The Victorian aquarium: Literary discussions on nature, culture, and science 9781526151971

Through the analysis of a wide range of sources, which include aquarium manuals, articles and fictional works, The Victo

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The Victorian aquarium: Literary discussions on nature, culture, and science
 9781526151971

Table of contents :
Front matter
Contents
List of figures
Acknowledgements
Introduction
The marine aquarium in context
To the seaside and into the abyss
Beauty and the fish
The science of a miniature sea
Weird creatures in the home
Conclusion
Bibliography
Index

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The Victorian aquarium

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Series editors: Anna Barton, Andrew Smith Editorial board: David Amigoni, Isobel Armstrong, Philip Holden, Jerome McGann, Joanne Wilkes, Julia M. Wright Interventions: Rethinking the Nineteenth Century seeks to make a significant intervention into the critical narratives that dominate conventional and established understandings of nineteenth-​century literature. Informed by the latest developments in criticism and theory the series provides a focus for how texts from the long nineteenth century, and more recent adaptations of them, revitalise our knowledge of and engagement with the period. It explores the radical possibilities offered by new methods, unexplored contexts and neglected authors and texts to re-​map the literary-​cultural landscape of the period and rigorously re-​imagine its geographical and historical parameters. The series includes monographs, edited collections, and scholarly sourcebooks.

Already published Engine of modernity: The omnibus and urban culture in nineteenth-​century Paris Masha Belenky Spectral Dickens: The uncanny forms of novelistic characterization Alexander Bove Spain in the nineteenth century: New essays on experiences of culture and society Andrew Ginger and Geraldine Lawless Instead of modernity: The Western canon and the incorporation of the Hispanic (c. 1850–​75) Andrew Ginger Creating character: Theories of nature and nurture in Victorian sensation fiction Helena Ifill Margaret Harkness: Writing social engagement 1880–​1921 Flore Janssen and Lisa C. Robertson (eds) Richard Marsh, popular fiction and literary culture, 1890–​1915: Re-​reading the fin de siècle

Victoria Margree, Daniel Orrells and Minna Vuohelainen (eds) Charlotte Brontë: Legacies and afterlives Amber K. Regis and Deborah Wynne (eds) The Great Exhibition, 1851: A sourcebook Jonathon Shears (ed.) Interventions: Rethinking the nineteenth century Andrew Smith and Anna Barton (eds) Counterfactual Romanticism Damian Walford Davies (ed.) Marie Duval: Maverick Victorian cartoonist Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin and Julian Waite

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The Victorian aquarium Literary discussions on nature, culture, and science Silvia Granata

Manchester University Press

Copyright © Silvia Granata 2021 The right of Silvia Granata to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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Published by Manchester University Press Altrincham Street, Manchester M1 7JA www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk British Library Cataloguing-​in-​Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978 1 5261 5196 4 hardback First published 2021 The publisher has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for any external or third-​party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Cover image: ‘The ancient wrasse’, in Philip Henry Gosse, The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea, second Edition, revised and enlarged (London: John Van Voorst, 1856) via Wikimedia Commons

Typeset by Newgen Publishing UK

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Contents

List of figures  vii Acknowledgements  ix Introduction  1 1 The marine aquarium in context  17 2 To the seaside and into the abyss  51 3 Beauty and the fish  87 4 The science of a miniature sea  131 5 Weird creatures in the home  171 Conclusion  205 Bibliography  209 Index  221

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Figures

1 ‘Aquarium and fernery combined’, in James Shirley Hibberd, Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste, London, Groombridge and Sons, 1870, p. 48 (Public domain, Google-​digitalised).  31 2 ‘Cabinet aquarium’, in James Shirley Hibberd, The Book of the Aquarium and Water Cabinet, London, Groombridge and Sons, 1856, frontispiece (Public domain, Wikimedia Commons).  32 3 ‘Pets of the aquarium’, in George Kearley, Links in the Chain; or, Popular Chapters on the Curiosities of Animal Life, London, James Hogg and Sons, 1862, p. 111 (Public domain).  44 4 ‘Links in the chain’, in George Kearley, Links in the Chain; or, Popular Chapters on the Curiosities of Animal Life, London, James Hogg and Sons, 1862 (Public domain).  45 5 John Leech, ‘Common objects at the sea-​side –​ generally found upon the rocks at low water’, Punch 35 (21 August 1858), p. 76 (Public domain, Google-​ digitalised).  56 6 ‘The ancient wrasse’, in Philip Henry Gosse, The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea, London, John Van Voorst, 1856, frontispiece (Public domain, Wikimedia Commons).  72 7 ‘Terrific accident. Bursting of old Mrs. Twaddle’s Aqua-​ vivarium. The old lady may be observed endeavouring to pick up her favourite eel with the tongs, a work requiring some address’, Punch 33 (19 December 1857), p. 250 (Public domain, Google-​digitalised).  96

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Figures

8 ‘Chrysaora cyclonota’, in Philip Henry Gosse, A Naturalist’s Rambles on the Devonshire Coast, London, John Van Voorst, 1853, frontispiece (Public domain, Wikimedia Commons).  114 9 ‘The marine aquarium’, in James Shirley Hibberd, Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste, London, Groombridge and Sons, 1870, p. 11 (Public domain, Google-​digitalised).  159 10 ‘Plate VI’, in Henry Noel Humphreys, Ocean Gardens: The History of the Marine Aquarium, and the Best Methods Now Adopted for Its Establishment and Preservation, London, Sampson Low, Son, and Co., 1857 (Public domain, Google-​digitalised).  160

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Acknowledgements

Early drafts of this work have been presented at conferences and seminars in the United Kingdom, France, and Italy:  Victorian Paraphernalia (Leeds Trinity University, 2015); Becoming Animal with the Victorians, SFEVE 2016 Conference (Université Paris Diderot); Victorian Animal Encounters (University of Portsmouth, 2018), Underwater Worlds:  Aquatic Visions in Art, Science and Literature (Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, University of Oxford, 2015); Lo Spazio e il Tempo, Cantieri di Primavera (University of Pavia, 2018); Victorian Popular Genres and Travel, Translation and Communication (VPFA, Senate House, 2015 and 2016); these provided fruitful opportunities to discuss my research and allowed me to receive feedback and suggestions from organisers and other delegates. This book has been long in the making, and I owe much to all the colleagues that read parts of my work, even in its early stages, offering helpful and encouraging comments:  Meghan Freeman, Laurence Roussillon-​Constanty, Sara Thornton, Helen Kingstone, Kate Lister, Will Abberley, and Mariaconcetta Costantini. My gratitude also goes to the series editors, Anna Barton and Andrew Smith, for believing in my project and for their patient assistance. Very special thanks to Lia Guerra for her indefatigable generosity, support, and advice. This research was carried out in the framework of the project ‘Dipartimenti di Eccellenza 2018–​ 2022’ (Ministry of University and Research). I am grateful to the publishers for granting me permission to quote from Griffiths, Devin, The Age of Analogy:  Science and Literature Between the Darwins, p. 11. © 2016 Devin Griffiths. Reprinted with permission of Johns Hopkins University Press; from Fathoming the Ocean:  the Discovery and Exploration of

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Acknowledgements

the Deep Sea by Helen M. Rozwadowski, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2005 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College; and from Rebecca Stott, ‘Darwin’s Barnacles: Mid-​Century Victorian Natural History and the Marine Grotesque’, in Roger Luckhurst and Josephine McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters: Science and Culture in the Nineteenth Century (Manchester University Press, 2002). For quotations from Natascha Adamowsky, The Mysterious Science of the Sea, 1775–​1943 (Routledge, 2015), Melanie Keene, ‘An Active Nature:  Robert Hunt and the Genres of Science Writing’, in Ben Marsden, Hazel Hutchison and Ralph O’Connor (eds), Uncommon Contexts:  Encounters between Science and Literature, 1800–​1914 (Pickering & Chatto, 2013), and Susan Schlee, A History of Oceanography. The Edge of an Unfamiliar World (Robert Hale & Co., 1975), every effort has been made to contact the copyright holders. Sections of this book have appeared, sometimes in a different form, in Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory (2016), Paraphernalia! Victorian Objects (Copyright © 2018, reproduced by permission of Taylor and Francis Group, LLC, a division of Informa plc.), Underwater Worlds:  Submerged Visions in Science and Culture (2018, reproduced with the permission of Cambridge Scholars Publishing), and Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens (2018). I thank the editors and publishers for their kind permission to reuse them.

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Introduction

In 1858, W. T. Critchfield performed a serio-​comic song at the Canterbury Hall titled The Aquarium Mania. The song narrated the misadventures of a man whose wife and children had recently embarked on tank keeping:  his once-​tidy home is now disrupted by a messy muddle of glass vases, strange animals find their way into inappropriate places (such as dinner plates, or his own boots), and fragile vessels break on the worst possible occasions, spoiling the costly furniture with small inundations of water and dirt. Interestingly, such disastrous outcomes seem to be the result of a misplaced ambition, and the aquarium is presented as the umpteenth fad embraced by the socially aspiring to ape their betters. The aquarists in the family explicitly took on the hobby because ‘its the fashion, and they must look grand’. The desperate father comments in the last lines that ‘To a liking for shrimps I’ve always confessed/​For lobsters and crabs have a passion –​/​But if I have either, oh, let them be dressed/​And not in the present new fashion!’1 The song describes tank keeping as a silly craze, whose (questionable) appeal does not in the least repay the trouble, expense, and difficulties it entails. After all, marine creatures do not belong in parlours or drawing rooms, and –​in the song’s words –​make sense outside their natural element only as articles of food on the dinner table. The lyrics indeed capture two of the key features of Victorian tanks:  they were for a time considered a highly desirable status symbol and they were meant to surprise, bringing a profoundly unfamiliar experience right to the heart of the home. While this could lend material for satire on the vogue’s preposterousness, it also represented the hobby’s major appeal according to its supporters. But there was more to Victorian tank keeping than the song suggests. The aquarium was a surprising object in many ways, and its multifaceted cultural resonance calls for closer attention. Fish tanks had been used since antiquity, but Victorians were the

1

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first to enjoy the opportunity to create and maintain aquaria that hosted sea creatures. This became possible thanks to a better scientific understanding of marine ecosystems and to technological improvements that allowed the construction of appropriate tanks. The early 1850s witnessed the first successful experiments with saltwater aquaria, the results of which were quickly divulged through a well-​established market for popular science and nature-​related hobbies. The opening of Regent’s Park ‘Fish House’ in May 1853 –​the very first public aquarium –​sealed the fortune of this new technological wonder, firing the imagination of the public and inspiring people to try and imitate it on a smaller scale. This could be done thanks to a fast-​growing body of publications (ranging from short articles in periodicals to full-​length handbooks) that praised the new invention and explained how to do it at home; the enthusiastic response of the public also fuelled the appearance of dedicated shops, where the aquarist could find all the materials (including fish and sea plants) needed to build and set up one’s own ‘piece of the sea’. Thus, tank keeping soon became a widely appreciated pastime. The considerable amount of attention required by early tanks and the cost of setting them up made them especially popular among the middle and upper classes but, as we shall see, the passion for aquaria was by no means circumscribed to the wealthy; the hobby could also be adjusted to the needs of the less affluent, who could still enjoy it in inexpensive, although certainly less posh, versions.

The aquarium in Victorian culture: popular science, tourism, and home décor It is important to understand the reasons for this widespread enthusiasm, since it is there that the significance marine tanks acquired for their nineteenth-​century devotees lies:  indeed, Victorian tank keeping was remarkably different from the hobby as it is practised today. Although the differences obviously involve management (far more arduous then than now), they mostly concern the functions envisaged for the tank. The object’s structural complexity was positively outmatched by the entanglement of meanings that was attached to it. This is one of the reasons why the topic is so relevant:  it is remarkably culturally specific. Although we still have

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home tanks, what we think or feel while looking at them –​whether we find it a fascinating or saddening spectacle –​is markedly different from what Victorians saw.2 It is thus worth trying to place early tank keeping within a broader view of the cultural elements that supported its success. In the first place, the difference between freshwater and marine tanks (which may seem marginal nowadays) meant a lot to Victorians. The saltwater tank was not just perceived as a new and eminently modern object (hence worth having, especially if one wanted to keep up with the latest fashions), but also as a profoundly exotic one:  it provided a vista on the depths of the sea, at the time still largely unknown, and increasingly subject to people’s curiosity and fascination from various points of view. A crucial area of interest was that of amateur investigations of nature. The home tank was initially advertised as a tool for the study of marine biology, and thus participated in the expanding vogue for popular science.3 A now well-​established field of research has provided in-​ depth explorations of the politics of Victorian science and popularisation, most importantly by recovering the importance of participation and observational skills in a context where, as noted by Fyfe, audiences played a remarkably active role, ‘both in choosing their sources of information and in creating meaning for them’.4 The aquarium’s success was also facilitated by a well-​established rhetoric stressing the physical, intellectual, and moral benefits of hobbies that allowed direct contact with nature. Critical investigations of the interaction between science and travel often emphasise the exotic and the global, but we should not forget that science was also promoted to tourists in Britain5 where, thanks to railway connections, reception facilities, and increasing amounts of spare time, the sea was becoming a favourite destination.6 Although a profitable retail market for marine creatures was soon established, tank owners were encouraged to collect their own specimens directly from the shore; collecting sea animals and plants for a home tank began to be endorsed as the ideal way of spending spare hours during a seaside vacation, combining healthy rambles on the coast with the opportunity to learn more about marine life. Of course, this entailed an enjoyment of seaside landscapes, as well as the ability to spot and recognise valuable specimens.

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The aquarium craze was in fact shaped by a complex web of assumptions about vision, attention, and the imagination. Since the publication of Jonathan Crary’s seminal works,7 investigations of visuality have especially focused on the Victorian period (‘visuality’ is itself a Victorian term, coined in the 1830s by Thomas Carlyle),8 exploring how new conceptions of ‘the observer’ informed a whole range of activities, practices, and cultural formations, including amateur science.9 Like other nature-​ related pastimes, or perhaps even more so, seaside collecting was described as requiring commitment, constancy and, above all, the will to learn how to look at natural items in the appropriate way. Thus, the aquarium craze had effects that were by no means temporary, or negligible,10 reflecting ‘the sense of wonder with which the Victorians engaged with the worlds around them, along with the physical and imaginative mobility which allowed them to revel in the exotic novelty of colonial settings, while at the same time enabling them to find adventure and newness on their own doorsteps’.11 Nonetheless, the emphasis given by Victorian sources to the scientific side of tank keeping should not obfuscate the commercial aspects of the vogue: by this time popular science was firmly placed within the marketplace, and various agents –​authors, lecturers, publishers, but also manufacturers and retail sellers of the numerous items required to manage a home tank –​tried to intercept the needs and desires of an increasingly well-​informed and demanding public. Tanks, as well as books and articles about tank keeping, accessories, seaweeds, and marine creatures, could be viewed as tools for amateur science, but were also products that had to be sold in an expanding and extremely competitive market. Thus, although initially framed for the study of marine life, the aquarium soon disengaged from its quasi-​scientific character to become a fashionable object of décor, much prized as a status symbol.12 This should not be dismissed as a marginal concern: as observed by Logan, the decorative complexity of the Victorian house ‘mirrored the intensity of the issues being articulated around it’ and its ‘significant relations to contemporary aesthetic and moral debates’.13 The two aspects –​the decorative and the scientific –​were never totally separated: since an interest in science was considered a characteristic of gentility, even those who did not care much about amateur research often paid at least formal attention to the tank’s

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heuristic potential. On the other hand, even when the aquarium was presented as an instrument for scientific observation, aesthetic concerns remained pervasive: according to the rhetoric of natural theology, still dominant in most discussions of tank keeping during the 1850s and early 1860s, the capacity to appreciate beauty was integral to a proper understanding of nature, whose study was ultimately meant to foster a morally uplifting awe for the variety and perfection of God’s creatures.

The aquarium in Victorian culture: sea worlds and sea life Once at home, with their aquarium in place and appropriately stocked, owners could look at tank residents from a variety of perspectives. While nowadays most aquarists claim to enjoy the hobby because of its relaxing effects, Victorians did not want to be relaxed by their home tanks; instead, they wanted to see action. More specifically, they wanted to see exciting action, and tried to obtain this through a number of imaginative strategies that cast marine animals as actors on a stage, as pets, or as citizens of a miniature world to be managed (and at times disciplined) by incorporating, but also adjusting, current attitudes towards animals.14 Another key feature of early tank keeping is worth mentioning here:  unlike most aquarists today, who are well aware of their tanks’ artificiality, Victorians chose to believe that aquaria offered un-​mediated access to the submarine ecosystem, a perfect replica of subaqueous environments: hence the excitement they felt at the idea of recreating nature, and at the same time the pressure and responsibility deriving from it. This added a wealth of fascination to the hobby, which also makes it particularly interesting from an ecocritical perspective. Victorian attitudes towards the environment have been receiving growing critical attention;15 yet, whether by emphasising the local (the countryside/​the city) or the exotic (the empire), scholarly investigations have mostly focused on terrestrial spaces; the emerging field of ‘blue ecocriticism’, however, is offering a wealth of new insights and perspectives.16 The marine tank provides an intriguing connection between the two worlds, the green one in which the tank was placed and the blue one it recreated; moreover, the period in which tank keeping developed

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Introduction

was one of growing environmental awareness, but also of tensions between competing views on the impact of humans on nature. In fact, aquarium texts reflect a discordance between an appropriative approach to nature and the growing recognition of its frailty. All these elements mark Victorian tank keeping as profoundly different from how the hobby is understood today, pointing to the ways in which a study of the aquarium vogue can provide an intriguing entry to mid-​Victorian culture. Looking at an object that engendered different discourses allows one to better understand their relation to each other and to the culture that produced them, thus highlighting contiguities or connections between concerns whose investigations often remain circumscribed by a discipline-​ oriented approach. Thus, The Victorian aquarium moves across different fields, drawing on literature and science, visual studies, the history of tourism and home décor, animal studies, and ecocriticism. The unifying perspective, though, is that of literary analysis: what is especially interesting is the interaction between the aquarium as a material object and the stories that Victorians told about it, which, in many cases, were also stories about themselves.

The literariness of the tank This approach is motivated by another very historically specific feature of Victorian tank keeping: its deeply literary quality. A central argument of this book is that literary strategies played a major role in defining the cultural role that domestic tanks were expected to perform. In fact, besides offering practical tips on the management of home aquaria, textual discussions also framed the hobby from a conceptual point of view, establishing what the tank was meant to do and why, hence creating the expectations that led people to invest money, time, and attention to a rather demanding pastime. While describing the tank and what they saw in it, authors encouraged specific kinds of participation, which they endowed with a wide range of scientific, social, or religious meanings. Literary strategies thus became functional in defining the aquarium experience, as well as in partially recreating it, thereby giving readers a taste of what they would feel once in front of a real tank. Although not all authors shared the same view on the hobby’s purpose (and not all

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aquarists passively followed instructions), tank keeping was invariably perceived as intense, complex, and markedly multifaceted. The other side of the argument is that, while the aquarium’s literary treatment did much to shape and promote the vogue, it also played a relevant, if not easily predictable, part in its decline. Such literariness is evident in the numerous manuals that were published during the 1850s and early 1860s, which constitute the main sources for this study. While a thorough discussion of these materials will be provided in Chapter 1, it may be useful here to note that these texts were markedly aimed at the general public. Although The Victorian aquarium incorporates some of the numerous articles on tank keeping published in the Victorian periodical press, pride of place is given to book-​length texts: through their sustained and articulated scrutiny of the meanings of tank keeping, they offer greater opportunities for investigating the literary strategies at work, as well as providing better insight into the values attributed to the hobby. Ample space is also given to the relation between these discussions and the illustrations that often enriched aquarium manuals. Various instances of interplay between text and image will be analysed, exploring their crucial role in fostering the vogue, which was, after all, mostly about visual pleasures and ways of seeing. Of course, even though the aquarium craze eventually subsided, the home tank did not disappear. However, its functions changed. The forms that tank keeping took at the peak of the vogue were deeply shaped by the aspirations and anxieties that characterised nineteenth century, and its meaning for later aquarists the mid-​ was no longer the same. The Victorian aquarium thus retraces the reasons for its success in this specific moment. It may seem a rather small, marginal topic for a book-​length study, a matter of curiosity for historians at best; nevertheless, it can provide a surprisingly rich vista on mid-​Victorian culture.17 Critical investigations on Victorian aquaria are not legion, but the topic has not been totally neglected either. The Victorian aquarium builds on a small number of valuable studies that explore aquarium culture from different perspectives. In the first place, it owes much to Judith Hamera’s Parlor Ponds:  although its main focus is the cultural work performed by tanks in American culture, the initial chapters provide an insightful account of the birth of the

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vogue in Britain and its characterising features. Of particular relevance is Hamera’s discussion of how the aquarium ‘benefited from its ability to allude to, absorb, and adapt a wide range of spectatorial technologies, media, and positions, including the window, the theater, panoramas and dioramas, and real and vicarious travel’.18 More recently, in The Mysterious Science of the Sea, Natascha Adamowsky investigated the tank as a technological medium and a ‘catalyst for forming links across a broad spectrum of discourses’; her discussion of how modern science incorporates wonder in terms of ‘content, structure, aesthetics, as well as rhetoric’ perfectly fits the Victorian response to marine aquaria.19 Bernd Brunner has provided a thorough history of the aquarium from antiquity to the present, which greatly helped to put Victorian tanks within a wider chronological perspective.20 Lynn Merrill and D. E. Allen drew useful connections between tank keeping and other trends within the lively and multifaceted context of Victorian popular science.21 More technical discussions of the invention of marine tanks have been provided by Philip Rehbock, Christopher Hamlin, Graeme Gooday, and Frank Egerton,22 while an extensive and fascinating investigation of the cultural resonance of marine creatures in the Victorian era can be found in Rebecca Stott’s works.23 All these studies offer valuable information on specific aspects of Victorian keeping, as well as intriguing insights into its cultural or ideological significance. As niche as this topic may seem, it nevertheless has required severe circumscribing. To begin with, the exploration was limited to a short period, roughly corresponding to the time when the home tank was in fashion, because the object of this book is exactly its fashion. Although the vogue for aquaria was an international phenomenon, this study only concerns Great Britain, because Britons appropriated the tank in a way that was peculiar to them. Public aquaria, which developed in parallel with private ones and greatly contributed to foster interest in the sea and its creatures, will remain in the background: having a tank in your own home, and being responsible for its establishment and maintenance, was quite different from a visit to, say, the Regent’s Park Aquarium. Even though the visual pleasures offered by private and public aquaria were to some extent similar, it can be argued that private ownership deeply changed the aquarium experience, enriching, but

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also complicating, fruition. What I find interesting is this kind of involvement that made tank keeping a deeply personal, and at times delicate, matter that overlapped with issues of class, taste, and cultural standing. The structure of this book reflects the key elements of the aquarium vogue, with each chapter devoted to a specific area of interest. Thus, Chapter 1 examines the context in which tank keeping developed. After a brief discussion of how marine tanks were perfected in the early 1850s, it considers some of the cultural factors that helped make tank keeping so popular: these included a new interest in the sea (stimulated by dredging expeditions and by the laying down of telegraphic cables), the expansion of seaside tourism, and the increasing popularity of amateur science and collecting. I then discuss how tank keeping was materially accomplished, the technical difficulties it entailed, and the market it generated, including the establishment of aquarium shops and the publication of manuals that taught aquarists how to set up and manage their live collections of sea creatures. After a brief survey of the most popular aquarium books published in the 1850s, the final section explores the audiences targeted by these texts, arguing that tank keeping was advertised as a remarkably flexible pursuit that could serve multiple purposes and functions, thus appealing in different ways to different publics in terms of class, gender, education, and levels of scientific expertise. Through a reading of the handbooks published by Henry Noel Humphreys, Charles Kingsley, John Harper, and Philip Henry Gosse, Chapter 2 considers the marine tank in connection to real and imaginary travel. I begin by discussing how tank keeping merged with seaside tourism, both practically and textually. In fact, aquarium books described –​and often prescribed –​ways of experiencing the seaside vacation, envisaging the aquarist as a good tourist in terms of the activities pursued (for instance, collecting marine specimens was described as more instructive and rewarding than reading ‘silly novels’ on the beach), and the closer relationship established with locals (especially fishermen, who were often enrolled by collectors as helpers). However, seaside collectors were also characterised by their active engagement with the environment; exploring such engagement, a tension emerges between an acquisitive appreciation of nature and the burgeoning awareness that the

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Introduction

increasing number of people involved in seashore collecting might eventually jeopardise delicate and fragile ecosystems. The second part of the chapter outlines how the aquarium vogue also spurred intriguing journeys of the mind: in the 1850s, the tank was widely believed to be a perfect replica of the underwater world, and as such stimulated descriptions of abyssal excursions, which further boosted the growing interest in submarine exploration through a captivating blend of scientific observation, literary allusions, and fictitious trips underwater. The final section looks at another kind of imaginary journey inspired by the tank, which could at times turn into a time-​machine, suggesting speculations on progress, on the geological past, and on a not-​so-​distant future. Chapter 3 examines the multifaceted aesthetic appeal that the home tank exerted on Victorians. The analysis of James Shirley Hibberd’s The Book of the Aquarium reveals how the tank was conceptualised as a mirror of its owner, situating tank keeping within a cluster of social, moral, and economic discourses that did much to foster the hobby, endowing it with further resonance and meaning. Nevertheless, such density of expectations might have contributed to the demise of the vogue. The second part of the chapter focuses on texts by George Henry Lewes, Thomas Rymer Jones, George Brettingham Sowerby, and the anonymous Story of My Aquarium, together with Kingsley’s novel, Two Years Ago, in order to explore the ways in which the beauty of tank residents was framed both conceptually and stylistically. Most aquarium books insisted that this kind of beauty could not be properly understood without direct observation, which called forth an array of literary strategies, including emphasis on detail, creative analogies, and the extensive use of poetic language and quotations. Many of these features were common in popular science writing, but aquarium texts strove to adjust their approach to the specificities of tank keeping, while participating in wider debates about the appropriate way to discuss natural phenomena for a broad and non-​specialist public. Chapter 4 is centred on the home tank as a scientific tool. Aquarium discussions within manuals, articles in the periodical press, and novels were used to assert specific views of science, scientists, and their role in society during a period of important changes. Aquarium authors emphasised the spiritual meanings

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of nature, while at the same time claiming a place for themselves within an increasingly diversified market for popular science. The following sections outline three themes that frequently resurfaced in discussions of the tank, situating the aquarium vogue within the broader context of mid-​century discourses on nature: the relation between the rhetoric of wonder and a specific idea of science, the fight against ‘old errors’ as a way of policing truth and claiming authority, and the view of science as a collective endeavour, to which people with different degrees of expertise could participate. The final section addresses the aquarists’ perception of the tank’s value as a scientific tool, investigating the shift from the initial glowing expectations about its heuristic potential to the acknowledgement that such hopes had to be severely downsized. The different ways in which early aquarists saw, conceptualised, and related to marine species in the newly invented home tank are explored in Chapter 5. Sea creatures seldom feature in studies of animals in Victorian literature and culture; yet, thanks to the century onwards they became a familiar aquarium, from mid-​ presence in many homes. Aquarium texts had a huge impact in shaping people’s perception of them, providing both conceptual frameworks and models for interaction. This chapter considers four kinds of activities performed by Victorian aquarists –​watching tank residents, domesticating them, experimenting on them, and eating them –​which correspond to alternative ways of construing sea creatures as ornaments, pets, specimens, and food. The first section analyses the widespread tendency to humanise sea animals, discussing how descriptions of their behaviour tended to reflect the authors’ moral values, together with assumptions on gender and class. The second section describes how the propensity to humanise marine animals led aquarists to turn them into characters and to read their actions as proper plots which sensationalised natural behaviours, often through ironic references to fiction and drama. At times, human owners played a very active role too, for instance by trying to tame, or punish, those animals that misbehaved. The third section is devoted to the use of tank residents as specimens for scientific experiments: while aquarium discussions often warned readers against unnecessary cruelty, they also encouraged them to treat their sea animals (especially invertebrates) as objects, under the assumption that they could feel no pain. Finally, the status of

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Introduction

tank residents as food is taken into consideration; in some cases, aquarists adventurously tried to cook their specimens, even those that were not usually considered edible (like actinias); however, the possibility to observe the life of species commonly seen as food (such as prawns) stimulated interesting reflections on the distance between the live animal in the tank and the dead one on the plate. Of course, this study does not exhaust all the functions that Victorian tanks may have had. Most importantly, different purposes could coexist, at times reinforcing each other, at times struggling for priority. What fascinates me is exactly this entanglement and the sheer variety of approaches it fostered. For Victorians, the home tank was both a mirror and a window: it opened (and at the same time framed) views on the underwater world, but it also reflected, in a very powerful way, the knowledge, assumptions, and preoccupations of their owners. This book thus tries to recover what Victorian aquarists saw in the tank, but also what they wanted to see in order to better understand their investment in it. On the other hand, I also look at the Victorian tank as a prism, condensing and refracting the wealth of practices and discourses the hobby gave rise to. Chapters 2 to 5 address the key functions envisaged for home tanks, considering the aquarium as a travel machine, a lab for scientific research, an object of décor, and a miniature zoo, respectively. Before that, though, it may be useful to summarise the history of the invention, examine some of the cultural factors that contributed to the vogue, and contextualise the sources used to explore Victorian tank keeping.

Notes 1 James Gleadow, ‘The Aquarium Mania’ (serio comic song), written by James Barton (London, 1858). 2 David E. Allen remarks that, unlike other typically Victorian objects, like ferneries for instance, the aquarium ‘had no discernible stylistic associations or symbolical import: it seems to have been purely the product of a technical development’; thus, it was enthusiastically adopted mainly because of its ‘sheer novelty and its impact as a curiosity’. David E. Allen, ‘Tastes and Crazes’, in Nicholas Jardine, James A. Secord, and Emma C. Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 404–​5. I rather

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concur with Judith Hamera, who observes that, in the case of the aquarium, ‘it is not its lack of symbolic fixity but, rather, its remarkable visual and rhetorical mutability that accounts for its enduring popularity’. Judith Hamera, Parlor Ponds: The Cultural Work of the American Home Aquarium, 1850–​1970 (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 2012), p. 1. 3 The phrase ‘popular science’ has attracted a great deal of criticism, either because it is too vague (especially if applied to the Victorian period, when the categories of amateur, expert, or professional were themselves undergoing profound changes), or because it seems to imply a pejorative quality, evoking something spurious, lying outside the boundaries of serious research. I use the label with no negative overtones to include all those activities that belonged to the subtly nuanced context of natural history in the 1850s, which was active, participatory, and creative. On discussions of popular science see Aileen Fyfe and Bernard V. Lightman (eds), Science in the Marketplace:  Nineteenth-​ Century Sites and Experiences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 1–​19; Jonathan R. Topham, ‘Publishing “Popular Science” in Early Nineteenth-​Century Britain’, in Fyfe and Lightman (eds), Science in the Marketplace, pp. 135–​9; Ralph O’Connor, The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802–​ 1856 (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 10–​13. 4 Aileen Fyfe, ‘Natural History and the Victorian Tourist:  From Landscapes to Rock Pools’, in David N. Livingstone and Charles W. J Withers (eds), Geographies of Nineteenth-​ Century Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), p. 372. See also Bernard V. Lightman, ‘Lecturing in the Spatial Economy of Science’, in Fyfe and Lightman (eds), Science in the Marketplace, pp. 97–​132; Bernard V. Lightman, Victorian Popularizers of Science:  Designing Nature for New Audiences (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2010); Roger Luckhurst and Josephine McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters:  Science and Culture in the Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002). 5 Fyfe, ‘Natural History’, in Livingstone and Withers (eds), Geographies of Nineteenth-​Century Science, p. 380. 6 Fyfe, ‘Natural History’, in Livingstone and Withers (eds), Geographies of Nineteenth-​Century Science; Pamela Horn, Amusing the Victorians:  Leisure, Pleasure and Play in Victorian Britain (Stroud:  Amberley Publishing, 2014); Judith Flanders, Consuming Passions:  Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain (London; New York: Harper Press, 2006).

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Introduction

7 Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of Perception. Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999); Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990). 8 Jonathan Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-​ Century Britain:  Seeing, Thinking, Writing (Cham:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), p. 2. 9 On Victorian culture and visuality see Carol T. Christ and John O. Jordan (eds), Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1995); Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2008); Linda M. Shires, Perspectives: Modes of Viewing and Knowing in Nineteenth-​Century England (Columbus:  Ohio State University Press, 2009). On vision more specifically related to science and scientific debates:  Bernard V. Lightman, ‘The Visual Theology of Victorian Popularizers of Science:  From Reverent Eye to Chemical Retina’, Isis, 91:4 (2000), 651–​80; Diana Donald and Jane Munro (eds), Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts (Cambridge; New Haven; London:  Fitzwilliam Museum; Yale Center for British Art; Yale University Press, 2009); Jonathan Smith, Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2009). 10 As noted by Merrill in her seminal study of Victorian natural history, ‘the Victorian study of nature changed the way people regarded objects and their own relationship to the natural world, expanding their vision’. Lynn L. Merrill, The Romance of Natural History (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 25. 11 Grace Moore and Michelle J. Smith (eds), Victorian Environments:  Acclimatizing to Change in British Domestic and Colonial Culture (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), p. 2. 12 The aquarium soon became a commodity and should thus be considered also from this point of view. Since Bill Brown’s pathbreaking studies –​Bill Brown, ‘Thing Theory’, Critical Inquiry, 28:1 (2001), 1–​22, and Bill Brown (ed.), Things (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004) –​growing attention has been paid to objects (both fictional and real) in Victorian culture: see Elaine Freedgood, The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2006); John Plotz, Portable Property: Victorian Culture on the Move (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Jonathon Shears and Jen Harrison (eds), Literary Bric-​à-​Brac and the Victorians: From Commodities to Oddities (Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2013);

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Kate Lister and Helen Kingstone (eds), Paraphernalia! Victorian Objects (New York and London: Routledge, 2018). 13 Thad Logan, The Victorian Parlour:  A Cultural Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. xiii. 14 Harriet Ritvo, The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in Victorian England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987); Harriet Ritvo, The Platypus and the Mermaid, and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997); Deborah Denenholz Morse and Martin A. Danahay (eds), Victorian Animal Dreams:  Representations of Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture (Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2007); Laurence W. Mazzeno and Ronald D. Morrison (eds), Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture (London:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Animal studies have mostly focused on terrestrial species, but are now beginning to explore sea life as well; on Victorian attitudes toward marine animals in the tank see Hamera, Parlor Ponds. 15 Laurence W. Mazzeno and Ronald D. Morrison (eds), Victorian Writers and the Environment: Ecocritical Perspectives (London and New York:  Routledge, 2017); Moore and Smith (eds), Victorian Environments; Maura Coughlin and Emily Gephart (eds), Ecocriticism and the Anthropocene in Nineteenth-​Century Art and Visual Culture (New York: Routledge, 2019). 16 Steve Mentz and Martha Elena Rojas (eds), The Sea and Nineteenth-​ Century Anglophone Literary Culture (London:  Routledge, 2017), pp. 3; 10–​11. On ‘blue ecocriticism’ see also Will Abberley (ed.), Underwater Worlds:  Submerged Visions in Science and Culture (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018), p. 3; Kelly Bushnell, ‘Keyword: Oceans’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 46:3 (2018), 788–​91. 17 The fact that Victorians themselves disparagingly defined tank keeping as a craze as soon as the fad was over should not lead us to underestimate its significance. As observed by Merrill, the term ‘craze’ is not to be understood in a derogatory way, as it merely implies that something acquired sudden popularity, and eventually lost it. Merrill, Romance, p. 25. 18 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 24. 19 Natascha Adamowsky, The Mysterious Science of the Sea, 1775–​ 1943, trans. Henry E. Butler and Michelle Miles (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), pp. 102; 4. 20 Bernd Brunner, The Ocean at Home:  An Illustrated History of the Aquarium, trans. Ashley Marc Slapp (London: Reaktion Books,  2011). 21 Merrill, Romance; Allen, ‘Tastes and Crazes’; David E. Allen, The Naturalist in Britain: A Social History (London: Allen Lane, 1976).

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22 Philip F. Rehbock, ‘The Victorian Aquarium in Ecological and Social Perspective’, in Mary Sears and Daniel Merriman (eds), Oceanography: The Past (New York: Springer Verlag, 1980), pp. 522–​ 39; Christopher Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington and the Moral Economy of the Aquarium’, Journal of the History of Biology, 19:1 (1986), 131–​53; Graeme Gooday, ‘Nature in the Laboratory: Domestication and Discipline with the Microscope in Victorian Life Science’, The British Journal for the History of Science, 24:3 (1991), 307–​41; Frank Egerton, ‘History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 35: The Beginnings of British Marine Biology: Edward Forbes and Philip Gosse’, Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 91:2 (April 2010), 176–​201. 23 Rebecca Stott, ‘Darwin’s Barnacles:  Mid-​Century Victorian Natural History and the Marine Grotesque’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, pp. 151–​81; ‘Through a Glass Darkly:  Aquarium Colonies and Nineteenth-​Century Narratives of Marine Monstrosity’, Gothic Studies, 2:3 (2000), 305–​27; Darwin and the Barnacle (New York:  W.W. Norton, 2003); Theatres of Glass: The Woman Who Brought the Sea to the City (London: Short Books, 2003).

1

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The marine aquarium in context

The making of the saltwater tank The vogue for the marine aquarium was the result of a remarkable convergence of interests, which is mirrored by the tortuous history of the invention itself. This chapter retraces the different paths that led to the making of the saltwater tank, explores the key elements that made the aquarium craze possible, and looks at what tank keeping actually entailed for its early enthusiasts. The last two sections provide a brief overview of the material and textual lives of the aquarium, discussing how the hobby was practised and conceptualised. In fact, to recover its significance for Victorians, it is important to look not only at what they materially did with their tanks, but also at the discursive contexts in which tank keeping developed. One of the obvious ancestors of the saltwater tank was the cabinet of curiosities. Cases made of wood and glass, devised to display various kinds of collections, were already a well-​established feature in upper-​class homes.1 In the Victorian era, cabinets became more widespread than their eighteenth-​century predecessors, usually enjoying pride of place in the parlour or in the drawing room, that is, in the most public rooms of the house.2 They were meant to function as a display of selfhood, showcasing the wealth, the taste, and the interests of their owners. Victorian cabinets hosted a wide variety of objects, from structured collections arranged according to scientific criteria to pretty displays of curios, hand-​made items or souvenirs. In particular, cabinets increasingly reflected the growing interest in natural history, which became charged with a wealth of new implications: a rich and ordered collection of pressed flowers, seaweeds, insects, or fossils testified to the owner’s interest in

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The Victorian aquarium

science, but also to the capacity to appreciate nature, which came to be considered a sign of refined sensibility.3 Moreover, a well-​cared-​ for collection also attested to habits of industry and order, much valued by Victorians even when pastimes and leisure activities were concerned.4 In the 1830s, a significant addition to the traditional cabinet was the invention of Wardian cases, named after Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward (1791–​1868), an East End physician and botanist who came upon the principle of the closely glazed glass case by observing ferns and mosses grow from mould in a covered jar where he had placed a chrysalis. He understood that the level of humidity inside the jar could remain constant because moisture evaporated, condensed on the jar’s walls, and was again deposited on the soil. Ward soon began to make experiments, publicly announcing his discovery to the British Association in 1837.5 At first, due to the high price of glass, Wardian cases could be afforded only by the wealthy, but the 1845 repeal of glass duties eventually allowed widespread use. As mass-​produced sheet glass became cheaper, Wardian cases began to be used to create terraria, much appreciated by those involved in another mid-​Victorian passion, the pteridomania, or ‘fern craze’.6 But glazed cases could also be applied to uses other than growing ferns or shipping exotic plants to Europe; in fact, they soon attracted the attention of marine biologists. The early nineteenth century saw an impressive growth of interest in aquatic creatures, especially invertebrates. New, more powerful microscopes allowed researchers to explore their puzzling biology, which often seemed to challenge received knowledge. Moreover, marine animals also became central to transmutation theories. Lamarck had observed that invertebrates were crucial to understanding the evolution of all other forms of life,7 and by the 1840s the notion that the first living organisms must have been aquatic single-​ celled beings became increasingly current. Even though transmutation was not generally accepted by the British scientific establishment, which considered it bad science with dangerous political implications, the basic tenets of the theory were well known, especially in radical circles.8 Together with geological theories that attributed to the ocean a key role in the shaping of the earth, these ideas were widely popularised and central to heated debates. Discussing the beginnings

The marine aquarium in context

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of life on earth, the author of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844) famously observed: [a]nd what were those creatures? It might well be with a kind of awe that the uninstructed inquirer would wait for an answer to this question. But nature is simpler than man’s wit would make her, and behold, the interrogation only brings before us the unpretending forms of various zoophytes and polypes, together with a few single and double-​valved shell-​fish, all of them creatures of the sea.9

Marine invertebrates were indeed the most likely candidates for research on possible primitive life forms. Therefore, species that did not previously figure prominently in biological studies were now eagerly sought by a growing number of scientists. Nevertheless, while on the one hand they were interesting precisely because they were ‘unpretending’, that is, because they displayed a primitive simplicity, on the other they were far from easy to understand: their biology was very different from that of land animals and, in many cases, the way they ate, reproduced, or moved was still a mystery. They posed puzzles that could not always be solved by looking at dead specimens. As Robert Grant explained to young Darwin, sponges (which were interesting because they were so similar to fossilised ones, meaning they had not changed much through the ages) had to be studied outside, in the water, while still alive.10 Of course, this kind of research was quite laborious, and necessarily limited to those species that lived near the coast. Thus, many turned to the shores, enthusiastically combing beaches or plunging into rock pools in order to carry out their research. By the 1830s and 1840s, the most prominent life scientists (or those who would soon become so) were all engaged in the study of marine invertebrates: to name just a few, Thomas Henry Huxley worked on jellyfish, Edward Forbes on starfishes and medusae, Robert Grant on sponges, Richard Owen on the nautilus and, obviously, Darwin on barnacles.11 For most of these species, and many more that emerged in this period, a close, continuous observation was needed to understand their unpredictable life cycles. Hence the interest of marine zoologists in Wardian cases. Nevertheless, to keep sea species alive, the new container was not enough. With freshwater aquaria, one could easily change the water every time it was needed, but to keep marine creatures one had to live by the sea for a constant supply

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The Victorian aquarium

of saltwater. This was indeed the method adopted by all those who had tried to keep sea species alive in captivity, including Sir John Graham Dalyell in the late eighteenth century, or Edward Forbes and George Johnston in the first half of the nineteenth century.12 A solution to this problem, however, was about to be found. A way of preserving live marine collections when far from the sea was successfully tested in the late 1840s by Anna Constantia Thynne (1806–​ 66), the wife of John Thynne, Sub-​ Dean of Westminster. She kept a thriving colony of madrepores in her London house for three years by aerating the water every day. The process consisted in pouring the water in and out of the tank with a watering pot standing near an open window for forty-​five minutes every morning (a task materially performed by her maid). Thynne’s role in the invention of the saltwater aquarium, however, is difficult to assess. According to Rebecca Stott, this may be due to the fact that, being a woman, she had no established position in the world of science.13 Moreover, she did not seek recognition: she was even willing to donate her notes on the reproduction of madrepores –​the result of years of observation –​to Philip Henry Gosse (who refused, and encouraged her to publish it under her own name; but the article eventually came out only in 1859, when the vogue for home aquaria was already established).14 However, her absence from most Victorian accounts of the invention was also due to the fact that her experiment did not fully match the accepted definition of a successful marine tank as a ‘collection of plants and animals that is self-​supporting, self-​renovating’.15 In fact, even though Thynne had added seaweeds to her collection, she was not sure whether this, or the repeated aeration performed by her maid, was the key factor in the survival of her specimens. As she admitted in one of her notebooks, I do not know from which [aeration or seaweed], or whether it was from both causes, that my little flock continued to thrive so much; but I had not many deaths and they might be from natural causes … In this manner I maintained my marine collection in London for nearly three years and it was examined by very many professed naturalists and other persons interested in natural history during two or three months in the spring of 1849.16

As noted by Stott, Thynne lived at Westminster while the Dean was William Buckland, the prominent geologist, and it is possible

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The marine aquarium in context

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that some of the many scientific visitors entertained by Buckland and his wife (who was also interested in marine zoology) may have seen, admired, and reflected upon Thynne’s tank;17 yet we have no written trace of this, and knowledge of her aquarium probably remained circumscribed.18 Of course, priority of discovery or invention depends to a great extent on which elements you choose to consider. Among recent studies, Stott decisively argues that Anna Thynne invented the aquarium, while most other historians tend to attribute the invention to Robert Warington. Modern criticism establishes precedence according to publication date, endorsing the idea that invention does not only entail a working saltwater tank, but also a thorough understanding of its functioning.19 Thus, the actual invention is customarily connected to a better understanding of the photosynthetic process, which was eventually achieved thanks to the growing focus of research on chemical cycles. Studies on photosynthesis dated back to Joseph Priestley’s research on ‘airs’ in the late eighteenth century. Various scientists added to its comprehension including Jan Ingenhousz, Jean Senebier, William Prout, and William Kirby, but the application of the principle to the saltwater tank was finally achieved by Robert Warington (1807–​67). A professional chemist who worked alternatively for academic institutions and private companies, he was at the heart of different scientific networks:20 he was a member of the Royal Society, the Mathematical Society in Spitalfields, and among the founders of the Microscopical Society and of the Chemical Society. An indefatigable researcher, he began experimenting on freshwater aquaria. In a paper from the early 1850s, he mentioned similar experiments with saltwater, casually noting his difficulties due to the lack of specimens. Philip Henry Gosse, who was trying to create a self-​sustaining marine tank more or less at the same time (and had a paper on it published in the same issue of the Annals), read Warington’s article and wrote to him about his own research.21 Far from claiming precedence, Gosse congratulated Warington and offered to send specimens, which duly arrived in October 1852. Gosse himself soon followed, visiting Warington in November. Their results, however, did not remain restricted to the world of science and specialised journals: both Warington and Gosse became actively involved in a contemporary enterprise undertaken by David Mitchell (1813–​59), a professional illustrator and, since 1847, the

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The Victorian aquarium

Secretary of the Zoological Society of London. Energetic, full of ideas, and unafraid of going against conventions, he did much to reinvigorate the popularity (and the coffers) of the Zoological Gardens, which were undergoing a period of decline. He changed the rules of admission by abolishing the need for an invitation by a member of the Zoological Society and allowing entrance to paying visitors; he also increased the collection with a reptile house in 1849 and the enormously popular hippopotamus house in 1850.22 In 1852, just as Gosse and Warington were experimenting on the saltwater tank, rumours spread that Mitchell intended to create an ‘Aquatic Vivarium’. The idea probably came from Mitchell’s friendship with James Scott Bowerbank (1797–​ 1877), founder of the London Clay Club and the Palaeontographical Society, and Edward Newman (1801–​76), then editor of The Zoologist. Together with a group of enthusiasts, they had been performing experiments on the keeping of sticklebacks. Fascinated by the idea, in 1851 Mitchell had proposed to the committee of the Zoological Society to establish an Aquatic Vivarium. Both Warington and Gosse heard the news and contacted Mitchell to offer their help, which he enthusiastically accepted. The Regent’s Park Aquarium eventually opened in May 1853. Soon renamed ‘the Fish House’ by the public, it was a tremendous success, doing much to promote the vogue for both public aquaria and domestic ones. According to most accounts, Warington was thus the inventor of the marine aquarium. Yet, the one who really made it popular was Philip Henry Gosse (1810–​88). He began working on the aquarium during his 1852 sojourn in St. Marychurch and Ilfracombe (where he went to recover his health),23 eventually becoming a recognised authority on marine zoology, especially thanks to his impressive research on actinias, culminating in the publication of his Actinologia Britannica: A History of the British Sea-​Anemones and Corals (1858–​60). Today, he is mostly remembered as the author of Omphalos (1857) and as the overzealous father of Edmund Gosse, who gave a memorable (if not always accurate) portrait of his father in Father and Son (1907). In his own time, however, Philip Henry Gosse was a much-​esteemed naturalist whose books –​enriched by his own wonderful illustrations –​were equally appreciated by the scientific community and the wider public. He had established a reputation with the works published after his travels in America: The

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The marine aquarium in context

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Canadian Naturalist (1840), The Birds of Jamaica (1847), and A Naturalist’s Sojourn in Jamaica (1851). He combined deep religious devotion (he was a member of the Plymouth Brethren) with a thorough knowledge of animals and plants; his passionate admiration for nature was informed by the belief that every single natural item reflected God’s loving design. Gosse provided thousands of specimens for the ‘Fish House’ and effectively advertised Mitchell’s enterprise in his A Naturalist’s Rambles on the Devonshire Coast (1853), where he noted that ‘[s] hould any of my readers wish to see these experiments in operation, or to cultivate a personal acquaintance with many of the individual specimens whose history has been recorded in the preceding pages, they may do both by visiting the Zoological Gardens in the Regent’s Park’.24 Most importantly, he was the one who turned domestic tank keeping into a proper craze. One year after Rambles, where he had briefly mentioned his own personal tank, he published The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea (1854), describing in detail his own aquarium experience. A remarkably talented writer, Gosse made his passion for nature contagious; at once entertaining, accurate, and surprising, his text did much to entice readers to take up the hobby. Moreover, his impressive colour plates greatly contributed to the popularity of tank keeping, astonishing the public with lavish depictions of marine life, so beautiful that some even doubted their veracity.25 While his illustrations sensationalised the tank, his vivid prose depicted it as a source of endless delight. The text, published by John Van Voorst, a London publisher specialised in natural-​history books, sold very well, and a small host of other books on the aquarium were published, building on Gosse’s success and further boosting the vogue. The tank, with its pleasures and its difficulties, soon became a familiar topic in the periodical press too. Aquarium books were reviewed, and popular magazines engaged with the new pastime from a variety of angles. Even readers who were not specifically interested in it would find tank-​related discussions in their favourite reading material. These ranged from elaborate disquisitions on technical issues of maintenance (as in Notes and Queries) to endorsements of its desirability as a hobby (as in Dickens’s journals) and suggestions on how to make the most of the aquarium as an item of décor (as in The Home Friend), not to mention the fast-​increasing number of

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The Victorian aquarium

articles in scientific journals which detailed experiments performed using the newly invented tank. The aquarium craze had begun. My aim in retelling this story is not to establish priorities but to underline how the invention of the saltwater tank emerged from a complex network of collaborations, friendships, and contacts; of crucial importance in this instance was the convergence of various branches of research focusing on the sea and its inhabitants. Victorians indeed saw the marine tank as a condensed version of the age’s scientific and technological excellencies made available to the wider public, something to enjoy and be proud of. The aquarium undoubtedly had an appeal as a marvel of modernity (just a couple of years after the Great Exhibition), and people were understandably eager to participate.

