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OBSERVATIONS OF THE EEL, AND OTHER FISH THAT WANT SCALES, AND TO FISH FOR THEM.
Piscator. It is agreed by most inen, that the Eel is a most dainty fish: the Romans have esteemed her the Helena or their feasts, and some the queen of palate-pleasure. But most men differ about their breeding: some say they breed by generation as other fish do; and others, that they breed, as some worms do, of mud; as rats and mice, and many other living creatures, are bred in Egypt, by the sun's heat when it shines upon the overflowing of the river Nilus; or out of the putrefaction of the earth, and divers other ways. Those that deny them to breed by generation as other fish do, ask, if any man ever saw an eel to have a spawn or melt? And they are answered, that they may be as certain of their breeding as if they had seen them spawn: for they say, that they are certain that eels have all parts fit for generation, like other fish,' but so small as not to be easily
1 This is erroneous. Fish have no external organs.of generation. And
discerned, by reason of their fatness, but that discerned they may be, and that the he and the she eel may be distinguished by their fins. And Rondeletius says, he has seen eels cling together like dew-worms.
And others say, that eels growing old, breed other eels out of the corruption of their own age, which, Sir Francis Bacon says, exceeds not ten years. And others say, that as pearls are made of glutinous dew-drops, which are condensed by the sun's heat in those countries, so eels are bred of a particular dew, falling in the months of May or June on the. banks of some particular ponds or rivers, apted by nature for that end; which in a few days are by the sun's heat turned into eels: and some of the ancients have called the eels that are thus bred the offspring of Jove. I have seen in the beginning of July, in a river not far from Canterbury, some parts of it covered over with young eels, about the thickness of a straw; and these eels did lie on the top of that water, as thick as motes are said to be in the sun: and I have heard the like of other rivers, as namely in Severn, where they are called yelvers; and in a pond or mere near unto Staffordshire, where about a set-time in summer such small eels abound so much, that many of the poorer sort of people, that inhabit near to it, take such eels out of this mere with sieves or sheets, and make a kind of eel-cake of them, and eat it like as bread. And Gesner quotes Venerable Bede' to say, that in England there is an island called Ely, by reason of the innumerable number of eels that breed in it. But that eels may be bred as some worms, and some kind of bees and wasps are either of dew, or out of the corruption of the earth, seems to be made probable by the barnacles and young goslings bred by the sun's heat
with respect to spontaneous generation what has been said in a note at page 187 regarding the Pike may be repeated here. It has long been in dispute whether Eels are oviparous or viviparous, but Mr. Yarrel seems to have set this question at rest by proving them to be oviparous. Mr. Young, the Duke of Sutherland's salmon-factor, has bred them artificially from spawn.-ED.
1 The most universal scholar of his time; he was born at Durham, about 671, and bred under St. John of Beverley. He was a man of great virtue, and remarkable for a most sweet and engaging disposition; he died in 734, and lies buried at Durham. His works make 8 vols. folio, of which the most valuable and best known is his "Ecclesiastical History."—H.
and the rotten planks of an old ship, and hatched of trees;
both which are related for truths by Du Bartas and Lobel, and also by our learned Camden and laborious Gerard in his Herbal.
It is said by Rondeletius, that those eels that are bred in rivers that relate to or be nearer to the sea, never return to the fresh waters, as the salmon does always desire to do, when they have once tasted the salt-water; * and I do the more easily believe this, because I am certain
that powdered beef is a most excellent bait to catch an eel.
1 All this, though according to the belief of that age, is absurd.-ED. 2 Matthias de Lobel, or L'Obel, an eminent physician and botanist of the sixteenth century, was a native of Lisle in Flanders. He was a disciple of Rondeletius; and being invited to London by King James the First, published there his "Historia Plantarum," and died in the year 1616. This work is entitled "Plantarum seu Stirpium Historia," and was first published at Antwerp in 1576, and republished at London in 1605. He was author likewise of two other works, the former of which has for its title "Balsami, Opobalsami, Carpobalsami, et Xylobalsami, cum suo cortice Explanatio" (Lond. 1598); and the latter, Stirpium Illustrationes" (Lond. 1655).-H.
3 John Gerard was one of the first of our English botanists; was by profession a surgeon; and published, in 1597, an Herbal, in a large folio, dedicated to the Lord Treasurer Burleigh, and, two years after, a Catalogue of Plants, Herbs, &c. to the number of eleven hundred, raised and naturalised by himself in a large garden near his house in Holborn. The latter is dedicated to Sir Walter Raleigh.-H. [The passage referred to is lib. iii. chap. 171, "of the goose-tree, barnacle-tree, or tree bearing geese," of which we have already spoken in note, at page 142. The notion that the barnacle-goose grew out of rotten timber, like a fungus, is found in Olaus Magnus de Gent. Septent. folio, 1555, and other early writers.-ED.]
