Sacred Texts  Legends & Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 253



From Donald MacLean, Grassmarket, Edinburgh. Written in Gaelic, and translated by the Rev. Mr. MacLauchlan.

THERE was once a Scottish yeoman who had three sons. When the youngest of them came to be of age to fellow a profession, he set apart three hundred marks for each of them. The youngest son asked that his portion might be given to himself, as he was going away to seek his fortune. He went to the great city of London. He was for a time there, and what was he doing but learning to be a gentleman's servant? He at last set about finding a master. He heard that the chief magistrate (provost 1) of London wanted a servant. He applied to him, they agreed, and he entered his service. The chief magistrate was in the habit of going every day in the week to meet the Archbishop of London in a particular place. The servant attended his master, for he always went out along with him. When they had broken up their meeting on one occasion, they returned homewards, and the servant said to his master by the way,--

p. 254

"That is a good brown horse of the bishop's," said he, "with your leave, master."

"Yes, my man," said the master, "he has the best horse in London."

"What think you," said the servant, "would be take for the horse, if he were to sell it?"

"Oh! you fool," said his master, "I thought you were a sensible fellow; many a man has tried to buy that horse, and it has defied them as yet."

"I'll return and try," said he.

His master returned along with him to see what would happen. This was on a Thursday. The young man asked the bishop, would he sell the horse? The bishop became amazed and angry, and said he did not expect that he could buy it.

"But what beast could you, or any man have," said the young man, "that might not be bought?"

"Senseless fellow," said the bishop; "how foolish you are I go away home, you shan't buy my horse."

"What will you wager," said the young man, "that I won't have the horse by this time to-morrow?"

"Is it my horse you mean?" said the bishop.

"Yes, your horse," said the young man. "What will you wager that I don't steal it?"

"I'll wager five hundred merks," said the bishop, "that you don't."

"Then," said the young man, "I have only one pound, but I'll wager that, and my head besides, that I do."

"Agreed," said the bishop.

"Observe," said the young man, "that I have wagered my head and the pound with you, and if I steal the horse he will be my own property."

"That he will, assuredly," said the chief magistrate.

p. 255

"I agree to that," said the bishop.

They returned home that night.

"Poor fellow," said the chief magistrate to his servant by the way, "I am very well satisfied with you since I got you. I am not willing to lose you now. You are foolish. The bishop will take care that neither you nor any other man will steal the horse. He'll have him watched."

When night came, the young man started, and set to work; he went to the bishop's house. What did he find out there, but that they had the horse in a room, and men along with it, who were busy eating and drinking. He looked about him, and soon saw that he would require another clever fellow along with him. In looking about, who does he find but one of the loose fellows about the town.

"If you go along with me for a little time," said he, I will give you something for your pains."

"I'll do that," said the other.

He set off, and at the first start both he and his man reached the hangman of the city.

"Can you tell me," said he to the hangman, "where I can get a dead man?"

"Yes," said the hangman, "there was a man hanged this very day, after midday."

"If you go and get him for me," said the young man, "I'll give you something for your pains."

The hangman agreed, and went away with him to where the body was.

"Do you know now," said the young man, "where I can get a long stout rope?"

"Yes," said the hangman, "the rope that hanged the man is here quite convenient; you'll get it."

They set off with the body, both himself and his man.

p. 256

[paragraph continues] They reached the bishop's house. He said to his man when they had reached--

"Stay you here and take charge of this, until I get up on the top of the house."

He put both his mouth and his ear to the chimney in order to discover where the men were, as they were now speaking loud from having drunk so much. He discovered where they were.

"Place the end of the rope," said he to his man, "round the dead man's neck, and throw the other end up to me."

He dragged the dead man up to the top of the chimney. The men in the room began to hear the rubbish in the chimney falling down. He let the body down by degrees, until at last he saw the bright light of the watchmen falling on the dead man's feet.

"See," said they, "what is this? Oh, the Scottish thief, what a shift! He preferred dying in this way to losing his head. He has destroyed himself."

