D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The Popular science monthly (Volume 19) online

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of gi'owth of one species of fish to that of another ; and it may be well
to leave the question whether the herring attains its maturity in twelve,
fifteen, or sixteen months open, in the tolerably firm assurance that the
period last named is the maximum."

On comparing these conclusions with the results of the careful ob-
servations of the Baltic Commissioners, it appears that we somewhat
over-estimated the rate of growth of the young herring, and that the
view taken by Yarrell and Mitchell is more neai-ly correct. For, sup-
posing that the rate of growth after six months continues the same as
before, a herring twelve months old will be nearly six inches long, and
at eighteen months eight or nine inches. But full herrings may be
met with little more than seven inches long, and they are very com-
monly found not more than nine inches in length.*

* Ljungman (" Preliminary Report on Ilerrings and Herring Fisheries on the West
Coast of Sweden," translated in United States Commission Report, 1873-'75) spealcs of


Fishermen distinguish four states of the herring. Fry or sile, when
not larger than sprats ; maties, when larger than this, with undevel-
oped roe or milt ; full fish, with largely developed roe or milt ; and
spent or shotten fish, which have recently spawned.

Herring-fry of the size of sprats are distinguished from full fish not
merely by their size, but, in addition, by the very slight development of
the milt or roe, and by the accumulation of fat in the abdominal cavity.
Bands of fat are found in the mesentery alongside the intestine, and
filling up the interspaces between the pyloric ca^ca.

Maties (the name* of which is a corruption of the Dutch word for
a maiden) resemble the fry in these particulars ; but, if they are well
fed, the deposit of fatty and other nutritive matter takes place, not
only about the abdominal viscera, but also beneath the skin and in the
interstices of the flesh. Indeed, when nourishment is abundant, this
infiltration of the flesh with fat may go so far that the fish can not
readily be preserved and must be eaten fresh. The singularly delicate
Loch Fyne herrings are in this condition early in the season. "When
the small crustaceans, on which the maties chiefly feed, are extremely
abundant the fish gorge themselves with them to such an extent that
the conical crop becomes completely distended, and the Scotch fisher-
ermen give them the name of " gut-pock " herrings, as much as to say
pouch-gutted fish, and an absurd notion is current that these herrings
are diseased. However, the " gut-pock " herrings differ from the rest
only in having their pouch full instead of empty, as it commonly is.

As the fish passes from the matie to the full condition, the milt and
roe begin to grow at the expense of the nutriment thus stored up ;
and, as these organs become larger and occupy more and more space #
in the abdominal cavity, the excess of nutritious substance is trans-
ferred to them. The fatty deposit about the intestine and pyloric caeca
gradually disappears and the flesh becomes poorer. It would appear
that by degrees the fish cease to feed at all. At any rate, there is
usually no food in the stomach of a hen-ing which approaches matu-
rity. In all these respects there is the closest resemblance between the
history of the herring and that of other fishes such as the salmon — the
parr corresponding to the herring- fry or sile, the grilse and the " clean
fish " of larger size to the maties.

At length spawning takes place, the accumulated nutrition, trans-
formed into eggs or spennatic fluid, is expelled, and the fish is left in

full herrings ready to spawn, only 100-110 millimetres (four to four and a half inches)
long, as observed by himself.

* " Halecum intestina, non modo multa gaudere obesitate, sed et totum coq)us eo adeo
esse impletum ut aliquando, cum discinditur, pinguedo ex cultro defluat, et prjesertim eo
quidem tempore ubi halecum lactes aut ova crescere primum incipiunt, unde nostrates eos
Maatgens-Uarlngen dicere solent." — A. v. Leeuwenhock, " Arcana Xatunc'," Ep. icvii

Leeuwenhoek also mentions having heard of " gut-pock " herrings from Scotch fish-


as to be quite safe. It is a large number undoubtedly, but what does
it come to ? Not more than that of the herrings which may be con-
tained in one shoal, if it covers half a dozen square miles — and shoals
of much larger size are on record. It is safe to say that, scattered
through the North Sea and the Atlantic, at one and the same time, there
must be scores of shoals, any one of which would go a long way toward
supplying the whole of man's consumption of herrings. I do not be-
lieve that all the herring-fleets taken together destroy five per cent, of
the total number of herrings in the sea in any year, and I see no reason
to swerve from the conviction my colleagues and I expressed in our
report, that their destructive operations are totally insignificant when
compared with those which, as a simple calculation shows, must regu-
larly and nornjally go on.

