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M. [Pierre] Boitard
Paris, Passard, Libraire-Éditeur
7 rue des Grands-Augustins
translated from the original French
BEFORE MANFOSSIL MAN, ETC.
FIRST CHAPTERGRANITE AND CRYSTALLINE SHALE. - LEVEL OF BEINGS ORGANIZED.
It was cold: the north wind dashed whirlwinds of hard dry snow against the panes of my window; my fire crackled, sending out a strong and brilliant flame, and it had just rung eight o'clock in the evening. "No, I say, I won't go out," and without taking my feet off the andirons, without setting down the tongs that I had to hand, I settled further into my old leather armchair and adjusted my position to daydream all the more easily. Soon my dreaming headed naturally toward my usual studies, and, little by little, half sleeping lightly and half awake, a vague desire to know the different phases of nature seized me and preoccupied my vacillating imagination. "Alas!" I thought, "If only we were still in the time of fairies and genies, maybe I could find one good enough to tell me what the world, or only France, or Paris, or even just the Tuileries Gardens was like, ten or twelve thousand years ago, more or less."
All of a sudden I heard a rustle of paper in my library, from which I saw three or four large books and a few dozen smaller ones moving somehow or other, leaving their places, spreading their illustrated covers in the shape of wings, and flying in a straight line to my desk, near my hand. And then, to top it all off, they arranged themselves into a pile, from which emerged a thick plume of smoke that hid them from my view, until finally, instead of my books, I wound up looking at Asmodeus, the limping devil of Lesage!
"I heard you," he said, "and here I am."
"Much obliged, Monsieur demon!"
"Fools and ignoramuses want to know the future, and easily find those who, in exchange for some financial benefit, will explain to them clearly what they want to hear. But educated people look to patch together the scattered shreds of the past, to sew them up to form a useful picture of it for the present. They are essentially lovers of old books and stargazers, but that's not enough as you said a little while ago, they need a genie to help them. However, a genie today is a very rare thing in France!"
"No one knows that better than I, Eminence, because I have the honor of belonging to several learned societies, and having visited them all, I've never seen one! "
"I've come to extricate you from this embarrassment, because, in fact, I am a fair enough devil."
"What!" I said to him, elated with joy, "Would you tell me of the Paris of ten, twelve, fifteen thousand years ago?"
"Yes, and even better, I will show it to you. Even if I can't go one hour into the future, I can go back many thousands of centuries into the past."
"Geologists," I answered him, "have given this name to the survey of animals that lived before the deluge, and of which one recovers bones and fossil remnants buried in the various layers of earth that form the thin skin of our globe."
"Very good, but what is this skin of the globe?"
"That is what I am going to tell you, Eminence. While digging wells, descending into mines and quarries, examining the steep scarps of mountains, ravines, or the high banks of deep rivers, etc., we notice that the soil, to whatever depth we descend, is always composed in the same way of layers of earth or rocks more or less parallel to each other, forming beds and in a regular order, and that these layers are usually horizontal or a little tilted. If we continue digging for a long time, we end up by piercing all these layers and arriving at granite. However, the granite is not in beds, but in masses; it is never superimposed by more regular layers, and it is believed that below it there are no more horizontal or regular layers. We therefore conclude, too boldly perhaps, that it forms the core of the globe, and that the stratified earth (resting in beds one above the other) is the mineral peel of the globe."
"Conceding that for the moment, what has this peel of the globe to do with paleontology?"
"It has been noticed that all over the earth, in Europe, Asia, America, etc., these layers never vary much in nature or size. For example, above the granite are always layers of clayey shale, slate, and the like, of chalky shell, etc. Above these are those of old red sandstone, carbonaceous limestone, arkose, conglomerate and coal. Then come the red sandstone layers, zechstein, Vosges sandstone, and multi-colored sandstone; then those of conchiferous limestone, iridescent marls, chalky hard limestone, oolitic limestone, Purbeck limestone, Hastings sand, Weald clay, green sandstone, and chalk. Then the layers of clay, coarse limestone, gypsum, marl, flinty limestone, sub-Apennine marl, etc., and finally all the modern layers formed by deposits of transport."
"That's all very fine," said the demon, "but come to the paleontological facts."
