The Presse Grayloise relates the following story:– “A discovery of great scientific importance has just been made at Culmont (Haute Marne). Some men employed in cutting a tunnel which is to unite the St. Dizier and Nancy railways, had just thrown an enormous block of stone by means of gunpowder, and were in the act of breaking it in pieces, when from a cavity in it they suddenly saw emerge a living being of monstrous form. This animal, which belongs to the class of animals hitherto considered to be extinct, has a very long neck, and a mouth filled with sharp teeth. It stands on four long legs, which are united together by two membranes, doubtless intended to support the animal in the air, and are armed with four claws terminated by long and crooked talons. Its general form resembles that of a large goose. Its membraneous wings, when spread out, measure from tip to tip 3 metres 22 centimetres (nearly 10 feet 7 inches). Its colour is a livid black; its skin is naked, thick, and oily; its intestines only contained a colourless liquid like clear water. On reaching the light, this monster gave some signs of life, by shaking its wings, but soon after expired uttering a hoarse cry. This strange creature, to which may be given the name of living fossile, has been brought to Gray, where a naturalist, well versed in the study of paleontology, immediately recognised it as belonging to the genus Pterodactylus anas, many fossil remains of which have been found among the strata which geologists have designated by the name of Lias. The rock in which this monster was discovered belongs precisely to that formation, the deposit of which is so old that geologists date it more than a million of years back. The cavity in which the animal was lodged forms an exact hollow mould of its body, which indicates that it was completely enveloped with the sedimentary deposit.” Of whatever genus the above animal may be, the whole story bears a strong indication of belonging to the genus Canard, as indeed is estimated by the Latin name assigned to the animal.
The Morning Chronicle, Monday 4 February 1856
Editor’s Note: The kind assistance of Mr Google has revealed to me the existing popularity of this story. Should any intrigued reader care to investigate further, he or she will at once note that the usual source cited is the Illustrated London News, Saturday 9 February 1856, and, furthermore, that the story is regarded in certain circles as EVIDENCE AGAINST EVOLUTION.
The Illustrated London News did indeed reprint the story upon that date, but the said publication used only the text that here falls within the quotation marks. It did not repeat The Morning Chronicle’s astute concluding statement as to the nature of the tale.
This is not to say that the News’s editor intended to report the events as factual. He gave the story the headline “Very Like a Whale,” in a clear reference to the exchange in Hamlet, Act III, scene ii, in which the protagonist describes the shapes of clouds. Hamlet’s companion, Polonius, agrees with whatever he says, mindful that such interpretations are fanciful and indicative of INSANITY.
My own humble opinion on the subject of Pterodactylus anas is that it came from among the strata to which geologists – and indeed everyone else – can easily designate the name of LIARS.