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ART. VI.-1. On the Perpendicular Ascent of Eels: Philosophical Transactions. Vol. 44, No. 482, 1746, pp. 395-396.
2. The Complete Angler of Isaac Walton and Charles Cotton; Observations on the Eel and other Fish without Scales, &c., with Notes. By Sir John Hawkins. 1826.
3. Salmonia. By Sir Humphry Davy. Pp. 227-235. 2nd Edition. London, 1829.
4. Yarrell on the Reproduction of the Eel: Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1833. Pp. 446
5. Yarrell's British Fishes; Family Muranidæ. 1841.
6. Hohnbaum-Hornschuch, Dissertatio Inauguralis de Anguillarum Sexu et Generatione. 1842.
7. Prose Halieutics; or, Ancient and Modern Fish Tattle. By Dr. Badham. Pp. 368-409. London, 1854.
8. The Angler and His Friend. By John Davy, M.D., F.R.S. London, 1855.
9. Kaup, Uebersicht der Aale, in Archiv für Naturgeschichte, 1856. P. 41.
10. London Labour and the London Poor; The Street-Sellers of Pea Soup and Hot Eels. Vol. I. pp. 160-163.
11. Fish Culture. By Francis Francis. P. 119. 1863. 12. The Angler-Naturalist: a Popular History of Fresh-Water Fish, &c. By H. Cholmondeley Pennell. Pp. 376-401. 1863.
THE HERE are few animals,' says a celebrated French naturalist, whose image one must retrace with as much pleasure as the common eel. . . . We have seen superior instinct in the enormous and terrible shark, but then it was the minister of an insatiable voracity, a sanguinary cruelty, a devastating strength; we have found in electrical fish a power which we may almost call magical, but beauty did not fall to their share. We have had to represent remarkable forms, but nearly always their colours were dull and dark. Glittering shades have struck our view; rarely have they been united with pleasing proportions, more rarely still have they served to adorn a creature of elevated instinct. And this kind of intelligence, this mixture of the glitter of metals, of the colours of the rainbow, this rare conformation of all the parts which form one whole joined in happy agreement, when have we seen all these bestowed where the habits are, so to speak, social, the affections gentle, and the enjoyments in some sort sentimental? It is this interesting union, however, which we are going to show in the common eel; and when we shall have comprised into one point of view its slender form,
form, its delicate proportions, its elegant colours, its gracious flexions, its easy gyrations, its rapid springs, its superior swimming, its serpent-like movements, its industry, its instinct, its affection for its mate, its sociability, and the advantages which man is ever deriving from it, we shall not be surprised to find that some of the Greek and Roman ladies most famous for their charms have given its form to one of their most recherchés ornaments.' * What rodomontade ! our readers will doubtless exclaim; who but a Frenchman could have written thus of a slimy, slippery, slush-loving eel? Well, we allow that the language 'verges on the poetical,' but yet we must ourselves confess a partiality for eels, and own that there is a great deal of truth in what the French naturalist has said. But then we must think of the eel as a free and unmolested inhabitant of the water, and not as a writhing victim on the fishing-line of some disciple of Walton, when he certainly is a troublesome fellow, and when we may fairly say of him, 'Nihil tetigit quod non fœdavit.' The cel, however, has long enjoyed, and still deservedly enjoys, a wide celebrity. 'It is agreed,' says honest Izaak Walton, 'that the eel is a most dainty dish; the Romans have esteemed her the Helena of their feasts, and some the queen of palate-pleasure.' There are a few exceptions, however, to this general rule. The Jews-excellent cooks and judges of what is good-refuse to eat the eel at this very day, though they are perfectly aware that it has scales.† Amongst the Scotch there is a great antipathy to eels; whence derived we cannot say, unless from
*Euvres du Comte de Lacépède,' vi. p. 457.