Suppose that every mature female herring lays 10,000 eggs, that
the fish are not interfered with by man, and that their numbers remain
approximately the same year after year, it follows that 9,998 of the
progeny of every female must be destroyed before they reach maturity.
For, if more than two out of the 10,000 escape destruction, the number
of heiTings will be proportionately increased. Or, in other words, if
the average strength of the shoals which visit a given locality is to
remain the same year by year, many thousand times the number con-
tained in those shoals must be annually destroyed. And how this
enormous amount of destruction is effected will be obvious to any one
who considers the operations of the fin-whales, the porpoises, the gan-
nets, the gulls, the codfish, and the dog-fish, which accompany the
shoals and ijerennially feast upon them ; to say nothing of the flat-fish,
which prey upon the newly-deposited spawn ; or of the mackerel, and
the innumerable smaller enemies which devour the fry in all stages of
their development. It is no uncommon thing to find five or six — nay,
even ten or twelve — herrings in the stomach of a codfish,* and in 1863
we calculated that the whole take of the great Scotch herring-fish-
eries is less than the number of herrings which would in all probability
have been consumed by the codfish captured in the same waters if they
had been left in the sea. f

Man, in fact, is but one of a vast cooperative society of herring-
catchers, and, the larger the share he takes, the less there is for the rest
of the company. If man took none, the other shareholders would have
a larger dividend, and would thrive and multiply in proportion, but it
would come to pretty much the same thing to the herrings.

* In his valuable "Report on the Salt- Water Fisheries of Norway" (1877), Professor
Sars expresses the belief that full-grown codfishes feed chiefly, if not exclusively, on her-

t In 1879 rather more than 5,000,000 cod, ling, and hal<c, were taken by the Scottish
fishermen. Allowing each only two herrings a day, these fishes would have consumed more
than 3,500,000,000 of herrings in a year. As to the Norwegian fisheries, 20,000,000 cod-
fishes are said to be taken annually by the Loffoden fishermen alone.


As long as the records of history give us information, herrings
appear to have abounded on the east coast of the British Islands, and
there is nothing to show, so far as I am aware, that, taking an average
of years, they were ever either more or less numerous than they are at
present. But, in remarkable contrast with this constancy, the shoals of
herrings have elsewhere exhibited a change capriciousness — visiting a
given locality for many years in great numbers, and then suddenly
disappearing. Several well-marked examples of this fickleness are
recorded on the west coast of Scotland ; but the most remarkable is
that furnished by the fisheries of Bohiislan, a province which lies on
the southwestern shore of the Scandinavian peninsula. Here a variety
known as the " old " or " great " herring, after being so extremely
abundant, for about sixty years, as to give rise to a great industry,
disappeared in the year 1808, as suddenly as they made their appear-
ance, and have not since been seen in any number.

The desertion of their ordinary grounds by the herring has been
attributed to all imaginable causes, from fishing on a Sunday to the
offense caused to the fish by the decomposing carcasses of their breth-
ren, dropped upon the bottom out of the nets. The truth is, that
absolutely nothing is known on the subject, and that little is likely
to be known until careful and long-continued meteorological and
zoological observations have furnished definite information respecting
the changes which take place in the temperature of the sea, and the
distribution of the pelagic Crustacea which constitute the chief food
of the herring-shoals. The institution of systematic observations of
this kind is an object of international importance, toward the attain-
ment of which the British, Scandinavian, Dutch, and French Govern-
ments might wisely make a combined effort.

