Boo the Cat Boo the Cat. 1987-2002.


Alexander Ross (1652) Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter 10, pp. 151-156.


1. Moles see not, and the contrary objections answered. 2. The opinions of the Ancients concerning divers animals maintained. 3. The true cause of the erection of mans body, and the benefit we have thereby. 4. Amphisbæna proved, and the contrary objections answered. 5. Mice and other vermin bred of putrefaction, even in mens bodies. 6. How men swim naturally; the Indian swimmers.

COncerning Moles, the Doctor proves they are not blind, (Book 3. cap. 8.1) because they have eyes: for we must not assigne the Organ and deny the Office. Answ. Scaliger tells us they have not eyes, but the form of eyes. Pliny (lib. 11. cap. 37.2) saith, They have but the effigies of eyes under the membrane, but no sight, being condemned to perpetuall darknesse. Aristotle (lib. 3. de Animal.) saith, faineqaV3 it seems they have eyes under a thin skin, and a place for eyes. The Prince of Poets calls them, Oculis capttos, (Geor. 1.4) Scaliger (Exer. 243.) saith, They are deprived of the noblest sense, and gives the reason, because living still under ground, they had no use of sight. If then by eyes are meant the perfect organs of sight, with all things requisite thereto, I deny they have eyes, and consequently sight: they have neither the organ nor the office,5 except we say, that like is the same. Now these forms of eyes Nature gave to the Moles rather for ornament then use;6 so wings are given to the Ostrich, which never flies; and so a long tail to the Rat, which serves for no other use but to be catchd sometimes by it. And to what end hath Nature given teats to men, and other males? Again, Nature in all her works aims at perfection; but is oftentimes hindred by some obstacle, which is the reason why the Mole wants eyes, and the Manucodiata feet: but what is defective in the Moles eye, is recompensed by the quickness of his hearing. 2. He saith, That they are not exactly blind; for they can discern the light, which is one object of vision. Ans. I do not believe they can discern the light at all. 2. If they could discern the light, yet they are blind: for I have known men stark blind, who yet have discerned light from darknesse when a candle came into the room. 3. Light is not the object of vision; for we see not light, but lucid and coloured; we see not light, but by it: Light is Objectum quo, non quod. 3. He saith, A mole cannot be properly blind, if it want the organs or capacity of seeing: for privations presuppose habits. Answ. A Moal is as properly blind as he in the ninth of John,7 who was born so; for he had no capacity of seeing naturally, no more then the Moal; yet he is said to be blind from his nativity, and that properly, because he was a subject capable of sight, quatenus an animall or sensitive creature, which is capable of sight, because of senses, whereof the sight is one. Moals therefore are capable of sight, in the genius of animals, though not in the species as a Moal, and so an Oyster is capable of sight.

2. The Doctor prying too narrowly into the sayings of the Ancients, reckoneth them amongst his Vulgar Errors, which being rightly understood, are no errors at all; as when they say tthe Elephant hath no joynts, they mean: their joynts were stiffe, and not so flexible as those of other animals.8 When they write that the Swan sings,9 they meant that with their wings they made a kind of harmonious noyse, as the learned Poet expresseth in that Verse:

Cantantes sublime ferunt ad sidera Cygni;

Which he explains in another place,

Ut reduces ludunt illi stridentibus alis.10

When they say the Lampery hath nine eyes, they mean so many spots resemmbling eyes. When they write, that a Horse and Dove have no gall, they mean, that these have not baggs of gall annexed to the Liver, as other animals. When they speak of Griffins, that they were animals like Eagles in their foreparts, and behind like Lions; they spake mystically, shewing by this hieroglyphihck, the valour, magnanimity, courage and audacity that ought to be in Princes and Governours.11 And when they write, that Toads doe pisse, they did not speak properly, but onely meant, that they squirted out some liquid matter behind. When they spoke of the Toads stone, they do not mean a true and proper stone, but a concretion or induration of their crany. When they write that Hares are double Sexes, they write no more then what hath been observed in other animals which are Hermophroditicall, and in whom sometimes females have been changed into males. Hares also make a shew of a double Sex, because of the two Tumors representing Testicles, and their holes or cavities near the siege in males, by which they seem also to be females. And what they write of their superfætation, is true: for the like is incident to some other animals, even to women. When they say that Snails have eyes at the ends of their horns, their meaning is, that these are like eyes.12 So when they hold, that all animals of the land, are in their kind in the sea, they mean that there was a great resemblance between the sea and land-animals. So when they write, that the Peacock is ashamed when he looks on his black feet, they write symbolically, intimating that pride ends in shame, when men look upon their deformities and infirmitiess. When they say, whelps are blind nine dayes, they mean that they are so for the most part, though some be blind three or foure dayes longer. When they write that Worms have no blood, they write properly; for how can those have blood which have no liver, or other sanguifying organs? that red humour in them is not blood properly, but analogically.13

