Chapter 24

It may now be time to make some enquiry after the unfortunate officer, who had been treated in the manner we have mentioned.

The evening the outrage had been committed on him, he had run several miles, naked as he was; if a man may be said to be naked, that is invested with a layer of viscous fluid, and the adhesion of[birds feathers to cover him; through much danger from the country people, who were ill affected to his office. He had at length gained the recesses of a forest, where he thought himself safe for the night; until near morning, when the barking of wolves at no great distance, as he thought, led him to apprehend the being devoured by these animals, who might take him for an object of their prey. To escape this, he had thought it adviseable to climb a spreading beech tree, and there remained until after sun-rise, when two hunters coming along at that early hour, descried him amongst the branches; and not without much surprise and astonishment. At first they took him for a bear; but seeing the feathers, it was decided that he must be of the fowl kind. Nevertheless his face and form, which appeared to be human, made him a monster in creation, or at least a new species of animal, never before known in these woods.


They at first hesitated whether to take him down by a shot, or to pass on and leave him unmolested. But at length it was determined to pass on for the present, as if they had not seen him, and to rouse the settlement, to take him with dogs, and the help of men. It would be a valuable acquisition to have such a creature to carry to the great towns for a show. It might be a fortune to a man. This being resolved on, one of the hunters was dispatched to rouse the settlement, while his comrade in the mean time, had taken his station on an eminence at no great distance, to watch the motions of the wild creature, and give information of his change of situation. The officer in much melancholy of mind had descended from the beech, and was sitting on the point of a rock, looking about him like a bald eagle, when a couple of stout fellows came suddenly behind him, with the folds of ropes, and entrapped his body, so that he could not move his arms, which they took to be wings, but was as tightly laced as a ship's yard arm, when the sails are furled to prepare for a tempest.


A cage having been made and put into the bed of a waggon, he was conveyed to the capitol, when the proprietors, after having published an advertisement, began to exhibit him as a curiosity, for the sum of a quarter dollar to each grown person, and an eighth of a dollar to the children of families whose parents brought them with them.


In a short time, this uncommon creature, as it was thought to be, became the subject of general conversation; and the Philosophical Society had heard of it. Having called a special meeting, they dispatched two members to ascertain and report the nature of the animal, in a memoir to be inserted in their transactions.


The two members accordingly requested of the proprietors an opportunity of a leisurely examination of the animal, and paid them a quarter dollar each extraordinary, for this indulgence. The proprietors were disposed, as was natural, to assist with some particulars of fiction, the singular qualities of the animal they had in charge. They related, that when they first saw it, in its flying from the mountain, it was just alighting on the tree top; that having taken it, they had at first offered it boiled and roast flesh, but this it refused; but that at length it had come to eat flesh both roasted and sodden, with considerable gout, and sometimes even with rapacity. This was false, by the bye, for they had tried the officer with raw flesh at first, which he had refused, and would eat only roasted or boiled.


The proprietors informed, that when first taken, its cries, or voice, was of a mixed sound, between that of a wild cat and heron; but that it had come to have some imitation of the human voice, and even articulation, and might from that circumstance be probably a species of the parrot.


The philosophers noted all this, and doubtless made a proper use of the particulars, in determining the genus of the animal. For the last thing that a virtuoso ought to question, is the truth of facts. It is by taking facts as granted, that an hypothesis is most easily established.


