The Descent of Man

The Descent of Man
and Selection in Relation to Sex
The difference in mental power between the highest ape and the lowest
savage, immense--Certain instincts in common--The emotions--Curiosity--
improvement--Tools and weapons used by animals--Abstraction,
self-consciousness--Language--Sense of Beauty--Belief in God, spiritual
agencies, superstitions.
WE have seen in the last two chapters that man bears in his bodily
structure clear traces of his descent from some lower form; but it may be
urged that, as man differs so greatly in his mental power from all other
animals, there must be some error in this conclusion. No doubt the difference
in this respect is enormous, even if we compare the mind of one
of the lowest savages, who has no words to express any number higher
than four, and who uses hardly any abstract terms for common objects or
for the affections, [1] with that of the most highly organised ape. The
difference would, no doubt, still remain immense, even if one of the higher
apes had been improved or civilised as much as a dog has been in comparison
with its parent-form, the wolf or jackal. The Fuegians rank amongst
the lowest barbarians; but I was continually struck with surprise how
closely the three natives on board H. M. S. "Beagle," who had lived
some years in England, and could talk a little English, resembled us in
disposition and in most of our mental faculties. If no organic being excepting
man had possessed any mental power, or if his powers had been of
a wholly different nature from those of the lower animals, then we should
never have been able to convince ourselves that our high faculties had
been gradually developed. But it can be shewn that there is no fundamental
difference of this kind. We must also admit that there is a much
wider interval in mental power between one of the lowest fishes, as a
lamprey or lancelet, and one of the higher apes, than between an ape and
man; yet this interval is filled up by numberless gradations.
Nor is the difference slight in moral disposition between a barbarian,
such as the man described by the old navigator Byron, who dashed his
child on the rocks for dropping a basket of sea-urchins, and a Howard or
Clarkson; and in intellect, between a savage who uses hardly any abstract
terms, and a Newton or Shakespeare. Differences of this kind between
the highest men of the highest races and the lowest savages, are
connected by the finest gradations. Therefore it is possible that they
might pass and be developed into each other.
My object in this chapter is to shew that there is no fundamental
difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.
Each division of the subject might have been extended into a separate essay,
but must here be treated briefly. As no classification of the mental
powers has been universally accepted, I shall arrange my remarks in the
order most convenient for my purpose; and will select those facts which
have struck me most, with the hope that they may produce some effect on
the reader.
With respect to animals very low in the scale, I shall give some
additional facts under Sexual Selection, shewing that their mental powers are
much higher than might have been expected. The variability of the faculties
in the individuals of the same species is an important point for us,
and some few illustrations will here be given. But it would be superfluous
to enter into many details on this head, for I have found on frequent enquiry,
that it is the unanimous opinion of all those who have long attended
to animals of many kinds, including birds, that the individuals differ
greatly in every mental characteristic. In what manner the mental powers
were first developed in the lowest organisms, is as hopeless an enquiry as
how life itself first originated. These are problems for the distant future,
if they are ever to be solved by man.
As man possesses the same senses as the lower animals, his fundamental
intuitions must be the same. Man has also some few instincts in common,
as that of self-preservation, sexual love, the love of the mother for
her new-born offspring, the desire possessed by the latter to suck, and so
forth. But man, perhaps, has somewhat fewer instincts than those possessed
by the animals which come next to him in the series. The orang in
the Eastern islands, and the chimpanzee in Africa, build platforms on
which they sleep; and, as both species follow the same habit, it might be
argued that this was due to instinct, but we cannot feel sure that it is not
the result of both animals having similar wants, and possessing similar
powers of reasoning. These apes, as we may assume, avoid the many poisonous
fruits of the tropics, and man has no such knowledge: but as our
domestic animals, when taken to foreign lands, and when first turned out
in the spring, often eat poisonous herbs, which they afterwards avoid, we
cannot feel sure that the apes do not learn from their own experience or
from that of their parents what fruits to select. It is, however, certain, as
we shall presently see, that apes have an instinctive dread of serpents,
and probably of other dangerous animals.
The fewness and the comparative simplicity of the instincts in the
higher animals are remarkable in contrast with those of the lower animals.
Cuvier maintained that instinct and intelligence stand in an inverse
ratio to each other; and some have thought that the intellectual faculties
of the higher animals have been gradually developed from their instincts.
But Pouchet, in an interesting essay, [2] has shewn that no such inverse
ratio really exists. Those insects which possess the most wonderful instincts
are certainly the most intelligent. In the vertebrate series, the least
intelligent members, namely fishes and amphibians, do not possess complex
instincts; and amongst mammals the animal most remarkable for its
instincts, namely the beaver, is highly intelligent, as will be admitted by
every one who has read Mr. Morgan's excellent work. [3]
Although the first dawnings of intelligence, according to Mr. Herbert
Spencer, [4] have been developed through the multiplication and co-ordination
of reflex actions, and although many of the simpler instincts graduate
into reflex actions, and can hardly be distinguished from them, as in
the case of young animals sucking, yet the more complex instincts seem
to have originated independently of intelligence. I am, however, very far
from wishing to deny that instinctive actions may lose their fixed and untaught
character, and be replaced by others performed by the aid of the
free will. On the other hand, some intelligent actions, after being performed
during several generations, become converted into instincts and
are inherited, as when birds on oceanic islands learn to avoid man. These
actions may then be said to be degraded in character, for they are no
longer performed through reason or from experience. But the greater
number of the more complex instinct appear to have been gained in a
wholly different manner, through the natural selection of variations of
simpler instinctive actions. Such variations appear to arise from the same
unknown causes acting on the cerebral organisation, which induce slight
variations or individual differences in other parts of the body; and these
variations, owing to our ignorance, are often said to arise spontaneously.
We can, I think, come to no other conclusion with respect to the origin of
the more complex instincts, when we reflect on the marvellous instincts
of sterile worker-ants and bees, which leave no offspring to inherit the
effects of experience and of modified habits.
Although, as we learn from the above-mentioned insects and the beaver,
a high degree of intelligence is certainly compatible with complex instincts,
and although actions, at first learnt voluntarily can soon through
habit be performed with the quickness and certainty of a reflex action,
yet it is not improbable that there is a certain amount of interference between
the development of free intelligence and of instinct,--which latter
implies some inherited modification of the brain. Little is known about
the functions of the brain, but we can perceive that as the intellectual
powers become highly developed, the various parts of the brain must be
connected by very intricate channels of the freest intercommunication;
and as a consequence each separate part would perhaps tend to be less
well fitted to answer to particular sensations or associations in a definite
and inherited--that is instinctive--manner. There seems even to exist
some relation between a low degree of intelligence and a strong tendency
to the formation of fixed, though not inherited habits; for as a sagacious
physician remarked to me, persons who are slightly imbecile tend to act
in everything by routine or habit; and they are rendered much happier if
this is encouraged.
I have thought this digression worth giving, because we may easily
underrate the mental powers of the higher animals, and especially of man,
when we compare their actions founded on the memory of past events, on
foresight, reason, and imagination, with exactly similar actions instinctively
performed by the lower animals; in this latter case the capacity of
performing such actions has been gained, step by step, through the variability
of the mental organs and natural selection, without any conscious
intelligence on the part of the animal during each successive generation.
No doubt, as Mr. Wallace has argued, [5] much of the intelligent work done
by man is due to imitation and not to reason; but there is this great
difference between his actions and many of those performed by the lower
animals, namely, that man cannot, on his first trial, make, for instance, a
stone hatchet or a canoe, through his power of imitation. He has to learn
his work by practice; a beaver, on the other hand, can make its dam or
canal, and a bird its nest, as well, or nearly as well, and a spider its
wonderful web, quite as well, [6] the first time it tries as when old and
To return to our immediate subject: the lower animals, like man,
manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery. Happiness is never
better exhibited than by young animals, such as puppies, kittens, lambs,
&c., when playing together, like our own children. Even insects play together,
as has been described by that excellent observer, P. Huber, [7] who
saw ants chasing and pretending to bite each other, like so many puppies.
The fact that the lower animals are excited by the same emotions as
ourselves is so well established, that it will not be necessary to weary the
reader by many details. Terror acts in the same manner on them as on us,
causing the muscles to tremble, the heart to palpitate, the sphincters to
be relaxed, and the hair to stand on end. Suspicion, the offspring of fear,
is eminently characteristic of most wild animals. It is, I think, impossible
to read the account given by Sir E. Tennent, of the behaviour of the female
elephants, used as decoys, without admitting that they intentionally
practise deceit, and well know what they are about. Courage and timidity
are extremely variable qualities in the individuals of the same species, as
is plainly seen in our dogs. Some dogs and horses are ill-tempered, and
easily turn sulky; others are good-tempered; and these qualities are certainly
inherited. Every one knows how liable animals are to furious rage,
and how plainly they shew it. Many, and probably true, anecdotes have
been published on the long-delayed and artful revenge of various animals.
