The Curly Tailed Lion, by William Elliot Griffis
Once upon a time, some Dutch hunters went to Africa, hoping to capture a
whole family of lions. In this they succeeded. With a pack of hounds and
plenty of aborigines to poke the jungle with sticks, they drove a big
male lion, with his wife and four whelps, out of the undergrowth into a
circle. In the centre, they had dug a pit and covered it over with
sticks and grass. Into this, the whole lion family tumbled. Then, by
nets and ropes, the big, fierce creatures and the little cubs were
lifted out. They were put in cages and brought to Holland. The baby
lions, no bigger than pug dogs, were as pretty and harmless as kittens.
The sailors delighted to play with them.
Now lions, even before one was ever seen among the Dutch, enjoyed a
great reputation for strength, courage, dignity and power. It was
believed that they had all the traits of character supposed to belong to
kings, and which boys like to possess. Many fathers had named their sons
Leo, which is Latin for lion. Dutch daddies had their baby boys
christened with the name of Leeuw, which is their word for the king of
Before lions were brought from the hot countries into colder lands, the
bear and wolf were most admired; because, besides possessing plenty of
fur, as well as great claws and terrible teeth, they had great courage.
For these reasons, many royal and common folks had taken the wolf and
bear as namesakes for their hopeful sons.
But the male lion could make more noise than wolves, for he could roar,
while they could only howl. He had a shaggy mane and a very long tail.
This had a nail at the end, for scratching and combing out his hair,
when tangled up. If he were angry, the mighty brute could stick out his
red tongue, curled like a pump handle, and nearly half a yard long.
So the lion was called the king of beasts, and the crowned rulers and
knights took him as their emblem. They had pictures of the huge creature
painted on their flags, shields and armor. Sometimes they stuck a gold
or brass lion on their iron war hats, which they called helmets. No
knight was allowed to have more than one lion on his shield, but kings
might have three or four, or even a whole menagerie of meat-eating
creatures. These painted or sculptured lions were in all sorts of
action, running, walking, standing up and looking behind or before.
Now there was a Dutch artist, who noticed what funny fellows kings were,
and how they liked to have all sorts of beasts and birds of prey, and
sea creatures that devour, on their banners. There were dragons,
two-headed eagles, boars with tusks, serpents with fangs, hawks,
griffins, wyverns, lions, dragons and dragon-lions, besides horses with
wings, mermaids with scaly tails, and even night mares that went flying
through the dark. With such a funny variety of beast, bird, and fish,
some wondered why there were not cows with two tails, cats with two
noses, rams with four horns, and creatures that were half veal and half
mutton. He noticed that kings did not care much for tame, quiet,
peaceable, or useful creatures, such as oxen or horses, doves or sheep;
but only for those brutes that hunt and kill the more defenceless
Since, then, kings of the country must have a lion, the artist resolved
to make a new one. He would have some fun, at any rate.
So as painter or sculptor select men and women to pose for them in their
study as their heroes and heroines, and just as they picture plump
little boys and girls as cherubs and angels, so the Dutchman would make
of the cubs and the father beast of prey his models for coats of arms.
Poor lions! They did not know, but they soon found out how tiresome it
was to pose. They must hold their paws up, down, sideways or behind,
according as they were told. They must stand or kneel, for a long time,
in awkward positions. They must stick out their tongues to full length,
walk on their hind legs, twist their necks, to one side or the other,
look forward or backward, and in many tiresome ways do just as they were
ordered. They must also make of their tails every sort of use, whether
to wrap around posts or bundles, to stick out of their cage, or put
between their legs, as they ran away, or to whisk them around, as they
roared; or hoist them up high when rampant.
In some cases, they were expected, even, to put on spectacles, and
pretend to be reading, to hold in their paws books and scrolls, or town
arms, or shop signs. They must pose, not only as companions of Daniel,
in the lions' den at Babylon, which was proper; but also to sit, as
companion of St. Mark, and even to stand on their legs on the top of a
high column, without falling off.
In a word, this artist belonged to the college of heralds, and he
introduced the king of beasts into Dutch heraldry.
