Philosophical Transactions. For the months of July, August and September, 1716. - Part III.

By Nicole Renee

Ⅲ. Miscellaneous observations made about Rome, Naples and some other countries, in the year 1683 and 1684; and communicated to the publisher by Tancred Robinson M.D.R.S.S.


You having been pleas'd to think some of my observations might be agreeable to the publick, I shall here freely give you them (such as they are) omitting those that were formerly extracted out of the MSS. Diaries of my Travels, some of which are printed in several Philosophical Transactions, and others in some of Mr. Ray's English Tracts.
In my journey from Rome to Naples I observ'd on the rubbish of the Tre Taberne an unusual vegetable for that place, remote from town or house, which was the Ficus Indica Spinosa commonly call'd the Opuntia or Iuna, and by our writers of America the prickly-pear, whose juice gives the urine a red colour; when I came to Naples, I found it there near the rocks, and in some wild solitary places like a native. If the Spaniards planted it, they chose desert situations. On this plant the cochineel vermiculus is said to feed in great numbers, before it changes into the chrysalis or aurelia of a lady cow; but the colour lies in the nymph worm before it turns into a beetle. This gives me occasion to reflect upon the many species of our European Vermiculi, some of which might be found to yield colours (if try'd); we are certain the maggot of our ilex gives the kermes, and a noble scarlet dye before it turns into a fly. Many shell-fish (which are a sort of insect) contain purple juices.
This brings on another remark I made in passing the Apennies and Alps, where I noted in some beds or strata, and even in the midst of the hardest rocks, great varieties of perfect shells, that never occurr'd to me on the Italian Shores, nor in any of the numerous museums of that country; so I guess they might be exotick.
Going further on the Via Appia, I observ'd abundance of the Siliqua Arbor or Carob Tree, commonly call'd Panis S. Joannis Baptista; on the pulp whereof many poor people were feeding. The husks tasted like Manna to me. Near them grew plenty of the Arbor Juda.
The arbutus, or strawberry tree, was common in the woody places; if this grows wild in the South West parts of Ireland, as some affirm, I shall think them much warmer than any countries of England.
Before I enter'd the beautiful Campania of Naples large woods of cork trees grew on each side of the road, where the inhabitants were decorticating them. I ask'd if the trees did not perish; they answer'd, some did, but the acorns return'd annual supplies. The women and children wore shoes made of the bark.
Coming near Capua I observ'd a species of ash, or Ornus, on the trunk whereof many Saccharin concretions were visible. This prov'd the true Manna, that issues out thro' the incisions made in this tree by the inhabitants of Calabria. Swarms of cicada's were sucking the body and boughs, and perhaps by wounding then made way for fresh Manna. Here I may note, that many insects have not only a proboseis to bore and draw out the juices of plants for aliment, but other proper instruments to convey their eggs into vegetables and animals, where they may find covert and food when they come to hatch, in the gall-tumours, and other excrescences occasion'd by the wounds of the parent insects, that make such variety of cunicali in all parts of plants, and even in the cutaneous parts of living creatures and in dead flesh.
This confirms me, that many gums and exudations find their way out of vegetables thro' the wounds of insects and other apertures. Most voyagers thro' the East Indies affirm, that gum lack is work'd and made by large ants that cover trees. I rather think the insects fuck and terebrate the tree, and so give vent to that peculiar sap that hardens in the sun. This may extend to most basfamiferous, gummiferous, and saccharine plants, especially in hot climates where insects abound, and are more active. In cold climates the saps of many vegetables will boyl into sugars, as that of maple, birch, reeds, &c. Not but that the fluids of plants (like those of animals) will spontaneously break thro' their vessels in a plethory, and make on the superficial parts various eruptions and congestions.
Discoursing of manna I may here take notice there are many adulterations of this drug; all passes for the Calabrian, whereas that of Brianson is from the larix, that of Persia from the Myrica, and these frequently mixt with the juices of sponges, and other purgative ingredients. I must not here deny that dew will sometimes cool mornings shoot, and congeal into a solid, sweet, white substance, which I once observ'd in very hot weather before sun-rise.