The accurate Rengger, and Brehm [8] state that the American and
African monkeys which they kept tame, certainly revenged themselves,
Sir Andrew Smith, a zoologist whose scrupulous accuracy was known to
many persons, told me the following story of which he was himself an
eye-witness; at the Cape of Good Hope an officer had often plagued a certain
baboon, and the animal, seeing him approaching one Sunday for parade,
poured water into a hole and hastily made some thick mud, which he
skilfully dashed over the officer as he passed by, to the amusement of
many bystanders. For long afterwards the baboon rejoiced and triumphed
whenever he saw his victim.
The love of a dog for his master is notorious; as an old writer quaintly
says, [9] "A dog is the only thing on this earth that luvs you more than he
luvs himself."
In the agony of death a dog has been known to caress his master, and
every one has heard of the dog suffering under vivisection, who licked the
hand of the operator; this man, unless the operation was fully justified
by an increase of our knowledge, or unless he had a heart of stone, must
have felt remorse to the last hour of his life.
As Whewell [10] has well asked, "who that reads the touching instances
of maternal affection, related so often of the women of all nations, and of
the females of all animals, can doubt that the principle of action is the
same in the two cases?" We see maternal affection exhibited in the most
trifling details; thus Rengger observed an American monkey (a Cebus)
carefully driving away the flies which plagued her infant; and Duvaucel
saw a Hylobates washing the faces of her young ones in a stream. So intense
is the grief of female monkeys for the loss of their young, that it invariably
caused the death of certain kinds kept under confinement by
Brehm in N. Africa. Orphan monkeys were always adopted and carefully
guarded by the other monkeys, both males and females. One female baboon
had so capacious a heart that she not only adopted young monkeys
of other species, but stole young dogs and cats, which she continually
carried about. Her kindness, however, did not go so far as to share her
food with her adopted offspring, at which Brehm was surprised, as his
monkeys always divided everything quite fairly with their own young
ones. An adopted kitten scratched this affectionate baboon, who certainly
had a fine intellect, for she was much astonished at being scratched,
and immediately examined the kitten's feet, and without more ado bit off
the claws. [11] In the Zoological Gardens, I heard from the keeper that an
old baboon (C. chacma) had adopted a Rhesus monkey; but when a
young drill and mandrill were placed in the cage, she seemed to perceive
that these monkeys, though distinct species, were her nearer relatives, for
she at once rejected the Rhesus and adopted both of them. The young
Rhesus, as I saw, was greatly discontented at being thus rejected, and it
would, like a naughty child, annoy and attack the young drill and mandrill
whenever it could do so with safety; this conduct exciting great indignation
in the old baboon. Monkeys will also, according to Brehm, defend
their master when attacked by any one, as well as dogs to whom they
are attached, from the attacks of other dogs. But we here trench on the
subjects of sympathy and fidelity, to which I shall recur. Some of
Brehm's monkeys took much delight in teasing a certain old dog whom
they disliked, as well as other animals, in various ingenious ways.
Most of the more complex emotions are common to the higher animals
and ourselves. Every one has seen how jealous a dog is of his master's
affection, if lavished on any other creature; and I have observed the same
fact with monkeys. This shews that animals not only love, but have desire
to be loved. Animals manifestly feel emulation. They love approbation
or praise; and a dog carrying a basket for his master exhibits in a
high degree self-complacency or pride. There can, I think, be no doubt
that a dog feels shame, as distinct from fear, and something very like
modesty when begging too often for food. A great dog scorns the snarling
of a little dog, and this may be called magnanimity. Several observers
have stated that monkeys certainly dislike being laughed at; and they
sometimes invent imaginary offences. In the Zoological Gardens I saw a
baboon who always got into a furious rage when his keeper took out a
letter or book and read it aloud to him; and his rage was so violent that,
as I witnessed on one occasion, he bit his own leg till the blood flowed.
Dogs shew what may be fairly called a sense of humour, as distinct from
mere play; if a bit of stick or other such object be thrown to one, he will
often carry it away for a short distance; and then squatting down with it
on the ground close before him, will wait until his master comes quite
close to take it away. The dog will then seize it and rush away in triumph,
repeating the same manoeuvre, and evidently enjoying the practical joke.
We will now turn to the more intellectual emotions and faculties, which
are very important, as forming the basis for the development of the
higher mental powers. Animals manifestly enjoy excitement, and suffer
from ennui, as may be seen with dogs, and, according to Rengger, with
monkeys. All animals feel Wonder, and many exhibit Curiosity. They
sometimes suffer from this latter quality, as when the hunter plays antics
and thus attracts them; I have witnessed this with deer, and so it is with
the wary chamois, and with some kinds of wild-ducks. Brehm gives a curious
account of the instinctive dread, which his monkeys exhibited, for
snakes; but their curiosity was so great that they could not desist from
occasionally satiating their horror in a most human fashion, by lifting up
the lid of the box in which the snakes were kept. I was so much surprised
at this account, that I took a stuffed and coiled-up snake into the
monkey-house at the Zoological Gardens, and the excitement thus caused was
one of the most curious spectacles which I ever beheld. Three species of
Cercopithecus were the most alarmed; they dashed about their cages,
and uttered sharp signal cries of danger, which were understood by the
other monkeys. A few young monkeys and one old Anubis baboon alone
took no notice of the snake. I then placed the stuffed specimen on the
ground in one of the larger compartments. After a time all the monkeys
collected round it in a large circle, and staring intently, presented a most
ludicrous appearance. They became extremely nervous; so that when a
wooden ball, with which they were familiar as a plaything, was accidentally
moved in the straw, under which it was partly hidden, they all instantly
started away. These monkeys behaved very differently when a
dead fish, a mouse, [12] a living turtle, and other new objects were placed in
their cages; for though at first frightened, they soon approached, handled
and examined them. I then placed a live snake in a paper bag, with the
mouth loosely closed, in one of the larger compartments. One of the monkeys
immediately approached, cautiously opened the bag a little, peeped
in, and instantly dashed away. Then I witnessed what Brehm has described,
for monkey after monkey, with head raised high and turned on
one side, could not resist taking a momentary peep into the upright bag,
at the dreadful object lying quietly at the bottom. It would almost appear
as if monkeys had some notion of zoological affinities, for those kept by
Brehm exhibited a strange, though mistaken, instinctive dread of innocent
lizards and frogs. An orang, also, has been known to be much
alarmed at the first sight of a turtle. [13]
The principle of Imitation is strong in man, and especially, as I have
myself observed, with savages. In certain morbid states of the brain this
tendency is exaggerated to an extraordinary degree: some hemiplegic patients
and others, at the commencement of inflammatory softening of
the brain, unconsciously imitate every word which is uttered, whether in
their own or in a foreign language, and every gesture or action which is
performed near them. [14] Desor [15] has remarked that no animal voluntarily
imitates an action performed by man, until in the ascending scale we
come to monkeys, which are well known to be ridiculous mockers. Animals,
however, sometimes imitate each other's actions: thus two species
of wolves, which had been reared by dogs, learned to bark, as does sometimes
the jackal, [16] but whether this can be called voluntary imitation is
another question. Birds imitate the songs of their parents, and sometimes
of other birds; and parrots are notorious imitators of any sound which
they often hear. Dureau de la Malle gives an account [17] of a dog reared
by a cat, who learnt to imitate the well-known action of a cat licking her
paws, and thus washing her ears and face; this was also witnessed by the
celebrated naturalist Audouin. I have received several confirmatory accounts;
in one of these, a dog had not been suckled by a cat, but had been
brought up with one, together with kittens, and had thus acquired the
above habit, which he ever afterwards practised during his life of thirteen
years. Dureau de la Malle's dog likewise learnt from the kittens to play
with a ball by rolling it about with his fore paws, and springing on it. A
correspondent assures me that a cat in his house used to put her paws into
jugs of milk having too narrow a mouth for her head. A kitten of this cat
soon learned the same trick, and practised it ever afterwards, whenever
there was an opportunity.
The parents of many animals, trusting to the principle of imitation in
their young, and more especially to their instinctive or inherited tendencies,
may be said to educate them. We see this when a cat brings a live
mouse to her kittens; and Dureau de la Malle has given a curious account
(in the paper above quoted) of his observations on hawks which
taught their young dexterity, as well as judgment of distances, by first
dropping through the air dead mice and sparrows, which the young generally
failed to catch, and then bringing them live birds and letting them
Hardly any faculty is more important for the intellectual progress of
man than Attention. Animals clearly manifest this power, as when a cat
watches by a hole and prepares to spring on its prey. Wild animals sometimes
become so absorbed when thus engaged, that they may be easily
approached. Mr. Bartlett has given me a curious proof how variable this
faculty is in monkeys. A man who trains monkeys to act in plays, used to
purchase common kinds from the Zoological Society at the price of five
pounds for each; but he offered to give double the price, if he might keep
three or four of them for a few days, in order to select one. When asked
how he could possibly learn so soon, whether a particular monkey would
turn out a good actor, he answered that it all depended on their power of
attention. If when he was talking and explaining anything to a monkey,
its attention was easily distracted, as by a fly on the wall or other trifling
object, the case was hopeless. If he tried by punishment to make an
in-attentive monkey act, it turned sulky. On the other hand, a monkey
which carefully attended to him could always be trained.
