Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/June 1890/Animal and Plant Lore III
|ANIMAL AND PLANT LORE.|
By Mrs. FANNY D. BERGEN.
A FEW of the many groundless beliefs concerning both the useful and the injurious powers of certain reptiles and batrachians have been already enumerated, but such fictions are by no means confined to these uncanny-looking tribes of animals. Indeed, it would seem as if such a knowledge of the real nature of the commonest animals and plants as might readily be acquired by even untrained observers had been altogether supplanted by chimerical delusions which are incredibly hard to eradicate, for, as Dasent remarks, "popular tradition is tough."
Among the ancient Egyptians, cats were highly revered, sacrifices even being offered them and temples built for them, and after death many were preserved as mummies. Travelers state that the modern Persians, too, greatly esteem the domestic cat. But from very early times, in most countries where the cat has been kept as a domestic animal, she seems to have been an object of suspicion. Cats have been the reputed familiars of witches; have at other times been supposed to incarnate witches, or even the father of witches, the devil himself. It is, .then, natural enough that cats should figure rather prominently in the list of animals credited with exceptional powers for good and evil. Remnants of many ancient beliefs concerning such powers are still found—some among us, and more, it may be, in older countries. A trustworthy old woman whose early life was spent near Cork, Ireland, tells me that it is well known that in old times cats could sometimes speak, and that she herself remembers one instance in her girlhood of a cat speaking with a human voice. "It was on an oiland aff the coast of Oireland," said she, in her queer mixture of the brogue and Yankee dialect, "a bit o' land all surrounded with water. There was a woman was cardin' wool, and after she carded it she put it into her sieve, and then her cat came along and pulled it about, and she quished him away, and whin she did that he said, 'Ye'd better lave this oiland, or ye'll be sorry.' And nixt day there came up a very high tide, and swipt away ivery livin' thing on the oiland. I suppose the cat just wanted an excuse for spakin' whin he tangled up the woman's wool. Ah, cats are very knowin'! and there's great virtue in a cat's blood, 'specially that of a black cat, or its skin, aither." Almost every one is familiar with the time-honored belief that a cat must not be left alone in the room with a little child for fear that "the cat will suck the baby's breath." So general is the belief in this breath-sucking power of the cat that I have taken pains to consult several distinguished physicians in New England as to its probability, and have received from each a most unequivocal statement of disbelief in any such phenomenon. One eminent Boston physician suggests that the notion may be based on the fact that a cat likes warmth, and naturally might lie up close to the warm breath of a sleeping child. Any injury which the latter might receive would therefore come from breathing an impure air, charged with carbonic-acid gas, and if the cat were diseased—for instance, had consumption—there would be the possibility of inhaling the bacilli or germs of tuberculosis. But is it not more than possible that the popular apprehension is descended from the old-country dread of the animal's connection with witchcraft? De Gubernatis cites the fact that, in Monferrato, black cats, being thought to be witches, are carefully kept away from the cradles of children; and the same precaution is taken, for the same reason, in Germany. In the latter country, black cats are in general thought to be ill-omened creatures, and, if one is found on a sickbed, it foretells death; or if on a grave, it signifies that the soul of the departed is in the possession of the evil one. In earlier times, I conclude that black cats were usually considered to be especially evil-boding; but this notion has apparently undergone a change, so that now the white or light-colored cat is often reckoned the forerunner of evil, while the black one is the harbinger of good. There is a popular saying in various parts of New England that it betokens good luck to be followed by a black cat. A black or gray cat or kitten coming to a house will bring good luck, but a white one is a sign of calamity. "If you drive away a black cat that comes to you, you drive away your luck." The possession of a black-nosed, "smutty-nosed," cat brings wealth, while in Maine it is said the ownership of a white cat entails poverty. In Canada and parts of Michigan I find the notion is that lucky cats are those of three colors, and therefore the owner of one of the not uncommon variety, mottled with black, white, and orange, should keep her as a mascot, or luck-bringer. Among the negroes of Alabama it is believed that after death the spirits of old maids take possession of black cats. There is a popular belief in parts of Pennsylvania that, if by accident cats' hair be swallowed, it will turn into worms. In central Maine one may find a more generalized form of this superstition. The belief there is that, if any kind of a hair be allowed to enter the human stomach, it will gradually change into a snake—the species of the latter undefined. A native of Cumberland, England, has told me that there it is a common saying that one must not swallow a hair of a cat, since if swallowed it will develop into a kitten within its hapless host.
