The Scientific Ape

The Scientific Ape

In a certain West Indian Isle, there stood a house and hard by a grove of trees. In the house there dwelt a vivisectionist, and on the trees a clan of anthropoid apes. It chanced that one of these was caught by the vivisectionist and kept some time in a cage in the laboratory. There he was much terrified by what he saw, deeply interested in all he heard; and as he had the fortune to escape at an early period of his case (which was numbered 701) and to return to his family with only a trifling lesion of one foot, he thought himself on the whole the gainer.

He was no sooner back than he dubbed himself doctor and began to trouble his neighbours with the question: Why are not apes progressive?

“I do not know what progressive means,” said one, and threw a cocoanut at his grandmother.

“I neither know nor care,” said another, and swung himself into a neighboring tree.

“O stow that!” cried a third.

“Damn progress!” said the chief, who was an old physical-force tory. “Try and behave yourselves better the way you are.”

But when the scientific ape got the younger males alone, he was heard with more attention. “Man is only a promoted ape,” said he, hanging his tail from a high branch. “The geological record being incomplete, it is impossible to say how long he took to rise, and how long it might take us to follow in his steps. But by plunging vigorously in medias res on a system of my own, I believe we shall astonish everyone. Man lost centuries over religion, morals, poetry and other fudge; it was centuries before he got properly to science, and only the other day that he began to vivisect. We shall go the other way about, and begin with vivisection.”

“What in the name of cocoanuts is vivisection?” asked an ape.

The doctor explained at great length what he had seen in the laboratory; and some of his hearers were delighted, but not all.

“I never heard of anything so beastly!” cried an ape who had lost one ear in quarrel with his aunt.

“And what is the good of it?” asked another.

“Don’t you see?” said the doctor. “By vivisecting men, we find out how apes are made, and so we advance.” “But why not vivisect each other?” asked one of his disciples who was disputatious.

“O, fie!” said the doctor. “I will not sit and listen to such talk; or at least not in public.”

“But criminals?” inquired the disputant.

“It is highly doubtful if there be such a thing as right or wrong: then, where’s your criminal?” replied the doctor. “And besides the public would not stand it. And men are just as good; it’s all the same genus.” “It seems rough on the men,” said the ape with one ear.

“Well, to begin with,” said the doctor, “they say that we don’t suffer and are what they call automata; so I have a perfect right to say the same of them.”

“That must be nonsense,” said the disputant; “and besides it’s self-destructive. If they are only automata, they can teach us nothing of ourselves; and if they can teach us anything of ourselves, by cocoanuts! They have to suffer.”

“I am much of your way of thinking,” said the doctor, “and indeed that argument is only fit for the monthly magazines. Say that they do suffer. Well, they suffer in the interest of a lower race, which requires help: there can be nothing fairer than that. And besides we shall doubtless make discoveries which will prove useful to themselves.”

“But how are we to make discoveries,” inquired the disputant, “when we don’t know what to look for?”

“God bless my tail!” cried the Doctor, nettled out of his dignity, “I believe you have the least scientific mind of any ape in the Windward Islands! Know what to look for indeed! True science has nothing to do with that. You just vivisect along, upon the chance; and if you do discover anything, who is so surprised as you?”

“I see one more objection,” said the disputant, “though, mind you, I am far from denying it would be capital fun. But men are so strong, and then they have these guns.”

“And therefore we shall take babies,” concluded the doctor.

That same afternoon, the doctor returned to the vivisectionist’s garden, purloined one of his razors through the dressing room window, and on a second trip, removed his baby from the nursery basinette.

There was a great to-do in the tree tops. The ape with the one ear, who was a good natured fellow, nursed the baby in his arms; another stuffed nuts in its mouth, and was aggrieved because it would not eat them. “It has no sense,” said he.

“But I wish it would not cry,” said the ape with the one ear, “it looks so horribly like a monkey!” “This is childish,” said the doctor. “Give me the razor.”

But at this the ape with one ear lost heart, spat at the doctor, and fled with the baby into the next tree top.

“Yah!” cried the ape with the one ear, “vivisect yourself!”

At this the whole crew began chasing and screaming; and the noise called up the chief, who was in the neighborhood, killing fleas.

“What is all this about?” cried the chief. And when they had told him, he wiped his brow. “Great cocoanuts!” cried he, “is this a nightmare? Can apes descend to such barbarity? Take back that baby where it came from.”

“You have not a scientific mind,” said the doctor.

“I do not know if I have a scientific mind or not,” replied the chief; “but I have a very thick stick, and if you lay one claw upon that baby, I will break your head with it.”

So they took the baby to the front garden plot. The vivisectionist (who was an estimable family man) was overjoyed, and in the lightness of his heart, began three more experiments in his laboratory before the day was done.


Written by Robert Louis Stevenson