James Fenimore Cooper.

The Monikins online

. (page 12 of 34)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 12 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

by all analogy, go to prove the superiority of the animal possessing
advantages so great."

"Nay, sir, if you come to analogies, they will be found to prove more
than you may wish. In vegetation, for instance, saps ascend for the
purposes of fructification and usefulness; and, reasoning from the
analogies of the vegetable world, it is far more probable that tails
have ascended into brains than that brains have descended into tails;
and, consequently, that men are much more likely to be an improvement on
monkeys, than monkeys an improvement on men."

I spoke with warmth, I know; for the doctrine of Dr. Reasono was new to
me; and by this time, my esprit de corps had pretty effectually blinded

"You gave him a red-hot shot that time, Sir John," whispered Captain
Poke at my elbow; "now, if you are so disposed, I will wring the necks
of all these little blackguards, and throw them out of the window."

I immediately intimated that any display of brute force would militate
directly against our cause; as the object, just at that moment, was to
be as immaterial as possible.

"Well, well, manage it in your own way, Sir John, and I'm quite as
immaterial as you can wish; but should these cunning varments ra'ally
get the better of us in the argument, I shall never dare look at Miss
Poke, or show my face ag'in in Stunin'tun."

This little aside was secretly conducted, while Dr. Reasono was drinking
a glass of eau sucre; but he soon returned to the subject, with the
dignified gravity that never forsook him.

"Your remark touching saps has the usual savor of human ingenuity,
blended, however, with the proverbial short-sightedness of the species.
It is very true that saps ascend for fructification; but what is
this fructification, to which you allude? It is no more than a false
demonstration of the energies of the plant. For all the purposes of
growth, life, durability, and the final conversion of the vegetable
matter into an element, the root is the seat of power and authority;
and, in particular, the tap-root above or rather below all others. This
tap-root may be termed the tail of vegetation. You may pluck fruits with
impunity - nay, you may even top all the branches, and the tree shall
survive; but, put the axe to the root, and the pride of the forest

All this was too evidently true to be denied, and I felt worried and
badgered; for no man likes to be beaten in a discussion of this sort,
and more especially by a monkey. I bethought me of the elephant, and
determined to make one more thrust, by the aid of his powerful tusks,
before I gave up the point.

"I am inclined to think, Dr. Reasono," I put in as soon as possible,
"that your savans have not been very happy in illustrating their theory
by means of the elephant. This animal, besides being a mass of flesh,
is too well provided with intellect to be passed off for a dunce; and
he not only has ONE, but he might almost be said to be provided with TWO

"That has been his chief misfortune, sir. Matter, in the great warfare
between itself and mind, has gone on the principle of 'divide and
conquer.' You are nearer the truth than you imagined, for the trunk
of the elephant is merely the abortion of a tail; and yet, you see, it
contains nearly all the intelligence that the animal possesses. On the
subject of the fate of the elephant, however, theory is confirmed by
actual experiment. Do not your geologists and naturalists speak of
the remains of animals, which are no longer to be found among living

"Certainly, sir; the mastodon - the megatherium, iguanodon; and the
plesiosaurus - "

"And do you not also find unequivocal evidences of animal matter
incorporated with rocks?"

"This fact must be admitted, too."

"These phenomena, as you call them, are no more than the final deposits
which nature has made in the cases of those creatures in which matter
has completely overcome its rival, mind. So soon as the will is entirely
extinct, the being ceases to live; or it is no longer an animal. It
falls and reverts altogether to the element of matter. The processes
of decomposition and incorporation are longer, or shorter, according
to circumstances; and these fossil remains of which your writers say so
much, are merely cases that have met with accidental obstacles to
their final decomposition. As respects our two species, a very cursory
examination of their qualities ought to convince any candid mind of the
truth of our philosophy. Thus, the physical part of man is much greater
in proportion to the spiritual, than it is in the monikin; his habits
are grosser and less intellectual; he requires sauce and condiments
in his food; he is farther removed from simplicity, and, by necessary
implication, from high civilization; he eats flesh, a certain proof
that the material principle is still strong in the ascendant; he has no
cauda - -"

"On this point, Dr. Reasono, I would inquire if your scholars attach any
weight to traditions?"