From southern Illinois comes the notion that a felon may be cured by simply putting on, dry, three hairs from the tip of a black cat's tail. It would be so very easy a matter to test the efficacy of this remedy that it is almost incredible that experiment has not before now dissipated such an absurd belief even from the most credulous mind. Possibly there is some relation between this prescription and a saying found in central Maine that in the tip of every cat's tail are three hairs of the devil. All are aware of the ease with which in cold, dry weather, the fur of a cat is electrified by friction; but who would imagine that any connection could be conjectured between this phenomenon and lightning? There is, however, a New England superstition, of greater or less extent, that it is very unsafe to tolerate the presence of a cat during a thunder-storm. I know of one lady in Salem, Mass., who never allows her cat to remain in the living rooms of the house when a thunder-storm is threatened. No sooner do dark clouds begin to gather than Tabby is relegated to the cellar for fear "she may draw the lightning." The reasonableness of this precaution is quite worthy of the superstition which occasions it. The grease tried out by roasting a perfectly black cat is recommended in northern Ohio as a curative ointment in any disease of the skin. From central Maine came the preposterous notion that consumption may be cured by cooking a black dog (one without a white hair) and eating the fat on bread. In the same region a much-prized unguent for pimples, roughened skin, or any other cutaneous disturbance, is the grease of a weasel. It would certainly seem that but a trifling quantity of fat could be obtained from one of these slender creatures. Pliny states that the gall of one kind of weasel (probably the ferret) is a most efficacious remedy for the sting of an asp; also that the flesh of another species, preserved in salt, is a cure for the bites of serpents. The dried flesh of the weasel was often kept by the ancient Romans to be given in small quantities as an antidote for any narcotic poison. Indeed, great remedial powers were, according to Pliny, attributed by his contemporaries to these animals, their ashes being often kept to form an important ingredient in some of the grewsome compounds that figured so largely in Roman therapeutics. Most Aryan mythologies abound in tales of the supernatural wisdom and cunning of the weasel. Phaedrus and Æsop both introduced it into their fables; and Aristotle, in his History of Animals, among other attributes ascribes to it enough reasoning foresight to eat the herb rue before attacking serpents. The Greeks supposed the odor of this plant to be obnoxious to these reptiles, and credited their wily adversary with a knowledge of the fact. Wherever found, the weasel has, and I suppose deservedly, a general reputation for great cunning and alertness. But of all the various beliefs in its fabulous powers and attributes so prevalent among earlier civilizations, few, so far as I have been able to ascertain, seem to have descended to our own time and country, though a good many still hold their ground in various parts of the British Isles. In the north of England it is popularly thought to be very unsafe to molest a weasel or to kill or injure its young, lest the artful animal spit on the offender and paralyze him, or else secretly spit into his food and so poison him. A young emigrant from county Sligo, Ireland, has told me that the peasants there have undoubting faith in this capacity of the weasel to avenge itself by the voluntary ejection of saliva that is poisonous to man. I wish I might reproduce the rich brogue and open-eyed credulity with which this Irish boy related several stories illustrative both of the revengeful disposition and of the reasoning ability of the weasel. But I can only give, in an approximation to his language, two instances which he assured me had come under his own observation. "A mon in our part o' the country wonst fought wi' a weasel. She was vurry mad un' she fought 'urn a long time, un' at las' she spet on 'uz shins. The mon was af eard then un' let her alone, un' I meself saah wheriver the weasel 'd spet on 'urn, uz shins turned black in spots." "There was a lot o' min a-wurrkin' in a field, un' wan uv 'm tuk some little young weasels out av their nist in a wall that was theer. Thin whin th' ould weasel saah what was done wi' 'urn, she just wint to the can o' milk that they had for their dinner, and spet in th' can un' wint aff; un' thin the mon wint back wi' the little weasels afther he'd watched th' ould one a bit, un' he lift thim in the nist. Un' thin th' ould weasel wint as quick as iver she cud to the can o' milk un' spilt it so the min cudn't dhrink any uv it. She wudn't be afther hurtin' 'urn whin they'd taken the little wans back." The country people in county Sligo believe that these agile carnivores are so very cunning that they know all that men say about them, and so it is felt to be unsafe even to speak ill of the little thieves. It is also there thought to be very lucky to carry a purse made of a weasel's skin. There is an old custom among the Irishwomen in county Kerry to go out with bread or other food in their hands, to meet hunters coming home with their ferrets, and after feeding the latter, to keep "for luck" whatever crumbs are left over.
