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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/583

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THE GOOSE QUESTION.

OUR ANCESTORS ON THE GOOSE QUESTION.

LET us consider the views entertained by our ancestors for centuries on the goose question: we may gather lessons from it that will be very applicable to-day. They believed for five hundred years that a certain kind of goose was of vegetable origin, and grew on trees. The story is ancient and obscure, and much ingenuity has been spent in explaining it. Without attempting to reconcile its contradictions, or account for its origin, we will only here give a brief outline of the tradition.

Belonging to that division of the animal kingdom known as articulates or jointed animals, there is a class called crustaceans, from the crust-like shell with which the body and legs are covered, and of which lobsters, crabs, and shrimps, are examples. Among these is a group known as "Cirripedia," from the cirri, or curls of hair, in which their long and slender feet terminate. They are inclosed in a more or less conical shell, and some of them are pedunculated; that is, their main body hangs from a stalk, pedicle, or peduncle, of varying length, which permits of some degree of motion. They attach themselves to floating objects, as plank, worm-eaten fragments of wreck, ships' sides, and sometimes to the cuticle of the whale. These creatures are more familiarly known as barnacles, and Fig. 1 represents a pendent group of common ship-barnacles, which are described as having "a flesh-colored, translucent, wrinkled stem, possibly more than a foot long, and from this stem there dangles a triangular, pearly-shelled fish, the valves of which, bordered with the most lovely orange, from time to time open and disclose several pairs of curling feelers." The soft part within this shell, in old times, used to be mistaken for a little bird.

There is in England a well-known species of goose called the barnacle-goose. "It is a winter migrant on the east coast; its summer home, where it breeds, being the high latitudes of Northern Europe. It is a very handsome species, a vegetable-feeder, and excellent eating." Now, it would seem to be a very simple matter to end the story by saying that it was long believed that barnacle-geese had their origin in the barnacle-shells we have just referred to, but the case is more complex; the shells bearing the geese were believed to grow on trees. This belief, that the barnacle-shell is transformed into the barnacle-goose, was well established, as early as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and was referred to and contradicted by both Albertus Magnus and by Roger Bacon. That the opinion was held as a firm reality is sufficiently proved by the fact that barnacle-geese were allowed to be eaten during Lent, under the idea that they were not fowl, but fish—an elastic zoology that served to widen ecclesiastical dietetics, although to the scandal of the more strict, as the practice