Of Serpents Topsell has written a "Historie," which, if not altogether

veracious, is very amusing; and I shall quote largely from it, as it

shows us "the latest thing out" in Serpents as believed in, and taught,

in the time of James I. He begins, of course, with their creation, and

the Biblical mention of them, and then passes to the power of man over

them in charming and taming them. Of the former he tells the following


"Aloisius Cadamustus, in his description of the New World, telleth an

excellent hystorie of a Lygurian young Man, beeing among the Negroes

travailing in Affrick, whereby he endeavoureth to proove, how ordinary

and familiar it is to them, to take and charme Serpents.

"The young man beeing in Affricke among the Negroes, and lodged in

the house of a Nephew to the Prince of Budoniell, when he was taking

himselfe to his rest, suddenly awakened by hearing the unwonted noise of

the hissing of innumerable sorts of Serpents; wherat he wondred, and

beeing in some terror, he heard his Host (the Prince's Nephew) to make

himselfe readie to go out of the doores, (for he had called up his

servants to sadle up his Cammels:) the young man demaunded of him the

cause, why he would go out of doores now so late in the darke night? to

whom he answered, I am to goe a little way, but I will returne againe

verie speedily; and so he went, and with a charme quieted the Serpents,

and drove them all away, returning againe with greater speed than the

Lygurian young man, his ghest, expected. And when he had returned, he

asked his ghest if hee did not heare the inmoderate hyssing of the

Serpents? and he answered, that he had heard them to his great terrour.

Then the Prince's Nephew (who was called Bisboror) replyed, saying, they

were Serpents which had beset the house, and would have destroyed all

their Cattell and Heards, except hee had gone foorth to drive them away

by a Charme, which was very common and ordinary in those parts, wherin

were abundance of very hurtfull Serpents.

"The Lygurian young man, hearing him say so, marvailed above measure,

and said, that this thing was so rare and miraculous, that scarcely

Christians could beleeve it. The Negro thought it as strange that the

young man should bee ignorant heereof, and therefore told him, that

their Prince could worke more strange things by a Charme which he had,

and that this, and such like, were small, vulgar, and not be counted

miraculous. For, when he is to use any strong poyson upon present

necessitie, to put any man to death, he putteth some venom uppon a

sword, or other peece of Armour, and then making a large round Circle,

by his Charme compelleth many Serpents to come within that circle, hee

himselfe standing amongst them, and observing the most venomous of them

all so assembled, which he thinketh to contain the strongest poyson,

killeth him, and causeth the residue to depart away presentlie; then,

out of the dead Serpent hee taketh the poyson, and mixeth it with the

seede of a certaine vulgar Tree, and therewithall annoynteth his dart,

arrow, or sword's point, whereby is caused present death, if it give the

bodie of a man but a very small wound, even to the breaking of the

skinne, or drawing of the blood. And the saide Negro did earnestly

perswade the young man to see an experiment hereof, promising him to

shew all as he had related, but the Lygurian beeing more willing to

heare such things told, than bolde to attempt the triall, told him that

he was not willing to see any such experiment.

"And by this it appeareth, that all the Negroes are addicted to

Incantations, which never have anie approbation from God, except against

Serpents, which I cannot very easilie be brought to beleeve."

Of the affection of some serpents for the human-kind he gives some

examples:--"We reade also in Plutarch of certain Serpents, lovers of

young virgins, and by name there was one that was in love with one

AEtolia, a Virgin, who did accustome to come unto her in the night

time, slyding gentlie all over her bodie, never harming her, but as one

glad of such acquaintance, tarried with her in that dalliance till the

morning, and them would depart away of his owne accorde: the which thing

beeing made manifest unto the Guardians and Tutours of the Virgin, they

removed her unto another Towne. The Serpent missing his Love, sought her

uppe and downe three or four dayes, and at last mette her by chance, and

then hee saluted her not as he was wont, with fawning, and gentle

slyding, but fiercely assaulted her with grimme and austere countenance,

flying to her hands, and binding them with the spire of his bodie, fast

to her sides, did softly with his tayle beat her upon her backer parts.

Whereby was collected, some token of his chastisement unto her, who had

wronged such a Lover, with her wilfull absence and disappointment.

"It is also reported by AElianus that Egemon in his verses, writeth

of one Alena, a Thessalian who, feeding his Oxen in Thessaly,

neere the Fountaine Haemonius, there fell in love with him a Serpent of

exceeding bignesse and quantitie, and the same would come unto him, and

softly licke his face and golden haire, without dooing him any manner of

hurt at all."

He tells a few more "Snake stories," and quotes from "a little Latine

booke printed at Vienna, in the yeare of the Lorde 1551," the

following:--"There was (sayth mine Author) found in a mowe or rycke of

corne, almost as many Snakes, Adders, and other Serpentes, as there were

sheafes, so as no one sheafe could be removed, but there presently

appeared a heape of ougly and fierce Serpents. The countrey men

determined to set fire upon the Barne, and so attempted to doe, but in

vaine, for the straw would take no fire, although they laboured with all

their wit and pollicye, to burne them up; At last, there appeared unto

them at the top of the heap a huge great Serpent, which, lifting up his

head, spake with man's voyce to the countrey men, saying: Cease to

prosecute your devise, for you shall not be able to accomplish our

burning, for wee were not bredde by Nature, neither came we hither of

our own accord, but were sent by God to take vengeance on the sinnes of


And some serpents were "very fine and large," for he says:--"Gellius

writeth, that when the Romanes were in the Carthaginian Warre, and

Attilius Regulus the Consull had pitched his Tents neere unto the

river Bragrada, there was a Serpent of monstrous quantitie, which had

beene lodged within the compasse of the Tents, and therefore did cause

to the whole Armie exceeding great calamitie, untill by casting of

stones with slings, and many other devises, they oppressed and slew that

Serpent, and afterward fleyed off the skinne and sent it to Rome;

which was in length one hundred and twentie feete.

