DR. MIVART ON THE CAT.* COINCIDENCES are always curious, and
it is not the least of them that two leading English zoologists have been almost simul- taneously induced to put forth their opinion on many of the generalities of their science, by selecting each of them a special subject, and working it out in detail. Professor Huxley rightly termed his monograph on the Crayfish, An Introduction to Zoology, for, as he well observed (Preface, p. vi.), " Whoever will follow its pages, crayfish in hand, and will try to verify for himself the statements which it contains, will find himself brought face to face with all the great zoological questions which excite so lively an interest at the present day ; lie will understand the method by which alone we can hope to attain to satisfactory answers of these questions ; and finally, lie will
appreciate the justice of Diderot's remark, faut etre profond dans l'art ou dans la science, pour en hien posseder les elements ;' " while we have the author of the book under review (which appeared but shortly afterwards, and was, of course, in pre- paration long before Professor Huxley's little volume saw the light), without taking in one way quite so wide a range, giving as its title, The Cat : an Inteoduction to the Sillily of Bad:- boned Animals. It has been said, and truly, that there are two ways of writing the biography of any historical or literary char- acter. One, the more popular, is to work up the personage, and then " read round him " for a background ; the other is to study the epoch, with its actors, talkers, and thinkers,—in fact, all the surroundings of him concerning whom it is proposed to speak, and then to detach from them his figure. Now, much the same may be averred of a zoological monograph, for what is such a monograph but the biography of an animal species or group of species ? And it will certainly be found that the best mono- graphs have been produced by those who have followed the latter of the two ways just indicated. But it is, of course, not in the power of many persons to choose this mode of proceed- ing. There are comparatively few, even of the best zoologists in certain lines, who have an acquaintance with the animal kingdom sufficiently extensive to do so, but among those few rank both the authors we have just named, since, whether we agree or not with their views, none can doubt their knowledge of the subject in all its bearings.
Dr. Mivart's selection of the Cat for his particular subject seems to have been the result of deliberation. In his preface, after justly remarking on the keenness with which biology is at present pursued, on the changes its study is producing in men's minds, and on the need of rewriting, from a new point of view, the natural history of plants and animals, he states that such a history may be written in two ways,—living beings may be treated as one whole, and what is known of them successively portrayed, or any one of them may be selected as a types treated in detail, and have other types more or less divergent from it afterwards comparatively described. So far, all must agree with him ; but when he proceeds to show why his choice has fallen on the Cat, he must be prepared to encounter a demurrer, if not a strong dis- sidence. He says, what is undoubtedly the fact, that in fol- lowing the latter method, " we may either begin with one of the most simply organised of living creatures, and gradually ascend to the highest and most complex in structure ; or we may com- mence with the latter, and thence descend to the consideration of the lowest kinds of animated beings;" but he goes on to state that "historically, it is the latter course which has been followed." Now, this mode of putting the case can hardly convey any but an inaccurate impression to every reader who is not already a zoologist. If sufficient stress be laid upon the word " histori- cally," the statement is undoubtedly true to the letter, for there is no question of envier, the founder of comparative anatomy as a science, having begun with the higher animals and then
* The Cat : an lull-eduction to the Study of Back-Dolled Animals, especially Mammals. By St. George Mivart, Ph.D., F.R.S. London Murray. 1831.
gone on to the lower, proceeding, as Dr. Mivart rightly says, from the known to the unknown. But then, so soon as "the unknown," that is to say, the lower forms of animal life, began to be known, the reasons which prompted Cuvier's course ceased to exist, and this fact has been recognised by almost all the authors of the best zoological text-books for nearly two genera- tions. Cuvier really had no option in the matter. Beginning to publish his investigations more than eighty years ago, and having a new edifice to erect, he could not have done otherwise than build on the foundations already existing,—those laid by the only anatomists of his time, namely, human anatomists. We do not overlook the labours of some of his predecessors who had worked at the lower animals, old Rumprius, the " Coralline " Ellis, Trem- bley, and others. They had contributed much information that was useful, while naturally nearly all that they contributed was novel; but, without the slightest disrespect to them, their information was incoherent. Cuvier could find in their investigations some ser- viceable materials, but materials quite inadequate to found the stupendous structure it was his glory to raise; and this build- iug, once raised by him, his successors have found it expedient not merely to elaborate and adorn, but even virtually to recon- struct by working from below upwards, underpinning, as it were, the faulty foundations, buttressing the lofty towers which had already begun to totter, or shoring up walls that were shaky, to say nothing of partitioning the whole edifice into numerous commodious chambers, of which the need had never been apparent to him. We fully believe that could envier have lived but twenty years longer, he would have been one of the first to perceive that his own success had shown how the best way to further progress iu zoological knowledge lay in the reversal of the method he had pursued, and how a learner should not attempt to run till he knew how to walk.
