Mythical Monsters - Charles Gould - ebook

Mythical Monsters ebook

Charles Gould



An exploration into all beasts fabled, fabricated, fantastical, and fanciful, from across the world, including the Chinese and Japanese Dragon, Unicorn, Phoenix, and the spate of Sea Serpents sighted off the 19th century New England coast.

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Mythical Monsters

Charles Gould


Mythical Monsters



On The Credibility Of Remarkable Stories.

Chapter I. On Some Remarkable Animal Forms.

Chapter Ii. Extinction Of Species.

Extinct Post Tertiary Mammalia.

Local Extinction.

Chapter Iii. Antiquity Of Man.

Chapter Iv. The Deluge Not A Myth.

Chapter V.On The Translation Of Myths Between The Old And The New World.

Chapter Vi. The Dragon.

Winged Serpents.

Classical Dragon And Mediæval Dragon.

Chapter Vii. The Chinese Dragon.

The "Yih King" Or "Yh King."

The Annals Of The Bamboo Books.

The "Shu King"  Or "Shoo King"

The "’Rh Ya."

The "Shan Hai King" Or Classic Of Mountain And Seas.

The Pan Tsao Kang Mu.

The Yuen Kien Lei Han.

Chapter Viii. The Japanese Dragon.

The White Dragon.

Conclusion Of Dragon Chapters.

Chapter Ix. The Sea-Serpent.

The Barque "Pauline" Sea-Serpent.

Chapter X. The Unicorn.

The Poh.

Chapter Xi. The Chinese Phoenix.

Appendix I. The Deluge Tradition According To Berosus.

Appendix Ii. The Dragon.

Ælianiis De Naturâ Animalium.

Appendix Iii. Original Preface To "Wonders By Land And Sea" ("Shan Hai King").

Appendix Iv. A Memorial Presented By Liu Hsiu, By Order Of His Imperial Majesty The Emperor, On The "Book Of Wonders By Land And Sea."

Appendix V. After Preface To The "Book Of Wonders By Land And Sea."

Appendix Vi. Extracts From "Social Life Of The Chinese,"

Appendix Vii. Extracts From The "Pan Tsaou Kang Mu."

Appendix Viii. Extract From The "Yuen Keen Lei Han."

Appendix Ix. Appendix To The Chapter On The Sea-Serpent.

Mythical Monsters, C. Gould

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9


ISBN: 9783849641825

[email protected]

Mythical Monsters


THE Author has to express his great obligations to many gentlemen who have assisted him in the preparation of this volume, either by affording access to their libraries, or by furnishing or revising translations from the Chinese, &c.; and he must especially tender them to J. Haas, Esq., the Austro-Hungarian Vice-Consul at Shanghai, to Mr. Thomas Kingsmill and the Rev. W. Holt of Shanghai, to Mr. Falconer of Hong-Kong, and to Dr. N. B. Dennys of Singapore.

For the sake of uniformity, the author has endeavoured to reduce all the romanised representations of Chinese sounds to the system adopted by S. W. Williams, whose invaluable dictionary is the most available one for students. No alteration, however, has been made when quotations from eminent sinologues like Legge have been inserted.

Should the present volume prove sufficiently interesting to attract readers, a second one will be issued at a future date, in continuation of the subject.

June, 1884.


THE Publishers think it right to state that, owing to the Author's absence in China, the work has not had the advantage of his supervision in its passage through the press. It is also proper to mention that the MS. left the Author's hands eighteen months ago.

13, WATERLOO PLACE. S.W.January, 1886.       


IT would have been a bold step indeed for anyone, some thirty years ago, to have thought of treating the public to a collection of stories ordinarily reputed fabulous, and of claiming for them the consideration due to genuine realities, or to have advocated tales, time-honoured as fictions, as actual facts; and those of the nursery as being, in many instances, legends, more or less distorted, descriptive of real beings or events.

Now-a-days it is a less hazardous proceeding. The great era of advanced opinion, initiated by Darwin, which has seen, in the course of a few years, a larger progress in knowledge in all departments of science than decades of centuries preceding it, has, among other changes, worked a complete revolution in the estimation of the value of folk-lore; and speculations on it, which in the days of our boyhood would have been considered as puerile, are now admitted to be not merely interesting but necessary to those who endeavour to gather up the skeins of unwritten history, and to trace the antecedents and early migrations from parent sources of nations long since alienated from each other by customs, speech, and space.

I have, therefore, but little hesitation in gravely proposing to submit that many of the so-called mythical animals, which throughout long ages and in all nations have been the fertile subjects of fiction and fable, come legitimately within the scope of plain matter-of-fact Natural History, and that they may be considered, not as the outcome of exuberant fancy, but as creatures which really once existed, and of which, unfortunately, only imperfect and inaccurate descriptions have filtered down to us, probably very much refracted, through the mists of time.

I propose to follow, for a certain distance only, the path which has been pursued in the treatment of myths by mythologists, so far only, in fact, as may be necessary to trace out the homes and origin of those stories which in their later dress are incredible; deviating from it to dwell upon the possibility of their having preserved to us, through the medium of unwritten Natural History, traditions of creatures once co-existing with man, some of which are so weird and terrible as to appear at first sight to be impossible. I propose stripping them of those supernatural characters with which a mysteriously implanted love of the wonderful has invested them, and to examine them, as at the present day we are fortunately able to do, by the lights of the modern sciences of Geology, Evolution, and Philology.

For me the major part of these creatures are not chimeras but objects of rational study. The dragon, in place of being a creature evolved out of the imagination of Aryan man by the contemplation of lightning flashing through the caverns which he tenanted, as is held by some mythologists, is an animal which once lived and dragged its ponderous coils, and perhaps flew; which devastated herds, and on occasions swallowed their shepherd; which, establishing its lair in some cavern overlooking the fertile plain, spread terror and destruction around, and, protected from assault by dread or superstitious feeling, may even have been subsidised by the terror-stricken peasantry, who, failing the power to destroy it, may have preferred tethering offerings of cattle adjacent to its cavern to having it come down to seek supplies from amongst their midst. 

To me the specific existence of the unicorn seems not incredible, and, in fact, more probable than that theory which assigns its origin to a lunar myth. 

