The Sea-Serpent - I

The Times (January 1893)

Sir,–The sea-serpent once came in my way. But before I tell a story of what happened, many years ago, I may be permitted to remark that I have not the least objection to the existence of that retiring creature, which, like the classical maiden, always fugit ad salices ; but, unlike her, seems not to desire to be seen. There is no a priori reason that I know of why snake-bodied reptiles, from 50ft. long and upwards, should not disport themselves in our seas, as they did in those of the cretaceous epoch, which, geologically speaking, is a mere yesterday.

A gentleman who had been cruising on the west coast of Scotland sent me an account of an apparition of the monster, backed by the lengthly deposition of a companion, a person of proved intelligence and competency in some departments of scientific work. I read this document attentively, and, when I came to the end of it, I was almost convinced. Unfortunately, there was a second deposition, supposed and intended to be confirmatory, from one of the yacht's crew, a quartermaster, I think. From this, however, it appeared to be beyond doubt that the circumstance under which the first deponent saw the apparition were such as to make it impossible that he could have properly assured himself of the facts to which he testified. He had done what we are all tempted to do–mixed up observations and conclusions from them, as if they rested on the same foundation.

I pointed out the state of the case to my correspondent; and from that day to this I have heard no more of that particular sea-serpent.

The Sea-Serpent - II

The Times (January 1893)

Admiral Mellersh says, "I saw a huge snake, at least 18 feet long," and I have no doubt he believes he is simply stating a matter of fact. Yet his assertion involves a hypothesis of the truth of which I venture to be exceedingly doubtful. How does he know that what he saw was a snake? The neighbourhood of a creature of this kind, within axe-stroke, is hardly conducive to calm scientific investigation, and I can answer for it that the discrimination of genuine sea-snakes in their native element from long-bodied fish is not always easy. Further, that "back fin" troubles me; looks, if I may say so, very fishy.

If the caution about mixing up observations with conclusions, which I ventured to give yesterday, were better attended to, I think we should hear very little either about antiquated sea-serpents or new "mesmerism."


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University