It is an error to suppose that the Jews are unacquainted with the fact that eels have scales. According to the popular belief, the celebrated Leuwenhoek was the first to record the existence of scales in the integument of the eel. To this observant naturalist probably belongs the merit of having first published the fact to the scientific world of modern Europe; but that the Jews were long before aware of it is evident from a certain narrative in the Talmud (Abada Sara, fol. 39, a.), which relates that when Rabbi Aschi came to Tamdoria, some one placed before him an eel-like fish (y, which Rashi explains by N, 'anguille'); and that, on his holding it to the light, he noticed some very fine scales, and thereupon did not scruple to partake of its flesh. That the Hebrew word denotes an eel is further evident from the following quotation from the old work Aruch(instead of D), a fish unclean amongst the Jews, thin., round, and like a serpent, which on account of its slipperiness can only be retained in the hand by being covered with sand or dust.' According to the Aruch, the eel bears the same name in Arabic, though a more usual Arabic designation isilitis
which is evidently the Greek exeλus. The modern Jews, doubtless,
still object to the eel on account of its snake-like form. See Buxtorf's Lex. Talm. et Rabbin. p. 1910; Lewysohn's Zoologie des Talmuds, p. 264.
an objection to their snake-like form.* We have known Englishmen make this objection. To a question in Notes and Queries' (Sept. 26, 1863), as to whether the Scotch have any d definite reason for their dislike of this fish, the following reply is given:-'It would appear from Partington's "British Cyclopædia," that the Scottish objection to eels as an article of food, is mainly due to their supposed unwholesomeness. In the northern part of Britain, in Scotland especially, the prejudice of the people runs very strong, not only against the form of the eel, but against the quality of its flesh as an article of food.' And again, Eels are held in small estimation in the North; and, even discounting their serpent-form, they are regarded as far from wholesome.' We shall refer by and bye to the supposed unwholesomeness of this fish. We have been told of a Scotch lady who once tasted eel inadvertently, and thought it excellent; but on finding out what it was would eat no more, and has never tasted it since.
To the naturalist the eel is a subject of particular interest, chiefly on account of the difficulty which has hitherto attended the study of its history; and although it is certain that eels are produced after the manner of fish generally, i. e., from deposited ova, much yet remains in obscurity. To this point we must revert again. The difficulty of holding an eel has given rise to many proverbs. Every one knows who may have tried the experiment,' happily observes Dr. Badham, whose book we shall have. occasion now and then to refer to—' Every one knows that to hold an eel with the naked hand, is as abortive an attempt as detaining a pig by the tail, after it has been well soaped; or, in morals, to hold a knave to his word. Hence the apophthegm,†“ Anguilla est, elabitur," "He's an eel, and is off;" but both rogue and eel may be held tight if we set about it in the right way.' The ancient method of retaining an eel was by seizing it with some rough leaf in the hand. The fig-leaf was usually employed: hence the proverb, Tô Opiw Tηv exeλvv, 'an eel with a fig-leaf.' ‡ Alciati has the following epigram upon a captured rogue :Jamdudum
* Hence the Latin anguilla, from anguis, 'a snake.' Comp. Juvenal, Sat. v. 103. 'Vos anguilla manet longæ cognata colubræ.' Similarly the French, Italian, Spanish words; also the English 'snig' (snake), sometimes used to denote the middle-nosed eel, but often, in a general sense, any eel. Eel,' German and Dutch aal, according to Wedgwood, is from the Finnish ilja, iljakka, 'slimy,' or the Esthonian illa, ‘slime.'
+ Plautus Pseud. II. 4. 57.
According to the 'Hieroglyphica, sive de Sacris Ægyptiorum Commentarii,' of J. P. Valerian Bolzani, Basil, 1755, lib. xxix. De Anguillâ, the fig-leaf was used for this purpose by the ancient Egyptians; for when they wished to denote 'certainty with regard to an uncertain object,' spes certa re super ambiguâ, they
'Jamdudum quocunque fugis te persequor,
Ficulno anguillam strinximus in folio.'-Emb. ed. 1540.
Modern fishermen know how to retain an eel in the naked hand without any extraneous help. There is, however, but one successful mode, viz. to grasp the slippery beast in the middle with the second and third fingers above and the first and fourth below. He is thus held as in a vice. Gesner quotes the Greek proverb, άπ' ovρâs την eуxeλvv exeis, 'You've an eel by the tail,' as expressing either a man lubrica fide'-'a slippery fellow,' or an object which it is impossible to retain. The same proverb has found its way into German, 'Du hast den aale bei dem Schwanz.' The slippery nature and line-entangling propensities of the eel are often the subject of much merriment. Who does not remember, as depicted by the pencil of John Leech, the disconsolate look of poor Mr. Briggs as he holds up on the end of his fishing-line a whacking Thames eel, that has twisted that said line into the most inextricable conglomeration of worse than Gordian knots? Or who can ever forget the scene of the bursting of the aquarium-the conception of the same inimitable artist-and the vain efforts of the old lady to pick up her favourite eel with a pair of tongs!
