Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

not so numerous as in this happier age. Yet was that simple, that solemn oath, evidence of no common devotion; of a religious principle, dim, and undeveloped, it may be, but native, deep-seated, and sincere.

Sam's trade was clam-digging not so dreadful as gathering samphire ; but Sam evidenily looked upon clamming as an important and mysterious thing: Indispensable to his profession was the almanac. It was doubtless Sam's book of books'— nay, perhaps the only book the inerudite fisherman had ever seen.

Often may he have wondered at the surprising fulfilment of its prognostications. Its calculations wore to him the appearance of prophecies. Its eclipses were astonishingly verified. It foretold, although 'as in a glass darkly,' the phenomena of the weather. Its calendar of the moon's phases was truth itself. Did it not also give him the times of the tide ? - spring-tides and neap-tides ? -- high water and low water?

'enough for Sam to know ?' May he not be forgiven, indulgent reader, for looking up to the moon with (oh! call it not superstitious) reverence? From earliest fisher-hood, coequal with his earliest childhood, Sam had regarded that bright patroness of the tides, and arbitress of the weather, as the arbiter also of his destiny, or, as he would have said, of his

luck.' He had ever seen, of all things beavenly, the most indubilable evidences of her power and influence. Generally, too, the sole witness of his midnight toils, she shone down upon the lonely clamfisher so benignantly, that nature prompted his untaught mind to offer to her shrine his grateful adorations. Dumois, the young, the brave,' departed for Palestine to war against the enemies of his faith with not more modest distrust in his own abilities, not more pious reliance upon the favor of heaven, when he bent his knightly knee before ‘St. Mary's shrine.'

Sam's trade, ruthless though it was, as shall presently be made to appear, had not yet hardened his heart. A new light was, perchance, dawning upon his spirit. His conscience, not yet indurated, but only apathetic, was awakening. Compunctious visitings had begun to agitate bis mind. He evidently felt ill at ease -- restless and doubtful. That state of inquietude and doubt is the first stage, when our moral nature begins to conquer the errors of babit, and, rising superior to prejudice, soars toward the regions of truth.

Upon this memorable night, Sam Jones, the fisherman, attained this first stage. Anxious and distrustful, he fell back upon a species of religion for support; misdirected though it was, and partaking of superstition, if not of paganism. Sam felt he was about making an unprovoked attack upon a peaceful community of inoffensive beings, without any thing to allege in justification, save motive of appetite, or the meaner one of gain. Custom and education told him he was right, but conscience began to whisper that he might be wrong. Thus, like the barons of old, who, when they meditated violence against a people that never molested them, first vowed au oblation to their favorite saint, in case of success, Sam trusted more to pro

pitiating the smiles of the 'immortal queen,' than to the justice of his cause.

The old song goes on to say, that the fisherman, fortified with his devotion, and confiding in the favor of his beautiful patroness, made an eminently successful foray into the unguarded camp of the clamites, carrying off numbers of the enemy; and as his fair one said or sung:

"The man who toiled so hard last night

Full well deserves bis bread.' I only wish Sam had earned his bread in some other vocation. But whether he ever rose to a higher stage in moral improvement; whether he finally awoke to the full enormity of the cruel trade he had been pursuing, and abandoned it for some other; or whether he became more enlightened, and added to bis very limited library that Book which teaches a better devotion, the old song leaves us altogether in the dark. We can only hope he did.

Reader, have you a sympathy for clams ? ‘Happy as a clam,' is an old adage. It is not without meaning. Your clam enjoys the true otium cum dignitate. Ensconced in his mail of proof — for defence purely, his disposition being no ways bellicose – he snugly nestleth in his mucid bed, revels in quiescent luxury, in the unctuous loam that surroundeth him, or, with slow and dignified motion, worketh nearer the surface, as the summer suns warm the roof of his mud-palace, or sinketh deeper within, from the nipping frosts of winter.

A philosopher, the world may wag as it will, what is it to your clam? His world is within. "He is not active, but contemplative. A Diogenes in his tub, he careth not for an Alexander, save that he would keep out of his sunshine. A recluse, he hath his own little cell, built for him by nature, from which he may shut out all the world, opening at times its cautious doors, merely to receive his simple nourishment. Yet is he not the hermit he would appear. Your true clam is gregarious. He liveth in communities; in a sort of reserved sociability with his neighbors. A bond of sympathy connecteth him, even through his shell-work walls, with all his species. Who can tell how many affections passions, even your clam may possess ? It would be matter of curious speculation.

