Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
How the Herring Became King of All Fishes
By Thomas Nashe (1567–1601)
From Lenten Stuff

SO it fell upon a time and tide, though not upon a holiday, a falconer bringing over certain hawks out of Ireland, and airing them above hatches on shipboard, and giving them stones to cast and scour, one of them broke loose from his fist ere he was aware; which being in her kingdom, when she was got upon her wings, and finding herself empty-gorged after her casting, up to heaven she towered to seek prey, but there being no game to please her, down she fluttered to the sea again, and a speckled fish playing above the water, at it she struck, mistaking it for a partridge. A shark or tuberon that lay gaping for the flying fish hard by, what did me he, but seeing the mark fall so just in his mouth, chopped aloft, and snapped her up bells and all, at a mouthful. The news of this murderous act carried by the kingfisher to the ears of the land fowls, there was nothing but arm, arm, to sea, to sea, swallow and titmouse; to take chastisement of that trespass of blood and death committed against a peer of their blood royal. Preparation was made, the muster taken, the leaders allotted, and had their bills to take up pay; an old goshawk for general was appointed, for marshall of the field a sparrowhawk, whom for no former desert they put in office, but because it was one of their lineage had sustained that wrong, and they thought would be more implacable in condoling and commiserating. The peacocks, with their spotted coats and affrighting voices, for heralds they picked and enlisted, and the cockadoodling cocks for their trumpeters (look upon any cock, and look upon any trumpeter, and see if he look not as red as a cock after his trumpeting, and a cock as red as he after his crowing). The kestrels or windsuckers that, filling themselves with wind, fly against the wind evermore, for their full-sailed standard-bearers, the cranes for pikemen, and the woodcocks for demi-lances, and so of the rest every one according to that place by nature he was most apt for. Away to the land’s end they trudge, all the sky-bred chirpers of them. When they came there, æquora nos terrent et ponti tristis imago. They had wings of goodwill to fly with, but no webs on their feet to swim with: for except the water-fowls had mercy upon them, and stood their faithful confederates and back-friends, on their backs to transport them, they might return home like good fools, and gather straws to build their nests, or fall to their old trade of picking worms. In sum, to the water-fowls unanimately they resort, and besought duck and drake, swan and goose, halcyons and sea-pies, cormorants and seagulls, of their oary assistance and aidful furtherance in this action.
  They were not obdurate to be entreated, though they had little cause to revenge the hawks’ quarrel from them, having received so many high displeasures, and slaughters, and rapines of their race, yet in a general prosecution private feuds they trod underfoot, and submitted their endeavours to be at their limitation in everything.  2
  The puffin that is half fish, half flesh (a John indifferent, and an ambodexter betwixt either) bewrayed this conspiracy to Proteus’ herds, or the fraternity of fishes; which the greater giants of Russia and Iceland, as the whale, the sea-horse, the norse, the wasserman, the dolphin, the grampus, fleered and jeered at as a ridiculous danger, but the lesser pigmies and spawn of them, thought it meet to provide for themselves betime, and elect a king amongst them that might daraine 1 them to battle, and under whose colours they might march against these birds of a feather, that had so colleagued themselves together to destroy them.  3
  Who this king should be, beshackled their wits, and laid them a dry ground every one. No ravening fish they would put in arms, for fear after he had everted their foes, and fleshed himself in blood, for interchange of diet he would raven up them.  4
  Some politic delegatory Scipio, or witty-pated Petito, like the heir of Laertes, Ulysses (well-known unto them by his prolixious sea-wandering, and dancing on the topless tottering hills) they would single forth, if it might be, whom they might depose when they list, if he should begin to tyrannise, and such a one as of himself were able to make a sound party if all failed, and bid base 2 to the enemy with his own kindred and followers.  5
  None won the day in this but the herring, whom all their clamorous suffrages saluted with vive le roi, God save the King, God save the King, save only the plaice and the butte, 3 that made wry mouths at him, and for their mocking have wry mouths ever since, and the herring ever since wears a coronet on his head, in token that he is as he is. Which had the worst end of the staff in that sea-journey or cannazado, 4 or whether some fowler with his nets (as this host of feathermongers were getting up to ride double) involved or entangled them, or the water-fowls played them false (as there is no more love betwixt them than betwixt sailors and land soldiers) and threw them off their backs, and let them drown when they were launched into the deep, I leave to some Alfonsus, Poggius 5 or Æsop to unwrap, for my pen is tired in it: but this is notorious, the herring from that time to this hath gone with an army, and never stirs abroad without it, and when he stirs abroad with it, he sends out his scouts or sentinels before him, that oftentimes are intercepted, and by their parti-coloured liveries descried, whom the mariners after they have took, use in this sort: eight or nine times they swinge them about the mainmast, and bid them bring so many last of herrings as they have swinged them times, and that shall be their ransom, and so throw them into the sea again. King by your leave, for in your kingship I must leave you, and repeat how from white to red you chameleonised.  6
Note 1. daraine = array (connected with arranger). [back]
Note 2. bid base = defy. [back]
Note 3. butte.  Probably, the halibut. [back]
Note 4. cannazado.  Possibly a malformed word from the Spanish cañazo, a hostile blow, or rudeness. Or perhaps from the Italian cannicciato, a palisade of reeds to stop fish. [back]
Note 5. Alfonsus, Alphonso the Wise, of Castile. Poggius, Poggio Bracciolini, the noted scholar, repeatedly cited by Nash. [back]

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