"The Red Book of Animal Storms," selected and edited by Mr. Andrew Lang will be much appreciated by the young folk. The stones are more interesting than voracious, and, indeed, Mr. Lang is careful to notify all and sundry that the book is not altogether scientific. Ww have yet to learn, however, that this is a valid objection to children's stories. The writers have laid all beasts of all times under contribution, from the prehistoric pterodactyl down to the kangaroo of the present day and the bunyip and the sea serpent of tomorrow. This book is fully illustrated and annotated with a rare extensive biographical sketch of the author, Andrew Lang, written by Sir Edmund Gosse, CB, a contemporary poet and writer.
Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Liczba stron: 501
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:
The Red Book Of Animal Stories
Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
The Red Book Of Animal Stories
To Miss Sybil Corbet
Griffins And Unicorns
About Ants, Amphisbaenas, And Basilisks
The Story Of Beowulf, Grendel, And Grendel's Mother
The Story Of Beowulf And The Fire Drake
A Fox Tale
An Egyptian Snake Charmer
An Adventure Of Gérard, The Lion Hunter
Pumas And Jaguars In South America
Mathurin And Mathurine
Joseph: Whose Proper Name Was Josephine
The Homes Of The Vizcachas
Guanacos: Living And Dying
In The American Desert
The Story Of Jacko Ii.
The Lion And The Saint
The Further Adventures Of ' Tom,' A Bear In Paris
Recollections Of A Lion Tamer
Sheep Farming On The Border
When The World Was Young
Bats And Vampires
The Ugliest Beast In The Would
The Games Of Orangutans, And Kees The Baboon
Greyhounds And Their Masters
The Great Father And Snakes' Ways
Hyenas And Children
A Fight With A Hippopotamus
Kanny, The Kangaroo
Collies, Or Sheep Dogs
Two Big Dogs And A Little One
Lion-Hunting And Lions
On The Trail Of A Man-Eater
Greyhounds And Their Arab Masters
The Life And Death Of Pincher
A Boar Hunt By Moonlight
Thieving Dogs And Horses
To The Memory Of Squouncer
How Tom The Bear Was Born A Frenchman
Fairy Rings; And The Fairies Who Make Them
How The Reindeer Live
The Cow And The Crocodile
The Red Book Of Animal Stories, A. Lang
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Biographical Sketch from "Portraits And Sketches" by Edmund Gosse
INVITED to note down some of my recollections of Andrew Lang, I find myself suspended between the sudden blow of his death and the slow development of memory, now extending in unbroken friendship over thirty-five years. The magnitude and multitude of Lang's performances, public and private, during that considerable length of time almost paralyse expression; it is difficult to know where to begin or where to stop. Just as his written works are so extremely numerous as to make a pathway through them a formidable task in bibliography, no one book standing out predominant, so his character, intellectual and moral, was full -of so many apparent inconsistencies, so many pitfalls for rash assertion, so many queer caprices of impulse, that in a whole volume of analysis, which would be tedious, one could scarcely do justice to them all. I will venture to put down, almost at haphazard, what I remember that seems to me to have been overlooked, or inexactly stated, by those who wrote, often very sympathetically, at the moment of his death, always premising that I speak rather of a Lang of from 1877 to 1890, when I saw him very frequently, than of a Lang whom younger people met chiefly in Scotland.
When he died, all the newspapers were loud in proclaiming his "versatility." But I am not sure that he was not the very opposite of versatile. I take "versatile" to mean changeable, fickle, constantly ready to alter direction with the weather-cock. The great instance of versatility in literature is Ruskin, who adopted diametrically different views of the same subject at different times of his life, and defended them with equal ardour. To be versatile seems to be unsteady, variable. But Lang was through his long career singularly unaltered; he never changed his point of view; what he liked and admired as a youth he liked and admired as an elderly man. It is true that his interests and knowledge were vividly drawn along a surprisingly large number of channels, but while there was abundance there does not seem to me to have been versatility. If a huge body of water boils up from a crater, it may pour down a dozen paths, but these will always be the same; unless there is an earthquake, new cascades will not form nor old rivulets run dry. In some authors earthquakes do take place as in Tolstoy, for instance, and in S. T. Coleridge but nothing of this kind was ever manifest in Lang, who was extraordinarily multiform, yet in his varieties strictly consistent from Oxford to the grave. As this is not generally perceived, I will take the liberty of expanding my view of his intellectual development.
To a superficial observer in late life the genius of Andrew Lang had the characteristics which we are in the habit of identifying with precocity. Yet he had not been, as a writer, precocious in his youth. One slender volume of verses represents all that he published in book-form before his thirty-fifth year. No doubt we shall learn in good time what he was doing before he flashed upon the world of journalism in all his panoply of graces, in 1876, at the close of his Merton fellowship. He was then, at all events, the finest finished product of his age, with the bright armour of Oxford burnished on his body to such a brilliance that humdrum eyes could hardly bear the radiance of it. Of the terms behind, of the fifteen years then dividing him from St. Andrews, we know as yet but little; they were years of insatiable acquirement, incessant reading, and talking, and observing gay preparation for a life to be devoted, as no other life in our time has been, to the stimulation of other people's observation and talk and reading. There was no cloistered virtue about the bright and petulant Merton don. He was already flouting and jesting, laughing with Ariosto in the sunshine, performing with a snap of his fingers tasks which might break the back of a pedant, and concealing under an affectation of carelessness a literary ambition which knew no definite bounds.
