Cuvier, on the other hand, asserted that these and the other creatures he described had lived and died in the region where their remains were found, and that most of them have no living representatives upon the globe. This, to be sure, was nothing more than William Smith had tried all along to establish regarding lower forms of life; but flesh and blood monsters appeal to the imagination in a way quite beyond the power of mere shells; so the announcement of Cuvier's discoveries aroused the interest of the entire world, and the Ossements Fossiles was accorded a popular reception seldom given a work of technical science--a reception in which the enthusiastic approval of progressive geologists was mingled with the bitter protests of the conservatives.
"Naturalists certainly have neither explored all the continents," said Cuvier, "nor do they as yet even know all the quadrupeds of those parts which have been explored. New species of this class are discovered from time to time; and those who have not examined with attention all the circumstances belonging to these discoveries may allege also that the unknown quadrupeds, whose fossil bones have been found in the strata of the earth, have hitherto remained concealed in some islands not yet discovered by navigators, or in some of the vast deserts which occupy the middle of Africa, Asia, the two Americas, and New Holland.
"But if we carefully attend to the kind of quadrupeds that have been recently discovered, and to the circumstances of their discovery, we shall easily perceive that there is very little chance indeed of our ever finding alive those which have only been seen in a fossil state.
"Islands of moderate size, and at a considerable distance from the large continents, have very few quadrupeds. These must have been carried to them from other countries. Cook and Bougainville found no other quadrupeds besides hogs and dogs in the South Sea Islands; and the largest quadruped of the West India Islands, when first discovered, was the agouti, a species of the cavy, an animal apparently between the rat and the rabbit.
"It is true that the great continents, as Asia, Africa, the two Americas, and New Holland, have large quadrupeds, and, generally speaking, contain species common to each; insomuch, that upon discovering countries which are isolated from the rest of the world, the animals they contain of the class of quadruped were found entirely different from those which existed in other countries. Thus, when the Spaniards first penetrated into South America, they did not find it to contain a single quadruped exactly the same with those of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The puma, the jaguar, the tapir, the capybara, the llama, or glama, and vicuna, and the whole tribe of sapajous, were to them entirely new animals, of which they had not the smallest idea....
"If there still remained any great continent to be discovered, we might perhaps expect to be made acquainted with new species of large quadrupeds, among which some might be found more or less similar to those of which we find the exuviae in the bowels of the earth. But it is merely sufficient to glance the eye over the maps of the world and observe the innumerable directions in which navigators have traversed the ocean, in order to be satisfied that there does not remain any large land to be discovered, unless it may be situated towards the Antarctic Pole, where eternal ice necessarily forbids the existence of animal life."
Cuvier then points out that the ancients were well acquainted with practically all the animals on the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa now known to scientists. He finds little grounds, therefore, for belief in the theory that at one time there were monstrous animals on the earth which it was necessary to destroy in order that the present fauna and men might flourish. After reviewing these theories and beliefs in detail, he takes up his Inquiry Respecting the Fabulous Animals of the Ancients. "It is easy," he says, "to reply to the foregoing objections, by examining the descriptions that are left us by the ancients of those unknown animals, and by inquiring into their origins. Now that the greater number of these animals have an origin, the descriptions given of them bear the most unequivocal marks; as in almost all of them we see merely the different parts of known animals united by an unbridled imagination, and in contradiction to every established law of nature."
Having shown how the fabulous monsters of ancient times and of foreign nations, such as the Chinese, were simply products of the imagination, having no prototypes in nature, Cuvier takes up the consideration of the difficulty of distinguishing the fossil bones of quadrupeds.