THESE Essays, written nearly a century ago, seem to have been intended chiefly as an answer to the doctrines of those French philosophers who maintained that animals were merely animated machines, or, as it was expressed by Buffon, that “the animal is a purely material being, which neither thinks nor reflects, but which nevertheless acts,” and that “the determining principle of the animal's actions proceeds from a purely mechanical influence, absolutely dependent upon its organisation.” Our author, on the contrary, maintains that the mental faculties of animals are strictly comparable with those of man; that they remember, combine, and reflect; that they are capable of self-improvement; and even that they possess a true language fully adapted to their needs. To support his views be gives what we may term a generalised life history of several animals, such as the wolf, fox, stag, fallow-deer, and roebuck, which his position of Ranger of Versailles and Marly gave him ample opportunities of studying. The chief fault of these interesting sketches is, that they detail hardly any of the special observation on which the generalised statements are founded. We are, therefore, unable to tell how much is fact and how much inference; and, what is probably the result of careful life-long observation fails to produce that effect of reality which a more direct narrative style would have given to it. In a few cases, however, he gives us actual observations; as when he proves that animals can count, by stating the fact that in order to destroy crows, which were destructive to game, a hut was made at the foot of a tree where there was a nest, in order to shoot the old birds when they returned to their young. It was found, however, that after the first time the man was always watched into the hut, and the crows would not return till he had left it or till night. To deceive them two men went to the door of the watch-house, one entering and the other passing on, but the crows would not come. The next day three went and two passed on, but still with no effect; and it was not till five or six went and all but one passed on, that they were deceived, being unable to count so many.
The Intelligence and Perfectibility of Animals from a Philosophic Point of View. With a few Letters on Man.
By Charles Georges Leroy, partly under the pseudonym of “The Naturalist of Nuremberg.” (London: Chapman and Hall, 1870.)
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WALLACE, A. The Intelligence and Perfectibility of Animals . Nature 3, 182–183 (1871). https://doi.org/10.1038/003182a0