So from that day forth, the life of that family of African lions, from
the daddy to the youngest cub, was made a burden. When at home in the
jungle and even in the cage, the father lion's favorite position was
that of lolling on one side, with his paws stretched out, and half
asleep and all day, until he went out, towards dark, to hunt. Now, he
must stand up, nearly all day. Daddy lion had to do most of the posing,
until the poor beast's front legs and paws were weary with standing so
long. Moreover, the hair was all worn off his body at the place where he
had to sit on the hard wooden floor. He must do all this, on penalty of
being punched with a red hot poker, if he refused. A charcoal furnace
and long andirons were kept near by, and these were attended to by a
Dutch boy. Or, it might be that the whole family of lions were not
allowed to have any dinner till Daddy obeyed and did what he was told,
though often with a snarl or a roar.
First, Leo must rise upon his hind legs and look in front of him. This
posture was not hard, for in his native jungle, he had often thus
obtained a breakfast of venison for his wife and family. But oh, to
stand a half hour on two legs only, when he had four, and would gladly
have used all of them, was hard. Yet this was the position, called "the
lion rampant," which kings liked best.
But the king's uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins, and his wife's
relations generally, every one of them, wanted a lion on his or her
stationery and pocket handkerchiefs, as well as on their shields and
flags. So the old lion was tortured—the hot poker being always in
sight—and he was made to take a great variety of positions. The artist
called out to Leo, just as a driver says to his cart horse, "whoa," "get
up," "golong," etc. When he yelled in this fashion, the lion had to
Pretty soon lions in heraldry, on flags, armor, town arms, family crests
and city seals became all the fashion. The whole country went lion-mad.
There were lions carved in stone, wood and iron, and every sort and
kind, possible or impossible. Some of them seemed to be engaged in a
variety of tricks, as if they belonged to a circus, or were having a
holiday. They laughed, giggled, yawned, stuck out their tongues, held
boards for hotels, bundles for the shopkeepers, or barrels for beer
halls, and made excellent shop signs, which the boys and girls enjoyed
Mrs. Leo was not in much demand, for Mr. Leo did not approve of his
wife's appearing in public. She was kept busy in taking care of her
cubs. Daddy Lion had to do multiple work for his family, until the cubs
were grown. Yet long before this time had come, their Dad had died and
been stuffed for a museum. How this first king of beasts in the
Netherlands came to his untimely end was on this wise.
Not satisfied with posing Leo in every posture, and with all possible
gestures, his master, the artist, wanted him to look "heraldical"; that
is, like some of the mythical beasts that were combinations of any and
all creatures having fins, fur, feathers, or scales, such as the dragon
or griffin. One day, he attempted to make out of a live lion a fanciful
creature of curlicues and curliewurlies. So he strapped the lion down,
and used a curling iron on his mane until he looked like a bearded bull
of Babylon. Then he combed out, and, with curl papers, twisted the long
line of hair, which is seen in front of Leo's stomach. In like manner,
he treated the bunches of hair that grow over the animal's kneepans and
elbows. Last of all, he took a hair brush, and smoothed out the tuft, at
the end of the animal's long tail. Then the artist made a picture of him
in this condition, all curled and rich in ringlets, like a dandy.
By this time, the father of the lion family looked as if he had come out
fresh from a hairdresser's parlor. Indeed, Mrs. Leo was so struck with
her husband's appearance, that she immediately licked her cubs all over,
until their fur shone, so they should look like their father. Then,
having used her tongue as a comb, to make her own skin smooth and
glossy, she completed the job by using the nail in her tail, to do the
finishing work. Altogether, this was the curliest family of lions ever
seen, and Daddy Leo appeared to be the funniest curly-headed and
curly-bodied lion ever seen. In fact he was all curls, from head to
Notwithstanding all his pains, the artist was not yet satisfied with his
job. He wanted a circle of long hair to grow in the middle of the lion's
tail. His curly lion should beat all creation, and in this way he
His own daughter, being a young lady and having some trouble of the
throat, the doctor had ordered medicine for the girl, charging her not
to spill any drops of the liquid on her face, or clothes.
