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Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic

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Lisa Wolfe
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« on: January 27, 2009, 10:33:01 pm »

Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic
by Thomas Wentworth Higginson
[1898]



It is today considered possible that there was sporadic contact between Europe and North America as early as the Ice Ages. Before the European voyages to the New World of the ages of discovery there were tales of islands far out in the 'world ocean.' Whether these reflected pre-Columbian knowledge of the Americas or were just the human impulse to fill in the blanks is still up for debate.

This book covers many of the best-known (and some lesser-known) legends, from Atlantis, the Irish voyages of Bran, Maelduin and St. Brendan, the elusive Antillia and the Fountain of Youth which the Spanish sought, and the mysterious city of Norumbega. Rounding out the book is a mass of scholarly notes which identify the sources of each tale.

The author, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, was a 19th century Massachusetts author. A Harvard graduate, he distinguished himself during the civil war period both as an early abolitionist and an officer in the Union army who commanded a regiment of former slaves.

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« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2009, 10:33:53 pm »

BY
THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON
Author of "Young Folks' History of the United States," "Malbone," "The Monarch of Dreams," "Cheerful Yesterdays," etc.
With Illustrations by Albert Herter
"Mediæval maps swarmed with fabulous islands; and wild stories of adventurous voyages divided the attention with tales of love and war."--Winsor's "Narrative and Critical History of America," I, 31.

NEW YORK
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS
[1898]
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« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2009, 10:34:19 pm »

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« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2009, 10:34:52 pm »

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« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2009, 10:35:56 pm »

« Last Edit: January 27, 2009, 11:56:27 pm by Lisa Wolfe » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2009, 10:36:15 pm »

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« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2009, 10:36:40 pm »

TO

General Sir George Wentworth Higginson, K. C. B.

Gyldernscroft, Marlow, England

_______________________

THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED, IN TOKEN OF KINDRED AND OF OLD FAMILY FRIENDSHIPS, CORDIALLY PRESERVED INTO THE PRESENT GENERATION

_______________________

THESE LEGENDS UNITE THE TWO SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC AND FORM A PART OF THE COMMON HERITAGE OF THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING RACE




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« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2009, 10:38:01 pm »

p. vii

Preface

HAWTHORNE in his Wonder Book has described the beautiful Greek myths and traditions, but no one has yet made similar use of the wondrous tales that gathered for more than a thousand years about the islands of the Atlantic deep. Although they are a part of the mythical period of American history, these hazy legends were altogether disdained by the earlier historians; indeed, George Bancroft made it a matter of actual pride that the beginning of the American annals was bare and literal. But in truth no national history has been less prosaic as to its earlier traditions, because every visitor had to cross the sea to reach it, and the sea has always been, by the mystery of its horizon, the fury of its storms, and the variableness of the atmosphere above it, the foreordained land of romance.

In all ages and with all sea-going races there has always been something especially fascinating about an island amid the ocean. Its very existence has for all explorers an air of magic. An island offers to us heights rising from depths; it

p. viii

exhibits that which is most fixed beside that which is most changeable, the fertile beside the barren, and safety after danger. The ocean forever tends to encroach on the island, the island upon the ocean. They exist side by side, friends yet enemies. The island signifies safety in calm, and yet danger in storm; in a tempest the sailor rejoices that he is not near it; even if previously bound for it, he puts about and steers for the open sea. Often if he seeks it he cannot reach it. The present writer spent a winter on the island of Fayal, and saw in a storm a full-rigged ship drift through the harbor disabled, having lost her anchors; and it was a week before she again made the port.

There are groups of islands scattered over the tropical ocean, especially, to which might well be given Herman Melville's name, "Las Encantadas," the Enchanted Islands. These islands, usually volcanic, have no vegetation but cactuses or wiry bushes with strange names; no inhabitants but insects and reptiles--lizards, spiders, snakes,--with vast tortoises which seem of immemorial age, and are coated with seaweed and the slime of the ocean. If there are any birds, it is the strange and heavy penguin, the passing albatross, or the Mother Cary's chicken, which has been called the humming bird of ocean, and here finds a place for

p. ix

its young. By night these birds come for their repose; at earliest dawn they take wing and hover over the sea, leaving the isle deserted. The only busy or beautiful life which always surrounds it is that of a myriad species of fish, of all forms and shapes, and often more gorgeous than any butterflies in gold and scarlet and yellow.

Once set foot on such an island and you begin at once to understand the legends of enchantment which ages have collected around such spots. Climb to its heights, you seem at the masthead of some lonely vessel, kept forever at sea. You feel as if no one but yourself had ever landed there; and yet, perhaps, even there, looking straight downward, you see below you in some crevice of the rock a mast or spar of some wrecked vessel, encrusted with all manner of shells and uncouth vegetable growth. No matter how distant the island or how peacefully it seems to lie upon the water, there may be perplexing currents that ever foam and swirl about it--currents which are, at all tides and in the calmest weather, as dangerous as any tempest, and which make compass untrustworthy and helm powerless. It is to be remembered also that an island not only appears and disappears upon the horizon in brighter or darker skies, but it varies its height and shape, doubles itself in mirage, or

p. x

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« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2009, 10:38:32 pm »

looks as if broken asunder, divided into two or three. Indeed the buccaneer, Cowley, writing of one such island which he had visited, says: "My fancy led me to call it Cowley's Enchanted Isle, for we having had a sight of it upon several points of the compass, it appeared always in so many different forms; sometimes like a ruined fortification; upon another point like a great city."