"And, although this seemeth to be a beast of unmatchable stature, yet

Postdenius a Christian writer, relateth a storie of another which was

much greater, for hee writeth that he saw a Serpent dead, of the length

of an acre of Land, and all the residue both of head and bodie, were

answerable in proportion, for the bulke of his bodie was so great, and

lay so high, that two Horsemen could not see one the other, beeing at

his two sides, and the widenes of his mouth was so great, that he could

receive at one time, within the compasse thereof, a horse and a man on

his backe both together: The scales of his coate or skinne, being every

one like a large buckler or target. So that now, there is no such cause

to wonder at the Serpent which is said to be killed by St. George,

which was, as is reported, so great, that eight Oxen were but strength

enough to drawe him out of the Cittie Silena....

"Among the Scyritae, the Serpents come by great swarmes uppon their

flocks of sheepe and cattell, and some they eate up all, others they

kill, and sucke out the blood, and some part they carry away. But if

ever there were anything beyond credite, it is the relation of

Volateran in his twelfth booke of the New-found Lands, wherein he

writeth, that there are Serpents of a mile long, which at one certaine

time of the yeere come abroad out of the holes and dennes of habitation,

and destroy both the Heards and Heard-men if they find them. Much more

favourable are the Serpents of a Spanish Island, who doe no harme to

any living thing, although they have huge bodies, and great strength to

accomplish their desires."

After this it will be refreshing to have one of Topsell's own particular

true stories: and this is "Of a true history done in England, in

the house of a worshipfull Gentleman, upon a servant of his, whom I

could name if it were needfull. He had a servant that grew very lame and

feeble in his legges, and thinking that he could never be warme in his

bed, did multiply his clothes, and covered himselfe more and more, but

all in vaine, till at length he was not able to goe about, neither could

any skill of Phisitian or Surgeon find out the cause.

"It hapned on a day as his Maister leaned at his Parlour window, he saw

a great Snake to slide along the house side, and to creepe into the

chamber of this lame man, then lying in his bedde, (as I remember,) for

hee lay in a lowe chamber, directly against the Parlour window

aforesaid. The Gentleman desirous to see the issue, and what the Snake

would doe in the chamber, followed, and looked into the chamber by the

window; where hee espied the snake to slide uppe into the bed-straw, by

some way open in the bottome of the bedde, which was of old bordes.

Straightway, his hart rising thereat, he called two or three of his

servaunts, and told them what he had seene, bidding them goe take their

Rapiers, and kill the said snake. The serving-men came first, and

removed the lame man (as I remember) and then the one of them turned up

the bed, and the other two the straw, their Maister standing without, at

the hole, whereinto the said snake had entered into the chamber. The

bedde was no sooner turned up, and the Rapier thrust into the straw, but

there issued forth five or six great snakes that were lodged therein:

Then the serving-men bestirring themselves, soone dispatched them, and

cast them out of doores dead. Afterward, the lame man's legges

recovered, and became as strong as ever they were; whereby did

evidentlie appeare, the coldnes of these snakes or Serpents, which came

close to his legges everie night, did so benumme them, as he could not


Yet one more:--

"I cannot conceale a most memorable historie as ever was any in the

world, of a fight betwixt the Serpents of the Land and the Water. This

history is taken out of a Booke of Schilt-bergerus, a Bavarian, who

knew the same, (as he writeth) while hee was a captive in Turky; his

words are these. In the kingdome called Genyke, there is a Citty

called Sampson, about which, while I was prisoner with Baiazeta King

of Turkes, there pitched or arrived, an innumerable company of Land

and Water Serpents, compassing the said Cittie, a mile about. The Land

Serpents came out of the woods of Trienick, which are great and many,

and the Water Serpents came out of the bordering Sea. These were nine

dayes together assembling in that place, and for feare of them there was

not any man that durst goe out of the Citty, although it was not

observed that they hurt any man, or living creature there-abouts.

"Wherefore the Prince also commanded, that no man should trouble them,

or doe them any harme, wisely judging, that such an accident came not

but by Divine Miracle, and that also to signifie some notable event.

Uppon the tenth day, these two valiant troupes joyned battell, early in

the morning, before the sunne-rising, so continuing in fight untill the

sunne-set, at which time the Prince, with some horsemen, went out of the

Cittie to see the battell, and it appeared to him and his associates,

that the Water Serpents gave place to the Land Serpents. So the Prince,

and his company, returned into the Citty againe, and the next day went

forth againe, but found not a Serpent alive, for there were slaine above

eyght thousand: all which, he caused presently to be covered with earth

in ditches, and afterwards declared the whole matter to Baiazeta by

letters, after he had gotten that Cittie, whereat the great Turke

rejoyced, for hee thereby interpreted happinesse to himselfe."

Luckily, man has found out things inimical to Serpents, and they, and

their use, seem to be very simple:--

"There is such vertue in the Ashe tree, that no Serpent will endure to

come neere either the morning or evening shadow of it; yea, though very

farre distant from them, they do so deadlie hate it. We set downe

nothing but that wee have found true by experience: If a great fire be

made, and the same fire encircled round with Ashen-boughes, and a

serpent put betwixt the fire and the Ashen-boughes, the Serpent will

sooner runne into the fire, than come neere the Ashen-boughes: thus

saith Pliny. Olaus Magnus saith, that those Northern Countries which

have great store of Ash-trees, doe want venemous beasts, of which

opinion is also Pliny. Callimachus saith, there is a Tree growing in

the Land of Trachinia, called Smilo, to which, if any Serpents doe

either come neere, or touch, they foorthwith die. Democritus is of

opinion, that any Serpent will die if you cast Oken-leaves upon him.

