Jardine’s The Natural History of Monkeys (1833)

Sir William Jardine devoted an entire volume to the animals he described as approaching “nearest to man in structure, and consequently in actions” (29). He noted the impact of the mere sight of these creatures on a wide range of humans: “Occasional glimpses of an animal clothed in shaggy hair, of gigantic size, with tusks rivaling those of the largest and most ferocious beasts of prey;–possessing a hideous resemblance of countenance and general proportions to man, and assuming positions somewhat human, would present to an untutored mind, a chaos of sensations, whose impressions scarcely could be afterwards detailed; while one of higher cultivation might combine doubts of their animal or human nature” (26). He credits Monboddo, Rousseau and Lamarck with the mistaken idea “that men and monkeys belonged to the same species, and were no otherwise distinguished from each other, than by circumstances which can be accounted for, by the different physical or moral agencies to which they have been exposed.” Jardine preferred to keep humans and monkeys “entirely distinct,” primarily because the human “is infinitely pre-eminent by the high and peculiar character and power of his mind, and the future destination of his immaterial part” (39).


Mangabey (Cercocebus fuliginosus) drawn from a captive female in Edinburgh. Jardine notes: “When the sketch was taken, she was particularly troublesome in her display, and is represented in the attitude in which she most frequently placed herself; sometimes extending the one hand and sometimes the other. She was extremely gentle . . . delighted to see strangers, and seemed flattered by their attentions. She was remarkably cleanly and careful not to soil her person” (137). Such humanizing characteristics, applied to creatures supposedly so far below humans on the “Great Chain of Being,” made it more and more likely that these animals were our distant relatives, if not part of the Family of Man, then at least part of the branching Tree of Life. A creature that was “gentle,” “delighted,” “flattered,” “cleanly,” and “careful,” had to be a creature worthy of our attention and respect. Science thus contributed directly to an increasing discourse about animal rights and led to laws in favor of their protection and preservation.




Hand of Siamang (Hylobates syndactyla), notable for fingers united “as far as the second phalanx.” It was hard for scientists and nonscientists to see images like this and not believe that there was some connection such a creature and human beings. Once Darwin provided the explanation for the way these similarities had developed, and explained how variations in forms and function developed over time through natural selection (1859), Victorian culture was well on its way into the modern view of our evolutionary connection to the rest of animate creation.







The Black Orangutan (Troglodytes niger: the black cave-dweller); Jardine notes their “sagacity.” Orangs were widely referred to as Homo sylvestris (man of the woods). Many images of primates rendered the creature with facial expressions or gestures like these suggesting emotion. If emotion extended beyond the human species into “lower” forms of life, then animals, and even plants, were all part of a complex continuum of similarities, creatures linked by the history of their emergence and development, not separate species identified by their differences.

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