If much of this is true even now, it was far truer before the days of Columbus, when men were constantly looking westward across the Atlantic, and wondering what was beyond. In those days, when no one knew with certainty whether the ocean they observed was a sea or a vast lake, it was often called "The Sea of Darkness." A friend of the Latin poet, Ovid, describing the first approach to this sea, says that as you sail out upon it the day itself vanishes, and the world soon ends in perpetual darkness:--


"Quo ferimur? Ruit ipsa Dies, orbemque relictum
Ultima perpetuis claudit natura tenebris."

Nevertheless, it was the vague belief of many nations that the abodes of the blest lay somewhere beyond it--in the "other world," a region half earthly, half heavenly, whence the spirits of the departed could not cross the water to

p. xi

return;--and so they were constantly imagining excursions made by favored mortals to enchanted islands. To add to the confusion, actual islands in the Atlantic were sometimes discovered and actually lost again, as, for instance, the Canaries, which were reached and called the Fortunate Isles a little before the Christian era, and were then lost to sight for thirteen centuries ere being visited again.

The glamour of enchantment was naturally first attached by Europeans to islands within sight of their own shores--Irish, Welsh, Breton, or Spanish,--and then, as these islands became better known, men's imaginations carried the mystery further out over the unknown western sea. The line of legend gradually extended itself till it formed an imaginary chart for Columbus; the aged astronomer, Toscanelli, for instance, suggesting to him the advantage of making the supposed island of Antillia a half-way station; just as it was proposed, long centuries after, to find a station for the ocean telegraph in the equally imaginary island of Jacquet, which has only lately disappeared from the charts. With every step in knowledge the line of fancied stopping-places rearranged itself, the fictitious names flitting from place to place on the maps, and sometimes duplicating themselves. Where the tradition itself has

p. xii

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« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2009, 10:38:53 pm »

vanished we find that the names with which it associated itself are still assigned, as in case of Brazil and the Antilles, to wholly different localities.

The order of the tales in the present work follows roughly the order of development, giving first the legends which kept near the European shore, and then those which, like St. Brandan's or Antillia, were assigned to the open sea or, like Norumbega or the Isle of Demons, to the very coast of America. Every tale in this book bears reference to some actual legend, followed more or less closely, and the authorities for each will be found carefully given in the appendix for such readers as may care to follow the subject farther. It must be remembered that some of these imaginary islands actually remained on the charts of the British admiralty until within a century. If even the exact science of geographers retained them thus long, surely romance should embalm them forever.

                   CAMBRIDGE, MASS.



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« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2009, 10:39:24 pm »

p. xiii

Contents
I.
 The Story of Atlantis
 1
 
II.
 Taliessin of the Radiant Brow
 5
 
III.
 The Swan-Children of Lir
 17
 
IV.
 Usheen in the Island of Youth
 25
 
V.
 Bran the Blessed
 32
 
VI.
 The Castle of the Active Door
 39
 
VII.
 Merlin the Enchanter
 48
 
VIII.
 Sir Lancelot of the Lake
 63
 
IX.
 The Half-Man
 74
 
X.
 King Arthur at Avalon
 83
 
XI.
 Maelduin's Voyage
 96
 
XII.
 The Voyage of St. Brandan
 108
 
XIII.
 Kirwan's Search for Hy-Brasail
 125
 
XIV.
 The Isle of Satan's Hand
 134
 
XV.
 Antillia, the Island of the Seven Cities
 143
 
XVI.
 Harald the Viking
 168
 
XVII.
 The Search for Norumbega
 186
 
XVIII.
 The Guardians of the St. Lawrence
 196
 
XIX.
 The Island of Demons
 205
 
XX.
 Bimini and the Fountain of Youth
 220
 
 
 Notes
 229
 

 

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« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2009, 10:39:53 pm »

p xv

List of Illustrations

"Sometimes a maiden held up an apple of gold to Niam and Usheen, as their slender white horse dashed across the waves of the ocean"
 Frontispiece
 
 
 Facing page
 
"The hands of Pryderi and Rhiannon were held fast by the enchanted bowl, and their feet by the enchanted slab ; and their joyousness forsook them, and they could not utter a word"
 42
 
"Merlin, changed into the appearance of a fair young squire, by degrees made acquaintance with Vivian, who told him who she was"
 50
 
"And the chair was fastened to a wheel, and the wheel began to turn, and King Arthur went down, down among the floating things, and they wreathed themselves about him till he cried, 'Help! help!'"
 85
 
"The brazen door made a sweet and soothing sound, and they went to sleep for three days and nights. On the fourth day a maiden came who was most beautiful. She greeted each man and said, 'It is long that we have expected you'"
 98
 