"The greatest possible, sir. It is the monikin tradition that our
species is composed of men refined, of diminished matter and augmented
minds, with the seat of reason extricated from the confinement and
confusion of the caput, and extended, unravelled, and rendered logical
and consecutive, in the cauda."

"Well, sir, WE too have our traditions; and an eminent writer, at no
great distance of time, has laid it down as incontrovertible, that men
once HAD caudae."

"A mere prophetic glance into the future, as coming events are known to
cast their shadows before."

"Sir, the philosopher in question establishes his position, by pointing
to the stumps."

"He has unluckily mistaken a foundation-stone for a ruin! Such errors
are not unfrequent with the ardent and ingenious. That men WILL have
tails, I make no doubt; but that they HAVE ever reached this point of
perfection, I do most solemnly deny. There are many premonitory symptoms
of their approaching this condition; the current opinions of the day,
the dress, habits, fashions, and philosophy of the species, encourage
the belief; but hitherto you have never reached the enviable
distinction. As to traditions, even your own are all in favor of our
theory. Thus, for instance, you have a tradition that the earth was once
peopled by giants. Now, this is owing to the fact that men were formerly
more under the influence of matter, and less under that of mind than
to day. You admit that you diminish in size, and improve in moral
attainments; all of which goes to establish the truth of the monikin
philosophy. You begin to lay less stress on physical, and more on moral
excellences; and, in short, many things show that the time for the final
liberation and grand development of your brains, is not far distant.
This much I very gladly concede; for, while the dogmas of our schools
are not to be disregarded, I very cheerfully admit that you are our
fellow-creatures, though in a more infant and less improved condition of


Here Dr. Reasono announced the necessity of taking a short intermission
in order to refresh himself. I retired with Captain Poke, to have
a little communication with my fellow-mortal, under the peculiar
circumstances in which we were placed, and to ask his opinion of what
had been said. Noah swore bitterly at some of the conclusions of the
monikin philosopher, affirming that he should like no better sport than
to hear him lecture in the streets of Stunin'tun, where, he assured me,
such doctrine would not be tolerated any longer than was necessary to
sharpen a harpoon, or to load a gun. Indeed, he did not know but the
Doctor would be incontinently kicked over into Rhode Island, without

"For that matter," continued the indignant old sealer, "I should ask
no better sport than to have permission to put the big toe of my right
foot, under full sail, against the part of the blackguard where his
beloved tail is stepped. That would soon bring him to reason. Why, as
for his cauda, if you will believe me, Sir John, I once saw a man, on
the coast of Patagonia - a savage, to be sure, and not a philosopher, as
this fellow pretends to be - who had an outrigger of this sort, as long
as a ship's ringtail-boom. And what was he, after all, but a poor devil
who did not know a sea-lion from a grampus!"

This assertion of Captain Poke relieved my mind considerably; and laying
aside the bison-skin, I asked him to have the goodness to examine the
localities, with some particularity, about the termination of the dorsal
bone, in order to ascertain if there were any encouraging signs to be
discovered. Captain Poke put on his spectacles, for time had brought the
worthy mariner to their use, as he said, "whenever he had occasion to
read fine print"; and, after some time, I had the satisfaction to hear
him declare, that if it was a cauda I wanted, there was as good a place
to step one, as could be found about any monkey in the universe; "and
you have only to say the word, Sir John, and I will just step into
the next room, and by the help of my knife and a little judgment in
choosing, I'll fit you out with a jury-article, which, if there be any
ra'al vartue in this sort of thing, will qualify you at once to be a
judge, or, for that matter, a bishop."

We were now summoned again to the lecture-room, and I had barely time
to thank Captain Poke for his obliging offer, which circumstances just
then, however, forbade my accepting.


