The Quarterly Review, vol. 24: Fraser—Tour through the Snowy Range of the HimālāEdit

English originalEdit

We have no doubt that a little time will bring to light many objects of natural history peculiar to the elevated regions of central Asia, and hitherto unknown in the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms, particularly in the two former. This is an opinion which we have long entertained; but we are led to the expression of it on the present occasion, by having been favoured with the perusal of a most interesting communication from Major Latter, commanding in the Rajah of Sikkim's territories, in the Hilly Country east of Nepaul, addressed to Adjutant General Nicol, and transmitted by him to the Marquis of Hastings. This important paper explicitly states that the unicorn, so long considered as a fabulous animal, actually exists at this moment in the interior of Thibet, where it is well known to the inhabitants. 'This,'—we copy from the Major's letter—'is a very curious fact, and it may be necessary to mention how the circumstance became known to me. In a Thibetan Manuscript, containing the names of different animals, which I procured the other day from the hills, the unicorn is classed under the head of those whose hoofs are divided; it is called the one-horned tso'po. Upon inquiring what kind of animal it was, to our astonishment, the person who brought me the manuscript described exactly the unicorn of the ancients: saying, that it was a native of the interior of Thibet, about the size of a tattoo, (a horse from twelve to thirteen hands high,) fierce and extremely wild; seldom, if ever, caught alive, but frequently shot; and that the flesh was used for food.'

'The person,' Major Latter adds, 'who gave me this information, has repeatedly seen these animals, and eaten the flesh of them. They go together in herds, like our wild buffaloes, and are very frequently to be met with on the borders of the great desert, about a month's journey from Lassa, in that part of the country inhabited by the wandering Tartars.'

This communication is accompanied by a drawing made by the messenger from recollection: it bears some resemblance to a horse, but has cloven hoofs, a long curved horn growing out of the forehead, and a boar-shaped tail, like that of the 'fera monoceros,' described by Pliny.[1] From its herding together, as the unicorn of the Scriptures is said to do, as well as from the rest of the description, it is evident that it cannot be the rhinoceros, which is a solitary animal; besides, Major Latter states that, in the Thibetian manuscript, the rhinoceros is described under the name of servo, and classed with the elephant; 'neither,' says he, 'is it the wild horse, (well known in Thibet,) for that has also a different name, and is classed in the MS. with the animals which have the hoofs undivided.' 'I have written (he subjoins) to the Sachia Lama, requesting him to procure me a perfect skin of the animal, with the head, horn, and hoofs; but it will be a long time before I can get it down, for they are not to be met with nearer than a month's journey from Lassa.'

  1. In speaking of the wild beasts of India, Pliny says, with regard to the animal in question, 'Asperrimam autem feram monocerotem, reliquo corpore equo similem, capite cervo, pedibus elephanti, cauda apro, mugitu gravi, uno cornu nigro media fronte cubitorum dûum eminente. Hanc feram vivam negant capi.'—Plin. Hist. Mund. lib. 8, cap. 21. The resemblance is certainly very striking.

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