Chapter 16

It is a melancholy consideration to consider how nearly the brutal nature borders on the human; because it leads to a reflection that the difference may be in degree, not in kind. But on the most diligent consideration that I have been able to give the subject, it would seem to me, that no reasonable doubt can exist of there being a distinction in kind. The brutal creation is not improvable beyond a certain limit; and that limit is reached at an early period, without pains taken to inform. And though the capacity of a man of a very heavy nature may seem not a great deal beyond that of a sagacious quadruped of some species; yet it is capable of continual enlargement; and, at the latest years of his life, until perfect superanuation, is susceptible of new impressions. If the strength of judgment in comparing objects, cannot be improved; yet the sphere of thinking can be extended. His ideas can be infinitely increased. What carries with it the appearance of virtue, in a faithful quadruped, seems to be the feeling of its nature, and not the result of any reflex sentiment of duty and obligation.


Except certain noises, peculiar to their natures, and of which all of the species are possessed, as soon as they receive existence, and which is an untaught language, we have no evidence of ideas in their minds annexed to sounds. Much less is there a capacity of a variation of articulation to any extent, worth mentioning. A traveler of good sense, who has seen the Cafrarian; or whatever other species, under the denomination of the creature man, at the lowest grade, would not despair if it was imposed on him as a condition to reserve himself from slavery or death, that he must take a young person from amongst that people, and teach it any language, or science, or abstract principle of knowledge; but if it was made the condition that he should take the seemingly most intelligent of the quadrupeds of the countries he has visited, and teach any thing like what is called a rational acquisition, he would say the attempt is not worth making, it is impossible. The seven wise masters or mistresses of Greece-- alluding to a popular book under that title-- the philosophers of antiquity, or of modern times, employed for an indefinite space, would never teach him more in reality than he possessed in the woods from whence he came. He might be taught to connect certain movements of the body with those shewn him; and by imitation led to make them, under fear of the whip, but that is all. It is humiliating to think that brutes of whose post-existence we have no hope, have even so near an approach to our natures.--But it is consolatory that there seems to be something like demonstration that they are so far behind: that it is not in degree of intellect, but in kind, that they differ; and that that difference is so immense, that it is not unreasonable to entertain the idea of a totally different destination. This is reasoning from the laws of nature as to the destination of the human mind, and on which the philosopher must dwell with pleasure, as aiding what those who believe in revelation adduce as the grounds of their faith. For there can be no philosopher, who, whatever doubts he may have of religion, can be without a wish that it may be true. What is it more than being certain of what, even supposing it not to be revealed, yet the imagination of a man would contrive for himself as painting his glory, and his happiness? What is that which we call revelation, but a system of ideas representing a prospect ennobling to our natures; and which, if not revealed, must at least be the conception of great and good minds intent on what would constitute the grandeur and felicity of the creature man?


We have no means of getting at the exercise of the mind of a beast; so that we cannot say what may be the limit of their cogitations. But no one observing them has ever been able to trace any thing like an idea of what they have been; or a fear of what they may be. No uneasiness of mind seems to hang upon them from this source. Yet this anxiety is given so strong to our nature that it is the constant subject of our thoughts: our reasonings concerning it are infinite; our aerial castles which we build, even where they are the mere effect of imagination, are without end. We people all nature with beings for ourselves, even where we are not. What might have been the agonies anterior to the time of Moses, in Egypt, and other parts of Africa, we cannot ascertain; but from the history of the Jews, we have considerable information relative to that of Syria; at least of Palestine, the part of Syria, more immediately adjoining.


The heathen mythology, particularly so denominated, presents an immense scope; and which, with the poets, is yet preserved. It is a part of a learned, or even of a polite education, to be made acquainted with this system in order to understand the allusion of the fine writer, ancient and modern! What an immense exercise, and employment of the human mind must it not have been to build up such a system. However false we may suppose this peopleing with celestial powers, or earthly divinities, it cannot but be consolatory to reflect that it makes a boundary at all times distinct, between the human mind, however in darkness, and that of what we consider the mere animal creation.


We have but partial and obscure information of the systems of other nations, contemporary with the Greeks and Romans. But we see in what we have of these, the like evidence of activity, pressing beyond the bounds of what we see before our eyes, and fashioning to our minds images of existence. The nature of these, is usually a proof of the duration and refinement of a people.


Where the imagination was limited by the doctrines of revelation under the Mosaic, or Christian dispensation; as to the unity of the deity, and ministers of good or evil to man, how unlimited have been the excursions of the fancy, and the subtleties of the intellect, in the subdivisions of credence! The Talmud and the Targum of the Jews present us an immense field. The polemic divinity of the christian schools, is more within our knowledge; taught in some section of the church, to the catechumeni, or propounded, in the pulpits. These disquisitions shew the wonderfully metaphysical nature of the human mind.


On the contrary, there seems to be no trace of hope or fear, with regard to futurity, in the mind of a brute. I have observed with great attention, and I could never discover any symptom, in the smallest degree, of that horror which is felt by man at the view of a dead body. This horror arises from the ideas associated with the view, that it is the remains of a man. The revulsion of mind which is felt at being in the dark, especially with a dead body, seems not in the most distant degree, participated with any of the hairy or feathered tribes, neither in respect of dead creatures of their own species, or of the human. No shyness of a church yard, has ever been remarked. Tales of apparitions, are told in the hearing of domesticated animals, without the least symptom of that fear of being left alone which afflict families where there are nurses, whose memories are stored with relations of this nature. Memoirs of the Fairy kingdom, have no effect upon a dog, or a cat.


But where is the heaviest of the creature called human, that is not affected? Nay, perhaps, liable to be affected the most. There would, therefore, even from this small ground of argument, be reason to infer that whatever may be said, in figures of speech, or however really man may degrade himself; yet, in the scale of being, the lowest is by an infinite distance in his nature above a beast.


That gregarious animals are susceptible of a kind of civil government, is certain. But their regulations seem to be a law of their nature; at all times the same; without changes in any country, or at any period. I do not remark this, as refuting the reveries of the visionary philosopher, but as going in deduction to the establishment of the above position. As to the philosopher, I have dwelt long enough upon his reverie, which I thought might amuse young persons, and I omit what further occurred, the contrivance of Harum Scarum, and Will Watlin, to confirm him in his hypothesis. This was to dress themselves in hair and bear skins, and to pass with him by running upon all fours, for educated cubs that had been taught languages. These were frolics of which the governor did not approve; for it is not becoming to be amused at the expense of persons deprived either of the gifts of reason, or of the goods of fortune.--It might not perhaps be blameable to be diverted at the mistake of some weak people, who were imposed upon, and became alarmed at the idea of their being candidates for the legislature, at the next election, and sent forward to take a seat. This was what the wags threatened in their disguise; and when the caprice of suffrage was considered, who could tell but that the apparent quadrupeds might make good what they spoke.