Leaving this matter, however, and accepting, under protest, Dr. Mivart's reasons for proceeding " historically," his choice of a subject rests admittedly on its convenience, for we wholly agree with him that " a fresh description of human anatomy " would be comparatively useless, while it is undeniable that nearly all the Peimates—certainly all the Quademaama—differ in structure .so non-essentially from man, that the same might be said of a new dissertation on any one of them. It is obvious also that all existing mammals are highly specialised forms of their respective types, whatever rank those types hold in the scale ; and, of course, no extinct mammal would serve the purpose intended. The Cat is undoubtedly " au animal easily obtained," since Whittington's time, " and of convenient size." We there- fore think Dr. Mivart, from his point of view, has not done amiss iu taking it as a sample of the class Manimalia. It has also the advantage, of which he seems unaware, of being the sample chosen, nearly forty years ago, for almost the same purpose by the persevering Strauss-Durckheim, whose classical treatise on this animal's anatomy is familiar to all well-informed zoologists, and though in one way less ambitious than Dr. Mivart's, yet more thoroughly covers part of the ground.*
Of the fifteen chapters into which Dr. Mivart's book is divided, nine—from the second to the tenth inclusive, making more than half the volume—may at once be dismissed as being of a nature too technical for discussion in these columns. But it is only just to say that they seem to us to contain an admir- ably clear and concise account of the animal's structure and development. On the other hand, we are disappointed with his first and introductory chapter. As a history of the Cat, whether wild or tame, it is meagre in the extreme. Speaking of the interest which the animal does or ought to excite, he observes (p. 2) that " its organisation, considered absolutely in itself, is one of singular perfection, and the adaptation of means to ends which it displays is truly admirable." Granted, and freely, all this, except the singularity, for of what animal may not the same common-place remark be made ? Whether we adopted the doc- trine of design or that of fortuitism, this is a matter which at the present day no one would dispute or even think of disputing, and certainly an evolutionist, as Dr. Mivart professes himself (though with what we may call " limited liability ") to be, should have divested himself of the fallacies which haunted the imagination of Buffos and Voltaire,—chafing against the chains of dogma that had bound them in their youth. We no longer have Dame Nature held up as making this, that, or the other miserable mistake. We know that navigable rivers run through
• Dr. Mivart's draughtsman. however, must have been acquainted with Strauss. Darckheitn's grand work, published at Paris in 1845, since the figures forming the frontispiece of the present volume are obviously taken from the French monograph.
great cities, but welave at least learnt that it is the navigability of the rivers that makes the cities great. In some instances, we do not confound cause and effect. If the animal were not equal to the calls upon it, if it were unfit for the situation in which it was placed, it would have become extinct, as so many animals have done. The very existence of an animal is the best proof of its organisation being perfect in regard to the functions it has to fulfil, and its adaptation to external circumstances. If these change to any great degree, it must either change in accordance, or cease to exist. In penning the sentence we have quoted, the author, we think, gives a sign of weakness that we are sorry to see. He is but a half-hearted evolutionist, or an evolutionist who is not thoroughly penetrated with the absolute truth of evolution, however it be brought about.
Some other faults we might also find, were we inclined, in this first chapter, but we do not wish to dwell on minor matters, -though having mentioned our disappointment, we are bound to show that it is not misplaced. High as our author stands in our.estimation as a descriptive anatomist, he wholly fails, if not to appreciate the interest which surrounds the Cat, with its remarkably obscure history ; at least to illustrate it sufficiently.* Whether it be from the want of a scientific imagination, we do not pretend to say ; but the qualities, properties, in a word, the idiosyncrasy of the Cat as an animal, have little new light shed ou them, either here or in the chapter on the Cat's place in Nature. Yet it is clear, from what Dr. Mivart says of the " hexicology " (as he calls it) of the creature, that he is fully aware of the importance of this part of his subject to the natural historian, though even in the chapter (xiv.) which he devotes especially to this matter, where he has much to say on a variety of other topics, there is comparatively little on the Cat in particular. It may be that we have not attained to the same level as Dr. Mivart. We confess we have not reached an alti-. tude so sublime as to regard the term "psychology" as an equi- valent of the expression, the " physiology of the individual " (though, if we are not mistaken, we heard of the phrase more than two years ago, in the Doctor's address to the British Association at Sheffield) ; and, when we turn to the chapter (xi.) ou the " Cat's Psychology," we find ourselves' lost in our author's metaphysical treatment of it. This is due, doubtless, -either to our dulness or to our imperfect education, if not partly to one and partly to the other ; but we venture to think it will be the case with nine-tenths of Dr. Mivart's readers. For 'ourselves, we have been brought up to have a definite notion of what physiology is, and a very indefinite idea of what psycho- logy may be. It is also our misfortune to have become imbued with a suspicion—the result, partly, of experience, and partly of self-consciousness—as to the value of an extremely large pro- portion of the anecdotes from time to time recounted of the in- telligence of animals. The former bids us doubt whether one- half of such anecdotes are truly reported, and the latter con- strains us to believe that the majority of the residue are wrongly interpreted. We are fully convinced that our own intelligence is the same qualitatively as the intelligence of the lower animals, but equally persuaded that it surpasses theirs so immeasurably as to make it hopeless for us to attempt, in any save a few most obvious cases, to account rightly for the motives (if we may use the word) which actuate our bumbler fellow- beings. Some of the gestures of a Chinese or a Fuegian, a Laplander or a Negro, are utterly inexplicable, as the results of mental phenomena, to a European, just as the European's are to them. We may learn empirically what such gestures signify, and how to respond to them, if response they require ; but their - oausal origin is often, nay, generally, utterly beyond our com- prehension. If this be so, and we suspect it cannot be justly 'denied, how much greater is the difficulty as regards the gestures of non-human creatures. We are compelled, therefore, unwillingly to attach little value to the explanation in general assigned to their acts, when such acts depart from the usual routine of life.