"I gladly quit what I fear some present may have considered the personal
part of my lecture," resumed Dr. Reasono, "to turn to those portions of
the theme that should possess a common interest, awaken common pride,
and excite common felicitations. I now propose to say a few words
on that part of our natural philosophy which is connected with the
planetary system, the monikin location - and, as a consequence from both,
the creation of the world."

"Although dying with impatience to be enlightened on all these
interesting points, you will grant me leave to inquire en passant, Dr.
Reasono, if your savans receive the Mosaic account of the creation or

"As far as it corroborates our own system, sir, and no farther. There
would be a manifest inconsistency in our giving an antagonistic validity
to any hostile theory, let it come from Moses or Aaron; as one of your
native good sense and subsequent cultivation will readily perceive."

"Permit me to intimate, Dr. Reasono, that the distinction your
philosophers take in this matter, is directly opposed to a very
arbitrary canon in the law of evidence, which dictates the necessity
of repudiating the whole of a witness's testimony, when we repudiate a

"That may be a human, but it is not a monikin distinction. So far from
admitting the soundness of the principle, we hold that no monikin
is ever wholly right, or that he will be wholly right, so long as he
remains in the least under the influence of matter; and we therefore
winnow the false from the true, rejecting the former as worse than
useless, while we take the latter as the nutriment of facts."

"I now repeat my apologies for so often interrupting you, venerable and
learned sir; and I entreat you will not waste another moment in replying
to my interrogatories, but proceed at once to an explanation of
your planetary system, or of any other little thing it may suit your
convenience to mention. When one listens to a real philosopher, one is
certain to learn something that is either useful or agreeable, let the
subject be what it may."

"By the monikin philosophy, gentlemen," continued Dr. Reasono, "we
divide the great component parts of this earth into land and water.
These two principles we term the primary elements. Human philosophy has
added air and fire to the list; but these we reject either entirely, or
admit them only as secondary elements. That neither air nor fire is a
primary element, may be proved by experiment. Thus, air can be formed,
in the quality of gases, can be rendered pure or foul; is dependent
on evaporation, being no more than ordinary matter in a state of high
rarefaction. Fire has no independent existence, requires fuel for
its support, and is evidently a property that is derived from the
combinations of other principles. Thus, by putting two or more billets
of wood together, by rapid friction you produce fire. Abstract the air
suddenly, and your fire becomes extinct; abstract the wood, and you have
the same result. From these two experiments it is shown that fire has
no independent existence, and therefore is not an element. On the other
hand, take a billet of wood and let it be completely saturated with
water; the wood acquires a new property (as also by the application of
fire, which converts it into ashes and air), for its specific gravity
is increased, it becomes less inflammable, emits vapor more readily, and
yields less readily to the blow of the axe. Place the same billet under
a powerful screw, and a vessel beneath. Compress the billet, and by a
sufficient application of force, you will have the wood, perfectly dry,
left beneath the screw, and the vessel will contain water. Thus is it
shown that land (all vegetable matter being no more than fungi of the
earth) is a. primary element, and that water is also a primary element;
while air and fire are not.

"Having established the elements, I shall, for brevity's sake, suppose
the world created. In the beginning, the orb was placed in vacuum,
stationary, and with its axis perpendicular to the plane of what is now
called its orbit. Its only revolution was the diurnal."

"And the changes of the seasons?"

"Had not yet taken place. The days and nights were equal; there were no
eclipses; the same stars were always visible. This state of the earth
is supposed, from certain geological proofs, to have continued about a
thousand years, during which time the struggle between mind and matter
was solely confined to quadrupeds. Man is thought to have made his
appearance, so far as our documents go to establish the fact, about the
year of the world one thousand and three. About this period, too, it is
supposed that fire was generated by the friction of the earth's axis,
while making the diurnal movement; or, as some imagine, by the friction
of the periphery of the orb, rubbing against vacuum at the rate of so
many miles in a minute. The fire penetrating the crust, soon got access
to the bodies of water that fill the cavities of the earth. From this
time is to be dated the existence of a new and most important agent in
the terrestrial phenomena, called steam. Vegetation now began to appear,
as the earth received warmth from within - "

