The Book of the Damned

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X



Chapter XXVIII

NOTES and Queries, 7-8-508:(1)

A correspondent who had been to Devonshire writes for information as to a story that he had heard there: of an occurrence of about thirty-five years before the date of writing:

Of snow upon the ground -- of all South Devonshire waking up one morning to find such tracks in the snow as had never before been heard of -- "clawed footmarks" or "an unclassifiable form" -- alternating at huge but regular intervals with what seemed to be the impression of the point of a stick -- but the scattering of the prints -- amazing expanse of territory covered -- obstacles, such as hedges, walls, houses, seemingly surmounted --

Intense excitement -- that the track had been followed by huntsmen and hounds, until they had come to a forest -- from which the hounds had retreated, baying and terrified, so that no one had dared to enter the forest.

Notes and Queries, 7-9-18:(2)

Whole occurrence well-remembered by a correspondent: a badger had left marks in the snow: this was determined, and the excitement had "dropped to a dead calm in a single day."

Notes and Queries, 7-9-70:(3)

That for years a correspondent had had a tracing of the prints, which his mother had taken from those in the snow in her garden, in Exmouth: that they were hoof-like marks -- but had been made by a biped.

Notes and Queries, 7-9-253:(4)

Well remembered by another correspondent, who writes of the excitement and consternation of "some classes." He says that a kangaroo had escaped from a menagerie -- "the footprints being so peculiar and far apart gave rise to a scare that the devil was loose."

We have had a story, and now we shall tell it over from contemporaneous sources. We have had the later accounts first very largely for an impression of the correlating effect that time brings [293/294] about, by addition, disregard and distortion. For instance, the "dead calm in a single day." If I found that the excitement did die out rather soon, I'd incline to accept that nothing extraordinary had occurred.

I found that the excitement had continued for weeks.

I recognize this as a well-adapted thing to say, to divert attention from a discorrelate.

All phenomena are "explained" in terms of the Dominant of their era. This is why we give up trying really to explain, and content ourselves with expressing. Devils that might print marks in snow are correlates to the third Dominant back from this era. So it was an adjustment by nineteenth-century correlates, of human tropisms, to say that the marks in the snow were clawed. Hoof-like marks are not only horsey but devilish. It had to be said in the nineteenth century that those prints showed claw-marks. We shall see that this was stated by Prof. Owen, one of the greatest biologists of his day -- except that Darwin didn't think so.(5) But I shall give reference to two representations of them that can be seen in the New York Public Library. In neither representation is there the faintest suggestion of a claw-mark. There never has been a Prof. Owen who has explained: he has correlated.

Another adaptation, in the later accounts, is that of leading this discorrelate to the Old Dominant into the familiar scenery of a fairy story, and discredit it by assimilation to the conventionally fictitious -- so the idea of the baying, terrified hounds, and forest like enchanted forests, which no one dared enter. Hunting parties were organized, but the baying, terrified hounds do not appear in contemporaneous accounts.

The story of the kangaroo looks like adaptation to needs for an animal that could spring far, because marks were found in the snow on roofs of houses. But so astonishing is the extent of snow that was marked that after a while another kangaroo was added.(6)

But the marks were in single lines.

My own acceptance is that not less than a thousand one-legged kangaroos, each shod with a small horseshoe, could have marked that snow of Devonshire.

London Times, Feb. 16, 1855:(7)

"Considerable sensation has been caused in the towns of Topsham, Lympstone, Exmouth, Teignmouth, and Dawlish, in Devonshire, in consequence of the discovery of a vast number of foot tracks of a most strange and mysterious description." [294/295]

The story is of an incredible multiplicity of marks discovered in the morning of Feb. 8, 1855, in the snow, by the inhabitants of many towns and regions between towns. This great area must of course be disregarded by Prof. Owen and the other correlators. The tracks were in all kinds of unaccountable places: in gardens enclosed by high walls, and up on the tops of houses, as well as in the open fields. There was in Lympstone scarcely one unmarked garden. We've had heroic disregards but I think that here disregard was titanic. And, because they occurred in single lines, the marks are said to have been "more like those of a biped than of a quadruped" -- as if a biped would place one foot precisely ahead of another -- unless it hopped -- but then we have to think of a thousand, or of thousands.

