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Let others freeze with avgling reeds,
For thee, thou need'st no such deceit,
Pisc. Well remembered, honest scholar. I thank you for these choice verses; which I have heard formerly, but had quite forgot, till they were recovered by your happy memory. Well, being I have now rested myself a little, I will make you some requital, by telling you some observations of the Eel; for it rains still: and because, as you say, our angles are as money put to use, that thrives when we play, therefore we'll sit still, and enjoy ourselves a little longer under this honeysuckle-hedge.
Observations on the EEL, and other Fish that want Scales; and how
to fish for them.
Piscator. It is agreed by most men, that the Eel is a most dainty fish: the Romans have esteemed her the Helena of their feasts; and some, the queen of palatepleasure. 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 flowing 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 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 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, $0 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 of people that inhabit near to it, take such Eels out of this mere with sieves or sheets; and make a kind of Eelcake of them, and eat it like as bread. And Gesner
(1) That fishes are furnished with parts fit for generation cannot be doubted, since it is a common practice to castrate them. See the method of doing it in Philos. Trans. Vol. XLVIII, Part II. for the year 1754, page 870.
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
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 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 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
(1) The most universal scholar of his time : he was born at Durham about 671, and bred under St. John of Beverley. It is said, thal Pope Sergius the First invited him to Rome; though others say, he never stirred out of his cell. Ile 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 eight volumes in folio. See his Life in the Biogr. Britann.
(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 Historiu Plantarum, aud died in the year 1616. Vide Hoffmanni “ Lexicon Universale," art. “* Matthias Lobelius." This work is entitled Plantarum seu Stirpium Historia, and was first published at Antwerp io 1576, aod republished at London in 1605. He was author likewise of two other works; the former of which has for its title Bulsami, Opobalsami, Carpobal. sami, . Xylobalsami, cum suo cortice, Explanatio. Lond. 1598; and the latter, Stirpium Illustrationes. Lond. 1655.
(3) The person here mentioned is John Gerard, one of the first of our English Botanists : he 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 naturalized by himself in a large garden near his house in Hol. born. The latter is dedicated to Sir Walter Raleigh.
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 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 any thing, 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
(1) The Autior, page 113, has cited from Priny an instance of the fondness of Antonia, a woman, for a fame Lamprey, whicii the tenderness of her sex might perhaps excuse; but the sagacity and docility of these creatures seem less wouderful than the weakness of such men as Crassus and Ilortensivs, in becoming mourners for the death of an Eel.
The former of the e two prions was, for this his pusillanimity, reproached in the Senate of Rome by Domitius, in these words: “ Foolislı Crassus! you wept for your Murenu" (or Lamprey.] “Tuat is mo:e,” retorted Crassus, did for your two wives." Lord Bacon's Apophthegms.
(2) Dr. Plot, in his History of Staffordshire, page 212, mentions certain waters, and a pool, tirat were stuches by Eels that had from waters they liked pot travelled in arido, or over dry lind, to these other.
(3) Camden's relation is to this effect; viz. “That, at a place called Seiton, in the above county, upon turning up the turf, men find a black dearish ver with small fishes therein." Britannia Lancashire. Fuller, who also reports this strange fact, humorously says, That the men of this place go a tishing with spades and mattocks ; adding, that fishes are thus found in the country about Heraules and lius, in Pontus," lorthies, in Lancashire, 107.
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 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 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 any thing, for he is a greedy fish. But the Eel may be caught, especially, with a little, a
(1) To this truth, I myself can bear witness. When I dwelt at Twickenham, a large canal adjoined to my house, which I stocked with fish. I had from time to time broods of ducks, which, with their young ones, took to the water. One dry summer, when the canal was very low, we missed many young ducks, but could not find out how they went. Resolving to make advantage of the lowness, of the water to cleav the canal, a work which had not been done for thirty years before, I drained and emptied it, and found in the mud a great number of large Eels. Some of them I reserved for the use of my family; which being opened by the cook, surprised us all; for in the stomachs of several of them were found, undigested, the necks and heads of young ducks, which doubtless were those of the ducks we had missed. Hawkins.