martes, 24 de mayo de 2011

In Praise of Future Rats



"Even the pestilent, friendless rat was the substance theme of discourse at one of these popular assemblages. The humane investigator had made a particular study of the animal, and surprised his audience with the number and character of his facts and observations — original and from authentic sources. The nature and qualities of the creature were presented in a manner to excite astonishment and sympathy. At the risk of being considered tedious, some of his facts and anecdotes are repeated.

He related an incident communicated by a clergyman, to prove that the detested rodent shows a consideration and care for its elders on the march which was worthy of human philanthropy. Walking out in some meadows one evening, he observed a great number of rats migrating from one place to another. He stood perfectly still, and
the whole assemblage passed close to him.

His astonishment, however, was great when he saw amongst the number an old blind rat, which held a piece of stick at one end in its mouth, while another had hold of
the other end of it and thus conducted its blind companion. A kindred circumstance was witnessed by a surgeon's mate. Lying awake one evening in his berth, he saw
a rat enter, look cautiously round, and retire. He soon returned, leading a second rat, who seemed to be blind, by the ear. A third rat joined them shortly afterwards,
and assisted the original conductor in picking up some fragments of biscuit and placing them before their infirm parent, as the blind old patriarch was supposed to be.

Incredible as the story might appear of their removing hens' eggs by one fellow lying on his back and grasping tightly his ovoid burden with his fore paws, whilst his comrades drag him away by the tail, he had no reason to disbelieve it, knowing as he did that they would carry eggs from the ingenious bottom to the top of a house, lifting them from stair to stair, the first rat pushing them up on its hind and the second lifting them with its fore legs. They would extract the contents from a flask of oil, dipping in their long tails, and repeating the manoeuvre until they had consumed every drop. He had found lumps of sugar in deep drawers, at a distance of thirty feet from the place where the petty larceny was committed ; and a friend of his saw a rat mount a table on which a drum of figs was placed and straightway tip it over, scattering its contents on the floor beneath, where a score of his expectant brethren sat watching for the windfall.


The propensity of the rat to gnaw, he said, should not be attributed altogether to a reckless determination to overcome impediments. The never-ceasing action of his teeth was not a pastime, but a necessity of his existence.

It was explained : the rat had formidable weapons in the shape of four small, long, and very sharp teeth, two of which were in the upper and two in the lower jaw. These were formed in the shape of a wedge, and had always a fine, sharp, cutting edge. On examining them carefully, it was found that the inner part was of soft, ivory-like composition, which might be easily worn away, whereas the outside was composed of a glass-like enamel, which was excessively hard. The upper teeth worked exactly into the under, so that the centres of the opposed teeth met exactly in the act of gnawing ; the soft part was thus being perpetually worn away, while the hard part kept a sharp, chisel-like edge ; at the same time the teeth grew from the bottom, so that as they wore away a fresh supply was ready. In consequence of this peculiar arrangement, if one of the teeth be removed, either by accident or on purpose, the opposed tooth would continue to grow, and, as there would be nothing to grind it away, it would project from the mouth and turn upon itself ; or, if it were an under tooth, it would even run into the skull above.

There was a preparation in one of the museums which perfectly illustrated the fact. It was an incisor tooth of a rat, which, from the cause mentioned, had increased its growth to such a degree, that it had formed a complete circle and a segment of another ; the diameter was about large enough to admit a good-sized thumb. He once saw a newly killed rat to whom this misfortune had occurred.

(...) A lady living in the country had her attention drawn one day to some rats in an outer room, surrounding a pail which had been prepared for the pigs. Observing them carefully, she soon discovered that a young rat had fallen into the pail, and that his friends, to the number of five or six, were in consultation as to the best means of rescuing him. The lady called others of her family to witness their manoeuvres, while they continued busily at work, regardless of the presence of the spectators. By twining their feet together — the hind feet of the foremost rat being entwined with the fore feet of the next, and so on — they formed a chain extending over the side of the pail.

The foremost rat, supposed to be the mother, then reached down, grasped the young one in her paws, and both were drawn out on the floor. Unfortunately, their deliberations had occupied so much time that the young rat was drowned before he was extricated, and apparently the intelligence of his friends did not extend so far as to attempt resuscitation. Three persons were looking over a garden at sunset, when a rat appeared near a stone wall ; then another and another, until five had assembled, the fifth and last dragging a dead rat. A council then seemed to be held. Then four of them took the foot of their dead companion and drew the body to a place where the earth was soft. The fifth dug a grave with his head and feet, the depth being sufficient to allow the earth to cover the body. The four afterward assisted in covering it up, leaving the tail of the deceased out of the ground.

Pear Russell Sub-Coelum

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