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Brownies and Bogles By Louise Imogen Guiney Characters: 14214

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

THERE was once a very childish child who laid her fairy-book on its face across her knee, and sat all the morning watching the cups of the honeysuckle, grieved that not one solitary elf was left to swing on its sun-touched edges, and laugh back at her, with unforgetful eyes.

We are sorry for her, and sorry with her. The Little People, alas! have gone away; would that they might return! No man knows why nor when they left us; nor whither they turned their faces. The exodus was made softly and slowly, till the whole bright tribe had stolen imperceptibly into exile. Mills, steam-engines and prowling disbelievers joined to banish them; their poetic and dreamy drama is over, their magic lamp out, and their jocund music hushed and forbidden. Or perhaps they of themselves went lingeringly and sorrowfully afar, because the world had grown too rough for them.

Geoffrey Chaucer, in the fourteenth century, wrote in his sweet, tranquil fashion:

In olde dayes of the Kyng Arthour . . .

Al was this lond fulfilled of faerie . . . . .

I speke of mony hundrid yeer ago;

But now can no man see non elves mo:

which you may understand as an announcement somewhat ahead of time. For many, many "elves mo" were on record after the good poet's lyre was hushed, and "thick as motes in the sunbeam" centuries after their reported flight. There have been sound-headed folk in every age, of whom Chaucer was one, who jested over the poor fairies and their arts, and spoke of them only for gentle satire's sake. But though Chaucer was sure the goblins had perished, his neighbors saw manifold lively specimens of the race, without stirring out of the parish. Up to two hundred years ago prayers were said in the churches against bad fairies!


Sir Walter Scott related that the last Brownie was the Brownie of Bodsbeck, who lived there long, and vanished, as is the wont of his clan, when the mistress of the house laid milk and a piece of money in his haunts. He was loath to go, and moaned all night: "Farewell to Bonnie Bodsbeck!" till his departure at break of day. A girl from Norfolk, England, questioned by Mr. Thomas Keightley, admitted that she had often seen the Frairies, dressed in white, coming up from their little cities underground! Mr. John Brand saw a man who said he had seen one that had seen fairies! And Mr. Robert Hunt, author of the Drolls and Traditions of Old Cornwall, wrote that forty years ago every rock and field in that country was peopled with them! and that "a gentleman well-known in the literary world of London very recently saw in Devonshire a troop of fairies! It was a breezy summer afternoon, and these beautiful little creatures were floating on circling zephyrs up the side of a sunlit hill, fantastically playing,

'Where oxlips and the nodding violet grow.'

So here are three trustworthy gentlemen, makers of books on this special subject, and none of them very long dead, to offset Master Geoffrey Chaucer, and to bring the "lond fulfilled of faerie" closer than he dreamed. About the year 1865, a correspondent told Mr. Hunt the following queer little story:

"I heard last week of three fairies having been seen in Zennor very recently. A man who lived at the foot of Trendreen Hill in the valley of Treridge, I think, was cutting furze on the hill. Near the middle of the day he saw one of the small people, not more than a foot long, stretched at full length and fast asleep, on a bank of heath, surrounded by high brakes of furze. The man took off his furze-cuff and slipped the little man into it without his waking up, went down to the house, and took the little fellow out of the cuff on the hearthstone, when he awoke, and seemed quite pleased and at home, beginning to play with the children, who were well pleased also with the small body, and called him Bobby Griglans. The old people were very careful not to let Bob out of the house, nor be seen by the neighbors, as he had promised to show the man where crocks of gold were buried on the hill. A few days after he was brought, all the neighbors came with their horses, according to custom, to bring home the winter's reek of furze, which had to be brought down the hill in trusses on the backs of the horses. That Bob might be safe and out of sight, he and the children were shut up in the barn. Whilst the furze-carriers were in to dinner, the prisoners contrived to get out to have a run round the furze-reek, when they saw a little man and woman not much larger than Bob, searching into every hole and corner among the trusses that were dropped round the unfinished reek. The little woman was wringing her hands and crying 'O my dear and tender Skillywidden! wherever canst thou be gone to? Shall I ever cast eyes on thee again?' 'Go 'e back!' says Bob to the children; 'my father and mother are come here too.' He then cried out: 'Here I am, mammy!' By the time the words were out of his mouth, the little man and woman, with their precious Skillywidden, were nowhere to be seen, and there has been no sight nor sign of them since. The children got a sound thrashing for letting Skillywidden escape."



