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AN ATTEMPT TO SHOW THAT FISH ARE THE REAL LORDS OF CREATION.
While Man exclaims—“see all things for my use,”
MAKE an apology to my fellow creatures for refusing to acknowledge the title they have arrogated! Not I. Who would think of excusing himself to O'Brien for not saluting him as "Smith the First, King of Munster?" I have a proper respect for the featherless biped termed Man, but "an't like your lordly lord protectorship," I do not recognise pseudo dignities and misnomers. Come into court; show me your patent of nobility; prove to me that you have been an honour to your assumed title, instead of making your title your honour; give me evidence that as virtue alone is true nobility, your soul is your herald's office, and your deeds your escutcheon; let me be convinced that your greatness is neither conferred nor usurped, but innate. Hosea makes the Deity say of the Jews, "they have reigned but not by me;" they had invested themselves with a sham seignory; and even thus hath man with his own hand put a crown upon his own head, and strutting his little hour upon the stage, hath exclaimed in the madness of his vanity," Bow down to me all creatures of the earth, for I am lord of the creation!" I look for the emblazonments that attest his mental lordliness, and I behold nothing but vice, folly, and littleness. I seek proofs of his personal superiority, and in his natural state I see a naked savage flying in terror before a beast of prey; as a civilised being I mark him driven from the throne of his philosophy by the attacks of musquitoes, and running panic-stricken away from a viper, a scorpion, or a swarm of irritated wasps!
O braggart! thou hadst been discreeter,
By what scale do we measure the greatness of human potentates? By antiquity of possession and extent of empire, natural and admitted grounds upon which it may be shown without difficulty that fish, and not men, are the real lords of creation. The Mosaic account assures us that in the origin of all things, the Divine Spirit moved upon the face of the waters, dividing those which were above, from those which were under the firmament; the whole universe being then aqueous, and the first order for the production of animated creatures being issued in the fiat-"Let the water bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life." Universality of empire, and priority of formation are thus incontestably established, fully authorising the finny tribe, as the first born of the first world, to claim in rightful sovereignty that dominion and title so unwarrantably assumed by the featherless biped; which latter should recollect, moreover, that "great whales" are specifically mentioned in Scripture before we find the smallest allusion to
Nor is this the only instance of divine favour vouchsafed to the tenants of the deep. By what a signal and special mercy were they exempted
from all the exterminating penalties of the deluge! We may fairly presume that they had given no cause of offence to the Deity, since it does not appear that even a single fish was destroyed, at a time when mankind had become so wicked that the whole race was swept away by a terrible judgment, except the eight persons preserved in the ark. Contrast, too, their immunity from this destruction, and the manifest indulgence shown to them in the enlargement of their native domain, and the infinite increase of their sustenance from the drowned population, with the doom of the animals, who must have incurred the displeasure of heaven, since only a single pair of each kind was saved from perdition. How the carnivorous beasts, whose structure prevents their living on any other food than flesh, were supported in the ark, is a question very difficult of solution, since they could not dine upon any of their quadruped shipmates without destroying a genus for ever. It may be urged that the finny tribes were only spared in the general calamity because the waters were their natural element; but this is special pleading, for had they merited the fate of men and animals, omnipotence would presently have devised the means for involving them in a similar punish
No, let us be just, and assign their exemption from judgment to their freedom from offence. Tell me, ye rash impugners of my theory (if any such there be), who were the real lords of the creation when the whole human race, with the exception of a terrified octave in the ark, were cumbering the ocean grave-yard with their corpses? Then did the fishes hold an imperial triumph in the waters, rampant with the joy of a full-fed jubilee; then did the leviathan rush exultingly through the stately halls of submerged palaces; while the whale, in his intoxicate career, o'erthrew the altars and shattered the domes of temples, until they fell in ruins upon whole congregations of smothered worshippers. Then did the circular ammonite settle, in mockery of a crown, upon the head of drowned kings; and sea-serpents necklaced the fair throats of princesses; and worms made rings upon the fingers of beauty. Then did the finny lords of the creation banquet and gorge upon the biped usurpers of their title, as myriads of men, women, and children, the mighty and the mean, the negro and the white, the copper-coloured and the brown, lay stiff and stark beneath them, in their variegated masses, tesselating the shoreless floor of the shuddering ocean.