In those days, and when he appeared for the first time in London, the poet was paramount in him. Jowett is said to have predicted that he would be greatly famous in this line, but I know not what evidence Jowett had before him. Unless I am much mistaken, it was not until Lang left Balliol that his peculiar bent became obvious. Up to that time he had been a promiscuous browser upon books, much occupied, moreover, in the struggle with ancient Greek, and immersed in Aristotle and Homer. But in the early days of his settlement at Merton he began to concentrate his powers, and I think there were certain influences which were instant and far-reaching. Among them one was pre-eminent. When Andrew Lang came up from St. Andrews he had found Matthew Arnold occupying the ancient chair of poetry at Oxford. He was a listener at some at least of the famous lectures which, in 1865, were collected as "Essays in Criticism"; while one of his latest experiences as a Balliol undergraduate was hearing Matthew Arnold lecture on the study of Celtic literature. His conscience was profoundly stirred by "Culture and Anarchy" (1869); his sense of prose-form largely determined by "Friendship's Garland" (1871). I have no hesitation in saying that the teaching and example of Matthew Arnold prevailed over all other Oxford influences upon the intellectual nature of Lang, while, although I think that his personal acquaintance with Arnold was very slight, yet in his social manner there was, in early days, not a little imitation of Arnold's aloofness and superfine delicacy of address. It was unconscious, of course, and nothing would have enraged Lang more than to have been accused of "imitating Uncle Matt."
The structure which his own individuality now began to build on the basis supplied by the learning of Oxford, and in particular by the study of the Greeks, and "dressed" by courses of Matthew Arnold, was from the first eclectic. Lang eschewed as completely what was not sympathetic to him as he assimilated what was attractive to him. Those who speak of his "versatility" should recollect what large tracts of the literature of the world, and even of England, existed outside the dimmest apprehension of Andrew Lang. It is, however, more useful to consider what he did apprehend; and there were two English books, published in his Oxford days, which permanently impressed him: one of these was "The Earthly Paradise," the other D. G. Rossetti's " Poems." In after years he tried to divest himself of the traces of these volumes, but he had fed upon their honey-dew and it had permeated his veins.
Not less important an element in the garnishing of a mind already prepared for it by academic and aesthetic studies was the absorption of the romantic part of French literature. Andrew Lang in this, as in everything else, was selective. He dipped into the wonderful lucky-bag of France wherever he saw the glitter of romance. Hence his approach, in the early seventies, was threefold: towards the mediaeval lais and chansons, towards the sixteenth-century Pleiade, and towards the school of which Victor Hugo was the leader in the nineteenth century. For a long time Ronsard was Lang's poet of intensest predilection; and I think that his definite ambition was to be the Ronsard of modern England, introducing a new poetical dexterity founded on a revival of pure humanism. He had in those days what he lost, or at least dispersed, in the weariness and growing melancholia of later years a splendid belief in poetry as a part of the renown of England, as a heritage to be received in reverence from our fathers, and to be passed on, if possible, in a brighter flame. This honest and beautiful ambition to shine as one of the permanent benefactors to national verse, in the attitude so nobly sustained four hundred years ago by Du Bellay and Ronsard, was unquestionably felt by Andrew Lang through his bright intellectual April, and supported him from Oxford times until 1882, when he published " Helen of Troy." The cool reception of that epic by the principal judges of poetry caused him acute disappointment, and from that time forth he became less eager and less serious as a poet, more and more petulantly expending his wonderful technical gift on fugitive subjects. And here again, when one comes to think of it, the whole history repeated itself, since in " Helen of Troy " Lang simply suffered as Ronsard had done in the "Franciade." But the fact that 1882 was his year of crisis, and the tomb of his brightest ambition, must be recognised by every one who closely followed his fortunes at that time. Lang's habit of picking out of literature and of life the plums of romance, and these alone, comes to be, to the dazzled observer of his extraordinarily vivid intellectual career, the principal guiding line. This determination to dwell, to the exclusion of all other sides of any question, on its romantic side is alone enough to rebut the charge of versatility. Lang was in a sense encyclopaedic; but the vast dictionary of his knowledge had blank pages, or pages pasted down, on which he would not, or could not, read what experience had printed. Absurd as it sounds, there was always something maidenly about his mind, and he glossed over ugly matters, sordid and dull conditions, so that they made no impression whatever upon him. He had a trick, which often exasperated his acquaintances, of declaring that he had " never heard " of things that everybody else was very well aware of. He had " never heard the name " of people he disliked, of books that he thought tiresome, of events that bored him; but, more than this, he used the formula for things and persons whom he did not wish to discuss. I remember meeting in the street a famous professor, who advanced with uplifted hands, and greeted me with " What do you think Lang says now? That he has never heard of Pascal! " This merely signified that Lang, not interested (at all events for the moment) in Pascal nor in the professor, thus closed at once all possibility of discussion.
It must not be forgotten that we have lived to see him, always wonderful indeed, and always passionately devoted to perfection and purity, but worn, tired, harassed by the unceasing struggle, the lifelong slinging of sentences from that inexhaustible ink-pot. In one of the most perfect of his poems, " Natural Theology," Lang speaks of Cagn, the great hunter, who once was kind and good, but who was spoiled by fighting many things. Lang was never " spoiled," but he was injured; the surface of the radiant coin was rubbed by the vast and interminable handling of journalism. He was jaded by the toil of writing many things. Hence it is not possible but that those who knew him intimately in his later youth and early middle-age should prefer to look back at those years when he was the freshest, the most exhilarating figure in living literature, when a star seemed to dance upon the crest of his already silvering hair. Baudelaire exclaimed of Theophile Gautier: " Homme heureux! homme digne d'envie! il n'a jamais aimé que le Beau!" and of Andrew Lang in those brilliant days the same might have been said. As long as he had confidence in beauty he was safe and strong; and much that, with all affection and all respect, we must admit was rasping and disappointing in his attitude to literature in his later years, seems to have been due to a decreasing sense of confidence in the intellectual sources of beauty. It is dangerous, in the end it must be fatal, to sustain the entire structure of life and thought on the illusions of romance. But that was what Lang did he built his house upon the rainbow.
