Brownie and the Dame
By Hans Christian Andersen
You know the brownie, but do you know the
dame, the gardener's dame ? She had learning,
knew verses by heart, could even write them
herself with ease ; only the rhymes, '
clinchings ', she called them, caused her a
little trouble. She had the gift of writing,
and of talking ; she
might very well have been a pastor, or at
least a pastor's wife. ' The earth is lovely
in its Sunday gown,' said she, and this
thought she had put into words and 'clinching
', and had set it in a poem, so long and
beautiful. The student, Mr. Kisserup (the
name has nothing to do with the story), was
a nephew, and on a visit to the gardener ;
he heard the dame's poem, and it did him
good, he said ever so much good. ' You have
soul, madam,' said he.
' Stuff and nonsense,' said the gardener, '
don't be putting such ideas into her head !
a woman should be a body, a decent body, and
look after her pot, so that the porridge may
not be burned.'
' I will take away that burnt taste with a
piece of burning charcoal,' said the dame,
'and then I will take the burnt taste from
you with a little kiss. One would think that
you only thought of cabbages and potatoes,
and yet you love the flowers ! ' and so she
kissed him. ' The flowers
are the soul,' said she.
' Look after your pot,' said he, and went
into the garden : that was his pot, and he
looked after it. But the student sat and
talked with the dame. Her beautiful words, '
The earth is lovely ', he made quite a
sermon about, in his own way.
' The earth is lovely, make it subject unto
you ! was said, and we became its rulers.
Some are so with the mind, some with the
body ; one is sent into the world like an
exclamation mark, another like a printer's
dash, so that one may well ask, " What is he
doing here ? " One becomes a bishop, another
only a poor schoolmaster, but all is wisely
ordered. The earth is lovely, and always in
its Sunday dress ! That was a
thought-stirring poem, dame, full of feeling
' You have soul, Mr. Kisserup,' said the
dame, ' much soul, I assure you ! One gets
clearness in oneself, when one talks with
And so they went on talking, as beautifully
and as well ; but out in the kitchen, there
was also one who talked, and that was the
brownie, the little brownie dressed in grey
with a red cap. You know him ! Brownie sat
hi the kitchen, and was the pot-watcher ; he
talked, but no one heard him except the big
black pussy cat, ' Cream-thief ', as the
dame called him.
The brownie was so angry with her, because
she did not believe in his existence, he
knew ; she had certainly never seen him, but
still she must, with all her learning, know
that he did exist, and might have shown him
a little attention. It never occurred to her
on Christmas Eve, to set so much as a
spoonful of porridge down for him ; all his
ancestors had got that, and had got it from
dames who had absolutely no learning ; the
porridge had been swimming in butter and
cream. It made the cat's mouth water to hear
' She calls me an idea ! ' said the brownie,
' that is beyond all my ideas. She actually
denies me ! That I have listened to, and now
I have listened again ; she sits and wheezes
to that boy-whacker, the student. I say with
the goodman, " Mind your pot ! " that she
doesn't do; now I shall make it boil over !
' And Brownie puffed at the fire, which
blazed and burned. ' Hubble -bubble -hish
the pot boiled over. ' Now I shall go in and
make holes in the goodman's socks ! ' said
Brownie, ' I will unravel a big hole in the
toe and the heel, so there will be something
to darn, unless she must go and make poetry.
Dame poetess, darn the goodman's stockings I
The cat sneezed at that ; he had a cold,
although he always wore furs.
' I have opened the dining-room door,' said
Brownie, ' there is clotted cream there, as
thick -as gruel. If you won't lick it, shall.'
' If I shall have the blame and the blows/
said the cat, ' let me also lick the cream.'
' First the cream, then the licking,' said
the brownie. ' But now I shall go into the
student's room, hang his braces on the
looking-glass, and put his socks in the
waterjug ; then he will think that the punch
has been too strong, and that he is giddy in
the head. Last night I sat on the wood-stack
beside the dog-kennel ; I take a great
pleasure in teasing the watch-dog ; I let my
legs hang down and dangle. The dog could not
reach them, however high he jumped ; that
made him angry ; he barked and barked, I
dingled and dangled ; it was a racket. The
student woke up with it and got up three
times to look out ; but he did not see me,
although he had spectacles on ; he always
sleeps with spectacles.'
' Say mew, when the dame is coming,' said
the cat. ' I am rather deaf ; I am not well
to-day ! '
' You are licking-sick,' said Brownie, '
lick away, lick the sickness away ! but dry
your whiskers, so that the cream may not
hang there. Now I will go and listen.'
And Brownie stood by the door, and the door
stood ajar ; there was no one in the room
except the dame and the student ; they
talked about what the student so finely
called ' that which one ought to set above
all pots and pans in every household ; the
gifts of the soul ! '
' Mr. Kisserup,' said the dame, ' now I
shall show you something in this connexion,
which I have never yet shown to any earthly
soul, least of all to a man, my little poems
; some are rather long, however. I have
called them " Clinchings by a gentlewoman
And she took out of the drawer a
writing-book with a light-green cover and
two blots of ink on it. ' There is much that
is earnest in this book,' said she. ' I have
the strongest feeling for what is sorrowful.
Here now is " The Sigh in the Night ", " My
Evening-Red ", and " When I got Klemmensen
", my husband. You can pass over that,
although it has feeling and thought. " The
House-wife's Duties " is the best piece !
all very melancholy, in that lies my
strength. Only one piece is jocular ; it
contains some lively thoughts, such as one
may also have, thoughts about,
you must not laugh at me about being a
poetess ! It is only known to myself and my
drawer, and now also to you, Mr. Kisserup !
I am very fond of poetry, it comes over me,
it teases, and rules, and reigns over me. I
have expressed it in the title, " Little
Brownie." You know the old peasant belief in
the brownie, who is always playing tricks in
the house. I have imagined that I myself was
the house, and that poetry, the feeling
within me, was the brownie, the spirit which
rules in me. His power and greatness I have
sung in " The little Brownie ", but you must
promise me with hand and mouth, never to
disclose it to my husband or any one. Read
it aloud, so that I can
hear if you understand my writing ! '
And the student read, and the dame listened,
and the little brownie listened too ; he was
eavesdropping, you know, and had just come
when the title ' The little Brownie ' was
' That concerns me,' said he ; ' what can
she have written about me ? Oh ! I shall
pinch her, pinch her eggs, pinch her
chickens, hound the fat off her fat calf.
What a dame ! '
And he listened with pursed-up mouth and
long ears, but as he heard about Brownie's
glory and power, and his lordship over the
dame (it was Poetry, you know, that she
meant, but the brownie took it literally)
the little fellow smiled more and more, his
eyes sparkled with joy, there
came something of a superior air into the
corners of his mouth, he lifted his heels
and stood on his toes, and became a whole
inch taller than before ; he was delighted
with what was said about the little brownie.
' The dame has soul and great breeding ! I
have done the woman great injustice. She has
set me in her " Clinchings ", which will be
printed and read. Now, the cat will not get
leave to drink her cream, I will do that
myself ! One drinks less than two, that is
always a saving, and that I will introduce,
and respect and honour the dame.'
' What a human creature he is, the brownie,
said the old cat ; ' only a sweet mew from
the dame, a mew about himself, and he at
once changes his mind. The dame is sly.'
But she was not sly ; it was the brownie who
was a human being.
If you cannot understand this story, then
ask, but you must not ask the brownie, nor
the dame, either.