Again, believing as I do in the existence of some great undescribed inhabitant of the ocean depths, the much-derided sea-serpent, whose home seems especially to be adjacent to Norway, I recognise this monster as originating the myths of the midgard serpent which the Norse Elder Eddas have collected, this being the contrary view to that taken by mythologists, who invert the derivation, and suppose the stories current among the Norwegian fishermen to be modified versions of this important element of Norse mythology. 

I must admit that, for my part, I doubt the general derivation of myths from the contemplation of the visible workings of external nature."  It seems to me easier to suppose that the palsy of time has enfeebled the utterance of these oft-told tales until their original appearance is almost unrecognisable, than that uncultured savages should possess powers of imagination and poetical invention far beyond those enjoyed by the most instructed nations of the present day; less hard to believe that these wonderful stories of gods and demigods, of giants and dwarfs, of dragons and monsters of all descriptions, are transformations than to believe them to be inventions. 

The author of Atlantis,  indeed, claims that the gods and goddesses of the ancient Greeks, the Phœnicians, the Hindoos, and the Scandinavians were simply the kings, queens, and heroes of Atlantis, and the acts attributed to them in mythology a confused recollection of real historical events. Without conceding the locus of the originals, which requires much greater examination than I am able to make at the present time, I quite agree with him as to the principle. I believe that the mythological deities represent a confused chronology of far-distant times, and that the destruction of the Nemean lion, the Lernean hydra, and the Minotaur are simply the records of acts of unusual bravery in combating ferocious animals.

On the first landing of Pizarro the Mexicans entertained the opinion that man and horse were parts of one strange animal,  and we have thus a clue to the explanation of the origin of the belief in centaurs from a distant view of horsemen, a view possibly followed by the immediate flight of the observer, which rendered a solution of the extraordinary phenomenon impossible.


Ferdinand Mendez Pinto quaintly observes, in one of his earlier chapters, "I will not speak of the Palace Royal, because I saw it but on the outside, howbeit the Chinese tell such wonders of it as would amaze a man; for it is my intent to relate nothing save what we beheld here with our own eyes, and that was so much as that I am afraid to write it; not that it would seem strange to those who have seen and read the marvels of the kingdom of China, but because I doubt that they which would compare those wondrous things that are in the countries they have not seen, with that little they have seen in their own, will make some question of it, or, it may be, give no credit at all to these truths, because they are not conformable to their understanding and small experience." 

Now as some of the creatures whose existence I shall have to contend for in these volumes are objects of derision to a large proportion of mankind, and of reasonable doubt to another, I cannot help fortifying myself with some such outwork of reasoning as the pith of Pinto's remarks affords, and supplementing it by adding that, while the balance between scepticism and credulity is undoubtedly always difficult to hold, yet, as Lord Bacon well remarks, "There is nothing makes a man suspect much more than to know little; and therefore men should remedy suspicion by procuring to know more."

Whately extends Bacon's proposition by adding, "This is equally true of the suspicions that have reference to things as persons"; in other words, ignorance and suspicion go hand-in-hand, and so travellers’ tales, even when supported by good evidence, are mostly denied credence or accepted with repugnance, when they offend the experience of those who, remaining at home, are thus only partially educated. Hence it is, not to go too far back for examples, that we have seen Bruce, Mungo Park, Du Chaillu, Gordon Cumming, Schliemann,  and Stanley treated with the most ungenerous criticism and contemptuous disbelief by persons who, however well informed in many subjects, lacked the extended and appreciative views which can only be acquired by travel.

Nor is this incredulity limited to travellers’ tales about savage life. It is just as often displayed in reference to the surroundings of uneventful life, provided they are different from those with which we are familiar.

Saladin rebuked the Knight of the Leopard for falsehood when the latter assured him that the waters of lakes in his own country became at times solidified, so that armed and mounted knights could cross them as if on dry land. And the wise Indian who was taken down to see the large American cities, with the expectation that, being convinced of the resources and irresistible power of civilization he would influence his tribe to submission on his return, to the surprise of the commissioners who had conveyed him, spoke in directly contrary terms to those expected of him, privately explaining in reply to their remonstrances, that had he told the truth to his tribe he would have been indelibly branded for the remainder of his life as an outrageous and contemptible liar. Chinese students, despatched for education in American or European capitals, are compelled on their return to make similar reservations, under pain of incurring a like penalty; and officials who, from contact with Europeans at the open ports, get their ideas expanded too quickly, are said to be liable to isolation in distant regions, where their advanced and fantastic opinions may do as little harm to right-thinking people as possible. 

Even scientific men are sometimes as crassly incredulous as the uncultured masses. On this point hear Mr. A. R. Wallace.  "Many now living remember the time (for it is little more than twenty years ago) when the antiquity of man, as now understood, was universally discredited. Not only theologians, but even geologists taught us that man belonged to the existing state of things; that the extinct animals of the tertiary period had finally disappeared, and that the earth's surface had assumed its present condition before the human race first came into existence. So prepossessed were scientific men with this idea, which yet rested on purely negative evidence, and could not be supported by any argument of scientific value, that numerous facts which had been presented at intervals for half a century, all tending to prove the existence of man at very remote epochs, were silently ignored, and, more than this, the detailed statements of three distinct and careful observers confirming each other were rejected by a great scientific society as too improbable for publication, only because they proved (if they were true) the co-existence of man with extinct animals." 

The travels of that faithful historian, Marco Polo, were for a long time considered as fables, and the graphic descriptions of the Abbé Huc even still find detractors continuing the rôle of those who maintained that he had never even visited the countries which he described.

Gordon Cumming was disbelieved when he asserted that he had killed an antelope, out of a herd, with a rifle-shot at a distance of eight hundred yards.

Madame Merian  was accused of deliberate falsehood in reference to her description of a bird-eating spider nearly two hundred years ago. But now-a-days Mr. Bates and other reliable observers have confirmed it in regard to South America, India, and elsewhere.

Audubon was similarly accused by botanists of having invented the yellow water-lily, which he figured in his Birds of the South under the name of Nymphæa lutea, and after having lain under the imputation for years, was confirmed at last by the discovery of the long-lost flower, in Florida, by Mrs. Mary Trent, in the summer of 1876;  and this encourages us to hope that some day or other a fortunate sportsman may rediscover the Haliætus Washingtonii, in regard to which Dr. Cover says: "That famous bird of Washington was a myth; either Audubon was mistaken, or else, as some do not hesitate to affirm, he lied about it."


