Of Frogs, Toads, and Toad-stone.

CONCERNING the venomous Urine of Toads, of the stone in the Toads head, and of the generation of Frogs, conceptions are entertained which require consideration. And first, that a Toad pisseth, and this way diffuseth its venome,[1] is generally received, not only with us, but also in other parts; for so hath Scaliger observed in his Comment,[2] Aversum urinam reddere ob oculos persecutoris perniciosam ruricolis persuasum est; and Mathiolus hath also a passage, that a Toad communicates its venome, not only by Urine, but by the humidity and slaver of its mouth;[3] which notwithstanding strictly understood, may admit of examination: for some doubt may be made whether a Toad properly pisseth, that is distinctly and separately voideth the serous excretion: for though not only birds, but oviparous quadrupeds and Serpents have kidneys and ureters, and some Fishes also bladders: yet for the moist and dry excretion they seem at last to have but one vent and common place of exclusion: and with the same propriety of language, we may ascribe that action unto Crows and Kites. And this not onely in Frogs and Toads, but may be enquired in Tortoyses: that is, whether that be strictly true, or to be taken for a distinct and separate miction, when Aristotle affirmeth, that no oviparous animal, that is, which either spawneth or layeth Eggs, doth Urine except the Tortois.[4]

The ground or occasion of this expression might from hence arise, that Toads are sometimes observed to exclude or spit out a dark and liquid matter behind:[5] which we have observed to be true, and a venomous condition there may be perhaps therein, but some doubt there may be, whether this is to be called their urine: not because it is emitted aversly or backward, by both sexes, but because it is confounded with the intestinal excretions and egestions of the belly: and this way is ordinarily observed, although possible it is that the liquid excretion may sometimes be excluded without the other.

As for the stone commonly called a Toad-stone,[6] which is presumed to be found in the head of that animal, we first conceive it not a thing impossible: nor is there any substantial reason why in a Toad there may not be found such hard and lapideous concretions. For the like we daily observe in the heads of Fishes, as Cods, Carps, and Pearches: the like also in Snails, a soft and exosseous animal, whereof in the naked and greater sort, as though she would requite the defect of a shell on their back, Nature near the head hath placed a flat white stone, or rather testaceous concretion.[7] Which though Aldrovandus affirms, that after dissection of many, he found but in some few: yet of the great gray Snails, I have not met with any that wanted it: and the same indeed so palpable, that without dissection it is discoverable by the hand.

Again, though it be not impossible, yet it is surely very rare: as we are induced to believe from some enquiry of our own, from the trial of many who have been deceived, and the frustrated search of Porta, who upon the explorement of many, could scarce find one.[8] Nor is it only of rarity, but may be doubted whether it be of existencie, or really any such stone in the head of a Toad at all. For although Lapidaries and questuary enquirers affirm it, yet the Writers of Minerals and natural speculators, are of another belief: conceiving the stones which bear this name, to be a Mineral concretion; not to be found in animals, but in fields.[9] And therefore Bœtius[10] refers to Asteria or some kind of Lapis stellaris, and plainly concludeth, reperiuntur in agris, quos tamen alii in annosis, ac qui diu in Arundinetis, inter rubos sentesque delituerunt, bufonis capitibus generari pertinaciter affirmant.

Lastly, If any such thing there be, yet must it not, for ought I see, be taken as we receive it, for a loose and moveable stone, but rather a concretion or induration of the crany it self; for being of an earthy temper, living in the earth, and as some say feeding thereon, such indurations may sometimes happen. Thus when Brassavolus after a long search had discovered one, he affirms it was rather the forehead bone petrified, then a stone within the crany; and of this belief was Gesner. Which is also much confirmed from what is delivered in Aldrovandus, upon experiment of very many Toads, whose cranies or sculs in time grew hard, and almost of a stony substance. All which considered, we must with circumspection receive those stones which commonly bear this name, much less believe the traditions, that in envy to mankind they are cast out, or swallowed down by the Toad;[11] which cannot consist with Anatomy, and with the rest, enforced this censure from Bœtius, Ab eo tempore pro nugis habui quod de Bufonio lapide, ejusque orgine traditur.

