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the immense amount of fish of all The prejudice, however, which forbids kinds which London grasps by means them during the months that have no of its gigantic iron arms, its railways letter R in their names, is not altogether and its steamers, from every sea that unfounded. In May and June they genbeats against the island -coast, and erally spawn, and then their life's blood brings here in one point together. is essentially changed for the benefit of There he sees superb salmons, fresh their posterity, and their own flesh is from the friths and bays of Scotland, lean and unpalatable. Besides, howor from the fertile Irish seas, flounder- ever productive they may be, a coning about; delicate red mullet, all the scientious lover of the mollusc will way from Cornwall, which await being hardly reconcile himself to the barbarcarried to the West End; smelts, with ous waste of swallowing with each livdelicate skins varying in hue like an ing parent a million of promising offopal, brought from Holland in Dutch spring. In the next two months the boats ; pyramids of lobsters, a vast heat is apt to be so great as seriously to moving mass of spiteful claws and rest- endanger all oysters that are not eaten less feelers, savage at being torn from immediately after they are taken from their clear, cool homes in Norwegian the water; and one spoiled oyster does waters; and perhaps a royal sturgeon of more harm than a thousand good ones. colossal dimensions, dragged with ropes Hence the English rarely have them through the excited crowd by a yelling brought to market before the first days knot of men. Among these there are of August, when the “common oysters” heaped up such mountains of oysters as from Colchester and Feversham appear to appal the inexperienced, and down gradually, but the "melting natives" Oyster-street, as it is called, lie long are not seen before the beginning of lines of oyster-boats, moored side by October, reach their meridian of perfecside, and heaping full of natives and tion at Christmas, and disappear again the lower kinds. And yet the railways towards the end of April. bring in even larger supplies, especially In the remaining months, however, since the discovery of a great natural they throng the markets of the world, bed, called the Mid-Channel Bed, which and then they are eaten by old and stretches for forty miles between the young, by rich and poor,
“the only ports of Shoreham and Havre, and has meat which men eat alive and yet acproved, as the dredging-ground is free count it not cruelty,” as old Fuller says to all comers, a source of vast wealth. quaintly. For this is their great merit, Nor are private banks less remarkable that one may eat them to-day, to-morfor their extent; so that long years ago row, and forever, and as many as one a Mr. Alston, then the largest oyster- wants, and yet their presence hardly fisher in the world, could, in a single makes itself felt, while they gratify the year, send fifty thousand bushels from palate, quiet the excitement of certain one of his parks to London, and pay nerves which we call hunger, and leave eight hundred pounds metage to the no feeling of satiety, no reproach, no owners of the market. The whole sup- remorse for the following day. They ply, now, is stated at eight hundred are the true grata ingluvies of Horace. millions a-year, and yet there is a pause,
Hence we marvel how a clever man like at least during a part of
Malherbe could say that he knew noth“ those four sad months, wherein is mute
ing nobler in the world than women That one mysterious letter, that has power and melons, and yet, living as he did To call the oyster from the vasty deep."