"Pray, sir, may I ask in what manner all the animals existed

"By feeding on each other. The strong devoured the weak, until the most
diminutive of the animalcula were reached, when these turned on their
persecutors, and profiting by their insignificance, commenced devouring
the strongest. You find daily parallels to this phenomenon in the
history of man. He who by his energy and force has triumphed over
his equals, is frequently the prey of the insignificant and vile. You
doubtless know that the polar regions even in the original attitude of
the earth, owing to their receiving the rays of the sun obliquely, must
have possessed a less genial climate than the parts of the orb that lie
between the arctic and the antarctic circles. This was a wise provision
of Providence to prevent a premature occupation of those chosen regions,
or to cause them to be left uninhabited, until mind had so far mastered
matter, as to have brought into existence the first monikin."

"May I venture to ask to what epoch you refer the appearance of the
first of your species?"

"To the monikin epocha, beyond a doubt, sir - but if you mean to ask in
what year of the world this event took place, I should answer, about the
year 4017. It is true that certain of our writers affect to think that
divers men were approaching to the sublimation of the monikin mind,
previously to this period; but the better opinion is, that these cases
were no more than what are termed premonitory. Thus, Socrates, Plato,
Confucius, Aristotle, Euclid, Zeno, Diogenes, and Seneca, were merely so
many admonishing types of the future condition of man, indicating their
near approach to the monikin, or to the final translation."

"And Epicurus - "

"Was an exaggeration of the material principle, that denoted the
retrogression of a large portion of the race towards brutality and
matter. These phenomena are still of daily occurrence."

"Do you then hold the opinion, for instance, Dr. Reasono, that Socrates
is now a monikin philosopher, with his brain unravelled and rendered
logically consecutive, and that Epicurus is transformed perchance into a
hippopotamus or a rhinoceros, with tusks, horns, and hide?"

"You quite mistake our dogmas, Sir John. We do not believe in
transmigration in the individual at all, but in the transmigration of
classes. Thus, we hold that whenever a given generation of men, in a
peculiar state of society, attain, in the aggregate, a certain degree
of moral improvement, or mentality, as we term it in the schools, that
there is an admixture of their qualities in masses, some believe by
scores, others think by hundreds, and others again pretend by thousands;
and if it is found, by the analysis that is regularly instituted by
nature, that the proportions are just, the material is consigned to the
monikin birth; if not, it is repudiated, and either kneaded anew for
another human experiment, or consigned to the vast stores of dormant
matter. Thus all individuality, so far as it is connected with the past,
is lost."

"But, sir, existing facts contradict one of the most important of your
propositions; while you admit that a want of a change in the seasons
would be a consequence of the perpendicularity of the earth's axis to
the plane of its present orbit, this change in the seasons is a matter
not to be denied. Flesh and blood testify against you here, no less than

"I spoke of things as they were, sir, previously to the birth of
the monikinia; since which time a great, salutary, harmonious, and
contemplated alteration has occurred. Nature had reserved the polar
region for the new species, with divers obvious and benevolent purposes.
They were rendered uninhabitable by the obliquity of the sun's rays; and
though matter, in the shape of mastodons and whales, with an instinct of
its antagonistic destination, had frequently invaded their precincts,
it was only to leave the remains of the first embedded in fields of
ice, memorials of the uselessness of struggling against destiny, and to
furnish proofs of the same great truth in the instance of the others;
who, if they did enter the polar basins as masters of the great deep,
either left their bones there, or returned in the same characters as
they went. From the appearance of animal nature on the earth, down to
the period when the monikin race arose, the regions in question were not
only uninhabited, but virtually uninhabitable. When, however, nature,
always wary, wise, beneficent, and never to be thwarted, had prepared
the way, those phenomena were exhibited that cleared the road for the
new species. I have alluded to the internal struggle between fire and
water, and to their progeny, steam. This new agent was now required to
act. A moment's attention to the manner in which the next great step in
the progress of civilization was made, will show with what foresight
and calculation our common mother had established her laws. The earth
is flattened at the poles, as is well imagined by some of the human
philosophers, in consequence of its diurnal movement commencing while
the ball was still in a state of fusion, which naturally threw off a
portion of the unkneaded matter towards the periphery. This was not done
without the design of accomplishing a desired end. The matter that was
thus accumulated at the equator, was necessarily abstracted from other
parts; and in this manner the crust of the globe became thinnest at the
poles. When a sufficiency of steam had been generated in the centre
of the ball, a safety-valve was evidently necessary to prevent a total
disruption. As there was no other machinist than nature, she worked with
her own tools, and agreeably to her own established laws. The thinnest
portions of the crust opportunely yielded to prevent a catastrophe,
when the superfluous and heated vapor escaped, in a right line with the
earth's axis, into vacuum. This phenomenon occurred, as nearly as we
have been able to ascertain, about the year 700 before the Christian era
commenced, or some two centuries previously to the birth of the first

