Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 


THE Nis, Kobold, or Goblin, appears in Scotland under the name of Brownie. [a] Brownie is a personage of small stature, wrinkled visage, covered with short curly brown hair, and wearing a brown mantle and hood. His residence is the hollow of the old tree, a ruined castle, or the abode of man, He is attached to particular families, with whom he has been known to reside, even for centuries, threshing the corn, cleaning the house, and doing everything done by his northern and English brethren. He is, to a certain degree, disinterested; like many great personages, he is shocked at anything approaching to the name of a bribe or douceur, yet, like them, allows his scruples to be overcome if the thing be done in a genteel, delicate, and secret way. Thus, offer Brownie a piece of bread, a cup of drink, or a new coat and hood, and he flouted at it, and perhaps, in his huff, quitted the place for ever; but leave a nice bowl of cream, and some fresh honeycomb, in a snug private corner, and they soon disappeared, though Brownie, it was to be supposed, never knew anything of them.
A good woman had just made a web of linsey-woolsey, and, prompted by her good nature, had manufactured from it a snug 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! ye 'll ne'er do mair gude!
Another version of this legend says, that the gudeman of' a farm-house in the parish of Glendevon having left out some clothes one night for Brownie, he was heard to depart, saying,
Gie Brownie coat, gie Brownie sark,
Ye 'se get nae mair o' Brownie's wark! [b]
At Leithin-hall, in Dumfrieshire, a Brownie had dwelt, as he himself declared, for three hundred years. He used to show himself but once to each master; to other persons he rarely discovered more than his hand. One master was greatly beloved by Brownie, who on his death bemoaned him exceedingly, even abstaining from food for many successive days. The heir returning from foreign parts to take possession of the estate, Brownie appeared to do him homage, but the Laird, offended at his mean, starved appearance, ordered him meat and drink, and new livery. Brownie departed, loudly crying,
Ca', cuttee, ca'!
A' the luck of Leithin Ha'
Gangs wi' me to Bodsbeck Ha'.
In a few years Leithin Ha' was in ruins, and "bonnie Bodsbeck" flourishing beneath the care of Brownie.
Others say that it was the gudeman of Bodsbeck that offended the Brownie by leaving out for him a mess of bread and milk, and that he went away, saying,
Ca, Brownie, ca',
A' the luck of Bodsbeck awa to Leithenha'.
Brownie was not without some roguery in his composition. Two lasses having made a fine bowlful of buttered brose, had taken it into the byre to sup in the dark. In their haste they brought but one spoon, so, placing the bowl between them, they supped by turns. "I hae got but three sups," cried the one, "and it's a' dune."--" It 's a' dune, indeed," cried the other--" Ha, ha, ha!" cried a third voice, "Brownie has got the maist o' it."--And Brownie it was who had placed himself between them, and gotten two sups for their one.
The following story will remind the reader of Hinzelmann. A Brownie once lived with Maxwell, Laird of Dalswinton, and was particularly attached to the Laird's daughter, the comeliest lass in all the holms of Nithadale. In all her bye affairs Brownie was her confidant and assistant; when she was married, it was Brownie who undressed her for the bridal bed; and when a mother's pains first seized her, and a servant, who was ordered to go fetch the cannie wife, who lived on the other side of the Nith, was slow in getting himself ready, Brownie, though it was one of dark December's stormy nights, and the wind was howling through the trees, wrapped his lady's fur cloak about him, mounted the servant's horse, and dashed through the waves of the foaming Nith. He went to the cannie wife, got her up behind hint, and, to her terror and dismay, plunged again into the torrent. "Ride nae by the auld pool," said she, "lest we suld meet wi' Brownie." "Fear nae, dame," replied he, "ye 've met a' the Brownies ye will meet." He set her down at the hall steps, and went to the stable. There finding the lad, whose embassy be had discharged, but drawing on his boots, he took off the bridle, and by its vigorous application instilled into the memory of the loitering loon the importance of dispatch. This was just at the time of the Reformation, and a zealous minister advised the Laird to have him baptised. The Laird consented, and the worthy minister hid himself in the barn. When Brownie was beginning his night's work, the man of God flung the holy water in his face, repeating at the same time the form of baptism. The terrified Brownie gave a yell of dismay, and disappeared for ever.
Another name by which the domestic spirit was known in some parts of Scotland was Shellycoat, of which the origin is uncertain. [c]
Scotland has also its water-spirit, called Kelpie, who in some respects corresponds with the Neck of the northern nations. "Every lake," says Graham [d] "has its Kelpie, or Water-horse, often seen by the shepherd, as he sat in a summer's evening upon the brow of a rock, dashing along the surface of the deep, or browsing on the pasture-ground upon its verge. Often did this malignant genius of the waters allure women and children to his subaqueous haunts, there to be immediately devoured. Often did he also swell the torrent or lake beyond its usual limits, to overwhelm the hapless traveller in the flood." [e]
We have now gone through nearly the whole of the Gotho-German race, and everywhere have found their fairy system the same--a proof, we conceive, of the truth of the position of its being deeply founded in the religious system originally common to the whole race. We now proceed to another, and, perhaps, an older European family, the Celts.

[a] He is named as we have seen by Gawain Douglas. King James says of him "The spirit called Brownie appeared like a rough man, and haunted divers houses without doing any evil, but doing, as it were, necessarie turns up and down the house; yet some are so blinded as to believe that their house was all the sonsier, as they called It, that such spirits resorted there."
[b] Popular Rhymes of Scotland, p. 33.
[c] Grimm (Deut. Mythol., p. 479) says it is the German Schellenrock, i.e, Bell-coat, from his coat being hung with bells like those of the fools. A Puck be says, once served in a convent in Mecklenburg, for thirty years, in kitchen, and stable, and the only reward he asked was "tunicam de diversis coloribus et tintinnabulis plenam."
[d] Sketches of Perthsbire, p. 245.
[e] In what precedes, we have chiefly followed Mr. Cromek. Those anxious for further information will meet it in the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and other works.

Next: Celts and Cymry