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Good Words 1860
The Goblin and the Cowherd


[The following quaint parable is taken from a MS. collection of Icelandic Fairy Tales and other Stories, translated by the Rev. Olaf Palsson, Dean and Hector of Reykjavik Cathedral, and sent to the writer of this by him, to edit and get published in this country.

I visited the worthy pastor last summer, and received much kindness at his hands. He reads, speaks, and writes English fluently. On his bookshelves I observed a presentation copy of Lord Dufferin's "Letters from High Latitudes," the "Life of the Rev. Ebenezer Henderson"—whose travels are as freshly descriptive of Iceland to-day as when they were penned forty years ago — Stanley's "Sinai and Palestine," and Caird's "Sermons." There is often a peculiar terse raciness in the English of a learned foreigner—especially when a Northman. This arises partly from the idiom, and partly from the use of obsolete words, or of modern ones in their primary significations. Strange effects are also produced by common words being introduced in unfamiliar and unexpected ways.

I have, therefore, with the exception of one or two trifling corrections, given the text as I find it. This story—an original and conclusive argument against swearing—might not inappropriately have been called "Bad Words."]

Sœmunder once had a cowherd whom he found too much addicted to swearing, and he very often reprimanded him for this. He told this cowherd that Old Nick and his servants had people's curses for their food.

"Then I never would say a bad word," said the cowherd, "if I knew that Old Nick should lose his meals by that."

"I'll soon see whether you are in earnest or not," replied Sœmunder; and he lodged a goblin in the cowhouse. The cowherd did not like this guest, for the goblin did every kind of mischief and annoyance, and it was very difficult for the cowherd to refrain from cursing. Yet for a time things went on tolerably well, and he saw how the goblin grew leaner every day. The cowherd was glad of this, and never did slip out an oath. One morning, when he entered the cowhouse, he found everything broken, the cows bound together by their tails; and there were many of them. He then approached the goblin, who, in his misery, was couched in his stall, and overwhelmed him in his wrath with rude words and curses. But to his own great vexation, he in a moment saw the goblin revive, and get so thriving, that he was almost growing fat. Then the cowherd checked himself, and left off swearing. He now understood that Sœmunder was right, left off cursing, and never afterwards said a nasty word. As for the goblin, who was to feed on his cursing, he is long ago out of the tale.

Would that you and I were able to follow the cowherd's example!

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