Under the Sun/Monkeys and Metaphysics
MONKEYS AND METAPHYSICS.
Monkeys are Metaphysics. — How they found Seeta.— Yet they are not Proud. — Their Sad-Facedness. — Decayed Divinities. — As Gods in Egypt. — From Grave to Gay. — What do the Apes think of us? — The Etiquette of Scratching. — “The New Boy” of the Monkey-House. — They take Notes of us. — Man-Ape Puzzles: — The Soko. — Missing Links.
MONKEYS are metaphysics, and it is no idle work meditating among them.
In the first place, there is an objective difficulty, for the monkeys themselves seem possessed by a demon of unrest, and are perpetually in kaleidoscopic motion. The individual that was here when you began to take a note is nowhere when you have finished. In the interval it has probably turned a dozen somersaults on as many different perches, taken a swing on the trapeze, pulled all the tails it found hanging about, and is now busy scratching a small friend up in the roof. In the next place, there is a subjective difficulty, for in thinking about monkeys the mind cannot relax itself as it would in thinking about cats or parrots, nor get into undress over it as it might over a more trifling subject. A monkey suggests something more than matter. There is a suspicion of mind about the creature that prevents one thinking idly, and all its problems seem somehow or another to resolve themselves into human questions of psychology or ethics. Many of their actions require a rational explanation, and, though each one may be turned off with a laugh, the gravity of the monkey will tell in the long-run, and the looker-on will find himself at last speculating as to whether and if, and hesitating as to the neuter genders of pronouns being proper to be used when speaking of monkeys. Fortunately for us the monkey is not proud. He has no reserve whatever, and betrays by his candor much that, if he were more reticent, would puzzle human beings beyond endurance. But the monkey makes us free of the whole of him, and conceals nothing. Yet, in spite of all this, the monkey remains a conundrum to human beings; and the more one thinks about him the less one feels sure of understanding.
If pedigree and lofty traditions could make any creatures proud, surely the monkeys should be proud, for their history runs back without a fault to the heroic times when their ancestors, living in the very hills which the monkey-folk still haunt, were the allies of the gods, and their chiefs were actually gods themselves.
The story goes — it is one of the oldest stories ever told — that when Seeta, the lady of the lotus eyes, the wife of Rama, had been carried away to Ceylon by Ravana, the black Raja of the Demons, her husband went out from the jungles of Dandaka to ask help of the Vulture King. This was Jatayus, the son of that Garuda the quills of whose feathers were like palm-tree trunks, and the shadow of his flying overhead like the passing of a thunder-cloud in the month of the rains. But the Demons had already killed the princely bird because Jatayus had tried to stop them from carrying Seeta away; so Rama, having lit the funeral pyre for his friend, went on farther, to ask the help of one who was even more powerful than the Vulture King. This was Hanuman, the son of Vargu, the chief of all the monkey nations, who held his court upon the mountain peaks by the Pampas Lake. And the sentinel apes, sitting on the topmost rocks, saw Rama approaching, and recognized him, and Hanuman himself came down towards him reverently, stepping from ridge to ridge, and led the hero up to the council-peaks, and called all the princes of the four-handed folk together to give him their advice. Hanuman himself sat apart upon a peak alone, for there was not room enough on one mountain top for both him and the rest, for to the council had come all the greatest monkey warriors. Varana, the white ape, was there, resting at full length upon a ridge, and looking like a snow-drift that rests upon the Himalayas; and there too was Arundha of the portentous tail, with the strength of a whole herd of elephants in each of his hairy arms; and there too Darviudha, that matchless baboon. And after long council it was decided that the monkey nation should be divided into four armies, and that each army should search a quarter of the universe. The southern quarter fell to Hanuman, and he linked his warriors together in long lines and they searched the whole south before them, examining the ravines among the mountains and the creeks along the seashores as narrowly as the ants search the crevices of the bark in the neem-trees; but night came on and they had not found Seeta. So she must be beyond the Black Water, the monkeys said, as they stood at the end of the land, looking about them across the sea for other countries. And when the day broke they saw a cloud lying upon the sea, and told Hanuman, but as soon as he saw it the sagacious son of Vargu said, “It is an island,” and, stepping back a few paces, he ran and jumped, right away from India and across the straits into the Island of Ceylon. There he found Seeta