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The sheer agony or terror which an animal is capable of feeling always excites our pity. Roosevelt tells of once coming upon a deer in snow so deep that its efforts to flee were fruitless. As he came alongside of it, of course to pass it by untouched, it fell over on its side and bleated in terror. When John Muir and his dog Stickeen, at the imminent peril of their lives, at last got over that terrible crevasse in the Alaska glacier, the dog's demonstrations of joy were very touching. He raced and bounded and cut capers and barked and felicitated himself and his master as only a dog can.
The play of animals seems strictly analogous to the play of man, and I have no doubt that the reason of the one, whatever that be, is the reason of the other. Whether play is to be accounted for upon the theory of surplus energy, as Spencer maintains, or upon the theory of instinctive training and development - a sort of natural, spontaneous school or kindergarten that has reference to the future. wants of the animal, as the German psychologist Karl Groos argues — a biological conception of play - its genesis is no doubt the same both in man and beast. The main difference is that the play of one is aimless and haphazard, while that of the other has method and purpose. Animals have no rules or systems, and yet I have often seen two red squirrels engaged in what seemed precisely analogous to the boys' game of tag. Up and down and
from tree to tree they would go, until one of them overtook the other, when it seemed to become its turn to flee and be pursued. But just how much method there is in such a game, it is impossible to determine. In all cases, the play of animals tends to develop those powers of speed, or agility, or strength that their ways of living call for. The spirit of play gradually leaves an animal at maturity, as it leaves
A trait alike common to man and beast is imitativeness; both are naturally inclined to do what they see their fellows do. The younger children imitate the elder, the elder imitate their parents, their parents imitate their neighbors. The young writer imitates the old, the young artist copies the master. We catch the trick of speech or the accent of those we much associate with; we probably, in a measure, even catch their looks. Any fashion of dress or equipage is as catching as the measles. We are more or less copyists all our lives. Among the animals, the young do what they see their parents do; this, I am convinced, is all there is of parental instruction among them; the young unconsciously follow the example of their elders. The bird learns the song of its parent. If it never hears this song, it may develop a song of its own like its parent's song in quality, of course, but unlike it in form. Or it may acquire the song of some other species.
Darwin thinks that birds have "nearly the same taste for the beautiful as we have," except, of course, that in man the sense of beauty is manifestly a more complex feeling and is associated with various intellectual ideas." It seems to me that if we mean by taste the appreciation of the beautiful, it is as distinctly a human gift as reason is, or as is the sense of humor, or the perception of the spiritual and the ideal. Shall we say the lilies of the field have taste because Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these? or that the trees have taste because of their grace and beauty of form? or the insects because of their many beautiful colors and patterns? I doubt if the æsthetic feeling is even rudimentary in birds, any more than are our moral and other intellectual traits. It is thought that the male bird sings to charm the female. Are such discordant notes, then, as the gobble of the turkey, the crowing of the cock, the scream of the peacock or of the guinea hen, to charm the female? When the rooster crows, the nearby hens shake their heads as if the sound pained them, as doubtless it does.
Why, then, do birds sing? Is it from a love of beautiful sounds? I can only answer that it seems to be a trait inherent in the male sexual principle, as much so as are gay plumes and ornamental appendages; it is one of the secondary sexual characteristics. It is very significant that the sweetest
songsters to our ears are, as a rule, of the plainest colors and free from extra plumes and ornaments. I have yet to discover any evidence of pleasure on the part of the female in the songs of her male suitors. The male does not even sing for his own ear; if he did, when his vocal powers are defective, as is sometimes the case, he would quit singing. But such is not the case; he sings because he has the impulse to sing, and that is reason enough.
I know but one fact in the life of our birds that suggests anything like taste. I refer to the nestinghabits of the hummingbird, and of the little bluegray gnatcatcher and the wood pewee. The nests of these birds are always neatly thatched with lichens, thus perfectly realizing the dream of the true domestic architect, of making the structure blend with its surroundings. The nests of nearly all birds blend well with their surroundings, because the material at hand is itself of a dull, neutral character. But the lichens which the hummer and the gnatcatcher and our wood pewee use seem, at first sight, an extra touch. Yet I cannot credit it to taste or to the love of the beautiful, because it is beautiful only to the cultivated, artistic taste of man. To a savage, or even to those much higher in civilization, it would not appear beautiful. A certain degree of culture has to be reached before we find beauty in these quieter things. The reason why these birds thatch the outside of their nests with lichens is
doubtless this: the nests are built of a kind of down that would render them very frail and pervious to the rain were they not stayed and thatched with some firmer material. The lichens and spiders' webs bind them together and keep them in shape. Hence I should say that utility alone governed the bird in this use of lichens. Bright objects attract children, attract birds, attract quadrupeds, but this attraction is far enough from what we mean by taste or the love of the beautiful.