The Naturalist on the Thames
by C. J. Cornish
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Having spent the greater part of my outdoor life in the Thames Valley, in the enjoyment of the varied interests of its natural history and sport, I have for many years hoped to publish the observations contained in the following chapters. They have been written at different intervals of time, but always with a view to publication in the form of a commentary on the natural history and character of the valley as a whole, from the upper waters to the mouth. For permission to use those which have been previously printed I have to thank the editors and proprietors of the Spectator, Country Life, and the Badminton Magazine.














































































Fresh water is almost the oldest thing on earth. While the rocks have been melted, the sea growing salter, and the birds and beasts perfecting themselves or degenerating, the fresh water has been always the same, without change or shadow of turning. So we find in it creatures which are inconceivably old, still living, which, if they did not belong to other worlds than ours, date from a time when the world was other than it is now; and the fresh-water plants, equally prehistoric, on which these creatures feed. Protected by this constant element the geographical range of these animals and plants is as remarkable as their high antiquity. There are in lake Tanganyika or the rivers of Japan exactly the same kinds of shells as in the Thames, and the sedges and reeds of the Isis are found from Cricklade to Kamschatka and beyond Bering Sea to the upper waters of the Mackenzie and the Mississippi. The Thames, our longest fresh-water river, and its containing valley form the largest natural feature in this country. They are an organic whole, in which the river and its tributaries support a vast and separate life of animals and plants, and modify that of the hills and valleys by their course. Civil law has recognised the Thames system as a separate area, and given to it a special government, that of the Conservators, whose control now extends from the Nore to the remotest springs in the hamlets in its watershed; and natural law did so long before, when the valley became one of the migration routes of certain southward-flying birds. Its course is of such remote antiquity that there are those who hold that its bed may twice have been sunk beneath the sea, and twice risen again above the face of the waters.[1] It has ever been a masterful stream holding its own against the inner forces of the earth; for where the chalk hills rose, silently, invisibly, in the long line from the vale of White Horse to the Chilterns the river seems to have worn them down as they rose at the crossing point at Pangbourne, and kept them under, so that there was no barring of the Thames, and no subsequent splitting of the barrier with gorges, cliffs, and falls. Its clear waters pass from the oolite of the Cotswolds, by the blue lias and its fossils, the sandstone rock at Clifton Hampden, the gravels of Wittenham, the great chalk range of the downs, the greensand, the Reading Beds, to the geological pie of the London Basin, and the beds of drifts and brick earth in which lie bedded the frames and fragments of its prehistoric beasts. In and beside its valley are great woods, parks, downs, springs, ancient mills and fortresses, palaces and villages, and such homes of prehistoric man as Sinodun Hill and the hut remains at Northfield. It has 151 miles of fresh water and 77 of tideway, and is almost the only river in England in which there are islands, the famous eyots, the lowest and largest of which at Chiswick touches the London boundary.

After leaving Oxford the writer has lived for many years opposite this typical and almost unspoilt reach of the London river, and for a considerable time shot over the estate on the upper Thames of which Sinodun Hill is the hub and centre. This fine outlier of the chalk, with its twin mount Harp Hill, dominates not only the whole of the Thames valley at its feet, but the two cross vales of the Thame and the Ock. On the bank opposite the Thame joins the Isis, and from thence flows on the THAMES. Weeks and months spent there at all seasons of the year gave even better opportunities for becoming acquainted with the life of the Upper Thames, than the London river did of learning what the tidal stream really is and may become. Fish, fowl and foxes, rare Thames flowers and shy Thames chub, butterflies, eel-traps, fountains and springs, river shells and water insects, are all parts of the "natural commodities" of the district. There is no better and more representative part of the river than this. Close by is Nuneham, one of the finest of Thames-side parks, and behind that the remains of wild Oxfordshire show in Thame Lane and Clifton Heath. How many centuries look down from the stronghold on Sinodun Hill, reckoning centuries by human occupation, no one knows or will know. There stands the fortress of some forgotten race, and below it the double rampart of a Roman camp, running from Thame to Isis. Beyond is Dorchester, the abbey of the oldest see in Wessex, and the Abbey Mill. The feet of the hills are clothed by Wittenham Wood, and above the wood stretches the weir, and round to the west, on another great loop of the river, is Long Wittenham and its lovely backwater. Even in winter, when the snow is falling like bags of flour, and the river is chinking with ice, there is plenty to see and learn, or in the floods, when the water roars through the lifted hatches and the rush of the river throbs across the misty flats, and the weeds and sedges smell rank as the stream stews them in its mash-tub in the pool below the weir.

[1] Phillips, "Geology of Oxford and of the Valley of the Thames."


In the late autumn of 1893, one of the driest years ever known, I went to the weir pool above the wood, and found the shepherd fishing. The river was lower than had ever been known or seen, and on the hills round the "dowsers" had been called in with their divining rods to find the vanished waters.

"Thee've got no water in 'ee, and if 'ee don't fill'ee avore New Year, 'ee'll be no more good for a stree-um"! Thus briefly, to Father Thames, the shepherd of Sinodun Hill. He had pitched his float into the pool below the weir—the pool which lies in the broad, flat fields, with scarce a house in sight but the lockman's cottage—and for the first time on a Saturday's fishing he saw his bait go clear to the bottom instead of being lost to view instantly in the boiling water of the weir-pool. He could even see the broken piles and masses of concrete which the river in its days of strength had torn up and scattered on the bottom, and among them the shoals of fat river fish eyeing his worm as critically as his master would a sample of most inferior oats. Yet the pool was beautiful to look upon. Where the water had sunk the rushes had grown taller than ever, and covered the little sandbanks left by the ebbing river with a forest of green and of red gold, where the frost had laid its finger on them. In the back eddies and shallows the dying lily leaves covered the surface with scales of red and copper, and all along the banks teazles and frogbits, and brown and green reeds, and sedges of bronze and russet, made a screen, through which the black and white moorhens popped in and out, while the water-rats, now almost losing the aquatic habit, and becoming pedestrian, sat peeling rushes with their teeth, and eyeing the shepherd on the weir. Even the birds seemed to have voted that the river was never going to fill again, for a colony of sandpipers, instead of continuing their migration to the coast, had taken up their quarters on the little spits of mud and shingle now fringing the weir-pool, and were flitting from point to point, and making believe it was a bit of Pagham Harbour or Porchester Creek. On every sunny morning monster spiders ran out from the holes and angles of the weir-frame, and spun webs across and across the straddling iron legs below the footbridge, right down to the lowered surface of the water, which had so sunk that each spider had at least four feet more of web than he could have reckoned upon before and waxed fat on the produce of the added superficies of enmeshed and immolated flies. So things went on almost till New Year's Eve. The flats of the Upper Thames, where the floods get out up the ditches and tributaries, and the wild duck gather on the shallow "splashes" and are stalked with the stalking-horse as of old, were as dry as Richmond Park, and sounded hollow to the foot, instead of wheezing like a sponge. The herons could not find a meal on a hundred acres of meadow, which even a frog found too dry for him, and the little brooks and land-springs which came down through them to the big river were as low as in June, as clear as a Hampshire chalk stream, and as full of the submerged life of plants. Instead of dying with the dying year at the inrush of cold water brought by autumn rains, all the cresses, and tresses, and stars, and tangles, and laced sprays of the miniature growth of the springs and running brooks were as bright as malachite, though embedded in a double line of dead white shivering sedge. And thus the shortest day went by, and still the fields lay dry, and the river shrank, and the fish were off the feed; and though murky vapours hung over the river and the flats and shut out the sun, the long-expected rains fell not until the last week's end of the year. Then at last signs and tokens began by which the knowing ones prophesied that there was something the matter with the weather. The sheep fed as if they were not to have another bite for a week, and bleated without ceasing, strange birds flew across the sky in hurrying flocks, and in all the country houses and farmers' halls the old-fashioned barometers, with their dials almost as big as our eight-day clocks and pointers as long as a knitting-needle, began to fall, or rather to go backwards, further than was ever recorded. And whereas it is, and always has been, a fact well known to the owners of these barometers that if they are tapped violently in the centre of their mahogany stomachs the needle will jerk a little in the direction of recovery, and is thereby believed to exercise a controlling influence in the direction of better weather, the more the barometers were tapped and thumped the more the needle edged backwards, till in some cases it went down till it pointed to the ivory star at the very bottom of the dial, and then struck work and stuck there.

