Chap. XXIII.

Of some others.

1.THAT temperamental dignotions, and conjecture of prevalent humours, may be collected from spots in our nails, we are not averse to concede. But yet not ready to admit sundry divinations, vulgarly raised upon them. Nor do we observe it verified in others, what Cardan1 discovered as a property in himself: to have found therein some signs of most events that ever happened unto him. Or that there is much considerable in that doctrine of Cheiromancy, that spots in the top of the nails do signifie things past; in the middle, things present; and at the bottom, events to come. That white specks presage our felicity, blew ones our misfortunes. That those in the nail of the thumb have significations of honour, those in the forefinger, of riches, and so respectively in other fingers, (according to Planetical relations, from whence they receive their names) as Tricassus hath taken up, and Picciolus2 well rejecteth.

We shall not proceed to querie, what truth there is in Palmistry, or divination from those lines in our hands, of high denomination. Although if any thing be therein, it seems not confinable unto man; but other creatures are also considerable: as is the fore-foot of the Moll, and especially of the Monkey; wherein we have observed the table line, that of life, and of the liver.

2. That Children committed unto the school of Nature, without institution would naturally speak the primitive language of the world, was the opinion of ancient heathens, and continued since by Christians: who will have it our Hebrew tongue, as being the language of Adam. That this were true, were much to be desired, not only for the easy attainment of that useful tongue, but to determine the true and primitive Hebrew. For whether the present Hebrew, be the unconfounded language of Babel, and that which remaining in Heber was continued by Abraham and his posterity, or rather the language of Phænicia and Canaan, wherein he lived, some learned men I perceive do yet remain unsatisfied. Although I confess probability stands fairest for the former: nor are they without all reason, who think that at the confusion of tongues, there was no constitution of a new speech in every family: but a variation and permutation of the old; out of one common language raising several Dialects: the primitive tongue remaining still intire. Which they who retained, might make a shift to understand most of the rest. By vertue whereof in those primitive times and greener confusions, Abraham of the family of Heber was able to converse with the Chaldeans, to understand Mesopotamians, Canaanites, Philistins, and Egyptians: whose several Dialects he could reduce unto the Original and primitive tongue, and so be able to understand them.

3. Though useless unto us, and rather of molestation,[3] we commonly refrain from killing Swallows, and esteem it unlucky to destroy them:[4] whether herein there be not a Pagan relique, we have some reason to doubt. For we read in Elian, that these birds were sacred unto the Penates or houshold gods of the ancients, and therefore were preserved. The same they also honoured as the nuncio's of the spring;5 and we finde in Athenæus that the Rhodians had a solemn song to welcome in the Swallow.[6]

4. That Candles and Lights burn dim and blew at the apparition of spirits, may be true, if the ambient ayr be full of sulphurious spirits, as it happeneth oft-times in mines; where damps and acide exhalations are able to extinguish them. And may be also verified, when spirits do make themselves visible by bodies of such effluviums. But of lower consideration is the common foretelling of strangers, from the fungous parcels about the weeks of Candles: which only signifieth a moist and pluvious ayr about them, hindering the avolation of the light and favillous particles; whereupon they are forced to settle upon the Snast.[7]

5. Though Coral doth properly preserve and fasten the Teeth in men, yet is it used in Children to make an easier passage for them; and for that intent is worn about their necks. But whether this custom were not superstitiously founded, as presumed an amulet or defensative against fascination, is not beyond all doubt. For the same is delivered by Pliny.8 Aruspices religiosum Coralli gestamen amoliendis periculis arbitrantur; & surculi infantiæ alligati, tutelam habere creduntur.

