to be found accounts of not a few wonderful things in the way of zoological curiosities—tells us that in a certain “contre and be all yonde, ben great plenty of Crokodilles, that is, a manner of a long Serpent as I have seyd before.” He further remarks that “these Serpents slew men,” and devoured them, weeping; and he tells us, too, that “whan thei eaten thei meven (move) the over jowe (upper jaw), and nought the nether (lower) jowe : and thei have no tonge (tongue).” Sir John thus states two popular beliefs of his time and of days prior to his age, namely, that crocodiles moved their upper jaws, and that a tongue was absent in these animals.

As regards the tears of the crocodiles, no foundation of fact exists for the belief in such sympathetic exhibitions. But a highly probable explanation may be given of the manner in which such a belief originated. These reptiles unquestionably emit very loud and singularly plaintive cries, compared by some travelers to the mournful howling of dogs. The earlier and credulous travelers would very naturally associate tears with these cries, and, once begun, the supposition would be readily propagated, for error and myth are ever plants of quick growth. The belief in the movement of the upper jaw rests on an apparent basis of fact. The lower jaw is joined to the skull very far back on the latter, and the mouth-opening thus comes to be singularly wide ; while, when the mouth opens, the skull and upper jaw are apparently observed to move. This is not the case, however; the appar

. ent movement arising from the manner in which the lower jaw and the skull are joined together. The belief in the absence of the tongue is even more readily explained. When the mouth is widely opened, no tongue is to be seen. This organ is not only present, but is, moreover, of large size; it is, however, firmly attached to the floor of the mouth, and is specially adapted, from its peculiar form and structure, to assist these animals in the capture and swallowing of their prey.

One of the most curious fables regarding animals which can well be mentioned is that respecting the so-called “bernicle” or “barnacle geese,” which by the naturalists and educated persons of the middle ages were believed to be produced by those little crustaceans named “barnacles.” With the “barnacles” every one must be familiar wbo has examined the floating drift-wood of the sea-beach, or who has seen ships docked in a seaport town. A barnacle is simply a kind of crab inclosed in a triangular shell, and attached by a fleshy stalk to fixed objects. If the barnacle is not familiar to readers, certain near relations of these animals must be well known, by sight at least, as among the most familiar denizens of our seacoasts. These latter are the “ sea-acorns or Balani, whose little conical shells we crush by hundreds as we walk over the rocks at low-water mark ; while every wooden pile immersed in the sea becomes coated in a short time with a thick crust of these “sea-acorns.” If we place one of these little animals, barnacle or acorn—the latter wanting the stalk of the former

[ocr errors]


-in its native waters, we shall observe a beautiful little series of feathery plumes to wave backward and forward, and ever and anon to be quickly withdrawn into the secure recesses of the shell. These organs are the modified feet of the animal, which not only serve for sweeping food-particles into the mouth, but act also as breathingorgans. We may, therefore, find it a curious study to inquire through what extraordinary transformation and confusion of ideas such an animal could be credited with giving origin to a veritable goose ; and the investigation of the subject will afford a singularly apt illustration of the ready manner in which the fable of one year or period becomes transmitted and transformed into the secure and firm belief of the next.

We may begin our investigation by inquiring into some of the opinions which were entertained on this subject and ventilated by certain old writers. Between 1154 and 1189 Giraldus Cambrensis, in a work entitled “Topograpbia Hiberniæ," written in Latin, remarks concerning “many birds which are called Bernacæ : against nature, nature produces them in a most extraordinary way. They are like marsh geese, but somewhat smaller. They are produced from firtimber tossed along the sea, and are at first like gum. Afterward they hang down by their beaks, as if from a sea-weed attached to the timber, surrounded by shells, in order to grow more freely.” Giraldus is here evidently describing the barnacles themselves. He continues : “Having thus, in process of time, been clothed with a strong coat of feathers, they either fall into the water or fly freely away into the air. They derive their food and growth from the sap of the wood or the sea, by a secret and most wonderful process of alimentation. I have frequently, with my own eyes, seen more than a thousand of these small bodies of birds, hanging down on the seashore from one piece of timber, inclosed in shells, and already formed.” Here, again, our author is speaking of the barnacles themselves, with which he naturally confuses the geese, since he presumes the crustaceans are simply geese in an undeveloped state. He further informs his readers that, owing to their presumably marine origin, “ bishops and clergymen in some parts of Ireland do not scruple to dine off these birds at the time of fasting, because they are not flesh, nor born of flesh,” although, for certain other and theological reasons, Giraldus disputes the legality of this practice of the Hibernian clerics.