Pliny is of opinion that Alcibiadum, which is a kind of wild

Buglosse, is of the same use and qualitie; and further, being chewed, if

it be spet upon any serpent, that it cannot possibly live. In time of

those solemne Feastes which the Athenians dedicated to the Goddesse

Ceres, their women did use to lay and strew their beddes, with the

leaves of the Plant called Agnos, because serpents could not endure

it, and because they imagined it kept them chast, Where-upon they

thought the name was given it. The herbe called Rosemarie, is terrible

to serpents.

"The Egyptians doe give it out, that Polydamna the wife of Thorris

their King, taking pittie upon Helen, caused her to be set on shore in

the Island of Pharus, and bestowed upon her an herbe (whereof there

was plenty) that was a great enemy to serpents: whereof the serpents

having a feeling sence (as they say) and so readily knowne of them, they

straightwaies got them to their lurking holes in the earth; and Helen

planted this herbe, who, coming to the knowledge thereof, she perceived

that in his due time it bore a seede that was a great enemy to serpents,

and thereupon was called Helenium, as they that are skilfull in Plants

affirme; and it groweth plentifully in Pharus, which is a little Ile

against the mouth of Nylus, joyned to Alexandria by a bridge.

"Rue, (called of some, Herbe of Grace) especially that which groweth in

Lybia, is but a backe friend to Serpents, for it is most dry, and

therefore causing Serpents soon to faint, and loose their courage,

because (as Simocatus affirmeth) it induceth a kind of heavinesse or

drunkennesse in their head, with a vertiginie, or giddines through the

excesse of his drinesse, or immoderate sticcitie. Serpents cannot endure

the savour of Rue, and, therefore, a Wesill, when she is to fight with

any serpent, eateth Rue, as a defensative against her enemie, as

Aristotle, and Pliny his Interpreter, are of opinion.

"The Country people leaving their vessels of Milke abroade in the open

fieldes, doe besmeare them round about with garlick, lest some venomous

serpents should creepe into them, but the smell of garlick, as

Erasmus saith, driveth them away. No serpents were ever yet seene to

touch the herbe Trifolie, or Three-leaved-grasse, as AEdonnus wold

make us believe. And Cardan the Phisitian hath observed as much, that

serpents, nor anything that is venemous will neither lodge, dwell, or

lurk privily neere unto Trifolie, because that is their bane, as they

are to other living creatures: and therefore it is sowne to very good

purpose, and planted in very hot countries, where there is most store of

such venomous creatures.

"Arnoldus Villanonanus saith that the herb called Dracontea killeth

serpents. And Florentinus affirmeth that, if you plant Woormwood,

Mugwort, or Sothernwood about your dwelling, that no venomous serpents

will ever come neer, or dare enterprise to invade the same. No serpent

is found in Vines, when they flourish, bearing flowers or blossoms, for

they abhor the smell, as Aristotle saith. Avicen, an Arabian

Phisitian, saith, that Capers doe kill worms in the guts, and likewise

serpents. If you make a round circle with herbe Betonie, and therein

include any serpents, they will kill themselves in the place, rather

than strive to get away. Galbanum killeth serpents only by touching, if

oyle and the herbe called Fenell-giant be mixt withall. There is a

shrubbe called Therionarca, having a flower like a Rose, which maketh

serpents heavy, dull and drousie, and so killeth them, as Pliny


There are more plants inimical to serpents, but enough have been given

to enable the reader, if he have faith in them, to defend himself; and

it is comforting to think, that although the serpent is especially

noxious, when alive, he is marvellously useful, medicinally, when dead.

Even now, in some country places, viper broth is used as a medicine;

and, in the first half of the eighteenth century, its flesh, prepared in

various ways, was thoroughly recognised in the Pharmacopoeia. But

Topsell, who gathered together all the wisdom of the ancients, gives so

very many remedies (for all kinds of illnesses) that may be derived from

different parts, and treatment, of serpents, that I can only pick out a


"Pliny saith, that if you take out the right eye of a serpent, and so

bind it about any part of you, that it is of great force against the

watering or dropping of the eyes, by meanes of a rhume issuing out

thereat, if the serpent be againe let goe alive. And so hee saith, that

a serpent's or snake's hart, if either it be bitten or tyed to any part

of you, that it is a present remedie for the toothach: and hee addeth

further, that if any man doe tast of the snake's hart, that he shall

never after be hurt of any serpent.... The blood of a serpent is more

precious than Balsamum, and if you annoynt your lips with a little of

it, they will looke passing redde: and, if the face be annoynted

therewith, it will receive no spot or fleck, but causeth it to have an

orient and beautiful hue. It represseth all scabbiness of the body,

stinking in the teeth, and gummes, if they be therewith annointed. The

fat of a serpent speedily helpeth all rednes, spots, and other

infirmities of the eyes, and beeing annoynted upon the eyeliddes, it

cleereth the eyes exceedingly.

