Pixies and Brownies
In the year 1838, when I was a small boy of four years old, we were driving to Montpellier, on a hot summer day, over the long straight road that traverses a pebble and rubble strewn plain on which grows nothing save a few aromatic herbs.
I was sitting on the box with my father, when to my great surprise I saw legions of dwarfs of about two eet high running along beside the horses--some sat laughing on the pole, some were scrambling up the harness to get on the backs of the horses. I remarked to my father what I saw, when he abruptly stopped the carriage and put me inside beside my mother, where, the conveyance being closed, I was out of the sun. The effect was that little by little the host of imps diminished in number till they disappeared altogether. When my wife was a girl of fifteen, she was walking down a lane in Yorkshire between green hedges, when she saw, seated in one of the privet hedges a little green man, perfectly well made, who looked at her with his beady black eyes. He was about a foot or eighteen inches high. She was so frightened that she ran home. She cannot recall exactly in what month this took place, but knows that it was a summer day.
One day a son of mine, a lad of about twelve, was sent into the garden to pick peapods for the cook to shell for dinner. Presently he rushed into the house as white as chalk, to say that whilst he was engaged upon the task imposed upon him he saw standing between the rows of peas a little man wearing a red cap, a green jacket, and brown knee-reeches, whose face was old and wan, and who had~ a grey beard and eyes as black and hard as Sloes. He stared so intently at the boy that the latter took to his heels. I know exactly when this occurred, as I entered it in my diary, and I know when I saw the imps by looking into my father' diary, and though he did not enter the circumstance, I recall the vision today as distinctly as, when I was a child.
Now, in all three cases, these apparitions were due to the effect of a hot sun on the head. But such an explanation is not sufficient. Why did all three see small beings of a very similar character With pressure on the brain and temporary hallucination the pictures presented to the eye are never originally conceived, they are reproductions of representations either seen previously or conceived from descriptions given by others.
In my case and that of my wife, we saw imps, because our nurses had told us of them and their freaks. In the case of my son, he had read Grimm's Tales and seen the illustrations to them.
Both St Hildegarde and St Bridget of Sweden had visions that were supposed to fill gaps in the Gospel narrative or amplify the stories there told. It is noticeable that in these revelations there is not a waft of Orientalism, they are vulgarly Occidental. Every one may be explained by the paintings, carvings, and miniatures with which these ladies had been familiar from childhood. If we had not these monuments of mediaeval art remaining, we could construct Catholic iconography from the revelations of these ecstatics.
We may now go a step farther back. Where did our nurses, whence did Grimm obtain their tales of kobolds, gnomes, dwarfs, pixies, brownies, etc? They derived them from traditions of the past, handed down from generation to generation.
But to go to the root of the matter. In what did the prevailing belief in the existence of these small people originate I do not myself hold that a widely extended belief, curiously coinciding, whether found in Scandinavia, in Germany, in England, Scotland, and Ireland, can have sprung out of nothing. Everything comes out of an egg or a seed. And I suspect that there did exist a small people, not so small as these imps are represented, but comparatively small beside the Aryans who lived in all those countries in which the tradition of their existence lingers on. They were not, I take it, the Dolmen builders--these are supposed to have been giants because of the gigantic character of their structures. They were a people who did not build at all. They lived in caves, or, if in the open, in huts made by bending branches over and covering then with sods of turf. Consequently in folktales they are alway~ represented as either emerging from caverns or from under mounds Such slightly constructed residences--much like those of the Lapps--would disappear completely after desertion.
This Little People are represented in folklore as peevish an unreliable; often as good humoured, at other times as vindictive.
The Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and German names for them are Alf Elf, Aib, Ell. In mediaeval poems in German the Will-o'-the-Wisps called Elbisch Feuer, the Elfish fire. We find among the Anglo-Saxons both men's names and also place names that show that this race was then known and respected. Elfric is the Power of the Elf and is the same as Aifric. Alfred is the Peace of the Aif. We hav~ places such as Elimoor, Eildon, Elphinstone, Alphington is the tur of a family that did not disdain to claim descent from the Alfs Elton is the tun of the Elf, and Allerton the residence of a colony of them. [a] Elberish is the Gnome king in the Nibelungenlied, th Auberon of French legend, the Oberon of the romancers. Ii Germany, the Elle king has been turned into Erie king by Goethe.