That night the storm began. To connoisseurs in weather in the meteorological sense it was a joy and an ensample, for it was a perfect cyclonic storm, exactly the right shape, with all its little dotted lines of "isobars" running in ovals one inside another. From another point of view it was the storm of an hour spread over two days, so that there was plenty of time to see and remember the normal ways of cyclones, which may be briefly described as first a flush of heat whether in summer or winter, then a furious wind, then hurrying clouds and much rain, with changes of wind, then more clouds and more rain, then a "clearing shower" with most rain, then a furling and brailing-up of the rain clouds, splashes of blue in the sky, with nets of scud crossing them, sudden gleams of sun, sudden cold, and perhaps a hail shower, and then piercing cold and sunlight. All which things happened, but took a long time about it. The storm began in the night, and howled through the dark. The rain came with the morning; but it was the "clearing shower," which lasted ten hours, which caused the filling of the Thames. The wind still blew in furious gusts, but the rain was almost too heavy to be moved. The sky was one dark, sombre cloud, and from this the rain poured in slanting lines like pencils of water. But across this blanket of cloud came darker, lower, and wetter clouds, even more surcharged with water, from which the deluge poured till the earth was white like glass with the spraying drops. Out in the fields it was impossible to see through the rain; but as the end of the column of cloud began to break and widen the water could be seen in the act of passing from the land to the river. On the fallows and under the fences all the surface earth was beaten down or swept away. All seeds which had sunk naturally below the surface were laid bare. Hundreds of sprouting horse chestnuts, of sprouting acorns beneath the trees, thousands of grains of fallen wheat and barley, of beans, and other seeds of the farm were uncovered as if by a spade.

Down every furrow, drain, watercourse, ditch, runnel, and watercut, the turbid waters were hurrying, all with one common flow, all with increasing speed, to the Thames. The sound of waters filled the air, dropping, poppling, splashing, trickling, dripping from leaves to earth, falling from bank to rills below, gurgling under gate-paths, lapping against the tree-trunks and little ridge piles in the brooks, and at last sweeping with a hushed content into the bosom of Thames. And the river himself was good for something more than a "stree-um." He was bank-full and sweeping on, taking to himself on this side and on that the tributes of his children, from which the waters poured so fast that they came in almost clear, and the mingled waters in the river were scarcely clouded in their flow. The lock-men rose by night and looked at the climbing flood, and wakened their wives and children, and raised in haste hatch after hatch of the weirs, and threw open locks and gates. Windsor Weir broke, but the wires flashed the news on, and the river's course was open, and after the greatest rain-storm and the lowest barometer known for thirty years, the Thames was not in flood, but only brimful; and once more a "river of waters."


Of the thousands who boat on the Thames during the summer few know or notice the beauty of the river shells. They are among the most delicate objects of natural ornament and design in this country. Exquisite pattern, graceful shapes, and in some cases lovely tints of colour adorn them. Nature has for once relaxed in their favour her rigid rules, by which she turns out things of this kind not only alike in shape, but with identical colour and ornament. Among humming-birds, for instance, each bird is like the other, literally to a feather. The lustre on each ruby throat or amethyst wing shines in the same light with the same prismatic divisions. But even in the London river, if you go and seek among the pebbles above Hammersmith Bridge when the river is low, you may find a score of neretina shells not one of which is coloured like the rest or ornamented with exactly the same pattern, yet each is fit to bejewel the coronet of some Titania of the waters. A number of these tiny shells, gathered from below the bridge, lie before the writer, set on black satin to display the hues. They look at a little distance like a series of mixed Venetian beads, but of more elegant form. From whichever side they are seen, the curves are the perfection of flowing line. The colouring and ornament of each is a marvel and delight. Some are black, with white spots arranged in lines following the curves, and with the top of the blunt spiral white. These "black-and-white marble" patterns are followed by a whole series in which purple takes the place of black, and the spots are modified into scales. Then comes a row of rose-coloured shells, some with white lance-heads, or scales, others with alternate bands of white scales and white dots. Some are polished, others dull, some rosy pink, others almost crimson. Some are marked with cream and purple like the juice of black currants with cream in it. In some the scale pattern changes to a chequer, some are white with purple zig-zags. And lastly come a whole series in pale olive, and olive and cream, in which the general colour is that of a blackcap's egg, and the pattern made by alternate spots of olive and bands of cream. If these little gems of beauty come out of the London river, what may we not expect in the upper waters of the silver Thames?[1] A search in the right places in its course will show. But these neretinae are everywhere up to the source of the river, for they feed on all kinds of decaying substances. If the pearl is the result of a disease or injury, the beauty of the neretina is a product or transformation from foul things to fair ones.

As the Thames is itself the product and union of all its vassal streams, an "incarnation" of all the rest, so in its bed it holds all the shells collected from all its tributaries. Different tribes of shells live in different waters. Some love the "full-fed river winding slow," some the swift and crystal chalk-stream. Some only flourish just over the spots where the springs come bubbling up from the inner cisterns of earth, and breathe, as it were, the freshness of these untainted waters; others love the rich, fat mud, others the sides of wearings and piles, others the river-jungles where the course is choked with weeds. But come what may, or flourish where they please, the empty shells are in time rolled down from trout-stream and chalk-stream, fountain and rill, mill-pool and ditch, cress-bed and water-cut, from the springs of the Cotswolds, the Chilterns, the downs, from the valleys of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Gloucester, Oxford, and Essex, into the Thames. Once there the river makes shell collections on its own account, sorting them out from everything else except a bed of fine sand and gravel, in which they lie like birds' eggs in bran in a boy's cabinet, ready for who will to pick them up or sift them out of it. These shell collections are made in the time of winter floods, though how they are made or why the shells should all remain together, while sticks, stones, and other rubbish are carried away, it is impossible to say. They are laid on smooth points of land round which the waters flow in shallow ripples. Across the river it is always deep, swift, and dark, though the sandbanks come in places near the surface, and in the shallows grow water-crowfoot, with waving green hair under water, and white stems above it. The clean and shining sand shelves down to the water's edge, and continues below the surface. Here are living shells, or shells with living fish in them. In the bright water lie hundreds of the shells of the fresh-water mussels, the bearers of pearls sometimes, and always lined with that of which pearls are made, the lustrous nacre. The mealy masses of dry sand beyond the river's lip are stuffed with these mussel shells. They lie all ways up, endways, sideways, on their faces, on their backs. The pearl lining shines through the sand, and the mussels gleam like silver spoons under the water. They crack and crunch beneath your feet as you step across to search the mass for the smaller and rarer shells. Many of those in the water contain living mussels, yellow-looking fat molluscs, greatly beloved of otters, who eat them as sauce with the chub or bream they catch, and leave the broken shells of the one by the half-picked bones of the other. There was a popular song which had for chorus the question, "Did you ever see an oyster walk upstairs?" These mussels walk, and are said to be "tolerably active" by a great authority on their habits. They have one foot, on which they travel in search of feeding ground, and leave a visible track across the mud. There are three or four kinds, two of which sometimes hold small pearls, while a third is the pearl-bearer proper. Unio pictorum is the scientific name of one, because the shells were once the cups in which the old Dutch painters kept their colours, and are still used to hold ground gold and silver for illuminating. The pearl-bearing mussel is longer than the other kinds, flatter and darker, and the lining of mother-of-pearl is equal to half the total thickness of the shell.[2]

Though not so striking from their size and pearly lustre, there are many shells on the Thames sandbanks not less interesting and in large numbers. Among these are multitudes of tiny fresh-water cockle shells of all sizes, from that of a grain of mustard seed to the size of a walnut, flat, curled shells like small ammonites, fresh-water snail shells of all sizes, river limpets, neretinae, and other and rounder bivalve shells allied to the cockles. The so-called "snails" are really quite different from each other, some, the paludinas, being large, thick-striped shells, while the limnaeas are thin, more delicately made, some with fine, pointed spiral tops, and others in which the top seems to have been absorbed in the lower stories. There are eight varieties of these limnaeas alone, and six more elegant shells of much the same appearance, but of a different race.

The minute elegance of many of these shells is very striking. Tiny physas and succineas, no larger than shot, live among big paludinas as large as a garden snail, while all sizes of the larger varieties are found, from microscopic atoms to the perfect adult. Being water shells, and not such common objects as land shells, these have no popular names. The river limpets are called ancylus fluviatilis. Some are no larger than a yew berry, and are shaped like a Phrygian cap; but they "stick" with proper limpet-like tenacity. On the stems of water-lilies, on piles, on weeds and roots in any shallow streams, but always on the under side of the leaves, are the limpets of the Thames. The small ammonite-like shells are called planorbis, and like most of the others, belong also to the upper tertiary fossils. They feed on the decaying leaves of the iris and other water plants, and from the number of divisions on the shell are believed to live for sometimes twenty years. Of the many varieties, one, the largest, the horn-coloured planorbis, emits a purple dye. Two centuries ago Lister made several experiments in the hope that he might succeed in fixing this dye, as the Tyrians did that of the murex, but in vain. There are eleven varieties of this creature alone. It is easier to find the shells than to discover the living creature in the river. For many the deep, full river is not a suitable home; they only come there as the water does, from the tributary streams. Far up in some rill in the chalk, from the bed of which the water bubbles up and keeps the stones and gravel bright, whole beds of little pea-cockles may be found, lying in masses side by side, like seeds sown in the water-garden of a nymph.