Down from the chimney came the young man in haste. In he went into the very middle of the men, and as the horse was led out by the door, his hand was the first to seize the bridle. He went with the horse to the stable, and said to them that they might now go and sleep, that they were safe enough.

"Now," said he to the other man, "I believe you to be a clever fellow; be at hand here to-morrow evening, and I will see you again."

He paid him at the same time, and the man was much pleased. He, himself, returned to his master's stable with the bishop's brown horse. He went to rest, and though the daylight came early, earlier than that did his master come to his door.

p. 257

"I wouldn't grudge my pains," said he, if my poor Scotsman were here before me to-day."

"I am here, good master," said he, "and the bishop's brown horse beside me."

"Well done, my man," said his master, "you're a clever fellow. I had a high opinion of you before; I think much more of you now."

They prepared this day, too, to go and visit the bishop. It was Friday.

"Now," said the servant, "I left home without a horse, yesterday, but I won't leave in the same way to-day."

"Well, my man," said his master, "as you have got the horse, I'll give you a saddle."

So they set off this day again to meet the bishop, his master and himself riding their horses. They saw the bishop coming to meet them, apparently mad. When they came close together they observed that the bishop rode another horse, by no means so good as his own. The bishop and chief magistrate met with salutations. The bishop turned to the chief magistrate's servant,--

"Scroundel," said he, "and thorough thief!"

"You can't call me worse," said the other. "I don't know that you can call me that justly; for, you know, I told you what I was to do. Without more words, pay me my five hundred merks."

This had to be done, though not very willingly.

"What would you now say," says the lad, "if I were to steal your daughter to-night?"

"My daughter, you worthless fellow," said the bishop; "you shan't steal my daughter."

"I'll wager five hundred merks and the brown horse," said the lad, "that I'll steal her."

p. 258

"I'll wager ten hundred merks that you don't," said the bishop.

The wager was laid. The lad and his master went home. "Young man," said his master, "I thought well of you at one time, but you have done a foolish thing now, just when you had made yourself all right."

"Never mind, good master," said he, "I'll make the attempt at any rate."

When night came, the chief magistrate's servant set off for the bishop's house. When he reached, he saw a gentleman coming out at the door.

"Oh," said he to the gentleman, "what is this going on at the bishop's house to-night?"

"A great and important matter," said the gentleman; "a rascally Scotsman who is threatening to steal the bishop's daughter, but I can tell you neither he nor any other man will steal her; she is well guarded."

"Oh, I'm sure of that," said the lad, and turned away. "There is a man in England, however," said he to himself, "who must try it."

He set off, and reached the king's tailors. He asked them whether they had any dresses ready for great people?

"No," said the tailor, "but a dress I have for the king's daughter and one for her maid of honour."

"What," said the chief magistrate's servant, "will you take for the use of these, for a couple of hours?"

"Oh," said the tailor, "I fear I dare not give them to you."

"Don't be in the least afraid," said the lad, "I'll pay you, and I'll return the two dresses without any injury or loss. You'll get a hundred merks," said he.

The tailor coveted so large a sum, and so he gave them to him. He returned, and found his man of the

p. 259

former night. They went to a private place, and got themselves fitted out in the dresses got from the tailor. When this was done as well as they could, they came to the bishop's door. Before he arrived at the door he found out that when any of the royal family came to the bishop's house they didn't knock, but rubbed the bottom of the door with the point of the foot. He came to the door, and rubbed. There was a doorkeeper at the door that night, and he ran and told the bishop.

"There is some one of the royal family at the door," said he.

"No," said the bishop, "there is not. It's the thief of a Scotsman that is there."

The doorkeeper looked through the key-hole, and saw the appearance of two ladies who stood there. He went to his master and told him so. His master went to the door that he might see for himself. He who was outside would give another and another rub to the door, at the same time abusing the bishop for his folly. The bishop looked, and recognized the voice of the king's daughter at the door. The door is quickly opened, and the bishop bows low to the lady. The king's daughter began immediately to chide the bishop for laying any wager respecting his daughter, saying that he was much blamed for what he had done.