shut up in a garden, and went back and told Rama. And then the old story goes on to say how Nala, the monkey-wizard, made stones float upon the sea for a bridge; and how Jambuvat, the king of the shaggy bears, led his people down from the hills to help the monkeys; and how the whole host crossed over to Ceylon and fought for many days with the Demons, and were always beaten till Sushena, the wisest of all the apes, sent Hanuman back to the Himalayas for the mystical Herb of Life, and with it called back all the souls of the dead monkey warriors; and how even then they could not conquer Indrajit, the mighty son of Ravana. At last the gods took part with Rama against the Demons. Vishnu lent him his chariot and Brahma gave him his quiver, and then, after a terrible fight, the steed of Indrajit went back riderless into the city and Ravana, seeing his son was dead, came out himself to lead his hosts, bursting from the city gates as fire bursts from the peaks of the islands in the Eastern Sea, and slew one by one all the monkey chiefs, and last of them all slew Hanuman himself. Then Rama, the husband of Seeta, stood up in his chariot before Ravana, and would neither die nor move, and the Demon King at last grew faint with fighting, and turned towards the city, but the monkeys had set it on fire; and when he saw the smoke ascending, Ravana turned again in his despair, and sent his chariot forward with the crash of a thunderbolt against Rama. But Rama was immovable, and, standing upright among the dead, he loosed a great bolt, and Ravana’s soul fled to Yama, where it floats in the River of the Dead. Then the monkeys destroyed the city of the Demons, and escorted Rama back to India; and Sushena, the magician ape, made the stone bridge sink again; and Rama went back again with his wife to Ayodhya, and the monkey people back to their merry hills by the Pampas Lake.
This is surely a splendid episode in the history of a people; and the monkeys of to-day are the lineal descendants of those very monkeys that fought for Rama. There is no gap in the long descent, and to-day the inheritors of Hanuman’s fame inherit also his sanctity, sharing in the East the abodes and property of men, and possessing besides many temples of their own.
Yet the monkeys are not proud. They will condescend quite cheerfully to eat the Hindoo’s humble stores of grain and fruit put out for sale on the village stall; and when these fail, in consequence perhaps of the grain-dealer’s miserly interference, they will fall to with an appetite upon the wild berries and green shoots of the jungle, or even pick a light luncheon off an ant-hill. No, there is no pride about them, but much gravity and sadness of face, induced, perhaps, hy the recollection of their classical glories and a consciousness of the present decadence of their race.
The ape in Æsop wept copiously on passing through a cemetery. “What ails you, my friend?” asked the fox, affected by this display of grief. “Oh, nothing,” was the reply of the sensitive creature, “but I always weep like this when I am reminded of my poor dead ancestors!”
Such susceptibility to grief is honorable, but in the monkeys, by constant indulgence, it has stereotyped a tearful expression of countenance, which even when at play is never altogether lost. Take them, for instance, when, in fun, they have tied themselves into a knot, and pretend that they cannot undo themselves. But look at the faces that peep out of the bundle of tails and paws! They might belong to orphans of an hour’s standing, so wistful and disconsolate are their eyes. Another one, peeling an orange, gazes on it with a look of such immeasurable grief as the Douglas’s features might have showed when holding the Bruce’s heart in his hand; and next to him sits an ape, sorrowfully cuffing a youngster; while overhead, surveying all the heedless throng, sits an old baboon, with a profound expression of melancholy pity on his reverend countenance, that recalls to my mind a Sunday picture-book of my early youth, and, as depicted therein, the aspect of Moses, when, from a mountain top, he sadly overlooked the Hebrews dancing round the golden calves.
Hanuman himself, saddest of monkey’s, may himself be here, for his species is a common one; and so too others of high renown. Here, looking wofully among the straw for a fallen nut, sits the very god of “mad Egypt,” the green monkey of Ethiopia, which was held in such reverence in old Memphis as the type of the God of Letters, or as Thoth himself, the emblem of the moon, symbol of the Bacchus of the Nile, and dignifying the obelisks of Luxor and the central sanctity of a hundred shrines. Yonder, musing pensively over a paper bag, still redolent of the gingerbread it once contained, sits Pthah, the pigmy baboon, the God of Learning, without whom Hermopolis would have been desolate, at once the genius of life and the holder of the dreadful scales after death, more potent than the ibis, and guardian of all the approaches to hundred-gated Thebes. A reverend pair, truly, and sadly come down in the world.