It is almost superfluous to state that animals have excellent Memories
for persons and places. A baboon at the Cape of Good Hope, as I have
been informed by Sir Andrew Smith, recognized him with joy after an
absence of nine months. I had a dog who was savage and averse to all
strangers, and I purposely tried his memory after an absence of five years
and two days. I went near the stable where he lived, and shouted to him
in my old manner; he shewed no joy, but instantly followed me out walking,
and obeyed me, exactly as if I had parted with him only half an hour
before. A train of old associations, dormant during five years, had thus
been instantaneously awakened in his mind. Even ants, as P. Huber [18] has
clearly shewn, recognised their fellow-ants belonging to the same community
after a separation of four months. Animals can certainly by some
means judge of the intervals of time between recurrent events.
The Imagination is one of the highest prerogatives of man. By this
he unites former images and ideas, independently of the will, and
thus creates brilliant and novel results. A poet, as Jean Paul Richter
remarks, [19] "who must reflect whether he shall make a character say yes or
no--to the devil with him; he is only a stupid corpse." Dreaming gives us
the best notion of this power; as Jean Paul again says, "The dream is
an involuntary art of poetry." The value of the products of our imagination
depends of course on the number, accuracy, and clearness of our impressions,
on our judgment and taste in selecting or rejecting the involuntary
combinations, and to a certain extent on our power of voluntarily
combining them. As dogs, cats, horses, and probably all the higher animals,
even birds [20] have vivid dreams, and this is shewn by their movements
and the sounds uttered, we must admit that they possess some
power of imagination. There must be something special, which causes
dogs to howl in the night, and especially during moonlight, in that remarkable
and melancholy manner called baying. All dogs do not do so;
and, according to Houzeau, [21] they do not then look at the moon, but at
some fixed point near the horizon. Houzeau thinks that their imaginations
are disturbed by the vague outlines of the surrounding objects, and
conjure up before them fantastic images: if this be so, their feelings may
almost be called superstitious.
Of all the faculties of the human mind, it will, I presume, be admitted
that Reason stands at the summit. Only a few persons now dispute that
animals possess some power of reasoning. Animals may constantly be
seen to pause, deliberate, and resolve. It is a significant fact, that the
more the habits of any particular animal are studied by a naturalist, the
more he attributes to reason and the less to unlearnt instincts. [22] In
future chapters we shall see that some animals extremely low in the scale
apparently display a certain amount of reason. No doubt it is often difficult
to distinguish between the power of reason and that of instinct. For instance,
Dr. Hayes, in his work on 'The Open Polar Sea,' repeatedly remarks
that his dogs, instead of continuing to draw the sledges in a compact
body, diverged and separated when they came to thin ice, so that
their weight might be more evenly distributed. This was often the first
warning which the travellers received that the ice was becoming thin and
dangerous. Now, did the dogs act thus from the experience of each individual,
or from the example of the older and wiser dogs, or from an inherited
habit, that is from instinct? This instinct, may possibly have
arisen since the time, long ago, when dogs were first employed by the natives
in drawing their sledges; or the Arctic wolves, the parent-stock of
the Esquimaux dog, may have acquired an instinct impelling them not to
attack their prey in a close pack, when on thin ice.
We can only judge by the circumstances under which actions are performed,
whether they are due to instinct, or to reason, or to the mere association
of ideas: this latter principle, however, is intimately connected
with reason. A curious case has been given by Prof. Mobius, [23] of a pike,
separated by a plate of glass from an adjoining aquarium stocked with
fish, and who often dashed himself with such violence against the glass in
trying to catch the other fishes, that he was sometimes completely
stunned. The pike went on thus for three months, but at last learnt caution,
and ceased to do so. The plate of glass was then removed, but the
pike would not attack these particular fishes, though he would devour
others which were afterwards introduced; so strongly was the idea of a
violent shock associated in his feeble mind with the attempt on his former
neighbours. If a savage, who had never seen a large plate-glass window,
were to dash himself even once against it, he would for a long time afterwards
associate a shock with a window-frame; but very differently from
the pike, he would probably reflect on the nature of the impediment, and
be cautious under analogous circumstances. Now with monkeys, as we
shall presently see, a painful or merely a disagreeable impression, from an
action once performed, is sometimes sufficient to prevent the animal from
repeating it. If we attribute this difference between the monkey and the
pike solely to the association of ideas being so much stronger and more
persistent in the one than the other, though the pike often received much
the more severe injury, can we maintain in the case of man that a similar
difference implies the possession of a fundamentally different mind?
Houzeau relates [24] that, whilst crossing a wide and arid plain in Texas,
his two dogs suffered greatly from thirst, and that between thirty and
forty times they rushed down the hollows to search for water. These
hollows were not valleys, and there were no trees in them, or any other
difference in the vegetation, and as they were absolutely dry there could
have been no smell of damp earth. The dogs behaved as if they knew that
a dip in the ground offered them the best chance of finding water, and
Houzeau has often witnessed the same behaviour in other animals.
I have seen, as I daresay have others, that when a small object is
thrown on the ground beyond the reach of one of the elephants in the
Zoological Gardens, he blows through his trunk on the ground beyond the
object, so that the current reflected on the all sides may drive the object
within his reach. Again a well-known ethnologist, Mr. Westropp, informs me
that he observed in Vienna a bear deliberately making with his paw a
current in some water, which was close to the bars of his cage, so as to
draw a piece of floating bread within his reach. These actions of the elephant
and bear can hardly be attributed to instinct or inherited habit, as
they would be of little use to an animal in a state of nature. Now, what
is the difference between such actions, when performed by an uncultivated
man, and by one of the higher animals?
The savage and the dog have often found water at a low level, and the
coincidence under such circumstances has become associated in their
minds. A cultivated man would perhaps make some general proposition
on the subject; but from all that we know of savages it is extremely
doubtful whether they would do so, and a dog certainly would not. But a
savage, as well as a dog, would search in the same way, though frequently
disappointed; and in both it seems to be equally an act of reason,
whether or not any general proposition on the subject is consciously
placed before the mind. [25] The same would apply to the elephant and the
bear making currents in the air or water. The savage would certainly
neither know nor care by what law the desired movements were effected;
yet his act would be guided by a rude process of reasoning, as surely as
would a philosopher in his longest chain of deductions. There would no
doubt be this difference between him and one of the higher animals, that
he would take notice of much slighter circumstances and conditions, and
would observe any connection between them after much less experience,
and this would be of paramount importance. I kept a daily record of the
actions of one of my infants, and when he was about eleven months old,
and before he could speak a single word, I was continually struck with
the greater quickness, with which all sorts of objects and sounds were
associated together in his mind, compared with that of the most intelligent
dogs I ever knew. But the higher animals differ in exactly the same
way in this power of association from those low in the scale, such as the
pike, as well as in that of drawing inferences and of observation.
The promptings of reason, after very short experience, are well shewn
by the following actions of American monkeys, which stand low in their
order. Rengger, a most careful observer, states that when he first gave
eggs to his monkeys in Paraguay, they smashed them, and thus lost much
of their contents; afterwards they gently hit one end against some hard
body, and picked off the bits of shell with their fingers. After cutting
themselves only once with any sharp tool, they would not touch it again,
or would handle it with the greatest caution. Lumps of sugar were often
given them wrapped up in paper; and Rengger sometimes put a live wasp
in the paper, so that in hastily unfolding it they got stung; after this had
once happened, they always first held the packet to their ears to detect
any movement within. [26]
The following cases relate to dogs. Mr. Colquhoun [27] winged two
wild-ducks, which fell on the further side of a stream; his retriever tried
to bring over both at once, but could not succeed; she then, though
never before known to ruffle a feather, deliberately killed one, brought
over the other, and returned for the dead bird. Col. Hutchinson relates
that two partridges were shot at once, one being killed, the other wounded;
the latter ran away, and was caught by the retriever, who on her return
came across the dead bird; "she stopped, evidently greatly puzzled,
and after one or two trials, finding she could not take it up without
permitting the escape of the winged bird, she considered a moment, then
deliberately murdered it by giving it a severe crunch, and afterwards
brought away both together. This was the only known instance of her
ever having wilfully injured any game." Here we have reason though not
quite perfect, for the retriever might have brought the wounded bird first
and then returned for the dead one, as in the case of the two wild-ducks.
I give the above cases, as resting on the evidence of two independent
witnesses, and because in both instances the retrievers, after deliberation,
broke through a habit which is inherited by them (that of not killing the
game retrieved), and because they shew how strong their reasoning faculty
must have been to overcome a fixed habit.
