Natural history: general and particular, by the Count de Buffon, translated into English. Illustrated with above 260 copper-plates, and occasional notes and observations by the translator. [pt.3]
Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de, 1707-1788.
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Page  264


The internal man is double. He is composed of two principles, different in their nature, and opposite in their action. The mind, or prin|ciple of all knowledge, wages perpetual war with the other principle, which is purely material. The first is a bright luminary, attended with calmness and serenity, the salutary source of science, of reason, and of wisdom. The other is a false light, which shines only in tempest and obscurity, an impetuous torrent, which involves in its train nothing but passion and error.

The animal principle is first unfolded. As it is purely material, and consists in the duration of vibrations, and the renewal of impressions formed in the internal material sense, by objects analogous or opposite to our appetites, it begins to act, and to guide us, as soon as the body is capable of feeling pain or pleasure. The spiri|tual principle appears much later, and is only unfolded and brought to maturity by means of education: It is by the communication of others thoughts alone that the child becomes a thinking and rational creature. Without this communi|cation, it would be stupid or fantastical, according to the natural inactivity or activity of its internal material sense.

Page  265 Let us view a child when left at full liberty, and removed from the observation of his guide. We may judge of what passes within him from his external actions. He neither thinks nor re|flects. He follows indifferently every path to pleasure. He obeys all the impressions of ex|ternal objects. He acts without reason. Like the young animals, he amuses himself by run|ning and bodily exercise. He goes and returns, without design or preconceived project. His actions are desultory, and without order or con|nection. But, when called upon by his parents, or those who have learned him to think, he in|stantly composes himself, gives a direction to his actions, and shows that he has retained the thoughts which had been communicated to him. The material principle has absolute sway during infancy, and would continue to reign alone through life, if the spiritual principle were not unfolded and put in motion by education.

It is easy, by reflection, to perceive the ex|istence of these two principles. There are mo|ments, and even hours and days, in which we can distinguish with certainty both their exist|ence, and the contrariety of their action. I re|fer to those times of indolence, of fatigue, or disgust, when we are unable to form any deter|mination, when our actions and desires are dia|metrical opposite; to that condition or disease called vapours, with which the sedentary and idle are so often affected. If we examine ourselves Page  266 when in this state, we will seem to be divided into two distinct beings, the first of which, or the rational faculty, blames what is done by the second, but has seldom force enough to overcome it; the latter, on the contrary, being composed of all the illusions of sense and imagination, com|mands, and often overpowers the former, and forces us to act contrary to our judgment, or makes us remain idle, though we have a desire of acting.

When the rational faculty reigns, a man feels a tranquil possession of himself and his affairs; but he perceives, at the same time, that this is only acquirable by a kind of involuntary abstrac|tion from the presence of the other principle. But, when the irrational principle assumes the dominion, we resign ourselves with ardour to dis|sipation, to appetite, and to passion, and hardly reflect upon the very objects which occupy us so entirely. In both these states, we are happy: In the first, we command with satisfaction; and, in the second, we have still greater pleasure in obeying. As only one of these principles is then in action, and is not opposed by the other, we are sensible of no internal conflict; our existence appears to be simple, because we feel but one impulse: It is in this unity of action that our happiness consists; for, whenever reason accuses our passions, or when the violence of passion makes us hate the admonitions of reason, we then cease to be happy; we lose the unity of Page  267 our existence, in which alone tranquillity con|sists; an internal conflict commences; the two persons oppose each other; and the two princi|ples manifest themselves by producing doubts, inquietude, and remorse.

We may hence conclude, that the most mise|rable of all states takes place, when these two sovereign powers of human nature exert equally their greatest efforts, and produce an equilibrium. This is that ultimate point of disgust, which makes a man abhor himself, and leaves no other desire but that of ceasing to exist, no other power but that of arming with fury against himself.

What a dreadful condition! I have painted its darkest shade. But how many black clouds must precede? All the situations adjacent to this state of equilibrium, must be replete with melan|choly, irresolution, and misery. Even the body itself falls a victim to the agitations produced by these internal conflicts.

The happiness of man consists in the unity of his internal frame: During infancy, he is happy, because the material principle reigns alone, and is in perpetual action. The constraints, remon|strances, and even the chastisements of parents, affect not the basis of happiness in children. No sooner do they obtain their liberty, than they re|sume all the spring and gaiety which they re|ceive from the novelty and vivacity of their sen|sations. If a child were entirely left to himself, Page  268 his happiness would be complete; but it would cease, and be succeeded with a long train of mi|sery. We are therefore obliged to lay him un|der certain restraints, which frequently make him uneasy; but these transitory pains are the germs of all his future good.

In youth, when the mental principle begins to act, and might even serve for our guide, a new material sense springs up, and assumes such an absolute dominion over all our faculties, that the soul seems to yield itself a willing victim to the impetuous passions excited by this sense. The material principle now gains a more complete command than it formerly possessed; for it not only subdues reason, but perverts it, and employs it as an instrument of gratification: We neither think nor act, but with a view to approve and to satisfy this passion. As long as this intoxi|cation continues, we are happy: External oppo|sition and difficulties seem to corroborate the u|nity of this internal principle; they fortify the passion; they fill the intervals of languor; they rekindle the flame, and turn all our views to the same object, and all our powers towards the ac|complishment of the same end.