It is said that the marks were "generally 8 inches in advance of each other."

"The impression of the foot closely resembles that of a donkey's shoe, and measured from an inch and a half, in some instances, to two and a half inches across."

Or the impressions were cones in incomplete, or crescentic basins.

The diameters equaled diameters of very young colts' hoofs: too small to be compared with marks of donkey's hoofs.

"On Sunday last the Rev. Mr. Musgrave alluded to the subject in his sermon and suggested the possibility of the footprints being those of a kangaroo, but this could scarcely have been the case, as they were found on both sides of the Este. At present it remains a mystery, and many superstitious people in the above towns are actually afraid to go outside their doors after night."

The Este is a body of water two miles wide.(8)

London Times, March 6, 1855:(9)

"The interest in this matter has scarcely yet subsided, many inquiries still being made into the origin of the footprints, which caused so much consternation on the morning of the 8th ult. In addition to the circumstances mentioned in the Times a little while ago, it may be stated that at Dawlish a number of persons sallied out, armed with guns and other weapons, for the purpose, if possible, of discovering and destroying the animal which was supposed to have been so busy in multiplying its footprints. As might have been expected, the party returned as they went. Various speculations have been made as to the cause of the footprints. Some have asserted that they are those of a kangaroo, while others affirm that [295/296] they are the impressions of the claws of some large birds driven ashore by stress of weather. On more than one occasion reports have been circulated that an animal from a menagerie had been caught, but the matter at present is as much involved in mystery as ever it was."

In the Illustrated London News, the occurrence is given a great deal of space. In the issue of Feb. 24, 1855, a sketch is given of the prints.(10)

I call them cones in incomplete basins.

Except that they're a little longish, they look like prints of hoofs of horses -- or, rather, of colts.

But they're in a single line.

It is said that the marks from which the sketch was made were 8 inches apart, and that this spacing was regular and invariable "in every parish." Also other towns besides those named in the Times are mentioned. The writer, who had spent a winter in Canada, and was familiar with tracks in snow, says that he had never seen "a more clearly defined track." Also he brings out the point that was so persistently disregarded by Prof. Owen and the other correlators -- that "no known animal walks in a line of single footsteps, not even man." With these wider inclusions, this writer concludes with us that the marks were not footprints. It may be that his following observation hits upon the crux of the whole occurrence:

That whatever it may have been that had made the marks, it had removed, rather than pressed, the snow.

According to his observations the snow looked "as if branded with a hot iron."

Illustrated London News, March 3, 1855-214:(11)

Prof. Owen, to whom a friend had sent drawings of the prints, writes that there were claw-marks. He says that the "track" was made by "a" badger.

Six other witnesses sent letters to this number of the News. One mentioned, but not published, is a notion of a strayed swan. Always this homogeneous-seeing -- "a" badger -- "a" swan -- "a" track. I should have listed the other towns as well as those mentioned in the Times.(12)

A letter from Mr. Musgrave is published.(13) He, too, sends a sketch of the prints. It, too, shows a single line. There are four prints, of which the third is a little out of line.

There is no sign of a claw-mark.

The prints look like prints of longish hoofs of a very young colt, [296/297] but they are not so definitely outlined as in the sketch of Feb. 24th, as if drawn after disturbance by wind, or after thawing had set in. Measurements at places a mile and a half apart, gave the same inter-spacing -- "exactly eight inches and a half apart."

We now have a little study in the psychology and genesis of an attempted correlation. Mr. Musgrave says: "I found a very apt opportunity to mention the name `kangaroo' in allusion to the report then current." He says that he had no faith in the kangaroo-story himself, but was glad "that a kangaroo was in the wind," because it opposed "a dangerous, degrading, and false impression that it was the devil."

