‘The Atlantosaurus,’ said I, pointing affectionately with a wave of my left hand to all that was immortal of that extinct reptile, ’is estimated to have had a total length of one hundred feet, and was probably the very biggest lizard that ever lived, even in Western America, where his earthly remains were first disinhumed by an enthusiastic explorer.’
‘Yes, yes,’ my friend answered abstractedly. ’Of course, of course; things were all so very big in those days, you know, my dear fellow.’
‘Excuse me,’ I replied with polite incredulity; ’I really don’t know to what particular period of time the phrase “in those days” may be supposed precisely to refer.’
My friend shuffled inside his coat a little uneasily. (I will admit that I was taking a mean advantage of him. The professorial lecture in private life, especially when followed by a strict examination, is quite undeniably a most intolerable nuisance.) ‘Well,’ he said, in a crusty voice, after a moment’s hesitation, ’I mean, you know, in geological times ... well, there, my dear fellow, things used all to be so very big in those days, usedn’t they?’
I took compassion upon him and let him off easily. ’You’ve had enough of the museum,’ I said with magnanimous self-denial. ’The Atlantosaurus has broken the camel’s back. Let’s go and have a quiet cigarette in the park outside.’
But if you suppose, reader, that I am going to carry my forbearance so far as to let you, too, off the remainder of that geological disquisition, you are certainly very much mistaken. A discourse which would be quite unpardonable in social intercourse may be freely admitted in the privacy of print; because, you see, while you can’t easily tell a man that his conversation bores you (though some people just avoid doing so by an infinitesimal fraction), you can shut up a book whenever you like, without the very faintest or remotest risk of hurting the author’s delicate susceptibilities.
The subject of my discourse naturally divides itself, like the conventional sermon, into two heads—the precise date of ’geological times,’ and the exact bigness of the animals that lived in them. And I may as well begin by announcing my general conclusion at the very outset; first, that ‘those days’ never existed at all; and, secondly, that the animals which now inhabit this particular planet are, on the whole, about as big, taken in the lump, as any previous contemporary fauna that ever lived at any one time