Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/29

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19
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE OYSTER.

higher vertebrata? And, in the aggregate of the chords by which the œsophageal ganglia communicate with the pedal and branchial ones, do we not see the analogue of at least a portion of the spinal cord, that portion which consists of afferent and efferent nerves to and from the brain?" It is plain, then, that, with a brain outfit of such a character and quantity, there must be something of a corresponding brain-force. In plain words, we mean that, possessing such a physiology, the oyster must sustain an analogous psychological relation. Organs imply functions. Pythagoras held that "animals have reason but no mind." Let us, then, see what sort of impressions an oyster can receive, and what kind of thinking it can do. If not too preposterous, we may even indicate its capacity to receive a modicum of education.

The adult oyster is eyeless, and of course blind. Yet it does without eyes that which we in its position could not do better with. It is affirmed that a bed of oysters has been seen to close by a precautionary impulse at the approach of a row-boat, even before the shadow of the approaching boat had reached them. Now, this is more than a blind man's distinguishing light from darkness. Is not that an exquisite sensitiveness which can thus note the faintest tint of shadow—the extremest margin of an oncoming obscuration?

Before the railroad days, our oyster-growers used early in the fall to canvass the villages on the Hudson River for orders, to be filled just before the river should be closed with ice. The meaning of this is that these men committed themselves to supply oysters in the shell, with the guarantee that the bivalves thus supplied should not die before their time came. The oysters were actually kept alive during the greater part of the long winter. The fat bivalves were handled with some care, and were spread on the cellar-floor, the round or lower side down, so as not to allow the liquor to escape. That such a life required a great change of capacity or habit in the bivalve is evident; and it needed a training, yes, an education, ere the oyster attained to such ability. And this was the way it was done: Beginning early in the fall, the cultivator of the oyster took up the fat bivalves from their bed where he had planted them, and laid them a little higher up on the shore, so that for a short time each day they were exposed out of the water. After a few days of this exposure by the retreating tide, they were moved a little higher still on the shore-line, which gave them a little longer exposure to the air at each low tide. And this process was continued, each remove resulting in a longer exposure. And with what results? Two very curious ones—inurement to exposure, and the inculcation of a provident habit of making preparation for the same. What! providence in an oyster? Yes, when he's educated. When accustomed to this treatment, ere the tide retires, the oyster takes a good full drink, and retains the same until the tide returns. Once, while waiting for the stage at a country hostelry, we overheard the following between two rustic practitioners