Thomas H. Huxley was one of the first supporters of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, and he did more than any other writer to advance its acceptance among scientists and nonscientists alike. His most famous book, Man's Place in Nature, published only five years after Darwin's The Origin of Species, offers a compelling review of primate and human paleontology, and is the first attempt to apply Darwin's theory to human beings. As compelling a piece of analysis now as it was 140 years ago, Man's Place in Nature is a must for every science lover's library.
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October 02, 2001
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Excerpt from Man's Place in Nature by Thomas H. Huxley
I: On the Natural History of the Man-like Apes
Ancient traditions, when tested by the severe processes of modern investigation, commonly enough fade away into mere dreams: but it is singular how often the dream turns out to have been a half-waking one, presaging a reality. Ovid foreshadowed the discoveries of the geologist: the Atlantis was an imagination, but Columbus found a western world: and though the quaint forms of Centaurs and Satyrs have an existence only in the realms of art, creatures approaching man more nearly than they in essential structure, and yet as thoroughly brutal as the goat's or horse's half of the mythical compound, are now not only known, but notorious.
I have not met with any notice of one of these Man-like Apes of earlier date than that contained in Pigafetta's "Description of the kingdom of Congo,"* drawn up from the notes of a Portuguese sailor, Eduardo Lopez, and published in 1598. The tenth chapter of this work is entitled "De Animalibus qu� in hac provincia reperiuntur," and contains a brief passage to the effect that "in the Songan country, on the banks of the Zaire, there are multitudes of apes, which afford great delight to the nobles by imitating human gestures." As this might apply to almost any kind of apes, I should have thought little of it, had not the brothers De Bry, whose engravings illustrate the work, thought fit, in their eleventh "Argumentum," to figure two of these "Simi� magnatum delici�." So much of the plate as contains these apes is faithfully copied in the woodcut (Fig. 1), and it will be observed that they are tail-less, long-armed, and large-eared; and about the size of Chimpanzees. It may be that these apes are as much figments of the imagination of the ingenious brothers as the winged, two-legged, crocodile-headed dragon which adorns the same plate; or, on the other hand, it may be that the artists have constructed their drawings from some essentially faithful description of a Gorilla or a Chimpanzee. And, in either case, though these figures are worth a passing notice, the oldest trustworthy and definite accounts of any animal of this kind date from the 17th century, and are due to an Englishman.
The first edition of that most amusing old book, "Purchas his Pilgrimage," was published in 1613, and therein are to be found many references to the statements of one whom Purchas terms "Andrew Battell (my neere neighbour, dwelling at Leigh in Essex) who served under Manuel Silvera Perera, Governor under the King of Spaine, at his city of Saint Paul, and with him went farre into the countrey of Angola;" and again, "my friend, Andrew Battle, who lived in the kingdom of Congo many yeares," and who, "upon some quarell betwixt the Portugals (among whom he was a sergeant of a band) and him, lived eight or nine moneths in the woods." From this weather-beaten old soldier, Purchas was amazed to hear "of a kinde of Great Apes, if they might so bee termed, of the height of a man, but twice as bigge in feature of their limmes, with strength proportionable, hairie all over, otherwise altogether like men and women in their whole bodily shape.* They lived on such wilde fruits as the trees and woods yielded, and in the night time lodged on the trees."
This extract is, however, less detailed and clear in its statements than a passage in the third chapter of the second part of another work-"Purchas his Pilgrimes," published in 1625, by the same author-which has been often, though hardly ever quite rightly, cited. The chapter is entitled, "The strange adventures of Andrew Battell, of Leigh in Essex, sent by the Portugals prisoner to Angola, who lived there and in the adioning regions neere eighteene yeeres." And the sixth section of this chapter is headed-"Of the Provinces of Bongo, Calongo, Mayombe, Manikesocke, Motimbas: of the Ape Monster Pongo, their hunting: Idolatries; and divers other observations."
"This province (Calongo) toward the east bordereth upon Bongo, and toward the north upon Mayombe, which is nineteen leagues from Longo along the coast.
"This province of Mayombe is all woods and groves, so overgrowne that a man may travaile twentie days in the shadow without any sunne or heat. Here is no kind of corne nor graine, so that the people liveth onely upon plantanes and roots of sundrie sorts, very good; and nuts; nor any kinde of tame cattell nor hens.
"But they have great store of elephant's flesh, which they greatly esteeme, and many kinds of wild beasts; and great store of fish. Here is a great sandy bay, two leagues to the northward of Cape Negro,* which is the port of Mayombe. Sometimes the Portugals lade logwood in this bay. Here is a great river, called Banna: in the winter it hath no barre, because the generall winds cause a great sea. But when the sunne hath his south declination, then a boat may goe in; for then it is smooth because of the raine. This river is very great, and hath many ilands and people dwelling in them. The woods are so covered with baboones, monkies, apes and parrots, that it will feare any man to travaile in them alone. Here are also two kinds of monsters, which are common in these woods, and very dangerous.
"The greatest of these two monsters is called Pongo in their language, and the lesser is called Engeco. This Pongo is in all proportion like a man; but that he is more like a giant in stature than a man; for he is very tall, and hath a man's face, hollow-eyed, with long haire upon his browes. His face and eares are without haire, and his hands also. His bodie is full of haire, but not very thicke; and it is of a dunnish colour.
"He differeth not from a man but in his legs; for they have no calfe. Hee goeth alwaies upon his legs, and carrieth his hands clasped in the nape of his necke when he goeth upon the ground. They sleepe in the trees, and build shelters for the raine. They feed upon fruit that they find in the woods, and upon nuts, for they eate no kind of flesh. They cannot speake, and have no understanding more than a beast. The people of the countrie, when they travaile in the woods, make fires where they sleepe in the night; and in the morning when they are gone, the Pongoes will come and sit about the fire till it goeth out; for they have no understanding to lay the wood together. They goe many together, and kill many negroes that travaile in the woods. Many times they fall upon the elephants which come to feed where they be, and so beate them with their clubbed fists, and pieces of wood, that they will runne roaring away from them. Those Pongoes are never taken alive because they are so strong, that ten men cannot hold one of them; but yet they take many of their young ones with poisoned arrowes.