Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/27

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17
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE OYSTER.

good old lady thus gave expression to her sufferings: "doctor, I'm getting so terribly nervous! I wish to goodness I'd no nerves at all, like an oyster!" An animal without nerves! One must go down very low in the scale of living things to find a creature enjoying such a dubious felicity. The amœba—a simple, gliding clot or molecule of living jelly—enjoys this singular distinction. It has no nerves. And of old time some of the philosophers even entertained no higher conception of the organization of the oyster. Nor was it any better with Seneca, the moralist, who so eloquently urged the practice of self-denial, and ascetic severity, and whose practical knowledge of the bivalve extended to the personal consumption of just one hundred at a time. These learned men knew nothing about amœbas, or they would surely have leaped to the conclusion that an oyster was an amoeboid animal shut up in a shell. Science, however, that sturdy non-respecter of persons, while it has pulled some things down, has lifted others up. Some of this exaltation has fallen to the oyster. Its nervous system is shown to be a very beautiful affair, and might be made the basis of some startling hypotheses in philosophy. It seems that, in common with the other learned men of his day, Plato regarded the oyster as the typical know-nothing of creation, and so, under the process known as transmigration, he judicially consigned the soul of the ignorant man at death to the occupancy of an oyster. Only to think of it! That last half-dozen fat mollusks one took so unsuspectingly down from the half-shell were possessed of an equal number of low, unlettered rapscallions in the spiritual state! You don't believe it? Of course. Who does? And it doth appear that Mr. Plato had but little to do when he was thus billeting bad company upon respectable people. Indeed, has he not much to answer for? A philosopher tempting to sin! Is not the man who stirs the pun as bad as the punster? Even at the risk of incurring punitive consequences, it must be said

That his metempsychosis

A contemptible joke is!—

a sentiment which, for want of prose, had to be thrown into rhyme. But it is urged in extenuation that this great man was only chaffing some old Greek who liked oysters, and that we ought to look rather to the wheat of his philosophy.

It is not intended here to go the length of declaring for the oyster that it has the feelings of a gentleman; although in Figuier the Scotch oyster-dredgers (Fig. 6) are represented as singing at their toilsome work:

"The herring it loves the merry moonlight,

The mackerel it loves the wind;
But the oyster it loves the dredger's song,
For it comes of a gentle kind!"

Let us look closely at Fig. 8, which represents the nervous system of an oyster. It is necessary, in the study of the nerves of the in-