THE FIRE APES
49its achievements will never be possible of duplication in nature, that, in the words of one naturalist, "progress hangs on but asingle thread. That thread is the humangerm plasm." A French scholar murmurs alittle uneasily "man alone in the universe isnot finished." Julian Huxley defends theuniqueness of the human species with an im- passioned vigor. "Among the actual inhabi-tants of the earth," he says, "past and present,no other lines could have been taken whichwould have produced speech and conceptualthought ... It could not have been evolvedon earth except in man."That remark is both wise, in a sense, andfoolish. It is the statement of a man who haslooked far into the depths of the past andseen nothing so wonderful as man. Yet it be-trays also the reluctance of the human imagi-nation as it turns toward the future-its con-cern with itself, its unwillingness to relin-quish the stage. This genuinely profoundmind is surely not unaware that an intellec-tual dinosaur of the dying Cretaceous mightwell have murmured: "The saurians aloneare not finished. What possible things couldimprove upon us?" The Cretaceous date linewould have made it a wise and Huxlianstatement. It would have taken ten millionyears to force its serious alteration. Mr.Huxley is equally safe from refutation, sosafe in fact that he sniffs contemptuously atthe potential threat offered by our rowdy re-maining cousins up in the family tree. "Themonkeys," he says, "have quite left behindthem that more generalized stage from whicha conscious thinking creature could develop."I am afraid that we are altogether too im- pressed by the fact;that we live on the groundand that our remaining relatives, poor fellows,show a decided preference for trees. It never seems to occur to us that. if they didn't stay upthere we would jolly well show them whatfor. As for that "more generalized stage"which Mr. Huxley demands for the appear-ance of a thinking creature, I am quite surethat he cannot define it in a way which wouldseriously threaten the reputation of severalexisting primates.The only way to become a "generalizedstage" is to produce, in the course of time,several divergent smart descendants. No onecan say that that faculty has been lost, but thewhole monkey group will stay upstairs nowtill we are gone. And if they don't comedown, there is still my squirrel, whose actionsat times remind me of a certain ancient hu-man forerunner in the Eocene. That chapwasn't recognized as "generalized" either,until somewhere along the way he began towalk on his hind feet. In the beginning,I'm not at all sure he was as smart as mysquirrel. Now I have said that Mr. Huxley is safefrom refutation, geological time being whatit is. If it is impossible to refute him untilthe passage of another sixty million years, itmight be more comfortable to assume he hasspoken the truth. It might have been, that is,up until last year. It was then that scientists began to scratch actively in the African bonelands. It was then that archeologists beganto Whisper behind their hands and exchangeglances. It concerned, of course, a certainskull. That in itself was bad enough, but whatensued was worse.
an ape, they had said in the be-ginning: "A creature lacking the dis-tinctive temporal expansions whichappear to be concomitant with and necessaryto articulate man is no true man." Thenthere had come that frightening insistence onthe part of his discoverer that he had used fireand tools.The little fellow was promptly redescribed.His type was cited in glowing terms as "intel-ligent, energetic, erect, and delicately pro- portioned little people." He was creditedwith speech, and spoken of respectfully as a potential human ancestor. It was more com-fortable that way. Otherwise you were con-fronted with a spectacle like Dunsany's mys-terious Abu Laheeb, that strange being squat-ting over its lonely fire in the marshes-theonly beast in the world that made fire likeman.The mythical Abu Laheeb survived by hid-ing in the papyrus swamps of the upper Nile.
the ape whomade fire, was not that fortunate. He disap- peared. The reason why concerns Mr. Hux-ley's philosophy and is in some sense a refuta-tion of it. Men say, in the books, that manis the last hope of life on the planet, the lastchance, that is, for brain. In the past, how-ever, when man was yet weak, a cousin triedto take the path he walked upon and almost