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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Snakes and their Poison
By Francis Trevelyan Buckland (1826–1880)
From ‘Curiosities of Natural History’

BE it known to any person to whose lot it should fall to rescue a person from the crushing folds of a boa-constrictor, that it is no use pulling and hauling at the centre of the brute’s body; catch hold of the tip of his tail,—he can then be easily unwound,—he cannot help himself;—he “must” come off. Again, if you wish to kill a snake, it is no use hitting and trying to crush his head. The bones of the head are composed of the densest material, affording effectual protection to the brain underneath: a wise provision for the animal’s preservation; for were his skull brittle, his habit of crawling on the ground would render it very liable to be fractured. The spinal cord runs down the entire length of the body; this being wounded, the animal is disabled or killed instanter. Strike therefore his tail, and not his head; for at his tail the spinal cord is but thinly covered with bone, and suffers readily from injury. This practice is applicable to eels. If you want to kill an eel, it is not much use belaboring his head: strike, however, his tail two or three times against any hard substance, and he is quickly dead.  1
  About four years ago I myself, in person, had painful experience of the awful effects of snake’s poison. I have received a dose of the cobra’s poison into my system; luckily a minute dose, or I should not have survived it. The accident happened in a very curious way. I was poisoned by the snake but not bitten by him. I got the poison second-hand. Anxious to witness the effects of the poison of the cobra upon a rat, I took up a couple in a bag alive to a certain cobra. I took one rat out of the bag and put him into the cage with the snake. The cobra was coiled up among the stones in the centre of the cage, apparently asleep. When he heard the noise of the rat falling into the cage, he just looked up and put out his tongue, hissing at the same time. The rat got in a corner and began washing himself, keeping one eye on the snake, whose appearance he evidently did not half like. Presently the rat ran across the snake’s body, and in an instant the latter assumed his fighting attitude. As the rat passed the snake, he made a dart, but missing his aim, hit his nose a pretty hard blow against the side of the cage. This accident seemed to anger him, for he spread out his crest and waved it to and fro in the beautiful manner peculiar to his kind. The rat became alarmed and ran near him again. Again cobra made a dart, and bit him, but did not, I think, inject any poison into him, the rat being so very active; at least, no symptoms of poisoning were shown. The bite nevertheless aroused the ire of the rat, for he gathered himself for a spring, and measuring his distance, sprang right on to the neck of the cobra, who was waving about in front of him. This plucky rat, determined to die hard, gave the cobra two or three severe bites in the neck, the snake keeping his body erect all this time, and endeavoring to turn his head round so as to bite the rat who was clinging on like the old man in ‘Sindbad the Sailor.’ Soon, however, cobra changed his tactics. Tired, possibly, with sustaining the weight of the rat, he lowered his head, and the rat, finding himself again on terra firma, tried to run away: not so; for the snake, collecting all his force, brought down his erected poison-fangs, making his head tell by its weight in giving vigor to the blow, right on to the body of the rat.  2
  This poor beast now seemed to know that the fight was over and that he was conquered. He retired to a corner of the cage and began panting violently, endeavoring at the same time to steady his failing strength with his feet. His eyes were widely dilated, and his mouth open as if gasping for breath. The cobra stood erect over him, hissing and putting out his tongue as if conscious of victory. In about three minutes the rat fell quietly on his side and expired; the cobra then moved off and took no further notice of his defunct enemy. About ten minutes afterward the rat was hooked out of the cage for me to examine. No external wound could I see anywhere, so I took out my knife and began taking the skin off the rat. I soon discovered two very minute punctures, like small needle-holes, in the side of the rat, where the fangs of the snake had entered. The parts between the skin and the flesh, and the flesh itself, appeared as though affected with mortification, even though the wound had not been inflicted above a quarter of an hour, if so much.  3
  Anxious to see if the skin itself was affected, I scraped away the parts on it with my finger-nail. Finding nothing but the punctures, I threw the rat away and put the knife and skin in my pocket, and started to go away. I had not walked a hundred yards before all of a sudden I felt just as if somebody had come behind me and struck me a severe blow on the head and neck, and at the same time I experienced a most acute pain and sense of oppression at the chest, as though a hot iron had been run in and a hundred-weight put on the top of it. I knew instantly, from what I had read, that I was poisoned; I said as much to my friend, a most intelligent gentleman, who happened to be with me, and told him if I fell to give me brandy and “eau de luce,” words which he kept repeating in case he might forget them. At the same time I enjoined him to keep me going, and not on any account to allow me to lie down.  4
  I then forgot everything for several minutes, and my friend tells me I rolled about as if very faint and weak. He also informs me that the first thing I did was to fall against him, asking if I looked seedy. He most wisely answered, “No, you look very well.” I don’t think he thought so, for his own face was as white as a ghost; I recollect this much. He tells me my face was of a greenish-yellow color. After walking or rather staggering along for some minutes, I gradually recovered my senses and steered for the nearest chemist’s shop. Rushing in, I asked for eau de luce. Of course he had none, but my eye caught the words “Spirit, ammon. co.,” or hartshorn, on a bottle. I reached it down myself, and pouring a large quantity into a tumbler with a little water, both of which articles I found on a soda-water stand in the shop, drank it off, though it burnt my mouth and lips very much. Instantly I felt relief from the pain at the chest and head. The chemist stood aghast, and on my telling him what was the matter, recommended a warm bath. If I had then followed his advice these words would never have been placed on record. After a second draught at the hartshorn bottle, I proceeded on my way, feeling very stupid and confused.  5
  On arriving at my friend’s residence close by, he kindly procured me a bottle of brandy, of which I drank four large wine-glasses one after the other, but did not feel the least tipsy after the operation. Feeling nearly well, I started on my way home, and then for the first time perceived a most acute pain under the nail of the left thumb: this pain also ran up the arm. I set to work to suck the wound, and then found out how the poison had got into the system. About an hour before I examined the dead rat I had been cleaning the nail with a penknife, and had slightly separated the nail from the skin beneath. Into this little crack the poison had got when I was scraping the rat’s skin to examine the wound. How virulent, therefore, must the poison of the cobra be! It had already been circulated in the body of the rat, from which I had imbibed it second-hand!  6

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