The charm of Andrew Lang's person and company was founded upon a certain lightness, an essential gentleness and elegance which were relieved by a sharp touch; just as a very dainty fruit may be preserved from mawkishness by something delicately acid in the rind of it. His nature was slightly inhuman; it was unwise to count upon its sympathy beyond a point which was very easily reached in social intercourse. If any simple soul showed an inclination, in eighteenth-century phrase, to " repose on the bosom " of Lang, that support was immediately withdrawn, and the confiding one fell among thorns. Lang was like an Angora cat, whose gentleness and soft fur, and general aspect of pure amenity, invite to caresses, which are suddenly met by the outspread paw with claws awake. This uncertain and freakish humour was the embarrassment of his friends, who, however, were preserved from despair by the fact that no malice was meant, and that the weapons were instantly sheathed again in velvet. Only, the instinct to give a sudden slap, half in play, half in fretful caprice, was incorrigible. No one among Lang's intimate friends but had suffered from this feline impulse, which did not spare even the serenity of Robert Louis Stevenson. But, tiresome as it sometimes was, this irritable humour seldom cost Lang a friend who was worth preserving. Those who really knew him recognised that he was always shy and usually tired.
His own swift spirit never brooded upon an offence, and could not conceive that any one else should mind what he himself minded so little and forgot so soon. Impressions swept over him very rapidly, and injuries passed completely out of his memory. Indeed, all his emotions were too fleeting, and in this there was something fairy-like; quick and keen and blithe as he was, he did not seem altogether like an ordinary mortal, nor could the appeal to gross human experience be made to him with much chance of success. This, doubtless, is why almost all imaginative literature which is founded upon the darker parts of life, all squalid and painful tragedy, all stories that " don't end well" all religious experiences, all that is not superficial and romantic, was irksome to him. He tried sometimes to reconcile his mind to the consideration of real life; he concentrated his matchless powers on it; but he always disliked it. He could persuade himself to be partly just to Ibsen or Hardy or Dostoieffsky, but what he really enjoyed was Dumas pêre, because that fertile romance-writer rose serene above the phenomena of actual human experience. We have seen more of this type in English literature than the Continental nations have in theirs, but even we have seen no instance of its strength and weakness so eminent as Andrew Lang. He was the fairy in our midst, the wonder-working, incorporeal, and tricksy fay of letters, who paid for all his wonderful gifts and charms by being not quite a man of like passions with the rest of us. In some verses which he scribbled to R.L.S. and threw away, twenty years ago, he acknowledged this unearthly character, and, speaking of the depredations of his kin, he said:
Faith, they might steal me, w? ma will,
And, ken'd I ony fairy hill
I#d lay me down there, snod and still,
Their land to win;
For, man, I maistly had my fill
O' this world's din
His wit had something disconcerting in its impishness. Its rapidity and sparkle were dazzling, but it was not quite human; that is to say, it conceded too little to the exigencies of flesh and blood. If we can conceive a seraph being fanny, it would be in the manner of Andrew Lang. Moreover, his wit usually danced over the surface of things, and rarely penetrated them. In verbal parry, in ironic misunderstanding, in breathless agility of topsy-turvy movement, Lang was like one of Milton's " yellow-skirted fays," sporting with the helpless, moon-bewildered traveller. His wit often had a depressing, a humiliating effect, against which one's mind presently revolted. I recollect an instance which may be thought to be apposite: I was passing through a phase of enthusiasm for Emerson, whom Lang very characteristically detested, and I was so ill-advised as to show him the famous epigram called " Brahma." Lang read it with a snort of derision (it appeared to be new to him), and immediately he improvised this parody:
If the wild bowler thinks he bowls,
Or if the batsman thinks he's bowled,
They know not, poor misguided souls,
They, too, shall perish unconsoled.
I am the batsman and the bat,
I am the bowler and the ball,
The umpire, the pavilion cat,
The roller, pitch and stumps, and all
This would make a pavilion cat laugh, and I felt that Emerson was done for. But when Lang had left me, and I was once more master of my mind, I reflected that the parody was but a parody, wonderful for its neatness and quickness, and for its seizure of what was awkward in the roll of Emerson's diction, but essentially superficial. However, what would wit be if it were profound? I must leave it there, feeling that I have not explained why Lang's extraordinary drollery in conversation so often left on the memory a certain sensation of distress.
But this was not the characteristic of his humour at its best, as it was displayed throughout the happiest period of his work. If, as seems possible, it is as an essayist that he will ultimately take his place in English literature, this element will continue to delight fresh generations of enchanted readers. I cannot imagine that the preface to his translation of " Theocritus," "Letters to Dead Authors," "In the Wrong Paradise," " Old Friends," and " Essays in Little " will ever lose their charm; but future admirers will have to pick their way to them through a tangle of history and anthropology and mythology, where there may be left no perfume and no sweetness. I am impatient to see this vast mass of writing reduced to the limits of its author's delicate, true, but somewhat evasive and ephemeral. genius. However, as far as the circumstances of his temperament permitted, Andrew Lang has left with us the memory of one of our most surprising contemporaries, a man of letters who laboured without cessation from boyhood to the grave, who pursued his ideal with indomitable activity and perseverance, and who was never betrayed except by the loftiness of his own endeavour. Lang's only misfortune was not to be completely in contact with life, and his work will survive exactly where he was most faithful to his innermost illusions.
