The Fox

By Englishmen, the Fox has been raised to the height of at least a

demigod--and his cult is a serious matter attended with great minutiae of

ritual. Englishmen and Foxes cannot live together, but they live for one

another, the man to hunt the fox, the fox to be hunted. If there be a

fox anywhere, even in the Campagna at Rome, and there are sufficient

Englishmen to get up a scratch pack of hounds, there must "bold Reynard"

/> be tortured with fear and exertion, only, in all probability, to die a

cruel death in the end. In the Peninsular War, a pack of foxhounds

accompanied the army; in India, failing foxes, they take the nearest

substitute, the jackal; and in Australia, faute de mieux, they hunt

the Dingo, or native dog. No properly constituted Englishman could ever

compass the death of a poor fox, otherwise than by hunting. The

Vulpecide--in any other manner--is, in an English county, a social

leper--he is a thing anathema. Running away with a neighbour's wife

may be condoned by county society, at least, among the men, but with

them the man that shoots foxes is a very pariah, and it were good for

that man had he never been born.

Every other nation, even from historic antiquity, has reckoned the Fox

as among the ordinary ferae naturae, to be killed, when met with, for

the sake only of his skin, for his flesh is not toothsome: and when he

arrives at the dignity of a silver or a black fox, his fur enwraps royal

personages, as being of extreme value.

The Fox is noted everywhere for its "craftiness," and was so famed

long before the epic of Reineke Fuchs was evolved, and, indeed, this may

be said to be its principal attribute. Many are the stories told by

country firesides of his stratagems, both in plundering and in his

endeavours to escape from his enemies. Indeed, no country ought to be

able to compare in Fox lore with our own. Its sagacity, cunning, or call

it what you like, dates far back. Pliny tells us that "in Thrace, when

all parts are covered with ice, the foxes are consulted, an animal,

which, in other respects, is baneful from its Craftiness. It has been

observed, that this animal applies its ear to the ice, for the purpose

of testing its thickness; hence it is, that the inhabitants will never

cross frozen rivers and lakes, until the foxes have passed over them and


The Fox is most abundant in the northern parts of Europe, and therefore

we hear more about him from the pages of Olaus Magnus, Gessner, and


The former says:--"When the fox is pressed with hunger, Cold and Snow,

and he comes near men's houses, he will bark like a dog, that house

creatures may come nearer to him with more confidence. Also, he will

faign himself dead, and lie on his back, drawing in his breath, and

lolling out his tongue. The birds coming down, unawares, to feed on the

carkasse, are snapt up by him, with open mouth. Moreover, when he is

hungry, and finds nothing to eat, he rolls himself in red earth, that he

may appear bloody; and, casting himself on the earth, he holds his

breath, and when the birds see that he breaths not, and that his tongue

hangs forth of his mouth, they think he is dead; but so soon as they

descend, he draws them to him and devours them.

"Again, when he sees that he cannot conquer the Urchin, for his

prickles, he lays him on his back, and so rends the soft part of his

body. Sometimes fearing the multitude of wasps, he counterfeits and

hides himself, his tail hanging out: and when he sees that they are all

busie, and entangled in his thick tail, he comes forth, and rubs them

against a stone or Tree, and kills them and eats them. The same trick,

almost, he useth, when he lyes in wait for crabs and small fish, running

about the bank, and he lets down his tail into the water, they admire at

it, and run to it, and are taken in his fur, and pull'd out. Moreover,

when he hath fleas, he makes a little bundle of soft hay wrapt in hair,

and holds it in his mouth; then he goes by degrees into the water,

beginning with his tail, that the fleas fearing the water, will run up

all his body till they come at his head: then he dips in his head, that

they may leap into the hay; when this is done, he leaves the hay in the

water, and swims forth.

"But when he is hungry, he will counterfeit to play with the Hare, which

he presently catcheth and devoureth, unlesse the Hare escape by flight,

as he often doth. Sometimes he also escapes from the dogs by barking,

faigning himself to be a dog, but more surely when he hangs by a bough,

and makes the dogs hunt in vain to find his footing. He is also wont to

deceive the Hunter and his dogs, when he runs among a herd of Goats, and

goes for one of them, leaping upon the Goat's back, that he may sooner

escape by the running of the Goat, by reason of the hatefull Rider on

his back. The other Goats follow, which the Hunter fearing to molest,

calls off his Dogs that many be not killed.

