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The fable of the existence of a mysterious “plant-animal” variously entitled “The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary,” “The Scythian Lamb,” and “The Barometz,” or “Borametz,” is one of the curious myths of the Middle Ages with which I have been long acquainted. Until the year 1883, not having given serious thought to it, or made it a subject of critical examination, I had been content to accept as correct the explanation of it now universally adopted; namely, that it originated from certain little lamb-like toy figures ingeniously constructed by the Chinese from the rhizome and frond-stems of a tree-fern, which, from its identification with the object of the fable, has received the name of Dicksonia Barometz. But during my researches in the works of ancient writers when preparing the manuscript of my two books, ‘Sea Monsters Unmasked,’ and ‘Sea Fables Explained,’ I came upon passages of old authors which convinced me that these toy “lambs” made from ferns by the Chinese had no more connexion with the story of “The Vegetable Lamb” than the artificial mermaids so cleverly constructed by the Japanese were the cause and origin of the ancient and world-wide belief in mermaids. Subsequent investigations have confirmed this opinion.
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