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Practical Knowledge

Diagram of Ponds

Much of Seth Green's popular appeal among angler was his blend of scientific expertise and hands-on skill. Here, an illustration from his 1870 book "Trout Culture" diagrams a series of ponds for hatching trout, which "economizes the water and space, and is most convenient for changing the fish from one poind to another." The reasons why it is designed in this manner are explained in accessible prose.

A decade after his death, the Standard American Encyclopedia remembered Seth Green as a man “who, by the application of the results of his close observation, did more than any scholar to advance the science of pisciculture.” He was praised for his restless curiosity, “eager to solve other problems” once he had perfected trout culture, to the point that his work on shad in the Connecticut River was “as much a discovery on his part as the finding of the Fortunate Islands by Christopher Columbus” (1211). Thirty years earlier, just as he was publicizing his first successful experiments in artificial propagation, an admiring writer described him as “a living man: both physically and intellectually alive. A self-made man—whatever he touches succeeds” (Scott 194). In order to understand this and similar hyperbolae, we need to situate Green in his times: a period of industrial expansion nevertheless celebrating individual genius.

The years of Green’s public life coincided with an eruption of transformative inventions—and their celebrated inventors. Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Alva Edison, and George Eastman all might have offered the same advice Green did to would-be pisciculturalists: to read as much as you can upon a subject, but to “educate your hands as well as your head to do the work” (Home Fishing 43). The assumption was that scientific knowledge in itself is less important than the applied, practical, useful, patented, and commercial. The physical vigor of such protagonists likewise was emphasized—if only for their lack of sleep, in Edison’s case—which reached an extreme with acclaim for Green, who was “the best shot in the State, and can cast a fly with great precision at long range” (Scott 194). What Theodore Roosevelt in 1899 termed “the strenuous life” was a morally charged terrain collapsing the realms of nature and culture.

There is a story Green told about propagating shad in Holyoke, MA, where others “thought I was crazy and treated me accordingly.” The visiting New Yorker, though, persisted through a series of disappointments: the lighter weight of shad eggs, which washed away in his trout-hatching apparatus; the spawns’ rapid death without proper water circulation; even the vandalism of his equipment (“Trials and Tribulations”). He continued with his experimentation and close observation over the course of a dozen unsuccessful trials. On the sixth day, success: “I was standing in the water with a candle box with a sieve bottom, and tipping it one way and another until I tipped the lower edge so that the current struck the bottom. The spawn began to boil up and kept in motion. The mystery was solved!”

Works Consulted

-- Green, Seth. Home Fishing and Home Waters: A Practical Treatise on Fish Culture.  New York: O. Judd Co., 1888.

---. “Letter from Seth Green: The Trials and Tribulations and Early Experiences of a Practical Fish-Culturist,” Forest and Stream 2.5 (12 Mar. 1874): 68.

-- Scott, Genio C. “Gossip About Angling, And Fish Culture.” Spirit of the Times 13 (26 May 1866): 194.

-- “Seth Green.” Standard American Encyclopedia of Arts, Sciences, History, Biography, Geography, Statistics, and General Knowledge. Vol. 3. Ed. John Clark Ridpath. New York: Encyclopedia Publishing Company, 1897.

Practical Knowledge