« PreviousContinue »
vited by the lord of the country to go and fish with him, saw an enormous fish taken, in the inside of which was another still alive, and of a very remarkable description. It had the figure of a naked girl as far as the waist, and wore, down to its knces, a sort of drawers (caleçon) made of a skin like a man's. It kept its hands over its face, tore its hair, heaved great sighs, and remained alive but a short time.*
This circumstance of the creature's keeping its hands over its face, is really a fine instance of the ghastly and the pathetic. She seems to have had something too human in her countenance to wish to be looked at by a similar face. How she contrived to tear her hair, without letting her face be seen, we are not told. As knees are mentioned, we are to suppose that the fish commenced just below them, possibly with a double tail. There is no predicating how such extraordinary young ladies will terminate.
Mr. Tennyson’s mermaid is in better keeping; as strange and fantastic as need be, but all with the proper fantastic truth; just as such a creature might “live, move, and have its being,” if such creatures existed. His verse is as strong, buoyant, and wilful as the mermaid herself and the billows around her; and nothing can be happier, or in better or more mysterious sea-taste, than the conglomeration of the wet and the dry, the “forked, and horned, and soft” phenomena at the conclusion. Mark, too, the luxurious and wilful repetition of the words, “ for the love of me," and of the rhyme on that word.
* “Bibliothèque Orientale.” 1783. Tom. iii. p. 271.
Who would be
On a throne?
hair And still as I combed I would sing and say,
Who is it loves me? who loves not me?"
Low adown, low adown,
Low adown and around:
Over the throne
In the midst of the hall ;
With his large calm eyes for the love of me ;
Die in their hearts for the love of me.
I would fling on each side my low-flowing locks, And lightly vault from the throne, and play
With the mermen in and out of the rocks;
On the broad seawolds, in the crimson shells,
From the diamond ledges that jut from the dells ; For I would not be kist by all who would list,
Of the bold merry mermen under the sea;
TRITONS AND MEN OF THE SEA.
AVING treated of Sirens, mermaids, and other
female phenomena connected with the ocean, we here devote an article to its male gentry —
personages for whom, though we may speak of them with a certain familiarity on the strength of old acquaintance, we entertain all the respect due to their ancient renown, and to those sacred places of poetry in which they are still to be found.
And first of the most ancient. The Triton is one of a numerous race begotten by Triton the son of Neptune, whose conch allayed the deluge of Deucalion. Like his ancestors, he is half a man and half a fish, with a great muscular body, and a tail ending in a crescent. There is a variety which has the forefeet of a horse. And sometimes he has two thighs like a man, or great, round, divided limbs resembling thighs, and tending to the orbicular, which end in fish-tails instead of legs. He
serves Neptune and the sea-nymphs; is employed in calming billows and helping ships out of danger; and blows a conch-shell before the car he waits on, the sound of which is heard on the remotest shores, and causes the waves there to ripple. You may see him in all his jollity in the pictures of the Italians, waiting upon Galatea and sporting about the chariot with her nymphs ; for with the strength he has the good humor of the most gambolling of the great fish ; and when not employed in his duties, is for ever making love, and tumbling about the weltering waters.
In one of the divine drawings of Raphael, lately exhibited in St. Martin's-lane (and to be detained, we trust, among us for ever, lest our country be dishonored for want of taste), is a Triton with a nymph on his back, whom he is carrying through the water in a style of exquisite grace and affectionateness ; for the higher you go in art, the more lovely does love become, and the more raised above the animal passion, even when it most takes it along with it.
Imagine yourself on a promontory in a lone sea, during an autumnal morning, when the heavens retain the gladness of summer-time, and yet there is a note in the wind prophetical of winter, and you shall see Neptune come by with Amphitrite, strenuously drawn through the billows, in which they are half washed, and Triton blowing his conch before them.
“First came great Neptune with his three-forkt mace,
As with a robe with her owne silver haire,
And all the way before them, as they went,
FAERIE QUEENE, Book iv. Canto xi.
These pearls which Amphitrite wears, were probably got for her by the Tritons, who are great divers. In one of the pictures of Rubens, there are some of them thrusting up their great hands out of the sea (the rest of them invisible), and offering pearls to a queen.
Some writers have undertaken to describe these seadeities more minutely, and as partaking a great deal more of the brute-fish than the man. According to them, the Triton has hair like water-parsley; gills a little under the ears; the nostrils of a man ; a wide mouth with panther's teeth ; blue eyes ; fins under the breast like a dolphin; hands and fingers, as well as nails of a shelly substance ; and a body covered with small scales as hard as a file. Be this as it may, he was in great favor with the sea-goddesses, and has to boast even of the condescension of Venus. Hear what a triumphant note he strikes up in the pages of Marino.
Per lo Carpazio mar l'orrida faccia
Del feroce Triton che la seguia,
La ritrosa Cimotoe un di fuggia
L’acque battendo e ribattendo gia,
E con lubrico piè l'umida via
“Qual pro," dicendo, ov" ha più folta e piena
L'alga, fuggir quel Dio ch' ogni procella