translations are vague, because translators are bashful; but those who have travelled amongst half civilized people, understand what is meant when the knight lays his head on the lady's knee, and she "dresses his hair." In German, Norse, Breton, and Gaelic, it is the same.
From the mention of the magic comb, then, it appears that these legends date from an early, rude period, for the time when combs were so highly prized, and so little used, is remote.
In Wilson's "Prehistoric Annals of Scotland," page 424, is a drawing of an old bone comb of very rude workmanship, found in a burgh in Orkney, together with part of a deer's horn and a human skeleton; another was found in a burgh in Caithness; a third is mentioned; and I believe that such combs are commonly found in old British graves.
At page 554, another drawing is given of one of a pair of combs found in a grave in Orkney. The teeth of the comb were fastened between plates of bone, rivetted together with copper nails, and the comb was decorated with ornamental carvings. With these, brooches of a peculiar form were discovered. Similar brooches are commonly found in Denmark. I have seen many of them in museums at Bergen and Copenhagen; and I own a pair which were found in an old grave in Islay, together with an amber bead and some fragments of rusted iron.
A bronze comb is also mentioned at page 300, as having been found in Queen Mary's Mount, a great
cairn near the battlefield of Langside, which was pulled to pieces to build stone dykes, and which was found to contain rude arms, bones, rings of bituminous shale, and other things which are, referred to very early prehistoric ages.
At page 500 Mr. Wilson mentions a great number of monuments in Scotland on which combs are represented, together with two-handed mirrors and symbols, for which deep explanations and hidden meanings have been sought and found. Combs, mirrors, and shears are also represented on early Roman tombs, and hidden meanings have been assigned to them; but Mr. Wilson holds that these are but indications of the sex of the buried person. Joining all this together, and placing it besides the magic attributed to combs in these Highland stories, this view appears to be the most reasonable. The sword of the warrior is very commonly sculptured on the old gravestones in the Western Isles. It is often twisted into a cross, and woven with those endless knots which resemble certain eastern designs. Strange nondescript animals are often figured about the sword, with tails which curl, and twist, and sprout into leaves, and weave themselves into patterns. Those again resemble illuminations in old Irish and Gaelic manuscripts, and when the most prized of the warrior's possessions is thus figured on his tomb, and is buried with him, it is but reasonable to suppose that the comb, which was so valued as to be buried with its owner, was figured on the monument for the same reason; and that sword and comb were, in fact, very highly prized at some period by those who are buried in the tombs, as the stories now represent that they were by men and giants.
So here again the popular fictions seem to have a foundation of fact.
Another magical possession is the apple. It is mentioned more frequently in Gaelic tales than in any collection which I know, but the apple plays its part in Italian, German, and Norse also. When the hero wishes to pass from Islay to Ireland he pulls sixteen apples and throws them into the sea, one by one, and he steps from one to the other. When the giant's daughter runs away with the king's son, she cuts an apple into a mystical number of small bits, and each bit talks. When she kills the giant she puts an apple under the hoof of the magic filly and he dies, for his life is in the apple, and it is crushed. When the byre is cleansed, it is so clean that a golden apple would run from end to end and never raise a stain. There is a gruagach who has a golden apple, which is thrown at all comers, and unless they are able to catch it they die; when it is caught and thrown back by the hero, Gruagach an Ubhail dies. There is a game called cluich an ubhail, the apple play, which seems to have been a deadly game whatever it was. When the king's daughter transports the soldier to the green island on the magic tablecloth, he finds magic apples which transform him, and others which cure him, and by which he transforms the cruel princess and recovers his magic treasures. In German a cabbage does the same thing.
When the two eldest idle king's sons go out to herd the giant's cattle, they find an apple tree whose fruit moves up and down as they vainly strive to pluck it.
And so on throughout, whenever an apple is mentioned
in Gaelic stories it has something marvellous about it.
So in German, in the Man of Iron, a princess throws a golden apple as a prize, which the hero catches three times and carries off and wins.
In Snow White, where the poisoned comb occurs, there is a poisoned magic apple also.
In the Old Griffin, the sick princess is cured by rosy-cheeked apples.
In the Giant with the Three Golden Hairs, one of the questions to be solved is, why a tree which used to bear golden apples does not now bear leaves? and the next question is about a well.
So in the White Snake, a servant who acquires the knowledge of the speech of birds by tasting a white snake, helps creatures in distress, gets their aid, and procures a golden apple from three ravens, which "flew over the sea even to the end of the world, where stands the tree of life." When he had got the apple he and the princess ate it, and married and lived happily ever after.
So in Wolf's collection, in the story of the Wonderful Hares, a golden apple is the gift for which the finder is to gain a princess; and that apple grew on a sort of tree of which there was but one in the whole world.
In Norse it is the same; the princess on the Glass Hill held three golden apples in her lap, and he who could ride up the hill and carry off the apples was to win the prize; and the princess rolled them down to the hero, and they rolled into his shoe.
The good girl plucked the apples from the tree which spoke to her when she went down the well to the underground world; but the ill-tempered step-sister
thrashed down the fruit; and when the time of trial came, the apple tree played its part and protected the good girl.
So in French, a singing apple is one of the marvels which the Princess Belle Etoile, and her brothers and her cousin, bring from the end of the world, after all manner of adventures; and in that story the comb, the stars and jewels in the hair, the talking soothsaying bird, the magic water, the, horse, the wicked step-mother, and the dragon, all appear; and there is a Gaelic version of that story. In short, that French story agrees with Gaelic stories, and with a certain class of German tales; and contains within itself much of the machinery and incident which is scattered elsewhere, in collections of tales gathered in modern times amongst the people of various countries.
So again in books of tales of older date, and in other languages, apples and marvels are associated.
In Straparola is an Italian story remarkably like the Gaelic Sea Maiden, and clearly the same in groundwork as Princess Belle Etoile. A lady, when she has lost her husband, goes off to the Atlantic Ocean with three golden apples; and the mermaid who had swallowed the husband, shews first his head, then his body to the waist, and then to the knees; each time for a golden apple; and the incidents of that story are all to be found elsewhere, and most of them are in Gaelic.
So again, in the Arabian Nights, there is a long story, The Three Apples, which turns upon the stealing of one, which was a thing of great price, though it was not magical in the story.
So in classical times, an apple of discord was the prize of the fairest; and the small beginning from
which so much of all that is most famous in ancient lore takes its rise; three golden apples were the prize of one of the labours of Hercules, and these grew in a garden which fable has placed far to the westwards, and learned commentators have placed in the Cape Verde Islands.
So then it appears that apples have been mysterious and magical from the earliest of times; that they were sought for in the west, and valued in the east; and now when the popular tales of the far west are examined, apples are the most important of natural productions, and invested with the magic which belongs to that which is old and rare, and which may once have been sacred.
It is curious that the forbidden fruit is almost always mentioned in English as an apple; and this notion prevails in France to such a degree, that when that mad play, La Propriete c'est le Vol, was acted in Paris in 1846, the first scene represented the Garden of Eden with a tree, and a board. on which was written "il est défendu de manger de ces pommes."
And it is stated in grave histories that the Celtic priests held apples sacred; so here again popular tales hold their own.
Again, supposing tales to be old traditions, something may be gleaned from them of the past. Horses, for example, must once have been strange and rare, or sacred, amongst the Celts, as among other races.
The horses of the Vedas, which drew the chariot of the sun, appear to have been confused with the sun-god of Indian mythology. Horses decided the fate of kingdoms in Persia, according to Herodotus. They were sacred when Phaeton drove the chariot of the sun. The Scandinavian gods had horses, according to
the Edda. They are generally supernatural in Grimm's German stories, in Norse tales, in French, and in many other collections. They are wonderful in Breton tales.
When the followers of Columbus first took horses to America, they struck terror into the Indians, and they and their riders were demigods; because strange and terrible.
Horses were surely feared, or worshipped, or prized, by Celts, for places are named after them. Penmarch in Brittany, means horse-head or hill. Ardincaple in Scotland means the mare's height, and there are many other places with similar names.
In Gaelic tales, horses are frequently mentioned, and more magic properties are attributed to them than elsewhere in popular lore.
In No. 1, horses play a very prominent part; and in some versions of that tale, the heroine is a lady transformed into a grey mare. It is to be hoped, for the hero's sake, that she did not prove herself the better horse when she resumed her human form.
In No. 3, there is a horse race. In No. 4, there axe mythical horses; and in an Irish version of that story, told me in August 1860, by an Irish blind fiddler on board the Lochgoilhead boat, horses again play their part, with hounds and hawks. In No. 14, there are horses; in one version there is a magic "powney." In 22, a horse again appears, and gives the foundation for the riddle on which the story turns. In 40, a horse is one of the prizes to be gained. In 41, the horse plays the part of bluebeard. In 48, a horse is to be hanged as a thief. In 51, the hero assumes the form of a horse. In many other tales which I have in manuscript, men appear as horses, and reappear as men; and horses are marvellous. In
one tale, a man's son is sent to a warlock and become a horse, and all sorts of creatures besides. In another, a man gets a wishing grey filly from the wind, in return for some meal which the wind had blown away; and there is a whole series of tales which relate to water-horses, and which seem, more than all the rest, to shew the horse as a degraded god, and as it would seem, a water-god, and a destroyer.
