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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Monikins - Chapter 11. A Philosophy That Is Bottomed On Something Substantial...
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The Monikins - Chapter 11. A Philosophy That Is Bottomed On Something Substantial... Post by :deano Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2786

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The Monikins - Chapter 11. A Philosophy That Is Bottomed On Something Substantial...


Dr. Reasono was quite as reasonable, in the personal embellishments of his lyceum, as any public lecturer I remember to have seen, who was required to execute his functions in the presence of ladies. If I say that his coat had been brushed, his tail newly curled, and that his air was a little more than usually "solemnized," as Captain Poke described it in a decent whisper, I believe all will be said that is either necessary or true. He placed himself behind a foot- stool, which served as a table, smoothed its covering a little with his paws, and at once proceeded to business. It may be well to add that he lectured without notes, and, as the subject did not immediately call for experiments, without any apparatus.

Waving his tail towards the different parts of the room in which his audience were seated, the philosopher commenced.

"As the present occasion, my hearers," he said, "is one of those accidental calls upon science, to which all belonging to the academies are liable, and does not demand more than the heads of our thesis to be explained, I shall not dig into the roots of the subject, but limit myself to such general remarks as may serve to furnish the outlines of our philosophy, natural, moral, and political--"

"How, sir," I cried, "have you a political as well as a moral philosophy?"

"Beyond a question; and a very useful philosophy it is. No interests require more philosophy than those connected with politics. To resume--our philosophy, natural, moral and political, reserving most of the propositions, demonstrations, and corollaries, for greater leisure, and a more advanced state of information in the class. Prescribing to myself these salutary limits, therefore, I shall begin only with nature.

"Nature is a term that we use to express the pervading and governing principle of created things. It is known both as a generic and a specific term, signifying in the former character the elements and combinations of omnipotence, as applied to matter in general, and in the latter its particular subdivisions, in connection with matter in its infinite varieties. It is moreover subdivided into its physical and moral attributes, which admit also of the two grand distinctions just named. Thus, when we say nature, in the abstract, meaning physically, we should be understood as alluding to those general, uniform, absolute, consistent, and beautiful laws, which control and render harmonious, as a great whole, the entire action, affinities, and destinies of the universe; and when we say nature in the speciality, we would be understood to speak of the nature of a rock, of a tree, of air, fire, water, and land. Again, in alluding to a moral nature in the abstract, we mean sin, and its weaknesses, its attractions, its deformities-in a word, its totality; while, on the other hand, when we use the term, in this sense, under the limits of a speciality, we confine its signification to the particular shades of natural qualities that mark the precise object named. Let us illustrate our positions by a few brief examples.

"When we say 'Oh nature, how art thou glorious, sublime, instructive!'--we mean that her laws emanate from a power of infinite intelligence and perfection; and when we say 'Oh nature, how art thou frail, vain and insufficient!' we mean that she is, after all, but a secondary quality, inferior to that which brought her into existence, for definite, limited, and, doubtless, useful purposes. In these examples we treat the principle in the abstract.

"The examples of nature in the speciality will be more familiar, and, although in no degree more true, will be better understood by the generality of my auditors. Especial nature, in the physical signification, is apparent to the senses, and is betrayed in the outward forms of things, through their force, magnitude, substance, and proportions, and, in its more mysterious properties, to examination, by their laws, harmony, and action. Especial moral nature is denoted in the different propensities, capacities, and conduct of the different classes of all moral beings. In this latter sense we have monikin nature, dog nature, horse nature, hog nature, human nature--"

"Permit me, Dr. Reasono," I interrupted, "to inquire if, by this classification, you intend to convey more than may be understood by the accidental arrangement of your examples?"

"Purely the latter, I do assure you, Sir John."

"And do you admit the great distinctions of animal and vegetable natures?"

"Our academies are divided on this point. One school contends that all living nature is to be embraced in a great comprehensive genus, while another admits of the distinctions you have named. I am of the latter opinion, inclining to the belief that nature herself has drawn the line between the two classes, by bestowing on one the double gift of the moral and physical nature, and by withdrawing the former from the other. The existence of the moral nature is denoted by the presence of the will. The academy of Leaphigh has made an elaborate classification of all the known animals, of which the sponge is at the bottom of the list, and the monikin at the top!"

"Sponges are commonly uppermost," growled Noah.

"Sir," said I, with a disagreeable rising at the throat, "am I to understand that your savans account man an animal in a middle state between a sponge and a monkey?"

"Really, Sir John, this warmth is quite unsuited to philosophical discussion--if you continue to indulge in it, I shall find myself compelled to postpone the lecture."

At this rebuke I made a successful effort to restrain myself, although my esprit de corps nearly choked me. Intimating, as well as I could, a change of purpose, Dr. Reasono, who had stood suspended over his table with an air of doubt, waved his tail, and proceeded:- -

"Sponges, oysters, crabs, sturgeons, clams, toads, snakes, lizards, skunks, opossums, ant-eaters, baboons, negroes, wood-chucks, lions, Esquimaux, sloths, hogs, Hottentots, ourang-outangs, men and monikins, are, beyond a question, all animals. The only disputed point among us is, whether they are all of the same genus, forming varieties or species, or whether they are to be divided into the three great families of the improvables, the unimprovables, and the retrogressives. They who maintain that we form but one great family, reason by certain conspicuous analogies, that serve as so many links to unite the great chain of the animal world. Taking man as a centre, for instance, they show that this creature possesses, in common with every other creature, some observable property. Thus, man is, in one particular, like a sponge; in another, he is like an oyster; a hog is like a man; the skunk has one peculiarity of a man; the ourang-outang another; the sloth another--"


"And so on, to the end of the chapter. This school of philosophers, while it has been very ingeniously supported, is not, however, the one most in favor just at this moment in the academy of Leaphigh--"

"Just at this moment, Doctor!"