"Mine was a word in season and did good."

Whether it's Jesuitical or not, and no matter what it is or isn't, that is our own acceptance: that, though we've often been carried away from this attitude controversially, that is our acceptance as to every correlate of the past that has been considered in this book -- relatively to the Dominant of its era.

Another correspondent writes that, though the prints in all cases resembled hoof marks, there were indistinct traces of claws -- that "an" otter had made the marks. After that many other witnesses wrote to the News. The correspondence was so great that, in the issue of March 10th, only a selection could be given.(14) There's "a" jumping-rat solution and "a" hopping-toad inspiration, and then someone came out strong with an idea of "a" hare that had galloped with pairs of feet held close together, so as to make impressions in a single line.(15)

London Times, March 14, 1840:(16)

"Among the high mountains of that elevated district where Glenorchy, Glenlyon and Glenochay are contiguous, there have been met with several times, during this and also the former winter, upon the snow, the tracks of an animal seemingly unknown at present in Scotland. The print, in every respect, is an exact resemblance to that of a foal of considerable size, with this small difference, perhaps, that the sole seems a little longer, or not so round; but as no one has had the good fortune as yet to have obtained a glimpse of this creature, nothing more can be said of its shape or dimensions; only it has been remarked, from the depth to which the feet sank in the snow, that it must be a beast of considerable size. It has been observed also that its walk is not like that of the generality of quadrupeds, but that it is more like the bounding or leaping of a horse when scared or pursued. It is not in one lo- [297/298] cality that its tracks have been met with, but through a range of at least twelve miles."

In the Illustrated London News, March 17, 1855, a correspondent from Heidelberg writes, "upon the authority of a Polish Doctor of Medicine," that on the Piashowa-gora (Sand Hill) a small elevation on the border of Galicia, but in Russian Poland, such marks are to be seen in the snow every year, and sometimes in the sand of this hill, and "are attributed by the inhabitants to supernatural influences."(17) [298]

1. R.H. Busk. "Phenomenal footprints in snow, S. Devon." Notes and Queries, s.7, 8 (December 28, 1889): 508-9. The alternating impression was likened to the mark of a "crutch-stick." Correct quote: "...a clawed foot-mark of unclassifiable form...."

2. D. "Phenomenal footprints in snow, S. Devon." Notes and Queries, s.7, 9 (January 4, 1890): 18. Correct quote: "...dropped to dead calm...."

3. R.H. Busk. "Phenomenal footprints in snow, S. Devon." Notes and Queries, s.7, 9 (January 25, 1890): 70.

4. L.L.K. "Phenomenal footprints in the snow." Notes and Queries, s.7, 9 (March 29, 1890): 253. There is no mention herein of "some classes."

5. Although Richard Owen was "the leading comparative anatomist" of his time, his principal faults were said to be his dishonesty and pettiness. Darwin was hopeful Owen would support his evolutionary arguments, when On the Origin of Species was published; yet, Owen wrote one of the most critical reviews of this work, ("Darwin on the Origin of Species." Edinburgh Review, 11 (April 1860): 487-532), and became Darwin's "bitter enemy." In a discussion upon his critics, in 1867, Darwin told Roland Trimen: "The internal evidence made me almost sure that only Owen could have written it; but when I taxed him with the authorship and he absolutely denied -- then I was quite certain." In the "Historical Sketch" added to the third and later editions of Darwin's book, Owen was severely criticized: "I also gave some extracts from a correspondence between Professor Owen and the Editor of the London Review, from which it appeared manifest to the Editor as well as to myself, that Professor Owen claimed to have promulgated the theory of natural selection before I had done so; and I expressed my surprise and satisfaction at this announcement; but as far as it is possible to understand certain recently published passages (Ibid. vol. iii p. 798) I have either partially or wholly again fallen into error. It is consolatory to me that others find Professor Owen's controversial writings as difficult to understand and to reconcile with each other, as I do." Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. 6th ed. New York: Rand, McNally & Co., 1872, xviii. Edward Bagnall Poulton. Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1909, 26-9. David L. Hull. Darwin and His Critics. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973, 171-215.