Strange that all-inquisitive man, who searches so curiously into the instinct, as he calls it, for want of a better term, of bees, ants, spiders — nay, even of the animalcules of the air and water — should so long have neglected those of this not less interesting race. Is it that your philosophers dare not dive beneath the mud ?

Hitherto, regarded solely as an article of diet, man has waged an exterminating war against them, merely to satisfy his clam-niverous appetite. Happy should I be — far happier would it be for them if my humble disquisition could stimulate inquiry for a better purpose; if the learned, ceasing to regard this interesting tribe of bivalves as subjects for the science of gastronomy purely, would view their curious automatic existences as objects of more recondite study- of philosophical speculation.

As if afraid of being in the way of the potent lords of creation,

at low water-mark, beneath the mud, they found their unobtrusive colonies. Of man they require nothing, but to be left alone. In this reasonable desire they are not indulged. Man, disregardful of the rights of every meaner creature, is the ruthless foe to their peace. He invades their quiet homes; he rends asunder all their social relations; and for no crime that can be alleged against creatures so unoffending, devotes them to a cruel and violent death.

Poor innocents! How quietly, how unresistingly, they submit to this tyranny! But, alas ! they are so utterly helpless! Nature neglected to furnish them with means of resistance. Like certain other races of beings, they seem born to be victims. They raise no voice in remonstrance; they lift no shell in opposition. Passively they yield up their lives in the boiling pot, and dying gently, unclose their doors of shell, that their enemy may ravish their envied bodies

; and their wretched companions, left behind for a brief time, to weep in secret over their bereavement, perhaps tremblingly await, like the followers of Ulysses, in the cave of Polyphemus, their turn to be devoured.

But, kind reader, does not the very silenće of this wronged race

cry aloud ?

'Dum tacent clamant ! My landlady, worthy soul that she is, delighteth in clams. She was born

upon the shore of Boston Bay, in the neighborhood of their thickest settlements, and has feasted upon them all her life. She has cooked them in all manner of ways; roasted, stewed, boiled; but, Lord, Sir! it never occurred to her simple heart, that their horrible deaths gave them pain ! Not that there is a shade of original cruelty in her disposition: she is the tenderest-hearted creature in the world toward her kind; but she is a disbeliever in sensations in regard to fish.

• Clams must naturally be boiled before they are dead,' she would say, 'otherwise they would not be good' — to be eaten, she meant, of course. She could calmly skin an eel, and see it writhing in her hands under the unpleasant operation, and perhaps think ‘eels were used to it.' It would have made the good old lady stare, and put on her great round-eyed spectacles, to see if you were not demented, if you had hinted that a clam or an eеl bath perhaps an 'immortal essence !' She seems to regard me as an irreligious sort of

person, ever since I insinuated, in my idle way, that the big black lobster I saw sprawling in the pot, under the influence of boiling water, might be suffering as much torture, in his martyr's death, as St. Polycarp in his cauldron of oil. The old lady's mind is not speculative. She never wanders into the ideal. Fancy plays her no tricks. She is imaginative, but that is scarcely a fault. She is a very respectable woman.

The other evening I was sitting in my own little room, when the good lady entered, bringing a mess of clams. I incontinently laid down the book, over which I was trying to keep awake. It was a volume of American poems.* Their sight and perfume (the clams,

* A 'ducat to a beggarly dernier,'it was a copy of Mr. Brooks'' Scriptural Anthology!

EDs. KNICKERBOCKER, VOL. XI.

27

not the poems,) had caused a strange watery feeling about my palate. They were piping hot; and the kind old lady said she knew I would * relish them. She was quite right. I did. They were delicious.

In all our pleasant sinnings, at the precise moment of enjoyinent, (I trust I am understood,) conscience seems always most somniferous. During the moment of appetite, the mind has no leisure for foreign considerations. Sense is often too strong for reason; pleasure too powerful for philosophy. So I had nearly finished my delightful bowl of clams, before sated appetite left the mind free for a little serious reflection.

*Alas!' I began, eyeing the remains of my feast with a still longing eye, “how had their little terraqueous community been violated, to furnish me forth a supper! How many parents had been torn from their children - children from parents — husbands bereaved of their wives - lovers of their mistresses ! 'Nay,' I continued aloud, with a sigh that I instantly checked, as found it sprang from a feeling that did me but little honor, 'nay,' said I, with all the gravity I could assume, perhaps their unfortunate nation is now in a state of anarchy. Grief and consternation, violence and uproar, taken the place of peace, order, and good government; and the wretched people, clam-orous for a new election, to supply the places of their kidnapped governors !