The earliest and purest account of the Elves is obtained from th Icelandic Edda and Sagas. An Alvismal or poem of the Elf has beer preserved from pagan times. It is true that the small people never penetrated to Iceland, but the Icelanders brought away with them tc Iceland the traditions, songs, stories and superstitions of Norway~ from, which they emigrated.
According to the testimony of several sagas, there dwelt in Sweden, in remote times, a gigantic, wild race called Jotuns; bul when the Scandinavians arrived there arose between them and thc Jotuns a war that lasted for many centuries. At last these were driven into the forests and mountains, and away to the frozen nortI~ about the Gulf of Finland, which thenceforth was called Jotunheim.
These, I can hardly doubt, were the builders of the rude stone monuments in the south of Sweden, in Denmark, and in Jutland that possibly still retains their name.
But there was a distinct species of Mountain Trolls, or Dwarfs. These were good mechanics and cunning, their wives and daughters were often beautiful. "This Dwarf race", Mr Thorpe thinks, "seems to spring from a people that had migrated from the Eastern Countries at a later period, as they were acquainted with names which they used in sorcery, accompanied by the harp. A similar art of enchanting and bewitching the Laplanders are supposed to possess even to the present day, and with some probability it may be conjectured that the Asiatic people, who in the sagas are mentioned under the name of Dwarfs, was no other than an immigration of oriental Lapps, and the origin of the race among us which Still bears that name."
The Scandinavians distinguished between the Light Elves and the Black Elves or Dwarfs. The former lived in mounds and the latter in caves; but in all probability the distinction existed not in blood, but in mode of habitations. Just as to this day there are the shore Lapps and the mountain Lapps.
Popular fancy has idealised the Light Elves into merry beings that dance their ringlets on the grass, and because their original habitations have collapsed altogether they have transferred them to the tumuli of the incinerated dead. But with these latter they had nothing to do. The barrow is a substititute for the turf-covered hovel that perished without leaving a trace.
There is one difficulty in identifying the Elves and Dwarfs with the Lapps, and that is the fact that the Dwarfs are regarded, and have been regarded, as accomplished metal workers, especially sword--smiths, whereas no such an art exists among the Lapps of today. It is, however, possible enough that a migration into Europe of iron--working Lapps may have taken place, just as the Gipsies came in and engrossed at one time the trade of pottery and of tin-ware makers. And what is abundantly clear from the sagas is that the Norsemen were not accomplished smiths. Their swords blunted directly or broke; and they were fain to apply to the Dwarfs to supply them with finely-tempered blades. How to temper them in oil the Norsemen knew not. If they could not get a sword from a Dwarf they dug into the mounds of dead heroes to obtain blades they were themselves incompetent to manufacture. One would suppose that such weapons cannot have been very serviceable corroded as they would be by rust. All the notable swords were of elfin or dwarf make--such were Mimung, Excalibur, Durandal, Nageiring, and the famous Tyrfing. The story of this latter may here be told in brief. It is contained in one of the finest and wildest of the sagas. Svafurlami, second in descent from Odin, King of Gardarik (Russia), was out hunting one day, but could find no game. When the sun set, he was in the depths of the forest and knew not his way out. Then he observed two Dwarfs standing before a hill. He drew his sword and dashed in between them and their abode. They pleaded to be allowed to escape, but he asked of them their names, and they replied that the one was named Dyrin and the other Dvallin. Then he knew that they were the most skilful of all workers in iron, that a sword fashioned by them would never rust; it would cut through iron, and secure to him who wielded it certain victory. He granted them their lives on condition that they fabricated for him such a blade.
