Monday, October 1, 2012
The calends of October are somewhere around now. There was a day when I'd wonder why, at the first moment of wakefulness on the first morning of the month, I'd forget to say "Rabbit, Rabbit." In those days I was imbued with the spirit of agnosticism, which is another word for contented nihilism, and "Rabbit, Rabbit" struck me as a good a way as any to take the sword to time, or at least attempt to do so. Then I read that Rabbits and their feet were not always considered good luck, and for the phrase "Rabbit, Rabbit" to be effective it had to be spoken with due attention paid to protocol, an example of which was while staring up a chimney, which struck me as being utterly ridiculous. And worse, much worse, there is considerably more scholarship on the wickedness of Rabbits, particularly medieval White Rabbits. Then, to my absolute astonishment I read that in Celtic Europe, at around the year the Babylonians defeated the last of the Assyrians, Rabbits were considered sacred symbols of fertility. Clearly, from such a confusion of information "Rabbit, Rabbit," is hardly a phrase around which to build a more cohesive and useful lifestyle.
However, in my Rabbit research, I discovered a tangential tidbit from "Notes and Queries" of March 13th 1909, page 218. In the bottom right hand corner of the page, C.R. Haines, reports that a business associate of his while traveling in South America discovered that mothers still used the name of Sir Francis Drake to frighten their children into obedience. "Notes and Queries" was like Twitter for Edwardian antiquarians, wordsmiths and such like. The publication's commanding motto from Captain Cuttle, "when found make a note of." The thread C.R. Haines contributed to was titled "names terrible to children." Haines then goes on to ask whether Nikulsain (John Nicholson) should be added to that list. No doubt they were friends. But more tempting from "Notes and Queries" was one of St. Swithin's threads titled, "Monkeys stealing from peddlers." Which as it happens was not a street scene in North London or the Bronx or Madras, but a description of a fifteenth century Flemish, enamel and silver beaker, that might currently reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.