James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 17) online

. (page 12 of 35)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 12 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

into the improvable and the unimprovable, and the
retrogressive. The improvable embraces all those
species which are marching, by slow, progressive,
but immutable mutations, towards the perfection
of terrestrial life, or to that last, elevated, and
sublime condition of mortality, in which the mate
rial makes its final struggle with the immaterial
mind with matter. The improvable class of ani
mals, agreeably to the monikin dogmas, com
mences with those species in which matter has
the most unequivocal ascendency, and terminates
with those in which mind is as near perfection as
this mortal coil will allow. We hold that mind
and matter, in that mysterious union which con
nects the spiritual with the physical being, com
mence in the medium state, undergoing, not, as
some men have pretended, transmigrations of the
soul only, but such gradual and imperceptible
changes of both soul and body, as have peopled
the world with so many wonderful beings ; won
derful, mentally and physically ; and all of which
(meaning all of the improvable class) are no more
than animals of the same great genus, on the high
road of tendencies, who are advancing towards
the last stage of improvement, previously to their
final translation to another planet, and a new exist

"The retrogressive class is composed of those spe
cimens which, owing to their destiny, take a false
direction; which, instead of tending to the imrnate-


rial, tend to the material ; which gradually become
more and more under the influence of matter, until,
by a succession of physical translations, the will is
eventually lost, and they become incorporated with
the earth itself. Under this last transformation,
these purely materialized beings are chymically
analyzed in the great laboratory of nature, and
their component parts are separated : thus the
bones become rocks, the flesh earth, the spirits air,
the blood water, the grizzle clay, and the ashes of
the will are converted into the element of fire. In
this class we enumerate whales, elephants, hippo
potami, and divers other brutes, which visibly ex
hibit accumulations of matter that must speedily
triumph over the less material portions of their na

" And yet, Doctor, there are facts that militate
against the theory; the elephant, for instance, is
accounted one of the most intelligent of all the

" A mere false demonstration, sir. Nature de
lights in these little equivocations : thus, we have
false suns, false rainbows, false prophets, false vision,
and even false philosophy. There are entire races
of both our species, too, as the Congo and the Es
quimaux, for yours, and baboons and the common
monkeys, that inhabit various parts of the world
possessed by the human species, for ours, which are
mere shadows of the forms and qualities that pro
perly distinguish the animal in its state of perfec

" How, sir ; are you not, then, of the same fami
ly as all the other monkeys that we see hopping
and skipping about the streets ?"

" No more, sir, than you are of the same family
as the flat-nosed, thick-lipped, low-browed, ink-
skinned negro, or the squalid, passionless, brutalized


Esquimaux. I have said that nature delights in
vagaries ; and all these are no more than some of
her mistifications. Of this class is the elephant,
who, while verging nearest to pure materialism,
makes a deceptive parade of the quality he is fast
losing. Instances of this species of playing trumps,
if I may so express it, are common in all classes
of beings. How often, for instance, do men, just
as they are about to fail, make a parade of wealth,
women seem obdurate an hour before they capitu
late, and diplomatists call Heaven to be a witness
of their resolutions to the contrary, the day before
they sign and seal ! In the case of the elephant,
however, there is a slight exception to the general
rule, which is founded on an extraordinary struggle
between mind and matter, the former making an
effort that is unusual, and which may be said to
form an exception to the ordinary warfare between
these two principles, as it is commonly conducted
in the retrogressive class of animals. The most
infallible sign of the triumph of mind over matter,
is in the development of the tail "

" King !"

Of the tail, Dr. Reasono?"

" By all means, sir, that seat of reason, the tail !
Pray, Sir John, what other portion of our frames
did you imagine was indicative of intellect ?"

"Among men, Dr. Reasono, it is commonly
thought the head is the more honorable member,
and, of late, we have made analytical maps of this
part of our physical formation, by which it is pre
tended to know the breadth and length of a moral
quality, no less than its boundaries."