(Facsimile from a drawing by Hokusai, a celebrated Japanese artist who lived about the beginning of the present century.)

Victor Hugo was ridiculed for having exceeded the bounds of poetic license when he produced his marvellous word-painting of the devil-fish, and described a man as becoming its helpless victim. The thing was derided as a monstrous impossibility; yet within a few years were discovered, on the shores of Newfoundland, cuttle-fishes with arms extending to thirty feet in length, and capable of dragging a good-sized boat beneath the surface; and their action has been reproduced for centuries past, as the representation of a well-known fact, in net sukes (ivory carvings) and illustrations by Japanese artists. 

Before the days of Darwinism, what courage was requisite in a man who propounded any theory a little bit extravagant! Hark how, even less than twenty years ago, the ghost of the unfortunate Lord Monboddo had bricks of criticism pelted at it, half earnestly, half contemptuously, by one of our greatest thinkers, whose thought happened to run in grooves different from those travelled in by the mind of the unfortunate Scotchman.

"Lord Monboddo  had just finished his great work, by which he derives all mankind from a couple of apes, and all the dialects of the world from a language originally framed by some Egyptian gods, when the discovery of Sanskrit came on him like a thunderbolt. It must be said, however, to his credit, that he at once perceived the immense importance of the discovery. He could not be expected to sacrifice his primordial monkeys or his Egyptian idols, &c."

And again: "It may be of interest to give one other extract in order to show how well, apart from his men with, and his monkeys without, tails, Lord Monboddo could sift and handle the evidence that was placed before him."

Max Müller also furnishes us with an amazing example of scepticism on the part of Dugald Stewart. He says : " However, if the facts about Sanskrit were true, Dugald Stewart was too wise not to see that the conclusions drawn from them were inevitable. He therefore denied the reality of such a language as Sanskrit altogether, and wrote his famous essay to prove that Sanskrit had been put together, after the model of Greek and Latin, by those archforgers and liars, the Brahmans, and that the whole of Sanskrit literature was an imposition."

So Ctesias attacked Herodotus. The very existence of Homer has been denied, and even the authorship of Shakespeare's plays questioned. 

We are all familiar enough now with the black swan, but Ovid  considered it as so utterly impossible that he clinched, as it were, an affirmation by saying, "If I doubted, O Maximus, of thy approval of these words, I could believe that there are swans of the colour of Memnon" [i.e. black]; and even so late as the days of Sir Thomas Browne, we find them classed by him with flying horses, hydras, centaurs, harpies, and satyrs, as monstrosities, rarities, or else poetical fancies. 

Now that we have all seen the great hippopotamus disport himself in his tank in the gardens of the Zoological Society, we can smile at the grave arguments of the savant who, while admitting the existence of the animal, disputed the possibility of his walking about on the bed of a river, because his great bulk would prevent his rising again.  But I daresay it passed muster in his days as a very sound and shrewd observation, just as, possibly, but for the inconvenient waggery of Peter Pindar, might have done the intelligent inquiry, which he records, after the seam in the apple-dumpling.

Poor Fray Gaspar de Jan Bernardine who, in 1611, undertook the journey by land from India to Portugal, was unfortunate enough to describe the mode in which the captain of the caravan communicated intelligence to Bagdad by carrier pigeon. "He had pigeons whose young and nests were at his house in that city, and every two days he let fly a pigeon with a letter tied to its foot containing the news of his journey. This account met with but little belief in Europe, and was treated there as a matter of merriment." 

The discredit under which this traveller fell is the more surprising because the same custom had already been noted by Sir John Mandeville, who, in speaking of Syria and adjacent countries, says: "In that contree, and other contrees beyond, thei have custom, whan thei schulle usen warre, and when men holden sege abouten Cytee or Castelle, and thei withinen dur not senden messagers with lettres frō Lord to Lord for to ask Sokour, thei maken here Lettres and bynden hem to the Nekke of a Colver and leten the Colver flee, and the Colveren ben so taughte, that thei flun with the Lettres to the very place that men wolde send hem to. For the Colveres ben norrysscht in the Places Where thei been sent to, and thei senden them there, for to beren here Lettres, and the Colveres retournen agen, where as thei ben norrischt, and so thei dou commonly."

While, long before, Pliny had referred to it in his Natural History  as follows: "In addition to this, pigeons have acted as messengers in affairs of importance. During the siege of Mutina, Decimus Brutus, who was in the town, sent despatches to the camp of the Consuls, fastened to pigeons’ feet. Of what use to Antony, then, were his entrenchments? and all the vigilance of the besieging army? his nets, too, which he had spread in the river, while the messenger of the besieged was cleaving the air?"

The pace of railways; steam communication across the Atlantic; the Suez Canal ; were not all these considered in former days to be impossible? With these examples of failure of judgment before us, it may be fairly asked whether, in applying our minds to the investigation of the reality of creatures apparently monstrous, we duly reflect upon the extraordinary, almost miraculous, events which incessantly occur in the course of the short existence of all animated nature? Supposing the history of insects were unknown to us, could the wildest imagination conceive such a marvellous transformation as that which takes place continually around us in the passage from the larva through the chrysalis to the butterfly? or human ingenuity invent one so bizarre as that recorded by Steenstrup in his theory of the alternation of generation?

We accept as nothing marvellous, only because we see them daily, the organization and the polity of a community of ants; their collaboration, their wars, and their slaveries have been so often stated that they cease to astonish. The same may be said of the marvellous architecture of birds, their construction of houses to live in, of bowers to play in, and even of gardens to gratify their sense of beauty. 