The waves, the beach, the underwater world The satisfaction of possessing the latest technological wonder, however, is not enough to explain its popularity as a hobby. The aquarium craze resulted from the felicitous encounter between scientific progress and wider cultural trends. I will briefly recapitulate some of these trends to recover the range of factors that contributed to the appeal of tank keeping. The first one to consider is certainly a new interest in the sea, of which the tank was supposed to be a miniaturised version. Although a thorough discussion of attitudes towards the sea is beyond the scope of this work, it is important to note that the aquarium vogue profited from some important changes that took place just at the right time. According to most critical accounts, the ocean had long been represented through repulsive images foregrounding fear, misfortune, and disorder. In the eighteenth century, however, these began to give way to a new aesthetic appreciation. A new sensibility emerged, which depicted the sea as picturesque and, later on, sublime. Fearful images of storms and shipwrecks did not disappear, but they were gradually outnumbered, or at least complicated, by more positive and fascinating ones. Even its very unfathomableness came to represent an idealised view of nature, opposed to human cruelty or greed. Moreover, in an age when land was increasingly enclosed, exploited,

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The marine aquarium in context

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or disfigured by industrial and urban development, the sea became the powerful symbol of a pristine environment that not even man could spoil. More recently, historians have partially revised this account, emphasising that the change of attitude that occurred in the eighteenth century was not so abrupt after all, and that ‘[e]ven though negative associations predominated from antiquity until the Enlightenment, there had always been admiring and curious views of the ocean and marine life’. However, all agree that ‘the nineteenth century became enamoured of the ocean in a way without precedent’.26 The shore also participated in this change of perspective:  formerly seen mostly as a site of disaster, abandonment, or exile, it began to be enjoyed –​from both an aesthetic and a conceptual point of view –​as an intriguing and captivating borderline stimulating reflections on history, nature, and the self.27 Most importantly, the shore also began to be materially enjoyed by a growing number of people. The vogue for seaside vacations, dating back to the previous century, boomed in the Victorian era. By mid-​ century, the seaside holiday was no longer affordable only for the very wealthy, or was for those in need of fortifying cures; thanks to cheaper train transport, more leisure time, and the growth of resorts that catered specifically for the less affluent, it became available to wider sections of the population.28 Thus, larger numbers of people gained access to the sea within the positive frame of a pleasurable holiday. They could enjoy it without the hardships and risks that fishermen and sailors still had to face, thanks in part to the new comforts provided by the burgeoning tourist industry. In 1857, Punch devoted a whole series of illustrations to seaside vacations, benevolently mocking what was becoming an increasingly familiar experience. As noted by Helen Rozwadowski, for the first time ‘the ocean entered the minds, homes, dreams, and conversations of ordinary people’; it became so familiar that ‘advertisers felt free to invoke “deep-​sea” as a sales tactic’.29 The sea started to become less feared, and more consumed, and the aquarium offered the opportunity to enjoy it in exciting new ways. The development of seaside tourism also brought about a change in the activities pursued: the stroll on the beach, formerly prescribed by doctors as a cure, acquired other, more pleasant functions. In fact, it combined the enjoyment of scenery and fresh

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The Victorian aquarium

air, healthy exercise, and an opportunity to pursue an amateur interest in science while collecting much-​prized souvenirs.30 The Victorian age saw a remarkable increase in the public consumption of science, fostered by a thriving market of popularising books and magazines. More and more people took up hobbies related to natural history, which often merged with the passion for collecting and the typically Victorian impulse towards an acquisitive appreciation of nature. A host of manuals, such as William Henry Harvey’s The Sea-​Side Book (1849) or Anne Pratt’s Common Things of the Sea-​ Side (1850), encouraged tourists to devote their spare time to the observation and collection of marine specimens, enthusiastically described as both beautiful and interesting. The saltwater aquarium allowed Victorian tourists to expand their seaside collections in a way previously unimaginable, recreating a miniature living sea within their home. The tank provided a perfect sample of ‘manageable nature on display as evidence of travel or adventure’.31 Once back home, owners could show off their tank, explain its functioning, point to the beauty of the creatures inside, and narrate funny stories about how the specimens were collected, as if they were living trophies. Furthermore, the aquarium could also provide a stimulus for the imagination, spurring fantasies on the possibility of actually seeing the underwater world. Many of the most popular attractions in the first half of the nineteenth century were based on the idea of full immersion:  the panoramas in the Adelaide Gallery, or James Wyld’s Great Globe in Leicester Square, together with many other venues providing entertaining instruction, promised to transport spectators to other worlds, offering the illusion of a comprehensive vision.32 As noted by Richard Bellon in his discussion of the similarities between the Egyptian Hall and the Museum of Practical Geology, ‘[b]oth attempted to transport spectators from their literal physical location in London’s West End to places distant in both space and time’.33 Victorians also flocked to try the diving bell hosted at the Royal Polytechnic Institution: four or five people at a time could experience the thrill of breathing underwater, probably dreaming of really being in the ocean, instead of central London.34 The submarine world was beginning to attract the curiosity of the wider public, and the possibility to actually visit it did not seem so far away.

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This is another reason why the marine tank was an unprecedented piece of furniture: it offered for the very first time the opportunity to observe –​at your own leisure, in your own house –​living marine creatures. This was really an exciting novelty whose impact is difficult for us to imagine. Today the submarine world is widely accessible, at least visually, through a variety of media and technologies. Although we are still far from a thorough knowledge of the oceans, an impressive range of subaqueous imagery is familiar to most of us, even to those who have never actually been underwater. It was not so for Victorians. Around the middle of the nineteenth century, knowledge of what lay below the surface of the oceans was almost nil, and chances to observe living sea creatures for a significant length of time were very rare. Early tanks were believed to be exact replicas of the underwater world, and they entered the market at a time when not only the shore but the deep as well came to the fore of national interests and popular fantasies. One element that greatly contributed to this was the development of dredging. In 1828, ample resonance was given to the collecting expedition of Jean Victoire Audouin 1841) and Henri Milne-​ Edwards (1800–​ 85) in Northern (1797–​ France:  equipped with tanks, basins, and drag-​ nets, they spent days dredging from fishermen’s boats, collecting more than 500 species.35 In Britain, the development of dredging was due to the untiring efforts of Edward Forbes (1815–​54). A perfect example of the permeability of scientific disciplines in the early nineteenth century, Forbes taught botany and natural history; he was the curator of the museum (and later president) of the Geological Society, later becoming Paleontologist to the Royal School of Mines. In 1839, he convinced the BAAS to establish a dredging committee. Thanks to Forbes and to some of his most passionate colleagues, dredging was about to become an exciting national project.36 In fact, the great era of oceanographic exploration was about to begin:  just a few decades after Forbes had complained that marine zoology lacked attention (as he did in 1834), the British corvette Challenger would set sail from Portsmouth –​enthusiastically cheered by the scientific community and the wider public alike –​for an expedition around the world lasting three-​ and-​ a-​ half years (1872–​ 76), resulting in the collection of about 7,000 specimens (many of them previously unknown) and establishing new records for both sounding and

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The Victorian aquarium

dredging. The report of its findings, published between 1880 and 1895, filled fifty volumes and established modern oceanography, spurring similar enterprises all around Europe.37 Although the dredging expeditions of the 1840s and early 1850s may seem rather modest if compared with later achievements, we should not undervalue the impact they had on both scientific debates and popular imagination. News of exciting discoveries became increasingly crucial to introducing scientific topics into public discussion, reaching even those who were not previously interested in science.38 Until then, knowledge of what was below the surface of the sea was scanty at best, and mostly drew on popular lore, which still tended to identify the deep as a dark and cold non-​place where life could not exist –​it was even believed that, due to the high density and pressure, reaching the bottom was virtually impossible, so that the carcasses of sunken ships and drowned mariners continued to float in mid-​water.39 By the 1840s, however, the ocean started to be imagined as a place of opportunities in terms of economic profit, scientific discovery, and adventure. Dredging expeditions triggered a widespread enthusiasm, which encompassed excitement for the novelty of the enterprise, pride in the results achieved, and high hopes for the opening of yet unexplored paths for research. In Forbes’s words: [w]hen a whole dredgeful of living creatures from the unexplored depths appeared, … it was as if we had alighted upon a city of unknown people … And when, at close of day, our active labours over, we counted the bodies of the slain, or curiously watched the proceedings of those whom we had selected as prisoners and confined in crystal vases … our feelings of exultation were as vivid, and surely as pardonable, as the triumphant satisfaction of some old Spanish Conquistador.40

Moreover, in the 1850s, the deep sea, and the sea floor in particular, became a pervasive topic in the news thanks to the telegraphic cable. Experiments and plans were developed throughout the 1840s, and the Dover–​Calais connection was eventually laid in 1851; this was soon followed by others, all around Europe, but the real breakthrough was the transatlantic cable laid between Ireland and Newfoundland in 1858. The success of the enterprise was saluted on both sides of the ocean with public celebrations, and the cable messages exchanged by Queen Victoria and US President James

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Buchanan spoke of the telegraph as opening a path of economic prosperity and international fraternity, the harbinger of a peaceful and fruitful future. Although the cable failed after just three weeks (to be replaced in 1866, after five attempts), the telegraph was now a reality in various parts of the world. Of course, investors needed reassurances on the feasibility of the project, which involved better knowledge of the sea floor where cables had to be placed. Thus, in the 1850s, positive images of the deep flowed the press, depicting the bottom of the ocean as a calm and safe place.41 But the telegraphic cable also had an important scientific side effect:  in fact, it finally exploded the notion that nothing could survive at great depths. The azoic theory, formulated by Forbes in the 1840s and accepted by most of the scientific establishment, postulated that animals could not survive below 300 fathoms. However, in 1860, when engineers recovered a broken cable connecting Sardinia and Africa, they found marine creatures encrusted on it; this clearly meant that they were not accidentally collected while the cable was being raised, but lived on the bottom.42 Even though mid-​Victorians were still far from a thorough knowledge of the deep sea, these findings did much to stimulate people’s curiosity; in Susan Schlee’s words, in the 1850s and 1860s ‘very few facts were agitated with a great deal of imagination, with the result that the abyss changed from the most inhospitable of zones to the very cradle of life’.43 Although Victorian tanks were mainly populated by animals and plants collected near the shore, news and debates concerning the deep sea greatly boosted the vogue for aquaria. As the ocean was increasingly present in people’s lives, thoughts, and desires, the tank became a way to vicariously participate in the exhilarating process of discovery and exploration, and a means of stimulating fantasies about the still-​mysterious underwater world.

A case of wood, slate, and glass The concurrence of all these factors made the marine tank a remarkably resonant object; Victorians surely did not lack reasons to embrace tank keeping. Nevertheless, they also had to face a considerable number of material difficulties, which made the hobby

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The Victorian aquarium

particularly challenging from the practical point of view, but also played an important role in shaping discourses on it, since –​ according to contemporary commentators –​overcoming these difficulties called for specific skills as well as specific moral virtues. The numerous pleasures received from tank keeping had to be earned, which made it more rewarding when it worked, but also more liable to be abandoned when it did not. Indeed, keeping a saltwater aquarium was by no means easy. The first tanks were hand-​made and hand-​filled:  the aquarium, beside enclosing a piece of the sea, also enclosed a whole experience, drawing together travel, the enjoyment of the seaside, an interest in science, the passion for collecting, and the scientific and technical knowledge required to build the tank and make it work. In the first place, the would-​be aquarist had to travel to the seaside to collect specimens. Most aquarium manuals gave detailed instructions on how and what to collect. These included indications on the right moment of the day (obviously at low tide) and proper season, on the tools needed (which may include a geological hammer, chisel, scalpel, baskets, nets, jars, and water-​boots), and on the choice of the fittest animals and plants. The first aquaria seldom hosted fish, more difficult to keep and manage, and were mainly populated by algae, zoophytes, molluscs, and crustaceans. Unlike other natural-​ history collections, based on dead samples, the aquarium required that animals and plants stay alive:  this involved greater care in extracting them from their environment, but also in preparing them for the journey. For instance, collectors needed to avoid putting together specimens that might eat each other. Each species needed a special treatment, but all had to reach their new home as comfortably (and quickly) as possible. Sea-​water also had to be procured, at least at the beginning of the vogue: aquarists could ask incoming ships to deliver it, paying a small sum for the service. Very soon though, specialised shops began to sell sea-​water by the gallon, and chemically produced saltwater also entered the market. The tank itself had, in the early stages of the vogue, to be built by the collector (or commissioned from a manufacturer, especially if of great size). Even later, when ready-​made tanks became available for purchase, most books suggested a Do-​It-​Yourself approach: for the true aquarist, this was part of the pleasure, allowing him not only to prove his technical skills, but also to create a tank of his own

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Figure 1  ‘Aquarium and fernery combined’, in James Shirley Hibberd, Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste

liking. As noted by Judith Hamera, the possibility to indulge the owner’s idiosyncrasies in the planning and realisation of the tank was one of the key features of the hobby.44 Unlike today’s aquaria, Victorian ones often displayed remarkably ornate designs, in tune with the rest of the furniture.

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The Victorian aquarium

Figure 2  ‘Cabinet aquarium’, in James Shirley Hibberd, The Book of the Aquarium and Water Cabinet

The construction of a proper tank, though, entailed a wide range of problems: firstly, the container itself (it had to be the right size and shape for the creatures it was meant to hold) and, secondly, the aquarist had to be very careful in the choice of materials: tanks usually consisted of glass, cement, slate, and wood; green or blue paper could be used to shade the water from direct light and heat. Various accessories could then be added according to the use intended (as a decorative object, as a tool for the study of sea creatures, or as a

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combination of both) and to the financial means at the aquarist’s disposal. However, difficulties still remained. Most importantly, materials that could damage the collection (such as rocks containing metallic substances that might poison the water) had to be avoided; particular attention had to be devoted to the tank’s placement in the room (it had to receive enough light and heat, but not too much); and, finally, the aquarist also had to furnish it, in order to offer each specimen a fit environment (some marine animals burrow in the sand, others need to climb out of water, or to hide behind stones). Internal décor, like the tank’s general appearance, was supposed to express the good taste of the owner in recreating a beautiful and elegant miniature sea. Therefore, the tank’s shape, its position in the room, the arrangement of its internal landscape, and the choice of specimens had to meet requirements that were both technical and aesthetic. Compared to other pastimes that involved collecting and then storing natural items, this was rather laborious and more liable to failure:  since the whole point was to create a live collection, specimens had to remain alive for a significant length of time, a goal by no means easy to achieve. Nevertheless, we should not take contemporary endorsements of the aquarium as a Do-​It-​Yourself affair too literally. After all, not everybody had the time, leisure, or money to embark on collecting trips to the seaside. Moreover, although most texts presented the tank as a scientific tool to study marine zoology, many early aquarists were probably more interested in its ornamental, rather than instructive, value, especially while the vogue was at its peak. The fashion spread fast, and it soon became clear that money could be made from it. Specialised shops opened, selling everything the aquarist might need, and professional collectors were employed to procure specimens from the seaside. The most successful business venture connected with the domestic tank was Lloyd’s shop, in Portland Road, just near the Regent’s Park Zoo. William Alford Lloyd (1824–​80), who eventually became an international authority on aquaria, came from a modest family, left school at fourteen, and soon thereafter developed a passion for natural history. He educated himself while working as an errand boy and later as an apprentice bookbinder. A frequent visitor to the Regent’s Park Zoo, he was thunderstruck

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The Victorian aquarium

when, in November 1852, he saw the brand-​new Fish House, then still under construction, during one of his rare days off from work. From then on, aquaria became his ruling passion. Since he worked six days a week, he wrote to Professor Owen begging for a ticket of admission on Sunday; he then began experimenting with small freshwater aquaria in his London house. He was so assiduous in his studies that he was able to submit papers to the Zoologist, gaining the admiration of Edward Newman.45 Lloyd then set up a small aquarium business, at first managed by his wife Amelia. The shop was a success, eventually allowing him to quit his former job, engage professional collectors, and move to more genteel premises in Portland Road, where the Aquarium Warehouse, with the famous starfish logo, opened in 1856. The new shop gave Lloyd the chance to establish or cement friendships with researchers involved in marine studies, including Philip H. Gosse and Margaret Gatty. Lloyd soon became a recognised expert, and he later took on Mitchell’s role in establishing a marine aquarium in the Jardin d’Acclimatation in Paris.46 A look at his catalogue, titled A List, with Descriptions, Illustrations, and Prices of Whatever Relates to Aquaria (1858), and priced one shilling, provides a very vivid idea of the amount and variety of equipment that could be involved. Most importantly, it testifies to the fact that the marine tank was soon disengaged from the seaside trip, as the whole thing could be purchased without moving from London; Lloyd even devised a printed form with frequently asked questions that customers could fill in and send back to the shop for advice. He sold everything, including handbooks and pamphlets, live specimens of animals and plants, sea-​water (both natural and artificial), rockwork, sand and shingles, various models of tanks and vessels, tables and stands, and a wide range of accessories such as thermometers, hydrometers, lenses and jars, nets, sponge-​sticks to clean the tank, and syringes for aeration. Of course, not all these things were strictly necessary; one of the reasons for the hobby’s popularity was, in fact, its adaptability: since it could meet different needs, it could also be adjusted to different incomes.

The marine aquarium in context

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Paper tanks Thus, initially devised as a tool for research, the home aquarium soon became a commodity. Yet, it was a complex and remarkably demanding one. Even for those who cared neither for scientific instruction nor for Do-​It-​Yourself and only wanted to show off the latest object of fashion, it still required constant care and attention. Buying and placing it in the right place was not the end of it but just the beginning. Hence, the need for detailed instruction on how to keep it working and solve the myriad of problems that could arise. Few other domestic objects required so much guidance. Luckily, Victorians loved self-​help books; texts that promised to convey useful information on a wide variety of subjects proliferated, catering to the public’s growing desire to be updated and –​most importantly –​to do things right. Everything had its own manual, from health to etiquette, from pet-​keeping to amateur taxidermy. Therefore, as soon as the marine aquarium appeared, texts also appeared to explain it. Yet, even though the words ‘manual’ or ‘handbook’ often feature in their titles (and I will retain this way of labelling them) this should not mislead us: they were not mere lists of practical instructions. In Gosse’s books for instance, these were reduced to a minimum; instead, he mainly focused on marine animals and plants in their own environment and on his own travel experiences, as testified to by the illustrations of his books.47 Other texts were more practically oriented, but they were never limited to technical discussions of the tank and what happened inside it. Most of them were a blend of scientific treatise, tourist guide, and travel book, but they also had elements of autobiography, landscape description, and social commentary. They present a fascinating mixture of genres, styles, and purposes that still make them enjoyable reading. Most importantly, they popularised scientific findings related to sea creatures and theoretically framed the aquarium within a wide range of current practices and ideologies, explaining not only how to create one, but also how to enjoy it, and why.48 Aquarium manuals indeed provide a privileged source to understand Victorian tanks and the cultural needs they aimed at satisfying. Since these texts constitute the main source of this study, I will provide a brief overview to situate them in their proper context. In fact, even though tank keeping was a new and rather complicated pastime, it did not exist in a vacuum. As tanks themselves often had

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The Victorian aquarium

to compete for space in overfilled parlours, the hobby emerged at a time when growing numbers of people gained access to leisure activities. Pastimes that involved the study and collection of natural items were especially appreciated, as they offered the perfect combination of instruction and entertainment, and were considered genteel pursuits, which made them highly appealing to the Victorian public. Moreover, the opportunity to observe, sketch, or collect outdoor fulfilled the growing need of city-​dwellers to come into contact with nature and to assert a fashionable nostalgia for an idealised rural past.49 Thus, most aquarium manuals exploited literary conventions and strategies that were already being used in books on other nature-​related pastimes, reflecting the productive cross-​pollination of discourses about different branches of natural history. An obvious contiguity linked them to seaside books, which, as noted by William Brock, were themselves remarkably uniform.50 A clear-​ cut demarcation is actually impossible to draw:  after the invention of the marine tank, most seaside books contained at least some references to tank keeping, while aquarium manuals kept discussing seaside collecting and on-​site observation at great lengths, as seaside books did. However, aquarium manuals also had much in common with popularising texts devoted to geology, botany, or entomology. In many cases the same authors published books and articles on different disciplines, such as Reverend John George Wood’s immensely popular Common Objects series, which included Common Objects of the Country (1858), Common Objects of the Microscope (1861), and Common Objects of the Sea Shore (1857).51 At times, writers also combined multiple subjects in texts such as George Kearley’s Links in the Chain (1862), which discussed marine biology and aquaria, but also insects, snails, birds, and mammals, with a chapter entirely devoted to gorillas. Most of these texts stressed the pleasures of healthy rambles through uncontaminated environments, described landscape as a source of aesthetic pleasure and religious awe, and promoted the study of nature as a moral and moralising activity.52 Crucially, they all argued that, although some knowledge was required to fully enjoy the chosen hobby, sufficient proficiency could be achieved by anyone with just a moderate amount of dedication. This reflected the view –​still very

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common around mid-​century –​that, unlike other sciences, natural history was open to all, and certainly worth pursuing. Another common trait was the elaborate, at times passionate, prose used in these texts. Most of these authors considered themselves as both naturalists and literati; their texts clearly aimed at providing instruction, but they were also devised to offer an engaging reading experience. Of course, this does not mean that all Victorian books on insects, frogs, or flowers were riveting page-​ turners; yet, many of them are still enjoyable from a reader’s point of view, even though the science they explain is by now outdated. A crucial element of the literary quality of these books was their ‘citational solidarity’:53 they often merged descriptions of nature with intensive references to history, literature, and the visual arts, thus implying that authors and readers alike belonged (or aspired) to a community of shared taste, feeling, and education. Aquarium manuals also mobilised poetry, fiction, and drama in ways a modern reader seldom expects, deploying strategies of spectacularisation, picturesque descriptions, and word-​ painting, and making extensive use of intriguing –​at times baffling –​similes and metaphors. This testifies to the complex interweaving of discourses that informed the hobby, but also to the effort required to make sense of the surprising encounter with deeply alien life forms. It is important to note that these rhetorical strategies were by no means marginal embellishments. Of course, since the market for popular science was becoming more and more competitive, writers were well aware of the need to make their texts captivating. Yet, as we shall see, the literary quality of their books was not only due to elaborate selling strategies, but was also meant to convey specific values and meanings by no means connected solely to the hobby itself.54 Most textual discussions of the marine tank belonged to this context, which was at once literary and scientific. Indeed, for these books, the distinction between literature and science as we understand it today does not really apply. As observed by Ralph O’Connor while discussing Victorian geology, this does not mean that ‘science writing and literature enjoyed a fruitful relationship, but that scientific writing was literature’55 (emphasis in the original). The blend of scientific information, broad cultural references, and literary strategies that characterised aquarium discussions proved crucial

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The Victorian aquarium

to the establishment of the vogue. Hence, manuals fostered a richly imaginative approach to the underwater world, which was accessed through a twofold mediation: while the tank was meant to mediate between the submarine world and the human one, aquarium texts mediated between the tank and its owners. history texts that Another element common to most natural-​ was adapted to the aquarium vogue was the compelling use of illustrations:  images could range from inexpensive engravings to lavish plates whose brilliant colours are still a pleasure to look at. They could represent the tank itself (in different sizes and models), provide suggestions on where to place it within the home, portray marine animals and plants ‘from life’, illustrate biological features (depicting dissected specimens, body-​parts, or minute specimens seen through the microscope); but they could also feature seaside landscapes and images of animals that did not have much to do with tanks, such as seagulls or seals. Illustrations could be meant to clarify the text or to further entice readers through stunning depictions of submarine beauty. At times (especially towards the end of the vogue), they also focused on aquarists themselves, often with an ironic outlook, such as the image that adorned the music sheet of The Aquarium Mania testifies to. As textual descriptions drew on different discourses, images followed different conventions and genres, including anatomical illustration and microscopic drawing, as well as landscape painting, interior design, or caricature. However, those depicting sea creatures were particularly significant for the Victorian public: before the introduction of marine tanks, the submarine world was seldom represented due to the scanty information available on what it might look like. A side effect of the aquarium vogue was the proliferation of images depicting sea creatures drawn from live specimens in a tank.56 Thus, on the one hand, aquarium books deployed elements (in terms of both form and content) that were already staples of popular texts about zoology, geology, or botany. On the other hand, the hobby was quite different from other quasi-​ scientific pursuits, and authors had to find appropriate ways to frame it. Each writer devised his own solutions, but they mostly adopted (or adapted) the format proposed by the initiator of the vogue, Philip Henry Gosse. As noted by Hamera, in Gosse’s books the tank was firmly placed within the author’s direct experience of the seaside;57

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part of the books’ success was indeed due to Gosse’s insistence on the contiguity (at times confusion) between the sea and the tank and to his memorable discussions of marine species, which were lively, highly imaginative, but also scientifically precise. This made his books particularly enjoyable: they were so successful that other authors often quoted whole paragraphs, at once acknowledging his founding role and further amplifying his popularity. However, alongside recurring elements that make aquarium manuals a remarkably uniform corpus, there were also important differences. Although they all retained some of the features that characterised Gosse’s books, each text had its own specific focus, reflecting the variety of purposes that marine tanks could serve. For some authors, the aquarium was primarily a tool for the amateur study of science: they accordingly devoted long, detailed discussions to the biology of sea species, quoting at length from the most up-​ to-​date research in the field (Forbes’s monograph on medusae, for instance, was a great favourite) and encouraging readers to scientifically observe their tank residents, possibly with the aid of a microscope, or to perform experiments on them. In other cases, this aspect of tank keeping was decidedly downsized in favour of an approach that privileged aesthetic, rather than scientific, considerations. As observed by Hamera, Gosse’s followers ‘domesticated the aquarium, shifting from a focus on travel and field study to rhetorically situating the tank within the home’.58 Thus, although all manuals retain some scientific information on sea organisms, some of them mostly stress the aesthetic pleasures offered by the hobby. Moreover, other concerns (such as the emphasis on the religious lessons that could be drawn from tank life, explicit connections with other scientific pastimes, or extensive references to fiction, poetry, or drama) could be combined in different degrees. Each of these elements could be either predominant or marginal (but seldom absent) in each text. One of the most fascinating aspects of the hobby was in fact its blending of different interests and discourses.

Aquarists and readers The approach adopted also depended on the reader the author had in mind. Although it is rather difficult to reconstruct precise

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The Victorian aquarium

demographics of who early aquarists were, some inferences can be drawn from a number of clues. In her seminal Parlor Ponds, Judith Hamera argues that, in most cases, the Victorian aquarist was a city-​dweller, belonging to the middle or upper class, with enough money and leisure time to invest in such a complex hobby and enough education to be interested in science.59 This statement, which is certainly true in general, is somewhat complicated when we look at the wide variety of texts concerning aquaria that were published in Britain during the peak of the vogue. In fact, some aquarium books were explicitly aimed at a low-​ income readership; not perhaps targeting industrial workers, who by this time had neither the time nor the money to invest in such a rather complicated hobby,60 but certainly addressing working people like clerks, tradesmen, and shop employees. One of the most interesting aspects of the aquarium craze is that the hobby was represented as cutting across class lines: Gosse first published his Aquarium (1854) in a lavishly illustrated edition, but he soon issued an abridged and cheaper version (at 2s 6d) without the colour plates, titled A Handbook to the Marine Aquarium (1855), explaining in the preface that ‘[t]he price at which it is issued will, it is hoped, bring it within the reach of all’.61 Reverend Wood’s Common Objects of the Sea-​Shore (1857) cost only one shilling, and its success is testified to by the fact that by 1860 four more editions (of 19,000 copies each) had been issued.62 The hobby was insistently characterised as open even to the less affluent: most manuals, while discussing the various kinds of tanks available, specified that there was no need to purchase an expensive and ornate model, as the study of marine life could be pursued even with a modest investment in a few glass vases. The Home Friend (1856) pointed out that an aquarium could be completed at ‘a cost of less than twenty shillings’.63 This obviously excluded labourers (who earned more or less that sum in a week) and perhaps even most artisans, but certainly made a simple, unpretentious tank affordable for clerks and employees. The popularity of the aquarium among different social strata was apparently so striking that an 1856 article on the Titan noted how the ‘mania’ raged ‘in West End squares, in trim suburban villas’, but also ‘in crowded city thoroughfares, in the demure houses of little, unfrequented back streets, and inside the flat, sill-​less windows of wretched Spitalfields

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and Bethnal Green, everywhere you see the aquarium in one form or another’.64 This does not mean that aquarium manuals were informed by some sort of levelling tendency; in fact, they do reflect Victorian assumptions about class, as I will discuss below. After all, in this period natural history was also meant to teach moral or religious truths, often reinforcing the idea of a beautiful –​but strictly hierarchical –​order in nature. The prevailing focus, however, was on descriptions of the hobby as open to all those willing to learn, almost independently of class, census, or previous knowledge. The experience of William Alford Lloyd indeed confirmed the wide range of the vogue from a social point of view:  a working man with a family to support, he managed to procure tanks and specimens and to gain the necessary knowledge to make them work even with the scanty financial means at his disposal. His decision to shift from freshwater to marine tanks was taken thanks to Gosse’s The Aquarium, but he could not afford to buy the text, so he read it at one sitting during a visit to the zoo and copied down Gosse’s recipe for factitious saltwater. He also noted that, at the time he began experimenting on aquaria, he had never seen the sea. However, was the hobby really so encompassing from a social point of view? Is not Lloyd an isolated case, or the Titan comment an ironic exaggeration? Of course, it is impossible now to know precisely who owned an aquarium in the 1850s; yet, the observations of some authors and the pricing of their books suggest that the interest in marine tanks was quite widespread. The Victorian age saw an impressive rise in leisure pursuits.65 Many started to enjoy more leisure time, had some spare money, and looked around for ways of employing both. Significantly, this was also the age of popular education, and a pursuit frequently advertised as quasi-​ scientific had a further appeal for the socially aspiring. However, while cheaper, simplified versions of the hobby were certainly adopted moving down the social scale (and posh ones adorned the mansions of the very rich), its major appeal was probably exerted on the middle classes; this can be inferred from the fact that most of the texts imply that readers could spend some money on the hobby, but not lavish great sums on it. The middle-​ class target is usually more explicit in those texts that emphasise the value of the tank as a status symbol: this obviously implies a

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household whose members did care about their social standing and wanted their house to reflect the latest fashions as proof of their taste. However, this does not completely exclude the scientific focus: self-​instruction was seen as an important aspect of gentility, and even those authors who clearly did not care much for science inserted at least a moderate amount of it. As to gender, both seaside collecting and tank keeping were not limited to men; women did collect marine specimens and participate in the management of domestic aquaria. They also played an important (if seldom recognised) role in the development of marine biology: Anna Thynne experimented with a saltwater tank in the 1840s, and many female authors engaged in the popularisation of seaside studies, publishing works that enjoyed wide success, such as Anne Pratt’s Chapters on the Common Things of the Sea-​Side (1850); Margaret Gatty’s British Sea-​Weeds (1863); and Mary Kirby’s Plants of Land and Water (1857) or The Sea and its Wonders (1871).66 George Eliot famously collaborated with George Lewes in his research on marine biology. Yet, apart from occasional references, most authors clearly have a male readership in mind, especially when they discuss collecting on the beach, which implied getting wet, dirty, or even risking a fall, and was thus considered an unladylike activity. Therefore, the apparent oversight of female collectors or aquarists in some of these texts should not be taken as proof of a lack of female interest; rather, it should be read within the context of the emphasis on bravery and physical immersion in nature that some authors wanted to foreground. For instance, while mentioning the equipment needed for a collecting expedition on the shore, James Shirley Hibberd specified that ‘[l]ady collectors will of course dispense with the boots, and obtain the help of the gallants in exploring the half-​fathom depth’.67 The women’s role was instead amply recognised when the tank was considered as a domestic adornment; after all, when it came to household management, they were the ones in charge. For instance, The Home Friend observed that, once the tank has been set up (probably by a man), [w]e now require the assistance of our fair readers; and an excellent opportunity presents itself for displaying their taste either in knitting, crochet, or embroidery, in constructing an antimacassar for the stand. We prefer a white trimming, with deep fringe reaching to the

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floor; but we submit to the taste of the ladies in this last ornament, only advising that it should be made loose, in order that it may be slipped on and off easily, for the convenience of washing, and also that it should be fastened at the bottom of the glass with elastic.68

Female participation also became prominent when the tank was discussed as a form of family entertainment. Manuals often address juvenile readers, and illustrations also suggest that fruition was intended to be a family affair. George Kearley, in his Links in the Chain (1862), clearly endorsed this view. One of the illustrations, by F. W. Keyl, titled ‘Pets of the Aquarium’, depicts three young women and a child all looking down into a beautiful tank. The frontispiece, which well exemplifies the interconnectedness between different nature-​related pastimes, depicts women and girls engaged in outdoor activities, including a mother and two girls on the shore, equipped with a net, intent on catching marine specimens. Quite tellingly, the central image represents fishes, anemones, corals, and shells –​some of the most appreciated guests of Victorian tanks. Thus, aquarium manuals adopted a wide range of approaches which mirrored the fluid nature of the hobby. These different perspectives reflected the interests, education, and tastes of their authors, and those of the readers they wanted to reach. Yet, they all addressed someone who wanted to improve in terms of knowledge, social standing, or in the use of spare time. This aspirational quality (although applied to different aspects of tank keeping) pervades all the texts. The same is true for the impressive number of magazine articles that in the 1850s were devoted to the hobby: regardless of its treatment as a matter of fashion, taste, or scientific study, it was invariably presented as a deeply rewarding pursuit, encompassing a multi-​layered experience whose first step was the collection of sea creatures. Far from being considered as a mere preliminary activity, it was described as an integral part of the hobby and, as such, became entangled with wider debates about two prominent phenomena of that period, mass tourism and amateur collecting.

The Victorian aquarium

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Figure 3  ‘Pets of the aquarium’, in George Kearley, Links in the Chain; or, Popular Chapters on the Curiosities of Animal Life

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The marine aquarium in context

Figure 4  ‘Links in the chain’, in George Kearley, Links in the Chain; or, Popular Chapters on the Curiosities of Animal Life

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Notes 1 Barbara M. Stafford, Artful Science: Enlightenment, Entertainment, and the Eclipse of Visual Education (Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 1994), pp. 218–​20. 2 Logan, Victorian Parlour, p. 27. 3 Logan, Victorian Parlour, pp. 140–​1. 4 Logan, Victorian Parlour, p. 28. 5 Rehbock, ‘Victorian Aquarium’, in Sears and Merriman (eds), Oceanography, p. 526. 6 Allen, ‘Tastes and Crazes’, in Jardine, Secord, and Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History, pp. 400–​4; see also Sarah Whittingham, Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania (London: Frances Lincoln, 2012). 7 Stott, Darwin and the Barnacle, p. xxiii. 8 Piers J. Hale, Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2014), p. 27. 9 [Robert Chambers], Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (London: John Churchill, 1844), p. 58. 10 Rebecca Stott, Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), p. 219. 11 Helen M. Rozwadowski, Fathoming the Ocean: The Discovery and Exploration of the Deep Sea (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2008), p. 110; Stott, Darwin and the Barnacle, p. xxiii; Alain Corbin, The Lure of the Sea: The Discovery of the Seaside in the Western World 1750–​1840, trans. Jocelyn Phelps (London:  Penguin, 1995), pp. 109–​10. 12 Rehbock, ‘Victorian Aquarium’, in Sears and Merriman (eds), Oceanography, p. 525; Brunner, The Ocean at Home, pp. 27–​38. 13 Other women played important roles in the development of marine biology: for instance, Jeannette de Villepreux Power (1794–​1871), the wife of a wealthy English merchant living in Messina, devoted years to the study of the nautilus. She even perfected a device to observe living specimens (the Power Cages, or Gabbiole alla Power, sometimes considered an antecedent to the marine tank); unlike Thynne, Power did seek recognition, establishing connections with Italian and British scientists and publishing her reports in both countries. 14 Rebecca Stott, Theatres of Glass, p. 96. The article was titled ‘On the Increase of Madrepores’ and appeared under the name of Mrs. Thynne, with notes by P. H. Gosse, F.R.S., in Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 3:18 (June 1859), 449–​60.

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15 The definition is by A. M. Edwards. Rehbock, ‘Victorian Aquarium’, p. 523. Gosse mentions Thynne’s experiments in a footnote to the second edition of his Aquarium; a footnote is also devoted to her work in John E. Taylor, The Aquarium; Its Inhabitants, Structure, and Management (London: Hardwicke & Bogue, 1876), p. 13. Thynne is mentioned in James Shirley Hibberd, Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste, and Recreations for Town Folk, in the Study and Imitation of Nature (London: Groombridge and Sons, 1857), p. 14. 16 Quoted in Stott, Theatres of Glass, p. 109. 17 Stott, Theatres of Glass, p. 112. 18 Adamowsky, Mysterious Science, Chapter 4. Rehbock observes that the news of Thynne’s success with the marine tank (like that of Johnston’s) failed to reach a wide audience. Rehbock, ‘Victorian Aquarium’, in Sears and Merriman (eds), Oceanography, p. 525. 19 It must be noted that publication date (or even publication itself) has not always been the privileged way of assessing precedence in scientific discovery; this criterion began to be applied around the middle of the nineteenth century, and continued even later to coexist with other forms of communication, such as lectures, demonstrations, letters, or informal conversations among learned friends. James A. Secord, ‘How Scientific Conversation Became Shop Talk’, in Fyfe and Lightman (eds), Science in the Marketplace, pp. 25–​30. 20 Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’, 134. 21 Warington’s ‘Observations on the Natural History of the Water-​ snail and Fish Kept in a Confined and Limited Portion of Water’ and Gosse’s ‘On Keeping Marine Animals and Plants Alive in Unchanged Sea-​water’ were both published in Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Second Series, 10:58 (1852). 22 Helen Cowie, Exhibiting Animals in Nineteenth-​ Century Britain:  Empathy, Education, Entertainment (Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), p. 24. 23 This sojourn also produced Seaside Pleasures, published in 1853 for the SPCK, and inspired a novel by Ann Lingard, Seaside Pleasures (Aspatria: Littoralis Press, 2003). 24 Philip Henry Gosse, A Naturalist’s Rambles on the Devonshire Coast (London: John Van Voorst, 1853), pp. 440–​1. 25 Smith, Charles Darwin, p. 78. 26 Adamowsky, Mysterious Science, pp. 14–​15. 27 Corbin, Lure of the Sea, Chapter 1. 28 Horn, Amusing the Victorians, pp. 178–​207; Flanders, Consuming Passions, pp. 206–​51. See also Jean-​Didier Urban, At the Beach, trans. Catherine Porter (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003). 29 Rozwadowski, Fathoming the Ocean, p. 17.

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30 Fyfe, ‘Natural History’, in Livingstone and Withers (eds), Geographies of Nineteenth-​Century Science, pp. 377; 387. 31 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 22. 32 Panoramas were actually meant to ‘trick audience members into believing that they were there —​that they were looking at nature itself’. Lightman, ‘Visual Theology’, 655. On the contiguity between the aquarium and the panorama see Hamera, Parlor Ponds, pp.  34–​8. 33 Richard Bellon, ‘Science at the Crystal Focus of the World’, in Fyfe and Lightman (eds), Science in the Marketplace, p. 321. 34 Lightman, ‘Lecturing in the Spatial Economy of Science’, in Fyfe and Lightman (eds), Science in the Marketplace, p. 116. Diving for commercial or military purposes had been practised since antiquity, but the Victorian age saw huge progress in underwater technology:  old diving bells were enhanced and increasingly employed to salvage wrecked ships, and various models of diving dress were devised and patented (including Augustus Siebe’s 1837 ‘standard diving dress’). The Royal Navy established the first diving school in 1843; decompression sickness began to be seriously addressed by medical research beginning in the 1870s. 35 Corbin, Lure of the Sea, p. 118. 36 Rozwadowski, Fathoming the Ocean, pp. 109–​13; Philip F. Rehbock, ‘The Early Dredgers:  “Naturalizing” in British Seas, 1830–​ 1850’, Journal of the History of Biology, 12:2 (1979), 293–​368. 37 Rozwadowski, Fathoming the Ocean, pp. 166; 173. 38 Secord, ‘How Scientific Conversation’, in Fyfe and Lightman (eds), Science in the Marketplace, p. 42. 39 Susan Schlee, A History of Oceanography. The Edge of an Unfamiliar World (London: Robert Hale & Co., 1975), p. 82. 40 Quoted in Rozwadowski, Fathoming the Ocean, p. 63. 41 Rozwadowski, Fathoming the Ocean, p. 89. 42 Schlee, History of Oceanography, p. 89; Rozwadowski, Fathoming the Ocean, p. 15. 43 Schlee, History of Oceanography, p. 98. 44 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 4. 45 On the life of Lloyd, see Ray Ingle, ‘Who was… William Alford Lloyd? Ray Ingle looks into the life of the little-​known entrepreneur who introduced public aquariums to the UK in the 19th century’, Biologist: Journal of the Institute of Biology, 60:1 (2013), 24–​7. See also parlouraquariums.org.uk. 46 Lloyd’s shop was probably the most popular, but it was not the only one: among competitors there was Thomas Hall of Fountain Place, London. Anne Wilkinson, Shirley Hibberd, the Father of Amateur

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Gardening:  His Life and Works, 1825–​1890 (Birmingham:  Cortex Design, 2012), p. 71. 47 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 60. 48 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 40. 49 Logan, Victorian Parlour, pp. 142–​ 7; Hamera, Parlor Ponds, pp.  59–​66. 50 William H. Brock, Science for All: Studies in the History of Victorian Science and Education (Brookfield: Variorum, 1996), p. 31. 51 The series, devised by Routledge for a popular readership, included eleven volumes, of which seven were commissioned to Wood. Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, p. 173. 52 Victorian popular science was marked by the persistence of Paley’s model of natural theology, which stressed fitness of purpose, together with the belief that ‘God’s works also evinced His intention of gratifying man’s aesthetic sense’. Donald and Munro (eds), Endless Forms, p. 14. 53 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, pp. 58; 66–​9. 54 In fact, ‘the ascendancy of natural history, by changing the way people looked at nature, also helped to change the way people looked at art and literature’. Merrill, Romance, p. 64. 55 O’Connor, Earth on Show, p. 13. A more detailed discussion of the issue will be provided in Chapter 4. 56 Smith, Charles Darwin, p. 84. 57 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 57. 58 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 74. 59 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, pp. 8–​9. Hamera’s book mainly focuses on American aquaria; she discusses English manuals at the beginning, taking into consideration texts by Gosse, Hibberd, Humphreys, and Taylor. Her assessment of the social impact of the hobby is thus mostly based on authors who addressed a middle-​class readership. 60 Besides economic issues, tank keeping implied a desire to enjoy domesticity. Many who belonged to the industrial working class still lived in overcrowded houses whose furniture was reduced to a minimum and whose sanitary conditions were far from ideal; it is thus unlikely they would choose an indoor pastime, during the very few spare hours they had during the week. 61 Philip Henry Gosse, A Handbook to the Marine Aquarium, Containing Practical Instructions for Constructing, Stocking, and Maintaining a Tank, and for Collecting Plants and Animals (London:  John Van Voorst, 1855), unnumbered page. 62 Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, p. 173. 63 ‘The Aquarium Simplified’, The Home Friend, 1 (1856), 130–​2.

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64 ‘The Aquarium Mania’, Titan, 13 (1856), 323. This statement was often requoted in aquarium manuals; see, for instance George Kearley, Links in the Chain; Or, Popular Chapters in the Curiosities of Animal Life. With Illustrations by F.W. Keyl (London: James Hogg and Sons, 1862), p. 113. 65 Horn, Amusing the Victorians, p. 9. 66 On women’s contribution to the popularization of science in this period see Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, pp. 95–​165. Some authors of aquarium manuals routinely praise women as good illustrators, or in connection to sea-​weed collections, which often combined a scientific interest and the artistic ability to create wonderful albums that could ‘look like a highly finished painting’. John Harper, The Sea-​ Side and Aquarium; or Anecdote and Gossip on Marine Zoology. With Illustrations (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1858), p. 154; see also Thomas R. Jones, The Aquarian Naturalist:  A Manual for the Sea-​Side (London: John Van Voorst, 1858), p. 120; Charles Kingsley, Glaucus; or, the Wonders of the Shore (Cambridge: Macmillan & Co., 1855), p. 4. On the vogue for seaweed albums see Molly Duggins, ‘Pacific Ocean Flowers:  Colonial Seaweeds Albums’, in Mentz and Rojas (eds), The Sea and Nineteenth-​Century Anglophone Literary Culture, pp. 119–​34. 67 Hibberd, The Book of the Aquarium (1860), p. 29. Nevertheless, tank keeping was a flexible pursuit. While often connected with hands-​on science, at times it was also described as the perfect hobby for invalids. This was suggested by Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium (p. 166), and was also the underlying idea of the anonymous The Story of My Aquarium; Or, a Year at the Sea Side (London, Edinburgh and New York:  Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1861). The author, who was sent to North Berwick to recover, accepted the suggestion to commence tank keeping in order to make long days in the house less tedious, and eventually grew so fond of the aquarium he or she wrote a whole book about it. See also William H. Harvey, The Sea-​Side Book; Being an Introduction to the Natural History of the British Coasts (London: John Van Voorst, 1849), p. 9. 68 ‘Aquarium Simplified’, 130–​2.

2

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To the seaside and into the abyss

By mid-​century, the vacation at the seaside became an available opportunity for wider sections of the middle classes. This generated a change in the occupations pursued:  as noted by Fyfe, the old assembly rooms and theatres were gradually supplanted by new interests, including amateur science and the passion for collecting.1 Shells, fossils, and seaweeds had long been staple souvenirs to be proudly displayed once at home,2 but with the invention of the marine aquarium a new exciting option emerged: instead of simply bringing back inanimate objects, Victorian tourists could now reconstruct a living miniature sea in their own house. Although shops selling animals and plants for aquaria soon appeared, most manuals recommended aquarists collect their own specimens –​ after all, tank keeping was also a way to get closer to nature and the environment. This chapter looks at the marine tank in connection to Victorian travel, exploring journeys that were both physical and of the mind. Most aquarium books discussed different ways of experiencing the seaside vacation, offering insights on what Victorian tourists did, but also on how they conceptualised their activities and felt about it. These texts defined the aquarist as the ideal tourist by placing him in opposition to the lazy ones; in particular, the aquarian tourist was presented as capable of establishing a productive relation with locals and with the environment, understood in terms of specific localities, marine fauna, and as a fascinating, albeit increasingly fragile, ecosystem. But the tank also became a tool to prompt imaginary journeys: its appeal for early aquarists was mostly due to the belief that it mimicked the subaqueous world, thus offering vicarious access to a place otherwise inaccessible.3 Through descriptions of underwater excursions, aquarium texts contributed

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to make the submarine world more familiar, while at the same time presenting it as a fascinating mystery, still unexplored.