Upon viewing the vulcano's about Naples, Vesuvius on the East side, the Solfatara and Monte di Cincre on the West near Puzzuolo and Baja; I observ'd the same face of nature, which I believe runs thro' all the other vulcano's of our globe, viz. heaps of pumice stones and cinders of Marchasites on the sides, with beds of flower of brimstone on the tops. The holes and cavities in those calcin'd minerals seem to be the nidus of the sulphur, which hath been sublim'd by the heat and fire of that vast mass of pyrites, that compose the bowels of those vulcano's and lye scatter'd thro' many parts of the earth, even under the sea, where they sometimes germinate, ferment, and take fire, throwing up the little islands. Earthquakes and other choc's of the globe may spring from the mines of these combustible and explosive minerals, loaden with brimstone and elastic salts. Hence some account may be given of therma or hot baths, whose waters gliding thro' these hot beds take their gas. Of such medicinal boiling waters and stoves, there are more about Naples than in any place I ever saw or heard of, the whole country being continually pervaded by hot streams.
Walking round this city I found palm trees, some with unripe dates hanging down, others without any fruit; and there was another species of palm that sweats out the gum dragon; I suppose the Monks had transplanted them out of Africa. I saw growing here may sugarcanes, rice, maiz, abundance of the purging senna, and cummin seed. Thro' the whole campania of Naples I observ'd the same vegetables to be larger and more proud than in other parts of Italy, as the platanus, the lentiscus, the terabinthus, the pistaches, the oleanders, agnus castus, barba jovis, the tragacanth, the stryax, the capers, &c. The melons, jujubes, the azaroles, and other fruits were of a better taste. The gossypium, with the cotton breaking out of the husks, adorn'd some of the fields the hedges full of pomegranats, almonds, tamarisk, sumach, cedrus lycia (a sort of juniper or savin) abundance of phillyrea, alaternus, cisti, cytisi, myrtles, Spanish broom, bays, laurustines, &c. all wilds, indigenous of that warm soil and kind climate. The watermelons, the olives, the oranges, lemons and citrons were better than about Genoa or in Provence.
The lotus arbor or nettle tree, the paliurus or christ thron, the ricinus or palma christi, common in the hedges, with several thymelea's.
I saw them fishing for coral, and hippocampi; the first did not come soft out of the sea; the hard incrustation covers the vegetable part that bears seed, as the alga's and fuci do. They take the sword-fish by darting a spear into him, as they do the whales in the Greenland fishery.
When dark night came on, I could see multitudes of luminous flies thro' the Campania of Naples; perhaps our male gloworm, or flying cicindela, may abound there; not but that many other insects may carry such lanthorns about them. The scorpions creep out about that time; and I have found them often in bed, with the punaises.
The hedges are full of lizards of various colours; and the cicada's chirp and sing towards evening. I observ'd several species of stinging spiders in the corn fields, some of which, in hot harvests, may prove taratula's; the poysons of animals and plants increasing abundance of silk worms were spinning on the trees and shrubs; the birds prey'd upon them, before they could change into papilo's, as they do upon swarms of locusts.
I eat often young frogs, tortoises and snails, served up with oyl and pepper, which agreed well within me; so did their sea urchins, and the urtica marina, (called sea gelly or blubber, tho' it be an animal, having a true heart, and vessels for the circulation of fluids) some of their thistles are no ungrateful sallet.
I saw some vitriol works about Siena, Rome and Puzzuolo; those of alum only about civita vecchia. Amongst the sands of the Adriatic Sea I observ'd many white, clear, shining flints ;which they told me were carried to Venice, to make the fine chrystal glass at Muran.
