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The Past and Present Society

Unnatural Conceptions: The Study of Monsters in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France


and England
Author(s): Katharine Park and Lorraine J. Daston
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Past & Present, No. 92 (Aug., 1981), pp. 20-54
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present Society
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UNNATURAL CONCEPTIONS: THE
STUDY OF MONSTERS IN SIXTEENTH-
AND SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY
FRANCE AND ENGLAND*
IN HIS NOVUM ORGANON, BLUEPRINT FOR THE NEW EXPERIMENTAL
scienceof theseventeenthcentury,FrancisBacon advisedprospec-
tivenaturalphilosophersthat:
a compilation,or particularnaturalhistory,must be made of all monstersand
prodigiousbirthsofnature;ofeverything,in short,whichis new,rare,and unusual
in nature.This should be done witha rigorousselection,so as to be worthyof
credit.I
Odd as Bacon's plan fora collectionof monsterssoundsto modern
ears, it was a projectwhich his contemporaries greetedwithcon-
fidenceand enthusiasm.Monsterswerein greatvogueduringBacon's
time.On 4 November1637,forexample,SirHenryHerbert,Master
oftheRevels,granteda six-month license"to Lazaras, an Italian,to
shewhis brotherBaptista,thatgrowsout of his navell,and carryes
himat his syde".2Lazarus Coloredoand hisparasitictwinJohnBap-
tistaarrivedin Englandat theage oftwentyafterappearanceson the
Continent.Lazarus' exhibitionswerea greatsuccess.In 1639he was
stillin London; he laterappearedat Norwichand, in 1642,in Scot-
land,on whatseemsto have been an extendedtouroftheprovinces.
JohnSpaldingdescribedhis stayin Aberdeen:
He had his portraiture
withthemonsterdrawin,and hungout at his lodging,to the
view of the people. The one seruandhad ane trumpettour who sounditat suche
tymeas thepeople sould cum and sie thismonster,who flockedaboundantlieinto
his lodging.The utherseruandreceavedthemoneyisfrailk personeforhis sight,
sumless summair.And eftertherewes so muchecollectitas culd be gottin,he with
his seruandis,schortlieleftthetoun,and wentsouthuardagane.3
Lazarus and JohnBaptistawere furthercelebratedin a broadside
balladfromthesameperiodcalled"The Two InseparableBrothers",
whichincludeda woodcutportrait(Figure I), and in a pamphleton

* We would like to
thankDr. BertHansen forhis helpfulcommentson an earlier
draftof thispaper.
I Francis
Bacon, Novumorganon (London, 1620, S.T.C. 1162), ii. 29, in TheWorks
ofFrancisBacon, ed. Basil Montagu,17 vols. (London, 1831),xiv,p. 138.
2 The information aboutLazarus and JohnBaptistais collectedin HyderE. Rollins,
introductionto "The Two InseparableBrothers"(London, 1637), in The Pack of
Autolycus, orStrangeand Terrible News ... as Told in BroadsideBallads of theYears
1624-1693,ed. HyderE. Rollins(Cambridge,Mass., 1927; repr.1969), pp. 7-9.
3 JohnSpalding, Memorialls of TrublesinScotlandand inEngland,1624-1645, 2
the
vols. (Aberdeen,1850-I), ii, pp. 125-6. For thepublicationhistoryoftheMemorialls,
see ibid.,i, pp. x-xii.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 21

FIGURE I
LAZARUS AND JOHN BAPTISTA COLOREDO
(I637)

Ilk.
QVArdF

do/ !

IN,~r
AlI-

-m
p

"The Two InseparableBrothers"(London, 1637),repr.in ThePack ofAutolycus,


ed.
HyderE. Rollins(Cambridge,Mass., 1927; repr.1969), p. Io.

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22 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

anotherequally famousmonsteron displayin London: Tannakin


Skinker,the"hog-facedwoman"fromHolland.4
Monstersfiguredin literaturedirectedtowardsmorelearnedau-
diencesin bothFranceand England,as wellas in popularbroadsides.
In fact theyappeared in almosteveryforumof discussionin the
sixteenthand seventeenth centuries.Philosopherslike Bacon incor-
poratedthemintotreatments ofnatureand naturalhistory;civiland
canon lawyersdebated the marriageability of hermaphrodites and
whetherbothheads ofSiamesetwinsdeservedbaptism;hackwriters
retailedwoodcutsand ballads about thelatestpretergeneration; and
generalaudienceseagerlyconsumedproliferating accountsof mon-
strousbirths,bothclassicaland modern,exoticand domestic.
Despite theirubiquity,monstershavereceivedlittleseriousatten-
tion fromhistoriansof the intellectualand culturalclimateof the
period,as a phenomenonat thebesttrivialand at theworsttasteless.5
Yet the subject is of considerableinterest.The studyof the six-
teenth-and seventeenth-century onmonsters
literature - aberrations
-
in the naturalorder sheds new lighton earlierconceptionsof
nature,as well as on the Baconian scientific programmeand its in-
carnationin theworkof Frenchand Englishacademies.It also pro-
vides a fascinating case-studyin levelsof culture,and in particular
on thechangingrelationship betweenpopularand learnedculturein
thisperiod.
Popularand learnedinterestin monstersdid not,of course,orig-
inate withthe earlymodernperiod. There was a long traditionof
writingon the subject,bothin classicaland Christianantiquityand
duringthe middle ages. (As indicatedlaterin both textand refer-
ences, these earlier treatmentswere often importantsources of
sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ideas.) It is possibleto identify
threemain componentsof the earliertradition.6The firstwas the
bodyofscientific writingon monsterswhichappearsmostcharacter-
isticallyin thebiologicalworkofAristotleand hisclassicaland medi-
4 "The Two InseparableBrothers",repr.in ThePack ofAutolycus, ed. Rollins,pp.
Io-II; "A CertaineRelationof the Hog-Faced Gentlewoman. ." (London,Curious 1640),
repr.in EdmundWilliamAshbee,OccasionalFac-simileReprints ofRare and
Tractsofthei6thand 17thcenturies, 2 vols. (London, 1868-72),no. 16.
s In general,the secondaryliteratureon monstersin thisperiodleavesmuchto be
desired,bothin quantityand in quality.The indispensablesourcesareJeanC6ard,La
natureetlesprodiges(Geneva, 1977), and RudolfWittkower,"Marvelsof theEast: A
Studyin the Historyof Monsters",Ji. Warburg Inst., v (1942), pp. 159-97.Ernest
Martin,Histoiredesmonstres depuisl'antiquitijusqu'd nosjours(Paris, 1880), and C. J.
S. Thompson,TheMystery and LoreofMonsters (London, 1930), provideinteresting
leads,althoughneitheris notableforhistoricalsophistication or comprehensive listing
ofsources.C6ard'sstudyis remarkableforitseruditionand commandofthetexts;his
main interestis in the philosophicalcontent of the literature of monsters in
sixteenth-century France,ratherthanin itsculturaland social context.
6 On the firsttwo components,see C6ard, op. cit., chs. 1-2. On the third,see
Wittkower,op. cit.,pp. 159-82.Martin,op. cit.,also deals brieflywitha subsidiary
theme,thatof thelegal statusofmonstersand infanticide in antiquity;see pp. 1-9.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 23
eval followers,notablyAlbertusMagnus.7The seconddealtspecifi-
cally with monstrousbirthsas portentsor divine signs; the most
influential pagan contributorto thistraditionwas Cicero,although
laterChristianwritersreliedoverwhelmingly on the interpretations
of Augustineand thosehe influenced,like Isidoreof Seville.8The
thirdstrainof classicaland medievalthoughton monsters,finally,
was cosmographicaland anthropological, and concernedthe mon-
strousracesofmenwidelybelievedtoinhabitpartsofAsiaandAfrica;
thisstrainwas transmitted by classicalauthoritieslike Solinusto a
wide varietyof medievalwriters,as well as artistsand sculptors.All
threetraditionsappear in the discussionof monstersafter1500, al-
though,as we will argue,thesubjectwas investedwithnew content
and newurgencyas a resultofcontemporary religiousandintellectual
developments.
The treatment of monstersand attitudestowardsthemevolveno-
ticeablyduringthe sixteenthand seventeenth centuries.Character-
istically,monstersappear mostfrequently in thecontextof a whole
group of relatednaturalphenomena:earthquakes,floods,volcanic
eruptions,celestialapparitions,and rainsofblood, stonesand other
miscellanea.The interpretation of thiscanon of phenomenaunder-
wenta seriesof metamorphoses in theyearsafter1500. In themost
popularliteraturesuch eventswereoriginallytreatedas divinepro-
digies,and popularinterestin themwas sparkedand fuelledby the
religiousconflictsoftheReformation. As theperiodprogressed,they
appeared more and more as naturalwonders- signs of nature's
fertilityratherthanGod's wrath.Bacon, strongly influenced by this
attitude,adoptedthestudyofmonstersas one ofthreecoequal parts
in his refurbished schemefornaturalhistory- a schemewhichin-
the
spired early effortsoftheRoyalSociety.By theend oftheseven-
teenthcentury,monstershad lost theirautonomyas a subject of
scientificstudy,dissolvingtheirlinkswithearthquakesand thelike,
and had been integratedintothemedicaldisciplinesof comparative
anatomyand embryology.
Of course the varioustypesof literaturecannotbe rigidlydiffer-
entiated,and thevariousattitudestowardsmonsters formmuchmore
ofa continuumthanallowedby thisschema.Nonetheless,theprin-
cipal lineofdevelopment,frommonstersas prodigiesto monstersas
examplesof medicalpathology,is clear. This developmentis inter-
estingbothin itsownrightand forthelightitshedson theenormous
culturaland social changessweepingEurope in the two centuries
afterthebeginningof theReformation and theinventionand spread

7 See n. below.
8 See n. 6I
13 below.

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24 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

ofprinting.9 Severalhistorians,
amongthemNatalieDavis and Peter
Burke, have discussedwhat theysee as the "withdrawal"of high
frompopularculture(the"great"fromthe"little"tradition). 10This
phenomenonappearsgeneralin westEuropeancultureoftheseven-
teenthand eighteenth centuries.In thecrudestterms,thesharpening
of social boundariesbetweencitydwellersand peasants,the urban
literateeliteand unlettereddaylabourers,seemstohavebeenaccom-
a
paniedby parallel culturaldevelopment.Wherebeforepeasantand
professional had participatedtoa significant
extentin a sharedculture
of intellectualand religiousinterests,moral and politicalassump-
tions,bytheend oftheearlymodernperiodthecommongroundhad
dwindledenormously,as literatecultureevolvedfarmore rapidly
thanthetraditional cultureoftheless-educatedclasses.
Naturallythis hypothesiscan only be substantiatedby detailed
case-studies,and our researchon changingattitudestowardmon-
strousbirthsin sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Franceand Eng-
land seems to confirmit. In theearlyyearsof the Reformation, the
tendencyto treatmonstersas prodigies- frightening signsofGod's
wrathdependentultimately or solelyon his will- was almostuni-
versal.By theend of theseventeenth centuryonlythemostpopular
formsofliterature - ballads,broadsidesand theoccasionalreligious
pamphlet- treatedmonstersin thisway."1For theeducatedlayman,
fullofBaconianenthusiasm, and evenmorefortheprofessional scien-
tist of 1700, the religiousassociationsof monsterswere merely
anothermanifestation of popularignoranceand superstition, foster-
ing uncriticalwonderratherthanthe soberinvestigation of natural
causes.
The meaningof"naturalcauses" changessignificantly duringthis
period,and attitudestowardsmonstersprovidea particularly sensi-
tive barometerto subtle alterationsin philosophicaland scientific
outlook.Bacon segregatednaturaland supernatural causes, but his
viewofthenaturalderivedfroma literature whichpersonified nature
as an ingeniouscraftsmanand monstersas her most artfulworks.