Seashore life

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Seaside people Most aquarium texts described the seaside as an antidote to the city, as was common in tourist guides and travel books too.4 Cities were figured as crowded and unhealthy, while the seaside was presented as an eminently salutary place. Crucially, the seaside vacation was not only seen as conductive to physical health, but also as a chance to promote a much-​needed mental restorative from the crippling routine of everyday life. In his Ocean Gardens (1857), Henry Noel Humphreys argued that ‘[t]he mill-​like repetition of worldly affairs brings on a torpor of mind, in regard to all without the narrow circle of selfish interests and easily purchased pleasures, which it is very difficult to wake up from’.5 To alleviate such torpor, a mere change of scenery was not enough: the risk was to fall into a different, but equally pernicious routine, as most tourists apparently did. Humphreys refers to these as ‘the vast majority of our migratory flocks of summer and autumnal idlers’, ironically comparing them to unthinking animals, mechanically moving together during the ‘season of marine migration’.6 He even observes, referring to a practice attributed to the Gymnosophists, that ‘[w]ere each of our most idle sea-​side loungers to impose upon himself the necessity of a discovery, or an original thought, before he considered himself entitled to dine, that torpor, so deadening to the natural capacities of his mind, would soon give way to a state of mental activity’.7 Yet, for most of the ‘idle crowd’, the sights and sounds of nature are ‘invisible and unheard. Their ears have not been tutored to understand the word-​music of Nature’s language, nor to read the brightly-​written signs on its mighty page’.8 An even more articulate opposition between those who truly profit from their vacation and those who do not can be found in Charles Kingsley’s Glaucus (1855): ‘[y]ou are going down, perhaps, by railway, to pass your usual six weeks at some watering-​place along the coast, … [y]ou are half-​tired, half-​ashamed, of making

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one more in the “ignoble army of idlers”’.9 Salutary and instructive pursuits are explicitly opposed to the monetary interests prevalent in the city, and again linked to the capacity to observe, and thus appreciate, nature.10 John Harper too, in The Sea-​Side and Aquarium (1858), blames the ‘many thousands at the sea-​side’ who ‘saunter listlessly about upon the beach, or yawn over silly novels, or “dip into the sugared slough of sentimental poetry, in comparison with which the old fairy tales were manful and rational”, or spend their time in flimsy chit-​ chat on the trivial topics of the hour’.11 Of course, seaside collecting was endorsed as a better alternative, offering more in terms of instruction, but also providing excitement, pathos, and ample room for the imagination. Indeed, it is a pity that ‘few persons are able to appreciate or to enjoy these treasures that encompass them at every step’, missing both the cultural and moral benefits inherent in the study of natural history. But Harper is also keen to stress that the natural wonders he is describing ‘are so prodigally scattered that little trouble and no expense are incurred in observing them’.12 All authors maintained that an interest in natural history was within everyone’s reach and, once acquired, could boost a seaside vacation more than any other pastime ever would. Thus, tourist-​collectors belong to an elite which is not defined by money or status but by curiosity and observational skills that may cut across class lines. These happy few are described as a minority. The singular reader is included and gratifyingly distanced from the many other tourists, always plural, who move in ‘shoals’. Yet, it is important to notice that natural history is still presented as an open pursuit; reflecting a belief quite widespread at the time, authors invariably underline that it could be accessible to all if only they would care to learn how to observe.13 Moreover, unlike other, better known branches of biology, the study of sea animals and plants still offered ample space for new discoveries. Aquarium manuals maintained that curiosity and observational skills make good tourists, as well as good students of natural history. Most importantly, they asserted that readers could actively take part in the exciting progress of science.14 For instance, it was common for authors to discuss the observations made by some eminent scientist, and then encourage the reader to repeat them, or even try to discover something more. After a detailed exposition

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of current research on the possible function of the red spots on the rays of starfishes, Thomas Rymer Jones remarks that ‘[h]ow far they are or are not instruments of vision, is a matter still open to dispute, and a question well worthy of solution by any of our readers, whose opportunities enable them to make experiments upon this interesting subject’.15 Even more explicitly, Charles Kingsley describes the very act of making a discovery as ‘one of the highest enjoyments of natural history’, and then, directly addressing his readers, argues that [t]here is no reason why you should not be as successful as a friend of mine, who, with a very slight smattering of science, and very desultory research, obtained last winter from the Torbay shores three entirely new species, beside several rare animals which had escaped all naturalists since the lynx-​eye of Colonel Montagu discerned them forty years ago.16

Natural history is thus presented as a cooperative endeavour to which everyone can contribute. This is not to say that these texts try to blur all distinctions, but they do insist that even dilettanti (as Kingsley defines his readers, and himself) can add to the fast-​ growing knowledge of marine creatures, and should not be content to remain mere spectators. The author also remarks that the thrill of discovery, for those who tried it, is a ‘solid pleasure, the memory of which they would not give up for hard cash’.17 Authors often place themselves as mediators between professional scientists (from whose works they extensively –​and deferentially –​quote, also to show their own credentials and connections with the scientific establishment) and the wider public. By mid-​ century it was still very common for professional researchers and amateur collectors to cooperate, notwithstanding some occasional tensions. What is significant is that most aquarium texts envisage an active role for their readers, and an important one too, within the wide and variegated community of students of nature. In order to support this view, they underline the value of curiosity, enthusiasm, and willingness to observe, at the same time downsizing the need for systematic knowledge, especially in terms of taxonomy. However, aquarists in search for specimens are described as better tourists also because of other qualities:  in particular, they are praised as more adventurous, mirroring the emerging vogue for hands-​on science. Field collection was often positively opposed to

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dry lab research on dead specimens.18 Philip Henry Gosse, in the preface to his A Naturalist’s Sojourn in Jamaica, described a taxonomist working with ‘dry skins furred or feathered, blackened, stuffed; with objects, some admirably beaushrivelled, and hay-​ tiful, some hideously ugly, impaled on pins, and arranged in rows in cork drawers’; his job was to describe these ‘distorted things’, enveloping them within a ‘mystic cloud of Graeco-​Latino-​English phraseology’.19 Most authors of aquarium manuals agreed, and frequently downplayed the importance or utility of technical terms (which may indeed deter the beginner):  Reverend John George Wood, in his Common Objects of the Sea Shore, provides both common and scientific names for each species he mentions, but he also translates these names into English, explaining their meaning and etymology. In The Aquarian Naturalist, Thomas Rymer Jones, discussing the profusion of popular names attributed to sea urchins, chooses not to see this as a potential source of confusion, arguing instead that the English nomenclature is ‘doubtless more pleasing to our readers than the Greek compounds of science, and not less poetical than useful, since they aptly convey a portraiture of those varieties of form into which Nature has, with her usual sportiveness, moulded these productions’.20 Bookish knowledge is presented as inessential and, crucially, as remote from living nature. Readers were accordingly encouraged to get in touch with nature, even at their own peril: collecting was not a dry, academic pursuit, but an exhilarating adventure. Indeed, the study of marine creatures was far more complicated than that of other natural items:  besides the difficulty of storing them and bringing them home alive and healthy, finding and extracting them without injury from their habitat was certainly more difficult than collecting shells, stones, or flowers,21 and often implied getting dirty, or wet. Furthermore, as testified to by the numerous articles and illustrations published in magazines about shore collecting,22 the hobby might lead to unusual, at times even ridiculous, behaviours, including the adoption of embarrassing postures such as those depicted in John Leech’s ‘Common objects at the sea-​ side’ (Punch 35, 21 August 1858). Leech represents middle-​class men and women on the beach, bent forward to find specimens: the women’s skirts, together with their position, make them look like sea anemones, but also allude to a clearly voyeuristic element which

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The Victorian aquarium

is even more marked if we consider Victorian concerns for propriety and their strictly regulated ways of managing the body in public.23 Such perceptions were often mentioned in aquarium books, and good-​humouredly commented upon, but authors mostly depicted seaside collecting as a quasi-​ heroic activity, which might even include having to swim for your life. Numerous texts autobiographically recount adventures of this kind,24 invariably emphasising that the true lover of marine creatures must be physically strong and daring, ready to risk injuries or pain, to be bravely faced for the sake of finding the best specimens: John Harper observed that [t]he rocks, to any but the ardent student of zoology, are of the most uninviting character, damp and shaggy, with various fuci, and consequently slippery, suggesting, especially to persons of sensitive toes, anything but pleasant spots for looking across at the Fife shore-​coast, or down to the rich shores of East Lothian. Indeed, the most agile walker can hardly advance a step without incurring imminent danger of a slip.25

Figure 5  John Leech, ‘Common objects at the sea-​side –​generally found upon the rocks at low water’, Punch 35

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James Shirley Hibberd warned his readers that ‘sand is safe enough for the veriest cripple, but the weedy surface of a slanting block of stone, or the tuberculated crust of a well-​covered boulder, may prove a slippery foot-​hold, and help you into a deeper pool than you desire to fish in’.26 Seaside collecting was thus healthy for the mind (from both an intellectual and a moral point of view) as well as for the body, a sign of intellectual curiosity, but also proof of ‘manly’ boldness in facing physical challenges. Most importantly, it could turn a seaside vacation into an exciting adventure. There was yet another way in which collectors of marine species could get more in touch with the environment than could other tourists: their activity required frequent interaction with local fishermen, who were hired to provide boat passages, to dredge, to collect specimens on the shore, or to deliver information about tides and species to be found in different locations. Such cooperation, however, was not always idyllic: at times the aquarist aligned himself with the fishermen, thus underlining his distance from common tourists who just experienced a superficial contact with the place, and whose interaction with the inhabitants was mostly limited to those who worked in the emerging tourist industry. For instance, John Harper repeatedly mentions the opinion of local fishermen on subtle points concerning taxonomy or animal behaviour: after summarising learned theories on whether starfishes feed on oysters, he observes that ‘the young zoologist may be reminded, that he will occasionally obtain some trustworthy hints from a class who make no pretence to scientific accuracy —​namely, fishermen’.27 Such trust, however, is not always a rule: in another passage he specifies that the opinion of fishermen ‘may be correct, but, so far as I know, it never has been confirmed by the experience of any other author’, thus implying that their practical knowledge is not enough and should be supported by someone who can claim the higher status of ‘author’.28 Interestingly, these texts also give us a glimpse –​probably exaggerated, and mostly ironic –​of the other side of the relationship:  how tourist-​collectors were perceived by locals. Numerous anecdotes, remarkably similar, stress how strange their activities seemed to the uneducated villagers:  for instance, while

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recommending readers to ‘cultivate the good offices of the fishermen who may be employed in their vicinity’, Thomas Rymer Jones observes that: [t]hese men, who are busy with their nets at all seasons and in all weathers, will often be found of invaluable assistance, but, unfortunately, it too frequently happens that they are rather an unpersuadable and unmanageable fraternity, having whims and fancies of their own, against which eloquence and argument are equally inefficacious. To try to convince them that it is worth their while to bring home anything not Fish, is to attempt to controvert one of their maxims of life; and to endeavour to cajole them into the belief that the refuse of their nets —​which in the North they designate by the general term of ‘pushin’ or ‘pussom’ (poison) —​can be of any value, is to stir up in their minds serious doubts as to your own sanity.29

The author then narrates one of his attempts, during a visit to the Scottish coast, to ‘illustrate to a group of these worthies, by exhibiting to them specimens picked up upon the beach, the nature of the objects we wanted them to procure’. While he naively flattered himself for having bestowed ‘a very interesting lecture’, a newcomer asked one of the group what the gentleman wanted, and a fisherman significantly touched his forehead, informing him in an undertone that ‘the gentleman was daft’. Yet, Jones insists that ‘[s] till we must reiterate our advice to cultivate the good offices of the fishermen, many of whom will be found by no means so impracticable as our Scotch friends’.30 A whole list of similar anecdotes appears in Harper’s book, which notes that ‘to country folk in general, a naturalist, ardently pursuing his studies on the seashore, is looked upon as a madman’.31 These recurrent comments, however, ultimately contribute to establishing a positive image for the scientific tourist. Although today their tone may seem rather patronising, they were meant to convey an affectionate, benevolent satire. After all, fishermen in this period were seen as embodying moral virtue, independence, health, and heroism, as demonstrated by the numerous novels and paintings that clearly oppose virtuous fishermen to vulgar or frivolous tourists.32 Such remarks, then, aim at presenting the aquarist as someone who jovially interacts with his social inferiors, while also being able to recognise their qualities and take their criticism with a good deal of self-​irony.

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Aquarists are thus defined as a positive example through various contrasts: they are different from other tourists, who do not even attempt to profit from their vacation from an intellectual point of view, and from locals, who participate in their pursuits but do not fully understand them. In both cases, the contrast is articulated through differences in terms of curiosity and observational skills but, most importantly, by the capacity to assess the true value of marine creatures: while other tourists ignore the entertainment and moral improvement they can provide, fishermen judge them only according to their economic or nutritional value, hence dismissing them as ‘trash’ or ‘refuse’. Even the ironic remarks on the way in which collectors are seen by others (as objects of pity, or of benevolent irony) actually emphasise their capacity to discover treasures where everybody else only sees insignificant things, and to turn a potentially useless vacation into an exciting and stimulating adventure. Most importantly, this adventurousness is often praised as a positive alternative to bookish knowledge. This may seem a contradiction: on the one hand, most authors extensively quote from professional researchers and provide long lists of suggested readings; on the other hand, however, they often seem to dismiss specialised knowledge in favour of a more practical approach. Such ambiguity signals emerging tensions within the scientific cultures of the time:  these texts support a view of science in which different skills, approaches, or levels of technical knowledge can cooperate productively, against a more limited view of what science should be and who should be entitled to practise it.33 Thus, the amount of attention devoted to the seaside experience should be read in two ways:  the aim was indeed to make tank keeping popular by recommending it as the best way to enrich a seaside vacation, but also to distance the hobby from the growing trend that equated true science with a professional enterprise to be performed in specific institutions, mainly as a form of lab research.

Seaside environments In presenting seaside tourism and natural history as an ideal combination, aquarium manuals also stressed other ways in which a passion for collecting could shape, and enrich, a vacation

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experience. In addition to telling travellers what they should do, they also gave suggestions as to where to go, assuming that the possibility of locating good specimens would take precedence over other, more typical considerations such as scenery, tourist services, or the fashionableness of the place. Again, the collector is careful to underline his distance (both ideal and material) from the crowd; for instance, John Harper explains how collecting changed his idea of vacation and of the ideal vacation place: [p]ersons residing in Edinburgh scarcely require to be informed that the village of Joppa does not possess great attraction for visitors. As a bathing-​place, it has been long ago deserted for the more fashionable suburb of Portobello. There are not wanting, however, persons who prefer the seclusion of the one to the bustle of its more successful rival. The writer of these pages, as an item of the minority, has passed more than one vacation by the more secluded beach; and, of course, as soon as his eyes were in any degree opened to the wonders of the sea-​shore, he naturally preferred to prosecute his studies where there was less chance of interruption.34 (emphasis added)

Harper proudly places himself within a minority that does not follow the usual routes of tourism, attributing the merit to natural history, admitting that ‘[b]efore he had the good fortune to discover the recommendation these new pursuits conferred upon the place, he would not have hesitated in expressing his decided conviction that Joppa was one of the dullest spots that ever went under the name of a watering-​place’. But after he became acquainted with marine zoology, ‘Joppa became quite a different place’, so that, ‘poor and tame’ as it is, ‘it possesses, in my eyes, a beauty which only a very limited number of objects in the imperial city beside it can inspire’.35 Landscape itself acquires a completely new value, which (like that of marine specimens) can only be understood by those who are able to look beyond the surface of things; the change is so powerful that it even modifies the subject’s capacity for aesthetic appreciation: [t]hese same rocks, objects of my former aversion, are now to me what the stairs of Holyrood are to the antiquarian, the Calton Hill to seekers after fine views, or, to expand the metaphor, each barren crag offers to me what quiet woods full of game, and fields abounding in rare flowers, offer to the sportsman and to the botanist.36

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Very often, the praise of secluded locations combined with a specifically local pride, a feature that was more and more prominent in the natural sciences of this period, which increasingly focused on the study of animals and plants in their own environment. This trend frequently mingled with a certain amount of ‘patriotism’ that emphasised the beauty and richness of domestic flora and fauna. Thus, not only locations but also local species were positively contrasted with exotic (and more sensational) ones, as when Jones discusses Mr. Telfair’s description of a giant medusa found near Bombay in 1819: ‘it rotted, however, entirely, and left no remains. It could not be less than nine months before it entirely disappeared, and travellers were obliged to change the direction of their road for nearly a quarter of a mile, to avoid the offensive and sickening stench which proceeded from it’.37 Yet, interesting as it may be, this specimen fails to impress Jones, who dismissively comments: [l]eaving, however, the contemplation of such monstrosities to gentlemen who are fortunate enough to encounter them, let us return to our native shores, and, as examples of the lovely objects at the disposal of our own sea-​side visitors, select a few, which, although their lives are of ephemeral duration, may with a little care be made the inmates of the aquarium, and thus at least afford a passing opportunity of admiring their evanescent beauties.38

The tropical monstrosity is thus opposed to the ‘lovely objects’ found on British shores, which are certainly less impressive, but equally deserving of attention, and less offensive to the nose. Moreover, their very unpretentiousness is a source of pride for the author, testifying to his own capacity to see and appreciate less obvious things.39 Celebrations of local nature are pervasive in these texts which, alongside tourist guides and travel books, greatly contributed to foster domestic tourism, at times determining the fortunes of resort places:  a well-​known example being Ilfracombe, which, after the publication of Gosse’s book, saw an impressive rise in the number of visitors interested in seashore collecting, as testified to by the 1856 edition of Murray’s Devon and Cornwall Handbook.40 Books certainly played a crucial role in the growing popularity of Devon, as did two historical novels set there, Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! (1855) and Richard Doddridge Blackmore’s Lorna Doone (1869). In particular, Kingsley’s Elizabethan adventure glamorised

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the wild landscapes of North Devon not only by attracting tourists, but also by providing the name for a new resort at North Burrows, which was called Westward Ho! in the hope of exploiting the popularity of the novel.41 Nevertheless, the expansion of tourism also had alarming drawbacks, as Victorians soon understood:  in a letter dated 19 September 1856 to William Alford Lloyd, Gosse discussed the environmental impact of tourist-​collectors in the area of Tenby: [t]he caverns here are not what they were in 1854. Some cause or other, either the rapacity of amateurs, or the frosts of the winter 1854–​55, has almost quite extirpated the Actiniae that were so abundant then … indeed thus denuding the caves and rocks of a town like this, of objects that afford such an inducement to visitors to come here, would be so unpopular, and indeed so unjust and selfish, that I would not on any account lend my aid to it. There are plenty of places in the vicinity, which are rich enough and quite unvisited; but I would be very sorry to see Tenby and its caves robbed of their Actiniae.42

It is interesting to note Gosse’s use of the word ‘amateur’: in this period, the term was gradually shifting from the positive meaning of ‘connoisseur’ to the pejorative one of ‘dilettante’, emphasising a lack of seriousness and reliability.43 Thus, it could be used with positive or negative connotations according to the author’s position within the complex and multifaceted context of popular science. In Gosse’s sentence, it is clearly employed in a disparaging way, but its connection with greed may imply either an intellectual shortcoming (of the expertise necessary to select only the specimens that are really needed, or of the proper understanding of the fragility of the seashore environment), or a moral one. At this stage, however, Gosse does not fully blame tourist-​collectors, still hoping that the beauty of the place may attract future (and hopefully more respectful) visitors. Later on, Gosse became more and more concerned with the damage done by collectors, and more outspoken in assigning responsibility, doing so within a wider reflection on the popularity acquired by marine zoology, to which he himself had greatly contributed. In his essay titled ‘An Hour among the Torbay Sponges’ he wrote:

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[s]ince the opening of sea-​science to the million, such has been the invasion of the shore by crinoline and collecting jars, that you may search all the likely and promising rocks within reach of Torquay, which a few years ago were like gardens with full-​ blossomed anemones and antheas, and come home with an empty jar and an aching heart, all being now swept as clean as the palm of your hand! Yet let me do the fair students and their officious beaux justice: the work is not altogether done by such hands as theirs; but there is a host of professional collectors, small tradesman whom you must search up in back alleys, and whose houses you will easily recognise by the sea-​weedy odour, even before you see the array of pans and dishes in front of the door all crowded with full-​blown specimens. These collect for the trade, and are indefatigable. Only think of the effect produced on the marine population by three or four men in a town, one of whom will take dozens of anemones in a single tide!44

He then laments that ‘the fashionable watering-​places on our south and west coast are completely stripped’, and those who want to find something ‘worth having’ must now ‘seek some quiet, undisturbed sea-​nook, where there are no visitors, where the new trade has not yet been set up, and where the poor people are too primitive to notice such “rubbish” as you value’.45 Gosse’s reflection, besides testifying to the emerging concern for the environmental impact of humans, also reveals some of the contradictions that informed the expansion of activities (such as natural-​history collecting, but also tourism itself) that were formerly circumscribed to smaller and more culturally homogeneous social groups. Natural history can, and should, according to most authors, be open to everyone, but at the same time it should not, since not everyone shares the ethos required to practise it in what we would now call an environmentally conscious way. Yet, the issue is not just one of sensibility: although Gosse initially mentions the crinolines and their beaux as being partially to blame, his attack is really aimed at the ‘small tradesmen’: people belonging to a different class and cultural milieu, for whom collecting is not a pleasurable pastime but a source of income.46 Gosse seems to imply that the natural wonders of the seashore should not become an object of financial profit; yet, he himself worked as a collector, providing marine specimens for the Fish House in Regent’s Park, eventually earning £150 after a long dispute with the Zoological Society, and supplied sea creatures to Lloyd’s shop in London.47 As was the case with

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most other naturalists, he also employed professional collectors to send him specimens from remote parts of the world. But he claimed that it was ‘not all a question of finance, surely’;48 when one of the men he employed to find insects for him offered to send more, so that Gosse could earn something from their sale, he replied that he was not interested in profit, indignantly remarking ‘I am not a mercantile man’.49 In the passage quoted above, Gosse is thus trying to draw a distinction between those (like himself) who used their scientific knowledge as a means of economic support in academically acceptable ways (publications, lectures, or collecting for museums or institutions), and working-​class traders, who lacked both a scientific pedigree and a true interest in nature, and who did not really care for (or understand) the damage they did. An element of class prejudice is evident as he refers to ‘small traders and local poor people’:  he even wishes that the poor may remain ‘savage’, and ignore the potential economic value of marine specimens, continuing to consider it mere trash, as did Jones’s fishermen (in this, Gosse anticipates a very modern tension between those who stress the importance of preserving the environment, especially in remote locations, and the often contrasting interests of local populations who need to exploit that environment to survive). Gosse’s heartfelt critique thus reveals some of the contradictions deriving from the expansion of mass tourism and popular science: the author, who contributed so much to the vogue for aquaria, is forced to admit his dismay at seeing that marine biology has indeed become popular, but not on his terms. Such despair was probably heightened by Gosse’s own sense of guilt: Edmund Gosse reported his father’s consternation at the unexpected side-​effects of his books’ success: in Father and Son he recalls that, as a child, the coast of Devonshire and Cornwall was like Keats’ Grecian vase, ‘a still unravished bride of quietness’ … They were living flower-​beds, so exquisite in their perfection, that my Father, in spite of his scientific requirements, used not seldom to pause before he began to rifle them, ejaculating that it was indeed a pity to disturb such congregated beauty. … We burst in, he used to say, where no one had ever thought of intruding before; and if the Garden of Eden had been situated in Devonshire, Adam and Eve, stepping lightly down to bathe in the rainbow-​coloured spray, would have seen the identical sights that we now saw.50

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However, he then regretfully observes that [a]ll this is long over, and done with. The ring of living beauty drawn about our shores was a very thin and fragile one. It had existed all those centuries solely in consequence of the indifference, the blissful ignorance of man. These rock basins, fringed by corallines, filled with still water almost as pellucid as the upper air itself, thronged with beautiful sensitive forms of life, —​they exist no longer, they are all profaned, and emptied, and vulgarized. An army of ‘collectors’ has passed over them, and ravaged every corner of them. The fairy paradise has been violated, the exquisite product of centuries of natural selection has been crushed under the rough paw of well-​meaning, idle-​minded curiosity.51

Edmund then admits that his father, ‘himself so reverent, so conservative, had by the popularity of his books acquired the direct responsibility for a calamity that he had never anticipated’, and that this knowledge ‘cost him great chagrin’.52 Although Philip Henry looked at these ancient pools as images of the Garden of Eden, while Edmund –​no longer adhering to his father’s religious views –​clearly sees them as the result of natural selection, father and son share a feeling of respect towards nature, and both oppose the ‘army of collectors’, vulgar and rapacious, who do not stop to contemplate, and probably do not even understand the possible environmental outcomes of their activity. The aquarist, unlike other visitors at the seaside, is not only characterised by his closer and more informed contact with nature but also by an attitude of respectful awe towards its marvels. Thus, aquarium manuals defined their readers through a set of inclusions and exclusions, setting them apart from those who preferred a more conventional kind of vacation, but also from those who needed to exploit the sea and its treasures for economic support. At the same time, they tried to co-​opt readers into a scientific community envisaged as open to everyone who had eyes to admire the beauty of creation and the curiosity to learn about class traders, it. More specifically, the aquarist (unlike working-​ but also unlike scientists who ‘murder to dissect’) is marked by a special relationship with the environment and by the capacity to enjoy it on multiple levels. These texts, so keen in distinguishing between desirable and undesirable attitudes and behaviours, reveal important ambiguities and submerged tensions in the fast-​changing

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contexts of mass tourism and amateur science; but they also testify to a growing desire to be part of something, to be there, and be there in the best possible way, being able to enjoy nature but also to share interests, feelings, and sensations with like-​minded people.

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Glimpses of other worlds Like most popular books on natural history, aquarium texts strongly emphasised direct participation in nature; the tank was presented as an extension of outdoor activities that were per se valuable, and not just preparatory to the study of sea creatures at home.53 They also insisted that the pleasures of tank keeping were by no means limited to sight. While trying to teach readers how to observe,54 they also depicted the hobby as a multi-​sensorial experience in a wider sense, which often involved a great deal of imagination too. In fact, the aquarium offered the opportunity to bring home a ‘piece of the sea’, and even to delve in it, travelling (at least with the imagination) to places otherwise inaccessible. Looking at their tanks, Victorian authors began to imagine the underwater world and depict it (through both words and images) more vividly than ever before. On the one hand, they described exciting trips to the sea floor that incorporated and popularised recent theories about the submarine environment; on the other hand, since the ocean was increasingly regarded as the source of all life on earth, they often combined these imaginative visions with speculations on deep time. This stimulated reflections on progress and evolution, turning the tank into a kind of time-​machine that took readers to a distant past, or to possible futures.

Underwater journeys The marine tank (itself a quite static and rather unwieldy piece of furniture) became in fact a tool to explore other worlds, inspiring exciting mind trips through time and space. Movement (both in a material and ideal sense) was central to the aquarium experience. Manuals invariably stressed the connection between tank keeping and a desire to get in touch with the environment: readers were encouraged to study nature, but also to be in it, a possibility

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everyone could easily enjoy for free. These two elements, immersion and inclusiveness, were much insisted upon, and they were reflected in the style adopted, especially in the frequent, at times quite lengthy and elaborate, landscape descriptions. Appropriating a stylistic strategy common to most natural-​ history texts of the time, the ‘you-​are-​there’ technique,55 authors co-​ opted readers into their own adventures, conveying the impression of presence through an extensive use of the first-​person plural. This was often used to create a connection between author and readers, while also serving other possible functions. When describing interesting locations, readers were addressed as if they were there with the author, with sentences like ‘[a]nd now, gentle reader, let us hasten to the beach: the tide is near its ebb, and yonder rocks, baring their shoulders to the sunshine, seem to rest themselves in grim repose’. Although aquarium books greatly differed in style and register, this rhetorical strategy was common to most of them: ‘[t] his is the time for work. Come, boy!’56 or ‘[b]ehold! we are down, and upon the sands’.57 On the one hand, this may provide a clue as to the intended use of the texts:  some of them –​perhaps the smaller, less expensive ones –​could be carried along, especially in order to identify sea creatures found on the shore through the images displayed in the books (of course, readers had to be careful and avoid dropping them into the water). On the other hand, these rhetorical strategies actually helped readers to see themselves there, arousing the desire to participate. These works were not limited to descriptions of real locations: after all, the Victorians believed that the tank provided a fairly accurate idea of what the underwater world might look like; hence, this form of vicarious tourism could take them farther than British shores or rock pools could, to the still-​unexplored oceanic depths. John Harper, for instance, turned the account of a trip by boat into an imaginary voyage underwater: [a]s you dip your hand into the water, and experience a delicious sensation of coolness thrilling through you, you can hardly imagine the sea to be a distinct element from your own. I must confess, for my own part, to have found it easy under such circumstances to believe the sea to be as dry land, through which one might travel at will.58

He then provides a dramatic description of this journey and the amazing sights it offers:

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[w]hat a variety of life meets us! … On every side, wherever we turn, our eyes are dazzled with objects, the appearance of which in their native element is so unlike what we had imagined them to be; nay, the greater number of objects we meet is perfectly new to us. There float by genuses of animals, not a species of which any zoologist ever saw. Gorgeous sea-​weeds bloom with a richness and flavour which we believed it only possible for sun-​bred flowers to exhibit.59

Yet he does not only focus on a subaqueous Eden; he makes the account more compelling (and adds a touch of suspense) by including the ‘equally abundant’ scary sights, such as the ‘[d]ark, ugly forms [that] dart past us, with bright, cold eyes and glancing teeth, that we never wish to look upon any more’.60 Harper’s words not only convey the wonder engendered by the imaginary journey, but also the emotions –​pleasurable surprise, and then fear –​that such sights would trigger if experienced in real life. Most importantly, the author does not describe these views from the perspective of a static spectator:  his point of view shifts, giving the impression that he is moving underwater, as do the natural elements that surround him. The effect is remarkably realistic, and quite surprising too. His vision even includes an incursion into a submarine forest that could well match descriptions of exotic nature found in contemporary travelogues on the tropical regions. He invites his readers to visualise the ‘gnarled trunks of what were once noble forest trees’, ‘that has been for ages submerged under water’. On their branches, where once the sun shone and ‘birds sung and nestled’, now a sea-​plant ‘waves or a mollusc creeps; or frightened bands of small fish fly for shelter, as sparrow and thrush from hawk or heron did before’.61 The whole passage combines a relatively recent view of ocean depths, which emphasises colour, movement, and profusion of life, with more traditional imaginings of the sea floor as a dismal, dreary place (Harper also inserts a long quotation from James Montgomery’s Pelican Island –​a favourite among aquarium authors –​describing the relic of a foundered ship). The author specifies that, although his journey to the sea floor is just a fancy, it is nevertheless possible to form ‘some tolerably accurate conception of the floor of that untrodden sea vault’: while ‘[s]ea-​speculators in the olden time, were obliged to draw upon their imagination, or to trust to the doubtful evidences of the lead or anchor’, today the ‘rapid advances

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of geological knowledge has enabled a good, though as yet an unrealised view to be taken of that terra incognita’.62 Indeed, after the breathtaking journey he described, the reader is almost sorry to resurface, and the closing passage indeed sounds like an apology for having interrupted such an exciting trip: ‘[b]ut we must halt here, and return from an imaginary expedition, to the upper air. We are on, and not in, the water. The sun is still high; but a gentle breeze has sprung up, and we call to remembrance our having left home with some intention of work’.63 As noted by Rebecca Stott, the fact that the underwater world was still ‘uncharted territory’ encouraged authors to ‘draw on the discourses of cultural and physical anthropology and travel writing’.64 References to exotic, albeit terrestrial, locations were commonly used to convey the surprise engendered by marine creatures: Charles Kingsley for instance described a boulder once used by the monks of Tor Abbey to build a pier, now in ruins, whose ‘upper side is a whole forest of seaweeds, large and small; and that forest, if you examined it closely, as full of inhabitants as those of the Amazon or the Gambia’.65 Aquarium manuals often appealed to the imagination of readers through a wide array of stylistic strategies, including the shifting from one world to another. According to Lynn Merrill, this became a topos of Victorian natural-​history writing, making ‘readers feel as though they are falling through one level of reality, down a chute to another level, and then another —​like Alice down the rabbit hole’.66 This technique was amply exploited by geology:  while learning about fossils, readers could be transported to prehistory and invited to imagine a world where those creatures were still alive. The same device could be used in texts on the microscope (by imaginatively miniaturising readers and launching them through journeys inside matter), or in books about astronomy (with breathtaking interplanetary explorations). However, I would suggest that descriptions of subaqueous journeys, although deploying the same literary strategies, probably had a different impact on Victorian readers. At the time, submarine exploration was still in its infancy, but the first attempts to actually go underwater were quite promising, generating widespread enthusiasm and high hopes. Aquarium texts almost unanimously acclaimed the achievements of Henri Milne-​Edwards, who had undertaken dredging expeditions in the

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1820s and even explored the bottom of the sea with a diving bell. John Harper praised him because, ‘[u]nlike many who can write and converse pleasantly in snug laboratories and easy studies … the famous Savan has shewn more ardour than the most zealous pearl-​ fisher, in pursuing his investigations into marine wonders’, going on to recount how Milne-​Edwards had descended and returned ‘laden with specimens the likes of which had never been seen before’.67 Unlike other kinds of imaginary journeys that, no matter how vividly described, were recognised as impossible, or not feasible in the near future, underwater trips were perceived as more plausible, and were thus further charged with excitement and anticipation. The idea of immersion, so crucial to discussions of the aquarium, could also be conveyed through illustrations. Manuals hosted images of various kinds, often emphasising the connection between tank keeping and seaside tourism, thus representing landscapes, sea-​life scenes, or non-​marine animals that could be met on the coast.68 However, the most interesting images were those depicting sea creatures themselves. When Philip Henry Gosse published his seaside books in the early 1850s, readers were enticed by his vivid descriptions of the newly invented marine tank but most of all they marvelled at the lavish illustrations of sea life: his wonderful coloured plates were instrumental in the spreading of the vogue for home tanks, besides turning the books themselves into desirable possessions to be cherished and valued as beautiful and elegant objects. Although not all manuals could boast such amazing images, illustrations remained an integral part of aquarium texts. Various solutions were adopted according to the kind of audience authors and publishers had in mind. Those targeting low-​income readers settled for inexpensive, small black and white engravings, while others relied on high-​quality, full-​page, brightly coloured plates aimed at a well-​to-​do readership. To reach a wider audience, some authors published their texts in different versions, with or without the coloured plates, as did Charles Kingsley with his Glaucus.69 The use of illustration was common in Victorian books on nature-​related hobbies; yet, while many texts on butterflies, insects, shells, or fossils displayed accurate and at times gorgeous plates, illustrations of marine animals had a further appeal:  before the introduction of marine tanks, the submarine world was seldom represented, due to the scanty information available on what it

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might look like.70 Of course, these were not the first illustrations representing marine creatures; the subject was quite widespread even before the aquarium craze began, as testified to by Aileen Fyfe’s discussion of popular texts on fish.71 Yet, even though many of the books and magazine articles that popularised this area of natural history included illustrations, they predominantly consisted of black and white engravings depicting a single individual in a still pose on a blank (or at best sketched) background; at times, they represented specific parts of the animal’s body. These images were mostly aimed at teaching how to recognise a species or at providing basic information on its use for mankind. Even the more detailed, coloured plates featured in more expensive volumes tended to convey a rather ‘static’ view of the creatures represented. A side effect of the aquarium vogue was the proliferation of images depicting underwater scenes drawn from live specimens in a tank.72 Images of marine creatures in their natural environment were especially interesting for the Victorian public since they entailed the excitement of a first contact, allowing viewers to experience the pleasure of discovering a new world. This feeling was encouraged by the images themselves, which often displayed the accuracy typical of scientific illustration, while at the same time emphasising the sensational, exotic appeal of sea species never seen before in such detail. Of course, each author exploited the relation between text and images in a personal way, but there were also some recognisable trends. In particular, the illusion of immersion was closely connected to a crucial aspect of the hobby, demonstrated by the frequency of collective representation. For most aquarists, the purpose of the tank was not to establish personal relations with marine creatures, as was common with other kinds of domestic animals; the home tank was advertised as ‘a piece of the sea’, and much of its appeal consisted in the promise of possessing a whole, though miniaturised ecosystem. Thus, illustrations tended to depict animals as if they were swimming in the sea, with a front view that hid the structure of the tank and placed the observer at the same level of the creatures represented, as if the viewers were themselves underwater. This conveyed the immersion effect that most aquarists desired, fostering the idea that looking at the tank could be a way to vicariously explore oceanic depths. The thrill of submarine vision was

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Figure 6  ‘The ancient wrasse’, in Philip Henry Gosse, The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea

further enhanced by very close views, giving observers the impression of being close to the animals represented. Very often, the background was depicted in great detail as well, thereby conveying a tri-​dimensional, life-​like idea of the specific environment in which fish, crustaceans, molluscs, and other sea creatures actually moved and lived.

Time travel Imaginary journeys underwater were a common fantasy among Victorian aquarists, actively fostered by the manuals’ visual and textual approach. Their vivid accounts of the subaqueous world were often juxtaposed to discussions of the tank, thus ideally confirming the belief in the contiguity between the sea and the aquarium, which further reinforced the conviction that looking through the glass was almost comparable to a submarine excursion. Yet, abyssal journeys were not the only kind of mental travel encouraged in these texts. Since the early nineteenth century, the ocean was often regarded as the source of all life: transmutationists like Lamarck, Etienne Geoffroy St Hilaire, or Robert Edmund Grant had focused on marine invertebrates, arguing that these simple and ancient creatures were actually the descendants of the very first animals that populated the earth.73 Fish also became

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quite controversial because of their liminal position within the backbone family. The issue emerged very forcibly in relation to recently discovered fossil fish, particularly abundant in the Old Red Sandstone strata; those who, like the author of Vestiges, saw them as resembling crustaceans could argue that they confirmed a ‘connecting link between the crustacea and true fishes’, using them as proof that ‘a gradual change of physical conditions was constantly going on’;74 others, like Adam Sedgwick, viewed them instead as complex forms, more similar to reptiles, thus invalidating their status as evidence of a gradual development of life forms through the ages.75 In light of these debates, the underwater world became something more than an exotic location to be explored and conquered; it also acquired a central place in speculations on the distant past of the planet itself. The aquarium vogue, with its focus on the tank as a tool for the study of marine biology, participated in these discussions, and imaginary trips underwater increasingly combined with speculations on deep time. Thomas Rymer Jones recounts a collecting expedition from Whitby to Scarborough in which he found different specimens, live and fossil, that allowed him to move back and forward in time: ‘[o] n I went, dividing my attention pretty equally between the present and the past —​sometimes gathering living mollusca among the sea-​ beaten rocks; sometimes exhuming Ammonites … from their awful graves’. Then, merging the two into a kind of bifocal perspective, he imagined that the geological past might irrupt into the present, so that he found himself ‘peeping about in hopes of descrying the tail of a Teleosaurus projecting from their wave-​beaten front’.76 Very often, reflections on fossils, or on species believed to be very ancient, triggered humbling musings on human transience. As observed by Jones while describing the hydractinian: [s]ix thousand years have passed since man was placed upon this sublunary scene —​ages untold have rolled away since these little zoophytes began to live, and toil, and die, and leave behind inscribed in every stone the record of their industry; and yet two centuries have not elapsed since man for the first time suspected their existence —​since man first became aware that such things are, much less that such things had been, and had perished. Surely the sage was not far wrong who said, that science was a little boy employed in picking up

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pebbles upon the shore, as specimens of the vast wealth concealed beneath the limitless expanse of ocean.77 (emphasis in the original)

Discussions of sea creatures, especially those believed to be very old, frequently inspired religious thoughts or even turned into downright preaching, as when Charles Kingsley described a Turbinolia as a ‘tiny relic of an older world’, ‘solemn and full of meaning’. This creature, which was ‘found fossil in the Suffolk Crag, and yet still lingering here and there alive in the deep water off Scilly and the west coast of Ireland, [is the] possessor of a pedigree which dates, perhaps, from ages before the day in which it was said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”’.78 To convey the right idea of its astonishing antiquity, he used sources as different as the Bhagavad Gita and Measure for Measure, providing a powerful contrast between the ‘awful permanence and perfection of the natural world’ and the transience (or even futility) of human history: [t]o think that the whole human race, its joys and its sorrows, its virtues and its sins, its aspirations and its failures, has been rushing out of eternity and into eternity again, as Arjoon in the Bhagavad Gita beheld the race of men, issuing from Kreeshna’s flaming mouth, and swallowed up in it again … And all that while, … that humble coral, unnoticed on the dark sea-​floor, has been ‘continuing as it was at the beginning’, … while races and dynasties and generations have been ‘Playing such fantastic tricks before high heaven, /​As make the angels weep’.79

He then observed that the contemplation of this apparently insignificant zoophyte may lead to dismal thoughts on ‘the wild flux and confusion, the mad struggles, the despairing cries of that world of spirits which man has defiled by sin, which would at moments crush the naturalist’s heart, and make his brain swim with terror’.80 Yet, for Kingsley, this makes the need for religion even more evident, as the baffled naturalist can still ‘see by faith, through all the abysses and the ages, … a living loving countenance, human and yet divine; and can hear a voice which … says for ever and for ever, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world”’.81 It is significant that such lofty prose was meant as closure to a discussion of the Turbinolia: Kingsley used this example to further debunk Professor Harvey’s thesis according to which ‘the simpler animals represent, as in a glass, the scattered organs of the higher

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races’.82 In the same text, Kingsley had already criticised Harvey’s advocacy of transmutation, ‘a theory as unsupported by experiment and induction, as it is by à priori reason’. Kingsley admits that geology has disproved ‘the old popular belief that the universe was brought into being as it now exists, by a single fiat’, and accepts the idea of a gradual creation.83 He also admits, ‘boldly’, that there has been a ‘progress of species’, but this is not what transmutationists describe. In fact, for the author of Glaucus, transmutation implies ‘a physical and actual change, not of species, but of individuals, of already existing living beings created according to one idea, into other living beings created according to another idea’84 (emphasis in the original). This would mean that at some point God changed his mind, altering his original plan. Although Kingsley believes that God intervenes in nature, he is keen to specify that he does not change purpose, altering instead ‘the methods by which that purpose is attained’.85 This is not the changeableness of ‘caprice or imperfection’ but of an ‘infinite Maker’, a ‘living and loving MIND’86 (emphasis in the original). Tank keeping may seem quite remote from prehistory, fossils, and transmutation; however, due to its framing as a scientific hobby, it participated in the discussions within the scientific community at the time. Moreover, we should not forget that, even though scholarly criticism has mostly focused on disputes centred around Darwin’s theory, the origin and development of species was a hot topic even before 1859. Some aquarium manuals simply omitted the issue; after all, these texts were meant to guide the reader in collecting and then storing sea animals and plants and did not necessarily need to treat contentious topics. For instance, Reverend Wood was notably evasive about evolutionary theory, so that it is quite difficult to assess his opinion from his published books.87 Those that did mention it usually tried to preserve a religious outlook, as did Kingsley in his harangue on the Turbinolia, or Jones with his reference to the ‘six thousand years [that] have passed since man was placed upon this sublunary scene’ in the quotation above, apparently supporting the calculations of James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, who in 1650 had concluded that the earth was created by God 4,004 years before the birth of Christ. Jones espoused the thesis that species displaying a higher degree of perfection in ancient

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times proved the inconsistency of evolutionary hypotheses, as testified to by his discussion of encrinites, or stone lilies: [t]he physiological history of the family of Encrinites is very important:  their species were numerous among the most ancient orders of created beings, and in this early state their construction exhibits at least an equal, if not a higher degree of perfection, than is retained in the existing Pentacrinites … and in this primaeval perfection they afford another example at variance with the doctrine of the progression of animal life from simple rudiments through a series of gradually improving and more perfect forms to its fullest development in existing species.88

Intriguingly, he also suggests his readers keep a stone lily as a chimney piece, as a perfect ‘sermon in stone’. Perhaps the most famous attempt to reconcile the biblical account of creation with scientific findings was Gosse’s Omphalos (1857). Kingsley refused to review it, admitting he was ‘utterly puzzled’ by the text, which risked instilling in readers the doubt that ‘God has written on the rocks one enormous and superfluous lie for all mankind’.89 It is well known that Kingsley became a supporter of evolutionary theory after reading Darwin’s Origin, which he saw in manuscript copy just before publication.90 Unlike Kingsley, Gosse remained unconvinced by Origin, but continued to quote Darwin on specific facts, as he did in his Romance of Natural History.91 However, the publication of Origin, as important as it was, should not be seen as a complete watershed. Even after 1859, some popularisers staunchly opposed evolutionary theory, while others simply avoided it or managed to adapt it to their own agenda. As explained by Bernard Lightman, this was partly due to the fact that many of them (among whom clergymen-​amateurs, who were still prominent in the second half of the century) had different aims and priorities than the newly emerging professionals of science.92 While the tank sometimes evoked discussions of a distant past, it could also propel readers towards the future; after all, for Victorians, one of its distinguishing features was its modernity: the aquarium was unanimously extolled as a marvel of technology and a symbol of the age’s scientific and technical achievements. This prompted celebrations of scientific progress, often articulated through comparisons between the ignorance of the past, the improvement

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achieved so far, and glowing hopes for the advancement likely to be obtained in the future. According to Henry Noel Humphreys, the aquarium perfectly represented progress in terms of scientific exhibitions of nature. He pointed to the wonder and instruction that could be derived from observing live animals in the tank as opposed to the sad and boring specimens in old museums, ‘assembled without the slightest regard to classification, or any other useful purpose’:  in fact, he claimed that: [a] stuffed cat with nine legs, stood, perhaps, next to a bottled snake, followed by the skin of a crocodile, to be succeeded in turn by a very moth-​eaten specimen of a King Charles spaniel, ‘supposed, upon good authority, to have belonged to Nell Gwynne’. A few scores of such objects, with the addition of an ostrich egg and a few sea-​shells … formed a very respectable museum in those times.93

Instead, with the saltwater tank, people could get a real sense of the underwater world, ‘one of the untrodden fields of science’ and ‘a glorious arena’ for new discoveries. Humphreys admitted that, at the present moment, the tank was still ‘a plaything, a mere toy’, but he also believed that ‘it is destined to become a far more important means of advancing science, and ministering to popular instruction, amusement, and wonder, than is yet dreamed of’.94 For instance, in the future: [w]e shall yet have tropical Aquaria, in which … the glorious shells of those regions will be exhibited in living motion to our greedily-​ curious gaze; and fish gleaming with unusual dyes —​metallic azure, and silvery crimson —​will dart and glide in our tropic-​tempered tanks, as in their own tropic ocean, for our delight and gratification.95

This dream about future possibilities –​a gigantic topical tank –​ ushered in a surprising comparison between past and present forms of popular entertainment.96 In fact, he asserted that the giant tank was actually ‘the only thing that remains for us to do, in making a fitting popular display of the wonders of Nature, in order that we may surpass the doings of the ancients in that field of popular instruction and gratification’.97 This train of thought led him to a fantasy that merged the imagined future (the tropical tank) and the past (the arenas of ancient Rome, hosting fights between exotic animals and humans),

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causing him then to launch into a speculation on how Romans would have used gigantic fish tanks. Had they possessed them, the Pompey, or Caesar, or Crassus, would not have been wanting to feast the eyes, … with an Aquarium measuring hundreds of feet in length, in which the monsters of the deep would have been exhibited in deadly conflict, and human divers, armed with net and trident, like the retiariae of their gladiatorial combats, would have encountered, beneath the waters, the Shark, the Whale, or the Torpedo, to the shouts of crowded circuses, the centre of which would have been a glass-​walled ocean.98

As if this vision were not baffling enough, he then shifted again to the future, imagining that [t]he day will arrive when we shall see the living Behemoth —​the Titan of the deep —​rolling majestic in waves of his native element, perhaps pursued by his cruel enemy the Sword-​Fish, or harried by a shoal of Herrings … Or we may see the dreaded Shark float round and round the vast glass prison seeking his prey, and the Shark-​ hunter of the south seas may be imported to exhibit his skill in a bloodless conflict —​mocking the attempts of the sea monster to seize him, as the Spanish matador plays long with the infuriated bull; but without necessitating the same catastrophe to the animal, defenceless against the specially-​trained skill of his human antagonist.99

The final passage, however, which concludes both this dazzling excursion and the book itself, marks a return to reality, and to the present moment, which expands the initial celebration of Victorian achievement: [w]e have already had our crystal palaces, covering their acres, and filled with objects of art and wealth from every quarter of the globe; it is not impossible, therefore, that we may have crystal-​walled seas, in which aquatic menageries will form the last new object of fashion and wonder. For the present, however, the Aquarium is, as I have said, but a toy, yet one full of pleasant instruction; and it doubtless contains the germs of a development, the precise direction of which it is at present difficult to guess.100

Early tank keeping thrived with the expansion of seaside tourism and shore collecting, developing a close alliance with the British seaside that would no longer exist when the vogue for aquaria returned in the early twentieth century, propelled mostly by the

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importation of tropical fish. Aquarium manuals directed readers to new localities, influencing both the tourists’ choice of destinations and the way in which the vacation was experienced. These texts insisted that getting in touch with nature was the best way to understand it, and they established a connection based on enjoyment, admiration, and respect, while fostering pride in the natural wonders that British shores could boast. Of course, the collectors’ self-​presentation as lovers and defenders of the environment at times obscured other aspects of their activity, which was often informed by an acquisitive appreciation of nature (the aim was ultimately to bring specimens home in order to own your miniature sea). This might also have dismal outcomes, since the intertidal zone from which most specimens were extracted was, as the Victorians soon understood, a particularly delicate ecosystem. Indeed, the desire to know, learn, and explore often intertwined with a wish to conquer, even though in a metaphorical way. This became evident in the pervasive fantasies on submarine exploration: accounts of abyssal journeys conveyed a much-​desired feeling of immersion into a space connoted as eminently exotic, but at the same time perceived as reachable in the near future. This feeling was further enhanced by the illustrations, which were instrumental for the success of the vogue and the popularity of the texts themselves; words and images closely cooperated, conveying a much-​desired sense of presence. The images, usually drawn from live specimens in the tank, gave people a taste of wonders never seen before, revealing surprising vistas of the underwater. The glass walls of the tank, themselves a kind of boundary, eventually turned into a conceptual springboard towards different worlds to be enjoyed, explored, or conquered, at least with the imagination. The idea of conquest also recurred insistently in connection with the tank itself: within a narrative that buoyantly celebrated the on-​ going march of progress, the aquarium became a testimony to the age’s scientific advancement, and eventually led to visions of an even brighter future where the achievements of the present would be further expanded and multiplied. Speculations about the future of aquaria opened up prospects of technological development that coalesced with widespread beliefs in the role of educational entertainment as a promoter of social and moral improvement. While the recent past (sadly devoid of marine tanks) was easy to dismiss as

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simply less advanced than the present, the far distant past presented other issues. In fact, the connection between the tank and the sea, and the kind of life forms it hosted –​increasingly central to debates about the age of the earth or the meaning of fossils –​also invited a look back at prehistory. Not all aquarium manuals delved into controversial disputes (such as the development of species), but some of them participated in scientific debates, providing different kinds of responses to the crucial issues of the time. Yet, even though not all authors had a similar approach, they all agreed on an overall view that emphasised the richness and beauty of the natural world, while at the same time suggesting appropriate ways to respond to it, as we shall see in the next chapter.