Author of ' Animal Land', 'Sybil's Garden of Pleasant Beasts' and ' Epiotic Poems '
Sybil, the Beasts we bring to you
Are not so friendly, not so odd,
As those that all amazed we view,
The brutes created by your nod
The Wuss, the Azorkon, and the Pod;
But then our tales are true!
Fauna of fancy, one and all
Obey your happy voice, we know;
A garden zoological
Is all around, where'er you go.
Mellys and Ranks walk to and fro,
And Dids attend your call.
We have but common wolves and bears,
Lion and leopard, hawk and hind,
Tigers, and crocodiles, and hares:
But yet they hope you will be kind,
And mark with sympathetic mind
These moving tales of theirs.
CHILDREN who read this book will perhaps ask whether all the stories are true? Now all the stories are not true; at least, we never meet the Phoenix now in any known part of the world. To be sure, there are other creatures, such as the Mastodon and the Pterodactyl, which are not found alive anywhere, but their bones remain, turned into stones or fossils. It is unlikely that they were changed into rocks by a witch, or by Perseus with the Gorgon's Head, in the Greek story. It must have been done in some other way. However, the bones, now stones, show that there were plenty of queer beasts that have died out. Possibly the sight of the stone beasts and birds made people believe, long ago, in such creatures as Dragons, and the water-bulls that haunt the lochs in the Highlands. One of these was seen by a shepherd about eighty years since, and an account of it was sent to Sir Walter Scott. There is also the Bunyip, a strange creature which both white and black men say that they have seen in the lakes of Australia. Then there is the Sea Serpent; many people have seen him alive, but no specimen of a dead Sea Serpent is in any of the museums. About 1,300 years ago, more or less, St. Columba saw a great water-beast, which lived in the river Ness, and roared as it pursued men; but the Saint put an end to its adventures. For my part, I do not disbelieve that there may be plenty of strange animals which scientific men have not yet dissected and named by long names. Some of the last of these may have been remembered and called Dragons. For, if there were never any Dragons, why did all sorts of nations tell stories about them? The Fire Drake, however, also the Ice Beast, or Remora, do seem very unlikely creatures, and perhaps they are only a sort of poetical inventions. The stories about these unscientific animals are told by Mr. H. S. C. Everard, who found them in very curious old books.
The stories about Foxes are by Miss B. Grieve, who is a great friend of Foxes, and takes their side when they are hunted by the Duke of Buccleuch's hounds. I am afraid she would not tell where the Fox was hiding, if she knew (as she sometimes does), just as you would not have told his enemies, if you had known that Charles II. was hiding in the oak tree. Not that it is wrong to hunt foxes, but a person who is not hunting naturally takes the weaker side. And, after all, the fun is to pursue the fox, not to catch him. The same lady wrote about sheep in ' Sheep Farming on the Border.'
The stories about ' Tom the Bear ' are taken from the French works on natural history by M. Alexandre Dumas. We cannot be sure that every word of them is true, for M. Dumas wrote novels chiefly, which you must read when you are older. One of these novels is about Charles I., and it is certainly not all true, so we cannot believe every word that M. Dumas tells us. He had a great deal of imagination enough for about thirteen thousand living novelists.
Most of the other tales are written by Mrs. Lang, and are as true as possible; while Miss Lang took the adventures of a Lion Tamer, and ' A Boar Hunt by Moonlight,' out of French and German books. The story of greedy Squouncer, by Mrs. Lang, is true, every word, and I wrote 'The Life and Death of Pincher,' who belonged to a friend of mine.
Miss Blackley also did some of the stories. Most of the tales of ' Thieving Dogs and Horses ' were published, about 1819, by Sir Walter Scott, in ' Blackwood's Magazine,' from which they are taken by Mrs. Lang.
I have tried to make it clear that this is not altogether a scientific book; but a great deal of it is more to be depended on than ' A Bad Boy's Book of Beasts,' or Miss Sybil Corbet's books, 'Animal Land,' and ' Sybil's Garden of Pleasant Beasts.'
These are amusing, but it is not true that ' the Garret Lion ate Sybil's mummy.' Indeed, I think that when people, long ago, invented the Fire Drake, and the Ice Beast, they were just like Miss Corbet, when she invented the Kank, the Wuss, and other animals. That is to say, they were children in their minds, though grown up in their bodies. They fancied that they saw creatures which were never created.
If this book has any moral at all, it is to be kind to all sorts and conditions of animals that will let you. Most girls are ready to do this, but boys used to be apt to be unkind to Cats when I was a boy. There is no reason why an exception should be made as to Cats, and a boy ought to think of this before he throws stones or sets dogs at a cat. Now, in London, we often see the little street boys making friends with every cat they meet, but this is not so common in the country. If anything in this book amuses a boy, let him be kind to poor puss, and protect her, for the sake of his obedient friend,
IN former times, when hardly anybody thought of traveling for pleasure, and there were no Zoological Gardens to teach us what foreign animals and birds were really like, men used to tell each other stories about all sorts of strange creatures that lived in distant lands. Sometimes these tales were brought by the travelers themselves, who loved to excite the wonder of their friends at home, and knew there was nobody to contradict them. Sometimes they may have been invented by people to amuse their children; but, anyway, the old books are full of descriptions of birds and beasts very interesting to read about.