A great fuss has been made about trawlers working over the
spawning-grounds of the herring. "It stands to reason," we were
told, that they must destroy an immense quantity of the spawn. In-
deed, this looked so reasonable that we inquired very particularly into
a case of the alleged malpractice which was complained of on the
east coast of Scotland, near Pittenweem. Off this place there is a
famous spawning-ground known as the Traith hole, and we were told
that the trawlers worked vigorously over the spot immediately after
the herring had deposited their spawn. Of course our first proceed-
ing was to ask the trawlers why they took the trouble of doing what
looked like wanton mischief. And their answer was reasonable enough.
It was to catch the prodigious abundance of flat-fish which were to
be found on the Traith at that time. Well, then, why did the flat-
fish congregate there ? Simply to feed on herring-eggs, which seem
to be a sort of flat-fishes' caviare. The stomachs of the flat-fish
brought up by the trawl were, in fact, crammed with masses of her-

Thus every flat-fish caught by the trawl was an energetic destroyer


of herring arrested in his career. And the trawling, instead of injur-
ing the herring, captured and removed hosts of their worst enemies.
That is how " it stood to reason " when one got to the bottom of the

I do not think that any one who looks carefully into the subject
will arrive at any other conclusion than that reached by my colleagues
and myself : namely, that the best thing for governments to do in
relation to the herring-fisheries is, to let them alone, except in so
far as the police of the sea is concerned. With this proviso, let peo-
ple fish how they like, as they like, and when they like. At present,
I must repeat the conviction we expressed so many years ago, that
there is not a particle of evidence that anything man does has an
appreciable influence on the stock of herrings. It will be time to
meddle when any satisfactory evidence that mischief is being done is
produced. — Nature.



"Mirth is a remedy." — Thomas IIobbes.

HAPPINESS is the normal condition of every living creature, for
in a state of nature every normal function is connected with a
pleasurable sensation. " To enjoy is to obey " ; if human life were
what it could be and what its Author intended it to be, the path of duty
would be a flowery path, the reward of virtue would not be a crown of
thorns ; man, like all his fellow-creatures, would attain to his highest
well-being by simply following the promptings of his instincts. Wild
animals have not lost their earthly paradise ; he who has observed
them in the freedom of their forest homes can not doubt that to them
existence is a blessing, and death merely the later or earlier evening
of a happy day. Nor would our missionaries find it easy to persuade
an able-bodied savage that earth is a vale of tears, till fire-water and
fire-arms demonstrate the superiority of revelation over the light of
nature. The children of the wilderness need no holidays ; to them life
itself is a festival and earth a play-ground for manifold games, not the
less entertaining for being sometimes spiced with danger or prompted
by hunger and thirst.

But in process of time the daily life of a combatant in the harder
and harder struggle for existence became so joyless and wearisome
that the clamors of an unsatisfied instinct suggested the institution of
periodical festivals : pleasure-days intended to offset the tedium of
monotonous toil, as gymnastic exercises tend to counteract the influ-


ence of sedentary occupations. The Assyrians and Greeks bad tri-.
monthly holidays, besides annual revels, and great national festivals at
longer intervals. In ancient Etruria every new month was ushered in
by a day of merrymaking in honor of a tutelary deity ; the patricians
and plebeians of republican Rome had their field-days ; the festivals of
the seasons united the pleasure-seekers of all classes, and even the
slaves had their Saturnalia weeks when some of their privileges were
only limited by their capacity of enjoyment. In the first centuries of
the Roman Empire, when the growth of the cities and the scarcity of
game began to circumscribe the private pastimes of the poorer classes,
the rulers themselves provided the means of public amusements ; at
the death of Septimus Severus (a. d. 211), the capital alone had six
free amphitheatres and twelve or fourteen large public baths, where
the poorest were admitted gratis, and none but the poorest could com-
plain about the half-cent entrance-fee to the luxurious thermce. The
circenses, or public games, were by no means confined to the gladia-
torial combats that have exercised the eloquence of our Christian
moralists ; dramatic entertainments, trials of strength, and the exhibi-
tion of outlandish curiosities, seem to have been as popular as the
grandest prize-fights, unless the combatants were international cham-
pions. And it would be a great mistake to suppose that only the
wealthy capital could afford to amuse its citizens at the public ex-
pense ; from Gaul to Syria every town had a circus or two, every
larger village an arena, a free bath, and a public gymnasium. The
Colosseum of Vespasian seated eighty thousand spectators, but was
rivaled by the amphitheatres of Narbonne, Syracuse, Antioch, Berytus,
and Thessalonica.* Children, married women, old men, and many
trades-unions had their yearly carnivals, and, during the celebration of
the Olympian and Capitoline games and various local festivals, even
strangers enjoyed the freedom of the larger towns.