Upon reading our ingenious Dr. Musgrave, de Geta Britan. & Synop. Chronolog. Dom. Sever. I consulted my diary taken at Rome. The magnificent Septizonium figur'd by him stood near the foot of the Palatine Hill, on the E.S.E. side, overlooking the Via Appia and the Circus Maximus, the Amphitheatre of Titus being near on the other side. By the number of Portico's (which were seven) it might contain multitudes of people, as spectators of the trumphal entries and the publick games. But I would not be thought to differ from our Learned Countryman, who with good authority, thinks in the sepulchretum of that imperial family; tho's most of the ancient mausoleum's, (at least those I saw) were Rotonda's, or Columbaria's, for the more convenient placing the urns of the kindred; as that of Augustus near the Campus Martius; that of Adrian on the other bank of the Tyber' those said to be of Scipio, of Cicero, and Munatius Plancus, near Galeta and the Via Appia; that of Virgil on the side of Mount Pausilippus; that of C. Metella and some others on the Via Flaminia. Some were pyramidal as that of Cestius in the wall of Rome, and a few others on the public roads. This Septizonium Severi seems to differ from the rest of those ancient Sepulchretum's which might be varied according to the fancy and humor of great families.
This urn burial was only in fashion amongst the gentes majores; as for the dead bodies of the plebeians and slaves, they were generally laid in places where they had dug stone; and those quarries became catacombes. The laws prohibited them to bury within a city, unless the bodies were first reduc'd to ashes.
I observ'd in many of the ruins about Rome and Naples, great stones laid close, and wedged very fast with little or no cement; the bricks towards the middle of a building were generally of a Rhomboiaal figure, very smooth, shining and hard, laid in plaister as firm as marble. Their mortar was much more durable then ours, as appears at this day by their aquaducts and piscina's, the cento camare, and caligula's bridge under water at baja. Pliny says, they made use of the Terra Puteolana, but the present inhabitants have lost the way of tempering it.
During my abode at Genoa, Leghorn, Ostia, and Civita Vecchia, I observ'd many torpedo's or cramp fishes, most accurately anatomized by S. Lorenzini; plenty of sphyrana's, (a species of sea pike, a-kin to the needle-fishes) the uranoscopous, call'd bocca in capa and prete. The mola or sun fish. The dentex or pentalis, altavela's a sort of pastinaca. The pesce balestra or capriscus. The pesce pettine or novacula. The zygana or ballance fish, as large as the saw-fish or most sharks. The scolopax or trombetta, call'd by our seamen the bellows or trumpet-fish. The raco marinus. The tunny-fish. The centrina or pesce porco. The squila. The scorpius major, with varieties of turdi in the markets. But what pleas'd me most, was some odd sea animals, as the lepus marinus, (a species of naked snail) the hystrix marnius, or eruca, call'd by the seamen pincio, with a brush hanging out of the tail, like the byssus or silk of the pinpa. Many tamburo's or drum-fishes; plenty of murana's. I observ'd a strange sea animal, call'd the microcosmo marino, with many shells, tubuli and vegetables growing or sticking to the back of it, this appear'd to me a kin to the enchin's marini, or rather to the stella marina, being triangular, and sometimes pentadaetylous.
I embark't once with the fishermen, who shew'd me several loligo's, polypi, and sepia's, or cuttle-fishes, (all crustaceous) some of them were casting out their ink in the water; I supposed some sharks, dog-fishes, or other enemies, were near them; this black liquor may be the gall of those animals. In the nets, I often found sea insects, and vegetables; and indeed a new world, undescrib'd by natural writers, at least unknown to me; but for want of the art of designing or drawing abundance of things escap'd me, and were utterly lost; therefore I would advise all travellers to be conversant in that most useful science.
I observ'd the Italians near the Alps and Appennines, call'd several birds francolino's, as our red, grey and black game; and even their red and white patridges; the different colours of the hens from the cocks, the many variegations in feathers, the different ages and places, have all given occasion to multiply names and species; the same may happen in fishes, quadrupeds, insects, and all the divisions of zoology; and even in botany and minerology.
The Italians call many of their little fat birds beccastigo's, that feed upon figs, grapes, and other sweet fruits. So the French multiply their ortulans, taken in the vineyards and gardens. Some of the antient writers take notice that the Romans used to feed their geese and other birds with figs, when they intended to swell their livers to a monstrous bigness.
The merops or apiaster is common on their brooks; it flies like our kings-fisher, and preys not only upon insects but fish. There is a very beautiful bird in Italy, that suspends its nest down from the boughs of trees. When I saw it fly by me, I took it for an Indian, from the brightness of its colours; it is as large as our missel bird and thrush an ieterus vlinii?
