Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/December 1882/Criminality in Animals

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IT is a recognized fact that the anatomy and physiology of animals have afforded valuable help in the study of the human constitution. We might, indeed, say that physiology, toxicology, and therapeutics are based upon experiments which have been made on animals. Why, then, have we halted at this stage? Why has it not occurred to medical experts in criminal law to study the phenomena of crimes among animals for the purpose of reaching a better understanding of those which are committed by men? If animals are liable to the greater proportion of the organic maladies to which we are subject, if they are liable to epidemic or contagious diseases, there appears to be no reason why they should be exempt from mental diseases. Just as we recognize that there occur among men malformed individuals, organically defective and furnishing proofs of their organic faults in their acts, feelings, or thoughts, so we should expect to find similar individuals among animals, or at least among those species which stand constitutionally nearer to man.

Two causes may be alleged for the neglect of this study: First, animal psychology has not yet made much progress. The investigations of veterinary physicians have not been directed to that side. Pierquin said, in his "Traité de la Folie des Animaux" (Treatise on Madness among Animals), in 1839, that till his time no professor of veterinary medicine had ever spoken from his chair, either of the brain, the nervous system, or the physiology of animals. The other cause, and the most influential one, has been the difficulty most authors have had in disembarrassing themselves of the scholastic ideas which have promoted the belief in a great chasm between the moral condition of animals and of men. As Gall has well said, the greatest obstacle that it has ever been possible to oppose to the knowledge of human nature consists in the fact that theorists have isolated it from that of other beings, and endeavored to subject it to laws of its own, different from those of their nature. He adds, subsequently: "Those who account for the normal and intellectual acts of man, of the understanding and of the will, independently of the body, and those who, being wholly strangers to the natural sciences, still believe in the mechanism or the automatism of brutes, may find the comparison of man with animals revolting and absolutely sterile. But such a comparison will be regarded as indispensable by those who have familiarized themselves with the labors of Bonnet, Condillac, Reimarus, Georges Leroy, Dupont, Nemours, Herder, Cadet Devan, Huber, etc., and especially by those who have become ever so slightly acquainted with the progress of comparative anatomy and physiology."

The authors who are cited by Gall have furnished important data for the comparison of animal species, and have laid the foundation of a scientific comparative physiology. Buff on had already asserted that, if no animals existed, the nature of man would be still more incomprehensible than it is. The observations of Georges Leroy and Gall have shown that the elementary functions of the brain must be investigated in the study of animals. These authors have been followed in this way by Prichard, Pierquin, Darwin, Forel, Espinas, Houzeau, Büchner, etc., from whom and from other naturalists and travelers, the materials for this essay have been largely borrowed.

The present work was suggested to me by Professor Lambrozzo, of Turin; and Professor Cornevin, of the veterinary school of Lyons, has furnished me several valuable facts.

By way of an historical introduction to our study, we will cast a glance at the relations which the human laws of different societies have established between men and animals. The primitive peoples, fetichistic in their feelings and habits, and not yet capable of metaphysical subtilties, instinctively put animals and men upon a footing of perfect equality as respected the penalties to be attached to their crimes. It was so with all people during the middle ages, and even in fact down to the last century. Then, by one of the sudden contradictions which frequently appear in the history of mankind, a distinction between the actions of men and of animals was clearly defined. The powerful influence of Descartes, the encyclopedists, and the scientific men of the last century, who were more frequently demolishers than constructors, affords the explanation of the change, which, it is proper to say, was due rather to bad than to generous sentiments. Gradually, under the domination of the metaphysical spirit, the conviction arose that animals were brutes, that it was difficult to appreciate their moral state, and that this moral state was after all separated, if it had any existence, by an immense distance from that of man. So the law protecting animals was quite forgotten in the framing of our codes.

Only a few scientific men or observers made approaches to the admission of evolution and transformation. These ideas have become common now, and nearly every one has adopted them theoretically, but few admit them in practice, and it will not be surprising to us if the title of our essay raises a smile on the face of many of its readers.

We will begin by showing how the human societies that have preceded ours have manifested their feelings with regard to certain acts of animals. Among fetich-worshiping peoples, the animal is considered as a man, and a member of the human family to the same extent as a slave. Its loss is an occasion for mourning, and its trespasses—toward man—deserve punishment.

