Sir Gardner Wilkinson has seen basketsful of snails carried about for sale in the streets in Cairo; and in ' Physical Geography of the Holy Land,' it is stated that they are occasionally eaten in Syria, though not often.
De Busbecq, Seigneur of Indevelt, and Ambassador to the Court of Portugal, in a letter to his friend Nicholas Michault, written about 1554, gives the following story, which may amuse my readers. He commences by giving a description of the scenery of Constantinople, etc., and mentions various kinds of fishes taken in the Bosphorus and the sea of Marmora, and says also, "That the fishermen are for the most part Greeks, as they take to the occupation more readily than the Turks, although the latter do not despise fish when brought to table, provided they are of the kinds which they consider clean; as for the rest, they would as lief take a dose of poison, as touch them. I should tell you by the way, that a Turk would sooner have his teeth or tongue torn out, than taste anything which he considers unclean, as for instance, a frog, a snail, or a tortoise. The Greeks are subject to the same superstition. I had engaged a lad of the Greek Church as purveyor for my people. His fellow-servants had never been able to induce him to eat snails; at last they set a dish of them before him, cooked and seasoned in such a way that he fancied it was some kind of fish, and helped himself to it most liberally. Bub when the other servants, laughing and giggling, produced the snail shells, and showed him that he had been taken in, his distress was such as to baffle all description. He rushed to his chamber where there was no end to his tears, misery, and sickness. He declared that it would cost him two months wages, at the least, to obtain absolution for his sin; it being the custom of Greek priests to charge those who come for confession a price varying with the nature and extent of the offence, and to refuse absolution to those who do not comply with their demand".*
* 'Under the Palms in Algeria and Tunis,' by the Hon. Lewis Wingfield, vol. ii. p. 226.
In Hone's 'Every-day Book,' we read that "No one will marry in May, but, on the first morning of that month, the maidens rise early to gather May-dew, which they throw over their shoulder in order to propitiate fate in allotting them a good husband. If they can succeed, by the way, in catching a snail by the horns, and throwing it over their shoulder, it is an omen of good luck; and if it is placed on a slate, then likewise it will describe, by its turning, the initials of their future husband's name". It is said that if on leaving the house you see a black snail (slug?) seize it boldly by one of its horns, and throw it over your left shoulder; you may then go on your way prosperously; but if you fling it over the right shoulder, you will draw down ill luck. This practice is said to extend as far a south as Lancashire.*
* The Life and Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq,' etc., by Charles Thornton Foster, Esq., M.A., and F. H. Blackburne Daniel, M.A., vol. i. p. 124.
In Piedmont, to induce the snail to put out its horns, children are accustomed to sing to it "Limassa, limassa, Tira fora, i to corn, Dass no, i vad dal barbe E ti tje fass taie".
In Sicily, children terrify the snail by informing it that their mother is coming to burn its horns with a candle; and in Tuscany, they threaten the white snail (la marinella) telling it to thrust out its little horns to save itself from kicks and blows.† This reminds us of the English children, who used to sing;
"Snail, snail, come out of your hole, Else we shall beat you as black as a coal!"
According.to the 'Archaeologia Oambrensis,' in the parish of St. Clear's, Carmarthenshire, small portions of lands were formerly gambled away by means of snail races. The rival snails were placed at the foot of a post, and the one that first reached the top, won the land for its master. In the Isle of Wight, the fishermen of Atherfield and Brixton consider snails the best bait for prawns, and horseflesh next; and in the 'Art of Angling' the "white snail,' and likewise the "black one" (slug ?) slit open that the white may appear, are recommended as good bait for the chub early in the morning, and likewise good night bait for the trout and eel.*
* 'Folklore of the Northern Counties of England.' † 'Zoological Mythology,' vol. ii. pp. 74, 75.
