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   Chapter 5 DEAR BROWNIE.

Brownies and Bogles By Louise Imogen Guiney Characters: 13348

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

BROWNIE, the willing drudge, the kind little housemate, was the most popular of all fairies; and it is he whom we now love and know best.

He was a sweet, unselfish fellow; but very wide awake as well, full of mischief, and spirited as a young eagle, when he was deprived of his rights. He belonged to a tribe of great influence and size, and each division of that tribe, inhabiting different countries, bore a different name. But the word Brownie, to English-speaking people, will serve as meaning those fairies who attached themselves persistently to any spot or any family, and who labored in behalf of their chosen home.

The Brownie proper belonged to the Shetland and the Western Isles, to Cornwall, and the Highlands and Borderlands of Scotland. He was an indoor gentleman, and varied in that from our friends the Black and Light Elves. He took up his dwelling in the house or the barn, sometimes in a special corner, or under the roof, or even in the cellar pantries, where he ate a great deal more than was good for him. In the beginning he was supposed to have been covered with short curly brown hair, like a clipped water-spaniel, whence his name. But he changed greatly in appearance. Later accounts picture him with a homely, sunburnt little face, as if bronzed with long wind and weather; dark-coated, red-capped, and shod with noiseless slippers, which were as good as wings to his restless feet. Along with him, in Scotch houses, and in English houses supplanting him, often lived the Dobie or Dobbie who was not by any means so bright and active ("O, ye stupid Dobie!" runs a common phrase), and therefore not to be confounded with him.


Brownie's delight was to do domestic service; he churned, baked, brewed, mowed, threshed, swept, scrubbed, and dusted; he set things in order, saved many a step to his mistress, and took it upon himself to manage the maid-servants, and reform them, if necessary, by severe and original measures. Neatness and precision he dearly loved, and never forgot to drop a penny over-night in the shoe of the person deserving well of him. But lax offenders he pinched black and blue, and led them an exciting life of it. His favorite revenge, among a hundred equally ingenious, was dragging the disorderly servant out of bed. A great poet announced in Brownie's name:

'Twixt sleep and wake

I do them take,

And on the key-cold floor them throw!

If out they cry

Then forth I fly,

And loudly laugh I: "Ho, ho, ho!"

Like all gnomes truly virtuous, he could be the worst varlet, the most meddlesome, troublesome, burdensome urchin to be imagined, when the whim was upon him. At such times he gloried in undoing all his good deeds; and by way of emphasizing his former tidiness and industry, he tore curtains, smashed dishes, overturned tables, and made havoc among the kitchen-pans. All this was done in a sort of holy wrath; for be it to Brownie's credit, that if he were treated with courtesy, and if the servants did their own duties honestly, he was never other than his gentle, well-behaved, hard-working little self.

He asked no wages; he had a New England scorn of "tipping," when he had been especially obliging; and he could not be wheedled into accepting even so much as a word of praise. A farmer at Washington, in Sussex, England, who had often been surprised in the morning at the large heaps of corn threshed for him during the night, determined at last to sit up and watch what went on. Creeping to the barn-door, and peering through a chink, he saw two manikins working away with their fairy flails, and stopping an instant now and then, only to say to each other: "See how I sweat! See how I sweat!" the very thing which befell Milton's "lubbar fiend" in L'Allegro. The farmer, in his pleasure, cried: "Well done, my little men!" whereupon the startled sprites uttered a cry, and whirled and whisked out of sight, never to toil again in his barn.

It is said that not long ago, there was a whole tribe of tiny, naked Kobolds (Brownie's German name) called Heinzelm?nchen, who bound themselves for love to a tailor of Cologne, and did, moreover, all the washing and scouring and kettle-cleaning for his wife. Whatever work there was left for them to do was straightway done; but no man ever beheld them. The tailor's prying spouse played many a ruse to get sight of them, to no avail. And they, knowing her curiosity and grieved at it, suddenly marched, with music playing, out of the town forever. People heard their flutes and viols only, for none saw the little exiles themselves, who got into a boat, and sailed "westward, westward!" like Hiawatha, and the city's luck is thought to have gone with them.

But Brownie, who would take neither money, nor thanks, nor a glance of mortal eyes, and who departed in high dudgeon as soon as a reward was offered him, could be bribed very prettily, if it were done in a polite and secretive way. He was not too scrupulous to pocket whatever might be dropped on a stair, or a window-sill, where he was sure to pass several times in a day, and walk off, whistling, to keep his own counsel, and say nothing about it. And for goodies, mysterious goodies left in queer places by chance, he had excellent tooth. Housewives, from the era of the first Brownie, never failed slyly to gladden his favorite haunt with the dish which he liked best, and which, so long as it was fresh and plentiful, he considered a satisfactory squaring-up of accounts. One of these desired treats was knuckled cakes, made of meal warm from the mill, toasted over the embers, and spread with honey. To other tidbits, also, he was partial; but, first and last, he relished his bowl of cream left on the floor overnight. Cream he drank and expected the world over; and in Devon, and in the Isle of Man, he liked a basin of water for a bath.


Fine clothes were quite to his mind; he was very vain when he had them; and it was what Pet Marjorie called "majestick pride," and no whim of anger or sensitiveness, which sent him hurrying off the moment his wardrobe was supplied by some grateful housekeeper, to eschew work forever after, and set himself up as a gentleman of leisure. Many funny stories are told of his behavior under an unexpected shower of dry goods. Brownie, who in his humble station, was so steadfast and sensible, had his poor head completely turned by the vision of a new bright-colored jacket. The gentle little Piskies or Pixies of Devonshire, who are of the Brownie race, and very different from the malicious Piskies in Cornwall, were likewise great dandies

, and sure to decamp as soon as ever they obtained a fresh cap or petticoat. Indeed, they dropped violent hints on the subject. Think of a sprite-of-all-work, recorded as being too proud to accept any regular payment even in fruit or grain, standing up brazenly before his mistress, his sly eyes fixed on her, drawling out this absurd, whimpering rhyme (for Piskies scorned to talk prose!):

Little Pisky, fair and slim,

Without a rag to cover him!

