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Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

THE COURTSHIP OF ANIMALS
WE men like to see animals courting. It amuses us to see them
thus imitating humanity, and throws something at once roman-
tic and familiar into those dutnl) and hidden lives which they veil so
closely from us. 'cOne touch of Nature makes the whole world kin,"
we murmur, and find a new pleasure in the- hackneyed words. They
are really not quite apropos, however; for what we in our heart of
hearts mean to say is one touch of human nature. Matt is a vain
organism, and likes to stand surrounded by mirrors -magnifying
mirrors if it be possible, but at any rale mirrors. And so we read the
ideas of our own mind into the animals, and confidently speak of
"suitors" and "coy brides to be won" and "jealous rivals" and what
not, as if birds or even spiders or newts were miniature human beings,
in fancy dress no doubt, but with the thoughts of a twentieth-century
inhabitant of London or New York.
Some of the more reflective*, perhaps, may wonder how far we are
justified in our assumptions as to the motives and meaning of animal
courtship; while others, with maybe sortie biological knowledge
behind them, may try to look at it all from the other side of the gulf
between man and beast, imagine how our own courtship would look
to an external and dispassionate intelligence, wonder whether much
of human behaviour had better not be interpreted from the animal
side rather than the animal's from ours, and how much we are walled
in by our biological heritage.
Animal courtship is an unfashionable topic, among biologists at
present; and I do not exaggerate when I say that it is also one on
which both ignorance and prejudice prevail. My own mil interest
in the subject began when, one spring in Wales, I observed the beauti-
ful courtship of the redshank, a common shore bird, and when 1 got
back to libraries, could find no ordered account of it, or indeed of bird
courtship in general. And now, after some twenty-live years of read-
ing and thinking about the subject, interspersed with a number of
pleasant if strenuous holidays in Britain, in Louisiana, in Holland, in
Spitsbergen, trying to find out what really does happen with this or
that common bird, I can confidently assert thai Darwin's theory of
sexual selection, though wrong in many details, yet was essentially
right: that there is no other explanation for the bulk of the characters
concerned with display, whether antics, song, colour, or special
plumes or other structures, than that they have been evolved in
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