No. 216. Saturday, August 26, 1710.
From my own apartment, August 25.
NATURE is full of wonders; every atom is a stand∣ing miracle, and endowed with such qualities, as could not be impressed on it by a power and wisdom less than infinite. For this reason, I would not discourage any searches that are made into the most minute and trivial parts of the creation. However, since the world a∣bounds in the noblest fields of speculation, it is, methinks, the mark of a little genius to be wholly conversant a∣mong insects, reptiles, animalcules, and those trifling ra∣rities that furnish out the apartment of a virtuoso.
There are some men whose heads are so odly turned this way, that though they are utter strangers to the com∣mon occurrences of life, they are able to discover the sex of a cockle, or describe the generation of a mite, in all its circumstances. They are so little versed in the world, that they scarce know a horse from an ox; but at the same time will tell you, with a great deal of gravity, that a flea is a rhinoceros, and a snail an hermaphrodite. I have known one of these whimsical philosophers who has set a greater value upon a collection of spiders than he would upon a flock of sheep, and had sold his coat off his back to purchase a tarantula.
I would not have a scholar wholly unacquainted with these secrets and curiosities of nature; but certainly the mind of man, that is capable of so much higher contem∣plations, should not be altogether fixed upon such mean and disproportioned objects. Observations of this kind are apt to alienate us too much from the knowlege of Page 177 the world, and to make us serious upon trifles, by which means they expose philosophy to the ridicule of the witty, and the contempt of the ignorant. In short, studies of this nature should be the diversions, relaxations and a∣musements, not the care, business, and concern of life.
It is indeed wonderful to consider, that there should be a sort of learned men who are wholly employed in ga∣thering together the refuse of nature, if I may call it so, and hoarding up in their chests and cabinets such crea∣tures as others industriously avoid the sight of. One does not know how to mention some of the most precious parts of their treasure, without a kind of an apology for it. I have been shewn a beetle valued at twenty crowns, and a toad at an hundred: but we must take this for a general rule, that whatever appears trivial or obscene in the com∣mon notions of the world, looks grave and philosophical in the eye of a virtuoso.
To shew this humour in its perfection, I shall present my reader with the legacy of a certain virtuoso, who laid out a considerable estate in natural rarities and curiosities, which upon his death-bed he bequeathed to his relations and friends in the following words:
The will of a virtuoso.
I Nicholas Gimcrack being in sound health of mind, but in great weakness of body, do by this my last will and testament bestow my worldly goods and chattels in manner following:
Imprimis, To my dear wife,
- One box of butterflies,
- One drawer of shells,
- A female skeleton,
- A dried cockatrice.
Item To my daughter Elizabeth,
- My receipt for preserving dead caterpillars.
- As also my preparations of winter May-dew, and Embrio pickle.
Page 178Item, To my little daughter Fanny,
- Three crocodile's eggs.
- The nest of an humming-bird.
Item, To my eldest brother, as an acknowlegement for the lands he hath vested in my son Charles, I be∣queath
- My last year's collection of grashoppers.
Item, To his daughter Susanna, being his only child, I bequeath my
- English weeds pasted on royal paper,
- With my large Folio of Indian cabbage.
Item, To my learned and worthy friend Dr. Johannes Elscrickius, professor in anatomy, and my associate in the studies of nature, as an eternal monument of my affection and friendship for him, I bequeath
- My rat's testicles, and
- Whale's pizzle,
- Having fully provided for my nephew Isaac, by mak∣ing over to him some years since
- A horned Scarabaeus
- The skin of a rattle-snake, and
- The mummy of an Egyptian king,
- My eldest son John having spoken disrespectfully of his little sister whom I keep by me in spirits of wine, and in many other instances behaved himself undutifully to∣wards me, I do disinherit, and wholly cut off from any part of this my personal estate, by giving him a single cockle shell.
- To my second son Charles I give and bequeath all my Page 179 flowers, plants, minerals, mosses, shells, pebbles, fossils, beetles, butterflies, caterpillars, grashoppers, and vermin, not above specified: as also all my monsters, both wet and dry, making the said Charles whole and sole executor of this my last will and testament; he paying, or causing to be paid, the aforesaid legacies within the space of six months after my decease. And I do hereby revoke all o∣ther wills whatsoever by me formerly made.
Whereas an ignorant upstart in astrology has publicly endeavoured to persuade the world, that he is the late John Partridge, who died the 28th of March, 1708; These are to certify all whom it may concern, that the true John Part∣ridge was not only dead at that time, but continues so to this present day.