"It was very wrong of you," said she, "to have done it without my knowledge, and you would not have required to have made such a stir or been so foolish as all this."

"You will excuse me," said the bishop. I can't excuse you," she said.

In to the chamber he led the king's daughter, in which his own daughter was, and persons watching her.

p. 260

[paragraph continues] She was in the middle of the chamber, sitting on a chair, and the others sitting all around.

Said the king's daughter to her, "My dear, your father is a very foolish man to place you in such great danger; for if he had given me notice, and placed you under my care, any man who might venture to approach you would assuredly not only be hanged, but burned alive. Go," said she to the bishop, "to bed, and dismiss this large company, lest men laugh at you."

He told the company that they might now go to rest, that the queen's daughter and her maid of honour would take charge of his daughter. When the queen's daughter had seen them all away, she said to the daughter of the bishop,--

"Come along with me, my dear, to the king's palace." He led her out, and then he had the brown horse all ready, and as soon as the Scotsman got her to where the horse stood, he threw off the dress he wore, in a dark place. He put a different dress above his own, and mounted the horse. The other man is sent home with the dresses to the tailor. He paid the man, and told him to meet him there next night. He leaped on the brown horse at the bishop's house, and off he rode to the house of his master. Early as daylight came, earlier came his master to the stable. He had the bishop's daughter in his bed. He wakened when he heard his master.

"I wouldn't grudge my pains," said the latter, "if my poor Scotsman were here before me to-day."

"Eh, and so I am," said the lad, "and the bishop's daughter along with me here."

"Oh," said he, "I always thought well of you, but now I think more of you than ever."

This was Saturday. He and his master had to go

p. 261

and meet the bishop this day also. The bishop and chief magistrate met as usual. If the bishop looked angry the former day, he looked much angrier this day. The chief magistrate's servant rode on his horse and saddle behind his master. When he came near the bishop he could only call him "thief" and "scoundrel."

"You may shut your mouth," said he; "you cannot say that to me with justice. Send across here my five hundred merks. He paid the money. He was abusing the other.

"Oh man," said he, "give up your abuse; I'll lay you the ten hundred merks that I'll steal yourself tonight."

"That you steal me, you worthless fellow," said the bishop. "You shan't be allowed."

He wagered the ten hundred merks.

"I'll get these ten hundred merks back again," said the bishop, "but I'll lay you fifteen hundred merks that you don't steal me."

The chief magistrate fixed the bargain for them. The lad and his master went home.

"My man," said the master, "I have always thought well of you till now; you will now lose the money you gained, and you can't steal the man."

"I have no fear of that," said the servant.

When night came he set off, and got to the house of the bishop. Then he thought he would go where he could find the fishermen of the city, in order to see what might be seen with them. When he reached the fishermen he asked them whether they had any fresh-killed salmon? They said they had. He said to them--

"If you skin so many of them for me I will give you

p. 262

such and such a sum of money, or as much as will be just and right."

The fishermen said they would do as he wished, and they did so. They gave him as many fish skins as he thought would make him a cloak of the length and breadth he wished. He then went to the tailors. He said to the tailors, would they make him a dress of the fish skins by twelve o'clock at night, and that they should be paid for it. They told him what sum they would take. They took the young man's measure and began the dress. The dress was ready by twelve o'clock. They could not work any longer as the Sunday was coming in. He left with the dress, and when he found himself a short way from the bishop's church he put it on. He had got a key to open the church and he went in. He at once went to the pulpit. The doorkeeper casting an eye in on an occasion, while a great watch was kept over the bishop, he went and said there was a light in the church.

"A light," said his master, "go and see what light it is." It was past twelve o'clock by this time.

"Oh," said the doorkeeper, coming back, "there is a man preaching in it."

