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“ And there in many a stormy vale
The scald hath told his wondrous tale;
LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL.
The Hebrew words “ Than,” “ Thanin,” and “ Thanim," which occur so frequently in the sacred Scriptures, seem to have puzzled the learned, for they sometimes appear as “whales," sometimes as “serpents,"
sea-monsters" and " dragons” in their English dress. That some of the “Thanin” were crocodiles,-particularly the living idol which the Babylonians worshipped according to “the Historie of Bel and the Dragon, which is the fourteenth chapter of Daniel after the Latine, as the apocryphal book is headed in the Bible translated according to the Hebrew and Greeke, and conferred with the best Translations in divers languages : Imprinted at London by ROBERT BARKER, printer to the King's most excellent Maiestie. 1615. Cum Privilegio”-seems generally agreed; and in Egypt the crocodile was one of the symbols of Typhon.
Your crocodile comes of a very ancient house; for, to say nothing of the evidence above hinted at, we think we have proof to show that the great Gangetic crocodile (not the Gavial) now fast retiring before the inroads of steam, was in existence with some of the extinct Saurians or Old-World dragons. What is all the blood of all the Howards to such ancestry?
The Edda, overflowing as it is with fiction, comprises no wilder tale than that of the “ Jormungandr,” the ocean-snake or dragon alluded to by the Wizard of the North in our motto.
Thor, no bad hand at battering serpents, as Fuseli has shown in one of his most characteristic works, was, it appears, wont to solace himself in his hours of relaxation with the contemplative man's recreation, and, accordingly, he went a fishing for this monster. Having set forth his rod in his best style, he baited his hook with a bull's head, and like many other anglers who relate their adventures in trying for a trout of extraordinary dimensions, very nearly caught it:—the said trout being a twelve or fifteen pounder, and although his eyes have been greeted with the devices of half the fishing-tackle shops in London, still coolly enjoying his ancient haunt in the deep glassy eddy that curls by the side of one of the great Thames weirs, where half the mighty river comes thundering down. The snake, however, was not to be had, and is still reserved for the exploits which he is to perform in the battle royal between demons and divinities that is to precede the “ Ragnarockr" or twilight of the gods.
It must have been a very tiny infant Jormungandr that Olaus Magnus has depicted in the shape of a sea-serpent, not above two or three hundred feet long, quietly intruding its head between the main and mizen masts of some “great ammiral,” and cracking the crew like sugared almonds. To the same family must have belonged the “ Reversus” of the Indian sea, by means of which the Cuba fishermen were said to fill their canoes with turtle, et cætera. This serpent-like looking anguilliform entity is figured with a kind of purse proceeding from his crown, and falling in a descending curve over his very sharp pike of a nose upon the head of a devoted seal which, thus “ bonnetted,” and staring with terror and astonishment, is held fast by the Reversus, as the Retiarius of old held his antagonist; whilst a piteous-looking turtle is biding his turn to be taken in like
Not that it is improbable that the highly coloured description of some ancient mariner of the alleged method of fishing with the adhesive Remora, by putting it overboard tied to a long string, till it fastens on some sleeping Testudinarian, which is thus drawn to the boat and secured, may not have run away with the artist's imagination, and produced the grand cut which graces the page of Aldrovandi.
But these legends were of yesterday; nor must we be tempted by Pontoppidan or Egede, nor by any modern sea-serpent or dragon, whether Scandinavian, Caledonian, or American, to forget our petrified old friends, who lead us back to a period long before the fair face of this blest Isle of beauty
“ Arose from out the azure main;"
when the Trilobite adhered where the snail now creeps; and when the extinct sea-dragons rushed through living groves of Encrinites and Pentacrinites, devouring fishes now only known in a fossil state, each other, and occasionally perhaps a Pterodactyle, in a universal round game of snap-dragon.
To arrest the credat, which most probably and pardonably will rise to the lips of those to whom such a scene is now first laid open, we must call in the aid of the Dean of Westminster.
During these ages of reptiles,” says the eloquent author of the “ Bridgewater Treatise,” “ neither the carnivorous nor the lacustrine mammalia of the tertiary periods had begun to appear; but the most formidable occupants, both by land and water, were crocodiles and lizards, of various forms and often of gigantic stature, fitted to endure the turbulence and continual convulsions of the unquiet surface of our infant world.”
“When we see,” continues the Doctor, “ that so large and important a range has been assigned to reptiles among the former population of our planet, we cannot but regard with feelings of new and unusual interest, the comparatively diminutive existing orders of the most ancient family of quadrupeds, with the very name of which we usually associate a sentiment of disgust. We shall view them with less contempt when we learn, from the records of geological history, that there was a time when reptiles not only constituted the chief tenants and most powerful possessors of the earth, but extended their dominion also over the waters of the seas, and that the annals of their history may be traced back through thousands of years antecedent to that latest point in the progressive stages of animal creation when the first parents of the human race were called into existence.”
