Friday, August 13, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Hudson Tuttle

In his 1860 book Arcana of Nature, Hudson Tuttle writes of the origin of elephants:
The origin of the pachyderms can be traced to the dinosaur of the oolite and wealden. In this line of progress first we have the fish saurian, then the true saurian, next saurians advancing to the pachydermic mammals, and lastly true pachyderms even before we leave the age remarkable for its reptilian types.
This post will stretch the typical scope of Vintage Dinosaur Art posts, but once I saw Tuttle's naive renderings of the Mesozoic evolution of elephants, I knew I had to share them.

From the top, he draws an evolutionary path from fish to icthyosaurs to whale-like reptiles to terrestrial carnivores and herbivores to the elephant-like "pachydermoid saurian." This last creature would then lead to the true elephants, according to Tuttle's suppositions. The whale-like reptile in Tuttle's sequence was Sir Richard Owen's Cetiosaurus; TH Huxley would later realize that it was a sauropod. When dealing with contemporarily known dinosaurs, Tuttle states that Iguanodon - then believed to be a barrel-bodied quadruped - was the progenitor of today's iguanas.

Hudson Tuttle didn't claim authorship of this work. Rather, he believed that he was merely acting as a scribe for "communicators" from the spiritual realm. An early adherent of Spiritualism, he believed that mediums could access the spirit world to tap into the wisdom of the deceased.

So what was he doing writing about evolution? While Tuttle claimed that he began writing the Arcana of Nature a few years before Darwin's On the Origin of Species, ideas of evolution had been percolating for a long time.

Evolution would have appealed to Tuttle: the son of a strict Unitarian, he chafed under the harder aspects of Christianity. The less dogmatic ideas of Spiritualism appealed to him immediately, and soon after his first seance, he came to believe that he was a seer himself. The Occultism and Parapsychology Encyclopedia says that he believed his spirtual influences to be, among others, Lamarck and von Humboldt. All of this with supposedly being an ignorant farmboy from the woods of northern Ohio.

Tuttle is a fairly obscure figure, and from what I can tell, little has been done to probe into his claims with a skeptical eye. My guess is that he wasn't as ignorant as he claimed. Or maybe he had a (figurative) ghost writer. I'd love to dig into his claims further, especially because Darwin cites one of his writings in The Descent of Man. This is the way it's been lately: every post I write forks off into multiple paths I'd love to explore further. It's hard to decide between them.

Which is why I've decided to actively seek out a wealthy benefactor. If any of you has $60,000 or so you'd like to pay me yearly to write this blog, I'm not too proud to accept it. Hit me at the email address in the sidebar if interested. Serious inquiries only!


  1. Nutty beliefs aside, those are some damned cute saurians.

  2. If I was still cartooning... the duo of generic herbivore and carnivore would be really fun to put into a comic strip!


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