Notes 1 Fyfe, ‘Natural History’, in Livingstone and Withers (eds), Geographies of Nineteenth-​Century Science, pp. 377; 387. See also John F. Travis, The Rise of the Devon Seaside Resorts, 1750–​1900 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1993), p. 167. 2 Allen, ‘Tastes and Crazes’, in Jardine, Secord, and Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History, pp. 394–​407; Brunner, Ocean at Home, pp.  17–​20. 3 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 58. 4 Fyfe, ‘Natural History’, in Livingstone and Withers (eds), Geographies of Nineteenth-​Century Science, p. 387. 5 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 4. 6 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 1. 7 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 5. 8 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, pp. 2–​3. 9 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 1. 10 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 5. 11 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 167. 12 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, pp. 165–​6. 13 Bernadette Bensaude-​ Vincent and Jean-​ Marc Drouin, ‘Nature for the People’, in Jardine, Secord, and Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History, p. 417. 14 Gooday, ‘Nature in the Laboratory’, 320. 15 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 211–​12. 16 Kingsley, Glaucus, pp. 25; 28. 17 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 25.

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18 Lynn K. Nyhart, ‘Natural History and the “New” Biology’, in Jardine, Secord, and Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History, pp. 426–​43. 19 Philip H. Gosse, A Naturalist’s Sojourn in Jamaica (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1851), p. v; Ann Thwaite, Glimpses of the Wonderful:  The Life of Philip Henry Gosse, 1810–​ 1888 (London: Faber, 2002), p. 123. 20 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 214. Victorian debates on the use of Latin names for animals and plants echo similar ones that took place in the eighteenth century, when Linnaeus’s botanical system was introduced in Britain. See Ann B. Shteir, Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora’s Daughters and Botany in England, 1760–​ 1860 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). 21 Fyfe, ‘Natural History’, in Livingstone and Withers (eds), Geographies of Nineteenth-​Century Science, p. 391. 22 Smith, Charles Darwin, p. 44–​91. 23 Smith, Charles Darwin, pp. 71–​2. At times though, the pride with which the collector marked his distance from other tourists was mixed with a desire not to appear too conspicuous. For instance, while providing instructions on the materials needed to collect on the shore, Harper reassured his readers that ‘[h]aving finished your search, you can walk or ride home without attracting more attention than any ordinary traveller. Very few, indeed, would have the least idea of the kind of luggage that your carpet bag contained’. Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, pp. 173–​4. 24 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium (1860 edition), p. 40; Harper, Sea-​ Side and Aquarium, pp. 2–​4. 25 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 163. 26 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium (1860 edition), p. 40. 27 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 38. 28 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 104. Other writers were more openly sympathetic toward their working-​ class collaborators, as testified to by Gosse’s account of the expertise of Jones, a fisherman and amateur naturalist of Weymouth who helped him with dredging. Philip H. Gosse, The Aquarium:  An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea (London: John Van Voorst, 1854), p. 58. Scientists in this period often ‘consulted’ working-​class experts on specific issues, especially concerning animals used for work or entertainment. See Jonathan Conlin, Evolution and the Victorians: Science, Culture and Politics in Darwin’s Britain (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), Chapter 8. 29 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 106. 30 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 107. 31 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 171.

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32 Christiana Payne, Where the Sea Meets the Land: Artists on the Coast in Nineteenth-​Century Britain (Bristol:  Sansom & Co., 2007), pp. 91; 171. 33 Gooday, ‘Nature in the Laboratory’, 317. 34 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, pp. 162–​3. 35 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, pp. 163–​4. 36 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 164. 37 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 62. Jones is quoting from an extract published in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 4 (1828), 406. 38 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 62. 39 Harper too introduces explicit references to faraway regions stressing that, even though exotic journeys (both real and imaginary) may be fascinating, what is actually under your eyes is always more interesting: ‘[w]e have not space nor inclination, on this bright day, to pursue the latter track —​to travel over mountains higher than the Dhawilghiry, to descend into valleys wider and deeper than the Mississippi, or to encounter those marvellous rivers that float through the heart of the sea’. Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 42. 40 Fyfe, ‘Natural History’, in Livingstone and Withers (eds), Geographies of Nineteenth-​Century Science, p. 390. Gosse’s text was so influential that it was used as a tourist guide as well:  when George Eliot and Lewes arrived in Ilfracombe, they sought lodgings at a Mrs Williams, because it was recommended by Gosse in his book. However, they did not like ‘the shabby ill-​furnished parlour and bedroom’, deciding instead to stay elsewhere. George Eliot, ‘The Ilfracombe Journal’, in A. S. Byatt and Nicholas Warren (eds), George Eliot: Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings (London: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 216. 41 Travis, Rise, pp. 171–​2. Devon also became a favourite destination for those with a passion for ferns, mostly thanks to an 1856 book by Kingsley’s sister, Charlotte Chanter’s Ferny Combes: A Ramble after Ferns in the Glens and Valleys of Devonshire (London: Lovell Reeve, 1856). Travis, Rise, pp. 169–​70. 42 Quoted in Thwaite, Glimpses, pp. 187-​ 8. Kingsley was far from flattered by the decision to name a resort after his novel: in a 1864 letter to the director of the building company he complained that the scheme would spoil ‘that beautiful place with hotels and villas’, and ‘frighten away all the sea-​pies and defile the Pebble Ridge with chicken bones and sandwich scraps’ (quoted in Travis, Rise, p. 172). 43 Bensaude-​Vincent and Drouin, ‘Nature for the People’, in Jardine, Secord, and Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History, p. 418. 44 Philip H. Gosse, ‘An Hour among the Torbay Sponges’, in Land and Sea (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1865), p. 251.

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45 Gosse, ‘An Hour’, p. 251. See also Thwaite, Glimpses, p. 239; Travis, Rise, p. 169. 46 One such trader was Mr. Hele who, as reported by George Eliot, ‘gets his bread now by collecting marine animals and sending them to Lloyd in London’. In his shop, which he managed together with his daughter, Eliot and Lewes could admire beautiful specimens of various species, some of which Eliot had never seen before. Eliot, ‘Ilfracombe Journal’, p. 220. 47 Thwaite, Glimpses, pp. 185; 187. 48 Thwaite, Glimpses, p. 139. 49 Thwaite, Glimpses, p. 312. 50 Edmund Gosse, Father and Son, ed. Michael Newton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 80–​1. 51 Gosse, Father and Son, p. 81. 52 Gosse, Father and Son, p. 81. 53 Gooday, ‘Nature in the Laboratory’, 312. 54 Fyfe, ‘Natural History’, in Livingstone and Withers (eds), Geographies of Nineteenth-​Century Science, pp. 387; 391. 55 Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, pp. 137–​8. 56 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 27. 57 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 43. 58 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, pp. 41–​2. 59 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 43. 60 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 44. 61 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 44. 62 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 42. 63 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 45. 64 Stott, ‘Through a Glass Darkly’, 308. 65 Kingsley, Glaucus, pp. 82–​3. For Kingsley, the pursuit of science was actually bound up with social and political commitment, which also included participation in the colonial project. In discussing a sedentary young man who, instead of studying nature in the open, wastes his time in ‘drinking, gambling, and other evils’, he observes that he ‘will cut but a sorry figure in Australia, Canada, or India; and if he stays at home, will spend many a pound in doctors’ bill’ (Kingsley, Glaucus, pp. 47–​8). On Kingsley’s belief in the moralizing function of natural history, see Will Abberley, ‘Animal Cunning:  Deceptive Nature and Truthful Science in Charles Kingsley’s Natural Theology’, Victorian Studies, 58:1 (2015), 34–​56. 66 Merrill, Romance, p. 232. 67 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 43. A different reaction to Milne-​ Edwards expedition is discussed in Chapter 3.

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68 For instance, in Gosse’s Aquarium (1854) there are twelve illustrations, six devoted to marine animals and six to landscapes. In his Common Objects of the Sea Shore, Reverend Wood guides his readers as if they were approaching the coast from the backcountry, encouraging them to look at the first animals they see; hence, the first illustrations in the book are all devoted to sea birds. 69 The first edition of Glaucus was published by Macmillan in May 1855 (Fscp 8vo at 3s 6d), with other editions soon to follow. In 1858, together with Sowerby’s illustrated companion (which could also be purchased separately) it cost 6s 6d. 70 Smith, Charles Darwin, p. 84; visual reconstructions of unknown environments, however, were not new; for instance, the nineteenth century saw a remarkable flourishing of attempts at portraying prehistoric landscapes, thus giving ‘life’ to the increasing number of fossils that were being found, catalogued, and studied. See Martin J. S. Rudwick, Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992). 71 In addition to its obvious economic importance for Britain as an article of food, fish also evoked a number of religious associations. See Aileen Fyfe, Science and Salvation:  Evangelical Popular Science Publishing in Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), p. 84. 72 Smith, Charles Darwin, p. 84. 73 Stott, ‘Through a Glass Darkly’, 307. 74 [Chambers], Vestiges, pp. 69; 68. 75 Fyfe, Science and Salvation, pp. 92–​4; on nineteenth-​century debates about the geological significance of the Red Sandstone, see Martin J. S. Rudwick, The Great Devonian Controversy: The Shaping of Scientific Knowledge Among Gentlemanly Specialists (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1985). 76 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 43–​ 4. Jones may well have seen the remains of a teleosaurus during the same excursion; a particularly well-​preserved skeleton was held in the renowned museum of Richard Ripley, a Whitby surgeon and passionate fossil collector. See Richard Owen, ‘Report on British Fossil Reptiles’, Part II, Report of the Eleventh Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1842), p. 90. In the 1850s, dinosaurs began to become a familiar presence, and not only in fossil form: since 1854, Victorians could admire the life-​size reproductions installed in Sydenham, where the Crystal Palace Company had relocated the Great Exhibition and commissioned the construction of a Geological Court, to be supervised by Gideon Mantell (who refused the assignment due to ill health)

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and eventually by Richard Owen, who famously promoted it with a banquet inside the iguanodon on New Year’s Eve 1853. Deborah Cadbury, The Dinosaur Hunters: A Story of Scientific Rivalry and the Discovery of the Prehistoric World (London:  Fourth Estate, 2002), pp. 287; 292–​3. 77 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 115–​16 78 Kingsley, Glaucus, pp. 92–​3. 79 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 93. 80 Kingsley, Glaucus, pp. 93–​4. 81 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 94. 82 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 94. Kingsley is referring to William Henry Harvey’s Sea-​Side  Book. 83 Kingsley, Glaucus, pp. 70; 71. The idea that fossil findings could be explained by assuming multiple creative acts across a very long time-​ span was championed by many prominent scientists at the time, such as Adam Sedgwick (1785–​1873), Cambridge professor of geology. 84 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 72. 85 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 73. 86 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 74. 87 Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, pp. 185–​7. 88 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 173–​4. 89 Quoted in Thwaite, Glimpses, pp. 224–​5. Gosse was an admirer of Darwin, whom he encountered in a meeting of the Linnean Society in March 1855. After hearing Gosse talk about a sea-​anemone, Darwin wrote to a friend that he was almost tempted to ‘set up a marine vivarium’. Thwaite, Glimpses, p. 185. 90 Kingsley’s reply letter to Darwin stated that ‘[a]ll I have seen of it awes me; both with the heap of facts, & the prestige of your name, & also with the clear intuition, that if you be right, I must give up much that I have believed & written’ (emphasis in the original). Kingsley’s letter to Charles Darwin (18 November 1859), in Frederick Burkhardt and Sydney Smith (eds), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1991), Vol. 7, p. 379. Darwin quoted Kingsley’s letter in the second edition of Origin (7 January 1860) in support of the possibility to reconcile evolution with religious belief: ‘[a] celebrated author and divine has written to me that “he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-​development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws”’. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (London: John Murray, 1860), p. 481. 91 Thwaite, Glimpses, pp. 185; 220.

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92 Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, pp. 40–​ 1. Indeed, a close connection between life sciences and religion remained pervasive in popular science until the end of the century, even as it gradually disappeared from professional writing in the same period. 93 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 21. 94 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 109. 95 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, pp. 109–​10. 96 As noted by Helen Cowie in her discussion of zoos and menageries in the Victorian period, zoologican gardens came to represent wealth and progress, and were especially valued as venues for popular education. Cowie, Exhibiting Animals, p. 13. This also applied, as testified to by Humphreys’s text, to public aquaria, often seen as an amplified version of the pleasures and instruction offered by domestic ones. 97 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 110. 98 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 111. 99 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, pp. 111–​12. 100 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 112.

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Current ideas of beauty were central to the aquarium experience. Due to the very nature of the tank, the hobby was mostly conceptualised in terms of visual consumption. As we know from the growing corpus of visual studies, the understanding of vision and attention was greatly complicated in this period, and the tank (which promised opportunities of total vision but also entailed deeply unfamiliar spectacles) was insistently framed within debates about seeing. But what did Victorian aquarists want, or expect, to see? The answer is by no means easy or intuitive. This chapter looks at the complex aesthetic appeal that the aquarium exerted on Victorians, arguing that it had surprisingly far-​ranging implications, which entailed assumptions about class, virtue, and knowledge. I thus explore the strategies adopted to describe, define, and teach readers how to appreciate the particular kind of visual pleasures offered by the tank. I begin by looking at the ornamental functions it was meant to perform, examining the value attributed to the aquarium as a mirror of its owner and situating the tank within a cluster of social, moral, and economic discourses that did much to foster the hobby, endowing it with further resonance and meaning. However, I also suggest that such density of expectations might have contributed to the demise of the vogue, as early enthusiasts often put too much weight on it. A reading of James Shirley Hibberd’s The Book of the Aquarium (1856; 1860) allows us to explore the tension between the status of the tank as a commodity and its ambiguous nature as an object whose purpose was to contain living (and particularly fragile) beings. The second part of the chapter considers the beauty of tank residents and how the tank was conceived of both conceptually

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and stylistically. Most authors insisted that it could not be properly understood without direct observation; this called forth an array of devices to convey the elusive charms of marine species, including emphasis on detail, an extensive (and rather creative) use of analogy, and the deployment of poetic language and quotations. Such an approach was supported by the widespread belief that nature was poetic; however, the relation between poetry and natural history could be articulated in different ways. On the one hand, aquarium texts appropriated existing strategies, participating in wider debates about the proper way to discuss natural phenomena, and on the other, they also tried to adjust their approach to the specificities of tank keeping.

‘A thing of beauty’ The Victorian house was a very complex and remarkably dense space, from both a material and an ideological point of view. The newly invented marine tank entered rooms that were already crammed with other objects, but it also stepped into a complex set of discourses that centred on the home as a site where ideas of status, gender, and class were at once performed and negotiated. Discussions of the tank participated in, and drew from, wider debates about fitting, adorning, and managing the house. Due to changing social and economic conditions, the subject was receiving great attention around mid-​century, as testified to by the proliferation of books (such as Mrs. Beeton’s) that provided advice on how to do things right, with one eye on efficiency and the other on appearances. The combination of aesthetics and function was crucial to the Victorian tank: as an object of décor, it was supposed to display the taste, interests, and status of the owner. A beautiful tank, however, also had to work properly, and hence reflect the virtues (or flaws) of the aquarist who was responsible for such a complex and demanding piece of furniture. Unlike other fashionable objects that adorned Victorian parlours, choosing, buying, and placing it in the room was not enough; the marine tank required a remarkable amount of care, the lack of which did not just result in an annoying accumulation of dust, but could lead to far worse consequences.

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These aspects were painstakingly detailed in James Shirley Hibberd’s Book of the Aquarium (1856; 1860).1 The author is now mostly remembered for his contribution to Victorian gardening. After a brief commitment to the Vegetarian Society in the 1840s, he worked as a public lecturer and scientific journalist; in the same period, he started to cultivate a city garden. He published extensively on his horticultural experiments, eventually becoming the editor of some of the most popular gardening magazines of his time, including The Floral World and Garden Guide, The Gardener’s Magazine, and Amateur Gardening, which is still published today. Throughout his career, he promoted gardening as a way for the people to enjoy nature and the benefits it could bestow. This can be seen very clearly in his Rustic Adornments, a book devoted to fashionable adornments for the house and the garden, including aquaria, fern cases, floral ornaments, caged birds, and apiaries.2 Its success was mostly because ‘it persuaded people that none of these operations was beyond them and that through its self-​help instructions they could create a home that would be a credit to both their status and their taste’.3 The whole text was a celebration of domesticity, national pride, and progress; the underlying assumption was that embellishing one’s living space should be both a pleasure and a duty, as the dwelling reflects the inner qualities of the owner: [i]n a certain sense the Home is the outside of a man; it is an external vesture, and more or less, but always in some degree, a visible embodiment of his mental character. The man of intellect and taste will impress on everything about him an air of usefulness or elegance, and will make the best of the roughest materials that fate may cast in his path.4

Crucially, the correspondence between the house and its owner also works the other way round, since the owner is inevitably influenced by his dwelling and what it contains. In fact, ‘if ordinary residences were constructed in accordance with correct principles of taste, the dwellers in them would attain a higher status in mind and morals, for the character is powerfully impressed for good or evil by what surrounds it permanently’.5 The Book of the Aquarium, first published in 1856, adopted the same perspective.6 At once aspirational, advertorial, and cautionary, it addressed readers who, albeit not necessarily affluent,

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had some leisure time and money to invest in recreational pursuits and, most importantly, aspired to style. The choice to focus on this text is motivated by the fact that it significantly deviates from the approach adopted by other aquarium manuals published in the same period. While most authors tended to frame the hobby as a follow-​up to zoological studies, with a strong emphasis on information about the anatomy and behaviour of sea creatures, Hibberd extensively discussed it as a domestic ornament.7 Therefore, practical matters such as the tank’s placement in the room, cleaning, or choosing and arranging internal fittings, which were often marginalised in other texts, are emphasised here. Hibberd insisted that this fashionable hobby should not be circumscribed to the mansions of the upper classes but could be enjoyed, perhaps on a smaller scale, even with a modest investment. This suggests he addressed a household whose members did care about social standing and wanted their home to reflect the latest fashions. Yet, for these readers, taste could be a rather slippery concept, as shown by the fact he often provided guidance on aesthetic matters. In particular, he repeatedly cautioned his audience not to overdo it, as they would thus incur the worst danger for the socially aspiring: looking ridiculous. For instance, he observed that ‘[w]hen the “Aquarium mania” broke out, it was common enough to see tanks containing fishes, reptiles, insects, blocks of coral, nameless structures coloured with red sealing-​wax, with perhaps a model of a frigate on the top, “becalmed and lifeless”’. Crucially, ugliness and confusion also entail inefficiency. The author humorously notes that in those tanks ‘gold fishes had their flesh gnawed away by carnivorous larvae, lizards got out and crept under ladies’ dresses to be trodden on; and sometimes a huge beetle would take wing, and go round the room and through the flame of the candle with a horrible buzz’; all of which ‘brought the aquarium into disrepute, at least with the gentler members of the family’.8

Money matters A further difficulty concerned the possibility of obtaining an elegant and graceful tank on a limited budget. Other authors also underlined that the aquarium did not require great investments, but

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they did so to stress that participation in amateur science was open to all, independently of wealth or income. Hibberd instead focused on the issue from another angle, emphasising the accessibility of elegance and beauty; he gave plenty of advice on what to buy, and where, often suggesting various options for different pockets. Discussing Mr. Hall’s idea for a cheap tank, which could be placed in a window and mounted on a deal box, he stated that this ‘simple trick of creating a cheap and elegant tank did more to popularise the Aquarium than all the exhibitions and all the books that have been written on the subject, for it enabled thousands to enjoy a delight which had previously been confined to the wealthy few’9 (emphasis added). Hibberd then provided the names of manufacturers who sell tanks of his own design. He evidently wrote for people who had some money to spare, but not to throw away. In her analysis of the differences between Gosse’s approach and that adopted by other authors of aquarium manuals, Judith Hamera remarked that Hibberd turned ‘the tank into a consumer good by framing it as an object of decor, a rustic adornment, but even here crass commercialism was masked by appeals to an essential, preindustrial English countryside always already part of the individual and national home’.10 Hibberd’s text is indeed characterised by a pervasive preoccupation with money, both his own and his readers’. Since he grounds his advice on his own experience, he often gives detailed accounts of his expenses. He also makes it very clear that his work also has a cost: in one of his frequent harangues against plagiarism, he explains that his know-​how has a value that is not just intellectual, since he invested money to acquire it:  ‘[a] s the instructions here given are the result of personal observation and experiment, including no small expenditure of time and money, I here put up the notice which appears in the preface to the other portion of the work —​Pirates Beware’.11 However, he is also very attentive when it comes to his readers’ spending. Unlike other authors, he views his readers as consumers rather than as amateur naturalists. Notwithstanding a passing remark that ‘[t]he true lover of nature will collect his specimens rather than purchase them’,12 he soon proceeds to guide (and encourage) the would-​be aquarist’s expenses. Contradicting the initial (and customary) praise of seaside rambles,13 Hibberd underscores that, for his readers at least, buying, rather than collecting, is the

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safest option:  in almost intimidating terms, he observes that ‘no one should attempt to set up an Aquarium without first paying him [Lloyd] a visit. He is ready to give counsel as well as to take money’.14 This presents Lloyd as the ultimate authority, but also as a reliable businessman whom prospective customers can implicitly trust. It must be noted that almost all aquarium authors had some kind of connection with Lloyd’s shop, and the connection was mutually beneficial. Collectors provided Lloyd with specimens and mentioned him in their books (a list of endorsements of his shop from the most popular aquarium manuals was included in his catalogue); in turn, he sold their texts alongside other necessaries for aquarists and also promoted useful contacts between researchers, fostering exchanges of specimens and information. Yet, Hibberd’s insistent endorsement is far more pervasive than the references scattered in other manuals.15 Thus, on the one hand, even those who lack competence (or even interest) in science can participate; on the other hand, however, such participation is necessarily limited. Hibberd’s suggestions aim at avoiding mistakes, but they also reinforce the boundary between competent naturalists and those who simply wanted to enrich their houses with a fashionable object. While other texts presented the aquarium as a tool for zoological studies, emphasising the contiguity between experts and amateurs by depicting them as members of the same community of students of nature, Hibberd repeatedly marks the distance between these two groups by suggesting different options for each category.16 The underlying principle seems to be that, while for researchers making mistakes is a potential source of knowledge, for his readers it only entails a loss of time and money. Most importantly, he is keen to acknowledge, and sanction, the commercial aspect of the hobby. He admits that ‘[a]fter all it is most likely that a majority of those who keep Aquaria, will purchase rather than collect their stock’, adding that ‘it is a fortunate circumstance that it can be purchased, for we are not all so circumstanced that we can take train whenever the whim suits us, and erratic as crabs, suit our movements to tides, seasons, winds, and changes of the moon’.17 This comment reveals the tension between the author’s desire to retain, at least formally, the aquarium’s connection with zoological studies and the acknowledgement that his readers may have neither the time nor the money to invest in collecting

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expeditions at the seaside. By ironically casting collectors as ‘erratic crabs’ he pictures them as privileged, free to follow their whims, while implicitly depicting his readers as serious, hard-​ working people, who probably do not enjoy such liberty of movement or expense. This is particularly significant since such an approach was by no means common in contemporary aquarium books. Most other manuals insistently portrayed an interest in natural history as positively conflicting with monetary interests. At the very beginning of Glaucus, Charles Kingsley opposes an imaginary ‘London merchant’ to his ‘douce and portly head clerk’ who humbly cherishes an interest in natural history:  while the latter is able to both notice and appreciate nature even in its humbler forms, the former is described as blind, seeing the collection as an assemblage of ‘useless moths’.18 Natural history is portrayed as an antidote to the dangerous tendency of the age, dominated by a ‘self-​seeking and mammonite generation, inclined to value everything by its money price, its private utility’.19 The opposition between the entomologist and the merchant was reframed a couple of years later by Henry N. Humphreys within a discussion of trained vision. The ‘astute merchant deciphers at a glance the precise state of the most intricate accounts, … but of the thousand interesting and wonderful things concerning the little beetle that crosses his path in his country walk, he is incapable of seeing any single particle’; the entomologist instead recognises that ‘there are things well worthy of investigation beyond the region of money making, and the attractive but narrow circle distinguished by the fascinating characters, £ s. d.’.20 Perhaps in response to unflattering comments like these, which could possibly offend or humiliate his intended audience, Hibberd decisively argued that: [w]e know already that the luxuries of refinement are no longer monopolized by the wealthy, that the merchant is not rendered sordid by commerce, but that he can delight in the strength of Angelo and the grace of Raphael; the ledger does not dwarf the trader’s soul below the appreciation of Titian’s lights or Rembrandt’s shadows; and the persevering plodder, who from four to six does battle with armies of statistics, can retire to his suburban villa to rejoice as a happy soul in the midst of his family, or fondle his tame birds with the affection of a child.21

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For Hibberd, a proper concern for money (both earned and spent) is not something to be ashamed of or below gentility; rather, it signals a healthy, responsible attitude. Moreover, there is nothing wrong in admitting that the hobby has a commercial side, which does not in the least diminish its value or significance. After all, the aquarium was not just a tool to observe marine creatures through its transparent glass; it was also an elegant piece of furniture to be looked at and admired. Although it could provide a window on the miniature sea inside, it could become a mirror too, reflecting the taste of its owner, a very serious matter for such class-​conscious readers. For this reason, every choice had to be taken very carefully, as one would naturally do for any other kind of investment that matters from both a social and a financial point of view.

Death in the tank By the time Hibberd published his text, the aquarium had indeed become a commodity. However, due to its amphibious nature, it was also a remarkably fragile one: its purpose was to host life, but if something went wrong it could easily host death. At this stage, tank keeping was still quite arduous, and other texts also warned readers about common mistakes, although the general tendency was to emphasise that difficulties could be overcome.22 Hibberd instead decidedly focuses on the warning approach, since ‘[t]o set up a tank and manage it in accordance with sound principles, is not such an easy matter as some writers have represented it’. This is another element that sets his book apart from other manuals: in his own words, some writers, otherwise estimable and able men, have laboured assiduously to describe the various forms of life to which the Aquarium introduces us, and have said little or nothing on the system to be pursued to render those forms of life amenable to the conditions under which the aquarian desires to observe them.23

Nevertheless, Hibberd’s more cautionary approach results in a puzzling insistence on the death of marine creatures. Hibberd warns his readers that things can go wrong from the very beginning, starting with the choice of specimens; for instance, the inexperienced collector ‘will be tempted to bag some specimens

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of oar-​weed (Laminaria,) on account of their attractive appearance … [t]hey are, however, useless, for they soon perish in confinement, and render the water turbid with their putrescence’.24 The book is punctuated by references to the fact that marine species may easily die. Sea creatures collected on the shore could suffer a death from being transported, and the author duly reminds his readers that ‘the transit must be quickly performed, or many of the specimens will perish’.25 Even worse, the aquarium itself can turn into a deathly trap:  aquarists should avoid old, ill-​constructed tanks, otherwise ‘we shall consign to a tomb every item of marine stock committed to it. Instead of preservatories such tanks are sepulchres; river fishes may need no better, but marine zoophytes soon perish in them’26 (emphasis added). In some instances, tanks can be so defective that fish do not just die but kill themselves, as in the case of the ‘vessels with four sides of glass’, which ‘admit a vast deal too much light; the consequence is that some of the inhabitants commit suicide, and the vegetation, instead of doing its work in an orderly way, becomes rampant and unmanageable’.27 And the aquarium itself can die: ‘the walls should be of plate glass, for, though stout common glass may last a long while, one night’s frost may at last cause an explosion and the consequent loss of the stock, and great destruction of furniture’.28 In the worst-​case scenario, the tank can even become a danger to the aquarist himself: [t]he slate tanks are very heavy, and it is not desirable, unless a house is built expressly to receive them, to increase the weight by piling up rockwork inside them. In my case any serious addition to the combined weight of tank and water might cause the whole affair to subside from the study at the top of the house to the bed-​room immediately below it, which would be an unpleasant circumstance, especially if it happened at night.29

The inexperienced aquarist may involuntarily kill specimens by setting the tank in the wrong place; as in Byron’s poem, ‘[d]arkness is death’, but ‘light from all sides’ might also be fatal.30 Moreover, special attention should be devoted to predatory species:  ‘[c]rabs sprawl over anemones and torment them, and anemones entangle fishes with their barbed threads and destroy them’; starfishes ‘are given to the practice of absorbing mollusks out of their shells’.31

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Figure 7  ‘Terrific accident. Bursting of old Mrs. Twaddle’s Aqua-​ vivarium. The old lady may be observed endeavouring to pick up her favourite eel with the tongs, a work requiring some address’, Punch 33

Quite significantly, Hibberd remarks that not only the inexperience but also the moral flaws of the aquarist may have murderous outcomes, and he regretfully admits: ‘I lost the whole stock in a tank of forty gallons this spring … in a moment of injudicious haste, I set it to work again, and next morning it was a dead-​ house’.32 Inattention, haste, and greed inevitably bring about their own punishment, usually in the guise of the death of specimens or, in the worst cases, of the demise of the whole collection. In fact, if the aquarium fails ‘it must be concluded that it has been either unskilfully stocked or injudicially managed’.33 This pervasive preoccupation with death, however, does not only stem from a concern for the lives of marine creatures. Throughout his career, Hibberd showed a remarkable interest in animal welfare, denouncing the cruelties perpetrated in Smithfield market and commenting on the need to make up with extra care and affection for the deprivation of liberty suffered by pets.34 Yet, from the way in which he talks about death in the tank, it is evident he does not

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see this as an occasion for mourning.35 On a simpler level, death is in this case economic damage. For instance, the aquarist would be ‘paying heavy penalties for the use of tanks made wholly of glass’.36 The old-​fashioned tanks, ‘on which I wasted my money years ago’, are blamed mainly as a financial loss. He even warns the aquarist not to invest in creatures unfit for captivity, recommending ‘not to speculate largely on any of the shell-​fish’37 (emphasis added). However, this does not mean that the tank and its inhabitants only have an economic value: dead creatures also represent a failure of the aquarium itself. The failure reflects on the owner, not as a bad scientist (which he is not meant to be) but as a bad manager. While positive qualities were attributed to the successful aquarist, a poor result is often blamed on his personal flaws. Thus, the aquarium is viewed as a commodity, that is, something with an economic value, but its value is not limited to the economic sphere.38 As observed by Elaine Freedgood, ‘our sense of value is, after all, constrained into a rather small number of distinct categories, … [t]he aesthetic, the economic, the personal–​whole disciplines are now deployed to maintain the distinctions’.39 This was not yet so for the Victorians, and the aquarium provides a very good example: in this case, economic value overlapped with other values, which were subjective, but also historically and culturally specific. Such overlapping can help us understand the reasons and significance of Hibberd’s emphasis on death, which patently clashes with his often-​quoted definition of the aquarium as ‘a thing of beauty and a joy for ever’.40 When the aquarium does not work, it turns, like any other object, into a thing; in Bill Brown’s words, ‘[w]e begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us … The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject’. In fact, ‘the thing really names less an object than a particular subject-​object relation’.41 In this case, due to the multifaceted investment of Victorian aquarists, the effect is not only that the owner begins to ‘confront’ the material item; he also confronts his own failure. It is from this perspective that we should interpret Hibberd’s constant preoccupation. He repeatedly foregrounds the aquarium’s aesthetic value; yet, if pollution invades the tank, the object itself becomes useless, because its very purpose (and much of the appeal it exerted on the Victorians) obviously depends on its transparency. Moreover, if

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the inhabitants die, the aquarist will be left with a tank containing dead fish, which is certainly not a nice sight; he may even end up with a glass tank full of overgrown algae and putrefying animals. From a ‘thing of beauty’ it will turn into a disgusting thing, and probably in the room of the house meant to represent the owner. However, Hibberd also insists, as all early aquarists did, that the proper aquarium should be self-​sustaining and, once set in motion, should last, thus reproducing the balance providentially established by nature in the sea.42 This eagerly desired stability of the aquarium is also one of the aspects that align it with any other material good. Nevertheless, the aquarium may refuse to behave like a commodity, and from a ‘joy forever’ it could turn into a very short-​lived thing, and a waste of money. Indeed, when the aquarium goes wrong it undermines the very relation, which is one of ownership, between subject and object. The death of the specimens makes this relation meaningless: you still own them, but when dead they signify nothing.43 Hibberd himself later recognised that the fading of the vogue may in part depend on unrealistic expectations, which he himself had contributed in fostering. In the mid-​1850s, he had launched into a hyperbolic description of the suburban idyll he wished his readers to achieve: ‘dear reader, … [m]ay your flowers flourish, your bees prosper, your birds love you, and your pet fishes live for ever … and may you find in every little thing that lives and grows a pleasure for the present hour, and a suggestion of things higher and brighter for contemplation in the future’.44 However, in 1870 he had to admit that such expectations had to be significantly downsized: [w]hen engaged in the experiments which were the foundation of my first written essays on the aquarium, fifteen years ago, and subsequently of the Book of the Aquarium, … the grand difficulty was to determine an exact and self-​sustaining balance between the various forces and influences that an aquarium brings into play. Every failure then occurring was the result of attempting too much. It is impossible to forget the waste of time, and strength, and money in attempts to domesticate the larger forms of marine algae; and how those hopes only faded out when years of watchfulness and wasted energy made it but too evident that it was easier to dream than to do [emphasis mine]. Small quantities of sea water enclosed in vessels in dwelling-​ houses are too peculiarly circumstanced to be made representative of Neptune’s watery kingdom, but they may be made representative of

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rock-​pools and recesses. We may treat them as spoonfuls of water, and achieve such success as spoonfuls admit of; but we must not suppose we have the sea at our command.45

The death of marine creatures in the tank thus measures the distance between the desire for a stable relationship with the object as it should be (entailing, as the Victorians saw it, a confirmation of the owner’s qualities) and the fact that the aquarium may elude attempts at containing it conceptually as a commodity. Hibberd’s exhortations to buy ready-​made items and to rely on the professional expertise of others may be interpreted as an attempt to fill the gap between desire and reality. He tries to circumvent the fact that the aquarium is not wholly a commodity by encouraging his readers to be thoughtful consumers (haste and greed are bad qualities for an aquarist, as they are for a buyer). His solution is thus to buy, but to buy well. Victorians enthusiastically embraced the aquarium vogue because it reflected them in many ways, but at times the tank could also turn into a dark mirror. Hibberd’s outlook provides valuable insights into the reasons behind its success, but also on those behind its quick decline, which was not only due to practical, objective difficulties.46 The way in which the hobby was conceptualised, discussed, and imagined sheds some light on the cluster of social and moral meanings that the Victorians attributed to it. Such an entanglement of values, and the difficulty of matching the expectations deriving from them, is probably among the reasons why, after the initial craze, many tanks were moved from the parlour to the attic.

A pretty Crystal Palace Hibberd’s preoccupation with pollution and dirt was quite justified by the material difficulties entailed by early tank keeping, but also by the multi-​layered values attributed to cleanliness in this period. Cleanliness was indispensable to keep marine creatures alive and healthy; it was required to allow the aquarist unimpeded vision, and it testified to the owner’s attention and care. The bright side of tank keeping, that is, the possibility to observe a collection of live marine animals and plants, clearly visible through glass walls and water as transparent as they should be, was widely celebrated.

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Aquarists were captivated by the scopic, but also by the imaginative possibilities entailed by the transparency of the tank, which became a crucial trope in discussions of the object itself and of some of its inhabitants, acquiring values that encompassed the aesthetic, cultural, and moral dimension. Victorians were notoriously fascinated by glass, seeing it as eminently modern, elegant, and functional. After the 1845 repeal of duties, and thanks to industrial production allowing for the creation of larger and more resistant sheets, glass began to be widely employed for a variety of purposes, taking on new forms and functions. Even before Paxton’s Crystal Palace, the opportunities offered by the material were enthusiastically explored by, among others, Sir George Mackenzie and John Claudius Loudon. Victorians witnessed the creation of impressive greenhouses such as the Palm House at Kew Gardens (built between 1844 and 1848), shopping arcades in London and the provincial towns, and increasingly large shop windows that framed goods and stimulated desire;47 there was even a plan to cover London in glass mounted on viaducts.48 Contextually, ‘a new glass consciousness and a language of transparency’ emerged, which appeared in fiction, poetry, drama, and a wide range of other cultural formations.49 It is important to underline that the choice to use glass in relation to habitable spaces often entailed the intention to create (or improve) a whole environment.50 Of course, most of the new glass spaces of the Victorian period were designed to host humans. Nevertheless, some of the same principles applied to fish tanks: design was meant to shape life, recreating a miniature environment in which marine creatures could live, prosper and, for some authors at least, be happy. However, glass walls were also a synonym of total control, a fantasy eagerly embraced by Victorian tank keepers. Enraptured comments on the transparency of aquaria invariably conveyed the excitement of having a full, continuous vision of the submarine world inside. Aquarists could unveil the mysteries of the sea, or spy on the private lives of strange creatures. The combination of these elements surfaces in a comment by Henry N. Humphreys on the feasibility of transferring coastal algae to a tank: if some [algae] refuse, in the present state of our knowledge of their habits and requirements, to make themselves happy in their pretty ‘crystal palace’, choosing rather to consider it a ‘prison of glass’,

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still a good number of them, I am persuaded, may be coaxed into displaying their beauties very genially within its transparent walls, which admit the bright sun rays as freely as the pale green liquid glass which forms their native element.51

As was common at the time, he was referring to the aquarium as a miniature Crystal Palace (perhaps not as grandiose as Paxton’s, but pretty, as home tanks were supposed to be). Of significance here is that he also draws together three elements that were central to discussions of transparency: progress, beauty, and control. In doing so, he also underlines the tension between the desire to create an artificially perfect environment and the awareness that living beings might not flourish as one wished, and therefore disappoint expectations. Transparency, however, was not only a property of the tank walls; water (the ‘liquid glass’ of Humphreys’s comment) was also crucial to the aquarium experience, allowing marine creatures to survive and viewers to enjoy the spectacle they offered. Gosse celebrated the ‘water of crystalline clearness in a large glass vase’.52 He even argued that the marine tank was better than the sea itself. Discussing the work of an ‘eminent French zoologist’, who ‘had provided himself with a water-​tight dress, suitable spectacles, and a breathing tube; so that he might walk on the bottom in a considerable depth of water, and mark the habits of the various creatures pursuing their avocations’, Gosse suggested that such a scheme would probably give ‘feeble results’; moreover, there was no need to embark on such a dangerous and complicated effort, since the aquarium provided enough opportunities ‘to make us acquainted with the strange creatures of the sea, without diving to gaze on them’.53 Some tank residents came to be appreciated also for their own transparency, often extolled as a curious and highly desirable quality. They were described through similes and metaphors that underlined both their beauty and their elusiveness. Looking at the Adyta clavellina, which is ‘[t]ransparent as the purest crystal’, Gosse marvels at how, once put under a microscope in a drop of water, ‘the whole of its complex interior organism was revealed. The old sage’s wish that man had a window in his breast, that we might see into him, was more than realised in this case: the whole surface of the little animal was one entire window; its body was a crystal

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palace in miniature’.54 The pellucid bodies of prawns are compared to ‘ghosts’; when observed with a candle, their eyes ‘reflect the light with a glare exactly like that seen in a cat’s eyes under similar circumstances’.55 The Laomedea geniculata is ‘so exquisitely delicate … so transparent, so shadowy, that a friend to whom I shewed it aptly called it the soul of the zoophyte’.56

The language of beauty and wonder Such figurative language may surprise the modern reader, especially when applied to zoological descriptions, but it was a common feature in natural-​history books of the Victorian era and accordingly adopted by aquarium manuals as well. Yet, these texts adapted this language to meet the peculiar nature of their subject; in particular, they used it to address some of the difficulties underlying the fruition of home tanks. In fact, although visually accessible, marine animals often proved puzzling. Hence, the manuals deployed a wide set of strategies to teach readers how to fully appreciate their elusive appeal. A very common refrain in discussing the beauty of sea species was to underline that words failed to express this beauty. Comments on the inadequacy of words were pervasive; just to give a few examples, Lewes noted that, in the case of actinias, ‘[n]o description will avail, in default of direct observation; even pictures only give an approximate idea’.57 Gosse too, in discussing the appendages of the Chrysaora, observed that ‘the grace and beauty’ they ‘impart to the animal can scarcely be imagined by those who have not witnessed a similar spectacle’.58 The beauty of medusae was so otherworldly that it called for poetry rather than prose: in Gosse’s words, they ‘have been celebrated by poets and naturalists, and have sometimes excited the latter to use the enthusiastic phraseology of the former’.59 These, and many similar remarks, pointed to the aesthetic enjoyment that could derive from observing sea creatures, while stimulating the desire to see (and possibly own) them. It should be noted, however, that these observations did not substitute description, but usually accompanied it. In many cases, they functioned as a complement to long and detailed accounts of the aspect and

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physiology of marine species, which often included examinations under the microscope. As noted by Lynn Merrill, the beauty of natural objects may surpass the power of description, but this did not stop naturalists from trying.60 Most aquarium manuals follow a pattern common to contemporary natural history books in emphasising details in nature, while extolling the capacity to appreciate them as both an intellectual and moral quality. Amy King, through a reading of Gosse’s works, has explained that such commitment to the commonplace and to minute details exemplifies ‘a pattern of observation and a justification for that observation’ that was also crucial to literary realism.61 The aesthetics of particularity reverberated through genres and styles, and it was also pervasive in aquarium books. These books celebrated minute aspects of nature, reinforced the idea that only an attentive and devoted observation could reveal its wonders, and confirmed that such pains were amply rewarded by the delight one could draw from an activity that was both entertaining and instructive. Moreover, emphasis on detail also helped acknowledge that the natural items under scrutiny were important and deserved proper attention. Victorian popularisers strove to impress audiences by revealing the ‘secret wonders’ behind something small and apparently negligible. During a lecture in Reading, Kingsley famously showed the public a pebble he collected from the street and then narrated its age-​old history and transformations, producing ‘a tale wilder and grander than any which I could have dreamed for myself’.62 This approach acquired further significance in aquarium discussions, since most of the sea species hosted in home tanks were at first sight inconspicuous but (unlike the dead or inorganic specimens in other kinds of collections) under the care of the owner, who was responsible for their survival and well-​being.63 The profusion of detail was thus meant to convey a vivid and accurate idea, and at the same time to elicit wonder. Analogy played a crucial role in this intersection of purposes: authors often compared a life form (or parts of it) to something more familiar and better known, so as to help readers visualise the objects of their discussions, while at the same time surprising them with unexpected comparisons between marine animals and terrestrial ones, but also objects or even human activities (for instance when describing movement). In this way, they encouraged readers to look at sea

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species with different eyes, but also called for a pause of reflection drawing attention to the originality, evocativeness, or suggestiveness of the comparison itself. We should not forget that many of these texts displayed a carefully crafted style and addressed a quite history writers sophisticated readership. In this period, natural-​ were actually expected to be ‘as conscious an artist as any novelist or poet’.64 Hence, they strove to generate a kind of composite pleasure that comprised both the aesthetic appreciation of the natural item and the literary appreciation of its description. This overlapping of aims may explain the apparent contradiction between the abundance of detailed information on sea creatures, the frequent avowals that ‘words are not enough’, and the recourse to imaginative language and poetry. All these elements, which may seem to point in different directions, were meant to work together to achieve a cumulative, multi-​layered effect that encompassed the scientific, imaginative, and literary dimension of natural history.

