The Rhinoceros

The true Unicorn is, of course, the Rhinoceros, and this picture of it

is as early an one as I can find, being taken from Aldrovandus de Quad,

A.D. 1521. Gesner and Topsell both reproduce it, at later dates, but

reversed. The latter says that Gesner drew it from the life at

Lisbon--but having Aldrovandus and the others before me, I am bound to

give the palm to the former, and confess the others to be piracies. It

is ce
tain, however, that whoever drew this picture of a Rhinoceros must

have seen one, either living or stuffed, for it is not too bizarre.

Topsell approaches this animal with an awe and reverence, such as he

never shows towards any other beast; indeed, he gets quite solemn over

it, and he thus commences his Apologia:--"But for my part, which write

the English story, I acknowledge that no man must looke for that at my

hands, which I have not received from some other: for I would bee

unwilling to write anything untrue, or uncertaine out of mine owne

invention; and truth on every part is so deare unto mee, that I will not

lie to bring any man in love and admiration with God and his works, for

God needeth not the lies of men: To conclude, therefore, this Praeface,

as the beast is strange, and never seene in our countrey, so my eyesight

cannot adde anything to the description; therefore harken unto that

which I have observed out of other writers."

They were very rare beasts, among the early Roman Emperors, but in the

later Empire they were introduced into the Circus, but many centuries

rolled on before we, in England, were favoured with a sight of this

great animal. Topsell had not seen one, and he wrote in 1607, so we

accept his Apologia with all his errors:--"Oppianus saith that there

was never yet any distinction of sexes in these Rhinocerotes; for all

that ever have been found were males, and not females, but from hence

let no body gather that there are no females, for it were impossible

that the breede should continue without females.

"When they are to fight they whet their horne upon a stone, and there

is not only a discord between these beasts and Elephants for their food,

but a natural description and enmity: for it is confidently affirmed,

that when the Rhinoceros which was at Lisborne, was brought into the

presence of an Elephant, the Elephant ran away from him. How and what

place he overcometh the Elephant, we have shewed already in his story,

namely, how he fastneth his horne in the soft part of the Elephantes

belly. He is taken by the same meanes that the Unicorne is taken, for

it is said by Albertus, Isodorus, and Alumnus, that above all

other creatures they love Virgins, and that unto them they will come be

they never so wilde, and fall a sleepe before them, so being asleepe

they are easily taken, and carried away. All the later Physitians do

attribute the vertue of the Unicorn's horne to the Rhinocereos


Ser Marco Polo, speaking of Sumatra, or, as he called it, Java the Less,

says in that island there are numerous unicorns. "They have hair like

that of a buffalo, feet like those of an elephant, and a horn in the

middle of the forehead, which is black and very thick. They do no

mischief, however, with the horn, but with the tongue alone; for this is

covered all over with long and strong prickles, (and when savage with

any one they crush him under their knees, and then rasp him with their

tongue). The head resembles that of a wild boar, and they carry it ever

bent towards the ground. They delight much to abide in mire and mud.

'Tis a passing ugly beast to look upon, and is not in the least like

that which our stories tell us of as being caught in the lap of a

virgin; in fact, 'tis altogether different from what we fancied."