The Brown Bear of the Green Glen – Notes, pp.179-180.

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Written from the recitation of JOHN MACDONALD, travelling tinker. He wanders all over the Highlands, and lives in a tent with his family. He can neither read nor write. He repeats some of his stories by heart fluently, and almost in the same words. I have followed his recitation as closely as possible, but it was exceedingly difficult to keep him stationary for any length of time.


The tinker’s comments I got from the transcriber. John himself is a character; he is about fifty years of age; his father, an old soldier, is alive and about eighty; and there are numerous younger branches; and they were all encamped under the root of a tree in a quarry close to Inverary, at Easter 1859.

The father tells many stories, but his memory is failing. The son told me several, and I have a good many of them written down. They both recite; they do not simply tell the story, but act it with changing voice and gesture, as if they took an interest in it, and entered into the spirit and fun of the tale. They belong to the race of “Cairds,” and are as much nomads as the gipsies are.

The father, to use the son’s expression, “never saw a school.” He served in the 42nd in his youth. One son makes horn spoons, and does not know a single story; the other is a sporting character, a famous fisherman, who knows all the lochs and rivers in the Highlands, makes flies, and earns money in summer by teaching Southerns to fish. His ambition is to become an under-keeper.

This bear story is like a great many others which I have got elsewhere in the Highlands, but I have none told exactly in the same way. It should be much longer, but the wandering spirit of the man would not let him rest to dictate his story. They had to move to an outhouse and let him roam about amongst the shavings, and swing his arms, before this much was got out of him.

I have found the same restlessness amongst wanderers elsewhere. I could never get Lapps to sit still for ten minutes when I tried to draw them; and the air of a house seemed to oppress them. I have hitherto failed in catching an English tinker, whom I let slip one day in London, and to whom I promised good pay if he would come and dictate a story which he had told me. There is a similar wandering population in Norway and Sweden. They own boats and carts, and pretend to magic arts; and are feared and detested by householders as wizards and thieves. It is said that these Norwegian wanderers hold a meeting on a hill near Christiania, once a year, and barter and sell, and exchange whatever they may have acquired in their travels. I have heard a great deal about them from peasants. I have seen them, but very seldom in Norway. I once met a party in the gloaming on a Swedish road, and a little girl, who was following and driving a gentleman in a posting-cart, when she met them, flogged her horse and galloped for dear life.

There is a similar race in Spain, and though they are not all gipsies, they are classed with them. The history of these wanderers would be curious if it could be learned. Borrow’s Bible in Spain gives some insight, but there is still much to be known about them. “London Labour and the Poor,” and reports on “Ragged Schools,” treat of similar people.

This story may be compared with Grimm’s Water of Life.

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