One of the most famous of these was the Phoenix, a bird whose plumage was, according to one writer, 'partly red and partly golden,' while its size was ' almost exactly that of the eagle.' Once in five hundred years it ' comes out of Arabia,' says one old writer, ' all the way to Egypt, bringing the parent bird, plastered over with myrrh, to the Temple of the Sun (in the city of Heliopolis), and then buries the body. In order to bring the body, they say, it first forms a ball of myrrh as big as it can carry, puts the parent inside, and covers the opening with fresh myrrh; the ball is then exactly the same weight as at first; thus it brings the body to Egypt, plastered over as I have said, and deposits it in the Temple of the Sun.' This is all that the writer we have been quoting seems to know about the Phoenix; but we are told by someone else that its song was 'more beautiful than that of any other bird,' and that it was 'a very king of the feathered tribes, who followed it in fear, while it flew swiftly along, rejoicing as a bull in its strength.' Flashing its brilliant plumage in the sun, it went its way till it reached the town of Heliopolis. ' In that city,' says another writer, whose account is not quite the same as the story told by the first ' in that city there is a temple made round, after the shape of the Temple at Jerusalem. The priests of that temple date their writings from the visits of the Phoenix, of which there is but one in all the world. And he cometh to burn himself upon the altar of the temple at the end of five hundred years, for so long he liveth. At the end of that time the priests dress up their altar, and put upon it spices and sulphur, and other things that burn easily. Then the bird Phoenix cometh and burneth himself to ashes. And the first day after men find in the ashes a worm, and on the second day they find a bird, alive and perfect, and on the third day the bird flieth away. He hath a crest of feathers upon his head larger than the peacock hath, his neck is yellow and his beak is blue; his wings are of purple colours, and his tail yellow and red in stripes across. A fair bird he is to look upon when you see him against the sun, for he shineth full gloriously and nobly.'
It is very hard to believe that the man who wrote this had not actually seen this beautiful creature, he seems to know it so well, and perhaps sometimes he really fancied that one day it had dazzled his eyes as it darted by. The Phoenix was a living bird to old travelers and those to whom they told their stories, although they are not quite agreed about its habits, or even about the manner of its death. Sometimes, as we have seen, the Phoenix has a father, sometimes there is only one bird. In general it bums itself on a spice-covered altar; but, according to one writer, when its five hundred years of life are over it dashes itself on the ground, and from its blood a new bird is born. At first it is small and helpless, like any other young thing; but soon its wings begin to show, and in a few days they are strong enough to carry the parent to the city of Heliopolis, where, at sunrise, it dies. The new Phoenix then flies back home, where it builds a nest of sweet spices cassia, spikenard and cinnamon; and the food that it loves is another spice, drops of frankincense.
SOME of the creatures that we read about in the books of the old travelers are quite easy to believe in, for, after all, they are not very unlike the birds and beasts that are to be seen to-day in different parts of the world. The Phoenix, though bigger, was not more beautiful than the tiny humming birds that dart through tropical forests, nor more splendid than the noisy macaws, and we can picture it to ourselves without any difficulty. But nobody now will ever go in search of the gourd that grows on a tree, and contains a little flesh-and-blood lamb; or expect, in traveling through Scotland, to find a Barnacle-Goose tree, with ducks instead of fruit, as a very clever gentleman who later became Pope did about four hundred and fifty years ago!
To us, who can look at a giraffe or a rhinoceros any day we choose, there is nothing so particularly strange about a griffin, which had the body of a lion, and the wings and head of an eagle, and was as strong as ten lions, or a hundred eagles. ' He will carry,' we are told, ' flying to his nest, a great horse, or two oxen yoked together as they go at the plough, or a man in full armour. For he hath his talons (claws) so long and so large and great upon his feet, as though they were the horns of great oxen, so that men make cups of them to drink of: and of his ribs and wing-feathers they make a very strong bow, to shoot with arrows and querrels.' A 'querrel,' it is needful to explain, was a bolt shot from a crossbow.
Griffins were not to be met with every day, nor in every country; but they roamed freely through the Caucasus Mountains, in search of gold and precious stones. Indeed, so fond of gold was the griffin, that after he had dug out a large heap with his powerful claws, he would roll about in it with delight, or sit and look at it by the hour together.
But, unluckily, the griffin was not allowed to enjoy this innocent pleasure undisturbed. The gold mines were the property of an ugly one-eyed race, who dwelt near a cave which is the home of the north wind, and when they found they were being quietly robbed, they consulted what they should do to punish the thief. It was not an easy task, for the griffin was much cleverer and quicker than his enemies, and, indeed, he nearly always got the best of it. Whenever they went out to dig for gold and emeralds, the griffin would hide until they had collected a large store, and then jump on them, flapping his great wings, and shaking his terrible claws, till they ran away in terror, dropping all their hard-earned treasure. There was only one way in which they could revenge themselves, and that was by carrying off the griffin's egg, that had the power of curing every disease from which mankind can suffer. But it was seldom that any one was fortunate enough or clever enough to win this prize, for the griffin is a very cunning creature, and more than a match for the one-eyed race. Still, now and then, an egg was discovered by some accident, and then how the whole nation rejoiced and prospered, till the precious thing got broken in some careless hands!
We all know about the battle, in ' Alice in Wonderland,' between the lion and the unicorn for the possession of the crown, and how the unicorn was worsted, and ' beaten all round the town,' by the victorious lion. Since that victory the lion has waved triumphantly from the English flag; but he and the unicorn are deadly foes still, and glare furiously at each other across the arms of England. ' The unicorn and the lion being enemies by nature,' says a man who wrote three hundred and fifty years ago, ' as soon as the lion sees the unicorn, he betakes himself to a tree; whereupon the unicorn, in his fury, and with all the swiftness of his course, running at him, sticks his horn fast in the tree, and then the lion falls upon him and kills him.' The same story is told by other people, and this is what Shakespeare means when he says in one of his plays that unicorns may be betrayed with trees. There was only one way by which a unicorn could be taken alive, for ' the greatness of his mind is such that he chooseth rather to die,' one writer tells us; but this was a way which has been tried ever since the days of Samson, and even before him!
