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Observations of the OTTER and CHUB.
Venator. My friend Piscator, you have kept time with my thoughts; for the sun is just rising, and I myself just now come to this place, and the dogs have just now put down an Otter. Look! down at the bottom of the hill there, in that meadow, chequered with Water-lilies and Lady-smocks; there you may see what work they make; look! look! you may see all busy; men and dogs; dogs and men; all busy.
Pisc. Sir, I am right glad to meet you, and glad to have so fair an entrance into this day's sport, and glad to see so many dogs and more men all in pursuit of the Otter. Let us compliment no longer, but join unto them. Come, honest Venator, let us be gone, let us make haste; I long to be going; no reasonable hedge or ditch shall
Ven. Gentleman Huntsman where found
this Otter? Hunt. Marry, Sir, we found her a mile from this place, a-fishing. She has this morning eaten the greatest part of this Trout; she has only left thus much of it as you see, and was fishing for more; when we came we found her just at it: but we were here very early, we were here an hour before sun-rise, and have given her no rest since we came; sure she will hardly escape all these dogs
I am to have the skin if we kill her. Ven. Why, Sir, what is the skin worth?
Hunt. It is worth ten shillings to make gloves; the gloves of an Otter are the best fortification for
hands that can be thought on against wet weather.
Pisc. I pray, honest Huntsman, let me ask you a pleasant question; do you hunt a beast or a fish?
Hunt. Sir, it is not in my power to resolve you; I leave it to be resolved by the college of Carthusians, who have made vows never to eat flesh. But, I have heard, the question hath been debated among many great clerks, and they seem to differ about it; yet most agree that her tail is fish: and if her body be fish too, then I may say that a fish will walk upon land : for an Otter does so, sometimes, five or six or ten miles in a night, to catch for her
young ones, or to glut herself with fish. And I can tell you that Pigeons will fly forty miles for a breakfast: but, Sir, I am sure the Otter devours much fish, and kills and spoils much more than he eats.
And I can tell you, that this dog-fisher, for so the Latins call him, can smell a fish in the water an hundred yards from him: Gesner says much farther: and that his stones are good against the falling sickness; and that there is an herb, Benione, which, being hung in a linen cloth, near a fish-pond, or any haunt that he uses, makes him to avoid the place; which
proves he smells both by water and land. And I can tell you, there is brave hunting this water-dog in Cornwall: where there have been so many, that our learned Camden says there is a river called Ottersey, which was so named by reason of the abundance of Otters that bred and fed in it. And thus much for my knowledge of the Otter: which you may now see above water at vent, and the dogs close with him; I now see he will not last long. Follow, therefore, my masters, follow; for Sweetlips was like to have him at this last vent.
Ven. Oh me! all the horse are got over the river, what shall we do nory? shall we follow them over the water?
Hunt. No, Sir, no; be not so eager; stay a little, and follow me; for both they and the dogs will be suddenly
he is gone
on this side again, I warrant you, and the Otter too, it may be. Now have at him with Kilbuck, for he vents again.
Ven. Marry! so he does; for, look! he vents in that corner. Now, now, Ringwood has him : now, again, and has bit the poor dog. Now Sweetlips has her; hold her, Sweetlips ! now all the dogs have her; some above, and some under water: but now, now she is tired, and past losing. Come bring her to me, Sweetlips. Look! it is a Bitch-otter, and she has lately whelp'd. Let's go to the place where she was put down; and not far from it
you will find all her young ones, I dare warrant you, and kill them all too.
Hunt. Come, Gentlemen! come, all! let's go to the place where we put down the Otter. Look you! hereabout it was that she kennelled; look you! here it was indeed! for here's her young ones, no less than five: come, let us kill them all.
Pisc. No: I pray, Sir, save me one, and I'll try if I can make her tame, as I know an ingenious gentleman in Leicestershire, Mr. Nich. Seagrave, has done; who hath not only made her tame, but to catch fish, and do many other things of much pleasure.
Hunt. Take one with all my heart; but let us kill the rest. And now let's go to an honest ale-house, where we may have a cup of good barley wine, and sing Old Rose, and all of us rejoice together.
Ven. Come, my friend Piscator, let me invite you along with us. I'll bear your charges this night, and you shall bear mine to-morrow; for my intention is to accompany you a day or two in fishing.
Pisc. Sir, your request is granted; and I shall be right glad both to exchange such a courtesy, and also to enjoy your company.
Ven. Well, now let's go to your sport of angling.
all, Gentlemen; and send you meet, this day, with another Bitch-otter, and kill her merrily, and all her young ones too.
Ven. Now, Piscator, where will you begin to fish?
Pisc. We are not yet come to a likely place; I must walk a mile further yet before I begin.
Ven. Well then, I pray, as we walk, tell me freely, how do you like your lodging, and mine host, and the company? Is not mine host a witty man?
Pisc. Sir, I will tell you, presently, what I think of your nost: but first, I will tell you, I am glad these Otters were killed; and I am sorry there are no more Otterkillers; for I know that the want of Otter-killers, and the not keeping the fence-months for the preservation of fish, will, in time, prove the destruction of all rivers. And those very few that are left, that make conscience of the laws of the nation, and of keeping days of abstinence, will be forced to eat flesh, or suffer more inconveniences than are yet foreseen.
Ven. Why, Sir, what be those that you call the fencemonths ?
Pisc. Sir, they be principally three, namely, March, April, and May; for these be the usual months that Salmon come out of the sea to spawn in most fresh rivers. And their fry would, about a certain time, return back to the salt-water, if they were not hindered by weirs and unlawful gins, which the greedy fishermen set, and so destroy them by thousands; as they would, being so taught by nature, change the fresh for salt water. He that shall view the wise Statutes made in the 13th of Edward the I. and the like in Richard the III. may see several provisions made against the destruction of fish: and though I profess no knowledge of the law, yet I am sure the regulation of these defects might be easily mended. But I remember that a wise friend of mine did
usually say, “ that which is every body's business is nobody's business :" If it were otherwise, there could not be so many nets and fish, that are under the statute size, sold daily amongst us; and of which the conservators of the waters should be ashamed."
But, above all, the taking fish in spawning-time may be said to be against nature; it is like the taking the dam on the nest when she hatches her young: a sin so against nature, that Almighty God hath in the Levitical law made a law against it.
But the poor fish have enemies enough beside such unnatural fishermen; as namely, the Otters that I spake of, the Cormorant, the Bittern, the Osprey, the Sea-gull, the Hern, the King-fisher, the Gorara, the Puet, the Swan, Goose, Duck, and the Craber which some call the Water-rat: against all which any
honest man may make a just quarrel, but I will not; I will leave them to be quarrelled with and killed by others; for I am not of a cruel nature, I love to kill nothing but fish.
And, now, to your question concerning your host, to speak truly, he is not to me a good companion : for most of his conceits were either scripture jests, or lascivious jests; for which I count no man witty: for the devil will help a man, that way inclined, to the first; and his own corrupt nature, which he always carries with him, to the latter. But a companion that feasts the company with wit and mirth, and leaves out the sin which is usually mixed with them, he is the man; and indeed such a companion should have his charges borne; and to such company I hope to bring you this night; for at Trout-hall,
(1) About the year 1770, upon the trial of an indictment before me at Hicks's Hall, a basket was produced in evidence, containing Aounders that had been taken with unlawful nets in the river Thames, so small that scarce any one of them would cover a half-crown-piece. The indictment was, for an affray, and an assault on a person authorized to seize unstatutable niets; and the sentence of the offender, a year's imprisonment in Newgate.