Such is the latest evidence we can find of the whereabouts of our goblins.

We may, however, consider ourselves their contemporaries, since among the peasantry of many countries over-seas, the belief is not yet extinct. But it is pretty clear to us, modern and American as we are (safer in so thinking than anybody was anywhere before!) that the "restless people," as the Scotch called them, are at rest, and clean quit of this world; and perhaps satisfied, at last, of their chance of salvation, along with fortunate Christians.

Such a great system as this of fairy-lore, propped on such show of earnestness, grew up, not of a sudden like a mushroom after a July rain, but gradually and securely, like a coral-reef. And the dream-building was not nonsense at all, but a way of putting what was evident and marvellous into a familiar guise. If certain strange things, which are called phenomena, happened-things like the coming of pebbles from clouds, music from sand, sparkling light from decay, or disease and death from the mere handling of a velvety leaf-then our forefathers, instead of gazing straight into the eyes of the fact, as we are taught to do, looked askance, and made a fantastic rigmarole concerning the pebbles, or the music, and passed it down as religion and law.

The simple-minded citizens of old referred any trifling occurrence, pleasant or unpleasant, to the fairies. The demons and deities, according to their notion of fitness, governed in vaster matters; and the new, potent sprites took shape in the popular brain as the controllers of petty affairs. If a shepherd found one of his flock sick, it had been elf-shot; if a girl's wits went wool-gathering, it was a sign she had been in fairyland; if a cooing baby turned peevish and thin, it was a changeling! Wherever you now see a mist, a cobweb, a moving shadow on the grass; wherever you hear

a cricket-chirp, or the plash of a waterfall, or the cry of the bird on the wing, there of yore were the fairy-folk in their beauty. They stood in the mind to represent the lesser secrets of Nature, to account for some wonder heard and seen. It was many a century before nations stopped romancing about the brave things on land and sea, and began to speculate, to observe more keenly, to hunt out reasons, and to lift the haze of their own fancy from heroic facts and deeds.

Think a moment of the Danish moon-man, who breathed pestilence, and the moon-woman, whose harp was so charming. Well, the moon-man meant nothing else than the marsh, slimy and dangerous, which yielded a malarial odor; and the wee woman with her harp represented the musical night-wind, which played over the marsh rushes and reeds. Was it not so, too, with the larger myths of Greece? For the story of Proserpine, carried away by the god of the under world, and after a weary while, given back for half-a-year to her fond mother Ceres, tells really of the seed-corn which is cast into her dark soil, and long hidden; but reappears in glory, and stays overground for months, basking in the sun. And so on with many a fable, which we read, unguessing of the thought and purpose beneath. Though it was erring, we can hardly thank too much that joyous and reverent old paganism which fancied it saw divinity in each move of Nature, kept a natural piety towards everything that lived, and made a thousand sweet memoranda, to remind us forever of the wonder and charm of our earth. All mythology, and the part the fairies play in it, stands for what is true.


Doth the old instinct bring back the old names":

and again and again, when we cite some beautiful fiction of Merman and Kobold, of White Dwarf or Pooka, we but repeat, whether aware of it or not, how the dews come down at morning, or the storm-wind breaks the strong trees, or how a comet, trailing light, bursts headlong across the wide sky.

To comprehend fairy-stories, to get under the surface of them, we would have to go over them all at great length, and with exhaustless patience. And as in digging for the tendrils of a delicate, berry-laden vine, we have to search, sometimes, deep and wide into the woodland loam, among gnarly roots of shrubs and giant pines, so in tracing the sources of the simplest tale which makes us glad or sad, we fall across a network of ponderous ancient lore; of custom, prejudice, and lost day-dreams, from which this vine, also, is hard to be severed.

