Wednesday, August 29, 2018

“An idiosyncrasy peculiar
to the herring”

W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, trans. Michael Hulse (New York: New Directions, 1998).

Donald S. Murray’s Herring Tales: How the Silver Darlings Shaped Human Taste and History (London: Bloomsbury, 2015) says that there is “no evidence” that the effort to illuminate cities with fishy phosphorescence was successful:

The failure of the “eccentric undertaking” described by Sebald was so great that it left little of lasting legacy. It is tempting to conclude that the author’s odd choice of names for his scientists — Herrington and Lightbown — is a quirky invention, one of his own “red herrings,” sending the reader off on every bit as much a wrong scent as the fox in that ancient practice, when that strong-smelling fish was employed to trick the hounds from following in their quarry’s tracks. For all that the practice of generating light from herring occurred in the late nineteenth century, there does not appear to be a record of the existence of any two English scientists with their names.
Related reading
All OCA Sebald posts (Pinboard)

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