6. Rev. G.M. Musgrave wrote: "In the course of a few days a report was circulated that a couple of kangaroos had got loose from a private menagerie (Mr. Fische's, I believe) at Sidmouth." No effort was apparently made by the foremost proponent of the kangaroo theory to confirm that such an escape had occurred. "Professor Owen on the foot-marks in the snow in Devon." Illustrated London News, 26 (March 3, 1855): 214.

7. "Extraordinary occurrence." London Times, February 16, 1855, p. 9 c. 4. Correct quotes: " the south of Devon, in consequence of the discovery of a vast number of foot-marks...," "...more like that of a biped than a quadruped...," "...generally eight inches...," "...closely resembled that of a donkey's shoe, and measured from an inch and a-half to (in some instances) two and a-half...," and, "...found on both sides of the estuary of the Exe."

8. The name of the river is Exe, (not Este).

9. "The mysterious footprints in Devonshire." London Times, March 6, 1855, p. 9 c. 3. Correct quotes: " The Times a little while since...," " busy in multiplying its footmarks," "...some large bird driven on shore...," and "...from a menagery has been caught...."

10. "Foot-marks on the snow, in Devon." Illustrated London News, 26 (February 24, 1855): 187. Correct quotes: "Neither does any known animal walk in a line...," and, " if cut with a diamond or branded with a hot iron...."

11. "Professor Owen on the foot-marks in the snow in Devon." Illustrated London News, 26 (March 3, 1855): 214. Owen called the marks "foot-prints," not the "track" of a badger. The singular "a" is quoted only with Owen's badger explanation, though single animals are implied in the explanations as Fort indicates. Correct quotes: "...exactly eight inches and a half," (apart), "...the name of kangaroo, in allusion...," and, "Still, mine was a word in due season, and did good."

12. The towns from the London Times and Illustrated London News include: Bicton, Budleigh Salterton, Clyst St. George (or, Clyst St. Mary), Dawlish, Exmouth, Kenton, Luscombe, Lympstone, Newton Abbot, Teignmouth, Topsham, Torquay, Totnes, Withycombe Raleigh, and Woodbury. Numerous other locations in Devonshire, between Budleigh Salterton, Exeter, and Torquay, reported the tracks, in contemporary accounts; but, Busk's inquiries also yielded late reports that these were also observed in Weymouth, Dorsetshire, and in Lincolnshire. R.H. Busk. "Phenomenal footprints in snow, S. Devon." Notes and Queries, s.7, 9 (January 25, 1890): 70.

13. "G.M.M.," of Withecombe, was the Rev. G.M. Musgrave, the Vicar of Exmouth.

14. "The foot-marks in the snow, in Devon." Illustrated London News, 26 (March 10, 1855): 238.

15. This latter explanation was apparently made regarding another set of tracks reported by the Inverness Courier, from Scotland, (not from Devonshire), in which "probably a hare or polecat" crossed field at a gallop, then slackened it pace to a trot, then sat down in the snow to reveal "distinct impressions of its four feet."

16. "Singular animal." London Times, March 14, 1840, p. 5 c. 6. Correct quotes: "...Glenlyon, and Glenlochay...," "The print of the foot in every respect...," "...the foot sunk in the snow...," " has been observed also, that its walk is not like the generality of quadrupeds, but that it is more like the bounding or limping of a hare when not scared or pursued," "in one locality only...," and, " least 12 miles...."

17. C.C.C. "Foot-prints in the snow." Illustrated London News, 26 (March 17, 1855): 251. The location published as "Piasho wa-göra" is uncertain; however, Piaskowa-góra would translate in Polish as "Sand Mountain," and a location by this name is located to the west of Lodz, in what was then Russian Poland. Correct quotes: "...Polish Doctor in Medicine...," and, "It is universally attributed by the inhabitants to supernatural influence."

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