But this happy scene passes away like a dream; the charm vanishes; and disgust and a frightful void succeed the plenitude of agreeable feelings with which we had been occupied. The mind, when roused from this lethargy, recognises itself with difficulty. It has lost by slavery the habit Page  269 of commanding, together with its strength. It even loves servitude, and goes in quest of a new tyrant, a fresh object of passion, which, in its turn, soon disappears, and is succeeded by ano|ther, whose duration is still shorter. Thus excess and disgust continue to multiply; pleasure flies from our embrace; the organs are debilitated, and the material sense, in place of governing, has not even the power to obey. After a youth spent in this manner, nothing remains but an enervated body, a feeble and esseminate mind, and a total incapacity of employing either.

It has been remarked, that, in the middle pe|riod of life, men are most subject to those lan|guors of mind, that internal malady which is distinguished by the name of vapours. At this age, we still search after the pleasures of youth. This is the effect of habit, and not of any natu|ral propensity. In proportion as we advance in years, instead of pleasure, we more frequently feel the incapacity of enjoyment. Our desires are so often contradicted by our weakness, that we condemn both our actions and the passions which we wish in vain to gratify.

It is, besides, at this age, that cares and solici|tude arise: We then assume a certain state, or, in other words, either from chance or choice, we enter upon a particular course of life, which it is always shameful to abandon, and often dange|rous to pursue. We proceed, therefore, between two rocks equally formidable, contempt and a|version. Page  270 The efforts we make to avoid them weaken our powers, and throw a damp upon our spirits: For, after long experience of the injustice of men, we acquire the habit of regard|ing every individual as necessarily vicious; and, after we are accustomed to prefer our own re|pose to the opinions of the world, and after the heart, rendered callous by the frequent wounds it has received, has lost its sensibility, we easily arrive at that state of indifference, that indolent tranquillity, of which we would formerly have been ashamed. Ambition, the most powerful motive of elevated minds, which is regarded at a distance as the noblest and most desirable of all objects, and which stimulates us to the per|formance of great and useful actions, has no at|tractions to those who have approached it, and proves a vain and deceitful phantom to those who fall behind in the pursuit. Indolence takes place of ambition, and seems to offer to all men an easier acquisition of more solid good. But it is preceded by disgust, and followed by languor, that dreadful tyrant of thinking minds, against which wisdom has less influence than folly.

It is hence apparent, that the difficulty of re|conciling man to himself originates from his be|ing composed of two opposite principles; and that this is the source of his inconstancy, irreso|lution, and languor.

Brute animals, on the contrary, whose nature Page  271 is simple and purely material, feel no internal conflicts, no remorse, no hopes, no fears.

If we were deprived of understanding, of me|mory, of genius, and of every faculty of the soul, nothing would remain but the material part, which constitutes us animals. We would still have wants, sensations, pleasure, pain, and even passions; for what is passion but a strong sensation, which may every moment be renew|ed? Now, our sensations may be renewed in an internal material sense; we would, therefore, possess all the passions, at least all those which the mind, or principle of intelligence, can nei|ther produce nor foment.

But the great difficulty is to distinguish clear|ly the passions peculiar to man from those which are common to him and the brutes. Is it cer|tain, or even probable, that the animals have passions? Is it not, on the contrary, agreed, that every passion is a strong emotion of the mind? Ought we not, therefore, to search somewhere else, than in the spiritual principle, for the seeds of pride, of envy, of ambition, of avarice, and of all the other passions which govern us?

To me it appears, that every thing which go|verns the mind is extraneous to it; that the principle of intelligence is not the principle of sentiment; that the seeds of the passions exist in our appetites; that all illusions proceed from the senses, and reside in our internal material sense; that, at first, the mind has no participation in Page  272 these illusions, but by its silence; and that, when the mind does give any countenance to them, it is subdued, and, when it assents, it is totally per|verted.

Let us then distinguish man's physical from his moral passions: The one is the cause; the other the effect. The first emotion originates in the internal material sense: The mind may receive, but it cannot produce this emotion. Let us likewise distinguish instantaneous emotions from those that are durable, and we shall, at once, perceive, that fear, horror, anger, love, or ra|ther the desire of enjoyment, are sensations, which, though durable, depend solely on the im|pressions of objects upon our senses, combined with the subsisting impressions of our former sensations; and, consequently, that those passions must be common to us and the other animals: I say, that the actual impressions of objects are combined with the subsisting impressions of our former sensations; for nothing is horrible or alluring, either to man or the brutes, when seen for the first time. This is fully proven by ex|perience: A young animal will run into the flames the first time a fire is presented to it. A|nimals acquire experience only by reiterated acts, the impressions of which remain in their internal sense; and, though their experience be not natural, it is not less sure, and even renders the animal more circumspect; for a great noise, a violent motion, an extraordinary figure, sud|denly, Page  273 and for the first time, seen or presented, produce in the animal a shock, the effect of which resembles the first expressions of fear: But this feeling is instantaneous; and, as it cannot be combined with any former sensation, it can only excite a momentary vibration, and not a durable emotion, which the passion of fear ne|cessarily implies.