" .You have made the best use of your materials,
such as they were, and I dare say the map in ques
tion, all things considered, is a very clever perform
ance. But in the complication and abstruseness of


this very moral chart (one of which I perceive
standing on your mantel-piece,) you may learn the
confusion which still reigns over the human intel
lect Now, in regarding us, you can understand
the very converse of your dilemma. How much
easier, for instance, is it to take a yard-stick, and
by a simple admeasurement of a tail, come to a
sound, obvious and incontrovertible conclusion as
to the extent of the intellect of the specimen, than
by the complicated, contradictory, self-balancing
and questionable process to which you are reduced!
Were there only this fact, it would abundantly es
tablish the higher moral condition of the monikin
race, as it is compared with that of man."

" Dr. Reasono, am 1 to understand that the mon
ikin family seriously entertain a position so extrav
agant as this : that a monkey is a creature more
intellectual and more highly civilized than man ?"

" Seriously, good Sir John ! Why you are the
first respectable person it has been my fortune to
meet, who has even affected to doubt the fact. It
is well known that both belong to the improveable
class of animals, and that monkeys, as you are
pleased to term us, were once men, with all their
passions, weaknesses, inconsistencies, modes of phi
losophy, unsound ethics, frailties, incongruities and
subserviency to matter ; that they passed into the
monikin state by degrees, and that large divisions
of them are constantly evaporating into the imma
terial world, completely spiritualized and free from
the dross of flesh. I do not mean in what is call
ed death for that is no more than an occasional
deposit of matter to be resumed in a new aspect,
and with a nearer approach to the grand results,
(whether of the improveable or of the retrogressive
classes;) but those final mutations which transfer
us to another planet, to enjoy a higher state of be-


mg, and leaving us always on the high road to
wards final excellence."

" All this is very ingenious, sir ; but, before you
car persuade me into the belief that man is an ani-
ma/ inferior to a monkey, Dr. Reasono, you will
allow me to say that you must prove it."

" Ay, ay, or me, either," put in Captain Poke,

" Were I to cite my proofs, gentlemen," contin
ued the philosopher, whose spirit appeared to be
much less moved by our doubts than ours were by
his position " I should, in the first place, refer you
to history. All the monikin writers are agreed in
recording the gradual translation of the species
from the human family "

" This may do very well, sir, for the latitude of
Leaphigh, but permit me to say that no human his
torian, from Moses down to Buffon, has ever taken
such a view of our respective races. There is not
a word in any of all these writers on the subject."

<; How should there be, sir? History is not a
prediction, but a record of the past. Their silence
is so much negative proof in our favor. Does
Tacitus, for instance, speak of the French revolu
tion ? Is not Herodotus silent on the subject of the
independence of the American continent ? or do
any of the Greek and Roman writers give us the
annals of Stunin'tun, a city whose foundations
were most probably laid some time after the com
mencement of the Christian era ? It is morally
impossible that men or monikins can faithfully re
late events that have never happened; and as it has
never yet happened to any man, who is still a man,
to be translated to the monikin state of being, it
follows, as a necessary consequence, that he can
know nothing about it. If you want historical
proofs, therefore, of what I say, you must search


the monikin annals for the evidence. There it is to
be found, with an infinity of curious details ; and I
trust the time is not far distant, when I shall have
great pleasure in pointing out to you some of
the most approved chapters of our best writers
on this subject. But we are not confined to the
testimony of history, in establishing our condition
to be of the secondary formation. The internal
evidence is triumphant : we appeal to our simplici
ty, our philosophy, the state of the arts among us ;
in short, to all those concurrent proofs which are
dependent on the highest possible state of civiliza
tion. In addition to this, we have the infallible
testimony which is to be derived from the develop
ment of our tails. Our system of caudology is, in
itself, a triumphant proof of the high improvement
of the monikin reason."

