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  • Dragon Rats in Oxford February 20, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beach has demonstrated an interest in dragons in this place on several occasions. He just recently came across an account though that trumped most of the shilly-shally he has put up here in the past.  ‘Jacob Bobart botany professor of Oxford, did about forty years ago (in 1704) find a dead rat in the Physic Garden, which he made to resemble the common picture of dragons by altering its head and tail, and thrusting in taper sharp sticks, which distended the skin on each side till it mimicked wings. He let it dry as hard as possible. The learned immediately pronounced it a dragon, and one of them sent an accurate description of it to Dr. Magliabecchi, librarian to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Several fine copies of verses were wrote upon so rare a subject; but at last Mr. Bobart owned the cheat. However, it was looked upon as a masterpiece of art, and as such deposited in the museum or anatomy school at Oxford.’

    Now Jacob Bobart (obit 1719) was certainly alive and kicking in the seventeenth century though he is not to be confused with his father Jacob Bobart (obit 1680), a German botanist who came to Oxford. There seems, however, to be no doubt that it was the younger Bobart who was responsible for the dragon wheeze or ‘cheat’: the chronology is just too late for the elder Bobart.

    There is a Notes and Queries from one H.T. Bobart based in Oxford in 1853 (presumably a descendant) asking, as Beach must do, of these dragon verses. But none of the learned responded damn and blast them.

    HTB had dug up the following references but not the originals: ‘Poem upon Mr. Jacob Bobards Yew-man of the Guards to the Physic Garden, to the tune of the ‘Counter-Scuffle’. Oxon. 1662. and    ‘A Ballad on the Gyants in the Physic Garden in Oxon, who have been breeding Feet as long as Garagantua was Teeth.’

    Any ideas where the dragon poems ended up? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Now some BH News Stories with thanks to contributors