A young inhabitant of the forest, when sud|denly struck with the sound of a hunter's horn, or with the report of a gun, starts, bounds, and flies off, solely from the violence of the shock which he felt. But, if this noise ceases, and has been attended with no injury, the animal recog|nises the ordinary silence of nature; he composes himself, stops, and returns to his peaceable re|treat. But age and experience soon render him timid and circumspect. If he feels himself wounded or pursued, after hearing a particular sound, the painful sensation is preserved in his internal sense; and, whenever he again hears the same noise, the painful sensation is renewed, and, combining with the actual impression, pro|duces a durable passion, a real fear; the animal flies with all his speed, and often abandons for ever his former abode.

Fear, then, is a passion of which brute ani|mals are susceptible, though they feel not our rational or foreseen apprehensions. The same remarks apply to horror, anger, and love; though brutes have none of our reflex aversions, our Page  274 durable resentments, or our constant friendships. Brute animals possess all those primary passions, which suppose no intelligence, no ideas, and are founded only on the experience of sentiment, or repeated feelings of pleasure and pain, and a renewal of former sensations of the same kind. Anger, or natural courage, is remarkable in those animals who have exerted their strength, and found it superior to that of others. Fear is the offspring of weakness; but love is common to all animals. Love is an innate desire, the soul of nature, the inexhaustible fountain of existence, the germ of perpetuity infused by the Almighty into every being that breathes the breath of life. It softens the most ferocious and obdurate hearts, and penetrates them with a genial warmth. It is the source of all good; by its attractions it unites the most savage and brutal tempers, and gives birth to every pleasure. Love! Thou di|vine flame! Why dost thou constitute the hap|piness of every other being, and bring misery to man alone? Because this passion is only a phy|sical good. Notwithstanding all the pretences of lovers, morality is no ingredient in the com|position of love. Wherein does the morality of love consist? In vanity; the vanity arising from the pleasure of conquest, an error which pro|ceeds from our attempts to exalt the importance of love beyond its natural limits; the vanity of exclusive possession, which is always accompa|nied with jealousy, a passion so low, that we u|niformly Page  275 wish to conceal it; the vanity proceed|ing from the mode of enjoyment, which only multiplies efforts, without increasing our plea|sures. There is even a vanity in relinquishing the object of our attachment, if we first wish to break it off. But, if we are slighted, the humi|liation is dreadful, and turns into despair, after discovering that we have been long duped and deceived.

Brute animals suffer none of these miseries. They search not after pleasure where it is not to be found. Guided by sentiment alone, they are never deceived in their choice. Their desires are always proportioned to the power of gratifica|tion. They relish all their enjoyments, and at|tempt not to anticipate or diversify them. But man, by endeavouring to invent pleasures, de|stroys those which correspond to his nature; by attempting to force sentiment, he abuses his be|ing, and creates a void in his heart which no|thing can afterwards fill up.

Thus, every thing that is good in love belongs to the brutes as well as to man; and, as if this passion could never be pure, the animals even seem to feel a small portion of jealousy. Jea|lousy, in the human species, always implies some distrust of ourselves, a tacit acknowledgment of our own weakness. The animals, on the con|trary, seem to be jealous in proportion to their force, ardour, and habits of pleasure; because our jealousy proceeds from ideas, and theirs from Page  276 sentiment. They have enjoyed, and they desire to enjoy more. They feel their strength, and they beat off all that endeavour to occupy their place. Their jealousy is not the effect of reflec|tion. They turn it not against the object of their love. They are only jealous of their pleasures.

But, are animals limited solely to those pas|sions we have described? Are fear, anger, hor|ror, love, and jealousy, the only permanent af|fections they are capable of feeling? To me it appears, that, independent of these passions, of which natural sentiment, or rather the experi|ence of sentiment, renders animals susceptible, they possess other passions, which are commu|nicated to them by education, example, habit, and imitation. They have a species of friend|ship, of pride, and of ambition. And though, from what has been said, it is apparent that the operations they perform are not the effects of thought or reflection; yet, as the habits we have mentioned seem to suppose some degree of in|telligence, and to form the shade between man and the brute creation, this subject merits a careful examination.

Can any thing exceed the attachment of a dog to his master? Some of them have been known to die on the tomb in which he had been laid. But, (not to quote prodigies or he|roes), with what fidelity does the dog attend, follow, and protect his master! With what anxi|ety does he seek his caresses! With what doci|cility Page  277 and alacrity does he obey him! With what patience does he suffer his ill humour, and even his chastisements, though often unjust! With what gentleness and humility does he endeavour to regain his favour! In a word, what agitation and chagrin does the dog discover when his master is absent; and what excess of joy on his return! In all these expressions, is it possible to mistake the genuine characters of friendship? Are these characters equally strong and ener|getic, even in the human species?

This friendship, however, is the same with that of a lady for her goldfinch, of a child for its toy, or a dog for its master. Both attach|ments are equally blind and void of reflection: That of animals is only more natural, because it arises from their wants; while that of the other is nothing but an insipid amusement, in which the mind has no share. These puerile attach|ments are kept alive by habit, and acquire all their strength from a vacancy of brain. A taste for whims, the worship of idols, and, in a word, an attachment to inanimated objects, indicate the highest degree of stupidity; and yet there are many makers and worshippers of idols; and many are fond of the soil which they have tilled.