But we feel we may be getting here a little out of our depth, and even in the good company of Dr. Mivart we do not wish to flounder in floods we cannot bottom. Let us, then, return to more solid ground, for the brief remainder of our space. The -twelfth chapter of this work contains a masterly sketch of the -chief characters of and facts relating to the forty-eight existing • Dr. 3livart, though he quotes the late Professor Rolleston's most remarkable and scholarly treatise on the Cat of the Ancients, does not seem to have a ead it with sufficient attention, for that lamented naturalist successfully contended that the " functional cat" to use his phrase) of the Romans, equally with the Greeks, and not of the latter only, was not the animal to which we commonly apply the name. species which the Doctor recognises as composing the genus Fells; for, in common with the best modern authorities, he finds it unnecessary to break up that natural group into sections further than to admit the nominal validity of a generic separa- tion of the Cheetah. This portion of the volume, copiously illustrated as it is with artistic representations of many of the various forms—some of them after the matchless designs of Mr. Wolf—and with very useful figures of their skulls, cannot fail to attract attention, and we hope will float the book into the shallow waters of popular favour, which its heavy freight of philosophical disquisition would otherwise render unattainable. But even here the text will be found rather stiff reading, though not above the capacity of any average student of zoology. This chapter also comprises an outline, all too brief, of the known extinct cat-like animals, as Fells spel(ea—the so-called " Cave-lion," which, by the way, is much more likely to have been a Tiger, if not a generalised parental form from which both may have sprung— and the Mud/a:roe/us, with its astounding eye-teeth. Hereupon Dr. Mivart adopts the opinion (originating with we know not whom) that in the animals of this genus, the enormous tusks hindered the opening of the jaws so as to allow them to be used for biting ; they could, therefore, only have been made use of as daggers, the animal striking with them with its mouth closed." (p. 432.) We take the liberty of demurring to this opinion, until, at any rate, further evidence than we have ever met with has been adduced in its support. Particularly wel- come, however, are the figures and characters of the American fossil forms of cat-like animals (some of them, we believe, hitherto unpublished), for which, it seems, we are indebted to the liberality of Professor Cope, of Philadelphia. The former might well have been multiplied in number, but let us be thank- ful for what we have, and contemplate with pleasure the limued skulls of Hoplophoneas, lyigtraerts, Dindetis, Archceinrus, and Pogonocion, bloodthirsty creatures, which doubtless preyed upon the three-toed horses of Professor Marsh, and with them have disappeared from day.
We have left to the last what is, perhaps, the most interest- ing of the many topics on which Dr. Mivart descants, and this is the pedigree of the Cat. As regards the later generations, he has much to show for his views, and there seems every proba- bility of their meeting with general acceptance ; but when he enters upon the descent of some of the branches deemed by him collateral, we take leave to differ altogether. Admitting even the plausibility of all his doubts as to the generally received
Marsupial affinity to certain very ancient forms, we cannot agree that he has shown the descent of the Carnivora from the Iissectivora at an earlier period than the differentiation of the
latter and the Marsupials. Still less can we allow Dr. Mivart's arguments, based mainly on dental characters, in favour of the
descent of the Marsupials from the Insectivora. We bear in
mind, indeed, his long-cherished affection for the latter, and can understand his willingness to believe their existing scions to be the representatives in direct line of the oldest mammals on earth ; but we must remind him that dental characters are occa sionally deceptive, and that there are sometimes even stronger and more essential characters than those afforded by dentition.
Moreover, if his view be correct, surely he should have chosen some Insectivore for the subject of his monograph ? It would be vain at present to pursue the subject further, even if we had space; but we must mention that just as we cannot admit the Didelphian to have sprang from a primitive Monodelphian Insectivoriform, we cannot be as yet content to let the Mono- treme and the Reptile drop out of the Mammalian ancestry, that we may trace our lineage more directly to some unknown Batrachian forefather.