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hard it must be for a thrifty London
housekeeper to realise the fact that, some short
century or two ago, Newcastle prentices
and Worcester servants stipulated for a
written promise that they should not be
fed on salmon more than four times a week.
In those days the Tyne and the Severn
yielded such a finny store that the temptation
to an avaricious master to surfeit his
dependents on salmon was over-great.
There was the fish on every market stall,
rich, solid, cloying, and at a penny a pound,
sometimes even cheaper. But that was
before weirs and stake-nets, mill refuse,
the waste of dye-works, and the reckless
greed of short-sighted men had thinned the
salmon down to a handful. The goose that
laid the golden eggs has been killed off too
unsparingly to allow the hope that the new
salmon conservators may restock the rivers
in the course of a season or two.

Fish, excepting salmon, was never
remarkably cheap in England, save only in
London and in a few of the seaside counties.
London has, indeed, as is natural
from its position on a great tidal river,
been better supplied than any other of the
great capitals of Europe. In Paris, for
instance, fish is a luxury indeed, and Berlin
draws but a moderate supply from the
Baltic and the North Sea. But even in
the old days before the Reformation, when
the frequent fasts and the long rigours of
a mediæval Lent made fish a much more
important commodity than it now is,
herrings and mackerel were the only cheap
sea fish, and these, indeed, were often sold
for next to nothing. But stockfishthe
salted cod which England exported so
largelyalways commanded a fair price,
for our customers in Spain, and Portugal,
and Italy, and afterwards in South America,
absorbed as much as we could catch. To
this day the herdsman of the Pampas
depends for the bacallao that he eats on fast
days on the English and Dutch fishermen,
tossing to and fro among the Newfoundland
fogs, or on the grey waters of the
Texel. And while Yarmouth herrings have
always been esteemed in foreign markets,
the dwellers in inland English counties had
to content themselves with eels, and with
the tench and bream bred in stew-ponds. A
large pike is recorded, in the reign of
Henry the Eighth, to have cost as much as
a house-lamb.

Eels were once a staple of English diet,
since they supplied almost the only animal
food to which the poor could aspire. During
the long winter months fresh meat was an
unknown luxury, even on the tables of the
rich. My lord the earl, and his worship
the squire, had groves of salted swine hanging
from the roofs of their cellars, along
with dried venison, and corned beef, and
mutton hams. The yeoman's wide chimneys
were garnished with mighty bacon
flitches, and a forest of smoked geese. But
the poor man of the period, whose daily
fare consisted of dark rye-bread, of peas,
buckwheat, and horse-beans, coarse grains
unfamiliar to the English peasantry of our
own times, found a welcome resource in the
rich and oily flesh of the eel. The England
of the middle ages, abounding in lagoons
and ponds, and full of sluggish streams
and sullen marshes, was a very paradise
for the eel-fisher. Notably so in the flat
fen counties lying to the east. The Staffordshire
people, on the other hand, so late as
the time of Walton, and even of Pennant,
reaped a harvest of minnows from the meres
for which their shire was famous. The
silvery shoals of tiny fish were surprised in
the shallows, and caught, in sheets and
sailcloth instead of nets, in incredible quantities,
then cooked and compressed into a
sort of fish-cake, flavoured with herbs,
under the name of minnow-tansies, a local
phrase that still lingers. The dwellers
beside Windermere and Ulswater used to
capture, at certain seasons, enormous
numbers of a small bluish fish popularly known
as the skilly, or fresh-water herring.

The true herring of the salt water, shy,
migratory, easily driven by alarm from a
coast, and yet swarming in such multitudes
as to constitute the most plenteous harvest
of the sea, has always afforded a spoil to
which the fishers have looked forward as
the husbandman to the ingathering of
some profitable but speculative crop. The
great herringHeer, to use the
technical termhas always been capricious
in its movements. It might stay away.
It might come in stinted numbers, so that
only the stragglers of the gleaming host
would fall a prey to the toils of man. Or
a small fortune might be made in a few
days of successful slaughter, and boats
come in laden gunwale deep with heaped-
up crans of herrings. In Cornwall, the
pilchards have often gone literally begging
for purchasers at any price, and Kent and
Sussex have been glutted with fabulous
"takes" of sprat and mackerel. Few
edibles have been so wasted as fish, the
pursuit of which has always partaken of the
gambling nature of a lottery, and which is
so perishable that, without skilful care and