Back in November, I wrote a short introduction to a new project - the Naturalist's Journal. This is a collaboration with friend and writer Julie Benbow. Not only is she a gifted writer, but she has beautiful handwriting and executes graceful calligraphy. The project now has a new name - Voyage Through a Hidden World. As mentioned before, the project consists of watercolor paintings of the fantastic creatures encountered by an Englishwoman - explorer in the late 1700s, along with her journal entries, with small ink studies along with the account of how each creature was discovered. The project is taking on a life of its own. A whole plot is coming forth from Julie's pen, and I wanted to share a little of it in this blog entry.
Above is the watercolor painting of the Mexican Spider Monkey, and the handwritten journal pages with drawings. Below is the typed text of the journal entry of Lady Lavinia Treadwell, numbered and dated Volume I, 1786-1787.
Friday, 4th May, 1787, Hispania Nova, Mexico
I write this late at night by the light of two tallow candles. I am greatly discomforted by the suffocating heat which at this late hour has rendered me enervated, and my nightgown clings inappropriately to my perspiration bedewed thighs and back. For the past hours I have been subjected to the vocalizations of the creature whose various grunts and moans vary from soft – a kind of beseeching – to loud and aggressive. I will put small wads of cotton in my ears when I finally retire to bed on completion of this diary entry.
I had planned to devote the day to the study and recording of the orchid specimens I collected from the jungle earlier in the week and have arranged in pots around my cabin. I plied my busy pen and the morning proved very productive. By the time I partook of luncheon with Captain Archibald I had completed the measurements and descriptions of two of the four plants.
Returning to my cabin and before setting out my paint palette to create a visual record, I partook of a short rest, languishing with my eyes closed atop the counterpane on my bed. I was rudely awoken by a thump on my chest followed by an unpleasant whispery sensation on my face. Upon opening my eyes I immediately screamed. A beast of huge proportion with the head of a baboon and the body of a spider was staring right at me, prodding my face with two long red and black hairy legs and grunting. Ye Gods! The thing is the size of a soup tureen!
Quickly I stood to shake it off, but it crawled onto my shoulder and proceeded to make a nest in my hair, all the while emitting crooning noises. At my scream, Samson had entered my cabin and without hesitation tried to pry it from my hair. The ensuing tussle left my coiffure in great disarray and the creature much agitated - it hissed and growled at being manhandled then escaped Samson’s grasp and scurried across the floor before disappearing beneath a chair, where it could be heard chattering. I quickly surmised that this was definitely a specimen worth recording but my butterfly net would not accommodate its great size. After some consideration it was apparent that the only receptacle large enough in the cabin was my chamber pot, so after Samson emptied it we set about capturing the creature. When it was safe inside the upturned pot, I took a fine ribbon from one of my bonnets and with great care attached it to one of the creatures legs, securing to other end to the wooden arm of the chair, thus allowing it some freedom and access to the orchid plants, upon which I presume, it traveled from the jungle into my cabin.
Feeling greatly rejuvenated after a refreshing cup of China Tea, I sat at my desk to continue recording the orchids under the keen gaze of the creature who had climbed upon the trunk, from whence it engaged in a stream of mutterings whilst rubbing his two front legs together. When I approached to investigate, it jumped upon my arm and made the most pitiful of cries in response to which I unknotted the ribbon from the chair and brought it to my desk where it now happily rests on a careful representation of a violet dendrobium painted upon a sheet of my best French hand-made watercolor paper, loudly devouring a slice of mango.
I shall now attempt to describe him – for I feel it is a male – and will name him Billy after our esteemed Prime Minister William Pitt, who has the same hirsute eyebrows and propensity to be verbose.
The body is 18 centimetres in length of which 6 centimetres is baboon head covered in coarse long golden hair. Billy has eight legs – approximately 20 centimetres in length and (8) covered in long bristles. The most engaging features of the legs are the bright red knee joints, also covered in bristles.
I think Billy dislikes Samson. When S approached he made the strangest gesture – rolling his lips, exposing his gums and teeth and flipping his upper lip out over his nostrils. S quickly retreated so, if these threatening or antagonistic behaviours are customary to this species – though outlandish – they are indeed successful!
Other behaviours I have noted include rubbing his hairy legs against the posterior part of his body then throwing the urticating bristles in the direction of the enemy. Unfortunately, Samson inhaled this cloud of small bristles and they entered his nasal mucous membrane causing him to greatly sneeze. I ordered S to leave my cabin as it is obvious he and Billy regard each other with great disfavor, and at this moment I prefer the company of Billy.
When I attempted to put Billy back on his trunk, he resisted becoming agitated and barked at me. His feet seem to secrete a sticky substance that allows him to adhere to surfaces. Currently he is stuck to my bodice and seems to be releasing a fine thread. I do hope he is not planning on making his home on my person, although I admit to finding his crooning quite soporific…