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THE CONVENTIONAL DRAGOA. 383
elements included are also limited. But the Dragon, with its claws, wings, scales, barbed and coiling tail, its fiery breath, forked tongue, and frequent horns, includes the organic, inorganic, the terrestrial and atmospheric, and is the combination of harmful contrivances in nature. Nearly all of the Dragon forms, whatever their original types and their region, are represented in the conventional monster of the European stage, which meets the popular conception. This Dragon is a masterpiece of the popular imagination, and it required many generations to give it artistic shape. Every Christmas he appears in some London pantomime, with aspect similar to that which he has worn for many ages. His body is partly green, with memories of the sea and of slime, and partly brown or dark, with lingering shadow of storm-clouds. The lightning flames still in his red eyes, and flashes from his fire-breathing mouth. The thunderbolt of Jove, the spear of Wodan, are in the barbed point of his tail. His huge wings—batlike, spiked—sum up all the mythical life of extinct Harpies and Vampyres. Spine of crocodile is on his neck, tail of the serpent, and all the jagged ridges of rocks and sharp thorns of jungles bristle around him, while the ice of glaciers and brassy glitter of sunstrokes are in his scales. He is ideal of all that is hard, obstructive, perilous, loathsome, horrible in nature: every detail of him has been seen through and vanquished by man, here or there, but in selection and combination they rise again as principles, and conspire to form one great generalisation of the forms of Pain— the sum of every creature's worst.
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The pre-Munchausenite world—The Colonial Dragon—Io's journey —Medusa—British Dragons—The Communal Dragon—Savage Saviours—A Mimac helper—The Brutal Dragon–Woman protected—The Saint of the Mikados.
THE realm of the Unknown has now, by exploration of our planet and by science, been pretty well pressed into annexation with the Unknowable. In early periods, however, unexplored lands and seas existed only in the human imagination, and men appear to have included them within the laws of analogy as slowly as their descendants so included the planets. The monstrous forms with which superstition now peoples regions of space that cannot be visited could then dwell securely in parts of the world where their existence or non-existence could not be verified. Science had not yet shown the simplicity and unity underlying the superficial varieties of nature; and though Rudolf Raspe appeared many times, and related the adventures of his Baron Munchausen in many languages, it was only a hundred years ago that he managed to raise a laugh over them. It has taken nearly another hundred to reveal the humour of Munchausenisms that relate to invisible and future worlds. The Dragon which now haunts the imagination of a few compulsory voyagers beyond the grave originated in
PRE-MUAWCHA USEMITE WORLD. 385
speculations concerning the unseen shores of equally mythical realms, whose burning zones and frozen seas had not yet been detached from this planet to make the Inferno of another. In our section on Demonology we have considered many of these imaginary forms in detail, limiting ourselves generally to the more realistic embodiments of special obstacles. Just above that formation comes the stratum in which we find the separate features of the previous demonic fauna combining to forms which indicate the new creative power which, as we have seen, makes nature over again in its own image.
Beginning thus on the physical plane, with a view of passing to the social, political, and metaphysical arenas where man has successively met his Dragons, we may first consider the combination of terrors and perils, real and imaginary, which were confronted by the early colonist. I will venture to call this the COLONIAL DRAGON.
This form may be represented by any of those forms against which the Prometheus of Æschylus cautions Io on her way to the realm which should be called Ionia. “When thou shalt have crossed the stream that bounds the continents to the rosy realms of the morning where the sun sets forth, . . . thou shalt reach beyond the roaring sea Cisthene's Gorgonian plains, where dwell the Phorkides,
. and hard by are their three winged sisters, the Snake
haired Gorgons, by mortals abhorred, on whom none of human race can look and live. . . . Be on thy guard against the Gryphons, sharp-fanged hounds of Jove that never bark, and against the cavalry host of one-eyed Arimaspians, dwelling on the gold-gushing fount, the stream of Pluto. Thou wilt reach a distant land, a dark tribe, near to the fount of the sun, where runs the river AEthiops.”
* AEsch. Prom. 790, &c. VOL. T. o
386 COLONIAL DRAGOM.
One who has looked upon Leonardo da Vinci's Medusa at Florence—one of the finest interpretations of a mythologic subject ever painted—may comprehend what to the early explorer and colonist were the fascinations of those rumoured regions where nature was fair but girt round with terrors. The Gorgon's head alone is given, with its fearful tangle of serpent tresses; her face, even in its pain, possesses the beauty that may veil a fatal power; from her mouth is exhaled a vapour which in its outline has brought into life vampyre, newt, toad, and loathsome
nondescript creatures. Here is the malaria of undrained coasts, the vermin of noxious nature. The source of these must be destroyed before man can found his city; it is the fiery poisonous breath of the Colonial Dragon. Most of the Dragon-myths of Great Britain appear to have been importations of the Colonial monsters. Perhaps the most famous of these in all Europe was the Chimaera, which came westward upon coins, Bellerophon having become a national hero at Corinth—almost super
BAEITISH DRAGOMS. 387
seding the god of war himself—and his effigy spread with many migrations. Our conventional figure of St. George is still Bellerophon, though the Dragon has been substituted for Chimaera,_a change which christian tradition and national respect for the lion rendered necessary (Fig. 31). Corresponding to this change in outward representation, the monster-myths of Great Britain have been gradually pressed into service as moral and religious lessons. The Lambton Worm illustrates the duty of attending mass and sanctity of the sabbath; the demon serpents of Ireland and Cornwall prove the potency of holy exorcism; and this process of moralisation has extended, in the case of the Boar, whose head graces the Christmas table at Queen's College, Oxford, to an illustration of the value of Aristotelian philosophy. It was with a volume of Aristotle that the monster was slain, the mythologic affinities of the legend being quaintly preserved in the item that it was thrust down the boar's throat. But these modifications are very transparent, the British legends being mainly variants of one or two original myths which appear to have grown out of the heraldic devices imported by ancient families. These probably acquired realistic statement through the prowess and energy of chieftains, and were exaggerated by their descendants, perhaps also connected with some benefit to the community, in order to strengthen the family tenure of its estates. For this kind of duty the Colonial Dragon was the one usually imported by the family romancer or poet. The multiplication of these fables is, indeed, sufficiently curious. It looks as if there were some primitive agrarian sentiment which had to be encountered by aid of appeals to exceptional warrant. The family which could trace its title to an estate to an ancestor who rescued the whole district, was careful to preserve some memorial