Gray's Elegy (Written in the Rooms of the Geographical Society, in the presence of Du Chaillu's Collections'.
Museums, Animal Behaviour, Hunting, Discovery, Publishing, Reading, Charlatanry, Race, Wonder, Display
Written from the perspective of John E Gray, zoological keeper at the British Museum, the narrator opens by surveying his surroundings, noting the absence of people, and questioning the nature of the 'collection', notably the 'rude cartoons' of huge gorillas. Resents the display of 'ill-stuffed' skins, and the possibility of Paul B Du Chaillu winning 'fame as a discoverer', and the prospect of 'Gorilla tales' appearing on Murray's page' and being read by 'thousands'. Attacks Du Chaillu's credibility by hoping that he will no longer profit from a book containing engravings 'cribbed' from 'St. Hilaire' (a reference to Du Chaillu 1861a) or enjoy burning his 'repast' with fellow 'London Lion-hunters'. Vows to 'deal a sturdy stroke' against his 'credit' and banish his 'o'er-done Gorilla' and 'tale'. Dismissing the support of Richard Owen and Roderick I Murchison for Du Chaillu, maintains his low opinion of Du Chaillu's 'specimens', seeks to make Du Chaillu prove his claims about 'Ghouls that rob the grave', and emphasizes his faults. Proceeds to his central objection to Du Chaillu: noting the claim that gorillas 'beat their bust' and 'Thrust / Their heads', admits that 'Gorilla's made / Too like a man complacence to inspire', but emphasises the anatomical differences between the 'highest Ape' and the 'lowest Nigger'. Appeals to both British Museum gorilla 'specimens' and observations of young gorillas kept in a cage in order to support the idea that the creatures were largely 'docile'. Adds that simians kept in the Zoological Society Gardens have also proved as tame as domestic livestock. Goes on to lament how Du Chaillu has represented such docile creatures to the 'reading thousands' as 'wonders of an unknown land', and to emphasise the lives of the 'Poor brutes [...] pent in cages', creatures which have not strayed 'Across Du Chaillu's equatorial life'. Gray observes that 'some kind zoologist' might characterise him as having a tendency to 'Level' his 'angry horn' at 'aught that came his way', as taking 'uncommon liberties of speech' in attacking enemies, and, despite 'large' knowledge and a 'sincere' soul, having opaque logic. The poem ends with the same imagined zoologist warning against deciding who is right and wrong in a controversy involving Du Chaillu, Gray, Owen, and Thomas H Huxley.
© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020
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