Our Indian newspapers recently (1909) reproduced reports of a public
meeting in London, which had been made remarkable by the presence of
the veteran Mr Selous, who had assured inquirers that the elephants do
really assist each other in distress. He doubtless gave details of
many modern instances; but the newspapers omitted them. So here is

Towards the end of 1897, some herds of wild elephants spread far and
wide over the harvest fields in Toungoo district, Burma. They had used
to do that, not every year, but at intervals, for generations; but
this visitation was unusually severe. The area cultivated was greater
than ever before, and the villagers had been disarmed. On former
occasions the elephants had gone away as soon as the men began to
shoot, or even to make a noise like shots, by putting bamboos into
fires which they hastily kindled on the edges of the fields; but, on
this occasion, the elephants merely paused a little to trumpet to each
other, “I’m not hurt,” “Nor I,” “Nor I.” Then they resumed grazing at
random, heeding the noises of humanity, the shouting and the rattling
of tins and sticks and the bamboo-crackers, no more than the cawing of
the crows.

The news seemed to spread in the elephant world that men had ceased to
shoot; for as the herd that came first went farther from the hills,
seeking pastures new, the farmers who had begun to breathe freely were
horrified to see new herds appear. On the morning that the first news
came to me, it was followed in a few hours by reports of fresh havoc,
like those that rained upon Job. “We’ll need an extra officer to
measure up the damage for revenue exemptions on that account,” was the
prudent reminder of a responsible subordinate, expert in reeling off
official rigmaroles; but I took an original plan, of which nothing was
said, or ever would have been, if that newspaper report had not
recalled to mind an incident too good to leave in oblivion. I took the
first train to a station that seemed to be the centre of the
elephants’ operations; and in less than two hours a general engagement
was in progress. A long line of men, including military and other
policemen and carrying all the firearms of any kind available,
advanced as fast as they could towards the elephants, whose demeanour
and behaviour could not have been surpassed.

Whenever they discovered that the shots were now followed by bullets,
they all ceased grazing, far and near, as far as the eye could reach
over a spacious, level plain. They gathered into herds, and, as soon
as possible, every herd, with cows and calves on the safe side and
fighting males next the enemy to secure the rear, was moving towards
the western hills, far quicker than a man could walk. Many of them
were wounded, but none were left behind. I had not myself the luck to
see, but heard from many others who saw it at the time, a sight that
well might be immortalised. A big, wounded tusker had raised the men’s
hopes. They knew the value of ivory, and hastened to isolate him; but
two other big elephants, of which one at least was seen to be a
female, ran to him and supported him, one at each side. They held him
up as he limped along and joined the herd in safety, and all went off
together. The men were left lamenting, and admiring too.

Upon the hills, among primeval woods, the elephants that roam, intent
on provender, oblivious of war, resemble the Yankees among the great
powers of the world. Their superabundance of material brings water to
the teeth of potentates of prey; but the herds of elephants are too
terrible to tackle. They graze in peace in the cool glens, and have
been known, in thirsty weather, to drink alongside a tiger. Such a
thing, at least, has been reported as seen, and often inferred from
tracks. Think of what must have been in the heart of the tiger, as he
lapped the cool water, with an empty stomach, and eyed the elephants’
calves. But “whatsoe’er he thought, he acted right,” and departed
without hostilities, undoubtedly protesting, in the language of the
woods, his love of peace–which was no doubt sincere, under the


It is not ill deeds alone that are done because the means to do them
are in sight. The same is true of good deeds also. The elephants can
help each other better than most quadrupeds, because they have trunks;
and so can the monkeys, because they have hands. Herein lay the
primitive germ of society. Indeed there is profit in remembering this,
for it follows that selfish greed, which is the root of gambling and
theft of every kind, is a reversion in the scale of being, not merely
to the monkey level, but far below it, to the level of the cats and

Be the explanation what it may, the mutual helpfulness of monkeys is
well ascertained. They could hardly survive in the woods on other
terms. A male baboon in Egypt has been seen to turn and face some
dogs, and protect and deliver a young baboon in danger of succumbing
to them. Here the remarkable thing is that it was the male that did
it. Many females would fight for their young. Maternal love is the
taproot of life; but the root of society is family solidarity. That
the poor “dog-faced” baboon of old Egypt, unaltered for 6000 years, is
able to rise so high in the social scale as this, is perhaps what is
best worth knowing about him.