"Item, put them (serpents) into a glassed pot, and fill the same with

Butter in the Month of May, then lute it well with paste (that is, Meal

well kneaded) so that nothing may evaporate, then sette the potte on the

fire, and let it boyle wel-nigh halfe a day: after this is done,

straine the Butter through a cloth, and the remainder beate in a morter,

and straine it againe, and mixe them together, then put them into water

to coole, and so reserve it in silver or golden boxes, that which is not

evaporated, for the older, the better it is, and so much the better it

will be, if you can keepe it fortie years. Let the sicke patient, who is

troubled eyther with the Goute, or the Palsie, but annoynt himselfe

often against the fire with this unguent, and, without doubt, he shall

be freed, especially if it be the Goute."

Of serpents in general, I shall have little to say, except those few of

which the descriptions are the most outre. And first let us have out

the "Boas," which cannot mean that enormous serpent the Boa-Constrictor,

which enfolds oxen, deer, &c., crushing their bones in its all-powerful

fold, and which sometimes reaches the length of thirty or

five-and-thirty feet--long enough, in all conscience, for a respectable

serpent. But Topsell begins his account of "The Boas" far more


"It was well knowne among all the Romans, that when Regulus was

Governour, or Generall, in the Punick warres, there was a Serpent

(neere the river Bagrade) killed with slings and stones, even as a

Towne or little Cittie is over-come, which Serpent was an hundred and

twenty foote in length; whose skinne and cheeke bones, were reserved in

a Temple at Rome, untill the Numantine warre.

"And this History is more easie to be beleeved, because of the Boas

Serpent bred in Italy at this day: for we read in Solinus, that when

Claudius was Emperour, there was one of them slaine in the Vatican

at Rome, in whose belly was found an Infant swallowed whole, and not a

bone thereof broken....

"The Latines call it Boa, and Bova, because by sucking Cowe's milke

it so encreaseth, that in the end it destroyeth all manner of herdes,

Cattell, and Regions.... The Italians doe usually call them, Serpeda de

Aqua, a Serpent of the water, and, therefore, all the Learned expound

the Greeke word Hydra, for a Boas. Cardan saith, that there are of

this kind in the Kingdom of Senega, both without feet and wings, but

most properly, as they are now found in Italy, according to these


Boa quidem serpens quem tellus Itala nutrit

Hunc bubulum plures lac enutrire docent.

Which may be englished thus:

The Boas Serpent which Italy doth breede,

Men say, uppon the milke of Cowes doth feede.

"Their fashion is in seeking for their prey among the heardes, to

destroy nothing that giveth suck, so long as it will live, but they

reserve it alive untill the milk be dryed up, then afterwards they kill

and eate it, and so they deale with whole flocks and heards."

Whilst on the subject of Hydra, I give Topsell's idea of the Lernean

Hydra, whose story is so familiar to us. (See p. 292.) But, after

presenting us with such a frightful ideal, he says:--"And some ignorant

men of late daies at Venice, did picture this Hydra with wonderfull

Art, and set it forth to the people to be seene, as though it had beene

a true carkase, with this inscription: In the yeare of Christe's

incarnation, 550, about the Month of January, 'this monstrous Serpent

was brought out of Turky to Venice, and afterwards given to the

French King: It was esteemed to be worth 600 duckats. These monsters

signifie the mutation or change of worldly affaires,' &c." And, after

giving a long-winded inscription, apropos of nothing, he says:--"I

have also heard that in Venice in the Duke's treasury, among the rare

Monuments of that Citty, there is preserved a Serpent with seaven heads,

which, if it be true, it is the more probable that there is a Hydra, and

that the Poets were not altogether deceived, that say Hercules killed

such an one."

Mr. Henry Lee, in his little book, "Sea Fables Explained," says that the

Lernean Hydra was neither more nor less than a huge Octopus, and gives

an illustration of a marble tablet in the Vatican (also given in

"Smith's Classical Dictionary"), which does not seem unlike one.

The Wingless Dragons belong to the serpent tribe, with the exception

that they are generally furnished with legs. These are "Wormes," of

several of which we, in England, were the happy possessors. Of course,

in the northern parts of Europe, they survived (in story at all events)

much later than with us, and Olaus Magnus gives accounts of several

fights with them, notably that of Frotho and Fridlevus, two Champions,

against a serpent.

"Frotho, a Danish Champion and a King, scarce being past his

childhood, in a single combat killed a huge fierce great Serpent,

thrusting his sword into his belly, for his hard skin would not be

wounded, and all darts thrown at him, flew back again, and it was but

labour lost. Fridlevus was no lesse valiant, who, both to try his

valour, and to find out some hidden treasure, set upon a most formidable

Serpent for his huge body and venomous teeth, and, for a long time, he

cast his darts against his scaly sides, and could not hurt him, for his

hard body made nothing of the weapons cast with violence against him.

But this Serpent twisting his tail in many twines, by turning his tail

round, he would pull up trees by the roots, and by his crawling on the

ground, he had made a great hollow place, that in some places, hills

seemed to be parted as if a valley were between them, wherefore

Fridlevus considering that the upper parts of this beast could not be

penetrated, he runs him in with his sword underneath; and, piercing into

his groine, he drew forth his virulent matter, as he lay panting: when

he had killed the Serpent, he dug up the money, and carried it away."