All attachments, therefore, are acquired with|out the intervention of the mind; for they uni|formly arise when we think least, and they ac|quire force, and become habitual, by want of reflection. If an object pleases our senses, we Page  278 instantly love it; and, if this object continues for some time to occupy our attention, we con|vert it into an idol.

But friendship necessarily implies the power of reflection. It is of all attachments the most worthy of man, and the only one which degrades not his nature. Friendship is the offspring of reason. The impressions of sense have no share in its production. It is the mind of our friend that we love; and to love a mind, implies that we have one, and that we have employed it in the investigation of knowledge, and in distin|guishing the qualities of different minds. Friend|ship, therefore, supposes, not only the existence of an intelligent principle, but the actual exer|tions of this principle in reflecting and reason|ing.

Thus friendship belongs only to man; and, though the brutes may be allowed to have at|tachments, sentiment alone is sufficient to attach them to those whom they often see, and by whom they are fed and taken care of. It is still more sufficient to attach them to objects with which they are obliged to be much connected. The attachment of mothers to their young pro|ceeds from their being long occupied in car|rying them in the womb, and in produ|cing and suckling them. In some species of birds, the fathers seem to have an attachment for their offspring, and to provide for the mo|thers during incubation: This attachment ori|ginates from their being employed in building Page  279 the nest, and from the pleasure they receive from the females, which continue in season long after impregnation. But, in the other animals, whose season of love is short, whenever it is past, the males have no attachment to the females. Where there is no nest, no common operation to be performed, the fathers, like those of Spar|ta, have no regard to their posterity.

The pride and ambition of animals are effects of their natural courage, or of the sentiments a|rising from their strength, agility, &c. Large animals seem to despise the audacious insults of the smaller ones. Their courage and ardour are even capable of being improved by education and example; for they are susceptible of every thing, except reason. In general, brute animals can learn to repeat the same action a thousand times, to perform in succession what they only did by intervals, to continue an action a long time, which they were accustomed to finish in an instant, to do voluntarily what at first was the effect of force, to perform habitually what they once executed by chance, and to do, of their own accord, what they see performed by others. Of all the results of the animal ma|chine, that of imitation is the most admirable. It is the most delicate, as well as the most exten|sive principle of action, and makes the nearest approach to thought: And though, in animals, the cause of it be purely material, its effects have always been astonishing. Men never admired Page  280 the apes, till they saw them imitate human ac|tions. It is not, indeed, an easy matter to distin|guish some copies from the originals. There are, besides, so few who can clearly perceive the difference between genuine and counterfeit ac|tions, that, to the bulk of mankind, the apes must always excite surprise and humiliation.

The apes, however, are more remarkable for talents than genius. Though they have the art of imitating human actions, they are still brutes, all of which, in various degrees, possess the talent of imitation. This talent, in most a|nimals, is entirely limited to the actions of their own species. But the ape, although he belongs not to the human species, is capable of imitating some of our actions. This power, however, is entirely the effect of his organization. He imi|tates the actions of men, because his structure has a gross resemblance to the human figure. What originates solely from organization and structure, is thus ignorantly ascribed, by the vul|gar, to intelligence and genius.

By the relations of motion, a dog learns the habits of his master; by the relations of figure, an ape mimics human gestures; and, by the re|lations of organization, a goldfinch repeats mu|sical airs, and a parrot imitates speech, which forms the greatest external difference between one man and another, and between man and the other animals; for, by means of language, one man discovers a superiority of knowledge and Page  281 genius, while others express by it nothing but confused or borrowed ideas; and, in an idiot, or in a parrot, it serves only to mark the last degree of stupidity, the incapacity, in either, to produce thought or reflection, though both be endowed with proper organs for expressing what passes within them.

It is still easier to prove that imitation is a re|sult of mere mechanism. The most perfect imi|tation depends on the vivacity with which the internal material sense receives the impressions of objects, and the facility of expressing them by the aptness of external organs. Men whose senses are most delicate and easily affected, and whose members are most agile and flexible, make the best actors, the best mimics, the best monkeys. Children, insensibly, and without re|flection, imitate the actions, the gestures, and the manners of those with whom they live: They are extremely alert in repeating and coun|terfeiting. Most young people, though they see only with the eyes of the body, are very dexte|rous in perceiving ridiculous figures. They are struck with every strange form or new represen|tation. The impression is so strong that they relate it with enthusiasm, and copy it with ease and with gracefulness. Children, therefore, pos|sess, in a superior degree, the talent of imitation, which supposes more perfect organs, and a more happy disposition of members, to which nothing is so repugnant as a strong dose of good sense.