[1] I have a series of neretina shells from the Philippines, much larger in size and brown in colour, in which many of the same kinds of ornament occur.

[2] A fresh-water mussel shell from North America in my possession is coloured green, and so marked and crimped as to resemble exactly a patch of water-weed, such as grows on stones and piles.


In the still gossamer weather of late October, when the webs lie sheeted on the flat green meadows and spools of the air-spiders' silk float over the waters, the birds and fish and insects and flowers of the best of England's rivers show themselves for the last time in that golden autumn sun, and make their bow to the audience before retiring for the year. All the living things become for a few brief hours happy and careless, drinking to the full the last drops of the mere joy of life before the advent of winter and rough weather. The bank flowers still show blossom among the seed-heads, and though the thick round rushes have turned to russet, the forget-me-not is still in flower; and though the water-lilies have all gone to the bottom again, and the swallows no longer skim over the surface, the river seems as rich in life as ever; and the birds and fish, unfrightened by the boat traffic, are tamer and more visible.

The things in the waters and growing out of the waters are very, very old. The mountains have been burnt with fire; lava grown solid has turned to earth again and grows vines; chalk was once sea-shells; but the clouds and the rivers have altered not their substance. Also, so far as this planet goes, many of the water plants are world-encircling, growing just as they do here in the rivers of Siberia, in China, in Canada, and almost up to the Arctic Circle. The creatures which lived on these prehistoric plants live on them now, and in exactly the same parts of the stream. The same shells lie next the banks in the shallows as lie next the bank of the prehistoric river of two million years ago whose bed is cut through at Hordwell Cliffs on the Solent. The same shells lie next them in the deeper water, and the sedges and rushes are as "prehistoric" as any plant can well be. In the clay at Hordwell, which was once the mud of the river, lie sedges, pressed and dried as if in the leaves of a book, almost exactly similar in colour, which is kept, and in shape, which is uninjured, to those which fringe the banks of the Thames to-day. These fresh-water plants show their hoary antiquity by the fashion of their generation. Most of them are mono-cotyledonous—with a single seed-lobe, like those of the early world. There is nothing quite as old among the Thames fishes as the mud fishes, the lineal descendants of the earliest of their race. But the same water creatures were feeding on the same plants perhaps when the Thames first flowed as a river.

The sedge fringe in the shallows, the "haunt of coot and tern" elsewhere, and of hosts of moorhens and dabchicks on the now protected river, is mainly composed of the giant rush, smooth and round, which the water-rats cut down and peel to eat the pith. These great rushes, sometimes ten feet high, die every year like the sickliest flowers, and break and are washed away. Few people have ever tried to reckon the number of kinds of sedges and reeds by the river, and it would be difficult to do so. There are forty-six kinds of sedge (carex), or if the Scirpus tribe be added, sixty-one, found in our islands. They are not all water plants, for the sand-sedge with its creeping roots grows on the sandhills, and some of the rarest are found on mountain-tops. But the river sedges and grasses, with long creeping roots of the same kind, have played a great part in the making of flat meadows and in the reclamation of marshes, stopping the water-borne mud as the sand-sedge stops the blowing sand. They have done much in this way on the Upper Thames, though not on the lower reaches of the river. The "sweet sedge," so called—the smell is rather sickly to most tastes—is now found on the Thames near Dorchester, and between Kingston and Teddington among other places, though it was once thought only to flourish on the Norfolk and Fen rivers. It is not a sedge at all, but related to the common arum, and its flower, like the top joints of the little finger, represents the "lords and ladies" of the hedges. So the burr reed, among the prettiest of all the upright plants growing out of the water, is not a reed, but a reed mace. Its bright green stems and leaves, and spiky balls, are found in every suitable river from Berkshire to the Amur, and in North America almost to the Arctic Circle. In the same way the yellow water villarsia, which though formerly only common near Oxford, has greatly increased on the Thames until its yellow stars are found as low as the Cardinal's Well at Hampton Court, extends across the rivers of Europe and Asia as far as China. The cosmopolitan ways of these water plants are easily explained. They live almost outside competition. They have not to take their chance with every new comer, for ninety-nine out of a hundred stranger seeds are quietly drowned in the embosoming stream. The water itself keeps its temperature steadily, and only changes slowly and in no great degree, and then, when the plants are in their winter sleep the stream may well say that "men may come and men may go, but I go on for ever." The same is very largely true of the things which live in the brook.

Many of the flowers are not quite what their names imply. The true lilies are among the oldest of plants. But "water-lilies" are not lilies. They have been placed in order between the barberry and the poppy, because the seed-head of a water-lily is like the poppy fruit. The villarsia, which looks like a water-lily, is not related at all, while the buck-bean is not a bean, but akin to the gentians. Water-violet might be more properly called water-primrose, for it is closely related to the primrose, though its colour is certainly violet, and not pale yellow. By this time all the bladderworts have disappeared under water. In June in a pool near the inflow of the Thames at Day's Lock, opposite Dorchester, the fine leafless yellow spikes of flower were standing out of the water like orchids, while the bladders with their trapdoors were employed in catching and devouring small tadpoles. There is something quietly horrible about these carnivorous plants. Their bladders are far too small to take one in whole, but catch the unhappy infant tadpoles by their tails and hold them till they die from exhaustion.

The bank flora of the Thames is nearly all the same from Oxford to Hampton Court, made up of some score of very fine and striking flowers that grow from foot to crest on the wall of light marl that forms the bank. Constantly refreshed by the adjacent water, they flower and seed, seed and flower, and are haunted by bees and butterflies till the November frosts. The most decorative of all are the spikes of purple loose-strife. In autumn when most of the flowers are dead the tip of the leaf at the heads of the spikes turns as crimson as a flower. The other red flowers are the valerian, in masses of squashed strawberry, and the fig-wort, tall, square-stemmed, and set with small carmine knots of flower. In autumn these become brown seed crockets, and are most decorative. The fourth tall flower is the flea-bane, and the fifth the great willow-herb. The lesser plants are the small willow-herbs, whose late blossoms are almost carmine, the water-mints, with mauve-grey flowers, and the comfrey, both purple and white. The dewberry, a blue-coloured more luscious bramble fruit, and tiny wild roses, grow on the marl-face also. At its foot are the two most beautiful flowers, though not the most effective, the small yellow snapdragon, or toad-flax, and the forget-me-not. This blue of the forget-me-nots is as peculiar as it is beautiful. It is not a common blue by any means, any more than the azure of the chalk-blue butterflies is common among other insects. Colour is a very constant feature in certain groups of flowers. One of these includes the forget-me-nots, the borage, the alkanet, and the viper's bugloss, which keep up this blue as a family heirloom. Others of the tribe, like the comfrey, have it not, but those which possess it keep it pure.

The willows at this time are ready to shed their leaves at the slightest touch of frost. Yet these leaves are covered with the warts made by the saw-flies to deposit their eggs in. The male saw-fly of this species and some others is scarcely ever seen, though the female is so common. The creature stings the leaf, dropping into the wound a portion of formic acid, and then lays its egg. The stung leaf swells, and makes the protecting gall. It is difficult to say when "fly," in the fisherman's use of the term as the adult insect food of fish, may not appear on the water. Moths are out on snowy nights, as every collector knows, and on any mild winter day flies and gnats are seen by streams. In the warm, sunny days of late September, numbers of some species of ephemerae were seen on the sedges and willows, with black bodies and gauzy wings, which the dace and bleak were swallowing eagerly, in quite summer fashion. The water is now unusually clear, and as the fish come to sun themselves in the shallows every shoal can be seen.

Among the typical Thames-valley flowers, all of which would be the better for protection, are the very rare soldier orchis (Orchis Militaris) and the monkey orchis (Orchis Simia), the water-snowflake, the hottonia, or water-violet, the water-villarsia, more elegant even than the water-lilies, the flowering rush, with a crown of bright rose-pink flowers. The two orchids named are very interesting plants. Of the monkey orchis Mr. Claridge Druce says in his "Flora of Oxfordshire" that it has become exceedingly scarce, not so much from the depredations of collectors, but from the fondness of rabbits for it and the changes brought about by agriculture. The soldier orchis is very rare indeed; both are only found in a few woods in the Thames valley, and possibly in Kent. The bladderworts fade instantly, and are not much interfered with, and though the fritillaries are picked for market, the roots are not dug up because that would injure the meadow turf in which they grow, and business objections would be raised.