In the year 1527 appeared “The Hystory and Croniclis of Scotland, with the cosmography and dyscription thairo, compilit be the noble Clerk Maister Hector Boece, Channon of Aberdene.” Boece's “History” was written in Latin, the title we have just quoted being that of the English version of the work (1540), which title further sets forth that Boece's work was Translatit laitly in our vulgar and commoun langage be Maister Johne Bellenden, Archedene of Murray, And Imprentit in Edinburgh, be me Thomas Davidson, prenter to the Kyngis nobyll grace.” In this learned work the author discredits the popular ideas regarding the origin of the geese. “Sum men belevis that thir clakis (geese) growis on treis be the nebbis (bills). Bot thair opinioun is vane. And becaus the nature and procreatioun of thir clakis is strange, we have maid na lytyll laboure and deligence to serche ye treuth and verite yairo, we have salit (sailed) throw ye seis quhare thir clakis ar bred, and I fynd be gret experience, that the nature of the seis is mair relevant caus of thair procreatioun than ony uthir thyng." According to Boece, then, “the nature of the seis" formed the chief element in the production of the geese, and our author proceeds to relate how "all treis (trees) that ar cassin in the seis be proces of tyme apperis first wormeetin (worm-eaten), and in the small boris and hollis (holes) thairof growis small worms.” Our author no doubt here alludes to the ravages of the Teredo, or shipworm, which burrows into timber, and with which the barnacles themselves are thus confused. Then he continues, the “wormis” first “schaw (show) thair heid and feit, and last of all thay schaw thair plumis and wyngis. Finaly, quhen thay ar cumyn to the just mesure and quantite of geis, thay fle in the aire as othir fowlis dois, as was notably provyn, in the yeir of God ane thousand iii hundred lxxxx, in sicht of mony pepyll, besyde the castell of Petslego.” On the occasion referred to, Boece tells us that a great tree was cast on shore and was divided, by order of the “lard" of the ground, by means of a saw. Wonderful to relate, the tree was found not merely to be riddled with a "multitude of wormis," throwing themselves out of the holes of the tree, but some of the "wormis" had “baith heid, feit and wyngis," but, adds the author, “thay had no fedderis (feathers)."

Unquestionably either the scientific use of the imagination had operated in this instance in inducing the observers to believe that in this tree, riddled by the ship-worms, and possibly having barnacles attached to it, they beheld young geese ; or Boece had construed the appearances described as those representing the embryo-stages of the barnacle-geese.

Boece further relates how a ship named the Christofir was brought to Leith, and was broken down because her timbers had grown old and failing. In these timbers were beheld the “wormeetin" appearances, “all the hollis thairof” being “full of geis.” Boece again most emphatically rejects the idea that the "geis” were produced from the wood of which the timbers were composed, and once more proclaims his belief that the “nature of the seis resolvit in geis may be accepted as the true and final explanation of their origin. A certain “Maister Alexander Galloway” had apparently strolled with the historian along the seacoast, the former giving “his mynd with maist ernist besynes to serche the verite of this obscure and mysty dowtis.” Lifting up a piece of tangle, they beheld the sea-weed to be banging full of mussel-shells from the root to the branches. Maister Galloway


[ocr errors]

opened one of the mussel-shells, and was “mair astonist than afore” to find no fish therein, but a perfectly-shaped “foule, smal and gret as corresponded to the “quantity of the shell.” And once again Boece draws the inference that the trees or wood on which the creatures are found have nothing to do with the origin of the birds; and that the fowls are begotten of the “occeane see, quhilk,” concludes our author, “is the caus and production of mony wonderful thingis."