The Rev. S. Baring Gould, in 'Queer Culprits,' gives an account of the laws of Mediaeval Europe, respecting the protection of persons, or things, from injuries by animals, insects, and snails etc. - He says, according to Jewish law, "If an ox gore a man or a woman that they die, then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit". After giving this command Moses proceeds to enforce the doctrine of the responsibility of the beast's owner and to ensure his punishment should he wittingly let a dangerous animal run loose, also to make provision for his security under some extenuating circumstances. These commands were carried into the laws of Mediaeval Europe; the priests at the same time introducing refinements of their own, and enforcing them in numerous cases, which afford matter for curious inquiry, and are full of technicalities and peculiarities at once amusing and instructive, as throwing light on the customs and habits of thought in those times. If a child was injured by a sow, or a man killed by a bull, the trial was conducted in precisely the same manner as though sow or bull were morally criminal. They were apprehended, placed before the ordinary tribunal, and given over to execution. If an inroad of locusts or snails takes place common law is helpless, it may pronounce judgment, but who is it to execute its decrees ? Temporal power being palpably unavailing, the spiritual tribunal steps in; the decision of the magistrates being useless, perhaps excommunication may suffice. This then was an established maxim. If the criminal could be reached, it was handed over to the ordinary courts of justice; if, however, the matter was beyond their control, it fell within the jurisdiction of Ecclesiastical Courts". Bartholomew de Chasseneux, a noted lawyer of the sixteenth century, gives the following form of excommunication. "0 snails, caterpillars, and other obscene creatures, which destroy the food of our neighbours, depart hence! Leave these cantons which you are devastating, and take refuge in those localities where you injure no one. J. N. P". etc.
* The Art of Angling : Rock and Sea-fishing,' etc, by R. Brookes.
On the 17th of August, 1487, snails were sentenced at Macon.* The Norwegians are said to have had a "Lemming-Litany" in their church service, in which these pests were most solemnly exorcised.†
The shells of Helix pomatia are used for making small whistles for children. The apex of the shell is cut off, and a piece of tin added; they are then sold for a penny each; and who does not recollect the wonderful cats made of the shells of the common garden snail, Helix aspersa, with heads of putty or cement, and how anxious we were to become possessors of these beautiful creatures! They are now seldom seen, except in some small out-of-the-way shop in a country town or village, such trifles not suiting the tastes of the precocious juveniles of the present day.
* 'Qneer Culprits, Curiosities of the Olden Times,' by S. Baring Gould, M.A.
† 'Norsk, Lapp, and Finn,' by Frank Vincent, Jun., p. 98.
The ancients seem to have studied the habits of these mollusks, as besides Theophrastus, whom I have already quoted, Aristotle also mentions them; and Teucer speaks of the snail as "an animal destitute of feet and spine and bone, whose back is clad with horny shell, with long projecting and retreating eyes,"* and many others. Hesiod calls the snail the "hero that carries his house on his back," and Anaxilas says -
"You are e'en more distrustful than a snail, Who fears to leave even his house behind him".†
Somewhat different is the old English proverbial rhyme,
"Good wives to snails should be akin, Always to keep their homes within; Yet unlike snails they should not pack All they are worth upon their back".
Gwillim, in his 'Heraldry,' informs us that the snail is called Tardigrada domiporta, the "slow-going house-bearer," and adds, "the bearing of the snail doth signify that much deliberation must be used in matters of great difficulty and importance; for although the snail goeth most slowly, yet, in time she ascendeth to the top of the highest tower, as Mr. Carew, of Antony, hath wittily moralized in his poem, intituled 'The Herring's Tail,' "He gives snails as the armorial bearings of the Shelleys, but he also mentions whelks, which shells are now borne by this family.
The crest of the Carpenters of Somersetshire is a snail passant proper, shell argent; and that of the Galay family, a snail, horns erect, proper. In F. Osborn's 'Miscellany,' 1659, it is said that mushrooms, snayles, etc., have crawled into the dishes of princes, and are daily eaten in their Courts for dainties.*
* Atbenaeus, 'Deipu.' bk. x. chap. 83, p. 720. † Ibid, book ii. chap. 63, p. 101.