Take the ayre? Recreation? Greatly delighted? What the suck?

March 3, 2008

A while ago I was reading a translation of Lodovico Guicciardini’s account of his travels in the Low Countries, Descrittione di Lodovico Guicciardini patritio fiorentino di tutti i Paesi Bassi altrimenti detti Germania inferiore (1567)—published in English in 1597 as The Description of the Low Countreys. It’s an informal and appealing work, of pleasantly varied interest, but does contain this remarkable entry on the Isle of Schellinck (incidentally I have silently altered the use of the ‘long s’. It’s pretty funny in, say, early editions of Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici – ‘Di∫dain to ∫uck Divinity from the Flowers of Nature’ for instance – but all too confusing without a suitably tailored font and ligatures.)

This is an Ilande in which are some villages abounding with excellent good pastures, greate plentie of Cattell and excellent good fish, especialle Dog-fish, the taking wherof is verie strange and ridiculous, for you shall understand that the Ilande men disguise themselves like Beasts, and in that attire go to the Seaside at such times as they knowe that these fishes will come forth of the sea to take the ayre for their recreation upon the shore, then these diguised men fall and dauncing and leaping with the which sport the fishes being greatly delighted are by the means drawne far from the Sea, while in the meane time nets are pitched betweene the Sea and them, which being done, the dauncers throwe off there digsuised apparell and discovere themselves, wherewith the fishes being astonished, flee towards the Sea and are taken in the nets.

I find it difficult to adequately explain this passage, although three alternatives seem available –

1) He didn’t actually go to Schellinck, and despite sort of implying that he has seen this curious custom, was having his leg pulled (or he totally misunderstood what the person was saying – possible in an area with so many dialects. It is a pretty total misunderstanding though)

2) Something of the sort actually took place and, as it is clearly described as a custom, also worked.

3) He was on drugs.

Anyone who can enlighten me will, on application, be bought a pint.