"Experts" thought it could be a type of shrew…
The "following curious paragraphs" were extracted from a Boston paper and published in The Portfolio, by Oliver Oldschool, Esquire, in 1807. The writer speculates that the presenter of the exhibit detailed below, who charged to see this odd creature…
"…was probably one of those virtuous Yankees, distinguished by the honourable appellation of jockies and swindlers, who, when they can no longer cheat one another, wander from home to cajole strangers."
"It is remarkable that all seasons and all climates have been favourable to the wiles of deception.. When practised on others, it may afford us some short gratification, but on ourselves, confusion and chagrin. We are unwilling to seem deficient in understanding, and this very unwillingness frequently precipitates us into extravagant mistakes. We are seldom more sensible of intellectual pain, than when others of inferiour capacities have escaped the same deception by which we have been deluded. It is then mankind invariably commend society, and sigh for its absent joys. Deceptions are practised on all the senses with wonderful success; but on the sight, assisted by the reasoning faculties, they are perhaps less frequent. To this class, however, belongs the unaccountable, and I hope singular deception, which occurred last week; I refer to an animal exhibited in this town, termed a nondescript biped, and which, had it not been for the interposition of common sense, would probably still have been a source of admiration to the learned of the present day. This animal was sought with avidity by some gentlemen who have lately become naturalists, and who were profuse in expressing the gratification they received at a sight so novel and interesting. Some considered it as a lusus natures. (Editor: A freak, or a whim of nature.)
Quale portentum neque militaris
Daunia in latis alit esculetis,
Nec Jubae tellus generat__
Dire monster! in her broad oak woods
Fierce Daunia fosters none such other,
Nor Juba’s land, of lion broods…
(From a poem by Horace)
Others, however, ranked it under the genus of Sorex. Gentlemen repeated their visits more frequently, and several descriptions, I am informed, were nearly completed, when, to the great discomposure of the naturalist, it proved to be a BEAR, taken in the woods of Vermont!!! Some individuals, who very fortunately could view it through no other medium than that of the most humble understanding, were the authours of this discovery, which conferred little honour on themselves, but less on the lovers of nature.
The bear which was exhibited in this town last week, as an extraordinary animal from the East-Indies, we understand was purchased at New-York. The owner there shaved, dressed, and disciplined him, and gave him the name of "Poulican." He was shown in that city for two or three weeks, and had a crowded company every day. At length the imposture was discovered, and the Mayor obliged the master and his bear to leave the city.
I think it’s most regrettable that the phrase "as honest as a shaved bear" never entered our vocabulary.
(Note – the illustration above is actually of a type of shrew, and not an illustration of the creature named Poulican.)
– The Portfolio, by Oliver Oldschool, Esquire, in Google Books>>
– Q. Horatius Flaccus (Horace), Odes, Tufts>>