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SIR THOMAS BROWNE tells us : "That there is but one phoenix in the world, which after many hundred years burns herself, and from the ashes thereof riseth up another, is a conceit not new or altogether popular, but of great antiquity; not only delivered by humane authors, but frequently expressed by holy writers; by Cyril, Epiphanius, and others, by Ambrose in his Hexameron, and Tertullian in his poem de Judicio Domini, and in his excellent tract de Resurrectione Carnis,all which notwithstanding we cannot presume the existence of this animal, nor dare we affirm there is any phoenix in nature. For first there wants herein the definitive confirmator and test of things uncertain, that is, the sense of man. For though many writers have much enlarged thereon, there is not any ocular describer, or such as presumeth to confirm it upon aspection; and therefore Herodotus, that led the story unto the Greeks, plainly saith, he never attained the sight of any, but only the picture." The learned author proceeds to make Herodotus himself confess that the account seems to him improbable; as also Tacitus and Pliny expressing very strong doubts on the subject. Some, he says, refer to some other rare bird, the bird of paradise, &c. He finds the passage in the Psalms, "Vir justus ut phoenix florebat," a mistake arising from the Greek word phoenix, which signifies also a palm tree. By the same equivoque he explains the passage in Job where it is mentioned. In a word, the unity, long life, and generation of this ideal bird are all against the existence of it.
BIRD OF PARADISE.
IN a curious little book, entitled, A short Relation of the River Nile, 1673, edited by the Royal Society, at p. 27, we read: "The unicorn is the most celebrated among beasts, as among birds are the phoenix, the pellican, and the bird of paradise; with which the world is better acquainted by the fancies of preachers and poets, than with their native soyle. Little knowledge is of any of them; for some of them, no
thing but the received report of their being in nature. deserves reflection, that the industry and indefatigable labour of men in the discovery of things concealed can yet give no account where the phoenix and bird of paradise are bred. Some would have Arabia the country of the phoenix, yet are Arabians without any knowledge of it, and leave the discovery to the work of time. The bird of paradise is found dead with her bill fixed in the ground, in an island joyning to the Maluccos, not far from Macaca; whence it comes thither, unknown, though great diligence hath been imployed in the search, but without success. One of them dead came to my hands. I have seen many. The tayl is worn by children for a penashe, the feathers fine and subtile as a very thin cloud. The body not fleshy, resembling that of a thrush. The many and long feathers (of a pale invivid colour, nearer white than ash colour) which cover it, make it of great beauty. Report says of these birds, that they alwaies fly, from their birth to their death, not discovered to have any feet. They live by flyes they catch in the ayr, where, their diet being slender, they take some little repose. They fly very high, and come falling down with their wings displayed. As to their generation, Nature is said to have made a hole in the back of the male, where the female laies her eggs, hatcheth her young, and feeds them till they are able to fly: great trouble and affection of the parent! I set down what I have heard. This is certainly the bird so lively drawn in our maps. The pelican hath better credit (called by Quevedo the self-disciplining bird), and hath been discovered in the land of Angola, where some were taken. I have seen two. Some will have a scar in the breast, from a wound of her own making there, to feed (as is reported) her young with her own bloud, an action which ordinarily suggests devout fancies. So much of birds."
In a Brief Natural History, by Eugenius Philalethes, p. 93, we read, there is a vulgar error, "that the pelican turneth her beak against her brest and therewith pierceth it till the blood gush out, wherewith she nourisheth her young; whereas a pelican hath a beak broad and flat, much like the slice of apothecaries and chirurgeons, wherewith they spread their plaisters, no way fit to pierce, as Laurentius Gubertus, counsellor and physitian to Henry the Fourth of France, in bis book of Popular Errors, hath observed."
OF WHICH THE STORY IS THAT IT STAYS SHIPS UNDER SAIL.
SIR THOMAS BROWNE doubts whether the story of the remora be not unreasonably amplified. But Alexander Ross, in his Refutation of the Doctor's Vulgar Errors, in his Arcana Microcosmi, cites Scaliger as saying that this is as possible as for the loadstone to draw iron: for neither the resting of the one, nor moving of the other, proceeds from an apparent but an occult virtue; for as in the one there is an hid principle of motion, so there is in the other a secret principle of quiescence.
THAT THE CHAMELEON LIVES ON AIR ONLY.
