see the elephant

see the elephant

Experience more than one wants to, learn a hard lesson; also, see combat, especially for the first time. For example, After the expedition lost two climbers in an avalanche, they had seen the elephant and turned back , or On his first tour of duty he saw the elephant. This slangy expression, first recorded in 1835, alludes to having seen all the sights one can see, including that rare beast, and returning home unimpressed or disappointed.
See also: elephant, see
References in classic literature ?
When a driver boasts of his skill and bravery the other drivers say, "And when didst thou see the elephants dance?
Tourists from all over the world come to see the elephants.