6. A strange kind of exploration and peculiar way of Rhabdomancy[9] is that which is used in mineral discoveries; that is, with a forked hazel, commonly called Moses his Rod, which freely held forth, will stir and play if any mine be under it. And though many there are who have attempted to make it good, yet until better information, we are of opinion with Agricola,10 that in it self it is a fruitless exploration, strongly scenting of Pagan derivation, and the virgula Divina, proverbially magnified of old. The ground whereof were the Magical rods in Poets: that of Pallas in Homer, that of Mercury that charmed Argus, and that of Circe which transformed the followers of Ulysses. Too boldly usurping the name of Moses rod, from which notwithstanding, and that of Aaron, were probably occasioned the fables of all the rest. For that of Moses must needs be famous unto the Ægyptians; and that of Aaron unto many other Nations, as being preserved in the Ark, until the destruction of the Temple built by Solomon.[11]

7. A practice there is among us to determine doubtful matters, by the opening of a book, and letting fall a staff; which notwithstanding are ancient fragments of Pagan divinations. The first an imitation of sortes Homericæ, or Virgilinæ,[12] drawing determinations from verses casually occurring. The same was practised by Severus, who entertained ominous hopes of the Empire, from that verse in Virgil, Tu regere imperio populos Romane memento; and Gordianus who reigned but few dayes was discouraged by another, that is, Ostendunt terris hunc tantum fata, nec ultra esse sinunt.[13] Nor was this only performed in heathen Authors, but upon the sacred text of Scripture, as Gregorius Turonensis hath left some account, and as the practise of the Emperour Heraclius, before his Expedition into Asia minor, is delivered by Cedrenus.

As for the Divination or decision from the staff, it is an Augurial relique, and the practise thereof is accused by God himselfe;14 My people ask counsel of their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them. Of this kind of Rhabdomancy was that practised by Nabuchadonozor in that Caldean miscellany, delivered by Ezekiel;15 the King of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two wayes to use divination, he made his arrows bright, he consulted with Images, he looked in the Liver; at the right hand were the divinations of Jerusalem. That is, as Estius expoundeth it, the left way leading into Rabbah, the chief City of the Ammonites, and the right unto Jerusalem, he consulted Idols and entrails, he threw up a bundle of arrows to see which way they would light; and falling on the right hand he marched towards Jerusalem. A like way of Belomancy or Divination by Arrows hath been in request with Scythians, Alanes, Germans, with the Africans and Turks of Algier. But of another nature was that which was practised by Elisha,16 when by an arrow shot from an Eastern window, he pre-signified the destruction of Syria; or when according unto the three stroaks of Joash, with an arrow upon the ground, he foretold the number of his victories. For thereby the spirit of God particular'd the same; and determined the stroaks of the King, unto three, which the hopes of the Prophet expected in twice that number.

8. We cannot omit to observe, the tenacity of ancient customs, in the nominal observation of the several dayes of the week, according to Gentile and Pagan appellations:17 for the Original is very high, and as old as the ancient Ægyptians, who named the same according to the seven Planets, the admired stars of heaven, and reputed Deities among them. Unto every one assigning a several day; not according to their celestial order, or as they are disposed in heaven; but after a diatesseron or musical fourth. For beginning Saturday with Saturn, the supremest Planet, they accounted by Jupiter and Mars unto Sol, making Sunday. From Sol in like manner by Venus and Mercurie unto Luna, making Munday; and so through all the rest. And the same order they confirmed by numbring the hours of the day unto twenty four, according to the natural order of the Planets. For beginning to account from Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and so about unto twenty four, the next day will fall unto Sol; whence accounting twenty four, the next will happen unto Luna, making Munday. And so with the rest, according to the account and order still observed among us.

The Jews themselves in their Astrological considerations, concerning Nativities, and Planetary hours, observe the same order, upon as witty foundations. Because by an equal interval, they make seven triangles, the bases whereof are the seven sides of a septilateral figure, described within a circle. That is, If a figure of seven sides be described in a circle, and at the angles thereof the names of the Planets be placed, in their natural order on it: if we begin with Saturn, and successively draw lines from angle to angle, until seven equicrural triangles be described, whose bases are the seven sides of the septilateral figure, the triangles will be made by this order. The first being made by Saturn, Sol and Luna, that is, Saturday, Sunday and Munday; and so the rest in the order still retained.18