ALEXANDER Ross, in his Refutation of Sir Thomas Browne's Vulgar Errors, asserts this to be true. However, the Doctor writes to the contrary for the following reasons: “1. The testimonies both of ancient and modern writers, except a few, and the witnesses of some yet living, who have kept camelions a long time, and never saw them feed but on air. 2. To what end hath Nature given it such large lungs beyond its proportion? Sure not for refrigeration; lesse lungs would serve for this use, seeing their heat is weak: it must be then for nutrition. 3. There is so little blood in it, that we may easily see it doth not feed on solid meat. 4. To what end should it continually gape more than other animals, but that it stands more in need of air than they, for nutrition as well as generation? 5. He that kept the camelion which I saw, never perceived it to void excrements backwards: an argument it had no solid food."
"THAT the bever being hunted and in danger to be taken biteth off his stones, knowing that for them his life only is sought, and so often escapeth: hence some have derived his
name, castor, a castrando seipsum; and upon this supposition, the Egyptians in their hieroglyphicks, when they will signifie a man that hurteth himself, they picture a bever biting off his own stones, though Alciat, in his Emblems, turnes it to a contrary purpose, teaching us by that example to give away our purse to theeves, rather than our lives, and by our wealth to redeem our danger. But this relation touching the bever is undoubtedly false, as both by sense and experience and the testimony of Dioscorides, lib. iii. cap. 13, is manifested. First, because their stones are very small, and so placed in their bodies as are a bore's; and therefore impossible for the bever himself to touch or come by them: and, secondly, they cleave so fast unto their back, that they cannot be taken away but the beast must of necessity lose his life; and consequently most ridiculous is their narration who likewise affirm that when he is hunted, having formerly bitten off his stones, he standeth upright and sheweth the hunters that he hath none for them, and therefore his death cannot profit them, by means wherof they are averted and seek for another." Brief Natural History, by Eugenius Philalethes, p. 89.
IN the Brief Natural History just quoted, p. 89, we are told: "That the mole hath no eyes, nor the elephant knees, are two well-known vulgar errors: both which, notwithstanding, by daily and manifest experience are found to be untrue."
THE ovum anguinum, or Druid's egg, has been already noticed among the physical charms. The reputed history of its formation has been reserved for insertion among the Vulgar Errors. "Near Aberfraw, in the Isle of Anglesey," says Mr. Gough, in his Camden, edit. 1789, ii. 571, "are frequently found the Glain Naidr, or Druid glass rings (Hist. of Anglesey, p. 41). Of these the vulgar opinion in Cornwall and
most parts of Wales is, that they are produced through all Cornwall by snakes joining their heads together and hissing, which forms a kind of bubble like a ring about the head of one of them, which the rest, by continual hissing, blow on till it comes off at the tail, when it immediately hardens and resembles a glass ring. Whoever found it was to prosper in all his undertakings. These rings are called glain nadroedk, or gemmæ anguinæ. Glûne in Irish signifies glass. In Monmouthshire they are called maen magl, and corruptly glaim for glain. They are small glass annulets, commonly about half as wide as our finger rings, but much thicker, usually of a green colour, though some are blue, and others curiously waved with blue, red, and white. Mr. Lluyd had seen two or three earthen rings of this kind, but glazed with blue, and adorned with transverse strokes or furrows on the outside. The smallest of them might be supposed to have been glass beads worn for ornaments by the Romans, because some quantities of them, with several amber beads, had been lately discovered in a stone pit near Garrord, in Berkshire, where they also dig up Roman coins, skeletons, and pieces of arms and armour. But it may be objected, that a battle being fought there between the Romans and Britons, as appears by the bones and arms, these glass beads might as probably belong to the latter. And, indeed, it seems very likely that these snake-stones, as we call them, were used as charms or amulets among our Druids of Britain on the same occasion as the snake-eggs among the Gaulish Druids.
The following is Pliny's description of the snake-egg, a poetical version of part of which has been quoted in p. 148, from Mason's Caractacus:" Præterea est ovorum genus in magna Galliarum fama, omissum Græcis. Angues innumeri æstate convoluti, salivis faucium corporumque spumis artifici complexu glomerantur, anguinum appellatur. Druidæ sibilis id dicunt in sublime jactari, sagoque oportere intercipi, ne tellurem attingat. Profugere raptorem equo: serpentes enim insequi, donec arceantur amnis alicujus interventu. Experimentum ejus esse, si contra aquas fluitet vel auro vinctum. Atque, ut est magorum solertia occultandis fraudibus sagax, certa luna capiendum censent, tanquam congruere operationem eam serpentium, humani sit arbitrii. Vidi equidem ovum mali orbiculati modici magnitudine, crusta cartilaginis, velut acetabulis brachiorum polypi crebris, insigne Druidis. Ad victorias litium, ac regum aditus, mire laudatur: tantæ vanitatis, ut habentem id in lite in sinu equitem Romanum e Vecontiis, a Divo Claudio principe interemptum non ob aliud sciam." Edit. Harduin, lib. xxix. 12.