Chap. VII.

Of some Insects, and the properties of several Plants.

1. FEW ears have escaped the noise of the Dead-watch, that is, the little clickling sound heard often in many rooms, somewhat resembling that of a Watch; and this is conceived to be of an evil omen or prediction of some persons death: wherein notwithstanding there is nothing of rational presage or just cause of terrour unto melancholy and meticulous heads. For this noise is made by a little sheath-winged gray Insect found often in Wainscot, Benches, and Wood-work, in the Summer. We have taken many thereof, and kept them in thin boxes, wherein I have heard and seen them work and knack with a little proboscis or trunk against the side of the box, like Apicus Martius, or Woodpecker against a tree. It worketh best in warm weather, and for the most part, giveth not over under nine or eleven stroaks at a time. He that could extinguish the terrifying apprehensions hereof, might prevent the passions of the heart, and many cold sweats in Grandmothers and Nurses, who in the sickness of children, are so startled with these noises.

2. The presage of the year succeeding, which is commonly made from Insects or little Animals in Oak apples, according to the kinds thereof, either Maggot, Fly, or Spider; that is, of Famine, War, or Pestilence; whether we mean that woody excrescence, which shooteth from the branch about May, or that round and Apple-like accretion which groweth under the leaf about the latter end of Summer, is I doubt too distinct, nor verifiable from event.

For Flies and Maggots are found every year, very seldom Spiders: And Helmont affirmeth he could never find the Spider and the Fly upon the same Trees, that is the signs of War and Pestilence, which often go together: Beside, That the Flies found were at first Maggots, experience hath informed us; for keeping these excrescencies, we have observed their conversions, beholding in Magnifying Glasses the daily progression thereof. As may be also observed in other Vegetable excretions, whose Maggots do terminate in Flies of constant shapes; as in the Nutgalls of the Out-landish Oak, and the Mossie tuft of the wild Briar; which having gathered in November we have found the little Maggots which lodged in wooden Cells all Winter, to turn into Flies in June.

We confess the opinion may hold some verity in the Analogy, or Emblematical phansie. For Pestilence is properly signified by the Spider, whereof some kinds are of a very venemous Nature. Famine by Maggots, which destroy the fruits of the Earth. And War not improperly by the Fly; if we rest in the phansie of Homer, who compares the valiant Grecian unto a Fly.

Some verity it may also have in it self, as truly declaring the corruptive constitution in the present sap and nutrimental juice of the Tree; and may consequently discover the disposition of that year, according to the plenty or kinds of these productions. For if the putrifying juices of bodies bring forth plenty of Flies and Maggots, they give forth testimony of common corruption, and declare that the Elements are full of the seeds of putrifaction, as the great number of Caterpillars, Gnats, and ordinary Insects do also declare. If they run into Spiders, they give signs of higher putrifaction, as plenty of Vipers and Scorpions are confessed to do; the putrifying Materials producing Animals of higher mischiefs, according to the advance and higher strain of corruption.

3. Whether all Plants have seed, were more easily determinable, if we could conclude concerning Harts-tongue, Fern, the Capillaries, Lunaria,[1] and some others. But whether those little dusty particles, upon the lower side of the leaves, be seeds and seminal parts; or rather, as it is commonly conceived, excremental separations; we have not as yet been able to determine by any germination or univocal production from them when they have been sowed on purpose: but having set the roots of Harts tongue in a garden, a year or two after there came up three or four of the same Plants, about two yards distance from the first. Thus much we observe, that they seem to renew yearly, and come not fully out till the Plant be in his vigour: and by the help of Magnifying Glasses we find these dusty Atoms to be round at first, and fully representing seeds, out of which at last proceed little Mites almost invisible; so that such as are old stand open, as being emptied of some bodies formerly included; which though discernable in Harts-tongue, is more notoriously discoverable in some differencies of Brake or Fern.

But exquisite Microscopes and Magnifying Glasses have at last cleared this doubt, whereby also long ago the noble Federicus Cæsius beheld the dusts of Polypody as bigg as Pepper corns; and as Johannes Faber testifieth, made draughts on Paper of such kind of seeds, as bigg as his Glasses represented them: and set down such Plants under the Classis of Herbæ Tergifætæ, as may be observed in his notable Botanical Tables.

