Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/362

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348

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

moter islands, and are brought hither by the wind, or else they breed of feculent matter in the clouds; yet this is proved, that so soon as they fall down there is found green grass in their bellies not yet digested. These, like locusts, falling in great swarms, destroy all green things, and all dyes they bite on, by the venome of them. This swarm lives so long as they feed on new grass. Also they come together in troops like swallows that are ready to fly away; but at the set time they either dye in heaps with a contagion of the earth (by the corruption of them the ayr grows pestilentiall and the people are troubled with vertigos or the jaundice); or they are devoured by beasts called commonly lekeirt or hermalins, and these Ermines grow fat thereby, and their skins grow larger."

Schœffer, whom we next cite, believed that

"They sometimes make war, and divide themselves into two armies along the lakes and meadows. They seem likewise to commit suicide, for they are found suspended in the branches of trees; and they probably throw themselves in troops into waters, like the swallows."

Although prepared to believe that they hanged themselves, he did not believe that they were bred in the clouds. He says:

"Wormius thinks plainly that they are bred in the clouds; but the learned Isaac Rossius, in his notes to Pomponius Mela, corrects him and says, the reason why these animals are supposed to fall from the clouds is, because they used not to appear, but immediately after rain they creep out of their holes, either for that they are filled with water, or because this creature thrives much in rain, which opinion seems most probable to me."

Pontoppidan, writing at a later period, says:

"They multiply very fast by what we see of them, though, God be praised, but seldom, i. e., about once or twice in twenty years, when they come from their peculiar abodes. At these times they gather in great flocks together, consisting of many thousands, like the hosts of God, to execute his will i. e., to punish the neighboring inhabitants by destroying the seed, corn, and grass; for when this flock advances they make a visible pathway on the earth or ground, cutting off all that is green, and this they have power and strength to do till they reach their appointed bounds, which is the sea, in which they swim a little about, and then sink and drown."

Pontoppidan, who had never seen the lemming alive, although he collected a large amount of interesting information, credible and incredible, regarding it, notes a holiday held in his time throughout Bergen, termed a mouse-festival, which had so far degenerated from its ancient purpose, that the peasants put on their holiday clothes and went to sleep. In former times the day was kept as a solemn fast, "to avert the plague of lemen and other mice, which some pretend have been used to fall down formerly from the clouds."

"Wormius, in his treatise on the lemming, gives an exorcism used on such occasions, of which the following is a translation:

"I exorcise you, pestiferous worms, mice, birds, locusts, or other animals by God the Father Almighty, and Jesus Christ his Son, and the Holy Ghost