The poetry of nature The assumption behind this approach was that nature was poetic, an idea widely shared at the time. An example can be found in Charles Kingsley’s novel Two Years Ago (1857): the text features many allusions to marine biology, a pursuit in which Kingsley was eagerly engaged in during this period. In Chapter 10, Elsley Vavasour, a conceited and self-​important poet, goes to the seashore in search of inspiration, but he is not used to looking at nature with the appropriate attention. As a result, ‘[h]e walked the world, either blind to the beauty round him, and trying to compose instead some little scrap of beauty in his own self-​imprisoned thoughts’. He is lucky enough to find a spot which ‘would have made a poem of itself better than all Elsley ever wrote, … provided, of course, that he had patience first to see the same’,65 but instead of just describing the beauty before his eyes, he sketches a silly, far-​fetched poem about a sea-​nymph, providing an embellishment that nature certainly does not need. Even when he meets Tom, the hero of the novel and a passionate naturalist, who tries to teach him how to appreciate a zoophyte, he remains unruffled. Tom shows the creature under a magnifying lens, observing:  ‘I often wonder why you poets don’t

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take to the microscope, and tell us a little more about the wonderful things which are here already, and not about those which are not, and which, perhaps, never will be’, but Vavasour stubbornly replies that ‘these things have no human interest in them’.66 Kingsley’s fictional treatment of the relation between poetry and nature may clarify an important point: the authors did not engage in imaginative descriptions because they felt the need to artificially boost the beauty of the organisms they were discussing; the intention was rather to make beauty, which was already there, simply more visible. Intriguingly, Vavasour’s reference to mythological creatures echoes a theme that frequently resurfaced in contemporary discussions about poetry and natural history. In The Poetry of Science (1848), Robert Hunt tried to demonstrate the need for a synergy between the two in order to fully comprehend nature in both its material and spiritual aspects.67 Hunt, who had worked for the Geological Survey but cultivated a wide variety of interests (including poetry, the theatre, photography, and folklore), argued that poetry ‘connects common phenomena with exalted ideas; and, applying its holiest powers, it invests the human mind with the sovereign strength of the True’; thus, ‘[t]o be forever true is the Science of Poetry —​the revelation of truth is the Poetry of Science’.68 To illustrate his point, he used the example of a beautiful flower: its form may well excite admiration, but it is only when we understand the phenomena that were combined in it that ‘our admiration passes to the higher feeling of deep astonishment at the perfection of the processes, and of reverence for their great Designer’.69 He then described how the poet-​philosophers of the past used mythological creatures to express the powers they saw in natural elements; yet, even though civilisation has moved from ‘fable to fact’, modern science does not lack its own marvels, replacing the harpies and dragons of the ancient world with the recently discovered (and far more exciting) ichthyosaurus, plesiosaurus, and pterodacylus. In his review of the book for the Examiner, Dickens agreed that science was amply compensating for what it had taken away with the discovery of new (and this time real) wonders, and that ‘the facts of science are at least as full of poetry, as the most poetical fancies’.70

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The idea that the new findings of science offered redress for the loss of magic was often reiterated in this period. Discussing the discovery of the true way of locomotion of the Argonaut, George Kearley observed that [m]ost terribly true, therefore, is it here, that “all charms fly/​at the mere touch of cold philosophy”. Once we had a little voyageur all elegance and grace —​“The ocean Mab, the fairy of the sea”, but “cold philosophy” comes and touches it; and lo! the favourite of the poets becomes a mere commonplace crawler at the sea-​bottom. But let us be consoled. Philosophy has revealed more wonders than it has marred; and, with all deference to the author of Lamia, prosaic truths are far better than poetic fictions.71 (emphasis in the original)

The relation between the mythological creatures of ancient poetry and the real wonders discovered by science was also the object of a complex discussion in Jones’s aquarium manual, which is worth quoting at some length. While describing the Nereides (a family of polychaetes worms, mostly marine, appropriately named after sea nymphs), he regrets that the poets, both ancient and modern, when wishing to indulge in flights of fancy, by describing monsters and all sorts of prodigies, have never come to Nature herself for a few lessons, or at least for a few hints upon which they might have improved. Take them altogether, they are a very timid race, and their best fictions so infinitely below reality, that they ought to be ashamed of themselves.72

He then mentions an example, again taken from geology (the field of study that perhaps offered more at the time in terms of wonders):  he praises ‘our late respected friend Dr. Mantell’ because, on discovering the ‘land of the Iguanodon’, ‘he went the right way to work’. That is, he first ‘reintegrated the great forms whose bones he had exhumed, and with the data thus before him, applied to the genius of John Martin to poetize the subject’.73 Jones commented that [t]he result was most satisfactory: the mighty reptile stood at once, as terrible in aspect as if all the poets of antiquity had had the making of him … The poetical brood of dragons, griffins, basilisks, hide their diminished heads in presence of their mighty prototypes, at present ‘revisiting the glimpses of the moon’ before the Crystal Palace; and we rather think that Apollo would hardly have wasted his arrows

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upon the fabled Python had he seen the original owners of some bones that now figure in geological cabinets. The truth is, we fear, that poets are by far too diffident, and, in their over-​anxiety not to ‘o’erstep the modesty of nature’, that they come very much short of the license which creation fairly gives them: were it not so, we suspect they would at least indulge us with greater variety. They have not as yet, we can assure them, exhausted the catalogue of things new and strange actually in existence, monsters more terrible ‘than fables yet have feign’d, or fear conceived,/​Gorgons, or Hydras, or Chimaeras dire’ …. Neither need we go far to find them; the NEREIDS upon our own coasts, could we but procure an Ovid to chronicle their exploits, would furnish a history far more wonderful than any of all his mythological outrages upon the laws of natural history; and as for metamorphoses, the zoologist could supply him to his heart’s content.74

Hence the Nereids, although at first sight less impressive than prehistoric reptiles, can be equally astonishing, if one takes the time to observe their remarkable features, an idea Jones reinforces through the interweaving of quotations (from Hamlet and Paradise Lost) and references to mythology. Thus, nature is not just poetic; it is often even more poetic than poetry itself. As noted by Henry N. Humphreys in his Ocean Gardens, [w]hen poets would travel, in their inventive flights, to other floating and revolving worlds than ours, they describe rosy skies, instead of azure, and trees like branching crystals, with jewel-​like fruits glittering on every stem. They present us with pictures, in short, in which all the ordinary aspects of our planet are reversed, or metamorphosed, in the region of their invention; but in their most fanciful pictures they do not surpass in strangeness the wonders of the world beneath the sea.75

Such beauty, surprising and at times even baffling, should indeed provoke fascination and awe. But how to convey it? In addition to the ‘words are not enough’ technique, authors fully exploited the evocative and literary potential of analogy. Similes and metaphors were frequently introduced to alert readers that what they were looking at (or reading about) was not only interesting, but also beautiful, and should therefore be duly admired.

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Gosse, describing the Pecten (a bivalve mollusc), compared it to a lady’s ring with small brilliants.76 Medusae were compared to ‘a miniature umbrella’77 or, more elaborately, to parachutes, with low suspended cars, just as though the science of ballooning had been carried to perfection under the sea; and that they were made of elastic glass, instead of silk, though richly flushed with iridescent and varying tinges, … hues that seem added by some delicate process which the glass-​blowers above the water have not yet discovered.78

They were said to move like ‘a meteor through the water’ or ‘like graceful waltzers’.79 In truly Victorian style, the Stomobrachium octocostatum was described as ‘elegantly moulded as the glass shades often placed over stuffed birds or artificial flowers’.80 Beauty, delicacy, and elegance of movement were recurrently extolled; all these analogies pointed to what should be aesthetically enjoyed by evoking other, more familiar things endowed with similar qualities, adding the pleasure of a poetic or picturesque verbal description.

‘The mimic fires of ocean glow’ In some cases, however, imaginative descriptions were outmatched by the abundance of quotations from poetry. Citational writing was a very common practice in the natural-​history texts of the period, performing an important rhetorical function, since quotations ‘from a shared literary history signaled a community with educated readers and rendered unfamiliar objects intelligible within an aesthetic tradition’.81 In addition to other literary devices such as the you-​are-​there technique described in the previous chapter, which were meant to include readers in the experiences of the author (such as seashore ramblings and collecting expeditions), poetic quotations further helped create a sense of communion. At the most basic level, authors and readers were viewed as sharing a common background. However, it was not only a matter of having read the same books:  as noted by O’Connor, ‘[r]hetorical tropes and aesthetic forms did not merely decorate the science presented, but helped to constitute it. They served as tools of communication for audiences familiar with belles-​lettres but not with modern science, and they shaped the significance of science for these audiences’. Essentially,

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‘[t]he importance of pleasure and entertainment in polite science need not be equated with a debasement or dilution of the science itself’.82 Since most poetic quotations were not just decorative but actually meant to convey meaning, they also implied the recognition (on the part of both writers and readers) that this was indeed an appropriate way of talking about nature. Furthermore, poetry could also be used to solicit an emotional response, another element widely seen as coherent, if not even necessary, to the understanding of natural history. At least, this is what authors hoped. We cannot be sure that all readers consciously understood the full import of these stylistic choices; yet, the universality of this practice, and the fact it remained quite widespread in popular science even when professional researchers (writing for a more restricted and specialised audience with different priorities) abandoned it, suggests that the public appreciated it. Sometimes this literary richness could even provide the incentive needed to embrace the amateur study of nature. According to The Presbyterian Review (1841), most of those who acquired an interest in geological studies did so because of the ‘literature of the science’83 (emphasis in the original). This was probably true for most amateur scientific pursuits, including tank keeping. For Melanie Keene, the fact that ‘scientific study was a part of, and a suitable subject for, literature was not debated; however, the type of literary writing through which it should be presented was’.84 Indeed, although citations from poetry were very common, the way in which they were used could be quite nuanced. Approaches varied, especially according to the writer’s background and to the intended readership. While some authors only inserted poetic quotations as epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter, or used them quite sparingly within the text itself (as did John Harper in his Sea-​Side and Aquarium), others interwove them within their discussions of sea species in a more sustained way (as in the case of Gosse, or Thomas Rymer Jones). Some authors always indicated the source (Harper gave at least the name of the author), while others never did so, possibly taking for granted their readers’ ability to identify it, or –​when addressing young readers –​implicitly suggesting they may look it up, and thus learn something more (both hypotheses seem to apply to Jones’s book, which quotes extensively from a very wide range

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of sources, but seldom offers references). Most quotations refer to the canon of English literature, with a strong predominance of the Romantics: poems by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Walter Scott, Byron, Southey (often featured with The Curse of Kehama), and Thomas Moore (Lalla Rookh) are very frequent; George Crabbe’s The Borough (1810) appears quite often. Shakespeare and Milton are also prominent; occasionally, Greek and Latin texts are mentioned (Gosse quoted the Iliad in Cowper’s translation). Less famous texts, dealing with topics closely related to discussions of marine biology, were also widely used, such as James Montgomery’s Pelican Island (1827) or ‘The Coral Insect’ by American poet Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney (from her 1827 collection of Poems). But how were these sources actually used? Although they could be employed for a variety of purposes, their most prominent function was to alert the reader to a particularly interesting point by interrupting (both visually and textually) the prose discussion. This change in style usually marked an important lesson in terms of scientific instruction, moral teaching, or religious reflections, while at the same time soliciting an emotional response, most commonly one of wonder and awe at the surprising complexity and beauty of the organism described. This synergy is well exemplified in the passages devoted to a much-​discussed phenomenon: bioluminescence.85 Almost all the authors devote some paragraphs (at times whole chapters) to species that emit light:  their capacity to shine was a beguiling feature, often mentioned as an astonishing spectacle by voyagers at sea, but not yet fully understood by contemporary science.86 This offered a perfect combination of beauty and mystery, which duly elicited poetic quotations. George Brettingham Sowerby discussed bioluminescence in the seventh chapter of his Popular History of the Aquarium (1857). A professional illustrator belonging to a family of naturalists (his father, son, and sister were all engaged in scientific pursuits), he became an authority on molluscs, collaborating to the Thesaurus Conchyliorum (1847–​ 87), an astounding multi-​ volume work on shells. He provided illustrations for a number of prominent scientists, including Lyell, Darwin, and Forbes. Sowerby was much interested in the aesthetic qualities of marine creatures, which he depicted in the wonderful plates of his book. Although he was competent in science, and inserted passages on the biology and habits of

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sea species, the focus is decidedly on the illustrations and the visual pleasures offered by sea animals and plants. He specifies that medusae are not fit for the aquarium, as ‘[i]n most cases they die almost as soon as they are taken’, but he nevertheless devotes a rather lengthy discussion to them, which begins with a memory of when, as a child, he discovered with astonishment that they dissolved under the sun. He provides a brief physical description, observing that ‘[t]heir graceful forms, their crystalline transparence, their airy and evanescent tints, and wavy motions, combine to make them exquisite in loveliness; while many of them are luminous, giving out flashes of light in the midst of darkness’. At this point he inserts five lines from Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, ‘within the shadow of the ship/​I watched their rich attire;/​Blue, glossy-​green, and velvet black,/​They coil’d and swam; and every track/​Was a flash of golden fire!’87 Sowerby then briefly discusses the reproductive system of medusae, providing more detail about two species, the Crysaria cyclonota (discovered by Gosse) and the minute Beroe ovata. Two things are worth noting here: the first, and most obvious one, is that the lines he quotes do not refer to medusae but to water snakes. Secondly, the quotation ends his discussion of bioluminescence, on which no explanations or hypotheses are offered. This actually mirrors the angle of the whole book, with its emphasis on aesthetic appreciation; Coleridge’s lines, although not precisely fitting the animal Sowerby is describing, mark a pause in which the reader is suggestively invited to visualise and enjoy the pleasure conjured up by the words. Sowerby thus exploits the emotions triggered by the poem, certainly familiar to his readers, co-​opting those feelings and implicitly suggesting that they are equally appropriate to medusae as well. Coleridge’s lines on sea snakes also feature in Thomas Rymer Jones’s discussion of bioluminescence, which, however, adopts a notably different approach, since the author had been a professor of comparative anatomy at King’s College and, for a short period in the early 1840s, of physiology at the Royal Institution. Alongside his academic work, he devoted much time and energy to the divulgation of science, and his zoology books, such as The Animal Creation; a Popular Introduction to Zoology (1865), The Natural History of Birds, a Popular Introduction to Ornithology (1867),

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and Mammalia: a Popular Introduction to Natural History (1873), became staple reading for adults and children alike. In The Aquarian Naturalist, Jones described the ‘Noctiluca’ (unicellular aquatic organisms; many of them are bioluminescent, usually emitting a green-​blue light), beginning with an epigraph from Letter IX of The Borough (the same lines were quoted by George Johnston in his History of the British Zoophytes, a much-​used source by most authors of aquarium texts) and then recounting how a collecting expedition which seemed bound to end miserably (he had to negotiate a very dangerous path, in the dark, under heavy rain) was redeemed by the spectacle offered by the sea at night:  the waves seemed ‘fringed with fire; and when they break upon the shore, burst into liquid flame which glides along, still spreading as it flows, until it laves the sands with light, and then slowly retiring, leaves a track of shining sparkles glittering on the strand’. Quoting Coleridge’s lines on the sea snakes, he writes that the light was ‘sometimes extremely brilliant, almost emulating that of the azure, gold, and silver rain of the pyrotechnist’.88 In this case, the discrepancy between species is less evident because it is introduced by Jones’s mention of the different nuances acquired by the noctilucae, which partially match Coleridge’s emphasis on the colours of sea snakes. The quotation, however, does not end the discussion, which continues with a brief catalogue of patently wrong opinions on this strange phenomenon.89 He goes on to discuss microscopic examinations, concluding the chapter by quoting John V. Thomson on the function of bioluminescence. Thomson suggested that ‘the Deity, who has done nothing in vain … foreseeing that man would invent the means of tempting the trackless ocean, has given it as one means of rendering nights less gloomy’, a theory further supported by the fact that it is most visible in darkness, and when the sea is agitated.90 The issue of bioluminescence returns in the next chapter, devoted to jellyfish. Jones introduces it with another epigraph from Crabbe’s The Borough, and then tackles the power of emitting light by referring to Spallanzani, who attributed it to a secretion of a glutinous fluid. The author admits that the issue is still under scrutiny,91 discusses more in detail some species, and ends the chapter with three lines from Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (‘Wonder it is to see/​

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how diversly Love doth his pageaunts play,/​and shewes his power in variable kinds!’92 [Book III, Canto V]) noting that what he has said so far should be enough to spur the curiosity of the young naturalist. Such literary density is characteristic of Jones’s work, indeed one of the richest among aquarium manuals from this point of view. Each quotation marks a key point: Coleridge’s lines are meant to reinforce Jones’s account of his own personal experience; Thomson’s words suggest a possible function of bioluminescence, framing it in religious (and openly anthropocentric) terms. This does not exhaust the topic, however, and is followed by a thorough discussion of recent scientific debates on the subject. The lines by Crabbe provide another description, pointing to the awe that should arise from the stunning spectacle, a message further reinforced by the quotation from Spenser: wonder is the appropriate response to such natural marvels. Gosse also turned to poetry when discussing the ‘luminosity of the sea’. Recounting a steamer passage from Bristol to Ilfracombe, he described the spectacle of ‘unusual splendour and beauty’ provided by luminous animalcules, which evoked ‘the graphic lines of Sir Walter Scott’: Awak’d before the rushing prow, The mimic fires of ocean glow. Those lightnings of the wave; Wild sparkles crest the broken tides, And flashing round, the vessel’s sides With elfish lustre lave; While far behind, their livid light To the dark billows of the night A blooming splendour gave.93

Like Jones and Sowerby, he introduces the subject through a personal recollection, and the poem is presented as an aid to better convey his own response to the phenomenon; yet Gosse’s choice, besides being more accurate than Coleridge’s poem in terms of species, strongly emphasises vitality and movement, and captures the contrast between light and darkness that made bioluminescence so amazing. This was also a feature of his most admired illustrations: he often depicted transparent species against a black

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background, which allowed him to emphasise anatomical details and convey all their astounding beauty.

Figure 8  ‘Chrysaora cyclonota’, in Philip Henry Gosse, A Naturalist’s Rambles on the Devonshire Coast

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Gosse firmly believed that poetry and science were strictly allied:  one of the most cogent discussions of the subject to be found in aquarium texts is featured in the preface to his Rambles. He mentions Wordsworth’s idea that ‘Poetry is the impassioned expression which is the countenance of all Science’, together with a longer quotation from Robert Hunt’s The Poetry of Science.94 Gosse believed that feelings had a relevant part to play in the understanding of nature: the naturalist was not supposed to be a detached observer but a passionate lover of what he studied, a love which gave him motivation, curiosity, and respect, thus colouring his experience. For Gosse, this did not jeopardise accuracy, but rather provided the student of nature with a more caring attitude. In the preface to another very popular work, aptly titled The Romance of Natural History, he explained that [i]n my many years’ wanderings through the wide field of natural history, I have always felt towards it something of a poet’s heart, though destitute of a poet’s genius. As Wordsworth so beautifully says —​‘To me the meanest flower that blows can give/​thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears’. Now, this book is an attempt to present natural history in this aesthetic fashion. Not that I have presumed constantly to indicate —​like the stage-​directions in a play, or the ‘hear hear!’ in a speech —​the actual emotion to be elicited; this would have been obtrusive and impertinent; but I have sought to paint a series of pictures, the reflections of scenes and aspects in nature, which in my own mind awaken poetic interest, leaving them to do their proper work.95

It must be noted, however, that the relation between poetry and science could also be discussed in a different way: Jones, describing the Pinnotheres, observes that ‘[p]erhaps some of our readers may be enabled to furnish a new episode in its poetical history’, but also warns that ‘[p]oetical speculations, however, are very dangerous examples to the student; false facts are far more dangerous in science than false theories; neither can it ever be too deeply impressed upon the mind of the aspirant to zoological reputation, that’ Those who greedily pursue Things wonderful instead of true; That in their speculations choose To make discoveries strange news; And natural history a gazette

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Of tales stupendous and far-​fet; Hold no truth worthy to be known, That is not huge and overgrown, And explicate appearances, Not as they are, but as they please; In vain strive Nature to suborn, And for their pains are paid with scorn.96

The lines are from Samuel Butler’s The Elephant on the Moon, and they may help clarify in what sense Jones understands poetry here. The whole passage marks a tension between the idea that everybody can participate in the study of nature and make discoveries (throughout the book, Jones is clearly trying to convey information, but also to teach a method) and the need for precision and factual accuracy; a certain suspicion regarding the temptation of system building also emerges. Thus, poetry can supply appropriate language to describe both natural items and the emotions they generate, but the student of nature should be careful not to be carried away by enthusiasm and stick to facts instead of superimposing his own theories or desires onto reality. Sometimes the relation between poetry and science could also go wrong in the other direction:  not only could naturalists be beguiled by poetic fancies, but poets could also make mistakes, thus popularising wrong information. For George Kearley, an accurate description of nature in poetry was the exception, not the rule: [p]oets have rarely deigned to sing the praises of the jelly-​fish, which, perhaps, is one reason why there are so few popular errors to correct concerning them. It is somewhat strange, certainly, but the bay-​ leaves and the professor’s gown seldom do well together. The silk is almost sure to suffer. Perhaps it is that that “fine frenzy” in which the poet’s eye is wont to roll has something to do with the matter. But, be it as it may, the fact is clear, and we seldom expect to find correct science ‘done into’ verse. In the passage quoted above, however, the amiable author of The Borough has given us a noteworthy exception to the rule.97

Henry Noel Humphreys also examined the issue, framing it as a discussion about the need to develop the capacity to see. Describing how, in the subaqueous world, even worms are ‘gorgeous and wonderful’, he argues that ‘these, and other wonders of still greater beauty, will reward the persevering student who learns to see them;

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but then he must learn’ (emphasis in the original). He then observes that ‘even the intellectual giant, Shakespeare, could not see clearly many of the minuter things of Nature’,98 providing the example of mistakes concerning the glow worm together with errors by Milton on the banyan tree. To further clarify his point, he claims that those who ‘cannot see with their own eyes, must do so through the more gifted sense of others. To many —​how many, unguided by an able Cicerone —​the fields round Selborne would appear common and uninteresting enough; but guided by a Gilbert White … things assume a far different aspect’.99 White is then compared to ‘another Prospero’, who ‘waves his wand, and every object begins to brighten, and a thousand new and beautiful features develop themselves under the magic of his descriptions’.100 The passages discussed above exemplify some of the key roles envisaged for poetry within the context of popular natural history, shedding some light on how authors conceptualised their task. Although approaches differed, all believed that their goal as popularisers was to help readers to understand nature by describing and explaining its mechanisms. Yet, most of them also felt a duty to guide their audience’s response to natural items, believing that a detached view of nature, devoid of emotional involvement or of reflections about its moral and spiritual meaning, was simply incomplete. Appreciation was considered an integral part of comprehension. This derived from the belief that marine zoology (as many other similar pursuits) was not just a field of study but an experience that mattered beyond the intellectual realm and could thus enrich one’s life and worldview. Was this goal actually achieved? An answer may be provided by the anonymous Story of My Aquarium, in which the author refers to a popular story for children titled ‘Eyes and no Eyes’,101 admitting that I have lived for months at the seaside without an idea of the many wonderful and beautiful objects which lay scattered at my very feet. There are thousands walking the world totally insensible to the marvels of creation, and thousands more, who, though true lovers of nature under her more familiar aspects, are still in a state of blindness to the “treasures of the deep”.102

At the end of the book, the writer gratefully notes that ‘I have fortunately been forced to examine, with greater care and attention than I

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might otherwise have done, the various animals I have endeavoured to describe’, and the result was indeed remarkable; in fact:

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I have always believed myself sufficiently impressed with the beauty of earth-​born flowers, but I never thoroughly appreciated the delicacy of the pencilling on their petals, or the softness and beauty of their colouring, until my eye had been trained by the close examination required by these lovely living flowers of the deep.103

How to draw a pipe-​fish Quite intriguingly, the emphasis on the elusiveness of natural beauty also applied to illustrations. The difficulty of capturing the beauty of marine creatures through images was often pointed out. For Jones, the Tubularia indivisa offers ‘a brilliant animated group, too rich in nature to be effectively portrayed by art’.104 George Kearley, discussing British nudibranchs, praises the splendid illustrations featured in a monograph by Alder and Hancock while also noting that ‘it is no disparagement to say that even these illustrations convey but a very inadequate idea of the transparent delicacy and beauty of the animals themselves’.105 Comments on the contrast between illustrations and reality are often used to prove the utility of the aquarium. John Harper, describing the Eolis, argues that ‘even those familiar with its likeness, would fail to recognize in the strange mass before them the beauteous Nudibranch of the picture books. And yet it is only by illustrations and written descriptions that the majority of people can know anything of these animals’. He then quotes Sowerby, who observed that ‘our interest is not so much excited by objects that we read of in books, even if pictured in true colours on the plates, as by those which we can see and feel’. Harper concludes that ‘I beg the reader to weight well in his mind this remark by Mr. Sowerby, for in it we have one of the most pleasing arguments that can be offered in favour of the utility of the marine Aquarium’106 (emphasis in the original). These remarks on the difficulties of visually reproducing marine organisms are especially interesting, since some of the most popular aquarium manuals were written by authors who were also professional illustrators (like Humphreys, Gosse, or Sowerby). Sowerby,

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whose text is emphatically built around his wonderful coloured plates, often pauses to recount how challenging it was for him to draw sea creatures. For instance, the arrival of some plumose anemones at Lloyd’s shop tempted him to portray them ‘as well as I could’, although ultimately they represented ‘an object that may be admired, but scarcely portrayed’.107 Of course, this can be read in light of customary modesty (the plate representing anemones is indeed gorgeous), but it also underlines that the effort required was different from that entailed by other, more familiar (and static) natural items; Sowerby’s comment invites admiration for the plate, while stressing the complex and subtle beauty of the species represented.108 We should not forget that marine animals had to be observed through water and glass and were often very small. Gosse vividly captured his frustration in this account of his attempts to draw a pipe-​fish: [t]he difficulty of delineating with accuracy objects that can be defined only with microscopic powers would hardly be imagined by those who have never attempted it. In the case of this little fish, every glance at its form or colours, in order to transmit them to the paper, was taken through a triple pocket-​lens, which had to be exchanged for the pencil at each stroke. The focus of this glass was about half an inch, but the fish was swimming freely in a large glass vase five inches wide; so that it was only when it spontaneously approached close to the side of the transparent vessel, that I could get a sight. It was, of course, of no use to try to push it to the required spot; the attempt only alarmed the little creature, and made it dart hither and thither; I could only wait patiently its wayward will. When it came, perhaps it would be with the wrong side presented towards me, or the part which I wanted would be turned to one side, or in some way altered from its former position. And very often indeed, just as I had got my glass to the focus, and my eye to the glass, after waiting perhaps for a quarter of an hour, —​before I could get a glance with sufficient distinctness to impress an image on my eye for delineation, the fish would dart over to the other side, and leave me to exercise patience for another quarter.109

As testified to by this passage, the manuals’ need to define and prescribe an appropriate response to the tank was increasingly accompanied (and perhaps fuelled) by a stronger awareness of the temporal dimension and ‘the impermanence, of details’.110

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Nevertheless, this does not mean that details (or small fish) were deemed less important or less significant. Discussing Gosse’s work, Diana Donald aptly observes that his ‘close and loving attention to the particularities of nature was, indeed, one of the most important qualities that linked fine art and scientific drawing in the nineteenth century’.111 Gosse’s words actually convey a very precise idea of the painstaking effort involved in drawing from life tiny animals moving through water. Most importantly, though, they communicate his passion, respect, and sincere care for the comfort of the pipe-​fish in trying not to ‘alarm’ it and to acknowledge its own needs and ‘will’. Moreover, the emphasis on its vitality also presents it as an engaging addition to the tank, stimulating the desire to directly observe a live specimen. Aesthetic considerations were instrumental in the spreading of the aquarium vogue in many different ways. The home tank soon became a fashionable item; yet, most middle-​class aquarists had to negotiate their desire to possess a piece of furniture meant to showcase elegance and taste with the economic cost of a hobby that could become quite expensive. Moreover, technical difficulties could easily spoil the live collection. Hibberd’s approach offers a useful source of information on the material aspects of Victorian tank keeping, allowing us to better understand what the hobby really was for many of its practitioners and what implications its success or failure entailed, especially in terms of the virtues (or flaws) that were seen as critical to the management of the tank. But these were not the only difficulties that early aquarists had to face; the beauty of marine life was under their eyes but, according to most manuals, some guidance was needed to understand all its nuances and implications. Therefore, authors mobilised a wide range of literary strategies to show readers how to interpret what they saw, trying to make them feel part of a community of curious, well-​educated, and refined individuals, equally capable of appreciating the beauty of literary texts, of scientific findings, or of the small wonders of nature. The intensive use of poetry and poetic language was meant to exemplify the kind of thoughts and feelings to be cultivated while looking at the tank, but such wealth of references was not easy to recreate autonomously; furthermore, while wonder and awe could certainly be felt when the aquarium was a novelty, it is difficult to believe that the reaction would remain the same after

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the object itself and the organisms in it had become more familiar. Thus, while the literary quality of manuals was perfectly fit to frame a first encounter and may have indeed enticed readers to embrace the hobby, this probably did not play such a crucial role in propelling it in the long run.

Notes 1 Hibberd published three separate books on the aquarium in 1856 devoted to the freshwater, the marine tank, and the water cabinet, respectively. In the same year they were reissued as a single volume under the title The Book of the Aquarium and Water Cabinet; or Practical Instructions on the Formation, Stocking, and Management, in all Seasons, of Collections of Fresh-​Water and Marine Life. The book sold very well, and a new edition, ‘revised and enlarged’, followed in 1860; this was divided into two parts, The Freshwater Aquarium and The Marine Aquarium, with page numbering restarting from page 1 in each section. Unless otherwise stated, I refer here to the 1860 edition indicating whether I have quoted from The Freshwater Aquarium (F) or The Marine Aquarium (M). 2 Rustic Adornments was first published by Groombridge & Sons in February 1856. The first edition sold out in six months. A second, enlarged edition followed in 1857, and a third one ‘revised, corrected, and enlarged, with nine coloured plates and two hundred and thirty wood engravings’ in 1870. 3 Wilkinson, Shirley Hibberd, p. 68. 4 James S. Hibberd, Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste. A New Edition, Revised, Corrected, and Enlarged, with Nine Coloured Plates and Two Hundred and Thirty Wood Engravings (London: Groombridge and Sons, 1870), p. 5. 5 Hibberd, Rustic Adornments (1870), p. 5. 6 The information provided closely resembles the chapters on aquaria of Rustic Adornments, which was published in the same year. However, The Book of the Aquarium targeted a slightly less well-​to-​do audience, as the author explains in the preface to the first edition:  ‘I have done my best to explain and illustrate the whole rationale of marine and fresh-​water tanks in my lately published work, Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste; but since that work, owing to the expense incurred in its production, is published at a price which every lover of the Aquarium cannot command, I have thought it no less a duty than a pleasure to treat the subject more briefly, but still

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practically, and I hope profitably, in a volume of less dimensions and less cost, written for another class of readers’. James S. Hibberd, The Book of the Aquarium and Water Cabinet, Or, Practical Instructions on the Formation, Stocking and Management, in All Seasons, of Collections of Fresh Water and Marine Life (London: Groombridge & Sons, 1856), Preface, unnumbered page. 7 Such an approach also informs the illustrations:  while other texts mostly depict animals and plants as if they were in the sea, or grouped according to species as in zoological texts, Hibberd’s illustrations are more focused on aquaria themselves, depicting in detail various models of tanks, accessories, and implements. 8 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, F, p. 44. On the opposite side, there were also those who prided themselves on their neglect for taste in matters of home tanks. In his Sea-​Side Studies (first published as a series of articles in Blackwood’s Magazine between 1856 and 1857), G. H. Lewis argued that ‘I know many persons of irreproachable drawing-​rooms, liberal in opinions, affable in demeanour, and glad to own me among their visiting acquaintances, who would cut me at once after seeing the proprieties thus outraged. But look inside my pans and pie-​dishes, and if you are not pleased with the beauty of those exquisite animals, and those charming weeds, I set you down as one who judges of books by their binding, not by their contents. Observe, I do not take my stand on these pie-​dishes. I should greatly prefer a tank, either of glass or stone; but one can’t improvise a tank at sea-​side lodgings, whereas pie-​dishes are attainable’. George H. Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies at Ilfracombe, Tenby, The Scilly Isles, & Jersey (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1858), pp. 45–​6. It must be noted, however, that this attitude was by no means common; even the authors who framed tank keeping as an eminently scientific pursuit conceded that a beautiful tank was a highly desirable object. 9 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, F, p. 19. 10 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 92. 11 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. iv. 12 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. 27. 13 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, pp. 1–​4. 14 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. 44. 15 Readers evidently suspected some kind of agreement, and he replied that the author ‘has not recommended in these pages any particular trader or trading interest, and has no interest of that sort of his own to promote’. Hibberd, Rustic Adornments (1870), p. vi. Nevertheless, he foregrounds the commercial aspect of the pursuit in a way that

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amounts to a proper, although unofficial, advertisement. Many of the items mentioned are followed by their price, and the publicity effect is further increased when the price accompanies an illustration, as in a commercial catalogue. In discussing both tanks and specimens, he often underlines their cheapness, their durability (a quality much emphasised in contemporary advertisements of goods), and the ease with which they can be procured. Indeed, Hibberd kept endorsing products throughout his career, ‘although he frequently denied that he ever took money for mentioning names. Victorian writers and publishers were notorious for their “puffing” of products, which eventually led to legislation designed to promote fairer advertising’. Wilkinson, Shirley Hibberd, p. 139. 16 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, pp. 48; 84; 110. 17 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. 44. 18 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 5. 19 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 42. 20 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, pp. 10–​11. 21 Hibberd, Rustic Adornments (1870), p. 2. 22 The author of Story of My Aquarium noted that ‘[o]n looking over the preceding pages, I have been struck by the constant recurrence of the words “it died”, and for a moment it seemed to me that I had been offering little encouragement to any one to make a similar attempt. But it must be remembered that I have faithfully recorded every failure, and I was, as I have said, so very ignorant on the subject, that I feel sure a little more knowledge and experience would have saved many disappointments. Beside this, even these disappointments could not destroy the very great pleasure and amusement which we derived from our experiments, while they lasted; and in the course of them we learned more and more of the beautiful adaptations of means to the required end, which is to be found in every part of the works of creation’ [Anon.], Story of my Aquarium, pp. 56–​7. 23 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. iii. 24 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. 34. 25 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. 43. 26 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. 6. 27 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. 9. 28 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, F, p. 14. 29 Hibberd, Rustic Adornments (1870), pp. 27–​8. 30 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, pp. 25–​6. 31 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, pp. 47–​8. 32 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. 17. Although Hibberd’s concern for moral flaws that could jeopardise the tank was unique, other authors occasionally warned readers especially against the most

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common weakness of collectors:  greed. Jones maintained that, in stocking the tank ‘[w]ide is the field, ample the store from which to choose —​sometimes, indeed, too tempting. The great danger is in overdoing this part of the arrangement, in being too greedy for novelties —​a fatal error, which surely brings its own punishment. It is difficult to lay down any precise rule for the guidance of the young aquariist [sic] —​experience will soon teach the juste milieu, which must be strictly kept. It is much better to have few specimens in the tank than one too many’. Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 22. 33 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, F, p. 27. 34 Wilkinson, Shirley Hibberd, pp. 30; 92; Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’, 149. Such a caring attitude, though, did not extend to all animals. Hibberd had a life-​long antipathy to cats, which he saw as the natural enemies of both garden flowers and pet birds; he even admitted to having killed some of the cats belonging to his neighbours in retaliation for the havoc they made in his property. Wilkinson, Shirley Hibberd, pp. 59; 107. 35 Marine creatures were not usually recognised as pets by this time. This was partly due to their marked otherness and to the limited interaction allowed by the tank. See Hamera, Parlor Ponds, pp. 22; 128. 36 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. 10. 37 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, pp. 18; 51. 38 Crucially, objects ‘circulate in different regimes of value in space and time’ (emphasis in the original), and their value can only be understood by considering how ‘they circulate in specific cultural and historical milieus’. Arjun Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 4. 39 Freedgood, The Ideas in Things, p. 148. 40 Hibberd, Rustic Adornments (1857), p. 122. 41 Brown, ‘Thing Theory’, 4. 42 Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’, 144; Rehbock, ‘Victorian Aquarium’, in Sears and Merriman (eds), Oceanography, p. 533. 43 Here, too, aquarium inhabitants were quite different from more usual pets like cats, dogs, or birds, which were often properly buried or memorialised in various ways. Hannah Velten, Beastly London:  A History of Animals in the City (London:  Reaktion Books, 2013), p. 187. 44 Hibberd, Rustic Adornments (1857), pp. 507–​8. 45 Hibberd, Rustic Adornments (1870), p. 26. 46 Hamlin notes that aquarium inquiries in Science Gossip declined dramatically in the late 1860s. Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’, 132.

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Hibberd himself admitted in 1860 that ‘[t]he aquarium mania may be considered as fairly dead’, since those who had only took it up because it was fashionable soon gave it up:  ‘[w]e rarely hear of “aquarians in trouble” now-​a-​days, because the thousands who set up aquaria, without the least idea that to be successful they must be managed on philosophical principles, have long ago given them up as “troublesome”’. According to him, the marine tank would survive mainly as a tool for zoological or botanical studies. James S. Hibberd, ‘Management of Aquaria’, Recreative Science, 1 (1860), 73; see also Rehbock, ‘Victorian Aquarium’, pp. 534–​5. 47 Audrey Jaffe, ‘Spectacular Sympathy:  Visuality and Ideology in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol’, in Christ and Jordan (eds), Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination, pp. 327–​44. 48 Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds:  Glass Culture and the Imagination 1830–​1880 (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 154. 49 Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds, p. 1. 50 See William M. Taylor, The Vital Landscape:  Nature and the Built Environmnt in Nineteenth-​ Century Britain (Aldershot:  Ashgate, 2004), p. xv. 51 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 49. 52 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 229. 53 Gosse, Aquarium, p. vii. He is probably referring to Henri Milne-​ Edwards and his expeditions of the late 1820s. 54 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 241. 55 Gosse, Aquarium, pp. 171–​2. 56 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, pp. 84–​5. The appreciation of transparency in marine organisms was demonstrated by the popularity of glass reproductions such as those by the Blaschka firm in Dresden, which commercialised glass medusae, together with sea anemones and other marine invertebrates. Some of the designs were based on Gosse’s plates in Actinologia Britannica (Thwaite, Glimpses, p. 241). They were so accurate (and durable, unlike both live or preserved specimens) that numerous museums and universities acquired them in recognition of their educational value. Lorraine Daston, ‘The Glass Flowers’, in Lorraine Daston (ed.), Things that Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science (New York: Zone Books, 2004), pp. 232–​4. 57 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 120. 58 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 366. 59 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 387. 60 Merrill, Romance, p. 51. Merrill also suggests that natural history may have played a crucial role in fostering the Victorian emphasis on the particular. See Merrill, Romance, pp. 63–​4.

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61 Amy M. King, ‘Reorienting the Scientific Frontier:  Victorian Tide Pools and Literary Realism’, Victorian Studies, 47:2 (2005), 162. See also Amy King’s book The Divine in the Commonplace (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019). 62 Charles Kingsley, ‘How to Study Natural History’, quoted in Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, p. 73. 63 As noted by Mentz and Rojas, ‘new technologies, new knowledges, and new aesthetic forms co-​emerge and co-​evolve’. ‘Introduction’, in Mentz and Rojas (eds), The Sea and Nineteenth-​Century Anglophone Literary Culture, p. 1. In the same volume, Margaret Cohen discusses how, when the depths started to be explored and ‘exhibited on land, the physical conditions and biology under the sea gave rise to new and, in some cases, very different figures of thought. These figures of thought are what might be called fantasyscapes, where observation of environment organises the presentation of space, time, emotion and kinds of rhetoric and mood’. Margaret Cohen, ‘Seeing through Water: The Paintings of Zarh Pritchard’, in Mentz and Rojas (eds), The Sea and Nineteenth-​ Century Anglophone Literary Culture, p. 103. 64 Merrill, Romance, p. 95. 65 Charles Kingsley, Two Years Ago (London: Macmillan, 1857), vol. 1, pp.  258–​9. 66 Kingsley, Two Years Ago, vol. 1, p. 265. 67 As noted by Keene, Hunt was not alone in trying to find a synthesis of this kind, as ‘several other scientific figures in the second quarter of the century … were seeking such scientific interconnections, and also seeking to address a wider reading public’. Melanie Keene, ‘An Active Nature:  Robert Hunt and the Genres of Science Writing’, in Ben Marsden, Hazel Hutchison, and Ralph O’Connor (eds), Uncommon Contexts:  Encounters between Science and Literature, 1800–​1914 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013), p. 43. 68 Robert Hunt, The Poetry of Science, or Studies of the Physical Phenomena of Nature (London: Reeve, Benham, and Reeve, 1849), pp. xviii; xx. 69 Hunt, Poetry of Science, pp. xxii–​xxiii. 70 [Charles Dickens], ‘Review of The Poetry of Science’, The Examiner (9 December 1848), 787 (reprinted in Ralph O’Connor (ed), Science 20. as Romance (London:  Pickering and Chatto, 2012), pp. 15–​ Keene, ‘Active Nature’, in Marsden, Hutchison, and O’Connor (eds), Uncommon Contexts, pp. 44–​5. On the intensive use of fables and imaginary creatures to popularise science in the Victorian period see Melanie Keene, Science in Wonderland: The Scientific Fairy Tales of

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72 73

74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81

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Victorian Britain (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2015); Laura Forsberg, ‘Nature’s Invisibilia:  The Victorian Microscope and the Miniature Fairy’, Victorian Studies, 57:4 (2015), 638–​66. Kearley, Links, p. 110. The lines quoted by Kearley are from Keats’s Lamia and Byron’s The Island. Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 307. Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 307. Gideon A. Mantell, who had died in 1852, was the discoverer of the iguanodon, which he reconstructed from bones he found in Sussex. Even though he struggled to reconcile his career as a surgeon with his passion for geology, he published extensively, amassing an impressive collection of fossils (eventually sold to the British Museum due to financial difficulties). Among his most popular books, Thoughts on a Pebble; or, a First Lesson in Geology (London: Relfe and Fletcher, 1836) and The Wonders of Geology (London: Relfe and Fletcher, 1838). Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 307–​9. Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, pp. 11–​12. Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 50. Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 45. Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 15. Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 90–​1. Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 64–​5. Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 66; see also O’Connor, Earth on Show, pp. 346–​7. Judith Hamera discusses how Gosse’s extensive quotations actively claimed ‘a solidarity of learned middle-​class readers …; a solidarity of sentiment; and, most of all, a solidarity of artifice built on the recognition that nature, the tank, and the poem are all artfully created things’ (p. 67). She also notes how Gosse’s books actually ‘inserted fish and invertebrates into literature’ (p. 68). O’Connor, Earth on Show, p. 227. O’Connor, Earth on Show, p. 6. Keene, ‘Active Nature’, in Marsden, Hutchison, and O’Connor (eds), Uncommon Contexts, p. 52. The term bioluminescence, in use since the early twentieth century, indicates an emission of light by living organisms that can be detected by human eyes adapted to the dark; in previous centuries, the phenomenon acquired different names, reflecting the variety of theories on its nature and function. The second half of the nineteenth century represented a turning point for the understanding of bioluminescence, thanks especially to the first oceanographic explorations and the new research tools employed. Michel Anctil, Luminous Creatures:  The History and Science of Light Production in Living Organisms

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(Montreal and Kingston: McGill-​Queen’s University Press, 2018), pp. xiv; xi. 86 One of the most famous descriptions was that provided by Darwin in his account of the spectacle he witnessed just south of the Plata on a very dark night: ‘[t]here was a fresh breeze, and every part of the surface, which during the day is seen as foam, now glowed with a pale light. The vessel drove before her bows two billows of liquid phosphorus, and in her wake she was followed by a milky train. As far as the eye reached, the crest of every wave was bright, and the sky above the horizon, from the reflected glare of these livid flames, was not so utterly obscure as over the vault of the heavens’. Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (London: Dent, 1906), pp. 154–​5. See also Merrill, Romance, pp. 59–​62. 87 George B. Sowerby, Popular History of the Aquarium:  Or, Marine and Fresh-​Water Animals and Plants (London: Lovell Reeve, 1857), pp. 149–​51. 88 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 46–​7. 89 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 48. 90 Jones (quoting Thompson), Aquarian Naturalist, p. 50. John Vaughan Thompson (1779–​1847), a surgeon in the army, performed various observations on marine organisms during his voyages, the results of which were published in 1830. Jones refers to him many times throughout his manual in connection with bioluminescence, hydractinias, encrinites, crustaceans, polyzoa, and barnacles. 91 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 58. 92 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 67. 93 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 251, quoting Scott’s Lord of the Isles. Further on, discussing a zoophyte, the Laomedea geniculata, he observes that ‘the spectacle bore a resemblance sufficiently striking to the illumination of a city; or rather to the gas-​jets of some figure of a crown or V.R., adorning the house of a loyal citizen on a gala-​night’; he then mentions his opinion concerning luminescence, supported by his own observation (Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, pp. 252–​3). 94 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. vii. 95 Philip H. Gosse, The Romance of Natural History (London:  James Nisbet and Co, 1861), pp. v–​vi. 96 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 380. 97 Kearley, Links, p. 27. 98 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, pp. 16–​17. 99 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, pp. 17–​18. On the influence of White’s book on Victorian nature writing see Donald Worster, Nature’s Economy:  A History of Ecological Ideas (Cambridge:  Cambridge

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University Press, 1994); Susan Bruxvoort Lipscomb, ‘Introducing Gilbert White:  An Exemplary Natural Historian and His Editors’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 35:2 (2007), 551–​67. 1 00 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 18. 101 ‘Eyes and No Eyes’ was one of the most popular stories in the collection Evenings at Home, or The Juvenile Budget Opened (1792–​ 1796) by Anna L. Barbauld and John Aikin; it was often mentioned in Victorian texts discussing natural history, as for instance in Kingsley’s 1869 Madam How and Lady Why; or, First Lessons in Earth Lore for Children. 1 02 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, p. 5. 1 03 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, p. 80. 1 04 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 100. 05 Kearley, Links, pp. 134–​5. 1 1 06 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, pp. 143–​4. 07 Sowerby, Popular History, p. 105. 1 108 Female illustrators were often praised for their ability to capture the delicacy of marine organisms: Gosse extolled ‘[t]he skilful pencil of Mrs. Johnston’, who ‘has rendered an invaluable aid to the verbal descriptions of her indefatigable and eminent husband’ (he even named a species after her). Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 357. 1 09 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, pp. 184-​5. 1 10 Merrill, Romance, p. 52. 111 Donald and Munro (eds), Endless Forms, p. 14.

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This chapter investigates how aquarium discussions participated in the period’s reflections about the study of nature, in order to understand how proponents of tank keeping positioned themselves within the multifaceted context of mid-​ Victorian natural history. Two elements make this investigation especially relevant: the aquarium vogue emerged in a period of crucial developments in scientific culture, when ideas on who should practise science, how, and why, were remarkably diverse. The second element concerns instead the tank’s specific connection to marine biology, a field in which new discoveries seemed to open up previously unimaginable possibilities, leading to a dramatic increase in public interest. This situation presents a particularly fertile opportunity to explore a significant instance of interplay between scientific research and popularisation. The investigation of three themes that frequently resurfaced in discussions of the tank (the rhetoric of wonder, the fight against ‘old errors’, and the view of science as a collective endeavour) allows us to place the aquarium vogue within a wider discussion about nature and the best ways to investigate it. The final section of this chapter addresses the Victorian belief in the tank’s potential to contribute to the fast-​growing body of knowledge concerning the sea and its creatures, a belief that, as we shall see, underwent significant changes over a short span of time.