We admire the ingenious imagination of Swift, and essayists dwell upon his happy conceits and upon the ability with which, in his celebrated work, he has ordered all things to harmonise in dimensions with the enlarged and reduced scales on which he has conceived the men and animals of Brobdignag and Lilliput. So much even has this quaint idea been appreciated, that his story has achieved a small immortality, and proved one of the numerous springs from which new words have been imported into our language. Yet the peculiar and essential singularities of the story are quite equalled, or even surpassed, by creatures which are, or have been, found in nature. The imaginary diminutive cows which Gulliver brought back from Lilliput, and placed in the meadows at Dulwich, are not one bit more remarkable, in respect to relative size, than the pigmy elephant (E. Falconeri) whose remains have been found in the cave-deposits of Malta, associated with those of pigmy hippopotami, and which was only two feet six inches high; or the still existing Hippopotamus (Chœropsis) liberiensis, which M. Milne Edwardes  figures as little more than two feet in height.

The lilliputian forests from which the royal navy was constructed contained even large trees in comparison with the dwarf oaks of Mexico,  or with the allied, even smaller species, which crawls like heather about the hill-slopes of China and Japan, and still more so in comparison with that singular pine, the most diminutive known (Dacrydium taxifolium), fruiting specimens of which, according to Kirk, are sometimes only two inches high, while the average height is only six to ten inches; while even among the forests of Brobdignag, a very respectable position could be held by the mammoth trees of California (Sequoia gigantea), or by the loftier white gums of Australia (Eucalyptus amygdalina), which occasionally reach, according to Von Mueller,  the enormous height of 480 feet. Nor could more adequate tenants (in point of size) be found to occupy them than the gigantic reptilian forms lately discovered by Marsh among the deposits of Colorado and Texas.

Surely a profound acquaintance with the different branches of natural history should render a man credulous rather than incredulous, for there is hardly conceivable a creature so monstrous that it may not be paralleled by existing ones in every-day life. 

Are the composite creatures of Chaldæan mythology so very much more wonderful than the marsupial kangaroo, the duck-billed platypus, and the flying lizard of Malaysia which

are, or the pterodactylus, rhamphorynchus, and archæopteryx which have been? Does not geological science, day by day, trace one formation by easy gradation to another, bridge over

the gaps which formerly separated them, carry the proofs of the existence of man constantly further and further back into remote time, and disclose the previous existence of intermediate types (satisfying the requirements of the Darwinian theory) connecting the great divisions of the animal kingdom, of reptile-like birds and bird-like reptiles? Can we suppose that we have at all exhausted the great museum of nature? Have we, in fact, penetrated yet beyond its ante-chambers?

Does the written history of man, comprising a few thousand years, embrace the whole course of his intelligent existence? or have we in the long mythical eras, extending over hundreds of thousands of years and recorded in the chronologies of Chaldæa and of China, shadowy mementoes of pre-historic man, handed down by tradition, and perhaps transported by a few survivors to existing lands from others which, like the fabled (?) Atlantis of Plato, may have been submerged, or the scene of some great catastrophe which destroyed them with all their civilization.

The six or eight thousand years which the various interpreters of the Biblical record assign for the creation of the world and the duration of man upon the earth, allow little enough space for the development of his civilization—a civilization which documental evidence carries almost to the verge of the limit—for the expansion and divergence of stocks, or the obliteration of the branches connecting them.

But, fortunately, we are no more compelled to fetter our belief within such limits as regards man than to suppose that his appearance on the globe was coeval with or immediately successive to its own creation at that late date. For while geological science, on the one hand, carries back the creation of the world and the appearance of life upon its surface to a period so remote that it is impossible to estimate it, and difficult even to faintly approximate to it, so, upon the other, the researches of paleontologists have successively traced back the existence of man to periods variously estimated at from thirty thousand to one million years—to periods when he co-existed with animals which have long since become extinct, and which even excelled in magnitude and ferocity most of those which in savage countries dispute his empire at the present day. Is it not reasonable to suppose that his combats with these would form the most important topic of conversation, of tradition, and of primitive song, and that graphic accounts of such struggles, and of the terrible nature of the foes encountered, would be handed down from father to son, with a fidelity of description and an accuracy of memory unsuspected by us, who, being acquainted with reading and writing, are led to depend upon their artificial assistance, and thus in a measure fail to cultivate a faculty which, in common with those of keenness of vision and hearing, are essential to the existence of man in a savage or semi-savage condition? 

The illiterate backwoodsman or trapper (and hence by inference the savage or semi-civilized man), whose mind is occupied merely by his surroundings, and whose range of thought, in place of being diffused over an illimitable horizon, is confined within very moderate limits, develops remarkable powers of observation and an accuracy of memory in regard to localities, and the details of his daily life, surprising to the scholar who has mentally to travel over so much more ground, and, receiving daily so many and so far more complex ideas, can naturally grasp each less firmly, and is apt to lose them entirely in the haze of a period of time which would still leave those of the uneducated man distinguishable or even prominent landmarks.  Variations in traditions must, of course, occur in time, and the same histories, radiating in all directions from centres, vary from the original ones by increments dependent on proportionately altered phases of temperament and character, induced by change of climate, associations and conditions of life; so that the early written history of every country reproduces under its own garb, and with a claim to originality, attenuated, enriched, or deformed versions of traditions common in their origin to many or all. 

Stories of divine progenitors, demigods, heroes, mighty hunters, slayers of monsters, giants, dwarfs, gigantic serpents, dragons, frightful beasts of prey, supernatural beings, and myths of all kinds, appear to have been carried into all corners of the world with as much fidelity as the sacred Ark of the Israelites, acquiring a moulding—graceful, weird or uncouth—according to the genius of the people or their capacity for superstitious belief; and these would appear to have been materially affected by the varied nature of their respective countries. For example, the long-continuing dwellers in the open plains of a semi-tropical region, relieved to a great extent from the cares of watchfulness, and nurtured in the grateful rays of a genial but not oppressive sun, must have a more buoyant disposition and more open temperament than those inhabiting vast forests, the matted overgrowth of which rarely allows the passage of a single ray, bathes all in gloom, and leaves on every side undiscovered depths, filled with shapeless shadows, objects of vigilant dread, from which some ferocious monster may emerge at any moment. Again, on the one hand, the nomad roaming in isolation over vast solitudes, having much leisure for contemplative reflection, and on the other, the hardy dwellers on storm-beaten coasts, by turns fishermen, mariners, and pirates, must equally develop traits which affect their religion, polity, and customs, and stamp their influences on mythology and tradition.