4 Eels, if they can possibly do so, make their way from rivers, ponds, &c., to brackish water, where they are now generally believed to cluster in the mud in large quantities, and in which their spawn is deposited. The temperature in brackish water is supposed to be two degrees warmer than that of either the sea or the fresh water of a river, and this is pro
And though Sir Francis Bacon will allow the eel's life to be but ten years, yet he, in his "History of Life and Death," mentions a lamprey belonging to the Roman emperor to be made tame, and so kept for almost threescore years: and that such useful and pleasant observations were made of this lamprey, that Crassus the Orator, who kept her, lamented her death. And we read in Doctor Hake
will, that Hortensius was seen to weep at the death of a lamprey that he had kept long and loved exceedingly.'
It is granted by all, or most men, that eels, for about six months, that is to say, the six cold months of the year, stir not up and down, neither in the rivers, nor in the pools in which they usually are, but get into the soft earth or mud; and there many of them together bed themselves, and live without feeding upon any thing, as I have told you some swallows have been observed to do in hollow trees for those
bably the reason why eels, who are impatient of cold, seek, by their migratory instinct, such localities in which to deposit their spawn. In the spring countless myriads of young eels make their way to pure fresh water. A column of them has been traced in the Thames from Somerset House to Oxford about the beginning of May, and I have watched their progress with much interest. No impediment stops them. They keep as much as possible close along shore, and as they pass water-courses, open ditches, and brooks, &c., some of them leave the column and enter these places, along which they eventually make their way to ponds, smaller rivers, &c. So strong is the migratory instinct of these little eels, that when I have taken some in a bucket and returned them to the river at some distance from the column, they have immediately rejoined in it without any deviation to the right or left. On the banks of the Thames the passage is called Eel-fare. Two observers watching their progress at Kingston, calculated that from sixteen to eighteen hundred passed a given line per minute. Rennie saw (on the 13th of May) a column of young eels of uniform size, about as thick as a crow-quill, and three inches long, returning to the river Clyde, in almost military order, keeping within parallel lines of about six inches. He traced it for several hours without perceiving any diminution.-ED.
1 Crassus was for this reproached in the senate of Rome by Domitius, in these words-"Foolish Crassus! you wept for your Murena" [or Lamprey]. "That is more," retorted Crassus, "than you did for your two wives." Lord Bacon's "Apophthegms."-H.
cold six months: and this the eel and swallow do, as not being able to endure winter-weather: for Gesner quotes Albertus to say, that in the year 1125, that year's winter being more cold than usually, eels did by nature's instinct get out of the water into a stack of hay in a meadow upon dry ground,' and there bedded themselves; but yet at last a frost killed them. And our Camden relates, that in Lancashire, fishes were digged out of the earth with spades, where no water was near to the place. I shall say little more of the eel, but that, as it is observed he is impatient of cold, so it hath been observed that, in warm weather, an eel has been known to live five days out of the water.
And lastly, let me tell you that some curious searchers into the natures of fish, observe that there be several sorts or kinds of eels: as the silver eel, and green or greenish eel, with which the river of Thames abounds, and those are called grigs; and a blackish eel,.whose head is more flat and bigger than ordinary eels; and also an eel whose fins are reddish and but seldom taken in this nation, and yet taken sometimes. These several kinds of eels are, say some, diversely bred; and namely, out of the corruption of the earth, and some by dew, and other ways, as I have said to you: and yet it is affirmed by some for a certain, that the silver eel is bred by generation; but not by spawning as other fish do, but that her brood come alive from her, being then little live eels no bigger nor longer than a pin: and I have had too many testimonies of this to doubt the truth of
1 Dr. Plot, in his " History of Staffordshire," page 242, mentions certain waters, and a pool, that were stocked by eels that had, from waters they liked not, travelled "in arido," or over dry land, to these other.-H.
2 Camden's relation is to this effect, viz. "That, at a place called Sefton, in the above county,-upon turning up the turf, men find a black deadish water with small fishes therein. “Britannia, Lancashire.” Fuller, who also reports this strange fact, humorously says:66 That the men of this place go a-fishing with spades and mattocks;" adding that fishes are thus found in the country about Heraclea and Tius, in Pontus.-H. The fact is, that eels will leave a pond and travel over land to a neighbouring brook or river in order to get to the sea; and eels taken out of a pond when the migratory instinct is upon them and put on a grass field or meadow, will make their way to the nearest point of a river. Eels will also leave a river at night, and get into the adjoining meadows to feed on worms.-ED.