The aquarium and the politics of science In the 1850s, different views of science coexisted side by side, together with a broad array of research practices. It is worth remembering that academic curricula were still strongly grounded

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on the humanities, with relatively few institutions that financed scientific research. Those who aspired to a scientific career and did not have the means to fund their own work could take a degree in medicine or enter the church; some were able to access the few posts available in research institutions, while others practised science as a side job. Recognition did not come solely from publication, but also from membership in learned societies (whose policies, however, could be heavily influenced by social extraction)1 and from personal contacts with other researchers. The paths pursued by scientists could be remarkably varied, as testified by the professional spectrum represented by authors of aquarium manuals. Nevertheless, important transitions were taking place that would deeply change both the contexts in which research was performed and the theoretical frameworks underlying it. These transitions included a movement from the gentlemanly science of the late eighteenth century –​which was a leisure pursuit mostly circumscribed to those who had access to education and economic means to finance their own research –​to an institution-​based activity, where scientists (the term itself was coined in the 1830s, although it did not immediately substitute older terms) came to be defined by more formally regulated academic credentials. This transition was supported by the introduction of scientific degrees, a gradual and not always smooth process that stimulated wide debates (such as that between Thomas Huxley and Matthew Arnold) on the respective goals, functions, and boundaries of the sciences and the humanities. The ‘professionalisation of science’ also entailed a shift in method (from the prominence of direct observation and taxonomy to lab-​ based investigations), organisation (research became increasingly specialised), and conceptual framework (the professionals eventually purged their writing from what came to be recognised as external considerations, such as the religious, aesthetic, or moral lessons usually drawn by the naturalists of previous generations).2 This process has often been depicted as resulting in a more clear-​cut (and generally welcomed) distinction between those who produced knowledge according to received standards of method and publication, those who disseminated it among the wider public, and a vast body of readers envisaged mostly as passive recipients. Such an account, however, has been significantly complicated by the growing body of studies focused on popular science; in fact, around

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the middle of the nineteenth century, the roles of those who engaged in scientific pursuits, as well as the dynamics of the production and communication of scientific knowledge, were quite heterogeneous and much more nuanced than traditional histories of science had argued. Aquarium manuals were written by authors whose scientific credentials varied considerably: from the academically established Thomas Rymer Jones to the anonymous writer of Story of My Aquarium, apparently someone not previously interested in science, who embraced tank keeping as a resource to fill long hours in the sick room and wanted to share this experience with others.3 Most of these authors, however, could be defined as popularisers, with various degrees of expertise in different fields and with very diverse interests. Their manuals, due to their very nature as handbooks aimed at a public of non-​experts, espoused a broad and inclusive view of science; however, their goal was not just to instruct readers on a specific branch of knowledge, but to engage them and stimulate active commitment, which may be classed as recreational, but was considered no less serious or significant. To our purpose, it is important to note that, for those who aimed at a more professional definition of science, an emphasis on lab research was becoming a key element of distinction from more traditional modes of investigating nature. Of course, this does not mean that previous generations just went out for a stroll and casually looked around: they performed experiments (most commonly in a lab within the home), tested their hypotheses, and discussed their results with colleagues. Nevertheless, scientific work eventually came to be understood in a more specific way, which emphasised experience doing field work (increasingly seen as involving year-​ long expeditions in exotic locations) and laboratory activities.4 An example of this emerging view is provided by Thomas Huxley’s criticism of George Henry Lewis’s Comte’s Philosophy of the Sciences (1853). Huxley, writing in the Westminster Review, claimed that Lewes, whose scientific experience was limited to reading about other people’s research, did not have the competence (and hence the authority) to assess scientific issues. He insisted that Lewes lacked ‘the discipline and knowledge which result from being a worker also’,5 specifying that one cannot apply the same criteria in judging literature, art, and the natural sciences. Lewes

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bitterly replied to Huxley in The Leader, stating that he actually had first-​ hand, eighteen-​ year-​ long experience; his seaside books of the late 1850s also resulted from the need to demonstrate his competence and practical expertise,6 a claim partially moderated by George Eliot’s account of their sojourn at Ilfracombe. When describing their first attempt at seaside collecting, she pointed to the distance between book-​knowledge and actual experience of natural items: ‘[w]e were in raptures with this first look, but could only stay long enough to pick up a few bits of coralline, which, novices as we were, we supposed to be polyps’. Apparently, finding specimens was not so easy for the inexperienced: ‘we climbed about for two hours without seeing one anemone, and went in again with scarcely anything but a few stones and weeds’. Eliot, in fact, frames such difficulty as exemplifying the difference between ‘having eyes and seeing’.7 Huxley used his reviewing activity to elucidate the boundaries that, in his view, separated professional science from a range of more casual, amateurish activities. For instance, he praised Gosse’s Manual of Marine Zoology, but classed it as a valuable ‘introduction’; those who really wanted to delve into the subject in a sustained way were encouraged to read more specialised monographs, such as those by Johnson, Forbes, Bell, and Yarrell.8 Huxley thus sought to distance his science from the intrusions of literati (like Lewes), but also from the popularisers (such as Gosse) whose scientific competence was not in question, but whose books were considered as merely disseminating knowledge rather than producing it. Yet books by popularisers like Gosse enjoyed unprecedented success, meeting as they did the needs of an increasingly curious and demanding public. These texts, more than the more technical (and usually quite expensive) volumes suggested by Huxley, were often where non-​ experts encountered science writing.9 In fact, just when different ideas of science and authority were being fiercely debated, the reading public was changing too, fostering a dramatic expansion of the market for popular science. This development, however, was regarded with ambivalence: many saw popular education, especially in the scientific field, as a sign of progress, conducive to a cultural improvement that would also affect the moral and social spheres: on the other hand, the wider circulation of knowledge generated anxieties about who should police

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it and how this should be done, or how it would be received by an increasingly disparate audience. This was partly due to the fact that, while previously readers of scientific works tended to be more uniform in terms of class and cultural background (also due to the high price of books), now people from all walks of life could pursue an interest in scientific subjects, which were widely disseminated through cheap texts and periodicals, museums, lectures, and other forms of entertaining education. While this ambivalence existed for every branch of culture (witness the contemporary debates about cheap literature, ‘silly novels’, or sensation fiction), the sciences were seen by many as a particularly delicate field because of their increasing claim to truth. Thus, some religious societies, concerned about the diffusion of scientific books aimed at the lower orders that no longer referred to a religious dimension in nature, reacted by starting their own publishing enterprises to counteract the negative influence of religious texts.10 On the opposite side, atheistic, or simply non-​ scientists like Huxley or Tyndall strove to liberate science from other concerns, campaigning for the institution of science degrees which would create better career opportunities, provide social recognition, and finally emancipate scientists from patronage, as well as from the meddling of public opinion in strictly scientific issues.11 Interestingly, both sides recognised the growing interest in the sciences as a positive factor, but they also saw (from very different angles) the new expanded body of readers as less competent to assess the new and diverse reading materials at their disposal. It may be argued that many natural-​history texts aimed at the general public tended to adopt a condescending tone (especially if measured against today’s standards), but this did not entail a negative judgement regarding the audience’s capacity to cope with scientific topics. Aquarium manuals (like many handbooks on other scientific pursuits) were characterised by a strongly didactic, at times paternalistic approach, but they never treated their readers as passive recipients of ready-​made knowledge, even when they addressed a juvenile public. Indeed, they strove to shape people’s response to scientific data and concepts precisely because they envisaged public participation as a conscious, creative, and dynamic activity. This brief (and by no means exhaustive) account of the variety of outlooks towards the increasing popularity of science should clarify

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how a distinction between professional and amateur does not really fit this context, and how, marketwise, a clear-​cut divide between producers and consumers may be equally inappropriate. The next section investigates how aquarium manuals articulated ideas about the study of nature, envisaging it as an activity open to non-​ specialists whose practice entailed more than just understanding natural phenomena, including instead encompassing views of the moral and social spheres.

The rhetoric of wonder The emphasis on beauty and wonder examined in Chapter 3 should not be understood as demoting the heuristic potential of the tank as a scientific tool. Even though not all those who kept an aquarium were amateur naturalists, the success of texts that framed the activity as a scientific hobby testifies to the wide interest in this aspect of tank keeping; the popularity of seaside studies was indeed one major factor fuelling the aquarium vogue. Crucially, as observed by Natascha Adamowsky, wonder does not necessarily entail a lack of understanding.12 In the mid-​nineteenth century, the dominant view was rather that, far from being a symptom (or admission) of ignorance, wonder actually accompanied scientific progress: the more one discovers (also through technological tools such as the microscope or the aquarium), the more one marvels. Within this framework, wonder should be seen as a form of enjoyment, which for most authors was inseparable from the religious and aesthetic values underlying the study of natural history.13

Wonder, religion, and beauty The interweaving of these elements is well expressed in Gosse’s discussion of the Turris medusa:  ‘[w]hen we look at a lovely object like this, we are conscious of a positive enjoyment, arising from the gratification of our sense of beauty; a sort of appetite, if I may so call it, implanted in our nature by the beneficent Creator, expressly for our satisfaction’.14 This ‘sense of material beauty’ is a quality that, according to Gosse, humans share with God; he describes it as ‘the approval of what is in itself lovely in form and colour

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and arrangement, and pleasure in the contemplation of it; distinct from and independent of the question of relative fitness or moral excellence’.15 Most aquarium texts emphasised the beauty of nature together with the religious feelings of gratitude it was supposed to engender. An example is provided by Gosse in a rather long excursus explaining why he enjoyed natural history, which pivots on an interesting analogy: there is another point of view from which a Christian, —​by which expression I mean one who by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ has passed from death unto life, and not one who puts on the title as he would a garment, merely for convenience or custom’s sake —​looks at the excellent and the beautiful in nature. He has a personal interest in it all; it is a part of his own inheritance. As a child roams over his father’s estate, and is ever finding some quiet nook, or clear pool, or foaming waterfall, some lofty avenue, some bank of sweet flowers, some picturesque or fruitful tree, some noble and wide-​spread prospect, —​how is the pleasure heightened by the thought ever recurring, —​All this will be mine by and by! And though he may not understand all the arrangements, nor fathom the reasons of all the work that he sees going on, he knows that all enhances the value of the estate, which in due time will be his own possession. So with the Christian. The sin-​ pressed earth, groaning and labouring now under the pressure of the Fall, is a part of the inheritance of the Lord Jesus, bought with his blood. He has paid the price of its redemption, and at the appointed time will reign over it. But when the Lord reigneth, his people shall reign too […] And thus I have a right to examine, with as great minuteness as I can bring to the pleasant task, consistently with other claims, what are called the works of nature. I have the very best right possible, the right that flows from the fact of their being all mine, —​mine not indeed in possession, but in sure reversion. And if any one despise the research as mean and little, I reply that I am scanning the plan of my inheritance. And when I find any tiny object rooted to the rock, or swimming in the sea, in which I trace with more than common measure the grace and delicacy of the Master Hand, I may not only give Him praise for his skill and wisdom, but thanks also, for that He hath taken the pains to contrive, to fashion, to adorn this, for me.16 (emphasis in the original)

The understanding of nature as man’s heritage, conveyed through the comparison between his own pursuit and the curiosity of a

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child exploring his father’s estate, is central to Gosse’s perspective and, to some extent, to that of most naturalists of the time. A possessive approach and a deeply caring attitude were often closely interwoven. Most importantly, the widespread belief that God had created nature for humans, even though it could be articulated in slightly different, less literal ways, often fostered a sense of responsibility that framed interaction with the environment as a form of stewardship, rather than mastery.17 Other elements of Gosse’s outlook, however, were not so common: his insistence on sin and the world to come, for instance (he was a member of the Plymouth Brethren, and believed in an imminent Second Coming), are nowhere to be found in other manuals, which tended to foreground the beauty of creation in a more general and, above all, inter-​denominational way. For Gosse, natural history was not a means to understand God, and he insisted that the knowledge of nature could not substitute for revelation. While other naturalists often claimed that the creator’s benevolence could be inferred by looking at the natural world (usually downplaying instances of violence or pain in it), he argued instead that natural theology could be even more insidious than atheism, because it might encourage the neglect of revelation. Hence, Gosse adopted a typological interpretation that saw natural items as symbols, such as when he described coral communities as a prefiguration of the heavenly city.18 Other authors used religious remarks more cautiously, though they were hardly absent (a notable exception being Lewes’s Sea-​side Studies, which emphasises beauty and marvel but excludes theological considerations). Since many sea species displayed astonishing features, the aquarium could easily be presented as a means to better appreciate their complexity and fitness of purpose and to stimulate gratitude for the richness of the natural world. Pious reflections were mostly framed along the same lines as Jones’s account of luminous organisms described in the previous chapter; that is, as an example of God’s benevolence towards all his creatures (man foremost).19 This approach was indeed shared by most popularising accounts of the natural world, as testified for instance by Sir John Graham Dalyell’s influential book, The Powers of the Creator Displayed in the Creation; or, Observations on Life amidst the Various Forms of the Humbler Tribes of Animated Nature (1851–​58).

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This does not mean, however, that they all saw their work as a contribution to the ‘demonstrative natural theology as presented by Paley’, that is, as supporting arguments by design (where nature is regarded as evidence of the existence of God). Like most natural-​ history texts of the period, aquarium manuals embodied a theology of nature which could be articulated in many different ways;20 for instance, witness –​just to name two authors for whom religion was undeniably important –​the different views expressed by Gosse and Kingsley on their research activities, or on the purpose they envisaged for the popularisation of science. Together with the religious dimension (and indeed closely intertwined with it), another element that was invariably presented as crucial to the understanding of nature was aesthetic appreciation. This is especially significant since, as described by Daston and Galison, by mid-​century a new epistemic virtue was quickly gaining ground, encouraging naturalists to lay aside personal or aesthetic responses in favour of a more objective approach. This eventually brought about a new definition of the man of science as one able to ‘obliterate’ himself in order to gain true knowledge.21 The older tradition, however, which highly valued the importance of the individual’s taste, knowledge, and capacity to interpret phenomena, did not disappear; it was still quite common in the 1850s and, even though it became less and less acceptable in professional circles, it remained pervasive in popularising texts until the end of the century.22

The wonders of marine biology Thus, the rhetoric of wonder (often, but not always, combined with religious reflections) informed most discussions about the tank. This applied to many natural-​history texts of the period, but aquarium manuals used it in distinctive ways, specifically attuned to their subject. Crucially, they capitalised on the marvel generated by both the tank and the life forms it contained: in the 1850s, looking at living sea species in one’s parlour was in itself a source of amazement. Imaginative language was used to help readers appreciate the scientific importance of life forms that were still partially unknown and proving to be quite surprising for scientists as well.

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Marine biology around mid-​ century seemed indeed to overflow with novelties and baffling discoveries, especially concerning invertebrates. Robert Grant had investigated the nature of sponges, George Johnston published a very influential account of the History of Zoophytes, Edward Forbes studied echinodermata, and Thomas Huxley engaged in a detailed scrutiny of coelenterates and hydrozoans (such as the Physalia physalis, or Portuguese man-​o-​ war),23 later even identifying primordial matter on the bottom of the sea, arguing that the substance, which he named ‘bathybius’, could possibly be the source of all organic life on earth (unluckily, it turned out not to be).24 However, many other species were being discovered, examined, and better understood, so that the ocean seemed teeming with bewildering creatures, which left ample space for further study and examination. The life form that probably best represents the surprising qualities of marine organisms is, of course, the barnacle. Barnacles had long been believed to be molluscs, and they were not very interesting either. Lamarck, however, doubted their classification, and John Vaughan Thompson (whose discussion of luminous organisms was mentioned in Chapter 3) discovered they were instead crustaceans, contradicting both Linnaeus and Cuvier. His discovery did not receive much attention, possibly due to Thomson’s marginal position within the context of natural sciences at the time, but barnacles came to the forefront of scientific research and popular debate a few years later, with the publication of Darwin’s monographs.25 Their shift from one branch of the animal kingdom to another, understood thanks to the close observation of their developmental stages, alerted researchers to the need to reassess taxonomic assumptions and pointed to the amount of work still to be done on whole groups of marine invertebrates. Barnacles were so astonishing that they soon entered the public imagination, offering material for metaphors to Kingsley and Bulwer Lytton, in addition to providing the inspiration for the parasitical Barnacles family in Dickens’s Little Dorrit.26 The feature that undoubtedly attracted most attention was their capacity to become transformed (metamorphosis was a fascinating feature of many marine invertebrates, as testified to by Jones’s description of the Nereids discussed in the previous chapter), which duly became a fixed feature of aquarium manuals.

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As observed by Gosse in A Manual of Marine Zoology for the British Isles (1855), the amazing creature begins life in a form exactly like that of a young Entomostracous Crustacean, with a broad carapace, a single eye, two pairs of antennae, three pairs of jointed, branched, and well-​bristled legs, and a forked tail. It casts off its skin twice, undergoing, especially at the second moult, a considerable change of figure. At the third moult it has assumed almost the form of a Cypris, or Cythere, being inclosed in a bivalve shell, in which the front of the head with the antennae is greatly developed, equalling in bulk all the rest of the body. The single eye has become two, which are very large, and attached to the outer arms of two bent processes like the letters U U, which are seen within the thorax. In this stage the little animal searches about for some suitable spot for permanent residence; a ship’s bottom, a piece of floating timber, the back of a whale or turtle, or the solid rock. When its selection is made, the two antennae, which project from the shell, pour out a glutinous gum or cement, which hardens in water, and firmly attaches them. Henceforth the animal is a fixture, glued by the front of its head to its support. Another moult now takes place; the bivalve shell is thrown off, with the great eyes, and their U-​like processes, and the little Cirriped is seen in its true form. It is now in effect a Stomapod Crustacean, attached by its antennae, the head greatly lengthened (in Lepas, &c.), the carapace composed of several pieces (valves), presently to be described, the legs modified into cirri, and made to execute their grasping movements backwards instead of forwards, and the whole abdomen obliterated, or reduced to an inconspicuous rudiment.27 (emphasis added)

John Harper reused this description,28 stressing the contrast between the inconspicuous aspect of the animal and the wonders revealed by a more careful observation: supposing readers were looking at his aquarium, he imagines the barnacle in it would not ‘strike you as in any way remarkable, certainly not for beauty’.29 But then he reveals that the unassuming creature is the protagonist of an ‘extraordinary fact’, reinforcing the sense of surprise by comparing its tentacles to ‘a fairy-​ like hand’, ‘constantly thrust, grasping at some coveted objects, and then closed and withdrawn’.30 Kingsley too was intrigued by the barnacle’s transformation, providing an ironic account which anthropomorphised the

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animal, turning –​as Huxley had done in his review of Darwin’s monographs31 –​its life cycles into the phases of a man’s life:

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[a]nd this creature, rooted to one spot through life and death, was in its infancy a free swimming animal, hovering from place to place upon delicate ciliae, till, having sown its wild oats, it settled down in life, built itself a good stone house, and became a landowner, or rather, a gleboe adscriptus, for ever and a day. Mysterious destiny!32

A more complex use of the barnacle’s life cycle can be found in Two Years Ago. Tom, the protagonist and amateur naturalist, asks his friend Campbell: ‘which is better off, the free swimming larva, or the perfect cirrhipod, rooted for ever motionless to the rock?’,33 to which Campbell replies with another question, reversing the perspective: ‘[w]hich is better off, the roving young fellow who is sowing his wild oats, or the man who has settled down, and become a respectable landowner with a good house over his head?’. Tom concedes that this may be true, but the barnacle’s history still proves the rather pessimistic conclusion that ‘all crawling grubs don’t turn into butterflies’. At this point, however, the analogy between men and barnacles shifts in meaning, and the dialogue takes a very different turn, with Campbell observing that: ‘I dare say the barnacle turns into what is best for him; at all events what he deserves’ ‘And so does penance for the sins of his youth, as some of us are to do in the next world?’ ‘Perhaps yes; perhaps no; perhaps neither’ ‘Do you speak of us, or the barnacle?’ ‘Of both’.34

The life stages of barnacles are thus used in two different ways: in the first part of the dialogue, the same change is described by the characters from diverging perspectives, shedding some light on each speaker’s assumptions and beliefs. But in the second part of the dialogue, the barnacle’s wondrous transformations come to represent a different change, not from youth to maturity, but from material existence to the afterlife. The barnacle’s metamorphoses, like the puzzling physiology of some species (such as the famous Ibla, whose female carries males in ‘pockets’ on her sides), were perfectly fit for the rhetoric of wonder, offering plenty of material to amaze readers and stimulate

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their interest, in addition to lending material for social or religious commentaries. On the other hand, their strangeness might indeed complicate the task of popularisers, who had to explain intricate features and at the same time convey to non-​specialists the right idea of how these features challenged received assumptions on animal biology.

Wondrous analogies A further difficulty they had to face was that the most interesting organisms from the scientific point of view were often minute, even microscopic. Unlike the obviously sensational skeletons of prehistoric creatures, they could easily fail to impress the casual observer. Thus, analogy was frequently used, not only to point to the beauty of marine creatures but to elicit wonder for their strangeness, while helping readers to make sense of their scientific importance. For instance, analogies between marine creatures and mechanical objects could be deployed to draw attention to the complexity of the former, as when Jones, drawing from William Buckland, compares encrinites (the much-​ debated fossil crinoids, or stone lilies) to a clock, observing that [s]o exact and methodical is this arrangement, even to the extremity of the minutest tentacula, that it is just as improbable that the metals which compose the wheels of a chronometer should for themselves have calculated and arranged the form and number of the teeth of each respective wheel, and that these wheels should have placed themselves in the precise position fitted to attain the end resulting from the combined action of them all.35

The comparison, echoing the most famous passage of Paley’s Natural Theology (1802), is meant to emphasise the elaborateness of the encrinite’s biological structure, which the author explains in detail through a simile that encourages minute and attentive observation by pointing to a known reference, while at the same time connecting it with the wider debate about the scientific and religious meaning of fossils. Analogy is used to make marine creatures more intelligible, co-​opting them within a range of already-​known material and cultural references. In this way, the comparison simultaneously instructs the reader on the right way of observing and on what to infer from the observation, conflating the two actions

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as if they were one, thus naturalising the conclusion that the author is suggesting. Furthermore, the reference to Paley and the choice to use a comparison which originally appeared in a text by Buckland –​a renowned geologist and author of one of the Bridgewater Treatises36 –​clearly places the scientific discussion within a tradition which sought to reconcile scientific findings with a religious narrative, promoting the idea that the two should reinforce, rather than oppose, each other. Analogy was often used to alert readers to the shocking qualities of marine life by encouraging aquarists to imagine key features of sea creatures applied to land animals, or even to humans. For instance, in discussing nudibranchs, Reverend Wood prompts his readers to imagine that ‘the lungs of one of the mammalia were to be attached to its sides, and permitted to hang loosely therefrom, exposed to the invasions and collisions to which they would probably be liable’; to make it even more evocative, he further specified that ‘the owner of the said lungs would hardly feel comfortable’.37 Sometimes, authors explicitly stated that, since these creatures were so small and alien, their significance might pass unnoticed; the reader was thus invited to see them in their truly stunning light by imaginatively applying them to humans. Referring to the brittle stars’ capacity to eject parts of their bodies (or, as it was often called, their suicidal tendency), Henry N. Humphreys observed that [s]ome affect to consider this faculty not so very wonderful; but let such suppose for a moment some higher animal —​a man, for instance —​gifted with a capacity for exploding his trunk and limbs into moderately-​sized fragments —​into joints, as a butcher would say —​at any slight provocation, and then the character of such a power would appear very sufficiently extraordinary.38

The same principle applies to Jones’s imaginative description of the reproduction of Sarsiae, quoted from Edward Forbes; he exhorts his reader to ‘fancy an elephant’, ‘with a number of little elephants sprouting from his shoulders and legs; bunches of tusked monsters hanging epaulette-​fashion from his flanks in every stage of advancement; here a young pachyderm almost shapeless, there one more advanced, but as yet all ears and eyes’. To clarify the point, he then remarks that ‘the comparison seems grotesque and absurd, but it really expresses what we have been describing in these Sarsiae. It is true that the latter are minute, but wonders are not the less

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wonderful for being packed in a small compass’.39 The choice of the elephant as a term of comparison is explicitly meant to counteract the possible overlooking of remarkable features due to the species’ minuteness: an effective strategy indeed, as it actually induces the reader to pause and visualise a kind of overlapping between the tiny animal he is looking at and the very big one evoked in the text. Readers were also invited to reimagine the human world from a different perspective. Lewes, for instance, suggested a provocative analogy between the habitations of ‘Brown, with the house he built, and Buccinum, with the shell he secreted’ to point out the superiority of the mollusc’s dwelling over the human one:  ‘[c]onsider man from a distance —​look at him as a shell-​fish —​and it must be confessed that his habitation is surprisingly ugly. Only after a great many intermediate “steps or phenomena” does he contrive to secrete here and there a Palace or a Parthenon which enchants the eye’.40 The same observation is also present in George Eliot’s ‘Ilfracombe Journal’, where she argues that ‘when one sees a house stuck on the side of a great hill, and still more a number of houses looking like a few barnacles clustered on the side of a great rock, we begin to think of the strong family likeness between ourselves and all other building, burrowing house-​appropriating and shell-​ secreting animals’; like Lewes, she concludes: ‘[l]ook at man in the light of a shell-​fish and it must be admitted that his shell is generally ugly, and it is only after a great many more “steps or phenomena” that he secretes here and there a wonderful shell in the shape of a temple or a palace’.41 The degree of wonder engendered by marine species was underlined by Jones in a chapter on ‘Campanularian zoophytes’ through a parallelism with other puzzling phenomena that attracted much attention at the time: Animal magnetism and table-​ turning found ready advocates; the upholders of clairvoyance and spirit-​ rapping had no difficulty in making converts to their mysteries; but to believe that a polyp could give origin to a jelly-​fish, or a jelly-​fish to a polyp, was esteemed to be an assertion so incredible, that nothing but the well-​known simple truthfulness of its first discoverers could have obtained a hearing in support of statements apparently so monstrous and absurd … the notion of these alternations of form in the Hydrozoa might have been scouted as incredible and preposterous, had not the evidence of our

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own senses, the aquarium and the microscope, asserted the reality of the fact, and compelled the belief of the most sceptical.42

Luckily, the evidence of the senses eventually conquered scepticism, and the metamorphoses of the zoophytes became widely accepted. Most importantly, Jones’s comment also confirms the epistemic value of the aquarium, here paired with the microscope as a privileged tool to unveil the mysteries of sea life. All these passages point to surprising similarities between the marine and terrestrial worlds, playing on dimension, inversion, and shifts of perspective. Of course, there were also significant differences eminence in outlook:  Lewes ironically questions the assumed pre-​ of humans above animals, while other comments (such as those by Humphreys or Jones) play on role-​switching without really disputing human superiority to other creatures. Yet, they all agree in presenting sea species as baffling (although not in a threatening way) and convey the sense of wonder that researchers themselves experienced.43 As noted by Rebecca Stott, ‘numerous books of natural history and particularly marine biology prior to Darwin’s Origin show classificatory systems creaking under the weight of the new forms being discovered in British rock-​pools by amateur collectors’. It was not easy to put ‘such creatures into language’,44 and analogy was often used both to circumvent the difficulties inherent in description and to better exploit the entertaining potential of witty similes and metaphors (after all, these books were meant not only to instruct, but also to entertain).45 Most importantly, aquarium manuals adjusted analogy to their own aims by emphasising both the distance between different orders of creatures and the imaginative similarities between them, which made the unfamiliar more accessible. It is important to remember that, as Devin Griffiths explains, in the nineteenth century analogy was enormously important to scientific fields, including geology, comparative anatomy, and botany, which relied on description and imagination to elucidate natural pattern. Rather than experiment, these “descriptive” sciences (so characterised in contrast to “normative” or “predictive” sciences) rely on the technologies of narrative description and comparison in order to make new patterns visible.46

Through their extensive use of analogy, most aquarium texts actually revealed –​and at the same time celebrated –​the diversity

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of marine life, especially in connection with creatures that seemed to challenge established assumptions about biology, identity, and development. This is especially interesting because, on the one hand, the idea that ‘diversity was not the exception but the rule in nature’47 was not yet widely accepted; thus, the transformations of invertebrates were often presented as extraordinary (as in Harper’s discussion of barnacles, or Gosse’s identification of the final stage of barnacle life as its ‘true form’). On the other hand, the sheer number of such transformations, which increased as more and more species were being studied, and the fascination with which they were figuratively reimagined testify to a growing awareness of change in nature. Aquarium discussions thus participated in a general movement towards the recognition that nature was more diverse than previous emphases on fixity would indicate. While most discussions focused on direct observation and taxonomic concerns, thus following a Baconian method which privileged the collection of data rather than system building, they also expanded on more general considerations concerning the use of natural history and its meaning within the broader issue of the place of humans in the world. Most importantly, through their use of analogy, authors claimed authority in explaining nature to a wider public, while suggesting interpretations that, if not amounting to a proper system building, were certainly meant to frame people’s perception of nature within a wider context. Although analogies could be deployed in different ways, they ultimately worked to convey the sense of inexhaustible marvel engendered by marine biology, a feeling that played an important role in the enthusiasm for home tanks and the study of sea life (as demonstrated by Glaucus’s subtitle: The Wonders of the Shore). People certainly wanted to learn, but they also wanted to be entertained, surprised, and stimulated. Explanations were meant to make readers wonder but also think, and thus they did not endorse a passive form of learning but one that also engaged in reflection and imagination.

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Old errors and new tanks The authors’ emphasis on taxonomy, wonder, and religious feelings obviously referred to a long-​standing tradition in natural history, but this does not mean that they saw themselves as looking backwards:  they rather insisted on presenting the tank, and marine biology too, as eminently modern, characteristic of an age when progress was visible in every field. In particular, they stressed how recent discoveries did not just unveil new species but also clarified the physiology, structure, or life cycle of creatures that were already known (such as sponges, or barnacles), and which came to be better understood thanks to a more systematic study and to the aid of technological tools. This certainly contributed to convey the idea of progress. Yet, even in a period when more and more people were gaining access to reading materials at affordable prices, many mistaken notions about nature still existed. This was seen as particularly disturbing; the spread of popular education seemed at odds with the persistence of erroneous (and often superstitious) ideas. A further source of concern was that, since texts treating scientific themes could now reach impressive numbers of people with different levels of education, it became even more urgent to distance what was scientifically proven from wrong assumptions and beliefs.

Old errors An example of the preoccupations unleashed by the widening of the reading public and the increasingly varied venues in which people could encounter representations of nature is shown by the reaction against Dickens’s use of spontaneous combustion in Bleak House. George Henry Lewes, acting as a paladin of scientific truth, famously blamed the novelist for using a popular credence as a plot device. Due to the esteem enjoyed by Dickens among a remarkably heterogeneous public, a wrong belief had been ‘sent all over the world with your imprimatur —​an act which will tend to perpetuate the error in spite of the labours of a thousand philosophers’.48 Undeterred, Dickens replied that spontaneous combustion could actually occur, quoting authorities from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.49 Thus, both authors acknowledged that the truth should be sought in scientific accounts, but each of them selected

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different sources to support opposing claims. Indeed, due to the on-​ going changes that affected the natural sciences and the growing variety of means through which they were disseminated, establishing authority in scientific matters was becoming an increasingly urgent concern. In aquarium discussions, authors presented their credentials in different ways (including academic career, previously published works, quotations of famous authors, mentions of professional contacts, and participation in scientific societies). It must be specified that not all insisted on their own authority as scientists: while Lewes forcibly asserted his own competence and eagerly engaged in contemporary disputes on theoretical matters, Kingsley openly declared he was just a dilettante (see Chapter 2). Gosse frequently stressed his experience of nature and the love he felt for God’s creatures. In some cases, there was no claim to any background knowledge at all, as in the anonymous The Story of My Aquarium, whose point was exactly that everybody, even without any competence, could start a home tank and enjoy it. One thing, however, that most manuals insisted upon was that the aquarium was a tool of progress. This becomes very evident in the battle they engaged against old errors. Marine species, less familiar than terrestrial ones, had often become the subject of fantastic stories. Scanty knowledge, however, could also result in scientific hypotheses without foundation, which eventually gained credibility because it was too difficult to prove them wrong. Moreover, the surprising features actually displayed by some sea animals risked supporting the belief in other extraordinary characteristics, making it easier to believe these to be true. An article published in All the Year Round (18 February 1860) discusses this connection between tradition, authority, and false notions: DID you ever behold an Egyptian mummy, or a Yarmouth bloater, or a red sprat, or a Dutch herring, or a rat that had been starved to death in a hole in a wall, or a pig reduced to the condition of bacon arid ham, or a handful of last year’s dead flies in a garret? Do you think that by any process of steaming, or stewing, or simmering, or steeping; that by any system of baths, whether vapour, shower, hot, cold, medicated, hip, slipper, or foot, natural or artificial, sulphurous or ferruginous, Preissnitzian or Schlangenbadish —​do you

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believe that you could thereby succeed in causing that mummy to walk and talk, that bloater to disport in the German Ocean, that sprat to wriggle his silver tail, that herring to flounder in his cask of brine, that rat to nibble his way out of prison, that pig to squeak his joy at resuscitation, those flies to buzz their satisfaction, at a return to life and consciousness? Can you do that? You have your doubts.50

The author then introduces the Rotifera, which, together with Tardigrades and the ‘eels in vinegar’ (a minute species of the genus Anguillula), are ‘perfectly distinguishable under an inexpensive microscope’ or in ‘an aquarium which lies at everybody’s command’, whose capacity for ‘resurrection’ has long been an accepted notion. But ‘the palingenesis of the phoenix is one fable, and the resurrection of the rotifers is another’.51 Interestingly, the author also asks ‘why has the erroneous belief been suffered to stand in printed books so long?’, suggesting that this may be due to the fact that ‘men hesitate (properly) to write a flat denial of what others (often more learned and of greater authority than themselves) have written before them’. He then compares different kinds of scientific authorities: [b]ecause the writer was a Literary poltroon, who did not care to be snubbed by microscopical magnates, who might have pelted him and his sincere convictions, with a bushelful of magnificent names, beginning with Spallanzani and ending with —​Heaven defend us! —​Doyère, the gentle philosopher who sends a huissier or bailiff with a lawyer’s letter to those who dare to dispute or question his revivifications of rotifers and tardigrades. A gentleman who has a greater right to speak loudly if he chose, Mr. Philip Henry Gosse, has devoted to the Wheel-​bearers a tolerably long and full chapter of his Evenings with the Microscope; but with all his skill in manipulation, and with all his endeavours to reproduce and verify published statements, he is unable to announce the fact that he has ever restored a defunct rotifer to life; quite the contrary.52

The author concludes by noting that ‘[e]xtraordinary examples of tenaciousness of life are far from rare in the annals of natural history’, and that the idea ‘truth may be stranger than fiction’ has led many to extend such possibility beyond the boundaries of reality, adding that ‘[t]he love of the marvellous, which has exerted its influence on men of well-​merited reputation, has often led them to reproduce these wondrous accounts without sufficient examination’.53

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The debunking of wrong beliefs was a recurrent theme in the periodical press, and aquarium manuals also never missed an opportunity to mock or belittle the assumptions of previous ages. One of the popular ideas often discussed concerned that interesting creature: the barnacle; in fact, tradition attributed to it transformations that went far beyond those recently discovered by science. John Harper provides an account of an old superstition, still widespread in Scotland and the West of England, noting that ‘seeing is not always believing, in matters connected with natural history, at least according to some statements we read of among old authors. Were it so, we should now believe that these same Barnacles were the young of the Solan Goose!’54 He refers to the idea that shells grew on trees and, if they fell into water, produced a fowl, suggesting that such a conviction probably sprung from barnacles being seen on trees and branches submerged in the sea.55 Harper also mentions the fact that, following this wrong assumption, people believed that geese may be eaten on fish days. ‘Such an absurd belief, we might readily suppose, would not fail to afford no small amusement to philosophers and poets living in less credulous ages’.56 The story of barnacles turning into geese was often mentioned by aquarium authors, with various degrees of irony, in order to distance the true, real transformations they were describing (the barnacle’s life stages) from the obviously fake ones people used to believe in the past. Humphreys also reports the legend, attributed to ‘[o]ur old naturalist Gerard’,57 who not only described the transformation of barnacles into geese but even ‘illustrates his description with an engraving, in which the metamorphosis is seen in progress’.58 Jones’s chapter on barnacles actually begins with the superstition. After an appropriate epigraph (‘Oh Transformation strange!/​’Twas first a green Tree, then a gallant Hull/​Lately a Mushroom, then a flying Gull’),59 he cites the whole passage from ‘the sage Gerrald’ concerning the transformation of barnacles into geese, observing that this ludicrous belief has persisted through the ages, and ‘still prevails amongst the vulgar on all the shores of the European seas, and appears to have no other foundation than the fancied resemblance in the plumose members of the animal inhabitants to the wing of a bird’.60 According to Jones, the ‘absurd error’ still circulates because in Catholic countries the goose in question is conveniently considered as belonging ‘to the finny tribe’, and can thus be

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eaten in times of abstinence. Yet, he also specifies that the mistake does not only concern the less educated, quoting the opinion of Sir Robert Morays as an example of ‘how far prejudice will sometimes carry men, who, from station and education, should be fortified against such delusion’.61 He then expands on the two main types of barnacles (the Lepades, or true barnacles, and the Balani, or acorn-​ shells), explains how they eat –​the process reminds the spectator of a giant in Ariosto –​and discusses their real transformation, noting that ‘[f]ew things could be more startling to the inexperienced naturalist’ than the difference between ‘the young Cirripedes’ and their adult form, a difference which makes it almost impossible to believe that they belong to the same species.62 Jones thus foregrounds the real discovery, recounting in great detail how Thomson placed some barnacles in a tank of sea-​water to examine them with a magnifying lens, even giving exact dates ‘in order to indicate the proper seasons for such researches’.63 The conclusion of the chapter sums up the transition from illusion to reality: [t]hus, then, an animal originally natatory and locomotive, and provided with a distinct organ of sight, becomes permanently and immovably fixed, and its optic apparatus obliterated; and the Barnacle, although neither a duck-​egg nor a young gosling, is thus proved to undergo a metamorphosis, not so miraculous certainly, but almost as wonderful, as that ascribed to it by our forefathers!64

Thus, while some real facts concerning sea creatures were so strange and contrary to received assumptions that it was difficult to believe them, some false notions were still widespread. One of the tasks of popularisers was actually to help readers to discriminate between real and false ideas about nature. Quite intriguingly, though, there was still room to imagine that the sea could still be home to the mysterious. In his Romance, Gosse devoted an entire chapter to ‘The Unknown’, suggesting that many species (including a creature resembling a unicorn)65 may still live undetected by humans in unexplored exotic regions. Of course, the most unknown place on earth is the ocean itself, and Gosse observes that, although a better knowledge of the sea has been recently acquired, it is still impossible to know what really lies below the surface:

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[w]ho can penetrate into the depths of the ocean to trace the arrowy course of the mailed and glittering beings that shoot along like animated beams of light? Who can follow them to their rocky beds and coral caverns? The wandering mariner sees with interested curiosity the flying-​fishes leaping in flocks from the water, and the eager bonito rushing after them in swift pursuit; but who can tell what the flying-​fish is doing when not pursued, or how the bonito is engaged when the prey is not before him? How many pleasing traits of conjugal or parental attachment the waves of the fathomless sea may conceal, we know not:  what ingenious devices for self-​protection; what structures for the concealment of eggs, or offspring; what arts of attack and defence; what manoeuvrings and stratagems; what varied exhibitions of sagacity, forethought, and care; what singular developments of instinct; —​who shall tell?66

Gosse devotes part of the last chapter, aptly titled ‘The Great Unknown’, to the sea-​serpent, reporting accounts of recent sightings by Norwegian, American, and English witnesses.67 He extensively quotes Richard Owen’s opinion on the matter, summarises all the clues collected so far (including an analysis of drawings), and then concludes the chapter (and the book itself) stating his ‘own confident persuasion, that there exists some oceanic animal of immense proportions, which has not yet been received into the category of scientific zoology; and my strong opinion, that it possesses close affinities with the fossil Enaliosauria of the lias’.68 The sea-​serpent (much like the kraken, featured in Tennyson’s beautiful 1830 poem) might thus be a relic of ancient times, a very old creature. It is important to note, however, that Gosse does not frame the sea-​serpent as a supernatural creature; his discussion aims rather at further expanding the scope of natural possibilities, stressing, with characteristic humility, how much we still do not know, hence highlighting the idea that future findings may disrupt certainties now taken for granted. Nevertheless, Gosse’s possibilist approach was not common, and most authors focused on what was actually known, while actively exposing what was sure to be false, including good-​faith beliefs as well as proper frauds that played on the credulity of the public and the relative unfamiliarity of marine creatures. Hibberd, for instance, remarks that the fish in his aquarium were ‘a thousand times more worthy of admiration of a “discerning public” than the horrible “talking and performing fish”, which, by the way, is a

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quadruped, and not a fish at all’.69 The ‘talking fish’, which enjoyed quite a success in Liverpool, Manchester, and London in 1859, was probably a seal, indicating that, clearly, there was still much work to do in terms of scientific education.

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The tank, progress, and popular participation Pride in the progress achieved so far, the belief that marine biology was at the forefront of scientific research, and a positive view of popular participation came together in Kingsley’s discussion of recent developments. He praised the ‘change from the temper of two generations since, when the naturalist was looked on as a harmless enthusiast, who went “bug-​hunting” simply because he had not spirit to follow a fox!’,70 whereas now such interests had become respectable, even fashionable.71 Kingsley admitted that during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars the world had ‘no time for butterflies and fossils’; but he also attributed the lack of popular interest to the state in which science languished, making it ‘hardly worthy of men of practical common sense’.72 Moreover, those few seekers had to spend too much time ‘in disencumbering their own minds of the dreams of bygone generations’ (including ‘cockatrices, basilisks, and krakens, the breeding of bees out of a dead ox, and of geese from barnacles’) … to try to make science popular, which as yet was not even a science at all’.73 Kingsley celebrated instead the astonishing results obtained in the previous decades (especially by geology), discussing the reasons why the public may benefit from them.74 While this applies to all the sciences, there are particular reasons to choose marine biology:  in fact, ‘not only the English ferns, but the natural history of all our land species, are now well-​nigh exhausted. Our home botanists, entomologists, and ornithologists, are spending their time now, perforce, in verifying a few obscure species, and bemoaning themselves like Alexander, that there are no more worlds left to conquer’.75 True, something remains to do for the geologist, but ‘only at a heavy outlay of time, labour and study’; the dilettante must be content to follow the track of great men. Since for Kingsley making a discovery was one of the greatest enjoyments of amateur science, marine biology, with its broad scope for new findings, might offer more than any other science.76 Indeed, with

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a better knowledge of comparative anatomy and chemistry, along with a microscope, students of nature were now properly equipped to discover things ‘more wondrous than all the poetic dreams of a Bonnet or a Darwin’ (Erasmus, of course).77 Kingsley’s account of the advancement of science is overtly celebratory (if somewhat exaggerated) in stressing the distance between previous ages and the present, but his conflation of progress and public participation is certainly significant. The public’s engagement with science in this period is amply testified to by the popularity of books disseminating scientific knowledge and by the success of periodical publications such as Hardwicke’s Science Gossip or Recreative Science.78 The emphasis on participation is also visible in many of the traits common to most aquarium manuals, such as the insistence on the need to develop a capacity to observe, or the fact that most of them tried to teach a method of research (as when Jones gave detailed dates on which to observe the barnacle’s transitions, so that readers could replicate it if they wanted to).79 Aquarists were not only advised to see for themselves the facts already discovered by others but were encouraged to make their own contributions, and manuals often pointed to recent discoveries, indicating what was still to be done. For instance, after reporting Van Beneden’s study of the Campanularia, Jones observed that ‘[w] e shall be delighted if any of our readers should fortunately have a favourable opportunity of putting science in possession of the real proceeding of Nature in this matter’.80 The aquarium was seen as playing an important role in the development of marine biology, but it was also crucial to the widening of public participation in scientific pursuits. Almost all manuals began with a whole chapter devoted to the history of the marine tank, describing it as a series of trials and errors that finally ended with the proper invention (mostly attributed to Warington). The stages of the story vary slightly (also according to the allegiances and friendships of each author), but the overall narrative is that of a triumphant march of progress. Most importantly, such progress is extolled not only because it gave rise to the tank itself, but also because it made it available to the wider public as a tool for study and research. This was a relevant point, as not everyone agreed that even amateurs could contribute to the advancement of science (with hindsight, we now know that the more inclusive approach

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of popularisers eventually lost more and more ground, but not without a fight).81 An example of the widespread trust in the tank’s potential can be found in Jones’s account of the discovery, which occurred in the previous century, that the Hydra was actually an animal. Jones recounts how Bernard de Jussieu (1699–​1777) ‘declared his complete faith in the animality of these creatures’, and his belief that many others ‘hitherto unexamined, would be found to be of the same nature’; he was in fact convinced that his finding was ‘merely a sort of advertisement, which, however, … will doubtless direct the curiosity of naturalists who reside by the sea to animals so worthy of being better known’. Commenting on Jussieu’s optimistic view of future discoveries, Jones notes that ‘[t]hey will; —​but here we must fancy the enthusiastic old gentleman, in the exuberance of his delightful anticipations, flinging his hat and spectacles into the air; and could he but have added, “they will have aquaria wherein to keep them alive,” his well-​powdered peruke would, as we may imagine, have speedily followed them in his frantic exultation’.82 The value of amateur participation (especially for a field of study, such as marine biology, still open to many new discoveries) is explicitly discussed in the concluding pages of Jones’s manual: [t]hese humble forms of life, though each of them might well require a volume to elucidate its history, were, most of them, but a few years ago, almost unknown even to those whose study is to search out Nature’s works. Let not the reader, then, suppose the mine exhausted, or that nothing now remains to lure attention or reward research; the wonder is, how little has been done; how few the labourers that have toiled in such an ample field; or, should we rather say, have left on record what they have observed?83

Thus, no contribution, including those by young naturalists, should be undervalued: [i]t has often occurred to us, that one very important cause of this paucity of original observation is to be ascribed to a feeling of diffidence, natural enough in the young naturalist, as to the novelty or importance of his labours, a feeling for which, at present at least, there is, unfortunately, but very little real foundation. Science is not as yet by any means so rich in information, even as relates to the commonest productions of the ocean, as to render additions to our stock, however trifling, either misplaced or unwelcome; and we

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venture to say, that there are few subjects upon which the results of accurate observation would be unacceptable. Every established fact faithfully recorded is as a new light set upon a candlestick, and in the exact ratio of the number of such contributions will be the clearness with which science will be able to see its way through the obscurity which still surrounds many interesting phenomena.84

However, aquarists should also be careful to adjust their method to the real requirements of science and avoid being drawn towards the wrong idea of truth, either by inexperience or a desire to over-​write facts with preconceived assumptions. Hence, Jones warns young readers to ‘have nothing to do with speculative opinions’, which he compares to ignes fatui ‘continually misleading the ardent and enthusiastic aspirant into all sorts of quagmires and impassable swamps’. Serious naturalists should instead ‘content themselves with the reflection that it is man’s place to be the student, not the critic of creation, his simple duty and his highest privilege consisting in the endeavour to derive, from the contemplation of the Creator’s attributes, a clearer knowledge of Himself, who is “to us invisible, yet dimly seen/​In these His lowest works”’.85 Thus, discussions on the aquarium framed tank keeping within a view of science that was progressive, optimistic, and inclusive. Such debates often engaged in demolishing wrong notions while at the same time celebrating the actual variety and richness of the natural world. Crucially, they envisaged an important role for the tank as a means to discover new facts and as the perfect tool to involve growing numbers of enthusiasts who could contribute to the study of marine life. But did the tank become so instrumental to marine biology as its early devotees hoped? The final section of this chapter will discuss the actual use of the aquarium as a research tool, examining how and why opinions about its potential value changed over a quite short span of time.

The dream of a miniature world The fact that freshwater tanks, apparently so similar to saltwater ones, already existed should not lead us to underestimate the impact of the new tool. Freshwater tanks were not much in vogue in Britain (they actually became fashionable in the 1850s, boosted

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by the marine tank), and usually consisted of a simple glass bowl containing one or a few fishes. The marine aquarium introduced a new technology: combining plants and animals in order to obtain the right balance of chemical elements to support life; most importantly though, it created a whole new philosophy of the tank. No longer conceptualised as an aquatic cage for a few (and usually lived) specimens, it promised to be a miniature environshort-​ ment mimicking every aspect of the natural one it reproduced (if not great depths, at least the shallow waters near the coast, from where most of the animals and plants were taken). In aquarium manuals, much of the information provided about marine species conflated data collected from the tank and on the shore, in rock pools or in the intertidal zone. The assumption was that animals and plants lived in the same way in the tank and in the sea, and the tank could thus offer a privileged view of an entire ecosystem. Most early aquarists (including Warington) believed that in establishing sustainable aquaria they were simulating nature, ‘not in outward appearances merely, but in conditions’86 (emphasis in the original). Of course, Victorians were not so naïve as to really ignore the artificiality of the tank, well aware that the lives of marine creatures and human interaction with them were deeply conditioned by the technology that allowed for such interaction. Yet, they mostly chose to emphasise the contiguity between the aquarium and the open sea. This tendency can be seen, for instance, in the immensely popular Rustic Adornments by James S. Hibberd. Although the text devoted much attention to the tank itself, its construction, maintenance, and aesthetic qualities, the first page of the chapter on ‘The marine aquarium’ did not display the tank itself but rather a picturesque illustration of a marine grotto. When portraying tank residents, artists often chose to represent them as if they were in their natural element, erasing the aquarium from the picture, as did Henry N. Humphreys in his Ocean Gardens. The frame of the tank was very often omitted in illustrations, reinforcing the idea that watching the aquarium was the same as being underwater. This provided the immersion effect that most aquarists sought, but it also had significant consequences for the way in which people imagined the submarine world. For instance, since creatures for the tank were often chosen for their decorative function (as shown by the prominence of actinias), these images

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Figure 9  ‘The marine aquarium’, in James Shirley Hibberd, Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste

tended to conjure up an idea of the sea as a peaceful site, mostly populated by small, pretty, and unthreatening creatures that frequently resembled floral compositions. Quite significantly, episodes of predation, often described in sensational terms within aquarium texts, were never depicted in the illustrations, which favoured instead representations of a world of order, harmony, and beauty.

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Figure 10  ‘Plate VI’, in Henry Noel Humphreys, Ocean Gardens: The History of the Marine Aquarium, and the Best Methods Now Adopted for Its Establishment and Preservation

When it came instead to textually describe the miniature ecosystem, emphasis on peace or violence mostly depended on the author’s ideas about the amount and meaning of cruelty in nature. As we saw, most aquarium manuals published in the 1850s

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offered a generally positive view of nature as a manifestation of God’s benevolent design. Yet, natural theology was not a monolithic entity: under the same label, different viewpoints existed, and ‘there was significant divergence between those who believed that nature could prove the existence of God (as Paley contended) and those who based their faith on Revelation but nevertheless regarded nature as a divine creation worthy of study … [b]y the middle of the nineteenth century, this was the majority position’.87 Aquarists were obviously aware of the presence of sickness, predation, and death in the natural world, submarine or otherwise; however, some tended to highlight the general harmony of the life cycle over individual pain and suffering; others instead stressed the sheer amount of violence in nature, while also praising the intelligence and adaptability of individuals or single species.88 Thus, on the one hand, the tank required a careful balancing of vegetable and animal life, and allowed the interaction among marine species to be seen, thereby stimulating the study of inter-​ species connections and prompting reflections on the idea of environment as an organic whole. On the other hand, the need to support a specific view of nature often shaped the outlook of researchers and amateurs alike. For instance, in his drawings Gosse famously mixed life forms that did not really live together (a ‘patchwork method’ later described by his son); as observed by Smith, this reassembling of species, depicted in stunningly beautiful submarine environments, often represented for Gosse the beauty and peaceful coexistence that characterised Eden, at times even suggesting the kind of harmony that the world would experience after the Second Coming.89 Of course, not all authors or illustrators were so keen to depict the underwater world as a miniature Paradise, but their representational choices were often deeply influenced by the desire to present the tank (and its contents) as beautiful and ornamental and by the widespread assumption that their miniature world should reflect the balance and harmony most of them saw in the real one. Thus, the enthusiasm for the ‘mimic sea’ which seemed to display so many of nature’s positive traits also conditioned expectations. Such visions of harmony and beauty, however, became difficult to uphold, especially after Darwin’s Origin and the emphasis on ‘struggle’ that came to be perceived as a key aspect of the workings of nature.

