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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/344

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340
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

used the art of navigation, who had tails like those of cats, and which they moved in the same manner.' This narration is perhaps exaggerated, Monboddo admits; but 'that there are men with tails is a fact so well attested that it can not be doubted.' For, setting aside all travelers' reports, and the testimony given by the ancients to the existence of races of homines caudati, he himself had known of a Scotch schoolmaster in Inverness who had a tail half a foot long. The man prudently kept his unusual endowment concealed during his lifetime, but it was discovered after his death:—of all of which Lord Monboddo offers to bring legal evidence. The superficial and the dogmatists, he adds, will no doubt think these stories very ridiculous, 'but the philosopher, who is more disposed to inquire than to laugh and deride, will not reject it at once as a thing incredible that there should be such a variety in our species, as well as in the simian tribe which is so near akin to us.'

All these arguments a posteriori are really irrelevant to Monboddo's main thesis about the relation of man to the orang-outang; since those particular 'simian tribes' with which alone he declares man to be akin (i. e., satyrus and troglodytes niger) are destitute of tails, and have an even more rudimentary coccyx than man. The fact that men had tails would, from his own standpoint, rather tend to show that man and orang belonged to different species, than that they belonged to the same. Of this Monboddo seems to be not unaware, for he introduces his stories of tailed men as a sort of digression, and not as a part of his principal argument. As it stands, his discussion about tails seems rather to resemble the caudal vertebræ with which it is concerned—it suggests a good deal, but is not designed to bear any of the weight of proof, and is a relatively functionless appendage to the main body of his theory.

The comparative crudity and superficiality of Monboddo's speculations about the descent of man are one indication of the fact that, down to the end of the eighteenth century, the country of Darwin had made far less progress in this part of biology than had France and Germany. For Monboddo's book seems to be the nearest approach to an assertion of the mutability of species and the derivation of man from animal ancestors which was made by any generally read English writer, until the 'Zoönomia' of Dr. Erasmus Darwin appeared in 1794.