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The Temple of Nature

By Erasmus Darwin




And Heaven-born STORGE weaves the social chain. CANTO II. l. 92.
THE Greek word Storgè is used for the affection of parents to children; which was also visibly represented by the Stork or Pelican feeding her young with blood taken from her own wounded bosom. A number of Pelicans form a semicircle in shallow parts of the sea near the coast, standing on their long legs; and thus including a shoal of small fish, they gradually approach the shore; and seizing the fish as they advance, receive them into a pouch under their throats; and bringing them to land regurgitate them for the use of their young, or for their future support. Adanson, Voyage to Senegal. In this country the parent Pigeons both male and female swallow the grain or other seeds, which they collect for their young, and bring it up mixed with a kind of milk from their stomachs, with their bills inserted into the mouths of the young doves. J. Hunter's works.

The affection of the parent to the young in experienced mothers may be in part owing to their having been relieved by them from the burden of their milk; but it is difficult to understand, how this affection commences in those mothers of the bestial world, who have not experienced this relief from the sucking of their offspring; and still more so to understand how female birds were at first induced to incubate their eggs for many weeks; and lastly how caterpillars, as of the silk-worm, are induced to cover themselves with a well-woven house of silk before their transformation.

These as well as many other animal facts, which are difficult to account for, have been referred to an inexplicable instinct; which is supposed to preclude any further investigation: but as animals seem to have undergone great changes, as well as the inanimate parts of the earth, and are probably still in a state of gradual improvement; it is not unreasonable to conclude, that some of these actions both of large {40} animals and of insects, may have been acquired in a state preceding their present one; and have been derived from the parents to their offspring by imitation, or other kind of tradition; thus the eggs of the crocodile are at this day hatched by the warmth of the sun in Egypt; and the eggs of innumerable insects, and the spawn of fish, and of frogs, in this climate are hatched by the vernal warmth: this might be the case of birds in warm climates, in their early state of existence; and experience might have taught them to incubate their eggs, as they became more perfect animals, or removed themselves into colder climates: thus the ostrich is said to sit upon its eggs only in the night in warm situations, and both day and night in colder ones.

This love of the mother in quadrupeds to the offspring, whom she licks and cleans, is so allied to the pleasure of the taste or palate, that nature seems to have had a great escape in the parent quadruped not devouring her offspring. Bitches, and cats, and sows, eat the placenta; and if a dead offspring occurs, I am told, that also is sometimes eaten, and yet the living offspring is spared; and by that nice distinction the progenies of those animals are saved from destruction!

"Certior factus sum a viro rebus antiquissimis docto, quod legitur in Berosi operibus homines ante diluvium mulierum puerperarum placentam edidisse, quasi cibum delicatum in epulis luxuriosis; et quod hoc nefandissimo crimine movebatur Deus diluvio submergere terrarum incolas." ANON.

It may be finally concluded, that this affection from the parent to the progeny existed before animals were divided into sexes, and produced the beginning of sympathetic society, the source of which may perhaps be thus well accounted for; whenever the glandular system is stimulated into greater natural action within certain limits, an addition of pleasure is produced along with the increased secretion; this pleasure arising from the activity of the system is supposed to constitute the happiness of existence, in contradistinction to the ennui or tædium vitæ; as shown in Zoonomia, Sect. XXXIII. 1.

Hence the secretion of nutritious juices occasioned by the stimulus of an embryon or egg in the womb gives pleasure to the parent for a length of time; whence by association a similar pleasure may be occasioned to the parent by seeing and touching the egg or fetus after {41} it birth; and in lactescent animals an additional pleasure is produced by the secretion of milk, as well as by its emission into the sucking lips of the infant. This appears to be one of the great secrets of Nature, one of those fine, almost invisible cords, which have bound one animal to another.

The females of lactiferous animals have thus a passion or inlet of pleasure in their systems more than the males, from their power of giving suck to their offspring; the want of the object of this passion, either owing to the death of the progeny, or to the unnatural fashion of their situation in life, not only deprives them of this innocent and virtuous source of pleasure; but has occasioned diseases, which have been fatal to many of them.