"Everywhere one recovers the order that I have established here, and if sometimes some layer is missing, at least they are never transposed. But here is the singular thing, that each of these formations, to use the established expression, contains the remains of animals and plants whose species exist in no other formation, superior or inferior, remains which belong to beings no longer represented in living nature. These antediluvian beings are found identically in the same layers on all points of the globe, or at least across very great distances and quite different climates. And that is not all: these layers only offer three kinds of deposits. One is evidently marine, since it contains only remains of marine animals and plants, such as saltwater fishes and whales, polyparies, corals, kelps or fucuses. A second is evidently lacustrine or fresh water, since one finds the bones of fishes, reptiles and other animals which can only live in fresh water. And finally, alluvial deposits, that is, earth, sand and pebbles carried down to the plains from mountain tops by rainwater and crumbling, and then rolled and carried by rivers or streams. In those one doesn't find any marine remains, nor fresh-water animals or fishes, except rarely, but rather a quantity of terrestrial plants and animals."
"That is all very well, and indisputable."
"It is no less surprising that among all these animal remains, the cows, sheep, dogs, horses, elephants, etc., a fossil man has never been found, and never will be!"
"Nonsense!" said Asmodeus, biting his lips to suppress a laugh, "Who said that?"
"Georges Cuvier and geologists of the Academy of Science!"
Here the demon let forth a burst of laughter so vibrant, sardonic and prolonged, that it would have made me afraid, had it not made me laugh in sympathy.
"Ah! Ah!" he said at last, "it is the academicians who have decided! Later we will take up this question. For the present, I see that you are just scholarly enough to understand me. Come now and let's leave as soon as possible, because the journey will be long, though we won't go far. This paleontological walk will make you perfectly au courant on the subject, and then you will be able to solve it yourself. To make our little trip more interesting, I will show you how the earth became populated; how, through various organic formations, it arrived, always modification by modification, passing gradually from simple bodies to complex, to cover itself with plants and animals as it is today. While following matter in its combinations and changes, from the simplest to the most complex, we will probably find the point where man, raw and savage as he had to be in the first days of his appearance, must have taken his place in the creation of the universe. Then you will be able to decide, a little less randomly than before, whether there can or cannot have been any fossil men there."
"And was the universe made?"
"And the universe was made!" answered the demon, sighing. Asmodeus wiped his sweat-covered forehead, and then continued with the same gravity:
"Do you believe in the incandescence of the globe, Eminence?"
"Me? I don't believe a word of it, and I will tell you the reason in another moment."
1. HEROD., lib. 2.
2. SENEC. Med., act. II.
3. PLIN. Hist., lib. 2, cap. 27 et seq.
4. OVID. Metam., lib. 45.
5. APUL. De Mundo. It is notable to find in the works of Apuleius, who lived in antiquity, a perfect example of what our modern authors call the romantic, of which they believe themselves the inventors. Read his Golden Ass, and you would think you were reading Victor Hugo, if you didn't see the author's name under the title.
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M. Boitard and the lame devil aboard a meteorite.
The demon explains about Paris before man, etc.
FIFTH EPOCH OF THE FIFTH PALEONTOLOGICAL PERIOD.MODERN EARTH. ANTHROPIC PERIOD.
"Get ready," said the limping devil, "to see how absolutely similar to what it is today the earth has managed to become. As you can see, there is hardly a difference between the vegetation of this time and that of your own. The forests are composed of oaks, elms, birches, beeches, etc., all counterparts to those that you know; the prairies are painted with the same flowers, and the willow, alder and poplar shade the streams that flow clearly among the rocks."
"What! So you don't believe in the uprising of mountains?"
"I believe in some uprisings produced by volcanic effects, but not in others."
"Already a lot of animals of your time are increasing prodigiously in the forests. Among the small carnivores are skunks, weasels, shrews, moles, badgers, wolverines and bats, among others the Paris vespertilio (vespertilio Parisiensis) and the vampire (vampirus spectrum), this last no longer found outside Guyana and Brazil."
"My word! A vampire! How I'd like to see a vampire!"
"You've already seen more than you may think, in society, but without recognizing them. Be that as it may, I'll satisfy your wishes."
"The name 'vampire' strikes terror all the way from the south of Germany to the Porte Saint-Martin, and certainly not without being merited, as I can't think of a comparable story of ghosts or werewolves, at least for the fantastic. I would be well tempted to see one, but according to tradition, they were the dead who rose from their tombs on nights when the moon was full to suck the blood of sleeping young girls."
