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THE UPAS TREE

(Antiaris toxicaria.)-LESCHENHAULT. THE UPAS, “ horribilius ac detestabilius toxicum, quod ab ullo producitur vegetabili, quam quod ex hâc lactescente colligitur arbore,”—as it is styled by Rumphius, derives its interest chiefly from the gross literary frauds with which its name will ever be connected ; so that in the present paper we shall do little more than offer a brief historical account of the plant to our readers.

Most of the earlier travellers who visited the Indian Archipelago, allude to the existence of a poisonous tree growing in the Celebes, the exudation from which is described as of a most deadly nature. Thus, Sir Thomas Herbert, t when speaking of the Macassers, says :-“ The men use long canes or trunks called sempitans, out of which they blow a little pricking quill, which if it draw the least drop of blood, it destroys immediately. Some venoms operate in an hour; others in a moment; the veins and body (by the virulency of the poison) corrupting and rotting presently, even to tertour and amazement.” Numerous accounts of the tree were published subsequently to this period, by Tavernier, Nieuhoff, Spielmann, Kæmpfer, Rumphius, and others; but it attracted little attention from the public until an article appeared in the London Magazine for December, 1783, which was stated to be a translation by Heydinger, “formerly a German book

* This sketch is reduced from Blume's Rumphia.
+ Some Yeares Travels into Africa and Asia the Great, 1677.

seller near Temple-bar," from the Dutch of Færsch, a surgeon stationed at Batavia.

During his residence there, his curiosity being greatly excited by the various statements he received respecting the Bohun-Upas, as it is termed in the Malay language, he resolved to investigate the subject for himself. Having accordingly procured a pass to travel through the country from the Governor-general, and an introduction to an old priest who resided at the nearest habitable spot to the tree, and prepared for eternity the souls of those malefactors that preferred the attempt of procuring the poison, to the certainty of a public execution, he made the tour all around the dangerous spot, at about eighteen miles distant from the centre, and found the land entirely barren on all sides,—not even the least plant or grass to be seen. He states that each criminal was sent to the house of the old ecclesiastic, and furnished with a box for the poison, a long leather-cap, and a pair of leather-gloves, and instructions were given him to travel with the utmost dispatch, and always before the wind. During thirty years, the priest assured Færsch that he had dismissed upwards of seven hundred criminals, but that scarcely two out of twenty returned. When questioned about the origin of the tree, he replied :-“We are told in our new Alcoran that above a hundred years ago, the country around the tree was inhabited by a people strongly addicted to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah; when the great prophet Mahomet determined not to suffer them to lead such detestable lives any longer, he applied to God to punish them ; upon which God caused this tree to grow out of the earth, which destroyed them all, and rendered the country for ever uninhabitable.”

Færsch also states, that in consequence of a rebellion in 1755, four hundred families were compelled to settle in the uncultivated vicinity of the tree ; but their number, in less than two months, was reduced to about three hundred, all of whom had the appearance of being tainted with an infectious poison. A description is likewise given of the execution of thirteen fair delinquents, in all of whom life was extinct sixteen minutes after they had been lanced in their breasts by an instrument poisoned with the gum of the Upas. Some hours after death, he observed their bodies full of livid spots, their faces swelled, their colour changed to a kind of blue, their eyes yellow, &c.

This account afforded to Darwin too excellent a subject for poetic embellishment, to render him anxious to investigate its authenticity with any very great degree of severity; his personification of the tree, indeed, in the Loves of the Plants, may be well ranked amongst the most beautiful and striking passages in the whole poem :

“ Fierce in dread silence on the blasted heath
Fell Upas sits,--the Hydra-tree of death.
Lo, from one root, the envenomed soil below,
A thousand vegetative serpents grow;
In shining rays the scaly monster spreads
O'er ten square leagues his far diverging heads;
Or in one trunk entwists his tangled form,
Looks o'er the clouds, and hisses in the storm:
Steeped in fell poison, as his sharp teeth part,
A thousand tongues in quick vibration dart;
Snatch the proud eagle towering o'er the heath,
Or pounce the lion as he stalks beneath ;
Or strew, as marshall'd hosts contend in vain
With human skeletons the whitend plain.-

Chained at his root, two scion-demons dwell,
Breathe the faint hiss, or try the shriller yell;
Rise, fluttering in the air on callow wings,
And aim at insect-prey their little stings.
So Time's strong arms with sweeping sithe erase,
Art's cumbrous works, and empires, from their base:
While each young Hour its sickle fine employs,