I had intended to group all these stories together, as an illustration of this part of the subject, but time and space are wanting. These shew that in the Isle of Man, and in the Highlands of Scotland, people still firmly believe in the existence of a water-horse. In Sutherland and elsewhere, many believe that they have seen these fancied animals. I have been told of English sportsmen who went in pursuit of them, so circumstantial were the accounts of those who believed that they had seen them. The witnesses are so numerous, and their testimony agrees so well, that there must be some old deeply-rooted Celtic belief which clothes every dark object with the dreaded form of the EACH UISGE. The legends of the doings of the water kelpie all point to some river god reduced to be a fuath or bogle. The bay or grey horse grazes at the lake-side, and when he is mounted, rushes into the loch and devours his rider. His back lengthens to suit any number; men's hands stick to his skin; he is harnessed to a plough, and drags the team and the plough into the loch, and tears the horses to bits; he is killed, and nothing remains but a pool of water; he falls in love with a lady, and when he appears as a man and lays his head on her knee to be dressed, the frightened lady finds him out by the sand amongst his hair. "Tha gainmheach ann." There is sand in it, she says, and
when he sleeps she makes her escape. He appears as an old woman, and is put to bed with a bevy of damsels in a mountain shealing, and he sucks the blood of all, save one, who escapes over a burn, which, water-horse as he is, he dare not cross. In short, these tales and beliefs have led me to think that the old Celts must have had a destroying water-god, to whom the horse was sacred, or who had the form of a horse.
Unless there is some such foundation for the stories, it is strange to find the romances of boatmen and fishermen inhabiting small islands, filled with incidents which seem rather to belong to a wandering, horse-riding tribe. But the tales of Norwegian sailors are similar in this respect; and the Celtic character has in fact much which savours of a tribe who are boatmen by compulsion, and would be horsemen if they could. Though the Western islanders are fearless boatmen, and brave a terrible sea in very frail boats, very few of them are in the royal navy, and there are not many who are professed sailors. On the other hand, they are bold huntsmen in the far north of America. I do not think that they are successful farmers anywhere, though they cling fondly to a spot of land, but they are famous herdsmen at home and abroad. On the misty hills of old Scotland or the dry plains of Australia, they still retain the qualities which made a race of hunters, and warriors, and herdsmen, such as are represented in the poems of Ossian, and described in history; and even within the small bounds which now contain the Celtic race in Europe, their national tastes appear in strong relief. Every deer-stalker will bear witness to the eagerness of Highlanders in pursuit of their old favourite game, the dun deer; the mountaineer shews what he is when his eye kindles and his nostril dilates
at the sight of a noble stag; when the gillie forgets his master in his keenness, and the southern lags behind; when it is "bellows to mend," and London dinners are remembered with regret. Tyree is famous for its breed of ponies: it is a common bit of Highland "chaff" to neigh at a Tyree man, and other islands have famous breeds also. It is said that men almost starving rode to ask for meal in a certain place, and would not sell their ponies; and though this is surely a fiction, it rests on the fact that the islanders are fond of horses. At fairs and markets all over the Highlands ponies abound. Nothing seems to amaze a Highlander more than to see any one walk who can afford to ride; and he will chase a pony over a hill, and sit in misery on a packsaddle when he catches the beast, and endure discomfort, that he may ride in state along a level road for a short distance.
Irish Celts, who have more room for locomotion, cultivate their national taste for horse flesh in a higher degree. An Irish hunter is valued by many an English Nimrod; all novels which purport to represent Irish character paint Irishmen as bold riders, and Irish peasants as men who take a keen interest in all that belongs to hunting and racing. There is not, so far as I know, a single novel founded on the adventures, of an Irish or Highland sailor or farmer, though there are plenty of fictitious warriors and sportsmen in prose and in verse. There are endless novels about English sailors, and sportsmen, and farmers, and though novels are fictions, they too rest on facts. The Celts, and Saxons, and Normans, and Danes, and Romans, who help to form the English race, are at home on shore and afloat, whether their steeds are of flesh and blood, or, as the Gaelic poet says, of brine. The Celtic race are most at home amongst their cattle
and on the hills, and I believe it to be strictly in accordance with the Celtic character to find horses and chariots playing a part in their national traditions and poems of all ages.
I do not know enough of our Welsh cousins to be able to speak of their tastes in this respect; but I know that horse racing excites a keen interest in Brittany, though the French navy is chiefly manned by Breton and Norman sailors, and Breton ballads and old Welsh romances are full of equestrian adventures. And all this supports the theory that Celts came from the east, and came overland; for horses would be prized by a wandering race.
So bounds would be prized by the race of hunters who chased the Caledonian boars as well as the stags; and here again tradition is in accordance with probability, and supported by other testimony. In No. 4 there are mystical dogs; a hound, GADHAR is one, of the links in No. 8; a dog appears in No. 11; a dog, who is an enchanted man, in No. 12; there is a phantom dog in No. 23; there was a "spectre hound in Man;" and there are similar ghostly dogs in England, and in many European countries besides.
In 19, 20, 31, 38, and a great many other tales which I have in manuscript, the hound plays an important part. Sometimes he befriends his master, at other times he appears to have something diabolical about him; it seems as if his real honest nature had overcome a deeply-rooted prejudice, for there is much which savours of detestation as well as of strong affection. Dog, or son of the dog, is a term of abuse in Gaelic as elsewhere, though cuilein is a form of endearment, and the hound is figured beside his master, or at his feet, on many a tombstone in the Western Isles.
[paragraph continues] Hounds are mentioned in Gaelic poetry and in Gaelic tales, and in the earliest accounts of the Western Isles; and one breed still survives in these long-legged, rough, wiry-haired stag-hounds, which Landseer so loves to paint.
In one story, for which I have no room, but which is well worthy of preservation, a step-mother sends two step-children, a brother and sister, out into the world to seek their fortune. They live in a cottage with three bare yellow porkers, which belong to the sister. The brother sells one to a man for a dog with a green string, and so gets three dogs, whose names are Knowledge, FIOS; Swift, LUATH; Weighty, TROM. The sister is enraged, and allies herself with a giant who has a hot coal in his mouth. Knowledge tells his master the danger which awaits him: how the giant and his sister had set a venomous dart over the door. Swiftness runs in first, and saves his master at the expense of his own tail, and then the three dogs upset a caldron of boiling water over the giant, who is hid in a hole in the floor, and so at the third time the giant is killed, and the only loss is a bit of the tail of Luath.
Then the king's son goes to dwell with a beautiful lady; and after a time he goes back to visit his sister, armed with three magic apples. The sister sets three venomous porkers at him, and he, by throwing the apples behind him, hinders them with woods, and moors, and lakes, which grow up from the apples; but they follow. The three dogs come out and beat the three pigs, and kill them, and then the king's son gets his sister to come with him, and she was as a servant-maid to the prince and the fine woman with whom he lived. Then the sister put GATH NIMH, a poisonous sting or thorn, into the bed, and the prince was as though he
were dead for three days, and he was buried. But Knowledge told the other two dogs what to do, and they scraped up the prince, and took out the thorn; and he came alive again and went home, and set on a fire of grey oak, and burned his sister. And John Crawfurd, fisherman at Lochlong-head, told John Dewar "that he left the man, and the woman, and the dogs all happy and well pleased together." This curious story seems to shew the hog and the dog as foes. Perhaps they were but the emblems of rival tribes, perhaps they were sacred amongst rival races; at all events, they were both important personages at some time or other, for there is a great deal about them in Gaelic lore.
The boar was the animal which Diarmid slew, and which caused his death when he paced his length against the bristles,--the venomous bristles pierced a mole in his foot. It was a boar which was sent out to find the body of the thief in that curious story, an gillie currach; and in a great many other stories, boars appear as animals of the chase. The Fiantaichean or Feen, whomsoever they were, are always represented as hunting wild boars, as tearing a boar to bits by main force, or eating a whole boar. Cairns, said to have been raised over boars, are shewn in many parts of Scotland still. I myself once found a boar's tusk in a grave accidentally discovered, close to the bridge at Pool-Ewe. There were many other bones, and a rough flint, and a lot of charcoal, in what seemed to be a shallow human grave, a kind of stone coffin built up with loose slabs.
"Little pigs" play their part in the nursery lore of England. Everybody who has been young and has toes, must know how
"This little pig went to market,
And this little pig staid at home--
This little pig got roast beef,
And this little pig got none;
And this little pig went wee, wee, wee, all the way home."
There is a long and tragic story which has been current amongst at least three generations of my own family regarding a lot of little pigs who had a wise mother, who told them where they were to build their houses, and how, so as to avoid the fox. Some of the little pigs would not follow their mother's counsel, and built houses of leaves, and the fox got in and said, "I will gallop, and I'll trample, and I'll knock down your house," and he ate the foolish, little, proud pigs; but the youngest was a wise little pig, and, after many adventures, she put an end to the wicked fox when she was almost vanquished, bidding him look into the caldron to see if the dinner was ready, and then tilting him in headforemost. In short, pigs are very important personages in the popular lore of Great Britain.
We are told by history that they were sacred amongst the Gauls, and fed on acorns in the sacred oak groves of the Druids, and there is a strong prejudice now amongst Highlanders against eating pig's flesh.
So oak trees are mythical. Whenever a man is to be burned for some evil deed, and men are always going to be roasted, fagots of "grey," probably green oak, are fetched. There is a curious story which the Rev. Mr. MacLachlan took down from the recitation of an old man in Edinburgh, in which a mythical old man is shut up in an oak tree, which grows in the court of the king's palace; and when the king's son lets his ball roll into a split in the tree by chance, the old man tells the boy to fetch an axe and he will give him the
ball, and so he gets out, and endows the Prince with power and valour. He sets out on his journey with a red-headed cook, who personates him, and he goes to lodge with a swine-heard; but by the help of the old man of the great tree, BODACH NA CRAOIBHE MOIRE, he overcomes a boar, a bull, and a stallion, and marries the king's daughter, and the red-headed cook is burnt.