"Your story is good enough, but it is not as good as that of the real vampire (vampirus spectrum). While these ridiculous tales were being produced around the fire, other vampires of a less apocryphal species spread fear and discouragement in some the hottest regions of South America. If a man had the misfortune to fall asleep outside, even during the daytime, one or a number of vampires approached him, and while they fanned him with their livid wings to cool him, and by this means, to cause him even deeper sleep, they gently pierced his skin with their tongues, and without him feeling the least pain, sucked his blood to the point of greatly weakening him, or even causing his death, if the puncture was by chance in a vein or artery. These vampires also attacked domestic animals, and they were so numerous that, according to the reports of old travelers like La Condamine, Pierre Martyr, Jumilla, Ulloa, don Georges Juan and others, "they destroyed entirely, in one year, at Borja and other places, the heavy livestock that the missionaries had introduced and which had begun to multiply there," as said La Condamine."
"Tale for tale, I like mine as much as yours, Eminence."
"In any event, the vampire is a bat the size of a small rabbit, and its wingspan is no less than two feet [60 cm]. It usually feeds on insects, small quadrupeds, and even fruits when it doesn't find better."
All during this conversation, the genie and I had been directing our walk toward a forest where I heard the low sound of apparently articulated voices, something that I had not noticed among other animals. I was walking with my head down, to see if I might recognize any plants of the French flora, when a wild apple, launched with a certain strength, suddenly hit me on the shoulder and woke up my numb attention. Quite surprised by this unforeseen attack, I was looking around without being able to discover from whence it had come, when a second apple, launched in the same way, came hissing by my ears and made me raise my eyes to a neighboring tree.
"It's a monkey!" I exclaimed, "There's a monkey!"
"Why not? Why are you so astonished?"
"We must be in Asia, or at least in Java or Sumatra, because I believe I recognize the family of that one it is a gibbon (hylobates fossilis), and if my memory is not mistaken, it is only in Asia that one finds this kind of quadrumane.
"Yes, in modern times, but in the epoch we are in now, he lived in France, and it is in Provence that the geologist Lartet will find his fossilized bones in 1837. The black gibbon is, after the orangutan, the animal which comes closest to the general shape of man. He only differs from the orangutan in that he has calluses on his buttocks, and his arms are a little longer. His height is a little over four feet [130 cm]. His body is spindly, elongated, covered with long, coarse, black hair, except for that surrounding the face, which is gray; his nose is brown and flattened; his eyes are large, but deep-set, his ears rounded and broad, similar to those of man. The soles of his feet and his nails are black. The animal is mild-mannered, of a calm character, and his movements are neither abrupt nor sudden. He prefers fruits to all other food, and he always stands erect, even though he walks on all fours, because his arms are very long, which gives him a bizarre bearing. Louis Lecomte, cited by Buffon, is said to have seen in the Moluccas "a species of monkey, the ouncko (or gibbon), walking naturally on his two feet, using his arms like a man, his face pretty much like that of a Hottentot, but covered with a sort of gray wool; acting like a child, and perfectly expressing his passions and appetites." He adds that "these monkeys are naturally very gentle; that to show their affection to people whom they know, they hug and kiss them with singular transports; that one of these monkeys he saw was at least four feet tall, and he was extremely skillful, and even more agile."
We left the monkeys and plunged into the valley, heading for the foot of a high mountain that didn't appear to be very far away, and which I was anxious to get to, as the genie had told me that at its foot there was a bone-filled cave. Making my way, I saw once more a herd of antediluvian animals resting peacefully in the shade of the thick foliage, but having seen them already and recognizing nearly all of them, I didn't pay much attention.
After having crossed the stream along which we had been walking, we struggled to climb the banks, which were very thick brush.
"Where are we?" I asked.
"In the vicinity of Souvignargues, which will become later the department of the Gard. And here is a cave," added the genie, pointing his finger at a hole in the rock. We approached this opening, but the grotto was so dark and deep that, from the entrance, I was unable at first to distinguish anything inside.
"Let's go in," said the genie.
I confess that I hesitated, because I heard nearby the howling of hyenas, the grumbling of bears, and I saw not far away an aurochs and a wolf in furious combat. I thought that this cave had to be the den of those dangerous animals, and I saw that indeed the earth was recently trampled at the opening.
"Are you afraid?" asked the demon.
"I'm afraid we might find here animals even more fearsome than those we have met so far."
However the genie threw me a glance so strongly ironic that I was ashamed of my weakness, and I entered the underground cave with a determined step. We advanced about fifty steps in darkness that thickened more and more, and often my feet brushed against certain soft bodies that I could not distinguish and that almost made me fall.
"Let's stop," I said to the demon, seating myself on a rock, "because I cannot go farther until my eyes get used to this gloom."
