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Brownies and Bogles By Louise Imogen Guiney Characters: 14851

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

IN modern Greece the Brownie was known as the St?chia. He was called Para in Finland; Trasgo or Duende in Spain; Lutin, Gobelin, Follet, in France and Normandy; Niss-god-drange in Norway and Denmark; Tomte, in Sweden; Niss in Jutland, Denmark and Friesland; Bwbach or Pwcca in Wales; in Ireland, Fir-Darrig and, sometimes, Cluricaune; Kobold, in Germany; and in England, Brownie figured as Boggart, Puck, Hobgoblin, and Robin Goodfellow.

Often the St?chia, a wayward little black being, went about the house under the shape of a lizard or small snake. He was harmless; his presence was an omen of prosperity; and great care was taken that no disrespect was shown him.

The services of the Para, who was a well-meaning rascal, were rather singular, and not at all indispensable. He had a way of following the neighbor's cows to pasture, and milking them himself, in a calf's fashion, until he had swallowed quart on quart, and was as full as a little hogshead. Then he went home, uncorked his thieving throat, and obligingly emptied every drop of his ill-gotten goods into his master's churn! How his feelings must have been hurt if anybody criticized the cheese and butter!

The Spanish house-goblin was a statelier person, and wore an enormous plumed hat, and threw stones in a stolid and haughty manner at people he disliked. But occasionally the Duende had the form of a little busy friar, like the Monachiello at Naples.

The Lutin, or Gobelin, or Follet of French belief, was likewise a stone-thrower. He was fond of children, and of horses; taking it upon himself to feed and caress his landlord's children when they were good, and to whip them when they were naughty; and he rode the willing horses, and combed them, and plaited their manes into knotty braids, for which, we may fear, the stable-boy never thanked him. He knew, too, how to worry and tease; and certain French mothers threatened troublesome little folk with the "Gobelin:" "Le gobelin vous mangera!" which we may translate into: "The goblin will gobble you!" or into the whimsical lines of an American poet:

The gobble uns'll git you,






The Norwegian Nis was like a strong-shouldered child, in a coat and peaky cap, who carried a pretty blue light at night. He enjoyed hopping or skating across the farmyard under the moon's ray. Dogs he would not allow in his house. If he was first promised a gray sheep for his own, he would teach any one to play the violin. Like many another of the Brownie race, he was a dandy, and loved nothing better than fine clothes.

Tomte of Sweden lived in a tree near the house. He was as tall as a year-old boy, with a knowing old face beneath his cap. In harvest-time he tugged away at one straw, or one grain, until he laid it in his master's barn; for his strength was not much greater than an ant's. If the farmer scorned his diligent little servant, and made fun of his tiny load, all luck departed from him, and the Tomte went away in anger. He liked tobacco, played merry pranks, and doubled up comically when he laughed. But he had another laugh, scoffing and sarcastic, which he sometimes gave at the top of his voice.

Like the Devon Piskies, the Niss-Puk required water left at his disposal over-night. The Nis of Jutland was the Puk of Friesland. He also liked his porridge with butter. He lived under the roof, or in dark corners of the stable and house. He was of the Tomte's size; he wore red stockings on his stumpy little legs, and a pointed red cap, and a long gray or green coat. For soft, easy slippers he had a great longing; and if a pair were left out for him, he was soon heard shuffling in them over the floor. He had long arms, and a big head, and big bright eyes, so that the people of Silt have a saying concerning an inquisitive or astonished person: "He stares like a Puk." Puk, too, played sorry tricks on the servants, and was indignant if he was ever deprived of his nightly bowl of groute.

The Bwbach of Wales churned the cream, and begged for his portion, like a true Brownie; he was a hairy blackamoor with the best-natured grin in the world. But he had an unpleasant habit of whisking mortals into the air, and doing flighty mischiefs generally.