On the appointed day Svafurlami returned; the Dwarfs came forward and presented him with the sword. As Dvalin stood in the door he said: "This sword will cause the death of a man every time that it is drawn. Three of the most infamous acts will be done by it, and it will bring about your own ruin." At that Svafurlami smote at the dwarf, and the blade cut into the hard rock. But the sword was his; he named it Tyrfing, bore it in every battle, and with it slew the giant Thiassi and took his daughter to wife, and had by her a daughterEyvor
One day he was engaged in conflict with the Berserk [b] Arngrim, who bore a shield lined with plates of steel. Svafurlami with Tyrfing smote through it, but with the force of the blow the blade entered the soil; as he stooped to withdraw it, Arngrim dexterously twisted it, and with it clove the king from head to foot. Then he carried off Eyvör and married her. By Eyvor he became the father of twelve sons, the eldest named Angantyr, the fourth HjOrvard. To Angantyr was given the sword Tyrfing. Now, it was customary at Yule for champions to take oath what they would achieve in the coming year, and Hjörvard swore that he would win Ingjbord, daughter of Yngvi, King of Sweden. Accordingly all the brothers went to Upsala and demanded the king's daughter for Hjörvard. To this objected Hjaltmar, a champion of Yngvi, and it was decided that at a given date the brothers should meet Hjaltmar and his companion, Odd, on the lone island of Samsey, and decide by battle who should win the maid. Before the appointed day the brothers visited a friendly Earl Bjartmar, where Angantyr celebrated his wedding with the earl's daughter. The fight took place, all the brothers and Hjaltmar were slain, and Odd buried the sons of Svafurlami along with their weapons in a great mound. Angantyr left an only child, a daughter named Hervör, who dressed herself as a man, went on Viking expeditions, and visited the island of Samsey with full purpose to recover the sword Tyrfing, that was buried with her father. A weird account is given of how at night she sought the grave--mound and sang strophes to her father, demanding the surrender of the Dwarfs' blade. To this, from his grave, Angantyr replies and objects to be parted from it. But finally the daughter prevails. The grave--mound gapes, and from amidst lambent flames the sword is flung towards her. Having obtained possession of Tyrfing, she went to the Court of King Gudmund, where one day she had laid aside the scabbard with Tyrfing in it, whilst playing dice with the king. A retainer of Gudmund ventured to draw the sword and obtain command of it, whereupon HervOr sprang up, seized the blade, and cut the man down. Eventually Hervör resumed her female habit and married the son of Gudmund, by whom she had two sons, Angantyr and Heidrek. The elder was peace-loving and amiable, but the younger was malevolent and quarrelsome, and became so intolerable at home that his father banished him. On leaving, his mother handed to him Tyrfing. As he left, his brother Angantyr accompanied him part way. Heidrek drew the sword to admire it, when, as the sun flashed on the blade, the Berserk rage came on him and he cut down his brother. Heidrek went on, joined the Vikings, and as he served King Harald many a good turn he was given in marriage the king's daughter Helga. The destiny of Tyrfing must be fulfilled, and with it Harald fell by the sword under the hand of his son--in--law. Later, Heidrek went to Russia, where he took the king's son in charge as his foster--child. One day when out hunting together the pair were parted from their retinue, when a wild boar appeared. Heidrek's spear broke against the tusks of the beast, whereupon he drew his sword and killed it. But Tyrfing could only be satiated with human blood. Heidrek turned round, but seeing no other man present save his foster-son, slew him. Finally, he was himself transfixed with Tyrfing by his slaves, when he was asleep, and had suspended the fateful weapon over his bed. His son and successor, Angantyr, slew the murderers and recovered the sword. In a battle against the Huns, in which Angantyr was engaged, it committed great execution, but among the slain Angantyr found his own brother Hlodr. Thus ends the story of the Dwarf-fabricated sword Tyrfing.
The introduction of iron into Europe came comparatively late, far earlier in some parts than in others. Even among the Hebrews bronze was much more familiar as a metal than iron. In the four first books of Moses bronze is mentioned eighty--three times, and iron only four times. India is rich in iron ore, but in its early literature iron is only certainly mentioned at the close of the Vaidic period, and then it is called "dark-blue copper", the contrary to the South African Kafirs, who call copper "red" iron, gold "yellow" and silver "white" iron.
In the midst of the sixth century before our era, the work of the blacksmith was strange and excited great curiosity. Herodotus tells a story of a Spartiot who went to Jegaea, in Arcadia, and saw a smith at work, for the first time, with the utmost amazement. There were, in fact, no beds of iron ore in Greece, and all iron was brought to it from the East. The most famous and unsurpassed ironworkers who produced steel weapons were the Chalybii of the Caucasus, sometimes placed in the north of the range, sometimes to the south, but always close to the Black Sea. Their fame was spread through all the ancient world, and to the present day it is stated there is a Caucasian tribe that devotes itself to iron work and supplies the other tribes with weapons.
In the Seven against Thebes of Aeschylus, the brothers were slain "with the hammer -wrought Scythian steel."