In ancient Egypt, when a cat died in the house, the inhabitants shaved their eyebrows; if a dog died, they shaved their whole body. In Athens, one of the laws of Triptolemus declared that no one had a right to inflict a wrong upon a living creature. The Greeks were aware of the tender and affectionate care which the young of the stork exhibited for their old parents, and recorded that, when the latter lost their feathers from age, the young stripped themselves of their down for them and fed them with the food they collected. This was the origin of the Greek law called "the law of the stork," by virtue of which children were obligated to take care of their aged parents, and those who refused to do so were declared infamous. How different is it in our modern societies! Pierquin remarks with reason that, as man rises, he treats animals as if they were correspondingly degraded. For a long time they had the same rights. During the middle ages they were allowed a part in religious ceremonies. At Milan they figured in the festivals of the kings; and processions of animals appear in the bas-reliefs of the cathedrals of Strasburg, Mans, and Vienne (Isère). On Holy Wednesday all the clergy of the church of Rheims went to Saint Remi to make a station there; the canons, preceded by the cross, were arranged in two lines, each drawing a herring after him with a cord; and each one was intent upon saving his own fish, and stepping upon that of the canon in front of him (Anquetil, "Histoire de Reims"). At Paris, the procession of the fox was as much enjoyed as the festival of the ass. The animal, dressed in a kind of surplice, wearing the mitre, had his place in the midst of the clergy: a fowl was put within his reach; he often forgot his pious functions to spring upon the bird and devour it in the presence of the faithful. Philip the Fair was very fond of this procession (Sanval, "Antiquités de Paris"). Only a few years ago, the procession of the fat ox remained, a survival from the pagan feasts, a real piece of wreckage from vanished civilizations.

While the rights of animals were thus recognized, their duties toward man did not escape the earlier legislators, who severely punished their crimes and attempts upon human life. The law of Moses (Exodus xxi, 28, 29) recites: "If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death."

Judgments based on this principle are recorded at Athens and Rome. According to Pierquin, Democritus wished an animal, which had occasioned some major damage, to be punished with death. Under Domitian, according to the report of Martial, the ingratitude of a lion toward its master was severely punished. Columella and Varro say that the ancient Romans regarded the ox as the companion of the labors of man, and that the act of killing one was regarded as a homicide and punished in the same way; and the ox enjoyed the same privilege in Attica and the Peloponnesus. It is also said that the Arabs in the mountains of Africa formerly crucified lions, guilty of murders, upon trees, as warnings to others.

In the middle ages they prosecuted animals which committed murder, those which had become dangerous to have at large, and females which, having given birth to monsters, were suspected of criminal cohabitations. Père Théophile Raynaud, Ayrault, Gaspard Bailly, and more recently M. Benoist Saint-Prix and M. Louandre ("Epopée des Animaux," "Revue des Deux Mondes," 1854), have cited some extremely curious examples of such condemnations.

In 1120 the Bishop of Laon issued a letter of excommunication against the caterpillars and the field-mice. Under Francis I an official advocate was provided for these animals, and pleadings were allowed between them and the farmers. In 1356, at Falaise, a sow having killed a child and begun to devour it, the judge condemned it to perish by the sword. As it had eaten an arm and part of the head of the child, one of its feet was cut off and its "face" was mutilated. Then it was dressed in man's clothes before being led to punishment, and the executioner received his customary fee of ten sous and a pair of gloves. In 1543 the consuls and aldermen of Grenoble published a decree demanding the excommunication of the snails and caterpillars. In 1585 the Grand Vicar of Valencia ordered the caterpillars, with which the country was infested, to evacuate his diocese. In 1587 an action was brought against the insects which were ravaging a field near Saint Jean de Maurienne, and they were condemned. Jean Milon, an officer of Troyes, pronounced the following sentence on the 9th of July, 1516: "Having heard the parties, and granting the request of the inhabitants of Villenove, we admonish the caterpillars to retire within six days; and, in case they do not comply, we pronounce them accursed and excommunicated."

