Masterman Ready

Author: Frederick Marryat

Chapter LIV

The following day, being Sunday, was devoted to the usual religious exercises. Tommy stole away out of the tent, while Mr. Seagrave was reading a sermon, to have a peep at the turtle-soup, which was boiling on the fire; however, Juno suspected him, and had hold of him just as he was taking the lid off the pot. He was well scolded, and very much frightened lest he should have no soup for his dinner; however, as it was not a very heavy offence, he was forgiven.

In the evening, William requested his father to renew the conversation about the reasoning powers of animals.

"With pleasure, William," replied Mr. Seagrave; "it is a fit discourse for a Sunday evening. Let us, however, first examine the various mental faculties discoverable in animals. In the first place, they have memory, especially memory of persons and places, quite as tenacious as our own. A dog will recognize an old master after many years absence. An elephant, who had again escaped into the woods, after twenty years remaining in a wild state, recognized his old mahoot, or driver. A dog will find his way back when taken more than a hundred miles from his master’s residence. Another proof of memory in animals, were it required, is that they dream. Now, a dream is a confused recollection of past events; and how often do you not hear Romulus and Remus growling, barking, and whining in their sleep!"

"Very true, papa."

"Well, then, they have attention. See how patiently a cat will remain for hours before a hole, in watch for the mouse to come out. A spider will remain for months watching for the fly to enter its web; but this quality is to be observed in every animal in the pursuit of its prey. They have also association of ideas, which is, in fact, reasoning. A dog proves that; he will allow a gentleman to come up to the door, but fly at a beggar. When he is in charge of any property he will take no notice of a passer-by; but if a man stops, he barks immediately. In the elephant this association of ideas is even more remarkable; indeed, he understands what is said to him better than any other animal; his reasoning powers are most extraordinary. Promise him rewards, and he will make wonderful exertion. He is also extremely alive to a sense of shame. The elephants were employed to transport the heavy artillery in India. One of the finest attempted in vain to force a gun through a swamp. `Take away that lazy beast,’ said the director `and bring another.’ The animal was so stung with the reproach, that it used so much exertion to force the gun on with its head, as to fracture its skull, and it fell dead. When Chunee, the elephant which was so long in Exeter Change, was ordered as usual to take up a sixpence with his trunk, it happened one day that the sixpence rolled against the skirting-board, out of his reach. Chunee stopped, and reflected a little while, and then, drawing the air into his trunk, he threw it out with all his force against the skirting-board; the rebound of the air from the skirting-board blew the sixpence towards him, and he was enabled to reach it."

"That was very clever of him," replied William.

"Yes; it was a proof of thought, with a knowledge of cause and effect. There was a curious instance of a horse, which, by the bye, I consider the most noble animal of creation, which was ridden round by his master, to deliver newspapers. He invariably stopped at the doors where papers were to be left; but it happened that two people, living at different houses, took in a weekly newspaper between them; and it was agreed, that one should have the first reading of it on one week, and the other on the following. After a short time the horse became accustomed to this arrangement, and stopped at the one house on the one week, and at the other house on the following, never making a mistake."

"That was very curious; what a sagacious animal he must have been!" observed William.

"Animals also are, as you know, capable of receiving instruction, which is another proof of reasoning powers. The elephant, the horse, the dog, the pig, even birds may be taught a great deal."

"But then, papa, I still wish to know where the line is to be drawn between reason and instinct."

"I was about to come to that very point, William. When animals follow their instinct in providing their food, bringing up their young, and in their precautions against danger, they follow certain fixed rules, from which they never deviate. But circumstances may occur against which their instinct can afford them no regular provision; then it is that their reasoning powers are called into action. I will explain this by stating a fact relative to the bee, one of the animals upon which instinct is most powerful in its action. There is a certain large moth, called the Death’s-head moth, which is very fond of honey. It sometimes contrives to force its way through the aperture of the hive, and gain an entrance. The bees immediately attack it, and it is soon destroyed by their stings; but the carcass is so large, that they cannot carry it out of the hive, as they invariably do the bodies of the smaller insects which may have intruded, and it appears that their sense of smell is very acute. What, then, do they do to avoid the stench arising from the dead body of this large moth? Why, they embalm it, covering it entirely with wax, by which it no longer becomes offensive to them."

"But, papa, might not their instinct have provided for such an event?" observed William.

"If such an event could have occurred to the bees in their wild state, you certainly might have raised the question; but recollect, William, that bees in their wild state live in the hollows of trees, and that the hole by which they enter is never more than sufficiently large to admit one bee at a time; consequently, no animal larger than a bee could gain entrance, and if it did, could of course have been easily removed from the hive; but the bees were here in a new position, in an artificial state, in a hive of straw with a large aperture, and therefore met with an exigence they were not prepared for, and acted accordingly."

"Yes, papa, I perceive the difference."

"I will conclude my observations with one remark. It appears to me, that although the Almighty has thought proper to vary the intellectual and the reasoning powers of animals in the same way that he has varied the species and the forms, yet even in this arrangement he has not been unmindful of the interest and welfare of man. For you will observe, that the reasoning powers are chiefly, if not wholly, given to those animals which man subjects to his service and for his use - the elephant, the horse, and the dog; thereby making these animals of more value, as the powers given to them are at the service and under the control of man."


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Chicago: Frederick Marryat, "Chapter LIV," Masterman Ready, ed. Altemus, Henry in Masterman Ready Original Sources, accessed June 4, 2023,

MLA: Marryat, Frederick. "Chapter LIV." Masterman Ready, edited by Altemus, Henry, in Masterman Ready, Original Sources. 4 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Marryat, F, 'Chapter LIV' in Masterman Ready, ed. . cited in , Masterman Ready. Original Sources, retrieved 4 June 2023, from