Page images

What, then, is instinct but a form of reason? Or do brute creatures possess some of the elements of reason in connection with this secret force which moves and guides them? No two theories on this point harmonize ; and certainly no man has ever determined with any tolerable degree of certainty what instinct is,—whether a something developed in the inner life of the animal, and if so, what; or a law that presses upon the springs of being from without,—the motive-power of a machine.

We shall not now attempt a definition. We care more for facts than for terms and definitions.

Animals reason,—they compare, they adapt themselves to changes in surrounding circumstances, they improve in knowledge and mechanical skill, they learn from the teachings of experience, they may be educated in very much that is foreign from their native habits, their shrewdness and sagacity increase with the increase of years. There is truth in the homely proverb, that it is difficult to “ catch an old bird with chaff.” Nor is it easy to bring the foot of an old fox into a trap however carefully concealed. If what is called instinct may be thus developed and educated,-if it is capable of these varied impressions, exercises, and employments, then we accept the term.

It is to be acknowledged that there are dull, stupid fellows, and fellows who live by their wits, shirking labor and responsibility among animals, as there are such among men. You cannot teach them very much, if anything, beyond what they already know; and you cannot inspire within them anything like attachment or regard.

The opossum has been thought to be a very cunning animal ; but he is only indebted to his small brain and his wonderfully thick skull, for any art or inventive genius he is thought to possess. There is among the feathered race a bird (Emberiza pecoris) which never constructs a nest of its own, but by stealth invades the sanctuary of some neighbor, and there deposits its eggs, leaving the hatching and rearing of its young to others. We have often been an eye-witness of the transaction, and have had no doubt in our own mind, that, had it been possible, the bird would have shirked the entire job, and surrendered the whole business of maternity to other hands. It probably will never be cured of its peculiar habit of putting out its chil

úren “ to nurse," nor to be taught to assume the cares and responsibilities of parentage.

We have spoken of the oriole, or Baltimore bird, which weaves its curious flaxen nest almost as cloth is woven. In this art of nest-weaving some individuals of the species excel others. Between the nest of an old bird and that of a young one there is a marked difference. The first will be more elaborately constructed will be deeper, stronger, more symmetrical and neat, showing the superior workman. He increases, therefore, in knowledge and artistic skill; and “ with the sagacity of a good architect,” he improves every “ circumstance to his advantage.”

It is the case with many other species, that they not only increase in ingenuity as builders, but they make such changes in the general arrangement and construction of their house as circumstances may demnand. These changes are not the result of accident, but of design. They do not come of mere instinct, for that would impel the bird to build always of the same material, and after the same fashion, without regard to surrounding circumstances. When we see a change in the mode of construction to meet certain conditions--a change in form and in weight, adapting the nest to a particular place, and providing for the safety of its inmates—we may be quite sure that the bird sat in his shady retirement and thought it all out,that, having chosen the location, he planned his house with reference to the place it was to occupy.

When the pointer-dog ranges the field in quest of game, and having found it, drops suddenly into a rigid and motionless position, his nose indicating the whereabouts of his quarry, he has but obeyed the laws of instinct—so much was born within him. But when he has done this, and staunchly held his “ point” for a full half hour, awaiting the coming of his master, and his master does not come, he turns carefully away, and goes in pursuit of him, and having found him leads him to the game, and then takes up his “ point” again,—that is not instinct, it is something else. Frequent instances of this kind have come under our own observation, and we have been puzzled how to account for them save on the ground that the dog was endowed with reason, or that for the time being he was. miraculously inspired

VOL. XVII. 11.

We are far from supposing that “the animal mind is one of pure rationality.” But at the same time facts forbid the idea that it is one of instinct alone. It is impossible that we shall account for the devoted love of the dog for his master, which survives ill-treatment, forgets injuries, and is true to the end, on the ground of instinct, unless we accept Addison's definition, and suppose it to be an immediate and constant impulse of the Deity. But even this impulse must have a medium through which it may act and influence to the various traits and dispositions which the animal exhibits. And what can this medium be but a soul, which receives the imparted inspiration, and communicates it to the movements or expressions which follow? If not a soul, it is at least some * mental mechanism of wondrous adaptation, of which the springs would seem hidden from all save their great Artificer, or possibly, some inqniring spirits permitted to see further than ourselves into the secrects of creation.”