9 The culturaldevelopmentwe treatand thetextswe havetakenas oursourcesmust


be seen withinthe contextof the spreadof printing,theincreasein thevolumeof all
varietiesof printedmatter,and the riseof literacy- all subjectsof recenthistorical
studybut beyondthe scope of thispaper. See, forexample,ElizabethL. Eisenstein,
The Printing Pressas an AgentofChange,2 vols. (Cambridge,1979); the thirdpart,
"The Book of Nature Transformed",is particularly relevant,althoughEisenstein's
mainconcernis withhighcultureand thegenerative factorsin thescientific
revolution.
10 PeterBurke,PopularCulturein EarlyModernEurope(London, 1978), pp. 270-
9; NatalieZemon Davis, "ProverbialWisdomand PopularErrors",in herSocietyand
Culturein EarlyModemFrance(Stanford,1975), esp. pp. 240-I, 265.
1' Burke,op. cit.,pp. 65-77,and Davis, "Printingand thePeople", in herSociety
and Culture,pp. 191-2, have bothemphasizedthedangersofusingwritten sourcesfor
popularculture.It shouldbe clearat everypointthatwe makeno claimsto deal with
theoralormaterialcultureofthecountryside, and thatourconcernis withthedifferent
levels- frompopularto 6lite- withinthesubsetof urbanwrittenculture.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 25
Bacon's tripartiteschemeof naturalhistorycorrespondedto theac-
tivitiesofnatureratherthanto typesofsubjectmatteror methodsof
investigation.The naturalhistoryof monstersand othermarvels
playeda crucialrolein theBaconianprogramme:monstersprovided
boththekeyto understanding moreregularphenomenaand thein-
spiration forhuman invention.As prodigies,monstershad straddled
theboundariesbetweenthenaturaland thesupernatural;as natural
history,theybridgedthenaturaland theartificial.
Despite theenergeticeffortsofthedeclaredBaconiansoftheearly
RoyalSocietyto realizethisprogramme, thestudyofmarvels- and
theemphasison nature'sirregularities- provedfruitlessin thefields
of bothinventionand naturalhistory.By 1700,professional science
had integrated thestudyofmonstersintobroadertheories;abandon-
ing the Baconian plan fora distincthistoryof the "new, rare,and
unusual in nature",theypegged theirmetaphysicsas well as their
methodology on nature'suniformityand order.

MONSTERS AS PRODIGIES
For sixteenth-century Christiansa prodigywas a disturbingand
unusual event,one apparentlycontraryto natureand therefore at-
directlyto God. It servedtowarnofdivinedispleasureand
tributable
futuremisfortune - war,thedeathoffamousmen,theriseand fall
of empiresand religions.The biblicaltextmostoftenquoted when
prodigiouseventswereafootwas thepassagein 2 Esdras wherethe
angel Uriel predictsthedownfallof Babylonand theend of Israel's
misfortunes. Many signsare to heraldthistime:
thesunneshal suddenlyshineagainein thenight,and themoonethretimesa day.
Blood shaldropout ofthewood, and thestoneshalgivehisvoyce... Thereshalbe
a confusionin manyplaces,and thefyreshaloftbreakeforthe,
and thewildebeastes
shal changetheirplaces, and menstruouswomenshal bearemonstres.. .12
Two aspectsof thisprophecydeserveattention.First,prodigies
comein groups.Christianwritersdrewon therichclassicaltradition
of divinationas well as on Judaicthoughtforwhatcame to be the
canon of prodigiousevents:cometsand othercelestialapparitions,
floods,earthquakes,rainsofbloodorstones,and ofcoursemonstrous
births.(Monstrum, accordingto Augustine,is synonymous withpro-
digium, sinceit shows[monstrat]God's will.)13Second,prodigieshave
apocalypticassociations.They presageworldreformation, theover-
throwof thewicked,and thevindicationofGod's elect.
Giventheseassociations,it is not surprising thattheReformation
openedthefloodgates fora delugeofprodigyliterature, rangingfrom
simplevernacularbroadsidestoeruditeLatintreatises, inwhichmon-
12 2 Esdrasv. 4-8 (GenevaVersion).
13
Augustine,De civitateDei, xxi. 8. Isidoreof SevilledevelopedAugustine'sideas
in his Etymologiae,xi. 3, a chapterofgreatinfluence.

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26 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

strousbirthsoccupiedprideofplace. Monstershad figuredin certain


typesofmedievalwriting, butina subordinate position- as elements
in theLatin tradition ofchronicles,geographies,bestiaries,and com-
mentarieson Aristotle'sDe generatione - notas subjectsof studyin
theirown right.14It seems to have been Lutherand Melanchthon
whoassuredthesuccessofmonstersas a toolofreligiouspolemicand
a focusof generalinterestwiththeirshortpamphlet,Deuttungder
czwogrewlichen Figuren,BapsteselsczuRomundMunchkalbs zu Freij-
bergijnnMeijsszenfunden,publishedin 1523.15 As Lutherindicated
in a letterof the same year,he was fullyconsciousof breakingwith
themedievalchronicletraditionin whichmonstersand otherprodi-
giesforetoldgeneralmisfortune and widespreadpoliticalupheaval.16
The pamphletwas in facta pointedattackon the church.It began
withtwowoodcuts,one of the"monk-calf",an actualcalfbornsev-
eralmonthsearlierin Freiburgwithwhatlookedlikea cowlaround
its neck (Figure2), and theother,by Cranach,of the"pope-ass", a
compositeand clearlyfictitious monsterreputedlyfishedout of the
Tiber in 1496 (Figure3). The pope-ass,in Melanchthon'sinterpret-
ation,represented the"RomishAntichrist", itsvariousbestialparts
corresponding accuratelyto thebestialvicesand errorsofhischurch.
The monk-calf,accordingto Luther,symbolizedthe typicalmonk
- spiritualin externals,but withinbrutal,idolatrous,and resistant
to thelightof Scripture.Both monsterswereprodigiesprophesying
theimminentruinoftheRomanchurch.
The pamphletwas of greatinfluence.Frequentlyreprinted in the
sixteenthand seventeenthcenturies,and translatedinto French,
Dutch and English,it establishedmonstersand prodigiouslinesof
argumentfirmlyin the centreof bothCatholicand Protestantreli-
gious polemic."7 In thiscase, as in others,Lutheras publicistfunc-
tionedas a mediatorbetweenmorepopularandlearnedculture,cloth-
inghis theologicaland ecclesiologicalconcernsin formsand language
14 As an
indication,of the manythousandsof titlesin Lynn Thorndikeand Pearl
Kibre,A CatalogueofIncipitsofMediaevalScientific WritingsinLatin,2ndedn. (Cam-
bridge,Mass., 1963), onlytwobeforethelatefifteenth centurymentionmonsters.For
medievalreferences to monstersin othercontexts,see C6ard,op. cit.,pp. 31-79,and
Wittkower, op. cit.,pp. 176-82.
is Editedin MartinLuther,Werke,58 vols. (Weimar,1883-1948),xi, pp. 370-85.
16 Lutherto Wenzeslaus Link, 16 Jan. 1523, in Luther,Werke:Briefwechsel, 14
vols. (Weimar,1930-70),iii, p. I7: "Insteadofthegeneralinterpretation ofmonsters
as signifying politicalchangethroughwar, . . . I inclinetowardsa particularinter-
pretationwhich pertainsto the monks". For an exampleof the traditionaluse of
monstersas portentsof generalor politicaldisaster,see HartmannSchedel, Liber
chronicarum (Nuremberg,1493), fos. I5I', 182v, 217r.The traditionseems to have
enjoyeda surgeof popularityin Germanyin the yearsaround1500: see Eugen Hol-
hinder,Wunder,Wundergeburt undWundergestalt (Stuttgart,1921); Hans Fehr,Mas-
senkunst im16. Jahrhundert (Berlin,1924), p. 21.
17 As in, forexample,the twoanonymouspamphlets, Le grantmiracledungenfant
nepar la voulente deDieu (n.p., [1529]), repr.in Bulletindu bibliophile,
[lv] (I890o),pp.
201-8, and Les signes,prodiges,monstres et constellations
celestesapparuesnouvellement
([Paris?], 1531). See Fehr,op. cit.,pp. 68-9.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 27
FIGURE 2
THE MONK-CALF (1523)

a Auttchbka
b u(frcberg
~-~-~Z~-----~--I
x"-I
I~"~ i?-t,

..r`YUjyr "t* )C
/ ----- ??--;---??

rr.,_
---??-?r..
~_
\Iil /r KZ~ --------~:
--------- - ------Y~.,
ri~*ll~-~YI ?--?-"`~^'~~UU"~~I""?~
: .p-.l.l-"-?"u~---?l-~L-_.
I_.._

i~
--?-------~

~1PI i fUU-~IU"I-
Clsrrorrrq
c-*----?? -----
re
~-I?--???? ? - -??-------?-

i,'

I;-r*2;5
t?=~;l~?
~YIYI~LLl~fn~;f .5

PI
ii.

~~
"4~x1m

-----?---- ir,?
--?---- 1 :""-~-
'~p:
ib,
G(
z
rre Y

-?--C

---??--?-

:~-c~-?
ll~i'2.
?,~.-?- ~:r-~EF---":-??;r;;z;l~=dx"L?""
-???--,
a"
r j ~f ~-~rc- -~
I J~

;J~:" SL~?'*
rr"a
,--
r?-v-r-;-- ~a" ~"I

MartinLutherand Philip Melanchthon,Deuttungderczwogrewlichen Figuren(Wit-


tenberg,1523), repr.in Luther,Werke,58 vols. (Weimar,1883-1948),xi, p. 371.

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28 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