Do they know it? It is hard to say. They inherited their sad faces, no doubt, from some sad-faced progenitor; but how came he — the primitive ape — by so mournful a countenance? Did some tremendous catastrophe in the beginning of time overtake the four-handed folk, — so terrible in its ruin, that the sorrow of the survivors was impressed forever upon their features and transmitted by them to their kind? Everything, we are told, is inherited. The farmyard goats, when doing nothing else, still perch themselves on the highest point of the bank they can find, or on the wall, because their wild ancestors used once upon a time to stand on the hill peaks, as sentinels for the herd, to watch for the hunter and the eagle and the lynx. The dog still turns himself round before going to sleep, because in the old wolf days his progenitors, before they lay down, cautiously took one last look all round them. Is there, then, any reason in the far past for the melancholy demeanor of the monkeys of the present?
Perhaps they still remember the Flood with personal regret.
It is impossible to speak with disrespect of animals having such antecedents; and, besides, this monkey before you knows perhaps a secret that science cannot find out — the secret of the Sources of the Nile. As he passes by, a tail hanging down from the perch above him attracts his notice, and pulling it, he brings down upon himself a monkey smaller than itself, which had thought itself concealed, but had forgotten its dependent tail. The tiny creature is to-day “the new boy” of the school, and, as yet, has found his comrades rude and unsympathetic.
They ask his sisters’ names, and where he came from, how old he is, and what he can do; and whatever his answer may be, the rejoinder is much the same, either a pinch or a push, a tug at his tail, or a box on the ear. So, as the keeper says, “whenever he sees one coming towards him he just sits down and hollers; but he’ll get used to it. They all hollers a bit at first.”
But the grivet after all is only going to scratch the capuchin, in a sociable sort of way, for they are most of them sociable, and a pleasing community of fur obtains among them.
But you must not watch a monkey too long at a time, or it will be certain to abuse your curiosity by flippant conduct, and the illusion of respectability will be at once destroyed. Turn for a moment to any family of monkeys, and for a time nothing can be more becoming than their behavior. The young ones romp, while the old one, discountenancing such frivolity, sits severely on a perch, turning every now and then to look out wistfully over the spectators’ heads at the bright sun shining out of doors. But on a sudden a change comes over the scene. A young one, grovelling under the straw, forgets that it has left its tail protruding, and the temptation is greater than the old one can resist. In a twinkling the challenge to a romp is accepted; and lo! while the senior makes a fool of himself among the straw with one of the children, the other child is on his perch, looking just as grave as he did, and gazing at intervals in the same wistful way out into the open air. The old monkey, lately so solemn, so respectable, so care-worn, has suddenly resolved itself into an irresponsible fool, committing itself to every possible absurdity, and subjected to the irreverent liberties of its juniors. Those who do not respect themselves cannot, of course, look for respect from others; but, from the elder monkey’s attitude when we first approached it, such a complete abandonment to buffoonery was hardly to be expected.
Or, take again some austere-looking monkey in solitary confinement. She has apparently no temptations to romp, for she has no comrades; but here again the same deplorable disregard of appearances occurs. Her cage is lined with straw, and in the centre of the straw she sits, as composed as a mummy, and with a face like an old Mussulman moulvie. Surely, the crack of doom itself could not disturb such serene equanimity. The thought, however, is hardly past before the monkey, with a velocity that suggests an explosion from below, springs to the roof, carrying with her as much of the bed as her four hands can hold, and in the next instant is down again and spinning round and round on the bare floor in pursuit of her own tail, while the straw comes straggling down upon her silly old head from the perch above. The creature has suddenly, to all appearance, become a hopeless idiot!
It is just the same in the next cage, and the next, and the next. Intervals of profound contemplation and admirable gravity alternate with fits of irrelevant frivolity; and it is just these extraordinary alternations of conduct and demeanor that make monkeys metaphysics. There is no arguing from probabilities with them, or concluding from premises. It is always the unforeseen that occurs.
