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cannot be imitation; for though you hatch a crow under a hen, and never let it see any of the works of its own kind, the nest it makes shall be the same, to the laying of a stick, with all the other nests of the same species. It cannot be reason; for were 5 animals endowed with it to as great a degree as man, their buildings would be as different as ours, according to the different conveniences that they would propose to themselves.
Is it not remarkable that the same temper of 10 weather, which raises this genial warmth in animals, should cover the trees with leaves, and the fields with grass, for their security and concealment, and produce such infinite swarms of insects for the support and sustenance of their respective broods? 15
Is it not wonderful that the love of the parent should be so violent while it lasts, and that it should last no longer than is necessary for the preservation of the young?
The violence of this natural love is exemplified 20 by a very barbarous experiment; which I shall quote at length, as I find it in an excellent author, and hope my readers will pardon the mentioning such an instance of cruelty, because there is nothing can so effectually show the strength of that principle 25 in animals of which I am here speaking. “A person who was well skilled in dissections opened a bitch, and as she lay in the most exquisite tortures, offered her one of her young puppies, which she imme
diately fell a licking; and for the time seemed insensible of her own pain. On the removal, she kept her eyes fixed on it, and began a wailing sort of
cry, which seemed rather to proceed from the loss 5 of her young one, than the sense of her own torments.”
But notwithstanding this natural love in brutes is much more violent and intense than in rational
creatures, Providence has taken care that it should 10 be no longer troublesome to the parent than it is
useful to the young; for so soon as the wants of the latter cease, the mother withdraws her fondness, and leaves them to provide for themselves; and
what is a very remarkable circumstance in this part 15 of instinct, we find that the love of the parent may
be lengthened out beyond its usual time, if the preservation of the species requires it: as we may see in birds that drive away their young as soon as
they are able to get their livelihood, but continue 20 to feed them if they are tied to the nest, or confined
within a cage, or by any other means appear to be out of a condition of supplying their own necessities.
This natural love is not observed in animals to 25 ascend from the young to the parent, which is not
at all necessary for the continuance of the species: nor indeed in reasonable creatures does it rise in any proportion, as it spreads itself downward; for in all family affection, we find protection granted
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. 15 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
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