A beautiful young lady was dressed in her best clothes, covered with jewels, and seated in a lonely place in the middle of a forest to wait till the unicorn passed by; the hunters meanwhile lying hidden in a neighbouring thicket. By and-bye a crackling would be heard among the branches, and after a little while the unicorn would come in sight, his sharp horn thrust out from his nose. Directly he saw the young lady he always went straight up to her, and laying his head on her lap, fell fast asleep. Then the hunters would steal out very softly, and throw ropes round the sleeping unicorn, and carry him off to the king's palace, sure of receiving much gold for their prize.
Living or dead the unicorn was held to be of great value for many reasons, but chiefly because his horn was used for drinking cups, and showed at once if any poison mingled with the wine. This was an excellent quality in times when people thought nothing of poisoning their nearest relations, and after the tiniest quarrel both parties went about in fear of their lives. The power of the unicorn's horn sometimes went even further, and dispelled the poison, for we read in an old chronicle of what happened in the waters of Marah, which Moses made sweet by striking them with his staff. ' Evil and unclean beasts,' says the chronicler, ' poison it after the going down of the sun; but in the morning, after the powers of darkness have disappeared, the unicorn comes from the sea and dips its horn into the stream, and thereby dispels the poison, so that the other animals can drink of it during the day.' A few unicorns would be very useful on the banks of the rivers which water our manufacturing towns nowadays.
IN the far-off country ruled by Prester John many wonders were to be seen, and among them hills of gold, 'kept by ants full diligently.' Now anybody who has studied the history of ants knows that there is no end to their ingenuity and cleverness; but they are not usually found as guardians of gold or precious stones. However these ants were not at all like the little brown creatures we are accustomed to see, but as big as dogs, and very savage, thinking nothing of eating a man, and gobbling him up in one mouthful. So the people of the country found that if they wanted the gold they would have to obtain it by a trick, and began to watch and plan how to get the better of the careful ants.
Their chance came in the great heat of summer, as the ants used sometimes to fall asleep in the middle of the day. Then the people who had spies on the watch, day and night, collected hastily all the camels, dromedaries, horses and asses they could find, and loaded them with gold, and were off and out of danger before the ants, who were heavy sleepers, woke up. This did very well so long as the weather was hot, but when it grew cooler the ants worked hard all day, melting the gold in the fire; and then some other stratagem had to be thought of. One thing after another was proposed, but was rejected as being unpractical, till at last a man, who was cleverer than the rest, hit upon a way of turning a well-known quality of all ants against themselves. The industrious creatures could not bear to see anything standing empty or useless, and the treasure seekers, being aware of this, got together several mares, who had young foals, and placed on their backs empty vessels, which were open at the top, and reached nearly to the ground. As soon as the mares approached the hill, and began to graze, out came the ants and began to fill the vessels. While this was going on, the foals had somehow been kept at a distance by the men, but as soon as they guessed the vessels to be almost full, they drove out the little creatures, who began to whinny after their mothers. At the sound of their cries, away galloped the mares, gold and all, and however often this trick was repeated, it never failed to be successful.
There is no time to tell of all the strange monsters that men used to invent just to frighten themselves with! There was a creature called the Odenthos, which had three horns instead of one, and felt a special hatred of elephants. There was the little Amphisbaena, which was something between a lizard and a snake, and had a head at each end of its body, so that it never needed to turn round. This must have made it very creepy to meet, but besides being horrid to look at it was very dangerous, as both of its heads were equally poisonous. Then there were yellow mice as large as ravens, and another kind as big as dogs, that must have looked rather like kangaroos, and a great many others, of which pictures may be found in old books. But none, not even the griffin or the unicorn, was as tierce as the small black basilisk, which was only a foot long. It got its name from a white mark on its forehead the shape of a crown, so they called it ' the king,' from the Greek word ' basileus.'' It seems odd that such a tiny little animal could have caused such dread in men as well as beasts, but it really was a terrible little creature. It was enough for it to hiss for every living thing that heard it to scamper away to its den. If it spat, its venom was so deadly that rocks were rent by it, any bird that flew over it fell down dead into its jaws, and by merely looking at a man it killed the life within him. If he happened to come across a basilisk for the first time, and tried to cut off its head instead of running away, he fared no better, for the poison from its mouth would fly along the blade and cause his instant death.
We may wonder how, after a few years, there was anything but basilisks left on the earth, and perhaps there would not have been, but for the presence of weasels and of crystals. Weasels and basilisks had a natural hatred of each other, and rushed at each other's throats at every opportunity. The battle always ended in the same way, by the death of both combatants, for though ' the weasel overcomes the basilisk with its strong smell, yet it dies withal.' The piece of crystal was more useful still, for if you held it up between you and the basilisk and looked through it the poison of the animal was driven back on itself, and killed the monster instead of the victim.
There are no basilisks nowadays, but their remembrance still lives in many of our proverbs.
The Demon of Cathay and his proceedings recall several of our old fairy tales, especially some of the Arabian Nights. He could talk the language of man and imitate any voice he chose, so that if he found a solitary traveler walking through a forest he would call to him by his name in the tones of some of his friends. The traveler would leave the path and go in the direction of the voice, when the Demon would spring out and devour him. Or he would mimic the roll of drums, or the blast of trumpets, and the poor man in surprise would think he must be drawing near a city, or at any rate approaching an army, so he would go in search of the sounds, only to find, when it was too late, that it was a trick of his deadly enemy's.
Quite as strange as the creatures on dry land were those that dwelt in the sea, for every animal that lived on earth had its fellow in the ocean. We read of sea-bears, sea-foxes, sea-asses, even of sea-peacocks; and now and then one might be found on the beach after a great storm.