The great cock of the wood (said to be found in Ireland) is common on the sides of the Italian hills, and brought frequently to the markets. I saw twice or thrice the himantopus, and the phanicopterus or flamingo, (whose tongue was a dainty amongst the Romans, when they grew luxurious). I observ'd some spoon-bills; these three last birds were wading in the rivers and marshes, near the sea. Once I spy'd some pelecans on the Adriatic, near the mouth of the Po. The Avis Diomedea was hung up dry'd in one of the museums at Florence, but they told me it had been taken on some of the isles of the Archipelago.
On the Laguna of Venice, I saw several species of mergi, lari, colymbi, and other water fowls, most of which div'd. I was surpriz'd with the variety of them, having not seen so many on other coasts; perhaps the hard winter had forc'd some unusual birds thither. The monks and fryers told me, they eat some of those sea birds in lent and on fast days, because they liv'd upon fish, and had a piscose taste, as the French pretend their macreuse to have, which is a sort of sea duck, common on the coast of Normandy, and brought to the markets, even at Paris on Maigre days; of which I gave a long history in the Philos. Transact. An 1685. N°. 172.
Buffalo's are common in the kingdom of Naples, and in some parts of Lombardy, where they plough and draw with them. A peculiar cheese is made of their milk (call'd casio di cavallo) rowl'd up like stiff pieces of ribbon. Out of their black shinning horns they make snuff-boxes and combs. The creature is unruly, and therefore they lead them with iron or brass rings down thro' their noses. They make a buff leather of their skins. I once saw some hairy sheep feeding on a common; perhaps they had been brought from Africa.
In passing the high alps, I had a view of the Ibex or Steinbock, whose large horns are recurvated almost as far back as the tail; they are very ponderous for the bulk of the animal, having many knotty rings, that may help them in climbing. They are rarely taken.
The rupicapra or chamois is very common on the sides of the cliffs, whose skins afford the soft leather. The mas alpinus or marmota, is as large as a rabbet, will soon grow tame in houses, tho' brought down from the summits of the highest mountains, where it will grow fat.
I have seen in several towns of Italy fresh strong porcupines, which the inhabitants told me were taken in the hedges and ditches thereabouts, tho' much more rare than our land urchins. In the Grisons Country, and in some cantons of Switzerland, I have often observ'd the rannacuus viridis or small tree-frog, perching on the boughs and leaves.
In the Northern parts of Germany I saw several elk skins, and those of the rhin-deer stuffed, and set up in Museum's, but never alive; tho' the animals are said to be common in Muscovy and Lapland, and sometimes seen in the forests of Prussia.
The skins of Hippopotami (said to be the Behemoth) are in some collections of curiosities in Italy and Holland; so are those of the musk-deer, one of which is in the museum of our Royal Society.
Give me leave here to reflect a little upon the late Aurora Borealis, whose phenomena you have so well describ'd and explain'd in your late Philosophical Transaction, No. 347. I am of your opinion, that those phosphorous or luminous appearances in the firmament, proceed from the various Effluvia perspir'd out of our globe, or passing thro' it; for I have seen those lights over Vesuvius, the Strombulo Islands, and towards Ietna in dark nights, when those vulcano's were not flaming nor burning, their sides and tops being passable to travellers at that time, and all their outward parts quiet. We are certain that Iceland and Greenland abound with vulcano's; so may North East Lapland, North Russia, and Tartar, where vast chains of mountains are said to run. The Jesuits, and other travellers, relate many prodigious eruptions of fires, and earthquakes towards the North of China; but nearer the pole the earth must be clos'd and pent up many months, by the long severe freezings and continual snow and ice, which relaxing towards Spring, may give vent to that vast mass or magazine of perspirable matter, that had been lept so long in hot subterraneous prisons. This may be one reason changes at that season in our climate, when perspiration is upon such an increase; but I will not take up your time any longer, especially upon a subject that you understand so well.

Your most humble Servant,
Tancred Robinson.

A pdf version of the entire text of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London can be found here (this article begins on page 473).

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