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length of the hook, line, and rod, to the arm of the angler, and hence by palsying his arm, of effecting his escape. So Oppian in Greek verses, which I will take leave thus to translate:—
The hook'd torpedo, with instinctive force
There may, perhaps, be some exaggeration in this description; but there are not wanting naturalists of modern times who contend that the torpedo is able to throw his benumbing influence to this extent and in this manner. This influence, moreover, is altogether voluntary; and hence the animal will sometimes allow himself to be touched without exerting it. He occasionally loiters on the moist sands of the shore after the tide has retreated, burying himself under the sand by a brisk flapping of his fins, which serves to fling this material over him; and in this state he is said to inflict at times, even through the sand that covers him, a torpor so severe as to throw down the astonished passenger that is inadvertently walking over it.
We now know something of the medium through which this animal operates, and have no difficulty in referring it to an electric or Voltaic aura, and "-an even trace a kind of Voltaic apparatus in its structure. Yet, before the laws or power of electricity or Voltaism were known, and, consequently, before the medium by which they act was followed up, which to this hour, however, is only known by its results (for it has never been detected as an object of sense), it is not to be wondered at that so mysterious an energy, operating or ceasing to operate at the option of the animal, and occasionally operating at a distance from the individual affected, should be regarded as a species of magic or incantation.
The Voltaic power of the electric eel or gymnote, is, however, more obvious and effective than that of the torpedo: the gymnote making a sudden and concentrated assault by shocks, of less or greater violence, as though from a more highly-charged battery; and the torpedo, by a numbness or torpor, whence, indeed, its name, produced by small but incessant vibrations of Voltaism, seldom, excepting in severe cases, amounting to the aggregation of shocks, and precisely similar to what is felt in a limb upon applying to it a great multitude of weak strokes, rapidly repeated from a small battery or Leyden phial. Yet even the peculiar properties of the gymnote were received with the greatest skepticism for nearly a century after their first discovery; which, as this fish is almost exclusively a native of the warmer seas and rivers of Africa and America, did not take place till the middle of the seventeenth century. They were first pointed out to the French Academy in 1671, by M. Richer, one of the travelling professors sent out by the Academy to conduct certain mathematical observations in Cayenne; but were not generally credited till the concurrent experiments of M. Condamine, Mr. Ingram, Mr. Gravesend, and other celebrated natural historians, set every doubt at rest, about a century afterward.
The more formidable power of the electric gymnote enables it, upon the authority of almost every experimentist, to give not only severe shocks, both in the water and out of the water, when in actual contact with another animal, but to convey them, as we have just observed that the torpedo is said to do, though upon doubtful testimony, through long rods or poles. It is highly probable, however, that such poles must first be wetted with water; for both the gymnote and the torpedo are found to be limited to precisely the same conducting and non-conducting mediums as are met with in common electricity.
In these cases we trace something of the medium by which the irritable or
• Allot, L in
sensorial power is exhausted. There are various other cases, however, in which, to this moment, we are as ignorant, and as little capable of tracing it, as mankind must have been in regard to the animals before us, antecedently to a discovery of the electric aura. And I here particularly allude to the torpid effects produced upon poisonous serpents and scorpions in Africa and America, on their being handled by persons of two different descriptions; the one possessing this torpifying power naturally and hereditarily, and the other acquiring it by artificial preparation; such as chewing the roots or other parts of certain plants, rubbing them in their hands, or bathing the body in aqueous infusions of them, and thus impregnating the body of the operator with their virtues.
There appears to be no country in the world so much infested with serpents of this kind as the ancient Cyrenaica, or that part of Africa which lies northward of the great desert of Sahara. Among the different tribes that formerly inhabited this region, one of the most celebrated was the Psylli; and as this tribe seems to have been in full possession of this power, either from art or nature, and to have given the strongest and most extraordinary proofs of its having possessed it, all persons capable of exerting a similar effect were denominated Psylli by the Greek and Roman writers. And hence Plutarch tells us, that when Cato pursued his march through the Cyrenaic desert in search of Juba, he took with him a variety of these Psylli to suck out the poison from the wounds of such of his soldiers as should be bitten by the numerous serpents of the country.
