Chapter 15

Notwithstanding the governor's opinion seemed to be against him, yet the visionary philosopher still persisted in his idea that the brutal nature was capable of cultivation, if not in moral qualities, yet so far as respected the acumen ingenii or the powers of the understanding. He had before this time, turned his attention to the instituting an academy, where he had a number of animals, of different species, and amongst them some squirrels which he had put to study Algebra.

Harum Scarum, thought, he had better have begun with music, and taught them to play the fiddle.

No jibe, or jeer could move the visionary man from his purpose. He argued that it had been the case with all experiments, that the bulk of mankind were incredulous to the first essays. And hence it was that in medicine, quacks had led the way in all improvements. In the profession of the law, precedent had enslaved. In mathematics, Erra Pater that wrote the book of knowledge, was thought a visionary man, though since his time greater credit has been attached to the casting nativities. The diving bell was an invention of Sir William Phips of New England, and no one had faith in the success of it until he actually explored the galleon at the Bahama Islands, and shewed the treasure he had got from it. Paracelsus died with the secret in his mouth, of the elixir of longevity, owing to which accident, it is perhaps, that men do not live now to the age of a thousand years. Parrots, jays and black birds have been taught to speak; and why not squirrels and racoons?

With these reasonings in his head, he was busy instructing certain quadrupeds in their gesticulations, and grimaces, that had the appearance occasionally of disputants. The chattering which some of them exhibited, sounded not a great deal unlike,

Bocardo, cesario, ferio, baralipton,

Terms which logicians use.

A number of horned cattle in an inclosure, he was engaged in disposing to take the floor in turns like members of a legislative body. He had employed a stenographer to take down their speeches in short hand. With these he could use the same liberty that he had been used to take, with members of the human species, which was to make the speeches; or at least to new model them in such a way, as to be a caricature, or an improvement.

Stenographer, said I; for I had the curiosity to visit this menagerie; when you make a speech for a bear, as for instance, for that Bruin which I see chained, you will be careful, to make it rough, surly and congruent to nature. The lowing of the cow, and the roaring of the bull, must be translated, into loud sounds, very different from the mewing of the cat, or the squealing of the pig.

By all means, said he, every thing in character.

Now said the Governor, with respect to a legislature of beasts, it will not be thought a matter of ridicule, to paraphrase what is said as spoken by a buffaloe; or to insinuate the insignificance of a member by calling him a ewe or an ass; or to designate his heaviness in debate by saying he is a horse; for in this case, all things will be without figure, and the truth.

However, the people thought the man deranged; and, it would seem to me, not without reason; especially when he had incurred considerable expense, in purchasing up subjects of tuition. He had trappers in the woods; and horse jockies employed to pick up lively colts that might seem to be of parts, and scarcely a drover passed through the settlement, with black cattle or swine, but he was bartering for a calf, or a sheep.

Application had been made to a magistrate for an order to confine him on a habeas corpus: he was brought before the chief justice, and made his defence.

Chief Justice, said he, though you are blind, in a certain meaning of the term, yet I flatter myself, you can see pretty plainly into this matter. It does not follow that because a man is deficient in one sense, he is destitute of another. On the contrary it is well known by observers or human nature, that where one sense is denied, the remaining become stronger. Even where an arm or a limb is lost, of the human body, the arm or the limb which remains, acquires an increase of power as if to supply the want. Would Tiresias have ever passed for a prophet if he had not wanted outward sight; or would Meonides, have written his rhapsodies, or Milton his divine poem?

"So much the rather thou celestial light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate! There plant eyes! All mist from thence!
Purge and disperse!"

Not that I suppose that a man has equal advantage in describing an object, who has never seen it, but takes his impressions from the description of others. For it must be rare, if a thing at all in nature, that a man can be a poet who is born blind; but having lived to a considerable age with his eye-sight, and received all the images of things upon his mind, from the originals themselves, it may be possible for him; nay it may be with advantage over others, that he can recollect these, and become more familiar with them in a reflex view, than if he was disturbed with the images themselves renewed from without. Certain it is that a man can think more deeply, and closely, with his eyes shut, than if he opened them on surrounding objects. Darkness and silence are favourable to contemplation--

Philosopher, said the chief justice, you do not seem to be a plain man in regard to thinking closely. You wander from the point. You are to be informed that you have been taken into the keeping of the law, not as a bad man but as one standing in need of a protector, conceiving you under the calamity of being a little deranged in your nervous system, from a fever possibly, or some cause, which constitutes a malady, not a crime. The enquiry is whether you are in your right mind; a suspicion to the contrary of which is excited by your congregating cattle and wild beasts, in order as you say, to civilize them, and to make them members of society.

