Piscatory Eclogues: III. The River Enemies.

Piscatory Eclogues: an Essay to introduce new Rules, and new Characters, into Pastoral. To which is prefix'd, a Discourse in Defence of this Undertaking. With Practical and Philosophical Notes.

Rev. Moses Browne

This eclogue catalogues the predators that prey on fish, illustrated by quotations from Walton and Donne. The study of watery violence explores tensions between the pastoral and georgic components of Browne's subject. The poem is dedicated "To Mr. John Duick."

"ARGUMENT. A Swain, who had chosen an agreeable Solitude for Angling, is agreeably met by a young Fisher, who hastily craves his Assistance to recover a Trout, that an Otter was endeavouring to seize from him, which introduces a Short Description of their hunting and taking him. Upon their Return to their Recreations, the Swain, invited by the Occasion, desires his Friend to relate particularly, while they are engaged at their Sport, what Creatures are most remarkably hurtful and destructive to Fish. The Recital of this moves in them both an innocent Pity; and some Things happening unfavourable to their Pastime, they retire in Company together."

Dwight Durling: "The eclogues mingle the usual pastoral themes (the love lament, the incantation of a slighted shepherdess, the song contest, etc.) with technical advice, natural history, and description. Browne introduces many signs of weather, in the manner of Virgil, but these portents apply particularly to the exigencies of the fisherman's craft, and seem to be the result of original observation. Sometimes these notations are quite minute, like the observations of the leaves of wincopipes as indications of clear days.... The notations are numerous and exact for the time. The weakness is that these are too much in the catalogue manner. But the appearances and sounds of early evening (the furtive weasel, the cricket, toads, beetles, glowworm, and owl) are pleasingly painted. So too is the sunrise and rival of nature and man in Eclogue II. This suggests Thomson, as do the faint-hearted and illogical touches of humanitarianism. To condemn man's cruelty to the denizens of the stream, in a poem on angling, is something less than consistent; but the English gentry were forced into many strange positions by the conflict of the new humanitarianism with their traditional love of field sports" Georgic Tradition in English Poetry (1935) 61-63.


Wont by the Stream our sportive Hours to spend,
My Youth's companion as my Manhood's friend,
To thy lov'd Theme a pleas'd Attention bring,
So skill'd thyself to judge, thyself to sing.

Young Aquadune, the blithest Fisher Swain,
That ever frolick'd on the mirthful Plain,
None sung like him so sweet; none e'er was seen
To dance so featly on the crouded Green;
By chance the Swain his early Pastime led,
Where the clear Isis forms his weedy Bed;
The Angler Linus, there he fishing found
On a green Bank, beset with Osiers round.
His Dog, Companion of his peaceful Shade,
Was by, and near his mirthful Pipe was laid.
First Aquadune attentive Silence broke
With loud Alarm; and thus accosting spoke.

Help, Friend, my Tackle and my Prey I lose;
See! 'tis unhook'd, and flound'ring in the Ooze—
Ah me! the lurking Otter, while we stay,
Springs from the Weeds, and bears my Prize away.

Mopsus, o'ertake him ere he leaves the Sand,
And bring, I charge, the Robber safe to Land:
Ah! Traytor, thou shalt soon thy Boldness rue!
'Tis a true Curr, he keeps him close in view.

Look! he has hurt the Dog, and makes away—

No Danger, Friend, we hold him still at Bay;
He gripes him, see, and makes to Landward fast:
Come, be content, the Thief is caught at last.

Now, Caitiff, thou shalt pay me for thy Spoil,
And thy gorg'd Carcase dung the weedy Soil.

There leave him, Aquadune; thy tinkling Bell
Warns thee to heed thy busied Angle well.

I have him safe; look! 'tis a grateful Prize,
A Barbel this, and of the largest Size.

Since thou so skilful in the Fisher's Art,
And Verse can with such flowing Grace impart;
And, since Occasion prompts thy Strife, disclose
The Names and Numbers, of the fishy Foes;
Nor need our Sport, which now improves amain,
Defer my Wish, or interrupt thy Strain.