He gives another story of a combat with "Wormes," although in the Latin

they are called Vipers: yet I leave my readers to judge whether the

small snake, the viper, would require such an amount of killing as

Regner had to bestow upon them:--

"Of Regnerus, called Hair-Coat. There was a King of the Sueons

called Herothus, whose troubled mind was not a little urged how to

preserve his Daughter's chastity; whether he should guard her with wild

beasts (as the manner of most Princes was then) or else should commit

the custody of her to man's fidelity. But he, preferring cruelty of

Beasts to man's fidelity, he soonest chose what would do most hurt. For,

hunting in the woods, he brought some Snakes that his Company had found,

for his Daughter to feed up. She, quickly obeying her Father's commands,

bred up a generation of vipers by her Virgin hands. And that they might

want no meat, her curious Father caused the whole body of an Ox to be

brought, being ignorant that, by this private food, he maintain'd a

publick destruction. These, being grown up, by their venomous breath

poysoned the neighbouring parts; but the King, repenting his folly,

proclaimed that he who could remove this plague, should have his


"When Regnerus of Norway, descended of the King's race, who was the

chief Suiter this Virgin had, heard this Report, he obtained from the

Nurse a woollen Cassock, and hairy Breeches, whereby he might hinder the

biting of the Adders. And when he came to Sweden in a ship, he

purposely suffered his Clothes to grow stiff with cold, casting water

upon them: and thus clothed, having onely his Sword and Dart to defend

him, he went to the King. As he went forward, two huge Adders met him on

the way, that would kill the young man, with the twisting of their

tails, and by the venome they cast forth.

"But Regnerus confiding in the hardness of his frozen Garments, both

endured and repulsed their Venome, by his clothes, and their biting his

Harness, being indefatigable in pressing hard upon these Wild Beasts.

Last of all he strongly casts out of his hand his Javelin that was

fastened with a Hoop, and struck it into their bodies. Then, with his

two-edged Sword, rending both their hearts, he obtained a happy end of

an ingenious and dangerous fight. The King, looking curiously on his

clothes, when he saw them so hairy on the back-side, and unpolished like

ragged Frize, he spake merrily, and called him Lodbrock: that is Hair

Coat; and to recreate him after his pains, he sent for him to a Banquet

with his friends. He answered, That he must first go see those

Companions he had left: and he brought them to the King's Table, very

brave in clothes, as he was then: and lastly, when that was done, he

received the pledge of his Victory, by whom he begat many hopeful

Children: and he had her true love to him the more, and the rather

enjoyed his company, by how much she knew the great dangers he underwent

to win her by, and the ingenious practises he used."

We were favoured in England with several "Wormes." Nor only in England,

but in Scotland and Wales. Of course, Ireland can boast of none, as St.

Patrick banished all the serpents from that island.

Of the Dragon of Wantley I say nothing; he has been reslain in modern

times, and all the romance has gone out of him. Nobody wishes to know

that the Dragon was Sir Francis Wortley, who was at loggerheads with his

neighbours, notably one Lionel Rowlestone, whose advocate was More of

More Hall. We had rather have had our dear old Dragon, and have let the

champion More slay him in the orthodox manner.

But the "laidley Worme" of Lambton is still all our own, and its story

is thus told by Surtees in his "History, &c., of Durham," 1820:--

"The heir of Lambton, fishing, as was his profane custom, in the Wear,

on a Sunday, hooked a small worm or eft, which he carelessly threw into

a well, and thought no more of the adventure. The worm (at first

neglected) grew till it was too large for its first habitation, and,

issuing forth from the Worm Well, betook itself to the Wear, where it

usually lay a part of the day coiled round a crag in the middle of the

water; it also frequented a green mound near the well (the Worm Hill),

where it lapped itself nine times round, leaving vermicular traces, of

which, grave living witnesses depose that they have seen the vestiges.

It now became the terror of the country, and, amongst other enormities,

levied a daily contribution of nine cows' milk, which was always placed

for it at the green hill, and in default of which it devoured man and

beast. Young Lambton had, it seems, meanwhile, totally repented him of

his former life and conversation, had bathed himself in a bath of holy

water, taken the sign of the cross, and joined the Crusaders.

"On his return home, he was extremely shocked at witnessing the effects

of his youthful imprudences, and immediately undertook the adventure.

After several fierce combats, in which the Crusader was foiled by his

enemy's power of self-union, he found it expedient to add policy to

courage, and not, perhaps, possessing much of the former quality, he

went to consult a witch or wise woman. By her judicious advice he armed

himself in a coat-of-mail studded with razor blades; and, thus prepared,

placed himself on the crag in the river, and awaited the monster's


"At the usual time the worm came to the rock, and wound himself with

great fury round the armed knight, who had the satisfaction to see his

enemy cut in pieces by his own efforts, whilst the stream washing away

the severed parts, prevented the possibility of reunion.

"There is still a sequel to the story: the witch had promised Lambton

success only on one condition, that he should slay the first living

thing which met his sight after the victory. To avoid the possibility of

human slaughter, Lambton had directed his father, that as soon as he

heard him sound three blasts on his bugle, in token of the achievement

performed, he should release his favourite greyhound, which would

immediately fly to the sound of the horn, and was destined to be the

sacrifice. On hearing his son's bugle, however, the old chief was so

overjoyed, that he forgot his instructions, and ran himself with open

arms to meet his son. Instead of committing a parricide, the conqueror

again repaired to his adviser, who pronounced, as the alternative of

disobeying the original instructions, that no chief of the Lambtons

should die in his bed for seven, (or as some accounts say) for nine

generations--a commutation which, to a martial spirit, had nothing

probably very terrible, and which was willingly complied with....

"In the garden-house at Lambton are two figures of no great antiquity. A

Knight in good style, armed cap-a-pie, the back studded with razor

blades, who holds the worm by one ear with his left hand, and with his

right crams his sword to the hilt down his throat; and a Lady who wears

a coronet, with bare breasts, &c., in the style of Charles 2nd's

Beauties, a wound on whose bosom and an accidental mutilation of the

hand are said to have been the work of the worm."

There were several other English "Wormes," but this must suffice as a

type. Also, as a typical Scotch "Worme," the Linton Worme will serve. A

writer (W. E.) tells its story so well in Notes and Queries, February

24, 1866, that I transfer it here, in preference to telling it myself.