of popular originand accessibleto the widestpossibleaudience.is


Justas theReformation as a religiousand politicalmovementengaged
everylevelof society,frompeasantsto princes,so afterLutherpro-
digiesin generaland monstersin particularappearedas signalele-
mentsin the sharedcultureof earlymodernFrance and England.
Bridgingthe littleand the greattradition,theywerereceivedwith
highexcitement by learnedand barelyliteratealike- indeedby the
entireaudiencewhichhad halfcreatedand halfbeen createdby the
spread of printing.19They figuredin broadsides- the cheapest,
mostwidelydisseminatedof literarygenres- and in philological
treatisesproducedin thecontextof Latin humanism,thatmostelite
ofcultures.
The appeal of monsters,however,was firstand foremost popular,
and theirspiritualhome duringthe Reformationperiod was the
broadside ballad. Before the firstnewspapers,ballads and prose
broadsidesweretheprincipalwaysnewswas disseminatedin print;
composedby professionalwritersand printedin haste, theywere
criedon the streetsby vendorshawkingthemfora penny.A sub-
stantialportionof thebroadsidesof sixteenth- and seventeenth-cen-
turyFranceand Englanddealtwithrecentprodigiouseventsterres-
trialand celestial,usuallyillustrated (Figure4). Withinthisgroupby
farthe mostpopularsubjectwas monsters.20Most monsterbroad-
sidesbeganwitha provocativetitle,a schematicwoodcutofthechild
or animalinvolved,and a briefdescription ofthecircumstances ofits
birth,whilethebulk of thesheetwas givenoverto an interpretative
section,in poetryor prose,clarifying God's messagein theparticular
instance.21
Althoughbroadsidescannotbe takenas directsourcesforpopular
culture,theybringus closerthananyothertextsto thepopularau-
dience of the Reformation period. Displayed and recitedpublicly,
and characteristicallyillustrated, theyappealedthroughspokenword
18 On thisaspectof Luther'sthought, see MauriceGravier,Lutheretl'opinionpub-
lique(Paris, [1942]), pp. 32-3; ErichKlingner,Lutherundderdeutsche Volksaberglaube
(Berlin,1912), pp. I-I8, 92-Ioo.
19The problemof readershipis a complicatedone. At themomentthemostcon-
vincingevidenceforwho read whatcomesfromextantlibraryinventories. Two pre-
liminarystudiesof the questionare Henri-JeanMartin,"Ce qu'on lisait? Paris au
XVIe si&cle",Bibliothequed'humanisme xxi (1959), pp. 222-30, and,
et renaissance,
especially,NatalieDavis, "PrintingandthePeople", pp. 189-226.Botharticlesinclude
references to a largenumberofeditedinventories.
20 For a partiallist of referencesto monsterbroadsides,see Jean-Pierre S6guin,
L'information en Franceavantle pe'riodique(Paris,1964), pp. 121-3, and plates23-30;
MatthiasA. Shaaber, Some Forerunners of theNewspaperin England(Philadelphia,
1929), pp. 151-6; Hyder E. Rollins, "An AnalyticalIndex to the Ballad-Entries
(1557-1709) in the Registerof the Companyof Stationersof London", Studiesin
Philology,xxi(1924), pp. 305-6.In HarvardCollege'sWidenerLibraryalonewe have
foundeditionsofat leastthirtyFrenchand Englishephemeradealingwithmonsters.
21 A typicalexampleis "Nature's Wonder?" (London, 1664), repr.in The Euing
CollectionofEnglishBroadsideBallads of theUniversity of Glasgow(Glasgow,1971),
pp. 386-7.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 29

FIGURE 3
THE POPE-ASS (1523)

5u7Rotom
zDer Thaptcld

*<2
a
oo"
~1~'ooolooo
ON%,~
?10

- C

MartinLutherand Philip Melanchthon,Deuttungderczwogrewlichen Figuren(Wit-


tenberg,1523), repr.in Luther,Werke,xi, p. 373.

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30 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

and image to the illiterateas well as to the readingpublic,to John


Earle's "Countrywench" as well as to SamuelPepys,Fellow of the
Royal Society.22But theyalso servedas sourcesformore erudite
treatments of prodigies.The 155os saw a spateof humanistinterest
in divinationas an elementof Romancultureand religion,and pro-
duced a numberof Latin treatisesdealingwiththesame. Giventhe
Reformation associationsofprodigiesand monsters,itis notsurpris-
ingthatGermanand Swissscholarsweremostactivein thisarea; one
of the earliestand mostimpressiveworkswas publishedin Witten-
burgbyKasparPeucer,Melanchthon'sson-in-law.His Commentarius
de praecipuisdivinationum generibus (1553) was followedby thePro-
digiorum ac ostentorum chronicon
(1557) of Konrad Lycosthenes,who
had also editeda treatiseon prodigiesby the fourth-century Latin
authorJuliusObsequens.23
The traffic in prodigiesbetweenthe littleand thegreattraditions
wentin both directions.On the one hand, some of Lycosthenes's
examplesofmodernmonstrousbirthsweredrawndirectlyfromcon-
temporary ephemeralliterature.On theother,workslikehis Chron-
iconwere rapidlyassimilatedback intothe morepopulartradition.
Theyweretranslated intothevernacularand shamelessly plagiarized,
forbothwoodcutsand text,by theauthorsofa newand enormously
successfulgenre: the prodigybook.24 These books purportedly
soughtto educatetheirreaderswithstoriesfromapprovedclassical
and contemporary authors,but theirmainpurpose,like thatof the
broadsidesand ballads,was to combinean improvingreligiousmes-
sage witha pleasurablefrisson.
The mostpopularexamplesof thisgenreweretheHistoires prodi-
gieuses,a seriesof six volumesby varioushandspublishedbetween
156o and 1598.25 The firstvolume- the eponymousHistoires pro-
22 John
Earle,Micro-Cosmographie (London, 1628, S.T.C. 7441), sig. e Ior-":"[The
ballad-writer's] frequent'stWorkesgoe out in singlesheets,and are chantedfrom
marketto market,to a vile tune,and a worsethroat:whilstthepooreCountrywench
meltslikeherbutterto hearethem.And thesearetheStoriesofsomemenofTiburne,
or a strangeMonsterout of Germany".Pepys collectedbroadsidesand is one of our
main sources for this literaturein England; see The PepysBallads, ed. Hyder E.
Rollins,8 vols. (Cambridge,Mass., 1929-32).Monsterbroadsidesalso figure in French
diaries;see, forexample,Le journald'unbourgeois deParis, ed. V.-L. Bourrilly(Paris,
1910), pp. 81-2; Pierrede l'Estoile,Mimoires-journaux, ed. G. Brunetetal., 12 vols.
(Paris, 1875-96),ix, pp. 193-5-
23 Kaspar Peucer, Commentarius de praecipuisdivinationum generibus (Wittenburg,
1553); Konrad Lycosthenes[Wolffhart], Prodigiorum ac ostentorumchronicon (Basle,
1557); JuliusObsequens,Prodigiorum liber,ed. Lycosthenes(Basle, 1552).C6ardana-
lysesthisliterature in La natureetlesprodiges, ch. 7.
24 The Chronicon, forexample,was used as the basis fora Germantranslation by
Lycosthenes,Wunderwerck, oderGottesunergriindtliches Vorbilden(Basle, 1557),and an
EnglishadaptationbyStephenBateman,TheDoome,Warning allMen totheJudgemente
(London, 158I1,S.T.C. 1582). Two ofthemorefamousworkswhichplagiarizedfigures
or sectionsof the textof the Chronicon wereBoaistuau'sHistoires prodigieuses(see n.
26 below) and Par6's Des monstres etprodiges (see n. 42 below).
25 Histoiresprodigieuses,6 vols. (Lyon and Paris, 1598). On the authorsand first
publicationdates of the individualvolumes, see Rudolf Schenda, Die franzosische
(cont. on p. 32)

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FIGURE 4
CELESTIAL
APPARITION
(1638)

?aO~S~L~ .-~s~-,--?s
-~?----?r --

c~F3E55~

~r ~4~7C3~--
~5e3i~ ssr-
r a

~Fcr~e~ `
~~
.~f
Cr~?_rr~lZIIZI1*
jF ,,
I r' r'
-~r
?~I. k IrcrC1 ~) 6
1,
CC
r3 " ~
-r---*: E" E
~h IL)
~ ~Al
~ )CT~--- ?Ls~
~zL-C clxr -~r-?
J,
\?iT ~EV
~ /~i\ 1I1~
cc
1..-~ ur~?,~

~ir
rrr~r \Cr rC~
~-~cr rrr =cr~s
~S" .r

"A LamentableList ofCertaineHidious, Frightfull,


and ProdigiousSig
1638), repr.in ThePack ofAutolycus,ed. Rollins,p. 22.

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32 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

digieuses(156o) - was theworkoftheFrenchtranslator andcompiler


Pierre Boaistuau, and it went throughat least thirtyeditionsin
French, Dutch and English.26Boaistuau concentratedheavilyon
monsters,whichhe liftedfromPeucer and Lycosthenes,as well as
fromtheSwisssurgeonJakobRueffand thenaturalists KonradGes-
nerand PierreBelon.27Like Lutherand Melanchthon, he juxtaposed
recentand easily documentedmonstrousbirths- a two-headed
womanseeninBavariain 1541,an Englishsetofthree-legged Siamese
twinsfrom1552, a calfwithoutforelegsreportedin I556 - with
fantasticbeingslike thecelebratedmonsterofCracow,coveredwith
theheadsofbarkingdogs,whodied afterfourhourssaying,"Watch,
the Lord cometh". Despite individualdifferences in perspective,
Boaistuau's successorsmaintainedthe same ghoulishtoneand reli-
giousdidacticismin thelatervolumesof theHistoiresprodigieuses.
The extentto whichall of theseformsofmonsterliterature, from
thehumblestbroadsideto themosteruditeLatin treatise,sharein a
commoncultureis obvious not onlyfromthe numbingfrequency
withwhichthesameexamplesrecurin each genre,butalso fromthe
fundamentalsimilarityof interpretation. The authorof the ballad
"Nature'sWonder?",Lycosthenes,andBoaistuauboasta singlepur-
pose: to "discovre the secretjudgmentand scourgeof the ire of
God".28Therewas somevariationwithinthispattern.Somewriters,
like Lutherand Melanchthon,used monstersto arguea particular
positionin theReformation debate;in theirhandsmonstersbecame
polemicalweaponsagainstCalvinismduringtheFrenchwarsof re-
ligion,29againstRomein latesixteenth-centuryEngland,30oragainst
the
separatismduring English CivilWar,31and thefamiliar
woodcuts
appearedin alteredformto servethe purposeat hand. (A French
CatholicversionofMelanchthon'smonster,forexample,wouldhave
all visual and verbalreferencesto the papacy removed;Figure 5.)
Otherwriters,perhapsthemajority,proclaimedthebirthsas God's
(n.25cont.)
in derzweitenHalftedes M6.Jahrhunderts
Prodigienliteratur (MtinchnerRomanistische
Arbeiten,xvi, Munich, 1961), pp. 62-81; and, fora differentattributionof thesixth
volume,Ceard, op. cit.,pp. 462-3 n.
26PierreBoaistuau,Histoires . . . extraictes
prodigieuses fameuxautheurs
de plusieurs
(Paris, 1560). Schenda discussesthe variouseditionsand translations, op. cit., pp.
34-5.
27 JakobRueff,De conceptuetgeneratione
hominis (Zurich,1554),esp. v. 3-5; Konrad
Gesner,Historiaanimalium,3 vols. (Zurich, 1551-8),esp. i, p. 978, and iii, pp. 519-
despoissons(Paris, 1555),PP- 32-3.
22; PierreBelon,La natureetdiversiti
28 The quotationis fromthe prefaceof Edward Fenton's Englishtranslation of
Boaistuau,CertaineSecreteWonders ofNature(London, 1569,S.T.C. 10787); see nn.
16, 18.
29 For example,ArnauldSorbin,Tractatus de monstris(Paris, 1570), translatedby
Franqoisde Belleforest volumeofHistoires
as thefifth prodigieuses,5 vols. (Paris,1582).
30 For example,Bateman,op. cit.; thistranslationof Lycosthenes,Prodigiorum ac
ostentorum was adaptedfora Protestantaudience.
chronicon,
31 For example,Thomas Edwards,Gangraena,3rd edn., 3 vols. (London, 1646),

Hi,PP. 4-5.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 33

FIGURE 5
THE POPE-ASS, CATHOLIC VERSION (1567)

