Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

can only dissect and destroy, without a hope of being able either to recompose or reanimate. Moreover, were Cuvier, or Owen, or any other philosopher deeply versed in the mysteries of the molluscous microcosm, to remonstrate for a moment against the cannibal act of one soft body swallowing up another without understanding, and endeavor to enlighten our ostreophagist, by discovering to him the beauties of his victim's conformation, he would regard the interruption as illtimed and impertinent, and hold by his original intention of bolting his oyster without inquiry or investigation. The world is mainly made up of such ostreophagists. Yet, could we persuade them to hesitate-to listen for five minutes—we feel sure that they would live and die wiser and happier men, without the slightest diminution of the keen relish with which, in the days of their darkness, they enjoyed their testaceous prey.

Look, then, we say again, at an oyster. In that soft and gelatinous body lies a whole world of vitality and quiet enjoyment. Somebody has styled fossiliferous rocks " monuments of the felicity of past ages.” An undisturbed oyster-bed is a concentration of happiness in the present. Dormant though the several creatures there congregated seem, each individual is leading the beatified existence of an Epicurean god. The world without-its cares and joys, its storms and calms, its passions, evil and good-all are indifferent to the unheeding oyster. Unobservant even of what passes in its immediate vicinity, its whole soul is concentrated in itself; yet not sluggishly and apathetically, for its body is throbbing with life and enjoyment. The mighty ocean is subservient to its pleasures. The rolling waves wast fresh and choice food within its reach, and the flow of the current feeds it without requiring an effort. Each atom of water that comes in contact with its delicate gills evolves its in prisoned air to freshen and invigorate the creature's

а

pellucid blood. Invisible to human eye, unless aided by the wonderful inventions of human science, countless millions of vibrating cilia are moving incessantly with synchronic beat on every fibre of each fringing leaflet. Well might old Leeuwenhoek exclaim, when he looked through his microscope at the beard of a shell-fish, " The motion ! saw in the small component parts of it was so incredibly great, that I could not be satisfied with the spectacle; and it is not in the mind of man to conceive all the motions which I behold within the compass of a grain of sand.” And yet the Dutch naturalist, unaided by the finer instruments of our time, beheld but a dim and misty indication of the exquisite ciliary apparatus by which these motions are effected. How strange to reflect that all this elaborate and inimitable contrivance has been devised for the wellbeing of a despised shell-fish! Nor is it merely in the working members of the creature that we find its wonders comprised. There are portions of its frame which seem to serve no essential purpose in its economy; which might te omitted without disturbing the course of its daily duties, and yet so constant in their presence and position that we cannot doubt their having had their places in the original plan according to which the organization of the mollusk was first put together.

But the life of a shell-fish is not one of unvarying rest. Observe the phases of an individual oyster from the moment of its earliest embryo-life, independent of maternal ties, to the consummation of its destiny when the knife of fate shall sever its muscular cords and doom it to entombment in a living sepulchre. How starts it forth into the world of waters? Not, as unenlightened people believe, in the shape of a minute, bivalved, protected, grave, fixed, and steady oysterling. No; it enters upon its career all life and motion, flitting about in the sea as gayly and lightly as

a

a butterfly or a swallow skims through the air. Its first appearanee is as a microscopic oyster-cherub, with wing-like lobes flanking a mouth and shoulders, unincumbered with inferior crural prolongations. It passes through a joyous and vivacious juvenility, skipping up and down as if in mockery of its heavy and immovable parents. It voyages from oyster-bed to oyster-bed, and, if in luck, so as to escape the watchful voracity of the thousand enemies that lie in wait or prowl about to prey upon youth and inexperience, at length, having sown its wild oats, settles down into a steady, solid, domestic oyster. It becomes the parent of fresh broods of oyster-cherubs. As such it would live and die, leaving its shell, thickened through old age, to serve as its monument throughout all time; a contribution towards the construction of a fresh geological epoch, and a new layer of the earth's crust, were it not for the gluttony of man, who, rending this sober citizen of the sea from his native bed, carries him unresisting to busy cities and the hum of crowds. If a handsome, well-shaped, and well-flavored oyster, he is introduced to the palaces of the rich and noble, like a wit, or a philosopher, or a poet, to give additional relish to their sumptuous feasts. If a sturdy, thick-backed, strong-tasted individual, fate consigns him to the capacious tub of the street-fishmonger, from whence, dosed with coarse black pepper and pungent vin. egar, embalmed partly after the fashion of an Egyptian king, he is transferred to the hungry stomach of a costermonger, or becomes the luxurious repast of a successful pickpocket.

Were it not that pains are taken to rear and cherish oyster-broods, the incessant war waged by the human race against this highly-esteemed but much-persecuted mollusk, would have gone far to extirpate the species long before now.

The consumption of oysters in London alone is indeed enormous. During the season of 1848–49, one hundred and thirty thousand bushels of oysters were sold in our metropolis. A million and a half of these shell-fish are consumed during each season in Edinburgh, being at the rate of more than seven thousand three hundred a day. Fifty-two millions were taken from the French channel banks during the course of the year 1828, and now the number annually dred yed is probably considerably greater, since the facilities of transport by rail greatly increase the inland consumption of these as of other marine luxuries. In consequence of the continually-increasing consumption of oysters, the comparatively small number and extent of well-managed artificial oyster grounds, the waste and neglect of the dredgers upon those which are natural, and the limited localities in which oysters are found thriving indigenously in any considerable quantity, we believe that the time will come when the supply will be greatly decreased, and when this cherished luxury will necessarily rise in price until it may no longer, as now, find a place among the delicacies of the poor man's table. The law has done its best to preserve them, and Parliament has more thi once legislated about oysters. With proper care a plentiful supply might doubtless be kept up, but they have many foes and devourers besides man. Starfishes with greedy fingers, poke them out of their shells, when incautiously yawning, and whelks assail them from above, perseveringly drilling a hole through and through their upper valves. Fortunately man at least does not carry them away from their homes until they have attained their maturity. A London oyster-man can tell the ages of his flock to a nicely. They are in perfection when from five to seven years old. The age of an oyster is not to be found out by looking into its mouth; it bears its years upon its back. Everybody who has handled an oyster-shell must have observed that it seemed as if composed of successive layers or plates overlapping each oher. Thes

These are technically termed "shoots,” and each of thein marks a year's growth, so that, by counting them, we can determine at a glance the year when the creature came into the world. Up to the epoch of its maturity the shoots are regular and successive, but after that time they become irregular, and are piled one over the other, so that the shell becomes more and more thickened and bulky. Judying from the great thickness to which some oyster-shells bave attained, this mollusk is capable, if left to its natural changes and unmolested, of attaining a patriarchal longevity.

You see then, gentle readers, the oyster has some good philosophy as well as good eating in it, and we shall now leave you to treat it as you please, according to its desert.

A BREAKFAST AT THE WHITE HOUSE.

A Mr. Wansey, whose published notes of a tour in this country in 1794, have recently been the subject of notice in the papers, gives the following description of a breakfast at the White House in that year.

“Mrs. Washington herself made tea and coffee for us. On the table were two small plates of sliced tongue, dry toast, bread and butter, but no boiled fish, as is the general custom. Miss Custis, her grand-daughter, a very pleasing young lady of about sixteen, sat next her brother, George Washington Custis, about two years older than herself. There was but little appearance of form, no livery. A silver urn for hot water was the only expensive thing on the table. Mrs. Washington appears to be something older than the President, although born in the same year, short in stature, rather robust, and very plain in dress."

« PreviousContinue »