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قراءة كتاب The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Volume 19, No. 539, March 24, 1832

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‏اللغة: English
The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction
Volume 19, No. 539, March 24, 1832

The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Volume 19, No. 539, March 24, 1832

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 2

(Continued from page 171.)

The fore-foot of a Hare worn constantly in the pocket, is esteemed by certain worthy old dames as a sure preventive of rheumatic disorders.

The Lynx was believed by the ancients, from the acuteness of its sight, to have the power of seeing through stone walls; and amongst other absurdities then gravely maintained were these: that the Elephant had no joints, and being unable to lie down, was obliged to sleep leaning against a tree; that Deer lived several hundred years; that the Badger had the legs of one side shorter than those of the other; that the Chameleon lived entirely on air, and the Salamander in fire; whilst the sphynx, satyr, unicorn, centaur, hypogriff, hydra, dragon, griffin, cockatrice, &c. &c. &c. were either the creations of fancy, or fabled accounts of creatures of whose real form, origin, nature, and qualities, but the most imperfect knowledge was afloat.

The flesh of the Rhinoceros, and almost every part of its body, is reckoned by the ignorant natives of countries where it is found, an antidote against poison.

That the Jackal is the "Lion's Provider," entirely, is an erroneous idea; but it is true that the terrific cry of this animal when in chase, rouses the lion, whose ear is dull, and enables him to join in the pursuit of prey. Many stories are told respecting the generosity of the Lion, and it was once confidently believed that no stress of hunger would induce him to devour a virgin, though his imperial appetite might satiate itself on men and matrons. The title of King of the Beasts, given at a period when strength and ferocity were deemed the prime qualities of man—is now more justly considered to belong to the mild, majestic, and almost rational elephant. The White Elephant is a sacred animal with the Siamese, and the cow with the Bramins and Hindoos.

The Bear was believed never to devour a man whom it found dead; and it was imagined to lick its cubs into proper shape: hence the expression "unlicked cub," applied to a raw, awkward, unpolished youth. The saliva of the Lama, which when angry it ejects, has been erroneously supposed to possess a corrosive quality.

The hoof of the Moose-deer was formerly in great repute for curing epilepsies, but has now justly fallen into neglect. The Laplander, commencing his journey, whispers into the ear of his Rein-deer, believing these animals understand and will obey his oral directions. The Elk is accounted by the Indians an animal of good omen, and often to dream of him indicates a long life. They imagine also the existence of a gigantic elk, which walks without difficulty in eight feet of snow, has an arm growing from its shoulder which it uses as we do, is invulnerable to all weapons, is king of the elks and attended by a numerous herd of courtiers. The fur of the Glutton is so valued by the Kamschatdales that they say celestial beings are clad in no other.

It was long a popular error that the Porcupine, when irritated, discharged its quills at its adversary; that these quills were poisonous, and rendered wounds inflicted by them difficult to cure: a better acquaintance with the natural history of this harmless animal has now exploded these fables. Our British porcupine, the innocuous Hedgehog, has long been the object of unceasing persecution, from the popular belief that it bites and sucks the udders of cows, an absurdity sufficiently contradicted by the smallness of its mouth. In like manner, the Goat-sucker is a persecuted bird, since, as its name implies, it has been thought to suck the teats of goats and other animals; whereas the form of its bill entirely precludes such an act, and it is an inoffensive bird, living upon insects. The superstition has probably originated from its being often found in warm climates under cattle, capturing the insects that torment them. It is supposed, in some places, that the Shrew-mouse is of so baneful and deleterious a nature that whenever it creeps over a beast, cow, sheep, or horse (in particular), the animal is afflicted with cruel anguish, and threatened with a loss of the use of its limb. A shrew-ash was the remedy for this misfortune, viz. an ash whose twigs or branches gently applied to the affected members relieved the pain: our provident forefathers, anticipating such an accident to their cattle, always kept a shrew-ash at hand, which, once medicated, retained its virtue for ever: it was thus prepared: into the body of an ash a deep hole was bored with an auger, and a poor devoted shrew-mouse being thrust into it, the orifice was plugged up, probably with quaint incantations now forgotten.

The Toad, owing to its hideous, disgusting appearance, has been the subject of many superstitions: it is commonly thought to spit venom, whilst, as yet, the question is unsettled, whether or not it be poisonous in any respect; some affirm that a viscous humour of poisonous quality exudes from the skin, like perspiration; whilst others pretend that cancers may be cured by the application of living toads to them; and a man has been known to swallow one of these abominations for a wager, taking care, however, to follow this horrid meal by an immediate and copious draught of oil. But the very glance of the toad has been supposed fatal; of its entrails fancied poisonous potions have been concocted; and for magical purposes it was believed extremely efficacious; a precious stone was asserted to be found in its head, invaluable in medicine and magic. In Carthagena and Portobello (America) these creatures swarm to such a degree in wet weather that many of the inhabitants believe every drop of rain to be converted into a toad. It is said of the Pipa, or Surinam toad, a hideous, but probably harmless, animal, that very malignant effects are experienced from it when calcined.

The Crocodile is feigned to weep and groan like a human being in pain and distress, in order to excite the sympathy of man, and thus allure him into his tremendous jaws.

The Lizard, though now declared by naturalists to be perfectly harmless, was long considered poisonous by the ignorant; and in Sweden and Kamschatka, the green lizard is the subject of strange superstitions, and regarded with horror. Newts, efts, swifts, snakes, and blind-worms are, in popular credence, all venomous; and that the Ear-wig most justly derives its name from entering people's ears, and either causing deafness, or, by penetrating to the brain, death itself, is with many considered an indisputable fact. The Irish have a large beetle of which strange tales are believed; they term it the Coffin-cutter, and it has some connexion with the grave and purgatory, not now, unfortunately, to be recalled to our memory.

It is, in Germany, a popular belief, that the Stag-beetle (perhaps the same insect) carries burning coals into houses by means of its jaws, and that it has thus occasioned many dreadful fires. (How convenient would Swing find such a superstition in England!) The Death-watch superstition is too well known to need particular notice in this paper. It is singular that the House-cricket should by some persons be considered an unlucky, by others a lucky, inmate of the mansion: those who hold the latter opinion consider its destruction the means of bringing misfortune on their habitations. "In Dumfries-shire," says Sir William Jardine, "it is a common superstition that if crickets forsake a house which they have long inhabited, some evil will befal the family; generally the death of some member is portended. In like manner the presence or return of this cheerful little insect is lucky, and portends some good to the family."

(To be continued.)