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traps of the amateur and professional fishermen ever ready to stop them. Their numbers are absolutely incalculable; and it will give some idea of this fact when we state, on very good authority, that as many as 1,800, each about three inches long, have been known to pass a given spot on the Thames in a single minute. An otherwise clear river is frequently black with them, so numerous and thickly-grouped are thes. They are said to form ropes of one another's bodies, but the present writer is free to admit that he has never seen this curious phenomenon himself! They are wonderfully persevering little creatures, and contrive to surmount obstacles which seem in their very nature to be altogether insurmountable. Rocks twenty feet high they can get over by sheer endeavour, or by such a subterfuge as worming themselves up through the dripping moss that overhangs the barrier. Couch (“British Fishes,” iv. 314) tells us that in the neighbourhood of Bristol he has seen the elvers utilise the branches of a tree as a stepping-stone on to which they climbed, and dropped into the pond over which it hung. He adds that “the tree appeared to be quite alive with these little animals,” and that “the rapid and unsteady motion of the boughs did not appear to impede their progress.”
Sir Humphry Davy, again—though he is somewhat out of datespeaks of witnessing the ascent of elvers at Ballyshannon, concerning which his less famous brother had already written. The mouth of the river, he says, “was blackened by millions of little eels about as long as the finger, which were constantly urging their way up the moist rock by the side of the fall. Thousands died, but their bodies, reinaining moist, served as a ladder for others to make their way; and I saw some ascending even perpendicular stones, making their road through wet moss, or adhering to some eels that had died in the attempt. Such is the energy of these little animals that they continue to find their way in immense numbers to Loch Erne. The same thing happens at the falls of the Bann, and Loch Neagh is thus peopled by them. Even the mighty fall of Schaffhausen does not prevent them making their way to the Lake of Constance, where I have seen many very large eels.” The reader will excuse these extracts, but the facts are interesting, and some more recent naturalists have neglected them-and, indeed, have neglected the whole family of eels, to whom no one pays much attention save the professional fisherman. The amateur has learned to despise them, perhaps because they bite too easily, and anything easily attained is, &c., &c., in accordance with some ineradicable twist in man's mental constitution. No such consideration actuates his professional brother. He turns them to pecuniary profit. He has ensconced himself in the most likely situations on our coast and in France and Holland, and, with the aid of his baskets, contrives to capture more than he can very well dispose of, unless below cost-for his market is nearly always local and circumscribed. In France they are a drug, and the overplus is often given to feed ducks and poultry, or is used as a manure. In Exeter Mr. Couch saw in one day four cartloads of eels, no bigger than a knitting-needle, which the people of those parts converted into elver-cakes-flat masses of fish, scoured and boiled, and pressed together, looking peculiar because of the little black eyes bespangling them, but making delicious eating. Frank Buckland has testified to this quality ; and he ascertained from the vendor of the pies that at Langport, on the Parret, the women were in the habit of catching the elvers at night by means of a canvas bag attached to a hoop at the end of a long stick to which they had fixed a lantern.
There are three species of eels properly indigenous to the British Isles—the sharp-nosed, the blunt-nosed, and the middlenosed. The most abundant and the most highly prized of the three is the first, Anguilla vulgaris ; but the blunt-nosed species is widely distributed, and is the “frog-mouthed eel” of the Severn fishermen. Its flesh is not of very good quality ; it has an offensive odour before being cooked, and an unpleasant flavour afterwards. In their general habits all three are much alike, with this difference, already hinted at, that the last-mentioned variety does not migrate to any large extent, and the additional difference that the middle-nosed roves and feeds during the day. In general its congeners are nocturnal in their habits, and every tyro knows that the best time for landing them is in the dusk of the evening, when they venture out of their hidingplaces in search of food. They are not very dainty on this score: worms, insects, crustacea, salmon spawn, young waterfowl, and the like, are their staple articles of diet. An occasional nibble at a fresh-water plant they enjoy ; but if these, or the others, are wanting, they will eat anything, however nasty. An eel has been found with a half-decayed water-rat in its mouth ; and, if we are to believe a newspaper paragraph, another came across a bonne bouche in the shape of a duck's feet, of which the duck was denuded as it swam over a pond at Wimpson, in Hampshire. But perhaps the “tallest” story ever reported in this connection is one to be found in an old volume entitled “The Wonders of Nature and Art.” About the middle of the last century, we are told, the farmers near Yeovil suffered greatly by losing vast quantities of hay in a most unaccount.
able manner. A reward was offered, but the efficacy of advertising was not so well demonstrated in this instance as in the case of the American boy and the alligator ; for the culprit, or culprits, could not be fixed upon. Then several soldiers, stationed at Yeovil, kept watch, and in the dead of the night saw a monstrous eel making its way (mirabile visu !) out of the river, and setting itself to feed greedily upon the hay. It was with difficulty (as we can well imagine) captured, killed, and roasted ; and the fat that came out of its body "filled several casks and tubs.” It is to be observed that this work was designed as a "useful and valuable production for young people.” Was this eel a wonder of nature or of art ?