. This portly, well-filled clam,' said I, as I paid another stealthy visit to the bowl, and deposited a remarkably plump individual upon my tongue, might have been an alderman! Extremely juicy! Perhaps he was their Lord Mayor himself!

• This little delicate one' — I held it up gingerly for a moment in my fingers — was some young maiden, who, with innocent curiosity, had nudged her little head above the surface, to see what was going on in the great world without. Ah! curiosity was always fatal to the sex !' I sentimentally added, as she rather unsentimentally fol. lowed the alderman.

* This dapper-looking young prig has a foppish set to his neck,' remorselessly putting him between my teeth ; . he was a clam-dandy, perhaps : rather insipid — flat! Could he have been the aforesaid silly maiden's gallant ?'

* And this' – regarding another with deep respect, and ruminating awhile before I devoted him to my esophagus this shows, by his large head, so disproportioned to his attenuated body, doubtless the effect of long study, that he was some great philosopher, or statesman, who had passed his life in meditating upon old worlds, or dreaming of new. What lofty speculations, what daring aspirations, might have been his !'

To an infinitely superior being, where would be the difference between our own self-called important actions and desires ; our objects of love, ambition, gain; our successes and misfortunes, and those of a clam? We are all but pitiful creatures, at best. We have more wants than the clam, because our habits are more artificial, arising from our own more complicated nature. But may not the simple wants of the clam be equally as difficult of attainment as our own merely natural wants ? A softer bed in the mud — a warmer situation - purer water ?

Who knows how many unsatisfied desires, how many vain wishes, how many fears, fancied as well as real, torment them?

Do they not lose their friends ? — suffer cold and hunger ? — disease and death? Can we see farther into futurity than the clam? Is his world, when we rightly consider it, more circumscribed than ours ? Have we advantages or disadvantages from birth? So has the clam. Consider the advantage of being born in softer mud, or sheltered by a friendly rock!

Wealth, rank, and dignities we struggle for, as these confer peculiar privileges. The clam's ambition may be to work himself to the upper or lower place (for we are unacquainted with what they consider the post of honor,) in the community.

In the present unenlightend age, so little is known of the babits and customs of the clam race, that of their civil polity and of their social arrangements, we at present can only vaguely conjecture. It is a pity, for the subject would doubtless be one of deep interest; and perhaps we might obtain from their little communities, if we understood them better, some valuable hints for our own government. Admirable lessons are learned from the bee-bive and the anthill, the beaver-dam and the bird-nest; why not from the clam-bed ?

In absence of exact information, we may conjecture that their government is a far more simple machine' than even our own simple democratic form ; for each individual is protected by his own shell ; and occupying only his little bed, there can be no great accumulation of property. Special legislation for the protection of peculiar interests can hardly be known. Probably their government is a kind of hereditary republic; a confederacy of states, living in harmonious alliance; governed, patriarchally, by those whose fortunate birth gives them advantages to be appreciated only by clams.

We presume that they never engage in war; that they are unambitious and pacific. We infer that their taxes must be light. We hope they are not given to over-trading and speculation ; that dishonored paper money is unknown to their bank.

Their clothes being furnished ready made by Dame Nature, they have no manufactures to protect; no tariff — no imports - no strikes of journeymen-tailors. They 'toil not, neither do they spin.' They impoverish not their country by the importation of foreign luxuries. The balance of trade' is to them an unknown term. They drink no spirituous liquors !

It is time we should end. Let us gracefully shut up our clamshell. The subject is exhausted — like the patience of the reader.

A short time ago, an English paper asserted that a man, somewhere or other, had succeeded in taming an oyster, so that the testaceous pedestrian followed him about like a dog! With all due deference to the veracious print, I am inclined to doubt the whole story. It must have been a mistake.

But if it only had said a clAM !

Your oyster is a parasite ; an idle do-nothing, like all other parasites. He attacheth himself to rocks, to bushes, and even to the shells of other oysters. But, in our short-sighted ignorance, we know not yet the undeveloped powers of the clam. Is not his smooth, fine-textured, light armor better adapted to locomotion, than your

« ПредишнаНапред »