The bishop drew out his time-piece, and he saw that it was the beginning of the Sunday. He went running to the church. When he saw the brightness that was in the church, and all the movements of the man that was preaching, he was seized with fear. He opened the door a little and put in his head that he might see what be was like. There was not a language under the stars that the man in the pulpit was not taking a while of. When he came to the languages which the bishop understood, he began to denounce the bishop as a man who had lost his senses. In the

p. 263

bishop ran, and down he is on his knees before the pulpit. There he began to pray, and when he saw the brightness that was about the pulpit, he took to heart the things that were said to him. At length he said to him, if he would promise sincere repentance, and go along with him, he would grant him forgiveness. The bishop promised him that he would.

"Come with me till I have a little time of you," said he.

"I will," said the bishop, "though thou shouldst ask me to leave the world."

He went along with him, and the young man walked before him. They reached the stable of the chief magistrate. He got a seat for the bishop, and he kept him sitting. He sat down himself. They required no light, for the servant's clothes were shining bright where they were. He was then expounding to the bishop in some languages which he could understand, and in others which he could not. He went on in that way until it was time for his master to come in the morning. When the time drew near, he threw off the dress, bent down and hid it, for it was near daylight. The bishop was now silent, and the chief magistrate came.

"I wouldn't grudge my pains," said he, "if I had my poor Scotsman here before me to-day."

"Eh, so I am here," said he, "and the bishop along with me."

"Hey, my man," says his master, "you have done well."

"Oh, you infamous scoundrel," said the bishop, "is it thus you have got the better of me?"

"I'll tell you what it is," said the chief magistrate, "you had better be civil to him. Don't abuse him. He has got your daughter, your horse, and your money,

p. 264

and as for yourself, you know that he cannot support you, so it is best for you to support him. Take himself and your daughter along with you and make them a respectable wedding." The young man left and went home with the bishop, and he and the bishop's daughter were lawfully married, and the father shewed him kindness. I left them there.

(Gaelic omitted)


p. 265


p. 266


p. 267


p. 268


p. 269


p. 270


p. 271


I had the above tale from Donald M'Lean, now resident in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh. It is one of seven I took down from his recitation about the same time. M'Lean is a native of Ardnamurchan, but crossed at an early age to Glenforsa in Mull, where he spent several years. He heard this tale recited by an old man, Angus M'Phie, from Ardnamurchan, who died about fifty years ago, and he had received it also from tradition. M'Lean recites his tales without the slightest hesitation, although in some cases their recitation occupies a couple of hours. It will be manifest, too, from reading the original tale here given, that very little variation could be allowed in the words used, and that the very forms of expression and words must therefore be retained unchanged. M'Lean's is a remarkable instance of the power of memory in the uneducated, shewing that it is quite possible to retain and recite, with perfect accuracy, compositions which would form a volume. He obtained his tales from different parties, and says they were recited in the winter evenings at the firesides of the old Highlanders as their chief amusements. Some of them he heard before he was fourteen years of age, and never heard since, and yet he retains them accurately.

It will be observed in the tale now given that some of the terms used are modem, as, for instance, "Probhaisd" (Provost),

p. 272

and not known in our older Gaelic. It is remarkable, also, that the bishop of London is the party fixed upon to have his effects stolen. This would seem to indicate that the tale originated at a time when the Highlanders were acquainted with bishops, and would carry it back to a period previous to the Reformation, the inhabitants, both of Ardnamurchan and Mull, having been Presbyterians since that period; unless, indeed, the story has been imported into the Highlands from some other quarter. Its resemblance to the "Master Thief" in Mr. Dasent's "Tales from the Norse," cannot fail to strike any one acquainted. with these interesting stories. The "Tuathanach" is translated "Yeoman," not that that term expresses with perfect accuracy the meaning of the Gaelic word, but it is the English term which comes nearest to it. The "Tuathanach" among the Celts is a "farmer," or one who holds his lands from another, but the word implies a certain amount of consequence and dignity, which would indicate that he must hold land of considerable extent. The term is manifestly either the radix, or a relative of the Latin "tenoe," whence the English "tenant," and it would seem also to be the real source of the word "Thane," or one who held as tenant the lands of the Crown. The tenants and their subholders were distinguished as "Tuath 'us Ceatharn," from which last is the Saxon "Kern."

T. M'L.

EDINBURGH, May, 1860.