I will conclude by quoting a remark by the illustrious Humboldt. [28]
"The muleteers in S. America say, 'I will not give you the mule whose
step is easiest, but la mas racional,--the one that reasons best;'" and as
he adds, "this popular expression, dictated by long experience, combats
the system of animated machines, better perhaps than all the arguments
of speculative philosophy." Nevertheless some writers even yet deny that
the higher animals possess a trace of reason; and they endeavor to explain
away, by what appears to be mere verbiage, [29] all such facts as those
above given.
It has, I think, now been shewn that man and the higher animals,
especially the Primates, have some few instincts in common. All have the
same senses, intuitions, and sensations,--similar passions, affections, and
emotions, even the more complex ones, such as jealousy, suspicion, emulation,
gratitude, and magnanimity; they practise deceit and are revengeful;
they are sometimes susceptible to ridicule, and even have a sense of
humour; they feel wonder and curiosity; they possess the same faculties
of imitation, attention, deliberation, choice, memory, imagination, the
association of ideas, and reason, though in very different degrees. The
individuals of the same species graduate in intellect from absolute imbecility
to high excellence. They are also liable to insanity, though far less
often than in the case of man. [30] Nevertheless, many authors have insisted
that man is divided by an insuperable barrier from all the lower animals
in his mental faculties. I formerly made a collection of above a score of
such aphorisms, but they are almost worthless, as their wide difference
and number prove the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of the attempt.
It has been asserted that man alone is capable of progressive improvement;
that he alone makes use of tools or fire, domesticates other animals,
or possesses property; that no animal has the power of abstraction,
or of forming general concepts, is self-conscious and comprehends itself;
that no animal employs language; that man alone has a sense of beauty,
is liable to caprice, has the feeling of gratitude mystery, &c.; believes in
God, or is endowed with a conscience. I will hazard a few remarks on the
more important and interesting of these points.
Archbishop Sumner formerly maintained [31] that man alone is capable
of progressive improvement. That he is capable of incomparably greater
and more rapid improvement than is any other animal, admits of no dispute;
and this is mainly due to his power of speaking and handing down
his acquired knowledge. With animals, looking first to the individual,
every one who has had any experience in setting traps, knows that young
animals can be caught much more easily than old ones; and they can be
much more easily approached by an enemy. Even with respect to old animals,
it is impossible to catch many in the same place and in the same
kind of trap, or to destroy them by the same kind of poison; yet it is
improbable that all should have partaken of the poison, and impossible that
all should have been caught in a trap. They must learn caution by seeing
their brethren caught or poisoned. In North America, where the fur-bearing
animals have long been pursued, they exhibit, according to the unanimous
testimony of all observers, an almost incredible amount of sagacity,
caution and cunning; but trapping has been there so long carried on, that
inheritance may possibly have come into play. I have received several accounts
that when telegraphs are first set up in any district, many birds
kill themselves by flying against the wires, but that in the course of a very
few years they learn to avoid this danger, by seeing, as it would appear,
their comrades killed. [32]
If we look to successive generations, or to the race, there is no doubt
that birds and other animals gradually both acquire and lose caution in
relation to man or other enemies; [33] and this caution is certainly in chief
part an inherited habit or instinct, but in part the result of individual
experience. A good observer, Leroy, [34] states, that in districts where foxes
are much hunted, the young, on first leaving their burrows, are incontestably
much more wary than the old ones in districts where they are not
much disturbed.
Our domestic dogs are descended from wolves and jackals, [35] and
though they may not have gained in cunning, and may have lost in wariness
and suspicion, yet they have progressed in certain moral qualities,
such as in affection, trust-worthiness, temper, and probably in general
intelligence. The common rat has conquered and beaten several other species
throughout Europe, in parts of North America, New Zealand, and
recently in Formosa, as well as on the mainland of China. Mr. Swinhoe, [36]
who describes these two latter cases, attributes the victory of the common
rat over the large Mus coninga to its superior cunning; and this latter
quality may probably be attributed to the habitual exercise of all its
faculties in avoiding extirpation by man, as well as to nearly all the less
cunning or weak-minded rats having been continuously destroyed by
him. It is, however, possible that the success of the common rat may be
due to its having possessed greater cunning than its fellow-species, before
it became associated with man. To maintain, independently of any direct
evidence, that no animal during the course of ages has progressed in intellect
or other mental faculties, is to beg the question of the evolution of
species. We have seen that, according to Lartet, existing mammals belonging
to several orders have larger brains than their ancient tertiary
It has often been said that no animal uses any tool; but the chimpanzee
in a state of nature cracks a native fruit, somewhat like a walnut,
with a stone. [37] Rengger [38] easily taught an American monkey thus to
break open hard palm-nuts; and afterwards of its own accord, it used
stones to open other kinds of nuts, as well as boxes. It thus also removed
the soft rind of fruit that had a disagreeable flavour. Another monkey
was taught to open the lid of a large box with a stick, and afterwards it
used the stick as a lever to move heavy bodies; and I have myself seen a
young orang put a stick into a crevice, slip his hand to the other end, and
use it in the proper manner as a lever. The tamed elephants in India are
well known to break off branches of trees and use them to drive away the
flies; and this same act has been observed in an elephant in a state of
nature. [39] I have seen a young orang, when she thought she was going to
be whipped, cover and protect herself with a blanket or straw. In these
several cases stones and sticks were employed as implements; but they
are likewise used as weapons. Brehm [40] states, on the authority of the
well-known traveller Schimper, that in Abyssinia when the baboons belonging
to one species (C. gelada) descend in troops from the mountains
to plunder the fields, they sometimes encounter troops of another species
(C. hamadryas), and then a fight ensues. The Geladas roll down great
stones, which the Hamadryas try to avoid, and then both species, making
a great uproar, rush furiously against each other. Brehm, when, accompanying
the Duke of Coburg-Gotha, aided in an attack with firearms
on a troop of baboons in the pass of Mensa in Abyssinia. The baboons
in return rolled so many stones down the mountain, some as large
as a man's head, that the attackers had to beat a hasty retreat; and the
pass was actually closed for a time against the caravan. It deserves notice
that these baboons thus acted in concert. Mr. Wallace [41] on three occasions
saw female orangs, accompanied by their young, "breaking off
branches and the great spiny fruit of the Durian tree, with every appearance
of rage; causing such a shower of missiles as effectually kept us from
approaching too near the tree." As I have repeatedly seen, a chimpanzee
will throw any object at hand at a person who offends him; and the
before-mentioned baboon at the Cape of Good Hope prepared mud for the
In the Zoological Gardens, a monkey, which had weak teeth, used to
break open nuts with a stone; and I was assured by the keepers that after
using the stone, he hid it in the straw, and would not let any other monkey
touch it. Here, then, we have the idea of property; but this idea is
common to every dog with a bone, and to most or all birds with their
The Duke of Argyll [42] remarks, that the fashioning of an implement
for a special purpose is absolutely peculiar to man; and he considers that
this forms an immeasurable gulf between him and the brutes. This is no
doubt a very important distinction; but there appears to me much truth
in Sir J. Lubbock's suggestion, [43] that when primeval man first used
flintstones for any purpose, he would have accidentally splintered them, and
would then have used the sharp fragments. From this step it would be a
small one to break the flints on purpose, and not a very wide step to fashion
them rudely. This latter advance, however, may have taken long ages,
if we may judge by the immense interval of time which elapsed before
the men of the neolithic period took to grinding and polishing their stone
tools. In breaking the flints, as Sir J. Lubbock likewise remarks, sparks
would have been emitted, and in grinding them heat would have been
evolved: thus the two usual methods of "obtaining fire may have originated."
The nature of fire would have been known in the many volcanic regions
where lava occasionally flows through forests. The anthropomorphous
apes, guided probably by instinct, build for themselves temporary
platforms; but as many instincts are largely controlled by reason, the
simpler ones, such as this of building a platform, might readily pass into
a voluntary and conscious act. The orang is known to cover itself at night
with the leaves of the Pandanus; and Brehm states that one of his
baboons used to protect itself from the heat of the sun by throwing a
straw-mat over its head. In these several habits, we probably see the first
steps towards some of the simpler arts, such as rude architecture and
dress, as they arose amongst the early progenitors of man.
Abstraction, General Conceptions, Self-consciousness, Mental
Individuality.--It would be very difficult for any one with even much more
knowledge than I possess, to determine how far animals exhibit any
traces of these high mental powers. This difficulty arises from the
impossibility of judging what passes through the mind of an animal; and again,
the fact that writers differ to a great extent in the meaning which they
attribute to the above terms, causes a further difficulty. If one may judge
from various articles which have been published lately, the greatest stress
seems to be laid on the supposed entire absence in animals of the power
of abstraction, or of forming general concepts. But when a dog sees another
dog at a distance, it is often clear that he perceives that it is a dog
in the abstract; for when he gets nearer his whole manner suddenly
changes, if the other dog be a friend. A recent writer remarks, that in all
such cases it is a pure assumption to assert that the mental act is not
essentially of the same nature in the animal as in man. If either refers what
he perceives with his senses to a mental concept, then so do both. [44] When
I say to my terrier, in an eager voice (and I have made the trial many
times), "Hi, hi, where is it?" she at once takes it as a sign that something
is to be hunted, and generally first looks quickly all around, and then
rushes into the nearest thicket, to scent for any game, but finding nothing,
she looks up into any neighbouring tree for a squirrel. Now do not
these actions clearly shew that she had in her mind a general idea or concept
that some animal is to be discovered and hunted?