II.14 That there is in man a right and a left side, is manifest by Scripture, generall consent, Experience and Reason, which also prove the dignity, agility, and strength of the right side above the left; because on the right side is the Liver, the cistern of blood, in which consisteth our life, vigor & strength, therefore this side is not so often as the left subject to palsies, because it is stronger to resist and repell the matter of that disease into the weaker side. Yet Doctor Brown (Book 4.c.5.) denies any prepotency in the right side, and such as ariseth from the constant root of Nature, because he finds not Horses, Bulls, and Mules, are generally stronger on this side. Ans. There is great diversity between the conformity, situation, and parts of mans body and beasts, and therefore to reason from the one to the other, is absurd: We find not that variety of colours in the eyes of Horses, Bulls, and Mules, that are in Mans eyes; nor doe we find the Horses gall annexed to his liver; shall we hence inferre a deficiency of things in man? The weight of the Bodies of Four-footed Beasts, lieth equally upon all foure, and all foure equally are use in motion; and therefore there was no reason why any side or legge should be more prepotent then another; but it is otherwise in man, to whom Nature hath given one side stronger and nimbler then another for uniformity of action. Hence the right hand and foot are stronger then the left. Neither is it Custome but Nature that hath given this dexterity to the right side: For I have known some who have endeavoured by custome to bring their left hand to perform the offices of the right, but could never doe it with that ease and dexterity. Scaliger and Cardan speak of one who had never a hand, yet with his right foot could perform all the offices of the right hand, write, sew, eat, drink, & fling darts. 2. He saith, that children indifferently use either hand. Answ. That is because as yet in the tender infant the heat and strength of the body is equally diffused, and not setled in one part more then in another; but as he begins to gather strength, and the body to be more solid, so doth the right hand begin to be more agill; though I deny not in some the left hand is more agill, but these are few, and aberrations from the common course of Nature: for we see that in all her works there are some accidentall deviations. His other objections are coincident with these two, and his discourse of the right and left side of heaven, is impertinent to this purpose: therefore I will spend no time in refelling it: for some make the Earth, some the South the right part of heaven; but I will conclude with Aristotle, (hist. animal. 1. c. 15.) the right side and left in man consist of the same parts; but the left side is every where weaker.

IV.The end why mans body was made erected, was to look up toward heaven, whence the soul hath its originall, where our hopes should be, and our happiness shall be; by the contemplation of which, we are brought to the knowledge of Gods goodness and wisdom: For the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament his hand work, Psal. 19. yet the Doctor (book 4. c. 1.) will not have this the end of mans erection, but out of Galen the exercise of Arts, which could not be performed in another figure. Again (saith he) the eyes of divers fishes regard the heavens; birds who have no upper eye-lid, have in this the advantage of man: So the position of the frog with his eyes above the water, serves to behold a great part of the heavens. Answ. All these are weak Assertions; for the God of Nature created man to enjoy happiness, and to glorifie him; this is the chief end of his creation. Now this happiness is heaven, by beholding which, our knowledge of God is confirmed, our hopes established, and our joy and affections to heavenly things are enlarged: The invention of Arts then was but a secondary end, which it seems Galen, that meer naturall man, thought to be the chief end. And whereas the Doctor saith, (that by sursum aspicere, was not meant to look upward with the eye, but to have his thoughts sublime;) I would know what means so forcible to sublimate the thoughts as the eye? All knowledge and affection of and to the object, comes by the senses. How should Abraham have known the glory and multitude of his posterity, had he not looked up (as God commanded him) to the stars? The wise men found Christ in Bethlehem by looking upward to heaven, where they saw his star. Christ in blessing the bread, and in praying, looked up towards heaven: should not our eyes be fixed there where our treasure is? Our Saviour went up to heaven, and we expect him again to return with the clouds of heaven. Our eyes then should be directed thither as well as our thoughts. The Philosophers by the knowledge of the first Mobile, came to the knowledge of the first mover. And though birds, some fishes and frogs, may have an advantage in looking upward, yet this advantage was not given them to look on heaven, of which they have neither knowledge, hope, affection or interest: they look upward then not to contemplate heaven, but to watch either flies to feed on, or kites, hawkes, and other ravenous fowle to avoid them.

V. He doubts15 whether mice can be procreated of putrifaction. So he may doubt whether in cheese and timber worms are generated; Or if Betels and wasps in cowes dung; Or if butterflies, locusts, grashoppers, shel-fish, snails, eeles, and such like, be procreated of putrified matter, which is apt to receive the form of that creature to which it is by the formative power disposed. To question this, is to question Reason, Sense, and Experience: If he doubts of this, let him go to Ægypt, and there he will finde the fields swarming with mice begot of the mud of Nylus, to the great calamity of the Inhabitants. What will he say to those rats and mice, or little beasts resembing mice, found in the belly of a woman dissected after her death, of which Lemnius is a witness, who thinks this generation might proceed of some sordid excrement or seminal pollution of those animals with which the womans meat or drink had been infected. I have seen one whose belly by drinking of puddle water, was swelled to a vast capacity, being full of small toads, frogs, evets, and such vermin usually bred in putrified water. A toad hath been found in a sound piece of timber.