What therefore best reconcileth these divided determinations, may be a middle opinion; that of these stones some may be mineral, and to be found in the earth; some animal, to be met with in Toads, at least by the induration of their cranies. The first are many and manifold, to be found in Germany and other parts; the last are fewer in number, and in substance not unlike the stones in Carps[12] heads. This is agreeable unto the determination of Aldrovandus,13 and is also the judgment of learned Spigelius in his Epistle unto Pignorius.14

But these Toadstones, at least very many thereof, which are esteemed among us, are at last found to be taken not out of Toads heads, but out of a Fishes mouth, being handsomely contrived out of the teeth of the Lupus Marinus, a Fish often taken in our Northern Seas, as was publickly declared by an eminent and Learned Physitian.15 But because men are unwilling to conceive so low of of their Toadstones which they so highly value, they may make some trial thereof by a candent or red hot Iron applied unto the hollow and unpolished part thereof, whereupon if they be true stones they will not be apt to burn or afford a burnt odour, which they may be apt to do, if contrived out of animal parts or the teeth of fishes.

Concerning the generation of Frogs, we shall briefly deliver that account which observation hath taught us. By Frogs I understand not such as arising from putrefaction, are bred without copulation, and because they subsist not long, are called Temporariæ;[16] nor do I mean the little Frog of an excellent Parrat green, that usually sits on Trees and Bushes, and is therefore called Ranunculus viridis, or arboreus; but hereby I understand the aquatile or Water-Frog, whereof in ditches and standing plashes we may behold many millions every Spring in England. Now these do not as Pliny conceiveth, exclude black pieces of Flesh, which after become Frogs;[17] but they let fall their spawn in the water, of excellent use in Physick, and scarce unknown unto any. In this spawn of a lentous and transparent body, are to be discerned many specks, or little conglobulations, which in a small time become of deep black, a substance more compacted and terrestrious then the other; for it riseth not in distillation, and affords a powder when the white and aqueous part is exhaled. Now of this black or duskie substance is the Frog at last formed; as we have beheld, including the spawn with water in a glass, and exposing it unto the Sun. For that black and round substance, in a few days began to dilate and grow longer, after a while the head, the eyes, the tail to be discernable, and at last to become that which the Ancients called Gyrinus, we a Porwigle or Tadpole. This in some weeks after becomes a perfect Frog, the legs growing out before, and the tail wearing away, to supply the other behind; as may be observed in some which have newly forsaken the water; for in such, some part of the tail will be seen, but curtailed and short, not long and finny as before. A part provided them a while to swim and move in the water, that is, untill such time as Nature excluded legs, whereby they might be provided not only to swim in the water, but move upon the land, according to the amphibious18 and mixt intention of Nature, that is, to live in both. So that whoever observeth the first progression of the seed before motion, or shall take notice of the strange indistinction of parts in the Tadpole, even when it moveth about, and how successively the inward parts do seem to discover themselves, until their last perfection; may easily discern the high curiosity of Nature in these inferiour animals, and what a long line is run to make a Frog.

And because many affirm, and some deliver, that in regard it hath lungs and breatheth, a Frog may be easily drowned; though the reason be probable, I find not the experiment answerable; for fastning one about a span under water, it lived almost six days. Nor is it only hard to destroy one in water, but difficult also at land: for it will live long after the lungs and heart be out; how long it will live in the seed, or whether the spawn of this year being preserved, will not arise into Frogs in the next, might also be enquired: and we are prepared to trie.


* [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 defends the ancient opinions, briefly, in Arcana Microcosmi Chap. 10.

1 [Topsell, Historie of Serpents (1608), p. 193, describes, among the very many ways a Toad may poison:

The common-people doe call that humour which commeth out of the buttocks of a Toade when she swelleth, the urine of a Toade, and a man moystned with the same, bepissed with a Toade; but the best remedy for this evill, is the milke of a woman, for as it resembleth the poyson in colour, so doth it resist it in nature.]