The transactions of the Society have not been yet published. Nevertheless we have been favoured with the report of the members on this occasion, with leave to publish it, having so immediate a relation to this work. It is as follows:


"The animal of which an account is now to be given, was asleep when we made our visit; and the keepers were unwilling to disturb him, having been kept awake, they said, too much for some time past, by the frequency of people coming to see him. However, this circumstance gave us an opportunity which we would not otherwise have had, of observing him while asleep. He lay with his head upon his right shoulder, and his hinder legs, drawn up to his belly, in the manner of the dog, or bear. The drawing his breath, and his snoring, is that of a man. He has hair upon his head, with a mixture of feathers; but upon his body there is nothing but feathers, not in the manner of other fowls, if fowl this may be called, smooth and clean, but growing through a viscous substance resembling tar, and intermixed with it; in this particular differing from the bird kind in general, who by means of a spinal gland secrete an oily substance, with which they besmear and dress their feathers; for here the oily or viscous substance is itself mixed with the feathers, and oozing from the skin. Nor are the feathers here, as in fowls in general, lying all one way, but in various directions, as if nature had given them to sprout out at random. But what is most extraordinary, the stems are frequently protruded, and the downy part inserted in the skin.

"Such were our observations while he lay asleep.


"After half an hour the keepers having awaked him, he got up from his straw by turning on his back, stretching out his fore legs, or wings, if they may be so called, raising himself on his rump, and then by resting on one paw, rising with a slow and easy motion, to his feet. It may seem a catachresis in language to talk of the face of a beast; nevertheless we shall use this phrase, for though in great part covered with feathers, and the same viscous matter with the body, yet in shape it has the appearance of a human face, full as much or more, than the baboon or others of the ape species. It cannot be said to laugh, but rather grin, though once or twice in our presence, you would have thought that it exhibited a dilatation of the oscular muscles, as if attempting to laugh.


"The eye is of a grey colour, and the look wild, but steady, like that of a person under an impression of amazement and wonder. The neck, and whole form of the body, and even the hinder legs, have a strong resemblance of the human. Were it not for the feathers, a person on a superficial view might mistake the wings for arms, being attached to the body by a shoulder blade, and the claws resembling the fingers of a Negro.


"If this animal is to be referred to the quadruped or beast kind, it would most naturally be classed with the Ouran outang, or Wild man of Africa: If with the bird kind, we shall be totally at a loss to assign the genus. For though it has a head and face not unlike the ouzel, or the owl, yet in the body it has no resemblance. Nevertheless we should certainly give it a place amongst fowls, were it not that it has ribs instead of the lamina, or side plates, which are peculiar to the winged race alone: as also, because we have reason to think it has an epiglottis, from the articulation of its sounds, by which it has come to imitate our speech, with a pronunciation not unlike that kind of brogue, which we remark in some of the west country Irish. It appears to want the ingluvies or craw; but has a gizzard, and digests its food by the dissolving power of the gastric juices.


"All things considered, we incline to think that it is an animal of a species wholly new, and of a middle nature between a bird and a beast; yet so widely differing from a bat, as not to be classed with it.


"This discovery leads to new and important considerations. We do not undertake to decide for the Society; but shall venture to suggest some particulars.


"This animal would seem to form the link between the brutal and the human species; being nearer to it in some particulars than the oran-outang itself; and especially in the evident articulation of certain sounds. Articulation was with the ancients, the distinguishing characteristic of the human kind. The poet Homer had the epithet frequently, Meropon, Anthropon, articulate, speaking men. Yet we find from this discovery, that articulation, at least to some extent, is not peculiar to man alone. This is an incidental characteristic, given by the poet; but the distinguishing mark has been given with more subtilty of observation, by the philosopher Plato; whose definition is that of Animal bipes implumis; a two legged, unfeathered animal: For though it might be contended with some plausibility, that this animal has two legs; yet it is evidently feathered; not indeed with the long and strong plumage of the ostrich, but with the down of a goose, or duck. This animal, like man, has not a tail. Nevertheless it has the os cocygis, or termination of the spinal bone, longer than in man; as was ascertained by one of us, who in the interval of his sleeping, felt his rump. Not that we would draw from this any conclusion in favour of the hypothesis of Monboddo, that men had once tails; but that in the scale of animals, there is a gradual nearing of distance, from having long tails, to the having no tail at all.