But thus much is observable, that however in cœlestial considerations they embraced the received order of the Planets, yet did they not retain either characters, or names in common use amongst us; but declining humane denominations, they assigned them names from some remarkable qualities; as is very observable in their red and splendent Planets, that is, of Mars19 and Venus.20 But the change of their names disparaged not the consideration of their natures; nor did they thereby reject all memory of these remarkable Stars; which God himself admitted in his Tabernacle, if conjecture will hold concerning the Golden Candlestick; whose shaft resembled the Sun, and six branches the Planets about it.[21]

9. We are unwilling to enlarge concerning many other; only referring unto sober examination, what natural effects can reasonably be expected, when to prevent the Ephialtes or night-Mare we hang up an hollow stone in our stables; when for amulets against Agues we use the chips of Gallows and places of execution. When for Warts we rub our hands before the Moon, or commit any maculated part unto touch of the dead. [22] What truth there is in those common female doctrines, that the first Rib of Roast Beef powderd is a peculiar remedy against Fluxes. That to urine upon earth newly cast up by a Moll, bringeth down the menses in Women. That if a Child dieth, and the neck becometh not stiff, but for many howers remaineth Lythe and Flaccid, some other in the same house will dye not long after. That if a woman with child looketh upon a dead body, her child will be of a pale complexion. Swarms hereof our learned Philosophers and critical Philosophers might illustrate,[23] whose exacter performances our adventures doe but solicite; mean while, I hope, they will plausibly receive our attempts, or candidly correct our misconjectures.

Disce, sed ira cadat naso, rugosaque sanna,
Dum veteres avias tibi de pulmone revello.24

End of Book V



* [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 addresses the question of the Hebrew language in Arcana Microcosmi, II.12.4.

1 De varietate rerum.

2 De inspectione manus.

3 [Wilkin: "This is a most undeserved censure. The swallows are very useful in destroying myriad of insects, which would be injurious." It's also difficult to see in what way swallows are harmful, even if we grant that they be useless.]

4 [Wilkin: A similar superstition attaches to the robin and the wren; — the tradition is that if their nests are robbed, the cows will give bloody milk; — schoolboys rarely are found hardy enough to commit such a depredation on these birds, of which the common people in some parts of England have this legend —

Robinets and Jenny Wrens,
Are God Almighty's cocks and hens.]

5 The same is extant in the 8th of Athenæus.

6 [See also Book I, Chapter IV on swallows.]

7 [Wilkin: The Norfolk (and perhaps other folk's) vulgar term, signifying the burnt portion of the wick of the candle; which, when sufficiently lengthened by want of snuffing, becomes crowned with a cap of the purest lamp-black, called here, "the fungous parcels, &c."

The word is recorded in the OED only in dialectal vocabularies after about 1820. Its obscure origin is perhaps related to "gnast", of similar meaning.]

8 Lib. 32. [Pliny, NH xxxii (23). This passage strikes us as odd: the coral is for the child to chew on, not as an amulet.]

9 [Divination using a rod or a wand.]

10 De re metallica, lib. 2.

11 [Thus Hebrews 9:4, but 1 Kings 8:9 says specifically that there was nothing in the Ark save the tablets of the Law.]

12 [Wilkin: King Charles I. tried the sortes Virgilianæ, as is related by Wellwood in the following passage: —

"The King being at Oxford during the civil wars, went one day to see the public library, where he was showed among other books, a Virgil nobly printed, and exquisitely bound. The Lord Falkland, to divert the king, would have his majesty make a trial of his fortune by the sortes Virgilianæ, which every body knows was an usual kind of augury some ages past. Whereupon the king opening the book, the period which happened to come up, was that part of Dido's imprecation against Æneas; which Mr. Dryden translates thus:

Yet let a race untam'd, and haughty foes,
His peaceful entrance with dire arms oppose.
Oppress'd with numbers in th'unequal field,
His men discourag'd and himself expell'd,
Let him for succour sue from place to place,
Torn from his subjects, and his son's embrace,
First let him see his friends in battle slain,
And their untimely fate lament in vain:
And when at length the cruel war shall cease,
On hard conditions may he buy his peace;
Nor let him then enjoy supreme command,
But fall untimely by some hostile hand,
And lie unburied in the common sand.

"It is said that King Charles seemed concerned at this accident...."]

