Fuller on Unicorns' Horns
A note to Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Book III, chapter 23

From Thomas Fuller (1662) The History of the Worthies of England, (pp. 193-195):

The Unicorns-Horn.

Amongst the many precious rarities in the Tower, this (as another in Windsor-Castle) was in my memory, shown to people. It belongs not to me to enquire, what is become of them, but rather to discuss,

1. Whether there be such a creature as an Unicorn.

3. What the fashion and colour

of his Horn.

2. What kind of Animal it is?

4. What the use & effect

For the first, they produce a weak proof, who alledge them to be the Supporters of Scottish-arms, and of the arms of some English Gentlemen, particularly of the Family of Paris in Cambridge-shire; seeing most Heralds wear the addition of Painters, and the Fancy of Painters pretends to the priviledge of a lawlesse Liberty, But, besides that it is uncivil to give the lye to a common Tradition, the former existence of such a creature (and surely no Species is wholly lost) is cleared frm several places of Scripture, 1 God hath as it were the strength of an Unicorn. 2 Will the Unicorn be willing to serve thee? 3 My Horn shalt thou exalt like the Horn of an Unicorn, &c. True it is, the Word in the 4 Original importeth nothing of any Horn therein (as doth the Latin Unicornis, and the Greek Monoceros) Yet I am confident it is right rendred, because it is so rendred. Such was the Learning and Piety of the persons imployed in that Translation.

Proceed we now to the second Quære of the kind thereof. Surely it is distinct from the Rhinoceros (carrying a Horn not on his Forehead but on his Nose) because the Exaltation of his Horn is not considerable, as not bunching forth much above a Foot in the prominency thereof. He is commonly pictured, bodyed like a Buck, with a Horn advanced out of his Forehead, some two Yards in proportion, and this his Picture confuteth his Picture, seeing generally he is held to be no Beast of Prey, but which feedeth on the grass, and if so, his Mouth cannot meet with the Ground; the Interposition of his Horn so fancifully fixed, making so great distance betwixt them.

The plain Truth is, I, who first questioned whether there were any Unicorns, am since convinced that there are so many sorts of them, The Indian Oxe, the Indian Asse, the Oryx, &c. famous for carrying one Horn, but which is the prize in this Lottery I cannot decide, seeing none alive in our Land have seen a four footed Beast of that kind, and Julius Scaliger saith truly,

Ex libris colligere quae prodiderunt Authores lone est periculosissimum; Rerum ipsarum cognitio vera è rebus ipsis est.

Olaus Worme, One no lesse curious Inquirer into the Mysteries, then careful preserver of the Rarities of Nature, Physician at this day to the King of Denmark, in a Learned Work which he lately sset forth endevoureth to prove all under a general mistake, who fancy a Unicorn a four footed Beast, proving the same to be a Fish in the Northern Seas, of 22 Foot in Length, a long horn in his Forehead (no more cumbersome in the portage, then Ears are to other Beasts) with which Horn he tilteth at his prey, and having pierced it through, doth afterward feed upon it.

If it be objected to the contrary, that in 5 Scripture he is ranked amongst the Quadrupedes; And the Unicorns shall come down with them, and the Bullocks with the Bulls, and their Land shall be soaked with blood, and their Dust made Fat with Fatnesse; It will be answered, that Unicorns are not real, but metaphorical (rendred appellatively Rebusti in some Translations) importing that strong Enemies both by Water and Land, shall invade Idumæa to the utter detruction thereof.

Come we now to the fashion and colour of the Horn, conceiving it no considerable controversie concerning the length and bignesse thereof, quantity not varying the kind in such cases. Some are plain, as that in St. Marks in Venice; others wreathed about, as that of St. Dyonis neer Paris, with anfractuous spires, and cochleary turnings about it, which probably is the effect of age, those Wreaths being but the wrinkles of most vivacious Unicorns. The same may be said of the colour, white, when newly taken from his Head; Yellow, like that lately in the Tower of some hundred years seniorirty, but whether or no it will ever turn black, as that of Ælians and Plinies Description, let others decide.

The last Quære remains of the virtue of this Horn, which some exalt so high, that it is not only antidotal to several Venomes, and substances destructive by their qualities, which we can command our selves to believe; but also that it resisteth poysons which kill by second qualities, that is, by corrosion of parts; wherein I concur with my learned 6 Author, and doubt such exceed the properties of its nature, and the promises of experiment will not secure the adventure; and I believe few Mountebanks will be so daring as to poyson themselves on the Security of such an Alexipharmacon.

I have done Reader with this Subject, when I have told thee that two of my worthy friends (yea, the Friends to Mankind by their general generosity) Dr. Baldwin Hamey and Sir Francis Prugean, the one had the Horn it self (which to my dim eyes at some distance seemed like a Taper of wreathed Waxe) the other hath the Socket (as I may term it) of the Fish, into which this Horn was fixed. I have heard, that upon Experiment, a great cure against poyson hath been done with some Grains thereof; and it is improbable that the Vigour of the vigour of Nature, should extrude that so specious to Sight, which is not also Soveraign to Service. Since I am informed that the same Dr. Hamey, hath parted with the Propriety thereof to the Colledge of Physicians, and they have solemnly presented this Unicorns Horn to his Majesty, to supply the place of that in the Tower, which our civil wars have embeseled.



1 Num. 23.22.

2 Job. 59.9

3 Psal. 22. 10.

4 ראם Reem.

5 Isa. 34.7.

6 Tho. Browne Dr. of Physick in his Enquiries into vulgar Errors B. 3. cap. 23.

This page is by James Eason.

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