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There has been a good deal of speculation, some of it of a very interesting character, as to the identity of these “ fiery” serpents, and as there is nothing in the text which compels us to suppose that the Divine chastisement consisted in anything beyond the employment of some ordinary agency in its infliction, such enquiries and speculations are not without their use. The recent expedition into Abyssinia has revived the subject ; the Lancet, in speaking of the diseases endemic in that country, enumerates the guinea-worm as occupying a prominent position amongst them. This worm, or Dracunculus, is sometimes called a serpent, and no wonder, for it is found more than ten feet in length, occurs in the tropical parts, chiefly of Asia and Africa, being more prevalent at some times than at others, especially in wet and rainy seasons, after inundations and the like, when it gives rise to epidemic diseases. Agatharchides, who lived 140 B.C., the philosopher and geographer of Cnidus, and the teacher of Ptolemy Alexander, is generally regarded as the first who described the guinea-worm or Dracunculus; Plutarch, in his “Symposiacon" (Tabletalk), quotes his description of the disease as follows:
“The people taken ill on the Red Sea suffered from many strange and unheard of attacks ; amongst others, worms, like little snakes, came out upon them, which gnawed away their legs and arms, and, when touched again, retracted themselves, coiled themselves up in the muscles, and there gave rise to the most insupportable pains." It is generally admitted, by learned writers, that Agatharchides described the guinea-worm disease, but some have gone so far as to say that even his account is nothing more or less than a rechauffé of the tradition of the “ fiery serpents” which were sent upon the Israelites during their journey by the Red Sea. Kuchenmeister, the well known German authority on helminthological matters, in his dissertation on the subject, observes, that shortly after the death of Aaron, which took place on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year of the exodus from Egypt, and whilst the Israelites passed round the land of the Edmoites from Hor to Oboth, on the way
from that part which is now known as the Bay of Akabah, they were attacked by fiery serpents. Consequently, adds he, both from geographical position and the known observations which we possess upon the time of incubation of the worm—which lasts two, three, six, or twelve months—this agrees very well with the explanation that the guinea-worm disease was referred to in the last part of the way through the desert of Zin towards Mount Hor, and particularly in the road from Hor to Oboth, and round the territories of the Edomites, for which journey several months would be required. They here came into the region infested by the “worm," and the entire march from Zin to Oboth would have been passed during the known period of incubation of guineaworm disease.
The reptile’s mode of attack is thus described :When it is very minute, it finds its way to some part of the surface, generally the bare feet, and “bores” its way into the skin, where it takes up its abode in the deep part, growing in six months or so, in a perfectly quiescent state, as far as the patient is concerned, till it reaches a length of from six inches to ten feet or more, about half or two-thirds of a line in thickness, and looks like a bit of whipcord, pointed at either end. When it
reaches a largeish size, the worm begins to find its way to the surface. A boil appears, this breaks, and the worm protrudes, a good deal of irritation of the general system follows, and the sufferer is dis. abled for a while. The worms have the power of travelling from place to place over the body. Dr. Smyttan records the case of a Lieutenant F-, in whom “ the worm could be distinctly traced under the skin at the top of the left shoulder.
By-andbye, it found its way to the elbow, where it was as distinct, and in the course of a few weeks made its way by a gradual progress to the wrist, from which place it was extracted. It is generally felt under the skin as a cord.” It lodges itself in the body for several months, and, as before stated, makes its way to the surface. It should then be seized and traction be gently made. As much as will come forth readily is bound round a stick, or a piece of card, and fastened over the wound. This operation of “winding” the worm is repeated daily, and at the end of several weeks the whole is removed, and the wound heals. If the worm be broken, and any portion be left, the part infested is attacked by great irritation—a fiery burning. In the case of the leg, amputation may be required to be performed, to Silve life.
The secondary results are stiff joints, and the like.
Such a scourge as this must be terrible, indeed ; and the biblical narrative describes such a thing : “ And they bit the people, and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee ; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us."
Of all the productions of Nature, insects are by far the most numerous; and, as they are endowed with the various powers of creeping, flying, and swimming, there is scarcely any place, however remote and secure, in which they are not to be found. They are placed by naturalists in the lowest rank of animated nature; and their conformation, their instincts, and their amazing numbers, are said to show the propriety of such a classification.
But, in this numerous class of animated beings, where shall we find a single instance in which imperfection is made to appear? In all the prodigious variety that exists between the scorpion and the mite, we certainly behold, in the structure of insects, abundant evidence of the most exquisite skill; and if by means of the microscope we extend our researches downwards through that minute order of beings, till we arrive at those invisible animalculæ which are computed to be twenty seven millions of times smaller than a mite, the same evidences of wisdom and design present themselves in every gradation, and all ideas of imperfection cease. The defects of art are easily discovered by the microscope: but the more narrowly we pry into or scrutinise the works of nature by this instrument, the more the perfection of the inimitable Artist is made to appear. Viewed by this glass, the finest needle ever polished presents to the eye a blunt and rugged point; but the sting of a bee, however magnified, still retains all its acuteness of termination.
It is not at all surprising, then, that such an accurate searcher into Nature's works as the excellent Mr. Boyle should observe, “that his wonders dwelt not so much on Nature's clocks as on her watches.” In several kinds of insects, invisible before to mortal eye, it is not only easy to discover, by means of a good magnifier, the external appearance of their mouths, their horns, their trunks, and other members, but the very motion of their heart and lungs! Now, as these little animals are discovered to be organised bodies, how fine and subtle must be the several parts that compose them! How difficult to conceive the extreme minuteness of the muscles for the motion of the heart, the glands for the secretion of the fluids, the stomach and bowels for the digestion of the food, the fineness of the tubes, nerves, arteries, veins; and, above all, of the blood, the lymph, and animal spirits, which must be infinitely more so than any of these! Here the utmost stretch of imagination is brought to the test, without being able to form any adequate conception. But these inconceivable wonders, instead of conveying any idea of imperfection as to the skill of the Artist, must, from what they make to appear, inspire the attentive observer with very different emotions, and force him to exclaim
“Thyself, how wond'rous then !" The beauty and symmetry of some of these minute objects, so viewed, are surprising indeed. What a metamorphosis do they seem to undergo under the magic-working glass! Creatures that