A thousand Foes the finny People chase,
Nor are they safe from their own Kindred Race:
The Pike, fell Tyrant of the liquid Plain!
With rav'nous Waste devours his fellow Train,
Nor fears, provok'd by Rage, or needy Woe,
Rapacious to attack the common Foe:
Unaw'd, he dares the stream-bred Serpent slay,
Or from the grizzly Otter force his Prey;
And oft the Shepherd's Dog, amid the Flood,
He fierce assails — so wild his thirst of Blood.
Yet, howsoe'er, with raging Famine pin'd,
The Tench he spares, a salutary Kind:
For when by Wounds distrest or sore Disease,
He courts the Fish medicinal for Ease:
Close to his Scales the kind Physician glides,
And sweats a healing Balsam from his Sides.
Hence too the Perch, a like voracious Brood,
Forbears to make this gen'rous Race his Food:
Whether a loathing to his Taste restrain,
Or when devour'd he proves his deadly Bane,
Whate'er his wond'rous Abstinence engage,
A secret Instinct still with-holds his Rage:
Tho' on the common Drove no Bounds it finds,
But spreads unmeasur'd Waste thro' all their Kinds.
Nor less the greedy Trout and glutless Eel,
Incessant Woes, and dire Destruction deal.
In wat'ry Dens the lurking Craber preys,
And in the Weeds, the wily Otter slays:
The ghastly Newt in muddy Streams annoys,
And in swift Floods the felly Snake destroys;
Toads for the swarming Fry forsake the Lawn,
And croaking Frogs devour the tender Spawn.

These to the wat'ry Province all belong,
Or live at large, a mixt amphibious Throng;
Man only of the Earth's distinguish'd Breed,
With restless Spoil consumes their hapless Seed.
Why cruel! has thy rude unpitying Mind,
So wild a Waste, such Stores of Death design'd?
The Trout-Spear first thy murd'rous Art devis'd,
And num'rous Shoals are by thy Snares surpriz'd.
The finny Wand'rers now thro' every Flood
Their lost Companions mourn, and ravag'd Brood.
The disappointed Angler hopeless seems,
Amid drain'd Waters and unpeopled Streams;
His plaintive Songs, by ev'ry Flood resound,
And useless lie his idle Rods around.

What Kind more harmless than the finny Train?
Nor is the Angler by their Treason slain;
Nor Beasts with savage Appetite they chase,
Nor wreak their Fury on the feath'ry Race;
All safe amid the wat'ry Kingdom rove,
Nor dread Commotion from th' inhostile Drove;
Yet neither, Habitants of Land, nor Air,
(So their sure Doom!) the fishy Numbers spare,
The Swan, fair Regent of the silver Tide!
Their Ranks destroys, and spreads the Ruin wide:
The Duck her Offspring to the Rivers leads,
And on the destin'd Fry insatiate feeds;
On fatal Wings the pouncing Bittern soars,
And wafts her Prey from the defenceless Shores:
The watchful Halcyons to the Reeds repair,
And from their Haunts the scaly Captives bear:
Sharp Herns, and Corm'rants too their Tribes oppress,
A harrass'd Race, peculiar in Distress.
Nor can the Muse enum'rate all their Foes,
Such is their Fate, so various are their Woes.

Sweet dost thou carol, Swain, thy Voice more sweet
Than Waves, that o'er the rolling Pebbles beat;
Not Osiers tun'd by Winds can match thy Strain,
Nor Sickles sounding on the reaping Grain.

Our Sports, O Linus, with our Songs give o'er,
Let's not increase the Ruin we deplore.
Already see, our Toils are well repaid,
While to Refreshment now the Hours persuade;
Nor longer round the Bait the Cheven play,
But feed at Distance and disperse away.
A ruffling Gale from Shore begins to rise,
And Clouds hang heavy in the show'ry Skies,
Weeds from the Flood-Gates born, the current fill,
And Milo sets to work the lab'ring Mill.

[Poems (1739) 50-59]