Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Preface

I shall not here repeat what AElian and Pliny among the antients, or Olaus Magnus, Rhannusius, Alvarez and other Moderns have write concerning Sea-Animals in human shape; which probably gave occasion to the Neireids, Tritons, and Syrens of the Antient Poets, and all the numerous court of Neptune and Tethys. I shall not pretend to decide whether these Marines have not sometimes (at least as to their outward parts) been found with bodies proportionable, and similar to ours; or whether the Sea-Nymph be (as she is usually painted) like Horace's.

Mullier formosa superne.

With lovely face, and flowing hair
The Nereid looks divinely fair;
But ah! no farther seek to know,
A fishy tail is all below.

Of this kind was the girl kept at Harlem, who was so far rational, as to be taught to spin, to understand those about her, and to express her devotion at prayers. We have an account in our English Chronicles of a Sea-Inhabitant taken entirely human. Nay, if we believe history, the sea has (as Du Bartas expresses it ) The Mitred Bishop, and the Cowled Fryar. Alexander ab Alexandro, after several other stories of the like nature, gives us the following relation, which because it carries with it an air of truth, and is somewhat agreeable, I shall translate at length. 'Theodorus Gaza (says he) a learned Greek, living in the Pelopponesus, saw a Nereid, with shoals of the fish, driven to shore by the violence of a sudden storm: Her face was perfectly human, and not disagreeable; her body scaly, and from the middle downward she seems to have been not unlike our common sign-post mermaids. The people flock'd together in great numbers to sea this strange monster; who when she perceiv'd there was no possibility of escaping, show'd all the marks of sorrow and distress. But when the water had quite left her, and she saw herself expos'd as an object of wonder to the multitude, she fetch'd the deepest sights that grief could express, and burst out at length into a flood of tears. Gaza, who was a man naturally tender, and compassionate, took pity on this distressed lady, and perswaded the people to suffer her to return to her native element.' The same author tells us, that Georgius Trapezuntius (another famous modern Greek) affirm'd, 'That he saw, as he was walking on the shore, a handsom girl from the waist upward, who by her often diving seem'd sporting herself  in the water; and when she perceived she was discovered, immediately disappear'd.' However it be, the ancient Nymphs and Nereids, and the modern mermaids are sufficient grounds to free the supposition from absurdity, of extravagance: And since we have gone so far as to have found the Inhabitants in the planets, I hope I shall no be condemn'd for having discover'd the manners and conversation of a people nearer home: Besides we know, that the agreeable images, which may be drawn from things on earth, have been long since exhausted, but it will be allow'd that the beauties (as well as the riches) of the sea are yet in great measure untouch'd: And those who have made some attempts that way, have only given us a few Piscatory Eclogues, like the first Coasters, they always keep within sight of the shore, and never venture into the ocean. Lucian indeed has something of this nature, but as his design was chiefly to expose the heathen deities, so it must be own'd that the best of our modern productions are owing to those hints which were taken from that great wit.

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