13 [Wren: Of all other, I cannot but admire that ominous dreame of Constans, the Emperour, the sonne of Heracleonas, and father of Pogonatus, anno imperii, 13, who beinge to fight with barbarians the next morne, near Thessalonica, thought he heard one cryinge Θες αλλω Νικην, which the next day proved too true.]

14 Hosea 4.[12]

15 Ezek. 21.[21 ff]

16 2 King. 13.15.

17 Dion. Cassij. lib. 37.

18 Cujus icon apud. doct. Gaffarel, cap. 11. Et Fabrit Paduanium. [Equicrural: isosceles. See The severall daies of the week and the seven Planets after Gaffarel and Paduanius.]

19 Maadim.

20 Nogah.

21 [In Exodus:

25:31 And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same.

32 And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side:


37 And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light over against it.

and 37:17 ff, which repeats in much the same words the description of the object as made.]

22 [Wren: See what the Lord St. Alban's sayes for the certaintye of this experimente made upon himself, in his natural history, century 10th, and 997 experiment.

To wit:

"The sympathy of individuals, that have been entire, or have touched, is of all others the most incredible; yet according unto our faithful manner of examination of nature, we will make some little mention of it. The taking away of warts, by rubbing them with somewhat that afterwards is put to waste and consume, is a common experiment; and I do apprehend it the rather because of my own experience. I had from my childhood a wart upon one of my fingers: afterwards, when I was about sixteen years old, being then at Paris, there grew upon both my hands a number of warts at the least an hundred, in a month's space. The English ambassador's lady, who was a woman far from superstition, told me one day, she would help me away with my warts: whereupon she got a piece of lard with the skin on, and rubbed the warts all over with the fat side; and amongst the rest, that wart which I had had from my childhood: then she nailed the piece of lard, with the fat towards the sun, upon a post of her chamber window, which was to the south. The success was that within five weeks space all the warts went quite away, and that wart which I had so long endured, for company. But at the rest I did little marvel, because they came in a short time again: but the going away of that which had stayed so long doth yet stick with me. They say the like is done by the rubbing of warts with a green elder stick and then burying the stick to rot in muck. It would be tried with corns and wens, and such other excrescences. I would have it also tried with some parts of living creatures that are nearest the nature of excrescences: as the combs of cocks, the spurs of cocks, the horns of beasts, etc. And I would have it tried both ways: both by rubbing those parts with lard, or elder, as before, and by cutting off some pieces of those parts, and laying it to consume: to see whether it will work any effect towards the consumption of that part which was once joined with it." — Natural History, Cent. x, No. 997.

Sir Kenelme Digby, Late Discourse, &c., Touching the Cure of wounds by the Powder of Sympathy (1658), adds

"I cannot omit to add hereunto another experiment, which is, that we find by the effects, how the rayes of the moon are cold and moist. ... The beams then which come from the moon, are those of the sun, which glancing upon her, reflect upon us, and so bring with them the atoms of that cold and humid star, which participates of the source whence they come: therefore if one should expose a hollow bason, or glass, to assemble them, one shall find, that whereas those of the sun do burn by such a conjuncture, these clean contrary do refresh and moisten in a notable manner, leaving an aquatic and viscous glutining kind of sweat upon the glass. One would think it were a folly that one should offer to wash his hands in a well-polished silver bason, wherein there is not a drop of water, yet this may be done by the reflection of the moonbeams only, which will afford a competent humidity to do it; but they who have tried this, have found their hands, after they are wiped, to be much moister than usually: but this is an infallible way to take away warts from the hands, if it be often used." ]

23 [1672 has here "that if a woman with child looketh upon a dead body, her child will be of a pale complexion, our learned Philosophers and Critical Philosophers might illustrate..."; 1686 "... learned and critical Philosophers ...". This part of the pargraph is left out of 1658. 1646 has "Swarmes hereof our learned Selden and criticall Philologers might illustrate, whose abler performances ...", which I have chosen as making the most sense, but changed "Selden" to "Philosophers", as clearly something had been changed in the passage, presumably by Browne himself.]

24 [Persius, Sat. V, 91-92]

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