An old-time remedy for the disease commonly known as "the shingles" (herpes zoster) still survives in the United States, ranging from Maine through Massachusetts and New York to Ohio, and perhaps even more widely. The treatment consists in the application of the skin of a freshly killed cat to the diseased surface of the body. In Massachusetts it is believed that to be efficacious the skin must be that of a black cat. In one country town in eastern Massachusetts the same remedy is recommended for hives. A reputed cure for asthma, still extant in Boston, is to wear a muskrat-skin, the hair to come next the chest of the patient. A correspondent from central New York knows of inflammation of the bowels having been cured by applying the flesh side of the pelt of a freshly killed lamb. In parts of Ohio it is thought that chilblains may be quickly relieved by wrapping the feet in a "warm, bloody rabbit-skin" (hare-skin). The last-named remedy calls to mind the method of curing ruddiness of the face by anointing it overnight with hare's blood, cited in that incomparable medley of wisdom and folly, Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. The nausea attendant on the painful disease called milk-sickness, which is so dreaded in many of the newly settled parts of the Western States, may, it is said, be allayed by drinking hot water into which has been dropped a little freshly drawn blood of a chicken. Canadian lumbermen, when fortunate enough to shoot a deer, often wrap themselves at night in its skin in order to keep off witches.
Pliny, in his Natural History, states that the bite of a serpent may be cured by immediately applying to the wound a living mouse, split asunder, or the warm flesh stripped from the bones of a cock. We find a possible survival of these ancient Roman remedies in the application of the freshly cut surface of a stunned domestic fowl to a snake-bite. The poison is supposed to be absorbed by the quickly circulating blood of the chicken and finally to kill it. If it die before most of the poison is thought to have been absorbed, another is at once to be applied. This mode of treatment is reported from Michigan, but I have reason to believe that in a more or less modified form it prevails rather generally where poisonous snakes are found. In northern Ohio they say that a living fowl cut open and applied while bleeding constitutes another cure for "shingles." In the town of Woburn, Mass., it is not snake-poisoning or shingles, but scarlet fever and diphtheria, that may be cured by applying to the chest the palpitating body of a hen that has been stunned and immediately cut open. This last remedy recalls the account of the last illness of Philip of Burgundy (Philip the Good), in Charles Reade's admirable mosaic of mediæval life, The Cloister and the Hearth. You remember that in the latter part of the fifteenth century the duke lay sick at Bruges with the disease now known as diphtheria. "Ho! this is grave. Flay me an ape incontinent and clap him to the duke's breast," says the doctor. But no ape was to be had. "Then Doctor Remedy grew impatient and bade flay a dog. l A dog is next best to an ape, only it must be a dog all of one color.' So they flayed a liver-colored dog and clapped it yet palpitating to their sovereign's breast; and lie died."
There is a popular supposition of wide range, based upon I know not what, that it is very healthful for children to play with dogs. A weak child, it is thought, may gain strength by being with a dog, or, if diseased, the child may be cured by having the animal "take the disease"—for example, inflamed eyes or any disorder of the skin. Within a year a college graduate told me, in perfect good faith, of acquaintances, a Boston doctor and his wife, whose little girl had been greatly afflicted with some form of eczema which they all hoped would disappear, as the parents had purchased a fine dog to play with the child.
When a dog is teething, the upper incisors, according to a New England superstition, must be removed as soon as they become loose, or he may "swallow them and have fits" Perhaps even more generally received is the fancied danger of allowing a child's milk-tooth after extraction to fall into the possession of a dog or cat, lest the animal swallow it, and the child have a dog's or cat's tooth grow in place of the lost one. The Mexicans and Indians in Texas say that every animal has brains enough to tan its own skin; and so the latter, in the case of the wolf, panther, wild cat, and some other animals, is mainly prepared by rubbing into the flesh side of it the brains of its former wearer. A somewhat common fancy among children, perhaps too among adults as well, is that "every part strengthens a part"—that is, that the liver, heart, brains, and so on of animals, when eaten, go directly toward nourishing the corresponding organs in the eater. A similar doctrine was worked out in great detail by the American Indians, and is, I believe, held by many other savage tribes. It seems altogether probable that such beliefs, wherever found among civilized people, old or young, are survivals from remote antiquity, and that they are closely akin in their nature and origin to the well-known doctrine of signatures which has played so great a part in the systems of medicine of primitive peoples.
