DURING THE PERIOD in which these developments were occurring, I had returne_rom a scientific undertaking organized to explore the Nebraska badlands i_he United States. In my capacity as Assistant Professor at the Paris Museu_f Natural History, I had been attached to this expedition by the Frenc_overnment. After spending six months in Nebraska, I arrived in New York lade_ith valuable collections near the end of March. My departure for France wa_et for early May. In the meantime, then, I was busy classifying m_ineralogical, botanical, and zoological treasures when that incident too_lace with the Scotia.
I was perfectly abreast of this question, which was the big news of the day,
and how could I not have been? I had read and reread every American an_uropean newspaper without being any farther along. This mystery puzzled me.
Finding it impossible to form any views, I drifted from one extreme to th_ther. Something was out there, that much was certain, and any doubting Thoma_as invited to place his finger on the Scotia's wound.
When I arrived in New York, the question was at the boiling point. Th_ypothesis of a drifting islet or an elusive reef, put forward by people no_uite in their right minds, was completely eliminated. And indeed, unless thi_eef had an engine in its belly, how could it move about with such prodigiou_peed?
Also discredited was the idea of a floating hull or some other enormou_reckage, and again because of this speed of movement.
So only two possible solutions to the question were left, creating two ver_istinct groups of supporters: on one side, those favoring a monster o_olossal strength; on the other, those favoring an "underwater boat" o_remendous motor power.
Now then, although the latter hypothesis was completely admissible, i_ouldn't stand up to inquiries conducted in both the New World and the Old.
That a private individual had such a mechanism at his disposal was less tha_robable. Where and when had he built it, and how could he have built it i_ecret?
Only some government could own such an engine of destruction, and in thes_isaster-filled times, when men tax their ingenuity to build increasingl_owerful aggressive weapons, it was possible that, unknown to the rest of th_orld, some nation could have been testing such a fearsome machine. Th_hassepot rifle led to the torpedo, and the torpedo has led to this underwate_attering ram, which in turn will lead to the world putting its foot down. A_east I hope it will.
But this hypothesis of a war machine collapsed in the face of formal denial_rom the various governments. Since the public interest was at stake an_ransoceanic travel was suffering, the sincerity of these governments coul_ot be doubted. Besides, how could the assembly of this underwater boat hav_scaped public notice? Keeping a secret under such circumstances would b_ifficult enough for an individual, and certainly impossible for a natio_hose every move is under constant surveillance by rival powers.
So, after inquiries conducted in England, France, Russia, Prussia, Spain,
Italy, America, and even Turkey, the hypothesis of an underwater Monitor wa_ltimately rejected.
And so the monster surfaced again, despite the endless witticisms heaped on i_y the popular press, and the human imagination soon got caught up in the mos_idiculous ichthyological fantasies.
After I arrived in New York, several people did me the honor of consulting m_n the phenomenon in question. In France I had published a two-volume work, i_uarto, entitled The Mysteries of the Great Ocean Depths. Well received i_cholarly circles, this book had established me as a specialist in this prett_bscure field of natural history. My views were in demand. As long as I coul_eny the reality of the business, I confined myself to a flat "no comment."
But soon, pinned to the wall, I had to explain myself straight out. And i_his vein, "the honorable Pierre Aronnax, Professor at the Paris Museum," wa_ummoned by The New York Herald to formulate his views no matter what.
I complied. Since I could no longer hold my tongue, I let it wag. I discusse_he question in its every aspect, both political and scientific, and this i_n excerpt from the well-padded article I published in the issue of April 30.
"Therefore," I wrote, "after examining these different hypotheses one by one,
we are forced, every other supposition having been refuted, to accept th_xistence of an extremely powerful marine animal.
"The deepest parts of the ocean are totally unknown to us. No soundings hav_een able to reach them. What goes on in those distant depths? What creature_nhabit, or could inhabit, those regions twelve or fifteen miles beneath th_urface of the water? What is the constitution of these animals? It's almos_eyond conjecture.
"However, the solution to this problem submitted to me can take the form of _hoice between two alternatives.
"Either we know every variety of creature populating our planet, or we do not.
"If we do not know every one of them, if nature still keeps ichthyologica_ecrets from us, nothing is more admissible than to accept the existence o_ish or cetaceans of new species or even new genera, animals with a basically
'cast-iron' constitution that inhabit strata beyond the reach of ou_oundings, and which some development or other, an urge or a whim if yo_refer, can bring to the upper level of the ocean for long intervals.
"If, on the other hand, we do know every living species, we must look for th_nimal in question among those marine creatures already cataloged, and in thi_vent I would be inclined to accept the existence of a giant narwhale.
"The common narwhale, or sea unicorn, often reaches a length of sixty feet.
Increase its dimensions fivefold or even tenfold, then give this cetacean _trength in proportion to its size while enlarging its offensive weapons, an_ou have the animal we're looking for. It would have the proportion_etermined by the officers of the Shannon, the instrument needed to perforat_he Scotia, and the power to pierce a steamer's hull.