It may be freely admitted that no animal is self-conscious, if by this
term it is implied, that he reflects on such points, as whence he comes or
whither he will go, or what is life and death, and so forth. But how can we
feel sure that an old dog with an excellent memory and some power of
imagination, as shewn by his dreams, never reflects on his past pleasures
or pains in the chase? And this would be a form of self-consciousness. On
the other hand, as Buchner [45] has remarked, how little can the hard-worked
wife of a degraded Australian savage, who uses very few abstract
words, and cannot count above four, exert her self-consciousness, or reflect
on the nature of her own existence. It is generally admitted, that
the higher animals possess memory, attention, association, and even some
imagination and reason. If these powers, which differ much in different
animals, are capable of improvement, there seems no great improbability
in more complex faculties, such as the higher forms of abstraction, and
self-consciousness, &c., having been evolved through the development
and combination of the simpler ones. It has been urged against the views
here maintained that it is impossible to say at what point in the ascending
scale animals become capable of abstraction, &c.; but who can say
at what age this occurs in our young children? We see at least that such
powers are developed in children by imperceptible degrees.
That animals retain their mental individuality is unquestionable.
When my voice awakened a train of old associations in the mind of the
before-mentioned dog, he must have retained his mental individuality,
although every atom of his brain had probably undergone change more
than once during the interval of five years. This dog might have brought
forward the argument lately advanced to crush all evolutionists, and said,
"I abide amid all mental moods and all material changes. . . . The
teaching that atoms leave their impressions as legacies to other atoms
falling into the places they have vacated is contradictory of the utterance
of consciousness, and is therefore false; but it is the teaching necessitated
by evolutionism, consequently the hypothesis is a false one." [46]
Language.--This faculty has justly been considered as one of the
chief distinctions between man and the lower animals. But man, as a highly
competent judge, Archbishop Whately remarks, "is not the only animal
that can make use of language to express what is passing in his mind, and
can understand, more or less, what is so expressed by another." [47] In
Paraguay the Cebus azaroe when excited utters at least six distinct
sounds, which excite in other monkeys similar emotions. [48] The movements
of the features and gestures of monkeys are understood by us, and
they partly understand ours, as Rengger and others declare. It is a more
remarkable fact that the dog, since being domesticated, has learnt to
bark [49] in at least four or five distinct tones. Although barking is a new
art, no doubt the wild parent-species of the dog expressed their feelings
by cries of various kinds. With the domesticated dog we have the bark of
eagerness, as in the chase; that of anger, as well as growling; the yelp or
howl of despair, as when shut up; the baying at night; the bark of joy,
as when starting on a walk with his master; and the very distinct one of
demand or supplication, as when wishing for a door or window to be
opened. According to Houzeau, who paid particular attention to the subject,
the domestic fowl utters at least a dozen significant sounds. [50]
The habitual use of articulate language is, however, peculiar to man;
but he uses, in common with the lower animals, inarticulate cries to express
his meaning, aided by gestures and the movements of the muscles
of the face. [51] This especially holds good with the more simple and vivid
feelings, which are but little connected with our higher intelligence. Our
cries of pain, fear, surprise, anger, together with their appropriate actions,
and the murmur of a mother to her beloved child are more expressive
than any words. That which distinguishes man from the lower animals
is not the understanding of articulate sounds, for, as every one
knows, dogs understand many words and sentences. In this respect they
are at the same stage of development as infants, between the ages of ten
and twelve months, who understand many words and short sentences, but
cannot yet utter a single word. It is not the mere articulation which is
our distinguishing character, for parrots and other birds possess this
power. Nor is it the mere capacity of connecting definite sounds with
definite ideas; for it is certain that some parrots, which have been taught
to speak, connect unerringly words with things, and persons with
events. [52] The lower animals differ from man solely in his almost infinitely
larger power of associating together the most diversified sounds and
ideas; and this obviously depends on the high development of his mental
As Horne Tooke, one of the founders of the noble science of philology,
observes, language is an art, like brewing or baking; but writing would
have been a better simile. It certainly is not a true instinct, for every
language has to be learnt. It differs, however, widely from all ordinary
arts, for man has an instinctive tendency to speak, as we see in the babble
of our young children; whilst no child has an instinctive tendency to
brew, bake, or write. Moreover, no philologist now supposes that any
language has been deliberately invented; it has been slowly and unconsciously
developed by many steps. [53] The sounds uttered by birds offer in
several respects the nearest analogy to language, for all the members of
the same species utter the same instinctive cries expressive of their emotions;
and all the kinds which sing, exert their power instinctively; but
the actual song, and even the call-notes, are learnt from their parents or
foster-parents. These sounds, as Daines Barrington [54] has proved, "are
no more innate than language is in man." The first attempts to sing "may
be compared to the imperfect endeavour in a child to babble." The young
males continue practising, or as the bird-catchers say, "recording," for
ten or eleven months. Their first essays show hardly a rudiment of the
future song; but as they grow older we can perceive what they are aiming
at; and at last they are said "to sing their song round." Nestlings
which have learnt the song of a distinct species, as with the canary-birds
educated in the Tyrol, teach and transmit their new song to their offspring.
The slight natural differences of song in the same species inhabiting
different districts may be appositely compared, as Barrington remarks,
"to provincial dialects;" and the songs of allied, though distinct
species may be compared with the languages of distinct races of man. I
have given the foregoing details to shew that an instinctive tendency to
acquire an art is not peculiar to man.
With respect to the origin of articulate language, after having read on
the one side the highly interesting works of Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood,
the Rev. F. Farrar, and Prof. Schleicher, [55] and the celebrated lectures of
Prof. Max Muller on the other side, I cannot doubt that language owes
its origin to the imitation and modification of various natural sounds, the
voices of other animals, and man's own instinctive cries, aided by signs
and gestures. When we treat of sexual selection we shall see that primeval
man, or rather some early progenitor of man, probably first used his voice
in producing true musical cadences, that is in singing, as do some of the
gibbon-apes at the present day; and we may conclude from a widely-spread
analogy, that this power would have been especially exerted during
the courtship of the sexes,--would have expressed various emotions,
such as love, jealousy, triumph,--and would have served as a challenge to
rivals. It is, therefore, probable that the imitation of musical cries by
articulate sounds may have given rise to words expressive of various complex
emotions. The strong tendency in our nearest allies, the monkeys, in
microcephalous idiots, [56] and in the barbarous races of mankind, to imitate
whatever they hear deserves notice, as bearing on the subject of imitation.
Since monkeys certainly understand much that is said to them by
man, and when wild, utter signal-cries of danger to their fellows; [57] and
since fowls give distinct warnings for danger on the ground, or in the sky
from hawks (both, as well as a third cry, intelligible to dogs), [58] may not
some unusually wise ape-like animal have imitated the growl of a beast
of prey, and thus told his fellow-monkeys the nature of the expected danger?
This would have been a first step in the formation of a language.
As the voice was used more and more, the vocal organs would have
been strengthened and perfected through the principle of the inherited
effects of use; and this would have reacted on the power of speech. But
the relation between the continued use of language and the development
of the brain, has no doubt been far more important. The mental powers
in some early progenitor of man must have been more highly developed
than in any existing ape, before even the most imperfect form of speech
could have come into use; but we may confidently believe that the continued
use and advancement of this power would have reacted on the
mind itself, by enabling and encouraging it to carry on long trains of
thought. A complex train of thought can no more be carried on without
the aid of words, whether spoken or silent, than a long calculation without
the use of figures or algebra. It appears, also that even an ordinary
train of thought almost requires, or is greatly facilitated by some form of
language, for the dumb, deaf, and blind girl, Laura Bridgman, was observed
to use her fingers whilst dreaming. [59] Nevertheless, a long succession
of vivid and connected ideas may pass through the mind without the
aid of any form of language, as we may infer from the movements of dogs
during their dreams. We have, also, seen that animals are able to reason
to a certain extent, manifestly without the aid of language. The intimate
connection between the brain, as it is now developed in us, and the faculty
of speech, is well shewn by those curious cases of brain-disease in
which speech is specially affected, as when the power to remember substantives
is lost, whilst other words can be correctly used, or where substantives
of a certain class, or all except the initial letters of substantives
and proper names are forgotten. [60] There is no more improbability in the
continued use of the mental and vocal organs leading to inherited changes
in their structure and functions, than in the case of hand-writing, which
depends partly on the form of the hand and partly on the disposition of
the mind; and handwriting is certainly inherited. [61]
Several writers, more especially Prof. Max Muller, [62] have lately
insisted that the use of language implies the power of forming general
concepts; and that as no animals are supposed to possess this power, an
impassable barrier is formed between them and man. [63] With respect to
animals, I have already endeavoured to shew that they have this power, at
least in a rude and incipient degree. As far as concerns infants of from ten
to eleven months old, and deaf-mutes, it seems to me incredible, that they
should be able to connect certain sounds with certain general ideas as
quickly as they do, unless such ideas were already formed in their minds.
