About twenty-five centuries ago, a voyager called Hanno is said to have sailed from Carthage, between the Pillars of Hercules—that is, through the Straits of Gibraltar—along the shores of Africa. “Passing the Streams of Fire,” says the narrator, “we came to a bay called the Horn of the South. In the recess there was an island, like the first, having a lake, and in this there was another island full of wild men. But much the greater part of them were women, with hairy bodies, whom the interpreters called ‘Gorillas.’ Pursuing them, we were not able to take the men; they all escaped, being able to climb the precipices, and defended themselves with pieces of rock. But three women, who bit and scratched those who led them, were not willing to follow. However, having killed them, we flayed them, and conveyed the skins to Carthage; for we did not sail any further, as provisions began to fail.”
In the opinion of many naturalists, the wild men of this story were the anthropoid or manlike apes which are now called gorillas, rediscovered recently by Du Chaillu. The region inhabited by the gorillas is a well-wooded country, “extending about a thousand miles from the Gulf of Guinea southward,” says Gosse; “and as the gorilla is not found beyond these limits, so we may pretty conclusively infer that the extreme point of Hanno was somewhere in this region.” I must confess these inferences seem to me somewhat open to question, and the account of Hanno’s voyage only interesting in its relation to the gorilla, as having suggested the name now given to this race of apes. It is not probable that Hanno sailed much further than Sierra Leone; according to Rennell, the island where the “wild men” were seen, was the small island lying close to Sherbro, some seventy miles south of Sierra Leone. To have reached the gorilla district after doubling Cape Verd—which is itself a point considerably south of the most southerly city founded by Hanno—he would have had to voyage a distance exceeding that of Cape Verd from Carthage. Nothing in the account suggests that the portion of the voyage after the colonizing was completed, had so great a range. The behavior of the “wild men,” again, does not correspond with the known habits of the gorilla. The idea suggested is that of a species of anthropoid ape far inferior to the gorilla in strength, courage, and ferocity.
The next accounts which have been regarded as relating to the gorilla are those given by Portuguese voyagers. These narratives have been received with considerable doubt because in some parts they seem manifestly fabulous. Thus the pictures representing apes show also huge flying dragons with a crocodile’s head; and we have no reason for believing that bat like creatures like the pterodactyls of the greensand existed in Africa or elsewhere so late as the time of the Portuguese voyages of discovery. Purchas, in his history of Andrew Battell, speaks of “a kind of great apes, if they might so bee termed, of the height of a man, but twice as big in feature of their limmes, with strength proportionable, hairie all over, otherwise altogether like men and women in their whole bodily shape, except that their legs had no calves.” This description accords well with the peculiarities of gorillas, and may be regarded as the first genuine account of these animals. Battell’s contemporaries called the apes so described Pongoes. It is probable that in selecting the name Pongo for the young gorilla lately at the Westminster Aquarium, the proprietors of this interesting creature showed a more accurate judgment of the meaning of Purchas’s narrative than Du Chaillu showed of Hanno’s account, in calling the great anthropoid ape of the Gulf of Guinea a gorilla.
I propose here briefly to sketch the peculiarities of the four apes which approach nearest in form to man—the gorilla, the chimpanzee, the orang-outang, and the gibbon; and then, though not dealing generally with the question of our relationship to these non-speaking (and, in some respects, perhaps, “unspeakable”) animals, to touch on some points connected with this question, and to point out some errors which are very commonly entertained on the subject.
