« ForrigeFortsæt »
HE glorious company of anglers contains names of no
value, and of no slight antiquity. Passing by the reverend apostles, (whose fishing was hardly to be classed with that of sportsmen, Father Isaac notwithstanding), yet the Bible is fuller of allusions to the gentle craft than the vulgar will allow. For instance, there are three Hebrew terms for a fish-hook-the palate hook, the sharp hook, and the thorn hook. People who thus refined could not have belonged to the laity. The Philistines, we know, carried their ichthyolatry beyond all bounds by adoring Dagon, and thus making the fish the master of the man; but their very exaggerations prove that the chosen people had ardent feelings in the right direction. We know that it was necessary to forbid the Jews from worshipping the ideal polypounder. Solomon studied fishes. Amos and Habakkuk thought it not amiss to depict Jehovah Himself equipped as an an
gler. Isaiah knew so well the angling habits of the Egyptian gentlemen, that we may, without presumption, salute him as a brother in the Art, and to no one else than to an angler would the Lord ever have asked, out of the whirlwind, whether Leviathan could be safely hooked, gaffed, landed and sold at so much per pound or ton. So we may claim the writer of Job. To none but an angler could such Revelation ever have come. Tobias, too, fished by Heavenly command, and made no mean catch in that Tigris River of his, though we could have wished for more explicit details as to his bait and tackle. The conduct of the fish makes one consider him to have been rather of the pike family, than a mullet as Botticelli imagined. At any rate, from Job to Goldsmith, and from Habakkuk to Bishop Walsham Howe, we have had a goodly share of holy men amongst us. Take, for instance, Clement of Alexandria, his notions of Christian pastimes are none too liberal, a little gymnastic, ball in the sun, walking, hoeing, water-drawing, wood-chopping, ambulance work, and finally, "if one has time from one's studies in the Word-fishing." It is true that he adds that to catch men is finer
sport (αὕτη δὲ βελτίων ἡ ἄγρα) but he grants the two to be not incompatible.
Although we can lay small claim either to the great Athanasius or to St. Augustine, yet St. Basil the Great seems to have delighted both to observe and also to capture the silent peoples. He loved to hear strange tales from the tunny fishers, to learn that the inhabitants of the Indian Sea differed from those of the Egyptian gulf, those of the Island from the Maurusian. He had some seeming practical experience of the teeth of pike. He watched fish grubbing in the mud, feeding on sea and water weeds, or snapping at smaller fish, even of their own species. He mentions hook, basket and net, (in this order), as implements for taking fish. He watched the shoals pass up the Hellespont, and knew it was for spawning purposes. He noticed that some salt-water fishes come up the rivers. (Hexæmeron VII and Sermon xxii, De Prov.) He moralises, too, upon fishes, but he does not exactly hold them up to us as examples, (save in that they obey the laws of their Maker, and know what is good and what bad for them). He rather takes from their morals a warning and a satire
upon ours, and beholds in the voracious pike the despotic oppressor of the needy. It is interesting to notice, too, how much less piscatorially St. Ambrose, for instance handles his fishes, and how far more beholden he is to Aristotle's History of Animals. I should like to be able to add many venerable names to the list, but I cannot catch out St. Jerome or St. Gregory Magnus in any angling attitudes. Let any one who doubts the latter statement read St. George's XXV Homily on St. John. But none of these holy men fell into the fallacy of the ancient Syracusians, shared in these degenerate days by Aunt Susan and others, that a kind of Divinity, (Tò fetov, Diodorus Siculus calls it), hedges about the fish pool, so that direful judgments follow in the wake of even the necessitous angler, who caught some of the countless monsters which swam in the waters of Arethusa, "sacred, and unhandled by men." These, he says, survived even to his own. day. It has long been a fancy of mine to try whether their size and number have been much diminished by the lapse of nineteen centuries or so, as also to explore the coasts of Carmania and Cedrosia for his wild Ethiopian fishers, whose horrid morals and un
sportsmanlike methods have a fascination of their own. (iii, 14).
Indeed, our own river fishes are to no small extent a fallen people, and an enthusiasm for them represents one of those lost causes and impossible loyalties, which always appeal to Oxford clerks. They are, indeed, worthy of this enthusiasm, for whether we appeal to Science, to History, or to the Belles Lettres, we find them to be an ancient, honourable, and now despised people. The verdict of the XIX century, I am delighted to see, is, that the fresh-water fishes are the parents of salt-water ones, as one would naturally expect, rather than vice versa, as I read in the official address by the President of the Royal Society. The early waters of the world were fresh and consequently let our friends take some precedence over their Billingsgate brethren. Until I am corrected, by learned anatomists, I shall salute the roach as grandfather to the herring, and look upon sprats as a kind of degenerate dace or bleak. The perch of our rivers is of an older line than his collateral cousin the bass of the seas, and even soles, skates, turbot, plaice, and company, must be accounted but as the younger brethren of