The General Belief-Is it Well Founded ?-A Characteristic of Popular Opinion-Reasons for Misgiving-Reasons for Hope-Survey of the British Islands.
In all parts of the United Kingdom one finds a general belief that the salmon is not to be long in the land. If one may judge by the general tone of conversation among sportsmen, there is not a single river that is as good as it was, and the common expectation seems to be that before very long most of the rivers will be without any salmon at all. Like the Red Indians in America, the salmon of the British Islands are regarded, even by those who would fain think otherwise, as a doomed race.
Is this opinion based on facts? Is it only a symptom of that insular odd pessimism which, from time immemorial, has inclined many Britons to be convinced that the country is " going to the dogs" ?
The subject was well worth investigating. General opinions on any question that does not concern the vital interests of the nation are usually, when probed, found to be singularly lacking in reason. Was this belief about the salmon one of them ?
It was impossible to be sure. True, I had hardly ever met any one who, convinced that the days of salmon fishing would soon be over, could give specific grounds for certitude. Requests for these particulars had been met by a look of astonishment, as much as to say, " Do you really want proof that twice two are four?" That is our British habit. We affirm much more than we reflect. We habitually believe the worst, and the worst is its own evidence. At the same time, I well knew that certain rivers had been declining. There could be no doubt on that score. At every country-house there is a game register, and that is not a misleading tome. Most men, especially the elders, think that the past was better than the present, and that the future will be as bad as possible. General impressions of that kind are to be distrusted. The registers, however, are to be believed; and they are proof that on many a river the sport is, as a rule, less good than it once was.
On the other hand, it was not clear that there was no river that was not improving; perhaps a good many rivers were exceptions to what was generally taken to be the rule. Besides, the interest in angling had been spreading very rapidly; was it conceivable that this had not been accompanied by efforts to redeem waters that had been well-nigh ruined ? The Thames, flowing through the largest city in the world, had been purified sufficiently to allow salmon to live in it once again; was it to be thought that this example had been neglected everywhere ?