With his lisp, and his funny snicker, and his winning impudence generally, don't you think he could have wheedled clothes out of a stone? Of course the lady humored him, and made him a costly, trimmed suit; and the ungrateful small beggar made off with it post-haste, chanting to another tune:

Pisky fine, Pisky gay!

Pisky now will run away.

The moment the Brownie-folk could cut a respectable figure in fashionable garments, they turned their backs on an honest living, and skurried away to astonish the belles in Fairyland.

Very much the same thing befell some German house-dwarves, who used to help a poor smith, and make his kettles and pans for him. They took their milk evening by evening, and went back gladly to their work, to the smith's great profit and pleasure. When he had grown rich, his thankful wife made them pretty crimson coats and caps, and laid both where the wee creatures might stumble on them. But when they had put the uniforms on, they shrieked "Paid off, paid off!" and, quitting a task half-done, returned no more.

The Pisky was not alone in his bold request for his sordid little heart's desire. A certain Pück lived thirty years in a monastery in Mecklenburg, Germany, doing faithful drudgery from his youth up; and one of the monks wrote, in his ingenious Latin, that on going away, all he asked was "tunicam de diversis coloribus, et tintinnabulis plenam!" You may put the goblin's vanity into English for yourselves. Brownie is known as Shelley-coat in parts of Scotland, from a German term meaning bell, as he wears a bell, like the Rügen Dwarves, on his parti-colored coat.

"Tunicam de diversis coloribus, et tintinnabulis plenam!" was all that pück demanded.

The famous Cauld Lad of Hilton was considered a Brownie. If everything was left well-arranged in the rooms, he amused himself by night with pitching chairs and vases about; but if he found the place in confusion, he kindly went to work and put it in exquisite order. But the Cauld Lad was, more likely, by his own confession, a ghost, and no true fairy. Romances were told of him, and he had been heard to sing this canticle, which makes you wonder whether he had ever heard of the House that Jack Built:

Wae's me, wae's me!

The acorn's not yet fallen from the tree

That's to grow the wood that's to make the cradle

That's to rock the bairn that's to grow to the man

That's to lay me!

It was only ghosts who could be "laid," and to "lay" him meant to give him freedom and release, so that he need no longer go about in that bareboned and mournful state.

But the merriest grig of all the Brownies was called in Southern Scotland, Wag-at-the-Wa'. He teased the kitchen-maids much by sitting under their feet at the hearth, or on the iron crook which hung from the beam in the chimney, and which, of old, was meant to accommodate pots and kettles. He loved children, and he loved jokes; his laugh was very distinct and pleasant; but if he heard of anybody drinking anything stronger than home-brewed ale, he would cough virtuously, and frown upon the company. Now Wag-at-the-Wa' had the toothache all the time, and, considering his twinges, was it not good of him to be so cheerful? He wore a great red-woollen coat and blue trousers, and sometimes a grey cloak over; and he shivered even then, with one side of his poor face bundled up, till his head seemed big as a cabbage. He looked impish and wrinkled, too, and had short bent legs. But his beautiful, clever tail atoned for everything, and with it, he kept his seat on the swinging crook.


Scotch fairies called Powries and Dunters haunted lonely Border-mansions, and behaved like peaceable subjects, beating flax from year to year. The Dutch Kaboutermannekin worked in mills, as well as in houses. He was gentle and kind, but "touchy," as Brownie-people are. Though he dressed gayly in red, he was not pretty, but boasted a fine green tint on his face and hands. Little Killmoulis was a mill-haunting brother of his, who loved to lie before the fireplace in the kiln. This precious old employee was blest with a most enormous nose, and with no mouth at all! But he had a great appetite for pork, however he managed to gratify it.

Boliéta, a Swiss Kobold, distinguished himself by leading cows safely through the dangerous mountain-paths, and keeping them sleek and happy. His branch of the family lived as often in the trunk of a near tree, as in the house itself.

In Denmark and Sweden was the Kirkegrim, the "church lamb," who sometimes ran along the aisles and the choir after service-time, and to the grave-digger betokened the death of a little child. But there was another Kirkegrim, a proper church-Brownie, who kept the pews neat, and looked after people who misbehaved during the sermon.

As queer as any of these was the Phynodderee, or the Hairy One, the Isle of Man house-helper. He was a wild little shaggy being, supposed to be an exile from fairy society, and condemned to wander about alone until doomsday. He was kind and obliging, and drove the sheep home, or gathered in the hay, if he saw a storm coming.

The Klabautermann was a ship-Brownie, who sat under the capstan, and in time of danger, warned the crew by running up and down the shrouds in great excitement. This eccentric Flying Dutchman had a fiery red head, and on it a steeple-like hat; his yellow breeches were tucked into heavy horseman's boots.

Hüttchen was a German Brownie, who lived at court, but who dressed like a little peasant, with a flapping felt hat over his eyes. The Alraun, a sort of house-imp shorn of all his engaging diligence, was very small, his body being made of a root; he lived in a bottle. If he was thrown away, back he came, persistently as a rubber ball. But that instinct was common to the Brownie race.

The Roman Penates, Vinculi terrei, which brave old Reginald Scott called "domesticall gods," were Brownie's venerable and honorable ancestors. We shall see presently what names their descendants bore in various countries. But the Russian Domovoi we shall not count among them, because they were ghostly, like the poor Cauld Lad, and seem to have been full-sized.

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