Page  282 Thus, among men, those who reflect least, have generally the strongest imitative talents. It is not, therefore, surprising, that this talent should appear in those animals who have no reflection. They ought even to possess it in the highest de|gree of perfection, because they have nothing to oppose its operation, no principle to excite a de|sire of differing from each other. Among men, all the diversity of character, and variety of ac|tion, proceed entirely from the mind. But brute animals, who have no mind, and consequently are destitute of that principle which can alone give rise to variety of character, or of personal accomplishments, must, when they resemble each other in organization, or are of the same species, do the same things in the same manner, and i|mitate one another more perfectly than one man can imitate the actions of another man. Of course, the talent of imitation possessed by the brute animals, so far from implying thought or reflection, proves that they are absolutely depri|ved of both.

It is, for the same reason, that the education of animals, though short, is always successful. They soon acquire, by imitation, all the know|ledge of their parents. They not only derive experience from their own feelings, but, by means of imitation, they learn the experience acquired by others. Young animals model them|selves entirely upon the old: They see the latter approach or fly, when they perceive particular Page  283 objects, hear certain sounds, or smell certain odours. At first, they approach or fly without any other determining principle but that of imi|tation; and afterwards they approach or fly of their own accord, because they have then acqui|red the habit of flying or approaching, whenever they feel the same sensations.

Having thus compared man with the brutes, when taken individually, I shall now compare man in society with the gregarious tribes, and endeavour to investigate the cause of that species of industry which is so remarkable in some ani|mals, even of the lowest and most numerous or|ders. What marvellous feats are not daily a|scribed to certain insects? The talents and wis|dom of the bee are admired with envy: They are said to possess an art peculiar to themselves, the art of perfect government. A bee-hive, say the eulogists of this insect, is a republic where every individual labours for the community, where every thing is distributed and arranged with a foresight, an equity, and a prudence, that is truly astonishing: The policy of Athens itself was not more perfect, or better conducted: The more we examine these insects, they exhibit fresh objects of admiration; an unalterable and uni|form system of government, a profound respect for the sovereign, an anxious attention to his wellfare and inclinations, an ardent love to their country, an incredible assiduity in labouring for the public good, the greatest disinterestedness, Page  284 joined to the strictest oeconomy, the finest geo|metry, combined with the most elegant architec|ture, &c. But, were I to run over the annals of this republic, and to retail all the incidents in the oeconomy of these insects, which have excited the admiration of their historians, I should never come to an end.

Independent of that attachment which men acquire for their favourite subjects, the more they observe, and the less they reason, their ad|miration is proportionally augmented. Can any thing be more gratuitous than this blind admira|tion of bees, than the pure republican principles ascribed to them, than that singular instinct which rivals the most sublime geometry, which solves, without hesitation, the difficult problem of build|ing, in the most solid manner, in the least possible space, and with the greatest possible oeconomy? These eulogies are not only excessive, but ridi|culous: A bee ought to hold no higher rank in the estimation of a naturalist, than it actually holds in nature. This wonderful republic, there|fore, must always appear, in the eye of reason, to be only an assemblage of small animals, which have no other relation to man, but that of fur|nishing him with wax and honey.

I here blame not curiosity, but absurd excla|mation, and false reasoning. To examine the operations of bees, to observe the progress of their labours, to describe their generation, their metamorphoses, &c. these are objects worthy the Page  285 attention of philosophers. But it is the morali|ty, and even the theology ascribed to insects, that I cannot hear with patience: It is the marvel|lous feats first invented, and then extolled by naturalists, which I wish to examine: It is the in|telligence, the foresight, and even the knowledge of futurity, which have, with so much com|plaisance, been falsely lavished upon them, that I must endeavour to reduce to their just value.

The genius of solitary bees, it is allowed on all hands, is vastly inferior to that of the grega|rious species; and the talents of those which as|sociate in small troops, are less conspicuous than of those that assemble in numerous bodies. Is not this alone sufficient to convince us, that the seeming genius of bees, is nothing but a result of pure mechanism, a combination of movements proportioned to numbers, an effect which appears to be complicated, only because it depends on millions of individuals? Has not every congru|ity, and even disorder itself, the appearance of harmony, when we are ignorant of the cause? From apparent order to actual intelligence, there is but one step; for men are always more dis|posed to admire, than to reason.

It must, therefore, be admitted, that bees, ta|ken separately, have less genius than the dog, the monkey, and most other animals: It will likewise be admitted, that they have less docility, less attachment, and less sentiment; and that they possess fewer qualities relative to those of Page  286 the human species. Hence we ought to acknow|ledge, that their apparent intelligence proceeds solely from the multitude united. This union, however, presupposes not intellectual powers; for they unite not from moral views: They find themselves assembled together without their con|sent. This society, therefore, is a physical as|semblage ordained by Nature, and has no depen|dence on knowledge or reasoning. The mother bee produces at one time, and in the same place, ten thousand individuals, which, though they were much more stupid than I have supposed them, would be obliged, solely for the preserva|tion of their existence, to arrange themselves into some order. As they all act against each other with equal forces, supposing their first move|ments to produce pain, they would soon learn to diminish this pain, or, in other words, to afford mutual assistance: They, of course, would exhi|bit an air of intelligence, and of concurring in the accomplishment of the same end. A super|ficial observer would instantly ascribe to them views and talents which they by no means pos|sess: He would explain every action: Every o|peration would have its particular motive, and prodigies of reason would arise without number; for ten thousand individuals produced at one time, and obliged to live together, must all act in the very same manner; and, if endowed with feeling, they must acquire the same habits, assume that arrangement which is least painful Page  287 or most easy to themselves, labour in their hive, return after leaving it, &c. Hence the origin of the many wonderful talents ascribed to bees, such as their architecture, their geometry, their order, their foresight, their patriotism, and, in a word, their republic, the whole of which, as I have proved, has no existence but in the imagi|nation of the observer.