" Do I comprehend you aright, Dr. Reasono,
when I understand your system of caudology, or
tailology, to render it into the vernacular, to dog
matize on the possibility that the seat of reason in
a man, which to day is certainly in his brains, can
ever descend into a tail ?"

" If you deem development, improvement and
simplification, a descent, beyond a question, sir.
But your figure is a bad one, Sir John ; for ocular
demonstration is before you, that a monikin can
carry his tail as high as a man can possibly carry
his head. Our species, in this sease, is morally
nicked ; and it costs us no effort to be on a level
with human kings. We hold, with you, that the
brain is the seat of reason, while the animal is in
what we call the human probation, but that it is a
reason undeveloped, imperfect and confused ; cased,
as it were, in an envelope unsuited to its functions;
hut that, as it gradually oozes out of this straitened
receptacle towards the base of the animal, it ao


quires .solidity, lucidity, and, finally, by elongatior
and development, point. If you examine the human
orain, you will find it, though capable of being
stretched to a great length, compressed in a dimi
nutive compass, involved and snarled ; whereas the
same physical portion of the genus gets simplicity,
a beginning and an end, a directness and consecutive-
ness, that are necessary to logic, and, as has just
been mentioned, a point, in the monikin seat of rea
son, which, by all analogy, go to prove the supe
riority of the animal possessing advantages so

" Nay, sir, if you come to analogies, they will be
found to prove more than you may wish. In vege
tation, for instance, saps ascend for the purposes
of fructification and usefulness; and, reasoning from
the analogies of the vegetable world, it is far more
urobable that tails have ascended into brains, than
that brains have descended into tails; and, conse
quently, that men are much more likely to be an
improvement on monkeys, than monkeys an im
provement 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 sucree;
but he soon returned to the subject, with the digni
fied 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 the purposes of fruc
tification ; but what is this fructification, to which
you allude 1 It is no more than a false demonstra
tion of the energies of the plant. For all the pur
poses 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 falls !"

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 espe
cially 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 tails."


** That has been his chief misfortune, sir. Mat
ter, 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 intelli
gence 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 things ?"

" 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 spirit
ual, than it is in the monikin; his habits are grosser
and less intellectual ; he requires sauce and condi
ments in his food ; he is farther removed from sim
plicity, 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 it
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 confine
ment 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

" A mere prophetic glance into the future, as com
ing 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 icill 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 phi
losophy of the species, encourage the belief; but
hitherto you have never reached the enviable dis
tinction. 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 bv
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 excellencies
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 gfadly
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 society."

" King !"

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 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 neces
sary 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, with
out ceremony.

" 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 caudce, 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 ring-tail-boom. And what was he, after all,


out a poor devil who did not know a sea-lion from
x grampus !"

This assertion of Captain Poke relieved my mind
considerably; and, laying aside the bison-skin, 1
asked him to have the goodness to examine the lo
calities, with some particularity, about the termina
tion of the dorsal bone, in order to ascertain if there
were any encouraging signs to be discovered.
Capt 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 prin ;"
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 otfer, which circumstances just
Jien, however, forbade ray *c -ep f ina;.



Better and better A higher flight of reason More obvious
truths, deeper philosophy, and facts that even an ostrich
might digest.

" 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 felici
tations. 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 enlight
ened 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 not"

" As far as it corroborates our own system, sir,
and no farther. There would be a manifest incon
sistency in our giving an antagonist 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 part."

" 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 remain in the least under the influence of
matter ; and we therefore winnow the felse 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 inter
rupting you, venerable and learned sir ; and I en
treat 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 use
ful or agreeable, let the subject be what it may."

" By the monikin philosophy, gentlemen," conti
nued 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 eva
poration, being no more than ordinary matter in a
state of high rarefaction. Fire has no independent
existence ; requires fuel for its support, and is evi
dently a property that is derived from the combina
tions of other principles. Thus, by putting two 01
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 satu-


rated with water : the wood acquires a new pro
perty, (as also by the application of fire, which con
verts 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

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 12 of 35)