Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/253

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

BOOKWORMS IN FACT AND FANCY.

241

known. Some of them are met with daily in the house and elsewhere, and arouse no unusual interest, while the world goes on wondering what a bookworm is like.

Insects injurious to books and bindings are not a new subject. The Greeks and Romans observed and wrote about them, but notwithstanding, their knowledge of zoölogy, comparatively speaking, was so meager, they do not seem to have felt any of the mystery or wonderment about these creatures which we have felt. The terms blatta, tinea, silphe, are frequently met with in the works of classical writers, and, while we can not be sure of the particular species they intended to allude to by these terms, we do in many instances know from the context that the creatures known to them had like characteristics with those known to us, and that they were given to literary depredations as are their descendants.

The earliest allusion to a book-destroying worm which has come down to us from classical lore was rescued from oblivion by the lad Salmasius in 1606, when he discovered the manuscripts of the anthology of Cephalas in the library of the Counts Palatine at Heidelberg. Among the fragments in this collection is one attributed to Evenus, the sophist-poet of Paros, who wrote about 450 B.C., in which the "foul destroyer" is thus berated:

 "O worst enemy of the Muses, devourer of the pages of books,

  Foul destroyer that lurkest in a hole, ever feeding on what thou hadst stolen from learning,

  Tell me, black-colored bookworm, why dost thou lie in ambush to injure the sacred decrees while fashioning thy envious image?"

Aristotle, in his History of Animals, mentioned the "little scorpionlike creature found in books"; a characterization which obtains to-day for the little creature which Leunis calls the "Bücherscorpion." Horace addresses his finished book, to which he imputes an unbecoming haste to be displayed on the booksellers' stalls, thus: "When thumbed by the hands of the vulgar, you begin to grow dirty, then you will in silence feed the groveling bookworm." Ovid, in his exile at Tomi, likens the "external remorse of its cares" which his heart feels to the gnawing of the tinea.

Considering the fact that Pliny is said to have comprised in his Natural History all the knowledge of the natural sciences then known, it is a little surprising that he had not more to say regarding book insects. Here and there in his writings, however, he speaks of worms in connection with books and papers in the same casual way as other classical writers, causing you to feel that he was conversant with their destructive tendencies. The epigrammatist Martial in the first century, and Lucian in the second, both use the term bookworm; Martial, in much the same way as did Horace, warning his book of the