Perhaps they may have a lingua franca among themselves, but against man they conspire together to be dumb; provoking him to speculation by imitating human manners, and then frustrating all his conclusions by suddenly lapsing — into monkeys.
It is difficult enough to catch a monkey’s eye, but to catch one of its ideas is impossible. Neither in look nor in mind will it positively confront man, but just as it lets its eye pass over his, yet never rest upon it full, so its “mind” glances to one side or the other of the human intelligence, but never coincides with it. It may be that they were once all human, that the link still exists, and that in time all will be human again; but meanwhile it is quite certain that race after race is becoming extinct, and that as yet no single individual in all the “wilderness of monkeys” is quite a man.
Stanley the traveller has told us that sometimes when he entered an African boma, intending to take notes of the strange beings who lived in it, and their odd appearance and eccentric ways, he was greatly disconcerted to find that he himself, and not the natives, was considered singular in that part of the world. They, the savages, were ordinary, every-day folk; but he, their discoverer, was a curious novelty, that deserved, in their opinion, to be better known than he was. So the majority turned the tables on the explorer; for while they were all of one orthodoxy, in looks, habits, and language, the stranger appeared to them a ridiculous exception. He had not a single precedent to cite, or example to appeal to, in justification of the preposterous color of his skin, the ludicrous clothing he wore, or his queer ways. In the middle of Africa he found himself a natural solecism, a “sport,” as botanists say, from the normal type, — a lusus naturæ, an interesting monstrosity.
The savages, therefore, would solemnly proceed to discover Stanley, and after deliberate examination pronounce him, in Brobdingnagian phrase, to be simply a relplum salcath — something, in fact, which they could not understand, but which they considered very absurd. Meanwhile, what with taking his clothes off and putting them on again to please his explorers, and beating up the various articles of property, socks and so forth, which different households had appropriated as curiosities, the traveller found his time so fully occupied that his notes of the other manners and customs of the natives were often of the briefest description, and he had to go on his way, considerably out of countenance at finding that, while he thought he was discovering Central Africa, the Central Africans were really discovering him.
Something of the same feeling grows upon the observer after a morning with monkeys. We, on the one hand, remark the pensive demeanor of the four-handed folk, and sympathize with the unknown causes of their melancholy, — are amused by their irrational outbreaks of frivolity and scandalized by their sudden relapses from an almost superhuman gravity and self-respect into monkey indecorum and candor. But while we are watching one of them it suddenly occurs to us that we ourselves are being watched by the rest, and that as we take notes of the monkeys so they take notes of us.
They, no doubt, remark that our faces are usually characterized by a senseless smile, and, full of lofty pity for us, wonder at creatures that can thus pass their days in causeless mirth, and differ so much in their fur and feathers that it is nothing short of a marvel that they ever distinguish each other’s species. While we, the spectators, are moralizing over the divine honors of the ape in the Past, and his fallen state, the ape of the Present sits puzzling over the man of the Future. Some of the types which he sees round his cage are so like his own that he seems to make an involuntary gesture of recognition, but his relative has gone by before he has been able to explain himself; so he retires again into contemplation, regretting his lost opportunity, but content to wait patiently till, as he says, “some more of my sort happen to come round.”
While we outside are noting the unformed heel, the leg without a calf, the lines of the skeleton that prevent an erect attitude, they within have observed that human beings cannot run up the wire netting, or swing by their tails on the railings; that they have no flea-hunting to relieve the tedium of life, and that when a child wishes to look over any obstacle its parents have to hold it aloft to do so, as the poor little thing cannot scamper up a pole. While we are commiserating the monkeys on their narrow escape from human intelligence, the monkeys are wondering how long it will be before men grow wise enough to use their tails instead of hiding them, and see the folly of keeping two of their hands in boots.
We surmise enough about their antecedents to feel misgivings as to relationship, but do you really suppose that these creatures with the thoughtful eyes think nothing? They look at you quite as keenly as you at them, whenever you happen to turn your head aside; and if you suddenly surprise them in their scrutiny they shift their glance at once with affected indifference but extraordinary rapidity, and subside into a studied carelessness, — the perfection of acting, it is true, but nevertheless so palpably assumed that it fills you with uncanny suspicions. Again and again the experiment may be tried, and every time with the same result — the swift withdrawal of that furtive searching gaze, and the utter collapse into vacuous but sinister complacency. By perseverance you can pursue the monkey, so it seems, through a regular series of human thoughts, stare it out of countenance, make it ashamed of its stealthy scrutiny, and feel uncomfortable and conscious; you can even make it get up and go away, further and further and further, drive it from one untenable subterfuge to another, till at last it loses its temper at your relentless pursuit of its inner thoughts, and, jumping on to a perch, tries to shake the cage about your ears, chattering furiously and showing all its teeth. Does such a creature as this never retaliate in its meditations upon men and women, or find amusement in our proceedings?