And crops the sweet buds of domestic joys !" A short time after the appearance of Færsch's paper, the Batavian Society commissioned two of its members to examine the statements contained therein; and in their report, the falsehood of all the leading circumstances introduced to heighten the interest of the narrative is completely established. The memoirs of MM. Deschamps and Leschenhault, and of Dr. Horsfield, may be likewise adduced in evidence against the Dutchman, and have presented us with valuable information upon which reliance can be placed. Some have supposed that the production of Forsch arose from a confusion of the upas tree with the upas valley of Java, which Mr. Loudon describes as about half a mile in circumference, from thirty to thirty-five feet deep, the bottom quite flat, no vegetation, a few large stones, and the whole covered with the skeletons of human beings, tigers, pigs, deer, peacocks, and all sorts of beasts and birds. He descended to within eighteen feet of the bottom, and then thrust down two dogs, one of which continued to breathe eighteen, and the other seven minutes ; a fowl died in one minute and a half, and another which they threw in was dead before it reached the bottom. The result of these experiments is probably due to the escape of carbonic acid from the soil, similar to that which occurs on a smaller scale in the Grotto del Cane, near Naples.

But not only has the authenticity of the narrative been called in question, but also its genuineness; and even at the time of its publication, many considered it to be fabricated in a great measure by Heydinger. D'Israeli, however, thinks Færsch himself is as fictitious as his tale, and ascribes the manufacture of both to George Stevens, whose principal delight consisted in a literary hoax.

By botanists the Upas tree, or Antiaris toxicaria (Leschenhault), is considered a member of the order Urticacee, or nettle tribe. It is one of the largest forest trees of Java, attaining the height of from sixty to one hundred feet, and delights in a fertile, and not very elevated soil. Like other trees in its neighbourhood, it is surrounded with vegetation, and it even affords support to numerous climbing plants. Its leaves are oval and alternate, and its inflorescence is monæcious, the catkins of the male flowers, according to the simile of Deschamps, resembling the contrayerva, and those of the female, so many budding figs. From incisions in its whitish bark a milky sap exudes, which is mixed with the juice of arum, galanga, onions, garlic, and other plants, and the whole boiled down with a small quantity of black pepper. In order to test whether or not the poison is duly prepared, a single seed of the Guinea-pepper (Capsicum fruticosum) is placed on the fluid in the centre of the bowl ; if it immediately performs a rapid series of movements, the digestion is incomplete; the same quantity of pepper is therefore added, and the experiment again tried, and this is repeated until the seed of the Capsicum, when dropped on the liquid, remains perfectly still ; the poison is then considered fit for use. Dr. Horsfield details the results of several experiments with the Upas, and found the usual train of symptoms to be — trembling of the extremities, restless

seller near Temple-bar," from the Dutch of Forsch, a surgeon stationed at Batavia.

During his residence there, his curiosity being greatly excited by the various statements he received respecting the Bohun-Upas, as it is termed in the Malay language, he resolved to investigate the subject for himself. Having accordingly procured a pass to travel through the country from the Governor-general, and an introduction to an old priest who resided at the nearest habitable spot to the tree, and prepared for eternity the souls of those malefactors that preferred the attempt of procuring the poison, to the certainty of a public execution, he made the tour all around the dangerous spot, at about eighteen miles distant from the centre, and found the land entirely barren on all sides,—not even the least plant or grass to be seen. He states that each criminal was sent to the house of the old ecclesiastic, and furnished with a box for the poison, a long leather-cap, and a pair of leather-gloves, and instructions were given him to travel with the utmost dispatch, and always before the wind. During thirty years, the priest assured Færsch that he had dismissed upwards of seven hundred criminals, but that scarcely two out of twenty returned. When questioned about the origin of the tree, he replied :-“We are told in our new Alcoran that above a hundred years ago, the country around the tree was inhabited by a people strongly addicted to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah ; when the great prophet Mahomet determined not to suffer them to lead such detestable lives any longer, he applied to God to punish them ; upon which God caused this tree to grow out of the earth, which destroyed them all, and rendered the country for ever uninhabitable."