Is not Nature herself sufficiently astonishing, without ascribing to her miracles of our own creation? Are not the works of the Almighty sufficient to demonstrate his power? and do we imagine that we can enhance it by our weak|ness? If possible, this is the very way to degrade his perfections. Who gives the grandest idea of the supreme Being; he who sees him create the universe, arrange every existence, and found nature upon invariable and perpetual laws; or he who inquires after him, and discovers him conducting and superintending a republic of bees, and deeply engaged about the manner of fold|ing the wings of a beetle?

Some animals unite into societies, which seem to depend on the choice of those that compose them, and, consequently, make a nearer approach to intelligence and design than that of the bees, which has no other principle than physical neces|sity. The elephants, the beavers, the monkeys, and several other species of animals, assemble in troops, for defending each other, and for the purpose of carrying on some common operations. If these Page  288 societies were less disturbed, and, if they could be observed with equal ease as that of the bees, we should doubtless discover wonders of a very dif|ferent nature, which, notwithstanding, would be only effects of physical laws. When a multi|tude of animals of the same species are assembled in one place, a particular arrangement, a certain order, and common habits, must be the necessary results*. Now, every common habit, so far from having intelligence for its cause, implies nothing more than a blind imitation.

Society, among men, depends less upon phy|sical than moral relations. His weakness, his wants, his ignorance, and his curiosity, soon taught him the necessity of associating: He soon found that solitude was a state of war and of danger; and he sought for safety, peace, and society. He augmented his own power and his knowledge, by uniting them with those of his fellow-creatures. This union was the best use he ever made of his rational faculties. Man commands the universe solely because he has learned to govern himself, and to submit to the laws of society.

Every thing has concurred to render man a social animal: Though large and polished socie|ties certainly depend upon custom, and some|times on the abuse of reason, they were unque|stionably preceded by smaller associations, which had no basis but that of nature. A family is a Page  289 natural society, which has deeper and more per|manent foundations, because it is accompanied with more wants, and more causes of attachment. Man differs from the other animals: When he comes into the world, he hardly exists. Naked, feeble, and incapable of action, his life depends on the aid of others. The weaknesses of in|fancy continue long. The necessity of support is converted into a habit, which, of itself, is ca|pable of producing a mutual attachment between the child and its parents. But, as the child ad|vances, he gradually acquires more force, and has less need of assistance. The affection of the parents, on the contrary, continues, while that of the child grows daily less. Thus love de|scends more than it ascends. The attach|ment of the parent becomes excessive, blind, and invincible; and that of the child remains cold and inactive, till the seeds of gratitude are unfolded by reason.

Thus human society, even when confined to a single family, implies the existence of the ra|tional faculty; that of gregarious animals, who seem to unite from choice and convenience, im|plies experience and sentiment; and that of in|sects, which, like the bees, are associated with|out design or motive, implies nothing at all. Whatever may be the effects of this latter asso|ciation, it is clear, that they have neither been foreseen nor conceived by the creatures which pro|duced them, and that they result solely from the Page  290 universal laws of mechanism established by the Almighty. Suppose ten thousand automatons assembled in the same place, all endowed with the same force, and determined, by a perfect resemblance in their external and internal struc|ture, and by a uniformity in their movements, to perform the same operation, a regular work would be the necessary result. They would exhibit the relations of regularity, of resem|blance, and of position; because these depend up|on the relations of motion, which we have sup|posed to be equal and uniform. The relations of juxta-position, of extension, and of figure, would also appear; because we have supposed a given and circumscribed place: And, if we be|stow on these automatons the smallest degree of sensation, just as much as is necessary to make them feel their existence, to have a tendency to self-preservation, to avoid what is hurtful, to de|sire what is agreeable, &c. their operations will be not only regular, proportioned, similar, and equal, but they will have the air of the highest symmetry, solidity, convenience, &c.; because, in the process of their labours, each of the ten thousand individuals has assumed that arrange|ment which was most commodious to itself, and has, at the same time, been obliged to act, and to arrange itself in the manner least incommo|dious to the rest.

Shall I enforce this argument still farther? The hexagonal cells of the bee, which have been Page  291 the subject of so much admiration, furnish an additional proof of the stupidity of these insects: This figure, though extremely regular, is no|thing but a mechanical result, which is often exhibited in some of the most rude productions of nature. Crystals, and several other stones, as well as particular salts, &c. constantly assume this figure. The small scales in the skin of the roussette, or great bat, are hexagonal, because each scale, when growing, obstructs the progress of its neighbour, and tends to occupy as much space as possible. We likewise find these same hexagons in the second stomach of ruminating animals, in certain seeds, capsules, and flowers, &c. If we fill a vessel with cylindrical grain, and, after filling up the interstices with water, shut it close up, and boil the water, all these cy|linders will become hexagonal columns. The reason is obvious, and purely mechanical. Each cylindrical grain tends, by its swelling, to occu|py as much space as possible; and therefore, by reciprocal compression, they necessarily assume an hexagonal figure. In the same manner, each bee endeavours to occupy as much space as pos|sible, in the limited dimensions of the hive; and, therefore, as the bodies of the bees are cylindri|cal, they must necessarily make their cells hex|agonal, from the reciprocal obstruction they give to each other.

