“The Triumphs of a Taxidermist” is a short story by H. G. Wells, first published anonymously in the Pall Mall Gazette in March 1894 and reprinted in The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents (1895). It is a humorous account of the reminiscences of a taxidermist.
The taxidermist of the title is in conversation with the narrator, Bellows, during the latter’s visit to the taxidermist’s home. Sitting together in the den, “in the time between the first glass of whisky and the fourth, when a man is no longer cautious and yet not drunk”, the taxidermist begins to boast about some of his achievements, and of how some collectors of birds can be very easily fooled. He even claims to have stuffed a “nigger”, whom he used as a hat rack.
The taxidermist goes on to claim that about half of the stuffed great auks are fakes,[a]The great auk became extinct in the mid-19th century. and admits to having faked one himself. He proceeds to briefly explain how it is done using the feathers of other birds. He even claims to have created birds that never existed in nature, and in particular a non-existent species of large New Zealand bird that had been described in an old German pamphlet, which appeared to be a confused combination of an existent species and one long extinct. A local collector, Javvers, swore he would have a specimen, and so the taxidermist made one and sold it to him.
The taxidermist also claims that he once created a “most attractive mermaid”, which he sold to an itinerant preacher, but it was smashed as idolatory, a “cheerful incident that must still remain unprinted”.
The taxidermist makes a reappearance in another of Wells’s short stories “A Deal in Ostriches”, also published in the Pall Mall Gazette, just a few months after “Triumphs of a Taxidermist”.
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|a.||^||The great auk became extinct in the mid-19th century.|