Into Italy the use of iron arrived earlier than into Greece, and the Ligurians in the north-west of the peninsula were supposed to be of Greek origin, because that even in historic times they employed bronze lance-heads.
Among the northern inhabitants of Europe it was a much longer time before they became acquainted with iron. Tacitus informs us how rare it was among the Germans in his time (A.D.100), and Caesar, when he set foot in Britain, found the island well peopled, with abundance of cattle, and instead of coins using bits of bronze or iron of various weights. In the interior of the land tin was found, and iron, but in small quantities, on the coast. The Britons had no knowledge of alloying copper with tin, consequently all the bronze they had in use was imported. It would seem from this that as yet the Britons knew nothing of the making of steel, or using iron in any other way than as a currency.
It was even worse in the north-east of Europe. The Stonians, a Lettish-Prussian people, for hundreds of years of our present reckoning used iron as a rarity, and as weapons employed wooden clubs. The Finns at the same time pointed their snears and arrows with bone "through deficiency of iron" as Tacitus says.
A curious story is told us by the Byzantine historian Simocatta. When the Emperor Maurice, in A.D. 591, was marching against the Avars on the shores of the Sea of Marmara, there were brought to him two unarmed men of strange aspect, who carried musical instruments like lutes. It was ascertained from them that the Khan of the Avars had sent to their people, who lived on the coast of the Baltic, demanding aid against the Byzantine Emperor, and they were sent as messengers to reply that they were a peaceable people, unaccustomed to wars, and unacquainted with the use of iron.
That the Gauls and Celts, at least on the continent, were acquainted with steel weapons is certain from the Hallstadt and La Tène finds. The former may safely be said to derive from an Eastern Asiatic source, probably from the Chalybii of the Caucasus. The La Tène find may, however, be due to indigenous Celtic industry, inspired from the same source.
The importers of Caucasian steel into Europe were the Thracians, who with the Illyrians of the same race occupied the northern part of the Balkan peninsula from the Bosphorus to the Adriatic. Imports across the Bosphorus from Pontux would be numerous, and Thracians and Illyrians would be the distributors along the upper course of the Danube. These primitive people have been expelled from their lands, and driven West by successive waves of invaders from the North, the Goths, the Avars, and the Sclaves; and by pressure from the South by the Macedonian conquerors and the Greek colonists. But they have left their tombs, and these are rich in iron. Bronze was largely in use still, but mainly in ornaments. At Glusinac, in Bosnia, on the eastern slope of the Romanja-Plantina, is a plateau on which are thousands of the graves of these ancient people. They consist of small cairns and cover interment of bodies unburnt, with swords, spearheads, and axes, ornaments of bronze, beads of glass and amber, tools, knives, pincers, etc., of iron and hones.
The last remains of the ancient Thracians are the Albanians. They were a small dark race, probably of Aryan stock, as they so readily assimilated Greek culture. The extensive finds at Hallstadt in the Salzkammergut pertain to the earliest iron age, when that metal was coming into use, but had not as yet supplanted the bronze. The graves at Hallstadt contained skeletons outstretched, others burnt, in the proportion of 525 skeleton graves to 455 containing the ashes of the dead. The remains were of men of moderate size, dolicho-cephalous, somewhat prognathous, with retreating foreheads; the type is not that of the present inhabitants of this portion of the Alps.
Although in the Icelandic Sagas Sigmund, the Siegfried of the Nibelungenlied, fashions his own sword, it is at the teaching of the Elf; and the Scandinavians never appear to have been expert smiths. They left the fabrication of swords to the Dwarfs. Nor do we ever hear of them as engaged in mining; but the Dwarfs are represented so frequently as standing at the mouth of a cave, or as facing into one, that we may expect that they were miners as well as armourers.
The makers of weapons had their trade secrets. From the Wilkina Saga we learn that Welent, who is none other than Velund, was set to fabricate a sword for King Nidung. For this purpose he mixed raspings of iron with meal, which he made into a paste, wherewith he fed the geese. He then collected all their droppings and fashioned the blade out of that, and it was so wondrous sharp that it cut through a yardlong flock of wool that was thrown into a stream and carried against the edge. The Egyptians used to make steel out of meteoric iron by heating it in a fire made of camels? dung. The armourers of Bagdad took iron filings, mixed it with the food of geese, and from their excrement formed the celebrated Damascus blades. The secret must have been brought from the East by the first smiths who wandered into Northern Europe.
