Chap. XVIII.

Of Moles, or Molls.

THAT Moles are blind and have no eyes,[1] though a common opinion, is received with much variety; some affirming only they have no sight, as Oppianus, the Proverb Talpa Cæcior, and the word σπαλαχία, or Talpitas, which in Hesychius is made the same with Cæcitas:[2] some that they have eyes, but no sight, as the text of Aristotle seems to imply; some neither eyes nor sight, as Albertus, Pliny, and the vulgar opinion; some both eyes and sight, as Scaliger, Aldrovandus, and some others.[3] Of which opinions the last with some restriction, is most consonant unto truth: for that they have eyes in their head is manifest unto any, that wants them not in his own; and are discoverable, not only in old ones, but as we have observed in young and naked conceptions, taken out of the belly of the Dam. And he that exactly enquires into the cavity of their cranies, may perhaps discover some propagation of nerves communicated unto these parts. But that the humours together with their coats are also distinct (though Galen seem to affirm it[4]) transcendeth our discovery; for separating these little Orbs, and including them in magnifying Glasses, we discerned no more then Aristotle mentions, τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν μέλαινα,[5] that is, a black humour, nor any more if they be broken. That therefore they have eyes we must of necessity affirm; but that they be comparatively incomplete we need not to deny: So Galen affirms the parts of generation in women are imperfect, in respect of those of men, as the eyes of Moles in regard of other Animals; So Aristotle terms them πηρουμὲνους, which Gaza translates Oblæsos, and Scaliger by a word of imperfection inchoatos.[6]

Now as that they have eyes is manifest unto sense, so that they have sight not incongruous unto reason; if we call not in question the providence of this provision, that is, to assign the Organs, and yet deny the Office, to grant them eyes and withhold all manner of vision. For as the inference is fair, affirmatively deduced from the action to the Organ, that they have eyes because they see; so is it also from the organ to the action, that they have eyes, therefore some sight designed, if we take the intention of Nature in every species, and except the casual impediments, or morbosities in individuals.[7] But as their eyes are more imperfect then others, so do we conceive of their sight or act of vision, for they will run against things, and hudling forwards fall from high places. So that they are not blind, nor yet distinctly see; there is in them no Cecity, yet more then a Cecutiency; they have sight enough to discern the light, though not perhaps to distinguish of objects or colours; so are they not exactly blind, for light is one object of vision. And this (as Scaliger observeth) might be as full a sight as Nature first intended, for living in darkness under the earth, they had no further need of eyes then to avoid the light; and to be sensible when ever they lost that darkness of earth, which was their natural confinement. And therefore however Translators do render the word of Aristotle or Galen, that is, imperfectos oblæsos, or inchoatos, it is not much considerable; for their eyes are sufficiently begun to finish this action, and competently perfect for this imperfect Vision.

And lastly, although they had neither eyes nor sight, yet could they not be termed blind. For blindness being a privative term[8] unto sight, this appellation is not admittible in propriety of speech, and will overthrow the doctrine of privations: which presuppose positive forms or habits, and are not indefinite negations, denying in all subjects, but such alone wherein the positive habits are in their proper Nature, and placed without repugnancy. So do we improperly say a Mole is blind, if we deny it the Organs or a capacity of vision from its created Nature; so when the text of John had said,[9] that person was blind from his nativity, whose cecity our Saviour cured, it was not warrantable in Nonnus to say he had no eyes at all, as in the judgment of Heinsius, he describeth in his paraphrase; and as some ancient Fathers affirm, that by this Miracle they were created in him.[10] And so though the sense may be accepted, that Proverb must be candidly interpreted, which maketh fishes Mute; and calls them silent when they have no voice in Nature.[11]