4. Whether the sap of Trees runs down to the roots in Winter, whereby they become naked and grow not: or whether they do not cease to draw any more, and reserve so much as sufficeth for conservation, is not a point indubitable. For we observe, that most Trees, as though they would be perpetually green, do bud at the Fall of the leaf, although they sprout not much forward untill the Spring, and warmer weather approacheth; and many Trees maintain their leaves all Winter, although they seem to receive very small advantage in their growth. But that the sap doth powerfully rise in the Spring, to repair that moisture whereby they barely subsisted in the Winter, and also to put the Plant in a capacity of fructification: he that hath beheld how many gallons of water may in a small time be drawn from a Birch-tree in the Spring, hath slender reason to doubt.

5. That Camphire Eunuchates, or begets in Men an impotency unto Venery, observation will hardly confirm; and we have found it to fail in Cocks and Hens, though given for many days; which was a more favourable trial then that of Scaliger, when he gave it unto a Bitch that was proud. For the instant turgescence is not to be taken off, but by Medicines of higher Natures; and with any certainty but one way that we know, which notwithstanding, by suppresing that natural evacuation, may encline unto Madness, if taken in the Summer.

6. In the History of Prodigies we meet with many showrs of Wheat; how true or probable, we have not room to debate. Only this much we shall not omit to inform, That what was this year found in many places, and almost preached for Wheat rained from the clouds, was but the seed of Ivy-berries, which somewhat represent it; and though it were found in Steeples and high places, might be conveyed thither, or muted out by Birds: for many feed thereon, and in the crops of some we have found no less then three ounces.

7. That every Plant might receive a Name according unto the disease it cureth, was the wish of Paracelsus. A way more likely to multiply Empericks then Herbalists: yet what is practised by many is advantagious unto neither; that is, relinquishing their proper appellations to re-baptize them by the name of Saints, Apostles, Patriarchs, and Martyrs, to call this the herb of John, that of Peter, this of James, or Joseph, that of Mary or Barbara. For hereby apprehensions are made additional unto their proper Natures; whereon superstitious practises ensue; and stories are framed accordingly to make good their foundations.

8. We cannot omit to declare the gross mistake of many in the Nominal apprehension of Plants; to instance but in few. An herb there is commonly called Betonica Pauli, or Pauls Betony; hereof the People have some conceit in reference to St. Paul; whereas indeed that name is derived from Paulus Ægineta, an ancient Physitian of Ægina, and is no more then Speed-well, or Fluellen. The like expectations are raised from Herba Trinitatis; which notwithstanding obtaineth that name from the figure of its leaves, and is one kind of Liverwort, or Hepatica. In Milium Solis, the Epithete of the Sun hath enlarged its opinion; which hath indeed no reference thereunto, it being no more then Lithospermon, or Grummel, or rather Milium Soler; which as Serapion from Aben Juliel hath taught us, because it grew plentifully in the Mountains of Soler, received that appellation. In Jews-ears something is conceived extraordinary from the Name, which is in propriety but Fungus sambucinus, or an excrescence about the Roots of Elder, and concerneth not the Nation of the Jews, but Judas Iscariot, upon a conceit, he hanged on this Tree; and is become a famous Medicine in Quinsies, sore Throats, and strangulations ever since. And so are they deceived in the name of the Horse-Raddish, Horse-Mint, Bull-rush, and many more: conceiving therein some prenominal consideration, whereas indeed that expression is but a Grecism, by the prefix of Hippos and Bous, that is, Horse and Bull, intending no more then Great. According whereto the great Dock is called Hippollapathum; and he that calls the Horse of Alexander, Great-head, expresseth the same which the Greeks do in Bucephalus.

9. Lastly, Many things are delivered and believed of other Plants, wherein at least we cannot but suspend. That there is a property in Basil to propagate Scorpions, and that by the smell thereof they are bred in the brains of men, is much advanced by Hollerius, who found this Insect in the brains of a man that delighted much in this smell. Wherein beside we find no way to conjoin the effect unto the cause assigned; herein the Moderns speak but timorously, and some of the Ancients quite contrarily. For, according unto Oribasius, Physitian unto Julian, The Affricans, Men best experienced in poisons, affirm, whosoever hath eaten Basil, although he be stung with a Scorpion, shall feel no pain thereby: which is a very different effect, and rather antidotally destroying, then seminally promoting its production.

That the leaves of Cataputia[2] or Spurge, being plucked upward or downward, respectively perform their operations by Purge or Vomit, as some have written, and old wives still do preach, is a strange conceit, ascribing unto Plants positional operations, and after the manner of the Loadstone; upon the Pole whereof if a Knife be drawn from the handle unto the point, it will take up a Needle; but if drawn again from the point to the handle, it will attract it no more.