It may be well, in the first place, to point out that the terms “ape,” “baboon,” and “monkey” are no longer used as they were by the older naturalists. Formerly the term “ape” was limited to tailless simians having no cheek-pouches, and the same number of teeth as man; the term “baboon” to short-tailed simians with dog-shaped heads; and the term “monkey,” unless used generically, to the long-tailed species. This was the usage suggested by Ray, and adopted systematically thirty or forty years ago. But it is no longer followed, though no uniform classification has been substituted for the old arrangement. Thus Mivart divides the apes into two classes—calling the first the Simiadæ, or Old World apes; and the second the Cebidæ, or New World apes. He subdivides the Simiadæinto (1) the Siminæ, including the gorilla, chimpanzee, orang, and gibbon; (2) the Semnopithecinæ; and (3) the Cynopithecinæ; neither of which subdivisions will occupy much of our attention here, save as respects the third subdivision of the Cynopithecinæ, viz., the Cynocephali, which includes the baboons. The other great division, the Cebidæ, or New World apes, are for the most part very unlike the Old World apes. None of them approach the gorilla or orang-outang in size; most of them are long-tailed; and the number and arrangement of the teeth is different. The feature, however, which most naturalists have selected as the characteristic distinction between the apes of the Old World and of the New World is the position of the nostrils. The former are called Catarhine, a word signifying that the nostrils are directed downwards; the latter are called Platyrhine, or broad-nosed. The nostrils of all the Old World apes are separated by a narrow cartilaginous plate or septum, whereas the septum of the New World apes is broad. After the apes come, according to Mivart’s classification, the half-apes or lemuroids.
I ought, perhaps, to have mentioned that Mivart, in describing the lemuroids as the second sub-order of a great order of animals, the Primates, speaks of a man as (zoologically speaking) belonging to the first sub-order. So that, in point of fact, the two sub-orders are the Anthropoids, including the Anthropos (man), and the Lemuroids, including the lemur.
The classification here indicated will serve our present purpose very well. But the reader is reminded that, as already mentioned, naturalists do not adopt at present any uniform system of classification. Moreover, the term Simiadæ is usually employed—and will be employed here—to represent the entire simian race, i.e., both the Simiadæ and the Cebidæ of Mivart’s classification.
And now, turning to the Anthropoid apes, we find ourselves at the outset confronted by the question, which of the four apes, the gorilla, the orang-outang, the chimpanzee, or the gibbon, is to be regarded as nearest to man in intelligence? So far as bodily configuration is concerned, our opinion would vary according to the particular feature which we selected for consideration. But it will probably be admitted that intelligence should be the characteristic by which our opinions should be guided.
The gibbon may be dismissed at once, though, as will presently appear, there are some features in which this ape resembles man more closely than either the gorilla, the orang-outang, or the chimpanzee.
The gorilla must, I fear, be summarily ejected from the position of honour to which he has been raised by many naturalists. Though the gorilla is a much larger animal than the chimpanzee, his brain barely equals the chimpanzee’s in mass. It is also less fully developed in front. In fact, Gratiolet asserts that of all the broad-chested apes, the gorilla is—so far as brain character is concerned—the lowest and most degraded. He regards the gorilla’s brain as only a more advanced form of that of the brutal baboons, while the orange’s brain is the culminating form of the gibbon type, and the chimpanzee’s the culminating form of the macaque type. This does not dispose of the difficulty very satisfactorily, however, because it remains to be shown whether the gibbon type and the macaque type are superior as types to the baboon types. But it may suffice to remark that the baboons are all brutal and ferocious, whereas the gibbons are comparatively gentle animals, and the macaques docile and even playful. It may be questioned whether brutality and ferocity should be regarded as necessarily removing the gorilla further from man; because it is certain that the races of man which approach nearest to the anthropoid apes, with which races the comparison should assuredly be made, are characterized by these very qualities, brutality and ferocity. Intelligence must be otherwise gauged. Probably the average proportion of the brain’s weight to that of the entire body, and the complexity of the structure of the brain, would afford the best means of deciding the question. But, unfortunately, we have very unsatisfactory evidence on these points. The naturalists, who have based opinions on such evidence as has been obtained, seem to overlook the poverty of the evidence. Knowing as we do how greatly the human brain varies in size and complexity, not only in different races but in different individuals of the same race, it appears unsatisfactory in the extreme to regard the average of the brains of each simian species hitherto examined as presenting the true average cerebral capacity for each species.