2 [In his edition of Aristotle, ii. 18. 129]

3 [Matthiolus, Commentary on Dioscorides, p. 800: "Quippe quod non modo veneni nuctu hæc omnia infiunt, sed etiam saliva ea sæpius conspuunt: quæ sane non minus mortificia est, quam napellus. quinetiam earum sanguis vipereo scatet veneno". Topsell also comments on the poison of toads' spittle, in his Historie of Serpents, (1608), p. 193: "The spettle also of Toades is venomous, for if it fall upon a man, it causeth all his hayre to fall off from his head; against this evill Paracelsus prescribeth a plaister of earth, mixed with the spettle of a man." This is not to mention the dread results of being bitten by a toad, described on pages 191-192. Wren tells a local story in his marginal comments:

A strange and horrible example of this (toade killing by the mouth) there fel out in Dorset, not far from my habitation. A countrywoman, having the young sonne of a great person to nurse, willing to visit her reapers in the next field, but not willing to leave the childe alone in the house asleep, took itt with her; and, while shee distributed some drinke to the workers, layd the childe at the foote of a barley-cock: whome, when shee came to take up againe, shee found dade and swolen, found a huge toade hanging fast on the bellcock of the child, which the venomous beast had wholy swallowed, and by that quil diffused his deadly poison into all the vital parts of the infant: at which sight the poore woman fell distracted.]

4 [History of Animals: In II, part 16, Aristotle says that of oviparous quadrupeds, only the turtle is provided with kidneys and a bladder; in III, part 15, that only the turle of oviparous animals is provided with a bladder; and in V, part 5, that in all non-viviparous animals the separate ducts for "solid residuum and liquid residuum" join inside the animal before their external vent. A brief scrutiny of some of the surrounding remarks in any of these passages, however, would warn us that these statements invite examination.]

5 [Wren: "And I have often seen this spirting, which the vulgar rationally call pissing, though itt be not urine, but certainlye something analogicall."]

6 [Any of a number of stones (and stone-like items, including fossilized animal parts); also known as batrachites, bufonites, crapaudines, and so on. It is usually described as white to browne-white to dull red, but sometimes as striped, yellow with stripes, or even green. See the note on toadstones.]

7 [Wren notes that this "stone" is found "In the very same place on the top of the back, where the shell of the other snayle is fastened." He goes on to speak of snail shells: "I have heard it avowched by persons of great quality, contemporarye to the old Lord Burleigh, Lord Treasurer of England, [William Cecil] that hee alwayes wore a blue ribbon (next his leg, garter-wise) studded (thick) with these shels of the grey snayles, to allaye the heate of the goute and that hee profest that hee found manifest releef in itt; and that yf by chance hee lefte itt off, the paine would ever returne most vehementlye."]

8 [In his Natural Magic, VIII, Chap. ix.]

9 [Wilkin has here a note on one of the species of toadstone: "Toadstone, or bufonite, a species of traprock, called amygdaloid. It occurs in the traprock of Derbyshire, near Matlock." "Traprock", any old (that is, not of recent origin) non-granitic igneous rock; "amygdaloid", in the shape of an almond.]

10 [Anselm de Boodt, in his 1609 Gemmarum et Lapidum Historia. A version in French is available on line (in PDF format) at Gallica: search for author "Boodt" and choose the first exemplar (the second seems not to work). The Toadstone is considered on pages 385 ff. (taken from the Gallica version and HTML-ized; in French).]

11 [Wilkin allows "Jeff." to insert at this point a mystifying, if intriguing, note: "See an account of a toad being found in a duck's egg, Literary Panorama, Aug. 1807, p. 1083". The article has only a whirling relationship with this chapter, but here it is.]

12 [1672 has "Crabs", but 1650 (when the passage was first added) "Carps"; 1658, 1659 have "Craps", which must have been falsely corrected to "Crabs". 1686 follows 1672 with Crabs. Browne has already mentioned the stones in the heads of carps and perches, above.]

13 De Mineral. lib. 4.

14 Musæi Calceolariani. Sect. 3.

15 Sir George Ent. [Robbins in his edition of Pseudodoxia points out that it was in fact Christopher Merrett who demonstrated this before the Royal Society in 1664 and conjectures on the misattribution.]

16 [Rana temporaria, the common garden or grass frog.]

17 [Pliny HN ix(174) (in Holland's English, IX Chap. LI. Browne misreads Pliny.]

18 Amphibious Animals, such as live in both elements and land and water.

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