Thursday, February 23, 2012

Merda Umbellifera

Dr. S-----t, Human Ordure, Botanically Considered (London: F. Coggan, 1733), pp. 16-22:
[p. 16] The Fourth Tribe of Excrements are the Merdae umbelliferae, take the Description.

This kind are a broad round Faeces, lying spread upon the Ground, like an Umbrella or full blown Rose, the colour uncertain; they are of a tolerable consistency, but don't come nigh the solidity of any of the former, but yet are firm and uniform: It was this kind of Excrement that both Hippocrates and after him Celsus said indicated the best state of Health, and were always the most beneficial to young People, and always the consequence of a regular temperate method of Living; † Hel[p. 17]mont says, They who have those kind of Evacuations, have always a free use of their perspiratory Pores, and a fine thin Skin, but a constipated Belly makes a thick Skin,

'Tis upon this Species of Excrement that the innumerable minute grayish Fungi like Down, always grow, vulgarly called Mould. I have for some Hours wonderfully amus'd myself by looking at those tender Vibrissae, and have discovered by the help of Microscopes, the most regular Vegetation, that cou'd possibly be performed by a Chymist after the nicest process for the transmutation of Metals; nay, I have perceived the very motion of their rising, tho' by many degrees flower than the minute Hand of a Watch; for if we consider the quickness of their growth and the shortness of their duration, when grown, (for 'tis remarkable all Fungi grow and decay speedily) a Minute to them in proportion to their size and duration, is equivalent to a Year's growth with other larger Vegetables; and considering they are produced from their native hot Bed, and spring so suddenly, it ought not to seem improbable, that one may [p. 18]
perceive, by the help of Glasses, their Vegetative motion.

The ingenious Mr. ‡ Laurence in his Treatise of Horticulture, tells us of a method of raising Purflain from an hot Bed, that in an Hour's time should be fit to eat: and certainly the motion here must be perceivable to the naked Eye.

I have often with pleasure fancied I cou'd discern upon one of those Faeces over-grown with Fungi, the rude lineaments of Gardens, Wildernesses, Espaliers, Groves, Orchards, Flower-knots, Edgings, &c. and have frequently lent my Glasses to those of my Friends who would venture their Noses so nigh, who have viewed those Lusus Naturae, With as much pleasure and surprize as my self; I have frequently with a very nice Forceps, pluck'd up one of those fungous Fibres, and cou'd plainly perceive always a small atom annex'd to the lower extremity, which I take to be the Root of the Fungus; and I have frequently gathered Numbers of [p. 19] them, and endavoured to analize them for my own satisfaction, to know what they really were, but I never prospered in the Event; however, the most rational conjecture that can be made, is, That they certainly are the minute Seeds of some Fruit or Vegetable, that have been swallowed and passes off with the Excrement, and so have a momentary Vegetation afterwards: And here I can't but observe how often we are indebted to accidents of this nature, for several sorts of Fruit Trees, that are found wild, and supposed either by chance or design, to have been tossed out of Gardens, or Seeds scattered abroad by the Wind, or else to have had their first rudiments laid there since the Creation or the Flood, such Fruits as Cherries, Apples, Raspberries, Plumbs, &c. when perhaps they owe their birth to a T--d: 'Tis certainly a common Custom in England of eminent Gardeners who propose to propagate choice Stone Fruit, to give a quantity of them to Children to eat, provided they promise to swallow the Stones, and they constantly watch them till they go to Stool, to pick them out; and this they aver to be the most natural and nicest [p. 20] preparation, before they inter them; for they never fail, being treated in this manner, to come to the greatest perfection.

M. * Scharzini, an Italian, in his Account of the Isle of Cyprus, tells us there is a particular part in the West of the Island so overgrown with Cherry-Trees, that they take up nigh three hundred Acres of Land, and nothing can look more beautiful in the Season, than the innumerable variety or chequer Work Nature produces by the multiplicity of black and red Cherries, but the latter colour so predominates over the former, that Strangers, when at a distance, fancy they see the Mare Erythraeum, where Pharaoh and his Army perished: He farther says, this immense Wilderness of Cherry-Trees, is intirely owing to a kind of Bird called a † Matzer, of which there is a prodigious Number in this part of the Island, exactly resembling our Black-Bird, only they have but one Foot consisting of ten Claws, who live wholly upon Cher[p. 21]ries, and always swallow the Stones, and when they void them, it being a moist Soil, they easily by their Vegetative gravity sink and take Root, and are always vastly prolifick. I doubt not but the small black Cherry cultivated in Gardens, and called a Mazer takes its Etymology from hence.

I am told there is a Plumb-Tree, called a Green Gage, at Stow in England, the Seat of the Lord Cobham, that constantly bears twelve or fourteen dozen of large, luscious, green Plumbs, every Season, that was raised from a Stone taken out of a French Marquis's Excrement, who was a remarkable Epicure: Any Man that wou'd eat three or four of these Plumbs, in about an Hour after, wou'd be ib prone to Leaping, Skipping, Cutting Capers, and Coopees, and so apt to make Love to every Female that came in the way, that People wou'd think he was mad, and that the Plumbs had a particular intoxicating quality in their Juice like the * Mala insana, so that People only taste, but never swallow them. Indeed I am apt [p. 22] to believe, that the Stone in passing thro' the Ragoo's Guts, must have been impregnated with some of his alert Animal Juices. But this Account savours much of a Romance, if otherwise, How great a loss and misfortune was it to the Learned World in general, that * Anacreon had such a treacherous and ill-contrived Epiglottis? What a glorious poetick inspiring Grape have we lost: And to come nigher home, What a Law inspiring Cherry-Tree have we lost, by the fatal Maeandrings of J----
's intestines? These hints I think ought to encourage our Botanists, and curious Gardeners, to search closely into this ingeniously odd way of propagating.

[p. 16] † Cap. de Dieta page 56.

[p. 19] ‡ Page 84.

[p. 20] * Page 96 of that Edition Printed at Rome Ann. 1702.

[p. 20] † Vid. Gesner hist. Animal.

[p. 21] * Vid. Ray hist. Plantar.

[p. 22] * He was an old Amorous Lyrick Poet, very fond of a young Man called Bathyllus. he was choaked with a Grape Stone. Vid. Plin.

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