    28 Feb 2011: Rayg has come across a relevant poem: I found one, A Ballad on the Gyants in the Physic Garden in Oxon: page 108 in Hyder Edward Rollins’s 1927 Pack of Autolycus:’ This is then picked up by Invisible though as she (and Rayg in a later email) notes: there aren’t any dragons. ‘Did the descendant find the poem and put it in this book?  – no idea if this would contain any dragons   Edmund Gayton wrote the poem mentioned. (Yew-man poem below) Online access? There is no mention of a dragon–real or otherwise–in the various Oxford University science museum collections, which would have absorbed those of the Anatomy Museum. A dragon is mentioned in the following poem, but I don’t know if this is one of the “fine verses” created in honor of the faux-dragon. I seem to recall a “dragon tree”. That may be what is referred to in the poem. This poem fits in nicely with the subject of giants from last week. These two topiary giants are, I assume, Gog and Magog,.  I have taken from Oxford Gardens. Two large yews were clipped to represent two giants guarding the entrance to the Garden, which were the subjects of much rival wit in the University. Three ballads appertaining to them are preserved in ” Wood’s Collection ” among the Ashmolean books. (For one, see Appendix A.) [There follows the poem, Beachcombing has not corrected all scanning errors] Here is a door way lately broke through the middle of ye South wall, but the gates spoken of by Mr Bobert are in the East West & Northerne sides, that in the North wall wch admits entrance from the City being fairest built, by this Old Jacob some years past got two yew trees which being formed by his skill are now grown up to be Gigantick bulkey fellows, one holding a Bill th’ other a Club on his shoulder which fancy made an Ingenious person strow this Copie of verses on them. Upon the most hopefull & ever-flourishing Sprouts of Valour, The Indefatigable Centrys of the Physick-Garden. Although no brandish’d Cherubins are here, Yet sons of Adam venture not too near, Nor pluck forbidden fruit, if with intent To visit Paradise be innocent. Here’s your (nil ultra) else; in each of these Is both a Pillar and an Hercules. If you do not dread their looks, yet may you fear The many strange fatalities they bear. The Embleme of mortality the Yew Does likewise now y e armed Agent shew; And if unwearie Mortals slight their guard They doubly make the Garden a Church-yard. In this coniunction mischief’s never grant, The Saturnine’ s become a martial Plant: far off, in heaven it selfe are those bad stars; What here at hand, when Saturn clubs with Mars?  Th’ Hyperian Dragon, were it not a fable, Then these our Porters is lefs admirable. Their blood is poyson; pestilent their breath; And very shade the shadow is of death. But since in England they can do no harm Internall, they for outward mischief Arm; Desperate poyson in most foreign ground Instead of sicknefs here they mean to wound. (As lately Rebels serv’d that blessed Head, When Poyson might not do, they struck him dead). Who dares be safe ? no Turk is armed so, When every member of them is a Bow. Even Arms are Armed ; Bows charg’d with Mars or Bill,  So that at once with stroake & shot they kill. And lop each limb you can not strike them dead; Each limb will multiply like Hidra’s head. Some vegetables do themselves protest With prickles, stings, or stinks the game effect. Our garden Genii, more generall, Do not defend themselves alone, but all. Old heroes hung their weapons, so as these, for signal victories on signall Trees: But, sure of Conquest, these presumptuous Sophy es Do antidate: are Victors both and Trophyes. If quibbling Cambridge, when they next Commense, Shall say, here’s Terra? fllii without sense, And uery Block-heads: know that these were meant for Military not a learn’ d intent. Valour and wit at equall Honour fly, Yet valour often, seldome wit dwels high. As wisemen are Cowards ; so ’tis fit That combatants haue neither fear nor wit. Their Education tho they may not brand Bred in the Gardens Garden of the Land. Manners makes men, of men, means Wickham’s Box Our Yews declare they may be- made of Stocks, By culture too: And Trunks afsume of late The grand proprieties of Human state: Couch’ d in an Oake the Soveraignty ye knew Soe here appropriate valour in the Yew; Say, they are speechlefs too : the men of Words They murmur though, & shake their crests disturb’d By fancy winds : nor would their rage be curb’d, Were’t not in vain their Honor to repair, When ’tis to fight the winds, and beat the Ayr: Jove whispers peace ; or else we well might wonder He go secure, lets rust his Dasdard Thunder. These Earth-born Giants take a distant course By plots more perilous than was their force. Each man’s an Ambuscado ; and may well Be said at once Perdue and Centinel. How they advance tow”rds Heaven night and day And strenghth increeses still upon the way, Yet moves unseen : But Joves all-kenning eye Did from these wily stratagems espie Else might th’ All-conquerour haue been surpris’d As was our own by men in Boughs disguis’d. So that Apollo sent a league to treat And to Caress them with a gentle heat; With numerous presents of his golden Rayes; With farther promise of serener Dayes. Else would their force crack Heavens Chariot wheels, But prostrate Earth too hangs about their heels; And as an Ancient loyall Sabine Wife Ventures to intercede, and part the strife, So men, whose humbler scope is heavens Crown, With darling Earth are clog’d and fetter’ d down. Could we believe but what old people do They were not only men but Christians too, Who fright the Div’l himself; had God but set In his first Colony this Amulet; No work for Cherub had there been : no doubt The fliend had been, and not poor man cast out, And Proserpine might here haue fil’d her lap With only flowers and not an after-clap: from sons of Adam now we must retrieve Our warning to the daughters next of Eve. Gardens of Beauties, many in pursuit Are of your own choice flow’rs, & rarest fruit: Weak is your Sex ; you know the Div’l in swine Was nere repuls’d by hedge of Eglantine. If yet the Courtier flox, or Ruffian Bore That Mound haue never undermin’d and tore, Thus fortifie y or selves ; in your defence Set Giant Honour, Giant Conscience. So shall you never keep, by this advice, Knaves Kitchen Gardens but ffools Paradise. So farewell Heroes; who shall sing of you, When as Heroick is Georgick too?’ Thanks Rayg and Invisible!