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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MAN changes the natural condition of ani|mals, by forcing them to obey and to serve him. A domestic animal is a slave desti|ned to the amusement, or to aid the operations of men. The abuses to which he is too fre|quently subjected, joined to the unnatural mode of his living, induce great alterations both in his manners and dispositions. But a savage animal, obedient to Nature alone, knows no laws but those of appetite and independence. Thus the history of savage animals is limited to a small number of facts, the results of pure Nature. But the history of domestic animals is complicated, and warped with every thing relative to the arts employed in taming and subduing the native wildness of their tempers: And, as we are ig|norant what influence habit, restraint, and ex|ample, may have in changing the manners, de|terminations, movements, and inclinations of a|nimals, it is the duty of the naturalist to exa|mine them with care, and to distinguish those facts which depend solely on instinct, from those that originate from education; to ascertain what is proper to them from what is borrowed; to separate artifice from nature; and never to con|found Page  302 the animal with the slave, the beast of burden with the creature of God.

Man holds a legitimate dominion over the brute animals, which no revolution can destroy. It is the dominion of mind over matter; a right of nature founded upon unalterable laws, a gift of the Almighty, by which man is enabled at all times to perceive the dignity of his being: For his power is not derived from his being the most perfect, the strongest, or the most dexterous of all animals. If he hold only the first rank in the order of animals, the inferior tribes would unite, and dispute his title to sovereignty. But man reigns and commands from the superiority of his nature: He thinks; and therefore he is master of all beings who are not endowed with this inestimable talent. Material bodies are likewise subject to his power: To his will they can oppose only a gross resistance, or an obstinate inflexibility, which his hand is always able to o|vercome, by making them act against each other. He is master of the vegetable tribes, which, by his industry, he can, at pleasure, augment or di|minish, multiply or destroy. He reigns over the animal creation; because, like them, he is not only endowed with sentiment and the power of motion, but because he thinks, distinguishes ends and means, directs his actions, concerts his operations, overcomes force by ingenuity, and swiftness by perseverance.

Page  303 Among animals, however, some are more soft and gentle, others more savage and ferocious. When we compare the docility and submissive temper of the dog with the fierceness and rapa|city of the tigre, the one appears to be the friend, and the other the enemy of man. Thus his empire over the animals is not absolute. Many species elude his power, by the rapidity of their flight, by the swiftness of their course, by the obscurity of their retreats, by the element which they inhabit: Others escape him by the minuteness of their bodies; and others, instead of acknowledging their sovereign, attack him with open hostility. He is likewise insulted with the stings of insects, and the poisonous bites of serpents; and he is often incommoded with im|pure and useless creatures, which seem to exist for no other purpose but to form the shade between good and evil, and to make man feel how little, since his fall, he is respected.

But the empire of God must be distinguished from the limited dominion of man. God, the creator of all being, is the sole governour of na|ture. Man has no influence on the universe, the motions of the heavenly bodies, or the revo|lutions of the globe which he inhabits. He has no general dominion over animals, vegetables, or minerals. His power extends not to species, but is limited to individuals; for species and the great body of matter belongs to, or rather consti|tutes Nature. Every thing moves on, perishes, Page  304 or is renewed by an irresistible power. Man himself, hurried along by the torrent of time, cannot prolong his existence. Connected, by means of his body, to matter, he is forced to submit to the universal law, and, like all other organized beings, he is born, grows, and perishes.

But the ray of divinity with which man is animated, ennobles and elevates him above every material existence. This spiritual substance, so far from being subject to matter, is entitled to govern it; and though the mind cannot com|mand the whole of nature, she rules over indi|vidual beings. God, the source of all light and of all intelligence, governs the universe, and e|very species, with infinite power: Man, who possesses only a ray of this intelligence, enjoys, accordingly, a power limited to individuals, and to small portions of matter.

It is, therefore, apparent, that man has been enabled to subdue the animal creation, not by force, or the other qualities of matter, but by the powers of his mind. In the first ages of the world, all animals were equally independent. Man, after he became criminal and savage, was not in a condition to tame them. Before he could distinguish, choice, and reduce animals to a domestic state, before he could instruct and command them, he behoved to be civilized him|self; and the empire over the animals, like all other empires, could not be established previous to the institution of society.

Page  305 Man derives all his power from society, which matures his reason, exercises his genius, and u|nites his force. Before the formation of society, man was perhaps the most savage and the least formidable of all animals. Naked, without shel|ter, and destitute of arms, the earth was to him only a vast desert peopled with monsters, of which he often became the prey: And, even long after this period, history informs us, that the first heroes were only destroyers of wild beasts.

But, when the human species multiplied and spread over the earth, and when, by means of society and the arts, man was enabled to conquer the universe, he made the wild beasts gradually retire; he purged the earth of those gigantic animals, whose enormous bones are still to be found; he destroyed, or reduced to a small num|ber, the voracious and hurtful species; he op|posed one animal to another; and, subduing some by address, and others by force, and at|tacking all by reason and art, he acquired to himself perfect security, and established an em|pire, which knows no other limits than inacces|sible solitudes, burning sands, frozen mountains, or dark caverns, which serve as retreats to a few species of ferocious animals.