The unique Irish Cluricaune, who had that name in Cork, was called Luricaune and Leprechaun in other parts of the country. He differed from the Shefro in living alone, and in his queer appearance and habits. For though he was a house-spirit and did house-work, his ambitions ran in an opposite direction, and in his every spare minute, when he was not smoking or drinking, you might have seen him, a miniature old man, with a cocked hat, and a leather apron, sitting on a low stool, humming a fairy-tune, and perpetually cobbling at a pair of shoes no bigger than acorns. The shoes were occasionally captured and shown. And as we have seen, Mr. Cluricaune was a fortune-hunter, and a very wide-awake, versatile goblin altogether. In his capacity of Brownie, he once wreaked a hard revenge on a maid who served him shabbily. A Mr. Harris, a Quaker, had on his farm a Cluricaune named Little Wildbeam. Whenever the servants left the beer-barrel running through negligence, Little Wildbeam wedged himself into the cock, and stopped the flow, at great inconvenience to his poor little body, until some one came to turn the knob. So the master bade the cook always put a good dinner down cellar for Little Wildbeam. One Friday she had nothing but part of a herring, and some cold potatoes, which she left in place of the usual feast. That very midnight the fat cook got pulled out of bed, and thrown down the cellar-stairs, bumping from side to side, so that it made her very sore indeed, and meanwhile the smirking Cluricaune stood at the head of the steps, and sang at the luckless heap below:

Molly Jones, Molly Jones!

Potato-skin and herring-bones!

I'll knock your head against the stones,

Molly Jones!

In Japanese houses, even, Brownies were familiar comers and goers. They were important and smooth-mannered pigmies, and serenely dealt out rewards and punishments as they saw fit. When they were engaged in befriending commendable boys and girls, their features had, somehow, the ingenious likeness of letters signifying "good;" and if they made it their business to plague and hinder naughty idlers, who, instead of doing their errands promptly, stopped at the shops to buy goodies, their queer little faces were screwed up to mean "bad," as you see in Japanese artists' pictures.


The English names for the affable Brownie-folk bring to our minds the most wayward, frolicsome elves of all fairydom. Boggart was the Yorkshire sprite, and the Boggart commonly disliked children, and stole their food and playthings; wherein he differed from his kindly kindred. Hobgoblin (Hop-goblin) was so called because he hopped on one leg. Hobgoblin is the same as Rob or Bob-Goblin, a goblin whose full name seemed to be Robert. Robin Hood, the famous outlaw, dear to all of us, was thought to have been christened after Robin Hood the fairy, because he, too, was tricksy and sportive, wore a hood, and lived in the deep forest.


In Ireland lived the mocking, whimsical little Fir-Darrig, Robin Goodfellow's own twin. He dressed in tight-fitting red; Fir-Darrig itself meant "the red

man." He had big humorous ears, and the softest and most flexible voice in the world, which could mimic any sound at will. He sat by the fire, and smoked a pipe, big as himself, belonging to the man of the house. He loved cleanliness, brought good-luck to his abode, and, like a cat, generally preferred places to people.

Puck and Robin Goodfellow were the names best known and cherished. There is no doubt that Shakespeare, from whom we have now our prevailing idea of Puck, got the idea of him, in his turn, from the popular superstitions of his day. But Puck's very identity was all but forgotten, and since Shakespeare was, therefore, his poetical creator, we will forego mention of him here, and entitle Robin Goodfellow, the same "shrewd and meddling elf," under another nickname, the true Brownie of England.

He was both House-Helper and Mischief-Maker, "the most active and extraordinary fellow of a fairy," says Ritson, "that we anywhere meet with." He was said to have had a supplementary brother called Robin Badfellow; but there was no need of that, because he was Robin Badfellow in himself, and united in his whimsical little character so many opposite qualities, that he may be considered the representative elf the world over; for the old Saxon Hudkin, the Niss of Scandinavia, and Knecht Ruprecht, the Robin of Germany, are nothing but our masquerading goblin-friend on continental soil. And in the red-capped smiling Mikumwess among the Passamaquoddy Indians, there he is again!

By this name of Robin he was known earlier than the thirteenth century, and "famosed in everie olde wives' chronicle for his mad merrie prankes," two hundred years later. His biography was put forth in a black-letter tract in 1628, and in a yet better-known ballad which recited his jests, and was in free circulation while Queen Bess was reigning. The forgotten annalist says very heartily, alluding to his string of aliases:

But call him by what name you list;

I have studied on my pillow,

And think the name he best deserves

Is Robin, the Good Fellow!

