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Among those vegetable productions which are eaten with risk, I shall, with good reason, include mushrooms;1 a very dainty food, it is true, but deservedly held in disesteem since the notorious crime committed by Agrippina, who, through their agency, poisoned her husband, the Emperor Claudius, and at the same moment, in the person of his son Nero, inflicted another poisonous curse upon the whole world, herself2 in particular.

Some of the poisonous mushrooms are easily known, being of a rank, unwholesome look, light red without and livid within, with the clefts3 considerably enlarged, and a pale, sickly margin to the head.4 These characteristics, however, are not presented by others of the poisonous kinds; but being dry to all appearance and strongly resembling the genuine ones, they present white spots upon the head, on the surface of the outer coat. The earth, in fact, first produces the uterus5 or receptacle for the mushroom, and then the mushroom within, like the yolk in the egg. Nor is this envelope less conducive to the nutrition of the young mushroom [than is the albumen of the egg to that of the chicken.] Bursting forth from the envelope at the moment of its first appearance, as it gradually increases it becomes transformed into a substantial stalk; it is but very rarely, too, that we find two growing from a single foot-stalk. The generative6 principle of the mushroom is in the slime and the fermenting juices of the damp earth, or of the roots of most of the glandiferous trees. It appears at first in the shape of a sort of viscous foam, and then assumes a more substantial but membranous form, after which, as already stated, the young mushroom appears.

In general, these plants are of a pernicious nature, and the use of them should be altogether rejected; for if by chance they should happen to grow near a hob-nail,7 a piece of rusty iron, or a bit of rotten cloth, they will immediately imbibe all these foreign emanations and flavours, and transform them into poison. Who, in fact, is able to distinguish them, except those who dwell in the country, or the persons8 that are in the habit of gathering them? There are other circumstances, too, which render them noxious; if they grow near the hole of a serpent,9 for instance, or if they should happen to have been breathed upon by one when just beginning to open; being all the more disposed to imbibe the venom from their natural affinity to poisonous substances.

It will therefore be as well to be on our guard during the season at which the serpents have not as yet retired to their holes for the winter. The best sign to know this by is a multitude of herbs, of trees, and of shrubs, which remain green from the time that these reptiles leave their holes till their return; indeed, the ash alone will be quite sufficient for the purpose, the leaves of it never coming out after the serpents have made their appearance, or beginning to fall before they have retired to their holes. The entire existence of the mush- room, from its birth to its death, is never more than seven days.10

1 "Boleti."

2 She having been put to death by him.

3 "Rimosa stria."

4 This description would apply to many of the fungi known as toadstools at the present day.

5 A true description, Fée says, of the agaric oronge, or the laseras mushroom.

6 The true origin of fungi has not been discovered till a comparatively recent period, since the days of Linnæus even. It is now known that they are propagated by microscopic granules which are lodged in particular receptacles, or else by a dissolution and dispersion of their filamentous tissues.

7 "Clavus caligaris." A nail of a caliga, or military boot. See B. vii. c. 44, and B. ix. c. 33.

8 The peasants, Fée says, who are in the habit of gathering them, may probably be better trusted than the most learned authors that have written on the subject. He thinks it the best plan, however, to avoid all risks, by confining ourselves to the use of the common field mushroom, the morel, and one or two other well-known kinds.

9 A prejudice entirely without foundation, Fée remarks.

10 Fée says that from this it is evident that Pliny understands only the stalk mushrooms under the name of "boleti;" the fungi which adhere to trees living more years, many of them, than Pliny mentions days.

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