Forsch also states, that in consequence of a rebellion in 1755, four hundred families were compelled to settle in the uncultivated vicinity of the tree; but their number, in less than two months, was reduced to about three hundred, all of whom had the appearance of being tainted with an infections poison. A description is likewise given of the execution of thirteen fair delinquents, in all of whom life was extinct sixteen minutes after they had been lanced in their breasts by an instrument poisoned with the gum of the Upas. Some hours after death, he observed their bodies full of livid spots, their faces swelled, their colour changed to a kind of blue, their eyes yellow, &c.

This account afforded to Darwin too excellent a subject for poetic embellishment, to render him anxious to investigate its authenticity with any very great degree of severity; his personification of the tree, indeed, in the Loves of the Plants, may be well ranked amongst the most beautiful and striking passages in the whole poem :

“ Fierce in dread silence on the blasted heath
Fell Upas sits,—the Hydra-tree of death.
Lo, from one root, the envenomed soil below,
A thousand vegetative serpents grow;
In shining rays the scaly monster spreads
O'er ten square leagues his far diverging heads;
Or in one trunk entwists his tangled form,
Looks o'er the clouds, and hisses in the storm:
Steeped in fell poison, as his sharp teeth part,
A thousand tongues in quick vibration dart;
Snatch the proud eagle towering o'er the heath,
Or pounce the lion as he stalks beneath ;
Or strew, as marshall'd hosts contend in vain
With human skeletons the whiten'd plain.

Chained at his root, two scion-demons dwell,
Breathe the faint hiss, or try the shriller yell ;
Rise, fluttering in the air on callow wings,
And aim at insect-prey their little stings.
So Time's strong arms with sweeping sithe erase,
Art's cumbrous works, and empires, from their base:
While each young Hour its sickle fine employs,

And crops the sweet buds of domestic joys!” A short time after the appearance of Færsch's paper, the Batavian Society commissioned two of its members to examine the statements contained therein; and in their report, the falsehood of all the leading circumstances introduced to heighten the interest of the narrative is completely established. The memoirs of MM. Deschamps and Leschenhault, and of Dr. Horsfield, may be likewise adduced in evidence against the Dutchman, and have presented us with valuable information upon which reliance can be placed. Some have supposed that the production of Forsch arose from a confusion of the upas tree with the upas valley of Java, which Mr. Loudon describes as about half a mile in circumference, from thirty to thirty-five feet deep, the bottom quite flat, no vegetation, a few large stones, and the whole covered with the skeletons of human beings, tigers, pigs, deer, peacocks, and all sorts of beasts and birds. He descended to within eighteen feet of the bottom, and then thrust down two dogs, one of which continued to breathe eighteen, and the other seven minutes ; a fowl died in one minute and a half, and another which they threw in was dead before it reached the bottom. The result of these experiments is probably due to the escape of carbonic acid from the soil, similar to that which occurs on a smaller scale in the Grotto del Cane, near Naples.

But not only has the authenticity of the narrative been called in question, but also its genuineness; and even at the time of its publication, many considered it to be fabricated in a great measure by Heydinger. D’Israeli, however, thinks Færsch himself is as fictitious as his tale, and ascribes the manufacture of both to George Stevens, whose principal delight consisted in a literary hoax.

By botanists the Upas tree, or Antiaris toxicaria (Leschenhault), is considered a member of the order Urticacea, or nettle tribe. It is one of the largest forest trees of Java, attaining the height of from sixty to one hundred feet, and delights in a fertile, and not very elevated soil. Like other trees in its neighbourhood, it is surrounded with vegetation, and it even affords support to numerous climbing plants. Its leaves are oval and alternate, and its inflorescence is monacious, the catkins of the male flowers, according to the simile of Deschamps, resembling the contrayerva, and those of the female, so many budding figs. From incisions in its whitish bark a milky sap exudes, which is mixed with the juice of arum, galanga, onions, garlic, and other plants, and the whole boiled down with a small quantity of black pepper. In order to test whether or not the poison is duly prepared, a single seed of the Guinea-pepper (Capsicum fruticosum) is placed on the fluid in the centre of the bowl; if it immediately performs a rapid series of movements, the digestion is incomplete ; the same quantity of pepper is therefore added, and the experiment again tried, and this is repeated until the seed of the Capsicum, when dropped on the liquid, remains perfectly still; the poison is then considered fit for use. Dr. Horsfield details the results of several experiments with the Upas, and found the usual train of symptoms to be,– trembling of the extremities, restless

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