A View Of The Moon From The Sun: 1835


Many of the New York papers were, for lack of an alternative, friendly to the Sun stories; most notable was the Mercantile Advertiser , which was reprinting them in full. The Daily Advertiser commended the Sun for its reportorial zeal; the New York Times and the Sunday News spoke up for the plausibility and even probability of the moon story. The Courier and Enquirer ’s Webb stood balefully silent, hating every minute of the Sun ’s triumph and praying for its eclipse.

Installment Three, on August 27, introduced new geographical features on the moon, but teasingly held off on the matter of manlike inhabitants. The reader was told about the Vagabond Mountains, the Lake of Death, and twelve luxuriant forests divided by open plains. The story went into fanciful minutiae about the moon’s flora and fauna, including a biped beaver: “The last resembles the beaver of the earth in every other respect than its destitution of a tail and its invariable habit of walking upon only two feet. It carries its young in its arms, like a human being, and walks 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.”

Needless to say, the Sun had the whole town talking even before the fourth installment, on the twenty-eighth, with its supreme revelation that the moon harbored a species of bat-men. Herschel was quoted, reportedly by a faithful amanuensis, as being “thrilled with astonishment” at the sight of “successive flocks of large winged creatures, wholly unlike any kind of birds.” The story continued: … we counted three parties of these creatures, of twelve, nine, and fifteen in each, walking erect towards a small wood. … Certainly they were like human beings, for their wings had now disappeared and their attitude in walking was both erect and dignified. …

About half of the first party had passed beyond our canvas [on which the moon images were reflected]; but of all the others we had a perfectly distinct and deliberate view. They averaged four feet in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy copper-colored hair, and had wings composed of a thin membrane, without hair, lying snugly upon their backs from the top of the shoulders to the calves of the legs.

The face, which was of a yellowish flesh-color, was a slight improvement upon that of the large orangutan, being more open and intelligent in its expression, and having a much greater expanse of forehead. The mouth, however, was very prominent, though somewhat relieved by a thick beard upon the lower jaw, and by lips far more human than those of any species of the Simia genus. …

Whilst passing across the canvas, and whenever we afterward saw them, these creatures were evidently engaged in conversation; their gesticulation, more particularly the varied actions of the hands and arms, appeared impassioned and emphatic.

The next view we obtained of them was still 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 then 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.

On the appearance of his batmen issue, Day happily announced that his paper had achieved the largest circulation of any daily in the world: some 19,360 copies as against the 17,000 of the London Times . Day kept his press running ten hours a day to satisfy the public demand for news about the moon.

Locke was commissioned to get a lithographer to illustrate a separate pamphlet that would embody the entire series, including a final installment, which described the discovery of still another group of bat-men. The astronomers reported: We had no opportunity of seeing them actually engaged in any work of industry or art; and, so far as we could judge, they spent their happy hours in collecting various fruits in the woods, in eating, flying, bathing, and loitering about upon the summits of precipices.

The pamphlet’s sales were understandably brisk.