VI. That men swim naturally he cannot assent to, because other animals swim as they go; but man alters his natural posture as he swims, (4. Book c. 6.) Answ. This is no reason; for man alters his natural posture when he crawls; will it follow therefore, that this motion is not not natural to man. But to speak properly, swimming is no natural motion, neither in man nor beast: For if we take natural as it is opposite to animal, swimming is an animal motion; and if we take natural as it is opposite to artificial, then swimming is an artificial motion; for there is some Art in it. But if we take nature for a propensity, facility, inclination, or disposition; then, I say, these areas are as well in men as in beasts. Therefore Pliny tells us of the Troglodites, that they swim like Fishes.16 Lerius, Acosta, and other Indian Historians write, that the American children begin to swim as soon as they begin to walk; and that for eight dayes together they can live in the Sea, and longer if it were not for fear of the great Fishes: so swift and skilfull they are in swimming, that they out-swim the Fishes and catch them; and so farre they excel other animals in this motion, that they can swim with the left hand onely, holding hooks and darts in the right, which no other creature can doe. If it be objected, That swimming is not naturall to man, because he learns it; I answer, That walking and talking are naturall actions to man, and yet he learns both when he is a child. So I have seen old birds teach their young ones to flye. Lastly, if it be naturall for beasts to swim because of their posture, then it must needs be as naturall to those wilde men, who from their infancy were brought up among wild beasts, to walk upon all foure, having no other posture.17




1. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Book III, Chapter 18.

2. Pliny, HN 11.139 (englished by Holland)

3. Hist. Animal. I.9: "afaireqentoV de tou dermatoV, ecei thn te cwran twn ommatwn kai twn ofqalmwn ta melana kata ton topon kai thn cwran thn fusei toiV ofqalmoiV uparcousan en tw ekoV, ws en th gegesei phroumenon, kai epifuomenou tou dermatoV".

4. Virgil: Georgics I:183: "oculis capti fodere cubilia talpae".

5. They have both, although probably only to the extent of discerning light and dark. The eyelids of the common mole and its relatives are fused shut, but the eye exists and seems to function.

6. Why? If moles cannot see, they cannot see each other, and surely they do not need that sort of ornament; and if they are meant as decorations pleasing to men, they signally fail.

7. "And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" etc.

8. Pseudodoxia III.1.

9. Pseudodoxia III.27.

10. "cantantes sublime ferent ad sidera cycni", Virg. Eclogue IX.29. "ut reduces illi ludunt stridentibus alis", Virg. Aeneid I.397. This is a very unconvincing argument on many grounds, and especially that in Ecl. IX.36 the (alleged) pleasing music of swans is contrasted with the cackling of geese — no doubt even Ross would not argue that geese cackle with their wings. Or perhaps he would. See also Ross's later argument, Chapter 14, that long-necked birds are more melodious than short-necked.

11. On lampreys, Pseudodoxia III.9; on gall of doves and horses, III.1 and 2; on griffins, III.11.

12. On toads' piss and toadstones, Pseudodoxia III.13; on the sex lives of hares, III.17. On snails' eyes, III.20; Browne changed this chapter after 1664, because the ancients were right and he was wrong, as correspondents convinced him. (It is somewhat sad to see Ross fall away from his beloved ancients on the one "error" where they were correct.)

13. On sea animals' exact correspondence with land animals, see Pseudodoxia III.24; on the peacock's feet, III.27, treating "compendiously" of various animals, including puppies and worms, which of course do have blood.

14. 1652 has "II" here, but it should be "III"; the head that should be marked "II" is instead "2"; the numbering returns to its proper form in IV.

15. Pseudodoxia III.28.

16. This seems to be another case of Ross misreading; see VI.176, where Pliny says the Ichthyophagi (who here are distinguished from the Trogodytae), aside from eating fish, swim like them as well. Bill Thayer, editor of the on-line Pliny, suggests that Ross may have had, or have read, "aquis" for "equis" in VII.31 (englished by Holland) which would make them "faster than water" instead of "faster than horses", although we are still missing the fish.

17. As indeed Ross says that at least one did; II.4. Once again, it seems a shame that, having made a good start on one of the few legitimate objections he has to make, Ross finishes up lamely. Of course swimming is "natural" — throw a dog into water, and he swims. And his comment about crawling is both legitimate and pertinent, rarities for Ross.

This page is by James Eason