It was slain by Sir John Somerville, about the year 1174, who received

the lands and barony of Linton, in Roxburghshire, as the reward of his

exploit. W. E. quotes from a family history entitled a "Memorie of the

Somervills," written by James, the eleventh lord, A.D. 1679:--

"'In the parochene of Lintoune, within the sheriffdome of Roxburghe,

ther happened to breede ane hydeous monster, in the forme of a worme,

soe called and esteemed by the country people (but in effecte has beene

a serpente or some suche other creature), in length three Scots yards,

and somewhat bigger than ane ordinarie man's leg, &c.... This creature,

being a terrour to the country people, had its den in a hollow piece of

ground, on the syde of a hill, south east from Lintoun Church, some more

than a myle, which unto this day is knowne by the name of the Worme's

glen, where it used to rest and shelter itself; but, when it sought

after prey, then would it wander a myle or two from its residence, and

make prey of all sort of bestiall that came in its way, which it easily

did because of its lownesse, creeping amongst the peat, heather, or

grasse, wherein that place abounded much, by reasone of the meadow

grounde, and a large flow moss, fit for the pasturage of many

cattell.... Soe that the whole country men thereabout wer forced to

remove ther bestiall and transport them 3 or 4 myles from the place,

leaving the country desolate, neither durst any person goe to the

Church, or mercat, upon that rod, for fear of this beast.'

"Somerville happening to come to Jedburgh, on the King's business, found

the inhabitants full of stories about the wonderful beast.

"'The people who had fled ther for shelter, told soe many lies, as

first, that it increased every day, and was beginning to get wings:

others pretended to have seen it in the night, and asserted it was full

of fyre, and in tyme, would throw it out, &c., with a thousand other

ridiculous stories.'

"Somerville determined to see the monster, and, accordingly, rode to the

glen about sunrise, when he was told it generally came forth. He had not

to wait long, till he perceived it crawl out of its den. When it

observed him, it raised itself up, and stared at him, for some time,

without venturing to approach; whereupon he drew nearer to observe it

more closely, on which it turned round, and slunk into its lair.

"Satisfied that the beast was not so dangerous as reported, he resolved

to destroy it, but as every one declared that neither sword nor dagger

had any effect on it, and that its venom would destroy any one that came

within its reach: he prepared a spear double the ordinary length, plated

with iron, four feet from the point, on which he placed a slender iron

wheel, turning on its centre. On this he fastened a lighted peat, and

exercised his horse with it for several days, until it shewed no fear or

dislike to the fire and smoke. He then repaired to the den, and, on the

worme appearing, his servant set fire to the peat, and, putting spurs to

his horse, he rode full at the beast. The speed at which he advanced,

caused the wheel to spin round, and fanned the peat into a blaze. He

drove the lance down the monster's throat full a third part of its

length, when it broke, and he left the animal writhing in the agonies of


I am afraid the Welsh "Worme" is not so well authenticated as the

others; but the story is, that Denbigh is so named from a Dragon slain

by John Salusbury of Lleweni, who died 1289. It devastated the country

far and wide, after the manner of its kind, and all the inhabitants

prayed for the destruction of this bych. This the Champion effected,

and in his glee, joyfully sang, Dyn bych, Dyn bych (No bych); and

the country round was so named.

There arises the question, whether, having regard to the fact that the

Lambton worm, at all events, was amphibious, it might not have been a

Plesiosaurus, which had survived some of its race, such as the

illustration now given, of the one reconstructed by Thos. Hawkins, in

his "Book of the Great Sea Dragons." We know that at some time or other

these animals existed, and, it may be, some few lingered on. At all

events most civilised nations have had a belief in it, and it was held

to be the type of all that was wicked; so much so, that one of Satan's

synonyms is "the Great Dragon." In the Romances of Chivalry, its

destruction was always reserved for the worthiest knight; in classical

times it was a terror. Both Hindoos and Chinese hold it in firm faith,

and, take it all in all, belief in its entity was general.

The Winged Dragons were undoubtedly more furious and wicked than the

Wormes, and there is scarcely any reason to go farther than its

portrait by Aldrovandus, to enable us to recognise it at any time. (See

next page.) Topsell gives another, but with scarcely so much detail.

But, although we in our times have not seen flying dragons in the flesh,

we have their fossilised bones in evidence of their existence. The

Pterodactyl, as Mr. Hawkins observes, "agrees with the Dragon in nearly

all its more important features. Thus, it was of great size, possessed a

large head, with long jaws and powerful teeth. It had wings of great

span, and at the same time three powerful clawed fingers to each hand,

wings devoid of feathers, and capable of being folded along the sides of

the body, while the large size of the orbits may not, improbably, have

suggested the name dragon; for dragon, which is derived from the Greek

[Greek: drakon], means, literally, keen-sighted."

We now have flying lizards, both in India and the Malay Archipelago, in

which latter is found a small lemur which can fly from tree to tree, and

we are all familiar with bats, some of which attain a large size.

Topsell has exercised great research among old authorities respecting

dragons, and he draws their portraits thus:--"Gyllius, Pierius, and

Grevinus, following the authority of Nicander, do affirme that a

Dragon is of a blacke colour, the bellie somewhat green, and very

beautifull to behold, having a treble rowe of teeth in their mouthes

upon every jawe, and with most bright and cleare seeing eyes, which

caused the Poets to faine in their writings, that these dragons are the

watchfull keepers of Treasures. They have also two dewlappes growing

under their chinne, and hanging downe like a beard, which are of a redde

colour; their bodies are set all over with very sharpe scales, and over

their eyes stand certaine flexible eyeliddes. When they

gape wide with their mouth, and thrust forth their tongue, theyr teeth

seeme very much to resemble the teeth of Wilde Swine: And theyr neckes

have many times grosse thicke hayre growing upon them, much like unto

the bristles of a Wylde Boare."