The spirit of these neat little goblin-chronicles was right and sincere; but the matter of them was often sadly astray. Of course, sometimes, useless, misleading details gathered to obscure the first idea, and to overrun it with a tangle of error; and not only were fine stories spoiled, but many were started which were funny, or silly, or grim merely, without serving any use beyond that.

But so powerful is Truth, when there was actually a grain of it at the centre, that even those versions which were exaggerated and distorted, played into the hands of what we call Folk-lore, and laid their golden key at the feet of Science. You will discover that, besides pointing out the workings of the natural world, the fairy-tales rested often on the workings of our own minds and consciences. The Brownie was a little schoolmaster set up to teach love of order, and the need of perfect courtesy; the Nix betokened anything sweet and beguiling, which yet was hurtful, and to which it was, and is, a gallant heart's duty not to yield. And thus, from beginning to end, the elves at whom we laugh, help us toward larger knowledge, and a more chivalrous code of behavior. How shall we say, then, that there never was a fairy?

A miner, hearing the drip of subterranean water, took it to be a Duergar or a Bucca, swinging his tiny hammer over the shining ore. His notion of the Bucca, askew as it was, was one at bottom with our knowledge of the dark brooklet. You, the young heirs of mighty Science, can often outstrip the slow-gathered wisdom of dead philosophers. But do not despise that fine old imagination, which felt its way almost to the light. A sixteenth-century boy, who was all excitement once over the pranks of Robin Goodfellow, knew many precious things which our very great nineteenth-century acuteness has made us lose!

Good-bye, then, to the army of vanishing "gentry," and to their steadfast friends, and to you, children dear! who are the guardians of their wild unwritten records. Shall you not miss them when next the moon is high on the blossomy hillocks, and the thistledown, ready-saddled, plunges to be off and away? Merry fellows they were, and shrewd and just; and we were very fond of them; and now they are gone. And their going, like a mounting harmony, note by note, which ends in one noble chord, with a hush after it, leads us to a serious parting word. Keep the fairies in kindly memory; do not lose your interest in them. They and their history have an enchanting value, which need never be outgrown nor set aside; and to the gravest mind they bring much which is beautiful, humane and suggestive.

We have found that believers in the Little People were not so wrong, after all; and that the eye claiming to have seen a fairy saw, verily, a sight quite as astonishing. Let us think as gently of other myths to which men have given zeal, awe and admiration, of every faith hereafter which seems to us odd and mistaken. For many things which are not true in the exact sense, are yet dear to Truth; and follow her as a baby's tripping tongue lisps the language of its mother, not very successfully, but still with loyalty, and with a meaning which attentive ears can always catch.

Surely, our ancestors loved the "span-long elves" who wrought them no great harm, and who gave them help and cheer. We will praise them, too. Who knows but some little goblin's thorny finger directed many an innocent human heart to march, albeit waveringly, towards the ample light of God?

* * *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired. The remaining corrections made are listed below and are indicated as well by dotted lines under the corrections. Scroll the mouse over the word and the original text will appear.

Page vii, "Puck" changed to "Pück" (All that Pück demanded)

Page vii, "wa" changed to "Wa" (Wag-at-the-Wa')

Page viii, "Kopenick" changed to "K?penick" (Kobold of K?penick)

Page viii, "changling" changed to "changeling" (was an Irish changeling)

Page viii, "Taknakaux" changed to "Taknakanx" (Taknakanx Kan)

Page 27, "airy" changed to "fairy" (to the fairy neighbors)

Page 30, illustration caption, "RUGEN" changed to "RüGEN" (THE ISLE OF RüGEN)

Page 37, illustration caption, "RUGEN" changed to "RüGEN" (DWARVES OF RüGEN)

Page 38, repeated word "and" removed from text. Original read (by twos and and threes)

Page 93, illustration caption, "KOPENICK" changed to "K?PENICK" (KOBOLD OF K?PENICK)

Page 169, "scources" changed to "sources" (the sources of the simplest)

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