Except among the select few, generally either enthusiastic boys or London mechanics of an inquiring mind, who keep fresh-water aquariums and replenish them from ponds and brooks at "weekends," few persons outside the fancy either see or know much of the water insects,[1] or are aware, when floating on a summer day under the willows in a Thames backwater, of the near presence of thousands of aquatic creatures, swift, carnivorous, and pursuing, or feeding greedily on the plants in the water garden that floats below the boat, or weaving nests, tending eggs, or undergoing the most astonishing transitions of form and activity, on or below the surface. Many of them are perhaps better equipped for encountering all the chances of existence than any other creatures. They can swim, dive, and run below water, live on dry land, or fly in the air, and many are so hardy as to be almost proof against any degree of cold. The great carnivorous water-beetle, the dytiscus, after catching and eating other creatures all day, with two-minute intervals to come up, poke the tips of its wings out of the water and jam some air against its spiracles, before descending once more to its subaqueous hunting-grounds, will rise by night from the surface of the Thames, lift again those horny wing-cases, unfold a broad and beautiful pair of gauzy wings, and whirl off on a visit of love and adventure to some distant pond, on to which it descends like a bullet from the air above. When people are sitting in a greenhouse at night with no lamp lighted, talking or smoking, they sometimes hear a smash as if a pebble had been dropped on the glass from above. It is a dytiscus beetle, whose compound eyes have mistaken the shine of the glass in the moonlight for the gleam of a pond. At night some of the whirligig beetles, the shiny, bean-like creatures seen whirling in incessant circles in corners by the bank, make a quite audible and almost musical sound upon the water. The activity of many of the water insects is astonishing. Besides keeping in almost incessant motion, those which spend most of their time below water have generally to come up constantly to breathe. Such are the water-bugs, water-scorpions and stick insects, which, though slender as rushes, and with limbs like hairs, can catch and kill the fry of the smaller fishes. Most of these are like divers, who have to provide themselves with air to breathe, and work at double speed in addition.

If a group of whirligig beetles is disturbed, the whole party will dive like dabchicks, rising to the surface again when they feel the need for breathing-air again. The diving-bell spiders, which do not often frequent the main Thames stream, though they are commonly found in the ditches near it, gather air to use just as a soldier might draw water and dispose it about his person in water-bottles. They do this in two ways, one of which is characteristic of many of the creatures which live both in and out of the water as the spider does. The tail of the spider is covered with black, velvety hair. Putting its tail out of the water, it collects much air in the interstices of the velvet. It then descends, when all this air, drawn down beneath the surface, collects into a single bubble, covering its tail and breathing holes like a coat of quicksilver. This supply the spider uses up when at work below, until it dwindles to a single speck, when it once more ascends and collects a fresh store. The writer has seen one of these spiders spin so many webs across the stems of water plants in a limited space that not only the small water-shrimps and larvae, but even a young fish were entangled. The other and more artistic means of gathering air employed by the spider is to catch a bubble on the surface and swim down below with it. The bubble is then let go into a bell woven under some plant, into which many other bubbles have been drawn. In this diving-bell the eggs are laid and the young hatched, under the constant watch of the old spider. Few people care to take the trouble to gaze for any time into a shallow, still piece of water, in which the bottom is plainly discernible, and a crop of water-weeds makes a wall on either side of some central "well." If they do find some such pond near the Thames banks or a shallow backwater, they may see after a few minutes much that is new and suggestive of strange activities. Everything will be quiet and motionless at first, for water beasts are very suspicious of movement above them, and all sham dead, or lie quite still, and are strangely invisible. On the other hand, they have none of the power of remaining motionless for half-an-hour like land animals. Soon what look like sticks, but are caddis larva, begin to creep on the bottom. Then more brown objects, larvae of dragon-flies and water-beetles, detach themselves from the stems of the plants and cruise up and down seeking what they may devour. Other creatures feeding and swimming among or beneath the plants crawl out on to the upper surface, and the water-beetles come up to breathe, or to play upon the surface. One of the largest of these is a very fine black beetle, a vegetable-feeding creature. It is most interesting to see two of them—they generally live in pairs—browsing on one of the fern-like plants of the Thames. This plant has leaves like fern blades, each having in turn its own small spikelets. The big beetles work along the leaf like a cow in a cabbage yard, biting off, chewing, and swallowing each in succession, and leaving the stem perfectly bare. Sometimes it looks as if the two beetles were eating for a match, like the beef-eating contests held in country public-houses, in which the winner once boasted that he won easily "afore he came to vinegar."

The number of carnivorous creatures found in the water seems out of all proportion to the usual order of Nature. But this is perhaps because the minute, almost invisible creatures, or entomostraca, of which the rivers and ponds are full, and which are the main food of the smaller water carnivora, live mainly on decaying vegetable substance, which is practically converted and condensed into microscopical animals before these become in turn the food of others. It is as if all trees and grass on land were first eaten by locusts or white ants, and the locusts and white ants were then eaten by semi-carnivorous cows and sheep, which were in turn eaten by true carnivora. The water-weeds, both when living and decaying, are eaten by the entomostraca, the entomostraca are eaten by the larvae of insects, the perfect insects are eaten by the fish, and the fish are eaten by men, otters, and birds. Thus we eat the products of the water plants at four removes in a fish; while we eat that of the grass or turnips only in a secondary form in beef or mutton.

The water-shrimp is a very common crustacean in the small Thames tributaries, and valuable as fish food. It has a very rare subterranean cousin known as the well shrimp. A lady in the Isle of Wight, who in a moment of energy went to the pump to get some water to put flowers in, actually pumped up one of these subterranean shrimps into a glass bowl. The well was eighty feet deep. The shrimp was absolutely white, and probably blind.

Flesh-eating insects are fairly common on land; wasps will actually raid a butcher's shop, and carry off little red bits of meat, besides killing and eating flies, spiders, and larvae. Dragon-flies are the hawks of the insect world, and slay and devour wholesale, when in the air as well as when they are larvae on the water, though few persons actually witness their attacks on other creatures, owing to the swiftness of their flight. Some centipedes will attack other creatures with the ferocity of a bulldog. An encounter between one of the smaller centipedes and a worm is like a fight between a ferret and a snake, so frantic is the writhing of the worm, so determined the hold which the hard and shiny centipede maintains with its hooked jaws. But the ferocity and destroying appetite of some of the water creatures would be appalling were it not for their small size. The desire of killing and devouring appears in the most unexpected quarters, among creatures which no one would suspect of such intentions. Of two kinds of water snail found in the Thames, and among the commonest molluscs, one is a vegetable feeder. It is found living on water plants, the snails being of all sizes, from that of a mustard seed to a walnut. The other will feed not only on dead animal substances, but on living creatures, and is equipped with sharp teeth, which work like a saw. One of these kept in an aquarium fastened on to and slowly devoured a small frog confined in the same vessel. The large dytiscus beetle is the great enemy of small fish. If the salmon is ever restored to the Thames these creatures will be among the worst enemies of the fry, though in swift rivers they are not plentiful. Frank Buckland states that in Hollymount Pond they killed two thousand young salmon. One of these was put into a bowl with a dytiscus beetle, which, "pouncing upon him like a hawk upon an unsuspecting lark, drove its scythe-like horny jaws right into the back of the poor little fish. The little salmon, a plucky fellow, fought hard for his life, and swam round and round, up and down, hither and thither, trying to escape from this terrible murderer; but it was no use, he could not free himself from his grip; and while the poor little wretch was giving the last few flutterings of his tail, the water-beetle proceeded coolly to peck out his left eye, and to devour it at once." The larva not only of the carnivorous dytiscus but also of the vegetable-feeding water-beetle are ferocious and carnivorous, and deadly enemies of young fish and ova.

[1] In mentioning some of the Thames insecta I have also noticed some of the mollusca and crustacea. It is a pity these have not some common names. One cannot write easily of "pulmonate gasteropods."


"Now when you've caught your chavender, (Your chavender or chub) You hie you to your pavender, (Your pavender or pub), And there you lie in lavender, (Sweet lavender or lub)."

Mr. Punch.

I went into the Plough Inn at Long Wittenham in mid-November to arrange about sending some game to London. The landlord, after inquiring about our shooting luck, went out and came back into the parlour, saying, "Now, sir, will you look at my sport?" He carried on a tray two large chub weighing about 2-1/2 lbs. each, which he had caught in the river just behind the house. Their colour, olive and silver, scarlet, and grey, was simply splendid. Laid on the table with one or two hares and cock pheasants and a few brace of partridges they made a fine sporting group in still life—a regular Thames Valley yield of fish and fowl. The landlord is a quiet enthusiast in this Thames fishing. It is a pleasure to watch him at work, whether being rowed down on a hot summer day by one of his men, and casting a long line under the willows for chub, or hauling out big perch or barbel. All his tackle is exquisitely kept, as well kept as the yeoman's arrows and bow in the Canterbury Tales. His baits are arranged on the hook as neatly as a good cook sends up a boned quail. He gets all his worms from Nottingham. I notice that among anglers the man who gets his worms from Nottingham is as much a connoisseur as the man who imported his own wine used to be among dinner-givers.