And now? — Professor "SYirgmann, in his " Annalen des Russischen
Reiches," estimates that since the accession of Nicholas I, the modern
Cffisars have expended an average annual sum of seventeen million
dollars for the torture of their subjects ; how many cents have they
ever spent for national pastimes ? How many spectators (since the
abolition of the "Tyburn-days") have ever been entertained at the
expense of the wealthy British Empire ? What has our Great Repub-
lic done in the matter of circenses, except to pass an occasional sab-
bath law for the suppression of public amusements on the only day in
which a large plurality of our workingmen find their only leisure for
recreation? The spoils of a Roman consul would dwindle before the
rents of our American, German, and French financiers : what have our
commercial triumphators ever achieved for the entertainment of their
poor fellow-citizens ? Cooper Institute lectures, street revivals, and
prize distributions at the examination of a sabbath-school for adults ?
* Tacitus, " Annalen," xii-xiv.


"At the proposition of such-like pastime," says Ludwig Boerne, "a
resurrected citizen of ancient Rome would feel like a filibuster at an
invitation to dive for copper coins in a duck-pond, after having chased
King Philip's silver fleet on the Spanish Main,"

Not poverty makes our daily ways so trite and joyless, for the best
recreations are still as free as the air and the sea ; nor want of leisure,
for we manage to find plenty of time for humdrum ceremonies. The
old Egyptians turned their funerals into holidays — we celebrate our
holidays like funerals ; all the employments of our weekly day of rest
are sicklied over with a cast of superstitious fear ; and, indeed, no
other anachronism of our strangely complex civilization proclaims
more loudly the necessity of its divorce from the influence of an anti-
natural religion. When that religion reigned supreme, its exponents
openly and violently waged war upon all earthly joys ; sublunary life,
according to their doctrine, was a state of probation for testing a
man's power of self-denial ; earth was the devil's own, and delight in
its pleasures an insult to the jealous ruler of a higher sphere. They
believed that God delights in the self-abasement and mortification of
his creatures, and hoped to gain his favor by afilicting themselves in
every possible way — by voluntary seclusion, fasts, vigils, the wearing
of dingy garments, and abstinence from every physical pleasure. Fail-
ing to enamor mankind with their doleful heaven, they revenged
themselves by depriving them of their earthly joys. In hopes of mak-
ing the hereafter more attractive, they made life as repulsive as pos-
sible ; kill-joys and persecutors were the active heroes of those times ;
ascetics and self-tormentors their passive exemplars. Virtue and joy-
lessness became synonyms ; men aspiring to superior merit exchanged
the glories of the sunny earth for the misery of a gloomy convent ; a
" Man of Sorrows " became a type of moral perfection, an instrument
of torture, the trade-mark of the new religion, Kosmos — i. e., beauty
and harmony — was the oldest Grecian term for God's wonderful world ;
a " vale of tears " the favorite Christian epithet. A symposium of
festive heroes was exchanged for a conventicle of whining penitents,
Olympus for a charnel-house, the festival of the seasons for the eccle-
siastic sabbath : there, a merry multitude, joining in dances and heroic
games, inspired by the rapture of emulation, the joy of exuberant
health and the beauty of earth till their happiness overflowed in
anthems of praise to the bounteous gods ; here, a cowed and wretched
assemblage, listening with groans to the denunciations of a Nature-
hating fanatic. And that hideous superstition founds its claim to our
gratitude on its merit of having suppressed a few profligate pastimes
— in aiming its death-blows at all earthly joys whatever ; as if the
crushing of a few poison-plants could atone for the attempt to turn a
fertile continent into a sand- waste ! The attempt, I say, for I do not
believe that either the axe or the cross will for ever mar the beauty of
our Mother Earth : the devastated woodlands of the East will ulti-


raately be reclaimed, and here and there the moral desei-t of asceticism
has already begun to bloom with flowers from the revived seeds of
Grecian civilization.