_-- ..
i_i? ....

~~~ ~ ~ :-- ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~I ~~I


I ,?-
2- -.L5------ "-- 1
---
-.-- -.'',ii . _ ., .. .,.
c -
'
" -- . .. - .. ... .- '

~ji i

PierreBoaistuau,Histoires . . . augmentees
prodigieuses outrelesprecedentes
impressions,
de douzehistoires
(Paris, 1567), p. I85.
oftheHoughton
By permission Library,HarvardUniversity.

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34 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

generalwarning toall sinners.32


Therewasa widespread conviction
thatmonstrous birthswerefarmorecommonthanin earliertimes,
a signofthelastdays.According toan Englishballadof1562:
The Scripturesayth,beforetheende
Ofallthingesshallappeare,
Godwillwounders straunge send,
thinges
As someis senethisyeare.
The selyeinfantes,
voydeofshape,
The caluesandpygges so straunge,
Withothermoofsuchemishape,
Declareththisworldeschaunge.33
Fewoftheprodigy writersinquireddeeplyintotheprecise relation-
shipofmonstrous birthstothenatural order,orquestioned theway
in whichtheywereproduced.Thosethatdid fetched up againsta
difficultquestion:how does one tellwhichmonsters arisein the
courseofnatureandwhichareexpressly produced as signsbyGod?
In otherwords,whichmonsters areunnatural onlybecauserare,and
whicharetruly supernatural andofdivineorigin? Virtuallyallofthe
writerson prodigies adoptedthesolutionproposedby Augustine:
natureis thewillofGod.34Augustine andhissixteenth-century fol-
lowersallowednaturelittleautonomy as a causalforce.Allenquiry
intotheproximate physicalcausesofmonstrous births
iswastedtime.
Godshapesandaltersthenatural orderinaccordance withhisplea-
sure,so thatnaturebecomesa cipher, a mirror ofhiswill.
Despitetheaustereinterpretations, it is clearthattheuniversal
interest
in monsters didnotspringsolelyfroma concern fordivine
signs.Evenin themiddleofthesixteenth century, monstrous chil-
drenandanimalswerebrought totownforpublicdisplay.35 ByI6oo
monsters werea prominent attraction
atBartholomew FairinLondon
andcontinued as suchintotheeighteenth century; duringtherestof
theyeartheycouldcommonly be seenin pubsor coffee-houses for
a smallfee.36
Broadsides, themostpopularandconservative form of
32 theanonymous
Forexample, "The TrueReporte
broadside, oftheFormeand
Shapeofa Monstrous
Childe"(London,1562), repr.inA Collection
ofSeventy-Nine
Ballads andBroadsides,ed. JosephLilly(London, 1867),pp. 27-30.Some
Black-Letter
broadsides
chargedthesintotheparents
ofthechild,as in"TheFormeandShapeof
a Monstrous
Child"(London,1568),repr.inibid.,pp. 194-5.Otherstreated
thesin
and deniedtheparents'specialresponsibility;
as universal see,forexample,"The
ofTwoMonsterous
TrueDiscription Chyldren" (London,1565),repr.inBalladsand
Broadsides oftheElizabethan
Chiefly Period,ed. Herbert L. Collmann(NewYork,
1912), pp. 186-7.
33 "A Discriptionofa MonstrousChylde"(London, 1562), repr.in A Collection of
Seventy-Nine Black-LetterBallads and Broadsides,ed. Lilly,pp. 202-3.
34 Augustine, De civitateDei, xxi. 8, and De Trinitate,
iii. 2.
35 W. Elderton,"The True Fourmeand Shape of a Monsterous Chyld"(London,
1565, S.T.C. 7565), repr.in Ballads and BroadsidesChiefly oftheElizabethanPeriod,
ed. Collmann,p. 113: "thisChildewas broughtup to London,wheareit was seeneof
dyversworshipfull men and womenof theCytie.And also oftheCountrey".
36 HenryMorley,Memoirsof Bartholomew Fair (London, 1859), p. 315; Morley
reprintsa numberof monsterhandbillsfromthe late seventeenthand eighteenth
centurieson pp. 317-32. See also RichardAltick,TheShowsofLondon(Cambridge,
Mass., 1978), ch. 3.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 35

literature,continuedto emphasizethe spiritualand apocalypticim-


plicationsof prodigies,but as the tensionsof the Reformation
lessened,monstersbegan to lose theirreligiousresonance.This de-
velopmentwas not always welcomed. For example, in a sermon
preachedat Plymouthin 1635, on the occasionof thelocal birthof
Siamesetwins,theministercastigatedthepracticeofshowingmons-
tersformoney.He arguedthatit was unlawfulto "delight"in the
undesirable,and he lamentedthelack ofpopularinterestin thepor-
tentousmeaningof monsters:"The commonsortmake no further
use of prodigiesand strange-births, thanas a matterof wonderand
table-talk".37
From fearto delight,prodigyto wonder,sermonto table-talk-
thetransitioncan be tracedin thechangingadjectivesusedtodescribe
monstersin the titlesof Frenchand Englishbooks and broadsides.
Bytheendofthesixteenth century, wordslike"horrible","terrible",
"effrayable","espouventable" had begun to yield to "strange",
"wonderful","merveilleux".This shiftsignalleda changein inter-
pretation.AlthoughGod was ofcoursestillultimately responsiblefor
all monstrousbirths,the emphasisshiftedfromfinalcauses (divine
will)to proximateones (physicalexplanationsand thenaturalorder).
No longera transparent glassrevealingGod's purposes,naturebegan
to assumetherole of an autonomousentitywitha will- and sense
of humour- of her own. This new visioninformsa largeand het-
erogeneousbodyofliterature:booksof secretsor naturalwonders.
MONSTERS AS NATURAL WONDERS
The original,broadpopularinterestin monstersas prodigiesseed-
ed by Lutherand the religiousupheavalsof the Reformation crys-
tallizedin the mass of French and English books and broadsides
publicizingtheseand otherprodigiousevents.To a certaindegree,
thewonderliterature ofthelatersixteenth and seventeenthcenturies
representsa secularizationofthisinterest.Wonderbookswerecata-
loguesofstrangeinstancesorhiddenproperties ofanimals,vegetables
and minerals.38 They lay in themedievaltraditionof spurialike the
De secretis
naturaeattributedto AlbertusMagnus,or theDe mirabi-
whichcirculatedunder the name of Aristotle,
libusauscultationibus
and of question-and-answer books modelledon the pseudo-Aristo-

37 Th[omas] B[edford],A Trueand Certaine Relationofa Strange-Birth ... Together


withtheNotesofa Sermon,PreachedOctober23, 1635 (London, 1635, S.T.C. I79I),
repr. in Charles Hindley, The Old Book Collector's Miscellany,3 vols. (London,
1871-3), ii, pp. 12, 21.
3s For an idea of the extentand contentsof this literature,see JohnFerguson,
Bibliographical Noteson HistoriesofInventionsand Books ofSecrets,2 vols. (London,
1959), especiallythe indicesat the end of vol. i and the sixthsupplementof vol. ii;
Louis B. Wright,Middle-ClassCulturein ElizabethanEngland(Chapel Hill, N.C.,
1935),PP. 549-72.

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36 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

telianProblemataor the SalernitanQuestions.39Their authorspil-


laged classicalsourcesand morerecentcosmography and travellit-
erature,as well as thelavishlyillustratedbooks of sixteenth-century
naturalists likeGesnerand Belon.40
On firstglancingat a wonderbook,thereaderofprodigyliterature
experiencesan immediateflashofrecognition. Thereamongthegeo-
logicalcuriosa,the herbaland astrologicallore, standlong sections
devotedto the canon of phenomenatraditionally identifiedas pro-
digies: floods,earthquakes,strangerains,celestialapparitionsand
monsters.Even thespecificinstancesare familiar,but theprodigies
have been denuded of theirsupernaturalaura and presentedas in-
trinsicallyinterestingfactstosurpriseand entertainthereader,rather
thanto acquainthimwithimminentapocalypseand judgement.
The line betweenwonderand prodigyliterature in thisperiod,as
one mightexpect,was oftenblurred.A booklikeBoaistuau'svolume
of theHistoiresprodigieuses (translatedintoEnglishunderthe char-
acteristictitleCertaineSecreteWonders ofNature)41reallybelongsto
both genres,since it does not restrictitselfto purelyportentous
events;one ofitschapters,forexample,dealswiththesurprising fact
thata man can dip his handswithoutharmin moltenlead ifhe has
firstwashedthemin urineor mercury.Even cleareris thecase ofDes
monstres etprodiges(1573) by the FrenchsurgeonAmbroisePare.42
In additionto pieces of information of themoltenlead variety,Pare
includesthreelong chapterson "monsters"of the sea, air and land
- specieslikeostrichesand crocodiles,presumably grantedhonorary
monstrousstatusby virtueoftheirrarity.
Wonderbookssharedmorethantheirsubjectmatterwiththeprod-
igytradition.Theyalso werepartofthegreatbodyofcommonculture
and concernswhichlinkedthelearnedand thepopularliterary tradi-
tions,and theyvariedas muchas prodigywritingin intellectual level
and intent.Some of the most famous- Cardanus'sDe subtilitate
(155o), Lemnius's De miraculisoccultisnaturae(1559, expanded
1574)43- werewritten in Latinbydoctorsforreaderswitha classical
education.They dealt at lengthwith causal explanationsand em-
phasized philosophicaland theologicalissues. Do humanmonsters
possess rationalsouls, forexample,and in what formwill theybe
resurrected? Like theLatinprodigyworks,thesewonderbookswere
3" Brian Lawn discussesthesetraditionsin his The SalernitanQuestions (Oxford,
1963).
40 See n.
27 above.
41 Seenn. 26 and 28 above.
42 Ambroise
Par6,Des monstres firstissuedin his Deux livresde chirurgie
etprodiges,
(Paris, 1573), and recentlyeditedby JeanC6ard (Geneva, 1971). All futurecitations
willreferto C6ard's edition.
43 HieronymusCardanus[GirolamoCardano],De subtilitate librixxi (Nuremberg,
1550); Levinus Lemnius [Livin Lemmens],De miraculisoccultisnaturae(Antwerp,
1559; revised edn., 1574).

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 37
translatedintothe vernacularto reacha muchwideraudience,and
plunderedby morepopularwriters.
Thomas Lupton is typicalof the vulgarizersof thewondertradi-
tion. His oftenreprintedA ThousandNotable Things(1579) was a
catalogueof a thousandnaturalmarvelstakenfromLemnius and
others.Unillustrated, of smallerformat,and muchcheaperthanthe
largeand expensivewonderclassics,itavoidedcomplexexplanations
and explicitlycourteda lowerclass ofreader.In his preface,Lupton
advertisedhis plain styleas accessibleto "the slenderlylearnedand
commonsorte". His method,he claimed,had been to despoil less
availableworksfornaturalwonders,likemonsters,in thehope that:
manywillreade them,hearethemand haue profitby them,thatotherwisewhould
neuerhaue knowenthem.For many(I suppose)willbuyethisBooke forthethings
wheretotheyare affectioned,thatneuercouldeor wouldhavebought,or lookedon
the bookes,whereinall theyare.44
Fromall appearances,wonderbookswereintendedlargelyas plea-
surereading.Fenton,forexample,proposedhistranslation ofBoais-
tuauas a bracingalternativeto "the fruitlesse
HistorieofkingArthur
and his roundtable Knights"and the "trifeling talesof Gawin and
Gargantua".4s In factmonsters were clearlyassociatedwithtwo of
the most commonand popular formsof escapistliterature:travel
books and chivalricromance.Monstrousraces- men witha single
giantfoot,or huge ears, or theirfaceson theirchests(Figure 6) -
had playeda partin descriptionsof Africaand Asia since antiquity
and stillfiguredin Renaissancecosmography.46 Giantsand dwarfs