That Cucumbers are no commendable fruits, that being very waterish, they fill the veins with crude and windy serosities; that containing little Salt or spirit, they may also debilitate the vital acidity, and fermental faculty of the Stomach, we readily concede. But that they should be so cold, as be almost poison by that quality, it will be hard to allow, without the contradiction of Galen:3 who accounteth them cold but in the second degree, and in that Classis have most Physitians placed them.

That Elder Berries are poison, as we are taught be tradition, experience will unteach us. And beside the promises of Blochwitius, the healthful effects thereof daily observed will convict us.

That an Ivy Cup will separate Wine from Water, if filled with both, the Wine soaking through, but the Water still remaining, as after Pliny many have averred, we know not how to affirm; who making trial thereof, found both the liquors to soak indistinctly through the bowl.

That Sheep do often get the Rot, by feeding in boggy grounds where Ros-solis groweth, seems beyond dispute. That this herb is the cause thereof, Shepherds affirm and deny; whether it hath a cordial vertue by sudden refection, sensible experiment doth hardly confirm, but that it may have a Balsamical and resumptive Vertue, whereby it becomes a good Medicine in Catarrhes and Consumptive dispositions, Practice and Reason conclude. That the lentous drops upon it are not extraneous, and rather an exudation from it self, then a rorid concretion from without: beside other grounds, we have reason to conceive; for having kept the Roots moist and earthed in close chambers, they have, though in lesser plenty, sent out these drops as before.

That Flos Affricanus[4] is poison, and destroyeth Dogs, in two experiments we have not found.

That Yew and the Berries thereof are harmless, we know.[5]

That a Snake will not endure the shade of an Ash, we can deny.{6} Nor is it inconsiderable what is affirmed by Bellonius;7 for if his Assertion be true, our apprehension is oftentimes wide in ordinary simples, and in common use we mistake one for another. We know not the true Thyme; the Savourie in our Gardens, is not that commended of old; and that kind of Hysop the Ancients used, is unknown unto us, who make great use of another.[8]

We omit to recite the many Vertues, and endless faculties ascribed unto Plants, which sometime occur in grave and serious Authors; and we shall make a bad transaction for truth to concede a verity in half. To reckon up all, it were imployment for Archimedes, who undertook to write the number of the Sands. Swarms of others there are, some whereof our future endeavours may discover; common reason I hope will save us a labour in many: Whose absurdities stand naked unto every eye; Errours not able to deceive the Embleme of Justice, and need no Argus to decry them. Herein there surely wants expurgatory animadversions, whereby we might strike out great numbers of hidden qualities; and having once a serious and conceded list, we might with more encouragement and safety, attempt their Reasons.

End of Book II



* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}. Ross in Arcana Microcosmi II.19.2 defends the ancients' belief concerning asps and the ash, but is reduced to a petitio: "for though here in these cold Countries our Snakes may accord with our Ashes, yet it may be otherwise in hot Regions, where the Serpents are more venemous, and the Ash-leaves more powerfull".

1 [Capillaries: maidenhair ferns, Adiantum capillus-Veneris; Lunaria, the Moonwort, Botrychium lunaria, also a fern. Fern spores had been observed in several species by the early 17th century and successfully raised into ferns by the middle 17th century.]

2 [1672 has Catapucia; 1646, 1686 Cataputia. The lesser spurge, catapus, Euphorbia lathyris.]

3 In his Anatomia Sambuci.

4 [Marigolds, Tagetes. Dogs seem not to have led a very pleasant life in the Browne household, what with being fed glass and various plants to see if they would be "destroyed".]

5 [Yew berries and leaves are held to be poisonous, the main poison being the alkaloid taxine. It is worth note, however, that many birds eat the berries; I have myself eaten a few, with no ill effects. They are slightly sweet with a bitter and acrid overtaste. I have yet to steel myself to attempt the leaves. It is also worth noting that there are several species and inter-specific hybrids in gardens. Their toxicity may well vary.]

6 {In the editions of 1646 and 1650, the following paragraph was inserted at this place (then part of chapter 6):

That Cats have such delight in the herbe Nepeta, called therefore Cattaria, our experience cannot discover.

Numerous correspondents apparently convinced Browne otherwise, or at least convinced him of the wisdom of deleting the paragraph.}

7 Lib. 1. Observat.

8 [The identification of plants in classical sources is, if we may say so, a thorny question. In addition to identifying exactly what plant is meant by which appellation — which can, of course, vary over time and from author to author — there are questions about plants that are named and are (probably) extinct, like silphium, and questions about plants that are in our day extremely common but seem not to have been known to the ancients, one of the most prominent among the latter being lavender.]

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