"If he be taken in a string, he will sometime bite off his own foot, and

so get away. But, if there be no way open he will faign himself dead,

that being taken out of the snare, he may run away. Moreover, when a dog

runs after him, and overtakes him, and would bite him, he draws his

bristly tail through the dog's mouth, and so he deludes the dog till he

can get into the lurking places of the Woods. I saw also in the Rocks of

Norway a Fox with a huge tail, who brought many Crabs out of the

water, and then he ate them. And that is no rare sight, when as no fish

like Crabs will stick to a bristly thing let down into the water, and to

dry fish, laid on the rocks to dry. They that are troubled with the

Gowt, are cured by laying the warm skin of this beast about the part,

and binding it on. The fat, also, of the same creature, laid smeered

upon the ears or lims of a gowty person, heals him; his fat is good for

all torments of the guts, and for all pains, his brain often given to a

child will preserve it ever from the Falling-sicknesse. These and

such-like simple medicaments the North Country people observe."

A portion of the above receives a curious corroboration from Mr. P.

Robinson in his book, The Poets' Beasts. Speaking of the Lynx, he

says:--"But it is not, as is supposed, 'untamable.' The Gaekwar of Baroda

has a regular pack of trained lynxes, for stalking and hunting pea-fowl,

and other kinds of birds. I have, myself, seen a tame lynx that had been

taught to catch crows--no simple feat--and its strategy was as diverting

as its agility amazing. It would lie down with the end of a string in

its mouth, the other end being fast to a stake, and pretend to be

asleep, dead asleep, drunk, chloroformed, anything you like that means

profound and gross slumber. A foot or so off would be lying a piece of

meat, or a bone.

"The crows would very soon discover the bone, and collecting round in a

circle, would discuss the probabilities of the lynx only shamming, and

the chances of stealing his dinner. The animal would take no notice

whatever, but lie there looking so limp and dead, that at last one crow

would make so bold as to come forward. The others let it do so alone,

knowing that afterwards there would be a free fight for the plunder, and

the thief, probably, not enjoy it, after all. So the delegate would

advance with all the caution of a crow--and nothing exceeds it--until

within seizing distance. There it would stop, flirt its wings nervously,

stoop, take a last long look at the lynx to make sure that it really

was asleep, and then dart like lightning at the bone. But, if the crow

was as quick as lightning, the lynx was as swift as thought, and lo! the

next instant there was the beast sitting up with the bird in its


"Next time it had to practise a completely different manoeuvre. The same

crows are not to be 'humbugged' a second time by a repetition of the

being-dead trick. So the lynx, when a sufficient number of the birds had

assembled, would take the string in its mouth, and run round and round

the stake, at the extreme limit of its tether, as if it were tied. The

crows, after their impudent fashion, would close in. They thought they

knew the exact circumference of the animal's circle, and getting as

close to the dangerous line as possible, without actually transgressing

it, would mock and abuse the supposed betethered brute. But all of a

sudden, the circling lynx would fly out at a tangent, right into the

thick of his black tormentors, and, as a rule, bag a brace, right and


Topsell gives some curious particulars of the Fox, and, speaking of

their earths, he says:--"These dens have many caves in them, and

passages in and out, that when the Terrars shall set upon him in the

earth, he may go forth some other way, and forasmuch as the Wolfe is an

enemy to the Foxe, he layeth in the mouth of his den, an Herbe (called

Sea-onyon) which is so contrary to the nature of a Wolfe, and he so

greatly terrified therewith, that hee will never come neere the place

where it groweth, or lyeth; the same is affirmed of the Turtle to save

her young ones, but I have not read that Wolves will prey upon Turtles,

and therefore we reject that as a fable.... If a Foxe eat any meat

wherein are bitter Almondes, they die thereof, if they drinke not

presently: and the same thing do Aloes in their meate worke uppon them,

as Scaliger affirmeth upon his owne sighte or knowledge. Apocynon or

Bear-foot given to dogs, wolves, Foxes, and all other beasts which are

littered blind, in fat, or any other meat, killeth them, if vomit helpe

them not, which falleth out very seldome, and the seeds of this hearbe

have the same operation. It is reported by Democritus, that, if wilde

rue be secretly hunge under a Hen's wing, no Fox will meddle with her,

and the same writer also declareth for approoved, that, if you mingle

the gal of a Fox, or a Cat, with their ordinary foode, they shall

remaine free from the danger of these beasts.

"The medicinall uses of this beast are these: first, (as Pliny, and

Marcellus affirme) a Fox sod in water until nothing of the Foxe be

left whole except the bones, and the Legges, or other parts of a gouty

body, washed, and daily bathed therein, it shall drive away all paine

and griefe strengthening the defective and weake members; so also it

cureth all the shrinking up and paines in the sinnewes: and Galen

attributeth the same vertue to an Hyaena sod in Oyle, and the lame

person bathed therein, for it hath such power to evacuate and draw forth

whatsoever evill humour aboundeth in the body of man, that it leaveth

nothing hurtfull behinde.