"The most important enquiry comes now to be investigated, namely whether this be an animal new to discovery, or actually new to the world, and just lately come into existence in the natural kingdom. No account of it having been heretofore given by any traveller in America, either from the information of the natives, or personal observation of their own, founds a strong presumption that it is of a novel breed of creatures; but that it is prepared to preserve its species, with a female, may be inferred, from the circumstance of nature having furnished it with testicles.


"The idea of original production, involves in the late hypothesis of Macilhattan, in his treatise, De Seminibus, that nature has within herself an aboriginal productive power; so that as some animals disappear from the earth, the Mammoth for instance, others spring up, that were never known before. Which hypothesis, by the bye, so far as respects the extinction of animals, receives considerable countenance from the ancient relations of the gorgon, the hydra, &c. and the less remote allusions to winged gryphins, orchs, &c. If this should be found to be the fact, it may be suggested whether it would be going too far to say, that it might be in the compass of human research to discover the subtil combination of causes and effects, necessary to the production of life, and the formation of a living creature; and that the time might not be far distant, when ingenious chymists might undertake and accomplish the analysis of matter, and synthesis of composition, so as to be able to make animals, to those who would bespeak them; as a workman would make articles of furniture for a hall or assembly room. This would save much expence, in feeding, and providing them for food, or for the purpose of labour, and burden. We have thought it sufficient to suggest this, and propose it to the industry and ingenuity of the learned in philosophic science."


So far the memoir.


The society expressed their approbation of it; and it was proposed to make a purchase of this animal, for the purpose of examining it more fully, in their own hall, and possibly of sending it to the societies abroad, for their examination also. This proposition was adopted, and the same members appointed to drive a bargain with the proprietors, for the subject of their show.


When the deputation came forward, and began to traffic with the keepers, proposing a purchase of the curiosity in their possession, the revenue officer, in the cage just by, raised what is called the Irish howl, in a most pitiable manner; recollecting what the Captain had told him on a former occasion, with regard to the use to which they would apply him, when they should get him in their power.


Dear love your shouls, my dear masters, said he, dat have taken me in de wild woods. I care not fat you make o'd me, a wild baste, or a turkey buzzard; or a fish o' de vater, while I gat good mate to ate, and clane straw to ly down upon; but for the sake o'd de holy faders, do not sell me to dese filosophers, dat will cut me up as you would a dead cat, and put my skin upon a pitchfork, just to plase deir own fancies; rader let me stay where I am, and show me to de good paple, dat gape and stare, but keep deir teeth in deir mouths, and luke foolish, but dont affer to bite.


The philosophers assured him, that his apprehensions were without foundation; having not the least intention of dissecting, at least until he died a natural death. Doubtless, it might be an object, to ascertain from the internal structure of the body, to what genus or class of animals he might belong: nevertheless, they were persuaded, the society would content themselves, with the observations drawn from external structure, at least for some time. On this, turning round to the proprietors, they resumed the conversation relative to a purchase; the supposed animal continuing to vociferate and roar horribly.


In the mean time, the affair of this wild man, beast, bird, fish, or whatever it was, began to make a noise in the town; the people who had come to see it, being divided in opinion; some believing it to be a monster, or new animal in creation; others disposed to be of opinion, and others confidently asserting, that it was a real man.


Coming to the ear of the chief justice of the state, it occurred to him, that if a man, the confining him in that manner was a restraint upon the liberty of the subject; and ought not to be permitted in a country where the laws govern. Accordingly, he had issued his writ of habeas corpus to the keepers, commanding them forthwith to bring before him, the animal in their possession, and to assign the cause of this detainer. The officer came forward at the moment the keepers were about to close the bargain with the philosophers, and showed his writ. They were obliged to obey; and came forward with their charge before the chief justice and associate judges, in open court then sitting, alleging property in themselves by caption, and employing counsel to support this allegation.


The court having assigned counsel to support the Habeas Corpus, the argument began: Counsellor Patch first.


