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Chapter 2 The Pros and Cons

  • 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;[[3]](footnotes.xml#footnote_3) the letter read as follows:
  • Pierre Aronnax
  • Professor at the Paris Museum
  • Fifth Avenue Hotel
  • New York
  • Sir:
  • 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.
  • Very cordially yours,
  • J. B. HOBSON,
  • Secretary of the Navy.