This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
We shall conclude this short sketch of some of the curiosities respecting fishes, with an account of The Kraken. - This is a most amazingly large sea animal, said to be seemingly of a crab-like form; the credit of whose existence rests upon the evidence produced by Bishop Pontoppidan, in his Natural History of Norway.
"Our fishermen (says the author) unanimously and invariably affirm, that, when they are several miles from the land, particularly in the hot summer days, and, by their distance, and the bearings of some points of land, expect from eighty to a hundred fathoms depth, and do not find but from twenty to thirty, - and especially if they find a more than usual plenty of cod and ling, - they judge the kraken to be at the bottom: but if they find by their lines that the water in the same place still shallows on them, they know he is rising to the surface, and row off with the greatest expedition till they come into the usual soundings of the place; when, lying on their oars, in a few minutes the monster emerges, and shows himself sufficiently, though the whole body does not appear. Its back or upper part, which seems an English mile and a half in circumference, (some have affirmed, considerably more than this,) looks at first like a number of small islands, surrounded with something that floats like sea-weeds; at last several bright points of horns appear, which grow thicker the higher they emerge, and sometimes stand up as high and large as the masts of middle-sized vessels. In a short time it slowly sinks, which is thought as dangerous as its rising; as it causes such a swell and whirlpool as draws every thing down with it, like that of Maelstrom."
The Bishop justly regrets the omission of probably the only opportunity that ever has or maybe presented of surveying it alive, or seeing it entire when dead. This, he informs us, once did occur, on the credit of the Rev. Mr. Frus, minister at Nordland, and vicar of the college for promoting Christian knowledge; who informed him, that in 1680, a kraken (perhaps a young and careless one, as they generally keep several leagues from land) came into the waters that run between the rocks and cliffs near Alstahong; where, in turning about, some of its long horns caught hold of some adjoining trees, which it might easily have torn up, but that it was also entangled in some clefts of the rocks, whence it could not extricate itself, but putrefied on the spot.
Terrible Adventure With A Shark
Our author has heard of no person destroyed by this monster ; but he relates a report of the danger of two fishermen, who came upon a part of the water full of the creature's thick slimy excrements, (which he voids for some months, as he feeds for some other;) they immediately strove to row off, but were not quick enough in turning to save the boat from one of the kraken's horns, which so crushed the head of it, that it was with difficulty they saved their lives on the wreck, though the weather was perfectly calm, the monster never appearing at other times. His excrement is said to be attractive of other fish on which he feeds; which expedient was probably necessary, on account of his slow unwieldy motion, to his subsistence ; as this slow motion again may be necessary to the security of ships of the greatest force and burden, which must be overwhelmed on encountering such an immense animal, if his velocity were equal to his weight; the Norwegians supposing, that if his arms, on which he moves, and with which he takes his food, were to lay hold of the largest man of war, they would pull it down to the bottom.
In confirmation of the reality of this animal, our learned author cites Debes's Description of Faroe, for the existence of certain islands, which suddenly appear and as suddenly vanish. Many seafaring people, he adds, give accounts of such, particularly in the North Sea; which their superstition has either attributed to the delusion of the Devil, or considered as inhabited by evil spirits. But our honest historian, who is not for wronging even the Devil himself, supposes such mistaken islands to be nothing but the kraken, called by some the soe trolden, or sea-mischief; in which opinion he was greatly confirmed by the following quotation of Dr. Hierne, a learned Swede, from Baron Grippenheilm; and which is certainly a very remarkable passage, viz. "Among the rocks about Stockholm, there is sometimes seen a tract of land, which at other times disappears, and is seen again in another place. Bursaeus has placed it as an island, in his map. The peasants, who call it Gummars-ore, say, that it is not always seen, and that it lies out in the open sea; but I could never find it. One Sunday, when I was out amongst the rocks, sounding the coast, it happened, that in one place I saw something like three points of land in the sea, which surprised me a little, and I thought I had inadvertently passed them over before. Upon this, I called to a peasant, to inquire for Gummars-ore; but when he came, we could see nothing of it; upon which, the peasant said, all was well, and that this prognosticated a storm, or a great quantity of fish." To which our author subjoins, "Who cannot discover that this Gummars-ore, with its points and prognostications of fish, was the kraken, mistaken by Buraeus for an island, which may keep itself about that spot where he rises?" He takes the kraken, doubtless, from his numerous tentaculi, which serve him as feet, to be of the polypus kind; and the contemplation of its enormous bulkled him to adapt a passage from Ecclesiasticus, xliii. 31, 32. to it Whether by it may be intended the "dragon that is in the seal mentioned Isaiah xxvii. 1. we refer to the conjecture of the reader.
After paying but a just respect to the moral character, the reverend function, and diligent investigations, of our author, we must admit the possibility of its existence, as it implies no contradiction ; though it seems to encounter a general prepos-session of the whale's being the largest animal on or in our globe, and the eradication of any long prepossession is attended with something irksome to us. But were we to suppose a salmon or a sturgeon the largest fish any number of persons had seen or heard of, and the whale had discovered himself as seldom, and but in part, as the kraken, it is easy to conceive that the existence of the whale had been as indigestible to such persons then, as that of the kraken may be to others now.
Some may incline to think such an extensive monster would encroach on the symmetry of nature, and would be over proportionate to the size of the globe itself; as a little calculation will inform us, that the breadth of what is seen of him, supposing him nearly round, must be full 2600 feet, (if more oval, or crab-like, full 2000 feet,) and his thickness, which may rather be called altitude, at least 300 feet; our author declaring he has chosen the least circumference mentioned of this animal, for the greater certainty. These vast dimensions, nevertheless, we apprehend will not argue conclusively against the existence of the animal, though considerably against a numerous increase or propagation of it. In fact, the great scarcity of the kraken, his confinement to the North Sea, and perhaps to equal latitudes in the south; the small number propagated by the whale, which is vivipa-rous; and by the largest land animals, of which the elephant is said to go nearly two years with young; all induce us to conclude, from analogy, that this creature is not numerous; which coincides with a passage in a manuscript ascribed to Svere, king of Norway, and it is cited by 01. Wormius, in his Mu-seum, p. 280, in Latin, which we shall exactly translate :"There remains one kind, which they call hasgufe, whose magnitude is unknown, as it is seldom seen. Those who affirm they have seen its body, declare, it is more like an island than a beast, and that its carcase was never found; whence some imagine that there are but two of the kind in nature."
Whether the vanishing island Lemair, of which captain Rodney went in search, was a kraken, we submit to the fancy of our readers. In fine, if the existence of the creature is admitted, it will seem a fair inference, that he is the scarcest as well as the largest in our world; and that if there are larger in the universe, they probably inhabit some sphere or planet more extended than our own, and such we have no pretence to limit; but that fiction can devise a much greater than this, is evident from the cock of Mahomet, and the whale in the Bava Bathra of the Talmud, which were intended to be credited; and to either of which, our kraken is a very shrimp in dimensions.
We conclude this account in the words of Goldsmith : "To believe all that has been said of these animals, would be too credulous; and to reject the possibility of their existence, would be a presumption unbecoming mankind."