Experiments of this kind have with great difficulty succeeded with the savages. And indeed, where they have succeeded, it has been chiefly to the southward, where the system is more relaxed, and the temper mild. It appears madness in the abstract, to talk of humanizing brutes, that are behind savages, and at a great interval.

That I deny, said the philosopher.

Haud magno, intervallo; said the Latin schoolmaster.

I say that many of the human species are not before the brutal.

"Man differs more from man than man from beast."

These things are figuratively spoken, said the chief justice. In poetry or prose, the meaning is no more than that a portion of our species, have so far degraded themselves by obedience to the sensual appetite, that like beasts they lose the face erect to heaven, and constantly looking down upon their tables, without mental enjoyment; or, that from a neglect of the cultivation of moral reason, they may seem to want but the horn or the hoof, to be like the cattle that graze the commons. This is no more than the sentiment of Plato, which with the expression in which it is clothed, is given by Longinus, as an example of the sublime.

I am not just so far lost to reason, said the philosopher, as to take figures for realities. I know that a figure is but a short simile; or fable hit off in a few words; and that orators, or satyrists among the poets, or philosophers in their moral essays, by their burstings and castings, mean no more than to dissect insignificance or degradation, or sensual indulgence. It is not their intention to communicate the idea that men actually become quadrupeds; though I have seen some not far from it. But still this does not affect the question, how far the nature of beasts may be improvable. But admitting the absurdity of the attempt, and that it carries with it a presumption of derangement of the brain, is the insanity prejudicial to the community? It can be but time thrown away, which supposing me a man beside myself cannot be of great value. I purchase all my stock that I employ my pains upon, with the exception of a few that have been bestowed to me. I had a present made me of an elk from the mountains. This I am forming for an ambassador, for which if he does not turn out fit, he can be disposed of to a museum. Why should it be thought impossible to instruct the four-footed creatures, and render them capable of suffrage, it not of office? I have a great deal of trouble with them in my school, it is true, for they are apt to play truant. A young fox broke off the other day, and I have not been able to recover him.

The discipline which I find it necessary to enforce is not the mildest. I use a pretty rude ferule; and I have occasion to exert authority, to quicken parts and application.

If I succeed in bringing these sans culottes to be good citizens, I shall have deserved well of the republic; and if I should fail, no one's labour is lost but my own. Experiments in every other way are indulged; and even patents granted, where the invention has but the appearance of succeeding. Why may I not be allowed to turn my attention to the making a justice of the peace out of an elk, or a judge out of a buffaloe, if the thing is possible? Especially, as instead of making a demand for my production, if I should be so fortunate as to be able to furnish these out of my manufactory, it will cost the state nothing for the education, and as to the officers themselves, the forage will be less expensive; in some cases a few tufts; in others, a little grain will suffice. If a horse-judge is invited to dine, a peck of oats, of grass or corn, and a bundle of hay in the stable and truss of straw to litter him at night, will be all that will be wanted. This will be a great saving to poor rogues that may wish to have it said that a judge dined with them; not that they care for the judge, but that people may think they have the law on their side. I say that hospitality in this way, will be less expensive, and economy, if not a moral, is at least a political virtue.

But independent of these contingent advantages and barely possible, if you please, advantages, the money circulated in the settlement by this instruction; or a college of any kind which cannot but bring money, must increase the value of property.

This last argument was popular, and struck the crowd, de circumstantibus. Several counsel present, as friends of the court put in a word, catching at popularity, and gave their opinions that they know of no statute in the case; and that, by the common law, every man had a right to traffic in such purchases; and that no enquiry could reasonably be made when a man bought a pig, whether he meant to make a scholar of him, or a barbecue.

The chief justice inclined to be of the same opinion, and the prisoner was enlarged.