The leopard is the great enemy of monkeys of all kinds. This may be
said to be true “all the world over,” if the American jaguar is called
a kind of leopard, as it sometimes is. So it is with special pleasure
that one reads of an incident seen in Africa not long ago by Sir
J. Percy Fitzpatrick. It occurs in the standard biography of his dog,
_Jock of the Bushveld_, pp. 270, 271, 272, and it happened to a
leopard that narrowly missed dining upon the hero, “Jock,” and so
cutting short his distinguished career. Jock’s master, apparently, was
a-hunting, and saw the leopard pinning a baboon with its left paw in
the bottom of a stony glen; but before it could do more, a host of
angry baboons descended the rocks towards it, with an uproar that even
to a Fitzpatrick seemed deafening; and upon the leopard, which had one
paw occupied, they “showered loose earth, stones, and debris of all
sorts down with awkward underhand scrapes of their forepaws” (meaning
their hands). Nearer and nearer they came, while the leopard vainly
threatened them with its free forepaw. Louder and louder grew the
uproar. The baboons, like old Cato and the Chinese, believed in
shouting and grimacing to frighten the foe; and here they practised
that. Neither Cato nor any Chinese warrior could surpass a monkey in
twisting the features. The artist who tried to represent their
contortions in Sir Percy’s book has done his best, but could not
succeed. It is “like painting fire,” as Carlyle once said.

The leopard became alarmed. It is an Indian proverb that the tigers do
not count the sheep; but the baboon is not so negligible. The corpses
of a chimpanzee and a lion, it has been reported (but not by Sir
Percy), have been found interlocked, the chimpanzee having been
disembowelled, and the lion throttled. The leopard could not know
that. I confess I have doubts of the truth of the history myself. But
the leopard had misgivings as the noisy crowd came nearer and nearer,
and let his victim go. Sir Percy watched the triumphant baboons
depart. “The crowd scrambled up the slope again,” he reports, and he
tells us he believed, and so may we, what “all the Kafirs maintained,
that they could see the mauled one dragged along by its arms by two
others, much as a child might be helped uphill….”

It is a likely guess that the fighting baboons were the adult males of
the tribe. This is a guess suggested by another interesting bit of


Dr Murphy, now civil surgeon at Maubin, in the delta of Burma, where
this is written, is a unique phenomenon. That is a clumsy phrase to
apply to any fellow-creature, but accurate. He is a perfectly popular
European official–popular in spite of being an official, because he
is a good doctor, spontaneously sympathetic, kind and helpful, and
does not bully or grab.

Two little facts may be told on the authority of the present Deputy
Commissioner of Maubin district and his predecessor, to give Dr Murphy
the pleasure of seeing himself as others see him, and to give
strangers a glimpse of him. In 1908, when he was about to go away on
sorely-needed sick leave, the good people of Maubin town, who did not
realise how ill he was, got up a petition to the effect that
Dr Murphy’s leave should be refused, as Maubin town could not possibly
dispense with him. When he was expected to return in 1909, the Deputy
Commissioner hastened to Rangoon to solicit that Dr Murphy might be
posted again to Maubin. That was how he came to be in Maubin this year
(1909), when he told me three pretty anecdotes, which, knowing him
well, I retell now with as much confidence as if I had seen and heard
with my own eyes and ears everything he told me he saw and heard.

In 1883 he and his brother were schoolboys at Mussoorie in the
Himalayas; and were in the habit of frequenting a glen where lived a
tribe of Indian baboons, “langurs” the people name them. These are
“black-faced, white-whiskered, long-tailed, big, grey monkeys, not by
any means as tall as a man, but as thick in the arm.” They are a
different species from the African baboons, but quite as clannish.
They live on terms of neutrality with mankind, as the various tribes
of men may be said to live with each other; that is to say, open
hostilities are strictly avoided on both sides, and stealing is
restricted to what can be done in secret. In this instance, as the
stealing is all on one side, it might be said they levied tribute upon
men, but they do not attack people. School children at Simla have told
this writer that the “wild” baboons often sit and watch them, they and
the children eyeing each other with equal curiosity.

Of course, they are not Quakers, nor even Hindus. If people flung
stones at them, they would fling stones in return. The little brown
fisher monkey of Burma, too, will do that. But “in deference to Hindu
prejudices,” the English leave them alone, so that they have probably
never noticed the English. They pay no taxes, these white-whiskered
gentlemen; and reciprocate human forbearance. “Live and let live,” is
their rule with men, and so, in general, schoolboys hardly notice

Great therefore was the surprise of the two little Irishmen one day to
notice the baboons in a state of excitement, jabbering loudly, and
plainly preparing for battle. Their women and children were all
huddled in one place, and the big males gathered in another, moving in
a body. The boys, as if by instinct, followed the crowd of males “to
see the fun,” whatever it might be, just as in the Highlands of
Scotland, when they were inhabited, the boys used to follow the men at
funerals and weddings “to see the fights.”