So then, in these traditions, swine and oak trees are associated together with mythical old men and deeds of valour, such as a race of hunters might perform, and admire, and remember. Is it too much to suppose that these are dim recollections of pagan times? DRUIDH is the name for magician, DRAOCHD for magic. It is surely not too much to suppose that the magicians were the Druids, and the magic their mysteries; that my peasant collectors are right, when they maintain that GRUAGACH, the long-haired one, was a "professor" or "master of arts," or "one that taught feats of arms;" that the learned Gruagach, who is so often mentioned, was a Druid in his glory, and the other, who, in the days of Johnson, haunted the island of Troda as "Greogaca," who haunted the small island of Inch, near Easdale, in the girlhood of Mrs. Mactavish, who is remembered still, and is still supposed to haunt many a desolate island in the far west, is the phantom of the same Druid, fallen from his high estate, skulking from his pursuers, and really living on milk left for him by those whose priest he had once been.
"The small island of Inch, near Easdale, is inhabited by a brownie, which has followed the Macdougalls of Ardincaple for ages, and takes a great interest in them. He takes care of their cattle in that island night and day, unless the dairymaid, when there in summer with the milk cattle, neglects to leave warm milk for him at night in a knocking-stone in the cave, where she and the herd live during their stay in the island. Should this
perquisite be for a night forgot, they will be sure in the morning to find one of the cattle fallen over the rocks with which the place abounds. It is a question whether the brownie has not a friend with whom he shares the contents of the stone, which will, I daresay, hold from two to three Scotch pints."
Mrs. MacTavish, 1859, Islay.
If the manners and customs of druids are described as correctly as modern manners really are, then something may be gathered concerning druidical worship; but without knowledge, which I have no time to acquire, the full bearing of traditions on such a subject cannot be estimated.
The horse and the boar, the oak tree and the apple, then, are often referred to. Of mistletoe I have found no trace, unless it be the sour herb which brings men to life, but that might be the "soma," which plays such a part in the mythology of the Vedas, or the shamrock, which was sacred in Ireland.
Wells are indicated as mysterious in a great many tales--poison wells and healing wells--and some are still frequented, with a half belief in their virtue; but such wells now often have the name of some saint affixed to them.
Birds are very often referred to as soothsayers--in No. 39 especially; the man catches a bird and says it is a diviner, and a gentleman buys it as such. It was a bird of prey, for it lit on a hide, and birds of prey are continually appearing as bringing aid to men, such as the raven, the hoodie, and the falcon. The little birds especially are frequently mentioned. I should therefore gather from the stories that the ancient Celts drew augury from birds as other nations did, and as it is asserted by historians that the Gauls really did. I should be inclined to think that they possessed the domestic
fowl before they became acquainted with the country of the wild grouse, and that the cock may have been sacred, for he is a foe and a terror to uncanny beings, and the hero of many a story; while the grouse and similar birds peculiar to this country are barely mentioned. The cat plays a considerable part, and appears as a transformed princess; and the cat may also have been sacred to some power, for cats are the companions of Highland witches, and of bags all the world over, and they were sacred to gods in other lands; they ware made into mummies in Egypt, together with hawks and other creatures which appear in Highland tales. Ravens were Odin's messengers; they may have been pages to some Celtic divinity also. Foxes, and otters, and wolves, and bears all appear in mythical characters. Serpents were probably held in abhorrence, as they have been by other races, but the serpent gave wisdom, and is very mythical.
Old Macdonald, travelling tinker, told me a long story, of which one scene represented an incantation more vividly to me than anything I have ever read or heard. "There was a king and a knight, as there was and will be, and as grows the fir tree, some of it crooked and some of it straight, and he was a king of Eirinn," said the old tinker, and then came a wicked stepmother, who was incited to evil by a wicked henwife. The son of the first queen was at school with twelve comrades, and they used to play at shinny every day with silver shinnies and a golden ball. The henwife, for certain curious rewards, gave the stepdame a magic shirt, and she sent it to her step-son, "Sheen Billy," and persuaded him to put it on; he refused at first, but complied at last, and the shirt was a BEITHIR (great snake) about his neck. Then he was enchanted
and under spells, and all manner of adventures followed; but at last he came to the house of a wise woman who had a beautiful daughter, who fell in love with the enchanted prince, and said she must and would have him.
"It will cost thee much sorrow," said the mother.
"I care not," said the girl, "I must have him."
"It will cost thee thy hair."
"I care not."
"It will cost thee thy right breast."
"I care not if it should cost me my life," said the girl.
And the old woman agreed to help her to her will. A caldron was prepared and filled with plants; and the king's son was put into it stripped to the magic shirt, and the girl was stripped to the waist. And the mother stood by with a great knife, which she gave to her daughter.
Then the king's son was put down in the caldron, and the great serpent, which appeared to be a shirt about his neck, changed into its own form, and sprang on the girl and fastened on her; and she cut away the hold, and the king's son was freed from the spells. Then they were married, and a golden breast was made for the lady. And then they went through more adventures, which I do not well remember, and which the old tinker's son vainly strove to repeat in August, 1860, for he is far behind his father in the telling of old Highland tales.
The serpent, then, would seem to be an emblem of evil and wisdom in Celtic popular mythology.
There is something mysterious about rushes. The fairies are found in a bush of rushes; the great caldron of the Feen is hid under a bush of rushes; and in a great many other instances TOM LUACHARACH appears.
[paragraph continues] I do not know that the plant is mentioned in foreign tales, but it occurs several times in border minstrelay.
If the Druids worshipped the sun and moon, there is very little direct reference to such worship in highland stories now. There are many highland customs which point to solar worship, but these have been treated of by abler pens, and I have nothing to add on that head.
There is yet another animal which is mythical--the water-bull. He certainly belongs to Celtic mythology, as the water-horse does, for he is known in the Isle of Man and all over the islands.
There are numerous lakes where the water-bulls are supposed to exist, and their progeny are supposed to be easily known by their short ears. When the water-bull appears in a story he is generally represented as friendly to man. I have a great many accounts of him, and his name in Skye is Tarbh Eithre.
There is a gigantic water bird, called the Boobrie, which is supposed to inhabit the fresh water and sea lochs of Argyllshire. I have heard of him nowhere else; but I have heard of him from several people.
He is ravenous and gigantic, gobbles up sheep and cows, has webbed feet, a very loud hoarse voice, and is somewhat like a cormorant. He is reported to have terrified a minister out of his propriety, and it is therefore to be assumed that he is of the powers of evil. And there are a vast number of other fancied inhabitants of earth, air, and water, enough to form a volume of supernatural history, and all or any of these may have figured in Celtic mythology; for it is hard to suppose that men living at opposite ends of Scotland, and peasants in the Isle of Man, should invent
the same fancies unless their ideas had some common foundation.
Besides these animals, there is a whole supernatural world with superhuman gigantic inhabitants.
There are continual fights with these giants, which are often carried on without arms at all--mere wrestling matches, which seem to have had certain rules. It is somewhere told of the Germans that they in their forests fought with clubs, and the Celtic giants may once have been real men. Hercules fought with a club. Irishmen use shillelahs still, and my west country friends, when they fight now-a-days, use barrel staves instead of swords, and use them well, if not wisely; but whether giants were men or myths, they are always represented as strange, lubberly beings, whose dealings with men invariably end in their discomfiture. There are giants in Herodotus and, I believe, in every popular mythology known. There are giants in Holy Writ. They spoke an unknown tongue everywhere. They said "Fee fo fum" in Cornwall. They say "Fiaw fiaw foaghrich" in Argyll, and these sounds may possibly be corruptions of the language of real big burly savages, now magnified into giants.
The last word might be the vocative of the Gaelic for stranger, ill pronounced, and the intention may be to mimic the dialect of a foreigner speaking Gaelic.
An Italian organ-grinder once found his way to the west, and sang "Fideli, fidela, fidelin-lin-la." The boys caught the tune, and sang it to the words, "Deese creepe Signaveete ha," words with as much meaning as "Fee fo fum," but which retain a certain resemblance to an Italian sound.
If the giants were once real savages, they had the sense of smell peculiarly sharp, according to the Gaelic
tales, as they had in all others which treat of them, and they ate their captives, as it is asserted that the early inhabitants of Scotland did, as Herodotus says that Scyths did in his time, and as the Feejee islanders did very lately, and still do. A relative of mine once offered me a tooth as a relic of such a feast; it had been presented to him in the Feejee islands by a charming dark young lady, who had just left the banquet, but had not shared in it. The Highland giants were not so big but that their conquerors wore their clothes; they were not so strong that men could not beat them, even by wrestling. They were not quite savages; for though some lived in caves, others had houses and cattle, and boards of spoil. They had slaves, as we are told that Scotch proprietors had within historic times. In "Scotland in the Middle Ages," p. 141, we learn that Earl Waldev of Dunbar made over a whole tribe to the Abbot of Kelso in 1170, and in the next page it is implied that these slaves were mostly Celts. Perhaps those Celts who were not enslaved had their own mountain view of the matter, and looked down on the Gall as intrusive, savage, uncultivated, slave-owning giants.
Perhaps the mountain mists in like manner impeded the view of the dwellers on the mountain and the plain, for Fin MacCoul was a "God in Ireland," as they say, and is a "rawhead and bloody bones" in the Scottish lowlands now.
Whatever the giants were they knew some magic arts, but they were always beaten in the end by men.
The combats with them are a Gaelic proverb in action:--
"Theid seoltachd thar spionnaidh."
Skill goes over might, and probably, as it seems to
me, giants are simply the nearest savage race at war with the race who tell the tales. If they performed impossible feats of strength, they did no more than Rob Roy, whose "putting stone" is now shewn to Saxon tourists by a Celtic coachman, near Bunawe, in the shape of a boulder of many tons, though Rob Ruadh lived only a hundred years ago, near Inverary, in a cottage which is now standing, and which was lately inhabited by a shepherd.
The Gaelic giants are very like those of Norse and German tales, but they are much nearer to real men than the giants of Germany and Scandinavia, and Greece and Rome, who are almost, if not quite, equal to the gods. Famhairan are little more than very strong men, but some have only one eye like the Cyclops.