May it please your honours,


I take this to be an animal in which there can be no property absolute of qualified, being ferae naturae, or of an untamed nature, such as a panther or a buffalo; of which it is laid down no larceny can be committed, as not being the subject of property. 4 Black. 235; referring for authorities to 1 Hal. P. C. 511. Fost. 366. 1 Hawk. P. C. 94. Here counsellor Patch read the authorities.


Counsellor Catch in reply: But by the same authorities, it is laid down, that animals ferae naturae, or wild, when reclaimed, or confined, and may serve for food, may be the subject of property, as deer inclosed in a park, fish in a trunk, or pheasants or partridges in a mew.


But is it conceded, that this animal can serve for food? rejoined counsellor Patch.


The question to be considered in the first place, interrupted the chief justice, is whether this creature is of the brutal or the human kind. Speak to that point.


Counsellor Scratch, as amicus curiae observed, that this being a question of fact, was most properly determinable by a jury.


Counsellor Patch thought not, as the trial by inspection in the case of infancy, which was within the province of the court, was analogous to this. The court were of opinion with counsellor Scratch, and proposed to the counsel for the thing in custody, to bring a writ de homine replegiando, or replevin, for the body of a man, as the proper writ to bring the case before a jury; or that an issue might be made upon the return to the habeas corpus, by consent; and in that shape let it be tried. It was agreed; property pleaded, the issue made up, and the jury about to be impannelled.


Counsellor Patch under the principle of an alien having a right to a jury de medietatae linguae, demanded, that the jury should consist of one half beasts.


Curia advisari vult, and in the mean time desired the counsel to search for precedents. No instance was found of the jury de medietatae linguae, being carried as far as this, and the motion was overruled.


The jury being now sworn, the counsel for the keepers, offered the two members of the philosophical society, who had examined him, to establish his brutality; this evidence was offered on the principle, that it was peculiarly within the province of their studies to ascertain a point of this nature, and were therefore the proper witnesses, as in a case within the custom of merchants, individuals of this occupation are usually called. According to the maxim of the civil law, Unicuique, in arte sua, perito credendum est.


Exception to this evidence, that they were interested, having had an eye to the purchase of this thing, and actually in negociation for it.


The objection was overruled, as going to the credibility, not the competency.


The witnesses were clear that this thing was not of the human race, though as to what class of brute animals it was to be referred, they were not yet prepared to decide.


To the weight of this evidence counsellor Catch opposed the evidence of nature itself; the thing had a human voice and speech, that of a west country Irishman; no instance of which was to be found in any natural historian that had ever written. He would call upon the gentleman to produce any authority to that effect.


Counsellor Patch, was not prepared with an authority to prove, that beasts had been found that could speak Irish; but that it was no uncommon thing in early ages, and in many countries, for beasts to speak some language; such as Latin, Greek; for which he might refer the gentleman to the Aesopi Fabulae, or those of Phedrus; nor was he without an authority at hand, to prove that even in more modern times, there were many beasts who could speak English; this authority was that well known book, The History of Reynard the Fox; which he now produced, and from which he read passages.


The court thought the authority in point, and the evidence not to be got over, and directed the jury to find accordingly; which they did, in favour of the keepers, and the Habeas Corpus was dismissed, and the thing remanded to custody.


The members after this, struck a bargain the more easily with the keepers; as they had been a good deal alarmed at the risk they had run of having this property taken from them. The Society after having retained the curiosity a year or so, and ascertained its structure and properties, proposed sending it to some of the foreign societies, who had expressed a wish to have an occular demonstration of it also. The preference was given to the societies in France; and it was accordingly shipped in a brig of Blair M'Clenachen, that was bound to Nantz. At this place on coming ashore, by rolling and tumbling in the ship, having worn off the tar and feathers from his backside, he was mistaken for a sans culotte; and the mob rising, broke the inclosure, and let him out. I have not hear whether he joined the army of the patriots, or is on his way home again to this country.