It appears most probable that the Psylli were not naturally protected against this venom, but from long and skilful practice were acquainted with the virtue of those plants which, as I have just hinted, answer both as a preservative against the bite, and as an antidote after the bite has been inflicted: and, being strongly addicted to divination or pretended magic, as all the historians who have given us any account of them affirm them to have been, affected to derive their power of subduing poison from this preternatural source alone, and inculcated the belief that they could only exercise it, by muttering or chanting some potent verse or spell over the person who was affected. And hence the disarming a serpent of his capacity of poisoning, or disarming the poison itself of its deadly effect after a wound had been received, was denominated charming or incantation. SoSilius Italicus,* in allusion to the Psylli, or their neighbours, the Marmarides, lib. iii.:
Ad quorum Castus mites jacuere Cerastes.
This sort of power, derived from art or nature, and probably originating m this quarter of the world, appears to have been known in the remotest ages, and to have been uniformly ascribed to the same influence of certain magical words or verses chanted, or uttered in recitative; and it appears also to have been very generally conjectured, that there exists some kinds or species of poisonous serpents that are capable of shutting their ears against the sounds thus uttered, and that will not hearken to or be charmed by the voice of the enchanter, however skilful the enchantment.
The sacred books abound in allusions to this popular tradition ;f they are equally to be met with in the writings of the Greek and Roman poets, and even in the Sanscrit moralists, as, for example, in the Hitopadesa of Vishnusarman, probably of a higher antiquity than the Psalmist himself, who tells us in his book of aphorisms, that "as a charmer draweth a serpent from his hole, so a good wife, taking her husband from his place of torture, enjoyeth happiness with him.'t
* See also Virgil, JEa. vti. 7S3, la which he ascribes the salullfcrous power both to the song and touch of the enchanter.
Vipereo generi et graviter spirantibus hjrdris Snargero qui somnos Cantuquc Mini'quk solebat, Mulccbatque lras, et morsas arte lerebat. t Ps. (tilj. 5, as also Jer. vill. 17, Deut. xrtll. 11. | Transl. of Sir William Jonea
There are some philosophers and historians, who have ventured to dishes lieve that any such extraordinary power has ever been possessed by any people. The very cautious writers of the Ancient Universal History express no small degree of skepticism upon this point :• and M. Denon, one of the chief of the literati that accompanied Buonaparte to Egypt, has been bold enough to laugh at the assertion, and to regard every pretension to such a power as a direct imposture. He offers, however, no sufficient ground for his ridicule, and is flatly contradicted by the concurrent testimony of all the best travellers, both to Africa and South America. Mr. Bruce is very full and very explicit upon the subject. He distinctly states, from minute personal observation, that "all the blacks in the kingdom of Sennaar, whether Funge or Nuba, are perfectly armed (by nature) against the bite of either scorpion or viper. They take the cerastes (or horned serpent, being the most common, and one of the most fatal of all the viper tribes) in their hands at all times, put them in their bosoms, and throw them to one another, as children do apples or balls ;"f during which sport the serpents are seldom irritated to bite, and when they do bite, no mischief ensues from the wound. The Arabs of the same country, however, he tells us as distinctly,have not this protection naturally; but from their infancy they acquire an exemption from the mortal consequences attending the bite of these animals, by chewing a particular root, and washing themselves with an infusion of particular plants in water.
The Nuba and Funge, however, or those who are preserved naturally from the bite and venom of the viper and scorpion, are also highly skilful in the knowledge and application of these roots, and other parts of plants, to those who have no natural protection or charm. Mr. Bruce has given a particular account of several of these plants, some of which seem only capable of acting against the power of the serpent, others only against that of the scorpion, and a third sort against both. And in either instance, where they secure against the bite or sting, and thus operate as a preventive or prophylactic, they also secure equally against the poison, when introduced into the system by a wound, and thus operate as an antidote.
