Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Fairy Boy of Leith - Edinburgh, Fairies and the Calton Hill

Having had my memory jogged this morning I thought I would post this, the original and shorter version of a story from Edinburgh concerning the Fairy Boy of Leith. This version is quoted by Sir Walter Scott in his Poetical Works Vol 2 which explains the roots of some Scottish ballad traditions. The story is quoted in full from its original source and is less embellished than later versions.

Calton Hill from Edinburgh Castle

Scott begins:

The worthy Captain George Burton communicated to Richard Bovet, gent., author of the interesting work, entitled "Pandaemonium, or the Devil's Cloister Opened," the following singular account of a lad called the Fairy Boy of Leith, who, it seems, acted as a drummer to the elves, who weekly held rendezvous in the Calton Hill, near Edinburgh.
And then continues with what is claimed to be a verbatim quote from Pandeemonium, or the Devils Cloister Opened. By Richard Bovet, London 1684, p. 172. This, itself is presented as a testimony written by George Burton.
About fifteen years since, having business that detained me for some time at Leith, which is near Edinburgh, in the kingdom of Scotland, I often met some of my acquaintance at a certain house there, where we used to drink a glass of wine for our refection; the woman which kept the house was of honest reputation among the neighbours, which made me give the more attention to what she told me one day about a fairy boy, (as they called him,) who lived about that town. She had given me so strange an account of him, that I desired her I might see him the first opportunity, which she promised; and not long after, passing that way, she told me there was the fairy boy, but a little before I came by ; and, casting her eye into the street, said, Look you, sir, yonder he is at play with those other boys; and designing him to me, I went, and, by smooth words, and a piece of money, got him to come into the house with me; where, in the presence of divers people, I demanded of him several astrological questions, which he answered with great subtilty ; and, through all his discourse, carried it with a cunning much above his years, which seemed not to exceed ten or eleven.
He seemed to make a motion like drumming upon the table with his fingers, upon which I asked him, Whether he could beat a drum ? To which he replied, Yes, sir, as well as any man in Scotland; for every Thursday night I beat all points to a sort of people that used to meet under yonder hill, (pointing to the great hill between Edenborough and Leith.) How, boy ? quoth I, What company have you there ? There are, sir, (said he,) a great company both of men and women, and they are entertained with many sorts of musick, besides my drum ; they have, besides, plenty of variety of meats and wine, and many times we are carried into France or Holland in a night, and return again, and whilst we are there, we enjoy all the pleasures the country doth afford. I demanded of him how they got under that hill ? To which he replied, that there was a great pair of gates that opened to them, though they were invisible to others ; and that within there were brave large rooms, as well accommodated as most in Scotland.—I then asked him, how I should know what he said to be true ? Upon which he told me he would read my fortune, saying, I should have two wives, and that he saw the forms of them sitting on my shoulders ; that both would be very handsome women. As he was thus speaking, a woman of the neighbourhood coming into the room, demanded of him, What her fortune should be ? He told her that she had two bastards before she was married, which put her in such a rage, that she desired not to hear the rest.
The woman of the house told me that all the people in Scotland could not keep him from the rendezvous on Thursday night; upon which, by promising him some more money, I got a promise of him to meet me at the same place, in the afternoon, the Thursday following, and so dismist him at that time. The boy came again, at the place and time appointed, and I had prevailed with some friends to continue with me (if possible) to prevent his moving that night. He was placed between us, and answered many questions, until, about eleven of the clock, he was got away unperceived by the company; but I, suddenly missing him, hasted to the door, and took hold of him, and so returned him into the same room ; we all watched him, and, of a sudden, he was again got out of doors ; I followed him close, and he made a noise in the street, as if he had been set upon ; but from that time I could never see him. George Burton.

Further information on the story can be found in this article.

Those interested in the Scottish fairy tradition can read the section from Scott's book here on Google Books.

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