Survey the world even in the present day, and you will see that the empire of the fishes, much more extensive than the solid territory of man, stretches over more than two-thirds of the globe. And even for a large portion of the terra-firma, over which man presumes to claim dominion, to whom is he indebted but to a fish, to the coral insect, compared to whose gigantic structures the proudest human works sink into utter insignificance. In the Indian Ocean, to the south-west of Malabar, there is a chain of coral reefs and islets 480 geographical miles in length; on the east coast of New Holland an unbroken reef 350 miles long; between that and New Guinea a coral formation which extends upwards of 700 miles, besides various others in different parts, many of which are built up perpendicularly from almost unfathomable depths. What are the boasted temples of St. Peter's and St. Paul's, what is the stupendous Breakwater of Plymouth, compared to the Cyclopean walls of these diminutive architects? Well may the poet exclaim,
Nov.-VOL. LXXXIV. NO. CCCXXXV.
Compared with this amazing edifice,
Raised by the weakest creatures in existence,
Her giant statues wrought from rocks of granite,
As this stupendous mound of catacombs,
Filled with dry mummies of the builder worms.*
Not less beautiful in appearance than wonderful in their works, these varicoloured and enamelled masons, when moving in their native element, present the appearance of a marine flower-bed, surpassing in its gorgeous colouring the most celebrated parterres of the East. Ehrenberg, the distinguished German naturalist, was so struck with the magnificent spectacle they afforded in the Red Sea, that he exclaimed with enthusiasm, "Where is the Paradise of flowers that can rival in variety and beauty these living wonders of the ocean ?"
By the pulverisation of their surface, a soil is eventually formed upon these coral reefs; plants, and seeds, and trees, are floated to it, bringing with them small animals and insects; shrubs and groves spring up, in which storm-driven birds find refuge; and, at a later period, man takes possession of the newly-created country. Methinks I can hear, with the ears of my imagination, the chorus of the coral tribes as they welcome the first human settler on their territory-" Build thyself a house, poor biped! on the foundations which we have reared up for thee, even from the bottom of the sea; dig and cultivate the land of which we are the makers and the lords; thou shalt be unto us as a vassal and a serf; thou shalt pay us rent by restoring to us at thy death the body which we shall have been the means of sustaining during thy life; and, until the restoration of thy dust to dust, forget not, O human worm! that thou hast been indebted for thy habitation, thy home, and thy maintenance, to a worm of the sea!"
If the lordly supremacy which I am claiming for the fishes can derive support from the important benefits they have conferred on mankind, I shall find little difficulty in establishing their title; premising, that in the establishment of this point, I shall occasionally attribute effects to somewhat remote causes. No one will deny that the greatest blessing ever vouchsafed to the world was the establishment of Christianity, with all its beautiful morality, all its exalting, loving, and civilising influences. And who were the main instruments in the diffusion of this glorious dispensation ?-With the single exception of Matthew, a publican, all the rest of the twelve Apostles sent forth to preach the new Gospel, are understood to have been Galilean fishermen. Now, as these parties could not have exercised their calling, and would not have been found on the Galilean shores unless fish had existed, may we not urge, without irreverence, that the finny tribes, of whom I am the unworthy advocate, were unconsciously instrumental in delivering the world from Paganism, and in supplying missionaries for the propagation of an infinitely purer and more beneficent faith?
* James Montgomery's "Pelican Island."
Not to press this plea, which, indeed, is of a nature too solemn to be lightly handled, I proceed to show, that in numerous other instances, scarcely less important, and more immediately demonstrable, my clients have been the greatest benefactors to the world, and as such, are justified in claiming titular sovereignty. What saved ancient Nineveh, the most populous city in the world, from the threatened judgment of the Lord, but the intercession of Jonah; and who enabled him to perform this merciful mission by preserving him from the waters of the sea-a whale! Not only for their spiritual welfare have men been indebted to the tenants of the deep, but from the same source has been derived much of their intellectual improvement. What, from the beginning of the world to the present time, has empowered sages and philosophers, legislators and priests, historians and bards, to reform, exalt, instruct, and delight their fellow-creatures, but studies by the midnight lamp? And who supplied the oleaginous light that evoked all this mental illumination? Again must I record—a whale!-When the chandeliers of a crowded court saloon scatter around them a spermaceti radiance, whence proceeds the effulgence that adds a more becoming brightness to the blaze of beauty? Again must I repeat-a whale! From whom have the lovely ones of earth borrowed the plastic bones which, like the mysterious cestus of Venus, impart a new grace and elegance to the figure? Wearisome as may be the repetition, I must once more write it down-a whale! O, ye fair wearers of the Tyrian purple, of coral necklaces, and pearl bracelets, and tortoise-shell combs, and amber brooches, beware how ye oppose yourselves to my theory, for your rich dye and all your glittering ornaments have been supplied by fish.