were an importantelementin the traditionof romance.47Further-
more, the controversy surroundingPare's Des monstres et prodiges
showsthatit and someoftheothermoremedicallyorientedmonster
literature,whichdealt withsex and generationand was frequently
highlyillustrated,was consideredthinlyveiledpornography.48 Pare
was forcedto eliminatea sectionon lesbianism,witha graphicde-
scriptionofthefemalegenitals,beforeincludingDes monstres in later
editionsofhis collectedworks.49
As theauthorsof thewonderbookscontinually emphasized,how-
ever,theirworksyieldedprofitas wellas pleasure.In parttheprofit
was intellectual.Much ofthewonderliterature showsstrongaffinities
to thepopularsixteenth-century genreof diverses leqons- books of
44 Thomas Lupton, A ThousandNotable Things,ofSundrySortes(London, 1586,
S.T.C. 16956), sig. a
3r.
45 Fenton,Certaine SecreteWonders, sig. a 3"'.
46 See, forexample, SebastianMunster,Cosmographiae librivi (Basle,
universalis
1544),P. io8o; thistraditionis theprincipalsubjectof Wittkower's"Marvelsof the
East".
47 For example,thegenealogyofPantagruelin Rabelais,Pantagruel, ch. I, includes
thenamesofa largenumberofgiantstakenfromchivalricromance.
48 For the historyof the controversy with the Parisianfacultyof medicine,see
C6ard's introduction to Par6,op. cit.,pp. xiv-xvi.
49 See
Par6,op. cit.,pp. 26-7 n., forthe uncensoredtext.

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PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92
38

FIGURE 6
MONSTROUS RACES (1493)

-?a?* P *-?e, t~a-a

i
~~
?~a ii,

t Lii
I-~ r
*
l?:~uIbila~
,?
P,
2???;:;-
i
J
ii
ii
/1
4 '' Ti
"
~ ---
~
J liY~la. t ~i~hrro Ca ~`
C1L~"~ ?-LX?

Lr
~jq ~it43~t~
~ ~E;

n r

B
fill f
iit?
a
~ 'J~t~t4L~i~t rd~

-"

1-~311~

...t I
~
I flLt"~i'i~'"'"\\
~'~iS~:,
t
~~'~E~f~i~s"~"i"~-~?i~Vti
It~ 1
,f~tiU
~f.

i r
`'9 ~S~L~i
M
~ii, ~i "fllcr~Y~d~i?? ~7~'J ~?,
:1
~

(Nuremberg,1493),fo. xo8o.
HartmannSchedel,Liberchronicarum

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 39

selectionsfromfamousauthorsforthosewithneithertime,money
nor educationto read themin the original.soMany of thesebooks
concentrated on fieldsofgeneralinterest,likemedicine,naturalhis-
toryand geography, and triedto rendertheirmaterialmorepalatable
out
by singling extraordinary or astoundingeffects,oftenincluding
monsters.Some, like Rhodiginus'sLectionesantiquae(firstedition
1516), became commonsourcesforlaterwriterson wonders,who
also adoptedtheirapproachto theclassics.5sBoaistuau'sfulltitle,for
example,wasHistoires prodigieusesextraictesdeplusieursfameux
auteurs
grecsetlatins,sacrezetprophanes. 52
There is evidencethatthesecond-handclassicalcultureaccessible
throughwonderbooks ofall sortswas prizedforits socialas well as
its intellectualbenefits.The social utilityof thiskindof knowledge
was mostbaldlystatedin theEnglishconversation manualsand eti-
quettebooks of the seventeenth century.The anonymousauthorof
A Helpe toMemorieand Discourse(1621) stressedthe importanceof
conversancewith "the passages and occurrencesof the world,the
creaturesthereof,and thecasualtiestherein",for:
thisitis thatpresentseducation,Gentility, memory...; ithas been
understanding,
a porterto admitmanya poor outsideforhis preicous[sic]inside,
to silkenlaced and perfumedhindes,
thathad richbodies,but poor wretchedmindes.53
To thisend,conversation manualsprovidedcheaplyand conveniently
materialwhichmightbe parlayedintosuccessand preferment. Wil-
liam Winstanley'sNew Helpe to Discourse(1669) is typicalof the
genre.Besides questionsand answers,jokes, epigrams,and rulesof
etiquette,itincludeda sectioncalled"A DiscourseofWonders,For-
eign and Domestick". Here the readerfoundaccountsof storms,
earthquakes,floods,volcanoes,and a selectionof the mostfamous
monstersof the day: Lazarus and JohnBaptistaColoredo,a set of
Siamesetwinsfrom1542,and theEnglishgiantWilliamEvans.54
Anotherrelatedaspectofthewonderbooksdeservesmention.Not
onlydid theycourta large,laypubliceagerfordiversion,a smattering
of classicalculture,and a readysupplyofeducatedsmalltalk;many
ofthempresenteda new,civilidealofculture,opposedtobothpopu-
lar ignoranceand thesolitaryefforts oftheprofessionalscholar,and
identifiedwiththecultureoftheeducatedlayman- thelawyer,the
businessman,thegovernment and theirwivesand daughters.
official,
50
Schenda,Die
franz6sischeProdigienliteratur,
pp. 14-21.
51 Ludovicus Caelius Lectionesantiquae(Venice,
Rhodiginus[Lodovico RicchieriJ,
1516; expandedBasle, 1542). The descriptionoftwobicephalousmonstersin xxiv.3
of the 1542 editionwas particularly
influential.
52 Seen. 26 above.
53 A Helpe toMemorie
andDiscourse;withTable-Talk(London, 162 I, S.T.C. 1305I).
Wrightdiscussesthiskindof literature
in Middle-ClassCulture,pp. 132-9.
TheNew Help toDiscourse,5thedn. (London, 1702), pp.
54 W[illiam]W[instanley],
137-51.

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40 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

This attitudeis epitomizedin GuillaumeBouchet'sLes serees(1584).


Dedicated to the merchantsof Poitiers,it was cast in theformof a
seriesof amusingand instructive after-dinnerconversations among
social peers,men and women.Most of the subjectschosenfordis-
cussionarefamiliarto theconnoisseurofwonderbooks:little-known
propertiesofwineand water,amongotherthings,surprising stories
aboutfish,dogs, cuckolds,and an entiresectionon hunchbacksand
monsters.In hisintroduction Bouchetcommendedthecollectiveand
conversational approachto learningas a:
trulyPythagoreanschool, effectedthroughcommunication whichis freeand not
mercenary.For it is surethatan educatedman benefitsmorein an houremployed
in discoursingand reasoningwithhis equals, thanhe wouldin a day spentsolitary
and shutup in study.55
Reflectingon thisnew social and sociableuse ofmonstersas part
oftheeducatedsmall-talkofthemanwithpretensions to culture,we
can see the beginningsof whathas been called the "withdrawal"of
theeducatedclassesfrommorepopularculture.56Significantly, this
withdrawalappears firstless as a shiftin intereststhanin self-con-
sciousness.Once thefamiliarcanonofprodigies,withall itspopular
and religiousassociations,was presentedas naturalwondersorsecrets
- thevisibleeffects ofhiddencausesknownonlyto a few- itgained
a new aura of intellectualrespectability,and became, accordingto
the introductory epistleof the FrenchLemnius,"a subjectof great
fashionand notvulgar".S7
This changein sensibility was accompaniedby a changein inter-
pretation.Beginningin thesecondhalfofthesixteenth century,there
wasa growingtendencyin thewonderbooks,as opposedtothehighly
conservative broadsideliterature,to playdownor evendenythepro-
digiouscharacterof monstrousbirths.This strainappearedfirstin
theLatin literature- Cardanuswas frankly scepticalofthepredic-
tivevalue of monstersin De subtilitate58- but severaldecadeslater
even Montaigne,writingas a layman,shied away fromportentous
speculations.In the essay"D'un enfantmonstrueux",he described
a childwitha parasitictwinbroughtforhisinspection,and hazarded
a briefpoliticalprognosticbased on thedeformity. In thenextsen-
tence,however,he retreated toa morecongenialsuspensionofjudge-
ment:
But forfearthe eventshould belie it, it is betterto let it go its way, forthereis
nothinglike diviningabout thingspast. "So that,whenthingshave happened,by
55 GuillaumeBouchet,Les series,2 vols. (Lyons, 1618), i, sig. a 5'-6r.The first
editionofthiswork,includingonlyBook I, appearedatPoitiersin 1584.Latereditions,
includingadditionalBooks, werepublishedat Paris(16o8) and Lyon (1615).
56 Burke,PopularCulture,pp. 270-9; Davis discussesthesamephenomenon in her
"ProverbialWisdom".
57 Lemnius,Les occultes
merveillesetsecretzde nature,trans.I. G. P. (Paris, 1574),
fo. 3'.
58
Cardanus,De la subtilite,
et subtilesinventions,
trans.RichardLe Blanc (Paris,
1556), fo. 272'.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 41
theyare foundto havebeenprophesied"[Cicero].As theysaid
someinterpretation
of Epimenidesthathe prophesiedbackward.59
Othertextsshowthesameattitude.Whilepopularliterature retained
its traditionalprodigiousand propheticthrust,educatedculture,in
thisas in otherareas, was tendingto detachitselffromwhatit per-
ceived as the ignoranceand supersitition of the folk- "the most
deceptablepart of Mankind", as Thomas Brownecalled themin
Pseudodoxiaepidemica.60
In thewonderliterature, then,monsters- alongwiththerestof
thecanonofprodigies- beganto castofftheirreligiousassociations.
This trendwas accompaniedby a movementto emphasizenatural
causesoversupernatural ones. Pare, forexample,listedthirteen sep-
aratecauses of monstrousbirthsin his Des monstres. Of theseonly
three(God's glory,his wrath,and demonicintervention) were su-
pernatural;therestrepresented an elaborationon thenaturalexpla-
nationsofferedby Aristotleand writersin theAristotelian tradition
(too muchor too littleseed, maternalimagination, a narrowwomb,
a traumaticpregnancy, hereditary disease,bestiality and so on), plus
a new causal category- artifice- to includefakesand children
mutilatedby theirparentsto enhancetheirtake as beggars.61The
same naturalcauses figuredin theotherwonderwriters,fromLem-
nius, who applied themwiththesophistication to be expectedfrom
a doctor,to Lupton, who expandedthepowerofmaternalimagina-
tionto covervirtually everyeventuality.
Impliedin thisshiftin causalthinking is a newwayoftalkingabout
nature.Whereasin theprodigyliterature naturewas effectively trans-
parent,a veil throughwhichGod's purposescould be discerned,she
acquired a new autonomyin the wonderbooks. Typically,she was
personified;Pare, forexample,called herthe "chambermaidto our
greatGod".62 In a laterchapter,aproposofa mostpeculiarmonster
reportedly foundin Africa(Figure7), he acknowledgedhis inability
to giveanykindoffunctional explanationforthemultiplication ofits
parts; "The onlything I can say", he admitted,"is thatNaturewas
playing [s'y est jouee], to make us admire the greatnessof her
works".63Increasingly in thewonderbooks,theemphasisfellon the
59Michelde Montaigne,Essays,ii. 30, in TheCompleteWorksofMontaigne, trans.
Donald M. Frame (Stanford,1948), p. 539. On Montaigne'sgeneralscepticismre-
gardingprodigies,see Ceard, La natureetlesprodiges, pp. 415-34.
60 ThomasBrowne,Pseudodoxiaepidemica, i. 3, in TheWorksofSir ThomasBrowne,
ed. Geoffrey Keynes,4 vols. (London, 1964), ii, p. 25.
61 The listis in Pare,Des monstres,
p. 4. See Aristotle, De generatione
animalium, iv.
3-4 (769bio-773a33); AlbertusMagnus,De animalibus,xviii. I. 6 and xviii.2. 3 (ed.
HermannStadler,2 vols., Miinster,1920, ii, pp. 1214-8,1224-6).
62 Pare, op. cit.,p. 117. The personification of natureis, of course,nothingnew.
See ArthurO. Lovejoy and GeorgeBoas, Primitivism and RelatedIdeas in Antiquity
(Baltimore,Md., 1935),P. 448; GeorgeD. Economou,TheGoddessNaturainMedieval
Literature
(Cambridge,Mass., 1972).
63
Pare, op. cit.,p. 139.