Now this conceit is erected upon a misapprehension or mistake in the symtomes of vision; men confounding abolishment, diminution and depravement, and naming that an abolition of sight, which indeed is but an abatement. For if vision be abolished, it is called cæcitas, or blindness; if depraved and receive its objects erroneously, Hallucination; if diminished, hebetudo visus, caligatio, or dimness. Now instead of a diminution or imperfect vision in the Mole, we affirm an abolition or total privation; instead of a caligation or dimness, we conclude a cecity or blindness. Which hath been frequently inferred concerning other Animals, so some affirm the Water-Rat is blind, so Sammonicus and Nicander do call the Mus-Araneus, the shrew or Ranny, blind:[12] And because darkness was before light, the Ægyptians worshipped the same. So are Cæciliæ or Slow-Worms accounted blind, and the like we affirm proverbially of the Beetle;[13] although their eyes be evident, and they will flye against lights, like many other Insects, and though also Aristotle determines, that the eyes are apparent in all flying Insects, though other senses be obscure, and not perceptible at all.[14] And if from a diminution we may infer a total privation, or affirm that other Animals are blind which do not acutely see, or comparatively unto others, we shall condemn unto blindness many not so esteemed; for such as have corneous or horney eyes, as Lobsters and crustaceous Animals, are generally dim-sighted; all Insects that have antennæ, or long horns to feel out their way, as Butter-flyes and Locusts; or their fore-legs so disposed, that they much advance before their heads, as may be observed in Spiders; and if the Eagle were judg, we might be blind our selves. The expression therefore of scripture in the story of Jacob is surely with circumspection: And it came to pass when Jacob was old, and his eyes were dim, quando caligarunt oculi, saith Jerome and Tremellius, which are expressions of diminution, and not of absolute privation.[15]

Other concerns there are of Molls, which though not commonly opinioned are not commonly enough considered: As the peculiar formation of their feet, the slender ossa Fugalia,[16] and Dogteeth, and how hard it is to keep them alive out of the Earth: As also the ferity and voracity of these animals; for though they be contented with Roots, and stringy parts of Plants, or Wormes under ground, yet when they are above it will sometimes tear and eat on[e] another, and in a large glass wherein a Moll, a Toad, and a Viper were inclosed, we have known the Moll to dispatch them and to devour a good part of them both.[17]


* [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 on this question, Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chap. 10, and touches on some of the argument briefly in Chap. 6. Wilkin justly mocks Ross, in the note below.

1 [Wilkin: "The eyes of the mole are so extremely minute and so perfectly hid in its hair, that it is not wonderful if careless and casual observers have pronounced it blind. — Still less is it wonderful, that so absurd a personage as Alexander Ross, should have declared them to be but 'forms of eyes', given by nature 'rather for ornament than use; as wings are given to the ostrich, which never flies, and a long tail to the rat, which serves for no other use but to be catched sometimes by it!' — Arc. 151.

" 'It appears,' however, observe the editors of Cuvier's Animal Kingdom, 'that this animal was not known to the ancients, who have been very wrongfully accused of having fallen into the gross error of supposing that the mole had no eyes. Aristotle, it is true, in two places of his History of Animals, repeats this assertion. But the researches of modern times have ascertained that this illustrious naturalist was perfectly right in refusing the organs of vision to the mole of his native country, to the σπάλαξ or ἀσπάλαξ of ancient Greece. There does in fact, exist, in that country, a little subterraneous animal totally deprived of sight: naturalists have only recently become acquainted with it, and have designated it under the appellation of the rat-mole. They have been obliged to confess, after many ages of injustice towards the ancients, that these last had truth altogether on their side, with regard to the mole known in Greece, and had correctly observed, that this animal was not only completely blind, but did not possess even the smallest rudiment of an external eye.' — Vol. ii, p. 197." This is strictly true, but all the burrowing mole-rats (including the common Greek species, Spalax typhlus, to which the Greek is usually held to refer) have vestigial eyes over which their skin grows. Or thus the encyclopaedias.]

