Domestic Encyclopædia (1802)/Ape

APE, in zoology, an animal of which we find more than fifty species: it is more remarkable on account of its peculiar instinct, bodily structure, and habits of life, than from either its dangerous or useful tendencies.

Apes were formerly considered as a degenerated cast of mankind, because some of them, such as the troglodytes, or the African wood-man, and the ourang-outang, bear a great resemblance to the human form. These creatures, and especially the former species, are gregarious, inhabit the thickest forests, are from four to five feet in stature, very ferocious and strong, and do not hesitate to attack even men. Several of those audacious bipeds possess such a degree of muscular strength, that ten unarmed persons are inadequate to the task of reducing one of them to obedience.

On a close examination of their external shape, however, and particularly of the head, it clearly appears that their structure is essentially different from that of our species. From the natural constitution of their bodies, they are not only deficient in the organs of speech, but do not even display the sagacity of dogs, not to mention that dignified criterion between man and the inferior animals—reason. As an instance of their deficiency of judgment, we shall only mention, that, notwithstanding their excessive fondness of enjoying the warmth and light of a fire in the woods, made by the natives, who seldom take the trouble of extinguishing it, those whimsical imitators have not even the ingenuity of supplying it with fuel; and therefore afford no proof of their reasoning powers.

Nevertheless, they are justly entitled to the next place to man, when we consider some extraordinary qualifications with which they are preferably endowed. Of this nature is their uncommon talent of imitation, which, to them, is so far from being advantageous, or conducive to their safety, that it is ingeniously employed for ensnaring them into captivity. Thus the Indians wash their faces in the presence of apes with water, for which they substitute a solution of glue, or gum arabic: on leaving the vessel with this seductive liquor, the animal, without suspicion, imitates the natives, and being neither sensible of the danger attending this experiment, nor the means of preventing the effect, its eyes are soon pasted up, and it is exposed to the mercy of its enemy.

Besides making good use of their teeth and nails, apes defend themselves with branches of trees, stones, and the like.—Their maternal affection is so great, that they frequently smother the dearest of their offspring; and hence it has been proverbially applied to mothers who spoil their children, by excessive indulgence in the articles of food and drink.