The Walrus

Of the Walrus, Rosmarus, or Morse, Gesner draws, and Olaus Magnus

writes, thus:--"The Norway Coast, toward the more Northern parts,

hath a great Fish, as big as Elephants, which are called Morsi, or

Rosmari, may be they are (called) so from their sharp biting; for, if

they see any man on the Sea-shore, and can catch him, they come suddenly

upon him, and rend him with their Teeth, that they will kill him in a

trice. The
efore these Fish called Rosmari, or Morsi, have heads

fashioned like to an Oxes, and a hairy Skin, and hair growing as thick

as straw or corn-reeds, that lye loose very largely. They will raise

themselves with their Teeth, as by Ladders to the very tops of Rocks,

that they may feed on the Dewie Grasse, or Fresh Water, and role

themselves in it, unless in the mean time they fall very fast asleep,

and rest upon the Rocks; for then Fishermen make all the haste they can,

and begin at the Tail, and part the Skin from the Fat; and unto this

that is parted, they put most strong Cords, and fasten them on the

rugged rocks or Trees, that are near; then they throw stones at his

head, out of a Sling, to raise him, and they compel him to descend,

spoiled of the greatest part of his Skin, which is fastned to the Ropes:

he being thereby debilitated, fearful, and half dead, he is made a rich

prey, especially for his Teeth, that are very pretious amongst the

Scythians, the Muscovites, Russians, and Tartars, (as Ivory

amongst the Indians,) by reason of its hardness, whiteness, and

ponderousnesse. For which Cause, by excellent industry of Artificers

they are made fit for handles for Javelins: And this is also testified

by Mechovita, an historian of Poland, in his double Sarmatia, and

Paulus Jovius after him, relates it by the Relation of one

Demetrius, that was sent from the great Duke of Muscovy to Pope

Clement the 7th."

Although Olaus Magnus is very circumstantial in his detail as to the

intense somnolence, and brutal flaying alive of the "thereby

debilitated" Walrus, I can find no confirmation of either, in any other

account--on the contrary, in "A Briefe Note of the Morse and the use

thereof," published in Hakluyt, it is described as very wakeful and

vigilant, and certainly not an animal likely to have salt put on its

tail after Magnus's manner:--

"In the voyage of Jacques Carthier, wherein he discovered the Gulfe of

S. Laurance, and the said Isle of Ramea in the yeere 1534, he met with

these beastes, as he witnesseth in these words: About the said island

are very great beasts as great as oxen, which have two great teeth in

their mouthes like unto elephant's teeth, and live in the Sea. Wee sawe

one of them sleeping upon the banks of the water, and, thinking to take

it, we went to it with our boates, but so soon as he heard us, he cast

himselfe into the sea. Touching these beasts which Jacques Carthier

saith to be as big as oxen, and to have teeth in their mouthes like

elephants teeth; true it is that they are called in Latine Boves

marini or Vaccae marinae, and in the Russian tongue morsses, the hides

whereof I have seene as big as any ox hide, and being dressed, I have

yet a piece of one thicker than any two oxe, or bul's hides in England.

"The leather dressers take them to be excellent good to make light

targets against the arrowes of the savages; and I hold them farre better

than the light leather targets which the Moores use in Barbarie against

arrowes and lances, whereof I have seene divers in her Majesties stately

armourie in the Toure of London. The teeth of the sayd fishes, whereof I

have seene a dry flat full at once, are a foote and sometimes more in

length; and have been sold in England to the combe and knife makers at 8

groats and 3 shillings the pound weight, whereas the best ivory is solde

for halfe the money; the graine of the bone is somewhat more yellow than

the ivorie. One Mr. Alexander Woodson of Bristoll, my old friend, an

excellent mathematician and skilful phisitian, shewed me one of these

beasts teeth which were brought from the Isle of Ramea in the first

prize, which was half a yard long, or very little lesse: and assured mee

that he had made tryall of it in ministering medicine to his patients,

and had found it as sovereigne against poyson as any unicorne's horne."