Drifting against a willow bush one day, the branches of which came right down over the water like a crinoline, I saw inside, and under the branches, a number of fair-sized chub of about 1 lb. or 1-1/2 lbs. It struck me that they felt themselves absolutely safe there, and that if in any way I could get a bait over them they might take it. The entry under which I find this chronicled is August 24th. Next morning when the sun was hot I got a stiff rod and caught a few grasshoppers. Overnight I had cut out a bough or two at the back of the willow bush, and there was just a chance that I might be able to poke my rod in and drop the grasshopper on the water. After that I must trust to the strength of the gut, for the fish would be unplayable. It was almost like fishing in a faggot-stack. Peering through the willow leaves I could just see down into the water where a patch of sunlight about a yard square struck the surface. Under this skylight I saw the backs of several chub pass as they cruised slowly up and down. I twisted the last two feet of my line round the rod-top, poked this into the bush with infinite bother and pluckings at my line between the rings, and managed to drop the hopper on to the little bit of sunny water. What a commotion there was. The chub thought they were all in a sanctuary and that no one was looking. I could see six or seven of them, evidently all cronies and old acquaintances, the sort of fish that have known one another for years and would call each other by their Christian names. They were as cocky and consequential as possible, cruising up and down with an air, and staring at each other and out through the screen of leaves between them and the river, and every now and then taking something off a leaf and spitting it out again in a very independent connoisseur-like way. The moment the grasshopper fell there was a regular rush to the place, very different from what their behaviour would have been outside the bush. There was a hustle and jostle to look at it, and then to get it. They almost fought one another to get a place. Flop! Splash! Wallop! "My grasshopper, I think." "I saw it first." "Where are you shoving to?" "O—oh—what is the matter with William?" I called him William because he had a mark like a W on his back. But he was hooked fast and flopping, and held quite tight by a very strong hook and gut, like a bull with a ring and a pole fastened to his nose. I got him out too—not a big fish, but about 1-1/2 lbs.

This showed pretty clearly that where chub can be fished for "silently, invisibly," they can still be caught, even though steam launches or row-boats are passing every ten minutes. This was mid-August; my next venture nearly realised the highest ambitions of a chub-fisher. It also showed the sad limitations of mere instinctive fishing aptitudes in the human being as contrasted with the mental and bodily resources of a fish with a deplorably low facial angle and a very poor morale. There was just one place on the river where it seemed possible to remain unseen yet to be able to drop a bait over a chub. A willow tree had fallen, and smashed through a willow bush. Its head stuck out like a feather brush in front and made a good screen. On either side were the boughs of the bush, high, but not too high to get a rod over them, if I walked along the horizontal stem of the tree. It was only a small tree, and a most unpleasant platform. But I had caught a most appetising young frog, rather larger than a domino, which I fastened to the hook, and after much manoeuvring I dropped this where I knew some large chub lay. As the tree had only been blown down a day before, I was certain that they had never been fished for at that spot.

I was right; hardly had the frog touched the water when I saw a monster chub rise like a dark salamander out of the depths. Slowly he rose and eyed the frog, moving his white lips as if the very sight imparted a gusto to the natural excellence of young frogs. I nearly dropped from the tree stem from sheer suspense, when he made up his mind, put on steam, and took it! He was fast in a minute, and kindly rushed out into the river, where I played him. Then I wound in my line and hauled him up till his head and mouth were out of the water. As there was an impenetrable screen of bushes between him and me I laid the rod down, trusting to the tackle, and ran round to where close by was a farm punt, made fast. It had been used during harvest time, and was full of what in the classics they call the "implements of Ceres." All of these that do not seem made to cut your leg off are designed to run into and spike you. Besides scythes and reap hooks, there were iron rakes (sharp end upwards), wooden rakes, pitchforks, and garden forks, and the difficulty was to move in the punt without getting cut or spiked. The last users of the punt had also taken peculiar care to fasten it up. It was anchored by a grapnel, and by an iron pin on a chain, the pin eighteen inches long and driven hard into the bank. In a desperate hurry I hauled up the grapnel, did a regular Sandow feat in pulling up the iron peg, seized a punt pole apparently weighted with lead, but made out of an ash sapling, and started the punt. It would not move. I found there was another mooring, so picking my way among the scythes, spikes, rakes, &c., I hauled this in. It was most infernally heavy, and turned out to be a cast-iron wheel of a steam plough or other farming implement. Then I was under weigh, and got round to the fish. It was still there. I could see its expressionless eye (about as big as a sixpence) out of the water and its mouth wide open, when I remembered I had forgotten the landing-net in my hurry. Then came the period of mental aberration common to the amateur. The fish was certainly 4 lbs. in weight, yet I tried to get him in with my hands. Of course he gave one big flop, slipped out, and disappeared—the biggest chub I ever shall not catch.


Thames plants must strike every one as belonging to an ancient order of life. But the vast clouds of winged ephemeridae that dance over its waters when there is a rise of "May-fly" in early summer look to be not only the creatures of a day, but of our day. In the astonishing wave and rush of life seen at such times, when from every plant and pool winged creatures are ascending to float in air, it is difficult to picture the silence and stillness of a world where there were no birds, or hum of bees, and no signs of the other insects which exceed the other population of the earth by unnumbered myriads of millions; yet the insects, even the same identical species which dance over the Thames to-day, are among the very oldest of living things, just as its plants and its shells are. Rocks and slate are not ideal butterfly cases; and if the fragile limbs of the beetle and grasshopper of the successive prehistoric worlds had perished beyond the power of identification, no one could have felt surprise. But such has been the industry of modern naturalists—to give the widest name to those who have devoted their time to the search for, and description of, fossil insects—that the remains of thousands of species have been identified, and the time of their appearance upon the earth approximately fixed. The latest contributor to this elegant branch of the study of fossils is Mr. Herbert Goss.[1] Perhaps the most interesting of his conclusions is the antiquity, not only of the existing orders of insects, but even of their particular families and genera, as compared with vertebrate animals. It is astonishing to find not only crickets and beetles existing at periods enormously earlier than the appearance of birds or fish, but that they conformed in type to the families in which they are classed to-day. Though they become fewer and fewer as they are tracked back up the river of time, there are not found in the earliest fossil-bearing rocks any connecting links or earlier and simpler forms of insect life, or a clue to the common ancestor of insects, spiders, and shrimps, which naturalists would dearly like to discover. There is a baffling completeness about these creatures. When in the lias period, for instance, the vertebrates were huge saurian reptiles and flying lizards, and scarcely any of our existing classes of fish had come into existence, the beetles, cockroaches, crickets, and white ants were there, with all the distinguishing characteristics of the existing families as they were settled by Linnaeus.

The first insect known to have existed, a creature of such vast antiquity that it deserves all the respect which the parvenu man can summon and offer to it, was—a cockroach. This, the father of all black-beetles, probably walked the earth in solitary magnificence when not only kitchens, but even kitchen-middens were undreamt of, possibly millions of years before Neolithic man had even a back cave to offer with the remains of last night's supper for the cockroach of the period to enjoy. His discovery established the fact that in the Silurian period there were insects, though, as the only piece of his remains found was a wing, there has been room for dispute as to the exact species. Mr. Goss in his preface to the second edition of his book notes that what is probably a still older insect has been found in the lower Silurian in Sweden. This was not a cockroach, but apparently something worse. If the Latin name, Protocimex Silurius, be literally translated, it means the original Silurian bug. It was a fair conjecture that insects appeared about the same time as land plants first grew on the earth. As almost all the species either feed on some vegetable substances in growth or decay, or else live upon other insects, some such provision of food was necessary for them. Remains of such plants were discovered in the Silurian rocks. In the Devonian formations, which contain the next oldest set of fossil insects, numbers of conifers and ferns are found. Yet even then the only vertebrate animals seem to have been fish. The insects still had the land all to themselves. Of one of these Devonian insects the base of a wing was the only part preserved in the rock. From this it was possible to tell the order to which the creature belonged. It was one of the Neuroptera —insects with wings in which the veins run straight down the wing, sometimes joined by cross branches at right angles. Some of the modern kinds are very beautiful four-winged flies, with bright colours on their wings like butterflies. Others are ant-lions or caddis-flies. The curve of the fragment of wing also suggested its probable size when unbroken. It was perhaps two inches long. As there are little horny rings round the wing base like those which crickets have, on which they rub their legs and so "chirp," it is also quite likely that this insect of hoary antiquity did the same, and enlivened the silence of Devonian fern groves with a prehistoric hum. It is quite in keeping with modern ideas that in that age of fishes one of the most remarkable insects should have been a kind of May-fly, "a large species of Ephemerina, which must have measured five inches in expanse of wings." Thus our Thames May-flies had gigantic prehistoric ancestors, which appeared on earth, possibly with their present associates the caddis flies, at an enormously remote age.