on the coast of Normandy, and near The question has often been raised, the finest of oyster-banks, forget oyswhy, if oysters are really the greatest ters! We all know men with whom of gastronomic blessings, and life is pro- women do not agree, and how many of verbially short, the dainty creatures us can eat melons with impunity; but should not be eaten all the year round. who ever heard of fresh oysters making
themselves at all disagreeable? They Lighter French wines are less objectioncan, moreover, be eaten at all times of able, such as Chablis, Sauterne, and the day; they are good at breakfast, even Moselle, but Port is said to turn excellent as a prelude to dinner, and them into stone; porter and ale, on the Juvenal speaks already of his beloved contrary, and, better still, half-and-half, Venus Ebria,
onsidered the true friends of the " who at deep midnight on fat oysters hups,
oyster. And froths with unguents her Falernian cups." The question as to how many may be The true way to eat them, profitably to eaten at a time is fraught with great taste, health, and enjoyment, is, of course, difficulty, for here men differ as well as to eat them raw, and without condi- doctors. The experienced say that oysment; for vinegar, pepper, or lemon- ters after the fifth or sixth dozen cease juice all spoil the natural flavor of the to be a delight; specially favored indibivalve. The only good dressing is its viduals speak of seven or eight as own gravy, which is not sea-water, as profitable in times of great political or many fancy, but its life’s blood, which domestic excitement, when the system it sheds when the shell is violently bro- has to be appeased by a specially coolken open. Hence a master of the art ing and soothing food. But Brillat Sasays of all other ways of dressing: varin, in his admirable book on Taste, ex“Frivolity! profanity! sacrilege! If presses a different opinion. “It is well after such treatment they taste well, known,” he says, “that formerly, under they are no longer oysters; if they are the Louises, before the Revolution, every still vysters, they have no longer any festive meal began with oysters, and taste;" and the poet adds sagely, that that a certain number of guests were in his view oysters ought to be eaten, always found who did not rest until as we love to see white roses—with the they had eaten a gross, viz., twelve dew of a fine summer morning on their dozen. The abbés of those happy days, tender leaves. To all of which famous especially, never were content with less, Dr. Kitchener adds, with refined cruel- and the chevaliers often went beyond ty: “Those who wish to enjoy this them. As I wished to know the exact delicious restorative in its utmost per- value and weight of such a preparation fection, must cat it the moment it is for good meal, I took my scales, and opened, with its own gravy in the under found that twelve dozen oysters, with shell; if not eaten absolutely alive, its the water they contained, weighed exflavor and spirit are lost. The true actly three pounds. How much haplover of an oyster will have some regard pier, now, were these worthy guests for the feelings of bis little favorite, and with such a weight of oysters, than if contrive to detach the fish from the shell they had eaten three pounds of meat or so dexterously that he is hardly con- even of poultry !” A handsome comscious he has been ejected from his pliment, surely, to our friends, the oyslodging till he feels the teeth of the ters, which could not have been more gourmet tickling him to death.” Would happily turned by—the best of cooks. Dr. Kitchener be very grateful for being In another place he adds a remarkable tickled to death ?
instance of individual capacity. It if dressings are not allowed, some seems that he accidentally fell in, in drink to accompany the mollusc on its 1798, with a certain Laperte, officer in way is generally considered indispen- one of the public courts, who professed sable. Strong wines and liquors should to be passionately fond of oysters, but be eschewed, although in this country never to have had, as he said, “his fill" whiskey or gin, and in Germany and of them. The author offered to give Russia rum, is taken with them ; these him that satisfaction, and invited him beverages simply pickle the oyster at to dine the next day at his house. The once, and deprive it of its best quali- gourmet came, and Brillat kept him ties as nutritious, digestible food. company up to the third dozen, when
he let him go his way unaided. He ony of oysters covers more than sis marched on bravely, till he reached the
in Massachusetts and Georgia thirty-second dozen, which he did in enormous breakwaters are formed beabout an hour, as the man who opened tween the firm land and the hungry the oysters was not very expert. Bril- dcean, ramparts twelve to fifteen feet lat became impatient, not at the endless high, the lower layers of course fossil, capacity, but at his own forced inactivi- but the upper strata alive, and affording ty, thinking it both “painful and un- delicious food to the negro of our day, wholesome to sit at table without eat- as their forefathers did to the Indians, ing,” and stopped his valiant guest in and perhaps to the Aztecs. On the the midst of his exploit. He expressed west coast of this continent vast surfaces his regrets that the Fates had evidently are covered with fossil oysters, which denied him the privilege to let his have been raised by volcanic action, friend have his fill that day, and invited and now tower to the height of sixty him now to join him at dinner. The feet and more, for thirty miles at a guest assented, and behold! to the au- time. thor's amazement, he went to work Among the living, however, there is with all the energy and perseverance of as great a difference as among the races a man who had sat down to table after of men. Those of our country are aclong fasting!
knowledged to surpass in size and It is not impossible that this happy luscious flavor all others, and even EngLaperte may have belonged to the lish travellers, like Charles Mackay, school of the poet Lainez, in Paris, who have acknowledged them to be superior was asked, after four hours' active de- to the famous Whitstables at home. votion to an uninterrupted dinner, if he But Frenchmen, accustomed to their own had dined yet, and replied, indignant smaller and richer oysters, with a strong ly:
“Do you imagine my stomach is taste of copper, object to their inconveendowed with memory
2 Whereupon nient dimensions, and miss the metallic he resumed his work with renewed zeal flavor. Germans, utterly at sea in all and increased vigor.
