“De balena vero sufficit, si rex habeat caput, et regina caudam.”
BRACTON, L. 3, C. 3.
Latin from the books of the Laws of England, which taken along with th_ontext, means, that of all whales captured by anybody on the coast of tha_and, the King, as Honorary Grand Harpooneer, must have the head, and th_ueen be respectfully presented with the tail. A division which, in the whale,
is much like halving an apple; there is no intermediate remainder. Now as thi_aw, under a modified form, is to this day in force in England; and as i_ffers in various respects a strange anomaly touching the general law o_ast—and Loose-Fish, it is here treated of in a separate chapter, on the sam_ourteous principle that prompts the English railways to be at the expense o_ separate car, specially reserved for the accommodation of royalty. In th_irst place, in curious proof of the fact that the above-mentioned law i_till in force, I proceed to lay before you a circumstance-that happene_ithin the last two years.
It seems that some honest mariners of Dover, or Sandwich, or some one of th_inque Ports, had after a hard chase succeeded in killing and beaching a fin_hale which they had originally descried afar off from the shore. Now th_inque Ports are partially or somehow under the jurisdiction of a sort o_oliceman or beadle, called a Lord Warden. Holding the office directly fro_he crown, I believe, all the royal emoluments incident to the Cinque Por_erritories become by assignment his. By some writers this office is called _inecure. But not so. Because the Lord Warden is busily employed at times i_obbing his perquisites; which are his chiefly by virtue of that same fobbin_f them.
Now when these poor sun-burnt mariners, bare-footed, and with their trowser_olled high up on their eely legs, had wearily hauled their fat fish high an_ry, promising themselves a good 150 pounds from the precious oil and bone;
and in fantasy sipping rare tea with their wives, and good ale with thei_ronies, upon the strength of their respective shares; up steps a very learne_nd most Christian and charitable gentleman, with a copy of Blackstone unde_is arm; and laying it upon the whale’s head, he says—“Hands off! this fish,
my masters, is a Fast-Fish. I seize it as the Lord Warden’s.” Upon this th_oor mariners in their respectful consternation—so truly English— knowing no_hat to say, fall to vigorously scratching their heads all round; meanwhil_uefully glancing from the whale to the stranger. But that did in nowise men_he matter, or at all soften the hard heart of the learned gentleman with th_opy of Blackstone. At length one of them, after long scratching about for hi_deas, made bold to speak,
“Please, sir, who is the Lord Warden?”
“But the duke had nothing to do with taking this fish?”
“It is his.”
“We have been at great trouble, and peril, and some expense, and is all tha_o go to the Duke’s benefit; we getting nothing at all for our pains but ou_listers?”
“It is his.”
“Is the Duke so very poor as to be forced to this desperate mode of getting _ivelihood?”
“It is his.”
“I thought to relieve my old bed-ridden mother by part of my share of thi_hale.”
“It is his.”
“Won’t the Duke be content with a quarter or a half?”
“It is his.”
In a word, the whale was seized and sold, and his Grace the Duke of Wellingto_eceived the money. Thinking that viewed in some particular lights, the cas_ight by a bare possibility in some small degree be deemed, under th_ircumstances, a rather hard one, an honest clergyman of the town respectfull_ddressed a note to his Grace, begging him to take the case of thos_nfortunate mariners into full consideration. To which my Lord Duke i_ubstance replied (both letters were published) that he had already done so,
and received the money, and would be obliged to the reverend gentleman if fo_he future he (the reverend gentleman) would decline meddling with othe_eople’s business. Is this the still militant old man, standing at the corner_f the three kingdoms, on all hands coercing alms of beggars?
It will readily be seen that in this case the alleged right of the Duke to th_hale was a delegated one from the Sovereign. We must needs inquire then o_hat principle the Sovereign is originally invested with that right. The la_tself has already been set forth. But Plowdon gives us the reason for it.
Says Plowdon, the whale so caught belongs to the King and Queen, “because o_ts superior excellence.” And by the soundest commentators this has ever bee_eld a cogent argument in such matters.
But why should the King have the head, and the Queen the tail?
A reason for that, ye lawyers!
In his treatise on “Queen-Gold,” or Queen-pin-money, an old King’s Benc_uthor, one William Prynne, thus discourseth: “Ye tail is ye Queen’s, that y_ueen’s wardrobe may be supplied with ye whalebone.” Now this was written at _ime when the black limber bone of the Greenland or Right whale was largel_sed in ladies’ bodices. But this same bone is not in the tail; it is in th_ead, which is a sad mistake for a sagacious lawyer like Prynne. But is th_ueen a mermaid, to be presented with a tail? An allegorical meaning may lur_ere.
There are two royal fish so styled by the English law writers— the whale an_he sturgeon; both royal property under certain limitations, and nominall_upplying the tenth branch of the crown’s ordinary revenue. I know not tha_ny other author has hinted of the matter; but by inference it seems to m_hat the sturgeon must be divided in the same way as the whale, the Kin_eceiving the highly dense and elastic head peculiar to that fish, which,
symbolically regarded, may possibly be humorously grounded upon some presume_ongeniality. And thus there seems a reason in all things, even in law.