A good many of the Western papers are terribly excited over a bit of news just arrived in Europe from Sangoon. The most radical and freethinking of them crow over the fact as well they may in the interest of truth—as though the thickest, and hitherto most impenetrable of the veils covering Mother Nature’s doings had been removed for ever, and anthropology had no more secrets to learn. The excitement is due to a little monster, a seven-year old boy, now on exhibition at Sangoon. The child is a native of Cambodia, quite robust and healthy, yet exhibiting in his anatomy the most precious and rare of physical endowments—a real tail, ten inches long and 1½ thick at its root!
This original little sample of humanity—unique, we believe, of his kind—is now made out by the disciples of Darwin and Haeckel to be the bonâ (bony?) fide Missing Link. Let us suppose, for argument’s sake, that the evolutionists (whose colours we certainly wear) are right in their hypothesis, and that the cherished theory of having baboons for our ancestors turns out true. Will every difficulty in our way be then removed? By no means: for, then, more than ever will we have to try to solve the hitherto insolvable problem, which comes first, the Man or the Ape? It will be the Aristotelean egg and chicken problem of creation over again. We can never know the truth until some streak of good chance shall enable science to witness at different periods and under various climates either women giving birth to apes, graced with a caudal appendix or female orang-outangs becoming mothers of tailless, and, moreover, semi-human children, endowed with a capacity for speech at least as great as that of a moderately clever parrot or mina.
Science is but a broken reed for us in this respect, for science is just as perplexed, if not more so, than the rest of us, common mortals. So little is it able to enlighten us upon the mystery, that the men of most learning are those who confuse us the most in some respects. As in regard to the heliocentric system, which, after it had been left an undisputed fact more than three centuries, found in the later part of our own a most serious opponent in Dr. Shroepfer, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Berlin, so the Darwinian theory of the evolution of man from an anthropoid, has among its learned opponents one, who, though an evolutionist himself, is eager to oppose Darwin, and seeks to establish a school of his own.
This new “perfectionist” is a professor in the Hungarian town of Fünfkirchen, who is delivering just now a series of lectures, throughout Germany. “Man,” says he, “whose origin must be placed in the Silurian mud, whence he began evoluting from a frog, must necessarily some day re-evolute into the same animal!” So far well and good. But the explanations going to prove this hypothesis which Professor Charles Deezy accepts as a perfectly established fact, are rather too vague to enable us to build any thing like an impregnable theory upon them. “In the primitive days of the first period of evolution,” he tells us, “there lived a huge, frog-like, mammalian animal, inhabiting the seas, but which, being of the amphibious kind, lived likewise on land, breathing in the air as easily as it did in water; its chief habitat, though, was in the salt sea-water. This frog-like creature is now what we call—man (!) and his marine origin is proved by the fact that he cannot live without salt.” There are other signs about man, almost as impressive as the above by which this origin can be established, if we may believe this new prophet of science. For instance, “a well-defined remnant of fins, to be seen between his thumbs and fingers, as also his insurmountable tendency towards the element of water”: a tendency, we remark passim, more noticeable in the Hindu than the Highlander!
No less does the Hungarian scientist set himself against Darwin’s theory of man descending from the ape. According to his new teaching, “it is not the anthropoid which begot man, but the latter who is the progenitor of the monkey. The ape is merely a man returned once more to its primitive, savage state. Our Professor’s views as to geology, and the ultimate destruction of our globe, coupled with his notions regarding the future state of mankind, are no less original and are the very sweetest fruit of his Tree of Scientific Knowledge. Provoking though they do general hilarity, they are nevertheless given out by the “learned” lecturer in quite a serious spirit, and his works are considered among the textbooks for colleges. If we have to credit his statement, then we must believe that “the moon is slowly but surely approaching the earth.” The result of such an indiscretion on the part of our fair Diana, is to be most certainly the following! “The sea waves will, some day, immerse our globe and gradually submerge all the continents. Then man, unable to live any longer on dry land, will have but to return to his primitive form, i.e., he will rebecome an aquatic animal—a man-frog.” And the life-insurance companies will have to shut up their shop and become bankrupts—he might have added. Daring speculators are advised to take their precautions in advance.
Having permitted ourselves this bit of irreverence about Science —those, rather, who abuse their connection with it—we may as well give here some of the more acceptable theories respecting the missing link. These are by no means so scarce as bigots would like to make us believe, Shweinfurth and other great African travellers vouchsafe for the truth of these assertions and believe they have found races which may, after all, be the missing links—between man and ape. Such are the Akkas of Africa; those whom Herodotus calls the Pigmies (II. 32) and the account of whom—notwithstanding it came from the very pen of the Father of History—was until very recently believed to be erroneous and they themselves myths of a fabled nation. But, since the public has had the most trustworthy narratives of European travellers, we have learned to know better, and no one any longer thinks that Herodotus has confounded in his account men and the cynocephaloid apes of Africa.
We have but to read the description of the orang-outang and of the chimpanzee to find that these animals—all but the hairy surface—answer in nearly every respect to these Akkas. They are said to have large cylindrical heads on a thin neck; and a body about four feet high; very long arms, perfectly disproportionate, as they reach far lower than their knees; a chest narrow at the shoulders and widening tremendously toward the stomach which is always enormous; knees thick, and hands of an extraordinary beauty of design, (a characteristic of monkey’s hands, which with the exception of their short thumbs have wonderfully neat and slender fingers tapering to the ends, and always prettily shaped finger nails). The Akkas‘ walk is vacillating which is due to the abnormal size of their stomach, as in the chimpanzee and the orang-outang. Their cranium is large, profoundly depressed at the root of the nose, and surmounted by a contracting forehead sloping directly backward; a projecting mouth with very thin lips, and a beardless chin—or rather no chin at all. The hair on their heads does not grow, and though less noisy than the orang-outang they are enormously so when compared with other men. On account of the long grass which often grows twice their own size in the regions they inhabit, they are said to jump like so many grasshoppers, to make enormous strides, and, to have all the outward motions of big anthropoids.
Some scientists think—this time with pretty good reason—that the Akkas, more even than the Matimbas of which d’Escayrac de Lauture gives such interesting accounts—the Kimosas, and the Bushin, of austral Africa, are all remnants of the missing link.