The whole act is like a flash. An ordinary chameleon can shoot a fly at the distance of fully 6 in., and it can manage even a big sphinx moth.
Another remarkable feature is their changing of colour. This proverbial power is greatly exaggerated. They cannot assume in succession all the colours of the rainbow, nor are the changes quick. The common chameleon may be said to be greenish grey, changing to grass-green or to dull black, with or without maroon red, or brown, lateral series of patches. At night the same specimen assumes as a rule a more or less uniform pale straw-colour. After it has been watched for several months, when all its possibilities seem exhausted, it will probably surprise us by a totally new combination, for instance, a black garb with many small yellow specks, or green with many black specks. Pure red and blue are not in the register of this species, but they are rather the rule upon the dark green ground colour of the South African dwarf chameleon. The changes are partly under control of the will, partly complicated reflex actions, intentionally adaptive to the physical and psychical surroundings. The mechanism is as follows. The cutis contains several kinds of specialized cells in many layers, each filled with minute granules of guanine. The upper cells are the smallest, most densely filled with crystals, and cause the white colour by diffusion of direct light; near the Malpighian layer the cells are charged with yellow oil drops; the deeper cells are the largest, tinged light brown, and acting as a turbid medium they cause a blue colour, which, owing to the superimposed yellow drops, reaches our eye as green; provided always that there is an effective screen at the back, and this is formed by large chromatophores which lie at the bottom and send their black pigment half-way up, or on to the top of the layers of guanine and oil containing cells. When all the pigment is shifted towards the surface, as near the epidermis as possible, the creature looks black; when the black pigment is withdrawn into the basal portions of the chromatophores the skin appears yellow.
The lungs are very capacious, and end in several narrow blind sacs which extend far down into the body cavity, so that not only the chest but the whole body can be blown up. This happens when the animals hiss and fight, as they often do. But when they know themselves discovered, they make themselves as thin as possible by compressing the chest and belly vertically by means of their peculiarly elongated ribs. The whole body is then put into such a position that it presents only its narrow edge to the enemy, and with the branch of the tree or shrub interposed. They are absolutely arboreal, but they hibernate in the ground.
The usual mode of propagation is by eggs, which are oval, numerous, provided with a calcareous shell, and buried in humus, whence they are hatched about four months later. But a few species, e.g. the dwarf chameleon, are viviparous.
Chameleons are insectivorous. They prefer locusts, grass-hoppers and lepidoptera, but are also fond of flies and mealworms. They are notoriously difficult to keep in good health. They want not only warmth, but sunshine, and they must have water, which they lick up in drops from the edges of wet leaves whenever they have a chance. The silliness of the fable that they live on air is shown by the fact that they usually die in an absolutely emaciated and parched condition after three or four months’ starvation. (H. F. G.)
In astronomy, “Chamaeleon” is a constellation situated near the south pole and surrounded by the constellations of Octans, Mensa, Piscis volans, Carina (Nauta), Musca and Apus. In chemistry, “chameleon mineral” is a name applied to the green mass which is obtained when pyrolusite (manganese dioxide) is fused with nitre, since a solution in water assumes a purple tint on exposure to the air; this change is due to the oxidation of the manganate, which is first formed, to a permanganate.
CHAMFER, Champfer or Chaumfer (Fr. chanfrein; possibly from Lat. cantus, corner, and frangere, to break), an architectural term; when the edge or arris of any work is cut off at an angle of 45° in a small degree, it is said to be “chamfered,” while it would be “canted” if on a large scale. The chamfer is much used in medieval work, and is sometimes plain, sometimes hollowed out and sometimes moulded. Chamfers are sometimes “stopped” by a bead or some moulding, but when cut short by a slope they are generally known as “stop chamfer.”
CHAMFORT, SEBASTIEN ROCH NICOLAS (1741–1794), French man of letters, was born at a little village near Clermont in Auvergne in 1741. He was, according to a baptismal certificate found among his papers, the son of a grocer named Nicolas. A journey to Paris resulted in the boy’s obtaining a bursary at the Collège des Grassins. He worked hard, although he wrote later in one of his most contemptuous epigrams—”Ce que j'ai appris je ne le sais plus; le peu que je sais je l’ai diviné.” His college career ended, Chamfort assumed the dress of a petit abbé. “C'est un costume, et non point un état,” he said; and to the principal of his college who promised him a benefice, he replied that he would never be a priest, inasmuch as he preferred honour to honours—”j'aime l’honneur et non les honneurs.” About this time he assumed the name of Chamfort.
For some time he contrived to exist by teaching and as a booksellers’ hack. His good looks and ready wit, however, soon brought him into notice; but though endowed with immense strength—“Hercule sous la figure d’Adonis,” Madame de Craon called him—he lived so hard that he was glad of the chance of doing a “cure” at Spa when the Belgian minister in Paris, M. van Eyck, took him with him to Germany in 1761. On his return to Paris he produced a comedy, La Jeune Indienne (1764), which was performed with some success, and this was followed by a series of “epistles” in verse, essays and odes. It was not, however, until 1769, when he won the prize of the French Academy for his Éloge on Molière, that his literary reputation was established.
Meanwhile he had lived from hand to mouth, mainly on the hospitality of people who were only too glad to give him board and lodging in exchange for the pleasure of the conversation for which he was famous. Thus Madame Helvétius entertained him at Sèvres for some years. In 1770 another comedy, Le Marchand de Smyrne, brought him still further into notice, and he seemed on the road to fortune, when he was suddenly smitten with a horrible disease. His distress was relieved by the generosity of a friend, who made over to him a pension of 1200 livres charged on the Mercure de France. With this assistance he was able to go to the baths of Contrexéville and to spend some time in the country, where he wrote an Éloge on La Fontaine which won the prize of the Academy of Marseilles (1774). In 1775, while taking the waters at Barèges, he met the duchesse de Grammont, sister of Choiseul, through whose influence he was introduced at court. In 1776 his poor tragedy, Mustapha et Zeangir, was played at Fontainebleau before Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette; the king gave him a further pension of 1200 livres, and the prince de Condé made him his secretary. But he was a Bohemian naturally and by habit, the restraints of the court irked him, and with increasing years he was growing misanthropical. After a year he resigned his post in the prince’s household and retired into solitude at Auteuil. There, comparing the authors of old with the men of his own time, he uttered the famous mot that proclaims the superiority of the dead over the living as companions; and there too he presently fell in love. The lady, attached to the household of the duchesse du Maine, was forty-eight years old, but clever, amusing, a woman of the world; and Chamfort married her. They left Auteuil, and went to Vaucouleurs, where in six months Madame Chamfort died. Chamfort lived in Holland for a time with M. de Narbonne, and returning to Paris received in 1781 the place at the Academy left vacant by the death of La Curne de Sainte-Palaye, the author of the Dictionnaire des antiquités françaises. In 1784, through the influence of Calonne, he became secretary to the king’s sister, Madame Elizabeth, and in 1786 he received a pension of 2000 livres from the royal treasury. He was thus once more attached to the court, and made himself friends in spite of the reach and tendency of his unalterable irony; but he quitted it for ever after an unfortunate and mysterious love affair, and was received into the house of M. de Vaudreuil. Here in 1783 he had met Mirabeau, with whom he remained to the last on terms of intimate friendship