Piscator. My honest Scholar, we are now arrived at the place whereof I spake, and trust me, we shall have good sport. How say you? Is not this a noble Quadrangle we see around us? And be not these lawns trimly kept, and this lake marvellous clear?
Venator. So marvellous clear, good Master, and withal so brief in compass, that methinks, if any fish of a reasonable bigness were therein, we must perforce espy it. I fear me there is none.
Pisc. The less the fish, dear Scholar, the greater the skill in catching of it. Come, let's sit down, and, while we unpack the fishing-gear, I'll deliver a few remarks, both as to the fish to be met with hereabouts, and the properest method of fishing.
But you are to note first (for, as you are pleased to be my Scholar, it is but fitting you should imitate my habits of close observation) that the margin of this lake is so deftly fashioned that each portion thereof is at one and the same distance from that tumulus which rises in the centre.
Ven. O' my word 'tis so! You have indeed a quick eye, dear Master, and a wondrous readiness of observing.
Pisc. Both may be yours in time, my Scholar, if with humility and patience you follow me as your model.
Ven. I thank you for that hope, great Master! But ere you begin your discourse, let me enquire of you one thing touching this noble Quadrangle,—Is all we see of a like antiquity? To be brief, think you that those two tall archways, that excavation in the parapet, and that quaint wooden box, belong to the ancient design of the building, or have men of our day thus sadly disfigured the place?
Pisc. I doubt not they are new, dear Scholar. For indeed I was here but a few years since, and saw naught of these things. But what book is that I see lying by the water's edge?
Ven. A book of ancient ballads, and truly I am glad to see it, as we may herewith beguile the tediousness of the day, if our sport be poor, or if we grow aweary.
Pisc. This is well thought of. But now to business. And first I'll tell you somewhat of the fish proper to these waters. The Commoner kinds we may let pass: for though some of them be easily Plucked forth from the water, yet are they so slow, and withal have so little in them, that they are good for nothing, unless they be crammed up to the very eyes with such stuffing as comes readiest to hand. Of these the Stickle-back, a mighty slow fish, is chiefest and along with him you may reckon the Fluke, and divers others: all these belong to the 'Mullet' genus, and be good to play, though scarcely worth examination.
I will now say somewhat of the Nobler kinds, and chiefly of the Gold-fish, which is a species highly thought of, and much sought after in these parts, not only by men, but by divers birds, as for example the King-fishers: and note that wheresoever you shall see those birds assemble, and but few insects about, there shall you ever find the Gold-fish most lively and richest in flavour; but wheresoever you perceive swarms of a certain gray fly, called the Dun-fly, there the Gold-fish are ever poorer in quality, and the King-fishers seldom seen.
A good Perch may sometimes be found hereabouts: but for a good fat Plaice (which is indeed but a magnified Perch) you may search these waters in vain. They that love such dainties must needs betake them to some distant Sea.
But for the manner of fishing, I would have you note first that your line be not thicker than an ordinary bell-rope: for look you, to flog the water, as though you laid on with a flail, is most preposterous, and will surely scare the fish. And note further, that your rod must by no means exceed ten, or at the most twenty, pounds in weight, for—
Ven. Pardon me, my Master, that I thus break in on so excellent a discourse, but there now approaches us a Collegian, as I guess him to be, from whom we may haply learn the cause of these novelties we see around us. Is not that a bone which, ever as he goes, he so cautiously waves before him?
Pisc. By his reverend aspect and white hair, I guess him to be some learned Professor. I give you good day, reverend Sir! If it be not ill manners to ask it, what bone is that you bear about with you? It is, methinks, a humorous whimsy to chuse so strange a companion.
Prof. Your observation, Sir, is both anthropolitically and ambidexterously opportune: for this is indeed a Humerus I carry with me. You are, I doubt not, strangers in these parts, for else you would surely know that a Professor doth ever carry that which most aptly sets forth his Profession. Thus, the Professor of Uniform Rotation carries with him a wheelbarrow—the Professor of Graduated Scansion a ladder—and so of the rest.
Ven. It is an inconvenient and, methinks, an ill-advised custom.
Prof. Trust me, Sir, you are absolutely and amorphologically mistaken: yet time would fail me to show you wherein lies your error, for indeed I must now leave you, being bound for this great performance of music, which even at this distance salutes your ears.