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42 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

FIGURE 7
AFRICANMONSTER (1573)

r' , ;a
C=

c r~fr ~5~3
r)

C (1 ~ Y,

~C~l~ttC,6fiirsf(i,'
L/ly ?J 93 7);
~L,
LI 3

3V~31~)3);
L) , '3
" J 5)
$ 3 ~1?IJ,
clSilr~ 3
~? u 3~j~
y ~
L.
3rt i;

etprodiges(Paris, 1573), ed. JeanC6ard(Geneva,1971),


AmbroisePar6,Des monstres
p. 139.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 43
worksofnatureratherthantheworksofGod. Monstersweretreated
as jokes or "sports" (lusus)of a personifiednature,ratherthan as
divine prodigies.They signifiedher fertility of invention- and
through her God's own and
fertility creativity, ratherthanhiswrath.
Not onlycould humanartifice createmonsters,butall naturalmons-
terswerein a certainsensenature'sartifacts,and naturebecamethe
artisanpar excellence.
MONSTERS AND THE BACONIAN PROGRAMME
FrancisBacon's reflectionson thestudyof monstersrepresentan
intermediate stagein the gradualprocessof naturalization begunin
the wonderbooks. WherePare and otherwonderauthorscounten-
anced a mixtureof supernatural and naturalcausesin thegeneration
of monsters,Bacon insistedon a strictdivisionbetweenmarvelsof
naturaland supernatural origin;henceforth compilationsofeach sort
of eventwere to be kept separate,in accordancewithmoregeneral
prohibitions againstmixingnaturalphilosophyand theology.64 Mon-
stersnow belongedwhollyto naturalhistory,theproductsofwholly
naturalcauses or "generalrules". Yet withinthe corpusof natural
history Bacon preservedthetraditional canonofprodigiesas a distinct
category.In The Advancement of Learning,his programmeforthe
reformof humanknowledge,he dividednaturalhistoryintothree
parts:the studyof nature"in course", or naturalhistoryperse; the
studyofnature"erring",or the "historyofmarvels";and thestudy
ofnature"wrought,or thehistoryofarts".65 Althoughthe"miracles
of nature",includingmonstersand the restof the prodigycanon,
could be "comprehendedundersomeFormorfixedLaw", forBacon
theynonethelessconstituteda coherentcategoryratherthana mis-
cellaneouscollectionof phenomena.All phenomenawere natural,
but natureoperatedin threedistinctmodes, corresponding to the
threesubdivisionsof naturalhistory:the natural(or regular),the
preternatural, and theartificial.
Bacon's rationalefor segregatingmonstersand otherprodigies
frommainstreamnaturalhistoryderivedfromthe imageof nature
purveyedin the wonderbooks. Bacon adopted and elaboratedthe
view of natureas a creative,if capricious,artisan,and made this
characterization theimplicitbasisforhis tripartite
divisionofnatural
history.Like Pare, Bacon lookedto nature'saberrations forthefinest
examplesof her workmanship.Monstersilluminatedboththe reg-
ularitiesofnature,for"he who has learntherdeviationswillbe able
moreaccuratelyto describeherpaths",and also furthered theinven-
tionsof art,since "the passage fromthe miraclesof natureto those
of artis easy".66 Personification
of natureas an ingeniouscraftsman
64
Bacon, Novumorganon,ii. 65, in Works,xiv,pp. 45-6.
65 Bacon, TheAdvancementofLearning(London, 1605, S.T.C. 1164), ii, in Works,
p. 102.
ii, 66
Bacon, Novumorganon,ii. 29, in Works,
xiv,p. 138.

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44 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

permittedBacon to straddletwo explanatorydivides. On the one


hand, the historyof marvelsbridgedthe traditionallyopposed cat-
egories ofnature and art;on the the
other, workmanlyimageofnature
enabledBacon tacitlyto invokethefinaland formalcauseswhichhe
had otherwisebanned fromnaturalphilosophy.Bacon thusappro-
priatedboththeprodigycanonand thenatureimageryofthewonder
booksand turnedthemto novelends.
The antithesis ofartand naturewas a commonplaceofRenaissance
thought.GeorgePuttenham'sArteofEnglishPoesie (1589) provides
an inventory ofthepossiblerelationsbetweenthetwopoles: artmay
aid, imitate,modifyor surpassnature.67Bacon attemptedto over-
comethisentrenched worksofartto those
oppositionbyassimilating
of nature,decrying"the fashionto talk as if art were something
different to nature".68In theNovumorganonhe notedthatthisre-
conciliationrequiredboththatartbecomemorenatural(throughthe
manipulationof naturalcauses) and thatnaturebe made morearti-
ficial(as the inventiveartisanof the wonderbooks). In the latter
rapprochement the distinctionbetweentheformaland finalcauses of
theartificialrealmand thematerialand efficient
causesofthenatural
realmbecame blurred.As the more "artificial"of nature'sworks,
monstersand othermarvelswouldinspirehumaninventions, since:
thepassagefromthemiraclesofnatureto thoseofartis easy; forifnaturebe once
seized in hervariations,and thecause be manifest, it willbe easyto lead herbyart
to such deviationas she was at firstled by chance.. .69
Both the historyof marvelsand the historyof the artsrevealed
eitherforcedto wanderfromherwontedpathsby
naturein extremis,
the "obstinacyand resistanceof matter"in the case of marvels,or
"constrainedand mouldedby humanartand labour". The "experi-
mentsof themechanicalarts"and nature'sown deviationsliftedthe
"mask and veil,as it were,fromnaturalobjects,whichare generally
concealedor obscuredunder a diversityof formsand externalap-
pearances".70 As naturestruggledto overcomethe recalcitrance of
matteror thefettersof art,she assumedthenovelformsof "preter-
generation",monsters,whichservedas modelsforthe noveltiesof
art. Thus bothnaturaland artificialmarvelscorrectedconventional
wisdomwithexceptionswhichforcedphilosophers toseekmorecom-
prehensive is elevatedandraised
principles,"foras theunderstanding
by rareand unusualworksof nature,to investigate and discoverthe
formswhichincludethemalso; so is thesame effectfrequently pro-
67
GeorgePuttenham,TheArteofEnglishPoesie (London, 1589,S.T.C. 20519), ed.
Gladys D. Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge,1936), pp. 303-7. See Edward
William Tayler, Natureand Art in RenaissanceLiterature (New York, 1964), esp.
ch. I.
68
Bacon, Description Globe,ch. 2, in Works,xv, p. 153.
oftheIntellectual
69Bacon, Novumorganon,ii. 29, in Works,xiv,p. 138.
70 Ibid., "Preparationfora Naturaland Experimental History",in Works,xiv, p.
217.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERSIN FRANCEAND ENGLAND 45
duced by theexcellentand wonderful worksofart".7"The viewthat
themostpenetrating insights into the innerworkingsofnaturewere
to be gleaned fromthe close studyof anomaliesdirectedseven-
teenth-century experimenters towardssingularphenomena- such
as a double refraction in Iceland spar - oftendescribedas "won-
ders", "marvels"and "monsters"ofnaturebyBacon and hisfollow-
ers.
In contrastto thewondertradition,however,theavowedpurpose
ofBacon's projectedcollectionofprodigiesand monstrous birthswas
theenrichment ofbothspeculativeand operativenaturalphilosophy,
ratherthanthe entertainment retailedin thewonderbooks. His at-
temptsto explain the secretsof natureby annexingmonstersand
othertraditionalprodigiesto naturalhistoryparalleledan equally
explicitattemptto divorcethesephenomenafromtheirmorepopular
and,he implied,morefrivolous context.Once again,Bacon'sposition
lieshalf-way betweenthesharedcultureofprodigiesandthecomplete
withdrawalof learnedculturefromthe enjoymentof monstersin
publicfairs,broadsidesand wonderbooks.
Bacon was at pains to distinguishhis historyof marvelsfrom
"books offabulousexperiments and secrets"whichservedup a jum-
ble of factand fableto "curiousand vain wits". Wonderbooks in-
discriminately mixedauthenticwonderswithmoredubiousaccounts,
sacrificingaccuracyto admiration.Bacon singledouttreatments with
religiousovertonesas particularly liableto distortion,
and called for
a strictdivisionbetweenhistoriesof wondersattributedto natural
and supernatural causes: "as forthenarrations touchingtheprodigies
and miraclesofreligions,theyareeithernottrue,or notnatural;and
thereforeimpertinent forthestoryofnature".72Naturalhistory treat-
ed onlythosemarvelswhichcould be well documentedaccordingto
guide-linesclearlydrawnfromBacon's ownlegaltraining in theeval-
uation of evidence and testimony.Reportersof monsterswere to
identifytheauthority orwitnessfromwhomthedescription originally
derived,to assessthereliability ofthesource,to statehowthesource
had come by the information (eyewitness,oral or written),and to
judge whetheradditionalcorroboration was required.73As in con-
temporarycourtsof law, the educationand social standingof the
witnessenhanced or impeached the credibilityof his testimony.
Hence popularaccountsofthebroadsidevariety,writtenon hearsay
and usuallyanonymous,wereautomatically suspect.
Bacon also opposed admirationand wonderto a thoroughinves-
tigationof naturalcauses, associatingthe formerresponseswithig-
noranceand narrowexperience,for"neithercan anyman marvelat
71 Bacon, Novumorganon, ii. 31, in Works,xiv,pp. 139-40.
72
Ibid., ii. 12, p. 104.
73 Bacon, "Preparationfora Naturaland Experimental History",p. 223.

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46 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

theplayofpuppets,thatgoethbehindthecurtain,and advisethwell
of the motion".74 All too oftenmere rarityexcitesthe ignorant.75
Bacon was not the only seventeenth-century writerto connectan
appetiteforwonderswithpopulargullibility.PierreBayle'sPensedes
diverses surle comete(1682) counteredthe classicalinterpretation of
cometsas portentswiththeweightofinformed testimony. The con-
sideredviews of a few trustworthy witnessescounterbalancedthe
consensusof "a hundredthousandvulgarmindswhichfollowlike
sheep".76 AlthoughneitherBacon nor Bayle exemptedthe learned
fromuncriticalbelief,both impliedthat"vulgarminds" were less
likelyto curb theirpenchantforwondersby a conscientioussearch
fornaturalcauses, particularly ifreligiousissueswereat stake.
The self-styledBaconiansoftheFrenchBureaud'Adresseand the
EnglishRoyal SocietyfollowedBacon's lead in thattheytoo aspired
to a morenaturalistic and sophisticated treatment ofmonsterswhile
retaininga good measureof the popularwondersensibility.Th6o-
phrasteRenaudot'sshort-lived Bureau d'Adressein Paris (1633-42)
mingledthe utilitarianaims of the Baconianprogrammein natural
philosophywiththeloreofthewonderbooks.Bacon'sworksadorned
manyParisianlibrariesof theperiod," and membersof theBureau
energetically pursuedhis mandateto enlistsciencein the serviceof
social improvement.Originallyconceived along franklypractical
lines as a combinationof employment office,centreforcommercial
exchange,and dispensaryof medicaland legal advice forthe poor,
the Bureau also sponsoreda seriesof weeklydiscussionson topics
of generalinterest.78 Like the authorsof the conversation manuals,
the disputantsexpoundedupon social skills("Of Dancing"), diet
("WhetherDinneror SupperOughtto be theLargest")and curiosa
drawnfromthieproblemtradition("Of Physiognomy"),as well as
