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Brownies and Bogles By Louise Imogen Guiney Characters: 8085

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

PUCK, as we said, is Shakespeare's fairy. There is some probability that he found in Cwm Pwca, or Puck Valley, a part of the romantic glens of Clydach, in Breconshire, the original scenes of his fanciful Midsummer Night's Dream. This glen used to be crammed with goblins. There, and in many like-named Welsh places, Puck's pranks were well-remembered by old inhabitants. This Welsh Puck was a queer little figure, long and grotesque, and looked something like a chicken half out of his shell; at least, so a peasant drew him, from memory, with a bit of coal. Pwcca, or Pooka, in Wales, was but another name for Ellydan; and his favorite joke was also to travel along before a wayfarer, with a lantern held over his head, leading miles and miles, until he got to the brink of a precipice. Then the little wretch sprang over the chasm, shouted with wicked glee, blew out his lantern, and left the startled traveller to reach home as best he could. Old Reginald Scott must have had this sort of a Puck in mind when he put Kitt-with-the-Candlestick, whose identity troubled the critics much, in his catalogue of "bugbears."

The very old word Pouke meant the devil, horns, tail, and all; from that word, as it grew more human and serviceable, came the Pixy of Devonshire, the Irish Phooka, the Scottish Bogle, and the Boggart in Yorkshire; and even one nursery-tale title of Bugaboo. Oddest of all, the name Pug, which we give now to an amusing race of small dogs, is an every-day reminder of poor lost Puck, and of the queer changes which, through a century or two, may befall a word. Puck was considered court-jester, a mild, comic, playful creature:

A little random elf

Born in the sport of Nature, like a weed,

For simple sweet enjoyment of myself,

But for no other purpose, worth or need;

And yet withal of a most happy breed.

But he kept to the last his character of practical joker, and his alliance with his grim little cousins, the Lyktgubhe and the Kludde. Glorious old Michael Drayton made a verse of his naughty tricks, which you shall hear:

This Puck seems but a dreaming dolt,

Still walking like a ragged colt,

And oft out of a bush doth bolt

On purpose to deceive us;

And leading us, makes us to stray

Long winter nights out of the way:

And when we stick in mire and clay,

He doth with laughter leave us.

Shakespeare, who calls him a "merry wanderer of the night," and allows him to fly "swifter than arrow from the Tartar's bow," was the first to make Puck into a house spirit. The poets were especially attentive to the offices of these house-spirits.

According to them, Mab and Puck do everything in-doors which we think characteristic of a Brownie. William Browne, born in Tavistock, in the county of Devon, where the Pixies lived, prettily puts it how the fairy-queen did-

--command her elves

To pinch those maids that had not swept their shelves;

And further, if by maiden's oversight,

Within doors water was not brought at night,

Or if they spread no table, set no bread,

They should have nips from toe unto the head!

And for the maid who had performed each thing

She in the water-pail bade leave a ring.


Herrick confirms what we have just heard:

If ye will with Mab find grace,

Set each platter in its place;

Rake the fire up, and get

Water in ere the sun be set;

Wash your pails, and cleanse your dairies;

Sluts are loathsome to the fairies!

Sweep your house: who doth not so,

Mab will pinch her by the toe.

John Lyly, in his very beautiful Mayde's Metamorphosis has this charming fairy song, which takes us out to the grass, and the soft night air, and the softer starshine:

By the moon we sport and play;

With the night begins our day;

As we dance, the dew doth fall.

Trip it, little urchins all!

Lightly as the little bee,

Two by two, and three by three,

And about go we, and about go we.


What a picture of the wee tribe at their revels! Here is

another, from Ben Jonson's Sad Shepherd:

Span-long elves that dance about a pool,

With each a little changeling in her arms.

In what is thought to be Lyly's play, just mentioned, Mopso, Joculo, and Prisio have something in the way of a pun for each fairy they address:

Mop.: I pray you, what might I call you?

1st Fairy: My name is Penny.

Mop.: I am sorry I cannot purse you!

Pris.: I pray you, sir, what might I call you?

2nd Fairy: My name is Cricket.

(Mr. Keightley says that the Crickets were a family of great note in Fairyland: many poets celebrated them.)

Pris.: I would I were a chimney for your sake!

Joc.: I pray you, you pretty little fellow, what's your


3rd Fairy: My name is Little Little Prick.

Joc.: Little Little Prick! O you are a dangerous fairy, and fright all the little wenches in the country out of their beds. I care not whose hand I were in, so I were out of yours.

Drayton, again, gives us a list of tinkling elfin-ladies' names, which are pleasant to hear as the drip of an icicle:

Hop and Mop and Drop so clear,

Pip and Trip and Skip that were

To Mab their sovereign ever dear,

Her special maids-of-honor:

Pib and Tib and Pinck and Pin,

Tick and Quick, and Jil and Jin,

Tit and Nit, and Wap and Win,

The train that wait upon her!


Young Randolph has an equally delightful account in the pastoral drama of Amyntas, of his wee folk orchard-robbing; whose chorused Latin Leigh Hunt thus translates, roguishly enough:

We the fairies blithe and antic,

Of dimensions not gigantic,

Tho' the moonshine mostly keep us,

Oft in orchard frisk and peep us.

Stolen sweets are always sweeter;

Stolen kisses much completer;

Stolen looks are nice in chapels;

Stolen, stolen, be our apples!

When to bed the world is bobbing,

Then's the time for orchard-robbing:

Yet the fruit were scarce worth peeling,

Were it not for stealing, stealing!

You will notice that Shakespeare places his Gothic goblins in the woods about Athens, a place where real fairies never set their rose-leaf feet, but where once sported yet lovelier Dryads and Naiads. These dainty British Greeks are very small indeed: Titania orders them to make war on the rear-mice, and make coats of their leathern wings. Mercutio's Queen Mab is scarce bigger than a snowflake. Prospero, in The Tempest, commands, besides his "delicate Ariel," all

-elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves.

The make-believe fairies in The Merry Wives know how to pinch offenders black and blue. The shepherd, in the Winter's Tale, takes the baby Perdita for a changeling. So that all the Shakespeare people seem wise in goblin-lore.

You see that we have looked for the literature of our pretty friends only among the old poets, and only English poets at that; but the foreign fairies are no less charming. Chaucer and Spenser loved the brood especially. Robert Herrick knew all about

-the elves also,

Whose little eyes glow;

Sidney smiled on them once or twice, and great Milton could spare them a line out of his majestic verse. But the high-tide of their praise was ebbing already when Dryden and Pope were writing. Lesser poets than any of these, Parnell and Tickell, wrote fairy tales, but they lack the relish of the honeyed rhymes Drayton, Lyly, and supreme Shakespeare, give us. Keats was drawn to them, though he has left us but sweet and brief proof of it; and Thomas Hood, of all gentle modern poets, has done most for the "small foresters and gay." In prose the fairies are "famoused" east and west; for which they may sing their loudest canticle to the good Brothers Grimm, in Fairyland. The arts have been their handmaids; and some of this world's most lovable spirits have delighted to do them merry honor: Mendelssohn in his quicksilver orchestral music, and dear Richard Doyle in the quaintest drawings that ever fell, laughing, from a pencil-point.


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