In South America the natural charm does not seem to be possessed by any tribe: but the artificial charm, obtained by the use of peculiar plants, is known as extensively, and employed as successfully, as in Africa, and is found to possess the same double virtue of an antidote and a preventive. One of the most satisfactory accounts of this singular fact is contained in a memoir drawn up, in 1791, by Don Pedro d'Orbies y Vargas, a native of Santa Fe, which details a long and accurate list of experiments which he instituted to ascertain it. The plant chiefly employed by the American Indians, he tells us, is denominated in that part of the world vejuco de guaco, guaco-withy, from their having first observed that the bird of this name, or, as Catesby calls it, the serpent-hawk, usually sucks it before it attacks poisonous serpents, and then attacks them without mischief.J Prepared by drinking a small portion of the juice of this plant, and inoculating themselves with it also, by rubbing it upon three small punctures in the hands, breast, and feet, and thus impregnating the body with its virtues, Don Pedro himself, and all his domestics, were accustomed to venture into the open fields, and fearlessly seize hold of the largest and most venomous serpents. It was scarcely ever that the animal thus charmed or fascinated had power to bite, and when he did so, the wound produced was slight and of no consequence. M. Acrell, in the Arucenilates Academical, after mentioning the same plant, tell us that the senega is possessed of a like power.^
Of the truth of the fact, therefore, thus confirmed by the most trusty travellers and historians, in different quarters of the world, there can be no doubt; and it adds to the facility of believing it to find that other animals besides men are possessed of a similar power. Thus the conderand the wild boar feed harmlessly on the rattlesnake, which appears to offer no resistance to
•Vol. ill. p.491, Appendix. (Travels, Appendii, p. 30S.
J It appears to be the ophtoTThiia Mungos of Linnsus.
their attack, and suffer no injury from its venom after they have satisfied their hunger. In both these cases, the charm or power of protection appears to be natural, as in the Nuba and Funge tribes of Africa. In the serpent-hawk orguaco, however, just noticed, which derives its chief food from poisonous snakes, and in the tantalus or ibis of Egypt, the numenius Ibis of Cuvier, which equally attacks and devours them, the charm or protection seems to be artificial, and to depend upon the virtue of the plant to which they have re. course for this purpose; for I have already observed that the serpent-hawk uniformly applies to the ophiorrhiza before he commences the battle; while the ibis, though he appears to open the fight without any such preparation, retires from the field, if wounded, to the plant which he knows will serve as an antidote, and immediately renews and continues it till he has vanquished his enemy.
The fact, then, being incontrovertible, we have next to inquire into the secret and invisible cause of so very salutiferous and extraordinary an effect; or rather, into the nature of the medium by which so extraordinary and effect is produced. That there is in all these cases a peculiar emanation issuing from the body of the protected, there is little doubt.
But we have no reason for ascribing it to electricity or Voltaism, since the persons thus peculiarly endowed, whether by art or nature, whether temporarily or permanently, exhibit no proofs of an electric power upon any other animal, or of the same power, whatever it may be, in any other way. It appears, nevertheless, to be a power that operates in a manner somewhat similar to, but in some respects more forcible and more general, than that of electricity: I mean by exhausting equally and altogether the muscular and sensorial energy of the serpent or scorpion to which it is applied; for, in regard to the serpent kinds, we are told distinctly, as well in America as in Africa, that they remain totally torpid and inactive beneath its influence; scarcely ever being able to muster up force enough to attempt any resistance, even when eaten up alive,as Bruce assures us he has seen them, from tail to head, like a carrot ;* a fact which, doubtless, could never occur in animals so active and courageous, unless they were secretly deprived of all power of resistance.
We are not left, however, to mere conjecture upon this subject; for Mr. Bruce most positively affirms, that they constantly sicken the moment they are laid hold of, and that they are sometimes so exhausted by this invisible power of fascination, as to perish as effectually, though not so rapidly, as though they had been exhausted by an electric battery, or a stroKc of lightning: "I constantly observed," says he, "that however lively the viper was before, upon being seized by any of these barbarians, he seemed as if taken with sickness and feebleness, frequently shut his eyes, and never turned his mouth towards the arm of the person that held him."f And in another place, he as expressly asserts, that he has seen the animal die while under the stroke of this invisible influence.
