Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/177

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163
ZOÖLOGICAL SUPERSTITIONS.

Yet the occupation of a monkey-trainer would put that tolerance to a severe test. With an intelligence surpassing that of the most intelligent dog, a monkey combines an ultra-mulish degree of obstinacy, and, rather than imitate the demonstrative manipulations of the kindest instructor, he will sham fear, sham lameness, sham heart-disease, and generally wind up by falling down in a sham fit of epileptic convulsions. I have owned monkeys of at least twenty different species, and have never been able to discover the slightest trace of that supposed penchant for mimicry. A boy may take off his coat and turn a thousand somersets, Jacko will watch the phenomenon only with a view to getting his fingers into the pockets of the unguarded coat. Lift up your hand a hundred times, Jacko will witness the proceeding with calm indifference, unless a more emphatic repetition of the manœuvre should make him duck his head to dodge an anticipated blow. He has no desire to follow any human precedents whatever, and the apparent exceptions from that rule are, on his part, wholly unintentional and merely a natural result of anatomical analogies. An angry hamadryas baboon, for instance, will strike the ground with his fist, not because any Christian visitors have ever set him that bad example, but because his forefathers have thus for ages vented their wrath on the rocks of the Nubian highlands. A capuchin monkey will pick huckleberries with his fingers, not in deference to civilized customs, but because his fingers are deft and long, and his jaws very short. Nay, that same capuchin monkey, admitted to a seat at the breakfast-table of a punctilious family, would be apt to show his contempt of court by sticking his head in the pudding-dish. The compulsive methods of professional trainers may modify that perversity, but during recess the redeemed four-hander is sure to drop his mask, and, unlike a trained dog, will never volunteer the performance of a popular trick.

About the beginning of this century an ingenious Frenchman traveled about with a so-called chess-automaton, a wooden figure with movable arms, manipulated by a hidden accomplice, and warranted to play chess according to the rules of Devega's manual. As a mystifying joke, the contrivance was quite a success, and, if any intelligent person could really believe in the autonomy of the apparatus, the silliness of the idea could hardly have surpassed the absurdity of the parrot-stories which our popular family journals continue to retail in this age of reason. Not more than a year ago, some modern Buffon, after a learned disquisition on the comparative intelligence of beasts and birds, treated his readers to the following "characteristic" anecdote: A Philadelphia family bought a parrot which could sing four or five national hymns, but to the dismay of his Quaker proprietor proved to have a still greater genius for blasphemous slang. Family worship and the conversation of learned and pious visitors were apt to be interrupted by a sudden cataract of Billingsgate, till the head of the family ordered the bird, at the first sign of profanity, to be ducked in