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Scott: The Fisherman

[Go back to The Merchant and the Genie (cont.) ]

There was an aged fisherman, who was so poor, that he could earn scarcely as much as would maintain himself, his wife, and three children. He went every day to fish betimes in the morning; and imposed it as a law upon himself, not to cast his nets above four times a-day. He went one morning by moon-light, and coming to the seaside, undressed himself, and cast in his nets. As he drew them towards the shore, he found them very heavy, and thought he had a good draught of fish, at which he rejoiced; but in a moment after, perceiving that instead of fish his nets contained nothing but the carcass of an ass, he was much vexed.

When the fisherman had mended his nets, which the carcass of the ass had broken in several places, he threw them in a second time; and when he drew them, found a great deal of resistance, which made him think he had taken abundance of fish; but he found nothing except a basket full of gravel and slime, which grieved him extremely. "O fortune!" cried he, with a lamentable tone, "be not angry with me, nor persecute a wretch who prays thee to spare him. I came hither from my house to seek for my livelihood, and thou pronouncest against me a sentence of death. I have no other

trade but this to subsist by: and notwithstanding all my care, I can scarcely provide what is absolutely necessary for my family. But I am to blame to complain of thee; thou takest pleasure to persecute honest people, and to leave great men in obscurity, while thou shewest favour to the wicked, and advancest those who have no virtue to recommend them."

Having finished this complaint, he fretfully threw away the basket, and washing his nets from the slime, cast them the third time; but brought up nothing, except stones, shells, and mud. No language can express his disappointment; he was almost distracted. However, when day began to appear, he did not forget to say his prayers, like a good Moosulmaun, and he added to them this petition: "Lord, thou knowest that I cast my nets only four times a day; I have already drawn them three times, without the least reward for my labour: I am only to cast them once more; I pray thee to render the sea favourable to me, as thou didst to Moses "

The fisherman having finished this prayer, cast his nets the fourth time; and when he thought it was proper, drew them as formerly, with great difficulty; but instead of fish, found nothing in them but a vessel of yellow copper, which from its weight seemed not to be empty; and he observed that it was shut up and sealed with lead, having the impression of a seal upon it. This turn of fortune rejoiced him; "I will sell it," said he, "to the founder, and with the money buy a measure of corn." He examined the vessel on all sides, and shook it, to try if its contents made any noise, but heard nothing. This circumstance, with the impression of the seal upon the leaden cover, made him think it inclosed something precious. To try this, he took a knife, and opened it with very little labour. He turned the mouth downward, but nothing came out; which surprised him extremely. He placed it before him, but while he viewed it attentively, there came out a very thick smoke, which obliged him to retire two or three paces back.

The smoke ascended to the clouds, and extending itself along the sea and upon the shore formed a great mist, which we may well imagine filled the fisherman with astonishment. When the smoke was all out of the vessel, it re-united and became a solid body, of which was formed a genie twice as high as the greatest of giants. At the sight of a monster of such an unwieldy bulk, the fisherman would fain have fled, but was so frightened, that he could not move.

"Solomon," cried the genie immediately, "Solomon, the great prophet, pardon, pardon; I will never more oppose your will, I will obey all your commands."

When the fisherman heard these words of the genie, he recovered his courage, and said to him, "Thou proud spirit, what is it you say? It is above eighteen hundred years since the prophet Solomon died, and we are now at the end of time. Tell me your history, and how you came to be shut up in this vessel."

The genie turning to the fisherman, with a fierce look, said. "Thou must speak to me with more respect; thou art a presumptuous fellow to call me a proud spirit." "Very well," replied the fisherman, "shall I speak to you more civilly, and call you the owl of good luck?" "I say," answered the genie, "speak to me more respectfully, or I will kill thee." "Ah!" replied the fisherman, "why would you kill me? Did I not just now set you at liberty, and have you already forgotten my services?" "Yes, I remember it," said the genie, "but that shall not save thy life: I have only one favour to grant thee." "And what is that?" asked the fisherman. "It is," answered the genie, "to give thee thy choice, in what manner thou wouldst have me put thee to death." "But wherein have I offended you?" demanded the fisherman. "Is that your reward for the service I have rendered you?" "I cannot treat thee otherwise," said the genie; "and that thou mayest know the reason, hearken to my story."

"I am one of those rebellious spirits that opposed the will of heaven; nearly all the other genies owned Solomon, the great prophet, and yielded to his authority. Sabhir and I were the only two that would never be guilty of a mean submission: and to avenge himself, that great monarch sent Asaph, the son of Barakhia, his chief minister, to apprehend me. That was accordingly done. Asaph seized my person, and brought me by force before his master's throne.

"Solomon, the son of David, commanded me to acknowledge his power, and to submit to his commands: I bravely refused, and told him, I would rather expose myself to his resentment, than swear fealty as he required. To punish me, he shut me up in this copper vessel; and that I might not break my prison, he himself stamps upon this leaden cover, his seal with the great name of God engraver upon it. He then gave the vessel to one of the genies who had submitted, with orders to throw me into the sea, which to my sorrow were executed.

