Punch,  57 (1869), 102.

The Genealogy of the Gorilla; or, Can a Race Degenerate (Respectfully Dedicated to the British Association)





Animal Development, Evolution, Spiritualism, Human Species, Degeneration, Descent, Religious Authority, Pollution, Industry, Environmentalism, Chemistry, Force, Progress, Commerce, Aesthetics, Human Development, Mental Illness, Amusement, Psychology, Race, Morality

    Begins by inviting readers to 'Hear a Gorilla', which, like a 'sprite-possessed, / A Medium-ape', tells the story of his descent from 'Ancient Man'—a reversal of the assumed descent of man from apes. The gorilla begins by describing an idyllic 'Island of the Sea' where his first ancestors lived, a race that were 'the chiefest of the human kind' but whose 'last degenerate race bred ours'. Explains how a pair of these degenerate humans clung 'to a floating tree' when the isle was 'whelmed' and proceeds to describe the gradual degeneration of the race and the catastrophe that struck the island. Blames 'Material Progress' for the destruction of the beautiful buildings and landscape, and for the other ways in which this 'Island's beauty and its joy' was overwhelmed. He laments that science 'put chemic and mechanic force' into 'sordid hands', and thus made 'creatures covetous and coarse' and consume 'too fast'. The consequences of these developments also included 'close-clustered houses' encroaching on 'the commons and the downs', the pollution of pure rivers by 'slush of factories, and manure', the decline of 'Art, architecture, letters', the starvation of genius, the displacement of drama by 'Buffooneries and sensation plays', and the disappearance of 'the higher powers of thought' and 'Justice, Faith, Charity, and Hope'. He emphasizes that his fathers liked each other 'as Chinese' and lived 'by competitive / Examination' (a possible reference to the 'survival of the fittest' and to the Civil Service examinations), but gradually turned into apes 'by degrees': their crowns 'slowly sank' and their foreheads 'sloped and shrank' backwards, their jaws advanced, and they developed shag hair, 'eye-teeth turned fangs', and rear 'feet / Of climbing hands'. He concludes by noting how 'Chaos came' (the sinking of the once-idyllic island) and 'Ocean's foam / Bore the Gorillas to their home', which is presumably a reference to Africa.

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