John Gerarde, The Herball, 1597 - Goosetree [Barnakle tree], p.1391.

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Description:The Elizabethan myth of the goose-tree.

Myth and legend, passed on by word of mouth until it was written down and becomes almost a fact, included the story that Gerarde records at the end of his herbal, of seashore barnacles and barnacle geese, in the Orkney islands, and on the remote coast of Lancashire, which are born in a ‘barnacle tree’. Gerarde admits he has not seen this for himself, but he has found limpits and similar shell-fish attached to 'bladder-wrack' seaweed and on rotting timbers of ship wrecks, which he claims contain tiny seabirds. Although apparently seriously written, this is probably Gerarde's joke with his readers at the very end of his major work.

The page reads, with modern spelling, as follows:
Of the Goose Tree, Barnacle Tree, or the Tree bearing geese. Chapter 167
Britannica Concha anatiferae

The Breed of Barnacles

The description

Having travelled from the grasses growing in the bottom of the fenny waters, the woods and mountains even unto Libanus itself and also the sea and bowels of the same we are arrived to the end of our history thinking it not impertinent to the conclusion of the same to end with one of the marvels of this land (we may say of the world). The History whereof to set forth according to the worthyness and rarity thereof would not only require a large and peculiar volume but also a deeper search into the bowels of nature than my intended purpose will suffer me to wade into my insufficiency, also considered leaving the history thereof rough-hewn, unto some excellent men learned in the secrets of nature to be both fined and refined; in the mean space take it as it falls out, the naked and bare truth, though unpolished.
There are found in the north parts of Scotland and the islands adjacent called Orcades [Orkneys] certain trees whereon do grow certain shellfishes of a white colour tending to russet, wherein are contained little living creatures, which shells in time of maturity do open, and out of them grow those little living things, which falling into the water do become fowls, whom we call Barnacles in the north of England, Brant [Brent] Geese, and in Lancashire, tree geese, but the other that do fall upon the land perish and come to nothing. Thus much by the writing of others, and also from the mouths of people of those parts, which may very well accord with the truth.
But what our eyes have seen and hands have touched we shall declare. There is a small island in Lancashire called the Pile of Foulders [Fylde] wherein are found the broken pieces of old and bruised ships, some whereof have been cast thither by shipwreck, and also the trunks or bodies with the branches of old and rotten trees, cast up there likewise, whereon is found a certain spume or froth, that in time breeds unto certain shells, in shape like those of the mussel, but sharper pointed, of a whitish colour, wherein is contained a thing in form like a lace of silk finely woven, as it were together, of a whitish colour one end whereof is fastened unto the inside of the shell, even as the fish of oysters and mussels are. The other end is made fast unto the belly of a rude mass or lump which in time cometh to the shape & form of a Bird. When it is perfectly formed the shell gapeth open & the first thing that appeared is the foresaid lace or string; next come the legs of the Bird hanging out, and as it growth greater it opens the shell by degrees till at length it is all come forth and hangs only by the bill; in short space after[wards] it cometh to full maturity and falls into the sea, where it gathered feathers an growth to a fowl, bigger than a Mallard, and lesser than a Goose, having black legs and bill, or beak, and feathers black and white, spotted in such a manner as is our Magpie, called in some places Pie-Arnet...

Full title: John Gerarde, The Herball, [colophon: Edm. Bollifant for Bonham and John Norton], 1597. (Copy with contemporary hand-colouring.)


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Donor ref:SR/OS 97.3 [827] (32/10515)

Source: The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust - Library

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