The genius of bees has been estimated accor|ding to the regularity of their works. Bees are Page  292 said to be more ingenious than wasps, hornets, &c.; for, though the latter are acquainted with architecture, their fabrics are more rude and ir|regular. But it was not considered by the abet|tors of this opinion, that the greater or less re|gularity depends solely on the number and fi|gure, and not on the intelligence of these crea|tures. In proportion to the greatness of the number, there are more equal and opposite for|ces in action, and, of course, more mechanical restraint, and more regularity and apparent per|fection in their works.

Those animals, therefore, who most resemble man in figure and organization, notwithstand|ing the eulogists of insects, will still remain su|perior to all others, in their internal qualities: And, though these qualities be infinitely diffe|rent from those of man, though they are only, as has been proved, the results of experience and feeling; yet they greatly exceed the qualities of insects. As every operation of nature is con|ducted by shades, or slight gradations, a scale may be formed for ascertaining the intrinsic qua|lities of every animal, by taking, for the first point, the material part of man, and by placing the animals successively at different distances, in proportion as they approach or recede from that point, either in external form, or internal orga|nization. Agreeable to this scale, the monkey, the dog, the elephant, and other quadrupeds, will hold the first rank; the cetaceous animals, Page  293 who, like the quadrupeds, consist of flesh and blood, and are viviparous, will hold the second; the birds, the third, because they differ more from man than the quadrupeds or cetaceous a|nimals; and, were it not for oisters and polypi, which seem to be the farthest removed from man, the insects would be thrown into the low|est rank of animated beings.

But, if the animals be deprived of understand|ing, of genius, of memory, and of all intelli|gence; if their faculties depend on their senses, and be limited entirely to the exercise of expe|rience and of feeling, how can we account for that species of foresight which some of them seem to possess? Could feelings alone determine them to amass provisions in summer to nourish them during the rigours of winter? Does not this im|ply a comparison of time, a rational anxiety concerning their future comfort and subsistence; Why do birds build nests, if they know not that they will be useful for depositing their eggs and rearing their young? It is unnecessary to multi|ply facts of the same nature.

Before solving these questions, or reasoning concerning the above and similar facts, it is ne|cessary to ascertain their reality: Instead of be|ing retailed by lovers of the marvellous, if they had been examined by men of sense, and collect|ed by philosophers, I am persuaded, that all these pretended miracles would have soon disappeared, and that, by cool and dispassionate reflection, the Page  294 cause of each particular fact might have been discovered. But, let us admit the truth of all these facts; let us allow to the animals foresight, and even a knowledge of the future, can this be ascribed to their intellectual powers? If this were really the case, their intelligence would be great|ly superior to ours: For our foresight is entire|ly conjectural; our notions concerning futurity are always doubtful, and founded on probabi|lities. Hence brute animals, who see the future with certainty, since they determine before hand, and are never deceived, would be endowed with a principle of knowledge superior to the human mind. I ask, whether this conclusion be not equally repugnant to religion and to reason?

It is impossible, therefore, that the brutes have a certain knowledge of the future from an in|tellectual principle similar to ours. Why, then, ascribe to them, upon such slight grounds, a quality so sublime? Why unnecessarily degrade the human species? Is it not less unreasonable to refer the cause to mechanical laws, established, like the other laws of nature, by the will of the Creator? The certainty with which animals are supposed to act, and the stability and uniformity of their determinations, sufficiently evince them to be the effects of pure mechanism. To doubt, to deliberate, to compare, are the essential cha|racters of reason. But movements and actions which are always decisive, and always certain, Page  295 indicate, at the same time, both mechanism and stupidity.

But, as the laws of nature are only general effects, and, as the facts in question are limited and particular, it would be less philosophic, and more unworthy of the ideas we ought to enter|tain of the Creator, to embarrass his will thus gratuitously with a vast number of petty statutes, of which one must be enacted for bees, another for owls, a third for field-mice, &c. Should we not, on the contrary, exert all our efforts to reduce these particular effects to more general ones? And if that be impossible, let us record them, and wait patiently till new facts and new analogies enable us to investigate their causes.

