The American Beaver and His Works

By LEWIS H. MORGAN, Author of “ The League of the Iroquois.” Philadelphia : Lippincott & Co. 1868.
WHAT Huber did for bees Mr. Morgan has done in some measure for beavers. The subject of his book is peculiarly an American one; for though beavers are found in the other hemisphere, they make no dams there, and a beaver without his dam is nobody.
Mr. Morgan has spent a good part of many successive summers in investigating the habits of the American branch of the family, studying them in their works, and making their personal acquaintance, so far as their natural reserve and shyness would admit. He has studied them on Lake Superior, and at the head of the Missouri, and supplemented the knowledge thus acquired by a vast amount of information gained through the Indians and the trappers. If he oversets some of the romances put in circulation by Buffon and others, he nevertheless does not detract from the high reputation for forecast and intelligence which the subject of his investigations has always enjoyed. In fact, most readers will derive from his book no little respect and esteem for these quadruped engineers, mingled with a pang of regret at the widespread devastation made among them in obedience to the exactions of civilization.
Beaver families consist usually of seven or eight members, namely, the father, the mother, and the children of one and two years. The young beavers, after being weaned, are fed carefully with tender shoots of willows, birches, and poplars, till they are able to provide for themselves. After the second year they are expected to leave the parental lodge, find mates, and make lodges for themselves. It sometimes happens that they fail in effecting the desired alliance. They are then, according to the Indians, permitted to remain another year under the parental roof, where, however, they are in a sort of disgrace, and are compelled to work at the dams, and do other hard labor, as a punishment for their matrimonial failure. Mr. Morgan does not vouch for the latter part of this story.
He writes throughout in an humane and kindly spirit, and an evident sympathy, not only with beavers, but with all the rest of the animal kingdom. He has brought to this work, an episode in the midst of graver studies, the same well-trained powers of observation and reflection, and the same spirit of careful and persistent research, which have already distinguished him in larger fields of inquiry. The value of his book is much increased by a profusion of excellent illustrations, made in most cases from photographs.
Mr. Morgan argues, at the close of his book, that the beaver and other animals are guided, not by the blind power called instinct, but by a conscious intelligence, like that of man, though incomparably inferior in degree. We are disposed to agree with him ; and yet we would call attention to one fact which invalidates his principal train of reasoning, founded on structural affinities between man and the reasoning animals. In those of the animal kingdom, in whom, above all others, intelligence is proverbial, there is no such structural affinity. Ants and bees have neither brain, spine, nor nerves ; that is to say, they are without the organs in which a conscious intelligence is universally supposed to reside.