Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Mysterious Tale...or, Perhaps, a Tail

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’d found an intriguing article in a copy of La Belle Assemblèe, and I thought you might find it interesting as well. Is it a hoax—a story constructed purely to titillate and entertain? Or did two young Scottish ladies see something magical on that sunny January day?

From the September 1809 edition:


We give the following letter, leaving our readers to attach what credit to it they please:

Letter from Miss Mackay, daughter of the Reverend David Mackay, Minister of Reay, to Mrs. Innes, Dowager of Sandside.

Reay Manse, May 25, 1809

MADAM,—to establish the truth of what has hitherto been considered improbable and fabulous, must at all times be considered a difficult task, and I have not the vanity to think that my testimony alone would be sufficient for this purpose; but when to this is added that of four others, I hope it will have some effect in removing the doubts of those, who may suppose that the wonderful appearance I reported having seen in the sea on the 12th of January, was not a mermaid, but some other uncommon, though less remarkable, inhabitant of the deep. As I would willingly contribute to remove the doubt of the sceptical on this subject, I beg leave to state to you the following account, after premising that my cousin, whose name is affixed along with mine, was one of the four witnesses who beheld with me this uncommon spectacle.

While she and I were walking by the sea shore, on the 12th of January, about noon, our attention was attracted by seeing three people who were on a rock at some distance, shewing signs of terror and astonishment at something they saw in the water; on approaching them, we distinguished that the object of their wonder was a face resembling the human countenance, which appeared floating on the waves; at that time nothing but the face was visible; it may not be improper to observe, before I proceed farther, that the face, throat, and arms, are all I can attempt to describe, all our endeavours to discover the appearance and position of the body unavailing. The sea at that time ran very high, and as the waves advance, the Mermaid gently sunk under them, and afterwards reappeared.

The face seemed plump and round, the eyes and nose were small, the former were of a light grey colour, and the mouth was large, and from the shape of the jaw-bone, which seemed straight, the face looked short, as to the inside of the mouth I can say nothing, not having attended to it, though sometimes open. The head was exceeding round, the hair thick and long, of a green oily cast, and appeared troublesome to it, the waves generally throwing it down over the face; it seemed to feel the annoyance, and as the waves retreated, with both its hands frequently threw back the hair, and rubbed its throat, as if to remove any soiling it might have received from it. The throat was slender, smooth, and white; we did not think to observe whether it had elbows, but from the manner in which it used its arms, I must conclude that it had. The arms were very long and slender, as were the hands and fingers, the latter were not webbed. The arms, one of them at least, was frequently extended over its head, as if to frighten a bird that hovered over it, and seemed to distress it much; when that had no effects it sometimes turned quite round several times successively. At a little distance we observed a seal. It sometimes laid its right hand under its cheek, and in this position floated for some time. We saw nothing like hair or scales on any part of it, indeed the smoothness of the skin particularly caught our attention. The time it was discernable to us was about an hour. The sun was shining clearly at the time; it was distant from us a few yards only. These are the few observation made by us during the appearance of this strange phenomenon.

If they afford you any satisfaction, I shall be particularly happy. I have stated nothing but what I clearly recollect; as my cousin and I had frequently, prior to this period, combated an assertion which is very common among the lower class here, that Mermaids had frequently been seen on this coast, our evidence cannot be thought biased by any former prejudice in favour of the existence of this wonderful creature.

To contribute in any degree to your pleasure or amusement, will add to the happiness of,—Madam, your greatly obliged,

(signed) ELIZ. MACKAY,

So what do you think they saw that day? I don't know about you, but I think I feel a story coming on...!


QNPoohBear said...

For sure there is a story there. If you ask my niece, mermaids ARE real and she IS one!

Marissa Doyle said...

I bow to her superior knowledge. :)