2. Another version of this was told to me by Donald MacCraw, drover, September 1859, as we walked along the road in North Uist. It was given in return for a bit of another story, which also treats of clever thieves, part of which I learned from my piper guardian long ago. This was the fly which raised the fish.

Two thieves once came to a gallows, and the one said to the other,

"We have often heard about this thing, now let us try how it feels. I will put the rope about my neck, and do thou hang me, and when I have had enough, I will grin and then thou shalt let me down."

So the first thief was hanged, and when the rope tightened he grinned horribly, and was let down by his comrade as they had agreed.

"Well," said he, "What was it like?"

p. 273

"Not so bad as I expected," said the other. "Now I will hang thee, and when thou hast enough, whistle."

So the second agreed, and he as strung up in his turn, and he grinned too; but because he would not whistle, his friend let him hang, and when he was tired of waiting, he emptied his pockets and left him there.

"Have you any more of that story?" said I.

"No; but I have one about a smith's servant," said MacCraw.

There was once, long ago, a smith in Eirinn, and he had a servant who was very clever at stealing; he could steal anything. His master was working with an UACHDARAN, gentleman, and the gentleman came to the smithy to have his "powney" shod, (the English word powney is commonly used in Island Gaelic), and he and the smith were well with each other, and they began to talk, and the smith to boast of his apprentice, and how well he could steal. At last he offered to bet that the lad could steal the gentleman's horse, and the gentleman wagered five notes that he would not. The smith laid down the money and the bet was made, and they told this to the lad.

Well, the gentleman went home, and he sent his gillies to watch the powney, and the lad went and he bought himself three bottles of whisky, and when the night came he went to the "square" (this word has also crept into Gaelic, and is applied to a set of farm buildings) of the gentleman, and he laid himself down amongst the litter, and he began to snore and snort and pretend to be drunk. So out came one of the watchmen to see what was the matter, and he began to handle the drunken man, and presently he felt a bottle in his pocket; then he drew it out, and he told the others, and they drank it all up. Then they said,

"Let us see if there is not another bottle in the other pocket."

So they went and they rolled over the drunken man, who kept on snoring and snorting, and they found a second bottle, and then they went into the stable again. At the end of a little while the lad heard them getting very "wordy" within, and soon they came out again a third time, and they rolled him about, and found the third bottle, and that finished them off and they fell fast asleep. Then the lad got up and stole the powney, and went to the smithy and then he went to sleep himself.

In the morning the gentleman came to the smithy, and he had to pay the bet, for the powney was there before him.

p. 274

"Well," said the lad, "that is but a small matter, I will wager you now twenty notes that I will steal your daughter."

"I will take the wager," said the gentleman.

And the lad said, "Now master, lay down the twenty notes for me." So the smith laid them down, and the gentleman laid down his, and the wager was made.

(The word "note" is almost always used in Gaelic, because very filthy one pound notes are common in Scotland. The value of the note is expressed by "pound saxon." It seems to be necessary to produce the money, and to deposit it when a wager is laid.)

Now no time was fixed for stealing the daughter, so the gentleman went home and he set a watch on his daughter's room, who were to go in and out all night long. The lad went about the country and he travelled till he came to BAILLE PUIRT, a seaport town on the other side, for it was in Eirinn; and there he remained till he made friends with a ship captain, and after much talk (which was given by the narrator) the captain agreed to help him. So the lad dressed himself up as a woman, and the captain said, "Now I will say that I have a sister on board, and if we are asked to the house of the gentleman when the ship arrives, do thou as best thou canst."

So the ship sailed, and she sailed round Eirinn till she came to the gentleman's house, and then the captain went up and told how he had been a long voyage to the Indies.

Then the gentleman asked if he had any one else on board, and he said that he had a sister, and that she was very unwell.

"Oh!" said the gentleman, "ask her to come up and she shall sleep in my daughter's room."

So the captain's sister came up and they had a pleasant evening, and they all went to bed.

But the captain's sister could not sleep, and she said to the gentleman's daughter, "What are these men that are always walking about the room, and up and down before the windows?"