The Dwarfs and Elves may not have been all of the same stock. What is abundantly evident is that the fabrication of iron was not of native growth in Northern and Eastern Europe, it was an importation, and if imported, it must have been so by a people which was familiar with the processes, through the experience of generations. These may have come from the Caucasus, and Lapps may have acquired from them the new art. Of that we know nothing. But I think we do know enough to say that there did exist, in England and generally in the British Isles, in Scandinavia and in Germany, a black-smithying people, not of Iberian nor of Aryan blood, not found in large numbers nor forming big colonies, but vagrant and dispersed as are the gipsies of the present day. And I suspect that it is this people who have occasioned the stories told of pixies, kobolds, brownies, elves, etc. Such a people, shy, living a different life from, those for whom they worked, were sure to excite imagination and give rise to fantastic stories. They were feared as well as respected. They do not seem ever to have been ill--treated; they were too valuable to be molested. Indeed, as already instanced, they entered occasionally into marriage relations with the settled inhabitants. The family of Alversleben, in the north of Germany, takes its name from an ancestor who spent much of his time with the elves under a green mound.
But if there were workers in iron and makers of steel blades, there must have been also miners, who not only used such iron as was found in sand and morass, but who tracked it in veins in the rock. I do not think that we have much evidence that the Aryans did this. But such as the Chalibii, acquainted with iron in all its conditions, would become miners. And tradition throughout Northern Europe indicates that these were the dwarfs. In Germany, in Cornwall, and Devon existed, and to some extent exists to this day, the belief that there are Trolls, little old men who work in mines, who are occasionally seen by the miners, but are more often heard by them, hammering in the underground adits. If they hear them now, it is because they have heard from their grandsires that such underground Little People did work. There exist many ancient mines in which iron tools are found. They never extend very far. But they afford proof that at some remote period there were miners by profession, hereditary miners maybe, of a different stock from those who are now engaged in the same work.
In Cornwall the stories of the Little Folk workers in mines have passed from those who sought iron ore to those who followed the veins of tin. But there miners often see them. Mr Hunt says: "A tinner told my informant that he had often seen them sitting on pieces of timber, or tumbling about in curious attitudes, when he came to work. Miners do not like the form of the cross being made underground. A friend of my informant, going through some level or adits, made a X by the side of one, to know his way back, as he would have to return by himself. He was compelled to alter it into another form." This is interesting, as everywhere the Dwarfs are regarded as hostile to Christianity, and are represented in many places as migrating because they cannot endure the sound of church bells calling to prayer. Who first sought out the veins of iron? Who but such as had known where to find it, and what its characteristics were as ore? The natives of the Caucasus were the originators of steel manufacture, but the art was acquired from them by other tribes.
The working in iron, and in consequence to mining for iron, seems in former times, and to a certain extent to the present day, to be specialised in particular tribes. It is so in Africa. There are tribes whose whole energies are devoted thereto. Neighbouring tribes knew nothing about the process. They buy ready-made weapons and tools of these ironworkers.
In Ceylon and India the steel manufacture is confined to certain classes. For the perfecting of a good blade, infinitely hard and flexible, the smith will devote an amount of labour and time which we should think thrown away. He tempers the blade in oil not twenty or thirty times, but twice that amount, till he is satisfied that it has attained the perfection he desires. When we read in the Scandinavian Sagas of the digging into old grave-mounds in quest of swords that had been manufactured by Dwarfs, we are forced to the conviction that such blades, if good for anything, must have been thus oil-tempered again and again in the manufacture, and so only could have withstood rust.
The knowledge of iron came to the Greeks about 1200 B.C. and iron weapons and implements were carried up the Danube by Scythian nomadic dealers. A great centre of early iron manufacture would seem to have been in Illvria arid Thrace. but who the ironworkers were who travelled in the north of Europe and in Britain we do not know.
A few characteristic stories of this people must suffice. A man rose one morning on the way from Apenrade to Jordkirch by the "Three hills". He heard hammering going on vigorously in one. So he shouted that he wanted a chaff--cutter, and rode on his way. In the evening, on his return, he saw a brand--new chaff--cutting knife lying on the side of the hillock. He put down its value and carried it off. It proved to be of unwonted sharpness, but also that a cut or wound dealt by it never healed. On the estate of Dollrott, in Schleswig, when one lies down on a green tumulus that exists there, one can hear work going on underground. It is the same with the Great Struchberg near Heiligenhafen, when one places an ear to the ground the hammering at a smithy can be heard.