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Moreover, as the tank became a more familiar object and its novelty started to fade, it became increasingly difficult to really consider it as a miniature sea. Many obvious discrepancies between the aquarium and the submarine world began to become prominent by the end of the 1850s, disrupting the initial faith in the tank’s mimic potential. Given the quantity of information and care needed to set up and maintain early tanks, it was actually impossible to ignore their artificiality; far from being a self-​supporting system that, once put in motion, should no longer need human intervention, the aquarium required massive interference. Warington himself admitted that experimenting indeed ‘implies a disturbance of the … state of things’.90 The aquarium vogue had been partially sustained by the belief that the marine tank would help unveil the mysteries of the sea. This was one of the prospects that most intrigued Victorians, but also the one which they soon understood to be far more complicated than initially expected. As observed by Christopher Hamlin, the aquarium mania failed to foster an ecological research programme, and marine ecology did not emerge until decades later.91 This observation should not lead us to completely dismiss the impact of the aquarium on Victorian understandings of the sea; the tank provided valuable opportunities to study marine creatures and perform experiments while keeping them alive, which resulted in a better understanding of their habits and physiology. This kind of research was increasingly important since it matched the growing interest in live nature rather than the taxonomist’s focus on dead specimens so bitterly criticised by Gosse (see Chapter 2). Moreover, especially in the case of minute species, the combination between tank and microscope did prove particularly useful, thanks also to additions like the apparatus for polarising light, especially suitable for marine micro-​organisms.92 However, it is true that the glowing expectations articulated by many aquarists in the 1850s were not fulfilled. Even if the aquarist managed to make a self-​sustaining tank (an endeavour in which few actually succeeded), it was still a controlled environment, with no changes of climate, no tides, no currents, and a choice of inhabitants that not always replicated the real variety in natural ecosystems. Furthermore, it was small, and the range of species it could host was necessarily circumscribed to those who actually fit within the

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tank and could be locally sourced. As Hibberd came to understand, marine tanks would never offer a window on the boundless and variegated oceans; at best, they could provide a partial view of a rock pool near home (see Chapter 3). Even Gosse, who had initially dismissed submarine exploration, stating that saltwater tanks would allow people to investigate the underwater world without actually moving from home, eventually recognised that the role envisaged for aquaria at the beginning of the vogue had to be significantly downsized; he thus assessed the actual scope of the contributions that tanks could offer to research: [t]he aquarium has, indeed, already enlarged our acquaintance with the curious creatures that inhabit the waters; and not a few examples of those habits and instincts that constitute animal biography, have by this means been brought to light. Much more will doubtless be learned by the same instrumentality; but there will still remain secrets which the aquarium will be powerless to resolve. From its very nature it can deal only with the small, and those which are content with little liberty; for the multitude of large, unwieldy, swift-​ finned races, which shoot athwart the deep, and for the countless hosts of tiny things, to whose organisation even the confinement of a vessel is speedy death, we must find some other device before we can cultivate acquaintance with them. It is true, we can put together a goodly number of individual objects, which various accidents have from time to time revealed to us from the depths, and form them into an imaginary picture.93

He further observed that ‘Schleiden has done this, and a lovely delineation he has made. You have only to gaze on it, to admire it: I would not abate your admiration; I admire it too: —​but remember, after all, it is but a fancy sketch of the unknown; it is only “founded on fact”’94 (emphasis in the original). The aquarium vogue emerged at a moment of growing tensions between different views of science and public participation. Discussions of the tank thus participated in broader debates, usually supporting a view of research that stressed the moral and social value of the study of nature understood as an activity open to all. This view was still widely supported around mid-​century, but it soon began to be supplanted by different approaches. Moreover, as soon as the marine tank ceased to be a novelty, and the enthusiasm for its potential began to diminish, aquarists started to reassess

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their initial faith in the ‘mimic sea’; this led to a substantial revision of the contiguity between the tank and the ocean, eventually depriving the hobby of one of the elements its early devotees had found most intriguing.

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Notes 1 This applied, for instance, to the policies adopted by the Geological Society. See Rudwick, Great Devonian Controversy, Chapter 2. 2 For instance, the alliance between poetry and science was regarded with increasing suspicion by the new generation of scientists. Thomas Huxley berated Hunt’s Elementary Physics in the Westminster Review, 63 (1855), observing that it indicated ‘a mind disqualified by nature, or by habit, from pursuing aright the simplest physical inquiry … This may be very pretty poetry, but it is very false science’ (quoted in Keene, ‘Active Nature’, in Marsden, Hutchison and O’Connor (eds), Uncommon Contexts, p. 47). 3 The author is clearly not a professional populariser:  we know they read texts on marine biology (among them Johnston’s, and Gosse’s), but were not able to identify some of the specimens in their possession –​and not ashamed to admit it. Yet, the hobby became such a passion that the author, who at first kept marine creatures in vases and dishes changing the water every day, eventually experimented with a ‘balanced’ tank, even adding microscopic observations, beside obviously writing a book about it. 4 Nyhart, ‘Natural History’, in Jardine, Secord, and Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History, pp. 427–​43. 5 [Thomas H. Huxley], ‘Contemporary Literature:  Science’, The Westminster Review, 61:119 (1854), 255. See also Paul White, ‘Cross-​ Cultural Encounters:  The Co-​Production of Science and Literature in Mid-​Victorian Periodicals’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, pp. 84; 86–​8. 6 White, ‘Cross-​ Cultural Encounters’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, p. 84. 7 Eliot, ‘Ilfracombe Journal’, pp. 217; 219. On Eliot’s involvement in marine biology, see Franca Della Rosa, ‘“To Know the Name of Things”: George Eliot, Recollections of Ilfracombe, 1856’, in Laura Bandiera and Diego Saglia (eds), De Claris Mulieribus: Figure e Storie Femminili nella Tradizione Europea (Parma:  Monte Università di Parma Editore, 2011), pp. 249–​67; Anna Feuerstein, ‘Falling in Love with Seaweeds: The Seaside Environments of George Eliot and G.H.

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Lewes’, in Laurence W. Mazzeno and Ronald D. Morrison (eds), Victorian Writers and the Environment:  Ecocritical Perspectives (London; New York: Routledge, 2017), pp. 188–​204. 8 White, ‘Cross-​ Cultural Encounters’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, p. 85. 9 It must be noted that, around mid-​century, many specialised texts still had much in common with popularizing ones in terms of style, especially concerning the extensive use of analogies, metaphors, and references to a religious framework for the study of nature. 10 Fyfe, Science and Salvation, pp. 10–​13. 11 Secord, ‘How Scientific Conversation’, in Fyfe and Lightman (eds), Science in the Marketplace, pp. 23–​59. 12 Adamowsky, Mysterious Science, pp. 2–​5. 13 See Malcom Shick, ‘Towards an Aesthetic Marine Biology’, Art Journal, 67:4 (2008): 62–​86; Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, p. 41; Thwaite, Glimpses, p. 181. 14 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 354. 15 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 354. 16 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, pp. 354–​6. 17 Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500–​1800 (London: Penguin, 1983). 18 Gosse, Aquarium, pp. 204–​ 15; see also Smith, Charles Darwin, pp.  80–​2. 19 This view of nature was also conveyed through illustrations: Bernard Lightman has shown how popularisers exploited their ability to produce and interpret images to defend natural theology, refashioning it in light of the re-​organisation of vision. Thanks to their sophisticated use of images, natural theology could maintain its credibility ‘without relying on a simplistic empiricism based on the primacy of the human eye’. Lightman, ‘The Visual Theology’, 653. 20 Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, p. 24. 21 Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York:  Zone Books, 2007), p. 17. The development of this ideal and its influence on Victorian culture have been investigated by George L. Levine, Dying to Know: Scientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). 22 As shown by Lightman, the rhetoric of wonder was extensively deployed even by texts that did not explicitly adopt a religious perspective, and it remained central also to more secular approaches that no longer used it to support the existence of god or the argument by design. Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, p. 84. 23 Stott, Darwin and the Barnacle, pp. 90–​1. On Huxley’s research in marine biology, see also:  James Bowen, The Coral Reef Era:  From

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Discovery to Decline. A History of Scientific Investigation from 1600 to the Anthropocene Epoch (Berlin: Springer, 2015), p. 55. 24 Huxley called it Bathybius haeckelii, after the German biologist Ernst Haeckel, who had postulated the existence of a kind of primordial protoplasm. Huxley publicly recanted his theory in Nature, after his finding was proven void of scientific value and he himself accused of fraud. Schlee, History of Oceanography, pp. 97–​8; p. 124; Philip F. Rehbock, ‘Huxley, Haeckel, and the Oceanographers:  The Case of Bathybius haeckelii’, Isis, 66:4 (1975), 504–​33. 25 Darwin published four monographs on barnacles in the 1850s, two on living species and two on fossil ones. 26 Smith, Charles Darwin, pp. 64–​8. 27 Philip H. Gosse, A Manual of Marine Zoology for the British Isles (London: John Van Voorst, 1855), pp. 167–​8. 28 Gosse himself repeated it in his Life in its Lower, Intermediate, and Higher Forms: or, Manifestations of the Divine Wisdom in the Natural History of Animals (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1857), pp. 225–​6. 29 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 5. 30 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 5. 31 [Huxley], ‘Contemporary Literature:  Science’, The Westminster Review, 61 (1854), pp. 264–​5, comparing the barnacle to Punch. See also Stott, ‘Darwin’s Barnacles’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, pp. 159–​60. 32 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 87. 33 Kingsley, Two Years Ago, vol. 2, p. 264. 34 Kingsley, Two Years Ago, vol. 2, p. 265. 35 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 173. On the debate on crinoids, inspired by John Samuel Miller’s 1821 Natural History of the Crinoidea, see Martin J. S. Rudwick, Worlds before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 51–​3; Schlee, History of Oceanography, pp. 92–​4. 36 William Buckland, Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (London: William Pickering, 1836). 37 Wood, Common Objects, p. 25. 38 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, pp. 102–​3. 39 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 66. 40 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 31. 41 Eliot, ‘Ilfracombe Journal’, p. 219. On Lewes’s use of Eliot’s notes for his Seaside Studies see Gordon Haight, George Eliot:  A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968). 42 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 129.

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43 In texts with strong devotional overtones, analogies (especially comic ones) tended to be quite simple; their function was mostly to exemplify God’s design, and they seldom questioned the boundaries between life forms. However, some writers, such as Kingsley or Lewes, used analogy to ‘collapse the body boundaries of the organism they are describing’, with an intriguing disorientating effect. See Stott, ‘Darwin’s Barnacles’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, p. 169. Stott also explains that early aquarium books were still characterised by ‘a good deal of anthropomorphic comedy and play’, while in the 1860s, partly due to the impact of Darwin’s Origin, anthropomorphism becomes more grotesque and more concerned with issues of monstrosity and potential degeneracy (Stott, ‘Through a Glass Darkly’, 310; 317). Indeed, as long as the first ancestors were identified with marine animals, their representaton tended to be comic, and usually not disturbing; this changed in the latter part of the century, when the role of evolutionary forefathers was taken on by primates and the tone shifted (also due to the growing emphasis on degeneration), often becoming charged with racist overtones. Stott, ‘Darwin’s Barnacles’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, pp. 151–​81. 44 Stott, ‘Darwin’s Barnacles’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, p. 168. 45 On the use of analogy see also Gillian Beer, Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-​Century Fiction (Cambridge and New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2009), Chapter 3. 46 Devin Griffiths, The Age of Analogy: Science and Literature Between the Darwins (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), p. 11. I use ‘analogy’ and ‘comparison’ here as quasi-​synonyms, but, as discussed by Griffiths, it is important to remember that the terms changed their meaning and mutual relation over time:  in the eighteenth century a ‘comparison’ stressed differences, while ‘analogy’ pointed to similarities. With the emergence of the new comparative method of scientific enquiry, the terms began to be used as synonyms, only to once again become distanced around the mid-​nineteenth century, when ‘comparison’ included both similarity and difference, while ‘analogy’ was often used to indicate a backward style of speculative thinking (Griffiths, Age of Analogy, pp. 30–​1). 47 Stott, ‘Darwin’s Barnacles’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, p. 156; see also Beer, Darwin’s Plots, Chapter 4. 48 Lewes, quoted in White, ‘Cross-​Cultural Encounters’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, p. 76.

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49 White, ‘Cross-​ Cultural Encounters’, in Luckhurst and McDonagh (eds), Transactions and Encounters, p. 76. 50 ‘Resuscitating Animals’, All the Year Round, 2:43 (18 February 1860), 387. 51 ‘Resuscitating Animals’, 387–​8. 52 ‘Resuscitating Animals’, 388. 53 ‘Resuscitating Animals’, 389. 54 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 10. 55 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 10–​11. 56 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 14. 57 Humphreys is referring to John Gerard (c. 1545–​ 1612), whose Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes was first published in 1597. 58 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, p. 87. 59 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 389. The lines are by Guillaume de 1590). The same lines were quoted by Saluste Du Bartas (1544–​ Harper too, in Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 14. 60 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 391. 61 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 391. Sir Robert Morays (1608 or 1609–​1673) was one of the founding members and first president of the Royal Society. 62 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 396. 63 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 398. 64 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 399. 65 On discussions of the unicorn and the possible origin of the myth in a real animal, see Ritvo, The Platypus and the Mermaid, pp. 176–​8. 66 Gosse, Romance, pp. 290–​1. 67 Sightings of the sea-​serpent surfaced quite frequently in the press during the Victorian era, generating very diverse reactions, depending also on the social status of witnesses; see Ritvo, The Platypus and the Mermaid, pp. 183–​7. 68 Gosse, Romance, p. 368. 69 Hibberd, ‘Management of Aquaria,’, 74. On the intriguing history of the talking fish, see Caroline Radcliffe, ‘The Talking Fish: Performance and Delusion in the Victorian Exhibition’, in Joe Kember, John Plunkett, and Jill A. Sullivan (eds), Popular Exhibitions, Science and Showmanship, 1840–​1910 (London and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 133–​51. 70 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 7. 71 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 6. 72 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 9. 73 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 10.

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74 On Kingsley’s evolving view of science and its moral and social value, see Abberley, ‘Animal Cunning’. 75 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 24. 76 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 25. 77 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 32. 78 Mordecai Cubitt Cooke and John E. Taylor (eds), Hardwicke’s Science-​Gossip: An Illustrated Medium of Interchange and Gossip for Students and Lovers of Nature (London: Robert Hardwicke, 1865–​ 1893); Recreative Science:  A Monthly Record and Remembrancer of Intellectual Observation (London:  Groombridge and Sons, 1860–​1862). 79 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 157–​61. 80 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 134. 81 It must be specified that the role envisaged for amateurs at the time was quite different from that of today’s citizen-​scientists, who are called to contribute mostly by collecting data on projects designed and supervised by professionals. 82 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 137-​8. 83 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 521. 84 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 521–​2. 85 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 522–​3. The lines quoted are from Paradise Lost, Book V. 86 Hibberd, Rustic Adornments (1870 edition), p. 47. See also Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’, 132. 87 Fyfe, Science and Salvation, p. 7. 88 Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’, 143–​ 4. In some cases, such as that of Warington, the two perspectives could coexist in the work of the same author, reflecting different strands of natural theology, but also the expectations of different audiences. Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’,  143–​4. 89 Smith, Charles Darwin, pp. 82–​3. 90 Robert Warington, ‘On Preserving the Balance between Animal and Vegetable Organisms in Sea Water’, Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Second Series, 12:17 (1853), 321; see also Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’, 144. 91 Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’, 133. 92 In Common Objects of the Microscope, Reverend Wood highly praised the polariser, stating that ‘[e]very possessor of a microscope should, as soon as he can afford it, add to his instrument the beautiful apparatus for polarizing light’, since it ‘often enables observers to distinguish, by means of their different polarizing powers, one class of objects from another’. John George Wood, Common Objects of

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the Microscope (London: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1861), pp.  126–​7. 93 Gosse, Romance, p. 291. 94 Gosse, Romance, pp. 291–​2. Gosse is referring to Matthias Jakob Schleiden (1808–​1881), The Plant; a Biography, in a Series of Thirteen Popular Lectures, trans. Arthur Henfrey (London: Hippolyte Bailliere, 1853).

5

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Weird creatures in the home

George Henry Lewes aptly captured the ambiguity underlying the status of marine animals when, in his Seaside Studies, he described the sea anemone as ‘[a]t once pet, ornament, and “subject for dissection”’.1 Thanks to the saltwater tank, some sea animals also became a familiar (although still somehow weird) presence in people’s everyday life. Such a presence was a great novelty at the time, and at first it was not easy to make sense of it, as these creatures hardly fitted pre-​established ideas of domestic animals. Their marked otherness, and the limited contact allowed by the glass tank, made it more difficult to understand their behaviour or establish a relationship with them. This chapter discusses how aquarium manuals played a pivotal role in shaping people’s perception of sea animals, as well as in suggesting how to interact. In fact, they devised a wide array of strategies to help their audience to frame, from a conceptual point of view, their ‘little prisoners’; for instance, they often encouraged aquarists to over-​humanise tank residents, describing their behaviour in extravagantly anthropomorphic terms. On the other hand, aquarists were also exhorted to use sea creatures for experiments, or even for dissections. The fact that some of the species hosted in tanks were also edible further contributed to generating a more detached attitude.

Observation Until the early 1850s, opportunities to observe living sea creatures were very rare. Things changed with the commercialisation of the saltwater aquarium, which not only allowed people to observe

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marine species but also to interact with them in the domestic environment. Tank residents, however, were very different from other, more usual domestic animals:  in the first place, they lived in the tank and could not survive outside, and thus they were physically separated from their owner by water and glass. In addition, the first aquaria hosted few fish (since they were more difficult to keep and required more space than that allowed by average home tanks) and were mostly populated by crustaceans, molluscs, sea-​worms, sea-​slugs, and zoophytes. Some of these animals were very tiny, or observable only through magnifying lenses or microscopes; some could neither move nor emit audible sounds; some could not even move; and some even lacked a recognisable face, not to mention facial expressions. Of course, all these elements made interaction very different from that with other non-​ human inhabitants of the home. Therefore, besides material difficulties such as procuring marine specimens and keeping them alive, adopting the right recipe for saltwater, or embellishing the tank with internal furnishings that had to be both aesthetically pleasing and functional, for early aquarists tank keeping also entailed remarkable difficulties of utilisation. This may seem puzzling nowadays, but at the time, when the marine tank was still a very unfamiliar piece of furniture, understanding how to use it or fully enjoy it was by no means immediate. Quite tellingly, Gustav Jäger, observing visitors at the public aquarium of Vienna, noted that ‘educated individuals, after longer periods of moving from one tank to the next, walked out and asked the ticket officer angrily: what in heaven’s name am I actually supposed to see in there?’2 Such uncertainty applied to the domestic tank as well; moreover, in that case, utility was further complicated by the fact that aquarists hosted the tank in their own home, usually spent time and money on it, and were also responsible for its setting up, management, and the well-​being of the creatures inside. Establishing a marine aquarium in the 1850s was a rather difficult and time-​consuming business, but –​once the tank was ready –​how was it to be used? The first thing to do was obviously to observe the creatures inside. For some families, the aquarium was primarily a fashionable piece of furniture, and the emphasis on décor and ornamental value also applied to the animals inside it. Manuals frequently extolled

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the beauty and elegance of marine life forms, but this kind of visual enjoyment was not always simple:  while it was easy to admire a colourful anemone or a translucent medusa, the appeal of a sea-​ worm, a mussel, or a sea-​mouse was less obvious and not unanimously recognised. Therefore, manuals explicitly instructed readers on how to delight in things that might seem ugly, or simply not worth looking at; they did so by establishing a flattering contrast between the reader, who had eyes to see the beauty of nature even in its apparently trivial aspects, and the unthinking or ignorant crowd, which failed to recognise such valuable source of pleasure. According to Thomas Rymer Jones, ‘the beauties of Creation are by popular prejudice only deemed estimable in proportion to their rarity; or, in other words, … whatever is common or abundant, is on that very account contemptible and unworthy of notice’.3 Hence, ‘sometimes the commiseration of our friends assumes a tone of still severer reproof, and with admirable thriftiness we are reminded that, —​“Tis better learn to save one’s clothes, /​Than cherish Moths that eat them”’. Jones, however, who is about to discuss ‘snails and slugs’, ironically argues for a different approach: [n]ow, we must confess, that, in the perverseness of our imagination, we are in the habit of regarding these so-​called “vermin” as very elegant and interesting objects; nay, we fearlessly uphold, that some of them are so conspicuously beautiful as to be amongst the most ornamental inmates of the aquarium, and doubtless, did space allow us, could enumerate a very lengthy list of examples confirmatory of this assertion.4

For Gosse, the apparent insignificance of marine invertebrates (such as the Anthea cereus he had just described) should not lead the aquarist to dismiss it as unworthy of attention: [t]hese objects are, it is true, among the humblest of creatures that are endowed with organic life. They stand at the very confines, so to speak, of the vital world, at the lowest step of the animate ladder that reaches up to Man; aye, and beyond him. […] What then? shall we despise these glimmering rays? Shall we say they are mean creatures, beneath our regard? Surely no: God does not despise them. The forecasting of their being occupied his eternal Mind ‘before the mountains were brought forth’; the contrivances of their organization are the fruit of his infinite Wisdom, and elicit adoring wonder and praise from the hierarchies of angels; and the exquisite tints with

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which they are adorned are the pencillings of his almighty Hand … If then they were worthy to be created and sustained by Thee, they are not unworthy to be examined by us with reverential regard.5

Most importantly, the aquarium not only allowed single life forms to be examined but provided a valuable opportunity to look at submarine nature as a whole, which would eventually lead to a more all-​ encompassing understanding of the workings of Providence, convincing even the most sceptical minds. Quoting Lord Bacon, Jones stated that: [i]t is true that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion: for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.6

Thus, sea animals in the tank could produce results that went far beyond mere visual enjoyment. Looking through the glass walls was neither an obvious nor a passive activity. It involved observational skills, curiosity, and openness; crucially, it was supposed to enrich –​at times even change –​the aquarist’s frame of mind. Therefore, while authors suggested strategies to better relish the visual pleasures offered by the tank, they also stressed that these pleasures were far from simple or immediate, instead being conceptualised as a reward, all the more valuable for not being easy to attain. Furthermore, these pleasures were not to be understood only in aesthetic terms: beauty alone, even when informed by literary echoes, scientific curiosity, or religious awe, was not enough for Victorian aquarists. In fact, most of them also tried to understand the behaviour of marine creatures. But how to read (and enjoy) the actions of a small fish in a tank, a sea-​slug, or a tiny medusa? A very common way of doing so was to humanise marine animals; that is, interpreting their actions as if stemming from those feelings and passions that would be appropriate, or common, for humans in analogous situations. At times, authors also claimed that such interpretations were supported by the very appearance of the animal, whose expression or body language clearly conveyed its inner feelings. John Harper, describing the ‘surprise and indignation’ of a crab, observed: ‘[t]hat he was greatly alarmed was evident

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—​if not from his face, at least judging from his actions’.7 To make it even more explicit, writers sometimes imagined what animals would say if only they could speak. Gosse mentions that a crab in his tank ‘looked right up in your face and said, as plainly as looks can speak, “How d’ye do? Here I am, quite at home already”’8 (emphasis added). Discussing the Shore Crab, Jones noted that: [s]hould a mussel or other bivalve be opened, and the half given to one of these little captives, it is not a little amusing to see how gravely it holds the valve in one claw, and with the other picks out the contents, conveying each morsel to its mouth, just as people employ their hands, until the shell is emptied as cleanly as if cleansed artificially. There is indeed something irresistibly comical in the imperturbable demeanour of these hard-​visaged marauders —​nothing can make them laugh —​no amount of mischief done, or agony inflicted, for a moment alters the grim, stolid countenance with which they sit, ‘Chattering their iron teeth, and staring wide/​With stony eyes’, amid the havoc they have caused. A monkey in a lady’s boudoir, or a bull in a china-​shop, could scarcely prove less eligible inmates than these scrambling tyrants of the well-​stored tank.9

Such a description, although certainly funny, might disincline readers from hosting crabs in their tanks; but Jones specifies that ‘the study of their habits is by no means devoid of interest; and, under proper treatment, even these creatures have been looked upon as pets, and regarded as “little dumb companions, having always something to impart”’.10 Crucially, interpretations of animal behaviour tended to reflect the authors’ moral values; in particular, authors repeatedly commended what they identified as thriftiness, cleanliness, or hard work, while invariably criticising what they saw as signs of laziness. Jones praised the Sabella alveolaria –​a sea-​worm that builds an artificial dwelling with sand and fragments of shells –​as ‘industrious’ and ‘quiet labourers’, ‘seldom guilty of perfect idleness’.11 Describing a corkwing in his tank, Gosse remarked that: [h]e was a fish of business; never for a moment did he swim about as if at leisure, but incessantly pursued one occupation, that of searching the sea-​weeds for minute animals. It was pleasant to see with what diligence and sobriety, for he was never eager or in a hurry, he pried into all the recesses of the leafy weeds12 (emphasis added).

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The broad-​ claw (Porcellana platycheles) was characterised as being ‘[l]ike the thrifty housewives of London, who do not go to market, but have their bread and meat and groceries brought to their door’.13 Gosse also offered a memorable account of how the prawn loves washing himself when he discussed the never-​ending struggle against dirt as a result of the Fall, which affected animals as well as man; however, God himself equipped all his creatures to fight this evil by making cleaning a pleasure. The prawn’s shorter pair of feet was exactly designed for this purpose, as they were ‘like the bristles of a bottle-​brush’, allowing the prawn to wash itself, brushing ‘to and fro, and into every angle and hollow with zealous industry’.14 This lively description, often quoted by other authors, clearly evidences the Victorian appreciation of cleanliness not only as a hygienic practice, but as a moral virtue as well, in this case enriched with further meaning by the author’s typological interpretation of animal habits and biology in religious terms.15 Following a long-​standing tradition, analogies between marine creatures and human activities (or lack of) could be used to convey moral or religious lessons, as when the author of Story of My Aquarium observed a small annelid trying to discard the old skin: ‘[a]t length the object was attained, the mortal “coil was shuffled off”, the captive was free, and, as it bounded in ecstasy to the surface of the water, my whole heart rejoiced in its victory’. The writer reads the actions of the small animal as ‘beautiful emblems of mortality’, ‘the one representing the gradual decay and final dissolution of the body, the other shadowing forth the release, and exaltation of the glorified spirit’.16 George B. Sowerby quotes a long passage from the very popular Life in Earnest (1845) by James Hamilton, who used zoophytes to stigmatise a vice much censured by Victorians: [t]his plant-​animal’s life is somewhat monotonous, for it has nothing to do but grow and twirl its feelers, float in the tide, or fold itself up on its footstalk when that tide has receded, for months and years together. Now, would it not be very dismal to be transformed into a Zoophyte? Would it not be an awful punishment, with your human soul still in you, to be anchored to a rock, able to do nothing but spin about your arms or fold them up again, and knowing no variety, excepting when the receding ocean left you in the daylight,

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or the returning waters plunged you in the green depths again, or the sweeping tide brought you the prize of a young Periwinkle or an invisible Star-​fish? But what better is the life you are spontaneously leading? […] and what higher end in living have you than that polypus? You go through certain mechanical routines of rising, and dressing, and visiting, and dining, and going to sleep again: and are a little roused from your usual lethargy by the arrival of a friend, or the effort needed to write some note of ceremony. But as it curtseys in the waves, and vibrates its exploring arms, and gorges some dainty Medusa, the Sea-​Anemone goes through nearly the same round of pursuits and enjoyments with your intelligent and immortal self! Is this a life for a rational and responsible creature to lead? We may say to the last question, ‘Perhaps not’; but it is nevertheless a very good sort of life for an Anemone to lead, for it is that in which God has placed it, and it fulfils the end for which it was created.17

This extract conjures up a nightmarish vision –​a human consciousness trapped in the body of a zoophyte –​and then invites readers to look at their own life in search of possible analogies. Using examples of animal behaviour to teach moral lessons was still a common practice around mid-​century, by no means limited to children’s literature; yet, the unfamiliarity of the species chosen to represent laziness, and its apparent distance from humans, made the message more forceful, and certainly more shocking. Some instances of anthropomorphism were based on a playful gendering of marine species, as in these passages where Lewes poses as the wooer of a beautiful but reluctant actinia: [w]hat a coquette is the Daisy (Actinia bellis), who displays her cinq-​ spotted bosom, beautiful as Imogen’s, in the crystal pool. You are on your knees at once; but no sooner is your hand stretched towards her, than at the first touch she disappears in a hole. Nothing but chiselling out the piece of rock will secure her; your labour is the price paid for the capture, and the captive is prized accordingly … I shall never feel again the delight of getting my first Actinia. No rare species can give that peculiar thrill. There is a bloom on the cheek which the first kiss carries away, and which never again meets the same lips.18 The Anemone has little more than beauty to recommend it; the indications of intelligence being of by no means a powerful order. What then? Is beauty nothing? Beauty is the subtle charm which draws us from the side of the enlightened Miss Crosser to that of the lovely though ‘quite unintellectual’ Caroline, whose conversation

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is not of a novel or brilliant kind; whereas Miss Crosser has read a whole Encyclopaedia, and is so obliging as to retail many pages of it freely in her conversation.19

However, the most recurrent instances of anthropomorphisation pivoted on social class. This applied both to descriptions of the animals’ character and of relations between individuals or species. For instance, periwinkles are useful in the tank because they mow away undesired vegetable growth; they are thus praised as they ‘seem to do their work as composedly and regularly as if they were paid by the day for it’.20 On the opposite side of the social scale, the common wentletrap is ‘not only a pretty shell, but holds relationship with a very aristocratic connection’, which is ‘the Royal Staircase Wentletrap, a shell formerly of such rarity that a specimen only two inches and a quarter in height would fetch eighty or ninety pounds’.21 A very popular analogy was the one used to describe the symbiotic relation between the Pagurus bernhardus and the anemone; in Hibberd’s version, [t]o the anemone the crab acts as porter; he drags the shell about with him as if it were a palanquin, on which sits enthroned a very bloated but gaily-​dressed potentate, destitute of power to move it for himself. Like most lazy dignitaries, this showy actinia attracts more attention than the lively servant who drags it from place to place, for its form and colouring are beautiful in the extreme.22

John Harper construes a crab’s appearance as ‘vulgar and slovenly in the extreme’, while the Serpula contortuplicata affects a ‘stately pride, refusing to mix much in fish society. Its members hold their heads higher than their neighbours, and live and die in solitary grandeur’.23 Discussing fiddler crabs, he observes that they swim with ‘the upper classes of fish society; while their poor unfortunate brethren, [other crabs] … are obliged to mix with common oysters, houseless molluscs, crustaceous burglars, and other low society at the bottom of the sea’.24 References to politics were instead less pervasive and, when used, they were very general in tone (perhaps not to alienate the sympathies of readers with different views). A recurrent reference, however, was deployed to explain the coexistence of community and individuality in coral-​like structures. While Gosse saw their closely knit society as a prefiguration of the heavenly city,25 other authors

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compared it to human (and never fully positive) forms of government. Reverend Wood remarked that in the Alcyonium digitatum, or ‘dead man’s fingers’, as in other zoophytes, ‘the qualities, fraternity and equality, are exhibited in a manner far superior to any republic, ancient or modern; but there is very little liberty in the case. In these curious creatures communism prevails to its fullest extent, one for all and all for one’.26 Describing the Virgularia mirabilis, Sowerby observed that: when we reflect that the only motions of which this animal is known to be capable are a kind of eccentric twist round its own axis, and a certain amount of puffy inflation of its parts, it does not present a very favourable view of separate government. It is rather calculated to remind us that too much independent action among individual members of a body politic is unfavourable to the development of corporate power: we will not point to practical illustrations of this.27

With a more explicit political turn, Professor Forbes observed that, if medusae are kept in a jar with small Crustacea, they devour these animals ‘so much more highly organized than themselves’, apparently ‘enjoying the destruction of the unfortunate members of the upper classes with a truly democratic relish’; some of them will even attack other medusae. Nevertheless, these ferocious creatures are among ‘the most delicate and graceful of the inhabitants of the ocean, —​“very models of tenderness and elegance”’.28 Humanising marine animals was primarily a way of making their behaviour more familiar, and thus intelligible to their human owners. Sea species were described in terms that clearly reflected the assumptions and beliefs of their owners, recreating a kind of underwater society that mirrored the human one. In this way, tank residents became more accessible from a conceptual point of view, acquiring a character that was meaningful to Victorian observers. Although this strategy was remarkably pervasive, authors seldom provided meta-​literary reflections on it; an exception, though, is offered by Lewes, who forcibly stigmatised it as wrong, both from a philosophical and a scientific point of view. In fact, ‘we are incessantly at fault in our tendency to anthropomorphise … Wherever we see motion which seems to issue from some internal impulse, and not from an obvious external cause, we cannot help attributing it to “the will”’.29 However, he also compared the actinia to a coquette, and throughout his text repeatedly introduced witty

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analogies between animal species and categories of humans. He felt the need to justify this apparent contradiction, by specifying that: [t]hese traits of manners and morals pleasantly vary our graver observations: but it is only with the higher organisms that we can be so amused; the lower organisms, although they have their manners and their morals, are too far removed from us to be intelligible. I have no doubt the mollusc is a moral individual, but you cannot consider him one greatly impassioned; an oyster or a limpet probably has his theory of life: but you cannot appeal to his finer sensibilities through the medium of music, poetry, or painting.30

Thus, some passages of his book are just meant to be amusing, and can therefore contain ironic comments that do not need to be accurate; however, when scientific theories are discussed (his ‘graver observations’), such jokes are to be left aside. Moreover, he also draws a distinction between higher and lower organisms: the former can inspire funny (albeit unscientific) analogies; the latter instead are so far beyond our comprehension that trying to understand them by referring to our own world would simply be pointless. The recurrence and variety of anthropomorphising descriptions testifies to the popularity of this strategy, which was meant to facilitate the enjoyment of the tank but also (as Lewes himself admits) to make reading itself more entertaining, notwithstanding some potential side-​effects. Hence, it is significant that even Lewes, who repeatedly stigmatised anthropomorphism as misleading, consciously chose to adopt it and then justify it, instead of simply abstaining from it. The ways in which early aquarists tried to make sense of what they saw in the tank was by no means simple or univocal; looking through the glass walls could indeed provide a multi-​ layered experience, as visual fruition became entangled with a network of references to human society and culture. In particular, observation was often enriched, and at the same time complicated, by irony and a great deal of imagination. Of course, these analogies were mostly witty remarks and did not signal a belief in a real correspondence; yet they conveyed the idea of a submarine world somehow comparable to our own, where individual actions, or inter-​species relations, could be described –​perhaps not scientifically, but still very effectively –​by using well-​known categories such as those concerning class, as in the passages quoted above. This way of conceptualising

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marine animals was meant to help readers relate to such strange creatures. It may be interesting to note that illustrations never followed this anthropomorphising tendency: tank keeping was meant to be entertaining, but it was still to be taken seriously. Portraying marine animals with human-​like features might have echoed illustrations for children’s books, making the hobby itself look ‘childish’ (which it was not meant to be). Thus, images in manuals tended to focus on the tank as a whole, presenting it as an elegant ornament for a house of taste, or on the creatures it contained, for which scientific illustrations were usually drawn. These could either be simple sketches of the species discussed in the text, meant to help readers recognise them, or more sophisticated images detailing the physiology or life stages of animals, often produced with the help of a microscope. In some cases, coloured plates presented collective views of sea creatures in their own environment, but they never referred to any humanising outlook of the species themselves or to their mutual interaction.

Touching Tank keeping was not just look, but don’t touch. Part of its appeal consisted in possessing a miniature world that could be managed through direct interventions. The propensity to humanise marine animals also led authors to turn them into characters and to read and narrate their actions as if they were proper plots, in which humans often took part. In fact, Victorian aquarists did not limit themselves to observing; they frequently interacted with sea creatures in a more invasive way by literally putting their hands into the tank. This kind of interaction could take different forms and fulfil different aims, testifying to surprisingly diverse and elaborate ways of getting closer to sea creatures. Judith Hamera notes the contiguity between the aquarium and spectatorial technologies including, of course, the theatre.31 The very shape of Victorian tanks might indeed evoke a stage. Unlike modern ones, Victorian aquaria were often very opulent, to match with the rest of the furniture, and their ornate sides could recall the architectural details very common in theatres at the time. Moreover,

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the kind of visual focus they encouraged obviously evoked a miniature playhouse. The theatricality of the marine tank was much insisted upon by Victorian authors as well. References to the theatre are pervasive in aquarium texts, and they surface in different ways according to the interests and aims of each author. For instance, Kingsley suggested that marine tanks, like other science-​related hobbies, could provide a positive substitute for the real stage: ‘I have seen the cultivated man … pent up in the drudgery of London work, and yet keeping his spirit calm, and perhaps his morals all the more righteous, by spending over his microscope evenings which would too probably have gradually been wasted at the theatre’.32 Yet, for most authors, references to the theatre were positive ones. Since it was common to present the tank as a tool to discover the hidden mysteries of the ocean, a favourite image was that of drawing the curtain on a surprising and fascinating scene. This conveyed both the excitement of discovery and the pleasure of visual appropriation, since these passages were clearly cast as acts of unveiling. Henry Noel Humphreys imagined that, ‘looking over that wide tremulous expanse of water that covers so many mysteries’, a curious seaside visitor ‘would feel, like the child taken for the first time within the walls of a theatre, an intense anxiety to raise the dark-​green curtain which conceals the scene of fairy wonders he is greedily longing to behold and enjoy’.33 The glass walls of the domestic tank allowed aquarists to peep through the curtain (that is, the surface of the ocean) and observe a world that was otherwise precluded from sight. Moreover, aquarists could experience this pleasure from the safety and comfort of their own homes, enjoying a miniaturised version, tamed and manageable, of the real sea. Jones, in the conclusions to his Aquarian Naturalist, actually describes the tank as a miniature playhouse: ‘ere we say farewell to the frail glass and mimic masonry, the petty theatre in which we have endeavoured to display so many perishable wonders, let us pause awhile, if but to take a parting glance at the amazing scene’.34 The amazing scenes offered by the aquarium, however, were not limited to picturesque landscapes that gestured towards the depths of the sea. While the tank was often compared to an aquatic garden, its peculiarity was that it contained live animals, and viewers were encouraged to examine it not only for scenery, but for action too.35

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But how to be entertained by a small fish in a tank, or a sea-​slug, or a tiny medusa? By humanising them and making them act. In fact, besides social class or vices and virtues, tank residents were routinely attributed human feelings and passions such as gratitude, friendship, greed, or a desire for revenge. It must be specified that early aquarists seldom turned fish and other marine creatures into ‘individual personalities’, even though there are some intriguing exceptions. They mostly cast them into ‘recognisable stock figures to make them seem less alien and more familiar’.36 This kind of identification was available even to those who were not interested in science, and it did not necessarily require a strong empathic investment. Stock characterisation was mainly done according to species. For instance, medusae were always beautiful and delicate, but surprisingly greedy when it came to feeding (the reader, like the author, was supposed to be shocked every time). Anemones (invariably characterised as female) were described as pretty coquettes, while crabs were generally cast as lower-​class bullies. Thus, each species had its pre-​determined part to play. It can be argued that these were just conventional witticisms, but there are some interesting instances in which the character of a species, or of a single individual, became central to fully developed, rather complicated plots. Thus, the mainly descriptive approach of the manual surprisingly turns into a narrative one. I suggest that this was not just a naïve anthropomorphisation; it was actually meant to help aquarium owners see something in those creatures and relate to them, turning a detached observation into an interested, amused, and participatory one. Moreover, it lent a whole new interest to the aquarists’s activity of tank maintenance, allowing them to construe it as a sort of participation in the lives of sea creatures.

Underwater mysteries John Harper, the author of The Sea-​Side and Aquarium, tells some rather intricate stories about his tank residents. These are particularly interesting because he tries to make them entertaining for the reader through the use of irony, hyperbole, and suspense. Moreover, far from posing as a detached observer, he describes in detail his own reactions, thus providing an account of his spectatorial response, at

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times even participating, rather intrusively, as we shall see, in the tank plots he describes. For instance, one day, ‘on accidentally looking’ at the tank, he spotted a crab ‘quietly scooping out my prettiest Pholas’.37 Harper, very upset, tries to punish the offender by hitting it (he even had a tool for the purpose, a stick of gutta percha that he called his ‘aquarium ferule’), but the crab speedily absconds. Harper, however, decides that justice must be done, so he empties the tank (a ‘formidable’ operation, as it required moving each specimen to ‘basins, jugs, tumblers, saucers, and all sorts of ware’ in order to find the fugitive). He finally finds it and –​like a proper judge in a criminal case –​determines to try ‘the effects of solitary confinement’, putting the crab in a tumbler, where he also subjects it to ‘a course of corporeal punishment’.38 However, other pholas disappear while the crab is ‘in solitary’, clearly showing that there must be another culprit. Therefore, Harper exerts all his powers of surveillance (in fact, he ‘kept a sharp look-​out’) and, as a patient detective, eventually collects ‘ample evidence’ that the offenders were his ‘shy, docile friends, the Blennies!’. Perhaps not surprisingly, foremost in the gang was a ‘little rascal whose misdemeanours’ had already occasioned some disturbance.39 However, to Harper’s dismay, among the gang of blennies there was also his little favourite, whom he called Little Jock.40 The behaviour of tank residents is framed as a history of crime and punishment:  there is a suspicious crab, a gang of murderous blennies, multiple violent murders (described with a profusion of gory details), some confusion about the identity of the killer, and the final retribution, as some time later, on accidentally overturning the pholas’ shell, Harper found Little Jock ‘quite dead’. Tank life is sensationalised by an emphasis on animal violence as criminal, but also by a detailed account of the author’s reactions: when the fight between the crab and the pholas begins, he admits that he ‘looked on very eagerly’, justifying himself by saying that he had not ‘anticipated the tragical nature of the encounter’. This clearly marks a tension between Harper’s disciplinary role and the admission that he found violence in the tank quite entertaining. When the blennies attack the pholas, he notes that ‘[i]t being now of no use, as regarded the recovery of the victims, to suspend their proceedings, I permitted the Blennies to eat and fight as they pleased’.41

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Furthermore, discussing the death of the pholas, Harper further enhances the evocative power of the scene by analogies with other, more familiar animals, stating that one of the blennies playfully seized its victim, shaking it ‘as a dog does a rat’, and that ‘they strove for a mouthful with a greed that reminded me of the vultures in the Regent’s Park at feeding-​time’.42 Weaving plots of crime and punishment, violence and revenge made tank life more entertaining. Moreover, it also gave an additional interest to the reading of the manual itself. Harper narrates the mysterious disappearance of the pholas, his investigations into this, and reveals the identity of the killer only at the end as in a mystery plot. Yet, such bold anthropomorphising does not seem to favour a true interest in, or understanding of, the creatures in question. It is true that Harper devoted remarkable efforts to feeding his blennies (he minced their food in ‘fish mouthfuls’, removed all traces of fat, moistened the food, and then ‘served’ it upon a hair pencil). He even argues that he ‘gained their confidence’ by ‘stroking their head and glossy sides with a camel hair brush’, claiming that they not only liked it but actively solicited the favour.43 However, on the whole, his attention does not seem to stem from affection, but rather from the pleasure of taming or domesticating sea creatures, which he mostly treats as playthings.

Staging underwater dramas Sometimes, the spectacularisation of tank life was also enhanced by explicit quotations from real plays. Describing the reaction of a crab on whose back he had mischievously placed a whelk, Harper notes that the crab ‘looked savagely down upon the wretch, who had, as he thought, wilfully robbed him of his house—​his all! “Is it not too bad, sir, for such a crawling rascal to stick to his neighbour’s property like that?” he seemed to ask, looking up at me. “Honi soit qui mal y pense”, thought I, for I knew the Whelk had, like Michael Cassio, “Err’d in ignorance, and not in cunning”’.44 Jones offered a dramatic description of predatory behaviour when he noted that a ‘Callirhoë had taken from the body of the Beroë “a huge half moon, a monstrous cantle out”’, drawing the image from Henry IV.45 Of course, these references appealed to the cultivated reader, who could recognise the quotations, but they

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also had the function of creating connections between the actions of sea creatures and a more familiar situation that already had some element of drama in it. This is further confirmed by the fact that most authors tended to praise animals that were active in the aquarium, blaming instead (or suggesting not to acquire) the lazy ones, which would offer nothing interesting to look at: for instance, species like the brill, the plaice, the dabor, or the sole, ‘[t]hough easily caught, they are of little value, for they do not live long in a tank, and are uninteresting from their sluggish habits, as they lie perfectly still on the bottom for hours together’.46 Thus, the tank was frequently experienced as a miniature stage, but it still required a good deal of imagination to enjoy it as such. Manuals did exactly that:  they enriched the visual pleasure of watching marine species by suggesting multiple ways of deriving amusement from them. References to the theatre were meant to endow tank scenes with glamour and interest; however, due to the tiny size and unfamiliar nature of the creatures involved, such high-​ sounding analogies also had the effect of making the animals funny by contrast. This can be seen very clearly in the crab stories that resurface in most manuals. Often characterised as greedy, aggressive troublemakers, crabs apparently made a very interesting contribution to tank life precisely because of their propensity to fight. A particularly coveted species was the hermit crab, due to its habit of changing its shell as it grows bigger. When discussing this, authors often claimed that their goal was to assess whether it was a ‘murderer and free-​booter, like Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard’;47 that is, whether it killed other animals to take their shells or merely took possession of shells that were already empty. However, the way in which the process was described suggests that aquarists were not just trying to satisfy a scientific curiosity. They chronicled these episodes in highly sensational terms, emphasising the thrill of witnessing a potentially deadly fight between crabs competing for the same shell. Sometimes authors themselves fomented violence by adding a further contender, by poking around one of the animals, or by changing the crabs’ surroundings to confound them, in order to prolong or heighten the entertainment.48 Lewes engaged in this activity:  in his Seaside Studies, he described a crab fight (a combat that he had carefully –​if somehow

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mischievously –​staged) as an exciting performance, whose appeal was further emphasised by the author’s reference to the fighters as the two actors who had played the famous duel scene in The Corsican Brothers.49 He selected two hermit crabs of equal size, both in need of a new shell, placed an empty shell between them, and then watched them competing for it. One of them entered the shell, but soon his ‘rival approached with strictly dishonourable intentions; and they both walked round and round the vase, eyeing each other with settled malignity, —​like Charles Kean and Wigan in the famous duel of the Corsican Brothers’. Lewes takes the reference further, stating that ‘[f]or the sake of distinctness, I will take a liberty with two actors’ names, and continue to designate our two crabs as Charles Kean and Alfred Wigan’.50 His description of the fight continues on for pages, always referring to the crabs as Wigan and Kean. At some point he also observes that ‘Wigan looked piteous for a few moments, but soon, his “soul in arms and eager for the shell”, he rushed upon his foe’, with a play on the line ‘my soul’s in arms, and eager for the fray’, from Richard III (Act 5, Scene III, altered by Colley Cibber).51 Such a way of framing the episode is especially interesting, since in the same text Lewes forcibly argues against the anthropomorphisation of animals as misleading and unscientific.52 Yet, he apparently cannot resist, and admits that the crab fight provides a very entertaining show; but he also specifies that the ultimate effect is not scary but rather comical, as ‘[n]o words of mine can describe our shouts of laughter at this ludicrous combat’.53 This was obviously quite different from the reaction expected from the spectator of the stage-​duel between Kean and Wigan. The fact that Lewes uses the names of the actors instead of the names of the characters further points to the combat as spectacle, inviting identification with the author as a spectator rather than with the animal-​characters of the story. Thus, violent proceedings were welcomed and often materially encouraged, when purposely managed by humans as a kind of gripping, or grotesque, spectacle; on the other hand, aquarists did not tolerate uncontrolled aggressiveness (also because it might entail the loss of precious specimens, expensive or difficult to replace) and even discussed the predatory behaviour of marine animals as if they were deliberately breaking rules. Nevertheless, some aquarists tried to clear the crabs’ bad name. In Story of My Aquarium, the author

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observes: ‘I have heard of a New Zealand savage asserting his claim to a piece of property on the plea that he had eaten the last proprietor. Whether the soldier’s title [the soldier crab] rests on the same grounds is subject to dispute. I am myself inclined to acquit him, as I have seen one hunting diligently for a new abode, without attempting to meddle with any but unoccupied shells’.54 Although crabs are often described as ‘bold and pugnacious’, the author is rather inclined to see them as mere bullies, as ‘[t]hey advance, indeed, bravely enough against one another, but seem suddenly to adopt the opinion of Sir John Falstaff —​“the better part of valour is discretion” —​and each retires from the field without a contest’.55 Interestingly, the writer also did something quite unusual for aquarium texts: he or she tried to put himself (of herself –​she was possibly a woman) in the shoes of tank residents when a crab did actually attack them:  ‘I have sometimes tried to imagine the horror and consternation of the smaller animals when seized by these sharp pincers […] [t]heir feelings must, I conceive, be akin to those of Little Red-​Riding-​Hood, when she discovered the great eyes, long ears, and large teeth of the wolf, instead of the sick old grandmother whom she had come to visit’.56 The emphasis on violence in the tank varied according to personal sensibility, but also to assumptions about the amount and meaning of aggressiveness in the natural world. This is very evident in the treatment of crab fights, which recur in all texts but are described in very different terms. Harper and Lewes, for instance, evidently enjoyed episodes of predation and violence, while other authors, like Gosse, never described these occurrences as amusing. Some aquarists actually took great pride in the well-​being of their sea animals, sometimes going a long way in providing for their comfort. Gosse displayed an impressive sensibility, as in the touching passage where he narrated his attempts to cure a sick pipe-​ fish (the same one whose swift movements frustrated his attempts at drawing it): I endeavoured to tap some of the largest bladders with a needle, and fancied it felt some relief; but I was afraid to attempt much at this kind of chirurgery [sic], lest I might be found guilty by a jury of fishes of the crime of fish-​slaughter. What little I did, however, seemed to do good, for the next day many of the bladders had disappeared, but only to return in greater numbers and size than ever. … I accordingly

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took it into my fingers, and pierced the bladders here and there in various parts of the body, and then returned it to the water. At first I was afraid I had killed it by keeping it out of water, though only for so brief a period as a few minutes (certainly not more than two or three); for it floated belly uppermost, and appeared much exhausted, but gradually recovered … and the little creature was able to enjoy itself again.57 (emphasis in the original)

Yet, even for Gosse, the welfare of tank residents was often subordinated to other concerns. For instance, he proudly describes a sabella with a very elegant ‘plumous crown’;58 but then he unthinkingly puts into the same jar an afithea cereus, who immediately attacks the sabella. Gosse looks on ‘with vexation’, trying to save it by taking both animals out of the jar and pulling away the tentacles of the Anthea one by one. While thus engaged, to my infinite chagrin, the lovely coronet suddenly came off all in a piece from the body, though pulled with the least imaginable force. To use a phrase of the ladies, ‘I could almost have sat down and cried’. I did no such thing, however, but put body and head-​dress into another bottle, only, alas! to note the sad contrast between its now shrunken form, and that which it had assumed when the life was pervading it, spreading its graceful curves, opening and closing the spires, and gently waving every delicate filament.59

Although he was certainly sorry, Gosse’s regret seems to derive more from the frustration at having spoiled the beauty of the specimen than the possible suffering –​his own fault –​inflicted on it. In general, even when authors lament the death of an animal (often due to their own oversight), they never display much sense of guilt, framing it more in terms of disappointment at losing a valuable piece of their marine collection. Similar events were apparently quite frequent. In Story of My Aquarium, the author reports that a jellyfish (nicknamed Sir Charles Grandison, because it ‘performed such graceful bows’) was eaten by an anemone which the aquarist had ‘foolishly dropped’ in the tank beside it. In a few minutes I discovered, to my horror, that the greedy fellow had seized, and was actually devouring, the long, depending tentacles of the beautiful jelly-​fish. I instantly rescued them from his grasp, and removed the offender, but Sir Charles never recovered it; his bows became more

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and more languid, and at length ceased altogether, and, to our great regret, he died.60

The author displays a remarkable sensitivity for the welfare of tank residents,61 but their death is never reported to have occasioned more than a passing regret, such as when ‘[a] small favourite kitten made its way into the drawing room during our absence, pulled the urchins out of their dish, and injured them so much that they died the next day’.62 It is also worth noting that, while episodes of violence or predation among different species were often emphasised in manuals through the use of dramatic quotations, irony, or hyperbole, they were never represented in the illustrations, which tended instead to convey desirable images of the tank as a site of beauty and order, which everybody would wish to have in their parlours; scenes depicting animals eating each other, for instance, would have risked making the hobby less palatable.