And the girl said, "There is a bad man who has laid a wager that he will steal me, and my father is afraid that he may come any night, and these are the watchmen who are guarding me. It is not for the money, but my father is so angry, because that bad man beat him once already."

"Oh, "said the captain's sister, I am so nervous after the

p. 275

sea. I have a sort of nerves (the narrator used the English word) that I shall never sleep all night. I shall never get a wink of sleep! I would be so much obliged to you if you would have the goodness to send them away."

And so at last the men were sent away, but the captain's sister could not sleep a bit better, and she said,

"When I was in the Indies I used to be so troubled with the heat, that I got a habit of walking out at night, perhaps I could sleep if I were to take a little walk now. Will you be so very kind as to come out for a little walk with me.

So the gentleman's daughter got up, and out they went for a walk, but when they bad walked a little way, the lad carried her off bodily to the smithy.

In the morning the gentleman came and he paid the bet, and it is told that the lad married the daughter.

"And is that all he ever stole?" said I.

"That's all I ever heard about it at all events," said MacCraw.


3. In the Sutherland collection is this reference. "The Master Thief (see Dasent's Tales, and Thorpe's Tales). This was some twenty or thirty years ago a common schoolboy's tale. I have tried in vain to get it written down in Gaelic, but they tell it with all that is in the Norwegian version, and more besides, such as the theft of some rabbits (how performed I cannot hear), and that of a lot of calves. The Master Thief stole these for the robbers, by imitating in the woods and upland pastures the cry of the cows." C. D.

4. Another bit of the Master Thief, as given in the Norse Tales, forms part of a story which is referred to in No. 48. It is the incident of the man who is persuaded to put his finger into what he believes to be a cask full of liquor, while the clever rogue rides off on his horse, on pretence of catching himself.


5. I have heard another of the incidents, as a theft, accomplished by tempting a man to ran after broken-legged rabbits.

This story, then, is now widely spread in the Highlands, however it got there. The Rev. Mr. MacLauchlan, one of the best, known and most respected men in Edinburgh, gets one version from an old man in the Grassmarket, who gives it a pedigree of some fifty years; I got another myself from a drover in Uist; a

p. 276

very able collector in Sutherland says it was common there some twenty or thirty years ago, and is told still; and a scrap of the Norwegian version comes from Islay. They resemble other versions in other languages, but they resemble each other more than they do any published version which I know; and there seems to be but one explanation of the facts, namely, that this is some very old tradition, common to many races and languages, and derived from some original of unknown antiquity.

The incidents in the German of Grimm are shortly these:--

A poor old man is visited by a gentleman in a grand carriage, who turns out to be his son who had run away and become a master thief. They go to the Count, who sets him three tasks to try his skill: to steal his favourite horse; to take away from his wife and from him the counterpane of their bed, and the ring off the lady's finger; and, thirdly, to steal the parson and clerk out of the church, on pain of his neck.

He makes the watch drunk, and steals the horse. He makes the Count shoot at a dead body, and while the Count is gone to bury the supposed thief, he appears as the Count, and gets the ring and bed-cover from the Countess.

And he entices the parson and clerk into a sack by pretending to be St. Peter.

The Norse story has many more incidents, but amongst them are five tasks set by a great man to try the skill of the Master Thief:--

(1.) To steal the roast from the spit on Sunday, which he does by enticing the servants to run after three hares which he lets out of a bag.

(2.) To steal father Laurence, the priest, which he does by pretending to be an angel, and so enticing him into a sack.

(3.) To steal twelve horses from the stable, which he does by appearing as an old woman, and making twelve grooms drunk with a sleepy drink in brandy.

(4.) To steal the horse from under the squire, which he does nearly in the same way as the clever weaver in the Islay story.

(5.) To steal the sheet of the gentleman's bed, and the shift off his wife's back, which he does in nearly the same way as it is done in the German version.

And though the daughter is not stolen in the Norse tale, it is to gain the daughter that all these tasks are performed.