that concerns the sea, either do not apThere is comfort in the thought that preciate oysters at all, or, if they do, are even in such extreme cascs no man has enraptured by the ample provision conyet been known to have suffered serious. tained in each shell and the amount of ly because he loved oysters “not wisely lager it requires for easy conveyance. but too well.” There is comfort, also, Next to our own come undoubtedly the in the fact that all the voracity of man English oysters, of which there are could make no impression on the vast many varieties, the best growing on numbers of oysters which exist in our submarine rocks, an inferior kind on seas. Spenser already said, it was sandbanks, and the coarsest on muddy
“ much more eath to tell the stars on high, bottoms. England values them largely Albe they endless seem in estimation,
according to size, and sends the smallest Than to recount the sea's posterity; So fertile be the floods in generations,
kind, called Dutch-size, over to HolSo huge their numbers, and so numberless their land. The common oyster from the pations."
Western coast is very large, with thick Natural beds and banks of oysters are shells, and little meat. The Colchesfound in all the seas of the temperate ters go by the name of Middle Ware, and torrid zones, now stretching out and are larger than the best kind, the miles after miles in all directions, and Little Natives, reared carefully at the now rising so high that ships are wreck- mouths of a number of small rivers and ed on their crests. And thus it has in Southampton Water. Scotland is been apparently from time immemorial, justly proud of her Pandores, so called for gigantic structures, consisting of fos- because they are found near the saltsil oysters, are found in many places. pans in the neighborhood of historic In Berkshire, England, a petrified col Prestonpans, and caught, it is said, by
a bit of magic. The fishing-crews keep this world, oysters, and especially green up, while the dredging is going on, a oysters, meet with opposition at times kind of wild, monotonous chant, to -say that the green matter enters into which they ascribe great virtue, and the gills of the luckless creature, stops sing:
the breathing, and thus causes dropsy. “ The herring loves the merry moonlight,
The disease makes the oyster to swell, by
the texture of its meat beBut the oyster loves the dredger's song,
comes looser, finer, and more palatable; For he comes of a gentler kind."
and epicureans revel in dropsical shellPaddy claims for his Pooldoodies of fish as they delight in diseased gooseBurra, and especially for his Carling livers. The Baltic has a small supply fords, that they are superior to all the of the precious molluscs, but the variety world, and is as usually correct in his is coarse and insipid, probably because patriotism, but mistaken in his asser- the waters of that sea are not salt tion. They are very fine, however, with enough; those of the Adriatic, however, a dark, almost black beard and delicious and of the Bosphorus, are better, and in flavor, but not to be compared to some great demand during the long fasts of of our own varieties. The natives of the Greek Church. England are largely sent over to Ostend, Wherever the oyster, therefore, apto be cleaned and fattened in Belgian pears in sufficient quantities, there men parks, and then assume a perfection are found ready to consume them as fast almost unsurpassed. The shell becomes as they can be procured ; but the poor very fine, almost transparent; the fish unselfish oyster has enemies nearer is small, but rich and beautifully white, home, in its own native element, and and bearing to the best of common oys- close upon its borders. The arch-enemy ters the relation that a well-fed capon is the sleepy, stupid-looking starfish, bears to an ordinary chicken. This is the Master Fivefingers of our boys, who the oyster which gourmets prefer to all eats them as spat, or even when grown others. It goes from Ostend all over to considerable size. These greedy deGermany, to Russia, and even to distant yourers have the curious power of rollOdessa.
