Anguish, by August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck, c. 1878. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.


Volume VI, Number 2 | spring 2013


Man and Beast

By Lewis H. Lapham

Michel de Montaigne once considered, “When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime for her more than she is to me?”



In 1610, in the harbor of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Richard Whitbourne saw a “strange creature” that was “beautiful” and had “blue streaks resembling hair” and a “hinder part” that pointed “like a broad-hooked arrow.” When it attempted to climb into his boat, one of his men “struck it full blow on the head, whereby it fell off from them.” He supposed that it was a mermaid. Two years earlier, while aboard a ship near Norway, Henry Hudson reported that “one of our company, looking overboard, saw a mermaid,” as her “back and breasts were like a woman’s,” “her skin very white,” and her tail “like the tail of a porpoise, and speckled like mackerel.”

There are some who, if a cat accidentally comes into the room, though they neither see it nor are told of it, will presently be in a sweat and ready to die away.

—Increase Mather, 1684