Their world is generally, but not always, under ground; it has castles, and parks, and pasture, and all that is to be found above the earth. Gold, and silver, and copper, abound in the giant's land; jewels are seldom mentioned, but cattle, and horses, and spoil of dresses, and arms, and armour, combs, and basins, apples, shields, bows, spears, and horses, are all to be gained by a fight with the giants. Still, now and then a giant does some feat quite beyond the power of man; such as a giant in Barra, who fished up a hero, boat and all, with his fishing-rod, from a rock, and threw him over his head, as little boys do "cuddies" from a pier-end. So the giants may be degraded gods after all.
But besides "popular tales," there are fairy tales, which are not told as stories, but facts. At all events, the creed is too recent to be lightly spoken of.
Men do believe in fairies, though they will not readily confess the fact. And though I do not myself believe that fairies are, in spite of the strong evidence
offered, I believe there once was a small race of people in these islands, who are remembered as fairies, for the fairy belief is not confined to the Highlanders of Scotland. I have given a few of the tales which have come to me as illustrations in No. 27.
"They" are always represented as living in green mounds. They pop up their heads when disturbed by people treading on their houses. They steal children. They seem to live on familiar terms with the people about them when they treat them well, to punish them when they ill treat them. If giants are magnified, these are but men seen through the other end of the telescope, and there are such people now. A Lapp is such a man--he is a little, flesh-eating mortal--having control over the beasts, and living in a green mound--when he is not living in a tent, or sleeping out of doors, wrapped in his deer-skin shirt. I have lived amongst them and know them and their dwellings pretty well. I know one which would answer to the description of a fairy mound exactly. It is on the most northern peninsula in Europe, to the east of the North Cape, close to the sea, in a sandy hollow near a burn. It is round--say, twelve feet in diameter--and it is sunk three feet in the sand; the roof is made of sticks and covered with turf. The whole structure, at a short distance, looks exactly like a conical green mound about four feet high. There was a famous crop of grass on it when I was there, and the children and dogs ran out at the door and up to the top when we approached, as ants run on an ant hill when disturbed. Their fire was in the middle of the floor, and the pot hung over it from the roof. I lately saw a house in South Uist found in the sand hills close to the sea. It was built of loose boulders, it was circular, and had
recesses in the sides, it was covered when found, and it was full of sand; when that was removed, stone querns and combs of bone were found, together with ashes, and near the level of the top there was a stratum of bones and teeth of large grass-eating animals. I know not what they were, but the bones were splintered and broken, and mingled with ashes and shells, oysters, cockles, and wilks (periwinkles), shewing clearly the original level of the ground, and proving that this was a dwelling almost the same as a Lapp "Gam" at Hopseidet.
Now, let us see what the people of the Hebrides say of the fairies. There was a woman benighted with a pair of calves, "and she went for shelter to a knoll, and she began driving the peg of the tether into it. The hill opened, and she heard as though there was a pot book 'gleegashing,' on the side of the pot. A woman put up her head, and as much as was above her waist, and said, 'What business hast thou to disturb this tulman, in which I make my dwelling.'" This might be a description of one of my Lapp friends, and probably is a description of such a dwelling as I saw in South Uist. If the people slept as Lapps sleep, with their feet to the fire, a woman outside might have driven a peg very near one of the sleepers, and she might have stood on a seat and poked her head out of the chimney.
The magic about the beasts is but the mist of antiquity; and the fairy was probably a Pict. Who will say who the Pict may have been? Probably the great Clibric hag was one, and of the same tribe.
"In the early morning she was busy milking the hinds; they were standing all about the door of the hut, till one of them ate a hank of blue worsted hanging
from a nail in it." So says the "fiction," which it is considered a sin to relate. Let me place some facts from my own journal beside it.
"Wednesday, August 22, 1850. Quickjok, Swedish Lapland.--In the evening the effect of the sunlight through the mist and showers was most beautiful. I was sketching, when a small man made his appearance on the opposite side of the river and began to shout for a boat. The priest exclaimed that the Lapps had come down, and accordingly the diminutive human specimen was fetched, and proved to be a Lapp who had established his camp about seven miles off, near Vallespik. He was about twenty-five years old, and with his high blue cap on could stand upright under my arm."
I had been wandering about Quickjok for a week, out on Vallespik frequently, searching for the Lapps, with the very glass which I had previously used to find deer close to Clibric, which is but a small copy of the Lapland mountain.
"Thursday, 23rd.--Started to see the deer, with the priest and the Clockar, and Marcus, and the Lapp. The Lapp walked like a deer himself, aided by a very long birch pole, which he took from its hiding place in a fir tree. I had hard work to keep up with him. Marcus and the priest were left behind. Once up through the forest, it was cutting cold, and we walked up to the 'cota' in two hours and a quarter. The deer was seen in the distance, like a brown speck on the shoulder of Vallespik; and with the glass I could make out that a small mortal and two dogs were driving them home. The cota is a permanent one, made in the shape of a sugar loaf, with birch sticks, and long flat stones and turf. There are two exactly alike, and each has a door, a mere narrow slit, opening to the
west, and a hole in the roof to let out the smoke. I crept in, and found a girl of about fifteen, with very pretty eyes, sitting crouched up in a corner, and looking as seared as one of her own fawns. The priest said, that if we had come without our attendant genius, the small Lapp, she would have fainted, or run away to the hills. I began to sketch her, as she sat looking modest in her dark corner, and was rejoicing in the extreme stillness of my sitter, when, on looking up from some careful touch, I found that she had vanished through the door-way. I had to bribe her with bread and butter before she could be coaxed back. A tremendous row of shouting and barking outside now announced the arrival of the deer, so I let my sitter go, and off she ran as fast as she could. I followed more leisurely to the spot where the deer were gathered, on a stony hillside. There were only about 200; the rest had run off up wind on the way from the mountains, and all the other Lapps were off after them, leaving only my pretty sitter, the boy, and a small woman with bleared eyes, as ugly as sin, his sister.
"How I wished for Landseer's pencil as I looked at that scene! Most of the deer were huddled close together; hinds and calves chewing the cud with the greatest placidity, but here and there some grand old fellows, with wide antlers, stood up against the sky line, looking magnificent. I tried to draw, but it was hopeless; so I sat down, and watched the proceedings of my hosts.
"First, each of the girls took a coil of rope from about her neck, and in a twinkling it was pitched over the horns of a hind. The noose was then slipped round the neck, and a couple of turns of rope round the nose, and then the wild milkmaid set her foot on the
halter and proceeded TO MILK THE HIND, into a round birch bowl with a handle. Sometimes she sat at others she leant her head on the deer's dark side, and knelt beside her. I never saw such a succession of beautiful groups.
"Every now and then some half-dozen deer would break out of the herd and set off to the mountain, and then came a general skurry. The small Lapp, man, with his long birch pole, would rush screaming after the stragglers; and his two gaunt, black, rough, half-starved dogs would scour off, yelping, in pursuit. It generally ended in the hasty return of the truants, with well-bitten houghs for their pains; but some fairly made off, at a determined long trot, and vanished over the hill. It was very curious to be thus in the midst of a whole herd of creatures so like our own wild deer, to have them treading on my feet and poking their horns against my sketch-book as I vainly tried to draw them, and to think that they who had the power to bid defiance to the fleetest hound in Sweden should be so perfectly tame as to let the small beings who herded them so thump, and bully, and tease them. The milking, in the meantime, had been progressing rapidly; and after about an hour the pretty girl, who had been dipping her fingers in the milk-pail and licking up the milk all the time, took her piece of bread and butter, and departed with her charge, munching as she went.
"The blear-eyed one, and the boy, and our party, went into the cota, and dined on cold roast reiper and reindeer milk. The boy poured the milk from a small keg, which contained the whole product of the flock; and having given us our share, he carefully licked up all that remained on the outside of the keg, and set it down in a corner. It was sweet and delicious, like
thick cream. Dinner over, we desired the Lapp to be ready in the morning (to accompany me), and with the clocker's dog, 'Gueppe,' went reiper-shooting. The clocker himself, with a newly-slaughtered reindeer calf on his shoulders, followed; and so we went home."
A few days afterwards, I was at another camp, on another hill, where the same scene was going on. "In a tent I found a fine-looking Lapp woman sitting on a heap of skins, serving out coffee, and banding reindeer cream to the clocker with a silver spoon. She had silver bracelets, and a couple of silver rings; and altogether, with her black hair, and dark brown eyes glittering in the fire-light, she looked eastern and magnificent." Her husband had many trinkets, and they had, amongst other articles, a comb, which the rest seemed much to need.
Her dress was blue, so were most of the dresses, and one of her possessions was a bone contrivance for weaving the bands which all wore round their ankles. She must have had blue yarn somewhere, for her garters were partly blue.
I spent the whole of the next day in the camp, and watched the whole operations of the day.
"After dinner, the children cracked the bones with stones and a knife, after they had polished the outside, and sucked up the marrow; and then the dogs, which did not dare to steal, were called in their turn, and got the remains of the food in wooden bowls, set apart for their especial use."
The bones in the hut in South Uist might have been the remains of such a feast by their appearance.
"The cota was a pyramid of sods and birch sticks, about seven feet high, and twelve or fourteen in diameter. There were three children, five dogs, an old woman,
[paragraph continues] Marcus, and myself, inside; and all day long the handsome lady from the tent next door, with her husband, and a couple of quaint-looking old fellows in deerskin shirts, kept popping in to see how I got on. It was impossible to sit upright for the slope of the walls, as I sat cross-legged on the ground."
This might be a description of the Uist hut itself, and its inhabitants, as I can fancy them.
"The three dogs (in the tent), at the smallest symptom of a disturbance, plunged out, barking, to add to the row; they popped in by the same way under the canvas, so they had no need of a door."