ing themselves up and floating away, French oysters are limited to north- so that they appear and vanish again, ern seas, the Mediterranean coast having no one knows how. But all of a sudnone that are worth eating. Those den, and often at the very time when raised at Marennes in the Bay of Bis- the sanguine fisherman gets ready to cay, and at the Roches de Cancale, are reap a rich harvest from a well-stocked the most famous, though the whole oyster-bank, he finds, upon coming to coast, from Normandy to Dunkirk, the grounds, that the foe has been there abounds in excellent kinds; they are before him, and millions of starfishes brought, to the amount of about two have settled down, like a flock of wild hundred millions a-year, to the Rue pigeons on a field of wheat. Generally, Montorgueil, which is to Paris what they prefer the spat or very young oysBillingsgate is to London. The most ters, which they take whole into their striking feature, however, is the prefer- capacious mouths, and there digest ence which Parisians give to green slowly. But how do these tender, fraoysters, and the pains wbich are there- gile creatures manage to get at the fullfore taken to produce the color arti- grown mollusc in its impregnable forficially, by favoring the growth of cer- tress? The ancients had a story, that tain sea-algæ. These parasitic plants, they watched it till they found it incauwhen once introduced into oyster-parks, tiously yawning, and then slily slipped soon cover the walls and rocks, and their greedy fingers between the valves gradually spread their transparent veil to keep them open, while they devoured over the molluscs themselves. The ad- the contents. This is, of course, a mere versaries-for, like all superior things in fable, as the soft, slimy finger would be squeezed off in an instant, even if the ever present to keep it down and to starfish were not famous for falling to prevent an undue preponderance. pieces by immediate suicide as soon as All the voracity of man, however, and it is brought into contact with a hard all the persecution of enemies, does not substance. Its murderous assault is far destroy enough oysters annually to premore curious. The first step in the pro- vent them from forming, as we have cess is for the enemy to lie close upon seen, gigantic deposits in various parts its prey, folding its slimy arms tightly of the globe. For, if left to themselves, over it, so as to hold itself in the right oysters grow old and die a natural position. Then it applies its mouth death, though it has not yet been ascerclosely to the victim, and as it cannot tained fully what age they are allowed by any force of its own, put the oyster in- to reach in their solitude. The expert to its stomach, it deliberately proceeds fisherman, it is true, can tell at a glance to put its stomach into the oyster! It and to a nicety the precise age of his begins slowly but steadily to push out fock. He examines the successive laythis organ through the mouth, and ers on the upper shell, technically called wraps the mollusc in the folds of that shoots, and as each of them, overlapcapacious bag; patience always does its. ping the lower, marks a year, he is at work, and in due time the hapless na- no loss to ascertain how old the house tive surrenders to the devourer.
and the inhabitant-for they are always Another enemy shows, if less original- of the same age. These layers, it seems, ity, at least equal perseverance. This is are regular, and laid in even succession the whelk, who also seems, like the vul- one upon the other, until the oyster atture, to smell its prey from afar, and tains its maturity, which is generally although endowed with very slender fixed at seven or eight years; but after means of locomotion, appears in vast that time they become irregular, are multitudes, when least expected, on the recklessly piled upon each other, and oyster-beds which it deems ready for make the shell look bulky and ill
It assails the shell boldly from shapen. As some molluscs have been above, and with marvellous patience found with shells nine inches thick and drills, by means of its sharp tongue, a of a perfectly enormous size, it is fair to hole in the upper valve, by which it presume that the oyster, when left to its gets at last fairly inside, and then en- natural changes and unmolested, may joys the dainty food. Mussels come by reach a patriarchal age, and even outmyriads, when young, and cover the live our race. luckless oyster with a fine, ropy tex- Unfortunately, man nowadays rarely ture, which catches mud and sand, and allows them to pursue the even tenor of finally smothers them; and gray mullets their life. On the pretext of protecting appear in swarms, and, greedily grub them against their powerful enemies bing, devour whole beds of well-fatten- and of improving their race-pleas not ed natives. Even the elements combine quite unknown to certain nations of our against the helpless mollusc; heavy day-they are taken when quite young gales of wind at times roll them up in from their home, and brought to soridges three feet deep, when mud and called seafarms, where they live, safe seaweeds settle on them and choke them against all danger, well-fed and happy, speedily; or frost and snow and ice kill reward the favor shown them by large numbers
, when they are not safely increasing at least to double their value. sheltered at a depth of at least three or Little is known of the labor and exfour feet of water. Thus it is, that by the pense, the care and attention bestowed wise provisions of Nature, the danger of upon the apparently trifling mollusc, in overstocking her vast reserves is avoid- order to make it acceptable to fastidious ed; for wherever animals multiply their palates or even simply fit for market. species at such enormous rates, there First, the spat, or fecundated sperm, is are, on the other side, numerous enemies stored up in large vats, specially de