Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. — G. K. Chesterton

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe




How the Baron Became a Second Jonah

On the return journey to Europe we had already doubled the Cape of Good Hope, when I begged the captain to let me land on the little Island of St. Helena. 'What do you want there?' I asked the captain. 'Nothing but to visit the rocky island,' I replied. To please me he complied with my request; and although there is nothing of special interest to be seen, I cannot help feeling that this little Island of St. Helena will one day become of great political importance, though I cannot tell you how or why.

"Just as I was leaving the island, we were hailed by an English ship and, after ascertaining the name of our vessel and its destination, the English captain requested to be allowed to come on board. He proved to be an old friend of my cousin's, and after he had taken his leave my guardian told me that, at the Englishman's request, he had undertaken to deliver some important papers to the commander of the fleet in the West Indies.

"I was by no means displeased to have our voyage thus prolonged, for I was anxious to pass through the Gulf Stream and convince myself that all the tales I had heard about it were really true. The weather was exceedingly warm, and on sunny days the water was so hot that we had only to dip eggs or meat in it and draw then out properly cooked.

"The most surprising thing of all was that large shoals of fish swam gaily round the ship, but as soon as they were caught and exposed to the air they died immediately, and, since they were ready cooked, could be eaten at once, and tasted delicious. The question of how it was possible that completely cooked fish could swim about in the boiling sea-water puzzled us for some time. At length the explanation occurred to us that the water only became hot by degrees, and that the fish gradually accustomed themselves to the higher temperature; but, naturally, when exposed to the cooler air, the heat struck inwards and killed them. So there was nothing so very wonderful in it after all.

"We had one very remarkable adventure when we were sailing eastwards from Newfoundland; our ship struck with great force against something which we all took to be a rock. But no rock was marked on our chart and, upon heaving the lead, we could find no bottom even at five hundred fathoms. The most incomprehensible circumstance was that we not only lost our rudder, but our bowsprit broke in the middle, and all the masts were split from top to bottom. One poor fellow, who was aloft furling the mainsail, was flung at least three miles from the ship before he fell into the water; fortunately he saved his life by seizing hold of the tail of a large sea-gull and guiding it close to the ship, when we were able to take him on board. So great was the shock, that all the people between decks were thrown violently against the floors above them; my head was bent quite out of place, and it was some months before it regained its natural position.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
HE SEIZED THE TAIL OF A LARGE SEA-GULL.


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"Whilst we were all in a state of amazement at the unaccountable confusion in which we were involved, everything was explained by the sudden appearance of a huge whale, which had been basking in the sun, asleep, within a few feet of the surface of the water. The monster was so annoyed with the disturbance which our ship had caused him, that he beat in all the gallery with his tail, and almost at the same instant took the sheet-anchor which was suspended from the prow, between his teeth, and swam with the ship at least an hundred miles in thirteen hours. We were close on the American mainland, when fortunately the cable broke and, by the impetus we had received, we were carried safely to the mouth of the river St. Lawrence.

'Here we repaired the damages our ship had sustained, and when, some time after, we passed the spot where we had struck, we found the whale floating dead on the water; the body measured, without exaggeration, at least half a mile in length! As we could take but a small quantity of such a monstrous animal on board, with much difficulty we cut his head off, where, to our great joy, we found our anchor attached tc about forty fathoms of cable, sticking in a hollow tooth on the left side of the jaw.

"We continued our voyage, and once more 1 fell into great danger. On a hot summer morning, when we were becalmed, I was enjoying a swim in the sea, when suddenly an immense fish with jaws widely extended, made towards me.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
I DIVED DOWN HIS MOUTH.


"It was impossible to escape, since fish swim far more quickly than human beings, and I was too far from the ship to cry for help. I therefore made myself into as small a compass as possible, in order to avoid hurting myself against the monster's formidable rows of teeth, and dived down his mouth. The space inside was but narrow and as dark as night, but the warmth was by no means unpleasant.

"My movements gave my host severe indigestion, and he sought by all possible means to get rid of me. Perceiving this, I started performing Scotch reels and Irish jigs, though I did not much feel in a dancing mood. This pleased the fish so little that he uttered piercing cries and threw his body half out of the water. The crew of an Italian merchant ship, which happened to be sailing past, had their attention drawn to this sight, and in a few minutes the fish was skillfully harpooned. I became aware of this from the fact that all the creature's movements had ceased. The sailors hauled him on board, and I heard them discussing how they should cut open the fish in order to secure the largest quantity of oil.

"As I understood Italian very well, this conversation made me somewhat uneasy, for it was very probable I might be injured by the great knives with which they were about to cut up the fish. I crouched down in the middle of the body and waited as calmly as I could, but with great uneasiness, for the sailors to begin their carving operations.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
I TORE OPEN THE WALLS OF MY PRISON.


"Fortunately for me they began at the left side, and directly I perceived the first gleam of light I began to sing in a melodious voice an Italian song. I had scarce uttered the first few words when the sailors burst into shrieks of terror, and all, except the cook, fled to the remotest end of the ship. I tore open the walls of my prison, and the sailor's shrieks turned to cries of joy when they saw me emerge from the fish.

"They hastened to bring me food and supply me with clothing, for both of which you may be sure I was exceedingly thankful. The actual time I had been imprisoned was only seven hours, but it seemed longer by reason of my strange situation and the bad air."