Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/December 1898/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


In The Play of Animals[1] we are offered a book upon an essentially new topic; for, although much has been written concerning the habits and intelligence of animals, no special consideration has been given to their play or its psychic significance. The survey of this virgin territory seems to the critical reader to have disclosed such limitless area to Professor Groos that he fails to indicate its legitimate boundaries. He confesses himself overcome by a sense of its vastness, stating that the "versatility needed for a thorough investigation is so comprehensive that it is unattainable by an ordinary mortal."

Play, he finds, is not "an aimless activity carried on for its own sake"; neither is it the product of surplus physical energy, as Mr. Spencer defines it, for in youth there is playfulness without this condition. Instincts useful in preserving the species appear before they are seriously needed, and are utilized in play, which serves as preparation for the tasks of life. "Animals do not play because they are young, but have a period of youth in order to play."

The special ends accomplished by play are control of the body, command of the means of locomotion, agility in pursuit of prey and in escaping danger, and prowess in fighting. The games pursued in attaining these ends are classified in nine groups, beginning with those of experimentation and ending with those referred to curiosity. They include plays of movement, hunting, fighting, love, construction, nursing, and imitation. For all of these Professor Groos finds but one instinct of play responsible, supplemented by the instinct of imitation. He enters into an elaborate discussion of instinct, giving an outline of Weismann's theory of heredity and the views of various writers. He adopts Herbert Spencer's definition of instinct as a complex reflex act, referring its origin to the operation of natural selection, acknowledging the process to be beyond our grasp. In seeking to explain bird song and the love play of animals, the theory of sexual selection is not accepted by him without qualification; a modification of the Darwinian principle is suggested in which the female exerts an unconscious choice. The psychic characteristics of play are the pleasure following satisfaction of instinct, energetic action and joy in the acquirement of power. The animal at first masters its own bodily movements, then seeks the conquest of other animals and inanimate objects. When a certain facility in play has been gained a higher intellectual stage is entered upon, that of make-believe, or playing a part. This state of conscious self-illusion is reached by many of the higher animals. Psychically, it indicates a divided consciousness, and occupies a place between the ordinary state and the abnormal ones of hypnosis and hysteria. To this condition Professor Groos ascribes the genesis of artistic production, an hypothesis that he has elaborated more fully in Einleitung in die Aesthetik.

The experimental plays of animals, divided into those of courtship, imitation, and construction, correspond to the principles of self exhibition, imitation, and decoration, which are claimed to be the motives of human art. The acquirement of power through play develops a feeling of freedom, and this the artist likewise seeks to realize in the world of ideals.

Artists will not probably acknowledge that "life is earnest, art is playful," nor moralists agree that "man is only human when he plays, for there is no real freedom in the sphere of experience," yet both may find food for thought in Professor Groos's analysis of play.

In the spasm of unreasoning hostility to Spain which has come over the people of the United States, succeeding a period of effusive admiration, the public are apt to forget that that nation has done anything creditable for the promotion of civilization. Yet, leaving out other fields of culture for the present, it has produced two painters who rank among the great masters, besides numerous secondary artists, rivals of any of that grade in the world, and a voluminous literature which George Ticknor thought it worth while to make the study of his life, and which inspired the pens of Irving, Longfellow and Lockhart. One of the works of this literature ranks among the world's greatest classics, and has been, perhaps, after the Bible and Shakespeare more universally read than any other book; and numerous other works—chiefly romances—have furnished patterns or themes for the poets, novelists, and dramatists of other nations. Mr. Fitz Maurice Kelly's excellent and convenient History of Spanish Literature[2] therefore comes in good time to refresh our memories concerning these facts. One does not have to go very far in the history to find that of the great Latin writers of the age of the Cæsars, the two Senecas, Lucan the poet of Pharsalia, Martial the epigrammatist, and Quintilian the rhetorician—still an authority—and many minor writers, "were Spaniards as well as Romans." It also appears that of what Gibbon declared to have been the happiest epoch of man's history—from the death of Domitian to the accession of Cornmodus, seventy of the eighty years, if we take the liberty, as Mr. Kelly does, of counting Marcus Aurelius as a Cordovan, were passed beneath the scepter of the Spanish Cæsars. Prudentius, a distinguished Latin Christian writer of a succeeding age, was also a Spaniard. Although there were "archaic" works of trovadors before that time, traditionally preserved by juglars, Spanish literature proper began in the twelfth century. It owed much to French and Italian, and in course of time gave much back to them. Among its earliest signs was the development of the romance (ballad), while Arab writers (whose work Mr. Kelly considers of doubtful value) and Jews, who are better spoken of, were early contributors to it. The earliest works of importance were the Mystery of the Magian Kings, one of the first plays in any modern language, and the great heroic poem of the Cid, both anonymous. The first Castilian poet whose name has reached us was Gonzalo de Berceo, 1198 to 1264, who wrote much, and was, "if not an inventor, the chief of a school." Permanent form was given to Spanish prose by King Alfonso the Learned, 1226 to 1284, who, "like Bacon, took all knowledge for his province, and in every department shone pre-eminent." He had numerous collaborators, and "his example in so many fields was followed"—among others (in some of them) by his son and successor, Sancho IV. The Infanta, Juan Manuel, nephew of Alfonso, in one of the stories of his Conde Lucanor—"one of the books of the world"—created the germ of the Taming of the Shrew. Passing a numerous list of writers of respectable merit, for whose names even we have not room, we come to the age of the Catholic kings and Charles V, when for a hundred and fifty years literature most flourished in Spain. Among the features of this period are the Amadis de Gaul—u the best in that kind"—which inspired Cervantes; Columbus, who, though of Italian birth, "was probably the truest Spaniard in all the Spains," the poet Garcilaso de la Vega, and Berual Diaz and other historians whose names dot Prescott's books. Passing a large number of writers of mark whose works appeared in this age, and stopping only to mention Alonzo de Ercilla y Zuñiga's Araucana as the first literary work of real merit composed in either American continent, we come to the age of Cervantes, whose story of Don Quixote—"the friendless people's friend," as Browning styles him—is not more distinguished for its satirical wit and humor than for its kindly humanity; and Lope de Vega, that most prolific of all dramatic authors, who "left no achievement unattempted," and died lamented by a hundred and fifty-three Spanish and fifty Italian authors, who sang his praises. Among other of the most distinguished writers of this and succeeding periods are Mariana, "the greatest of all Spanish historians"; Góngora, a famous poet in his day; Quevedo; Tirse de Molina, the creator of Don Juan; Calderon, second as a dramatist among Spaniards, if second, only to Lope de Vega, and Alarcón his compeer; and Velásquez, great in art and not small in letters. An interregnum came in during the reign of Carlos II, and French influence made itself felt. The age of the Bourbons produced among others the Benedictine Sarmiento, who as a botanist "won the admiration and friendship of Linné." The present century has been marked by the names of many authors of merit, novelists known to us in translations, by an active movement of historical composition developing brilliant monographs, and by a marked advance of scholarship and tolerance, led by Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo; with a tendency to produce "a breed of writers of the German type."

  1. The Play of Animals. By Karl Groos. Translated by Elizabeth L. Baldwin. New York: D. Appleton and Company. Pp. 341. Price, $1.75.
  2. A History of Spanish Literature. By James Fitz Maurice-Kelly. New York: D. Appleton and Company. (Literature of the World Series. Edited by Edmund Gosse.) Pp. 433. Price, $1.50.