M. Benoist Saint-Prix has collected eighty sentences of death and excommunications that were pronounced between 1120 and 1741 against every species of animals, from the ass to the grasshopper. He adds that, while in some countries animals have been employed as executioners, they have frequently been admitted in France as witnesses in suits. Who does not remember the history of the dog of Montargis, and the duel that Charles V ordered to be fought between the faithful animal of Aubrey of Montdidier and the assassin of his master, Richard Macaire?

The recital of these facts and a comparison of what has taken place in our time permit us to appreciate the great modifications that have been produced in the feelings of mankind. We have furthermore learned that, until our epoch, an erroneous idea prevailed regarding the offenses or crimes committed by animals. The actions of animals toward other animals had passed almost unperceived, and did not seem worthy of being noticed. It could not, therefore, enter the head of any person to investigate their moral bearing. The animal was adjudged and punished only when his offense bore upon man or society.

It appears to us that the time has come for a scientific study of certain criminal acts of animals, for the purpose of comparing them with similar acts committed by men and punishable by our laws. It is a study in comparative criminal psychology. We believe that such a work may have a higher bearing than that of a mere effort of scientific curiosity; and it seems to us, with Georges Leroy, that the moral condition of wolves may throw light upon that of men.

According to Georges Leroy, three motives influence the animal and become the principles of his thoughts, his judgments, his determinations, and his actions. They are the seeking for food, the taking of precautions for his safety, and the gratification of his amorous desires. Leroy also suggests that we may recognize in beasts natural passions, and other passions which might be called factitious or reflexive. Of the former class are the impulses of hunger, the ardent desires of love, and maternal tenderness; of the latter are the fear of want, or avarice, and jealousy, which leads to vengeance. Other authors, among them Gall and August Comte, have endeavored to frame a classification of the cerebral faculties. Without discussing here these different systems which have been proposed chiefly to fix the number of man's elementary faculties, we believe that it will be convenient for the exposition of our subject to recognize among animals such instincts or elementary faculties as the nutritive, the genetic, the maternal, and the destructive instincts; and, as among those easier to establish with man than with animals, the instinct of vanity and the social instincts. We shall study particularly the exaggerations of these instincts, which are injurious to other animals of the same species, and which result in such specific acts as are regarded as crimes or offenses in human societies. "The animal and man," says Gall, "are organized for anger, hatred, sorrow, fear, and jealousy, because there are things and events which, according to their nature, deserve to be detested or loved, desired or feared."

1. Acts of Offense committed by Animals under the Influence of the Nutritive Instinct.—No distinctions are observed with regard to sex. When hunger makes itself felt, all animals exhibit, in different and varied degrees, according to their nature, the spectacle of the "struggle for existence." The fact is so well known that it does not require any great elaboration. The animals longest and most completely domesticated continue at feeding-time to steal food from each other, and to quarrel about it. The use of separate mangers, racks, boxes, and stalls, is based upon the knowledge of this fact. The object of the most important features of the interior arrangements of stables is to prevent the stealing of food and the trampling of the weaker by the stronger. It is well known that among the species which we see daily are individuals manifesting clearly the disposition to theft. Some of them have an exaggerated nutritive instinct, are avaricious, and lay up provisions. Leroy says that when wolves have brought down a large animal, they eat a part of it and carefully hide the rest; but this precaution does not abate their propensity to hunt, and they have recourse to their cache only when the chase has been unsuccessful. The same observation may be made with reference to dogs, foxes, and other animals.

M. Cornevin has remarked that, among species which live in community, not only is food stolen, but individuals which are on the point of perishing are eaten. Wolves, in spite of the proverb, rats and mice, eat each other up. "Last year I observed several times among the Guinea pigs, which were the subjects of my experiments, that those that died were eaten by the survivors. They were not troubled by hunger, for they had all the corn they wanted. Possibly they sought to appease their thirst in the blood of their victims." Büchner, in his psychical lives of beasts, speaks of thievish bees, "which, in order to lessen their labor or dispense with it wholly, made attacks in mass upon provisioned hives, committed violence against the sentinels and the inhabitants, pillaged the hive, and carried away all the store of honey. If this exploit was successful for several times, they, like men, acquired a stronger taste for pillage and violence than for work, and ended by constituting real colonies of brigands." There are isolated individuals which are addicted to theft, and endeavor to slip, without being perceived, into a strange hive; their sly tricks demonstrate that they are forced to concealment, and are conscious that they are transgressors. If they succeed in their attempt, they afterward bring other bees to their hive to tempt them to similar thefts, and thus form a society of thieves. Büchner adds that bees may be artificially made thieves by feeding them a special food consisting of honey mixed with brandy. "Like man, they readily acquire a taste for this beverage, which exercises the same pernicious influence upon them as upon him; they become excited, intoxicated, and cease to work. Do they feel hunger? Then, like man, they fall from one vice into another, and give themselves up unscrupulously to pillage and theft."