Little by little my pupils dilated, and I could see, vaguely at first, the objects that surrounded us: a hyena, having its skull cleft as if one had given him a stroke of ax on the head, was spread at our feet, and some shreds of bear flesh, half devoured, lying here and there on the ground giving off a strong unpleasant odor. I noticed that some of its bones had been gnawed by powerful jaws, because I could see the tooth marks; but what astonished me most was a sort of clay vase, sun-dried but not baked, very rudely made, half-full with the still-steaming blood of the hyena. The genie pointed out that the sides of the vase carried the bloody traces of lips that had drunk the disgusting liquor that it contained. Next to the vase I saw a fragment of dressed flint or stone, shaped pretty much like a cutting ax, handled at the end with a split stick, and lashed strongly with thongs of bear skin. This instrument crudely resembled the tomahawk of the savages of Canada.
As I distinguished objects more easily, I tried to make out what was deeper in the cave. I first discovered a kind of dark mass that I thought I could see moving, which fixed my attention. I could distinguish a bearskin that seemed to hide something extended on a thick layer of moss, leaves and dry herbs.
The genie, while placing a finger to his lips, made me a sign to keep silent and to advance with caution, which I did. Then he gently raised the bearskin and uncovered to my eyes the most singular animals, the most horrible that I had seen until then. There were three of them, two adults, and a kid that I recognized to be a young of this horrible species; the male was lying down on his side, sleeping pretty much in the attitude of a dog, that is to say, with his body bent in circle. He was about as large as a medium-sized bear, and similarly covered with brown hair, smooth, fairly short and sparse. The forefeet ended pretty much in a large flat thickening, divided into five fingers, as the hand of a monkey; but the fingers were thicker, more robust, and the palm of the hand was defended by a sort of thick and callous leather sole. The hind legs had some resemblance to those of a bear, and, like the bear, he was plantigrade, that is, while walking he pushed the length of the foot on the earth, from the heel to the tip of toes, unlike digitigrade animals like the dog. I noticed also that the soles of his feet were much more elongated than those of man, and that the big toe appeared me opposable to the others, as in the quadrumanes, which are climbing animals rather than walkers. The body was pretty much the shape of an orangutan, but without its lightness and grace, being thick, chunky and toughly muscular. In certain areas it was hairless, but it would have been difficult to say what color the skin was, because it was covered with so with scum and garbage that I could hardly judge that it had to be a coppery reddish-brown.
The head of this animal was the most horrible. A bristly mane entirely covered his skull and the larger part of his face, in such a way that one could only see, through this frizzy forest, two enormous lips that protruded from a strong heavy muzzle, and that were themselves surrounded with a second reddish, frizzy mane, full of garbage, blood, and small pieces of dry flesh. A little above these thick brownish red lips appeared two oval holes that I recognized to be nostrils, although they were not surmounted by any protuberance comparable to a nose. An inch and a half [4 cm] above these holes, on both side of the faces, two thick stiff black bows of hair framed eyes that seemed to me, although closed by sleep, to launch ferocious lightning. The rest of the face was covered with hair forming the mane.
I had the courage to lower myself toward that extraordinary being to consider him from closer up; but at that moment he ground his teeth, rubbing them together in such an awful manner that I jumped back with a start. However his sleep was not interrupted, and, mentally, I thanked heaven for it.
The female was lying in pretty much the same attitude as the male, but on her stomach, and at her breast clung by its four paws a small hairless monster, with livid rosy skin of a repulsive dirtiness, that I recognized to be her kid. She didn't differ from the male save that her mane was a paler brown, and only covered the skull and not the face, and her body was generally less hairy.
These disgusting animals exhaled an odor so fetid, resulting from their dirtiness, that I held my nose while asking the genie in a low voice what these extraordinary beasts could be. To this question, the devil let loose a long and loud burst of laughter that woke up them. The female ran to the depths of the cave, carrying away her kid clinging strongly to her breast. But the male let loose a guttural and ferocious roar, flashed a look at me, rose up on his hind legs, seized with his front the tomahawk of flint, and, with a furious jump, launched himself at my side while raising the terrifying weapon at my head.
In that instant, I gave a shout of terror, because I had just recognized the species of the most dangerous of all monsters... it was a man. It's a good thing the genie interposed his almighty crutch between it and me, preventing the battle. The savage rejoined his companion at the rear of the cave, and I remained stunned by the scene.
When I was a little calmer, I believed indeed that I had just been dreaming, and to reassure myself, I asked the genie what we had seen.