Mr. Charles Aldrich, of Webster City, Iowa, relates the following curious superstition: "A neighbor residing on a small farm near me has, on several occasions, spoken of his experience with 'hog mice.' He came to this country many years ago from Northamptonshire, England, where he had often seen these strange animals. They are also occasionally seen by him here in Iowa. This mythical rodent is about the size of a barn mouse, but its striking peculiarity as to its outward appearance is, that it has a head and face fashioned exactly like that of a hog. It is a very 'uncanny' little beast. If it merely runs across the body of a sleeping person, or of a domestic animal, such unfortunate person or animal will be grievously afflicted. with lameness or soreness wherever the mouse sets down one of its little feet. Serious disability often comes from the touch of the ''og mouse.'nowiki> In some extreme cases the affliction is well-nigh incurable, and may last a lifetime. My old friend said that it was no hearsay matter with him. He had ' seen 'og mice both in Northamptonshire and 'ere in Hamerica.' One of his colts l was disabled by a 'og mouse running hover it, and was a long, long time getting well.' A striking peculiarity of the hog-faced mouse, according to my old friend, is, that it is never seen at rest, but always ' on a dead run,' as if fleeing from pursuit." It seems to me almost certain that this redoubtable <nowiki>''og mouse' is merely a shrew, whose long and pointed snout might suggest the visage of a hog. In Great Britain the most maleficent powers are commonly attributed to shrews, and an interesting passage concerning the matter in White's Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne deserves to be quoted verbatim: "At the south corner of the plestor, or area, near the church, there stood, about twenty years ago, a very old, grotesque, hollow pollard ash, which for ages had been looked on with no small veneration as a shrew ash whose twigs or branches, when gently applied to the limbs of cattle, will immediately relieve the pains which a beast suffers from the running of a shrew mouse over the part affected; for it is supposed that a shrew mouse is of so baleful and deleterious a nature that, wherever it creeps over a beast, be it horse, cow, or sheep, the suffering animal is afflicted with cruel anguish, and threatened with the loss of the use of the limb. Against this accident, to which they were continually liable, our provident forefathers always kept a shrew ash at hand, which, when once medicated, would maintain its virtue forever. A shrew ash was made thus: into the body of the tree a deep hole was bored with an auger, and a poor devoted shrew mouse was thrust in alive, and plugged in, no doubt with several quaint incantations long since forgotten. As the ceremonies necessary for such a consecration are no longer understood, all succession is at an end, and no such tree is known to subsist in the manor or hundred."
It appears that similar powers for evil have also been attributed, in parts at least of Great Britain, to field mice, which by creeping over the backs of sheep were thought to produce paralysis. The remedy for such an injury was to inclose the mouse in a tree, and stroke the afflicted animal with its branches as above described. How far, if at all, these old-country superstitions have become naturalized among us I do not know.
The belief that the American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatus) can at will "shoot" its quills is one of wide acceptance among unscientific people. I remember the woodcut in my first spellingbook, labeled porcupine, and how, in reply to my questions in regard, to the nature of the bristly-looking little fellow, I was told of his protective power of discharging a volley of quills at either a hunter or any four-footed enemy. This interesting fable about our own unaggressive rodent is doubtless an application of a similar exaggeration of earlier origin concerning the African porcupine. No doubt the story arose at the outset from the extreme readiness with which the quills are detached from the skin of their owner, contrasting remarkably as it does with the savage hold which their minute barbs take of the flesh of the incautious meddler in whom they lodge.
A cure for a felon, recommended in central Maine, is to wrap the offending finger in the thin membrane which lines an eggshell. More interesting than this is the south of Ireland conceit that sucking the first egg laid by a black hen will clear the voice and render it musical,
One of the most unique of veterinary remedies is the following sent me from Bradford, Mass.: "If a cow lose her cud, put a live frog down her throat and it will bring back the cud."