In time the smaller one is soothed, and lies down so flat that it looks at last like a monkey-skin stretched out on the straw, while the larger, with an elaborate affectation of studious interest, searches each tuft of fur.
This possession of each other is, by the way, a curious feature of monkey life, for they seem to hold their fur in common. No one individual may take himself off to the top of the cage, and say, “You shan’t scratch me,” for his skin belongs to all his neighbors alike, and if a larger monkey than himself expresses a wish to scratch him, the smaller must at once turn over on his back and submit to the process. Nor is it etiquette to refuse one’s self to be scratched by another of equal size; and Indeed, without derogation of dignity, a larger may abandon the surface of his stomach to a smaller. At times, it is true, scratching degenerates into sycophancy, for several tiny monkeys may be seen tickling one large, lazy ape-personage. They hold up his arms for him while they tickle his ribs, and watch obsequiously the motions of his head, as the luxurious magnate turns first one cheek and then the other to be attended to. But this is a mere accident in habits, and does not affect that singular commonwealth of fur which seems to obtain among the monkey-folk, and which prevents any single member of it selfishly retiring into solitude with his own fleas.
Have the monkeys, again, nothing to say about the man-ape problems that have puzzled humanity from the first?
Beginning with the dog-faced men of Tartary and Libya, whom Herodotus and Pliny handed down to Marco Polo and to Mandeville, or “the men of the Hen Yeung kingdom,” — those Chinese pygmy-men who had short tails and always walked arm in arm, lest the birds should think they were insects, — and ending, at present, with the Soko of the Uregga forests, and the Susumete of Honduras, the list of man-apes is both long and varied. For want of absolute contradiction or confirmation we human beings have to hold our decision in abeyance, but why should the monkeys have any doubt about the connecting link?
What a work might be written, both horrible and grotesque, about all the ape-men or man-apes that have been introduced by travellers to the notice of the world! Science, it is true, ignores them all, but Fancy, I think, gets along better without Science. Classification and microscopic investigation are no doubt excellent things in their way, but they interfere very awkwardly with the hearty conception of a good-all-round monster; and, as a matter of fact, if travellers had been mere hair-splitting, “finicking” professors, we should never have had that substantial Fauna of Mystery which we now possess. Fortunately, however, they have, as a rule, been courageous, open-hand.ed fellows, who would as soon think of sticking at an extra horn or hoof, or shirking a mane or a tail, as of deserting a comrade in danger.
The result of their generous labors has been the collection of as wholesome a set of monsters as could have been wished; gravitating, moreover, as it is right they should, towards mankind, until, indeed, they actually merge in humanity. Professor Owen, who wages desperate war, and very properly, against the existence of all things of which he has not seen a bit, refuses, of course, to admit the last gradation altogether. But Professor Huxley, who, I believe, is really in his heart of hearts pining secretly for a tailed man to be found, laughs to scorn the dry theory of the hippocampus minor; and if he were only to travel to-morrow into an unknown land, I am not at all sure that he would not ultimately emerge from some primeval forest hand in hand with the “missing link.” In the meantime he could not do better than accept the Soko. For the establishment of the Soko’s individuality there are teeth, skin, and skulls in existence, and the last have been declared by Professor Huxley to be human. They were brought from Africa by Mr. H. M. Stanley, as being the fragments of a great ape which certain natives had eaten, and which they themselves called “meat of the forest.” Nevertheless, the Professor declares that they are the remains of defunct humanity, male and female.