We class him rightly as a Brownie, because he skimmed milk, knew all about domestic life, and was the delight or terror of servants, as the case might be. He was fond of making a noise and clatter on the stairs, of playing harps, ringing bells, and misleading passing travellers; and despite his knavery, he came to be much beloved by his house-mates. Very like him was the German Hempelman, who laughed a great deal. But the laugh of Master Robin sometimes foreboded trouble and death to people, which Hempelman's never did.

The jolly German Kobold had a laugh which filled his throat, and could be heard a mile away. Bu he was a gnome malignant enough if he was neglected or insulted. He very seldom made a mine-sprite of himself, but stayed at home, Brownie-like, and "ran" the house pretty much as he saw fit. To the Dwarves he was, however, closely related, and dressed after their fashion, except that sometimes he wore a coat of as many colors as the rainbow, with tinkling bells fastened to it. He objected to any chopping or spinning done on a Thursday. Change of servants, while he held his throne in the kitchen, affected him not in the least; for the maid going away recommended her successor to treat him civilly, at her peril. A very remarkable Kobold was Hinzelmann, who called himself a Christian, and came to the old castle of Hüdemühlen in 1584; whose history, too long to add here, is given charmingly in Mr. Keightley's Fairy Mythology.

A certain bearded little Kobold lived with some fishermen in a hut, and tried a trick which was quite classic, and reminds one of the Greek story of Procrustes, which all of you have met with, or will meet with, some day. Says Mr. Benjamin Thorpe: "His chief amusement, when the fishermen were lying asleep at night, was to lay them even. For this purpose he would first draw them up until their heads all lay in a straight line, but then their legs would be out of the line! and he had to go to their feet and pull them up until the tips of their toes were all in a row. This game he would continue till broad daylight."

Now all Brownies, Nissen, Kobolds and the rest, were very much of a piece, and when you know the virtues and faults of one of them, you know the habits of the race. So that you can understand, despite the slight but steady help given in household matters, that a person so variable and exacting and high-tempered as this curious little sprite might happen sometimes to be a great bore, and might inspire his master or mistress with the sighing wish to be rid of him. It was a tradition in Normandy that to shake off the Lutin or Gobelin, it was merely necessary to scatter flax-seed where he was wont to pass; for he was too neat to let it lie there, and yet tired so soon of picking it up, that he left it in disgust, and went away for good. And there was a sprite named Flerus who lived in a farm-house near Ostend, and worked so hard, sweeping and drawing water, and turning himself into a plough-horse that he might replace the old horse who was sick, for no reward, either, save a little fresh sugared milk-that soon his master was the wealthiest man in the neighborhood. But a giddy young servant-maid once offended him, at the day's end, by giving him garlic in his milk; and as soon as poor Flerus tasted it, he departed, very wrathful and hurt, from the premises, forever.

There were few such successful instances on record. Though Brownie was ready, in every land under the sun, to leave home when he took the fancy, or when he was puffed up with gifts of lace and velvet, so that no mortal residence was gorgeous enough for him, yet he would take no hint, nor obey any command, when either pointed to a banishment.


Near K?penick once, a man thought of buying a new house, and turning his back on a vexatious Kobold. The morning before he meant to change quarters, he saw his Kobold sitting by a pool, and asked him what he was doing. "I am doing my washing!" said the sharp rogue, "because we move to-morrow." And the man saw very well that as he could not avoid him, he had better take the little nuisance along. The same thing happened in the capital Polish anecdote of Iskrzycki (make your respects to his excruciating name!) and over Northern Europe the sarcastic joke "Yes, we're flitting!" prevails in folk-song and story.

There is many and many an example of families selling the old house, and going off in great glee with the furniture, thinking the elf-rascal cheated and left behind; and lo! there he was, perched on a rope, or peering from a hole in the cart itself, on his congratulated master.

The funniest hap of all befell an ungrateful farmer who fired his barn to burn the poor Kobold in it. As he was driving off, he turned to look at the blaze, and what should he see on the seat behind him but the same excited Kobold, chattering, monkey-like, and shrieking sympathizingly: "It was about time for us to get out of that, wasn't it?"

The dark-skinned little house-sprites came to stay; and as for being snubbed, they were quite above it. They were the sort of callers to whom you could never show the door, with any dignity; for if you had done so, the grinning goblin would have examined knob and panels with a squinted eye, and gone back whistling to your easy-chair.

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