2 [Oppian, Cynegetica, II, ll. 612-628:

Οὐ μὲν θὴν οὐδ’ ἀσπαλάκων αὐτόχθονα φῦλα
ποιοφάγων, ἀλαῶν, μέλπειν ἐθέλουσιν ἀοιδαί,
εἰ καὶ βάξις ἄπιστος ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους ἐπέρησεν
ἀσπάλακας βασιλῆος ἀφ’ αἵματος εὐχετάασθαι
Φινέος, ὅν ῥ’ ἀτίτηλε κλυτὴ Θρήϊσσα κολώνη·
Φινέϊ γάρ ποτε δὴ Φαέθων ἐκοτέσσατο Τιτάν,
μαντιπόλου Φοίβοιο χολωσάμενος περὶ νίκης,
καί οἱ φέγγος ἄμερσεν, ἀναιδέα φῦλα δ’ ἔπεμψεν
ἁρπυίας, πτερόεντα παρέστια πικρὰ γένεθλα.
ἀλλ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν περόωντο μετὰ χρύσειον ἄεθλον
Ἀργώης ἐπὶ νηὸς Ἰήσονι συμπονέοντες
παῖδε Βορειόνεω Ζήτης Κάλαΐς τε κλεεννώ,
οἰκτείραντε γέροντα κατέκτειναν τότε φῦλα,
καὶ γλυκερὴν μελέοισι δόσαν στομάτεσσιν ἐδητύν.
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὣς Φαέθων χόλον εὔνασεν, ἀλλά μιν αἶψα

The proverb Talpa caecior, ("blinder than a mole"; cf. our "blinder than a bat"), Erasmus Adagia 1.3.55 (255), "repertur id Suida ac Diogen."; Erasmus refers us to Pliny, Hesychius, Lexicon s.v. σπαλακία: νόσος ἡ περὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς, πήρωσις.

3 [Aristotle, Historiae Animalibus I.9 (491b.26-34). Albertus Magnus, De animalibus, Lib. XXII: "Talpa est animal parvum de genere muris qui ... cecus vocatur.... loca oculos habens non oculos: unde pellem in loco oculorum non habet pilosum". Pliny, HN xxx(19) says that moles are damned by nature to perpetual darkness. (It should be noted that this is in the context of Magicians; magic and the Magi usually set Pliny in a rage, and any creature that the Magi admire must by definition be, at best, poorish and more probably vicious, and generally surrounded with lies.) In HN xi(139) Pliny reports that moles have vestigial eyes ("some forme of eies", translates Holland), under the skin. Scaliger, Exercitationes CCXLIV (1557 page 311verso); he argues (1) that moles have eyes (from experiment from the authority of Aristotle); (2) that eyes mean sight ("Si oculus: etiam visus"), from Aristotle's argument: "Non imperfectis animalibus esse instrumenta omnia ad sentiendum. Quare, inquiunt, si sunt instrumenta: sont etiam officia". Others include Topsell, Historie of Four-footed Beasts, who says all of the following: that moles are blind and want eyes; that they are blind and have eyes; that they are blind because their ocular nerves end in their teeth; and that they are blind because their eyes are improperly developed, thus covering most bases.

4 [Galen, de Usu partium, lib. xiv; in an argument that women are imperfect, or unperfected, men: "Quae enim sunt intus in mulieribus, haec sunt extra in viribus. Quale quid & in talparum oculis est videre. Etenim vitreum humorem hae & crystallinum habent, & tunicas has (quae sunt circa hos humores, quasique a meningibus nasci diximus) non minushabent, quam quae utuntur oculis animalia. Sed non fuerunt aperti eis oculi, neque foras processerunt, sed imperfecti ibidimissi sunt, similes custoditi oculis aliorum, quae adhuc utero gestantur. Est enim naturarum in animalibus (sicut & Aristoteles copiosissime ostendit) non parva differentia." (trans. Nicolaus Rheginus (1528), p. 409)]

5 [μέλαινα: sic, following most editions of Hist. Animal. although Browne's argument probably requires the adoption of Scaliger's emendation μέλανα.]