So did the dogs in the story of Seantraigh; they ran after the stranger, and stopped to eat the bones. And it is remarkable that all civilized dogs fall upon and worry the half-savage black Lapp dogs, and bark at their masters whenever they descend from their mountains, as the town dogs did at the fairy dogs. In short, these extracts might be a fair description of the people, and the dwellings, and the food, and the dogs described as fairies, and the hag, and the tulman, in stories which I have grouped together; told in Scotland within this year by persons who can have no knowledge of what is called the "Finn theory," and given in the very words in which they came to me, from various sources.
Lord Reay's forester must surely have passed the night in a Lapp cota on Ben Gilbric, in Sutherland, when Lapps were Picts; but when was that? Perhaps in the youth of the fairy of whom the following story was told by a Sutherland gamekeeper of my acquaintance.
THE HERDS OF GLEN ODHAR.--A wild romantic glen in Strath Carron is called Glen Garaig, and it was
through this that a woman was passing carrying an infant wrapped in her plaid. Below the path, overhung with weeping birches, and nearly opposite, run a very deep ravine, known as Glen Odhar, the dun glen. The child, not yet a year old, and which had not spoken or attempted speech, suddenly addressed his mother thus:--
S lionmhor bo mhaol odhar,
Many a dun hummel cow,
The good woman flung down the child and plaid and ran home, where, to her great joy, her baby boy lay smiling in its cradle.
Fairies then milked deer, as Lapps do. They lived under ground, like them. They worked at trades especially smith work and weaving. They had hammers and anvils, and excelled in their use, but though good weavers, they had to steal wool and borrow looms. Lapps do work in metal on their own account; they make their own skin dresses, but buy their summer clothes. A race of wanderers could not be weavers on a large scale, but they can and do weave small bands very neatly on hand-looms; and they alone make these. There are savages now in South Africa, who are smiths and miners, though they neither weave nor wear clothes. Fairies had hoards of treasure--so have Lapps. A man died shortly before one of my Tana trips, and the whole country side had been out searching for his buried wealth in vain. Some years ago the old silver shops of Bergen and Trondhjem overflowed
with queer cups and spoons, and rings, silver plates for waist belts, old plate that had been hidden amongst the mountains, black old silver coins that had not seen the light for years. I saw the plate and bought some, and was told that, in consequence of a religious movement, the Lapps had dug up and sold their hoards. Fairies are supposed to shoot flint arrows, and arrows of other kinds, at people now. Men have told me several times that they had been shot at: one man had found the flint arrow in an ash tree; another had heard it whiz past his ear; a third had pulled a slender arrow from a friend's head. If that be so, my argument fails, and fairies are not of the past; but Californian Indians now use arrow-heads which closely resemble those dug up in Scotland, in Denmark, and, I believe, all over Europe. Fairies are conquered by Christian symbols. They were probably Pagans, and, if so, they may have existed when Christianity was introduced. They steal men, women, and children, and keep them in their haunts. They are not the only slave owners in the world. They are supernatural, and objects of a sort of respect and wonder. So are gipsies where they are rare, as in Sweden and Norway; so are the Lapps themselves, for they are professed wizards. I have known a terrified Swedish lassie whip her horse and gallop away in her cart from a band of gipsies, and I have had the advantage of living in the same house with a Lapp wizard at Quickjok, who had prophesied the arrival of many strangers, of whom I was one. Spaniards were gods amongst the Indians till they taught them to know better. Horses were supernatural when they came, and on the whole, as it appears, there is much more reason to believe that fairies were a real people, like the Lapps,
who are still remembered, than that they are "creatures of imagination" or "spirits in prison," or "fallen angels;" and the evidence of their actual existence is very much more direct and substantial than that which has driven, and seems still to be driving, people to the very verge, of insanity, if not beyond it, in the matter of those palpable-impalpable, visible-invisible spirits who rap double knocks upon dancing deal boards.
I am inclined to believe in the former existence of fairies in this sense, and if for no other reason, because all the nations of Europe have had some such belief, and they cannot all have invented the same fancy. The habitation of Highland fairies are green mounds, they therefore, like the giants, resemble the "under jordiske" of the north, and they too may be degraded divinities.
It seems then, that Gaelic tales attribute supernatural qualities to things which are mentioned in popular tales elsewhere, and that Gaelic superstitions are common to other races; and it seems worth inquiry whether there was anything in the known customs of Celtic tribes to make these things valuable, and whether tradition is supported by history.
In the first place, then, who are Celts now? Who were their ancestors? Who are their relations? and where have Gaelic tribes appeared in history.
I believe that little is really known about the Gael; and in particular, the origin of the West Highlanders has been very keenly disputed. One thing is clear, they speak a language which is almost identical with the Irish of the north of Ireland, and they are the same people. The dialect of Irish, which varies most from Scotch Gaelic, is clearly but another form of the same tongue. Manks is another; and these three
are closely related to Welsh and Breton, though the difference is very much greater. Gaelic, Irish, and Manks vary from each other about as much as Norse, Swedish, and Danish. Welsh and Breton vary from the rest about as much as German and Dutch do from the Scandinavian languages. There are variations in Gaelic, and I believe there are in all the five surviving Celtic dialects, as there are in the languages of different counties in England, of every valley in Norway and Sweden, of every German district, and of every part of France, Spain, and Italy. But one who knows Gaelic well, can make himself understood throughout the Highlands, as freely as an Englishman can in England, though he may speak with a Northumbrian burr, or a west country twang, or like a true Cockney.
These, then, form the Celtic clan, the people of the west of Scotland, the Irish, the Manks, the Welsh, and the Breton. Who their relations are, and who their ancestors, are questions not easily answered, though much has been written on the subject. The following is a brief outline of what is given as Celtic history by modern writers whose works I have consulted lately:--
According to Henri Martin, the French historian, 1 the whole of Central Europe, France, and Spain, were once overrun by a race calling themselves Gael, and best known as Gauls. This people is generally admitted to have been of the same stock as Germans, Latins, Greeks, and Slavonians, and to have started from Central Asia at some unknown epoch. They are supposed to have been warlike, to have been tatooed like modern New Zealanders, and painted like North American Indians, to have been armed with stone weapons like
the South Sea Islanders and Californian Indians; but shepherd, as well as hunters, and acquainted with the use of wheat and rye, which they are supposed to have brought with them from Asia. One great confederation of tribes of this race was known to ancient historians, as Κελτοι. They were represented as fair and rosy-cheeked, large-chested, active, and brave, and they found the Euskes settled in the south of France, who were dark-complexioned, whose descendants are supposed to be the Euscualdonec or Basques of the Pyrennees, and who are classed with the Lapps of the north of Europe, and with tribes now dwelling in the far north of Asia. I have seen faces in Barra very like faces which I had seen shortly before at St. Sebastian in Spain. A tribe of Gauls made their way into Italy, and have left traces of their language there, in the names of mountain chains and great rivers. These are named "Amhra," or "Ombres," and Amhra is translated Valliant. This invasion is calculated to have taken place about 1500 B.C.
The Gael were followed by Kimri or Cimbri, a kindred people of a darker complexion, speaking a kindred language, and their descendants are supposed to be the Welsh and Bretons. These in turn occupied the interior of eastern Europe, and were followed by the Scyths, and these, says the French historian, were Teutons.
According to the learned author of the essay on the Cimmerians, in the third volume of Rawlinson's Herodotus, p. 184, it is almost beyond doubt that a people known to their neighbours as Cimmerii, Gimiri, or probably Gomerini, attained a considerable power in Western Asia and Eastern Europe within the period indicated by the dates B.C. 800, 600, or even earlier.
These people are traced to the inhabitants of Wales, and Gael and Cymri are admitted by all to be Κελτοι; and still keep up their old character for pugnacity by quarrelling over their pedigrees.
Celts were undoubtedly the primitive inhabitants of Gaul, Belgium, and the British Islands, possibly also of Spain and Portugal; but no word of the language spoken by these ancient Cimbri has been preserved by ancient authors, except the name, "and perhaps the name Cimmerii may have included many Celtic tribes not of the Cymric branch." These Gauls appeared everywhere in Europe; and, in particular, they who had probably been driven out by the Scythians invaded Scythia, intermixed with the people, and formed the people known in history as Celto-Scythians; who the Scyths were (according to the author) appears to be uncertain. All that remains of their language is a list of words, picked out of the works of ancient authors; and known what modern authors make of words which they pick up by ear, such a list is but a narrow foundation on which to build. Still on that list it has been decided that Scyths spoke a language which has affinity with Sanscrit, and in that list, as it seems to me, there are several words which resemble Gaelic more closely than the Sanscrit words given with them. And so, according to this theory, the Basques were found in Europe by the first Gael, and these were driven westwards by Kimri, and these again by Scythians, and these by Teutons, and all these still occupy their respective positions. The Basques and Lapps pushed aside; the Gael in Scotland and Ireland, driven far to the westwards; the Kimri driven westwards into Wales and Brittany; the Scyths lost or absorbed; and the Teutons occupying their old possessions,
as Germans, Saxons, English, Scandinavians, and all their kindred tribes; and of all these the Basques and their relatives alone speak a language which cannot be traced to a common unknown origin, from which Sanscrit also came.
Whatever then throws light on the traditions of the first invaders of Europe is of interest to all the rest, for, according to this theory, they are all of the same clan. They are all branches of the same old stock which grew in Central Asia, and which has spread over great part of the world, and whatever is told of Gauls is of interest to all branches of Celts.
Rome was taken by Gauls about 390 B.C.; Greece was invaded by Gauls about 297 B.C., and they are then described as armed with great swords and lances, and wearing golden collars, and fighting savagely. At the end of the third century B.C., according to the French historian, Gaul might have been a common name for the greatest part of Europe, for Gauls were everywhere.
