Friday, June 22, 2012

Rhino Power

‘22d June, 1664. One Tomson, a Jesuit, showed me
such a collection of rarities, sent from the Jesuits of
Japan and China to their Order at Paris, as a present to
be reserved in their repository, but brought to London
by the East India ships for them, as in my life I had
not seen. The chief things were, rhinoceros's horns;
glorious vests, wrought and embroidered on cloth of
gold, but with such lively colors, that for splendor and
vividness we have nothing in Europe that approaches it;
a girdle studded with agates and rubies of great value
and size; knives, of so keen an edge as one could not
touch them, nor was the metal of our color, but more
pale and livid; fans, like those our ladies use, but much
larger, and with long handles curiously carved and
filled with Chinese characters ; a sort of paper very broad,
thin, and fine, like abortive parchment, and exquisitely
polished, of an amber yellow, exceedingly glorious and
pretty to look on, and seeming to be like that which my
Lord Verulam describes in his Nova Atlantis…’

The rhino was a curiosity in the 17th century, when John Evelyn penned his diary.  It was a better know beast in the 19th when Sir Walter Scott included it in “The Talisman”.

‘The Saracen came on at the speedy gallop of an Arab horseman, managing his steed more by his limbs and the inflection of his body than by any use of the reins, which hung loose in his left hand; so that he was enabled to wield the light, round buckler of the skin of the rhinoceros, ornamented with silver loops, which he wore on his arm, swinging it as if he meant to oppose its slender circle to the formidable thrust of the Western lance...’

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