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‘Very important, if true’: Lunar Quadrupeds, Biped Beavers, and Man-Bats

Posted on 07/17/2017


Reports of life on the moon, first published in The Sun in late August 1835, were republished quickly by many New York-area newspapers. On August 27, 1835, the Newark Daily Advertiser reprinted an initial report quoting an alleged astronomer who claimed to have “beheld continuous herds of brown quadrupeds” on the surface of the moon. He continued:

The next animal we perceived would be classified on earth as a monster. It was of a bluish lead color, about the size of a goat, with a head and beard like him, and a single horn, slightly inclined forward from the perpendicular. The female was destitute of the horn and beard, but had a much longer tail. It was gregarious, and chiefly abounded on the acclivitous glades of the woods. In elegance of symmetry it rivalled the antelope, and like him it seemed an agile sprightly creature, running with great speed, and springing from the green turf with all the unaccountable antics of a young lamb or kitten. This beautiful creature afforded us the most exquisite amusement.

On August 29 the New York Evangelist provided additional reporting under the headline “Wonderful Astronomical Discoveries”:

The New-York Sun has for the last three days, 25th, 26th and 27th, electrified its readers by publishing extracts from the supplement to the last Edinburgh Journal of Science, giving an account of the wonderful discoveries recently made by Sir John Herschel, with his new and improved telescope, at the Cape of Good Hope.

The article goes on at length to describe the telescope’s construction and specifications before ending with the following tailpiece:

P.S. – Since the above was in type, the editor of the Sun has favored us with a proof slip of a further portion of this wonderful narrative. It includes, among other marvels, an account of the winged men. They were first seen on the wing, and presently alighted and walked, when their attitude was erect and dignified, their stature about four feet, covered, except the face, with short, copper-colored hair, the face of a yellowish flesh-color, a slight improvement upon that of the Ourang Outang, and the wings a thin membrane without hair, folding snugly on their backs, from the top of the shoulders to the calves of the legs. They appeared to be constantly engaged in conversing, with much impassioned gesticulation, and hence it was inferred that they are rational beings.


“Wonderful Astronomical Discoveries,” New York Evangelist.jpg

The Evening Post also reprinted the story, dedicating six columns to the tale and including additional information on various lunar flora and fauna:

Dr. Hershel has classified not less than thirty-eight species of forest trees, and nearly twice their number of plants, found in this tract alone, which are widely different to those found in more equatorial latitudes. Of animals, he classified nine species of mammalia, and five of oviparia. Among the former is a small kind of rein-deer, the elk, the moose, the horned bear, and the biped beaver. The last resembles the beaver of earth in every other respect than in its destitution of a tail, and its invariable habit of walking only upon two feet. It carries its young in its arms like a human being, and moves with an easy gliding motion. Its huts are constructed better and higher than those of many tribes of human savages, and from the appearance of smoke in nearly all of them, there is no doubt of its being acquainted with the use of fire. Still its head and body differ only in the points stated from that of the beaver, and it was never seen except on the borders of lakes and rivers, in which it has been observed to immerse for a period of several seconds.

The Evening Post article also contained new details on the winged residents of the moon:

The next view we obtained of them was more favorable. It was on the borders of a little lake, or expanded stream, which we then for the first-time perceived running down the valley to the large lake, and having on its eastern margin a small wood. Some of these creatures had crossed this water and were lying like spread eagles on the skirts of the wood. We could perceive that their wings possessed great expansion and were similar in structure to those of the bat, being a semi-transparent membrane expanded in curvilineal divisions by means of straight radii, united at the back by the dorsal integuments. But what astonished us very much was the circumstance of this membrane being continued, from the shoulders to the legs, united all the way down, though gradually decreasing in width. The wings seemed completely under the command of volition, for those of the creatures whom we saw bathing in the water, spread them instantly to their full width, waved them as ducks do theirs to shake off the water, and then as instantly closed them again in a compact form. Our further observation of the habits of these creatures who were of both sexes, led to results so very remarkable, that I prefer they should be first laid before the public in Dr. Herschel’s own work where I have reason to know they are fully and faithfully stated however incredulously they may be received.

“We scientifically denominated them the Vespertilio-homo, or man-bat; and they are doubtless innocent and happy creatures, notwithstanding some of their amusements would but ill comport with our terrestrial notions of decorum. The valley itself we called the Ruby Colosseum, in compliment to its stupendous southern boundary, the six-mile sweep of red precipices two thousand feet high.”