Now all these are clearly the same as the second "Favola"

p. 277

in the first book of Straparola, printed in Venice, 1567. In this Italian story the scene is Perugia, the clever thief, a certain Cassandrino, and the man who tries his skill "Il Pretore," the Priest.

Cassandrino first steals the Priest's bed from under him, by breaking through the roof and throwing down the dead body of a recently buried doctor which he had dug up and dressed in his clothes. The Priest thinks that he has fallen down and killed himself, goes to bury him, and finds his bed gone when he returns.

Next he steals the horse from the stable. The watchman sleeps in the saddle; he props him up on sticks, and steals away the horse.

Lastly, he steals a country clergyman, whom he tempts into a sack by dressing as an angel and standing on an altar after matins, exclaiming, "Chi vuol andar in gloria entri nel sacco." He gets a hundred florins of gold each time, and is threatened with terrible punishment in case of failure. The disguise is a white robe, painted paper wings, and a shining diadem.

The Italian story again resembles, though in a less degree, the Egyptian story of Rhampsinitus, told in Herodotus. (Rawlinson's Herod., vol. ii., p. 191.)

The king had a treasure chamber built of hewn stone, but the builder contrived a turning-stone in the wall, and told the secret to his sons when he was about to die.

The sons plundered the treasury, and the king set a trap which caught one of them. The other cut his head off to prevent discovery, and went home with the head, leaving the body in the trap. The king, much puzzled, exposed the headless body, with guards beside it, to watch if any one should be seen weeping near it. The mother sent her son to get back the body, and he did very much as the clever thief in the modern stories, who stole the horses; he disguised himself, and enticed the guards into drinking till they fell asleep; then he shaved half their beards off, and took away the body.

Then the king sent his daughter to find out; and the clever thief went to her, and told her all about it; but when she tried to seize him, he gave her the hand of a dead man, which he had cut off and brought with him; and so he made his escape, leaving the hand.

Then the king proclaimed a free pardon for the clever thief who had outwitted him three times, and when he came he gave him his daughter in marriage.

p. 278

Other references are given in Grimm's third volume (see page 260), from which it appears that this story is very widely spread in Europe. Now the Gaelic agrees with Herodotus, Straparola, and Grimm, in that there are three tasks accomplished by a clever thief; and the number three is almost universally used in Gaelic tales.

One of the Gaelic incidents, that of the drunken guards, agrees with the story in Herodotus, and is common to all those quoted.

The Gaelic agrees with the Italian, German, and Norse, in the theft of the horse and the clergyman.

The Gaelic alone has the theft of the daughter. The Norwegian version mentions the daughter, and so does the story of Rhampsinitus, and there seems to be fair ground for arguing that all this must have come from some original which it is vain to search for in any modern work or in any modern age. Such at least is my own opinion, and I have endeavoured to give others the means of judging for themselves so far as I am able, by giving all I get unaltered, and by naming all my authorities.

Another Gaelic story, the "Gillie Carrach," of which I lately (June 1860) received a long version from John Dewar, contains three incidents very like those in Herodotus; mixed with others which are new to me, and others which I have in Gaelic from other sources, one of which has a parallel in Italian and in Sanscrit.

It is curious to remark, that the very same ideas seem to have occurred to Herodotus, while on his travels, which now arise in the minds of worthy pedagogues in the Highlands. They object to old stories told by peasants, because they are "fictions," and not historically true. I have repeatedly met men who look on the telling of these tales as something almost wicked.

Thus wrote Herodotus, and those who object to traditionary fictions might take example by the father of history, and while they disbelieve the stories, write them down.

"Such as think the tales told by the Egyptians credible, are free to accept them for history. For my own part, I propose to myself, throughout my whole work, faithfully to record the traditions of the several nations."

Surely if Herodotus did not think it beneath him to record such frivolous things, and if men of the highest acquirements now make them a study, they are not wholly unworthy of notice.


253:1 The Gaelic "Probhaisd" is an adaptation of the English "Provost," as the latter is of the Latin "Propositus."

Next: XLI. The Widow and her Daughters