In Alabama and Texas a hymenopterous insect, of the family Mutillidæ, which bears a superficial resemblance to a red ant, is locally known by the entirely undeserved name of cow-killer, from the supposed destructive effect of its sting upon cattle.
The dragon-fly is greatly feared by little folks in Maine, as they believe that it often sews together the lips of children, and if the mouth be left open to prevent the sewing of the lips the warning cry, is "Look out, he'll sew up your swallow!" A very cautious little girl, therefore, was accustomed on sight of one of these insects to open wide her mouth, keep her lips far apart, and then cram her fist into her mouth to keep the enemy out of her throat. In parts of Massachusetts the story goes that it is only children who tell lies who are in danger of having their mouths sewed up by the "devil's darning needle," while in New Hampshire and parts of Pennsylvania, the children think that their ears, eyelids, nostrils, and lips must be guarded, or they may be sewed up by the dreaded darning-needle. This graceful and beautifully colored insect has various names besides the well-known one just mentioned. In New Jersey it is often called "spindle"; in the neighborhood of New Orleans, "mosquito-hawk," and very likely this may be a most rational appellation; but it goes without saying that that of "snake-doctor," common in many of the Southern States, is entirely senseless. The negroes and ignorant whites, however, really believe that ailing snakes are attended by these flying "doctors." In Tennessee and Illinois either "snake-doctor" or "snakefeeder" is the popular name, and the latter is the one in general use both among children and adults in Ohio, Indiana, and some other States of the Mississippi basin. When a child in northern central Ohio, I remember that neither my playmates nor myself doubted, when we saw dragon-flies darting to and fro or hovering over ponds or swamp-lands, that they were carrying food to their friends the snakes; and the sight of a snake-feeder always put those who feared snakes on their guard.
Some years ago a friend of mine was spending the night in Boston. Her hostess advised her, upon retiring, to be sure and keep the bedclothes well over her feet during the night, as the house was infested with cockroaches, and it was said that the insects would gnaw one's toe-nails if opportunity offered. This suggests a rather popular New England superstition that if you kill a cricket the rest of the tribe will come unawares and bite holes in your clothes. We find the same superstition in Ireland. The Irish in general say that it is very lucky to have crickets come to take up their abode in your premises, only you must be very careful not to injure one. A young Irishman once told me that if by chance boiling water were spilled upon one, as might easily happen among the peasants who cook by an open fire, about the hearth of which the crickets like to live, the unlucky person who had done the injury would be sure to find that the crickets had gnawed holes in his socks and other garments during his sleep; at the same time and in the same room the clothes of other persons who had not harmed the crickets would be unmolested. A Maine saying is that, if one of the sprightly elves become imprisoned in some crevice, ill-fortune will surely attend any bystander who does not release him. In some places with us the cricket is said to be propitious, but there is a Maine belief that its chirping foretells sorrow. This is a probable outgrowth of the saddening effect of long-continued listening to the little reveler's music, so mingled in its cheer and pathos. We may pretty certainly conclude that our whimsies about the cricket have in the main been directly transplanted from the British Isles, while those of the latter region are, in turn, modified versions of ancient ancestral beliefs common to many branches of the Aryan race. In White's Selborne the author says, in speaking of crickets: "They are the housewife's barometer, foretelling her when it will rain; and are prognostic sometimes, she thinks, of ill or good luck, of the death of a near relation, or of the approach of an absent lover." Among various prognostications of death recounted in the poet Gray's Pastoral Dirge we find—
"And shrilling crickets in the chimney cried."
The Spectator says that the voice of the cricket has inspired more terror than the roaring of a lion. According to Pliny, the cricket was an insect greatly esteemed by ancient magicians.
It is often said that the house-fly is indigestible by the human stomach. If one is so unfortunate as to swallow a fly, the comforting remark very apt to be offered among country people is: "Well, it'll come up; a fly won't stay on the stomach, you know."