Now, what manner of men were these Gauls, when men saw them who could describe them?
All the Gauls kept their hair untouched by iron, and raised it like a mane towards the top of the head. As to the beard, some shaved it, others wore it of a moderate length. The chiefs and the nobles shaved the cheeks and the chin, and let their mustache grow to all their length. (Histoire de France, page 33.)
Their eyes were blue or sea-green, and shone under this thick mass of hair, of which the blond hue had been changed by lime-water to a flaming tint.
Their mustaches were "Rousses," which is the only word I know which will translate ruadh.
The warrior was armed with an enormous sabre on his left thigh; he had two darts in his hand, or a long
lance; he carried a four-cornered shield, painted of various brilliant colours, with bosses representing birds or wild animals; and on his head was a helmet topped with eagles' wings, floating hair, or horns of wild animals; his clothes were particoloured and he wore "brighis;" he was always fighting at home or abroad; he was a curious inquiring mortal, always asking questions; and truly he must have been a formidable savage that old French Gaul. Men's heads were nailed at the gates of his towns and his houses, beside trophies of the chase, much as modern Gael now hang up the trophies of their destructive skill, in the shape of pole-cats and crows.
The chiefs kept human heads embalmed and preserved, like archives of family prowess, as the Dyaks of Borneo and the New Zealanders still do, or did very lately. The father had the power of life and death over his wife and children, and exercised it too by burning the guilty wife; and, though some chiefs had several wives, and there are some scandalous stories of the manners and customs of the inhabitants of the islands; women were consulted together with men by the chiefs on matters of moment, and held a high place amongst the Gauls of France.
Now, this short description of the Gauls, rapidly gleaned from the pages of two modern books of high authority and great research, after my Gaelic stories were collected, agrees with the picture which the Gaelic tales give of their mythical heroes in many particulars. They have long beautiful yellow hair, Leadanach, Buidh, Boidheach. They are Ruadh, Rousses. They have large swords, claidheamh, sometimes duileagach, leaf-shaped. They cast spears and darts, Sleadh. They are always asking questions, and their
descendants have not lost the habit yet. Their dwellings are surrounded by heads stuck on staves, stob. They have larders of dead enemies. When a man is described as ragged and out of order, it is almost always added that his beard had grown over his face; and though beards are coming into fashion now, it is not a highland fashion to wear a beard; and many a stinging joke have I heard aimed at a bearded man by modern Highlanders. The shields of the warriors are Bucaideach, bossed; Balla-bhreachd, dotted and variegated; Bara-chaol, with slender point; "with many a picture to be seen on it, a lion, a cremhinach, and a deadly snake;" and such shields are figured on the Iona tombs. The ancient Gauls wore helmets which represented beasts. The enchanted king's sons, when they came home to their dwellings, put off cochal, the husk, and become men; and when they go out, they resume the cochal and become animals of various kinds. May this not mean that they put on their armour. They marry a plurality of wives in many stories. In short, the enchanted warriors are, as I verily believe, nothing but real men, and their manners real manners, seen through a haze of centuries, and seen in the same light as they are seen in other popular tales, but, mayhap, a trifle clearer, because the men who tell of them are the descendants of the men described, and have mixed less with other men.
I do not mean that the tales date from any particular period, but that traces of all periods may be found in them-that various actors have played the same parts time out of mind, and that their manners and customs are all mixed together, and truly, though confusedly, represented--that giants and fairies, and enchanted princes were men; that Rob Roy may yet
wear many heads in Australia, and be a god or an ogre, according to taste--that tales are but garbled popular history, of a long journey through forests and wilds, inhabited by savages and wild beasts: of events that occurred on the way from east to west, in the year of grace, once upon a time.
Tales certainly are historical in this sense when they treat of Eirinn and Lochlann, for the islands were the battlefield of the Celts and Scandinavians, and though they lack the precision of more modern popular history, they are very precise as to Irish names and geography. "They went to Cnoc Seannan in Ireland." Conall was called Gulbanach from Beinn Gulbain in Ireland. There is the "king of Newry," and many other places are named according to their Gaelic names, never as they are named in English. The same is true of the manuscript tales in the Advocates' Library. Places about Loch Awe are named, and the characters pass backwards and forwards between Ireland and Argyll, as we are told they really did when the Irish Celts invaded and possessed that part of the west of Scotland, and that invasion is clearly referred to in more than one popular tradition still current. When Lochlann is mentioned, it is further off, and all is uncertain. The king's son, not the king himself, is usually the hero. Breacan MacRigh Lochlainn is named, or the son of the king of Lochlann, without a name at all, but the Irish kings often have a whole pedigree; thus Connall Gulbanach MacIulin MacArt Mac some one else, king of Ireland, and I lately heard a long story about "Magnus."
This again is like distorted, undated popular history of true events. They are clearly seen at home, the very spot where the action took place is pointed to; less clearly in Ireland, though people and places are
named; they are dimly seen in Lochlann, and beyond that everything is enlarged, and magical, and mysterious and grotesque. Real events are distorted into fables and magnified into supernatural occurrences, for the Gaelic proverbs truly say, "There are long horns on cattle in mist" or "in Ireland," and "Far away fowls have fine feathers."
But whether the stories are history or mythology, it is quite clear that they are very old, that they belong to a class which is very widely spread, and that they were not made by living men.
All story-tellers agree in saying that they learned them as traditions long ago; and if all those whose names are given had been inclined to tell "stories" in another sense, they could not have made and told the same stories at opposite ends of Scotland, almost simultaneously, to different people. James Wilson could not have told Connall Cra-bhuidhe to Hector MacLean in Islay, about the same time that Neil Gillies was telling Conal Crobhi to me at Inverary, and a very short time before Hector Urquhart got No. 8 from Kenneth MacLean in Gairloch. An old fisherman and an old porter could not have combined to tell a "story" which was in Straparola, in Italian, in 1567, to Hector MacLean in Barra, in 1859, and to the Rev. Mr. MacLauchlan in Edinburgh, in 1860, unless these stories were popular facts, though despised as fictions; and they are curious facts too, for the frame of Conal is common to old German manuscripts, and some of the adventures are versions of those of Ulysses. There are many proverbs which are only explained when the story is known; for example, "blackberries in February" means nothing; but when explained by the story, the meaning is clearly the idea which an acquaintance of mine once embodied
in a French toast, as "les impossibilités accomplies." The stories do not change rapidly, for I have gone back to a reciter after the lapse of a year, and I have heard him again repeat in Gaelic, what I had translated from his dictation, with hardly a change (vol. 1, p. 93).
I have now no doubt that the popular tales are very old; that they are old "Allabanaich," Highlanders and wanderers; that they have wandered, settled, and changed, with those who still tell them; and call themselves "Albannaich," men whose wandering spirit is not yet extinct, though they were settled in their present abodes "before the memory of man."
There was and is, a wandering spirit in the whole race, if Celts are Indo-Europeans. In the people who delighted in the adventures of Ulysses and Æneas, a longing spirit of western adventure, which was shewn in the fabled Atlantis, and the Island of the Seven Cities and St. Brandon--the spirit which drove the hordes of Asia to Europe, and urged Columbus to discover America, and which still survives in "the Green Isle of the great deep," "Eilan uaine an iomal torra domhain," of which so much is told, which Highland fancy still sees on the far western horizon, and which as "FLATHINNIS," the Isle of Heroes, has now been raised from an earthly paradise to mean Heaven.
Much has been said about highland superstitions, and highlanders of the east and west, like their southern neighbours, have many, but they are at least respectable from their age; and because they are so widely spread over the world, I believe them to be nearly all fictions founded on facts.
Thirteen Highlanders would eat their potatoes together without fear, and one of them might spill the
salt without a shudder. I never heard of a Celtic peasant consulting his table as an oracle, or going to a clairvoyant; but plenty of them dream dreams and see visions, and believe in them as men in Bible history did of old.
A man had been lost in crossing the dangerous ford, five or six miles of sand or rock, between Benbecula and North Uist, shortly before I was there in 1859. I was told the fact, and it was added incidentally, "And did he not come to his sister in a dream, and tell her where to find him? and she went to the place, and got him there, half buried in sand, after the whole country side had been looking for him in vain." Here is a similar story from Manchester:--
"FULFILMENT OF A DREAM.--An inquest was held last evening at Sheffield, before Mr. Thomas Badger, coroner, on the body of Mr. Charles Holmes, button manufacturer, Clough House Lane, who had been found drowned on Monday morning, in the Lead-mill dam in that town. The deceased left his home on Saturday night in company with his wife; they walked through the town together, and about nine o'clock, at which time they were at the top of Union Street, he said to her, 'I'm going to leave thee here, Fanny.' She said, 'Are you?' and he replied, 'Yes, I want to see an old friend who is going to Birmingham on Monday, and he is to be here.' She said to him, 'Well, Charlie, don't stop long, because I do feel queer about that dream,' and he replied, 'Oh, don't say that; I'll just have a glass, and then come home. Go and get the supper ready, and I'll come directly.' She then left him. When he got into the house he was invited to drink with his friend, but he exhibited some reluctance, saying that on the night before his wife had dreamed that she saw him dead in a public-house, and that she had dreamed a similar dream about a week before. Unfortunately, however, he yielded to the temptation, got drunk, and did not leave the public-house till after twelve. He was accompanied part of the way home by his friend, and was never afterwards seen alive. Near his house are the Lead-mill dams, and, in consequence of his not returning home,
his wife felt convinced that he had fallen in and got drowned. A search was made, and on Monday morning his body was found in the water, and was removed to the Royal Standard public-house, where his wife saw the body, and identified it as that of her husband; The jury returned a verdict of 'Found drowned,' and recommended that an opening in the wall, near the dam, through which it is supposed he had fallen, should be built up."--Manchester Examiner.
