Page images

intellectual appetite, your fish must be “caught" before it is swallowed. Extraordinary particulars were given, in this instance, of the human aspect of the vision, of its tossing its hair back from its brow, and its being much annoyed by a bird which was hovering over it, and which it warned off repeatedly with its hands. The most ingenious conjecture I ever heard advanced respecting the ordinary mistakes about mermaids was, that somebody may have actually seen a mermaid, comb and all, dancing in the water, but that it was a figure of wood, struck off from some shipwrecked vessel.

I am travelling out of the world, however, when I get into these realms of prose and matter-of-fact. I will conclude this paper with the two most striking descriptions of the mermaid I ever met with ; — one, indeed, purporting to be that of a true one, but evidently of the wildest oriental manufacture ; the other, in the pages of a young living poet, worthy of the name in its most poetical sense.

D'Herbelot, in his article on the “Yagiouge and Magiouge” (Gog and Magog), tells us of a certain Salam, who was sent by Vathek, ninth Caliph of the race of the Abassides, to explore the famous Caspian Gates, and who being in

ination played strange tricks with the witnesses, or that the existence of mermaids is no longer a matter of question.”

Simon Wilkin, in one of the notes to his edition of Sir Thomas Browne, makes a learned and ingenious argument on the probable existence of the mermaid ; and De Quincey says that Southey once remarked to him, that if the mermaid had been differently named (as, suppose, a mer-ape) nobody would have questioned its existence any more than that of sea-cows, sea-lions, &c. “The mermaid has been discredited by her human name and her legendary human habits. If she would not coquette so much with melancholy sailors, and brush her hair so assiduously upon solitary rocks, she would be carried on our books for as honest a reality, as decent a female, as many that are assessed to the poor-rates.” – ED.

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 knees, 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
A mermaid fair,
Singing alone,
Combing her hair
Under the sea,
In a golden curl,
With a comb of pearl,

On a throne?
I would be a mermaid fair ;
I would sing to myself the whole of the day;
With a comb of pearl I would comb my hair ;
And still as I combed I would sing and say,

“Who is it loves me? who loves not me?”
I would comb my hair till my ringlets would fall,

Low adown, low adown,
From under my starry sea-bud crown,

Low adown and around: .
And I should look like a fountain of gold

Springing alone
With a shrill inner sound,

Over the throne

In the midst of the hall;
Till that great sea-snake under the sea,
From his coiled sleeps, in the central deeps,
Would slowly trail himself sevenfold
Round the hall where I sate, and look in at the gate

With his large calm eyes for the love of me;
And all the mermen under the sea
Would feel their immortality

Die in their hearts for the love of me.
But at night I would wander away, away;

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:
We would run to and fro, and hide and seek,

On the broad seawolds, in the crimson shells,
Whose silvery spikes are nighest the sea.
But if any came near I would call, and shriek,
And adown the steep like a wave I would leap,

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;
They would sue me, and woo me, and flatter me,
In the purple twilights under the sea;
But the king of them all would carry me,
Woo me, and win me, and marry me,
In the branching jaspers under the sea;
Then all the dry pied things that be
In the hueless mosses under the sea
Would curl round my silver feet silently,
All looking up for the love of me.
And if I should carol aloud, from aloft
All things that are forked, and horned, and soft,
Would lean out from the hollow sphere of the sea,
All looking down for the love of me.


AVING treated of Sirens, mermaids, and other IN633) female phenomena connected with the ocean, A

we here devote an article to its male gentry — Pas 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,

That rules the seas and makes them rise or fall;
His dewy lockes did drop with brine apace
Under his diademe imperiall;
And by his side his queene with coronall,
Faire Amphitrite, most divinely faire,
Whose yvorie shoulders weren covered all

As with a robe with her owne silver haire,
And deckt with pearles which th' Indian seas for her prepaire.

« PreviousContinue »