"Neverthelesse, such bodies are soon againe replenished through evill

dyet, and relapsed into the same disease againe. The Fox may be boyled

in fresh or salt water with annise and time, and with his skin on whole,

and not slit, or else his head cut off, there being added to the

decoction two pintes of oyle.

"The flesh of a Foxe sod and layed to afore bitten by a Sea hare, it

cureth and healeth the same. The Foxe's skinne is profitable against all

moyste fluxes in the skinne of the body, and also the gowt, and cold in

the sinnewes. The ashes of Foxe's flesh burnt and drunk in wine, is

profitable against the shortnesse of breath and stoppings of the liver.

"The blood of a Foxe dissected, and taken forth of his urine alive, and

so drunk, breaketh the stone in the bladder, or else (as Myrepsus

saieth) kill the Foxe, and take the blood, and drink a Cupfull thereof,

and afterward with the same wash the parts, and, within an houre the

stone shall be voyded: the same vertue is in it being dryed and drunke

in wine with sugar.

"Oxycraton and Foxes blood infused into the Nostrils of a lethargick

Horsse, cureth him. The fat is next to a Bul's and a Swine's, so that

the fat or larde of Swine may be used for the fat of Foxes, and the fat

of Foxes for the Swines grease in medicine. Some do herewith annoynte

the places which have the Crampe, and all trembling and shaking

members. The fatte of a Foxe and a Drake enclosed in the belly of a

Goose, and so rosted, with the dripping that commeth from it, they

annoynt paralyticke members.

"The same, with powder of Vine twigs mollified and sod in lye,

attenuateth, and bringeth downe, all swelling tumours of the flesh. The

fat alone healeth the Alopecias and looseness of the haire; it is

commended in the cure of all sores and ulcers of the head, but the gall,

and time, with Mustard-seede is more approved. The fat is also respected

for the cure of paine in the eares, if it be warmed and melt at the

fire, and so instilled; and this is used against tingling in the eares.

If the Haires rot away on a Horse's taile, they recover them againe, by

washing the place with urine and branne, with Wyne and Oyle, and

afterward annoynt it with foxe's grease. When sores or ulcers have

procured the haire to fall off from the heade, take the head of a young

foxe burned with the leaves of blacke Orchanes and Alcyonium, and

the powder cast upon the head recovereth againe the haire.

"If the braine be often given to infants and sucking children, it maketh

them that they shall remaine free from the falling evill. Pliny

prescribeth a man which twinkleth with his eies, and cannot looke

stedfastly, to weare in a chaine, the tongue of a foxe; and Marcellus

biddeth to cut out the tongue of a live foxe, and to turne him away, and

hang uppe that tongue to dry in purple thred, and, afterward put it

about his necke that is troubled with the whitenesse of the eies, and it

shall cure him.

"But it is more certainely affirmed, that the tongue, either dryed, or

greene, layed to the flesh wherein is any Dart or other sharpe head, it

draweth them forth violently, and rendeth not the flesh, but, only where

it is entred. The liver dryed, and drunke cureth often sighing. The

same, or the lights drunke in blacke Wine, openeth the passages of

breathing. The same washed in Wyne, and dryed in an earthen pot in an

Oven, and, afterward, seasoned with Sugar, is the best medicine in the

world for an old cough, for it hath bin approved to cure it, although it

hath continued twenty years, drinking every day two sponfuls in Wine.

"The lightes of foxes drunke in Water after they have beene dryed into

powder, helpeth the Melt, and Myrepsus affirmeth, that when he gave

the same powder to one almost suffocated in a pleurisie it prevailed for

a remedy. Archigene prescribeth the dried liver of a Fox for the

Spleneticke with Oxymell: and Marcellinus for the Melt, drunke after

the same manner; and Sextus adviseth to drinke it simply without

composition of Oxymell. The gall of a Foxe instilled into the eares with

Oyle, cureth the paine in them, and, mixed with Hony Atticke, and

annointed upon the eies, taketh away al dimnes from them, after an

admirable manner. The melt, bound upon the tumors, and bunches of the

brest, cureth the Melt in man's body. The reynes dried and mingled with

Honie, being anointed uppon Kernels, take them away. For the swelling of

the Chaps, rub the reines of a Fox within the mouth. The dung, pounded

with Vineger, by annointment cureth the Leprosie speedily. These and

such other vertues medicinal, both the elder and later Phisitians have

observed in a Fox,--wherewithal we wil conclude this discourse."