In central Illinois pills made by rolling up spider-webs into small balls are recommended to be taken for ague. In connection with this remedy it may be interesting to.notice that Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy, tells how his mother, who was much given to doctoring the poor of her parish, had great confidence in the efficacy, in ague cases, of a spider inclosed in a nutshell wrapped in silk, to be worn as an amulet by the patient. Burton himself was at first incredulous, but after some observation he came to believe that the amulet was beneficial. His own conclusion was greatly strengthened upon his finding authority for this use of the spider in the writings of Dioscorides, the famous botanist, who lived in the early part of the Christian era,' and whose Materia Medica, written in Greek, was for fifteen hundred years the highest medical authority. Carrying spiders upon the person as an ague-cure must once have been somewhat popular in England. Brand quotes from the diary of Elias Ashmole, April 11, 1681, the following: "I took early in the morning a good dose of elixir and hung three spiders about my neck, and they drove the ague away. Deo gratias!" Indeed, a vastly greater antiquity may be assigned to this absurd practice, for the use of a spider's web or the creature itself as a specific for ague can at least be traced back to the first century of our era; for Pliny, in prescribing for this disease, says: "It may be worth while to make trial whether the web of the spider called 'lycos' is of any use applied with the insect itself to the temples and forehead in a compress covered with resin and wax; or the insect itself, attached to the body in a reed—a form in which it is said to be highly beneficial for other fevers." In the medical chapters of his Natural History Pliny again and again speaks of the remedial virtues of spiders and their webs, and, among multifarious prescriptions of this kind, advises the application of a spider for three days as a cure for a boil, care being taken not to mention the animal's name before applying it; also of cobwebs wet with oil and vinegar for fracture of the skull, or of the web of a white spider for chapped lips. I have chanced upon several other spider-web remedies in our own country besides the ague-cure above mentioned. A Deerfield (Mass.) mode of treatment for felons is merely to wind the finger about with cobwebs. In northern New York cobwebs wet in hot water and applied externally are recommended for the relief of pain in diseases of the kidneys and bladder. The same application is used in parts of Vermont for acute inflammation of the breast.
A quaint custom is widely prevalent among country boys and girls of asking a "daddy-long-legs" to point out the direction m which pasturing cattle maybe found. When I was a little girl in northern (>hio, many a time, before starting to drive home the cows from a woods-pasture—in which they might easily have wandered out of sight—have I looked about in the angle of a gate-post, or under the cap of a board fence, in whose shady corners the daddy-long-legs often lurk, and, having found one of the torpid beings, seized him by one leg and held him as I repeated our prescribed incantation:
Tell me where my cows are, or I'll kill you!"
Naturally, the spider, discomfited by his bondage, would lift one of his legs, and the cows, it was said, would be found in the direction indicated by this uplifted leg. I don't think that we children really believed that this indication would always hold good, or that we even paid very much attention to the path so designated; but, as I remember it, we felt it to be the proper thing to do to consult our oracle, and I doubt not the ceremony sent us off on our evening quest with better courage. The same custom is reported from different parts of New York State, Indiana, Illinois, and Tennessee. The incantation varies somewhat with the locality. In Tennessee it is simply—
"Daddy-long-legs, which way are my cows?"
An old physician writes me that "in western New York, sixty years ago, the verses ran—
Tell me where my cows are, or I'll kill yon!'
After this had been repeated several times in a drawling monotone, lengthening out the syllables 'gray' and 'kill' if the captive lifted a leg and held it suspended for a moment, he was faithfully released; otherwise, he was ruthlessly killed." Certainly there must be some occult connection between these malodorous arachnids and the cows, for in Tennessee the farmer-boys tell you that killing a grand-daddy-long-legs will make the cows go dry.
In the pine woodlands of southern Louisiana, so a New Orleans lady writes, there are found little mounds of mud, with quite a large opening in the center of each—probably crayfishholes. Negro nurses caution the children under their charge never to touch these tiny mounds, believing that they are snakeholes, and that any meddling will lead the snake which lives there to leave his burrow at night and come and bite the offender.
In western New York, forty or fifty years ago, the panacea for dirt or other foreign substances in the eye was what the children called "crabs' eye-stones," the two calcareous, lenticular concretions found between the stomach-walls of the crayfish. In these gastroliths is stored away for the molting season a reservoir of material to form a new shell. The children, having no knowledge of the real use of the gastroliths, believe them to be a providential arrangement for the relief of pain in man, and for generations this belief has been entertained by adults, for the gastroliths are really the commercial eye-stones that were once widely used to remove any irritating particle from the eye; but the practice is now condemned by physicians. It is scarcely possible that there is any power sui generis in these neat little bodies which an artificial fac-simile would not possess. Very likely this widely credited virtue of the eye-stones is a result of the varied use in medicine of the European crayfish in past ages. Powdered gastroliths were formerly used in Europe as an antacid, while Pliny cites a score of prescriptions in which the crushed animal, the bruised flesh, the juice expressed from it, macerations in various liquids, or the incinerated and pulverized shell were recommended for all sorts of purposes from antidoting poisons to allaying fevers.