So far no butterfly had yet appeared on earth, though the Ephemerinae might dance over the still lagoons and swamps. In the coal-forest period, and the age of trees and rank vegetation, insects of many kinds seem to have multiplied, even though the most beautiful of all were not yet launched in air. In England the first beetle wandered on to the stage of life—the oldest British insect fossil known. It was discovered in the ironstone of Coalbrookdale, and was a kind of weevil. Another creature found in the same ironstone was a cricket. It is quite in keeping with the forest and tree surroundings of the time that white ants should have abounded to eat up the decayed and dead wood. Strictly speaking, black-beetles are not beetles at all. But they are a very good imitation. As some hundreds of families of Paltaeoblattidae, which may be translated as "old original cockroaches," and Blattidae, or cockroaches pur sang, pervaded these forests, and the doyen of all Swiss fossil animals is one of these, the "state of the streets" in a coal forest may be imagined when there were no bird police to keep the insects in order. Thus the end of the Palaeozoic world—a very poor world at best—was fairly well stocked with insects, though the moths, bees, and butterflies had yet to come. Then came the sunrise of a new time—mammals, any number of reptiles, possibly some birds, and an insect life more teeming than any we now know. The "insect limestone" attests these multitudes. Beetles, of which the scarabs were a numerous family, increased vastly, and the oldest known dragon-fly and supposed ancestor of those which hawk over the Oxford river, left his skeleton, or what represents a dragon-fly's skeleton, among some two thousand other specimens of fossil insects, in the Swiss Alps. It was then that the first bird and the first butterfly appeared. The bird was the famous Archaeopteryx, found in the Solenhofen slate, and the first butterfly, to use an Irishism, was a moth, a sphinx moth, apparently about the size of the Convolvulus sphinx moth. This stone-embedded relic of the moth that sucked the juices of the plants of the Mesozoic world, incalculable ages before the time even of the gigantic mammals, is preserved in the Teyler Museum at Haarlem. When the new era of the Eocene period developed modern forms of plants, their rapid growth was accompanied by a great increase in the number of insects. Those which, like the moths, had only made their first venture on earth, now appeared in greater numbers. Near Aix, in Provence, five butterflies and two moths were found in some beds of marl and gypsum long celebrated for their fossils, and with the fossil butterflies were, in every case but one, fossil remains of the plants which had served its larvae as food. Thus the May-flies and beetles are perhaps older than the Thames shells, and older than the prehistoric plants on which the river molluscs feed.

[1] Secretary of the Entomological Society, and an accomplished botanist. The work is entitled "The Geological Antiquity of Insects," and published by Gurney and Jackson, London.


Fond as the butterflies are of the light and sun, they dearly love their beds. Like most fashionable people who do nothing, they stay there very late. But their unwillingness to get up in the morning is equalled by their equal desire to leave the world and its pleasures early and be asleep in good time. They are the first of all our creatures to seek repose. An August day has about fifteen hours of light, and for that time the sun shines for twelve hours at least; but the butterflies weary of sun and flowers, colour and light, so early that by six o'clock, even on warm days, many of them have retired for the night. I climbed Sinodun Hill, on a cold, windy afternoon, and found that hundreds of butterflies were all falling asleep at five o'clock. Their dormitory was in the tall, colourless grass, with dead seed-heads, that fringes the tracks over the hills, or the lanes that cross the hollows. Common blues were there in numbers, and small heath butterflies almost as many. The former, each and every one of them, arrange themselves to look like part of the seed-spike that caps the grass-stem. Then the use and purpose of the parti-coloured grey and yellow under-colouring of their wings is seen. The butterfly invariably goes to sleep head downwards, its eyes looking straight down the stem of the grass. It folds and contracts its wings to the utmost, partly, perhaps, to wrap its body from the cold. But the effect is to reduce its size and shape to a narrow ridge, making an acute angle with the grass-stem, hardly distinguishable in shape and colour from the seed-heads on thousands of other stems around.[1] The butterfly also sleeps on the top of the stem, which increases its likeness to the natural finial of the grass. In the morning, when the sunbeams warm them, all these grey-pied sleepers on the grass-tops open their wings, and the colourless bennets are starred with a thousand living flowers of purest azure. Side by side with the "blues" sleep the common "small heaths." They use the grass-stems for beds, but less carefully, and with no such obvious solicitude to compose their limbs in harmony with the lines of the plant. They also sleep with their heads downwards, but the body is allowed to droop sideways from the stem like a leaf. This, with their light colouring, makes them far more conspicuous than the blues. Moreover, as grass has no leaves shaped in any way like the sleeping butterfly, the contrast of shape attracts notice. Can it be that the blues, whose brilliant colouring by day makes them conspicuous to every enemy, have learnt caution, while the brown heaths, less exposed to risk, are less careful of concealment? Be it noticed that moths and butterflies go to sleep in different attitudes. Moths fold their wings back upon their bodies, covering the lower wing, which is usually bright in colour, with the upper wing. They fold their antennas back on the line of their wings. Butterflies raise the wings above their bodies and lay them back to back, putting their antennae between them if they move them at all. On these same dry grasses of the hills, another of the most brilliant insects of this country may often be seen sleeping in swarms—the carmine and green burnet moth. But it is a sluggish creature, which often seems scarcely awake in the day, and its surrender to the dominion of sleep excites less surprise than the deep slumber of the active and vivacious butterflies. The "heaths" and "blues" should perhaps be regarded as the gipsies of the butterfly world, because they sleep in the open. They are even worse off than the nomads, because, like that regiment sleeping in the open which the War Office lately refused to grant field allowance to on the ground that they were "not under canvas," they do not possess even a temporary roof. What we may call the "garden butterflies," especially the red admirals, often do seek a roof, going into barns, sheds, churches, verandahs, and even houses to sleep. There, too, they sometimes wake up in winter from their long hibernating sleep, and remind us of summer days gone by as they flicker on the sun-warmed panes. Mrs. Brightwen established the fact that they sometimes have fixed homes to which they return. Two butterflies, one a brimstone, the other, so far as the writer remembers, a red admiral, regularly came for admission to the house. One was killed by a rain-storm when the window was shut; the other hibernated in the house. Probably it was as a sleeping-place and bedroom that the butterflies made it their home. There is a parallel instance, mentioned by a Dutch naturalist quoted by Mr. Kirby, when a butterfly came night after night to sleep on a particular spot in the roof of a verandah in the Eastern Archipelago. In the East the sun itself is so regular and so rapid in rising and setting that the sleeping hours of insects and birds are far more regular than in temperate lands, with their shifting periods of light and darkness. Our twilight, that season that the tropics know not, has produced a curious race of moths, or rather, a curious habit confined to certain kinds. They are the creatures neither of day nor of night, but of twilight. They awake as twilight begins, go about their business and enjoy a brief and crepuscular activity, and go to sleep as soon as darkness settles on the world. At the first glimmer of the dawn they awaken again to fly till sunrise, when they hurry off like the fairies, and sleep till twilight falls again.

At the time of writing a border of bright flowers runs in straight perspective from the window opposite, with a rose arcade by the border, and a yew hedge behind that. The shafts of the morning sun fly straight down to the flowers, and every blossom of hollyhock, sunflower, campanula, and convolvulus, and the scarlet ranks of the geraniums, are standing at "attention" to welcome this morning inspection by the ruler and commander-in-chief of all the world of flowers. The inspecting officers, rather late as inspecting officers are wont to be, are overhauling and examining the flowers. These inspectors, also roused by the sun, are the butterflies and bees. Splendid red admirals are flying up, and alighting on the sunflowers, or hovering over the pink masses of valerian. Peacock butterflies, "eyed" like Emperors' robes, open and shut their wings upon the petals; large tortoiseshells are flitting from flower to flower; mouse-coloured humming-bird moths are poising before the red lips of the geraniums; and a stream of common white butterflies is crossing the lawn to the flowers at the rate of twenty a minute. They all come from the same direction, across a cornfield and meadow, behind which lies a wood. The bees came first, as they are fairly early risers; the butterflies later, some of them very late, and evidently not really ready for parade, for they are sitting on the flowers stretching, brushing themselves, and cleaning their boots—or feet. The fact is that the butterflies, late though it is, are only just out of bed. You might look all the evening to find the place where these particular butterflies sleep, and not discover it, unless some of them have taken a fancy to the verandah or the inside of a dwelling-room in the house. But each and every one of them has been asleep in a place it has chosen, and it is probable that some, the red admirals, for instance, will go back to that place to sleep at evening.