The Greek, the Celt, and the Viking, descended from the same Aryan ancestors, though all drawing from the same sources their inspirations of religious belief and tradition, quickly diverged, and respectively settled into a generous martial race—martial in support of their independence rather than from any lust of conquest—polite, skilled, and learned; one brave but irritable, suspicious, haughty, impatient of control; and the last, the berserker, with a ruling passion for maritime adventure, piracy, and hand-to-hand heroic struggles, to be terminated in due course by a hero's death and a welcome to the banqueting halls of Odin in Walhalla.

The beautiful mythology of the Greek nation, comprising a pantheon of gods and demigods, benign for the most part, and often interesting themselves directly in the welfare of individual men, was surely due to, or at least greatly induced by, the plastic influences of a delicious climate, a semi-insular position in a sea comparatively free from stormy weather, and an open mountainous country, moderately fertile. Again, the gloomy and sanguinary religion of the Druids was doubtless moulded by the depressing influences of the seclusion, twilight haze, and dangers of the dense forests in which they hid themselves—forests which, as we know from Cesar, spread over the greater part of Gaul, Britain, and Spain; while the Viking, having from the chance or choice of his ancestors, inherited a rugged seaboard, lashed by tempestuous waves and swept by howling winds, a seaboard with only a rugged country shrouded with unsubdued forests at its back, exposed during the major portion of the year to great severity of climate, and yielding at the best but a niggard and precarious harvest, became perforce a bold and skilful mariner, and, translating his belief into a language symbolic of his new surroundings, believed that he saw and heard Thor in the midst of the howling tempests, revealed majestic and terrible through rents in the storm-cloud. Pursuing our consideration of the effects produced by climatic conditions, may we not assume, for example, that some at least of the Chaldæans, inhabiting a pastoral country, and being descended from ancestors who had pursued, for hundreds or thousands of years, a nomadic existence in the vast open steppes in the highlands of Central Asia, were indebted to those circumstances for the advance which they are credited with having made in astronomy and kindred sciences. Is it not possible that their acquaintance with climatology was as exact or even more so than our own? The habit of solitude would induce reflection, the subject of which would naturally be the causes influencing the vicissitudes of weather. The possibilities of rain or sunshine, wind or storm, would be with them a prominent object of solicitude; and the necessity, in an unfenced country, of extending their watch over their flocks and herds throughout the night, would perforce more or less rivet their attention upon the glorious constellations of the heavens above, and lead to habits of observation which, systematized and long continued by the priesthood, might have produced deductions accurate in the result even if faulty in the process.

The vast treasures of ancient knowledge tombed in the ruins of Babylon and Assyria, of which the recovery and deciphering is as yet only initiated, may, to our surprise, reveal that certain secrets of philosophy were known to the ancients equally with ourselves, but lost through intervening ages by the destruction of the empire, and the fact of their conservancy having been entrusted to a privileged and limited order, with which it perished. 

We hail as a new discovery the knowledge of the existence of the so-called spots upon the surface of the sun, and scientists, from long-continued observations, profess to distinguish a connection between the character of these and atmospheric phenomena; they even venture to predict floods and droughts, and that for some years in anticipation; while pestilences or some great disturbance are supposed to be likely to follow the period when three or four planets attain their apogee within one year, a supposition based on the observations extended over numerous years, that similar events had accompanied the occurrence of even one only of those positions at previous periods.

May we not speculate on the possibility of similar or parallel knowledge having been possessed by the old Chaldæan and Egyptian priesthood; and may not Joseph have been able, by superior ability in its exercise, to have anticipated the seven years' drought, or Noah, from an acquaintance with meteorological science, to have made an accurate forecast of the great disturbances which resulted in the Deluge and the destruction of a large portion of mankind? 

Without further digression in a path which opens the most pleasing speculations, and could be pursued into endless ramifications, I will merely, in conclusion, suggest that the same influences which, as I have shown above, affect so largely the very nature of a people, must similarly affect its traditions and myths, and that due consideration will have to be given to such influences, in the case of some at least of the remarkable animals which I propose to discuss in this and future volumes.


The Shan Hai King—According to the commentator Kwoh P‘oh (A.D. 276-324), this work was compiled three thousand years before this time, or at seven dynasties’ distance. Yang Sun of the Ming dynasty (commencing A.D. 1368), states that it was compiled by Kung Chia (and Chung Ku?) from engravings on nine urns made by the Emperor Yü, B.C. 2255. Chung Ku was an historiographer, and at the time of the last Emperor of the Hia dynasty (B.C. 1818), fearing that the Emperor might destroy the books treating of the ancient and present time, carried them in flight to Yin.

The ’Rh Ya—Initiated according to tradition, by Chow Kung; uncle of Wu Wang, the first Emperor of the Chow dynasty, B.C. 1122. Ascribed also to Tsze Hea, the disciple of Confucius.

The Bamboo Books—Containing the Ancient Annals of China, said to have been found A.D. 279, on opening the grave of King Seang of Wei [died B.C. 295]. Age prior to last date, undetermined. Authenticity disputed, favoured by Legge.

Confucius—Author of Spring and Autumn Classics, &c., B.C. (551-479).

Ctesias—Historian, physician to Artaxerxes, B.C. 401. Herodotus—B.C. 484.

Aristotle—B.C. 384.

Megasthenes—About B.C. 300. In time of Seleucus Nicator. His work entitled Indica is only known by extracts in those of Strabo, Arrian, and Ælian.

Eratosthenes—Born B.C. 276. Mathematician, Astronomer, and Geographer.

Posidonius—Born about B.C. 140. Besides philosophical treatises, wrote works on geography, history, and astronomy, fragments of which are preserved in the works of Cicero, Strabo, and others.

Nicander—About B.C. 135. Wrote the Theriaca, a poem of 1,000 lines, in hexameter, on the wounds caused by venomous animals, and the treatment. Is followed in many of his errors by Pliny. Plutarch says the Theriaca cannot be called a poem, because there is in it nothing of fable or falsehood.

Strabo—Just before the Christian era. Geographer.

Cicero—Born B.C. 106.

Propertius(Sextus Aurelius)—Born probably about B.C. 56.

