Tuesday, June 02, 2015
News of Yore: The Brownies and Palmer Cox
Before he won recognition and success as the historian of the Brownies, Palmer Cox lived an adventurous and somewhat precarious life. At the age of seventeen he left his Canadian home and came to the United States with the intention of succeeding as a business man. After a few years he became convinced that the Eastern States did not offer sufficient opportunities, so he started for California. This was at the time of the Civil War, and as there were no transcontinental railways, Palmer Cox went to San Francisco by way of Panama. the journey being considerably enlivened by the pursuit of the vessel on which he sailed by a Confederate cruiser. In California Palmer Cox found employment in a railroad office, where he achieved no great amount of success. He already felt a strong leaning toward art, and the loss of several thousand dollars in a financial venture went far toward convincing him of his unfitness for a business career. The unfortunate loss leaving him without sufficient money to devote his entire time to the study of art, he turned to newspaper work. In San Francisco he wrote for the Examiner, the Gold Era and the Alta California, at the same time joining the famous sketching club, the Graphic, of which Benoni Irwin, the marine painter, was instructor. Among other members of the club at that time were Marjot, the French painter, Thomas Hill, and Bradford, later celebrated for his Arctic scenes. In San Francisco Palmer Cox remained until 1878, when he returned East and made his home in New York.
In telling of this period in the life of Mr. Cox, Malcolm Douglas, who later wrote the songs for the theatrical representation of the Brownies once said: “During this period of his life his animal drawings especially won the fancy of the critics and found an eager audience among the readers of Little Folks, Wide Awake, Harper’s Young People and St. Nicholas. Yet in depicting the humouristic side of the animal world he found that his work lacked that individuality which—he knew it must possess to attain true success. He saw that he must hit on something distinctive, that would make his creations stand out from those of other artists—something that bore the stamp of originality, that was all his own. For years he searched his mind for a new theme to which he might devote all his energies, and at last he bethought himself of the Brownies of his childhood. The idea came to him as an inspiration. All at once it occurred to him that these jolly little elves, who had endeared themselves to the children of his native village, although they existed only as formless creatures of the imagination, might be aptly portrayed in tangible face and figure and be made the heroes of exploits which, through the pages of periodicals, would win the affections of the little ones of the whole country. His belief proved true. The Brownies, which he first began to draw in 1883, when he was forty years old, became popular from the start.”
The Brownie man. Was born in Granby, Quebec, Canada, on April 28, 1840. The town is near the United States border, and from it may be seen the Greco Mountains and the Adirondacks. His father was a pensioner of the British Army, having seen service when a youth in the War of 1812. Early in life Palmer left home, and after a short stay in the Eastern States went to Lucknow, Ontario. After two years he drifted to San Francisco by the Isthmus of Panama, and followed railroading, but in the meantime contributed articles to the local papers, and after a few years his first book appeared. On being encouraged to return to New York and take up the pen and pencil for a livelihood, he reached that city in 1875. His articles for children attracted the most attention, and he took up that sort of literature as his life work, and it was not long until the Brownies made their appearance. The following books have been published: “Squibs of California,” later enlarged and rewritten as “Comic Yarns”; “Hans Von Pelter’s Trip to Gotham”; “How Columbus Found America”; “That Stanley”; “Queer People”; “The Brownies, Their Book”; “Another Brownie Book”; “The Brownies at Home”; “The Brownies Around the World”; “The Brownies Through the Union”; “The Brownies Abroad”; “The Brownies in the Philippines”; “The Brownie Primer”; “Brownie Clown in Brownie Town”; “The Brownie Year Book”; “Calendar”; “Portrait Gallery,” etc. Mr. Cox has also produced two Brownie plays, one a spectacular extravaganza, and the there a cantata for children. He has traveled extensively in America, and through Europe, visiting England, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and France. Address, 134 W. 23rd St., New York City.
His death brings up visions of hosts of drawings and stories of spindle legged, wide eyed figures, which constituted his “Brownie” series of books. Published between the years of 1893 and 1918, they became internationally known. They were illustrated as well as written by Mr. Cox
Death came to Mr. Cox in Brownie Castle, his famous home, which was the wonder of the village of Granby. Mr. Cox was born in Granby and was a graduate of the Granby Academy. In 1863 he went to San Francisco and engaged in literary work there. He was a born draftsman, always making pictures, in addition to writing.
His first book was published in 1875. Soon he came to learn that he was most successful at children’s stories. After publishing several books of children’s tales he bethought himself of the Brownies. Taking to definition from the Encyclopedia Britannica, he made his queer little characters conform to it.
“I found the Brownies were all males.” he said one day years ago. “I found they delighted in harmless pranks and helpful tasks and that they never held conversations with people. I found, too, that whatever tasks they began they must finish, and that whenever the sun’s rays struck one he lost his mystic power.”
And those were the characteristics of Palmer Cox’s Brownies. After he began to be famous with his little folk he cams to New York. Later in his life he returned to Granby and built his castle.
On his seventieth birthday all the children in Granby trooped to his home to pay their respects to the only “Granbyite” to ever win fame and fortune. Before they went they wrote him postcards containing their conceptions of the way he should have drawn the Brownies. During a big feast he had prepared for his little visitors the mail came in and the cards, with every conceivable form of Brownie pictured caused gales of merriment.
Cox never used a name for a single Brownie, but each was named by his character and was known individually. There was the Indian, the Scotchman, the dude, Uncle Sam, Eskimo, Irishman, Turk, student, policeman, sailor and many more, thirty in all.
Cox was six feet two in height and had broad and robust shoulders, and was anything but Brownielike. Once he was asked why he didn’t write of other things besides his Brownies. He replied:
“Nay. I have lived so long with my Brownies, seen only with my Brownies’ eyes, spoken with my Brownies’ tongues, that anything else would take on my Brownies’ quaintnesses.”
Labels: News of Yore
Also, one of WWII-vintage "Moffat" books by Eleanor Estes has its small hero playing a game called "Find the Duke in the Palmer Cox Brownie Book", evidently still on library shelves at that late date. The "Moffat" books themselves are still in print.