"During the first hundred years of my imprisonment, I swore that if any one should deliver me before the expiration of that period, I would make him rich, even after his death: but that century ran out, and nobody did me that good office. During the second, I made an oath, that I would open all the treasures of the earth to any one that might set me at liberty; but with no better success. In the third, I promised to make my deliverer a potent monarch, to be always near him in spirit, and to grant him every day three requests, of what nature soever they might be: but this century passed as well as the two former, and I continued in prison. At last being angry, or rather mad, to find myself a prisoner so long, I swore, that if afterwards any one should deliver me, I would kill him without mercy, and grant him no other favour but to choose the manner of his death; and therefore, since thou hast delivered me to-day, I give thee that choice."

This discourse afflicted the fisherman extremely: "I am very unfortunate," cried he, "to come hither to do such a kindness to one that is so ungrateful. I beg you to consider your injustice, and revoke such an unreasonable oath; pardon me, and heaven will pardon you; if you grant me my life, heaven will protest you from all attempts against your own." "No, thy death is resolved on," said the genie, "only choose in what manner you will die." The fisherman perceiving the genie to be resolute, was extremely grieved, not so much for himself, as on account of his three children; and bewailed the misery they must be reduced to by his death. He endeavoured still to appease the genie, and said, "Alas! be pleased to take pity on me, in consideration of the service I have done you." "I have told thee already," replied the genie, "it is for that very reason I must kill thee." "That is strange," said the fisherman, "are you resolved to reward good with evil? The proverb says, 'That he who does good to one who deserves it not is always ill rewarded.' I must confess, I thought it was false; for certainly there can be nothing more contrary to reason, or the laws of society. Nevertheless, I find now by cruel experience that it is but too true." "Do not lose time," interrupted the genie; "all thy reasonings shall not divert me from my purpose: make haste, and tell me what kind of death thou preferest?"

Necessity is the mother of invention. The fisherman bethought himself of a stratagem. "Since I must die then," said he to the genie, "I submit to the will of heaven; but before I choose the manner of my death, I conjure you by the great name which was engraver upon the seal of the prophet Solomon, the son of David, to answer me truly the question I am going to ask you."

The genie finding himself obliged to a positive answer by this adjuration, trembled; and replied to the fisherman, "Ask what thou wilt, but make haste."

The fisherman then said to him, "I wish to know if you were actually in this vessel: Dare you swear it by the name of the great God?" "Yes," replied the genie, "I do swear by that great name, that I was." "In good faith," answered the fisherman, "I cannot believe you; the vessel is not capable of holding one of your size, and how should it be possible that your whole body should lie in it?" "I swear to thee, notwithstanding," replied the genie, "that I was there just as you see me here: Is it possible, that thou cost not believe me after the solemn oath I have taken?" "Truly not I," said the fisherman; "nor will I believe you, unless you go into the vessel again."

Upon which the body of the genie dissolved and changed itself into smoke, extending as before upon the sea shore; and at last, being collected, it began to re-enter the vessel, which it continued to do by a slow and equal motion, till no part remained out; when immediately a voice came forth, which said to the fisherman, "Well now, incredulous fellow, I am in the vessel, do not you believe me now?"

The fisherman, instead of answering the genie, took the cover of lead, and having speedily replaced it on the vessel, "Genie," cried he, "now it is your turn to beg my favour, and to choose which way I shall put you to death; but not so, it is better that I should throw you into the sea, whence I took you: and then I will build a house upon the shore, where I will reside and give notice to all fishermen who come to throw in their nets, to beware of such a wicked genie as thou art, who hast made an oath to kill him that shall set thee at liberty."

The genie, enraged at these expressions, struggled to set himself at liberty; but it was impossible, for the impression of Solomon's seal prevented him. Perceiving that the fisherman had got the advantage of him, for he thought fit to dissemble his anger; "Fishermen," said he, "take heed you do not what you threaten; for what I spoke to you was only by way of jest." "O genie!" replied the fisherman, "thou who wast but a moment ago the greatest of all genies, and now art the least of them, thy crafty discourse will signify nothing, to the sea thou shalt return. If thou hast been there already so long as thou hast told me, thou may'st very well stay there till the day of judgment. I begged of thee in God's name not to take away my life, and thou didst reject my prayers; I am obliged to treat thee in the same manner."

The genie omitted nothing that he thought likely to prevail with the fisherman: "Open the vessel," said he, "give me my liberty, and I promise to satisfy thee to thy own content." "Thou art a traitor," replied the fisherman, "I should deserve to lose my life, if I were such a fool as to trust thee: thou wilt not fail to treat me in the same manner as a certain Grecian king treated the physician Douban. It is a story I have a mind to tell thee, therefore listen to it."

[Go to The Grecian King and the Physician Douban]

Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. Project Gutenberg.

1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM

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