upon theubiquitousmonsters("Of Two MonstrousBrethrenLiving
in the Same Body", "Of the LittleHairyGirl Lately Seen in This
City").79 The Bureau d'Adresseconferences read like the airingof
materialcontainedin a treatiselike Cardanus'sDe subtilitate (1550)
in a publicforumdevotedbothto polishingconversational skillsand
74 ofLearning,i, in Works,ii, p. 81.
Bacon, Advancement
75 Bacon, Novumorganon, ii. 31, in Works,xiv,p. 141.
76 PierreBayle,Pensiesdiverses surle comdte(Rotterdam,1683),ed. A. Prat,2 vols.
(Paris, 1911-12), i, pp. 134-5.
77 Henri-Jean Martin,Livrepouvoirsetsocidtia Paris au XVIPsiecle, 1598-1701, 2
vols. (Histoireet civilisationdu livre,iii, Geneva,1969), i, pp. 234, 271, 427, 509-
78 Howard M. Solomon,Public Welfare,Scienceand Propagandain Seventeenth-
Century France(Princeton,1972), pp. 74-5.
79Reportsof the"conferences"oftheBureaud'Adressewerepublishedweeklyby
Renaudot,who also compiledfourcollectionsof the conferences(1634-41). A fifth
volumewas publishedbyRenaudot'ssonEusebe in 1655. In additiontoseveralFrench
editions,thecollectionsappearedin at leasttwopartialEnglishtranslations, one made
circa1640,and theotherin twovolumesin 1664-5.The titlescitedare takenfromthis
last:A GeneralCollection ofDiscoursesoftheVirtuosiofFrance,trans.G. Havers,2 vols.
(London, 1664-5). See Solomon,op. cit.,pp. 65-6.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 47

to an exchangeof information and ideas franklymodelledon the


market-place.
Althoughthe speakersdid notstrictlyobserveBacon's injunction
to keep theologyand naturalphilosophyapartin theirdiscussionsof
monsters,theysoughtan alternativesortof pietyin the studyof
secondarycauses- onewhichechoedBacon'ssentiments on wonder,
rarityand thesearchfornaturalcauses:
For though[monsters]maybe veryextraordinary in regardoftheirseldomness,yet
theyhave theirtruecauses as wellas ordinaryevents.Whichdothnotdiminishthe
Omnipotenceof the Divine Majesty,but, on the contrary, rendersit morevisible
and palpableto our Senses.80
The conferencesof the Bureau d'Adresse recall the treatmentof
monstersin books of wonderson the one hand, and theirstudyby
fledgeling societiesin Franceand Englandon theother,for
scientific
the Bureau presentedsome of thefirstformally and publiclyorgan-
ized discussionsof naturalphilosophy,addressingproblemssuch as
"Of Atoms","Of theMotionor RestoftheEarth","Of theEclipse
oftheSun and Moon".
The Royal Societywas thefirstacademyto be devotedexclusively
tothestudyofnaturalphilosophy,anditexplicitly espousedBaconian
preceptsand objectivesin itscharter.ExcludingGod and thehuman
soul, all the"productionsand raritiesof Natureand Art"wereto be
studiedwiththeaim of censoringerrorand discovering usefulinfor-
mation:"In theArtsofMensHands, thosethateithernecessity, con-
venience, ordelighthaveproduc'd:In theworksofNature,theirhelps,
theirvarieties,redundancies,and defects:and in bringingall these
to theusesof humaneSociety".81Like theparticipants in theBureau
d'Adresse and the earliergatheringsdescribedby Bouchet in Les
series,the foundersof the Royal Societyadvocateda communalap-
proachto learning,citingBacon's viewthatifcompanyheightens the
emotions,it mustdo the same forthe intellect.They proposedcol-
laborativeinvestigations of:
whatNaturedoes willingly, whatconstrain'd;whatwithitsownpower,whatbythe
succoursof Art;whatin a constantrode,and withsomekindof sportand extrava-
gance; industriouslymarkingall thevariousshapesintowhichit turnsit self,when
it is persued,and by how manysecretpassagesit at lastobtainsitsend .. .82
Stillsecretive,protean,playful,the artisannatureof Bacon and the
wonder books persistedin the Baconian activitiesof the Royal
Society.
GiventheRoyal Society'sinterestin theBaconianhistoryof mar-
vels, the prevalenceof reportsof monstrousbirthsin the earlyvol-
umes of thePhilosophicalTransactions is hardlysurprising.Fellows
and correspondents regularlysent in accountswhich scrupulously
80 GeneralCollectionofDiscoursesoftheVirtuosi
81 Thomas
ofFrance,i, p. 6o.
Sprat,Historyof theRoyal Society(London, 1667, S.T.C. 55032), ed.
JacksonI. Cope and Harold W. Jones(St. Louis, Mo., 1958),p. 83.
82
Ibid.,pp. 98-IOO.

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48 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

followedBacon's formatin theParasceve,listingnamesofwitnesses


and particularsof time,place and circumstance.However,the re-
porterswerenotablyreluctantto followup Bacon's injunctionin The
Advancement ofLearningto seek theunderlying causes whichwould
assimilatesuch odditiesto the regularcourseof nature.The pains-
takingdescriptionsand illustrations - clearlydrawnfromlife,in
contrast totheschematicwoodcutsofthebroadsides- seldomserved
to makea pointin comparative anatomyor to substantiate or criticize
a theoryofembryological development or teratogenesis.
RobertBoyle's reportson a monstrouscolt and calfare typical.
Mr. David Thomas and Dr. Haughteynof Salisburywerecitedas
witnessesto thecalf(Figure8), "whosehinderLeggs had no Joynts,
and whose Tongue was, Cerberus-like, triple",and the readerwas
referred to the doctorforfurther information. Boyle recommended
spiritsof wine forpreservingtheseand othermonsters,in orderto
"affordAnatomists theopportunitiesofexaminingthem",butoffered
no explanation,anatomicalor otherwise,foreithermonster.83 De-
spitea seventeenth-century efflorescence of embryological theoryin
the worksof Kenelm Digby, WilliamHarveyand others,even the
medicallytrainedauthorsofthemonsterreportsin thePhilosophical
Transactions declinedto link theirobservationsto ongoingcontro-
versiesovernormalembryological development.84
Thus theRoyal Societyinvestigated monstersin a secular,butnot
whollynaturalistic vein.Membersadheredto Bacon's instructions to
segregatethenaturalfromthesupernatural in thehistoryofmarvels
(Boyle, forexample,made listscalled "StrangeReports"of natural
wonderslike "resuscitableplants"or a chemicalliquorwhichwaxed
and waned withthe moon, and he separatedthesefromanalogous
listsof supernaturalphenomena),85but theystoppedshortof pro-
vidingexplanationsforsuch anomaliesin termsof naturalcauses.
Althoughtheirhighstandardsforaccuracyand detaildistinguish the
RoyalSociety's accountsofmonsters from thosefound in thewonder
books, bothgenresclearlysharea tastefortherareand singularfor
its own sake. Thomas Sprat, officialhistorianof the earlyRoyal
Society,defendedits predilectionfor "the unexpected,and mon-
strousexcesses, whichNaturedoes sometimespracticein herworks".
While admittingthata steadydiet of such "strange,and delightful
Tales" would rendernaturalhistoryfrivolous,he nonethelessmain-
tainedthatthey"are indeedadmirable in themselves",and reasserted
83 RobertBoyle, "An Accountof a VeryOdd MonstrousCalf", Phil. Trans.Roy.
Soc., i (1665-6),pp. Io, 85.
84 Charles W.
Bodemer, "EmbryologicalThoughtin Seventeenth-Century Eng-
land", in MedicalInvestigationin Seventeenth-CenturyEngland(paper read at a Clark
LibrarySeminar,14 Oct. 1967 (Los Angeles,1968); JosephNeedham, A Historyof
Embryology (New York, 1959), ch. 3.
85 RobertBoyle, "StrangeReports",in The Works of theHonourableRobert Boyle,
ed. Thomas Birch,6 vols. (London, 1772), v, pp. 604-9.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 49
FIGURE 8
MONSTROUS CALF (1665)

ii

RobertBoyle,"Observablesupon a MonstrousHead",
Phil. Trans.Ray. Soc., i (1665-6), betweenpp. 78-9.

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50 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

the Baconian injunctionto studythe monstrousas a correctiveto


commonrulesand as a modelforimitation.86
Justas the Royal Societyfailedto conjointhe historiesof nature
erringand naturein course,it was also unableto realizetheputative
connectionbetweennatureerringand naturewrought.The statutes
of the Societyexhortedmembersto "view, and discourseupon the
productionsand raritiesofNature,and Art:and to considerwhatto
deduce fromthem,or how theymaybe improv'dforuse, or discov-
ery".87Similarly,the earlyissues of the PhilosophicalTransactions
showa livelyinterestin thehistoryof tradesand inventions:typical
titlesinclude"An AccomptoftheImprovement ofOptickGlassesin
Rome" and "Some ObservationsMade in the Orderingof Silk-
Worms".Nonetheless,theRoyalSocietydid notmakegood Bacon's
claimthatthemarvelsofnaturewouldinspiremarvelsofart.Atleast
in the seventeenthcentury,it producedfewinventionsof any sig-
nificance;theconnectionbetweenthewondrousworksofnatureand
thoseofman provedto be moretenuousthanBacon had suggested.
The incoherenceoftheBaconianschemefornaturalhistory is even
moreapparentin a popularimitatorof the Royal Society,the self-
styledAthenianSociety.Its annals,variouslytitledtheAthenianGa-
zetteor theAthenianMercury, testifyto the extentto whichthe Ba-
conianenterprisefiredthepopularimagination.Describingitselfas
the "Second Best Institution"(deferring to the Royal Society)and
takingthe "Phoenix Boyle" as its inspiration, theAthenianSociety
produceda "Second Best History"(deferring to Sprat),whichset
forththe complementary roles of the two academies: "the Royal
Society,forthe experimentalimprovement of NaturalKnowledge,
and theAthenianSociety,forcommunicating not onlythat,but all
otherSciencesto all men, as well as to both Sexes".88The encyclo-
paedic rangeof issues addressedby the Gazette,its question-and-
answerformat,and its avowed goal of instructing thosewithouta
university educationall recallBouchet'sLes seriesand theconversa-
tionmanuals.Everything was gristfortheGazette'smill: "Whether
Beauty be Real or Imaginary?";"WhetherThere is a Vacuum?";
"What is the Cause of Dreams?". Monsters,along withthe usual
rosterof prodigies,croppedup frequently in the magazine,and its
editorsheld forthon theusual theoriesof maternalimagination, ra-
tionalsouls,and thedeficiency or surplusofseminalvirtue.
AlthoughtheAthenianSociety,whichevenwentso faras tolaunch
86 Sprat,op. cit.,pp. 214-5.
87Ibid., p. 145.
88 [CharlesGilden],
TheHistoryoftheAthenian Society,fortheResolvingofall Nice
and CuriousQuestions(London, [1691]), p. 3. For detailsconcerningthe publishing
historyof the Gazette,see GilbertD. McEwen, The Oracleof theCoffeeHouse (San
Marino,Calif., 1972); StephenParks,"JohnDunton and The WorksoftheLearned",
TheLibrary,5thser., xxiii(1968), pp. 13-24.

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 5I

itsownprojectfora naturalhistoryofdomesticwonders,89 represents


a caricatureof the sciencepractisedby the Royal Society,it merely
exaggeratedthegenuineinterestwhichtheseventeenth-century Fel-
lows tookin monstersand otherfreaksofnature.Wonderliterature
transformed thosefreaksfromreligiousprodigiesintonaturalmar-
vels. Bacon and theRoyal Societymade themintothekeyto secrets
ofnaturallaw. Butevenin thePhilosophical Transactionstheyretained
theircoherenceas a setofphenomenawhichbelongedtogether, even
the
though onlythingthey had in common was thateach was anom-
