Dando, the Oyster-Eater.

[ Since the death, a few years ago, of this remarkable man (the only man,
probably, who ever followed oyster-eating as a regular profession), a good
deal has been written about him ; but nothing, so far as we are aware, in
what our friend Hoce used to call “ Blanks.” This seems the more extra-
ordinary, as of late that style of composition has, in various forms, greatly
prevailed among us ; affording, it may be reasonably presumed, in a good
many instances, strong confirmation of the worthy Shepherd’s experience
of it, as stated in his own memorable words,— “ When I write blanks, I
am never perfectly sure whether I am writin’ poetry or not.” We are far
from saying that, in the following lines, we ourselves have been without
some misgivings on this point ; but we hope the indulgence of our friends,
and more especially of our oyster-eating friends, may be extended to an
attempt, however feeble, to supply what seems to have been an omission on
the part of our brethren of the verso sciolto.]
While yet a child, and on his father’s knee,1
Dainties he heeded not, nor gaud, nor toy,”2
But one large oyster-shell the live-long day3
(Marvellous instinct ! for the fish itself4
No man surmises that he yet had seen)5
He sucked unceasingly. The father smiled,6
And wondered what his eldest-born might mean.7
For to the doting sire ’twas then unknown,8
That, on the mother’s side, there once had been9
A Mayor of Colchester, who, it was said,10
Married a mermaid, and would sometimes eat11
Half his own weight of oysters in the day.12
At school ’twas still the same. Nor bat, nor taw,13
Nor hazel-nut, nor apple-stall for him14
Had any charm. He walked or sat apart,15
A silent, meek, and much-enduring boy,16
Whose thoughts were all of oysters, and his dreams17
Of tales no waking-thought might realise18
Of Pandore and Poldoodie.
Passing now19
From pupilage to verge of man’s estate,20
The Mayor and Mermaid “ cropped out” more and more ;21
And as the mighty Poet of that day,22
When asked of what profession he would be,23
Raised his hand to “ the pulse of his young brow,’24
And said, “ I’ll be A Poet,”—even so,25
When of the youthful Dando ’twas required26
To name his future calling, fin-like hand27
On pulse abdominal he placed, and said,28
I’ll be an oyster-eater—something here29
Says it must be the business of my life.”30
And so, through life, for eight months of each year,31
From oyster-house to oyster-house he went,32
Astonishing the natives.” All the tales33
Of feats of Aldermen of amplest mould,34
In their most favoured oyster-eating hours—35
All, save the legends of the good old Mayor,36
Seemed now as nothing. The old Mayor himself37
Had wished that witness of his former might—38
Witness at once and weapon—that good blade,39
His own old Oyster-Knife, now treasured up40
Among the archives of his native town,41
To be at once placed in the living hand42
Of such a son.
On some far-distant shores43
There are who seek the oyster for the pearl44
She sometimes brings with her—a priceless dower.45
Dando not only sought her for herself,46
But never did he desecrate his love47
By any show or symptom, great or small,48
Of “common medium.” And as it proved,49
Not much the need of it ; for most men said,50
When their last oyster they had seen engulfed,51
And the insolvent calmly stood confessed,52
What can we do with him but let him go ?”53
Yet sometimes harder measure was dealt out54
To him unmoved : base men would have “ their own”—55
And they would bring him fairly face to face56
With good Sir Peter Laurie. But the hand57
Of good Sir Peter ever lightly fell58
On his friend Dando. No doubt he might say,59
What sort of place would this of London be,60
If Everybody thus should lay his hands61
On Everybody’s oysters?” * But a threat62
Of what might be if he came there again,63
Was commonly the end of the affair.64
During those four sad months wherein is mute65
That one mysterious letter † that has power66
To call the oyster from the vasty deep,67
What shall be said of Dando ?  What but this,68
That none who saw him ever could forget69
The blight that came upon him. Shrimp and prawn,70
And oyster in the pickle, he essayed,71
But all in vain : the last seemed still the worst,72
As mocking him with melancholy sense73
Of what it had been. A well-meaning friend74
Once said to him during this dreary time,75
Have you tried Cockles ?  They appear to me76
In their own way not very far amiss.”77
A milder man than Dando never sat78
Beneath a broad-brim ; but he now was moved79
To something like asperity of speech.80
Cockles (he said) might be not far amiss81
To those who liked them ; but he fairly owned82
He rather would not hear of them again.83

* These, if we remember rightly, were very nearly the words attributed to the
worthy magistrate on one of the occasions here referred to.
† It is well known that the eight oyster-months are distinguished by the letter
R, which does not occur in the other four.
His friend had never known that in the heart84
Of him who loves the oyster, there resides85
A feeling towards the cockle, which ’twould need86
Space far beyond our limits to explain.87
Yet those four dismal months, for many a year,88
Dando survived ; and, as September came,89
Still reappeared—at first an altered man,90
But speedily to be himself again.91
We have already said that, now and then,92
He was “ in trouble ;” and we now will say,93
That no good Londoner who ever heard94
Of Dando’s “ troubles,” but was glad at heart95
To meet him once more on his daily walk.96
For there are few of us who do not see97
In any man, in any walk, possessed98
By any one idea, and whose life99
Is passed in still embodying the same,100
Something that takes its hold upon the mind :101
And all true oyster-eaters saw in one102
Who loved the fish not wisely, but too well,”103
Much that they could not weigh in common scales.104
In Clerkenwell there is a lowly grave105
That has become “ a place of pilgrimage :”106
And not “ the cockle-shell” the pilgrim bears,107
But shell of shapeliest native—to be placed108
In glistening row around that humble sod109
By row on row thus circled. Nor in vain110
Shall we to-day have penned these simple lines,111
If thus we only may be said to place112
One other oyster-shell upon that grave.113