The Definitive Dwiggins no. 23—Brownies
The Boston Public Library is the repository of the Dwiggins Collection. In the initial deposit of 1974 (Box 35, Folder 14) there are some items from Dwiggins’ childhood and adolescence. One is a set of four small sheets of paper tied together at one corner by a decorative yellow twill cord. On each sheet there is a single drawing in pencil signed with a script “WAD”. There is no title nor text except on one sheet where “William Addison Dwiggins / Artist” has been written.
The drawings are of Brownies, the “Little Men” that Palmer Cox (1840–1924), inspired by Scottish folklore, created. The first story about them appeared in Wide Awake magazine in 1879, but they became associated with St. Nicholas magazine in the 1880s. The stories were first collected in book form in The Brownies: Their Book (New York: The Century Co., 1887). It was followed by Another Brownie Book (New York: The Century Co., 1890) and a dozen other titles, the last of which was published in 1918. Brownies were a phenomenon.
Young Dwiggins’ Brownies are copied directly from the first two Cox books. Here is a page from the story “The Brownies at the Seaside” that appears in The Brownie Book. It is followed by one of two drawings that Dwiggins did of a Brownie being attacked by a crab.
The one drawing that is not copied directly from Cox is of a bearded Brownie shooting an arrow through the hat of a younger Brownie. The latter appears on the first page of the story “The Brownies at Archery” (in Another Brownie Book) while the former has been extracted from a crowd scene on p. 29.
Dwiggins’ Brownie “book” is not dated, but I believe that the drawings were made in 1890 or 1891, soon after the publication of Another Brownie Book, when Dwiggins would have been 10 or 11 years old. The book is one of several listed in father’s account book that Dwiggins used in the 1890s as a sketchbook. Dwiggins’ youthful drawings are squarely in the 20th century tradition of young artists copying such cartoon and comic book characters as Mickey Mouse, Charlie Brown and Superman.