Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 28.djvu/353

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

seen them myself, and I maintain that on such a question one piece of positive evidence is a great deal better than a hundred negative. The testimony of all the witnesses who didn't see the murder committed is as nothing compared with the single testimony of the one man who really did see it. And in this case I have met with many other quick observers who fully agreed with me against the weight of scientific opinion, that they have seen the flying-fish really fly with their own eyes, and no mistake about it. The German professors, indeed, all think otherwise; but then the German professors all wear green spectacles, which are the outward and visible sign of "blinded eyesight poring over miserable books." The unsophisticated vision of the noble British seaman is unanimously with me on the matter of the reality of the fishes' flight.

Another group of very interesting fish out of water are the flying gurnards, common enough in the Mediterranean and the tropical Atlantic. They are much heavier and bigger creatures than the true flying-fish of the herring type, being often a foot and a half long, and their wings are much larger in proportion, though not, I think, really 60 powerful as those of their pretty little silvery rivals. All flying-fish fly only of necessity, not from choice. They leave the water when pursued by their enemies, or when frightened by the rapid approach of a big steamer. So swiftly do they fly, however, that they can far outstrip a ship going at the rate of ten knots an hour; and I have often watched one keep ahead of a great Pacific liner under full steam for many minutes together in quick, successive flights of three or four hundred feet each. Oddly enough, they can fly farther against the wind than before it—a fact acknowledged even by the spectacled Germans themselves, and very hard indeed to reconcile with the orthodox belief that they are not flying at all, but only jumping. I don't know whether the flying gurnards are good eating or not; but the silvery flying-fish are caught for market (sad desecration of the poetry of Nature!) in the Windward Islands, and, when nicely fried in egg and bread-crumb, are really quite as good, for practical purposes, as smelts or whiting, or any other prosaic European substitute.

On the whole, it will be clear, I think, to the impartial reader, from this rapid survey, that the helplessness and awkwardness of a fish out of water have been much exaggerated by the thoughtless generalization of unscientific humanity. Granting, for argument's sake, that most fish prefer the water, as a matter of abstract predilection, to the dry land, it must be admitted per contra that many fish cut a much better figure on terra firma than most of their critics themselves would cut in mid-ocean. There are fish that wriggle across country intrepidly with the dexterity and agility of the most accomplished snakes; there are fish that walk about on open sand-banks, semi-erect on two legs, as easily as lizards; there are fish that hop and skip on tail and fins in a manner that the celebrated jumping-frog