Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/436

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
430
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

hands of an investigator, the eggs of Mondini's eel being immature. This important event was the final blow that settled the sex question as far as eels are concerned. Over twenty years afterward, however, the German Fishery Association in Berlin was led by renewed interest in eels, due to the stimulus of Syrski's work on the male eel, to offer a reward of fifty marks for an eel in full roe. The eel was to be submitted to Professor Virchow, and the royal superintendent of fisheries undertook to forward the responses. It seems that about every German newspaper 'from the Rhine to the Vistula and from the Alps to the sea,' gave publicity, with a result creditable to them, but overwhelming to the royal superintendent. His delight at the popular interest in eels was succeeded by astonishment and that by horror. His postal expenses compelled him to announce that all eels and communications should be forwarded direct to Virchow. The public complied and the great German savant was obliged to cry enough and beg for mercy. People wrote and sent their specimens, parts of eels, contents of eels, thread worms from eels and above all, stories of eels and of eggs in eels, but seldom an eel intact and none in the desired condition. They usually ate the eel and sent various and often irrelevant portions of its anatomy, with a request that the fifty marks be remitted by return mail. If this prize contest had no scientific results, it contributed to the merriment of the German nation. The comic papers cartooned the incidents and announced that in the future the scientists desired only smoked eels.

To Mondini is due the credit which has largely gone to Rathke of first demonstrating sex in eels. History repeated itself as often before and since in according the honors of priority elsewhere than they belonged. However, all these observers shared in determining an important and historic phase of the eel question, which, while there are still interesting queries connected with the natural history of eels, has now merged itself with the general and special problems of biology and is no longer paramount as in the olden days.

Eels themselves, as such, are no mystery, but a familiar and commonplace factor in our economy. From the epicurean standpoint extremes meet in them—they excite a gastronomic horror in minds appropriately constituted and a peculiar delectation in the gourmand in whom suggestion is not strong enough to appeal against the keen delight of a sensitive and discriminating palate. The eel has ever occupied an extreme position. He is apt to be loathed or loved. It is characteristic of him that he never did anything by halves. What he does he does with all his might. In breeding his offspring were legion and filled the seas. In his contact with the human race, he ingratiated himself into the affections of a whole nation, or was rejected utterly.