This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
As an ornament in gardens or pleasure-grounds, a fountain and basin, or small piece of water, stocked with gold and silver fish, is generally admired, and justly so, especially when we consider the exotic appearance and great beauty of these species of the finny tribes. I seldom see them disporting in their own translucent element without considering their "culture" an index of refinement and taste. Although, perhaps, not directly connected with the pursuits of gardening or flowers, yet there being now so many persons who keep them in the house, along with favorite plants, ferns, etc.. or in their grounds, and as their management is but imperfectly understood by many, a few words on this head may not be out of place in your widely-read work.
These beautiful kinds of fish are varieties of a kind of carp (Cyprinus auratus), natives of China. There are indeed so many different kinds belonging to this species, that M. de Sauvigny published a work (Paris, 1780), in which he gave colored representations of eighty-nine varieties, of every different shade of gold, silver, orange, brown, and purple. They vary also in their tails, which are sometimes double, and sometimes triple; and in their fins, which are much longer and larger in some varieties than in others. The gold fish was first brought from China to the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch, about 1611; and a few specimens were soon after purchased at an enormous price by the Portuguese, who appear to have first brought it to Europe. The Dutch continued for some time to sell their fish at exorbitant prices; but, breeding rapidly in Portugal, the Dutch soon lost their monopoly, and the Portuguese for many years supplied gold and silver fish to the rest of Europe. In France, the first seen are said to have been sent as a present to Mademoiselle de Pompadour, about 1730; when the French courtiers were so enchanted with the splendor of this new kind of fish, that they called it La Dorade de la Chine, a name it still retains throughout France. The French have, however, now so completely naturalized this fish in the Mauritius, that it is served at table with the other kinds of carp, which it greatly resembles in taste, though it has a more delicate flavor.
Though the gold fish is a native of a very hot part of China, and though it appears to enjoy the heat of a pine stove or orchideous house with us, yet it possesses the power of resisting a great degree of cold. Some years since Professor Host, a well-known naturalist in Vienna, chanced to leave a glass globe containing a gold fish in the window of a room without a fire, during one of the coldest nights of a very severe winter. In the morning he recollected his poor fish, and examining the glass, he found the water frozen apparently quite hard, and the fish fixed immovably in the centre. Supposing the fish to be dead, he left it in the ice; but, as it was extremely beautiful, he took a friend to look at it in the course of the day, when, to his great surprise, he fonnd that the water had thawed naturally, from the room becoming warm by the sun, and that the fish was quite lively, and swimming about as though nothing had happened. The friend of M, Host was so much struck with this remarkable occurrence, that he tried a similar experiment; but bringing his frozen fish to the stove to hasten its revival, the fish died*
Gold fish live a very long time. A few years since there were some in a large marble basin belonging to the Alcazar of Seville, which were known to have been there more than sixty years, and which are probably still existing, as they then showed no signs of old age. They were indeed particularly active, though larger than usual, and of the most vivid colors. It was, however, remarkable that they were all of nearly the same size; and this is generally the case with all gold fish kept in clear water, as they never breed in such situations. It has also been remarked, that gold fish kept in glass seldom increase in size, particularly if the vase or globe in which they are kept be small. A curious experiment to ascertain the truth of this remark was tried some years ago in Paris, Two or three fishes a year old, which measured two indies long, were put into a glass globe exactly one foot in diameter. The water was changed every second day in summer, and every week in winter, as is usually done with gold fish kept in glass vessels, and they were occasionally fed with crumbs of bread; but in eleven years they had not increased one line in length.
They were then taken out of the globe, and thrown into a pond in the garden, where there were no other gold fish; and when this pond was drained at the end of ten months, the gold fish were found to have increased in length, one about four inches, and the other nearly five. It has been before remarked, that gold fish never breed in clear water; and it has been observed that when they do breed, the young couceal themselves among the roots of plants, in inequalities of banks, or among the faggots which may have been put in for them. A lady who happened to pull up an aquatic plant which had grown on the bank of a pond in which there were some gold fish, was quite [astonished to find the roots appear alive;' and on examining them, she discovered the movement to be occasioned by a great number of little dark-brown fishes which were sticking to the roots. These little fishes were the fry of the gold carp, which are taught by instinct to conceal themselves from the old fish till the golden. hue begins to appear on their sides, which it does when they are about an inch long.
It is said that the gold carp devour the fry of other fish, and also their own, if they see them before the golden blotches appear.
When it is wished to breed gold fish in clear water in a tank or basin, a few faggots should be thrown into the water; or a sloping bank of gravel should be raised in the tank, the upper part of which is near the surface of the water. This will afford at once a situation for the old fish to deposit their spawn, and a shelter for the young fry. Some persons, when the spawn has been deposited on a faggot, remove the wood to another tank to rear the young; but they always do better, and grow faster, when bred in a pond with an earthy bottom, and in which plants grow naturally.
In keeping gold fish in ponds, no care is requisite but that of sprinkling a few crumbs of bread occasionally on the surface of the water to feed them; but when they are kept in any small vessel, the water should be changed regularly, not only for the sake of cleanliness, but because the fish will have exhausted the water of the animalculse, which serve them as food. The usual rule is to change the water in glass globes or vases every second day in summer, and every week in winter; oftener if possible.
These little pets are now distributed through the Union more or less, but by a very little care they might ornament every lake and mill pond. To transport a pair of gold fish, procure an old Portugal grape jar, and tie a bladder over the mouth pierced for the admission of air; by this means they may be sent from one end of the Union to the other if the top is kept up; any simple contrivance will answer.
Many years ago the pond which contained a large family of gold fish, in Pratt's Garden, Philadelphia, gave way and the little pets were all emptied into the Fair-mount dam of the Schuylkill river, where thousands are now safely at home. They do not take a bait, and are consequently safe from the anglers. Why should not all pieces of water be thus populated. In the clear waters of some of our greater lakes they would be highly ornamental, as indeed they are wherever seen.