Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/505

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ness, not to say stupidity, of some birds, cannot be reconciled with the theory of infallible instinct.

To conclude, then, the nidification of birds exhibits phenomena which, if compared with the constructive processes of primitive man, show no essential difference in the nature of the faculties employed. We have here no innate ideas, or blind and irresistible tendencies. The bird learns how to build its nest, and each species has its own tradition, which can be modified according to external circumstances. As regards the origin of these constructive processes, it can be readily understood without supposing a special instinct, if we show that, at bottom, these processes are simpler than at first sight would appear. For we must not exaggerate the grade of intelligence needed by a bird in order to build a nest which to us appears simply marvellous, because it is so small. But this nest was first roughed out—twig on twig, fibre on fibre; next, the little architect stopped up the gaps with material easily brought in with its supple claws and its slender beak. We are charmed at the sight of this; but the rude mud wall of a peasant's hovel would, in the eyes of a giant, also appear to be fine handiwork. It all depends on perspective. Levaillant has observed the habits of an African bird which goes to work in a still more summary way. This bird gets together a heap of moss and cotton, converts it, by stamping, into a sort of felt, then hollows it out in the middle, and trims off the edge. Thus the inside of the nest becomes as smooth and compact as a piece of cloth. Why not admit that this process is the work of an inventor, whose invention benefits his posterity, they in turn improving it, and handing it down to succeeding generations, just as we say in the case of human discoveries, of which we are so vain? In studying the rise of architecture, we meet with many a type which attracts the eye, but which answers but imperfectly the needs for which it was produced, and which shows less rational foresight than do the nests constructed by sundry birds.


ABOUT few geographical positions are there more mistakes made by intelligent people than the situation of the antipodes and the periœci. It has been commonly taught in the schools, at least in New England, that the antipodes of the Eastern States, or of dwellers near parallel 40, are in China, and that the antipodes of Boston are in Peking. Of course, this error is not made by the best instructors, but it is often made, and that without correction, in the presence of the "honorable committee." Editors, too, are often as much at fault as