Of the Badger.

THAT a Brock or Badger hath the legs on one side shorter then of the other, though an opinion perhaps not very ancient, is yet very general;[1] received not only by Theorists and unexperienced believers, but assented unto by most who have the opportunity to behold and hunt them daily. Which notwithstanding upon enquiry I find repugnant unto the three Determinators of Truth, Authority, Sense, and Reason. For first, Albertus Magnus speaks dubiously, confessing he could not confirm the verity hereof; but Aldrovandus plainly affirmeth, there can be no such inequality observed. And for my own part, upon indifferent enquiry, I cannot discover this difference, although the regardable side be defined, and the brevity by most imputed unto the left.

Again, It seems no easie affront unto Reason, and generally repugnant unto the course of Nature; for if we survey the total set of Animals, we may in their legs, or Organs of progression, observe an equality of length, and parity of Numeration; that is, not any to have an odd legg, or the supporters and movers of one side not exactly answered by the other. Although the hinder may be unequal unto the fore and middle legs, as in Frogs, Locusts, and Grasshoppers; or both unto the middle, as in some Beetles and Spiders, as is determined by Aristotle, De incessu Animalium.[2] Perfect and viviparous quadrupeds, so standing in their position of proneness, that the opposite joints of Neighbour-legs consist in the same plane; and a line descending from their Navel intersects at right angles the axis of the Earth. It happeneth often I confess that a Lobster hath the Chely or great claw of one side longer than the other;[3] but this is not properly their leg, but a part of apprehension, and whereby they hold or seize upon their prey; for the legs and proper parts of progression are inverted backward, and stand in a position opposite unto these.

Lastly, The Monstrosity is ill contrived, and with some disadvantage; the shortness being affixed unto the legs of one side, which might have been more tolerably placed upon the thwart or Diagoniall4 Movers. For the progression of quadrupeds being performed per Diametrum, that is the cross legs moving or resting together, so that two are always in motion, and two in station at the same time; the brevity had been more tolerable in the cross legs. For then the Motion and station had been performed by equal legs; whereas herein they are both performed by unequal Organs, and the imperfection becomes discoverable at every hand.


* [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}.

1 [Topsell (Historie of Foure-footes Beasts, 1607, p. 34) reports that "some say" the legs are longer on the right than on the left and that therefore the badger "runneth best when he getteth to the side of a hill, or a cart-road-away." He goes on to say, with less dubiety, that the badger's forelegs are "a full spanne long, and the hinder legs shorter." The portrait of the badger, on page 33, shows right and left legs seemingly of equal length.

Topsell's Badger
Topsell's Badger.

Robbins cites two instances of the occurrence of the story, both poetical: in Drayton's Noahs Floud, (1630, p. 98):

Th'uneven-leg'd Badger (whose eye-pleasing skin,
The Case to many a curious thing hath bin,
Since that great flood) his fortresses forsakes
Wrought in the earth, and though but halting, makes
Up to the Arke

and in W. Browne's Britannia's Pastorals, (1616, Book I, Song iv; pp. 65-66), describing the monster Riot:

And as that Beast hath legs (which Shepheards feare,
Ycleep'd a Badger, which our Lambes doth teare)
One long, the other short, that when he runnes
Upon the plaines, he halts; but when he wonnes
On craggy Rockes, or steepy hils, we see
None runnes more swift, nor easier then hee:
Such legs the Monster had, one sinew shrunk,
That in the plaines he reel'd, as being drunk;
And halted in the paths to Vertue tending:
And therefore never durst be that way bending:

To which we might add from Edward Benlowes' Theophila, or, Loves sacrifice a divine poem (1652; "The Prelibation", Canto I, St. LVIII, p. 8):

Quills, pluckt from Venus Doves, impresse but shame:
                Then, give your Rimes to Vulcans Flame;
Hee'l elevate your badger Feet: He's free, though lame .

And from Heath's "On the Creeple Souldiers marching in Oxford in the Lord Thr. Cottington's Companie", in Occasional Poems, (1650, p. 24):

For they'l die before they wil run away:
Nay, they are stout as ever were Vantrumps,
For like Widdrington they'l fight upon their very stumps.
They have keen Estridge stomacks, and wel disgest
Both Iron and Lead, as a Dog wil a breast
Of Mutton. But now to their Pedigree;
That they are sons of Mars, most writers agree;
Some conceive from the Badger old Vulcan they came,
Because like him they are Mettle-men and lame,
The moderns think they came from the Guyes of Warwick; and
Some think they are of the old Herculean band:
For as by his foot he was discover'd, so
By their feet you their valour may know.

No doubt we could go on indefinitely in this melian or badgery mode.]

2 [Aristotle, On the Gait of Animals, part 8.]

3 [Chela; the prehensile claw of lobsters and crabs. In lobsters, there is always an inequity between the two, one used for holding, the other for ripping prey. As Browne notes, these are not organs of locomotion.

Wren adds in a note remarkable for wrong-headedness: "This never happens, but when one is by chance wrung off, when they are young, by a bigger lobster, which growing out againe, can never reach the greatnes of the other: the fishermen finde this continually to be true, and saye they seldome have a drafte of them, wherein some of them come not up thus grapled by the claw. I have often seeme them brought up with half the claw newly nipt off, or else closed up againe with a cartilage, and sometimes with only one chlea, for soe it should be written, cominge manifestly from χηλη, which signifies properly the tongs or pincher, the chlea of a lobster or of a crab."

To which Wilkin comments before going off on more commentary "Upon this theory, the vulgar pronunciation, cla, is more correct than claw." Chela is from the Latin, from the Greek χηλή; why should it then be written chlea, we might (and do) ask. The quantity (and quality) of the vowel in "claw" and its Indo-European cognates and ancestors is open to much debate, and the subject of even more.]

4 Diagonion, a line drawn from the cross angles.

This page is dedicated to the memory of Boo the Cat.

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