Monachism, at least, is fast disappearing ; in this age of railroads
and steam-engines we have no time for positive self-torture d la Simon
Stylites. But our commercial Pecksnifl^s have found it a time- and
money-saving plan to stick to the negative part of the anti-pleasure
dogma, and hope to atone for the dreary materialism of our daily fac-
tory-life by the still drearier asceticism of a Puritan sabbath : six days
of misery in the name of Mammon, balanced by one day of sixfold
misery in the name of Christ. " Worldly pleasures " are still under the
ban of our spiritual purists ; daily drudgery and daily self-denial are
still considered the proper sphere of a law-abiding citizen, and special
afflictions a special sign of divine favor. Life has become a socage-
duty ; we do not think it necessary to alleviate the distress of our poor
till it reaches a degree that threatens to end it. We have countless
benevolent institutions for the prevention of outright death, not one
benevolent enough to make life worth li-vdng. Infanticide is now far
more rigorously punished than in old times ; we enforce every child's
right to live and become a humble, tithe-paying Christian, but as for
its claim to live happy we refer it to the sweet by-and-by. We shud-
der at the barbarity of the Ctesars, who permitted the combat of men
with wild beasts, to cater to the amusement of the Roman populace ;
but we contemplate with great equanimity the misery of millions of
our fellow-citizens, wearing away their lives in workshops and fac-
tories ; millions of children of our own nation and country, who
have no recreation but sleep, no hope but oblivion, to whom the
morning sun brings the summons of a taskmaster and the summer
season nothing but lengthened hours of weary toil ; nay, we make it
the boast of our pious civilization to deprive them of their sole day of
leisure, to interdict their harmless sports, lest the noise, or even the
rumor of their merriment, might disturb the solemnity of an assem-
blage of whining hypocrites. Hence the recklessness, the Nihilism, and
the weary pessimism of our times, the melancholy that everywhere
underlies the glittering varnish of our social life. Hence also that
vague yearning after a happy hereafter, which the murderers of the
happy past have made the principal source of their revenues.

With few exceptions the children of Christendom are stricken with
a disease which mirth alone can cure. In Xoi-th America and North
Britain, especially, it is pitiful to witness the slow withering of so
many light-loving creatures in the hopeless night of poverty and Sab-
batarianism ; more pitiful to see the reviving of their spirits at every
deceptive sign of dawn, the expedients of poor, compromising Nature,
her makeshifts with half-recreations and half-suflicient rest, in the
lingering hope of a bett<?r future — to come only with the repose from
which no factory-bell can awaken a sleeper, when after long years of


waning life, waning at last to a state of callous vegetation, Xature i>
reduced to the alternative of ending an evil for which she has \\o

But while the ebb of life alternates with a tide, the struggle against
a natural instinct is the struggle of Prometheus against the vulture of
Jove ; in the intervals of torment the martyr may forget his misery,
but the torturer returns, and the poisoned arrows of the intcrventor
can bring only a temporary relief, Man can not conquer a God-sent
instinct, though he may for a time defy it — with poison ; the most
incurable victims of intemperance are those who resort to stimulants
less for the sake of intoxication than for the benumbing after-effect
which helps them to stifle the voice of outraged Xature. It is a sig-
nificant circumstance that the consumption of intoxicating poisons
increases in times of famine and general distress ; the Christian dogma
of the reformatory value of misery has, indeed, been refuted by the
most dreadful arguments of the world's history ; the unhappiest na-
tions are not only the most immoral, but the most selfish and the
meanest in every ugly sense of the word : virtues do not flourish on a
trampled soil. The same with individuals ; injustice, disappointment,
and bodily pain, can turn the noblest man into a querulous tyrant, a
harmless kitten into a spiteful cat. Happiness, on the other hand, is
the sunshine that decks the moral world with flowers ; making earth
a heaven would be the surest way of turning men into angels ; the
hardest heart will melt imder the persistent rays of kindness and hap-
piness. Happy children have no time to be wicked ; it is not worth
their while to waste the merry hours on vices. Genius, too, is a child
of light ; the Grecian worship of joy favored the development of every
human science, while the monastic worship of sorrow produced nothing
but monsters and chimeras ; for to modern science Christianity bears
about the same relation as the plague to the quarantine.

But, aside from all this, mirth has an hygienic value that can hardly

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 56 of 110)