Apart from looks, he does not give dragons, as a rule, a very bad

character, and says they do not attack men unless their general food

fails them:--"They greatlie preserve their health (as Aristotle

affirmeth) by eating of Wild lettice, for that they make them to vomit,

and cast foorth of theyr stomacke what soever meate offendeth them, and

they are most speciallie offended by eating Apples, for theyr bodies are

much subject to be filled with winde, and therefore they never eate

Apples, but first they eate Wilde lettice. Theyr sight also (as

Plutarch sayth) doth many times grow weake and feeble, and therefore

they renew and recover the same againe by rubbing their eyes against

Fennel, or else by eating it. Their age could never yet be certainely

knowne, but it is conjectured that they live long, and in great health,

like all other serpents, and therefore they grow so great.

* * * * *

"Neither have wee in Europe onely heard of Dragons, and never seene

them, but also even in our own Country, there have (by the testimonie of

sundry writers) divers been discovered and killed. And first of all,

there was a Dragon, or winged Serpent, brought unto Francis the French

King, when hee lay at Sancton, by a certaine Country man, who had

slaine the same Serpent himselfe with a Spade, when it sette upon him in

the fields to kill him. And this thinge was witnessed by many Learned

and Credible men which saw the same; and they thought it was not bredde

in that Country, but rather driven by the winde thither from some

forraine Nation. For Fraunce was never knowne to breede any such

Monsters. Among the Pyrenes, too, there is a cruell kinde of Serpent,

not past foure foot long, and as thicke as a man's arme, out of whose

sides growe winges, much like unto gristles.

"Gesner also saith, that in the yeere of our Lord 1543 there came many

Serpents both with wings and legs into the parts of Germany neere

Stiria, who did bite and wound many men incurably. Cardan also

describeth certaine serpents with wings, which he saw at Paris, whose

dead bodies were in the hands of Gulielmus Musicus; hee saith that

they had two legges, and small winges, so that they could scarce flie,

the head was little, and like to the head of a serpent, their colour

bright, and without haire or feathers, the quantitie of that which was

greatest, did not exceede the bignes of a Cony, and it is saide they

were brought out of India....

"There have beene also Dragons many times seene in Germaine, flying in

the ayre at mid-day, and signifying great and fearefull fiers to follow,

as it happened neere to the Cittie called Niderburge, neere to the

shore of the Rhyne, in a marvailous cleere sun-shine day, there came a

dragon three times successively together in one day, and did hang in the

ayre over a Towne called Sanctogoarin, and shaking his tayle over that

Towne every time: it appeared visibly in the sight of many of the

inhabitants, and, afterwards it came to passe, that the said towne was

three times burned with fire, to the great harme and undooing of the

people dwelling in the same; for they were not able to make any

resistance to quench the fire, with all the might, Art, and power they

could raise. And it was further observed, that about the time there were

many dragons seene washing themselves in a certaine Fountaine or Well

neere the towne, and if any of the people did by chance drinke of the

water of that Well, theyr bellyes did instantly begin to swell, and they

dyed as if they had been poysoned. Whereupon it was publicly decreed,

that the said well should be filled up with stones, to the intent that

never any man should afterwards be poisoned with that water; and so a

memory thereof was continued, and these thinges are written by Justinus

Goblerus, in an Epistle to Gesner, affirming that he did not write

fayned things, but such things as were true, and as he had learned from

men of great honesty and credite, whose eyes did see and behold both the

dragons, and the mishaps that followed by fire."

Hitherto we have only seen that side of a Dragon's temperament that is

inimical to man, but there are stories, equally veracious, of their

affection and love for men, women, and children: how they, by kindness,

may be tamed, and brought into kindly relations with the human species.

Pliny, quoting Democritus, says that "a Man, called Thoas, was

preserved in Arcadia by a Dragon. When a boy he had become much

attached to it, and had reared it very tenderly; but his father, being

alarmed at the nature and monstrous size of the reptile, had taken and

left it in the desert. Thoas being here attacked by some robbers, who

lay in ambush, he was delivered from them by the Dragon, which

recognised his voice, and came to his assistance."

Topsell tells us that "there be some which by certaine inchaunting

verses doe tame Dragons, and rydeth upon their neckes, as a man would

ride upon a horse, guiding and governing them with a bridle."

And so widely spread was the belief that these fearful animals could be

brought into subjection, that Magnus gives us an account "Of the Fight

of King Harald against a tame Dragon," but this one seems hardly as

docile as those previously instanced:--"Haraldus the most illustrious

King of Norway, residing, in his youth, with the King of

Constantinople, and being condemned for man-slaughter, he was

commanded to be cast to a tame Dragon that should rend him in pieces. As

he went into the prison, one very faithfull servant he had, offered

himself freely to die with his Master.