Pisc. Yet, I pray you, do us one courtesy before you go: and that shall be to resolve a question, whereby my friend and I are sorely exercised.
Prof. Say on. Sir, and I will e'en answer you to the best of my poor ability.
Pisc. Briefly, then, we would ask the cause for piercing the very heart of this fair building with that uncomely tunnel, which is at once so ill-shaped, so ill-sized, and so ill-lighted.
Prof. Sir, do you know German?
Pisc. It is my grief, Sir, that I know no other tongue than mine own.
Prof. Then, Sir, my answer is this, Barum nicht?
Pisc. Alas, Sir, I understand you not.
Prof. The more the pity. For now-a-days all that is good comes from the German. Ask our men of science: they will tell you that any German book must needs surpass an English one. Aye, and even an English book, worth naught in this its native dress, shall become, when rendered into German, a valuable contribution to Science.
Ven. Sir, you much amaze me.
Prof. Nay, Sir, I'll amaze you yet more. No learned man doth now talk, or even so much as cough, save only in German. The time has been, I doubt not, when an honest English 'Hem!' was held enough, both to clear the voice and rouse the attention of the company, but now-a-days no man of Science, that setteth any store by his good name, will cough otherwise than thus, Ach! Cuch! Auch!
Ven. 'Tis wondrous. But, not to stay you further, wherefore do we see that ghastly gash above us, hacked, as though by some wanton school-boy, in the parapet adjoining the Hall?
Prof. Sir, do you know German?
Ven. Believe me. No.
Prof. Then, Sir, I need but ask you this, Wie befinden Sie Sich?
Ven. I doubt not. Sir, but you are in the right on't.
Pisc. But, Sir, I will by your favour ask you one other thing, as to that unseemly box that blots the fair heavens above. Wherefore, in this grand old City, and in so conspicuous a place, do men set so hideous a thing?
Prof. Be you mad, Sir? Why this is the very climacteric and coronal of all our architectural aspirations! In all Oxford there is naught like it!
Pisc. It joys me much to hear you say so.Prof. And, trust me, to an earnest mind, the categorical evolution of the Abstract, ideologically considered, must infallibly develop itself in the parallelepipedisation of the Concrete! And so farewell. [Exit Professor.
Pisc. He is a learned man, and methinks there is much that is sound in his reasoning.
Ven. It is all sound, as it seems to me. But how say you? Shall I read you one of these ballads? Here is one called 'The Wandering Burgess,' which (being forsooth a dumpish ditty) may well suit the ears of us whose eyes are oppressed with so dire a spectacle.
Pisc. Read on, good Scholar, and I will bait our hooks the while.[Venator readeth
The Wandering Burgess.
Our Willie had been sae lang awa'
Frae bonnie Oxford toon,
The townsfolk they were greeting a'
As they went up and doon.
He hadna been gane a year, a year,
A year but barely ten,
When word cam unto Oxford toon,
Our Willie wad come agen.
Willie he stude at Thomas his Gate,
And made a lustie din;
And who so blithe as the gate-porter
To rise and let him in?
'Now enter Willie, now enter Willie,
And look around the place.
And see the pain that we have ta'en
Thomas his Quad to grace.'
The first look that our Willie cast,
He leuch loud laughters three,
The neist look that our Willie cast,
The tear blindit his e'e.
Sae square and stark the Tea-chest frowned
Athwart the upper air,
But when the Trench our Willie saw,
He thocht the Tea-chest fair.
Sae murderous-deep the Trench did gape
The parapet aboon.
But when the Tunnel Willie saw.
He loved the Trench eftsoon.
'Twas mirk beneath the tane archway,
'Twas mirk beneath the tither;
Ye wadna ken a man therein.
Though it were your ain dear brither.
He turned him round and round about.
And looked upon the Three;
And dismal grew his countenance.
And drumlie grew his e'e.
'What cheer, what cheer, my gallant knight?'
The gate-porter 'gan say.
'Saw ever ye sae fair a sight
As ye have seen this day?'
'Now haud your tongue of your prating, man:
Of your prating now let me be.
For, as I'm true knight, a fouler sight
I'll never live to see.
'Before I'd be the ruffian dark
Who planned this ghastly show,
I'd serve as secretary's clerk
To Ayrton or to Lowe.
'Before I'd own the loathly thing
That Christ Church Quad reveals,
I'd serve as shoeblack's underling
To Odger and to Beales!'