Their curiosity was richly rewarded. The baboons began to bait a
solitary, angry bear. The boys were dangerously close to the bear
before they saw him; but he did not heed them, which was lucky. A
bear, encountered at random, is often “worse than a tiger,” it is
said; because the tiger can always get out of the way when he wants,
but the bear is so slow that he despairs of escaping, and turns and
rends the man who has met him. In this case, luckily for the two
little Murphys, the bear was preoccupied. The baboons swarmed noisily
in the trees around and above him. The elder of the two boys, who
alone saw much, said that he saw them incessantly, one hard upon
another, come close enough to slap the bear violently with the open
palm of the hand on back or belly, on head or side, on whatever point
seemed safest of access–Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Their
objurgations were like the sound of a cataract. The bear was
distracted, snapping and striking here and there, but always missing.
The baboons relied on their agility to escape his teeth and paws, with
complete success, so far as the boys saw; but the boys did not linger.
They had not the feeling of security that the baboons had; and,
thankful to have escaped notice, “Run, run,” cried the elder, and they
ran to a safe distance. There they stood and listened; and when the
thunder of the battle and the shouting indicated the bear’s retreat,
the boys consulted the hillmen, and were told that these battles,
which were familiar to the hillmen, always ended in that way.

The glen of the baboons was open to the south and east, sheltered and
sunny, and convenient for the fields and gardens, in which the baboons
could seek for change of diet. The adjoining glen of the bears had a
wetter aspect. True, with all its wetness, it had many oaks whose
acorns were dear to the hearts of the bears, and they meant to keep
it; but why not have the other glen also? They esteemed the baboons no
more than the Belgians esteem the negroes. So, from time to time, an
Imperialist bear invaded the land of the baboons; but the hillmen said
that they did not think the same bear ever came twice. The reason was
that the bear, invading, always came alone. He was too inveterate an
individualist to form a Chartered Company. He did not even hunt in
couples. So the invader, irresistible as he seemed, was always
repulsed by the solid regiment of baboons.

Thus it is that men and baboons are taught the need of solidarity. As
Benjamin Franklin quietly and sublimely remarked on 4th July 1776–“We
must all hang together, else we shall all hang separately.”


The years go by like clouds. In 1902, Dr Murphy was no longer a
schoolboy, running about Mussoorie, but a surgeon employed by Simla
municipality, and familiar with the little monkeys there, who lived on
Jacko Hill. They overran the town, these little men; and took every
possible advantage of the toleration of the good Hindus. Perhaps it is
needful to mention that Indians are so indulgent that European
naturalists in India are continually surprised at the slight fear of
men among wild birds and beasts. Thus it was that “Hindu prejudice”
protected the monkeys at Simla, though nobody suffered more from them
than the Hindus; but even they agreed with Dr Murphy that “something
must be done,” when the little men from Jacko insisted on entering his
house and removing the bread from the breakfast table.

It would be a long story to tell the plans that failed. The plan that
worked was beautiful in its simplicity.

Two earthen pots were buried before the eyes of the monkeys, looking
on. Only the thick and narrow rims were left above ground. What this
was for, no monkey could comprehend, and the more of them that
gathered, the more they seemed perplexed. A “multitude of counsellors”
may bring confusion instead of wisdom. It was the easiest thing in the
world for any of them to put in his hand and feel the emptiness of the
pots. But, why were they buried there? “Hum–hum,” none of them could

When they were about to disperse and dismiss the matter, as one of the
many mysterious eccentricities of men, Dr Murphy put grain into the
pots in front of them. This was a sudden illumination to the assembly.
To keep grain safe from monkeys is one of the continual problems of
Simla life. “And this is _his_ way of doing it,” thought the monkeys
to themselves.

They did not delay to show him what they thought of his device and
him. It was really too ridiculous. One of their leading men came
straight to the pots and put a hand into one of them, keeping his eyes
on Dr Murphy. It was as easy as ever to put a hand in; but, when his
clenched fist was full of grain, he could not take it out.

After one or two ineffectual attempts to withdraw his hand, he put the
other hand into the other pot, which had been placed convenient for
that very purpose. Perhaps, when he put in the second hand, his object
was to find out what was holding the first; but when it also touched
the grain, the force of habit made him grab with it also, a
beautifully human trait of character; and there he stood with both his
hands in chancery, meaning by chancery a place that does not readily
let anything out that once comes in.