"But of course," he answered, "you recognized him as well as I did it was a fossil man."
"You made him look awfully like a monkey."
"What do you want! That's what he was like, and, though it may astonish you, the characteristics of his race are still found, if isolated, in living nature."
"What! That seems a little strong to me. His hairy body?"
"A lot of individuals, even in France, are almost as hairy as monkeys. Without speaking of the families of hairy men that, according to one of our naturalistic voyagers, exist in the Indies, doesn't the Bible tell you that Esau had a body covered with hair like a goat? If men have less today than in primitive times, it is probably due to the long use of clothes, whose rubbing eroded the natural garment."
"That head with its protruding muzzle?"
"Is exactly like that of fossil skulls found in America, Austria and the sands of Baden, in the vicinity of Vienna. And furthermore, some Ethiopian Negroes still offer you the same face."
"Those spindly legs, with neither thighs nor calves, those flat feet of disproportionate length?"
"If you took the trouble to open the large edition of the Voyages of Captain Dumont-Durville, you would see, in the beautiful engravings that accompany it, that the inhabitants of Port-George and many other regions of Oceania have less thighs and calves than the fossil man who has just upset you so, and that they have feet as long and as flat.
"But that toe which separates itself from the others like an opposable thumb?"
"If you look at the savages of Brazil, or some tribes in the vicinity of Cayenne, or simply the Charruas who were allowed to die so shamefully of grief in hard slavery in Paris, in the city of liberty, you will probably have noticed that they had the big toes of their feet separated and nearly opposable to the other digits. If only you had noticed, in France, in the department of Landes, the feet of the resin tappers who exercise their profession from father to son, you would have seen that not only have they opposable toes, but that they can even seize their hatchets and cut a pine branch by foot."
"But why did you put an ax in the hand of your fossil man?"
"Because, in this same cave of Chokier, close to Liège, where we are now, one will find scattered among the bones of our fossil man, the bones of bear, rhinoceros, etc., various objects of a human industry which had only just begun: a needle made from a fishbone, a bone sharpened to a point, and having other marks of cutting, chipped flint pieces in the shape of arrowheads, knives, axes, and bone worked in diverse manners. In deposits of the same time, that is, in other caves, one will also find sun-baked vases in terracotta, and other vases of cow horn, variously shaped. In the more modern alluvium deposits, we can find rowboats carved from tree trunks by means of fire."
"In your opinion, Eminence, would we find fossil men in many other localities?"
"Certainly. Without counting the Guadeloupe fossil that I am going to show you, they have been found in caves at Bize, Pondres, Souvignargues, Durfort, Nabrigas and in various caves of the province of Liège. You will notice that the human bones of these various places generally belong to races that differ completely from those that live in Europe today. Thus skulls found in the sands of Baden relate with those of the African Negro races, but with an even more prominent muzzle. Those that have been unearthed on the banks of the Rhine and the Danube appear less old; they begin to look less like monkeys, but more like the heads of the Caribs and ancient inhabitants of Peru and Chile."
"But these are some positive facts. Why is it that the Academy of Sciences still refuses to be recognize anthropoliths or fossil men?"
"But nothing is clearer, and I am going to demonstrate it to you in a logical manner like a mathematical demonstration: it is because of philosophy... do you understand? Religious ideas and policies... do you hear? And then the preconceived opinions of the deceased master Georges... That is clear, I think... and it is positively for all these invincible reasons that the Academy, in its prudence and wisdom, has decided that, in spite of and even against the evidence if necessary, it would deny fossil man wherever it came from."
"I don't understand a word of your demonstration."
"Imbecile yourself!" I replied, red with anger.
"Ah! Unfortunate! You have the boldness to treat a genie in this manner, and you believe that it will pass for nothing. Wait, and by the devil, you will receive from me a last lesson..."
The limping devil, at the height of fury, raised his crutch and gave me a blow with it on the ears; his body became all fire and flame, and he disappeared while giving off a strong odor, not of sulfur, but of burnt horn. The pain made me carry my hands to my head, and it was just in time, because the tallow candle had set fire to my cotton cap, and my hair had begun to singe when I woke up. I had fallen asleep on the works of G. Cuvier, Brongniart, Buckland, Lindley, Élie of Beaumont, Huot, Constant Prévost and others.
"Alas! Alas!" I said while shaking off the flames from my nightcap, "What a pity that I only saw all these wonderful things in a dream, and that I can't actually see them everyday."
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Last Paleontological Age - Appearance of Man