alous. It is difficult
toexplainthiselementoftheBaconianprogramme
- a naturalhistoryin whichmonstersand other"unnatural"events
enjoyedsuch prominence- exceptby thelingering influenceofthe
prodigyand wondertradition.
Thus Bacon representsa half-wayhouse in the naturalization of
monsters;he rejectedsupernaturalexplanationswhile retainingin
covertformthe finalcauses implicitin his image of an activeand
personified nature.He also occupiesan intermediatepositionin the
processofculturalwithdrawal;deploringvulgarcredulityand refin-
ing criteriaof evidence to distinguishthe true monsterfromthe
simple fake, he nonethelessaccepted the popular judgementthat
nature'saberrationswere as revealingas her regularities.Bacon's
earlyfollowersin the Bureau d'Adresse,the Royal Societyand the
AthenianSocietyretainedhis emphasison marvelsand commitment
to thecollaborative oflayenquiry- theheritageofthewonder
effort
and conversationliterature.This was not the case forthe principal
French scientificsocietyof the period: the ParisianAcad6miedes
Sciences.
THE MEDICALIZATION OF MONSTERS
The Acad6miedes Sciencesrepresents theculminationofthepro-
cess of naturalizationand culturalwithdrawalin late seventeenth-
centurytreatments ofmonsters.Like theircounterparts in theRoyal
Society,theFrenchacademiciansevincedkeeninterestin monsters,
and theMimoiresof theAcad6miecontainnearlyas manyreportsof
monstrousbirthsas the correspondingissues of the Philosophical
Transactions.However,the Frenchsavantsinvestigated theirmons-
terswithina framework whichwas bothculturally and intellectually
professional.They studied them as specialists,chosen for stature
withintheirdiscipline,ratherthanas laymenwitha generalinterest
in thingsnatural,and theysituatedmonstersfirmly insidea broader
theoretical
framework drawnfromembryology andcomparative anat-
omy, ratherthan insidetheheteroclite
Baconian historyof marvels.
This contrastin approach arises at least in part fromimporant
organizationaldifferences between the two academies. While the
89 Athenian
Gazette,vii no. 3 (1692).

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52 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

Royal Societyadmittedbothamateursand outstandingscientistsas


membersand setno upperlimitto theirnumbers,theAcad6miedes
Sciences consistedof a nucleus of twentysalaried"pensionnaires"
residentin Paris, chosenby scientific specialityand drawnfromthe
ranksof distinguishedprofessorsat the University of Paris and the
MuseumofNaturalHistory.90 Althoughthepopularand professional
interestin monstersmayhave sprungfromcommonroots,themem-
bers of the Acad6miewere farmorelikelyto regardthe topic in a
medicallightwhichimpliedidentification withbotha learnedprofes-
sionand a naturalisticschemeofexplanation.
Hand-picked- a numberas anatomists- and expectedto do
researchof a specializedand professional nature,theFrenchacade-
miciansowed primaryallegianceto theirdisciplinesratherthanto
thegeneralBaconianprogrammefornaturalhistory.Drawingupon
an establishedmedicaltraditionof compilinganomaliesas thebasis
forcomparative investigations,91theyapproachedmonsters as special
cases in theestablishedfieldsof comparativeanatomyand embryol-
ogyratherthanas itemsin a heterogeneous categorycomposedsolely
of anomalies. The anatomistsof the Acad6miedissectednot only
monstersbut also animalslikebears,foxes,owlsand so forth,on the
hypothesisthatstructures whichwerehiddenor difficult to observe
in one species mightbe moreeasilystudiedin another.Interestin
exotic creatureswas toleratedonly in so far as it illuminatedthe
anatomyofmorecommonones.92
The reportson monstersproduced by the earlyAcad6miedes
Sciences testifyto this spirit.Like thoseof the Royal Society,the
reportsoftheAcad6mieidentify parentsand witnessesbyname,give
detailsof timeand place, and supplya descriptionand dissectionof
the monster.The Acad6miedescriptions, however,routinely relate
normaland abnormalstructures, oftendrawingconclusionsapplic-
able to normalanatomyand physiology.The surgeonJeanM6ry,for
example,used hisexamination ofa monstrous foetuswithouta mouth
to substantiatea theoryof foetalnourishment; theanatomistAlexis
Littremade his studyof anothermonsterthepointof departurefor
speculationon prevailingtheoriesofnervousfluid.93
90 Role inSociety(EnglewoodCliffs,N.J., 1971),
JosephBen-David, TheScientist's
p. 82; JosephPhilippe Franqois Deleuze, Histoireet description du MuseumRoyal
d'HistoireNaturelle,2 vols. (Paris, 1823), i, pp. 7-17.
91 Rueff,De conceptu etgeneratione hominis, and Realdo Colombo,De reanatomica
librixv (Venice, 1554) bothincludedaccountsofmonstersas partsofmedicaltreatises
on moregeneraltopics. In the seventeenth centurythe Danish doctorThomas Bar-
tholinusand theItalianmedicalwriterFortunioLicetiarguedfora medicaldiscussion
ofmonstersas a necessarycomplementto thestudyofnormalorganisms.See Thomas
Bartholinus,Historiaeanatomicaerariorum, 6 pts. (Copenhagen,1654-67);Fortunio
Liceti,De monstris (Padua, 1616),translated intoFrenchin 1708bythephysicianJean
Palfyn,who appendedanatomicaldescriptions ofmorerecentmonsters.
de l'AcadbnieRoyaledesSciences,1666 a 1698 (Paris, 1777), p. 185.
92 Histoire
93 Memoires de l'Acadimie Royale Sciences,annie 1709 (Paris, 1733),PP. 9-20o.
des

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THE STUDY OF MONSTERS IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 53

Unlike the more doctrinaireBaconiansof the Royal Society,the


Frenchacademiciansdid notexpectthatthestudyofmonsterswould
lead to technologicalinnovations,althoughthey readilyacknow-
ledgedtheimportanceofan alliancebetweenscienceand technology.
Frenchanatomistsretaineda sense of wonderat nature'singenuity
in creatingmyriadvariationson a structuralthemein the animal
kingdom,and foundthese"prodigious"adaptations"verypleasant"
to contemplate.But theytendedto reservetheirhighestadmiration
fortheunderlying unityofnature'splan and itsharmoniousadapta-
tionto variedconditions,ratherthanforanomalies.
By theturnoftheeighteenth century,themedicalization ofmons-
terswhichis so strikingin theworkof the FrenchAcad6miebegan
tomakeheadwayin Britainas well.In 1699,forexample,Dr. Edward
Tyson, Fellow of both the Royal Societyand the Royal College of
Physicians,communicatedan accountto theformerofa "man-pig"
bornin Staffordshire. AlthoughTysonoffereda detaileddescription
and illustrationof themonster,his centralthemewas theoretical:to
disprovethebeliefthatsuch'deformities resultedfrombestiality and
the mixtureof human and animal seed, and to suggestalternative
causes such as pressureon thewomb.94
For Britishas well as Frenchphysicians,monstersbecame clari-
fyingcounter-examples to normalembryological development,and
as such playedan importantrole in the eighteenth-century debates
betweenadvocatesof preformationism and epigenesis.At the same
time,at least forthe educated, theirappeal as objects of intrinsic
interest,chargedwithwondrous,religiousand dimlyominousas-
sociations,faded,and theirbond withthehostofotherportentslike
celestialapparitions,volcanoesand rainsofbloodloosened.Prodigies
and wondershad become anomaliesto be studiedin the contextof
naturalphenomena,and naturalphenomenahad becomethesubject
of increasingly dividedand specializedscientificdisciplines.By the
end of the eighteenthcentury,the canon of prodigieshad been dis-
solved.Astronomers studiedcomets;geologistsstudiedearthquakes;
doctorsstudiedmonsters.Monstrousbirthsno longerbelongedto a
categoryofsupernatural or preternatural
phenomena,definedeither
by divineintent or ingeniousnature,inspiringeitherfearor delight.
Nature'sactivitywas regularand monolithic, and herordinary work-
manshipwas prizedabove herextraordinary productions."Monsters
oughtto be less amazing,thanthe wonderfulUniformity, thatdoes
commonlyreignamonglivingCreaturesofall Kinds",95 wroteJames
Blondelin his treatiseon theeffectsof maternalimagination (1727).
94 Phil. Trans.Roy. Soc., xxi (1699), pp. 431-5.
95 JamesAugustusBlondel, The Strength ofImagination in PregnantWomenExam-
in'd:And theOpiniontheMarksand Deformities in Children
ArisefromThence,Demon-
strated
tobe a VulgarError(London, 1727), p. 95.

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54 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 92

Naturalphilosophers marvelled attheoverallharmony ofnature's


design,thereiteration ofthesamethemeat manystructural levels,
and theregularity ofnaturalprocesses rather thanat thewhimsical
creativityandlimitless varietyofanomalies. Thismoreorderly con-
ceptionofnaturedictated a differentapproach tonaturalscience-
onewhichattempted todiscern regularitieseveninapparent aberra-
tions.Anatomists andembryologists embarked upona taxonomy of
monsters whichassimilated individualcases to moregeneralcat-
egoriesofmonstrosity. Whenmonsters do appearineighteenth-cen-
turynaturalhistories, theyare treatedgenerically and used to fill
taxonomic gaps.(Linnaeus,forexample, included generaof"Trog-
lodytes", "Satyrs"and"Pygmies", as wellas sixmonstrous varieties
ofHomosapiens.)96The particularism whichhad characterized the
popularloreofmonsters andBaconiannatural gavewaytoa
history
searchforregularities undertheauspicesof disciplines organized
aroundsubjectmatter ratherthanaroundthevariedactivities ofa
personified nature.
Bythemid-eighteenth century an appetite forthemarvellous had
become,as Humedeclared,thehallmark ofthe"ignorant andbar-
barous",antithetical tothestudyofnatureas conducted bytheman
of"good-sense, education, and learning".97 Although Humecould
stillquotewithapprovalBacon'sinjunction to keepnaturalphilo-
sophyand religion distinct,he dismissed theenthusiasm forprodi-
gies,whichhad playedso central a partin Bacon'snaturalhistory,
as thesignofanunenlightened age.Thethreecategories ofthenatu-
ral,thepreternatural and thesupernatural had collapsedintotwo,
andnatural historyconcerned itselfonlywiththefirst.Humeimplied
thatthisdivision corresponded toa culturaldividebetween thevulgar
andthelearned.Fortheunlettered populace,monsters andtheirilk
retained a piquanttingeofthesupernatural; formenof"senseand
learning", theprodigy canonhad beenbrokenup andreintegrated
intothewhollynaturalorder.Monsters and kindredprodigies no
longer servedas a pointwherethenatural andsupernatural, thenatu-
ralandartificial,andthelittleandgreattraditions meton common
ground.
Wellesley College,Massachusetts KatharinePark
HarvardUniversity J. Daston
Lorraine

96 Carolus Linnaeus, Systema naturaeperregnatrianaturae,Ioth edn. (Stockholm,


1758), pp. 22-5. The originaleditionof the Systemanaturaeappearedin Leiden in
1635.
97 David Hume, An EnquiryConcerning Human Understanding, x, in his The Phi-
losophicalWorks,ed. ThomasH. Greenand T. H. Grose,4 vols. (London, 1882; repr.
Darmstadt,1964), iv, pp. 96-7.

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