"In essence, the narwhale is armed with a sort of ivory sword, or lance, a_ertain naturalists have expressed it. It's a king-sized tooth as hard a_teel. Some of these teeth have been found buried in the bodies of balee_hales, which the narwhale attacks with invariable success. Others have bee_renched, not without difficulty, from the undersides of vessels tha_arwhales have pierced clean through, as a gimlet pierces a wine barrel. Th_useum at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris owns one of these tusks with _ength of 2.25 meters and a width at its base of forty-eight centimeters!
"All right then! Imagine this weapon to be ten times stronger and the anima_en times more powerful, launch it at a speed of twenty miles per hour,
multiply its mass times its velocity, and you get just the collision we nee_o cause the specified catastrophe.
"So, until information becomes more abundant, I plump for a sea unicorn o_olossal dimensions, no longer armed with a mere lance but with an actua_pur, like ironclad frigates or those warships called 'rams,' whose mass an_otor power it would possess simultaneously.
"This inexplicable phenomenon is thus explained away—unless it's somethin_lse entirely, which, despite everything that has been sighted, studied,
explored and experienced, is still possible!"
These last words were cowardly of me; but as far as I could, I wanted t_rotect my professorial dignity and not lay myself open to laughter from th_mericans, who when they do laugh, laugh raucously. I had left myself _oophole. Yet deep down, I had accepted the existence of "the monster."
My article was hotly debated, causing a fine old uproar. It rallied a numbe_f supporters. Moreover, the solution it proposed allowed for free play of th_magination. The human mind enjoys impressive visions of unearthly creatures.
Now then, the sea is precisely their best medium, the only setting suitabl_or the breeding and growing of such giants—next to which such land animals a_lephants or rhinoceroses are mere dwarves. The liquid masses support th_argest known species of mammals and perhaps conceal mollusks of incomparabl_ize or crustaceans too frightful to contemplate, such as 100-meter lobster_r crabs weighing 200 metric tons! Why not? Formerly, in prehistoric days,
land animals (quadrupeds, apes, reptiles, birds) were built on a giganti_cale. Our Creator cast them using a colossal mold that time has graduall_ade smaller. With its untold depths, couldn't the sea keep alive such hug_pecimens of life from another age, this sea that never changes while the lan_asses undergo almost continuous alteration? Couldn't the heart of the ocea_ide the last-remaining varieties of these titanic species, for whom years ar_enturies and centuries millennia?
But I mustn't let these fantasies run away with me! Enough of these fair_ales that time has changed for me into harsh realities. I repeat: opinion ha_rystallized as to the nature of this phenomenon, and the public accepte_ithout argument the existence of a prodigious creature that had nothing i_ommon with the fabled sea serpent.
Yet if some saw it purely as a scientific problem to be solved, more practica_eople, especially in America and England, were determined to purge the ocea_f this daunting monster, to insure the safety of transoceanic travel. Th_ndustrial and commercial newspapers dealt with the question chiefly from thi_iewpoint. The Shipping & Mercantile Gazette, the Lloyd's List, France'_acketboat and Maritime & Colonial Review, all the rags devoted to insuranc_ompanies—who threatened to raise their premium rates— were unanimous on thi_oint.
Public opinion being pronounced, the States of the Union were the first in th_ield. In New York preparations were under way for an expedition designed t_hase this narwhale. A high-speed frigate, the Abraham Lincoln, was fitted ou_or putting to sea as soon as possible. The naval arsenals were unlocked fo_ommander Farragut, who pressed energetically forward with the arming of hi_rigate.
But, as it always happens, just when a decision had been made to chase th_onster, the monster put in no further appearances. For two months nobod_eard a word about it. Not a single ship encountered it. Apparently th_nicorn had gotten wise to these plots being woven around it. People wer_onstantly babbling about the creature, even via the Atlantic Cable!
Accordingly, the wags claimed that this slippery rascal had waylaid som_assing telegram and was making the most of it.
So the frigate was equipped for a far-off voyage and armed with fearsom_ishing gear, but nobody knew where to steer it. And impatience grew until, o_une 2, word came that the Tampico, a steamer on the San Francisco lin_ailing from California to Shanghai, had sighted the animal again, three week_efore in the northerly seas of the Pacific.
This news caused intense excitement. Not even a 24-hour breather was grante_o Commander Farragut. His provisions were loaded on board. His coal bunker_ere overflowing. Not a crewman was missing from his post. To cast off, h_eeded only to fire and stoke his furnaces! Half a day's delay would have bee_nforgivable! But Commander Farragut wanted nothing more than to go forth.
I received a letter three hours before the Abraham Lincoln left its Brookly_ier;[](footnotes.xml#footnote_3) the letter read as follows:
Professor at the Paris Museum
Fifth Avenue Hotel
If you would like to join the expedition on the Abraham Lincoln, th_overnment of the Union will be pleased to regard you as France'_epresentative in this undertaking. Commander Farragut has a cabin at you_isposal.