There he remained standing. It never came into his head to open his
hands and withdraw them empty. He was an emblem of many an
Anglo-Indian, who has “heard the East a-calling,” and seeking a “soft
job,” has wandered where his tribe cannot thrive, but is detained by
what he has in hand, and cannot find the heart to forego. The monkey
stood there, with both hands full, quite wealthy for a monkey, but a
helpless prisoner. If there had been pots enough, his kinsmen would
all have come and done likewise; but there were only two, and he had
monopolised them; and now he had to endure the multitudinous advice of
the empty-handed monkeys, and their criticism, and …

That was not all he had to endure. Dr Murphy took a whip and proceeded
to chastise him, not very severely, but sufficiently to keep him from
thinking clearly in the abstract. Then the hubbub thickened round the
doctor. The tribe that dwelt on Jacko gathered clamorous. Quick, from
the hill and almost every tree, wherever tribesmen were who heard the
news, they hastened to the great indignation meeting, all seeming to
talk at once, and making hideous grimaces, at which, to their
surprise, Dr Murphy laughed aloud. They did not understand his noises
and grimaces; but what they could not fail to see was his
indifference. Whack, whack, whack! He continued the flogging amidst a
chorus of disapproval, quite equal to that of the United Press

The prisoner broke away. The pots had not been very strong; and in his
struggles he had broken off the rims. With an earthenware bracelet on
each wrist and both hands full of grain, he reached the nearest tree;
and there he opened his hands and dropped the grain. “All that a man
hath he will give for his life.” But in this instance, the general
opinion of observers was that the grain was dropped by inadvertence,
as the monkey opened his hands in haste to climb, forgetting what he

By a similarly inadvertent knock against the tree, he broke one of his
bracelets as he went up. Well for him if he had broken both! He joined
the crowd that had come to help him, with still a bracelet (of a pot’s
rim) on one of his wrists. This caused an immediate revulsion of
feelings. His friends became his persecutors. They crowded round him,
pushing and pulling him, smacking and scratching him, and biting him
till the blood came. In a few minutes that leading monkey would have
been dead, and perhaps they would have been carrying his corpse to the
hill, as some people said they used to do, but suddenly, as the
persecuted one was floundering about, the fatal pot’s rim broke and
fell in pieces to the ground. Behold, he was now as the other monkeys
were, different from the rest no more, but sore afflicted and in
agony. They succoured him now, like a prodigal returned, and helped
him gently away, leaving the kind doctor sad to see how far beyond his
intentions the poor fellow had been punished. The doctor declared he
would never set that trap again.

But how very human it was! To translate the fine verse of Béranger’s
song (“Les Fous”)–

“As we toe the line, we duffers,
If anyone quits the crowd,
Whatever he does or suffers,
We all of us yell aloud.
The crowd runs to kick him, or slays him,
And afterwards sees it was blind;
Then we set up his statue, and praise him
As a credit to all mankind.”


Whether or not the guess is right that in that hubbub among the
monkeys in the Simla trees there was a rudimentary heresy hunt, or, in
other words, that the monkeys were screeching whatever in monkey
language intimated, “Bad form, bad form,” “Order, order,” it cannot be
surprising to find solidarity such as theirs facilitated, or even made
possible, by what can only be called a kind of language. If Max Müller
had been beside Dr Murphy one day in 1905 in Simla, and seen what
Dr Murphy then saw, he would probably have abandoned the proud claim
he has made for humanity to a monopoly of speech. We must be content
with the more modest boast of developing it.

The doctor noticed a monkey sitting on the flat roof of a small house
in Simla, where lived a man who roasted gram and sold it. The little
brown fellow was visibly hankering after the gram exposed for sale on
a tray before the door. He leaned over and looked long at the man
beside it. Then the doctor saw him go to a short distance and confer
with four or five others, two of whom returned with him, and three
little heads bent over the roof to study the situation and the
unconscious seller of gram.

Then one of them went down the water-pipe behind the house, walked
boldly round to the front of it, and openly, before the eyes of the
astonished man, took a handful and ran away. The man snatched a stick
and chased him; and Dr Murphy noticed with surprise that, of two
possible roads, the fugitive took the least convenient for himself,
but the one that best kept the man out of sight and reach of his
stall. As soon as he was gone, the two remaining monkeys hurried down
and helped themselves to handfuls and escaped away, to be presently
rejoined by their daring colleague, who had drawn away the man.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the significance of this incident.
These monkeys must somehow have been able to speak together and trust
each other. To every union of several we may apply what Heraclitus
said of every unit,–“Its character is its fate.” Solidarity is
possible in exact proportion to the degree of honesty prevailing. So
the monkeys must have had a rudimentary kind of honesty as well as a
rudimentary kind of speech; and that was why they could act on
Moltke’s maxim–“Erst wägen, dann wagen” (“First ponder, then dare,”
or, in commoner words, “Think before you act”), and then carry out
their plans and co-operate well. We would be absent-minded beggars
indeed if we did not see here the germ of that tribal solidarity from
which all human civilisation has gradually evolved. Let us never
forget our humble beginnings, or despise our poor relations.