As there are hundreds of moths that fly by night and sleep by day at seasons when there are perhaps only twenty species of butterflies flying by day and sleeping by night, it is strange that the sleeping moths are not more often found. Some kinds are often disturbed, and are seen. But the great majority are sleeping on the bark of trees, in hedges, in the crevices of pines, oaks and elms, and other rough-skinned timber, and we see them not. Some prefer damp nights with a drizzle of rain to fly in, not the weather which we should choose as inviting us to leave repose. Few like moonlight nights; darkness is their idea of a "fine day" in which to get up and enjoy life, many, like the dreams in Virgil's Hades, being all day high among the leaves of lofty trees, whence they descend at the summons of night, the—

"Filmy shapes That haunt the dusk, with ermine capes, And woolly breasts, and beaded eyes,"

The connection between character and bedtime which grew up from association when human life was less complex than now has some counterpart in the world of butterflies and insects. The industrious bees go to bed much earlier than the roving wasps. The latter, which have been out stealing fruit and meat, and foraging on their own individual account, "knock in" at all hours till dark, and may sometimes be seen in a state of disgraceful intoxication, hardly able to find the way in at their own front door. The bees are all asleep by then in their communal dormitory.

It would not be human if some belief had not arisen that the insects that fly by night imitate human thieves and rob those which toil by day. There has always been a tradition that the death's-head moth, the largest of all our moths, does this, and that it creeps into the hives and robs the bees, which are said to be terrified by a squeaking noise made by the gigantic moth, which to a bee must appear as the roc did to its victims. It is said that the bees will close up the sides of the entrance to the hive with wax, so as to make it too small for the moth to creep in. Probably this is a fable, due to the pirate badge which the moth bears on its head. But it is certainly fond of sweet things, and as it is often caught in empty sugar-barrels, it is quite possible that it does come to the hive-door at night and alarm the inmates in its search for honey.

[1] In the illustration it was impossible to photograph butterflies actually sleeping. They show their attitude, but not the degree to which the wings are flattened into a very acute angle.


About the middle of August, when walking by one of the locks on a disused canal in the Ock Valley, I saw a man engaged in a very artistic mode of catching crayfish. The lock was very old, and the brickwork above water covered with pennywort and crane's-bill growing where the mortar had rotted at the joints. In these same joints below water the crayfish had made holes or homes of some sort, and were sitting at the doors with their claws and feelers just outside, waiting, like Mr. Micawber, for something to turn up. To meet their views the crayfish catcher had cut a long willow withe. From the tapering tip of this he had cut the wood, leaving the bark, which had been carefully slit and the woody tip extracted from it. This pendant of bark he had made into a running noose, and leaning over the bank he worked it over the crayfish's claws and then snared them. It was a neat adaptation of local means to an end; for if you think of it, string would not have answered, because it would not remain rigid, and wire would be too stiff for the job.

Crayfish catching, until lately one of the minor fisheries of the Thames, is now a vanished industry. Ten years ago the banks of the river from Staines to the upper waters at Cricklade were honeycombed with crayfish holes, like sandmartins' nests in a railway cutting. These holes were generally not more than eighteen inches below the normal water line of the river. In winter when the stream was full fresh holes were dug higher up the bank. In summer when the water fell these were deserted. The result was that there were many times more holes than crayfish, and that for hundreds of miles along the Thames and its tributaries these burrows made a perforated border of about three feet deep. The almost complete destruction of the crayfish was due to a disease, which first appeared near Staines, and worked its way up the Thames, with as much method as enteric fever worked its way down the Nile in the Egyptian Campaign after Omdurman. The epidemic is well known in France, where a larger kind of crayfish is reared artificially in ponds, and serves as the material for bisque d'ecrevisses, and as the most elegant scarlet garnish for cold and hot dishes of fish in Paris restaurants; but it was new to recent experience of the Thames. Perhaps that is why its effects were so disastrous. The neat little fresh-water lobsters turned almost as red as if they had been boiled, crawled out of their holes, and died. Under some of the most closely perforated banks they lay like a red fringe along the riverside under the water. Near Oxford, and up the Cherwell, Windrush, and other streams they were, before the pestilence, so numerous that making crayfish pots was as much a local industry as making eel-pots, the smaller withes, not much larger than a thick straw, being used for this purpose. Most cottages near the river had one or two of these pots, which were baited on summer nights and laid in the bottom of the stream near the crayfish holes. It must be supposed that they only use them by day, and come out by night, just as lobsters do, to roam about and seek food on a larger scale than that which they seize as it floats past their holes by day. That time of more or less enforced idleness the crayfish used to spend in looking out of their holes with their claws hanging just over the edge ready to seize and haul in anything nice that floated by. Their appetite by night was such that no form of animal food came amiss to them. The "pots" were baited with most unpleasant dainties, but nasty as these were they were not so unsavoury as the food which the crayfish found for themselves and thoroughly enjoyed, such as dead water-rats and dead fish, worms, snails, and larvae. They were always hungry, and one of the simplest ways of catching them was to push into their holes a gloved finger, which the creature always seized with its claw and tried to drag further in. The crayfish, who, like the lobster, looked on it as a point of honour never to let go, was then jerked out into a basket. They rather liked the neighbourhood of towns and villages because plenty of dirty refuse was thrown into the water. In the canalised stream which runs into Oxford city itself there were numbers, which not only burrowed in the bank, but made homes in all the chinks of stone and brick river walls, and sides of locks, and in the wood of the weiring, where they sat ensconced as snugly as crickets round a brick farmhouse kitchen fireplace. They were regularly caught by the families of the riverine population of boatmen, bargees, and waterside labourers, and sold in the Oxford market. A dish of crayfish, as scarlet as coral, was not unfrequently seen at a College luncheon. Possibly the recovery from the epidemic may be rapid, and the small boys of Medley and Mill Street may earn their sixpence a dozen as delightfully as they used to. Young crayfish, when hatched from the egg, are almost exactly like their parents. The female nurses and protects them, carrying them attached to its underside in clinging crowds. They grow very fast, and this makes it necessary for the youthful crayfish to "moult" or shed their shells eight times in their first twelvemonth of life, as the shell is rigid and does not grow with the body. The constant secretion of the lime necessary to make these shells is so exhausting to the youthful crayfish that only a small number ever grow up. In America, where a large freshwater crayfish nearly a foot long is found, its burrowing habits are a serious nuisance, especially in the dykes of the Mississippi. In those streams from which these interesting little creatures have entirely disappeared it might be worth while to introduce the large Continental crayfish. As it is bred artificially, there would be no difficulty in obtaining a supply, and it would be a useful substitute for the small native kind.

Sea crayfish, which grow to a very large size, are not much esteemed in this country. They are not so well flavoured as their cousin the lobster. But as river crayfish of a superior kind can be cultivated, and are reared for the table abroad, it might be worth while to pay some attention to what has been done in the United States to replenish by artificial breeding the stock of lobsters now somewhat depleted by the great "canning" industry. The method of obtaining the young lobsters is different from that employed to rear trout from ova. The female lobsters carry all their eggs fastened to hair-fringed fans or "swimmerets" under their tails, the eggs being glued to these hairs by a kind of gum which instantly hardens when it touches the water. For some ten months the female lobster carries the eggs in this way, aerating them all the time with the movement of the swimmerets. When they are caught in the lobster-pots in the months of June and July, the eggs are taken to the hatchery, and the ova are detached. As they are already fertilised, they are put into hatching jars, where in due course they become young lobsters, or rather lobster larvae, for the lobster does not start in life quite so much developed as does the infant crayfish. It is about one-third of an inch long, has no large claws, and swims naturally on the surface of the water, instead of lurking at the bottom as it does when it has come to lobster's estate. It seems to be compelled to rise to the surface, for sunlight, or any bright illumination, always brings swarms of lobsterlings to the top of the jars in which they are hatched. In the sea this impulse towards the light stands them in good stead, for in the surface-waters they find themselves surrounded by the countless atoms of animal life, or potential life, the eggs and young of smaller sea beasts. The young lobster is furiously hungry and voracious, because, like the young crayfish, it has to change not only its shell but the lining of its stomach five times in eighteen days. Unfortunately, in the hatching jars there is no such store of natural food as in the sea. The result is that the young lobsters have to eat each other, which they do with a cheerful mind, if they are not at once liberated. When they have reached their fifth month they go to the bottom and "settle down" in the literal sense to the serious life of lobsters.