Vespertilio-homo, or man-bat.png

On August 29, the Christian Intelligencer repeated the Newark Daily Advertiser article, supplementing it with this second piece titled “The Telescope”:

An improvement of the most surprising character has been made in the Telescope, by Dr. Herschel in connection with Dr. Brewster. It consists in subjecting the spectral image, reflected by a concave lens, to the action of the hydro-oxygen microscope. A representation of the distant object is thus thrown upon a screen. Such a telescope, of the most gigantic dimensions has been erected at the Cape of Good Hope, by Dr. Herschel, who with a party of scientific gentlemen, repaired thither some time since, to observe the expected transit of Venus. With its aid, comparatively small objects in the moon may be seen. An account of discoveries made in that distant world, and published in a supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science, almost exceeds belief. Quadrupeds, birds, animals, believed to be rational works of art, &c. &c it is alleged have been seen.

We have given another column a condensed statement from the account in the Edinburgh Journal. Doubts are entertained respecting its truth.

Several newspapers expressed doubt of the story’s veracity, including some that had reprinted the tale in their own pages. On the same day the Evening Post printed the article referenced above on its front page, it also published this “Moon Discoveries Supplement” on page two:

The long article which we publish to-day, giving an account of alleged discoveries in the Moon, is copied from the four last numbers of one of the penny daily papers of this city called the Sun. It is quite proper, by the way, that the Sun should be the means of shedding so much light on the Moon. This singular narrative of lunar discoveries purports to be extracted from a supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science, with which the editor of the Sun says he has been “politely furnished by a medical gentleman immediately from Scotland.” We publish the article as we find it, and do not know that it is necessary that we should accompany it with any comments to shake the faith which credulous readers may be disposed to place in its authenticity. The story is certainly, as the old newspaper phrase goes, “very important, if true.” And if not true, the reader will still be obliged to confess that it is very ingenious.

The Commercial Advertiser also printed, on the same day, both the long article, “Great Astronomical Discoveries,” and an explanation of why it was carried. The second article, “The Great Moon Story,” begins:

At the request of many friends, and partly also for its ingenuity, we have copied on our first page the marvelous account which has been made the occasion of so much discourse lately, of certain stupendous discoveries in the moon, alleged to have been made by Sir John Herschel from his observatory at the Cape of Good Hope. It is well done, and makes a pleasant piece of reading enough, especially for such as have a sufficient stock of available credulity; but we can hardly understand how any man of common sense should read it without at once perceiving the deception.

On September 1, the Albany Argus dissecting the previous month’s prank under the skeptical headline “Vive La Bagatelle!”

The most elaborate and par excellence the most ingenious literary imposition of at least modern times, recently found its way to the American public through the columns of the Sun, a penny paper…purporting to be an account, from a supplement to the last number of the Edinburgh Journal of Science…

Our readers may judge of the adroitness of the bold satire (for such it doubtless is) from the fact that notwithstanding the very questionable shape in which it first appeared, and the apocryphal character of its revelations, it has been extensively and promptly republished, accompanied in several instances with editorial comments, expressive of implicit faith in its statements and of “unspeakable” wonder and admiration at its marvelous developments.

It is well worth the space it occupies (some six columns of the largest daily papers) for its admirable and effective hits (whether deserved or not) upon titled credulity, as evinced in the indiscriminate success of scientific pretension in its requisitions upon royal patronage, especially in cases holding out the promise of the least advancement in science under British auspices. As such, we purpose to republish it entire.

“Vive La Bagatelle!” Albany Argus.jpg

The Albany Argus article, before concluding with examples of credulous editorial comments from rival papers, characterizes harshly the “supplement” and its author:

….it is but just to the respectable scientific journal…to say that what purports to have been a supplement, probably did not appear originally as such, but detached from the work upon which it is doubtless a forgery; and that its paternity is to be sought for, not, as some journals intimate, in this country, but in some disappointed applicant, across the water, for the patronage, the fancied or real misapplication of which, occasioned a resort to this novel mode of literary revenge.

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“New Discoveries in the Moon,” Newark Daily Advertiser, (Newark, New Jersey), Aug. 27, 1835.

“Wonderful Astronomical Discoveries,” New York Evangelist (New York, New York), Aug. 29, 1835.

“Great Astronomical Discoveries, Lately Made,” Evening Post (New York, New York), Aug. 28, 1835.

“The Telescope,” Christian Intelligencer (New York, New York), Aug. 29, 1835.

“Moon Discoveries Supplement,” Evening Post (New York, New York), Aug. 28, 1835.

“Great Astronomical Discoveries,” Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), Aug. 29, 1835.

“The Great Moon Story,” Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), Aug. 29, 1835.

“Vive La Bagatelle!” Albany Argus (Albany, New York), Sept. 1, 1835.

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