Popular Science Monthly/Volume 46/December 1894/Pithecoid Man


By Prof. E. P. EVANS.

ON the 16th of February, 1894, Prof. Ernst Haeckel, the most eminent representative of natural science and the most ardent advocate of the doctrine of evolution in Germany, celebrated his sixtieth birthday and received the congratulations of numerous friends and pupils from far and near, who in many cases emphasized the expression of their good wishes by the presentation of appropriate gifts. Of these tokens of friendship and esteem perhaps the most suitable, as well as the most striking, was a painting by Gabriel Max, of Munich, entitled Pithecanthropus europaeus alalus. This picture, which formed one of the chief attractions of the International Art Exhibition in the Crystal Palace at Munich, represents the "missing link" and his family, or the primitive semihuman European, as he may have "lived and loved" in the Pliocene period of the Tertiary epoch.

In this connection we may premise that Prof. Gabriel Max is not only a genial artist endowed with a rare power of portraying strong passions and intense emotions of the soul—joy, sorrow, enthusiasm, the ecstasy of the saint and the heroic resignation of the martyr, especially as reflected in the features of women—but also an amateur in anthropology and comparative anatomy. Among his recent works are several remarkable studies of apes, such as In Bad Humor (an angry simian mother correcting her child by pulling its ear). Three Sages (a trio of monkeys sitting before an open book), and especially the semi-satirical group of anthropoids as art critics now in the New Pinakothek at Munich.

Unlike these paintings, which are the result of long and careful observation of living models, the representation of the Pithecanthropus is a fancy sketch based upon scientific deductions from the theory of evolution. The scene lies in the primeval forest, where the female of the pithecoid progenitors of mankind is seated at the foot of a tree, nursing her infant. The hands show a marked advance toward humanity in their differentiation from the feet. Of existing apes the gorilla comes nearest to man in this respect, and is superior to all other quadrumanes in the power of standing erect and walking on its hind feet, but as a rule it goes on all fours. The Pithecanthropus, however, no longer creeps and grovels on the ground, but assumes with ease an upright posture, and, in the words of Racine, "élève un front noble et regards les cieux." Not only does this creature lift its brow and look at the sky, but, what is perhaps of still greater importance, he puts his foot down like a man, and, if he should chance to leave any "footprints on the sands of time," they would preserve distinct traces of five toes, whereas in the impressions made by the foot of the gorilla we can discover only marks of the ball of the foot and slight indications of the great toe. The same process of development is also perceptible in the formation of the limbs and in the lines of the face. The male, as he stands near the-fallen trunk of a tree, has quite straight legs—rather too straight, indeed, for Homo primigenius, who was undoubtedly knock-kneed and the calves are somewhat more fully developed than we should expect to find them in this early stage of transition from ape to man. The hair on the body has become thinner and that of the head has grown longer and more luxuriant, especially in the female. The skull, too, evidently covers a bigger and better brain than that of the orang-outang or the chimpanzee, and the chest is more human in shape than that of the gibbon. But it is not so much perhaps in these physical changes as in the general cast of the countenance and the peculiar expression of the eye that the variation toward intellectuality and humanity is most clearly reflected. A single tear trembling on the mother's cheek bears witness to the awakening of a kind of consciousness and the stirrings of an emotional nature wholly foreign to the simian breast, and seems a presentiment of all the future woes and miseries of the race. The father's sterner features radiate with paternal pride mingled with a certain thoughtfulness and shadowed by vague anxiety, and, although his susceptibilities are less easily excited and his solicitudes less lively than those of his tender-hearted helpmate, he feels the burden of his responsibilities, lives in the future as well as in the past and present, and already answers to Shakespeare's definition of man as a being that "looks before and after." It is the masterly delineation of these spiritual qualities that reveals the peculiar preeminence of Max as an artist and proves the accuracy of his observations and deductions as an anthropologist. The face of the nursling is invisible, but the shapeliness of the head and the symmetrical proportions of the hands pressing the mother's breast are remarkably human and preclude the possibility of any atavistic reversion in their offspring. Nearly a century ago the German philosopher and psychologist, J. F. Herbart, stated very succinctly the superiority of man's physical structure and constitution in promoting his mental development: "He has hands, he has speech, he lives through a long, helpless infancy." The Pithecanthropus alalus fulfills only the first and third of these conditions, but with an additional convolution of the lobes of the brain and a slight modification of the larynx he will acquire the faculty of articulate speech, on which the rapid and progressive growth of the intellectual capacities and moral character so largely depends.

We often complain, says the report of the American University Extension Society, that the foreigners among us debauch our politics by consenting to serve as mere instruments of designing politicians; but we must remember that these same designing politicians are the only people who have been willing hitherto to give any attention whatever to the political education of these classes of our citizens. The University Extension Society claims to have made the first systematic effort toward helping our foreign-born citizens to qualify themselves for their new position. Courses have been given in quarters of the city (Philadelphia) where recent immigrants have attended them in considerable numbers. "It was pathetic" to observe the eagerness with which audiences of Russian Jews were bent on learning something of the government and institutions of their adopted country,