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Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Vols 1-4

J. F. Campbell


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Contains all 4 Volumes of Popular Tales of the West Highlands, J. F. Campbell's collection of Scottish folklore. Tales include: The Young King Of Easaidh Ruadh; The Battle of the Birds; The Sea-Maiden; The Brown Bear of the Green Glen; The Daughter of the Skies; The King Of Lochlin's Three Daughters; The Ridere (Knight) Of Riddles; The Isle of Pabaidh; The Tale of the Queen Who Sought a Drink From a Certain Well; The Son of the Scottish Yeoman who Stole the Bishop's Horse and Daughter, and the Bishop Himself; Caol Reidhinn. Why the Name was Given to it; The Yellow Muilearteach; The Reason Why the Dallag (Dog-Fish) is Called the King's Fish; Maghach Colgar; Murachadh Mac Brian; Diarmaid And Grainne; and many more.

This book has 1,284 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published 1860–62.

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Excerpt from 'Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Vols 1-4'

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, 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,

"Huch!!"

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. 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.

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