It seems to be a general opinion that the Little People must be treated with fairness, that any act of treachery done to them or neglect is bitterly resented.
Two serving-girls in Tavistock said that the pixies were very kind to them, and would drop silver for them into a bucket of clean water, which they took care to place for them in the chimney-corner every night. Once it was forgotten, and the pixies forthwith went up to the girls' room and loudly complained of the neglect. One of them, who happened to be awake, jogged the other, and proposed going down to rectify the omission, but she said, "for her part she would not stir out of bed to please all the pixies in Devonshire." The other went down and filled the bucket, in which, by the way, she found next morning a handful of silver pennies. As she was returning, she heard the pixies debating how they might punish the other, and they agreed to give her a lame leg for a term of seven years, then to be cured by a herb growing on Dartmoor, whose name of seven syllables she could not recall. Next morning, Molly, the lazy wench, arose dead lame, and so continued till the end of the period, when, one day, as she was picking up a mushroom a strange--looking boy started up and insisted on striking her leg with a plant which he held in his hand. He did so, and she was cured. and became the best dancer in the town.
The people of Jutland declare that when God cast the rebellious angels out of heaven, some fell down on the mounds or barrows and became Hill--folk; others fell into the elf-moors and became Elf-folk; and others, again, fell into dwellings and became House-kobolds. This gives a rough idea of the distinction supposed to exist among these Little People.
The enormous number of traditions that tell of the brownies, kobolds, or pixies doing service in houses and farms point to a reminiscence of when this dispersed and unsettled Little People did great help to farmers and their wives for some small recompense.
One feature attends all the stories about them--the love of independence they possessed, their intolerance at being watched.
In the early part of the nineteenth century there were numerous dwarfs called Heinzelmen who did all sorts of work in the city of Cologne. They baked bread, washed, and did any sort of domestic labour, for which they expected to be paid with a bowl of sweet milk, into which white bread had been broken. At that time there were many bakers who kept no apprentices, for the Little People used always to make overnight as much black and white bread as the bakers wanted for their shops; and in many households they scoured the coppers, swept the hearths, and washed up the utensils for the maids. This went on till a tailor's wife, who had been especially favoured by the Heinzelmen, overcome with curiosity, resolved on having a peep at them. Accordingly she strewed peas up and down the stairs, so that they might fall and hurt themselves, and she might get a sight of them next morning. But the project missed, and since that time the Heinzelmen have totally disappeared.
They can also be driven away by one being over-generous to them.
In Scotland the brownie is the same as the German kobold and the Devonshire Pixy: a personage of small stature, wrinkled visage, and wearing a brown mantle and hood. His residence is in the hollow of an old tree, a ruined castle, or the abode of man. He is attached to certain families, with whom he has been known to reside, even for centuries, threshing the corn, cleaning the house, doing everything done by his English, German and Scandinavian brethren. He expects to be paid with a bowl of cream, or some fresh honeycomb, laid for him in a corner.
A good woman had just made a web of linsey-woolsey, and prompted by her kindly nature, had manufactured from it a mantle and hood for her little brownie. Not content with laying the gift in one of his favourite spots, she indiscreetly called to tell him it was there. This was too direct, and brownie quitted the place, crying,--"
A new mantle, and a new hood;
Poor Brownie! yell ne'er do mair gude!"
Versions of this story are found everywhere, where these Little People have been supposed to help. Altogether another form of the incident is in The Mad Pranks and Merry Jests of Robin Goodfellow, that appeared before 1588.
Coming to a farmer's house, he takes a liking to a "good handsome maid" that was there, and in the night does her work for her at breaking hemp and flax, bolting meal, etc. Having watched one night and seen him at work, and observed that he was rather bare of clothes, she provided him with a waistcoat against the next night. But when he saw it, he started and said:--
Because thou layest me hempen hempen,
I will neither bolt nor stampen:
'Tis not your garments, new or old,
That Robin loves; I feel no cold.
Had you left me milk or cream,
You should have had a pleasing dream:
Because you left no drop or crumb,
Robin never more will come.
