MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24
Little Joe is locked in my bedroom with a cat trap and a can of Fancy Feast salmon. I have little hope of catching him this evening. I swear Rumsfeld was trying to knock the door down to get to the CF. Martina (a friend) works with feline rescue. She has a friend who is going to take him and see if he can’t be dealt with, psychologically. Last night I rigged up ‘fence’ with the pet gates and kept him downstairs. It has helped Bat Masterson recover. He seems to be his old naughty self today.
The obligatory Thanksgiving turkey post.
That weird alien green squid
Another strange dinosaur tale
Some cancers may simply disappear
How does lightening warn of flash floods?
Hairspray and birth defects?
Shades of the Immunity Syndrome. A giant single sell entity has been found on the ocean floor.
Born: Laurence Sterne, sentimental writer and novelist, 1713, Clonmel; John Bacon, sculptor, 1740, Southwark; Grace Darling, Northumbrian heroine, 1815, Bamborough.
Died: John Knox, Scottish Reformer, 1572, Edinburgh; William Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the seven prelates in their celebrated petition to James II, 1693, Fresingfield, Suffolk; Dr. Robert Henry, historian, 1790, Edinburgh; William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne, statesman, 1848, Melbourne House, Derbyshire; Rev. Dr. George Croly, poet, and romance writer, 1860, London.
Feast Day: St. Chrysogonus, martyr, beginning of 4th century. St. Cianan or Kenan, bishop of Duleek, in Irelanal, 489. Saints Flora and Mary, virgins and martyrs, 851. St. John of the Cross, confessor, 1591.
Mermaids have had a legendary existence from very early ages; for the Syron of the ancients evidently belomged to the same remarkable family. Mermen and mermaids and men of the sea, and women of the sea have been as stoutly believed in as the great sea serpent, and on very much the same kind of evidence. Sometimes, as expressed in Haydn’s Mermaid’s Song, there is a delightful bit of romance connected with the matter: as where the mermaid offers the tempting invitation:
‘Come with me, and we will go
Where the rocks of coral grow.’
But the romance is somewhat damped when the decidedly fishy tail is described. The orthodox mermaid is half woman, half fish; and the fishy half is sometimes depicted as being doubly tailed. The heraldry of France and Germany often exhibits mermaids with two tails among the devices; and in the Basle edition of Ptolemy’s Geography, dated 1540, a double tailed mermaid figures on one of the plates. Shakspeare makes many of his characters talk about mermaids. Thus, in the Comedy of Errors, Antipholus of Syracuse says:
‘Oh, train me not, sweet mermaid, with the note!’
And in aother place:
‘I’ll stop mine ears against the mermaid’s song.’
In the Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon says:
‘I heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back.’
In Hamlet, the queen, speaking of Ophelia’s death, says:
‘Her clothes spread wide; and mermaid like,
Awhile they bare her up.’
In two other passages, he makes his characters say:
‘I’ll drown more sailors than the mermaids shall.’
‘At the helm a seeming mermaid steers.’
But in all these cases Shakspeare, as was his wont, made his characters say what they were likely to think, in their several positions and periods of life.
Notices of mermaids are scattered abundantly in books of bygone times; sometimes in much detail, sometimes in a few vague words. In Merollo’s Voyage to Congo, in 1682, mermaids are said to be very plentiful all along the river Zaire. A writer in Notes and Queries, in November 1858, lighted upon an old Scotch almanac, called the Aberdeen Almanac, or New Prognostications for the Year 1688; in which the following curious passage occurs:
‘To conclude for this year 1688. Near the place where the famous Dee payeth his tribute to the German Ocean, if curious observers of wonderful things in nature will be pleased thither to resort the 1, 13, and 29 of May, and in divers other times in the ensuing summer, as also in the harvest time, to the 7 and 14 October, they will undoubtedly see a pretty company of MARMAIDS, creatures of admirable beauty, and likewise hear their charming sweet melodious voices:
“In well tun’d measures and harmonious lays,
Extol their Maker and his bounty praise;
That godly honest men, in everything,
In quiet peace may live, GOD SAVE THE KING!”
The piety and loyalty of these predicted mermaids are certainly remarkable characteristics. In another part of Scotland, about the same period, a real mermaid was seen, if we are to believe Brand’s Description of Orkney and Shetland, published in 1701. Two fishermen drew up with a hook a mermaid, having face, arms, breast, shoulders, &c., of a woman, and long hair hanging down the neck; but the nether part from below the waist hidden in the water. One of the fishermen, in his surprise, drew a knife and thrust it into her heart; where upon she cried, as they judged, “Alas!” and the hook giving way, she fell backwards, and was seen no more. In this case the evidence went thus Brand was told by a lady and gentleman, who were told by a bailie to whom the fishing boat belonged, who was told by the fishers; and thus we may infer as we please concerning the growth of the story as it travelled.
