dictates man’s treatment of other animals
as it now regulates the management of his insanefellow man
destructive violence at least, and per-haps also desponding suicidal propensity, will doubt-less become much less frequent.
Lindsay’s articles reﬂect a broader shift in medical andsocialattitudestosuicide.Contemporarypsychiatristssuchas Henry Maudsley were similarly concerned to analysesuicide less as a criminal and moral issue, and more as asocial and medical problem
‘a natural event of the humandispensation
. . .
YetLindsayandMaudsleydifferedastowhethersuicidewasuniquetohumansand,indoingso,disagreedonthe relative faculties of animal and human minds.This difference of opinion became public following the1879 publication of Lindsay’s ﬁnal work
. Having now collected a vast array of correspondence and evidence,Lindsay included a wholechapter on animal suicide, incor-porating 25 examples across 14 species.
He argued thatthere existed no category of human suicide that did nothave an animal correlate. ‘In all cases,’ he wrote, ‘whetherin animals or man, there is manifest derangement of thepowerful instinct of self-preservation, thestrong conserva-tive, ever active, principle of love of life.’
This could occur for the same variety of reasons inanimals as in man: age, despair, grief, jealousy, despera-tion, captivity, cruelty, insanity, self-sacriﬁce throughmaternal or social affection, or sheer
the latter,long fabled as a curse of rich women, was also commonamongst their pampered dogs. Crucially, and in all cases,there appeared evidence of ‘choice and consideration’.‘Suicide proper,’ wrote Lindsay, ‘that which involves inten-tion, and frequently plan
occurs in the lower animals.’
Maudsley disagreed. He chose one of Lindsay’sexamples to counter
a cat that had supposedly strangleditselfinaforkedbranchafteritskittenshadbeendrowned.Writing in the journal
immediately after the publi-cation of Lindsay’s book, he stated:It is quite possible that an animal in a state of excite-ment or delirium from pain and illness may make afranticrushwhichissuesinitsdeath,justasahumanbeingmaydo;butthatisquiteadifferentthingfromadistinctly conceived and deliberately perpetuatedsuicide. Of such an act by any animal below man weare yet in want of satisfactory evidence.
Lindsay, Maudsley alleged, had been duped by the allureof anthropomorphic reasoning:Stories of the kind require to be severely sifted, andought not to be accepted unless the narrator
. . .
hastaken every pains to avoid the common fallacies of observation and inference, or has been strictly cross-examinedby some one
. . .
on his guard against thesefallacies.’’
Inducing animal suicide in the laboratory
Such skepticism was ﬁrmly entrenched not by Maudsley,but by the comparative psychologist Conwy Lloyd Morgan.Fromthelate1880s,Morganarguedthatnoobservershouldinterpretananimalactionastheoutcomeofahighermentalfaculty, if they could explain it through reference to onelowerdownthepsychologicalscale
suchastrial-and-errorlearning or instinct. A book titled
by George Romanes had provoked Morgan to explicate hisfamed‘canon’.Publishedin1882,itwas,asLorraineDastondescribes,‘acompendiumofstoriesabouttheallegedmentalabilities of animals, from protozoa to monkeys.’
Whendeveloping his critique ofRomanes,Morgan chosea case of animal suicide to argue against the existence of animal reason
that of the scorpion. According to Iberianfolklore, when the scorpion was surrounded by ﬂames itwouldchoosesuicidebystingingitselfintheback.Thestory waspopularisedbyByron,whowouldhavelearntofitinhisearly travelstothe Mediterranean. For Byron, the scorpionconveyed the inner torment of his tragic anti-hero
,publishedin1813.‘TheMind,thatbroodso’erg uilty woes’, he wrote, ‘is like the scorpion girt by ﬁre.’
TheRomantic motif of the suicidal scorpion would becomeentrenched in scientiﬁc accounts, as it became the ﬁrst vehicle through which to test theories of animal reasonand instinct.Romanes relayed several accounts where scorpions hadkilled themselves after being ringed with ﬁre, but notedcautiously, ‘such a remarkable fact unquestionably demandsfurthercorroborationbeforeweacceptitunreserv-edly.’
E.RayLankester,professorofzoologyatUniversity College,London,tookupthechallengeand,reportingtotheLinnaeanSocietylatein1882,claimedthathehadobserveda scorpion repeatedly trying to strike itself after he admi-nisteredchloroformintoitsglasscontainer.Thishebelievedto‘throwlig htontheoldtradition’,andtended‘toconﬁrmitsaccuracy.’
In 1883, Morgan endeavoured to dispel thisbelief.Hedesignedasetofexperiments‘sufﬁcientlybarbar-ous
. . .
to induce any scorpion who had theslightest suicidaltendency to ﬁnd relief in self-destruction.’
He surrounded them with ﬁre, condensed sunbeams ontheir backs, heated them in a bottle, burned them withphosphoric acid, treated them with electric shocks andsubjectedthem to ‘general and exasperating courses of worry.’
Though he witnessed scorpions striking at their
Lindsay, ibid., p. 195, emphasis in original.
Gates, B.T. (1980) ‘Suicide and the Victorian physicians’.
Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences
74, on p. 172.
William Lauder Lindsay (1879)
Mind in the Lower Animals, in Health and Disease
Volume II. Mind in Disease
, Kegan Paul & Co. (London), pp. 130
Ibid., p. 141.
Ibid., p. 130.
Henry Maudsley (1879) ‘Alleged suicide of a dog’.
413, on p. 412.
Ibid., p. 411.
Lorraine Daston (2005) ‘Intelligences: angelic, animal, human’. In
Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives in Anthropomorphism
(Daston, L. and Mittman, G., eds),Columbia University Press (New York), 37
59, on p. 46.
Lord Byron (1813)
The Giaour: A Fragment of a Turkish Tale
, John Murray (London),p.16.SeealsoJohannesFabricius(1976)
Alchemy:TheMedievalAlchemistsand their Royal Art
, Rosenkilde and Bagger (Copenhagen), for a psychoanalyticreading of medieval associations between the scorpion (and many other animals)and destruction.
George Romanes (1882)
, Kegan Paul & Co. (London), pp. 222
Ray Lankester, E. (1882) ‘Notes on some Habits of the Scorpions
462, on p. 459.
Lloyd Morgan, C. (1883) ‘Suicide of scorpions’.
314, on p. 313.
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