Where a condition of affairs existed connected with a people of foreign race, misunderstood, looked on with superstitious fears, whose very ways encouraged mistrust, it is no wonder that stories concerning them should be wild and fantastic. Not only so--but that many a myth connected with beings pertaining to a religion superseded by Christianity was certain to adhere to them and assist in making them nebulous and extravagant; that is what one would expect to take place. Have any burials of this people been discovered? I will not say that they have not; but they have not been discriminated, not looked for.
In September 1900, I received a summons to go to Padstow in Cornwall, as at Harlyn Bay near there a prehistoric necropolis had been discovered in blown sand that had been carried some way inland and was hard compacted. A gentleman had bought a field there, and was about to build a house. I found that he was impatient to get his dwelling ready before winter, or, at all events, have the foundations and walls got on with, and he would not allow a slow and careful exploration. It had to be done in a hurry. What was more, and even worse, the fact of the discovery got into the Cornish and Devon papers. The season was that of tourists. The owner charged sixpence a head for visitors, and they came in swarms, pushing everywhere, poking about the skeletons and skulls with their umbrellas and parasols, scrabbling in the graves in quest of "finds", and from the moment this rabble appeared on the scene no work could be done save protection of what had already been uncovered. A more distressing and disappointing exploration could not be imagined. However, some points were determined.
More than a hundred graves were uncovered; they were composed of boxes of slate in which the skeleton sat crouched, mainly, but not exclusively, on the right side. Some were of females, some of mothers with their infants in their arms. No skull was discovered that indicated death through violence, and all skeletons were complete. Some of the coffins were in layers, one above another; rudely speaking, they pointed east and west, the heads being to the west; but what governed the position seemed to be the slope of the hill, that fell away somewhat steeply from the south to the north.
Some bronze fibulae were found, finely drawn armlets of bronze wire making spiral convolutions about the wrist, a necklace of very small amber and blue glass beads strung on this bronze wire; a good deal of iron so corroded that, what with the friability and the meddlesomeness of the visitors, who would finger everything exhumed, it was not possible to make out more than that they did not represent fragments of weapons.
The fibulae were exhibited in London by Mr Charles H. Read, and described in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries (vol xxi, pp 272-4). They are of the crossbow type, not British, their nearest analogues are found in the Iberian Peninsula. The pin of the brooch was perfect when found, but not so when Mr Read saw it, and he wrongly describes it. He considered the Harlyn interments to date from about the third century B.C.
There were found at the time a great many needles and prongs of slate, which were afterwards exhibited on the spot and sold to tourists as stone spearheads. They were no such thing. They were splinters of a soft local slate that had been rolled by the wind and grated by the sand into the shape they assumed, and such are found all through the district.
Dr Beddoe came down and examined the skulls and skeletons. He considered the interments to be late, and of a race somewhat short in stature, with dolicho-cephalic skulls, not prognathous. "We may conjecture with some confidence that it was after the Gallo-Belgic and before the Roman Conquest." There were marked peculiarities in the skulls, distinguishing them from those of the Aryan Celt and from those of the men of the Bronze period. It seemed to me that a necropolis of an intrusive people, peaceable, who, whereas all around them burnt their dead, continued religiously to inter theirs.
The main road from Padstow along the coast cuts through this ancient cemetery. It is interesting to note that this portion of the road has ever been dreaded by passengers at night as haunted. On the right hand of the way, coming from Padstow, probably more of the necropolis remains, and it is earnestly to be desired that it may at some time be scientifically examined, without the intrusion of the ignorant and vulgar being permitted. The digging proceedings at Harlyn, as soon as the season was ending, were broken up by a storm and change of weather. The tent was blown down and utterly wrecked. In the following year no opportunity was accorded for the prosecution of the researches.
I think that the Harlyn exploration affords sufficient grounds to make antiquaries careful in examining graves, and caution in classification in the broad categories of prehistoric, Celtic, Saxon and Roman.
To what stock an intrusive people--widely dispersed and never collected into towns, villages, or hamlets, but migrating through the land, like the gipsies--belonged is what cannot yet be determined.
[a] Among the Harleian MS is an Anglo-Saxon charm by means of which protection is obtained against elf-shots (ylfa gescot).
[b] Berserks were men possessed with temporary murderous madness. Observe in the story that the king finds a suitable wife in the giant's daughter. This seems to show that the Jotuns were not necessarily of gigantic size.