Diodorus Siculus—Wrote the Bibliotheca Historica (in Greek), after the death of Julius Cæsar (B.C. 44). Of the 40 books composing it only 15 remain, viz. Books 1 to 5 and 11 to 20.

Juba—Died A.D. 17. Son of Juba I., King of Numidia. Wrote on Natural History.

Pliny—Born A.D. 23.

Lucan—A.D. 38. The only work of his extant is the Pharsalia, a poem on the civil war between Cæsar and Pompey.

Ignatius—Either an early Patriarch, A.D. 50, or Patriarch of Constantinople, 799.

Isidorus—Isidorus of Charaux lived probably in the first century of our era. He wrote an account of the Parthian empire.

Arrian—Born about A.D. 100. His work on the Natural History, &c. of India is founded on the authority of Eratosthenes and Megasthenes.

Pausanias—Author of the Description or Itinerary of Greece. In the 2nd century.

Philostratus—Born about A.D. 182.

Solinus, Caius Julius—Did not write in the Augustan age, for his work entitled Polyhistor is merely a compilation from Pliny's Natural History. According to Salmasius, he lived about two hundred years after Pliny.

Ælian—Probably middle of the 3rd century A.D. De Naturâ Animalium. In Greek.

Ammianus Marcellinus—Lived in 4th century.

Cardan, Jerome A.—About the end of 4th century A.D.

Printing invented in China, according to Du Halde, A.D. 924. Block-printing used in A.D. 593.

Marco Polo—Reached the Court of Kublai Khan in A.D. 1275.

Mandeville, Sir John de—Travelled for thirty-three years in Asia dating from A.D. 1327. As he resided for three years in Peking, it is probable that many of his fables are derived from Chinese sources.

Printing invented in Europe by John Koster of Haarlem, A.D. 1438.

Scaliger, Julius Cæsar—Born April 23rd, 1484. Wrote Aristotelis Hist. Anim. liber decimus cum vers. et comment. 8vo. Lyon, 1584, &c.

Gesner—Born 1516. Historiæ Animalium, &c.

Ambrose Paré—Born 1517. Surgeon.

Belon, Pierre.—Born 1518. Zoologist, Geographer, &c.

Aldrovandus—Born 1552. Naturalist.

Tavernier, J. B.—Born 1605.

Păn Ts’ao Kong Muh.—By Li Shê-chin of the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1628).

Yuen Kien Léi Han. A.D. 1718.


THE reasoning upon the question whether dragons, winged snakes, sea-serpents, unicorns, and other so-called fabulous monsters have in reality existed, and at dates coeval with man, diverges in several independent directions.

We have to consider:—

1.—Whether the characters attributed to these creatures are or are not so abnormal in comparison with those of known types, as to render a belief in their existence impossible or the reverse.

2.—Whether it is rational to suppose that creatures so formidable, and apparently so capable of self-protection, should disappear entirely, while much more defenceless species continue to survive them.

3.—The myths, traditions, and historical allusions from which their reality may be inferred require to be classified and annotated, and full weight given to the evidence which has accumulated of the presence of man upon the earth during ages long prior to the historic period, and which may have been ages of slowly progressive civilization, or perhaps cycles of alternate light and darkness, of knowledge and barbarism.

4.—Lastly, some inquiry may be made into the geographical conditions obtaining at the time of their possible existence.

It is immaterial which of these investigations is first entered upon, and it will, in fact, be more convenient to defer a portion of them until we arrive at the sections of this volume treating specifically of the different objects to which it is devoted, and to confine our attention for the present to those subjects which, from their nature, are common and in a sense prefatory to the whole subject.

I shall therefore commence with a short examination of some of the most remarkable reptilian forms which are known to have existed, and for that purpose, and to show their general relations, annex the accompanying tables, compiled from the anatomy of vertebrated animals by Professor Huxley

The most bird-like of reptiles, the Pterosauria, appear to have possessed true powers of flight; they were provided with wings formed by an expansion of the integument, and supported by an enormous elongation of the ulnar finger of the anterior limb. The generic differences are based upon the comparative lengths of the tail, and upon the dentition. In Pterodactylus (see , ), the tail is very short, and the jaws strong, pointed, and toothed to their anterior extremities. In Rhamphorynchus (see , ), the tail is very long and the teeth are not continuous to the extremities of the jaws, which are produced into toothless beaks. The majority of the species are small, and they are generally considered to have been inoffensive creatures, having much the habits and insectivorous mode of living of bats. One British species, however, from the white chalk of Maidstone, measures more than sixteen feet across the outstretched wings; and other forms recently discovered by Professor Marsh in the Upper Cretaceous deposits of Kansas, attain the gigantic proportions of nearly twenty-five feet for the same measurements; and although these were devoid of teeth (thus approaching the class Ayes still more closely), they could hardly fail, from their magnitude and powers of flight, to have been formidable, and must, with their weird aspects, and long outstretched necks and pointed heads, have been at least sufficiently alarming.

We need go no farther than these in search of creatures which would realise the popular notion of the winged dragon.

The harmless little flying lizards, belonging to the genus Draco, abounding in the East Indian archipelago, which have many of their posterior ribs prolonged into an expansion of the integument, unconnected with the limbs, and have a limited and parachute-like flight, need only the element of size, to render them also sufficiently to be dreaded, and capable of rivalling the Pterodactyls in suggesting the general idea of the same monster.

It is, however, when we pass to some of the other groups, that we find ourselves in the presence of forms so vast and terrible, as to more than realise the most exaggerated impression of reptilian power and ferocity which the florid imagination of man can conceive.

We have long been acquainted with numerous gigantic terrestrial Saurians, ranging throughout the whole of the Mesozoic formations, such as Iguanodon (characteristic of the Wealden), Megalosaurus (Great Saurian), and Hylæosaurus (Forest Saurian), huge bulky creatures, the last of which, at least, was protected by dermal armour partially produced into prodigious spines; as well as with remarkable forms essentially marine, such as Icthyosaurus (Fish-like Saurian), Plesiosaurus, &c., adapted to an oceanic existence and propelling themselves by means of paddles. The latter, it may be remarked, was furnished with a long slender swan-like neck, which, carried above the surface of the water, would present the appearance of the anterior portion of a serpent.

