Toads were always considered venomous and spiteful, and they had but one
redeeming quality, which seems to be lost to its modern descendants:--
"Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head."
(As You Like It, Act ii. sc. 1.)
Pliny says of these animals:--"Authors quite vie with one another in
relating marvellous stories about them; such, for instance, as that if
they are brought into the midst of a concourse of people, silence will
instantly prevail; as also that, by throwing into boiling water, a small
bone that is found in their right side, the vessel will immediately
cool, and the water refuse to boil again until it has been removed. This
bone, they say, may be found by exposing a dead toad to ants, and
letting them eat away the flesh; after which the bones must be put into
the vessel one by one.
"On the other hand, again, in the left side of this reptile there is
another bone, they say, which, when thrown into water, has all the
appearance of making it boil, and the name given to which is 'apocynon'
(averting dogs). This bone it is said has the property of assuaging
the fury of dogs, and, if put in the drink, of conciliating love, and
ending discord and strife. Worn, too, as an amulet, it acts as an
aphrodisiac, we are told."
Topsell writes so diffusely on the virtues of these "toad stones" that I
can only afford space for a portion of his remarks:--"There be many late
Writers, which doe affirme that there is a precious stone in the head of
a Toade, whose opinions (because they attribute much to the vertue of
this stone) is good to examine in this place.... There be many that
weare these stones in Ringes, beeing verily perswaded that they keepe
them from all manner of grypings and paines of the belly, and the small
guttes. But the Art, (as they term it) is in taking of it out, for they
say it must be taken out of the head alive, before the Toade be dead,
with a peece of cloth of the colour of redde Skarlet, wherewithall they
are much delighted, so that while they stretch out themselves as it were
in sport upon that cloth, they cast out the stone of their head, but
instantly they sup it up againe, unlesse it be taken from them through
some secrete hole in the said cloth, whereby it falleth into a cesterne
or vessell of water, into the which the Toade dare not enter, by reason
of the coldnes of the water....
"This stone is that which in auncient time was called Batrachites, and
they attribute unto it a vertue besides the former, namely, for the
breaking of the stone in the bladder, and against the Falling sicknes.
And they further write that it is a discoverer of present poyson, for in
the presence of poyson it will change the colour. And this is the
substaunce of that which is written about this stone. Now for my part I
dare not conclude either with it, or against it, for many are directlie
for this stone ingendered in the braine or head of the Toade: on the
other side, some confesse such a stone by name and nature, but they make
doubt of the generation of it, as others have delivered; and therefore,
they beeing in sundry opinions, the hearing whereof might confound the
Reader, I will referre him for his satisfaction unto a Toade, which hee
may easily every day kill: For although when the Toade is dead, the
vertue thereof be lost, which consisted in the eye, or blew spot in the
middle, yet the substance remaineth, and, if the stone be found there in
substance, then is the question at an end; but, if it be not, then must
the generation of it be sought for in some other place."