2. Acts of Offense committed by Animals under the Influence of the Genetic Instinct.—Such acts may be distinguished between those committed by the male and those committed by the female. The former are more frequent and violent than the latter. Some animals indicate a feeling of decorous modesty, while others are absolutely shameless. Without going into details on this subject, it may be considered sufficient here to remark that most of the sexual offenses which have been defined by the law or put under the ban of human societies may be observed among animals in their intercourse with each other; and instances are on record in ancient and modern history, though rare and not always well authenticated, of attempts by animals against human beings.

3. Acts of Offense committed by Animals under the Influence of Maternal Love.—The exceedingly marked development of this instinct in female animals well justifies the epithet maternal.

Gall has remarked that while the instinct for propagation is extremely ardent among the males of certain species—the cock, the dog, the boar, and the stag, for example—without the animals taking the slightest interest in the young, the instinct for propagation is also generally more active in the male than in the female, and generally, also, the female feels a stronger love for the offspring. Many animals, as among the insects and amphibiæ, and the cuckoo, take no care at all of their young, although they mate ardently.

Other animals, as with ants and bees, do not exercise the act of propagation at all, yet they very assiduously take care of the eggs and larvæ. The same author insists upon individual differences, and cites cases, the counterparts of which would be called in human societies abandonment of children, abduction of minors, seduction, infanticide, etc.

Some cows, mares, and dogs bear the loss of their young with a degree of indifference; others even abandon them regularly. Pigeons generally, male as well as female, appear indifferent to their broods, while the rail and the corn-crake are so devoted to them that their heads are frequently cut off by the reaper's sickle. When a house in which storks have a nest takes fire, the father and the mother stork will fall into the flames rather than abandon their young. Boerhaave has made the same observation with respect to the chimney-swallow. The female partridge loves her own young with a strong affection, but she chases away and kills the young of other partridges. The pheasant, on the other hand, shows much less affection for her own young, and does not mind the loss of those which stray from her, while she receives joyfully and takes under her protection little pheasants that are strangers to her.

Gall tells of mares that have such a passion for colts that they kidnap the foals from other mares, and take care of them with a jealous fondness; and Espinas notices the same fact among asses. Pierquin had a dog of a Scotch breed, which was shy of the male, but would capture every puppy it met, and was in the habit of stealing out of the house to go hunting for them.

Among facts of an opposite character, we cite the case of a friend's dog which bore three or four litters, of which it would take proper care during the first three months, and would then carry them away into the mountain and leave them. We must also take notice of that inexplicable aberration that leads many females among our domestic animals to suffer their progeny to die, or kill them; while other animals, dogs, for example, become thieves during the whole time that they are taking care of their young. Females of the larger domestic species frequently refuse to let their young suck them, with the result that the young die. This is most remarked of animals bearing for the first time. The most astonishing fact is that of infanticide, which is almost the rule with certain species, notably with swine.

4. Acts of Offense committed by Animals under the Influence of the Destructive Instinct.—This instinct acts when animals are urged to overcome the obstacles that oppose the satisfaction of their desires. Thus they become murderous in time of heat; they seem to have gained new force; their nature has become irascible and furiously disposed; and contests of the most bloody character take place between them. Pierquin adds that baffled love often leads man as well as animals into a murderous monomania. Buffon cites examples of animals which were frequently subject to a murderous passion. He speaks of canary-birds which were so wicked as to kill the female that was given them, and which could not be broken of the practice except by giving them two. Others are so barbarous in their inclinations as to break and eat the eggs as soon as they have been laid; and, even if the unnatural father allows the eggs to be sat upon, he will kill the young as soon as they are hatched. Pierquin mentions cross, quarrelsome dogs that are always ready to fight upon the smallest provocation. Wickedness of this kind may be manifested in certain races; it may be individual, permanent, and hereditary; or, while it is still individual, it may be accidental and transient, provoked by particular circumstances.

