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Home > Books > An Essay on Archery > Chapter VII: Of Poisoned Arrows
Chapter VII
Of Poisoned Arrows.
Part 3 of 3

There are many more experiments of the fame kind mentioned by Mr. Heriffant, but thefe will clearly fhew the accounts we have often read not to be fabulous. This gentleman obferves alfo, that the animals which have been killed by the means here fpoken of, are not in the leaft unfit for ufe; they may be eaten without any ill confequences. "In effect" fays he, "I have eaten Rabits which I had killed with poifon, and afterwards made feveral other perfons eat them, and not one of us perceived the fmalleft indifpofition."91

I could fcarcely read the account of thefe experiments without great pain, in feeing fuch a number of harmlefs creatures facrificed to ufelefs curiofity; ufelefs, becaufe a few trials would have eftablifhed the fact as firmly as a great number; and as there feemed no material difference in the operation of the poifon in his numerous experiments, it is furprifing how a man could delight in taking away the life of fo many animals. There is one thing, perhaps, that might be urged,—they felt no pain, he fays; but if the defcription of the circumftances which attended thofe who furvived the wound a little time, be true, it is evident they felt extreme pain.92

I perceive, in the courfe of the experiments he makes mention of, the following catalogue:—Six Horfes, one Bear, one Eagle, one Hawk, two Wolves, one Pig, one Lamb, thirteen Rabits, fifteen Dogs, nine Cats; and of Rats, Mice, Polecats and Guinea-pigs, a great number. Thefe were poifoned to afcertain the fact; but had the gentleman poffeffed lefs curiofity, and more compaffion, he might have eftablifhed his fads with equal firmnefs.93

It would be happy if a remedy to the effects of poifon were known, which could be acknowledged effectual; but although every country, and every age, has produced to the world a fpecific in the cafe of poifon, yet ftill there is great uncertainty in many of the prefcribed cures, and in others manifeft fallacy.

Pliny has enumerated feveral vegetable and mineral fubftances which were ufed, in order to counteract the effects of different poifons made ufe of in his day. But as it is impoffible to underftand what he intends, in fome of his defcriptions, and as others are nothing lefs than foolifh charms and noftrums, we muft efteem his information as adding nothing to our knowledge on this part of the fubject. The ancients, as far as I can difcover, were in poffeffion of nothing which can be called an effectual remedy. For though there arc many inftances recorded, of people having made ufe of antidotes, there are an infinity of examples, in which thofe antidotes have proved ufelefs and ineffectual. Indeed, the accounts of thofe who are faid to have been healed by the effects of a counter-poifon, are expreffed in fuch equivocal and inaccurate language, that we are ftill left in ignorance as to the thing in queftion. Generally, the fact, alone is mentioned without any explanation; and fome are content to place confidence in the affertion, without further inquiry. Juftin, for inftance, fays, that Alexander, in befieging a town, had a great number of his foldiers wounded by the poifoned Arrows of the enemy. Among others, Ptolemy was ftruck by one of thefe darts. Alexander was exceedingly concerned for the misfortune which had befallen his friend, and ordered a decoction of herbs to be adminiftered to him. The potion was accordingly given, and had an immediate effect in removing the impending danger. The fame medicine fpeedily relieved the greater part of thofe who had been wounded, has it had done Ptolemy.94

But this fact will enable us to form no conclufion. The arrows by which the wounds were inflicted, might not have all been poifoned; and if thofe perfons who were hurt by the fuppofed poifoned weapons, fhewed any peculiar fymptoms, different from others, wounded by untainted arrows, it might have been occafioned by the imagination, and the dread of having fuffered by poifon. In fact, as we are ignorant of all concomitant circumftances, and as correfponding examples are equally vague; our knowledge on this head muft remain exceedingly uncertain.

But let us now endeavour to find out the opinions of more modern hiftorians and phyficians.

Men expofed to particular dangers, are generally more fkilled in protecting themfelves, than thofe, who are unacquainted with fimilar difficulties; and accordingly travellers report, that the natives of America, and the Eaft, have all of them, cither real or pretended, antidotes for the cure of the attacks of poifon.

The moft efficacious and valuable forts are ufually kept fecret from the vulgar, and from foreigners, and are in the poffeffion of the kings and chiefs. Some of thefe efteemed remedies are however mentioned, a few of which I fhall take notice of.

The inhabitants bordering on the river of the Amazons, in which country Mr. Condamine travelled, ufe fugar or the fuugar cane, and regard it a grand and univerfal fpecific, but this opinion does not correfpond with that, formed from experiments, made in Europe.95

Preparations of Tobacco are found fallible, though they have been eagerly recommended by many favage nations.96 Sea-falt, or fea-water has been efteemed a remedy by fome; and it is reported this was difcovered to be a remedy by a boy who wafhed his wounded hand in the fea, and by that means cured the part.

The facts related of the healing of wounds by the application of human faliva, appear better authenticated, and feem to fhew its beneficial effects in particular inftances.

Some of the experiments on the poifon of Ticunas made by Fontana fhew that the noxious quality was in a fmall degree checked by the operation of the mineral acids, except by the nitrous, which had no good effects. Alkaline falt produced no change, and the only way by which the animal frame was protected, was by cutting the wounded part out inftantaneoufly.97

The practife of fhooting poifoned Arrows decreafes rapidly; and as the ufe of fire-arms has penetrated to the depths of the Afiatic and African continents, Archery may, perhaps, in the fpace of a fhort period, be almoft laid afide among thofe nations who maintain an intercourfe by trade and commerce with Mahometan or Chriftian ftates.

I fhall clofe this chapter with a fhort account of the wonderful effects afcribed to the Dictamnus, an herb, growing principally in the ifland of Crete, and which many authors celebrate for the quality it poffeffed in relieving animals wounded by Arrows.

As early as the days of Ariftotle, it is recorded, that the Cretan Goats, when they perceived themfelves ftruck by an Arrow, went immediately in fearch of this vegetable, and behold! no fooner did they eat of it, but the Arrow, (tho intus et in cute) fell from the wound, and they recovered!

This ftory of the Dictamnus is told by Ariftotle himfelf;98 and Pliny could certainly not overlook a vegetable endowed with fuch powers.99

Cicero has mentioned it;100 as alfo have Virgil,101 and Ælian, in his hiftory.102

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