A Literary Voyage

A striking detail from the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1860: On a wager, poet John Taylor (1578–1653) once engaged to row from London to Queenborough in a paper boat with two stockfish tied to canes for oars. He partnered with a vintner named Roger Bird, and the two

Took ship vpon the vigill of Saint Iames
And boldly ventur’d down the Riuer Thames,
Lauing and cutting through each raging billow,
(In such a Boat which neuer had a fellow)
Hauing no kinde of mettall or no wood
To helpe vs eyther in our Ebbe or Flood:
For as our boat was paper, so our Oares
Where Stock-fish, caught neere to the Island shores.

The boat began to leak and founder, and Taylor contrived to hold it up by attaching eight inflatable bullocks’ bladders to its sides. After two miserable days, he and Bird reached their goal and were feted by the mayor of Queenborough while the people tore the boat to scraps, “Wearing the reliques in their hats and caps.” They rode home on horseback.