"And why so early, may I presume to inquire, Doctor?"

"Simply that there might be time for the new climate to melt the ice
that had accumulated about the islands and continents of that region
(for it was only at the southern extremity of the earth that the
explosion had taken place), in the course of so many centuries. Two
hundred and seventy years of the active and unremitted agency of steam
sufficed for this end; since the accomplishment of which, the monikin
race has been in the undisturbed enjoyment of the whole territory,
together with its blessed fruits."

"Am I to understand," asked Captain Poke, with more interest than he had
before manifested in the philosopher's lecture, "that your folks, when
at hum', live to the south'ard of the belt of ice that we mariners
always fall in with somewhere about the parallel of 77 degrees south

"Precisely so - alas! that we should, this day, be so far from those
regions of peace, delight, intelligence, and salubrity! But the will of
Providence be done! - doubtless there is a wise motive for our captivity
and sufferings, which may yet lead to the further glory of the monikin

"Will you have the kindness to proceed with your explanations, Doctor?
If you deny the annual revolution of the earth, in what manner do
you account for the changes of the seasons, and other astronomical
phenomena, such as the eclipses which so frequently occur?"

"You remind me that the subject is not yet exhausted," the philosopher
hurriedly rejoined, hastily and covertly dashing a tear from his eye.
"Prosperity produced some of its usual effects among the founders of
our species. For a few centuries, they went on multiplying in numbers,
elongating and rendering still more consecutive their cauda, improving
in knowledge and the arts, until some spirits, more audacious than the
rest, became restive under the slow march of events, which led them
towards perfection at a rate ill-suited to their fiery impatience. At
this time, the mechanic arts were at the highest pitch of perfection
amongst us - we have since, in a great measure, abandoned them, as
unsuited to, and unnecessary for, an advanced state of civilization - we
wore clothes, constructed canals, and effected other works that were
greatly esteemed among the species from which we had emigrated. At
this time, also, the whole monikin family lived together as one people,
enjoyed the same laws, and pursued the same objects. But a political
sect arose in the region, under the direction of misguided and
hot-headed leaders, who brought down upon us the just judgment of
Providence, and a multitude of evils that it will require ages to
remedy. This sect soon had recourse to religious fanaticism and
philosophical sophisms, to attain its ends. It grew rapidly in power and
numbers; for we monikins, like men, as I have had occasion to observe,
are seekers of novelties. At last it proceeded to absolute overt acts
of treason against the laws of Providence itself. The first violent
demonstration of its madness and folly was, setting up the doctrine that
injustice had been done the monikin race, by causing the safety-valve of
the world to be opened within their region. Although we were manifestly
indebted to this very circumstance for the benignity of our climate, the
value of our possessions, the general healthfulness of our families-nay,
for our separate existence itself, as an independent species, yet did
these excited and ill-judging wretches absolutely wage war upon the most
benevolent and the most unequivocal friend they had. Specious promises
led to theories, theories to declamations, declamation to combination,
combination to denunciation, and denunciation to open hostilities. The

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 12 of 34)