More than fifty years after the publication of Boece's “ History,” old Gerard of London, the famous “master in chirurgerie " of his day, gave an account of the barnacle-goose, and not only entered into minute particulars of its growth and origin, but illustrated its manner of production by means of the engraver's art of his day. Gerard's "Herball," published in 1597, thus contains, among much that is curious in medical lore, a very quaint piece of zoological history. He tells us that "in the north parts of Scotland, and the Ilands adjacent, called Orchades (Orkneys),” are found “certaine trees, whereon doe growe certaine shell fishes, of a white colour tending to russet ; wherein are conteined little living creatures : which shels in time of maturitie doe open, and out of them grow those little living foules whom we call Barnakles, in the north of England Brant Geese, and in Lancashire tree Geese; but the other that do fall upon the land, perish, and come to nothing: thus much by the writings of others, and also from the mouths of people of those parts, which may,” concludes Gerard, “very well accord with truth.”

Not content with hearsay evidence, however, Gerard relates what his eyes saw and hands touched. He describes how on the coasts of a certain “small Ilande in Lancashire called Pile of Foulders"

” (probably Peel Island), the wreckage of ships is cast up by the waves, along with the trunks and branches “of old and rotten trees.” On these wooden rejectamenta “a certaine spume or froth” grows, according to Gerard. This spume

“ in time breedeth unto certaine shels, in shape like those of the muskle, but sharper pointed, and of a whitish colour.” This description, it may be remarked, clearly applies to the barnacles themselves. Gerard then continues to point out how, when the shell is perfectly formed, it "gapeth open, and the first thing that appeereth is the foresaid lace or string”—the substance described by Gerard as contained within the shell—“next come the legs of the Birde hanging out; and as it groweth greater, it openeth the shell by degrees, till at length it is all come foorth, and hangeth only by the bill; in short space after it commeth to full maturitie, and falleth into the sea, where it gathereth feathers, and groweth to a foule, bigger then a Mallard, and lesser than a Goose, having blacke legs and bill or beake, and feathers blacke and white . . . . which the people of Lancashire call by no other name then a tree Goose.”

Accompanying this description is the engraving of the bernicle-tree,


bearing its geese-progeny. From the open shells, in two cases, the little geese are seen protruding, while several of the fully-fledged fowls are disporting themselves in the sea below. Gerard's concluding piece of information, with its exordium, must not be omitted. “They spawne,” says the wise apothecary, "as it were, in March or Aprill ; the Geese are found in Maie or June, and come to fulnesse of feathers in the moneth after. And thus hauing, through God's assistance, discoursed somewhat at large of Grasses, Herbes, Shrubs, Trees, Mosses, and certaine excrescences of the earth, with other things moe incident to the Historie thereof, we conclude and end our present volume, with this woonder of England. For which God's name be euer honored and praised.” It is to be remarked that Gerard's description of the goose-progeny of the barnacle-tree exactly corresponds with the appearance of the bird known to ornithologists as the “barnacle-goose,” while there can be no doubt that, skilled as was this author in the natural - history lore of his day, there was no other feeling in his mind than that of firm belief in and pious wonder at the curious relations between the shells and their fowl-offspring. Gerard thus attributes the origin of the latter to the barnacles. He says nothing of the “wormeetin” holes and burrows so frequently mentioned by Boece, nor would he have agreed with the latter in crediting the “nature of the occeane see” with their production, save in so far as their barnacle-parents lived and existed in the waters of the ocean.

The last account of this curious fable which we may allude to in the present instance is that of Sir Robert Moray, who, in his work entitled “A Relation concerning Barnacles,” published in the “ Philosophical Transactions” of the Royal Society in 1677–78, gives a succinct account of these crustaceans and their bird-progeny. Sir Robert is described as “lately one of His Majesties Council for the Kingdom of Scotland,” and we may therefore justly assume his account to represent that of a cultured, observant person of his day and generation. The account begins by remarking that the “most ordinary trees” found in the western islands of Scotland “are Firr and Ash." “Being,” continues Sir Robert, "in the Island of East (Uist), I saw lying upon the shore a cut of a large Firr-tree of about 24 foot diameter, and 9 or 10 foot long ; which had lain so long out of the water that it was very dry : And most of the shells that had formerly cover'd it, were worn or rubb'd off. Only on the parts that lay next the ground, there still hung multitudes of little Shells; having within them little Birds, perfectly shap'd, supposed to be Barnacles." Here again the description applies to the barnacles ; the “little birds” they are described as containing being of course the bodies of the shell-fish.

“The Shells," continues the narrator, “hang at the Tree by a Neck longer than the Shell," this “neck” being represented by the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »