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ART. V. OYSTERS.

The Closet of Cookery. By Sir Kenelm Digby. London: 1669.

"Happy the man who, void of cares and strife,
In silken or in leathern purse retains

A Splendid Shilling: he nor hears with pain,
New Oysters cried."

So sang John Philips, laureate of Cider, of Tobacco, of the Splendid Shilling, and of the Duke of Marlborough. So he sang, and so sing we as we read over and over again, the seducing advertisements of Hynes of Dame-street, and of Burton Bindon's successor in D'Olier-street. We sing, but we sigh whilst we sing, for the words come over us like the memory of a dead joy, and we wander back in fancy to twenty years ago, when, after applauding "pretty little Hudart," as she was called, we used to go, full of admiration and appetite, to a supper at Killeen's, and finish a quarter of a hundred Red Banks, with two tumblers of John Jameson. But poor Hudart is gone, our appetite has vanished, the roaring boys who waked the night with the jovial songs have passed away, and as we stroll through the well-known haunts of happier times, before we thought of gout, or colchicum, and could sing, I saw from the Beach, with an undimmed eye, we think of the past and sigh with George Morris

"For many a lad I liked is dead

And many a lass grown old;
And as the lesson strikes my head
My weary heart feels cold."

O! youth! youth! oh! friends of our youth grown into grave lawyers, judges, doctors, have ye forgotten Malahide, Carlingford, Lissadill, and Burren ? Do ye recollect how the Carlingford boats were moored above Carlisle Bridge, and the boat-men were commanded to step into Killeen's, or the Carlingford, (the taverns being exactly opposite, the boat lying between them), and were told to continue opening the Öysters, until we could swallow no more? Do ye recall the O'Hara emporium in French-street, and O'Hara's stories of the former proprietor, "Ould Smith"? Have ye forgotten O'Ryan's

in Trinity-street, and its glorious natives from Burren? Do ye ever take a sly look at "The O'Donohoe," in Abbeystreet, as ye pass through Sackville-street? It is changed now or is it that we are changed, and no longer able to feel with Lodovico Dolce, that though the pearl is the Oyster's heart, yet that he is himself a pearl without his heart?

How the old time comes back upon us as we write; and as we recall the knowledge which at that period we had gathered upon the history of our favorite fish, we are impelled by that failing of age, the wish to hear ourselves talk, or to see our thoughts on paper, to write our once cherished facts and gleanings, and we shall tell the reader how Oysters were honored by the choice of Emperors; what oysters are; how they should be eaten; in fact we shall show him how great a ranting fool mad Antony was, when he sent that famous orient pearl" to Cleopatra, and called it with that kiss of “ many double kisses," the "treasure of an oyster." Had he been a sane man and not a raving lover, he would have sent her not the pearl, to dissolve in vinegar, but the Oyster of which it was the heart, that floating in vinegar she might taste it, and tasting should cry, "my salad days when I was green in judgement" are past," My man of men," send me a hundred such as these.

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The Irish are the only people on earth who treat the Oyster with respect, and who do sufficient honor to his merits. It is true that in England they have a superstition that whoever eats Oysters on St. James's day can never want; it is true that the little boys and girls ask you on Oyster day, for "something for the Grotto?" But in Ireland we usher in the Oysters with a procession, and along the winding road from Malahide there may be seen, on the first day of the Oyster season

Shouting Friends.

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Can we forget how the lovers of Oysters throng the shops, shelling the fish and floating them in Pale Ale and punch, until the happy Oyster opener cries with Pistol,

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then, the world's mine oyster."

Did not Robert Boyle write of the proper manner of eating oysters? Did not O'Connell enter into a match of abusing with, and find himself all but worsted by, an oyster-woman; and did not our old friend, Billy Hurley, the post-master of Lismore, drive, in the year 1821, being in his ninety-seventh year, from Fermoy to Dungarvan, in an oyster-tub, drawn by a pig, a badger, two cats, a goose, and a hedgehog? Do we not remember Billy rolling into Dungarvan, sounding a cow's-horn, and flourishing a pig-driver's whip, his jolly old head surmounted by a bright red woollen night-cap? Thus have our people shewn their respect for the Oyster, and the Oyster has shewn itself grateful for the homage, and has grown up in our national "Beds," with a delicacy of flavor, throwing all other beds into unquestionable inferiority.

It must be remembered that in making this statement we are not ignorant of the great antiquity of Oysters. If we can credit Pliny, the Naturalist,* Sergius Orata was the first who formed the idea of constructing Oyster Beds. This gastronomer caused immense reservoirs of water to be erected at Baiae in which were collected several thousands of these mollusca. A palace was built adjacent to these inclosures, and there the wealthy Roman every week invited his chosen friends to pass the day and night in enjoying good cheer. Oysters maintained the place of honor at the festive board of Sergius Orata, where each guest swallowed several thousands. Filled to repletion, but not satisfied, these savage gourmands retired to an adjoining room where they excited themselves to disgorge all they had previously partaken, and returned again to indulge their insatiable passion for Oysters.

How we shall shock the sensibilities of our fair readers of the present day, when we inform them that this singular custom was adopted by the Roman ladies also, but, instead of using their finger for this base purpose, they employed the feathers of the peacock, and other rare birds, with which they gently tickled their throats. It was at Baiae, near Pouzzol,

* Lib. ix, c. 54

not far from lake Lucrinus, on the confines of the Tyrrhenian Sea, in an enchanting site, under a transparent sky, in the middle of a perfumed atmosphere, that the voluptuous Romans erected their country residences. It was there, apart from business, far from the noise and tumult of the Forum, that they delivered themselves, like true disciples of Epicurus, without thought or care, to the most refined luxuries of the table; there they enjoyed with a keener relish this light shell-fish, the Oyster, partaking of it with the same zest as Martial,

Levi cortice, concha brevis,

after collecting them on the beach some hours before they were placed on the table. The annals of gluttony mention some gastronomers whose stomachs became so plastic as to enable them to swallow from one to several hundred Oysters: but Vitellius surpassed them all on this point. If we can place any faith in the historians of that time, this Emperor partook of them four times a day, eating, at each repast, neither more nor less than twelve hundred. Seneca himself, who extolled so admirably the charms of poverty, and who died possessing thirty-three millions of our money, Seneca, the wise Seneca, eat some hundreds of dozens of them weekly.

"Oyster, dear to the gourmand," cried he, "which excites instead of satiating the appetite, which never causes illness, even when eaten to excess, so easy art thou of digestion!" Ostrea non cibi, sed oblectamenta sunt ad edendum saturos cogentia, quod gratissimum est edacibus, et si ultrà quàm capiunt farcientibus facile descensura, facile reditura.

Cicero did not disguise his extreme partiality for this species of shell-fish, but he adds that he could abstain from it without any sense of privation. Ego qui me ostreis et murænis facile abstinebam.* We prefer Horace boasting every instant of his taste for the Oyster, swallowing it with the same delight with which he extolled it, and carefully noting the name of the slave who served him with it; he cries

Nos, inquam, cœnamus aves, conchylia, pisces.

We like that Montanus, famous gourmet, who could ascertain by the first touch of his teeth, whether the Oyster was from Circeii, lake Lucrinus, or from the city Rutupino :

Circæis nata forent an
Lucrinum ad saxum Rutupinove edita fundo

Ostrea callebat primo deprendere morsu.'

*Juvenal, Sat. 4.

**

We have long commentaries on this Rutupino, which some have regarded as a City of Brittany, whilst others take it as a promontory. This is to us but of little moment, we shall merely allude here to these expressions

Primo deprendere morsu.

The Romans, our masters in all the arts, and probably in gluttony likewise, did not swallow the Oyster; they chewed it. We swallow it at the present day. Is this right or is it wrong? We will not take it on ourselves to decide the question. These Romans did not require to use their teeth, in order to decide whether the Oyster belonged to this or that lake; a single glance was with them sufficient to enable them to resolve the question, as may be seen in these lines of Lucilius:

Quid? ego si cerno ostrea

Cognorim fluvium, limum, ac cœnum sapere ipsum. We, who write this paper, have eaten, during our life, many hundreds of baskets of Oysters; we dare not, however, affirm that we have as sufficiently practised a glance as the gourmand, Lucilius, who sang thus. At Rome, as in England, they disputed on the extraction of the best Oysters.

Lake Lucrinus was first in fashion :

Lucrinus

Eruta littoribus vendunt conchylia cœnis,
Ut renovent per damna famem.*

Then we have Martial :

Ebria baiano veni modo concha lucrino,
Nobile nunc sitio luxuriosa garum.

Pliny preferred those of Circeii:—

According to my opinion," said this gastronimic naturalist, "there are none sweeter, nor more tender than those of Circeii." Circensibus nec dulciora neque teneriora ulla esse compertum

est.

Finally, they preferred the Oysters that were brought from the Atlantic Ocean, whether they were really better, or that patrician opulence distained this species of shell-fish when procured without trouble, and almost without expense, on the strands in the immediate vicinity of Rome. Be that as it may, some thousands of slaves were employed in transporting these mollusca to Rome, where they were worth their weight in gold.

* Petronius.

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