We approach now the insect world, and we do it reverently because of the astonishing wonders it contains. What myriads of curious beings people it! Nowhere else, scarcely, are there such marvellous exhibitions of the wisdom of God. And yet how few think of looking there for them,-how few bestow a thought or an inquiry upon insect life! Not one in a thousand can tell how many legs a fly has; and not one in ten thousand how the katydid produces his songs of the night. Of the genius and mechanical skill and ingenuity exhibited by those ugly creatures called bugs and worms—how few know anything. To say that they are impelled and directed in their labors by anything more than a low form of instinct, provokes a smile on almost every face. To go further, and say that these insignificant beings possess a form of reason—that they are intelligentthat they even think ; this, in the common apprehension, is ridiculously absurd. We venture upon this perilous ground, and assert on the behalf of our favorites that they are not the mere senseless and disgusting things they are generally thought to be. They are capable, many of them, of superior mental achievements of intellectual processes. Sharon Turner, in his “ Sacred History • of the World,” gives a remarkable instance of this in the

case of an ant which he saw pulling with his mouth a piece

of wood. His conipanions “ were busy in their own way; but when he came to an ascent, and the load became too much for him, three others came immediately behind, pushed it up to level ground, and then left him.” So much as this, perhaps, might be ascribed to instinct; but when, in the process of drawing his load still farther on, having hold of the small end of the stick he got it wedged, and after several fruitless efforts to extricate it, went behind, pulled it back, and turned it round,—that indicates reason, it evinces thought.

It has been noticed of the humble-bee, that, when unable because of its size, to enter the deeply tubular flowers for the purpose of extracting their sweets, it has recourse to a very ingenious remedy for the difficulty. In such a case it sets itself at work to drill a hole at the base of the flower, and thus reaches the very fountain of its honied supply. Instinct bids it creep into the open cavity of the flower—the bean-blossom for instance as all humble-bees have done before, and as the smaller ones do still ; but its size prevents obedience to the guiding law, and what shall it do ?. Instinct is here at fault,—it has no remedy, no provision for such a contingency. The bee for the moment is puzzled, but presently something suggests that there is another way by which it may obtain the treasure, and that way it adopts, and is successful.

Dr. Darwin relates an anecdote of a wasp, that undertook to transport a fly it had captured, without first removing the wings, as had been its invariable practice. This negligence was the source of difficulty,—its flight was obstructed,—what should it do? The cause of the difficulty seems to have been at once comprehended, for it alighted with its prey, proceeded deliberately to cut off the impeding wings, and then soared away without embarrassment. In this case we clearly see the action of memory, and a profiting by experience. In every other instance, perhaps, obeying the instinctive impulse, it had prepared its prey for easy transportation by first divesting it of its wings; but now its fight was impeded—the difficulty of transportation led to an investigation of the cause—it remembered that a wingless fly had always been easily carried,—this had been its experience; it applied the remedy which memory and experience at once suggested, -it alighted and removed the

impeding cause. Insects, too, have their loves,—we say this parenthetically,—by which the most intimate relations subsist between them, and they are drawn into societies, and into familiar and even affectionate intercourse with one another. There would seem to be as little selfishness in their attachments and regards, as in those of human kind. Undoubtedly there is less false profession and hollow-heartedness mingled with them. The friendships of insect-land are of the most substantial sort, and their fellowships of the most intimate and genial nature. Some insects imitate the brooding hen in their maternal care, and their devotion to their infant offspring is warm and watchful. The spider will sacrifice her life rather than surrender her yet unhatched brood to the spoiler, and her young she often carries upon her person, and sees that they are trained and nurtured in all the ways of spiderdom. Among the social tribes, or those that live together in communities, the same watchful and anxious maternal solicitude is exhibited ; and we find the wasp, the bee, the ant, laboring with unwearying diligence, and an utter forgetfulness of self, for the sake and on the behalf of the infant and rising generation. And how desperately they will fight in defence of their common homes, and stoutly resist every invasion of their lawful domain ! There seems to be a prevailing sentiment among them that they have a common interest, and that in all things they are to be united for the common weal. They entertain the most kindly feelings toward each other, only they will not toler ate drones for any great length of time; it being an estab lished principle among them that he who will not work has no right to live. Whether we should be justifiable in resorting to the same summary process for the removal of a like class may admit of a doubt; but the doubt by no means invalidates the soundness of the principle.

It may not be that animal life borders on the human in the respect to which we have called attention. And yet are there points of veritable contact and connection-points not only of general resemblance but of mergence, as though God had tied family to family, group to group, kingdom to kingdom, world to world, and all to man, and man to all ; thus binding together all parts of his universe, and all the works of his hand, with one common cord of union. So

« PreviousContinue »