The same remark may be extended to the more intelligent animals; as
Mr. Leslie Stephen observes, [64] "A dog frames a general concept of cats
or sheep, and knows the corresponding words as well as a philosopher.
And the capacity to understand is as good a proof of vocal intelligence,
though in an inferior degree, as the capacity to speak."
Why the organs now used for speech should have been originally perfected
for this purpose, rather than any other organs, it is not difficult
to see. Ants have considerable powers of intercommunication by means of
their antennae, as shewn by Huber, who devotes a whole chapter to their
language. We might have used our fingers as efficient instruments, for a
person with practice can report to a deaf man every word of a speech rapidly
delivered at a public meeting; but the loss of our hands, whilst thus
employed, would have been a serious inconvenience. As all the higher
mammals possess vocal organs, constructed on the same general plan as
ours, and used as a means of communication, it was obviously probable
that these same organs would be still further developed if the power of
communication had to be improved; and this has been effected by the aid
of adjoining and well adapted parts, namely the tongue and lips. [65] The
fact of the higher apes not using their vocal organs for speech, no doubt
depends on their intelligence not having been sufficiently advanced. The
possession by them of organs, which with long-continued practice might
have been used for speech, although not thus used, is paralleled by the
case of many birds which possess organs fitted for singing, though they
never sing. Thus, the nightingale and crow have vocal organs similarly
constructed, these being used by the former for diversified song, and by
the latter only for croaking. [66] If it be asked why apes have not had their
intellects developed to the same degree as that of man, general causes
only can be assigned in answer, and it is unreasonable to expect any thing
more definite, considering our ignorance with respect to the successive
stages of development through which each creature has passed.
The formation of different languages and of distinct species, and the
proofs that both have been developed through a gradual process, are curiously
parallel. [67] But we can trace the formation of many words further
back than that of species, for we can perceive how they actually arose
from the imitation of various sounds. We find in distinct languages striking
homologies due to community of descent, and analogies due to a similar
process of formation. The manner in which certain letters or sounds
change when others change is very like correlated growth. We have in
both cases the reduplication of parts, the effects of long-continued use,
and so forth. The frequent presence of rudiments, both in languages and
in species, is still more remarkable. The letter m in the word am, means I;
so that in the expression I am, a superfluous and useless rudiment has
been retained. In the spelling also of words, letters often remain as the
rudiments of ancient forms of pronunciation. Languages, like organic beings,
can be classed in groups under groups; and they can be classed
either naturally according to descent, or artificially by other characters.
Dominant languages and dialects spread widely, and lead to the gradual
extinction of other tongues. A language, like a species, when once extinct,
never, as Sir C. Lyell remarks, reappears. The same language never has
two birth-places. Distinct languages may be crossed or blended together. [68]
We see variability in every tongue, and new words are continually
cropping up; but as there is a limit to the powers of the memory, single
words, like whole languages, gradually become extinct. As Max Muller [69]
has well remarked:--"A struggle for life is constantly going on amongst
the words and grammatical forms in each language. The better, the
shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand, and they
owe their success to their own inherent virtue." To these more important
causes of the survival of certain words, mere novelty and fashion may be
added; for there is in the mind of man a strong love for slight changes in
all things. The survival or preservation of certain favoured words in the
struggle for existence is natural selection.
The perfectly regular and wonderfully complex construction of the
languages of many barbarous nations has often been advanced as a proof,
either of the divine origin of these languages, or of the high art and former
civilisation of their founders. Thus F. von Schlegel writes: "In those
languages which appear to be at the lowest grade of intellectual culture,
we frequently observe a very high and elaborate degree of art in their
grammatical structure. This is especially the case with the Basque and
the Lapponian, and many of the American languages." [70] But it is assuredly
an error to speak of any language as an art, in the sense of its having
been elaborately and methodically formed. Philologists now admit
that conjugations, declensions, &c., originally existed as distinct words,
since joined together; and as such words express the most obvious relations
between objects and persons, it is not surprising that they should
have been used by the men of most races during the earliest ages. With
respect to perfection, the following illustration will best shew how easily
we may err: a Crinoid sometimes consists of no less than 150,000 pieces
of shell, [71] all arranged with perfect symmetry in radiating lines; but a
naturalist does not consider an animal of this kind as more perfect than
a bilateral one with comparatively few parts, and with none of these parts
alike, excepting on the opposite sides of the body. He justly considers the
differentiation and specialisation of organs as the test of perfection. So
with languages: the most symmetrical and complex ought not to be
ranked above irregular, abbreviated, and bastardised languages, which
have borrowed expressive words and useful forms of construction from
various conquering, conquered, or immigrant races.
From these few and imperfect remarks I conclude that the extremely
complex and regular construction of many barbarous languages, is no
proof that they owe their origin to a special act of creation. [72] Nor, as we
have seen, does the faculty of articulate speech in itself offer any
insuperable objection to the belief that man has been developed from some lower
Sense of Beauty.--This sense has been declared to be peculiar to
man. I refer here only to the pleasure given by certain colours, forms, and
sounds, and which may fairly be called a sense of the beautiful; with
cultivated men such sensations are, however, intimately associated with
complex ideas and trains of thought. When we behold a male bird elaborately
displaying his graceful plumes or splendid colours before the female,
whilst other birds, not thus decorated, make no such display, it is
impossible to doubt that she admires the beauty of her male partner. As
women everywhere deck themselves with these plumes, the beauty of
such ornaments cannot be disputed. As we shall see later, the nests of
humming-birds, and the playing passages of bower-birds are tastefully
ornamented with gaily-coloured objects; and this shews that they must
receive some kind of pleasure from the sight of such things. With the
great majority of animals, however, the taste for the beautiful is confined,
as far as we can judge, to the attractions of the opposite sex. The sweet
strains poured forth by many male birds during the season of love, are
certainly admired by the females, of which fact evidence will hereafter
be given. If female birds had been incapable of appreciating the beautiful
colours, the ornaments, and voices of their male partners, all the labour
and anxiety exhibited by the latter in displaying their charms before
the females would have been thrown away; and this it is impossible
to admit. Why certain bright colours should excite pleasure cannot, I
presume, be explained, any more than why certain flavours and scents are
agreeable; but habit has something to do with the result, for that which
is at first unpleasant to our senses, ultimately becomes pleasant, and habits
are inherited. With respect to sounds, Helmholtz has explained to a
certain extent on physiological principles, why harmonies and certain
cadences are agreeable. But besides this, sounds frequently recurring at
irregular intervals are highly disagreeable, as every one will admit who
has listened at night to the irregular flapping of a rope on board ship. The
same principle seems to come into play with vision, as the eye prefers
symmetry or figures with some regular recurrence. Patterns of this kind
are employed by even the lowest savages as ornaments; and they have
been developed through sexual selection for the adornment of some male
animals. Whether we can or not give any reason for the pleasure thus derived
from vision and hearing, yet man and many of the lower animals
are alike pleased by the same colours, graceful shading and forms, and
the same sounds.
The taste for the beautiful, at least as far as female beauty is
concerned, is not of a special nature in the human mind; for it differs widely
in the different races of man, and is not quite the same even in the different
nations of the same race. Judging from the hideous ornaments, and
the equally hideous music admired by most savages, it might be urged
that their aesthetic faculty was not so highly developed as in certain animals,
for instance, as in birds. Obviously no animal would be capable of
admiring such scenes as the heavens at night, a beautiful landscape, or
refined music; but such high tastes are acquired through culture, and depend
on complex associations; they are not enjoyed by barbarians or by
uneducated persons.
Many of the faculties, which have been of inestimable service to man
for his progressive advancement, such as the powers of the imagination,
wonder, curiosity, an undefined sense of beauty, a tendency to imitation,
and the love of excitement or novelty, could hardly fail to lead to capricious
changes of customs and fashions. I have alluded to this point, because
a recent writer [73] has oddly fixed on Caprice "as one of the most remarkable
and typical differences between savages and brutes." But not
only can we partially understand how it is that man is from various conflicting
influences rendered capricious, but that the lower animals are, as
we shall hereafter see, likewise capricious in their affections, aversions,
and sense of beauty. There is also reason to suspect that they love novelty,
for its own sake.
Belief in God--Religion.--There is no evidence that man was
aboriginally endowed with the ennobling belief in the existence of an
Omnipotent God. On the contrary there is ample evidence, derived not from
hasty travellers, but from men who have long resided with savages, that
numerous races have existed, and still exist, who have no idea of one or
more gods, and who have no words in their languages to express such an
idea. [74] The question is of course wholly distinct from that higher one,
whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the universe; and this has
been answered in the affirmative by some of the highest intellects that
have ever existed.
