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Popular Superstitions of the Highlands

Brownie has got a cowl and coat,
And never more will work a jot.

ALTHOUGH this mysterious and very useful agent has now become very rare among the Highland mountains, it appears that, at one time, he was the common appendage of every family of rank in those countries. Hence, his history and character are well known; and his memory still retains a powerful interest in the minds of the inhabitants. It may not, therefore, be improper to give a condensed account of the most prominent traits of the Highland Brownie’s character, to enable the reader to compare his manners and habits with those of the Brownie of Bodspeck, or any other Brownie with the manners of whom he may happen to be acquainted.

With regard to the Brownie’s origin, it is a point that is involved in much obscurity. It was always a peculiar trait in his character, that he never would favour his earthly acquaintances with any information regarding his own private affairs. From some resemblance the Brownie bore to the Fairy, joined to a similarity of habits, it was shrewdly suspected by the more discriminating sort of people, that if he were not actually a member of the Fairy people—he was, at least, a mongrel species of them. But on this important topic the sagacious Brownie himself opened not his mouth; leaving them to argue the matter as they thought proper.

In his personal appearance, the Highland Brownie was highly interesting. His person was not quite so tall as that of the Fairy, but it was well proportioned and comely; and, from the peculiar brownness of his complexion, lie received the appellation of Brownie.

In his manners and habits he differed widely from all the supernatural beings of his day; inasmuch as he was laborious and faithful to his master’s interest—content to labour day and night for no other fee or reward than a scanty diet, and occasionally a suit of cast-off apparel. Hence, the possession of so cheap and useful an agent was an acquisition highly desirable. But he was what neither money nor interest could procure. Having once united himself to the founder of an ancient family, he adhered to him and to his issue so long as he had any lineal posterity; and hence it is, that the Brownie was only found the heir-loom of an ancient and honour-able family.

Unexampled for his fidelity, he was the indefatigable guardian and promoter of his adopted master’s interest; and, from his powers of prophecy and information, his services were truly invaluable. Over the servants he was always a vigilant and faithful spy, ready to give faithful account of their good or bad actions; and hence it followed, that with these he was very seldom on a good understanding. So that, if the Brownie was left to the servants’ mercy, he would not, in all likelihood, fare the better for his fidelity. But if the master had any regard to his own interest, he was careful to have seen hint properly cared for in his meat and in his drink, which care was rewarded by the most unlimited devotion to his interest.

The last two brownies known in this quarter of the Highlands were long the appendages of the ancient family, of Tullochgorm in Strathspey. They were male and female, and, for aught we know, they might likewise, have been man arid wife. The male was of an exceedingly jocose and humorous disposition, often indulging in little sports at the expence of his fellow-servants. He had, in particular, a. great trick of flinging clods at the passengers, and from thence he got the name of "Brownie-Clod. He had, however, with all his humour, a great deal of, simplicity about him, and became, in his turn, the dupe of those on whom he affected to play. An eminent instance of this appears from a contract into which he foolishly entered with the servants of Tullochgorm, whereby, be bound and obliged himself to thrash as much corn and straw as two men could do for the space of a whole winter, on condition he was to be gratified with an old coat and a Kilmarnock cowl, pieces of apparel for which, it seems, he had a great liking. While the servants were reclining themselves at their ease upon the straw, Brownie-Clod thrashed on unremittingly, and performed such Herculean tasks as no human constitution could bear for a week together. Some time before the expiry of the contract, the lads, out of pure gratitude and pity, left the coat and cowl for him on a mow of corn in the barn, on receipt of which he instantly struck .work, and, with the greatest triumph at the idea of taking in his acquaintances, he sneeringly told them, that, since they were so foolish as to give him the coat and cowl before he had wrought for them, he would now decline to thrash another sheaf.

"Huar Prownie coad agus curochd
cha dian Prownie opar tullidh."

The female was more pawky in her ways; and, instead of being a laughing-stock to the female-servants with whom she wrought, she was a sort of a mistress over them. She was seldom on good terms with them, in consequence of the fidelity with which she reported their neglect of duty to their master or mistress. It was her custom to wear a superabundance of hair, in consequence of which, she was commonly called "Maug Vuluchd," or "Hairy Mag." Mag was an honest and excellent housekeeper, and had the service of the table generally assigned her, in which capacity she was extremely useful. The dexterity and care with which she covered the table, always invisible, was not less amusing to strangers than it was convenient to their host. Whatever was called for came as if it floated on the air, and lighted on the table with the utmost ease and celerity; and, for cleanliness and attention, she had not her equal in this land.

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