Forgot your password?  

Resources for students & teachers

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 277 pages of information about Essays in Rebellion.

THE CATFISH

Before the hustling days of ice and of “cutters” rushing to and fro between Billingsgate and our fleets of steam-trawlers on the Dogger Bank, most sailing trawlers and long-line fishing-boats were built with a large tank in their holds, through which the sea flowed freely.  Dutch eel-boats are built so still, and along the quays of Amsterdam and Copenhagen you may see such tanks in fishing-boats of almost every kind.  Our East Coast fishermen kept them chiefly for cod.  They hoped thus to bring the fish fresh and good to market, for, unless they were overcrowded, the cod lived quite as contentedly in the tanks as in the open sea.  But in one respect the fishermen were disappointed.  They found that the fish arrived slack, flabby, and limp, though well fed and in apparent health.

Perplexity reigned (for the value of the catch was much diminished) until some fisherman of genius conjectured that the cod lived only too contentedly in those tanks, and suffered from the atrophy of calm.  The cod is by nature a lethargic, torpid, and plethoric creature, prone to inactivity, content to lie in comfort, swallowing all that comes, with cavernous mouth wide open, big enough to gulp its own body down if that could be.  In the tanks the cod rotted at ease, rapidly deteriorating in their flesh.  So, as a stimulating corrective, that genius among fishermen inserted one catfish into each of his tanks, and found that his cod came to market firm, brisk, and wholesome.  Which result remained a mystery until his death, when the secret was published and a strange demand for catfish arose.  For the catfish is the demon of the deep, and keeps things lively.

This irritating but salutary stimulant in the tank (to say nothing of the myriad catfishes in the depths of ocean!) has often reminded me of what the Lord says to Mephistopheles in the Prologue to Faust.  After observing that, of all the spirits that deny, He finds a knave the least of a bore, the Lord proceeds: 

  “Des Menschen Thaetigkeit kann allzuleicht erschlaffen,
  Er liebt sich bald die unbedingte Ruh;
  Drum geb’ ich ihm gern den Gesellen zu,
  Der reizt und wirkt und muss als Teufel, schaffen.”

Is not the parallel remarkable?  Man’s activity, like the cod’s, turns too readily to slumber; he is much too fond of unconditioned ease; and so the Lord gives him a comrade like a catfish, to stimulate, rouse, and drive to creation, as a devil may.  There sprawls man, by nature lethargic and torpid as a cod, prone to inactivity, content to lie in comfort swallowing all that comes, with wide-open mouth, big enough to gulp himself down, if that could be.  There he sprawls, rotting at ease, and rapidly deteriorating in body and soul, till one little demon of the spiritual deep is inserted into his surroundings, and makes him firm, brisk, and wholesome in a trice—­“in half a jiffy,” as people used to say.

Follow Us on Facebook