Treasures of the Rare Books and Special Collections Library: Scientific works
TOPSELL, Edward. The History of four-footed beasts and serpents
London : Printed by E. Cotes for G. Sawbridge ...., 1658
Edward Topsell, ?-1638, was one of those clergymen who over the years have provided the backbone of English science. Educated at Christ's College, Cambridge, he was first the rector of East Hoathly and then the perpetual curate of St Botolph's in Aldersgate. His first book was entitled the Reward of Religion.
This, his major work, was first published in London in 1607 and re-printed in 1658. Topsell's History came at a transitional time in science and intimations of what we would now call "proper scientific method" are clearly visible, yet Topsell is also anxious to defer to the authority represented by classical sources. This results in the situation where we have exotic attributes being assigned to well known animals as well as fantastic creatures being represented.
Some examples of this are that weasels give birth through their ears, that lemmings graze in the clouds, and that elephants become pregnant by chewing mandrake etc. In addition Topsell reports that dragons are extremely partial to eating lettuce but avoid apples because they cause stomach upsets. People of Topsell's period accepted these stories because they were circulated by the authorities of the time.
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