Around the turn of the 20th century naturalist literature saw a boom in popularity, and among the beneficiaries were colorful writers without considerable scientific experience. Among these were writers like Jack London and Ruyard Kipling, who told fictional stories with anthropomorphic animals, but also among these were writers who claimed to tell non-fiction stories with… anthropomorphic animals.
A positive review of William Long’s book in the Atlantic, spurred the controversy. Long originated some animal stories which are now popular features in cartoons – Porcupines rolling down hills, foxes riding on the back of other animals. He wrote an entire book on animals conducting surgery. John Burroughs, a naturalist of some more repute, wrote a response to the Atlantic, calling the work, and others in its vein, a “sham.”
Most of the authors let the fire pass them by, but Long was having none of it, and aggressively defended his “observations.” As the controversy continued, Theodore Roosevelt, President, and fan of nature writing, weighed in on Burroughs side. As did Jack London, who having been called out by the President, defended himself by noting that he had tried to write his dogs with the mindset of animals, not humans.
Long for his part, stopped defending his stories directly, but rather attacked the President for being a hunter, and challenged him to a fist fight. Roosevelt, suddenly remembering that he was President of the United States, got himself out of the argument, and the story started to die down.