"The keeper of the Castle, curiously observing them both, let them down

at the mouth of the Den, being unarmed, and well searched; wherefore,

when the servant was naked, he admitted Harald to be covered with his

shirt, for modesty's sake, who gave him a braslet privily, and he

scattered little fish on the pavement, that the Dragon might first stay

his hunger on them, and that the guilty persons that are shut up in the

dark prison, might have a little light by the shining of the Fins and

Scales. Then Haraldus picking up the bones of a Carkeis, stopt them

into the linen he had, and bound them fast together like a Club. And

when the Dragon was let forth, and rushed greedily on his prey cast to

him, he lept quickly on his back, and he thrust a Barber's razor in at

his navill, that would only be pierced by iron, which, as luck was, he

brought with him, and kept it concealed by him: this cold Serpent that

had most hard scales all over, disdained to be entred in any other part

of his body. But Haraldus sitting so high above him, could neither be

bitten by his mouth, or hurt by his sharp teeth; or broken with the

turnings of his tayle. And his servant using the weapons, or bones put

together, beat the Dragon's head till he bled, and died thereof by his

many weighty strokes. When the King knew this, he freely changed his

revenge, into his service, and pardoned these valiant persons, and

furnishing them with a Ship and Monies, he gave them leave to depart."

The natural instinct of Dragons was undoubtedly vicious, and they must

have been most undesirable neighbours, teste the following story

quoted by Topsell from Stumpsius:--"When the Region of Helvetia

beganne first to be purged from noysome beasts, there was a horrible

dragon found neere a Country towne called Wilser, who did destroy all

men and beastes, that came within his danger in the time of his hunger,

inasmuch that that towne and the fields therto adjoyning, was called

Dedwiler, that is, a Village of the Wildernes, for all the people and

inhabitants had forsaken the same, and fledde to other places.

"There was a man of that Towne whose name was Winckleriedt, who was

banished for manslaughter: this man promised, if he might have his

pardon, and be restored againe to his former inheritance, that he would

combat with that Dragon, and by God's helpe destroy him; which thing was

granted unto him with great joyfulnes. Wherefore he was recalled home,

and in the presence of many people went foorth to fight with that

Dragon, whom he slew and overcame, whereat for joy hee lifted uppe his

sword imbrued in the dragon's blood, in token of victory, but the blood

distilled downe from the sword uppon his body, and caused him instantly

to fall downe dead.

"There be certaine beasts called Dracontopides, very great and potent

Serpents, whose faces are like to the faces of Virgins, and the residue

of their body like to dragons. It is thought that such a one was the

Serpent that deceived Eve, for Beda saith it had a Virgin's

countenance, and therefore the woman, seeing the likenes of her owne

face, was the more easily drawne to believe it: into which the devill

had entred; they say he taught it to cover the body with leaves, and to

shew nothing but the head and face. But this fable is not worthy to be

refuted, because the Scripture itself, dooth directly gaine-say everie

part of it. For, first of all it is called a Serpent, and if it had been

a Dragon, Moses would have said so; and, therefore, for ordinary

punishment, GOD doth appoint it to creepe upon the belly, wherefore it

is not likely that it had either wings or feete. Secondly, it was

impossible and unlikely, that any part of the body was covered or

conceiled from the sight of the woman, seeing she knew it directly to be

a Serpent, as shee afterward confessed before GOD and her husband.

"There be also certaine little dragons called in Arabia, Vesga, and

in Catalonia, Dragons of houses; these, when they bite, leave their

teeth behind them, so as the wound never ceaseth swelling, as long as

the teeth remain therein, and therefore, for the better cure thereof,

the teeth are drawne forth, and so the wound will soone be healed.

"And thus much for the hatred betwixt men and dragons, now we will

proceede to other creatures.

"The greatest discord is between the Eagle and the Dragon, for the

Vultures, Eagles, Swannes and Dragons, are enemies to one another. The

Eagles, when they shake their winges, make the dragons afraide with

their ratling noyse; then the dragon hideth himselfe within his den, so

that he never fighteth but in the ayre, eyther when the Eagle hath taken

away his young ones, and he, to recover them, flieth aloft after her, or

else when the Eagle meeteth him in her nest, destroying her egges and

young ones: for the Eagle devoureth the dragons, and little Serpents

upon earth, and the dragons againe, and Serpents do the like against the

Eagles in the ayre. Yea, many times the dragon attempteth to take away

the prey out of the Eagle's talants, both on the ground, and in the

ayre, so that there ariseth betwixt them a very hard and dangerous


"In the next place we are to consider the enmitie that is betwixt

Dragons and Elephants, for, so great is their hatred one to another,

that in Ethyopia the greatest dragons have no other name but Elephant

killers. Among the Indians, also, the same hatred remaineth, against

whom the dragons have many subtile inventions: for, besides the greate

length of their bodies, wherewithall they claspe and begirt the body of

the Elephant, continually byting of him, untill he fall downe dead, and

in the which fall they are also bruzed to peeces; for the safeguard of

themselves, they have this device. They get and hide themselves in

trees, covering their head, and letting the other part hang downe like a

rope: in those trees they watch untill the Elephant come to eate and

croppe of the branches; then, suddenly, before he be aware, they leape

into his face, and digge out his eyes, then doe they claspe themselves

about his necke, and with their tayles, or hinder parts, beate and vexe

the Elephant, untill they have made him breathlesse, for they strangle

him with theyr fore parts, as they beate them with the hinder, so that

in this combat they both perrish: and this is the disposition of the

Dragon, that he never setteth upon the Elephant, but with the advantage

of the place, and namely from some high tree or Rocke.

"Sometimes againe, a multitude of dragons doe together observe the

pathes of the Elephants, and crosse those pathes they tie together their

tailes as it were in knots, so that when the Elephant commeth along in

them, they insnare his legges, and suddainly leape uppe to his eyes, for

that is the part they ayme at above all other, which they speedily pull

out, and so not being able to doe him any more harme, the poore beast

delivereth himselfe from present death by his owne strength, and yet

through his blindnesse received in that combat, hee perrisheth by

hunger, because he cannot choose his meate by smelling, but by his


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