To the related land forms the collective term Dinosauria (fromδεινός"terrible") has been applied, in signification of the power which their structure and magnitude imply that they possessed; and to the others that of Enaliosauria, as expressive of their adaptation to a maritime existence. Yet, wonderful to relate, those creatures which have for so many years commanded our admiration fade into insignificance in comparison with others which are proved, by the discoveries of the last few years, to have existed abundantly upon, or near to, the American continent during the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods, by which they are surpassed, in point of magnitude, as much as they themselves exceed the mass of the larger Vertebrata.

Take, for example, those referred to by Professor Marsh in the course of an address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in 1877, in the following terms: "The reptiles most characteristic of our American cretaceous strata are the Mososauria, a group with very few representatives in other parts of the world. In our cretaceous seas they rule supreme, as their numbers, size, and carnivorous habits enabled them to easily vanquish all rivals. Some were at least sixty feet in length, and the smallest ten or twelve. In the inland cretaceous sea from which the Rocky Mountains were beginning to emerge, these ancient 'sea-serpents' abounded, and many were entombed in its muddy bottom; on one occasion, as I rode through a valley washed out of this old ocean-bed, I saw no less than seven different skeletons of these monsters in sight at once. The Mososauria were essentially swimming lizards with four well-developed paddles, and they had little affinity with modern serpents, to which they have been compared."

Or, again, notice the specimens of the genus Cidastes, which are also described as veritable sea-serpents of those ancient seas, whose huge bones and almost incredible number of vertebræ show them to have attained a length of nearly two hundred feet. The remains of no less than ten of these monsters were seen by Professor Mudge, while riding through the Mauvaise Terres of Colorado, strewn upon the plains, their whitened bones bleached in the suns of centuries, and their gaping jaws armed with ferocious teeth, telling a wonderful tale of their power when alive.

The same deposits have been equally fertile in the remains of terrestrial animals of gigantic size. The Titanosaurus montanus, believed to have been herbivorous, is estimated to have reached fifty or sixty feet in length; while other Dinosaurians of still more gigantic proportions, from the Jurassic beds of the Rocky Mountains, have been described by Professor Marsh. Among the discovered remains of Atlantosaurus immanis is a femur over six feet in length, and it is estimated from a comparison of this specimen with the same bone in living reptiles that this species, if similar in proportions to the crocodile, would have been over one hundred feet in length.

But even yet the limit has not been reached, and we hear of the discovery of the remains of another form, of such Titanic proportions as to possess a thigh-bone over twelve feet in length.

From these considerations it is evident that, on account of the dimensions usually assigned to them, no discredit can be attached to the existence of the fabulous monsters of which we shall speak hereafter; for these, in the various myths, rarely or never equal in size creatures which science shows to have existed in a comparatively recent geological age, while the quaintest conception could hardly equal the reality of yet another of the American Dinosaurs, Stegosaurus, which appears to have been herbivorous, and more or less aquatic in habit, adapted for sitting upon its hinder extremities, and protected by bony plate and numerous spines. It reached thirty feet in length. Professor Marsh considers that this, when alive, must have presented the strangest appearance of all the Dinosaurs yet discovered.

The affinities of birds and reptiles have been so clearly demonstrated of late years, as to cause Professor Huxley and many other comparative anatomists to bridge over the wide gap which was formerly considered to divide the two classes, and to bracket them together in one class, to which the name Sauropsidæ has been given. 

There are, indeed, not a few remarkable forms, as to the class position of which, whether they should be assigned to birds or reptiles, opinion was for a long time, and is in a few instances still, divided. It is, for example, only of late years that the fossil form Archæopteryx  (, ) from the Solenhofen slates, has been definitely relegated to the former, but arguments against this disposal of it have been based upon the beak or jaws being furnished with true teeth, and the feather of the tail attached to

a series of vertebræ, instead of a single flattened one as in birds. It appears to have been entirely plumed, and to have had a moderate power of flight.

On the other hand, the Ornithopterus is only provisionally classed with reptiles, while the connection between the two classes is drawn still closer by the copious discovery of the birds from the Cretaceous formations of America, for which we are indebted to Professor Marsh.

The Lepidosiren, also, is placed mid-way between reptiles and fishes. Professor Owen and other eminent physiologists consider it a fish; Professor Bischoff and others, an amphibian reptile. It has a two-fold apparatus for respiration, partly aquatic, consisting of gills, and partly aerial, of true lungs.

So far, then, as abnormality of type is concerned, we have here instances quite as remarkable as those presented by most of the strange monsters with the creation of which mythological fancy has been credited.

Among mammals I shall only refer to the Megatherium, which appears to have been created to burrow in the earth and to feed upon the roots of trees and shrubs, for which purpose every organ of its heavy frame was adapted. This Hercules among animals was as large as an elephant or rhinoceros of the largest species, and might well, as it has existed until a late date, have originated the myths, current among the Indians of South America, of a gigantic tunnelling or burrowing creature, incapable of supporting the light of day.


IN reviewing the past succession of different forms of ancient life upon the globe, we are reminded of a series of dissolving views, in which each species evolves itself by an imperceptible gradation from some pre-existing one, arrives at its maximum of individuality, and then slowly fades away, while another type, either higher or lower, evolved in turn from it, emerges from obscurity, and succeeds it on the field of view.

Specific individuality has in all cases a natural term, dependent on physical causes, but that term is in many cases abruptly anticipated by a combination of unfavourable conditions.

Alteration of climate, isolation by geological changes, such as the submergence of continents and islands, and the competition of other species, are among the causes which have at all times operated towards its destruction; while, since the evolution of man, his agency, so far as we can judge by what we know of his later history, has been especially active in the same direction.

The limited distribution of many species, even when not enforced by insular conditions, is remarkable, and, of course, highly favourable to their destruction. A multiplicity of examples are familiar to naturalists, and possibly not a few may have attracted the attention of the ordinary observer.

