Mercer to Merlin

Mercer (Major), at the presidency of Madras.—Sir W. Scott: The Surgeon’s Daughter (time, George II.).

Merchant of Venice (The), Anthonio, who borrowed 3000 ducats for three months of Shylock a Jew. The money was borrowed to lend to a friend named Bassanio, and the Jew, “in merry sport,” instead of interest, agreed to lend the money on these conditions: If Anthonio paid it within three months, he should pay only the principal; if he did not pay it back within that time, the merchant should forfeit a pound of his own flesh, from any part of his body the Jew might choose to cut it off. As Anthonio’s ships were delayed by contrary winds, he could not pay the money, and the Jew demanded the forfeiture. On the trial which ensued, Portia, in the dress of a law doctor, conducted the case, and, when the Jew was going to take the forfeiture, stopped him by saying that the bond stated “a pound of flesh,” and that therefore he was to shed no drop of blood, and he must cut neither more nor less than an exact pound, on forfeit of his life. As these conditions were practically impossible, the Jew was nonsuited and fined for seeking the life of a citizen.—Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice (1598).

The story is in the Gesta Romanorum, the tale of the bond being ch. xlviii., and that of the caskets ch. cix.; but Shakespeare took his plot from a Florentine novelette called Il Pecorone, written in the fourteenth century, but not published till the sixteenth.

There is a ballad on the subject, the date of which has not been determined. The bargain runs thus—

“No penny for the loane of it,
For one year shall you pay—
You may doe me a good turne,
Before my dying day;
But we will have a merry jest,
For to be talkêd long:
You shall make a bond,” quoth he,
“That shall be large or strong.
And this shall be the forfeyture,
Of your owne fleshe a pound;
If you agree, make you the bond,
And there’s a hundred crownes.

(The Jew is called “Gernutus.”)

Loki laid a wager with Brock, and lost. He wagered his head; but saved himself by the plea that Brock might take his head, but might not touch his

neck.—Skaldd 35 (Simrock’s Edda, p. 305).

Merchant’s Tale (The), in Chaucer, is substantially the same as the first Latin metrical tale of Adolphus (1315), and is not unlike a Latin prose tale given in the appendix of T. Wright’s edition of Æsop’s fables. The tale is this—

A girl named May married January, an old Lombard baron 60 years of age, but entertained the love of Damyan, a young squire. She was detected in familiar intercourse with Damyan, but persuaded her husband that his eyes had deceived him, and he believed her, for what is better than “a fruitful wife and a confiding spouse”?—Chaucer: Canterbury Tales (1388).

The tale has been modernized by Ogle and Pope.

Mercian Laws. (See Martian, p. 681.)

Mercilla, a “maiden queen of great power and majesty, famous through all the world, and honoured far and nigh.” Her kingdom was disturbed by a soldan, her powerful neighbour, stirred up by his wife Adicîa. The “maiden queen” is Elizabeth; the “soldan,” Philip of Spain; and “Adicia” is injustice, presumption, or the bigotry of popery.—Spenser: Faërie Queene, v. (1596).

Mercurial Finger (The), the little finger.

The thumb, in chiromancy, we give Venus;
The fore-finger to Jove; the midst to Saturn;
The ring to Sol; the least to Mercury.
   —Ben Jonson: The Alchemist, i. 2 (1610).

  By PanEris using Melati.

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