Once some Dutch women, going down to the shore after a gale to see what they could pick up, were startled at finding a beautiful girl, with a fish's tail, lying among the shells and seaweeds, beyond high-water mark. This was a mermaid, as anybody else would have known a gentle creature, but without a soul. They took her home and taught her to spin and weave, and to kneel before a crucifix; but she was not happy, and always tried to escape into the sea. The Dutch women did not mean to be cruel, but they liked to have her there, and she was useful to them, so they kept a close watch upon her, and she lingered on in their house for fifteen years, fading gradually away, and dying in the year 1418.
On the opposite side of the North Sea, in the Firth of Forth, as well as in the Baltic and the Ked Sea, sea-monks were at one time quite common, if we may believe a Scotch historian. Like their land brothers, they had a shaven spot on their heads, and wore robes and cowls; but instead of trying to help those who needed it, in one way or another, as land monks were supposed to do, they ate up everybody that came within reach. After this it is a comfort to think that a pair of shoes made from the skin of the sea-monk would last fifteen years!
Having once invented sea-monks, it was easy to go on and invent a sea-bishop, and pictures of him may still be seen in early books of travels with a crozier in his hand and a mitre on his head, and splendid vestments over his shoulders. He must have been a beautiful prize to catch, but he was very rare, and did not flourish out of the water. One was sent to the King of Poland as a present, but he pined away, and at length, finding himself in the presence of some bishops dressed like himself, he implored them by signs to release him from captivity. Overcome with pity for their brother in distress, they prevailed on the King to grant him his freedom, and when he heard the joyful news the sea-bishop at once made the sign of the Cross by way of thanks. The bishops escorted their brother solemnly to the sea-coast, and as he plunged beneath the waves he turned and raised two fingers, in the true form of episcopal blessing, and has never been seen on earth again, as far as we know!
NEARLY a thousand years ago there lived a historian who set down in his book not only accounts of real battles and sieges, but also a strange medley of other facts besides. Of course he thought all he wrote was true, for history, as the dictionary tells us, is ' an account of facts and events' and the business of the historian is to write about them. The stories in this old book about magic, spells, dragons, and monsters may, perhaps, make us smile nowadays, when we are taught that fairy rings are not caused, as we should like to suppose, by the good people, but by ' an agaric or fungus below the surface which has seeded in a circular range.' But it must be remembered that to the men of old time all these matters were very real. Our historian, in common with many wise men who lived hundreds of years after him, believed without doubt that the world was full of strange creatures which lived in pathless woods, in rivers, on mountains, or in the sea. One of his tales is the description of a voyage by King Gorm Haraldson, under the guidance of Thorkill the Icelander, in quest of treasure supposed to be guarded by Giant Garfred, who lived in a ' land where no light was, and where darkness reigned eternally.' ' The whole way was beset with perils, and hardly passable by mortal man; ' nevertheless, three hundred men declared their willingness to follow the King and make the attempt. After many adventures the wind took them to Utter Permland, a region of eternal cold and deep snows, full of pathless forests, haunted by dreadful beasts. King Gorm and his followers were met by a huge man named Gudmund, the brother of Giant Garfred, who gave himself out to be the guardian the most faithful guardian of all men who landed in that spot. In reality he was a treacherous scoundrel, but at the outset he invited them to be his guests, and ' took them up in carriages.' ' As they went forward they saw a river which could be crossed by a bridge of gold. They wished to go over it, but Gudmund restrained them, telling them that, by this channel, Nature had divided the world of men from the world of monsters, and that no mortal track might go further.' Well, here we take leave of King Gorm and Gudmund, and we will cross in imagination that golden bridge into monster-land, though they did not, nor does our historian, give any particular description of the monsters which lived there; but, from other ancient writers, we can get a pretty fair idea of what he would have been likely to say about them if it had suited his purpose. He would certainly have included a stray dragon or two; indeed, elsewhere, he does actually give us two dragon-slaying stories, the first of which concerns King Fridleif, who was wrecked on an unknown island.
He fell asleep, and dreamt that a man appeared before him, and ordered him to dig up a buried treasure, and to attack the dragon that guarded it. To withstand the poison of the creature, he was told to cover himself and his shield with an ox-hide. When he awoke he saw the dragon coming out of the sea, but its scales were so hard that the spears thrown by Fridleif had no effect, and the only thing that happened was the uprooting of several trees by the monster, which wound its tail round them in a fit of temper. However, the King observed that by constantly going down to the sea the dragon had worn a path, hollowing the ground down to the solid rock to such an extent that a bank rose sheer on each hand; so Fridleif seems to have lain in ambush, as it were, in this hollow channel, and to have attacked the creature from beneath, where its armour was less proof against assault; in this way he slew it, unearthed the money, and had it taken off in his ships.
