Abbildungen der Seite

a true mechanic and widens her foundation gradually as she comes upward, till she has a shelf of mud wide enough to stand it on. It is all fit and well considered. We may think that the bird reasoned, and fail to see how inevitable all such things are in organic as well as in inorganic nature. The trees buttress themselves at their base by a circle of high curving roots, and how their branches are braced and reinforced where they leave the trunk!

The beaver building its dam seems like a reasonable being, and L. H. Morgan, who studied this animal in its native haunts in Wisconsin, and wrote the best monograph upon the subject that has ever appeared, thinks that it does reason; but one incident alone which he mentions shows by what unreasoning instinct the animal is guided. He saw where the beavers had built a dam by the trunk of a tree that had fallen across a stream, but instead of placing their sticks and brush against the upper side of the tree, so as to avail themselves of it in resisting the force of the current, they had placed them below it, so that the tree helped them not at all. Poor things! they encountered a new problem. They could build a dam, but they could not take advantage of the aid which the wind had offered them. Probably, had they felled the tree themselves, their instinct would not have blundered so in dealing with it.

As animals get along very well without hands

and tools, so they get along very well without reason. Nature has given them tools in their organization in a sense that she has not given them to man-special appliances developed to meet special needs, such as hooks, spears, saws, files, chisels, barbs, drills, shears, probes, stings, drums, fiddles, cymbals, harps, glues, pastes, armors, stilts, pouches, all related to some need of the creature's life; and in the same way she has given them the quality of reason in their instincts. She has given the beaver knives and chisels in his teeth, she has given the woodpeckers drills in their beaks, she has given the leaf-cutters shears in their mandibles, she has given the bees baskets on their hips, she has given stilts to the waders and bills that are spears, to birds of prey claws that are hooks, and to various creatures weapons of offense and defense that man cannot boast of. Man has no tools or ornamental appendages in his organization, but he has that which can make and use these things-arms and hands, and reason to back them up. I can crack my nut with a stone or hammer, but the squirrel has teeth that help him to the kernel. Each of us is armed as best suits his needs. The mink and the otter can take their fish in the water, but I have to have a net, or a hook, or a weapon of some kind when I catch fish. The woodpecker can chisel out a hole in a tree for his nest or his house, with only the weapon nature gave him, but he cannot make a door to it, or patch it if it be

comes leaky. The trap-door spider can build a door to her den, because this instinct is one of her special equipments, and is necessary to her well-being. To the woodpecker such a door is not a necessity.

There are but few things we could teach the animals in their own proper sphere. We could give them hints when they are confronted by new problems, as in the case of the beaver above referred to, but in the ordinary course of nature these new problems rarely turn up. We could teach the beaver a little more system in the use of his material, but this would be of slight value to him; his dam, made very much as a flood makes a dam of driftwood and mud, answers his purpose. Could we teach the birds where to find a milder clime, or the dog how to find his way home, or the horse how to find water in the desert, or the muskrat or the beaver how to plan and construct houses better suited to their purposes? Could we teach the birds how better to hide their nests? Do the conies amid the rocks, that cure their hay before storing it up for winter use, need to take counsel of us? or the timid hare that sleeps with its eyes open, or the sluggish turtle that covers her eggs in the warm sand? Can we instruct the honey-bee in her own arts, or the ant in hers? The spider does not need to learn of us how to weave a net, nor the leaf-rolling insect to be taught the use of stitches. I do not know that we first learned the art of paper-making

from the hornets, but certain it is that they hold the original patent for making paper from wood-pulp; and the little spiders navigated the air before the first balloon was made, and the Physalia hoisted her sail long before the first seaman spread his, and the ant-lion dug his pit and the carpenter-bee bored his hole long before man had learned these arts. Indeed, many of the arts and crafts of man exist or are foreshadowed in the world of life below him. There is no tool-user among the lower animals that I know of, unless we regard one of the solitary wasps as such when she uses a pebble with which to pack down the earth over her den; but there are many curious devices and makeshifts of one kind and another among both plants and animals for defense, for hiding, for scattering of seeds, for cross-fertilization, etc. The wild creatures have all been to school to an old and wise teacher, Dame Nature, who has been keeping school now, as near as we can calculate, for several million years. And she is not an indulgent teacher, though a very patient one. Her rod is tooth and claw and hunger and cold and drought and flood, and her penalty is usually death. Her ways are not all ways of pleasantness, nor are all her paths paths of peace.

When the animals are confronted by conditions made by man, then man can give them valuable hints. We could teach the cliff swallows better than to stick their mud nests on boards that have

been planed and painted, because sooner or later they are sure to fall. We could teach the cunning crow not to be afraid of a string stretched across the cornfield, and the wary fox not to be barred from a setting fowl by a hoop of iron, and we could teach him to elude the hounds by taking to the highway and jumping into the hind end of a passing farm wagon on the way to the mill and curling up among the meal-bags, as Mr. Roberts's fox did. We could instruct the bird with broken legs how to make clay casts for them, and to give the clay a chance to harden, as the woodcock of Dr. Long did. The wild animals do not need our medicine because they are probably never ill, and only upon very rare occasions could our surgery be of use to them. The domestic animals sometimes need a midwife, but probably the wild creatures never do. They all learn slowly the things that it is necessary for them to know. In time, I have no doubt, the migrating birds will learn to avoid the lighthouses along the coast, where so many of them now meet their death.

Animals know what they have to know in order that the species may continue, and they know little else. They do not have to reason because they do not progress as man does. They have only to live and multiply, and for this their instincts suffice them. Neither do they require any of our moral sentiments. These would be a hindrance rather than a help, and, so far as I can see, they do not have them.

« ZurückWeiter »