This it must be granted is startling; but it is not more startling than true : hear Dr. Buckland again :
“ Persons to whom this subject may now be presented for the first time, will receive with much surprise, perhaps almost with incredulity, such statements as are here advanced. It must be admitted that they at first seem much more like the dreams of fiction and romance than the sober results of calm and deli. berate investigation ; but, to those who will examine the evidence of facts upon which our conclusions rest, there can remain
more reasonable doubt of the former existence of these strange and curious creatures, in the times and places we assign, to them, than is felt by the antiquary, who finding the catacombs of Egypt stored with the mummies of men and apes and crocodiles, concludes them to be remains of mammalia and reptiles that have formed part of an ancient population on the banks of the Nile.”
We will now venture to introduce to such of our readers as may be strangers to them, those
“Dragons of the wave"
THE TRUE ENALIOSAURIANS OR ANCIENT SEA DRAGONS.
These marine lizards were cold blooded vertebrate animals, breathing atmospheric air,—zoophagous reptiles, in short, that had suffered a sea-change, adapting them to an aquatic life.
The peculiar modifications of the Saurian type necessary for fitting the animal for its watery career—in other words, the special enaliosaurian characteristics—consist, as Professor Owen points out in his valuable“ Report on British Fossil Reptiles," in the absence of the ball and socket articulations of the bodies of the vertebræ; the position of the nostrils at or near the summit of the head; their separated hæmapophyses ;* and the numerous short and flat digital or finger-bones, which must have been enveloped in a simple, undivided, tegumentary sheath, forming in both the fore and hind extremities, a fin resembling in external appearance the paddle of the cetaceans or whales.
The anatomical structure of this highly interesting race, which has no existing representative, is so modified as to result in two generic types, to which Palæontologists have severally assigned the names of Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus. With the former of these, which was first well defined, we will begin.
At the first glance the skull of an Ichthyosaurus, with its elongated snout and beak-like jaws armed with large destructive teeth, reminds the observer of the cranium of the cetaceous dolphins. But two striking differences soon present themselves ; the first is the reduced development of the cavity for the brain, which is so ample in the comparatively highly-organized Cetacea, and the unanchylosed state of the cranial bones,—both phenomena indicating the lower or reptilian grade of the enaliosaurian: the second is the large size of the eye and of the orbit in which it is set. The external nostrils too, placed at a short distance in front of the orbits, mark the Saurian character of the animal.
The teeth are not lodged in distinct sockets as they are in the
* Professor Owen uses the term hæmapophyses to designate the two inferior laminæ developed generally to protect the great blood-vessels on the under surface of the centrum or body of the vertebræ.
Plesiosaur; they are free at their bases, but inserted in a groove between the outer and inner alveolar or socket-plates, and are more crocodilian than lacertian in their conformation.
This prolonged and formidably armed head, which is known to have reached six feet in length, permitted the opening of the elastic jaws to an enormous extent, and was joined to a very short neck,-so short, indeed, that the animal in the flesh presented in all probability no more appearance of it than a fish or a dolphin exhibits; that is, none at all. The articulating surfaces of the centre of the vertebræ were concave, and, as Professor Owen observes, lead to the inference that they were originally connected together by an elastic capsule filled with fluid, as are the vertebral joints of the back-bone of fishes and of the Perennibranchiate or most fishlike of the reptiles.
The four paddles, two anterior and two posterior, with which the fish-lizard worked its way through seas long since dried up, were more like the fins of fishes than the swimming paws of the whale-tribe; although in external appearance the resemblance to the latter is strong; for the typical number five, which reigns throughout the mammalian hand and foot, however fettered and invested by integument, is here exceeded, and the numerous little phalanges, or joints, resemble the articulated rays of the breast and belly-fins of fishes : besides which many cartilaginous bifurcate rays added to the horny constituents, aided in supporting the tegumentary expansion of the Icthyosaur's paddle.
But there was yet another portion of progressive machinery wanting to complete the outfit of this Preadamite. Professor Owen, with his usual acuteness and soundness, came to the following conclusions as to the structure of the tail :
“With these important modifications of the head, trunk, and extremities in immediate relation to aquatic progression, the law of the correlations of organic structure would lead us to anticipate some corresponding modification of the tail. Accordingly we find the vertebræ of this part to be much more numerous than in the previously described enaliosaurian group.* There is no trace, however, of any confluence of the terminal caudal vertebræ, or of any modification of their elongated neur-and hæmapophysial spines, such as form the characteristic structure supporting the tail of the osseous fishes. The numerous caudal vertebræ gra. dually decrease in size to the end of the tail, where they assume a compressed form; and thus the tail instead of being short and broad as in fishes, is lengthened out as in the crocodiles.”
* The Plesiosauri.