If, however, we include under the term "religion" the belief in unseen
or spiritual agencies, the case is wholly different; for this belief seems to
be universal with the less civilised races. Nor is it difficult to comprehend
how it arose. As soon as the important faculties of the imagination, wonder,
and curiosity, together with some power of reasoning, had become
partially developed, man would naturally crave to understand what was
passing around him, and would have vaguely speculated on his own existence.
As Mr. M'Lennan [75] has remarked, "Some explanation of the
phenomena of life, a man must feign for himself, and to judge from the
universality of it, the simplest hypothesis, and the first to occur to men,
seems to have been that natural phenomena are ascribable to the presence
in animals, plants, and things, and in the forces of nature, of such spirits
prompting to action as men are conscious they themselves possess." It is
also probable, as Mr. Tylor has shewn, that dreams may have first given
rise to the notion of spirits; for savages do not readily distinguish between
subjective and objective impressions. When a savage dreams, the
figures which appear before him are believed to have come from a distance,
and to stand over him; or "the soul of the dreamer goes out on its
travels, and comes home with a remembrance of what it has seen." [76] But
until the faculties of imagination, curiosity, reason, &c., had been fairly
well developed in the mind of man, his dreams would not have led him to
believe in spirits, any more than in the case of a dog.
The tendency in savages to imagine that natural objects and agencies
are animated by spiritual or living essences, is perhaps illustrated by a
little fact which I once noticed: my dog, a full-grown and very sensible
animal, was lying on the lawn during a hot and still day; but at a little
distance a slight breeze occasionally moved an open parasol, which would
have been wholly disregarded by the dog, had any one stood near it. As
it was, every time that the parasol slightly moved, the dog growled fiercely
and barked. He must, I think, have reasoned to himself in a rapid and
unconscious manner, that movement without any apparent cause indicated
the presence of some strange living agent, and that no stranger had a
right to be on his territory.
The belief in spiritual agencies would easily pass into the belief in the
existence of one or more gods. For savages would naturally attribute to
spirits the same passions, the same love of vengeance or simplest form of
justice, and the same affections which they themselves feel. The Fuegians
appear to be in this respect in an intermediate condition, for when the
surgeon on board the "Beagle" shot some young ducklings as specimens,
York Minister declared in the most solemn manner, "Oh, Mr. Bynoe,
much rain, much snow, blow much;" and this was evidently a retributive
punishment for wasting human food. So again he related how, when his
brother killed a "wild man," storms long raged, much rain and snow fell.
Yet we could never discover that the Fuegians believed in what we should
call a God, or practised any religious rites; and Jemmy Button, with
justifiable pride, stoutly maintained that there was no devil in his land.
This latter assertion is the more remarkable, as with savages the belief in bad
spirits is far more common than that in good ones.
The feeling of religious devotion is a highly complex one, consisting of
love, complete submission to an exalted and mysterious superior, a strong
sense of dependence, [77] fear, reverence, gratitude, hope for the future, and
perhaps other elements. No being could experience so complex an emotion
until advanced in his intellectual and moral faculties to at least a
moderately high level. Nevertheless, we see some distant approach to this
state of mind in the deep love of a dog for his master, associated with
complete submission, some fear, and perhaps other feelings. The behaviour
of a dog when returning to his master after an absence, and, as I may
add, of a monkey to his beloved keeper, is widely different from that
towards their fellows. In the latter case the transports of joy appear to be
somewhat less, and the sense of equality is shewn in every action. Professor
Braubach goes so far as to maintain that a dog looks on his master as
on a god. [78]
The same high mental faculties which first led man to believe in unseen
spiritual agencies, then in fetishism, polytheism, and ultimately in
monotheism, would infallibly lead him, as long as his reasoning powers remained
poorly developed, to various strange superstitions and customs.
Many of these are terrible to think of--such as the sacrifice of human
beings to a blood-loving god; the trial of innocent persons by the ordeal
of poison or fire; witchcraft, &c.--yet it is well occasionally to reflect on
these superstitions, for they shew us what an infinite debt of gratitude we
owe to the improvement of our reason, to science, and to our accumulated
knowledge. As Sir J. Lubbock [79] has well observed, "it is not too much to
say that the horrible dread of unknown evil hangs like a thick cloud over
savage life, and embitters every pleasure." These miserable and indirect
consequences of our highest faculties may be compared with the incidental
and occasional mistakes of the instincts of the lower animals.
[1] See the evidence on those points, as given by Lubbock, 'Prehistoric
Times,' p. 354, &c.
[2] 'L'Instinct chez les Insectes,' 'Revue des Deux Mondes,' Feb. 1870, p.
[3] 'The American Beaver and His Works,' 1868.
[4] 'The Principles of Psychology,' 2nd edit. 1870, pp. 418-443.
[5] 'Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection,' 1870, p. 212.
[6] For the evidence on this head, see Mr. J. Traherne Moggridge's most
interesting work, 'Harvesting Ants and Trap-door Spiders,' 1873, pp. 126, 128.
[7] Recherches sur les Moeurs des Fourmis,' 1810, p. 173.
[8] All the following statements, given on the authority of these two
naturalists, are taken from Rengger's 'Naturgesch. der Saugethiere von
Paraguay,' 1830, s. 41-57, and from Brehm's 'Thierleben,' B. i. s. 10-87.
[9] Quoted by Dr. Lauder Lindsay, in his 'Physiology of Mind in the Lower
Animals;' 'Journal of Mental Science,' April 1871, p. 38.
[10] 'Bridgewater Treatise,' p. 263.
[11] A critic, without any grounds ('Quarterly Review,' July, 1871, p.
72), disputes the possibility of this act as described by Brehm, for the sake
of discrediting my work. Therefore I tried, and found that I could readily
seize with my own teeth the sharp little claws of a kitten nearly five weeks
[12] I have given a short account of their behaviour on this occasion in
my 'Expression of the Emotions,' p. 43.
[13] W. C. L. Martin, 'Nat. Hist. of Mammalia,' 1841, p. 405.
[14] Dr. Bateman 'On Aphasia,' 1870, p. 110.
[15] Quoted by Vogt, 'Memoire sur les Microcephales,' 1867, p. 168.
[16] 'The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,' vol. i. p.
[17] 'Annales des Sc. Nat.' (1st Series), tom. xxii. p. 397.
[18] 'Les Moeurs des Fourmis,' 1810, p. 150.
[19] Quoted in Dr. Maudsley's 'Physiology and Pathology of Mind,' 1868,
pp. 19, 220.
[20] Dr. Jerdon, 'Birds of India,' vol. i. 1862, p. xxi. Houzeau says
that his parokeets and canary-birds dreamt: 'Facultes Mentales,' tom. ii. p.
[21] 'Facultes Mentales des Animaux,' 1872, tom. ii. p. 181.
[22] Mr. L. H. Morgan's work on 'The American Beaver,' 1868, offers a good
illustration of this remark. I cannot help thinking, however, that he goes too
far in underrating the power of instinct.
[23] 'Die Bewegungen der Thiere,' &c., 1873, p. 11.
[24] 'Facultes Mentales des Animaux,' 1872, tom. ii. p. 265.
[25] Prof. Huxley has analysed with admirable clearness the mental steps
by which a man, as well as a dog, arrives at a conclusion in a case analogous
to that given in my text. See his article, 'Mr. Darwin's Critics,' in the
'Contemporary Review,' Nov. 1871, p. 462, and in his 'Critiques and Essays,'
1873, p. 279.
[26] Mr. Belt, in his most interesting work, 'The Naturalist in
Nicaragua,' 1874 (p. 119), likewise describes various actions of a tamed
Cebus, which, I think, clearly shew that this animal possessed some reasoning
[27] 'The Moor and the Loch,' p. 45. Col. Hutchinson on 'Dog Breaking,'
1850, p. 46
[28] 'Personal Narrative,' Eng. translat., vol. iii. p. 106.
[29] I am glad to find that so acute a reasoner as Mr. Leslie Stephen
('Darwinism and Divinity, Essays on Free-thinking,' 1873, p. 80), in speaking
of the supposed impassable barrier between the minds of man and the lower
animals, says, "The distinctions, indeed, which have been drawn, seem to us to
rest upon no better foundation than a great many other metaphysical
distinctions; that is, the assumption that because you can give two things
different names, they must therefore have different natures. It is difficult
to understand how anybody who has ever kept a dog, or seen an elephant, can
have any doubt as to an animal's power of performing the essential processes
of reasoning."
[30] See 'Madness in Animals,' by Dr. W. Lauder Lindsay, in 'Journal of
Mental Science,' July 1871.
[31] Quoted by Sir C. Lyell, 'Antiquity of Man,' p. 497.
[32] For additional evidence, with details, see M. Houzeau, 'Les Facultes
Mentales,' tom. ii. 1872, p. 147.
[33] See, with respect to birds on oceanic islands, my 'Journal of
Researchers during the voyage of the "Beagle,"' 1845, p. 398. 'Origin of
Species,' this ed. p. 305.