6 [Gaza, as noted in Scaliger's notes on Hist. animal. I.ix: "cum obducta cute oculi pressi, confusi oblaesique essent, dum crearentur". For Scaliger's translation, see the reference to Hist. animal. in the note above (3).]

7 [That is, "si oculis: etiam visus", except when accidents or the deformities of individuals intervene.]

8 [Privative (private in 1686): i.e., a term expressing the deprivation or loss; thus blind implies loss of sight, or inability to see, not absence of the possibility of sight. A rather niggling argument in context, but important in a larger (or "philosophical") sense.]

9 [John 9:1. John 9:6 specifically states that the man had eyes.]

10 [Nonnos of Panopolis, in his paraphrase of John. Heinsius refutes the proposition in his Exercitationes on Nonnus. Nevertheless, in the sense that a normal human being has eyes, even one born without eyes may be termed "blind", even taking it as a strict privative.]

11 [Erasmus (Adagia 1.5.29 (429): "magis mutos quam pisces") adduces Horace, Lucian, Plutarch, Atheneus, and others to illustrate the proverb. The proverb in fact calls fishes "mute", a privative term; in my mind, silent is not strictly such a term (it could, for instance, be a willed silence), but given Browne's rather quirky mind, who knows what he felt about it? In any case, if we push the strict logic too far, it will be impossible to say that (most) fish are mute; we can't, for instance, say "they make no noise", since that is false.]

12 [On ranny, Wren notes: "This is the very word, araneus; castinge away the first a, and turning the Latine termination of eus into our English form." The Oxford dictionary agrees with some dubiety, adding "apparently". Samonicus, Lib. Medicinalis 878-881 ("sin autem muris nocuit violentia caeci Que sola signavit voluendis orbita plaustris Illine mira datur vili de pulnere cura: Subitaneo dolori febri atque ostocopo"); Nicander Theriaca 815 ("Et scio quam diro metuendus araneus ore, Caecus, & immoriens sulcis quos orbita fundit.", in the translation of Gorrus).]

13 [In once common expression "blind as a beetle". Of this expression, Ray (Proverbs, p. 279, "Proverbial Similes, in which the quality and subject begin with the same letter") flies off in various directions having something to do with our subject:

As blind as a beetle or bat.

Talpa caecior, As blind as a mole, though indeed a mole be not absolutely blind; but hath perfect eyes, and those not covered with a membrane, as some have reported; but open and to be found without side the head, if one search diligently, otherwise they may easily escape one, being very small and lying hid in the furr. So that it must be granted, that a mole sees but obscurely, yet so much as is sufficient for her manner of living, being most part under ground, Hypsæa caecior. This Hypsæa was a woman famous for her blindness. Tiresia cæcior, The fable of Tirsiesias, and how he came to be blind, is well known. Leberide cæcior. est autem Leberis exuviæ sive spolium serpentis, in quo apparent effigies duntaxat oculorum, ac membranula quædam tenuissima qua serpentum oculi præteguntur. A Beetle is thought to be blind, because in the evening it will fly with its full force against a mans face or any thing else which happens to be in its way; which other insects as Bees, hornets, &c. will not doe.]

14 [Aristotle, Hist. Animal. IV.7.]

15 [Gen. 27:1, of Isaac: "And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, here am I." The Vulgate, "enuit autem Isaac et caligaverunt oculi eius et videre non poterat"; Tremellius, "Deinde fuit quum senuisset Jitzchak, & caligarent oculi ejus adeo ut non videret".]

16 [Sc. Jugalia (corrected in 1686); the os zygomaticus. This final paragraph first added 1672.]

17 [Robbins in his 1981 edition of Pseudodoxia Epidemica quotes Browne's notes on this experiment; the mole died the day after eating his roommates, an early death Browne imputes to the mole's nature rather than to the poison of the viper and toad or to the size of the mole's meal.]

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