Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/524

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When commanded by man, the elephant will tear a criminal limb from limb, or crush him to death with his knees, or go out to battle holding a cimeter in his trunk. He will, when told to do so, attack his kind with fury and persistence; but, in the course of many hours, or even days, spent in watching wild herds, I never yet saw a single individual show any signs of impatience or ill-temper toward his fellows.

It is safe to say that, thus far, not one half the elephant's mental capabilities have been developed or even understood. It would be of great interest to determine by experiment the full educational capacity of this interesting quadruped, and, but for the lack of a permanent menagerie in this city, it would ere now have been undertaken. It would be equally interesting to determine the exact limit of its reasoning powers in applied mechanics. An animal that can turn a hand-organ with regularity at the proper speed, can be taught to push a smoothing-plane invented purposely for him; but whether he would learn of himself to plane the rough surfaces smooth, and let the smooth ones remain untouched, is an open question.

While it is generally fruitless and unsatisfactory to enter the field of speculation, I can not resist the temptation to assert my belief that an elephant can be taught to read written characters, and also to express some of his own thoughts or states of feeling in writing. It would be a perfectly simple matter to prepare suitable appliances by which the sagacious animal could hold a crayon in his trunk, and mark upon a surface adapted to his convenience. In Ælian's work on "The Nature of Animals," eleventh chapter of the second book, he describes in detail the wonderful performances of elephants at Rome, all of which he saw. One passage is of peculiar interest to us, and the following is a translation of it: "... I saw them writing letters on Roman tablets with their trunks, neither looking awry nor turning aside. The hand, however, of the teacher was placed so as to be a guide in the formation of the letters; and, while it was writing, the animal kept its eye fixed down in an accomplished and scholar-like manner."

I can conceive how an elephant may be taught that certain characters represent certain ideas, and that they are capable of intelligent combination. The system and judgment and patient effort which developed an active, educated, and even refined intellect in Laura Bridgman—deaf, dumb, and blind from birth—ought certainly to be able to teach a clear-headed, intelligent elephant to express at least some of his thoughts in writing. In this way it may, some day, be possible to open a channel for the communication of thought between man and the lower animals; in this way it may be possible to prove, beyond all possibility of dispute, the presence of the true reasoning faculty in other animals than man. That it does exist, to a greater or less degree, in all vertebrate animals, I have no doubt whatever. I believe