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OH, THE ROAST BEEF OF OLD
The steadfast character of the Englishman is, no doubt, an important element in our national greatness. We are slow to enter on new ways, and equally slow to desert them when once entered. The character of immobility has, however, its serious drawbacks; if a slow-moving man once goes deliberately wrong, he rights himself in as sluggish and deliberate a manner. This is just the case with John Bull in his character as a stock-feeder and breeder. Some years since (we scarcely like to say how many, for our memory of adipose exhibitions on Christmas-eves goes back a long time), the custom came in of bloating out oxen and sheep with oil-cake until they became mountains of fat, the delight of Baker Street, and the ultimate triumph of butchers. Every year saw the evil increase. Hodge with one hand poured in more oil-cake and with the other pointed to the triumphant result, — shapeless, blear-eyed, panting, miserable beasts, reduced by art to the condition of a huge heap of oil-globules. In vain the Press, with the
* This article was written in the year 1858, but, as far as we can see, our fat beasts are as rampant as ever.
Times at its head, protested that the true end and aim of the grower of British beef did not consist in converting rump and sirloin into kitchen candles; in vain they pointed to panting pigs and fat-legged oxen as a most melancholy and impotent conclusion to all his labours. In vain the public voice has condemned the system of giving prizes to pigs because they cannot see for fat, and premiums to oxen because their backs are flat as tables with adipose stuffing. The Fat Cattle Exhibition still flourishes, and John Bull pours his oil-cake and other carbonaceous food into his stock, with the same regularity as Betty pours Colza oil into the moderator lamp.
We cannot, however, help attributing this persistence in a bad direction as much to the ignorance of the public as to that of the feeder and breeder. The idea is universally prevalent that the nutritious character of the lean is in a direct ratio to the quantity of the fat. Your streaky sirloin is always looked upon as a "picture ;” and no doubt the presence of fat in moderate quantities is a guarantee that the animal has lived a peaceful enjoyable life, and has been well supplied with the good things thereof.
If the public and the meat-grower would only stop at this point, all would be well; but they seem to consider that they cannot have too much of a good thing, and accordingly prize oxen, pigs, and sheep grow bigger and bigger as Christmas-tide comes round; the kitchen grease-pot fcurishes, and the public will not be convinced. Mr. F. J. Gant, the assistant-surgeon to the Royal Free Hospital, instead of expressing a mere opinion and many vague generalities, determined some time since to notice the condition of a few of the best prize beasts, and then to follow them up to the slaughter-house, and extract the truth out of them by means of a postmortem inquiry. The result of Mr. Gant's highly interesting labours appeared in several of the town papers, among which may be mentioned the Morning Post and the Observer. He painted what he saw with a picturesque pen worthy of a more noble theme. In looking about him at one of the late Baker Street Exhibitions, he says he could detect no external sign of disease, except in two Devon cows, Class 4, Nos. 32 and 33 prize, each of which was suffering from a disorder of an internal organ :
One of them looked very ill, and laid her head and neck flat on the ground like a greyhound. I pointed out these animals to a man who was drawing water, and I asked him if their condition was one of · common occurrence. He said, “I know nothing of them beasties in p'ticler, but it's the case with many on 'em : I knows that.”
Having thus accurately noticed the decrepitude of the beast with a scientific eye, and ascertained from the helper that it was illustrative of the class, he passed on to the pigs, those wonderful pigs of Prince Albert that always carried off a prize. We beg our readers to admire the delicacy of the finish with which Mr. Gant gives us a picture of the pathognomonic condition of these animals :
They lay helplessly on their sides, with their noses propped up
against each other's backs, as if endeavouring to breathe more easily ; but their respiration was loud, suffocating, and at long intervals. Then you heard a short, catching snore, which shook the whole body of the animal, and passed with the motion of a wave over its fat surface, which, moreover, felt cold. · The gold-medal pigs of Mr. Morland, marked « improved Chilton breed,” were even in a worse condition than those belonging to His Royal Highness : “their mouths lay open, and their nostrils dilated” at each inspiration. These animals the judges "highly commended.”
“When,” says Mr. Gant, “I contrasted the enormous bulk of each animal with the short period in which so much fat or flesh had been produced, I certainly indulged in a physiological reflection on the high-pressure work against time which certain internal organs, such as the stomach, liver, heart, and lungs, must have undergone at such a very early age.” He therefore determined to follow the animals up after death, which he accordingly did, removing the hearts, livers, and lungs of the various prize beasts from the different slaughter-houses where he had seen them killed, and submitting them to a careful examination, the results of which will perhaps serve to shake the too prevalent idea of the public, that “ the thicker the fat the better the flesh.”
The first animal he examined was a fat wether belonging to the Duke of Richmond. The heart of this animal weighed ten and a half ounces; “its external surface was very soft, greasy, and of a dirty brownish-yellow colour. ... On opening the two ventricular cavities, their external surface and substance nodules of 12 gorged
mbedded in ti
were equally soft, greasy, and yellow throughoutan appearance due to the infusion of fat between the muscular fibres, of which the heart should chiefly consist. This substitution of fat for muscle is proved by the microscope, to have ensued, for when examined, the muscular fibres no longer presented the characteristic cross markings (strice of anatomists), but the fibrillo within the fibres were entirely broken up by bright globules of fat. The healthy structure of the heart had, therefore, thoroughly degenerated by its conversion into fat." Another fat wether, bred by Lord Berners, had a heart degenerated into fat, “ a gorged liver,” “flabby lungs,” with “nodules of the size of a kidney-bean imbedded in them.”
Mr. Morland's “improved Chilton breed” pig had an enlarged left ventricle, a liver of a dark livid colour, while the veins of the left lobe of the liver were congested. The Prince Consort's Devon heifer presented a heart with the substance of both ventricles “completely degenerated into fat.” The Earl of Leicester's three-year-old Devon ox had an equally fat heart. A short-horned ox, “the best in any of the class,” had a heart whose left ventricle “had undergone conversion into fat.” One spot near the apex of the left ventricle had given way, and a blunt probe could be readily introduced through the substance of the ventricle almost into the cavity, the thin lining of the cavity alone preventing the instantaneous death of the animal. The “best beast," a Devon ox, bred by the Prince Consort, presented a heart partially converted into fat; the intestines, within about a foot