Some time ago I heard a very notable New England housekeeper ask a young girl, who was assisting her by preparing a lobster for the tea-table, if she had been careful to remove the "lady." In answer to my inquiry as to what was meant by this, I was told that there is a part known as the "lady"—a small, greenish object inside the lobster, which is a perfect image of a tiny woman seated in a chair—and that this part of the animal is deadly poison, and should therefore always be carefully removed in preparing the flesh for the table. I find that, in general throughout Massachusetts, this name of "lady" is given to the stomach, which may be imagined to bear a remote resemblance to a miniature woman. Since the lobster is a notorious sea-scavenger, the contents of the stomach would probably be very undesirable for food, though why this stigma of being poisonous should need to be attached to the hard, calcareous-toothed, inedible stomach-walls it would not be easy to tell. In central New Hampshire the name "lady" is sometimes applied to the intestine—the dark tube running lengthwise of the lobster's body—and this is considered poisonous. In Cambridge, Mass., an intelligent fish-dealer, on being questioned as to the nature and position of the "lady" in the lobster, designated by that name the edible ovary popularly called the "coral." An ingenious theory has been propounded to me to explain the cause of the so-called "lady" being dangerously poisonous. The reasoning was about as follows: "You know that lobsters must be alive when they are dropped into hot water to be cooked. If you should let them die before they are cooked, they would be poison and not fit to eat, and I suppose that the poison, which before they are cooked is scattered everywhere through its whole body, all goes into the "lady" while the lobster is being boiled."
In Louisville, Ky., the children are afraid to kill the common sow-bug (Oniscus), which they call "mad dog," believing that the disagreeable-looking little crustacean can give one the hydrophobia. In my own mind there is a faint recollection of having heard that a poultice made from these creatures possessed great remedial powers of some kind. The genuineness of my half-obliterated reminiscence of the therapeutical value of the sow-bug lately received an unexpected confirmation from the pages of a copy of The Complete English Dispensatory, by John Quincy, printed not far from the middle of the eighteenth century. This rare old book, which had long lain among the unconsidered rubbish in the garret of an old-fashioned New Hampshire farm-house, contains a vast amount of curious medical lore. Not a few of the remedies which it describes are so alchemistically compounded as to seem to have come straight down from the later adepts in that pseudo-science. Other preparations, again, are unpleasant enough in their composition to satisfy an ancient Roman or a modern Chinese practitioner, as witness the following (by no means one of the most objectionable):
"Expressio Millipedum Simplex (A Simple Expression of Millipedes).—Take live millipedes and white sugar ana ℥ iij, beat them well together in a marble mortar, and pour upon them lb. j of white wine, which strain out again by hard squeezing."
This formula is quoted by Quincy from Dr. Fuller's Pharmacopoeia Extemporanea as a diuretic. Among other synonyms for "millipedes" as here used, Quincy gives "sows" and "onisci." I find that Pliny recommends "millipedes" (which the editor of the translation of the Natural History in Bohn's series identifies with onisci) for pains in the ear. Holland is quoted in a foot-note in the above-mentioned translation, as sanctioning the use of woodlice (sow-bugs) for pains in the ears; and the editor also states that English school-boys swallow them alive, and that old women advise their use in consumptive cases.
Perhaps every one has noticed the club-shaped, whitish mass at the proximal end of a freshly pulled human hair. This root of the hair, together with the attached connective tissue and adipose material, is often absent, from the fact that the hair frequently breaks off near the opening of the follicle, instead of coming out entire from the interior of the latter. So it has come about that the root of the hair is in different localities mistaken for an animal parasite, called a hair-eater. In many places in Maine and Massachusetts, if these bulbs are noticed among combings, people will say that the scalp is infested with hair-eaters, and that the latter must be killed, or they will certainly ruin the hair.
- A kind of wide hoop, with the bottom covered with tanned sheepskin, and used to hold the carded wool.