"Certainly, sir. Do you not know that truths, physical as well as moral, undergo their revolutions, the same as all created nature? The academy has paid great attention to this subject; and it issues annually an almanac, in which the different phases, the revolutions, the periods, the eclipses, whether partial or total, the distances from the centre of light, the apogee and perigee of all the more prominent truths, are calculated with singular accuracy; and by the aid of which the cautious are enabled to keep themselves, as near as possible, within the bounds of reason. We deem this effort of the monikin mind as the sublimest of all its inventions, and as furnishing the strongest known evidence of its near approach to the consummation of our earthly destiny. This is not the place to dwell on that particular point of our philosophy, however; and, for the present, we will postpone the subject."

"Yet you will permit me, Dr. Reasono, in virtue of clause 1, article 5, protocol No. 1 (which protocol, if not absolutely adopted, must be supposed to contain the spirit of that which was), to inquire whether the calculations of the revolutions of truth, do not lead to dangerous moral extravagances, ruinous speculations in ideas, and serve to unsettle society?"

The philosopher withdrew a moment with my Lord Chatterino, to consult whether it would be prudent to admit of the validity of protocol No. 1, even in this indirect manner; whereupon it was decided between them, that, as such admission would lay open all the vexatious questions that had just been so happily disposed of, clause 1 of article 5 having a direct connection with clause 2; clauses 1 and 2 forming the whole article; and the said article 5, in its entirety, forming an integral portion of the whole instrument; and the doctrine of constructions, enjoining that instruments are to be construed like wills, by their general, and not by their especial tendencies, it would be dangerous to the objects of the interview to allow the application to be granted. But, reserving a protest against the concession being interpreted into a precedent, it might be well to concede that as an act of courtesy, which was denied as a right. Hereupon, Dr. Reasono informed me that these calculations of the revolutions of truth DID lead to certain moral extravagances, and in many instances to ruinous speculations in ideas; that the academy of Leaphigh. and, so far as his information extended, the academy of every other country, had found the subject of truth, more particularly moral truth, the one of all others the most difficult to manage, the most likely to be abused, and the most dangerous to promulgate. I was moreover promised, at a future day, some illustrations of this branch of the subject.

"To pursue the more regular thread of my lecture," continued Dr. Reasono, when he had politely made this little digression, "we now divide these portions of the created world into animated and vegetable nature; the former is again divided 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 material makes its final struggle with the immaterial--mind with matter. The improvable class of animals, agreeably to the monikin dogmas, commences 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 connects the spiritual with the physical being, commence 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--wonderful, 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 existence.

"The retrogressive class is composed of those specimens which, owing to their destiny, take a false direction; which, instead of tending to the immaterial, 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 chemically 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 gristle clay and the ashes of the will are converted into the element of fire. In this class we enumerate whales, elephants, hippopotami, and divers other brutes, which visibly exhibit accumulations of matter that must speedily triumph over the less material portions of their natures."

"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 quadrupeds."

"A mere false demonstration, sir. Nature delights 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 Esquimaux, 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 properly distinguish the animal in its state of protection."

"How, sir! are you not, then, of the same family 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 mystifications. 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 capitulate, 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--"


"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 pretended 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 question, all things considered, is a very clever performance. But in the complication and abstruseness of this very moral chart (one of which I perceive standing on your mantelpiece), you may learn the confusion which still reigns over the human intellect. 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 establish the higher moral condition of the monikinrace, as it is compared with that of man."

"Dr. Reasono, am I to understand that the monikin family seriously entertain a position so extravagant 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 improvable class of animals, and that monkeys, as you are pleased to term us, were once men, with all their passions, weaknesses, inconsistencies, mode of philosophy, 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 immaterial world, completely spiritualized and free from the dross of flesh. I do not mean in what is called 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 improvable or of the retrogressive classes)--but those final mutations which transfer us to another planet, to enjoy a higher state of being, and leaving us always on the high road towards final excellence."

"All this is very ingenious, sir; but before you can persuade me into the belief that man is an animal 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, waspishly.

"Were I to cite my proofs, gentlemen," continued 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 historian, 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 revolution? 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 commencement of the Christian era? It is morally impossible that men or monikins can faithfully relate 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 proof, therefore, of what I say, you must search the monikin annals for 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 simplicity, 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 civilization. In addition to this, we have the infallible testimony which is to be derived from the development 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 dogmatize on the possibility that the seat of reason in 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 sense, 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; but that, as it gradually oozes out of this straitened receptable towards the base of the animal, it acquires solidity, lucidity, and, finally, by elongation and development, point. If you examine the human brain, you will find it, though capable of being stretched to a great length, compressed in a diminutive compass, involved and snarled; whereas the same physical portion of the genus gets simplicity, a beginning and an end, a directness and consecutiveness that are necessary to logic, and, as has just been mentioned, a point, in the monikin seat of reason, which, 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 reflection.

"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 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 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 tails."

"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 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 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 society."


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 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 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.

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