Looking back The apparent detachment of Victorian aquarists might be because, for most of them, the purpose of the marine aquarium was the recreation of a self-​sustaining miniature ecosystem rather than the one-​ to-​ one human-​ animal relationship. Yet, the unprecedented possibility of observing sea animals alive also fostered intriguing reflections on their individuality. Gosse, as usual, stands out, writing: [t]here is an idiosyncrasy in the inferior animals, I am persuaded, —​not so great or varied, probably, as in Man … but —​sufficient to communicate individuality of character, and to make the actions of one animal to differ, in some degree, from those of another of the same species, under similar circumstances. […] And if it exists in the features, we might reasonably infer a parallel diversity in mind (by which I mean a faculty distinct from, but co-​existent with, instinct) in them, even if direct observation did not detect it.63 (emphasis in the original)

Such reflections, however, are quite rare. Significantly, they mostly surface when authors discuss the impression that sea animals look back. As a counterpoint to the (far more numerous) passages in

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which marine creatures are described as providing a spectacle for humans, there are also some instances in which humans feel themselves to be the object of the animal’s gaze, as in this passage by Reverend Wood, where the animal not only looks back, but fights back too: [t]here was an officer employed, … in searching the coast for objects of marine natural history. After a while he came unexpectedly on a cuttle, who had taken up his abode in a convenient recess. The cuttle has a pair of very prominent eyes, and for a short time the cuttle looked at the officer, and the officer at the cuttle. Presently, the cuttle became uneasy, and taking a good aim at his military visitor, shot his charge of black ink with so true a range, that a pair of snowy white trowsers were covered with the sable fluid, and rendered entirely unpresentable.64

Lewes mentions a fish in a glass jar ‘looking at us with strange human look, not in the least abashed by our admiration’.65 Sowerby remarked on the ‘cunning-​looking eyes’ of a flounder,66 and Gosse, describing his pipe-​fish, notes that its beautiful eyes move independently of each other, which gives a most curious effect as you watch its little face through a lens; one eye being directed towards your face, with a quick glance of apparent intelligence, while the other is either at rest, or thrown hither and thither at various other objects … and from under their shelter peeps with its brilliant eyes at the intruder, as if wondering what he can be, drawing back gently on any alarming motion.67

However, marine creatures are never described as looking back in anger, and aquarists never seem to read reproach in their eyes, even when they are being captured or imprisoned. At best, sea animals are described as displaying a baffling, mocking look. Aquarium texts described, and promoted, diverse ways of making contact with marine creatures. Anthropomorphism played a prominent role in most of these texts, and tank residents were often cast as stock characters in plots that were either superimposed on their natural behaviours or actually managed by humans. While some aquarists gladly enjoyed –​and often instigated –​a moderate amount of mayhem in their tanks, another very common way of physically interacting with tank residents was specifically represented as disciplinary. This went far beyond mere surveillance

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and could be construed as a proper policing, as in the case of Harper’s investigations on tank crimes. Although his characterisation of marine creatures as criminals is rather exceptional, to a lesser degree this attitude was common to other authors as well.68 We must also note that physical interaction was necessarily limited: it was quite difficult for humans to do things with (and not to) their marine animals, and most of these creatures had a very short life, especially in captivity. Of course, this does not exclude compassion or affection; some authors displayed striking degrees of empathy. In general, Victorian aquarists took great care of their tanks and derived great satisfaction from the success of their miniature seas. Yet, the emphasis was usually on the live collection as a whole and not on the single animal. This approach had a visual counterpart in the frequent illustrations in which sea creatures were arranged in collective compositions, often resembling flower bouquets. This was an ideal solution to underline the beauty of animals that actually resembled flowers or plants, exploiting the widespread analogy between the aquarium and an ‘ocean garden’. Moreover, it had the further advantage of filling the plate with multiple species, which was especially useful for animals that had a very simple physical structure (otherwise the image would seem empty). Single species illustrations were sometimes present, but they were mostly devoted to dissections and microscopic views, or to those animals who were perceived to have a more marked individuality, usually those with a face. Even when individuality emerged, and was remarked upon, it apparently did not encourage relations comparable to those with other domestic animals. Most importantly, significant differences emerge if we look at the way in which the suffering of marine creatures was discussed and conceptualised.

Experimenting It is important to note that, by this time, sea animals were not fully included in the growing concern for animal rights.69 Most manuals warn readers not to wantonly harm them, but at times it is difficult to see whether this stems from a genuine concern for their welfare or from the preoccupation that aquarists may thus spoil their

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property or waste a collecting trip to the seaside. Animals in the tank are routinely defined as ‘prisoners’ or ‘captives’, but this does not suggest that keeping them there might amount to cruelty; on the contrary, most authors argued that the animals are happy in the tank.70 Interestingly, these remarks are more frequent in connection to very minute species. Jones, for instance, suggests examining an ordinary shell with a magnifying glass and observing the myriads of small animals on it: when, upon closer inspection, we perceive how actively employed they all appear, how all find room for life and for enjoyment on the little stage that forms their world, unknowing all beyond, as if creation was confined to them, a reflection by no means unnatural will sometimes steal across the mind, that we ourselves are imaged in their condition, and in their ignorance of what is passing in surrounding nature beyond the sphere of their immediate neighbourhood.71

In Story of My Aquarium, the author admits that, on first discovering the abundance of animalcula dispersed in sea-​water, ‘unseen by human eyes’, a question arose as to the purpose of their existence; he or she wondered what their use could be, since –​being invisible to humans –​they could not possibly have been created for us. Then, after quoting some lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost (‘Nor think though men were none/​That heaven would want spectators…’), the writer observes that God might have created them for angels, who may ‘see and admire these lovely forms, which are concealed from us’.72 This may seem a rather naïve way of framing the issue, but we should not forget that an anthropocentric perspective was common in many texts on popular science at the time, although it could be expressed in more sophisticated ways. The writer, however, does not stop there; another possibility emerges, suggested by the impression that the animalcula are actually happy: ‘after watching them a little longer, and being convinced of the exquisite enjoyment of life, which is the heritage of the meanest and smallest among them, I felt that I deserved the keen, almost scornful reproof of the poet “has god, thou fool! Work’d solely for thy good?”’73 Thus, in words taken from Pope’s Essay on Man, the author comes to consider the idea that perhaps not all living forms must necessarily be functional to humans. Such a conclusion, though, is partly mitigated by the hypothesis advanced by Professor Owen, who suggested that such

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micro-​organisms might contribute to maintaining ‘the salubrity of the atmosphere and the purity of the water’.74 Occasional observations that some species suffer or simply do not survive in captivity never trigger a questioning of the aquarium itself, but only warnings about which species should be avoided. Jones, after mentioning the hostility of fishermen to starfishes, observes: [a]nd here, methinks, the reader will expect us to write a vehement philippic against such wanton destruction of Star-​fishes, and such a puerile display of impotent vengeance on the part of the fishermen:  assuredly our pen, ever ready in defence of the persecuted victims of ignorance, was just preparing itself for the task, but –​will it be credited? –​we really sympathize with the fisherman … yes, it would have tried the patience of Job to have been plagued as those poor fishermen are by the ubiquitous ‘five fingers’.75

In general, sea creatures were considered more expendable than other domestic animals. While in some cases they are playfully called ‘pets’ or ‘companions’, they are more frequently defined as ‘objects’, ‘things’, or ‘ornaments’.76 These recurrent references to their thingness stem from a number of reasons. The aquarium was a unique piece of furniture: an object meant to host living beings that –​unlike other caged animals –​could not survive outside it. Furthermore, the aquarium was a self-​ contained whole, inside the house yet separated from it; marine creatures could not freely move, touch humans, or try to catch their attention; they could not even reach them through sound as birds, for instance, could do. Such an inescapable relation between the container and the contained made sea animals inseparable from the tank also from an imaginative point of view, turning it into a kind of animal-​object whole.77 The unavoidable mediation of technology should not be underestimated, as it deeply conditioned the way in which tank residents, and their relation to humans, were perceived. Moreover, some of the species hosted in Victorian tanks were borderline creatures, formerly classified as plants, as in the case of actinias or corals. Others, such as the Medusa minutissima described by Jones, were so small that they were ‘rather considered a microscopic object than otherwise’.78 Tank residents could indeed turn from pets into objects at very short notice. Most manuals reported the experiments performed by professional scientists,

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also encouraging readers to repeat them or try new ones. The still-​ mysterious biology of some marine creatures incited aquarists to see them as specimens and to treat them as things to be broken in order to understand what is inside, or how they work. Due to their unfamiliar biology, detecting their sufferance or pain was more difficult than in other animals. In some cases, they had the ability to re-​grow parts of their bodies (thus giving the impression that losing these parts was not such a big deal) or to survive in desperate conditions (like Harper’s pockets, when he forgot a mussel there for days, and later found it was still alive).79 At times, it was even difficult to understand if they were dead or alive.80 Such difficulty for humans in recognising familiar signs of sufferance led to the widespread belief that certain species simply could not perceive pain. For instance, Harper reported the ‘notorious fact, that the starfish, like so many marine creatures of a similar organization, is remarkably indifferent to pain’.81 Comments like this were often repeated, especially in connection with the so-​called suicidal tendency of starfishes.82 The word ‘cruelty’ is seldom mentioned explicitly, and when it is, it is usually to excuse or to downplay it. Sowerby, discussing the fact that some animals display bioluminescence when in danger or about to die, observed that ‘[a] beautiful result is obtained, although perhaps cruelly, by throwing a Pennatula into fresh water, when it emits and scatters brilliant sparks in every direction’83 (emphasis added). In most cases, authors simply described experiments and their material results, without further comment. An interesting exception is provided by Lewes’s extensive discussion of vivisection (which was then the object of an increasingly passionate debate) in relation to sea species. He begins by observing that [t]he reader, who is of course a lover of animals, and consequently of a sympathetic compassionate nature, will probably feel some repulsion at the quiet way in which he is recommended to snip off the Cydippe’s tentacles, and will energetically protest against the cruelty of physiologists who employ vivisection as a means of experiment.84

He then lists various arguments that were commonly used to justify vivisection; for instance, distinguishing between cruelty –​‘the indulgence of tyrannous love of power’ –​and scientific research, whose purpose is instead ‘the grave investigation of truth’.85 Lewes also claims that his own ‘susceptibility’ forbids him to perform

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experiments that inflict pain, but he then specifies that ‘[w]ith lower animals the case is altogether different. They feel no pain’.86 The author provides a rather long explanation of such a conviction based on recent studies of anatomy and the nervous system,87 concluding that this knowledge ‘keeps me perfectly calm in performing experiments on marine animals: a very desirable result, seeing that, without experiment, our observations would carry us but little way’.88 Even when they were not killed on purpose, marine creatures were certainly not mourned as other pets, and their death could even be framed as an opportunity for research. Commenting on the natural death of a pet fish, Lewes observed, in a characteristic ironic tone: I grieved for him, and, as a consolation —​dissected him. This was my constant solace, when I found —​as, alas! I often found —​that some of my pets had departed. The zoologist softened, the anatomist was resolved. I had lost a pet, and gained a ‘preparation’. Grief gave way under the scalpel. Science dried afflicted eyes. Nay, shall I confess it? Many a time I have had the unfeelingness to eye a pet with an undertaker’s glance, almost wishing it would die, for the sake of its corpse. And when this was the case, you may be sure I bore the announcement of mortality with something of that fortitude displayed by legatees when a choleric old gentleman, or a lady of starched and vigorous virtue, departs this life, leaving a trifle in the 3%. Death was no finale to me. The closing scene was only the close of an act, after which the curtain rose once more, the drama culminating in interest.89

Eating Finally, some of the life forms hosted in aquaria were also used as food, which predictably generated a more detached attitude. Even when discussing species that were not usually considered edible, explanations of their biology or habits could surprisingly turn into recipes. For instance, Gosse reported his attempt to cook an Actinia crassicornis, which he ironically framed as an experiment, so that ‘I did not choose to commit my pet morsels to the servants, but took the saucepan into my own hand’.90 Although the first bite generated ‘a sort of lumpy feeling’ in his throat, he soon overcame

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the sensation as ‘unworthy of a philosopher’, eventually cleaning the dish with great relish. Apparently, even his son Edmund ‘voted that “tinny was good”, and that “he liked tinny”; and loudly demanded more, like another Oliver Twist’.91 This passage was often requoted and commented upon by other authors. Lewes, for instance, attributed Gosse’s ‘difficulty in swallowing the first mouthful’ to ‘remorse, and zoological tenderness’, and then compared anemones to another unusual item of food –​at least for English readers –​observing that ‘Lady Jane is “horrified” at the idea of eating her pets; but now that horse-​flesh is publicly sold in the markets of Vienna and other German towns, and public banquets of hippophagists are frequent in France, will Anemones long escape the frying-​pan?’.92 Sometimes, the contrast between the beauty of the living animal and its appearance on the table was remarked upon, as when Hibberd observed that: [p]rawns and shrimps would occupy a volume, to do them justice. Easily obtained alive, and eaten everywhere after being cooked alive, these humble creatures would stand a chance of cool treatment at the hands of the amateur, did we not here drop the hint, that for liveliness, elegance of movement, courage, and cleanliness, all varieties of shrimp and prawn are worthy of admiration, from the great lobster prawn, with its fierce pincers, down to the little shrimp, the joy of Gravesend. Doubled up as we get them, and altogether altered in colour, by the combined effects of boiling water and red-​hot poker, they convey the very remotest idea of their natural shape and character. Their natural colours are very beautiful, and a soft transparency adds much to the fascinating effect they produce on the eye as they dart up and down, moving rapidly their ‘many twinkling feet’ with more grace than the bright danseuse of the French ballet. As they proceed they point forward their long horns, or antennae, which glisten like silver threads. Then they curvet head over heels, and dart up and down again, either escaping from the attack of marauding fishes, which they keep at bay with the most playful menaces, or gamboling with each other for mere fun. But they do fall pretty often into hungry jaws, and the stock must be kept up by a continual supply.93

Gosse compared the faded beauty of dead prawns on a plate to their vitality (and capacity for eye contact) when alive:

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[n]ow he examines the weeds, then shoots under the dark angles of the rock. As he comes up towards me, I stretch out my hand over the water; in an instant he shoots backwards a foot or so; then catching hold of a weed with his feet, and straddling its vertical edge, he remains motionless, gazing up at me with his large prominent eyes, as if in the utmost astonishment. This prawn, that comes to our tables decked out and penetrated, as it were, with a delicate, pellucid, rose-​ colour, beautiful as he is then, is far more beautiful when just netted from the bottom, or from the overhanging weed-​grown side, of some dark pool. If you happen never to have seen him in this state, let me introduce him to you.94

However, these remarks never led to a loss of appetite or to the idea that it might be wrong to eat such interesting creatures. The unfamiliar nature of marine species, and their limited (or difficult to understand) response to humans allowed for, and probably encouraged, a wider degree of interpretation.95 Of course, as noted by Daston and Mitman, animals do not only signify something: they act, and feel.96 Yet, when what they do or feel is so difficult to understand, as in the case of sea species, it is perhaps easier to read them with a greater degree of latitude. Moreover, tank residents were unlike any other domestic animal. The way in which they were conceptualised was deeply influenced by the technology that allowed for their presence in the home. Technologies of vision and display are always crucial in shaping animal representation, but this is especially true in this case, since marine animals could only be experienced through the medium of the tank. In fact, they partook of its multiple nature as a miniature replica of the ocean, a private zoo, a fashionable object of décor, and a tool for amateur research. The aquarists’ understanding of tank residents was thus informed by personal sensibility, cultural background, and current representational practices. Victorian discussions of tank residents deployed existing discourses on animals, but marine species did not always fit into them (for instance, although domestic, they could neither be seen as proper friends nor conceptualised as servants). Therefore, while their alterity allowed for a great deal of fantasising, on the other hand it also made them more difficult to be controlled, from both a conceptual and a practical point of view. As discussed above, aquarium manuals relied heavily on anthropomorphism;

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yet, this did not always lead to a more caring attitude, since analogies between the miniature world in the tank and the human one were mostly meant to make aquaria more entertaining for humans, not to foster empathy. But the aquarium also offered a chance for daily observation of creatures that had never been so close to us; most importantly, it also gave owners the responsibility for those creatures. This prompted an impressive range of attempts at understanding, interacting, and making contact with them. Discussing the term ‘animal’, Erica Fudge observed that ‘[o] ur language creates and gives meaning to our world, and animals become subsumed into that world because we lack another language with which to represent them’.97 Indeed, the way in which we name other beings not only signifies a relation, but produces one. In the case of Victorian aquarium texts, the authors’ multiple modes of labelling or describing sea creatures reflected and produced many kinds of relations. Sea creatures in aquaria were appropriated by different, at times overlapping, discourses, as Victorians tried to make sense of them in religious, scientific, or aesthetic terms. Aquarium discussions offer us a glimpse of the first large-​scale encounter between marine species and humans in a domestic context. Authors were well aware that such visibility was unprecedented, and they were accordingly excited by it. But they also understood that tank residents were rather difficult to read in light of established conventions, which were variously modified or adjusted to accommodate sea creatures. As a result, familiar categories were applied and simultaneously questioned. Thus, marine creatures were humanised and objectified, floating across the slippery boundaries between the categories of ornaments, pets, specimens, and food. However, they also posed new problems and stimulated reflections on animal agency, pain, individuality, and inter-​species interaction, which deserve more critical attention.

Notes 1 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 115. 2 Brunner, Ocean at Home, p. 8. 3 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 494. 4 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 495. 5 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, pp. 19–​20.

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6 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 523–​ 4, quoting from Sir Francis Bacon, ‘Of Atheism’. 7 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 109. 8 Gosse, Aquarium, p. 171. 9 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 345–​6. The quotation is from Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Canto V. 10 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 346. 11 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 278–​9. 12 Gosse, Aquarium, pp. 114–​15. 13 Gosse, Aquarium, p. 48. 14 Gosse, Aquarium, p. 177. 15 Smith, Charles Darwin, p. 81. Gosse’s typological reading has been discussed in Chapter 4. 16 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, pp. 45–​6. 17 Sowerby, Popular History, pp. 90–​2. On the tendency to attribute vices and virtues to marine animals see also Hamlin, ‘Robert Warington’, 147. 18 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 13. 19 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 139. 20 Wood, Common Objects, p. 18. 21 Wood, Common Objects, p. 19. 22 Hibberd, Book of the Aquarium, M, p. 98. 23 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, pp. 106; 135. 24 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 102. 25 Gosse, Aquarium, pp. 124–​6. 26 Wood, Common Objects, p. 75. 27 Sowerby, Popular History, p. 66. 28 Quoted in Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 57. 29 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, pp. 365–​6. 30 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 51. 31 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 24. 32 Kingsley, Glaucus, p. 50. 33 Humphreys, Ocean Gardens, pp. 3–​4. 34 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 521. 35 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, pp. 28–​9. 36 Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 22. Hamera also notes that, while zoo animals are ‘Stanislavskian’, since they ‘invite emotional recognition’, aquarium residents are instead ‘Brechtian’, as they tend to produce an alienating effect. Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 21. 37 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 71. 38 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 72. 39 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 73.

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40 As observed by Rebecca Stott, Harper explicitly cast himself as ‘master, father and law-​maker’, situating his management of the tank within a ‘colonial and paternalistic context’. Stott, ‘Through a Glass Darkly’, 308. 41 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, pp. 70-​4. Discussing the behaviour or the troublesome blenny, Harper remarked that, although he saw that other tank residents were ‘far from well pleased’ by its attacks, ‘to me, as an onlooker, it was rather amusing to watch his rough fun’. Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 59. 42 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 73. 43 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, pp. 56–​7. 44 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 110. Harper uses the motto of the order of the garter and quotes from Othello, Act III, Scene 3. 45 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 96. The quotation is from Henry IV, Part 1, III.1. 46 Gosse, Aquarium, p. 81. 47 Gosse, Aquarium, p. 169. 48 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 109. 49 Lewes refers to Dion Boucicault’s stage adaptation of The Corsican Brothers, or, the Fatal Duel, a drama in three acts from Dumas’s 1844 novella, Les frères corses. The play was first performed at the Princess’s Theatre, Oxford Street, in February 1852. Charles Kean played the role of both brothers, Fabien and Louis de Franchi; the villain, Chateau Renaud, was played by Alfred Wigan. 50 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 48. 51 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, pp. 48–​9. Colley Cibber (1671–​1757) was an actor-​manager, playwright, and Poet Laureate. His adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays were very popular in the eighteenth century, some of which (especially Richard III) were still performed in the Victorian era. 52 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, pp. 365–​6. 53 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 48. 54 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, p. 34. 55 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, p. 34. 56 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, p. 35. 57 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, pp. 183–​ 4. Notwithstanding Gosse’s efforts, the fish eventually died: ‘I found my pet dead, on my return after a week’s absence from home; it had apparently been dead about three or four days; so that it has lived in captivity rather more than four weeks’. Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 184. 58 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 418. 59 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 419. 60 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, pp. 27–​8.

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61 For instance, the writer recounts how, unable to keep a favourite oyster any more, they conveyed it back to the sea, ‘where I hope he is still enjoying existence in his own way’. [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, p. 44. 62 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, p. 26. 63 Gosse, Aquarium, pp. v–​vi. 64 Wood, Common Objects, p. 55. 65 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 24. 66 Sowerby, Popular History, p. 282. 67 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, pp. 180–​1. 68 Hibberd too attributed ‘murderous propensities’ to fiddler crabs. Hibberd, Aquarium, M, p. 122. 69 Victorian debates about animal welfare are amply documented; see, among others, Ritvo, Animal Estate; Hilda Kean, Animal Rights:  Political and Social Change in Britain since 1800 (London: Reaktion Books, 1998); Moira Ferguson, Animal Advocacy and Englishwomen, 1780–​1900: Patriots, Nation, and Empire (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998); Barbara T. Gates, Kindred Nature: Victorian and Edwardian Women Embrace the Living World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Rob Boddice, A History of Attitudes and Behaviours toward Animals in Eighteenth-​and Nineteenth-​Century Britain:  Anthropocentrism and the Emergence of Animals (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), and John Miller, Empire and the Animal Body:  Violence, Identity and Ecology in Victorian Adventure Fiction (London: Anthem Press, 2012). 70 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 176. 71 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 115–​16. 72 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, pp. 64–​5. 73 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, p. 65. 74 [Anon.], Story of My Aquarium, p. 66. The author quotes from Richard Owen’s Lectures on Comparative Anatomy. 75 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 207. 76 Tank residents were seldom named; this is quite significant, since the act of naming animals is a way to acknowledge their ‘subjectivity and a relationship with oneself’. Annabelle Sabloff, Reordering the Natural World: Humans and Animals in the City (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 66. Yet, there were exceptions, such as Harper’s Little Jock or Sir Charles Grandison, the jellyfish mentioned in Story of My Aquarium. 77 In Hamera’s words, the self-​ evident thingness of the aquarium ‘extended to and enveloped its residents and turned them into objects by extension. They were conceptually part and parcel of the new toy

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… because they were literally inseparable from it’. Hamera, Parlor Ponds, p. 128. 78 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 85. 79 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 89. 80 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 421. 81 Harper, Sea-​Side and Aquarium, p. 39. 82 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 210–​11; 243. 83 Sowerby, Popular History, p. 64. 84 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 328. 85 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 329. 86 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 329. 87 To further prove this point, Lewes claimed that ‘[e]ven among men the difference of susceptibility is very remarkable. It is much less in savages than in highly-​civilised men, as it seems also to be less in wild animals than in domesticated, especially petted, animals; less in men leading an active out-​of-​door life than in those leading a sedentary intellectual life; less in women than in men; less in persons of lymphatic than in persons of nervous temperaments’. Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 335. 88 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, pp. 335–​6. 89 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 52. 90 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 151. 91 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, pp. 151–​2. See also Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, p. 167. 92 Lewes, Sea-​Side Studies, p. 140. 93 Hibberd, Aquarium, M, pp. 125–​6. 94 Gosse, Naturalist’s Rambles, p. 40. This description, and that of the pipe-​fish looking back, closely echo Darwin’s famous portrayal of his encounter with a cuttlefish in the Voyage of the Beagle (Darwin, Voyage, pp. 6–​7). 95 See Jonathan Burt, ‘The Illumination of the Animal Kingdom:  The Role of Light and Electricity in Animal Representation’, Society and Animals, 9:3 (2001), 205. As observed by Adamowsky while discussing representations of the ocean, ‘the medium is always inscribed in what it lends mediatized form’. It is crucial to take into account ‘what aesthetic practices, technologies and instruments were employed, by whom and in what cultural-​historical context’. Adamowsky, Mysterious Science, p. 2. 96 Lorraine Daston and Gregg Mitman (eds), Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), p. 12. 97 Erica Fudge, Animal (London: Reaktion Books, 2002), p. 159.

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Conclusion

In 1860, All the Year Round published a novella titled ‘Black Tarn’, whose protagonist, Laurence Grantley, is heavily in debt and decides to marry Annie Sibson, an unattractive but rich woman who makes his life miserable. Laurence tries to lock her up in an asylum, making everyone believe she is mad, and eventually kills her. Annie is described as ‘[a] poker in petticoats, a fish, a mere nonentity, without grace, intelligence, or beauty’; she dresses in ‘cold blue, as cold as herself’ and is repeatedly accused of being unfeeling and dull. When, before the marriage, Laurence’s mother argued that Annie loved him, he replied:  ‘[s]he love! As cod-​fish do. She is not unlike a cod-​fish, herself —​watery blue eyes, leaden skin, gaping mouth, and lint-​white hair’1 (emphasis in the original). Interestingly, Annie is also into amateur science, but this does not seem to be a redeeming trait: ‘she had a kind of sympathy with all bloodless creatures, and was great in a shallow kind of scientific play: trying her hand at photography, modelling, and various unexciting amusements; but especially given up to her water world’.2 Indeed, she pays more attention to her fish tank than to her husband, preferring to watch ‘the torpid creatures in her aquarium’ or poke ‘the actiniæ and holothuria with a long glass tube’.3 Such a characterisation of the aquarist is strikingly different from those that have emerged from the manuals discussed in this book, which instead emphasised the tank keepers’ lively intellectual curiosity, aesthetic sensibility, the love for animals and plants, not to mention their readiness to actively engage with the environment, even when this became physically demanding. This might be due to the fact that by 1860 the ‘aquarium mania’ was almost over, and the novelty of the tank was quickly fading out.4 While the reasons for the dismissal of marine tanks in the 1860s have been discussed in the preceding chapters, it is worth reflecting on the aquarium craze in relation to the idea of evanescence, especially since the aquarium itself was initially meant to counteract it: Thomas Rymer

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Jones captured this feeling when he associated –​as many other authors did –​the tank to memories of childhood and the desire to capture sea creatures and make them last: [w]ho among us but remembers with pleasurable emotion those happy days, when, with a boyish rod and line, we caught our first minnows in the way-​ side brook, and the delight with which we landed on the grass our tiny victims –​the deep regret with which we saw them die, and all their splendid colours fade? Who forgets, when, with an effort to preserve the pretty dwellers in the stream, he next appeared, bottle in hand filled with clear water, and essayed to take them home alive and see them swim in their imprisonment, gazing with rapture on their silvery hues and active movements, –​ hoping all the time-​vain hope! to keep them as his own? An hour or two, and they were floating on their backs, gasping their little lives away in helpless agony!5

The aquarium vogue certainly participated in the widespread ‘compulsion to preserve the unfamiliar, while at the same time taking possession of it’.6 However, the difficulty of actually keeping sea creatures alive and healthy in the tank sensitised people to their transience and fragility. The surprising life cycles of some creatures, especially invertebrates, challenged received notions about the lives of individual animals and of entire species, foregrounding change rather than fixity. Furthermore, when the initial belief that the tank could actually replicate a real ecosystem became untenable, aquarists were also made painfully aware of the complexity of natural systems and of their own ignorance. In a sense, the aquarium, which promised a reassuring sense of control, ended up by highlighting that nature could not be controlled, replicated, or even fully understood. As observed by Roy Porter, environments are ‘imagined landscapes’ and ‘ecology lies in the eyes of the beholder’;7 not only does this mean that ideas about nature are informed by human assumptions and beliefs, it also suggests that, as Victorian aquarists came to understand, we should also be aware that our knowledge is partial, and incomplete. This list of failures of the Victorian tank does not mean, however, that the vogue it enjoyed is not worthy of attention. The aquarium became, in fact, a point of intersection between scientific, technological, and cultural trends; it engaged with issues of class, gender, nationality, and inter-​species relations, drawing together

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home décor and ideals of domesticity, travel, and tourism, exciting discoveries in marine biology, and emerging tensions between competing views of science. According to Victorian commentators, tank keeping did not just entail the capacity to focus attention but called related abilities, such as appreciating for a wide range of sight-​ beauty and identifying connections, but also using what one saw as a stepping stone for the imagination (stimulating visions of past, future, or alternative worlds), or as a trigger to mobilise memories and previously acquired knowledge from different fields. All these kinds of enriched vision were insistently characterised as available to anyone, but they were also said to require proper training, which aquarium literature was ready to provide. As discussed above, there were important gaps between the material conditions of tank keeping and the way in which the aquarium was envisaged, promoted, and imagined. While its popularity greatly depended on the way it was presented, which tapped into a complex web of widely shared desires and ambitions, among the reasons for the fading out of the vogue was a growing awareness of an unbridgeable discrepancy between real aquaria, made of glass, slate, and wood, and standing in people’s parlours, and textual aquaria, or aquaria as they were supposed to be. By investing tank keeping with so many expectations, its promoters also created tensions that were by no means easy to solve at the time, but which nevertheless offer valuable insights into the complexity of Victorian culture. However, a study of Victorian aquaria not only permits a better understanding of the past: the interest in marine life generated by the tank is also worthy of attention for other reasons. As observed by Donald Worster, it is important to remember that ‘ecology, even before it had a name, had a history’; even if the term itself appeared in 1866 and did not immediately enter common language, the idea was much older.8 Although many aquarium discussions were informed by a strongly anthropocentric perspective (often connected with the hierarchical view of nature supported by natural theology), they testify to an important moment in the development of what we would now call environmental awareness. Most importantly, even though most of the values they endorsed are no longer our own, some of their insights on the relationship between

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humans and other life forms, together with their sense of wonder, respect, and humility before nature, still merit our consideration.

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Notes 1 ‘Black Tarn’, All the Year Round (16 June 1860), 236. The novella has been recently attributed to Eliza Lynn Linton. See Alexis Easley, ‘Gender, Authorship, and the Periodical Press’, in Lucy Hartley (ed), The History of British Women’s Writing, 1830–​1880 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), vol. 6, p. 47. 2 ‘Black Tarn’, All the Year Round (16 June 1860), 240. 3 ‘Black Tarn’, All the Year Round (23 June 1860), 258. A similar relation between an interest in ‘cold blooded creatures’ and a cold, calculating character is established in Wilkie Collins’s No Name, with the description of Mrs Lecount’s (freshwater) tank: ‘[o]n the table stood a glass tank filled with water, and ornamented in the middle by a miniature pyramid of rock-​work interlaced with weeds. Snails clung to the sides of the tank; tadpoles and tiny fish swam swiftly in the green water, slippery efts and slimy frogs twined their noiseless way in and out of the weedy rock-​work; and on top of the pyramid there sat solitary, cold as the stone, brown as the stone, motionless as the stone, a little bright-​eyed toad. The art of keeping fish and reptiles as domestic pets had not at that time been popularised in England; and Magdalen, on entering the room, started back, in irrepressible astonishment and disgust, from the first specimen of an Aquarium that she had ever seen’. Wilkie Collins, No Name, ed. Mark Ford (London:  Penguin, 1994), pp. 222–​3. 4 On the end of the aquarium vogue see also Conlin, Evolution and the Victorians, Chapter 8; Brock, Science for All, p. 29; Adamowsky, Mysterious Science, Chapter 4; Rehbock, ‘Victorian Aquarium’, p. 534. 5 Jones, Aquarian Naturalist, pp. 1-​2. 6 Moore and Smith (eds), Victorian Environments, p. 12. Kathleen Davidson describes this activity as ‘enframing’, or ‘dividing up and containing a small part of the world’. Kathleen Davidson, ‘Speculative Viewing:  Victorians’ Encounters with Coral Reefs’, in Moore and Smith (eds), Victorian Environments, p. 140. 7 Roy Porter, ‘“In England’s Green and Pleasant Land”:  The English Enlightenment and the Environment’, in Kate Flint and Howard Morphy (eds), Culture, Landscape, and the Environment: the Linacre Lecture 1997 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 42. 8 Worster, Nature’s Economy, p. 1.

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Haight, Gordon, George Eliot: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968). Hale, Piers J., Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England (Chicago and London:  University of Chicago Press, 2014). Hamera, Judith, Parlor Ponds:  The Cultural Work of the American Home Aquarium, 1850–​ 1970 (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 2012). Hamilton, James, Life in Earnest: Six Lectures, on Christian Activity and Ardor (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1845). Hamlin, Christopher, ‘Robert Warington and the Moral Economy of the Aquarium’, Journal of the History of Biology, 19:1 (1986), 131–​53. Harper, John, The Sea-​ Side and Aquarium; or Anecdote and Gossip on Marine Zoology. With Illustrations (Edinburgh:  William P. Nimmo, 1858). Harvey, William H., The Sea-​Side Book; Being an Introduction to the Natural History of the British Coasts (London: John Van Voorst, 1849). Hibberd, James S., Rustic Adornments (London:  Groombridge & Sons, 1856). Hibberd, James S., The Book of the Aquarium and Water Cabinet, Or, Practical Instructions on the Formation, Stocking and Management, in All Seasons, of Collections of Fresh Water and Marine Life (London: Groombridge & Sons, 1856). Hibberd, James S., Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste, and Recreations for Town Folk, in the Study and Imitation of Nature (London: Groombridge & Sons, 1857). Hibberd, James S., ‘Management of Aquaria’, Recreative Science, 1 (1860),  73–​7. Hibberd, James S., The Book of the Aquarium; or Practical Instructions on the Formation, Stocking, and Management in All Seasons, of Collections of Marine and River Animals and Plants. A New Edition, Revised and Enlarged (London: Groombridge & Sons, 1860). Hibberd, James S., Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste. A New Edition, Revised, Corrected, and Enlarged, with Nine Coloured Plates and Two Hundred and Thirty Wood Engravings (London:  Groombridge & Sons, 1870). Horn, Pamela, Amusing the Victorians:  Leisure, Pleasure and Play in Victorian Britain (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2014). Humphreys, Henry Noel, Ocean Gardens:  The History of the Marine Aquarium, and the Best Methods Now Adopted for Its Establishment and Preservation (London: Sampson Low, Son, & Co, 1857). Hunt, Robert, The Poetry of Science, or Studies of the Physical Phenomena of Nature (London: Reeve, Benham, and Reeve, 1849). [Huxley, Thomas H.]., ‘Contemporary Literature:  Science’, The Westminster Review, 61 (1854), 254–​70.

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Conclusion

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Index

aesthetic appreciation see visual pleasure Alder, Joshua 118 amateur science 4, 51, 66, 91, 154, 205 analogy 88, 107, 137, 143, 167, 178, 192 Aquarium Warehouse 34, 216 Arnold, Matthew 132 Audouin, Jean Victoire 27 azoic theory 29 Bacon, Sir Francis 174 Baconian method 147 Beeton, Isabella Mary 88 bioluminescence 110, 127–8, 195 Blackmore, Richard Doddridge 61 Lorna Doone 61 Bonnet, Charles 155 botany 36, 146 Bowerbank, James Scott 22 Buckland, William 20–1, 143–4 Bulwer Lytton, Sir Edward George 140 Butler, Samuel 116 Elephant on the Moon 116 Byron, George Gordon, Lord 110 cable see telegraph captivity 20, 97, 192, 194, 201 Carlyle, Thomas 4

Cibber, Colley 187 cleanliness 99, 175–6, 197 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 110–11, 113 Ancient Mariner 111 collecting 4, 33, 36, 42, 51, 53, 55, 59, 61, 78, 83, 134, 169 commodity 14, 35, 87, 94, 97–9 Cowper, William 110 Crabbe, George 110, 112–13 cruelty 24, 160, 193, 195 Crystal Palace 78, 100, 102, 106 Dalyell, Sir John Graham 20, 138 Powers of the Creator 138 Darwin, Charles 19, 75–6, 110, 140, 142, 146, 161 Origin of Species 146, 161 Darwin, Erasmus 155 deep time 66, 73 detail 71–2, 88, 103, 114, 119 Dickens, Charles 23, 105, 140, 148 Bleak House 148 Little Dorrit 140 domesticity 49, 89, 207 dredging 27, 69 ecology 162, 206–7 ecosystem 2, 5, 51, 71, 79, 158, 160, 162, 190, 206 Eliot, George 42, 82, 134, 145

222

Index

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‘Ilfracombe Journal’ 145 encrinites 76, 143 entomology 36 environment 5, 51, 57, 62–3, 66, 72, 79, 100–1, 138, 158, 161–2, 205–6 evolution 18, 66, 75–6 Fish House 2, 22–3, 34, 63 fishermen 57, 64, 194 Forbes, Edward 19–20, 27, 29, 39, 110, 134, 140, 144, 179 fossil fish see fossils fossils 17, 51, 69–70, 73, 75, 80, 143, 154 Gatty, Margaret 42 British Sea-Weeds 42 geological studies see geology geology 36–7, 69, 75, 106, 109, 146, 154 Gerard, John 151 glass 18, 72, 79, 94, 99–101, 174, 180 Gosse, Edmund 22, 64–5, 197 Father and Son 22, 64 Gosse, Philip Henry 20, 22, 35, 40–1, 55, 76, 91, 101–2, 108, 134, 139, 141, 149– 50, 162–3, 173, 175–6, 188, 190–1, 196–7 ‘An Hour among the Torbay Sponges’ 62 Aquarium 23, 40–1 concern for the environment 61 and illustration 70, 118–19, 161 influence on aquarium manuals 38 Manual of Marine Zoology 141 and the mysteries of nature 152 Naturalist’s Sojourn in Jamaica 23, 55 Naturalist’s Rambles 23, 115 Omphalos 22, 76 and poetry 113

and religion 136 Romance of Natural History 115, 152 and Warington 21 Grant, Robert Edmund 19, 72, 140 Great Exhibition 24 Hamilton, James 176 Life in Earnest 176 Hancock, Albany 118 Harper, John 53, 56–8, 67, 70, 118, 141, 178, 183, 185, 195 Sea-Side and Aquarium 53, 109, 183 and superstition 151 and tourism 60 Harvey, William 26, 74–5 Sea-Side Book 26 Hibberd, James Shirley 42, 57, 87, 89, 93, 120, 153, 158, 178, 197 Book of the Aquarium 87, 89 Rustic Adornments 89, 158 Humphreys, Henry Noel 93, 100, 118, 144, 151, 158, 182 Ocean Gardens 52, 107, 158 and progress 77 and tourism 52 Hunt, Robert 105, 115 Poetry of Science 105, 115 Huxley, Thomas Henry 132–3, 135, 140, 142 Ilfracombe 61, 113, 134 illustration 7, 23, 25, 38, 43, 70, 79, 110–11, 113, 118, 123, 158–9, 181, 190, 192 imaginary journey 51, 67–8, 70, 72 immersion effect 71, 158 impermanence 119 improvement see progress individuality 178, 190, 192, 199 Ingenhousz, Jan 21

Index

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invertebrates 18, 72, 140, 147, 173, 206 Johnston, George 112 History of the British Zoophytes 112 Jones, Thomas Rymer 54–5, 57, 61, 73, 75, 106, 111, 118, 143–5, 155–6, 173–5, 182, 185, 193–4, 206 Aquarian Naturalist 55, 112, 182 and poetry 112, 115 and superstition 151 Jussieu, Bernard de 156 Kean, Charles 187 Kearley, George 36, 106, 116, 118 Links in the Chain 36, 43 Kingsley, Charles 52, 54, 61, 69– 70, 74, 103–4, 139–41, 182 and evolution 76 Glaucus 52, 70, 75, 93, 147 and progress 154 Two Years Ago 104, 142 Westward Ho! 61 Kirby, Mary 42 Plants of Land and Water 42 The Sea and its Wonders 42 Kirby, William 21 Leech, John 55 Lewes, George Henry 42, 102, 138, 145–6, 148–9, 171, 177, 179–80, 186, 191, 197 and Huxley 134 Sea-Side Studies 122, 171, 186 and vivisection 195 Linnaeus, Carl 140 Lloyd, William Alford 33, 41, 62–3, 92, 119 Loudon, John Claudius 100 Lyell, Charles 110 Mackenzie, Sir George 100

223

Mantell, Gideon Algernon 106 marine biology 3, 36, 42, 64, 73, 104, 110, 131, 140, 146–8, 154, 207 marine zoology 21–2, 27, 33, 60, 62, 117 Martin, John 106 metamorphosis 107, 140, 146–7, 151 metaphor 37, 101, 107, 140, 146 microscope 18, 69, 103, 146, 155, 162, 181 Milne-Edwards, Henri 27, 69–70 Milton, John 110, 117, 193 Mitchell, David 21, 23, 34 Montgomery, James 68, 110 Pelican Island 68, 110 Moore, Thomas 110 Lalla Rookh 110 Morays, Sir Robert 152 Murray, John 61 mythology 107 national pride 89 natural history 26, 36–7, 41, 53, 59–60, 63, 88, 93, 104–5, 109, 117, 131, 136–8, 147–8 natural theology 5, 138–9, 161, 207 Newman, Edward 22, 34 old errors 131, 148–9, 151 Owen, Richard 19, 34, 153, 193 pain 138, 161, 195–6, 199 Paley, William 139, 143–4, 161 Natural Theology 143 Palm House 100 Paxton, Sir William 100–1 Plymouth Brethren 23, 138 poetic language see poetry poetic quotations 108–10 poetry 37, 88, 102, 104–8, 113, 115, 120

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224

Index

Pope, Alexander 193 Essay on Man 193 popular science 3–4, 8, 37, 62, 64, 109, 132, 134 Pratt, Anne 26, 42 Common Things of the Sea-Side 26, 42 predation 159, 161, 188, 190 Priestley, Joseph 21 progress 48, 66, 76–7, 79, 89, 134, 136, 148–9, 154 Prout, William 21 Punch 25, 55 Regent’s Park Aquarium see Fish House rhetoric of wonder 131, 139, 142 Schleiden, Matthias Jakob 163 Scott, Sir Walter 110, 113 sea-serpent 153 seaside books 36, 70, 134 Sedgwick, Adam 73 Senebier, Jean 21 Shakespeare, William 110, 117 Sigourney, Lydia Howard Huntley 110 simile 37, 101, 107, 143, 146 Southey, Robert 110 Curse of Kehama 110 Sowerby, George Brettingham 118, 176, 179, 191, 195 and illustration 118 and poetry 110 Popular History of the Aquarium 110 Spallanzani, Lazzaro 112, 150 Spenser, Edmund 112 Faerie Queene 112 St Hilaire, Etienne Geoffroy 72 status symbol 1, 4, 41 Story of My Aquarium 117, 149, 176, 187, 189, 193 subaqueous world see underwater world

submarine world see underwater world system building 116, 147 taxonomy 54, 57, 132, 148 telegraph 28–9 Telfair, Charles 61 theatre 181, 186 Thomson, John Vaughan 112–13, 140, 152 Thynne, Anna Constantia 20, 42 Thynne, John 20 tourism 6, 25, 59–62, 64, 66–7, 70, 78, 207 seaside vacation 3, 51–3, 57, 59 tourist guides 52, 61 transience 73–4, 206 transmutation 18, 72, 75 transparency 97, 100 travel books 52, 61 Tyndall, John 135 underwater world 26–7, 29, 38, 51–2, 66–7, 69–70, 72–3, 77, 100, 116, 158, 161–3, 180 Van Beneden, Pierre-Joseph 155 Van Voorst, John 23 violence 138, 160, 184, 186, 188, 190 visual pleasure 7–8, 24, 60, 87, 104, 111, 139, 174, 186 vivisection 195 voyage underwater see imaginary journey Ward, Nathaniel Bagshaw 18 Wardian cases 18–19 Warington, Robert 21, 155, 158, 162 White, Gilbert 117 Wigan, Alfred 187 Wood, Rev. John George 36, 40, 55, 75, 144, 179, 191

Index

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Common Objects of the Country 36 Common Objects of the Microscope 36 Common Objects of the Sea Shore 36, 40, 55

225

Wordsworth, William 110, 115 wrong beliefs see old errors zoology 56, 90, 92, 111, 153