The second story concerns another King, called Ragnar Lodbrog, which means Ragnar ' Shaggy-Breeches.' This is how he came to be known by his nickname, which was bestowed upon him by Herodd, King of the Swedes: Ragnar was in love with Thora, Herodd's daughter, who had received from her father two snakes to rear as pets. They had given to them daily a whole ox upon which to gorge themselves, so they ate and ate, and grew and grew, until at length they became a public nuisance, so huge were they, and so venomous withal that they poisoned the whole country-side with their breath. The Swedish King repented his unlucky gift, and proclaimed that whosoever should remove the pests should marry his daughter. Many tried and perished; but Ragnar was now to prove himself the hero. He asked his nurse for a woollen mantle, and for some thigh-guards that were very hairy; he also put on a dress stuffed with hair, not too cumbersome, but one in which he could easily move about. He took a sword and spear, and, thus accoutred, fared forth to Sweden. When he arrived, he plunged into some water, clothes and all, and allowed the frost to fashion for him, as it were, a coat of mail, impervious to the venom of the snakes. Leaving his companions, he went on to the palace alone; then the combat began. An enormous snake met him, and another, as big, crawled up to help its companion: they belaboured Ragnar with their tails, and spat venom at him from poisonous jaws. Meantime, the King and his courtiers ' betook themselves to safer hiding, watching the struggle from afar, like affrighted little girls.' Ragnar, however, persevered, his frozen dress protecting him from the poison, and with his shield he repelled the attacks of the snakes' teeth; at last, though hard pressed, he thrust his spear through the creatures' hearts, and his battle ended in victory. A great banquet was held in the palace; Ragnar received at once his bride and his nickname of ' Shaggy-Breeches,' as we have seen. He did many other brave deeds, and was a successful rover; but was cruelly put to death by an English King called Ella, who threw him into a pit full of snakes. Ragnar 's device of freezing himself into a suit of ice armour recalls to us a similar plan adopted by a race of monsters universally believed to have lived in Africa; nearly all the old writers of marvels allude to them, under the name of ' Cynocephali,' which means ' dog-headed,' that is to say, their bodies were those of men and women, but their heads were the heads of dogs. They lived upon goat's milk; but although that seems to mean that they dwelt quietly amongst flocks and herds, they seem nevertheless to have been fond of a fight whenever there was the least chance of war with neighbouring tribes. To prepare for battle, like Ragnar, they jumped into water, and then rolled themselves in the dust until their bodies were covered with it; then they allowed the sun, which, of course, is always very powerful in Africa, to bake it into a sort of cake or mud-pie crust, which formed the first layer of defensive armour; when that was sufficiently dry and hard they repeated the process, not once or twice only, but again and again, until they thought their coat of mail, if we may so call it, strong enough to be proof against the arrows of the enemy.
A very worthy writer, who lived about 1600, has told us that he quite believes in the reality of winged dragons. After giving us some wonderful stories about them, he remarks that ' from these and similar tales we can easily see that what we find in other authors about winged dragons is all true.'
Switzerland, especially that part of it round about the Lake of Lucerne, was famous for these creatures. There is opposite to the town of Lucerne a mountain, called Pilatus, from the tradition that Pontius Pilate, when banished by the Roman Emperor Tiberius, wandered there, and threw himself into a black lake at the summit. His ghost is supposed to haunt the place; once a year it appears, clothed in robes of office, and whoever is unlucky enough to see it, will die before the year is out. Mount Pilatus often has on a cap of clouds, and it is said that the weather will be fine, or the reverse, according as Pilatus has his cap off or on. We may well imagine it, therefore, to be a wild, eerie sort of place, in every way suitable for dragons to take up their abode. Our old author then tells us that a peasant one morning was mowing hay; he looked up, and at that moment there issued from Pilatus a huge dragon, which flew across the lake to a mountain on the other side. In its flight there dropped from it something which the peasant could not clearly distinguish, for he was too frightened to observe accurately, and indeed was nearly fainting; but when he recovered, he found in a meadow a mass of what appeared to be solid blood. Enclosed in this was a stone of many colours; this stone turned out to be of priceless value, for it was a certain cure for every disease under the sun; and more especially for such as were caused by poison or bad air of any kind; it was still in Lucerne at the time the author wrote.
Another man of that city, called Victor, saw a still stranger thing on Mount Pilatus. He was a cooper by trade, and one day, when out looking for wood wherewith to make his casks, he lost his way in the recesses of these Alpine rocks and forests. All day long he wandered about, until, at twilight, as he was just about to lie down and rest, he fell into a deep chasm which, owing to the failing light, he had not noticed. Fortunately he fell into some soft mud at the bottom, but though he broke no bones, he fainted. When he recovered, and began to look round, he discovered that there were absolutely no means of escape. The hole was as deep as a well, with steep sides which could not be scaled. Stretching along the whole length of this cavern, and on either side, were other tunnel-like openings, a succession of smaller caves; into one of which he was about to enter when, lo! two dragons came forth from it, and he supposed that his last hour was at hand. The creatures, however, offered him no violence; they were inquisitive, it is true, wondering, no doubt, what sort of new companion this was, who had found his way into their dwelling; but all they did was to rub themselves against the man's body, caressing him, as it were, with their long necks and with their tails, just like a purring cat. For six months Victor lived in this underground cavern. ' But what did he live on? ' you may ask, with Alice, when the Dormouse told his story of Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie in the well. These three sisters, you may remember, lived upon treacle, which was sweet, if unwholesome; but the Lucerne man's diet was even less satisfying, being only the moisture which trickled from the surface of the rock. Learned men have certainly proved that it is possible to keep oneself alive for many weeks without food, if a sufficient supply of water be taken; but I do not remember to have met with any other case where any one lived for six months upon such provender. When spring came round the dragons thought it time to leave their abode; unfolding its wings, the first one flew up, and the second was preparing to follow, when Victor, seizing at once his opportunity and the tail of the dragon, was carried by the creature into the upper world. He found his way back to Lucerne; but a return to his ordinary food, of which he had been for so long deprived, brought on an illness, and in two months he died. His adventures were embroidered upon an ecclesiastical vestment, which used to be shown in the church of St. Leodegarus to any sightseers who might wish to see it.
Tysiące ebooków i audiobooków
Ich liczba ciągle rośnie, a Ty masz gwarancję niezmiennej ceny.
Napisali o nas:
Nowy sposób na e-księgarnię
Czytelnicy nie wierzą
Legimi idzie na całość
Projekt Legimi wielkim wydarzeniem
Spotify for ebooks