Of Unicornes Hornes was first published as Chapter XXIII of Pseudodoxia Epidemica in 1646. Special Collection’s 1984 edition contains only this single chapter of Sir Thomas Browne’s work. It is a deluxe copy of only 60. The title Pseudodoxia Epidemica means “Vulgar Errors” and among unicorns, the animals debunked by Browne include the basilisk, griffin, and phoenix. However, Browne’s analysis was based on authority, sense, and reason—not experiment or observation.
In the 17th century, people believed that unicorns’ horns possessed medical properties, such as being antidotes to poisons. Having one’s cup made out of unicorn horn to prevent poisoning became very popular among royalty and the high-ranking. Most of these fake unicorn horns were actually made out of rhinoceros or narwhal horns. The most famous unicorn horn was the “horn at Windsor” in England which was valued at £100,000 in 1590.
Some of the featured “unicorns” in Browne’s work include the rhinoceros, oryx, sword-fish, hippopotamus, walrus, and narwhal.
Browne, Thomas, Alan James Robinson, J. A. Van Dorsten. Pseudodoxia Epidemica: Of Unicornes Hornes. Williamsburg, MA: Cheloniidae, 1984. Print.