[34] 'Lettres Phil. sur l'Intelligence des Animaux,' nouvelle edit. 1802,
p. 86.
[35] See the evidence on this head in chap. i. vol. i. 'On the Variation
of Animals and Plants under Domestication.'
[36] 'Proc. Zoolog. Soc.' 1864, p. 186.
[37] Savage and Wyman in 'Boston Journal of Nat. Hist.' vol. iv. 1843-44,
p. 383.
[38] 'Saugethiere von Paraguay,' 1830, s. 51-56.
[39] The 'Indian Field,' March 4, 1871.
[40] 'Thierleben,' B. i. s. 79, 82.
[41] 'The Malay Archipelago,' vol. i. 1869, p. 87.
[42] 'Primeval Man,' 1869, pp. 145, 147.
[43] 'Prehistoric Times,' 1865, p. 473, &c.
[44] Mr. Hookham, in a letter to Prof. Max Muller, in the 'Birmingham
News,' May 1873.
[45] 'Conferences sur la Theorie Darwinienne,' French translat. 1869, p.
[46] The Rev. Dr. J. M'Cann, 'Anti-Darwinism,' 1869, p. 13.
[47] Quoted in 'Anthropological Review,' 1864, p. 158.
[48] Rengger, ibid. s. 45.
[49] See my 'Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,' vol. i.
p. 27.
[50] 'Facultes Mentales des Animaux,' tom. ii. 1872, p. 346-349.
[51] See a discussion on this subject in Mr. E. B. Tylor's very
interesting work, 'Researches into the Early History of Mankind,' 1865, chaps.
ii. to iv.
[52] I have received several detailed accounts to this effect. Admiral
Sir B. J. Sulivan, whom I know to be a careful observer, assures me that an
African parrot, long kept in his father's house, invariably called certain
persons of the household, as well as visitors, by their names. He said "good
morning" to every one at breakfast, and "good night" to each as they left the
room at night, and never reversed these salutations. To Sir B. J. Sulivan's
father, he used to add to the "good morning" a short sentence, which was never
once repeated after his father's death. He scolded violently a strange dog
which came into the room through the open window; and he scolded another parrot
(saying "you naughty polly") which had got out of its cage, and was eating
apples on the kitchen table. See also, to the same effect, Houzeau on parrots,
'Facultes Mentales,' tom. ii. p. 309. Dr. A. Moschkau informs me that he knew
a startling which never made a mistake in saying in German "good morning" to
persons arriving, and "good bye, old fellow," to those departing. I could add
several other such cases.
[53] See some good remarks on this head by Prof. Whitney, in his 'Oriental
and Linguistic Studies,' 1873, p. 354. He observes that the desire of
communication between man is the living force, which, in the development of
language, "works both consciously and unconsciously; consciously as regards the
immediate end to be attained; unconsciously as regards the further consequences
of the act."
[54] Hon. Daines Barrington in 'Philosoph. Transactions,' 1773, p. 262.
See also Dureau de la Malle, in 'Ann. des. Sc. Nat.' 3rd series, Zoolog. tom.
x. p. 119.
[55] 'On the Origin of Language,' by H. Wedgwood, 1866. 'Chapters on
Language,' by the Rev. F. W. Farrar, 1865. These works are most interesting.
See also 'De la Phys. et de Parole,' par Albert Lemoine, 1865, p. 190. The
work on this subject, by the late Prof. Aug. Schleicher, has been translated by
Dr. Bikkers into English, under the title of 'Darwinism tested by the Science
of Language,' 1869.
[56] Vogt, 'Memoire sur les Microcephales,' 1867, p. 169. With respect to
savages, I have given some facts in my 'Journal of Researches,' &c., 1845, p.
[57] See clear evidence on this head in the two works so often quoted, by
Brehm and Rengger.
[58] Houzeau gives a very curious account of his observations on this
subject in his 'Facultes Mentales des Animaux,' tom. ii. p. 348.
[59] See remarks on this head by Dr. Maudsley, 'The Physiology and
Pathology of Mind,' 2nd edit. 1868, p. 199.
[60] Many curious cases have been recorded. See, for instance, Dr.
Bateman 'On Aphasia,' 1870, p. 27, 31, 53, 100, &c. Also, 'Inquiries
Concerning the Intellectual Powers,' by Dr. Abercrombie, 1838, p. 150.
[61] 'The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,' vol. ii.
p. 6.
[62] Lectures on 'Mr. Darwin's Philosophy of Language,' 1873.
[63] The judgment of a distinguished philologist, such as Prof. Whitney,
will have far more weight on this point than anything that I can say. He
remarks ('Oriental and Linguistic Studies,' 1873, p. 297), in speaking of
Bleek's views: "Because on the grand scale language is the necessary auxiliary
of thought, indispensable to the development of the power of thinking, to the
distinctness and variety and complexity of cognitions to the full mastery of
consciousness; therefore he would fain make thought absolutely impossible
without speech, identifying the faculty with its instrument. He might
just as reasonably assert that the human hand cannot act without a tool. With
such a doctrine to start from, he cannot stop short of Muller's worst
paradoxes, that an infant (in fans, not speaking) is not a human being, and
that deaf-mutes do not become possessed of reason until they learn to twist
their fingers into imitation of spoken words." Max Muller gives in italics
('Lectures on Mr. Darwin's Philosophy of Language,' 1873, third lecture) the
following aphorism: "There is no thought without words, as little as there are
words without thought." What a strange definition must here be given to the
word thought!
[64] 'Essays on Free-thinking,' &c., 1873, p. 82.
[65] See some good remarks to this effect by Dr. Maudsley, 'The Physiology
and Pathology of Mind,' 1868, p. 199.
[66] Macgillivray, 'Hist. of British Birds,' vol. ii. 1839, p. 29. An
excellent observer, Mr. Blackwall, remarks that the magpie learns to pronounce
single words, and even short sentences, more readily than almost any other
British bird; yet, as he adds, after long and closely investigating its habits,
he has never known it, in a state of nature, display any unusual capacity for
imitation. 'Researches in Zoology,' 1834, p 158.
[67] See the very interesting parallelism between the development of
species and languages, given by Sir C. Lyell in 'The Geolog. Evidences of the
Antiquity of Man.'
1863, chap. xxiii.
[68] See remarks to this effect by the Rev. F. W. Farrar, in an
interesting article, entitled 'Philology and Darwinism,' in 'Nature,' March
24th, 1870, p. 528.
[69] 'Nature,' January 6th, 1870, p. 257.
[70] Quoted by C. S. Wake, 'Chapters on Man,' 1868, p. 101.
[71] Buckland, 'Bridgewater Treatise.' p. 411.
[72] See some good remarks on the simplification of languages, by Sir L
Lubbock, 'Origin of Civilisation,' 1870, p. 278.
[73] 'The Spectator,' Dec. 4th, 1869, p. 1430.
[74] See an excellent article on this subject by the Rev. F. W. Farrar, in
the 'Anthropological Review,' Aug. 1864, p. ccxvii. For further facts see Sir
J. Lubbock, 'Prehistoric Times,' 2nd edit. 1869, p. 564; and especially the
chapters on Religion in his 'Origin of Civilisation,' 1870.
[75] 'The Worship of Animals and Plants,' in the 'Fortnightly Review,'
Oct. 1, 1869, p. 422.
[76] Tylor, 'Early History of Mankind,' 1865, p. 6. See also the three
striking chapters on the Development of Religion, in Lubbock's 'Origin of
Civilisation,' 1870. In a like manner Mr. Herbert Spencer, in his ingenious
essay in the 'Fortnightly Review' (May 1st, 1870, p. 535), accounts for the
earliest forms of religious belief throughout the world, by man being led
through dreams, shadows, and other causes, to look at himself as a double
essence, corporeal and spiritual. As the spiritual being is supposed to
exist after death and to be powerful, it is propitiated by various gifts and
ceremonies, and its aid invoked. He then further shews that names or nicknames
given from some animal or other object, to the early progenitors or founders of
a tribe, are supposed after a long interval to represent the real progenitor of
the tribe; and such animal or object is then naturally believed still to exist
as a spirit, is held sacred, and worshipped as a god. Nevertheless I cannot
but suspect that there is a still earlier and ruder stage, when anything which
manifests power or movement is thought to be endowed with some form of life,
and with mental faculties analogous to our own.
[77] See an able article on the 'Physical Elements of Religion,' by Mr. L.
Owen Pike, in 'Anthropolog. Review,' April, 1870, p. lxiii.
[78] Religion, Moral, &c., der Darwin'schen Art-Lehre,' 1869, s. 53. It
is said (Dr. W. Lauder Lindsay, 'Journal of Mental Science,' 1871, p. 43), that
Bacon long ago, and the poet Burns, held the same notion.
[79] 'Prehistoric Times,' 2nd edit. p. 571. In this work (p. 571) there
will be found an excellent account of the many strange and capricious customs
of savages.
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