Topsell on Toads and Spiders
A note to Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Book III, chapter 27

From Edward Topsell (1608) The Historie of Serpents, pp. 191-192.

A Toade is of a most cold tempriament, and badde constitution of nature, & it useth one certaine herbe where-withall it preserveth the sight, and also resisteth the poyson of Spyders, whereof I have heard this credible history related, from the mouth of a true honourable man, and one of the most charitable Peeres of England, namely, the good Earle of Bedford, and I was requested to set it downe for truth, for it may be iustified by manie now alive whicch saw the same.

It fortuned as the said Earle travailed in Bedfordshire, neere unto a Market-towne called Owbourne, some of his company espyed a Toade fighting with a Spider, under a hedge in a bottome, by the high-way-side, whereat they stood still, untill the Earle their Lord and Maister came also to behold the same; and there he saw how the Spyder still kept her standing, and the Toade divers times went back from the Spyder, and did eate a peece of an herbe, which to his iudgement was like a Plantine. At the last, the Earle having seene the Toade doe it often, and still returne to the combat against the Spyder, hee commaunded one of his men to goe and with his dagger to cutte off that herbe, which he performed and brought it away. Presently after the Toade returned to seeke it, and not finding it according to her expectation, swelled & broke in peeces: for having received poyson from the Spyder in the combat, nature taught her the vertue of that herbe, to expell and drive it out, but wanting the herbe, the poyson did instantly worke and destroy her. And this (as I am informed) was oftentimes related by the Earle of Bedford himselfe upon sundry occasions, and therefore I am the bolder to insert it into this story.

I doe the more easily beleeve it, because of another like history, related by Erasmus in his booke of friendship,1 hapning likewise in England, in manner as followeth. There was a Monke who had in his Chamber divers bundles of greene-rushes, where-withall he used to strow his chamber at his pleasure, it hapned on a day afer dinner, that hee fell a-sleepe upon one of those bundles of rushes, with his face upward, and while he there slept a great Toade came and sate upon his lyps, bestryding them in such manner as his whole mouth was covered. Now when his fellowes sawe it, they were at their wits end, for to pull away the Toad was an unavoidable death, but to suffer her to stand still upon his mouth, was a thing more cruel then death: and therefore one of them espying a Spiders web in the window, wherein there was a great Spyder, he did advise that the Monk should be carryed to that window, and laid with his face upward right underneath the Spyders web, which was presently accomplished. And assoone as the Spyder saw her adversary the Toad, she presently wove her thred, and descended down upon the Toad, at the first meeting whereof the Spyder wounded the Toad, so that it swelled, and at the second meeting it swelled more; but at the third time the Spyder kild the Toad, and so became grateful to her Host which did nourish her in his hamber; for at the third time the Toad leaped off from the mans mouth, and swelled to death; but the man was preserved whole and alive. And thus much may suffice for the antipathy of nature betwixt the Toad and the Spyder.

1. In his Colloquia, "Amicitia", which is largely a list of the distastes of various animals one for another.

This page is by James Eason.

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