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Review-a-Day
The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, December 18th, 2007
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The Jungle Books (Signet Classics)

by Rudyard Kipling

R. Kipling: Comparative Psychologist

A review by Anonymous

[Ed. Note. This review first ran in the Atlantic Monthly, June 1898.]

In all the expressions of appreciation that Mr. Kipling's Jungle Books still arouse, I wonder if any one has yet pointed out the change these works have quietly wrought in our attitude toward the rest of the animal world? Before these books, and since Darwin, we have believed, or have known vaguely that we ought to believe, that our "in'ards," both of body and of brain, are very much the same kind of "in'ards" as those of a cat or a monkey; and we have perhaps prided ourselves on our openness of mind in being ready to accept such lowly relatives without repugnance. What Mr. Kipling has done for us is to make us really know and feel that the larger part of our mental composition is of the same substance as that of our cousins the animals, with a certain superstructure of reasoning faculty which has enabled us to become their masters. Mr. Kipling, indeed, has expounded relationships in the psychology of the animal world as far-reaching as those which Darwin discovered in its morphology.

Mr. Kipling's animals, in the first place, are real; not men in the skins of animals, hunting a moral or a fancy. No matter how much the Bandar-log in the Cold Lairs may remind us of the chronic turmoils of Paris, we never think of Mr. Kipling as a satirist: the monkeys are like the Frenchmen because so much of what we call human nature was, as a matter of fact, brought to its full growth before the fortunate variation which split off the branch of the monkeys who were to be monkeys no more. Or again, if on some warm, sweet afternoon in May, recalling the inimitable diagnosis of spring fever in the Spring Running, we are tempted to let work slide, with the comfortable confession that after all, since we are animals, it is vain to think that long days of furnace and roll-top desk can or ought to smother out the animal spirit in us, there will come to mind that other scene of the great black panther going wild with the smells of the night, until Mowgli's single human word brought him to a full stop and held him quivering while the human eye stared him into subjection. Indeed, Mowgli is always thrusting in his difference, and showing his unaffected consciousness that he is master of the jungle, just because the animals are animals and he is man.

In spite, however, of this distinction that Mr. Kipling keeps so clear; in spite of the fact that Mowgli, living with the animals, can hear what they hear, can smell what they smell, can talk their talk, though they cannot think what he thinks, -- in spite of all this, it is true that, except for such artificialities of life as civil engineering or municipal government or the higher education, the differences are skin-deep. You do not choose a wife because your immortal reason tells you that she is a superior woman, but because her eyes please your eye, or because she has an exquisite manner of making you feel that you are after all stronger or wiser or handsomer than most men have the sense to see. On the other hand, your hate or your fear is not to be traced to any gifts of mind which you do not share with the animals: the silly panics which overcome crowds are in no way different from those so wisely illuminated in Her Majesty's Servants. More certainly still does the spring fever I have spoken of -- that which stirs in us at the call of the moist, earthy April wind -- go back beyond the cave-dweller and the maker of flint spear-heads to the ancestor of whom Stevenson speaks, who was "probably arboreal." Passing by the sensations and intuitions which M. Pierre Loti and other Frenchmen have exploited so effectively, farthest of all, perhaps, go those vague curiosities of mental life which the Society for Psychical Research has preempted for its own field. Professor Wendell, in an essay on the Salem Witches, lays down the hypothesis that all the phenomena of suggestion and hypnotism, of clairvoyance and mediumship, which science uses now to explain what was miraculous to our ancestors, may very plausibly be considered rudimentary vestiges of powers of perception and communication which belonged to what was man before he stood upright on his hind legs and knew how to use his tongue for speech. Such a doctrine finds much illumination in the Jungle Books. In short, in whatever direction we turn we find ourselves filled with instincts and prejudices, with sensations or intuitions, that beyond doubt make up the whole mental life of the other animals.

Man, as we usually think of him, is a being of pure reason, the product and the aim of countless ages of slow and halting development. But underneath all this brilliant flower of the intellect there still lies, for all time and of necessity, the mass of sensations, the network of likes and dislikes, of repulsions, of desires, of instinctive activities and judgments, which, taken together, form most of his active existence. And these are much more real to some of us since we have read all that Mr. Kipling has had to tell us of Akela, of the Bandar-log, of Baloo, and of the great Kaa, who was older than many trees, and who had seen all that the jungle has done.


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