The number of eels that go down the rivers in the fall of the year bears a very small proportion to the number that passed up in the spring-time. Why? Because they have many enemies—because the struggle for existence is a very sharp one for them. Even if, in ascending the rivers, they manage to outwit man, who is full of resources for their capture, they have other dangers to encounter in the shape of otters, polecats, rats, herons, swans, pike, and salmon the last of which exact summary, if unconscious, vengeance upon the eels for the theft of their spawn. All these are formidable opponents, and they thin the ranks of the upward-bound and the settled eels to an extraordinary extent--sometimes catching a tartar, however, for the eels are endowed with uncommon sagacity, and now and again kill their enemies by twisting their little bodies round their necks, and so choking them. For instance, a heron once stuck his sharp bill through an cel's head, piercing both eyes, and the latter coiled itself round the heron's neck so tightly as to stop the bird's respiration. When found, both were stone dead. These fish are remarkably tenacious of life, and will live for a long time out of the water, provided the air be humid ; being enabled so to do by the smallness of the gill aperture, the membranous folds of which, by closing the orifice when the eel is out of the water, prevent the desiccation of the branchiæ. They make journeys overland, and, if the sun be not too strong, perform them with safety. Every cook knows how hard they are to kill, and for how long a time after being decapitated or rapped on the tail they will continue to wriggle. Mere wriggling, however, is no certain sign that the fish is still alive. The frequent assertions of cooks as to cut-up lengths of eel jumping out of the frying-pan on to the hearth or into the fire is true enough so far as it goes ; but the motion is caused by the irritability of the muscular fibre, and horror at the event is a superfluity and a mistake-for it is clear that once the head is severed from the body, there can be no sense of feeling, properly so called ; and if this be done, as most cooks do it, before the fish is put on to the fire, there is no cruelty in any sense of the word. But what is cruelty is the method of preparation followed by Eude, the celebrated cook of Louis XVI., and imitated by some few of his present-day descendants. He recommended his disciples to throw live eels into the fire, lay hold of them with a towel as the heat was burning them and causing them to twist about on all sides, and skin them from head to tail. By this process, he said, all the unpalatable oil was drawn out. It may be so, but we like it not ; and although in the matter of the sensibility of animals to pain we are like Mr. Lang and prefer to sin in good company, rather than to be virtuous with Shelley and the Spectator, yet we still like it not, because there is a suggestion of wantonness which we cannot away with about such treatment as this. But perhaps he was right after all, even in the morality of the question, for in eels as served up to us there is an amount of rich, fatty matter, which is, to say the least, not calculated to agree with the stomach of a man of weak digestion, and Eude's method of extracting the fat is the most effective we know of. It is this quality of “eel-fare” which has given rise to the charge of unwholesomeness against the fish, and even Galen is credited with having blamed the gods for giving eels so delicious a flavour, and so malignant and dangerous an “operation.”
TWO ITALIAN POETS OF THE
I was in 1863, at a political banquet, that a poem was read by a
young and hitherto unknown poet-a poem which made its success by coming just at the right moment, giving tangible form to ideas already present though not consciously recognised in Italian national thought-illumining the position of affairs like a lightning flash. The poem created immediate discussion and roused much hostile criticism ; the poet became the unsparing object of attacks from the clerical party, against whom the poem was directed. "Young Italy," however, rallied enthusiastically round the banner of the new poet, who expressed the aims and aspirations of his day; a movement began which has gone on widening and gathering strength ever since, so that the poem in question may be considered the point of departure of the new school of Italian poetry.
Giosuè Carducci is the poet who thus decisively declared his bent, becoming the mouthpiece of the advanced thought of his day, and
Inno a Satana” (Hymn to Satan) was the poem which brought him into notice.
Carducci is now recognised as the greatest poet of modern Italy. His splendid classical style, his mastery of form and diction would insure him an unrivalled position among the poets of his own country, and a claim to distinction among his contemporaries in any country; but it is not by virtue of these qualities alone that he is the head of the present school of Italian poetry, but because he is in harmony with the spirit of his day intellectually and patriotically ; he expresses the Italy of to-day.
The “Inno a Satana”—the object of so many anathemas when it first appeared-is but a short lyric poem of terse and vigorous metre. It is not by any means so diabolical as its name would seem to imply; it is, in fact, hard to understand (without some acquaintance with the attitude of mind in Italy at the date of its appearance) why it was considered so blasphemous. It is simply a hymn in praise of the Genius of Progress or Civilisation, invoked under the