Monstrous Births by Albany Poyntz

The attachment existing betwixt animals of different kinds is an undoubted fact. Dogs have been known to take kittens under their protection during the absence, or after the death of the parent cat. Most people who have been at the Jardin des Plantes, must have noticed the affection evinced by the lion for the little dog that shares his cage. Two horses and an ass having fed from the same rack during a period of fourteen years, on the death of the ass, his two companions refused food and died. These inclinations are probably the result of the familiarity with mankind produced by domestication, which destroys their natural instincts.

Parrots, starlings, jays, and magpies, do not talk in their wild state; nor would a dog, or squirrel, of its free will, have turned a wheel.

In a Norman farm, so singular an affection subsisted between a hen and a cat attached to the barn-yard, that the cat was frequently seen sitting upon the nest during the absence of her friend; and the eggs thus hatched produced a hybrid race of fowl and cat—a fact certified by an eminent Norman naturalist, Dr. Vimond, at the close of the last century. Towards the beginning of the present, there was exhibited in the Rue St. Honoré, a mastiff bitch having a litter of two puppies and two cats, which she had brought into the world at a birth.

The ancients frequently speak of monstrous progeny. Besides the famous Minotaur of Crete, Pliny relates that a Roman lady, named Alcippa, produced a young elephant, and that a female slave brought forth a serpent. Julius Obsequens describes two Italian women, who, in the middle of the fifteenth century, produced on the same day, the one a cat, the other a dog. In such instances, dogs and cats seem to enjoy the preference. A Swiss woman, however, is asserted to have produced a hare; a Thuringian, a toad. Bayle speaks of a mare which produced a calf; and of a woman, who became the mother of a black cat, which was burnt by command of the Holy Inquisition in the belief that it was the offspring of the devil. These marvels have been chiefly attested by monks and physicians; but there is scarcely an instance in which any distinguished naturalist has been able to confirm the fact.

During the thirteenth century, in three different places, at Wittenberg, Misnia, and Villefranche, children were born without heads. They died upon coming into the world; but not without having exhibited symptoms of life.

Carpi, the anatomist, mentions a child born in 1729, in whose head was found nothing but clear water without a vestige of brain. On the other hand, children have come into the world with a double volume of brain. In 1684, a woman gave birth to twins, of which the first-born survived only a few hours, while the second exhibited a double head, having four eyes, two noses, two tongues, but only two ears.

The annals of anatomy furnish many such instances; and the cases of the Siamese twins, and of the unfortunate sisters of Sgöny, are too well known to need description. But if all the instances on record were recapitulated, these blunders of nature are but as a grain of sand compared with the regularity of her productions through an infinity of ages.

The idea of individuals having a double sex, created probably by Plato in the fable of the Androgyne, the most ingenious fiction bequeathed to us by antiquity, was for ages supposed to have its foundation in fact; and every now and then, the irregularities of a Chevalier d’Eon revive the chimera, to which anatomists oppose a decided negative. The beautiful statue of the Florentine hermaphrodite at the Louvre is as much a chimerical being as a sphinx.

The Memoirs of the Chevalier d’Eon, published in America, declare one of the most illustrious dynasties of modern Europe to be his descendents; an assertion easily disproved by a comparison of the date of his visit to Russia with that of the birth of the Emperor Paul.

The Albinos were formerly considered a distinct race. They were sought in the olden time as favourite appendages to the Courts of African and Asiatic monarchs. Pliny places them in Albania, probably from the similitude of name; but does not state that they constituted a nation. His description of them, however, perfectly agrees with those of modern times; having white hair, and eyes which he describes as resembling those of a partridge. The Albinos are, in truth, an exceptional race; and their peculiarities are seldom found to be hereditary.

The morbid longings of women during pregnancy afford many remarkable facts. Goulard relates, that in the neighbourhood of Andernach, on the Rhine, a woman experienced such a longing for the flesh of her husband, that she murdered him, ate one half of the body and salted the other; when her appetite being appeased, she confessed the deed to two friends of her husband.

In the Helvetic Chronicles it is related, that in the time of Martin IV., an illustrious lady of Rome, an object of affection to the supreme head of the Church, gave birth to a son having the semblance of a wild beast; which monstrous production was ascribed to the passion of his Holiness for paintings of animals, numbers of which ornamented his palace, till the continual view of such objects influenced the mind and body of his fair inmate.

A black child is generally believed to have been born to Marie Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV., in consequence of a little negro page in her service having started from a hiding-place, and stumbled over her dress early in her pregnancy. This child was educated at the Convent of Moret, near Fontainebleau, where she took the veil, and where, till the epoch of the Revolution, her portrait was shown.

Mallebranche has assigned the greatest scope of imagination to women under such circumstances. He mentions one, who having been present at the breaking of a criminal on the wheel, gave birth to a child whose limbs were broken at the exact places where those of the criminal were fractured. Scarcely an anatomical museum but contains monstrous productions. The question unsolved is the influence of the imagination of the mother in producing these aberrations of nature.