We may call a specific malignity that which one species shows toward another species that hunts it or is its rival in the struggle for existence. The instinctive repulsion of dogs and cats is proverbial. It is interesting, however, to observe how this repugnance can cease under certain conditions, as when the struggle for existence becomes less active. Commander Mouchez asserts that the cats and the rats on the Island of St. Paul, where he went to observe the transit of Venus, have ceased to war upon each other, and have instead joined in hunting birds. Cases of permanent and hereditary maliciousness are not rare. All who have had to do with domestic animals, says M. Cornevin, have observed that there appear among our subdued species, horses and cattle, individuals, both male and female, which are intractable, vicious, and absolutely useless; just as individuals of a similar character sometimes appear in human society. Such traits are often hereditary.

We have examples of the excitation of the destructive propensity by higher faculties in which malice seems to be consecutive to a real reasoning. First among them is the case of malice aroused by the recollection of bad treatment. Animals with such passion become murderers for revenge. They say that the mule always keeps a kick in store for the master who maltreats it; and examples are frequent of asses, mules, and horses, that were very gentle till they were chastised, remembering the blows they had received, and avenging themselves on the drivers who inflicted them. There are also murderers for rivalry. A bull that has been gentle enough as long as he has had his cows to himself will become vicious as soon as a rival is brought into the field, and will try to kill him or drive him away, and always keep watch over him.

M. Colin, in his treatise on the "Physiology of the Domestic Animals," cites two curious examples of criminality developed under the operation of the nutritive instinct. A dog at the school of Alfort, which was fed on the remains of dissected bodies, conceived a violent and dangerous hatred for the skinner, who took away his meats. Another dog, which was fed together with a hog, took such aversion toward his commensal, that he broke his chain, jumped upon the porker, killed, disemboweled, and tore it.

Man has sometimes taken pains to develop the destructive instinct of animals. Jacolliot tells of elephants that were fed with meat to keep this faculty in a state of excitation. The Hottentots train cattle in a similar way. A legend runs to the effect that an exiled king of Garamanta returned to his country with an army of two hundred dogs. It is said, also, that when the Cimbri were defeated their dogs defended their chariots. The city of St. Malo is said to have been defended once in a similar manner; and during the night the animals were let loose in the streets as a kind of police. At the camp of Lobau, during the campaign in Italy, the soldiers trained large dogs to take prisoners. Watchmen in some prisons are accompanied in their night-rounds by dogs, to detect the prisoners who are out of their beds.

5. Acts of Offense committed by Animals under the Instinct of Vanity.—Though less susceptible than man, animals are very fond of praise and approbation. With what intoxication of joy does the dog receive our commendations! Every one has remarked how sensible horses are to marks of affection, and how they exert themselves in races so as not to allow a rival to pass them. Pierquin had a monkey which, when a handkerchief was given it, draped itself in it, and manifested an extraordinary pleasure in watching the train of its court-robe. Napoleon believed that man was only a more perfect animal, and claimed for his horse memory, intelligence, and love. "I had a horse," he said, "which could recognize me among all the world, and which showed, by his prancing and his proud step when I was on his back, that he knew he was carrying a person superior to all the others around him. He would not allow any one else to ride him except a groom who regularly took care of him, and his movements, when that man was upon him, were so peculiar that he seemed aware that he was carrying a servant." This was perhaps the same animal of which Constant wrote in his "Memoirs": "The Emperor had for several years an Arabian horse of rare instincts, that gave him much pleasure. It was hard to discover any grace in him while his master was out of sight, but whenever he heard the drums announcing the presence of his Majesty he would raise himself in pride, shake his head, paw the ground, and from that moment till the Emperor dismounted from him he would carry as fine a head as ever was seen." Such vanity is, in fact, quite common among Arabian horses, and the treatment they receive is well adapted to develop it. It is comprehensible that, under the influence of this instinct, and the jealousy that often results from it, animals may become malicious and quarrelsome, and attack and even kill their companions. It has been remarked that these vain animals more readily attack ragged creatures, especially if they dwell where they are unaccustomed to the sight of misery.