In 1775, there was a very circumstantial account given of a mermaid, which was captured in the Grecian Archipelago, in the preceding year, and exhibited in London. It has, as the Annual Reviewer of that day said, the features and complexion of a European. Its face is like that of a young female; its eyes of a fine light blue; its nose small and handsome; its mouth small; its lips thin, and the edges of them round like those of a codfish; its teeth small, regular, and white; its chin well shaped; its neck full; its ears like those of the eel, but placed like those of the human species; and behind them are the gills for respiration, which appear like curls.
Some (mermaids) are said to have hair upon the head; but this has none, only rolls instead of hair, that at a distance may be mistaken for curls. But its chief ornament is a beautiful membrane or fin, rising from the temples, and gradually diminishing till it ends pyramidically, forming a foretop like that of a lady’s headdress. It has no fin on the back, but a bone like that of the human species. Its breasts are fair and full, but without nipples; its arms and hands are well proportioned, but without nails on its fingers; its belly is round and swelling, but no navel. From the waist downwards, the body is in all respects like a codfish. It has three sets of fins, one above another, below the waist, which enables it to swim out upon the sea; and it is said to have an enchanting voice, which it never exerts except before a storm: Here there is no great intricacy of evidence, for a writer in the Gentlemen’s Magazine also said he saw this particular mermaid which, however, he described as being only three feet long, tail and all. But a sad blow was afterwards given to its reputation, by a statement that it was craftily made up out of the skin of the angle shark.
In Mrs. Morgan’s Tour to Milford Haven in the Year 1795, there is an equally circumstantial account of a mermaid observed by one Henry Reynolds, in 1782.
Reynolds was a farmer of Pen-y-hold, in the parish of Castlemartin. One morning, just outside the cliff, he saw what seemed to him a person bathing, with the upper part of the body out of the water. Going a little nearer, to see who was bathing in so unusual a place, it seemed to him like a person sitting in a tub. Going nearer still, he found it to resemble a youth of sixteen or eighteen years of age, with a very white skin. The continuation of the body below the water, seemed to he a brownish substance, ending with a tail, which seemed capable of waving to and fro. The form of its body and arms was entirely human; but its arms and hands seemed rather thick and short in proportion to its body. The form of the head and all the features of the face were human also; but the nose rose high between the eyes, was pretty long, and seemed to terminate very sharp. Some peculiarities about the neck and hack are then noticed, as also its way of washing its body.
It looked attentively at him and at the cliffs, and seemed to take great notice of the birds flying over its head. Its looks were wild and fierce; but it made no noise, or did it grin, or in any way distort its face. When he left it, it was about a hundred yards from him; and when he returned with some others to look at it, it was gone. We hear nothing further of this merman or merboy; but on looking at the roundabout evidence of the story, we find it to he thus A paper containing the account was lent to Mrs. Morgan; the paper had been written by a young lady, pupil of Mrs. Moore, from an oral account given to her by that lady; Mrs. Moore had heard it from Dr. George Phillips; and he had heard it from Henry Reynolds himself from all of which statements we may infer that there were abundant means for converting some peculiar kind of fish into a merman without imputing intentional dishonesty to any one.
Something akin to this kind of evidence is observable in the account of a mermaid seen in Caithness in 1809, the account of which attracted much attention in England as well as in Scotland, and induced the Philosophical Society of Glasgow to investigate the matter. The editor of a newspaper who inserted the statement had been told by a gentleman, who had been shown a letter by Sir John Sinclair, who had obtained it from Mrs. Innes, to whom it had been written by Miss Mackay, who had heard the story from the persons (two servant girls and a boy) who had seen the strange animal in the water.
So it is with all these stories of mermaids when investigated. There is always a fish at the bottom of it either a living fish of peculiar kind, which an ignorant person thinks bears some resemblance to a human being; or a fish which becomes marvellous in the progress of its description from mouth to mouth; or a dead fish’s skin manufactured into something that may accord with the popular notions regarding these beings. Mr. George Cruikshank, in 1822, made a drawing of a mermaid, which was exhibited in St. James’s Street, and afterwards at Bartholomew Fair; it drew crowds by its ugliness, and showed what wretched things will suffice to gull the public although, of course, outside the booth at the fair there was a picture of the orthodox mermaid, with beautiful features and hair, comb in one hand, mirror in the other, and so forth. This was probably the identical mermaid, respecting which the lord chancellor was called upon to adjudicate, towards the close of November 1822. There was a disputed ownership, and his lordship expressed his satisfaction that he was not called upon to decide whether the animal was man, woman, or mermaid, but only to say to whom it rightfully belonged.