Mr. Jeremy Fisher is a frog with a diverse set of friends which includes Mr. Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise and Sir Isaac Newton, who is a newt. Mr. Jeremy Fisher lives in leisure in “a little damp house” by the edge of a pond. One day his fancy strikes him to catch fish, and being a sporting toad, he challenges himself: if I catch more than five minnows, I will invite my friends The Alderman and Sir Isaac Newton over for dinner.
The day does not go as planned, however—though, as we will see, it ends as expected, with a merry repast with friends in Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s little damp house.
First, the fish won’t bite and it is raining. Then, a giant water beetle nibbles Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s toes. Then, he hears a rustling in the grass and suspects a rat is nearby, so he is forced to move. Things are looking up when he feels the telltale tug on the line, but up he pulls not a minnow but a spiny stickleback, which cuts Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s fingers and wriggles around on Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s lily pad, “pricking and snapping until he was quite out of breath.”
The blood on his fingers still wet, the stickleback’s pricks still store, and the minnows’ mocking laughter ringing in his ears, things go from the frying pan of pain to the fire of mortal peril when an enormous trout stealthily surfaces and swallows Mr. Jeremy Fisher whole.
This is not the end of Mr. Jeremy Fisher however, and we know this before we even get to the happy ending, because Beatrix Potter soothes our nerves by explaining that this latest peril would have been “a really frightful thing…if Mr. Jeremy Fisher had not been wearing a macintosh.”
A “macintosh” [sic] is a raincoat, more commonly called a Macintosh or Mackintosh. Scotsman Charles Macintosh invented a method of waterproofing cotton fabric with rubber in the early 19th century, sold his first rubberized cotton coat in 1824, and transformed British outerwear forever. Beware imitations. You can still find the genuine article.
The trout could not abide the taste of the macintosh. The otherwise delectable frog, armed with his macintosh, was a frog set apart, not merely a frog but Mr. Jeremy Fisher, a frog with a name, invulnerable to the slings and arrows of those impersonal powers of nature which swim without proper names: trout, stickleback, minnow. With this garment of industry Mr. Jeremy Fisher wrenched open a link in the food chain which had him, and would have had him forever, subject to the stealthy predation of submarine foes.
The trout “spat him out again.” Jonah, we are told, spent three days in the belly of the great fish before he was rescued by God. Mr. Jeremy Fisher by contrast spent just “half a minute” in the belly of his fish before he was rescued by his macintosh.
Mr. Jeremy Fisher made his way home. His friends joined him that evening for supper. Sir Isaac Newton wore his black and gold waistcoat, and Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise brought a salad. They dined on the salad and a roasted grasshopper with ladybird sauce. The macintosh was in tatters after his encounter with the trout, but not Mr. Jeremy Fisher’s nerves, or his commitment to dining with friends. For technology, such as a macintosh, is the frame but not the picture, the soil but not the flower, of civilization.
(The article was previously published here, February 2019.)