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Natural History, Lore and Legend: being some few examples of quaint and by-gone beliefs gathered in from divers authorities, ancient and mediaeval, of varying degrees of reliability
F. Edward Hulme
London: Bernard Quaritch, 1895
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"In the following pages we propose to consider at some little length the state of zoological knowledge in the Middle Ages... While we shall undoubtedly find from time to time strange errors that greater opportunity of observation has in these latter days rectified, and encounter many things that may provoke a smile, we must in the forefront of our remarks very definitely assert that much of the literary work of our ancestors in this branch of study is worthy of high commendation, and that anything approaching scorn or sneer is entirely out of place. Strange, indeed, would it be if the modern man of science ... had not made a marked advance, but we can never look upon the works of the greater writers of the mediaeval period without the utmost respect. ... That they made mistakes goes without saying, but to the full extent of their light the were honest seekers after truth. While the statements of these early writers have been too frequently dismissed as fabulous and unreliable, it is only just to them to recall the fact that some of the details that have come into reproach have after all been found authentic. ... We speedily find, on opening any of the books on natural history that were issued in the Middle Ages, that such ancient writers as Pliny, Aristotle, or Herodotus, and other venerable authorities are held in great reverence... Mediaeval zoology is no more independent of the gatherings of previous centuries than the dogmas of nineteenth century Christianity are independent of the writings of Isaiah. In comparing ancient or mediaeval zoology with modern, we are conscious of a difference of aim and treatment. ... the main bulk of the writings on animals in mediaeval days had ordinarily one of two objects: the healing of the body, or the saving of the soul. Hence the medical writers sought anxiously for 'the vertues' that indicated their value to suffering humanity, and the theologians sought with equal zeal to implant a moral, and if the facts in this latter case did not lend themselves very happily to this treatment so much the worse for the facts." - Hulme

Language: English

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