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The race of this wily and sanguinary animal, which is unsurpassed in all the terrible characteristics of its tribe, and yields to the tremendous and ferocious beasts, to the illustration of whose habits and manners our previous pages have been devoted, in none of their dreaded attributes, excepting only in size and strength, is spread almost as extensively over the surface of the Old World as that of the Lion himself. From the shores of the Mediterranean to the immediate neighbourhood of the Cape he is familiar to every part of the monster-bearing continent of Africa; while in the east of Asia his fatal spring and murderous talons are equally known and[36] dreaded by the mild and timid Hindoos, the polite but still barbarous Chinese, and the fierce and savage Islanders of the great Sumatran chain. Throughout this immense tract of country he varies but in a trifling degree, and that merely in his comparative magnitude, in the size, shape, and disposition of his markings, and in the greater or less intensity of his colouring: in the more essential particulars of form and structure, as well as in character and disposition, he is every where the same.

Each of these grand divisions has been subdivided into several minor groups or genera; but zoologists have hitherto been by no means unanimous with respect to the principles on which this subdivision ought to be effected. The arrangement which appears to be most generally adopted at the present day is that of M. Cuvier and M. Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, which is essentially founded on the application of an imaginary rule, first employed by Camper for ascertaining the degree of intelligence, and consequently of ideal beauty, expressed by the human face in its various gradations of elevation or debasement, and called by him the facial angle. Unfortunately, however, the operations of nature in the animal creation can never be subjected to geometrical laws; nor can her innumerable phases be expressed with the precision of a mathematical theorem. This assumed point of comparison varies almost indefinitely, not merely in different species, but even in the same individual; and the Oran-Otang himself, who is supposed to approach most nearly to the human form, offers the most striking illustration of the truth of this observation; inasmuch as in his young and intellectual state his facial angle is equal to 65, while in his aged and debased condition, in which he has actually been repeatedly described as a different animal under the name of Pongo, it sinks below 30; degrading him even beneath the level of the most savage and stupid of the Baboons.

Felis Leo.Var. Numida.

With regard to their sagacity much has been written, and many exaggerated and many incredible stories have been told; but it would appear that those who have attributed to the Elephant a degree of intelligence[175] superior to every other beast, have been misled by outward appearances, and by the natural prepossession arising from his gigantic and imposing figure. Without his trunk, upon the singular and admirable structure of which most of that skill and dexterity which have been regarded as the result of mental reflection is entirely dependent, he would be, in all probability, as very a brute as the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus, or the hog. By means of that organ, however, he unquestionably acquires the capacity of performing feats of which other animals are incapable; but here his superiority ends. In intelligence, as in docility, he is far inferior to the dog; and many other quadrupeds might fairly compete with him in both. Thus to turn a key in a lock, to push back a bolt, to untie a rope, to uncork a bottle, to search in the pockets of his keepers for apples or oranges, these and many other tricks of a similar kind, for which he is famous, are evidently nothing more than mechanical actions, to the performance of which he is stimulated, like other beasts, at first by the promise of reward or the fear of chastisement, and afterwards by the mere force of habit. In like manner the dexterity with which he learns to load and unload himself, or to place a man or child upon his back by means of his trunk, without offering them the slightest injury; and on the other hand the precision with which he is made to execute the will of the Asiatic despot on the unhappy victims of his displeasure, by seizing them and casting them beneath his feet, to be there dispatched, according to the tenor of the orders which he receives, either with a single crush, or with all the horrors of a lingering death; these also are actions of no higher order than many other animals are[176] equally capable of in a moral point of view, although not so well fitted for them by physical conformation.