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and hatched of trees; both which are related for truths by Du Bartas and Lobel, and also by our learned Camden, and laborious Gerhard, 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: 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 Crassius, the orator, who kept her, lamented her death. And we read in Doctor Hakewill, 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 anything, as I have told you some swallows have been observed to do in hollow trees for those six cold 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 kind of Eels are, say some, diversely bred, as 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 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 it myself; and if I thought it needful I might prove it, but I think it is needless.
And this Eel, of which I have said so much to you, may be caught with divers kinds of baits: as namely, with powdered beef, with a lob or garden-worm, with a minnow, or gut of a hen, chicken, or the guts of any fish, or with almost anything, for he is a greedy
fish but the Eel may be caught especially with a little, a very little lamprey, which some call a pride, and may in the hot months be found many of them in the river Thames, and in many mud-heaps in other rivers; yea, almost as usually as one finds worms in a dunghill.
Next note, that the Eel seldom stirs in the day, but then hides himself, and therefore he is usually caught by night, with one of these baits of which I have spoken; and may be then caught by laying hooks, which you are to fasten to the bank or twigs of a tree; or by throwing a string across the stream with many hooks at it, and those baited with the aforesaid baits, and a clod, or plummet, or stone, thrown into the river with this line, that so you may in the morning find it near to some fixed place, and then take it up with a drag-hook, or otherwise: but these things are indeed too common to be spoken of, and an hour's fishing with any angler will teach you better, both for these and many other common things in the practical part of angling, than a week's discourse. I shall therefore conclude this direction for taking the Eel, by telling you, that in a warm day in summer, I have taken many a good Eel by snigling, and have been much pleased with that sport.
And because you that are but a young angler, know not what snigling is, I will now teach it to you. You remember I told you that Eels do not usually stir in the day-time, for then they hide themselves under some covert, or under boards or planks about floodgates, or weirs, or mills, or in holes on the river banks; so that you observing your time in a warm day, when the water is lowest, may take a strong
small hook tied to a strong line, or to a string about a yard long, and then into one of these holes, or between any boards about a mill, or under any great stone or plank, or any place where you think an Eel may hide or shelter herself, you may, with the help of a short stick, put in your bait, but leisurely, and as far as you may conveniently; and it is scarce to be doubted, but that if there be an Eel within the sight of it, the Eel will bite instantly, and as certainly gorge it and you need not doubt to have him, if you pull him not out of the hole too quickly, but pull him out by degrees; for he lying folded double in his hole, will with the help of his tail break all, unless you give him time to be wearied with pulling, and so get him out by degrees, not pulling too hard.
And to commute for your patient hearing this long direction, I shall next tell you how to make this Eel a most excellent dish of meat.
First, wash him in water and salt, then pull off his skin below his vent or navel, and not much further: having done that, take out his guts as clean as you can, but wash him not: then give him three or four scotches with a knife, and then put into his belly, and those scotches, sweet herbs, an anchovy, and a little nutmeg grated, or cut very small, and your herbs and anchovies must also be cut very small, and mixed with good butter and salt; having done this, then pull his skin over him all but his head, which you are to cut off, to the end you may tie his skin about that part where his head grew, and it must be so tied as to keep all his moisture within his skin: and having done this, tie him with tape or packthread to a spit, and roast him leisurely, and baste him with water
and salt till his skin breaks, and then with butter: and having roasted him enough, let what was put into his belly, and what he drips, be his sauce. S. F.
When I go to dress an Eel thus, I wish he were as long and as big as that which was caught in Peterborough river, in the year 1667, which was a yard and three quarters long. If you will not believe me, then go and see at one of the coffee-houses in King Street, in Westminster.
But now let me tell you, that though the Eel thus dressed be not only excellent good, but more harmless than any other way, yet it is certain, that physicians account the Eel dangerous meat; I will advise you therefore, as Solomon says of honey, Prov. xxv., 'Hast thou found it, eat no more than is sufficient, lest thou surfeit, for it is not good to eat much honey.' And let me add this, that the uncharitable Italian bids us Give Eels, and no wine to our enemies.'
And I will beg a little more of your attention, to tell you, that Aldrovandus, and divers physicians, commend the Eel very much for medicine, though not for meat. But let me tell you one observation, that the Eel is never out of season, as Trouts, and most other fish are at set times, at least most Eels are not.
I might here speak of many other fish whose shape and nature are much like the Eel, and frequent both the sea and fresh rivers; as namely, the Lamprel, the Lamprey, and the Lamperne: as also of the mighty Conger, taken often in Severn about Gloucester; and might also tell, in what high esteem many of them are for the curiosity of their taste; but these are