Eels were held in high, and indeed in very absurdly high, repute by the ancients. As to the Egyptians, they paid the eel so great a compliment as to enrol it amongst their gods. Only another fish, if Herodotus is correct, shared this honour with the eel, and that was known by the name of lepidotus, some fish probably of the carp family, and so called from the large size of its scales. Antiphanes † ridicules the Egyptians for the honour they paid to eels, and contrasts the value of the gods with the high price asked for this fish in the market of Athens. In other respects men say that the Egyptians are clever, in that they esteem the eel to be equal to a god; but they are far more valuable than the gods, for we can propitiate them by prayer; but as for eels, we must spend twelve drachmas or more merely to get a smell at them.' And Anaxandridest thus amusingly contrasts the manners
depicted an eel rolled up in a fig-leaf. It is curious to note the correspondence of ideas between the Egyptians and Greeks in this matter of the allegorical meaning of the eel. Bolzani states that the picture of an eel held by the tail' denoted 'a man vainly pursuing a fugitive object;' and the representation of a man engaged in catching eels, was meant to typify one who was growing rich from civil discord,' such as Cicero represents Catiline and his co-conspirators, when he speaks of them as men' qui, honores, quos quieta republica desperant, perturbata se consequi posse arbitrantur.' In L. Cat. ii. cap. ix. See further on.
* ii. 72.
† Apud Athenæus, vii. 55, ed. Dindorf.
of the Egyptians with those of his fellow-countrymen. 'I never could associate with you, for neither do our customs nor laws agree with yours, but differ widely. You adore an ox, I sacrifice him to the gods; you esteem an eel as the greatest deity, we think him far the best of fish; you don't eat swine's flesh, I am particularly fond of it; you worship a dog, I beat him if I ever catch him devouring my victuals,' &c.
The ancient Greeks carried their partiality for the eel to a most ridiculous excess; now she is invoked as the goddess of pleasure, sometimes as the white armed goddess—and, finally, as the Helen of the dinner-table, because every guest strove, like Paris, to supplant his neighbour, and keep her for himself.' * The eels from the river Strymon and lake of Copais appear to have been those generally most highly prized, though Sicily was also celebrated.† Archestratus, of Syracuse, who appears to have been a sort of ancient Soyer, and who travelled far and wide for the purpose of learning anything that might be useful. in the culinary art-whose opinion, therefore, we may be content to take in this question-naturally 'gives the preference to eels from his own shores. The Greeks, in the time of Aristophanes, used to serve up their eels with beetroot, though sometimes they were boiled in salt and water, with marjoram and other herbs. Eubulus § is quoted as saying,
'then there came
Those natives of the lake, the holy eels,
Boeotian goddesses, all clothed in beet.'
The ancients sometimes captured eels by means of hooks baited with large worms or small fish. Aristotle|| mentions a three-pronged spear (Tρiódovs)—probably similar to our common eel-spear-which was used by the Greek fishermen to take the flat-fish (Pleuronectide) on the sand. He also says that eels in the Strymon were taken at the time of the rising of the Pleiades, when the stormy winds stirred up the mud, and that at other times it was useless to try to obtain them.¶ In modern days
*Prose Halieutics,' p. 381.
†The Strymon is the modern Struma or Carasu, which flows through the Lake Prasias (now Takino). The eels that formerly abounded there were doubtless an attraction to the numbers of cranes ('Strymoniæ grues') frequently mentioned by ancient writers. Belon (Les Observations,' p. 124) speaks of the large size of the eels of the Strymon: Les anguilles y sont d'une excessive grandeur.' The Lake Copais (now Topolias) is still famous for its eels. In the dark recesses of the subterraneous channels which form the outlets of the lake eels would find a congenial habitation.
Athenæus, vii. 53, Yonge's translation.
Athen. vii. 56.
Hist. Anim.' iv, 10, § 4.