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PAGE 2

Among The Merrows – A Sketch Of A Great Aquarium
by [?]

For a long time Jack could get no nearer view of “the sea-gentleman with the cocked-hat,” but at last, one stormy day, when he had taken refuge in one of the caves along the coast, “he saw, sitting before him, a thing with green hair, long green teeth, a red nose, and pig’s eyes. It had a fish’s tail, legs with scales on them, and short arms like fins. It wore no clothes, but had the cocked-hat under its arm, and seemed engaged thinking very seriously about something.”

As I copy these words–It wore no clothes, but had the cocked-hat under its arm, and seemed engaged thinking very seriously about something–it seems to me that the portrait is strangely like something that I have seen. And the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that the type is familiar to me, and that, though I do not live in a fairy story, I have been among the Merrows. And further still that any one who pleases may go and see Coomara’s cousins any day.

There can be no doubt of it! I have seen a Merrow–several Merrows. That unclothed, over-harnessed form is before me now; sitting motionless on a rock, “engaged thinking very seriously,” till in some sudden impulse it rises, turns up its red nose, makes some sharp angular movements with head and elbows, and plunges down, with about as much grace as if some stiff, red-nosed old admiral, dressed in nothing but cocked-hat, spectacles, telescope, and a sword between his legs, were to take a header from the quarter-deck into the sea.

I do not want to make a mystery about nothing. I should have resented it thoroughly myself when I was young. I make no pretence to have had any glimpses of fairyland. I could not see Shriny when I was eight years old, and I never shall now. Besides, no one sees fairies now-a-days. The “path to bonnie Elfland” has long been overgrown, and few and far between are the Princes who press through and wake the Beauties that sleep beyond. For compensation, the paths to Mother Nature’s Wonderland are made broader, easier, and more attractive to the feet of all men, day by day. And it is Mother Nature’s Merrows that I have seen–in the Crystal Palace Aquarium.

How Mr. Croker drew that picture of Coomara the Merrow, when he probably never saw a sea crayfish, a lobster, or even a prawn at home, I cannot account for, except by the divining and prophetic instincts of genius. And when I speak of his seeing a crayfish, a lobster, or a prawn at home, I mean at their home, and not at Mr. Croker’s. Two very different things for our friends the “sea-gentlemen,” as to colour as well as in other ways. In his own home, for instance, a lobster is of various beautiful shades of blue and purple. In Mr. Croker’s home he would be bright scarlet–from boiling! So would the prawn, and as solid as you please; who in his own home is colourless and transparent as any ghost.

Strangely beautiful those prawns are when you see them at home. And that one seems to do in the Great Aquarium; though, I suppose, it is much like seeing land beasts and birds in the Zoological Gardens–a poor imitation of their free life in their natural condition. Still, there is no other way in which you can see and come to know these wonderful “sea gentlemen” so well, unless you could go, like Jack Dogherty, to visit them at the bottom of the sea. And whilst I heartily recommend every one who has not seen the Aquarium to visit it as soon as possible, let me describe it for the benefit of those who cannot do so at present. It may also be of some little use to them hereafter to know what is most worth seeing there, and where to look for it.