Let us, however, examine if these facts be so inexplicable and so marvellous, or even if they be properly authenticated. The foresight a|scribed to ants is now discovered to be a vulgar error. They remain in a torpid state during winter. Their provisions, therefore, are only a superfluous mass, collected without design, and without any knowledge of the future; for, on the supposition of this knowledge, they would be endowed with the faculty of foreseeing what was perfectly useless. Is it not natural for ani|mals, that have a fixed abode, to which they are accustomed to transport their provisions, to col|lect more than they can consume? Is not feel|ing alone, guided by the habit they have acqui|red of transporting their food, in order that they Page  296 may use it in tranquillity, sufficient to account for this phaenomenon? Does not this demon|strate that they are only endowed with feeling, and not with reason? For the same reason, bees collect more wax and honey then they have oc|casion for: Man profits not, therefore, by their intelligence, but by their stupidity. Intelligence would necessarily determine them to collect no more than they could consume, and to save themselves the trouble of amassing a superfluous quantity, especially after they learn from expe|rience, that this labour is lost, that the overplus is uniformly taken from them, and that this a|bundance is the sole cause of the desolation and destruction of their society. What demonstrates this superfluous labour to be the effect of feeling alone is, that we can oblige them to work as much as we please. As long as there are flowers in any country, the bee continues to extract from them honey and wax. If bees were trans|ported from one region to another, so as to af|ford them a constant succession of fresh flowers, their labours would never cease. The amassing disposition of the bee, therefore, is not an effect of foresight, but a movement produced by feel|ing; and this movement is continued as long as the objects which give rise to it exist.

I have bestowed particular attention on the oeconomy of field-mice. Their holes are ge|nerally divided into two apartments; in one of them they deposit their young, and, in the Page  297 other, every thing that is agreeable to their pa|lates. When made by themselves, their holes are not large, and can receive only a small quan|tity of provisions: But, when they find a large space under the trunk of a tree, there they take up their abode, and fill it with all the grain, nuts, &c. they can collect. Hence the quan|tity of provisions amassed, instead of being pro|portioned to the wants of the animal, depend entirely on the capacity of the place where they happen to be deposited.

Thus the provisions of the ant, of the field|mouse, and of the bee, are discovered to be on|ly useless and disproportioned masses, collected without any view to futurity, and the minute and particular laws of their pretended foresight are reduced to the general and real law of feel|ing. The sagacity and foresight ascribed to birds originate from the same cause. To account for the construction of their nests, it is unnecessary to have recourse to a particular law established by the Almighty in their favour. To this ope|ration they are led by degrees. They first find a proper place, and then bring materials to ren|der it more commodious. The nest is only a place which they can distinguish from all others, and where they can live in tranquillity. Love is the sentiment that stimulates and directs them in this operation. The male and female require the aid of each other. They feel a strong mu|tual attachment; they endeavour to conceal Page  298 themselves, and to retire from the rest of the world, which is now become more dangerous to them than ever. They, therefore, retreat to the forest, to places the most obscure and inac|cessible; and, to render their situation more comfortable, they collect straw, leaves, &c. and form them, with incessant labour, into a common habitation. Some, less dexterous or less sensual, make coarse and rude nests; others, contented with what they find already made, have no o|ther habitation than the holes they meet with, or the nests which are presented to them. All those operations are effects of organization, and de|pend upon feeling, which, however exquisite in degree, can never produce reasoning; and still less can it produce that intuitive foresight, that certain knowledge of futurity, which have been ascribed to the feathered tribes.

This doctrine may be farther proved by a few familiar examples. Birds, instead of knowing the future, are even ignorant of what is past. A hen cannot distinguish her own eggs from those of another bird. She perceives not that the young ducks whom she has hatched belong not to her. She broods over chalk eggs, from which nothing can be produced, with equal in|dustry as if they were her own. She has no knowledge, therefore, either of the past or the future, and is still more deceived with regard to the present. Why do not domestic poultry make nests as well as other birds? Is it because Page  299 the male belongs to many females? or rather, is it not because, being accustomed to be out of the reach of inconvenience and danger, they have no occasion to conceal themselves, no habit of seeking for safety in retreat and solitude? This admits of proof by facts; for wild birds of the same species perform actions which are entirely neglected when in a domestic state. The wild duck and wood-hen build nests; but none are made by these birds when domesticated. The nests of birds, therefore, the cells of bees, the collections of food laid up by the ant, the field|mouse, &c. suppose not any intelligence in those animals, nor proceed from particular laws esta|blished for each species, but depend, like every other animal operation, on number, figure, mo|tion, organization, and feeling, which are gene|ral of laws of nature, and common to all animated beings.

It is by no means astonishing that man, who is so little acquainted with himself, who so often confounds his sensations and ideas, who so sel|dom distinguishes the productions of the mind from those of the brain, should compare himself to the brute animals, and make the only diffe|rence between them consist in the greater or less perfection of their organs: It is not surprising that he should make them reason, understand, and determine in the same manner with himself; and that he should attribute to them not only those qualities which he possesses, but even those Page  300 of which he is deprived. Let man, however, examine, analyze, and contemplate himself, and he will soon discover the dignity of his being; he will perceive the existence of his soul; he will cease to degrade his nature; he will see, at one glance, the infinite distance placed by the Supreme Being between him and the brutes.

God alone knows the past, the present, and the future. Man, whose existence continues but a few moments, perceives only these mo|ments: But a living and immortal power compares these moments, distinguishes and ar|ranges them. It is by this power that man knows the present, judges of the past, and foresees the future. Deprive him of this divine light, and you deface and obscure his being; no|thing will remain but an animal equally igno|rant of the past and the future, and affectable only by present objects.

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