If we consider the finny tribes in their political bearing, it will be impossible to over-rate their influence, and difficult to deny their claims, more especially at the present moment, when Europe and the world look up to this favoured country as their decus et tutamen. That proud and commanding position England owes to her unconquerable navy; that navy is principally manned by our brave fishermen; those fishermen would never have possessed so much courage and nautical skill, had they' not been accustomed "to go down to the sea in ships, and do business in great waters," in the pursuit of fish. The scaly shoals that swim around our coasts are the germ of the gallant crews who have given us the masterdom of every sea. O Saint George! our far from immaculate patron! the nation needs not thy dragon-piercing lance.-Herrings, and mackarel, and whiting, are our real champions, and while these people the waves, Britannia shall rule them!
In final support of the political influence exercised upon our greatest men by our smallest fish, let me record the notorious fact, that England's ministers cannot close the Parliamentary sessions, nor decide upon the royal speech, until they have sate in consultation with a Council of White Bait, at a Greenwich or Blackwall dinner.
Notwithstanding the titular usurpation of which my clients have been the victims, signal and uniform has been their consideration for the wants and welfare of mankind. From Ash Wednesday to Easter, the period of the quadrigesimal Fast, when religion prescribes an icthyophagous food to the Romanist dwellers on the Mediterranean shores, immense shoals of anchovies invariably pass up the Straits, with the manifest purpose of supplying the sudden and enormous demand for this species of
food. For the encouragement of our fisheries, and consequently, as I have shown, for the aggrandisement of Great Britain, such immense pilchards periodically visit the coast of Cornwall, that on the 5th of October, 1767, as recorded by Dr. Borlase, 245,000,000 were caught at one time. Herrings, sturgeon, tunny, and cod-fish vie with each other in ministering to the wants of the human myriads, many of whom might starve but for the stores of this bountiful and boundless commissariat. Whether these migrations, like the tides, are influenced by the light of heaven, or by the varying temperature of the seas, remains among the mysteries of nature: we only know that they recur with unfailing precision,- —a fact sufficient to show that the tenants of the deep, dumb though they be, have some means of communicating their wishes to each other, and exercise that faculty with an intelligence and benevolence that ought to secure to them at once the distinction for which I am contending.
Let it not be imagined for an instant that they tender fealty and homage, or make any admission of inferiority in offering up those countless shoals to man's omnivorous maw. It is a mutual accommodation. The biped devourers are preserved from famine, while the finny tribes get rid of a surplus population, which would otherwise become as troublesome to themselves and to their neighbours as that of Ireland. Among the many marks of peculiar favour bestowed upon my clients, is their astonishing fecundity. According to Lewenhoeck, a single roe of a cod contains above 9,000,000 of eggs; a flounder produces 1,000,000; a mackarel above 500,000; a herring of a moderate size more than 10,000. How simple, how effective a scheme have they devised for thinning their over-peopled ranks, while our own various plans for meeting a similar difficulty, either by colonisation, by culture of waste lands, or by poor-laws, have been discussed for years without bringing us a step nearer to a satisfactory solution. Truly the nominal might here take a lesson from the rightful lord of the creation!
Prolificness is not the only quality in which fish are superior to other animated beings. The sense of smell which guides them to their food is singularly acute, and when hungry, they will swim slowly against the current of the water, in order that the odoriferous particles floating in that medium may be more forcibly applied to their olfactory nerves. rapidity of motion they are quite unrivalled. Large ones will overtake a ship in full sail, play round it without effort, outstrip it at pleasure. The flight of an arrow is not more rapid than the dart of a tunny, a gilt-head, or a salmon, which latter has been calculated to rush through 86,400 feet of water in an hour.
In point of duration their superiority is not less conspicuous, our paltry threescore years and ten cutting but a sorry figure by the side of fishy longevity. Buffon mentions a carp above a hundred and fifty years old: others are known to have exceeded two hundred; and a Greek inscription on a ring inserted into the gills of a large pike caught at Kayserlautern in 1497, shows that it had been put into the pond 267 years before it was taken. But these fade into insignificance before the whale, to which an eminent living anatomist, from examination of a skeleton exhibited in London, assigns a probable duration of a thousand years! Man, man! creation's pseudo lord, hide your diminished head.
Hitherto I have confined my claims to the piscatory classes, known to