After this the Soko must rank as one of the most interesting mysteries of Nature. Is it human or not? Is it the chief of monkeys or the lowest of men? Dr. Livingstone was not quite certain, and Mr. Stanley told me he was himself only half convinced. In reviewing the work of the latter explorer for a London journal I drew special attention to the Soko, for, though actually known only by report, the repeated references to it make this ape-man one of the features of the book. On one occasion Mr. Stanley actually startled to its feet a great monkey-person that was asleep on the river-bank; but his boat was shooting down the stream so swiftly that he could not tell whether it was beast or man. Circumstantial evidence of the existence of a half-human creature, however, thrust itself upon the explorer day after day. In Manyema, in the Uregga forests, at Wane Kirumbu, at Mwana Ntaba, the Soko was heard after nightfall or during broad daylight roaring and chattering. At more than one place its nest was seen in the fork of a tall bombax; and, both at Kampunzu and a village on the Ariwimi, its teeth, skin, and skulls were obtained from the people, who never differed in their description of the creature they called the Soko, and insisted that it was only a monkey. The skulls, at any rate, have been proved to be human, and the teeth are some of them human, too; but if the tough skin, thickly set with close gray hair came off the body of a man or a woman, he or she must have been of a species hitherto unknown to science. For as yet no family of our race has confessed to a soft gray fur, nearly an inch long in parts and inclining to white at the tips. Yet such is the skin of the Soko, the creature whose skull Professor Huxley says is human.
Two fascinating theories at once suggest themselves to help us out of the Soko mystery; for, premising that Mr. Stanley and Professor Huxley are both right, — and it is very difficult to see how either can be wrong, — it may happen that under either theory the thing described by the tribes along the Livingstone River as “a fruit-stealing ape, five feet in height, and walking erect with a staff in its left hand, may prove to be human. The first is that the tribes who eat the Soko are really cannibals, and that they know it, but feeling that curious shame on this point which is common to nearly all cannibals, they will not confess to the horrid practice, and prefer, when on their company manners with uneatable strangers, to pass off their human victims as apes. The other is that there actually does exist in the centre of the Dark Continent a race of forest men so degraded and brute-like that even the cannibals living on the outskirts of their jungles really think them to be something less than human, and as such hunt them and eat them. Either theory suffices to supply the missing link, for if it be true that the skulls of the Soko are human skulls — and that the Soko skin belongs to, the Soko-skulls — then the tribes of the Livingstone have among them a furry-skinned race of men that feed by night and have no articulate speech. If, on the other hand, these furred creatures are so like monkeys that even savages cannot recognize their humanity, and yet so like men that even Professor Huxley cannot recognize any trace of monkey in their skulls, the person called the Soko must be a very satisfactory missing link indeed; for it is essential in such a person that he should so nearly resemble both his next of kin as to be exactly assignable to neither.
Man himself would, I believe, be glad, in his present advanced state of sympathetic civilization, to admit the monkey’s claim to alliance with himself; for it is a fact that our race finds a pleasure in referring loftily to the obscurity of its own origin, and feels a natural pride in having raised itself above its fortunes.
In India, where the monkeys live among men, and are the playmates of their children, the Hindoos have grown so fond of them that the four-handed folk participate in all their simple household rites. In the early morning, when the peasant goes out to yoke his plough, and the crow wakes up, and the dog stretches himself and shakes off the dust in which he has slept all night, the old monkey creeps down from the peepul-tree, only half awake, and yawns, and looks about him, puts a straw in his mouth, and scratches himself contemplatively.
Then one by one the whole family come slipping down the tree-trunk, and they all yawn and look about and scratch. But they are sleepy and peevish, and the youngsters get cuffed for nothing, and begin to think life dull. Yet the toilet has to be performed; and, whether they like it or not, the young ones are sternly pulled up, one by one, to their mother to undergo the process. The scene, though regularly repeated every morning, loses nothing of its delightful comicality, and the monkey-brats never tire of the joke of taking in mamma. But mamma was young herself not so very long ago, and treats each ludicrous affectation of suffering with profoundest unconcern, and, as she dismisses one cleaned youngster with a cuff, stretches out her hand for the next one’s tail or leg in the most businesslike and serious manner possible. The youngsters know their turns quite well, and as each one sees the moment arriving it throws itself on its stomach, as if overwhelmed with apprehension, the others meanwhile stifling their laughter at the capital way so-and-so is doing it, and the instant the maternal paw is extended to grasp its tail the subject of the next experiment utters a dolorous wail, and, throwing its arms forward in the dust, allows itself to be dragged along, a limp and helpless carcass, winking all the time, no doubt, at its brothers and sisters, at the way it is imposing on the old lady. But the old lady will stand no nonsense, and turning the child right side up proceeds to put it to rights; takes the kinks out of its tail and the knots out of its fur; pokes her fingers into its ears and looks at each of its toes, the inexpressible brat all the time wearing on its face an absurd expression of hopeless and incurable grief. Those who have been already cleaned look on with delight at the screaming farce, while those who are waiting wear a becoming aspect of enormous gravity. The old lady, however, has her joke, too, which is to cuff every youngster before she lets it go; and nimble as her offspring are, she generally, to her credit be it said, manages to give each of them a box on the ears before it is out of reach. The father, meanwhile, sits gravely with his back to all these domestic matters, waiting for breakfast.