We have here, then, an effect produced, and of the most powerful character, by one animal upon another, without our being in the least degree capable of tracing the medium of operation.
Whether in this case actual contact is absolutely necessary does not seem to have been ascertained or sufficiently attended to.
In the case of electric fishes, we have already seen it is not absolutely necessary; and in another phenomenon, perhaps of a still more extraordinary nature than any I have yet adverted to, it seems to be still less so, and, indeed, not at all necessary,—I mean the very curious fascinating power of the rattlesnake over various small animals, as birds, squirrels, and leverets, which, incapable of turning off their own eyes from those of the serpentenchanter, and overpowered with terror and amazement, seem to struggle to get away, and yet progressively approach him, as though urged forward, or attracted by a power superior to that of natural instinct, till at length they enter apparently without any foreign force, into the serpent's mouth, which has all along been open to receive them, and are instantly devoured.
In the difficulty of accounting for this most extraordinary influence, there are some persons who have ventured, as in the preceding cases, to doubt the truth of the fact, since, in the marvellous, it will always be found far more easy to doubt than to determine, though the belief of it has been very generally gaining ground within the course of the last half-century. Pennant seems to allow it with some degree of hesitation, admitting, however, the authority of those who have asserted it. Dr. Mead endeavoured to account for it upon the principle of mere terror; my late learned friend, Professor Barton of Philadelphia, upon that of a courageous daring of parent animals in defence of their young, in consequence of which they often adventure too near, and are seized upon; Dr. Barton apprehending that this is a fate which more frequently pursues older than younger animals. Neither of these explanations, however, can be very readily assented to; the first being inadequate to the effect produced, and the second being contrary to the general observations of naturalists who have treated upon the subject: in consequence of which Major A.Gordon, of South Carolina, has since ventured upon another explanation, which is highly ingenious, and may hereafter, perhaps, be fully substantiated. In a paper published by him in the New York Historical Society, he attributes the fascinating power supposed to be possessed by serpents to a vapour which they secrete, and can throw around them to a certain distance at pleasure. He advances various facts in support of this opinion, and observes, that the vapour produces a sickening and stupifying effect; and alludes to a negro who, from a peculiaracuteness of smell, could discover a rattlesnake at a distance of two hundred feet when in the exercise of this power, from his smell being affected by it; and who, on following such indication, always found some animal drawn within its vortex, and struggling with its influence.*
Should this asserted fact be confirmed by others of a like kind, it will give us an insight into the nature, not only of the present, but of similar fascinations, which we stand much in need of. The greater acuteness of smell in barbarous and uncultivated tribes than in those of civilized nations, we have already had occasion to notice, and have endeavoured to account for.f In some instances it is highly probable that the emanation is alone perceptible by the animals that are overpowered by it; which may be the case in the example of serpent-charmers, and sometimes in the fascination of serpents themselves. In other examples, and especially those of artificial emanations, there is an odour of which everyone is sensible, though its captivating power is confined to the particular tribe to which it is directed; and I now allude to the mode of charming trout and other fresh-water fishes, by illining the hand with asafoetida, to which, indeed, we had occasion to refer in a former lecture.J The trout, in its intoxication of delight (for here the charm is accompanied with a forcible pleasure instead of a forcible pain), resigns all caution, becomes dead to its natural instinct, and so far from flying from the ensnaring hand when introduced into the water, advances to it irresistibly, as the bird to the jaws of the rattlesnake, and suffers itself to be laid hold of and fall a prey to the decoyer.
There is, hence, nothing in the accounts of these curious powers of fascination that is hostile to our own experience: and though our own senses may not be fine enough to detect the medium of action in every instance, whether natural or artificial, we have some reason for ascribing it generally to an overwhelming emanation, capable of leading captive the ordinary instincts and faculties of the animals upon which it is exercised, and hereby of hurrying them headlong to destruction. Catesby, the best natural historian of North America, while admitting that he had never witnessed an instance of the fascination of the rattlesnake, asserts that he had received one uniform account of it from a variety of persons who had witnessed it; nor is it, indeed, denied by Dr. Mead or Professor Barton, but only attempted to be accounted for upon principles which will not apply, or are not adequate.