But, in giving the dose, either the mother, or the daughter, was
careless. At that very moment the cat ran across the room, after the
mouse, and just as she held the spoon to her mouth, Puss got twisted in
her skirts. So most of the medicine splashed upon her upper lip and then
ran down to her chin, on either side of her mouth. She laughed over the
spill, wiped off the liquid, and thought no more of the matter.
But a week later, she was astonished. On waking, she looked in the
glass, only to shrink back in horror. On her face had grown both
moustaches and a beard. True, both were rather downy, but still they
were black; and, until the barber came, and shaved off the growth, she
was a bearded woman. Yet, strange to tell, after one or two shaves by
the barber, no more hair grew again on her face, which was smooth again.
"By Saint Servatus! I'll make a fortune on this," cried the artist, when
he saw his daughter's hairy face.
So, he sold his secret to a druggist, and this man made an ointment,
giving it a Chinese name, meaning "beard-grower." This wonderful
medicine, as his sign declared, would "force the growth of luxuriant
moustaches and a beard, on the smoothest face of any young man," who
should buy and apply it.
Soon the whole town rang with the news of the wonderful discovery. The
druggist sold out his stock, in two days, to happy purchasers. Other
young fellows, that wanted to outrival their companions, had to wait a
fortnight for the new medicine to be made. By that time, a full crop of
downy hair had come out on the cheeks and chin and upper lip of many a
youth. Some, who had been trying for years to raise moustaches, in order
duly to impress the girls, to whom they were making love, were now
jubilant. In several cases, a lover was able to cut out his rival and
win the maid he wanted. Several courtings were hastened and became
genuine matches, because a face, long very smooth, and like a desert as
to hair, bore a promising crop. Beard and cheeks had at last met
together. So the new medicine was called a "match-maker."
The artist rubbed his hands in glee, at the prospect of a fortune. He
argued that if the wonderful ointment made beards for men, it must be
good for lions also. So again, Daddy Lion was coerced by the threat of
the hot poker. Then his tail was seized, and, by means of a rope, tied
to a post on one side of the cage, he was held fast. Then the artist
anointed about six inches of the middle of the smooth tail with the
magic liquid. For fear the lion might lick it off, the poor beast was
held in this tiresome position for a whole week, so that he could not
turn round, and he nearly died of fatigue.
But it happened to the lion's tail, as it did with the young men's
chins, cheeks and upper lips. A beard did indeed grow, but once shaved
off—and many did shave, thinking to promote greater growth—no more
hair ever appeared again. The ointment forced a downy growth but it
killed the roots of the hair.
A worse fate befell the lion. A crop of hair, perhaps an inch longer
than common, grew out. But this time, the bad medicine, which had
deceived men, and was unfit for lions, struck in.
From this cause, added to nervous prostration, old Leo fell dead. As
lion fathers go, he was a good one, and his widow and children mourned
for him. He had never once, however hungry, tried to eat up his cubs,
which was something in his favor.
Soon after these exploits, the old artist died also. His son, hearing
there was still a demand, among kings, for lions, and those especially
with centre curls in their tails, took the most promising of the whelps
and petted and fed him well. In the seventh year, when his mane and
elbow and knee hair had grown out, this cub was mated to a young lioness
of like promise. When, of this couple, a male whelp was born, it was
found that in due time its knees, elbows, tail-tuft, and the front of
its body were all rich in furry growth. In the middle of its tail, also,
thick ringlets, several inches long, were growing. Evidently, the hair
tonic had done some good. So this one became the father of all the
curly-tailed lions in the Netherlands. Not only was this lion, thus
distinguished for so novel an ornament, copied into heraldry, but it
adorned many city seals and town arms. In time, the lion of the
Netherlands was pictured with a crown on its head, a sword in its right
hand, a bundle of seven arrows—in token of a union of seven
states—and, still later, the new Order of the Netherlands Lion was
founded. The original curly lion, with long hair in the middle of its
tail, boasts of a long line of descendants that are proud of their