This last sentence seems almost a compendium of The History of Tom
Thumb, for his wit enabled him to overcome the lubber-headed giants, in
every conflict he was engaged in with them--they were no match for him.
Take the Romances of Chivalry. Pacolet, and all the dwarfs, were endowed
with acute wits, and there was very little they could not compass--but
the giants! their ultimate fate was always to be slain by some knight,
and their imprisoned knights and damsels set free. A dwarf was a cleanly
liver, but a giant was turbulent, quarrelsome, lustful, and occasionally
cannibal. Fe Fi Fo Fum was the type of colossal man, and, as it is quite
a pleasure to whitewash their characters in these respects, I hasten to
do so before further discoursing on the subject of these great men.
It is Olaus Magnus who thus tells us
"Of the sobriety of Giants and Champions."
"That most famous Writer of the Danish affairs, Saxo, alleged
before, and who shall be often alleged hereafter, saith, that amongst
other mighty strong men in the North, who were as great as Giants,
there was one Starchaterus Thavestus, whose admirable and heroick
Vertues are so worthily extolled by him, that there were scarce any
like him in those dayes in all Europe, or in the whole World, or
hardly are now, or ever shall be. And amongst other Vertues he ascribes
to that high-spirited man, he mentions his sobriety, which is
principally necessary for valiant men: and I thought fit to annex that
peculiarly to this relation, that we may, as in a glass, see more
cleerly the luxury of this lustful age. For, as the same Saxo
testifies, that valiant Starchaterus loved frugality, and loved not
immoderate dainties. Alwayes neglecting pleasure, he respected Vertue,
imitating the antient manner of Continency, and he desired a homely
provision of his Diet; he hated costly suppers; wherefore hating
profusion in Diet, and feeding on smoaked and rank meat, he drove away
Hunger, with the greater appetite, as his meat was but of one kind, lest
he should remit and abate the force of his true Vertue, by the contagion
of outward Delights, as by some adulterate sweetness, or should abrogate
the Rule of antient Frugality, by unusual Superstitions for Gluttony.
Moreover, he could not endure to spend rost and boyled meat all at one
Meal; holding that to be a monstrous Food, that Cookery had tampered
with divers things together: Wherefore, that he might turn away the
Luxury of the Danes, that they borrowed from the Germans, that made
them so effeminate, amongst the rest he made Verses in his Country
Language." Omitting many of them, he sang thus:
"Starchaterus his Verses on Frugality.
"Strong men do love raw meat; nor do they need,
Or love, on dainty Cates and Feasts to feed,
War is the thing they most delight to breed,
You may sooner bite off their beards that are
Full hard, and stiff with bristled, rugged, hair,
Than their wide mouths leave Milk their daily fare:
We fly from dainty Kitchins, and do fill
Our Bellies with rank Meats, and Countray swill,
Of old, men fed on boyl'd Meats, 'gainst their will.
A dish of Grass, that had no smack, did hold
Hog's and sheep's flesh together, hot or cold,
Nor to pollute their meats with mingling were they bold;
He that eats Cream we bid him for to be
Strong, and to have a mind that's bold and free.
* * * * *
Eleven Lords of elder time we were,
That waited on King Hachon, and at fare
Helgo Begachus sat first in order there.
First dish he eat was a dry'd Gammon, and
A Crust as hard as Flint he took in hand,
This made his hungry, yawning stomach stand:
No man at Table fed on stinking meat,
But what was good and common, each man eat,
Content with simple fare, though nere so great;
The greatest were not Gluttons, nor yet fine,
The King himself full sparingly would dine.
No Drinks were used that did of Honey bost,
Beer was their common Liquor, Ceres owest,
They fed on Meats were little boyl'd, no rost.
Each Table was with Meats but meanly drest,
Few Dishes on't, Antiquity thought best;
And in plain Fare each held himself most blest.
There were no Flagons, nor broad Bowls in use,
Nor painted Dishes grown to great abuse,
Each, at the Tap, did fill his wooden cruze.
No man, admirer of the former days,
Did use Tankards or Oxeys; for their ways
Were sparing, almost empty Dishes this bewrays.
No Silver Basons, or guilt Cups were thought
Fit by the Host, and to the table brought,
To garnish, or by Ghests were vainly sought."
By precept, and example, he induced many to Temperance and
Sobriety--but, in spite of his moderation in food and drink, he was a
most outrageous pirate, and Berserker.
At last, however, old, and weary of life, he sought death, and meeting
Hatherus, son of a noble whom he had killed, begged him as a favour to
cut his head off--and the young man, obligingly consenting, his head was
severed from his body, and literally bit the ground. There are records
of many more Northern giants, but none of so edifying a life as
Giants are plentiful in the Bible, the Emins, Anakims, and the
Zamzummims: there was Og, King of Bashan, whose iron bedstead was 9
cubits long by 4 broad--i.e., 13 ft. 6 in. by 6 ft. That redoubtable
champion of the Philistines, Goliath of Gath, was six cubits and a span
high--i.e., 9 ft. 9 in. In 2 Samuel xxi. 15-22, we find mention made
of many giants.
"15 Moreover the Philistines had yet war again with Israel; and David
went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the
Philistines; and David waxed faint.
"16 And Ishbi-benob, which was of the sons of the giants, the weight of
whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being
girded with a new sword, thought to have slain David.
"17 But Abishai the son of Zeruiah succoured him, and smote the
Philistine, and killed him....
"18 And it came to pass after this, that there was again a battle with
the Philistines at Gob: then Sibbechai the Hushathite slew Saph, which
was of the sons of the giant.
"19 And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where
Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of
Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam.
"20 And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great
stature, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number; and he
also was born to the giant.
"21 And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimeah, the brother
of David, slew him.
"22 These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of
David, and by the hand of his servants."
But these were mere pigmies if we can believe M. Henrion, who in 1718
calculated out the heights of divers notable persons--thus he found Adam
was 121 ft. 9 in. high, Eve 118 ft. 9 in., Noah 27 ft., Abraham 20 ft.,
and Moses 13 ft.
Putting aside the mythical classical giants, Pliny says: "The tallest
man that has been seen in our times, was one Gabbaras by name, who was
brought from Arabia by the Emperor Claudius; his height was nine feet
and as many inches. In the reign of Augustus, there were two persons,
Posio and Secundilla, by name, who were half a foot taller than him;
their bodies have been preserved as objects of curiosity in the Museum
of the Sallustian family."
But it is reserved to Sir John Mandeville to have found the tallest
giants of, comparatively speaking, modern times. "And beyond that valey
is a great yle, where people as great as giaunts of xxviii fote long,
and they have no clothinge but beasts skyns that hang on them, and they
eate no bread, but flesh raw, and drink milke, and they have no houses,
& they ate gladlyer fleshe of men, than other, & men saye to us that
beyonde that yle is an yle where are greater giaunts as xlv or l fote
long, & some said l cubits long (75 feet) but I saw them not, and
among those giaunts are great shepe, and they beare great wolle, these
shepe have I sene many times."