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and favors bestowed, are greater motives to love and tenderness, than safety, benefits, or life received.
One would wonder to hear sceptical men disputing for the reason of animals, and telling us it is only our pride and prejudices that will not allow them 5 the use of that faculty.
Reason shows itself in all occurrences of life; whereas the brute makes no discovery of such a talent, but in what immediately regards his own preservation or the continuance of his species. 10 Animals in their generation are wiser than the sons of men; but their wisdom is confined to a few particulars, and lies in a very narrow compass. Take a brute out of his instinct, and you find him wholly deprived of understanding. To use
an 15 instance that comes often under observation:
With what caution does the hen provide herself a nest in places unfrequented, and free from noise and disturbance! When she has laid her eggs in such a manner that she can cover them, what care 20 does she take in turning them frequently that all parts may partake of the vital warmth! When she leaves them, to provide for her necessary sustenance, how punctually does she return before they have time to cool, and become incapable of producing an 25 animal! In the summer you see her giving herself greater freedoms, and quitting her care for above two hours together; but in winter, when the rigor of the season would chill the principles of life, and
destroy the young one, she grows more assiduous in her attendance, and stays away but half the time. When the birth approaches, with how much nicety
and attention does she help the chick to break its 5 prison! not to take notice of her covering it from
the injuries of the weather, providing it proper nourishment, and teaching it to help itself; nor to mention her forsaking the nest, if after the usual
time of reckoning the young one does not make its 10 appearance. A chemical operation could not be fol
lowed with greater art or diligence than is seen in the hatching of a chick; though there are many other birds that show an infinitely greater sagacity in all the forementioned particulars.
But at the same time the hen, that has all this seeming ingenuity (which is indeed absolutely necessary for the propagation of the species), considered in other respects, is without the least glimmering of
thought or common sense. She mistakes a piece 20 of chalk for an egg, and sits upon it in the same
She is insensible of any increase or diminution in the number of those she lays. She does not distinguish between her own and those of
another species; and when the birth appears of 25 never so different a bird, will cherish it for her own.
In all these circumstances, which do not carry an immediate regard to the subsistence of herself or her species, she is a very idiot.
There is not, in my opinion, anything more
mysterious in nature than this instinct in animals, which thus rises above reason, and falls infinitely short of it. It cannot be accounted for by any properties in matter, and at the same time works after so odd a manner, that one cannot think it the 5 faculty of an intellectual being. For my own part, I look upon it as upon the principle of gravitation in bodies, which is not to be explained by any known qualities inherent in the bodies themselves, nor from the laws of mechanism, but, according to 10 the best notions of the greatest philosophers, is an immediate impression from the first mover, and the divine energy acting in the creatures.
No. 20. Instinct in Animals
SPECTATOR No. 121. Thursday, July 19, 1711
Jovis omnia plena.
Virg. Ecl. iii. 60.
As I was walking this morning in the great yard that belongs to my friend's country house, I was 15 wonderfully pleased to see the different workings of instinct in a hen followed by a brood of ducks. The young upon the sight of a pond, immediately ran into it; while the step-mother, with all imaginable anxiety, hovered about the borders of it, to call 20 them out of an element that appeared to her so dangerous and destructive. As the different prin
ciple which acted in these different animals cannot be termed reason, so when we call it instinct, we mean something we have no knowledge of. To me,
as I hinted in my last paper, it seems the immediate 5 direction of Providence, and such an operation of
the supreme Being, as that which determines all the portions of matter to their proper centers. A modern philosopher, quoted by Monsieur Bayle 2
in his learned Dissertation on the Souls of Brutes, 10 delivers the same opinion, though in a bolder form
of words, where he says, Deus est anima brutorum, “God himself is the soul of brutes.” Who can tell what to call that seeming sagacity in animals, which
directs them to such food as is proper for them, and 15 makes them naturally avoid whatever is noxious or
unwholesome? Tully has observed that a lamb no sooner falls from its mother, but immediately and of its own accord it applies itself to the teat.
Dampier, in his Travels, tells us, that when seamen 20 are thrown upon any of the unknown coasts of
America, they never venture upon the fruit of any tree, how tempting soever it may appear, unless they observe that it is marked with the pecking of
birds; but fall on without any fear or apprehension 25 where the birds have been before them.
But notwithstanding animals have nothing like the use of reason, we find in them all the lower parts of our nature, the passions and senses, in their greatest strength and perfection. And here it is worth our observation, that all beasts and birds of prey are wonderfully subject to anger, malice, revenge, and all the other violent passions that may animate them in search of their proper food; as those that are incapable of defending themselves, 5 or annoying others, or whose safety lies chiefly in their flight, are suspicious, fearful, and apprehensive of everything they see or hear; whilst others, that are of assistance and use to man, have their natures softened with something mild and tractable, and 10 by that means are qualified for a domestic life. In this case the passions generally correspond with the make of the body. We do not find the fury of a lion in so weak and defenceless an animal as a lamb; nor the meekness of a lamb in a creature so armed 15 for battle and assault as the lion. In the same manner, we find that particular animals have a more or less exquisite sharpness and sagacity in those particular senses which most. turn to their advantage, and in which their safety and welfare 20 is the most concerned.
Nor must we here omit that great variety of arms with which nature has differently fortified the bodies of several kind of animals, such as claws, hoofs, horns, teeth, and tusks, a tail, a sting, a trunk, or a 25 proboscis. It is likewise observed by naturalists, that it must be some hidden principle, distinct from what we call reason, which instructs animals in the use of these their arms, and teaches them to manage