Presently the mats before the hut-doors are pushed down, and women with brass vessels in their hands come out; and, while they scour the pots and pans with dust, exchange between yawns the compliments of the morning.
The monkeys by this time have come closer to the preparations for food, and sit solemnly, household by household, watching every movement. Hindoos do not hurry themselves in anything they do, but the monkey has lots of time to spare and plenty of patience, and in the end, after the crow has stolen a little, and the dog has had its morsel, and the children are all satisfied, the poor fragments of the meal are thrown out on the ground for the bhunder-logue, the monkey-people; and it is soon discussed — the mother feeding the baby before she eats herself. When every house has thus, in turn, been visited, and no chance of further “out-door relief” remains, the monkeys go off to the well. The women are all here again, drawing the water for the day, and the monkeys sit and wait, the old ones in the front, sententious and serious, and the youngsters rolling about in the dust behind them, till at last some girl sees the creatures waiting, and “in the name of Ram” spills a lotah full of water in a hollow of the ground, and the monkeys come round it in a circle and stoop down and drink, with their tails all curled up over their backs like notes of interrogation. There is no contention or jostling. A forward child gets a box on the ear, perhaps, but each one, as it has satisfied its thirst, steps quietly out of the circle and wipes its mouth. The day thus fairly commenced, they go off to see what luck may bring them.
The grain-dealer’s shop tempts them to loiter, but the experience of previous attempts makes theft hopeless; for the bunnya, with all his years, is very nimble on his legs, and an astonishing good shot with a pipkin. So the monkeys merely make their salaams to him and pass on to the fields. If the corn is ripe they can soon eat enough for the day; but, if not, they go wandering about picking up morsels, here an insect and there a berry, till the sun gets too hot, and then they creep up into the dark shade of the mango tops and snooze through the afternoon. In the evening they are back in the village again to share in its comforts and entertainments.
They assist at the convocation of the elders and the romps of the children, looking on when the faquir comes up to collect his little dues of salt and corn and oil, and from him in their turn exacting a pious toll. They listen gravely to the village musician till they get sleepy, and then, one by one, they clamber up into the peepul.
And the men sitting round the fire with their pipes can see, if they look up, the whole colony of the bhunder-logue asleep in rows in the tree above them.
But outside of Asia the monkey has never become a friend, even though we have adopted him as a relative. Literature has nothing to his credit, and Art ignores him. In olden times they never took augury from a monkey, and nowadays no one even takes it for armorial bearings.
Yet the tailed ones are already considerably advanced towards civilization. As Darwin tells us, they catch colds and die of consumption, suffer from apoplexy and from cholera, inflammation, cataracts, and so forth, can pass on a contagious affection to men, or take the sickness from them, eat and drink all that human beings do, and suffer from surfeits precisely as men and women do; for if drunk over-night they have headaches next morning, scorn solid food, and are exasperated by the mere smell of strong liquors, but turn with relish to the juice of lemons and effervescing draughts.
- For an admirably sympathetic sketch of monkey character — and much more besides — read Miss Frances Power Cobbe’s delightful book, “False Beasts and True.”
- When editing Mr. Stanley’s “Through the Dark Continent,” I heard from the explorer and read in his notes much that was not published. His Soko lore was considerable; but in a few words his man-ape problem is this. The natives gave Stanley skulls, teeth, and skins of a creature they called an ape. Professor Huxley says the skulls are human. The teeth and skin are not.