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tall stories


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These are anecdotes about astonishing exploits and adventures, for example in hunting, or about animals or objects of astounding size—such as a sailing ship with masts so tall that any lad sent up as a midshipman will have grey in his beard by the time he comes back down. Tall stories are usually told by men; the teller knows them to be inventions, but presents them as truth, and sometimes as an alleged personal experience or boast, to test the credulity of the hearers as the realistic opening gradually leads to an impossible (though not supernatural) climax.

A fine example of the genre is a story told, according to the Surrey Gazette of 7 November 1865, by ‘a boy who was begging in the streets of Plymouth the other day’: He said he was a cabin boy on board an American liner, and for some of his mischievous pranks was headed up in a water cask, with only the bung-hole to breathe through. On the following night a squall came up, and the ship went down with all on board, except himself, the cask containing him having rolled over into the sea on a sudden lurch of the vessel. Fortunately, it kept bung up, and after thirty hours floating he was cast on the coast, where after he had made desperate efforts to release himself he gave himself up to die. Some cows strolling along the beach were attracted to the cask, and one of them accidentally slipped her tail into the bung-hole, which the boy grasped immediately, and kept fast holding with admirable resolution. The cow started off, and after running about three hundred yards the cask struck against a rock and broke to pieces.

He said he was a cabin boy on board an American liner, and for some of his mischievous pranks was headed up in a water cask, with only the bung-hole to breathe through. On the following night a squall came up, and the ship went down with all on board, except himself, the cask containing him having rolled over into the sea on a sudden lurch of the vessel. Fortunately, it kept bung up, and after thirty hours floating he was cast on the coast, where after he had made desperate efforts to release himself he gave himself up to die. Some cows strolling along the beach were attracted to the cask, and one of them accidentally slipped her tail into the bung-hole, which the boy grasped immediately, and kept fast holding with admirable resolution. The cow started off, and after running about three hundred yards the cask struck against a rock and broke to pieces.


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