“Fierce as they stalk, on Zaara’s torrid plains,
The stately Lions shake their shaggy manes;
Upon their flanks their lashing tails rebound,
And dreadful roarings rend the air around.”
THE LION, justly styled, by all writers, the King of beasts, is generally of a tawny colour, with a tail from three feet and a half to five feet in length: his head is large and strong; his nose thick; his mouth wide, and armed with numerous and strong teeth; his eyes are red, fiery, quick, and hollow: each of his fore feet has five distinct claws, and the hinder ones, apparently, but four, as the fifth is placed higher up in the tarsus, or foot; they are of a whitish colour, about an inch and a quarter in length, crooked, moveable, sharp, and exceedingly hard. His roaring is so terrible, that, when other wild beasts hear the noise, their hearts pant with fear; although he is not himself, at time, without his dread of other creatures, – such as the tiger, the elephant, and some mighty snakes, which often give him battle. – Lions are hunted with dogs, but oftener taken in pits, nets, and snares.
The generosity of the Lion has been much extoled; and he has been known to forgive, or disdain, the insults of smaller creatures, that had teazed him with their inconsiderate petulance. His gratitude was exemplified in the well-known anecdote of the slave Androclus, who had extracted, in the deserts of Africa, a thorn from a Lion’s foot; and who, being by chance exposed to his fury in the Roman amphitheatre, was spared by him, as his benefactor: The Lion publicly licked the hand that had cured him. We read, also in an author of great respectability, that, in the sixteenth century, a Lion, having escaped from the menagerie of the Archduke, walked through the streets of Florence: whilst the terrified citizens ran, on all sides, from his sight, a woman, in her hurry, dropped on the pavement an infant, which she held at her breast: the furious animal picked it up by the garments, and was going away; the frantic mother, unmindful of danger for herself, falls on her knees before the Lion, and, with loud exclamations, supplicates him, either to give up the child, or to tear her in pieces; the noble animal stops, looks at her, drops gently the babe on the ground, and walks stately off.
As the Lion belongs to the feline kind, his eyes are incapable of bearing a strong light; therefore it is in the night that he prowls and roams for prey. His strength is so great, that he carries away a young heifer with the same facility that a cat does a mouse. – Lions have been known to live upwards of seventy years, as did Pompey, the large male lion that died, in 1760, in the Tower of London. – The Lion is the constant companion of Britannia, as a national symbol of strength, courage, and generosity. In ancient gems, in paintings, and statuary, the Lion’s skin is the attribute of Hercules. In scriptural compositions, he is painted at the side of the evangelist St. Mark; and holds the fifth place among the signs of the zodiac, answering to the months of July and August.