"A demon hand sometimes uprose from the islet and plucked away men and even whole boats, which, when once grasped, usually by night, were never seen again, but perished helplessly"
 139
 

 



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« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2009, 10:40:28 pm »

p. 1

I
THE STORY OF ATLANTIS

THE Greek sage Socrates, when he was but a boy minding his father's goats, used to lie on the grass under the myrtle trees; and, while the goats grazed around him, he loved to read over and over the story which Solon, the law-giver and poet, wrote down for the great-grandfather of Socrates, and which Solon had always meant to make into a poem, though he died without doing it. But this was briefly what he wrote in prose:--

"I, Solon, was never in my life so surprised as when I went to Egypt for instruction in my youth, and there, in the temple of Sais, saw an aged priest who told me of the island of Atlantis, which was sunk in the sea thousands of years ago. He said that in the division of the earth the gods agreed that the god Poseidon, or Neptune, should have, as his share, this

p. 2

great island which then lay in the ocean west of the Mediterranean Sea, and was larger than all Asia. There was a mortal maiden there whom Poseidon wished to marry, and to secure her he surrounded the valley where she dwelt with three rings of sea and two of land so that no one could enter; and he made underground springs, with water hot or cold, and supplied all things needful to the life of man. Here he lived with her for many years, and they had ten sons; and these sons divided the island among them and had many children, who dwelt there for more than a thousand years. They had mines of gold and silver, and pastures for elephants, and many fragrant plants. They erected palaces and dug canals; and they built their temples of white, red, and black stone, and covered them with gold and silver. In these were statues of gold, especially one of the god Poseidon driving six winged horses. He was so large as to touch the roof with his head, and had a hundred water-nymphs around him, riding on dolphins. The islanders had also baths and gardens and sea-walls, and

p. 3

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« Reply #13 on: January 27, 2009, 10:40:52 pm »

they had twelve hundred ships and ten thousand chariots. All this was in the royal city alone, and the people were friendly and good and well-affectioned towards all. But as time went on they grew less so, and they did not obey the laws, so that they offended heaven. In a single day and night the island disappeared and sank beneath the sea; and this is why the sea in that region grew so impassable and impenetrable, because there is a quantity of shallow mud in the way, and this was caused by the sinking of a single vast island."

"This is the tale," said Solon, "which the old Egyptian priest told to me." And Solon's tale was read by Socrates, the boy, as he lay in the grass; and he told it to his friends after he grew up, as is written in his dialogues recorded by his disciple, Plato. And though this great island of Atlantis has never been seen again, yet a great many smaller islands have been found in the Atlantic Ocean, and they have sometimes been lost to sight and found again.

There is, also, in this ocean a vast tract of floating seaweed, called by sailors the Sargasso

p. 4

[paragraph continues] Sea,--covering a region as large as France,--and this has been thought by many to mark the place of a sunken island. There are also many islands, such as the Azores, which have been supposed at different times to be fragments of Atlantis; and besides all this, the remains of the vanished island have been looked for in all parts of the world. Some writers have thought it was in Sweden, others in Spitzbergen, others in Africa, in Palestine, in America. Since the depth of the Atlantic has been more thoroughly sounded, a few writers have maintained that the inequalities of its floor show some traces of the submerged Atlantis, but the general opinion of men of science is quite the other way. The visible Atlantic islands are all, or almost all, they say, of volcanic origin; and though there are ridges in the bottom of the ocean, they do not connect the continents.

At any rate, this was the original story of Atlantis, and the legends which follow in these pages have doubtless all grown, more or less, out of this first tale which Socrates told.



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« Reply #14 on: January 27, 2009, 10:41:34 pm »

p. 5

II
TALIESSIN OF THE RADIANT BROW

IN times past there were enchanted islands in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Wales, and even now the fishermen sometimes think they see them. On one of these there lived a man named Tegid Voel and his wife called Cardiwen. They had a son, the ugliest boy in the world, and Cardiwen formed a plan to make him more attractive by teaching him all possible wisdom. She was a great magician and resolved to boil a large caldron full of knowledge for her son, so that he might know all things and be able to predict all that was to happen. Then she thought people would value him in spite of his ugliness. But she knew that the caldron must burn a year and a day without ceasing, until three blessed drops of the water of knowledge were obtained from it; and those

p. 6

three drops would give all the wisdom she wanted.

So she put a boy named Gwion to stir the caldron and a blind man named Morda to feed the fire; and made them promise never to let it cease boiling for a year and a day. She herself kept gathering magic herbs and putting them into it. One day when the year was nearly over, it chanced that three drops of the liquor flew out of the caldron and fell on the finger of Gwion. They were fiery hot, and he put his finger to his mouth, and the instant he tasted them he knew that they were the enchanted drops for which so much trouble had been taken. By their magic he at once foresaw all that was to come, and especially that Cardiwen the enchantress would never forgive him.

Then Gwion fled. The caldron burst in two, and all the liquor flowed forth, poisoning some horses which drank it. These horses belonged to a king named Gwyddno. Cardiwen came in and saw all the toil of the whole year lost. Seizing a stick of wood, she struck the blind man Morda fiercely on the head, but he said, "I am

p. 7

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