There are plenty of lowlanders as well as "ignorant" Highlanders who think that they are seers, without the aid of a deal board through which to look into futurity, by the help of a medium, and it is by no means uncommon, as I am told, for the Astronomer-Royal to receive English letters asking his advice, ex officio.
It may not be out of place to add a word as to the spoken Gaelic of these tales; the mode of writing it; and the English of the translation. First, then, it is admitted by all that the Gaelic of the West Highlands is a branch of the old Celtic stock, that is to say, the language of some of the oldest invaders or inhabitants of Europe of whom anything is known. Why it is I know not, but from works on philology it appears that the Highland dialect has been least studied, and for that reason, if for no other, it is perhaps best worth the trouble. I thought it best to ignore all that had been said or written on the subject, to go direct to those who now speak the language, especially to those who speak no other tongue; to men who use words as they use their feet and hands, utterly unconscious of design; who talk as nature and their parents taught them; and who are as innocent of philology as their own babies when they first learn to say "Abbi."
I requested those who wrote for me to take down the words as they were spoken, and to write as they would speak themselves; and the Gaelic of the tales
is the result of such a process. The names of the writers are given, and I am satisfied that they have done their work faithfully and well. The Gaelic then is not what is called "classical Gaelic." It is generally Gaelic of the people--pure from the source.
Next, as to orthography. I chose one man, Mr. Hector MacLean, whom I know to be free from prejudice, and who knows the rules of Gaelic spelling, to correct he press, and I asked him to spell the sounds which he heard, according to the principles of Gaelic orthography, whenever he wrote anything down himself; and in correcting the press for the work of others, to correct nothing but manifest mistakes, and this he has done, as it appears to me, very well.
In Gaelic there are certain vowels, and combinations of them, which represent certain sounds; and they are all sounded, and always in the same manner, according to theory, but in practice it is a very different matter. In speaking Gaelic, as is the case in other languages, various modes of pronouncing the same vowels exist in various districts. The consonants meet and contend and extinguish each other, and change the sound of the vowels in Gaelic more than in any other language which I know; but they fight by rule, and the conquered and the slain encumber the words which are their battlefields, as dead or dying consonants standing beside the silent h which kills or controls them. One difficulty in writing Gaelic from dictation is to ascertain, in words of doubtful meaning, whether the sound v is to be expressed by bh or mh. The first "letter was once at the head of a small regiment of letters, and sounded his own note m or b, and so he regulated the meaning of the rest, but having fallen in with an h in an oblique case, and being changed
thereby to v, the whole history of the word must be known before it can be settled whether it should begin with mh or bh, and it is much more difficult in other cases, where the letter is silenced altogether. My mother, if Gaelic, might become vy vother--father, ather, but the sounds would be spelt mhother, fhather. The meaning in a book depends on the spelling, but in speaking, it is a different matter. There are shades of sound which an ear used to a language can detect, but which letters are wholly unfitted to express.
Gaelic scholars, then, who have a standard for Gaelic writing, and who adhere to it strictly, will probably find much which will appear to them erroneous spelling.
An English scholar reading Sir Walter Scott's novels will find plenty of words which are not in Johnson's Dictionary, and a student of Pickwick will find much in Sam Weller's conversation which he will not discover in that form in Shakspeare.
Had I found stories in the, Isle of Wight I should have spelt good morning good marnin, because it is so pronounced; falbh is spelt folbh when a story comes from some of the Western Islands, because it is so pronounced there; and for the same reason iad is spelt eud. I have no doubt there are errors. I can only vouch for having chosen men who did their best in a very difficult matter; for I do not believe that there are ten men now living who would write a hundred lines of Gaelic off hand and spell them in the same way. I very much doubt if ten men ever did live at the same time who would have agreed as to Gaelic spelling; and I know that I find forms of words in books which I have very rarely heard in conversation. For example, the plural in IBH (iv) is very rare; the common form is AN.
The spelling of the first book printed in the Gaelic language, Bishop Carswell's Prayer-book, 1567, is not the same as the spelling of the Gaelic Bible. The Gaelic names in old charters are not spelt according to modern rule. The old Gaelic manuscripts in the Advocates' Library are spelt in various ways. Every man who has written Gaelic for me, spells words variously. Manks spelling is phonetic. Irish spelling is different; and where there is so little authority, I hope to be forgiven if I have ventured to ask men to follow their own road. I hope they will be forgiven if they have taken a short cut to obtain a certain object, and if they have left the beaten path.
For the translation I am responsible, and I feel that the English needs excuse. It has been the fashion so far to translate Gaelic freely; that is, to give the sense of the passage without caring much for the sense of words. One result is, that dictionaries give so many meanings that they are almost useless to any one ignorant of Gaelic. There are many words in these tales which were new to me, and I have repeatedly been driven to gather their meaning from the context, or to ask for it at the source, because of the multitude of contradictory explanations given in dictionaries. Let me take one word as an example. In the first tale the hero meets CU SEANG NA COILL' UAINE, and the meaning turned on the word SEANG. To that word the following meanings are attached:--Slender, slender-waisted, hungry, hungry-looking, lank, lean, active, handsome, strong; (applied to a shirt-front), fine; "Sad am I this day arising the breast of my shirt is not seang;" (applied to food in a proverb), meat makes men "seang;" (applied to hinds in an ode), neat; (applied to a horse), spirited; also slim, small, small-bellied,
gaunt, nimble, agile; (applied to lady), slender-waisted. On looking further it appears that SEANGAN is an ant; that SHUNKA is the Dakotah for all animals of the dog species, and that the word came to be applied to a horse, as spirit dog, when horses came first to that country; and it further appears that there is a word in broad Scotch which nearly fits the Gaelic, SWANK; that SING means a lion in India; and that the horses of the sun were swankas with beautiful steps in Sanscrit. It seemed to me that the phrase might be thus freely translated "The Forest Lion."
But though it seemed to me possible I might be entirely wrong, so I gave the meaning of the words, about which there could be no mistake:--
My belief is, that the word was an adjective, descriptive of the qualities of a lion wherever their likeness is to be found--as strength, activity, high courage, bold bearing, slender form, hunger, satiety; but I did not venture to translate CU SEANG by "lion," nor by "grey hound," as I was advised to do. I translated it by those words which seem to give the present meaning of the Gaelic. CU, a dog; SEANG, slim; and the phrase stands, "The slim dog of the green wood."
And so throughout I have aimed at giving the present real meaning of every separate word, but so as to give its true meaning in the passage in which it occurs. Where I have not been able to do both, I have tried to keep as close as I could to the original idea involved. For example, "In the mouth of night" is new to English, but it is comprehensible, and it is the exact meaning of the phrase commonly used to express the first
coming on of darkness. The expression is poetical. It seems to refer to some old mythical notion that the sun went into a cave or a tent to sleep, for "Take thy sleep in thy cave" is a line in Ossian's "Address to the Sun," and though it was suggested to me to alter this translation, and make it "good English," I thought it best to adhere to my original plan. Generally where the phrase occurs it is translated "in the mouth of night," though I was advised to write, "in the dusk," "in the evening," "at nightfall," "in the mantle of night," "at twilight," "in the grey of the evening."
I admit that all these phrases express ideas which might be attached to the words; but what could an unfortunate student make of a passage in which a word meaning mouth according to all dictionaries, should seem to mean mantle, or fall, or grey. It is very much easier to write naturally and translate freely; and as I have tried hard to make my translation a close one, I hope the bad English will be forgiven.
Those only who have tried to turn Gaelic into English can understand the difficulty. There are in fact many Gaelic phrases which will not go into English at all. For example, THA SO AGAM (I have this), is this at me, or with me, or by me, is a phrase which cannot be rendered for want of a word equivalent to AG or AIG, which expresses position and possession, and is combined with am, ad, e, inn, ibh, and changed to aca to express the persons. Gaelic will not bear literal translation into English, but I have tried to give the real meaning of every word as nearly as I could, and to give it by using the English word which most resembled the Gaelic; and thus I have unexpectedly fallen in with a number of English words which seem to have the same origin as Gaelic, if they are not survivors of the
language of the ancient Britons. I have translated CLAIDHEAMH, pronounced Claiv, by glave, TRAILL by thrall, and so throughout wherever I have thought of an English word that resembled a word admitted to be Gaelic.
It is my own opinion, and it is that of Mr. MacLean, that the Gaelic language is the same from Cape Clear in Ireland to Cape Wrath in Scotland, though there are many dialects, and there is much variety. The language was taught to me by a native of Lorn, and he was chosen by the advice of men well able to judge, as a native of the district where the best Gaelic was then supposed to be spoken. Speaking from my own experience, I can converse freely in Lorn Gaelic with Scotch Highlanders in every district of Scotland, and with natives of Rathlin. I can make my way with natives of the North of Ireland, but I cannot converse with the natives of some Irish districts. I could not make the Manksmen understand me, but I can readily understand most of the words in Manks and in Irish, when pronounced separately.
There are a very great many words in Welsh and in Breton which I can understand, or trace when they are separately spoken, but the difference in these is much wider. Peasants come from Connaught to Islay, and in a very short time converse freely, though their accent betrays them; but an Argyllshire Highlander is known in the north by his accent, just as a Yorkshireman would be found out in Somersetshire. An Islay man is detected in Mull, and a native of one parish in Islay is detected when he speaks in another; but though there are such shades of difference, a Highlander used to hear languages variously spoken should have no difficulty in understanding any dialect of Gaelic spoken in Scotland, and most of the Irish dialects.
