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The Morse: A Blast from the past

The Walrus, from scottishengravings.org
The Walrus, from scottishengravings.org

I’ve always found it fascinating to read textbooks about animals, people or places that were written back in the 1800’s (or earlier) since there was so much colorful speculation used in place of actual science. Plus, I really enjoy the engravings that are found in works of that era. So I found myself thinking, on the way to lunch today, “I wonder if I can find a book with an account of the first recorded observations of a walrus?” That may be a tall order – I’ll start a quest – but I certainly did find an antique account of Walrus, thanks to Harvard University and the Google book digitization project.

The Naturalist’s Library from 1857 (well, this edition of what looks to be an expansive series) tells us:

The name of sea cow, or sea horse, by which the walrus is most generally known, has been very wrongly applied ; since the animal which it denotes has not the least resemblance to the land animals of that name: the denomination of sea elephant, which others have given it, is much better imagined, as it is founded on a singular and very apparent character.

and later…

Captain Cook saw a herd of them floating on an ice island off the northern coasts of the American continent. ” They lie,” says he, ” in herds of many hundreds, upon the ice, huddling over one another like swine ; and roar or bray so loud, that in the night, or in foggy weather, they gave us notice of the vicinity of the ice before we could see it. We never found the whole herd asleep, some being always on the watch.”

These are just a  few select quotes. Take a look at the whole passage at the link below – it’s only about two pages, but it’s an interesting read. You’ll note that the “scientific” facts cited are clearly drawn from, and directed towards, hunters.

Here’s a link to page 210 of The Naturalist’s Library, 1857, edited by Augustus Addison Gould

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