I believe no one ever saw trout spawning in the Thames, though there are plenty of shallows where they might do so. Consequently the Thames trout must be regarded as a fish which was born in the tributaries and descended into the big river, and as the mouths of these trout-holding tributaries, such as the Kennet at Reading, the Pang, the lower Colne, and others, become surrounded with houses and the trout no longer haunt the embouchure, so the tendency is for fewer trout to get into the Thames. Still, places like the Windrush, the Evenlode, and the other upper tributaries hold rather more trout than they did, as they are better looked after; and the Fairford Colne is still a beautiful trout stream. For some reason, however, the Thames trout do not seem fond of the upper waters, where if found they seem to keep entirely in the highly aerated parts by the weirs, but mainly haunt the lower ones from Windsor downwards, and one was recently caught in the tidal waters below the bridge. It is very difficult to see why there are so few above Oxford, or from Abingdon to Reading. It is not because they are caught, for very few are caught. A friend of mine who had lived on the river near Clifton Hampden for some eight years, could only remember eight trout being caught in that time. I thought I was going to have one once. I was fishing for chub with a bumble bee, and a great spotted trout rose to it in a way which made me hope I was going to have a trophy to boast of for life. But he "rose short," and I saw him no more. I believe all the brooks which rise in the chalk hills of the Thames Valley have trout in them. One runs under the railway line at Steventon. A resident there had quite a number of tamed trout in the conduit which took the stream under the line, and used to feed them with worms as a show. At the head waters of the Lockinge brook, close to the springs, I saw the trout spawning on New Year's Day. The big fish had wriggled up into the very shallowest water, and were lying with their back fins and tails out, I suppose from some instinct either that this water is the most highly aerated, or because floods do less harm on a shallow, or for both reasons combined. At Long Wittenham, though I never saw a trout in the river (they are, however, taken there), Admiral Clutterbuck recently had a fine old stew pond in the picturesque old grounds of the Manor House cleaned out, and stocked it with rainbow trout. They did well and grew fast, and so far as I know, none died. The water was not suited for their breeding, but the fish were very ornamental, and rose freely to the fly.


Is it true that our fountains and springs of sweet water are about to perish? A writer in Country Life says "Yes," that in parts of the Southern counties the hidden cisterns of the springs are now sucked dry, and that the engineers employed to bring the waters from these natural sources to the village or the farm lament that where formerly streams gushed out unbidden, they are now at pains to raise the needed water by all the resources of modern machinery. When the old fountains fail new sources are eagerly sought, and where science fails the diviner's art is called in to aid. At the Agricultural Show the water-diviner sits installed, surrounded by votive tablets picturing the springs discovered by his magic art; and County Councils quarrel with the auditors of local expenditure over sums paid for the successful employment of his mysterious gift.

It is not strange that the springs of England should still suggest a faint echo of Nature-worship. If rivers have their gods, fountains and springs have ever been held to be the home of divinities, beings who were by right of birth gods, even though, owing to circumstances, they did not move exactly in their circle. Procul a Jove, procul a fulgure may have been the thought ascribed by Greek fancy to the gracious beings who made their home by the springs, for whether in ancient Greece or in our Western island, they breathe the sense of peace, security, and quiet, and to them all living things, animal and human, come by instinct to enjoy the sense of refreshment and repose. A spring is always old and always new. It is ever in movement, yet constant, seldom greater and seldom less, in the case of most natural upspringing waters, syphoned from the deep cisterns of earth. Absolutely material, with no mystery in its origin, it impresses the fancy as a thing unaccountable, like the source of life embodied, something self-engendered. It has pulses, throbbing like the ebb and flow of blood. Its dancing bubbles, rising and bursting, image emotion. It is the only water always clear and sparkling. Streams gather mud, springs dispel it. They come pure from the depths, and never suffer the earth to gather where they leap from ground. They are the brightest and the cleanest things in Nature. From all time the polluter of a spring has been held accursed.

One of the sources of the Thames was a real spring, rising from the earth in a meadow, until the level of the subterranean water was reduced.

These suddenly uprising springs are not common in our country, and need seeking. Our poets, who borrowed from the classics all their epithets for natural fountains, wrongly applied them to our modest springs welling gently from the bosom of the earth. The springs of old Greece and Italy gushed spouting from the rocks or flowed like the fountains of Tivoli in falling sheets over dripping shoots of stone. Even a Greek of to-day never speaks of a "spring," because he seldom sees one. "Fountain" is the word used for all waters flowing from the earth, and the difference of words corresponds to a difference of fact. The springs of his land are fountains, waters gushing from the rock or flowing from caverns and channels in the hills. The fountains of Greece flow down from above, and do not bubble up from below. These are the waters that tell their presence by sound, and have been the natural models of all the drinking fountains ever built,—jets that, spouting in a rainbow curve, hollow out basins below them, cut in the marble floor, cool cisterns ever running over, at which demi-gods watered their horses, and the white feet of the nymphs were seen dancing at sundown.

A tributary of the Severn, near Bisley, in the Cotswolds, bursts from a real fountain pouring from a hollow face of stone. But fountains in this sense are rare in England, though among the Welsh hills and the Yorkshire dales they may be seen springing full grown from the sides of the glens or "scarrs," and cutting basins and steps in marble or slate. But in the South the gentle springs take their place, silent, retiring, seldom found, except by chance, or by the local tradition which always attaches to the more important of our English natural wells. These it is the ambition of misdirected zeal to enclose in walls of stone, and to furnish with steps and conduits. If the old goddess Tan was once worshipped as the deity of the spring, it has usually undergone conversion by the early monks and changed its title to "St. Anne's Well," or been assigned to St. Catherine or some other of the holy sisterhood of saints.[1] But there are hundreds of tiny springs in Britain still left as Nature made them, and not yet settled in trust on any of the modern successors to the water rights of classic nymphs and Celtic goddesses. He who discovers for himself one of these springs will visit it each time he passes near. Some are in the woods, known only to the birds and beasts which live in them, and come daily to drink the pure, untainted waters. Wood springs are among the most beautiful of all, for they have a setting of tall timber, and their margins are never trampled by cattle, or the natural play of their waters disturbed to draw for the beasts of the farm. In the wood below Sinodun Hill there rises an everlasting spring. There may be seen how great an area of land it takes to make and keep one tiny spring. All the waters which gather in the millions of tons of chalk on Sinodun rise and flow out in the wood in the one pool, not larger than the circle of a wheel. It is always full, with the water throbbing up clear from the invisible vents below, and tiny white water-shells floating and falling in the basin, set round with liverwort and moss, and watering a bed of teazles in the wood below. Children drink from it, and pluck wild strawberries by its banks, and the pheasant and the fox come there to quench their thirst. An unexpected but not uncommon site of such springs is close to the margin of streams, which themselves are fed, not mainly by springs, but from the surface waters. [2] Wherever high ground slopes down to a stream, and ends in a rising bank at some distance from the river, there a true spring often rises, with an existence wholly apart from that of the river close by, into which its surplus of waters flows. Such springs have their special flora, their own "phenomena," and their own little set of effects on their liliput landscape. In the centre the waters well up, absolutely pure, and only discoloured when a more impatient earth-throb drives up a column of cloudy sand or earth. The spreading circles broaden outwards, and make their little marsh, planted with water-grass and forget-me-nots and blue bog-bean, and in the spring with butterburs. Outside, on the firmer but still moist soil the creeping jenny mats the ground; and the succulent grasses which attract the cattle to tread the marsh into a muddy paste. At the foot of the larger chalk downs the springs sometimes break out in different fashion, a modest imitation of classical fountains. The chalky soil breaks down, and from its sides the water often spouts in jets, as may be seen in Betterton glen, above Lockinge House, and in many other heads of the chalk brooks.

Springs of this kind are the natural outflowing of the water-bearing strata, where they lie upon others not pervious. But the upflowing springs are often fed by the accumulations of a great area of country, coming to the surface like water from the orifice of a syphon, and flowing permanently neither in greater nor less volume with constant force. If these cease to run the inference is that the old conditions are seriously disturbed. This has happened so frequently of late that local authorities would do well to schedule lists of the larger springs and request the owners or occupiers of the land to inform them from time to time whether there is a decrease in the flow. Stored water is almost as valuable as earth in a cycle of deficient rainfall, and the loss of any of our fountains and springs is a local misfortune not easily remedied.

[1] "Well deckings" are still common festivals in the North. Quite lately a Scotch loch was dragged with nets to catch a kelpie, and the bottom sowed with lime. The Church early forbade well worship.

[2] There is one such just above Marston Ferry, near Oxford, on the Cherwell, and two in a field below Ardington, near Lockinge.


On September 16, 1896, after a period of very stormy wet weather, I saw a great migration of swallows down the Thames. It was a dark, dripping evening, and the thick osier bed on Chiswick Eyot was covered with wet leaf. Between five and six o'clock immense flights of swallows and martins suddenly appeared above the eyot, arriving, not in hundreds, but in thousands and tens of thousands. The air was thick with them, and their numbers increased from minute to minute. Part drifted above, in clouds, twisting round like soot in a smoke-wreath. Thousands kept sweeping just over the tops of the willows, skimming so thickly that the sky-line was almost blotted out for the height of from three to four feet. The quarter from which these armies of swallows came was at first undiscoverable. They might have been hatched, like gnats, from the river.

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