Notebook: Show Us Your Elephant….

George Orwell is to animal writing as Newton is to the cultivation of apples. Neither man had a dog. George shot an elephant. There’s no evidence regarding Newton’s experience with elephants. The first elephant in England arrived in 1255 and was housed in the Tower of London by King Henry III. It is altogether possible Newton actually saw an elephant. In 1696 Newton was appointed Warden of the Royal Mint which was, you guessed it, housed in the Tower of London. Just coins. No pachyderms. He is known to have interviewed criminals and dabbled in alchemy while in the tower. There is no record of Newton conversing with the rooks.

Did Orwell talk to birds? Only on train trips I think. All writers must speculate. Here’s Orwell from “1984”—“For whom, for what, was that bird singing? No mate, no rival was watching it. What made it sit at the edge of the lonely wood and pour its music into nothingness?”


Last night I remembered these lines of Newton’s: “Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust his skill and thank him for his prescription.”

That misfortune can, even today be read as divine beneficence is so quant and melancholic. As I said once to an overheated Christian: “if Jesus could cure the blind, why didn’t he get rid of blindness altogether?”

Well if God made gravity he must also have made plagues. This is what happens when you live in the Tower of London. A good plague is certainly a privileged idea.


“England’s first and most surprising elephant was given to Henry III in 1255 by his cousin King Louis IX of France: “… a beast most strange and wonderful to the English people, sith most seldome or never any of that kind had been seene in England before that time”. The elephant’s large ears in the familiar drawing by Matthew Paris show that this was an African elephant not a more docile Indian elephant. Paris observed: “that this was the only elephant ever seen in England, or even in the countries on this side of the Alps; wherefore the people flocked together to see the novel sight”. Like other many other royal animals it was housed in the menagerie at the Tower of London, which lasted from about 1204 to 1831 when, on the orders of the Duke of Wellington, the animals were transferred to the newly founded Garden of the Zoological Society, i.e. the London Zoo.”

Aha! It is therefore possible that Newton “did” see an an elephant. Unless he didn’t get out as much as we imagine.


“Elephants are susceptible to some diseases spread by mosquitoes and to some inflictions that affect humans, such as intestinal colic, nettle rash, pneumonia, constipation, and even the common cold.”

Dear Newton, trials are not medicines.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

One thought on “Notebook: Show Us Your Elephant….”

  1. Hmm. They (trials) may not be medicines, per se, but they can be vaccines, if we let them. The gospels indicate the Jesus did not deal in diseases but, one-on-one, with afflictions. Even royals were given apartments in the Tower, as it was a safe place as well as a prison. The menagerie was there for their pleasure.


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