But which of all these is the best, who is to decide? The author of a very good dictionary says, under the word COIG, that "in the islands of Argyllshire every word is pronounced just as Adam spoke it." Dr. Johnson pronounced the whole to be the rude speech of a barbarous people; and the Saxon knew as much of Gaelic as the Celt did of Adam. One Gaelic scholar wished to change the island words; a good Highlander told me that Dalmally was the best place for Gaelic, another was all for Western Ross. Nobody has a good word for Sutherland Gaelic, but it is very pure nevertheless in some districts; north country men are all for Inverness. I have heard excellent Gaelic in the Long Island. On the whole, I am inclined to think that dialect the best which resembles the largest number of others, and that is the dialect spoken by the most illiterate in the islands, and on the promontories furthest to the west. I will not venture to name any district, because I have no wish to contend with the natives of all the others.
The spirit of nationality is one which has a large development amongst my countrymen, and the, subject of language brings it out in strong relief. It is but a phase of human nature, a result of the quality which phrenologists describe as combativeness, and it seems to be common to all the races classed as Indo-European.
It is a common opinion in England that one Englishman can thrash three Frenchmen; and I have no doubt that a similar opinion prevails in France, though I do not know the fact. Highlanders believe that lowlanders generally are soft and effeminate; lowlanders think that mountaineers are savages. An Irish Celt detests his brother Celt over the water. A Scotch Celt calls another Eireannach when he abuses him, but let a common foe appear and they will all combine.
England, Ireland, and Scotland are up in arms, with rifles on their shoulders, at a hint of the approach of a Frenchman; but they joined France with heart and hand to fight the Russian and the Chinese; and as soon as the battle was over, they came back and fought at home.
The English lion stirred up the Scotch lion in the English press, and the northern lion growled over his wrongs. Ireland began to tell of the tyrant Saxon, and a stranger might think that the Union was about to fall to pieces. It is not so; it is but a manifestation of superfluous energy which breaks out in the other "union" over the water, and makes as much noise there as steam blowing off elsewhere.
I maintain that there is chronic war in every part of her Majesty's dominions. Not long ago a dispute arose about a manner of catching herrings. One set of men caught them with drift-nets, another with dragnets, and one party declared that the other violated the law; blood got up, and at last a whole fleet of fishing-boats left their ground and sailed twenty miles down to attack the rival fleet in form. A gun-boat joined the party, and peace was preserved; but it was more the result of a calm, which enabled the light row-boats to escape from the heavier sailing fleet. Both parties spoke the same language, and on any subject but herrings, they would have backed each other through the world.
The purchase of an orange, and a box on the ear, grew into a serious riot in a northern town last year. The fight spread as from a centre, and lasted three days; but here it developed itself into a fight between Celt and Saxon. Both sides must have been in the wrong, and I am quite sure they were both ignominiously defeated, although they may hold the contrary.
Every election in the three kingdoms is a shameful
riot, according to some public organ, whose party get the worst of it.
There is a regular stand-up fight in Paris periodically, the rest of Europe goes to war in earnest at every opportunity, and when there are no national or class wars, men fight as individuals all over the world. I was once at Christmas at a hurling match in Ireland. The game was played on ice on a lake, and after some hours the owner of the lake sent down a Scotch butler with bread and cheese and whisky for the players. They gathered about the cart in perfect good humour, when suddenly, without cause, an excited banker's clerk shouted, "Hurro for ------" (the nearest post town), and performed a kind of war dance on the outside edge of his skates, flourishing a stick wildly, and chanting his war song, "I'll bet ere a man in England, Ireland, or SCOTLAND." A knobby stick rose up in the crowd, and the Scotch butler was down; but an Irish boy who had not opened his mouth was the next. He went head-foremost into a willow bush amongst the snow, and three men in frieze great-coats kicked him with nailed shoes. In ten minutes the storm was over, the butler was up again in his cart dispensing the refreshments, the man in the bush was consoling himself with a dram, and all was peace. But that night the country party took up a position behind a stone wall, and when the others came, they sallied forth and there was a battle-royal.
So I have seen a parish shinty match in the Highlands become so hot and furious, that the leaders were forced to get two pipers and march their troops out of the field in opposite directions, to prevent a civil war of parishes.
And so, a part of her Majesty's guards having gone
out to exercise at Clewer, and being stationed as "the enemy" at some point, obstinately refused to "retreat in disorder;" but stood, their ground with such determination, that the officers had to sound the retreat on both sides to prevent a serious battle.
So at Eton, shins were broken in my tutor's football match against my dame's; and boys injured themselves in rowing frantically for the honour of upper or lower sixes.
Two twins, who were so like, that one used to skip round a pillar and answer to his brother's name, and who probably would have died for each other, still fought in private so earnestly, that one carried the mark of a shovel on his forehead for many a long day; and so boys fight, and men fight, individually and collectively, as parties, races, and nations, all over Europe, if not all over the world.
I decline to state my opinion as to which Gaelic is the best, for that is a peculiarly delicate subject, my countrymen having ceased to use their dirks, are apt to fight with pens, and I would rather see the children of the Gael, in this as in other matters, fighting shoulder to shoulder against foes, and working side by side with their friends.
The Gaelic language is essentially descriptive, rich in words, which by their sound alone express ideas. The thundering sound of the waves beating on the shore is well expressed by TONN, a wave; LUNN, a heavy Atlantic swell.
The harsh rattling and crushing of thunder by TAIRNEANACH.
The plunge of a heavy body thrown into deep water by TUNN, plunge.
The noise of small stones and fine gravel streaming
seawards from a beach in the undertow is heard in SCRITHEAN, gravel.
The tinkling of shells as they slip and slide on the sand at the edge of the sea is heard in SLIGEAN, shells.
The hard sharp knocking of stones in CLACH, a stone, and thence all manner of compound ideas follow as CLACHAN, a village; CLACHAIR, a mason; CLACHARAN, a stone-chat.
The names of domestic animals usually resemble their notes. Bo, a cow; gobhar, a goat; caora, a sheep; laogh, a calf. Words such as barking, growling, squealing, coughing, sneezing, suggest the idea by the sound, as they do in English. Many names of beasts and birds, which are not of this class, are descriptive in another sense. The grouse are the reddish brown cock and hen; the fox, the reddish brown dog; the wolf, the fierce dog; the sandpiper, the little driolichan of the strand. The crow is the flayer, the falcon, the darter; the otter the brown or black beast.
It is a language full of metaphorical and descriptive expressions. "He went to the beginning of fortune;" "he put the world under his head;" "he took his own body home;" "he went away"--that is, he went home sick, and he died. "There were great masses of rain, and there was night and there was darkness." "Ye must not be out amidst the night, she is dark."
It is rich in words expressive of war, by no means rich in words belonging to the arts. CRANN, a tree, means a mast, the bar of a door, a plough, and many other things made of wood. BEAIRT means a loom, a block and tackling, and engines of various kinds.
It seems to contain words to express the great features of nature, which can be traced in the names of rivers and mountains in a great part of Europe,
such as EAS, a rapid (pr. ace); ATH (pr. A. and Av.), a ford; AMHAINN, OBHAINN, ABHAINN, a river, variously pronounced, avain, a-wen, ovain, o-in, o-un, o-n. Calais I take to be CALA, a harbour; the word has no meaning in French. Boulogne might be BEUL OBHAINN, river's mouth; Donau, the Danube, might mean the brown river. Tana might mean the shallow, and both are descriptive.
Rhine might mean the division, and there is a district in Islay whose name is pronounced exactly as the name of the great German river. Balaclava is exceedingly like the name of an Islay farm, and might mean kite's town, BAILE CHLAMHAIN; but though such resemblances can hardly fail to occur to any one who knows the Gaelic language, it requires time and careful study to follow out such a subject, and it is foreign to my purpose. There are plenty of Gaelic words which closely resemble words in other European languages. Amongst the few Sanscrit words which I have been able to glean from books, I find several which resemble Gaelic words of similar meaning--JWALA, light flame, has many Gaelic relations in words which mean shining, fire, lightning, the moon, white, swan.
DYU, day, is like an diugh, to-day; MIRAH, the ocean, like muir, mara, the sea; but this again is foreign to my purpose.
My wish has been simply to gather some specimens of the wreck so plentifully strewn on the coasts of old Scotland, and to carry it where others may examine it; rather to point out where curious objects worth some attention may be found, than to gather a great heap. I have not sought for stranded forests. I have not polished the rough sticks which I found; I have but cut off a very few offending splinters, and I trust that
some may be found who will not utterly despise such rubbish, or scorn the magic which peasants attribute to a fairy egg.
i:1 Mimosa scandens, great pod-creeper. Mucuna ureus.
xxv:1 The land of Hills, and Glens, and Heroes.
xxxii:1 See page 256 of "Scotland in the Middle Ages," by Cosmo Innes, Edmonston and Douglas, 1860, for evidence taken from "The fathers of our Scotch literature," and the Report of the Highland Society.
lv:1 Lyell's Principles of Geology, p. 267.
lxvi:1 Train's History of the Isle of Man, vol. 2, p. 177.
lxvi:2 The Gaelic word for a sword proves that English, French, Breton, and Gaelic have much in common--(Eng.) glave, (Fr.) glaive, (Breton) korol ar c' hleze--dance of the sword, (Gaelic) claidheamh--pronounced, glaive, the first letter being a soft "c," or hard "g," the word usually spelt, claymore. Languages said to be derived from Latin do not follow their model so closely as these words do one another--(Lat.) gladius, (Spanish) espada, (Italian) spada; and the northern tongues seem to have preferred some original which resembles the English word, sword. If "spada" belongs to the language from which all these are supposed to have started, these seem to have used it for a more peaceful iron weapon, a spade.
lxvi:3 Norse Tales, Introduction, 62.
lxvii:1 At page 54 of Rawlinson's Herodotus, vol. 3, is the translation of the passage in which this worship is described.
lxix:1 Norse Tales, Nos. 3 and 13.
lxx:1 Norse Tales, 16, 53.
lxx:2 Carleton. Dublin, 1846. P. 330.
cv:1 Histoire de France, par Henri Martin; 1855.