6. Acts or Offense committed by Animals under the Influence of the Social Instincts. Such social instincts as attachment and reverence can not be found among all animals. They evidently can not exist among animals which live isolated, or among those which mate only temporarily. It is otherwise, however, with those that live together, and between these a real marriage is established. So, when several couples or families have a common habitation, elevated social bonds are produced, quite comparable to those which are established in human societies. Examples will not be wanting, if we look at the bees and the ants, or at the republic of the rabbits. The idea of property, says Georges Leroy, certainly exists among rabbits; old age and fraternity are much respected by them.

Doves, turtle-doves, the roe, the chamois, and the mole can not support widowhood, and death generally follows the loss or absence of one of a pair of them. Some curious stories are told of the conjugal customs of storks. The males seem to be very jealous, and sometimes put to death an unfaithful companion and her betrayer. The inhabitants of Smyrna, who are well acquainted with the conjugal susceptibility of the male stork, amuse themselves by putting hens' eggs into the nests of these birds. The male becomes very angry at the sight of this unusual product, and, with the aid of other storks, tears his companion to pieces. There is certainly no need of calling up the numerous facts that show that domestication has, in certain animals, dogs, for example, developed these social instincts into a most touching devotion.

It seems to us that the review we have just made embraces a sufficiently large number of facts to permit us to establish an almost complete parallel between the criminal actions of men and those of animals. The analogy would have been closer if we had cited examples of tricks to show what combinations or means are at the disposition of an animal when it is seeking to accomplish its purposes. We can not, however, help remarking that there are authentic cases of simulation or deception which animals have worked out to save themselves from labor or to procure some advantage. A military surgeon tells of a horse which was accustomed to pretend to be lame on the days when the horses were drilled, in order to avoid that duty. Coste mentions a dog which, in the winter, when he found his comrades lying around the fire in such a way as to prevent his getting near to it, would make a great noise in the yard; at this the other dogs would run out, while he would slip into the house and, securing a good place for himself, leave his comrades to bark as long as they pleased. He tried this trick quite often, and always succeeded in it, for the other dogs had not intelligence enough to find it out.

With men, certain crimes tend to diminish or disappear under the influence of civilization. It is the same with animals. The more the domestication of a race is perfected, the less violent do its passions become, and, consequently, such crimes as we have discussed grow more rare. Not being troubled about their food, which is put before them in abundance and good order every day, they are not subject to the struggle for existence, and their character is mollified. Furthermore, by virtue of the law of organic balance, the development of the digestive apparatus, consequent on plentiful and regular feeding, takes place at the expense of the nervous system, whence less violence, less irritability, and less sexual passion. Malice is extremely rare among thorough-bred domestic animals, as, for instance, among the Durham cattle.

A man subject to relapses—this is his forty-fourth sentence—a man of quite solid education, yet who seems to pursue persistently the most absurd of evil schemes, wrote to me a little while ago: "I committed the first offense in my life, then repaired it. Repulsed everywhere and by every one, I pretended to steal, so that I could be arrested and condemned. All my condemnations have been for vagrancy or breaking my parole. I have always behaved well when I have had enough to eat. Misery makes a man wicked. With a piece of bread one may, perhaps, prevent a wretch from committing theft or murder." The criminal, says Hobbes, is a robust child; and Georges Leroy adds: "If we suppose a man to have strong desires, and to be without experience, like a child, it is hard to conceive of anything that will restrain him in the course he is pursuing. Our passions bring us back to childhood by vividly presenting to us a single object with the degree of intensity that eclipses everything else."

We believe that we have shown in this study that, if the acts, the thoughts, and the feelings of animals are similar to ours, the same is the case with their offenses and their crimes, so far as the same are related to their interests and their passions. As in our own species, the criminal animal is generally a type appearing sporadically, with passions, desires, and instincts that are not those of its race. These faults are transmissible and hereditary. Domestication and systematic feeding diminish, destroy, or transform these mischievous dispositions. We were right in saying, when we began, that the morals of wolves may throw light upon those of men.—Revue Scientifique.