Daniel Webster and Leviathan

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Daniel Webster's Sea Serpent

I have long admired Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Daniel Webster in which Daniel Webster defeats Satan in a jury trial for the soul of Jabez Stone.  Far lesser known is an amusing story written by Benet in which Daniel Webster encounters Leviathan from the Bible:

“Well, Mr. Webster,” said Seth, and stared at his boots, “she says you’re quite a handsome man. She says she never did see anybody quite like you,” he went on. “I hate to tell you this, Mr. Webster, and I feel kind of responsible, but I think you ought to know. And I told you that you oughtn’t to have shot at her—she’s pretty proud of that. She says she knows just how you meant it. Well, I’m no great hand at being embarrassed, Mr. Webster, but, I tell you, she embarrassed me. You see, she’s been an old maid for about a hundred and fifty years, I guess, and that’s the worst of it. And being the last of her folks in those particular waters, there’s just no way to restrain her—her father and mother was as sensible, hard-working serpents as ever gave a feller a tow through a fog, but you know how it is with those old families. Well, she says wherever you go, she’ll follow you, and she claims she wants to hear you speak before the Supreme Court——”

“Did you tell her I’m a married man?” said Dan’l. “Did you tell her that?”

“Yes, I told her,” said Seth, and you could see the perspiration on his forehead. “But she says that doesn’t signify—her being a serpent and different—and she’s fixing to move right in. She says Washington’s got a lovely climate and she’s heard all about the balls and the diplomatic receptions. I don’t know how she’s heard about them, but she has.” He swallowed. “I got her to promise she’d kind of lie low for two weeks and not come up the Potomac by daylight—she was fixing to do that because she wants to meet the President. Well, I got her to promise that much. But she says, even so, if you don’t come to see her once an evening, she’ll hoot till you do, and she told me to tell you that you haven’t heard hooting yet. And as soon as the fish market’s open, I better run down and buy a barrel of flaked cod, Mr. Webster—she’s partial to flaked cod and she usually takes it in the barrel. Well, I don’t want to worry you, Mr. Webster, but I’m afraid that we’re in a fix.”

“A fix!” said Dan’l Webster. “It’s the biggest fix I ever was in in my life!”

“Well, it’s kind of complimentary, in a way, I guess,” said Seth Peterson, “but——”

“Does she say anything else?” said Dan’l Webster, drawing a long breath.

“Yes, Mr. Webster,” said Seth Peterson, his eyes on his boots. “She says you’re a little shy. But she says she likes that in a man.”

Go here to read the rest of Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent.  Surprisingly enough, the story is based on a true incident in which Webster claimed to have seen a sea serpent.  I have come across no records of Webster having claimed to have seen Satan, although since he was a habitue of Washington, one would think that he would likelier have encountered Satan than a sea serpent.

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4 Comments

  1. Saint Patrick, it is said, had a great way of dealing with snakes. The Potomac would be a fine resting place for the snakes that have found Washington comfortable.
    Any modern day Patricks out there?

  2. I was interested in the following:

    “. . . her father and mother was as sensible, hard-working serpents as ever gave a feller a tow through a fog, . . .”

    Many years ago, I was a clamdigger on Great South Bay. I was caught out in fog and also caught in a gale. Never saw a sea serpent. St. Elmo brought me in.

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