JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
"The Gorillas Dilemma", 1862.
This poem, which appeared in the London Punch in October 1862, three years after the first edition of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, addresses the confrontation between Richard Owen and Thomas Huxley (and by extension, of course, Charles Darwin). Owen had earlier attacked the Origin in an anonymous review in the Edinburgh Review (volume 111, page 521, 1860), and Thomas Huxley, of course, who was one of the earliest and who became the greatest of Darwin's "disciples" (and known as "Darwin's Bulldog").
Owen wrote with a very heavy and dark pen, in 1860:
"To him, indeed, who may deem himself devoid of soul and as the brute that perisheth, any speculation, pointing, with the smallest feasibility, to an intelligible notion of the way of coming in of a lower organised species, may be sufficient, and he need concern himself no further about his own relations to a Creator. But when the members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain are taught by their evening lecturer that such a limited or inadequate view and treatment of the great problem exemplifies that application of science to which England owes her greatness, we take leave to remind the managers that it more truly parallels the abuse of science to which a neighbouring nation, some seventy years since, owed its temporary degradation. By their fruits may the promoters of true and false philosophy be known."
Tough stuff. And Darwin took it personally and seriously, absorbing the blows against himself (and his supporters, especially Huxley and Hooker), as well as the spurious and ethically-challenged mistaken assertions that Owen tricked out in his piece. "It is painful to be hated in the intense depth with which Owen hates me" Darwin wrote a few months later (Darwin Correspondence, volume 8, April 1860, page 154.)
Huxley and Owen would have it out over the years (though Darwin himself would not partake due to illness and such, preferring to respond through written help to Huxley and others).
And so the poem:
" (To Professor Owen & Huxley)
SAY am I a man and a brother,
Of only an anthropoid ape?
Your judgment, be 't one way or 'tother,
Do put into positive shape.
Must I humbly take rank as quadruman
As OWEN maintains that I ought:
Or rise into brotherhood human,
As HUXLEY has flatt'ringly taught?
For though you may deem a Gorilla
Don’t think much of his rank in creation,
If of feeling one have a scintilla,
It glows to know "who's one's relation"–
Apes and monkeys (now crowding by dozens
Their kinship with us to have proved).,
Or an OWEN and HUXLEY for cousins,
Though, it may be, a little removed.
If you ask me my private opinion,
(Which humbly through Punch is submitted)
For which sphere of nature's dominion
I seem to myself to be fitted:
To speak with decision I'm funky,
Nature's field when I selfishly scan,
For in some points if man's above monkey,
In some monkey's far above man.
My ignorance needs no apologies–
With anatomy nought I've to do
This with all the appurtenant "ologies"
I leave, my Professors, to you.
But the points wherein I say that man
Must perforce monkey own his superior,
Are where man apes the apes all he can,
And yet to the apes is inferior.
Thus, in power of jaw apes beat fellows
Of your own scientific societies;
The P.R. they outrival in "bellows,"
In gymnastics your first notorieties.
What's BLONDIN to every chimpanzee,
Or LEOTARD great in trqpeze?
If their feats rouse the public to frenzy,
What rapture a gibbon should raise!
You've low comedy actors consummate
In gagging, grimacing and chaff;
But in many who'd BUCKSTONE look glum at
The monkey-cage wakens a laugh.
What are "Cures," Nigger-dances and jibes
To the black spider monkey's contortions?
Before preacher-monkeys by tribes
How small seem one SPUNGEON’S proportions!
One distinction alleged I must say
Betwixt man and monkey is hollow–
Where monkey or man shows the way,
Other men, other monkeys will follow.
But from all points of difference one turns
To this crowning divergence to come,
Not one man in a thousand e'er learns
To keep silent–all monkeys are dumb!
For distinctions of brain-cerebellum-
I leave you to cut down or swell 'em,
They are scarce the distinctions to stamp us.
Now this way now that, without end,
I’m swayed by the pros and the cons
As I feel man and monkey contend
Which in nature's domain are the dons.
Then help me, Professors, I pray;
For English opinion I value;
(You can't think how I suffered when GRAY
So pitched into me, through DU CHAILLU)
Anatomy out of the question,
Had I better be monkey or man,
By enlightened self-interest’s suggestion?
Say you–for hang me, if I can.