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The Fens
by [?]

Another proof may be found in the presence of the edible frog of the Continent at Foulmire, on the edge of the Cambridge Fans. It is a moot point still with some, whether he was not put there by man. It is a still stronger argument against his being indigenous, that he is never mentioned as an article of food by the mediaeval monks, who would have known–Frenchmen, Italians, Germans, as many of them were- -that he is as dainty as ever was a spring chicken. But if he be indigenous, his presence proves that once he could either hop across the Straits of Dover, or swim across the German Ocean.

But there can be no doubt of the next proof–the presence in the Fens (where he is now probably extinct) and in certain spots in East Anglia, which I shall take care not to mention, of that exquisite little bird the ‘Bearded Tit’ (Calamophilus biarmicus). Tit he is none; rather, it is said, a finch, but connected with no other English bird. His central home is in the marshes of Russia and Prussia; his food the mollusks which swarm among the reed-beds where he builds; and feeding on those from reed-bed to reed bed, all across what was once the German Ocean, has come the beautiful little bird with long tail, orange tawny plumage, and black moustache, which might have been seen forty years ago in hundreds on ever reed-rond of the Fen.

One more proof–for it is the heaping up of facts, each minute by itself, which issues often in a sound and great result. In draining Wretham Mere, in Norfolk, not so very far from the Fens, in the year 1856 there were found embedded in the peat moss (which is not the Scotch and Western Sphagnum palustre, but an altogether different moss, Hypnum fluitans), remains of an ancient lake-dwelling, supported on piles. A dwelling like those which have lately attracted so much notice in the lakes of Switzerland: like those which the Dyaks make about the ports and rivers of Borneo; dwellings invented, it seems to me, to enable the inhabitants to escape not wild beasts only, but malaria and night frosts; and, perched above the cold and poisonous fogs, to sleep, if not high and dry, at least high and healthy.

In the bottom of this mere were found two shells of the fresh-water tortoise, Emys lutaria, till then unknown in England.

These little animals, who may be seen in hundreds in the meres of eastern Europe, sunning their backs on fallen logs, and diving into the water at the sound of a footstep, are eaten largely in continental capitals (as is their cousin the terrapin, Emys picta, in the Southern States). They may be bought at Paris, at fashionable restaurants. Thither they may have been sent from Vienna or Berlin; for in north France, Holland, and north-west Germany they are unknown. A few specimens have been found buried in peat in Sweden and Denmark; and there is a tale of a live one having been found in the extreme south part of Sweden, some twenty years ago. {103} Into Sweden, then, as into England, the little fresh-water tortoise had wandered, as to an extreme limit, beyond which the change of climate, and probably of food, killed him off.

{103} For these details I am indebted to a paper in
the ‘Annals of Natural History,’ for September 1862,
by my friend, Professor Alfred Newton, of Cambridge.

But the emys which came to the Wretham bog must have had a long journey; and a journey by fresh water too. Down Elbe or Weser he must have floated, ice-packed, or swept away by flood, till somewhere off the Doggerbank, in that great network of rivers which is now open sea, he or his descendants turned up Ouse and Little Ouse, till they found a mere like their old Prussian one, and there founded a tiny colony for a few generations, till they were eaten up by the savages of the table dwelling; or died out–as many a human family has died out–because they found the world too hard.