Hardwike’s Science Gossip. July 1. 1865. pp154.
Mr. Ramsay’s “Hints for -Marine Aquaria” (Science Gossip. pp. 129, 130) are plain and sensible enough, but they will do little or nothing towards reviving a taste for private aquaria.
It is quite true that aquarium-keeping is not easy: it is much worse than that, for in nine cases out of ten it is a wearisome and profitless battling with difficulties, ending with failure and disgust. “Overstocking is a serious fault,” says Mr. Ramsay, truly; but by far the greater number of the general mass of amateurs have no previous acquaintance whatever with natural history or physics, and have not the mildest notion of what “overstocking” an aquarium means; nor is it otherwise than very difficult to teach them what it is in so many words, because an aquarium which may be “overstocked” under some conditions may not be so under others. So also, the same quantity of water may vary in its capacity of sustaining animal life, not according to its bulk, but according to its distribution, and the amount of variation is continually fluctuating. Then, if anything like a good variety of creatures are kept, they must be maintained in several separate vessels, and this demands more space and trouble than can be usually afforded by persons having other demands on their premises and time. Furthermore, there are many animals which cannot be kept at all in any ordinary captivity, and these creatures are those which are oftenest obtained with facility. Others are too large for certain vessels. It is this absence of the possibility of giving definite and arbitrary rules for the guidance of beginners which causes the great difficulty.
Mr. Ramsay properly recommends “especial attention to temperature” as regulated by “opening or shutting doors or windows, burning gas, partially covering the tanks with damp cloths, and adopting other means;” but most people will not do these things, whether they understand or not why they are recommended to do them; they would much rather give up their aquaria than be put to any such trouble, and they have given them up, while the very few exceptional persons, such as Mr. Ramsay and his lady friend -personally known to me - and who are painstaking and persevering, are those only who succeed with anything like decency. They slowly and patiently work out their success by the only method in which it can be attained - actual experience and the intelligent application of broad principles. They are contented to do a little, but they do it well, while others wishing to do much with insufficient means, in the end do nothing.
If anything could be found to re-create a taste for the domestication of marine animals, it would be the discovery of some convenient and cheap mode of producing a stream and motion in sea-water aquaria, continuously, as the present methods of doing so are much too cumbersome and expensive for most pockets. Mr. Edwards, of Menai, has announced that he makes a machine to answer this purpose in the required manner; but nothing has come of it. The value of a current of water in a tank is very great, inasmuch that it is to an aquarium that which a fly-wheel is to a steam-engine (and even more), carrying the machine over its “dead-points;” storing up power in reserve; and smoothing down the sharp angles of all difficulties. For example, it requires extreme care in feeding the animals in a motionless marine tank, in such manner that the food or its after-consequences shall not interfere with the transparency of the water. The water is also apt to become otherwise than clear from the accidental non-removal of a dead animal, or from excess of light, and from many other causes; but wherever a stream exists, the fluid seldom becomes turbid from any reason, or if it does lose its clearness, the opening of a stopcock will allow it to run off through a filter into a reservoir below the tank, from whence the same water, bright, cool, and well oxygenated, may be again forced up into the tank. There is indeed no comparison to be made between the condition of animals kept in aquaria with and without a stream, and yet I know of only ten stream and tide aquaria to be found in England and on the Continent; and of these, five belong to public institutions and five to private persons. I think I may write on this subject with something like authority, for I have pursued it as an exclusive occupation, zealously and unremittingly, for the last dozen years, and during that period I have collected the names and addresses of not fewer than eight thousand persons interested in aquarian matters, and for these persons I have set up, under all possible circumstances, many hundreds of Aquaria (the exact number is 3,548), and out of these not more than about the odd forty-eight are now in successful operation. All the others belonged to individuals who merely took up the thing as a transient fashion, or who, knowing and caring a little about it at first, soon abandoned it from discovering that so long as aquaria are made for houses, instead of houses for aquaria, no satisfactory result could be obtained.
There seems to be no inclination on the part of wealthy persons to incur the necessary expense of erecting and managing great aquaria properly, and therefore the subject is left to a few persevering naturalists, who attain a certain good result by confining themselves in a small way to certain possibilities; and to two or three public bodies who find that it is a remunerative commercial speculation when it is well and largely carried out by the introduction of machinery and of all requisite appliances.
W. Alford Lloyd.
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