Page images

are marked by a reddish, and sometimes by a violet-coloured spot: the eyes are large: the mouth is without visible teeth : the openings of the gill-covers are very large: the scales are rather large and easily deciduous : the lateral line is not very distinctly visible: the abdomen is pretty sharply carinated, and, in some specimens, slightly serrated : the fins are rather small than large for the size of the fish, and the tail is strongly forked. The herring is observed to vary greatly in size, and there are probably some permanent varieties of this species, which yet want their exact description. The general size is perhaps from ten to twelve or thirteen inches.

Important as this fish is to the inhabitants of modern Europe, it is doubted whether it was distinctly known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, at least we find no certain description in their writings, either of its form or uses. The herring fishery is, however, of considerable antiquity: the Dutch are said to have engaged in it so long ago as the year 1164, and were in possession of it for several centuries; and Flanders bad the honour of discovering the method of preserving this fish by pickling it. One William Beukelen, of Biervlet, near Sluys, is


[ocr errors]

said to have been the inventor of this useful expedient; and from him is probably derived the word pickle, which we have borrowed from the Dutch and Germans. Beukelen died in the year 1397. The emperor, Charles the Fifth, is said to have held his memory in such veneration for the service he had done mankind, as to have paid a solemn visit to his tomb, in honour of so distinguished a citizen, and, sitting thereon, to have eaten a herring* The Dutch are most extravagantly fond of this fish when pickled: a premium was given to the first vessel that arrived in Holland, laden with this, their ambrosia. As much joy was observed among the inhabitants on its arrival, as the Egyptians shew at the first overflowing of the Nile. +

The great winter rendezvous of the herring is within the arctic circle: there they continue many months, in order to recruit themselves after the fatigue of spawning ; the seas, within that space, swarming with insect food in a far greater degree than in our warmer latitudes.

They commence their voyage in the spring,

* Shaw's Zoology, Vol. v. Ichtyologie par Bloch, Berlin, Vol. i. p. 150.

+ Pennant’s British Zoology.


and a few appear off the Shetland Isles in April and May. These are only fore-runners of the grand shoal which comes in June, and their appearance is chiefly marked by the number of birds, such as gannets and gulls, which follow and prey upon them: but when the main body approaches, its breadth and depth is such as to alter the very appearance of the ocean. It is divided into distinct columns of five or six miles in length, and three or four in breadth; and they drive the water before them with a kind of rippling. Sometimes they sink for the space of ten or fifteen minutes; then rise again to the surface, and, in bright weather, reflect a variety of splendid colours, like a field of the most precious gems.

The first obstruction that they meet with in their passage southward is the Shetland Isles, which divide the shoal into two parts. One division directs its course to the eastern, the other to the western shores of Great Britain, and fill every bay and creek with their numbers, The one passes on towards Yarmouth, the great and ancient mart of herrings, proceeds through the British Channel, and afterwards nearly disappears. The other, after offering itself to the

[ocr errors]

Hebrides, where the great stationary fishery is, meets with a second interruption, and is again divided at the north of Ireland. The part which pursues the western course is soon lost in the immensity of the Atlantic; but the other, which passes into the Irish sea, rejoices and feeds the inhabitants of the coasts that border it.

These smaller divisions are often capricious in their movements, and do not shew an invariable attachment to their haunts. *

Such as escape the voracity of their enemies and the ravages of famine, are supposed to collect at the end of autumn in the northern sea, and, having left their spawn in a more genial climate, seek their former habitations under the ice.

The reality of the emigration of the herring, so well detailed by Mr. Pennant, begins, at present, to be greatly called in question : and it is rather supposed that this fish, like the mackerel, is, in reality, at no very great distance, during the winter months, from the shores which it most frequents at the commencement of the spawning season; inhabiting in winter the deep recesses of



* Pennant's British Zoology.

+ Bloch, Vol. i. p. 151.

the ocean, or plunging itself beneath the soft mud at the bottom : but, at the vernal season it begins to quit the deeper parts, and approach the shallows, in order to deposit its spawn. in proper situations; and this is thought a sufficient explanation of the glittering myriads which, at particular seasons, illuminate the surface of the ocean for the length and breadth of several miles at once. *

The reasons given by Dr. Bloch, against a belief in their existence are chiefly these : . .

It is impossible that they should traverse a space of so many thousands of miles in so short a time. According to the observations of Giessler, the salmon, even in fresh water, swims only at the rate of one mile in twenty-four hours; and when the sun shines, not more than half as fast. f

The salmon-trout, (lavaret) when the wind is favorable, swims up the most rapid rivers at the rate of three miles in twenty-four hours; but up gentle streams, it makes in the same time only half the progress. I Herrings, having

* Shaw.

† Giessler, p. 113.

Bloch, Vol. i. p. 133.

« PreviousContinue »