For instance, it is probably generally known, that in our own island, the red grouse (which, by the way, is a species peculiar to Great Britain) is confined to certain moorlands, the ruffs and reeves to fen districts, and the nightingale,  chough, and other species to a few counties; while Ireland is devoid of almost all the species of reptiles common to Great Britain. In the former cases, the need of or predilection for certain foods probably determines the favourite locality, and there are few countries which would not furnish similar examples. In the latter, the explanation depends on biological conditions dating prior to the separation of Ireland from the main continent. Among birds, it might fairly be presumed that the power of flight would produce unlimited territorial expansion, but in many instances the reverse is found to be the case: a remarkable example being afforded by the island of Tasmania, a portion of which is called the unsettled waste lands, or Western Country. This district, which comprises about one-third of the island upon the western side, and is mainly composed of mountain chains of granites, quartzite, and mica schists, is entirely devoid of the numerous species of garrulous and gay-plumaged birds, such as the Mynah mocking-bird, white cockatoo, wattle bird, and Rosella parrot, though these abundantly enliven the eastern districts, which are fertilized by rich soils due to the presence of ranges of basalt, greenstone, and other trappean rocks.

Another equally striking instance is given by my late father, Mr. J. Gould, in his work on the humming-birds. Of two species, inhabiting respectively the adjacent mountains of Pichincha and Chimborazo at certain elevations, each is strictly confined to its own mountain; and, if my memory serves me correctly, he mentions similar instances of species peculiar to different peaks of the Andes.

Limitation by insular isolation is intelligible, especially in the case of mammals and reptiles, and of birds possessing but small power of flight; and we are, therefore, not surprised to find Mr. Gosse indicating, among other examples, that even the smallest of the Antilles has each a fauna of its own, while the humming-birds, some of the parrots, cuckoos, and pigeons, and many of the smaller birds are peculiar to Jamaica. He states still further, that in the latter instance many of the animals are not distributed over the whole island, but confined to a single small district.

Continental limitation is effected by mountain barriers. Thus, according to Mr. Wallace, almost all the mammalia, birds, and insects on one side of the Andes and Rocky Mountains are distinct in species from those on the other; while a similar difference, but smaller in degree, exists with reference to regions adjacent to the Alps and Pyrenees.

Climate, broad rivers, seas, oceans, forests, and even large desert wastes, like the Sahara or the great desert of Gobi, also act more or less effectively as girdles which confine species within certain limits.

Dependence on each other or on supplies of appropriate food also form minor yet practical factors in the sum of limitation; and a curious example of the first is given by Dr. Van Lennep with reference to the small migratory birds that are unable to perform the flight of three hundred and fifty miles across the Mediterranean. He states that these are carried across on the backs of cranes. 

In the autumn many flocks of cranes may be seen coming from the North, with the first cold blast from that quarter, flying low, and uttering a peculiar cry, as if of alarm, as they circle over the cultivated plains. Little birds of every species may be seen flying up to them, while the twittering cries of those already comfortably settled upon their backs may be distinctly heard. On their return in the spring they fly high, apparently considering that their little passengers can easily find their way down to the earth.

The question of food-supply is involved in the more extended subject of geological structure, as controlling the flora and the insect life dependent on it. As an example we may cite the disappearance of the capercailzie from Denmark with the decay of the pine forests abundant during late Tertiary periods.

Collision, direct or indirect, with inimical species often has a fatal ending. Thus the dodo was exterminated by the swine which the early visitors introduced to the Mauritius and permitted to run wild there; while the indigenous insects, molluscs, and perhaps some of the birds of St. Helena, disappeared as soon as the introduction of goats caused the destruction of the whole flora of forest trees.

The Tsetse fly extirpates all horses, dogs, and cattle, from certain districts of South Africa, and a representative species in Paraguay is equally fatal to new-born cattle and horses.

Mr. Darwin  shows that the struggle is more severe between species of the same genus, when they come into competition with each other, than between species of distinct genera. Thus one species of swallow has recently expelled another from part of the United States; and the missel-thrush has driven the song-thrush from part of Scotland. In Australia the imported hive-bee is rapidly exterminating the small stingless native bee, and similar eases might be found in any number.

Mr. Wallace, in quoting Mr. Darwin as to these facts, points the conclusion that "any slight change, therefore, of physical geography or of climate, which allows allied species hitherto inhabiting distinct areas to come into contact, will often lead to the extermination of one of them."

It is the province of the palæontologist to enumerate the many remarkable forms which have passed away since man's first appearance upon the globe, and to trace their fluctuations over both hemispheres as determined by the advance and retreat of glacial conditions, and by the protean forms assumed by past and existing continents under oscillations of elevation and depression. Many interesting points, such as the dates of the successive separation of Ireland and Great Britain from the main continent, can be determined with accuracy from the record furnished by the fossil remains of animals of those times; and many interesting associations of animals with man at various dates, in our present island home and in other countries, have been traced by the discovery of their remains in connection with his, in bone deposits in caverns and elsewhere.

Conversely, most valuable deductions are drawn by the zoologist from the review which he is enabled to take, through the connected labours of his colleagues in all departments, of the distinct life regions now mapped out upon the face of the globe. These, after the application of the necessary corrections for various disturbing or controlling influences referred to above, afford proof reaching far back into past periods, of successive alterations in the disposition of continents and oceans, and of connections long since obliterated between distant lands.

The palæontologist reasons from the past to the present, the zoologist from the present to the past; and their mutual labours explain the evolution of existing forms, and the causes of the disparity or connection between those at present characterizing the different portions of the surface of the globe.

The palæontologist, for example, traces the descent of the horse, which, until its reintroduction by the Spaniards was unknown in the New World, through a variety of intermediate forms, to the genus Orohippus occurring in Eocene deposits in Utah and Wyoming. This animal was no larger than a fox, and possessed four separated toes in front, and three behind. Domestic cattle he refers to the Bos primigenius, and many existing Carnivora to Tertiary forms such as the cave-bear, cave-lion, sabre-tiger, and the like.

The zoologist groups the existing fauna into distinct provinces, and demands, in explanation of the anomalies which these exhibit, the reconstruction of large areas, of which only small outlying districts remain at the present date, in many instances widely separated by oceans, though once forming parts of the same continent; and so, for the simile readily suggests itself, the workers in another branch of science, Philology, argue from words and roots scattered like fossils through the various dialects of very distant countries, a mutual descent from a common Aryan language: the language of a race of which no historical record exists, though in regard to its habits, customs, and distribution much may be affirmed from the large collection of word specimens stored in philological museums.