Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/506

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


IN writing about snakes an apology must be offered for beginning with what may seem to be a boastful statement; but it is unavoidable, as it is my chief justification for putting pen to paper.

Therefore it must be avowed that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the snakes have never had a worse enemy than they have found in me, and it came to pass in this way. In the year 1856-'57, being one of the secretaries to the Government of Bengal, I obtained the consent of the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Frederick Halliday, to the issue of an order authorizing the payment of a reward of sixpence for every poisonous snake whose dead body should be produced before a district magistrate in Bengal. This was the beginning of the campaign against snakes in India, and my hand was responsible for it. It was subsequently backed up by the influence of Sir Joseph Fayrer, the greatest living authority on snakes. From that day forth, with occasional intermissions, the system of giving rewards has spread from province to province, until the total number of venomous snakes killed throughout British India in 1886 exceeded four hundred thousand. If it be admitted that, during the last thirty years, the average number of poisonous snakes killed has amounted to only one hundred thousand per annum, a child can calculate how many million snakes have to denounce me as the originator of the mischief and crusade against them.

Why, it may be asked, was such wrath against snakes kindled in me? The explanation is peculiar, and may not be the true one, but it happened that when I was a very small child, my mother's brother, the Rev. Matthew Arnold,[1] was bitten on the ankle by a viper at Slatwood's, in the Isle of Wight, and the story went that his life was in great danger, the whole of his body turning black gradually from the feet upward, until the blackness came as high as his heart, when it stopped and began to abate, until it gradually disappeared as the virulence of the poison wore out. This story made a grave impression on the juvenile minds of myself and my brothers. Not long afterward we were taken to stay with an aunt at Eaglehurst, in Hampshire, and somewhere down on the beach, toward Calshot Castle, I found a snake lying on the grass, which, being an "animosus infans," I picked up and brought to our nurse. Luckily for me the snake was dead, but according to the fashion of those days I was afterward soundly flogged, to teach me not to play with snakes again. From either of these

  1. Brother of Dr. Arnold.