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j Strange Attractor Journal
neurosis and reptilian psychosis, suicidal scorpions and deranged, Prufrockian lemmings.
Darwin and Lindsay both sought to make Homo sapiens
of the natural world, but they came at the question from opposing
directions. Darwin saw Lindsay’s work as a small and comparatively unimportant thread in his own evolutionary tapestry. But Lindsay
argued that the history of human-animal relationships was, like the
history of attitudes towards the mad, dominated by superstition,
misrepresentation and cruelty. He set out to restore the maligned reputation of the animal kingdom by demonstrating ‘the psychical
superiority of the lower animals – the dog, horse, elephant, parrot or
editions of Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man
ape – over the human child, and even the human adult’, and showing,
(1874) and you will find a handful of footnotes
in the process, that all creatures – from pea crabs to collies – were smart
citing the work of one William Lauder Lindsay.1
and sensitive enough to suffer doubt, depression and insanity.
Read Lindsay’s entry in the revised Dictionary of
Lindsay was a widely travelled, fairly eminent member of the
and you might be forgiven
Scottish medical landscape, his research cited by Darwin and published
for concluding that the high point of this
in some of the leading medical journals of the period, and his life
Scottish physician’s career was his Memoir on
recorded in the DNB
. He seems to have seen Mind in the Lower Animals
the Spermogones and Pycnides of Lichens
as part of a serious attempt, both scientific and humanitarian, to sweep
We beg to differ. In Mind in the Lower Animals
aside existing notions of the limits of the mind. But his obituarists
in Health and Disease
, a sprawling two-volume
concentrated on a different side of his life and work: Lindsay the retailer
treatise published at the end of his life in
of sentimental anecdotes, an eccentric anthropomorphist of Swiftian
1879, Lindsay found his metier: not vegetable
proportions (though lacking Swift’s wit and savage indignation).
love, but animal madness. He ranged across
Lindsay’s work is part of a long tradition in Western thought, one
continents and centuries, pillaging writers from
which sought to explore the boundaries between the divine, the human
Pliny to Darwin and ushering his readers
and the animal, and in doing so to discover what it meant to be free,
into a dark, destabilised world of simian
conscious and responsible. But his sentimental anthropomorphism
and his engagement with evolutionary theory marked Lindsay as
See Darwin, Charles: The Descent Of Man, And Selection In Relation To Sex
distinctively Victorian, responding to the hopes and anxieties of the
Edited With An Introduction By James Moore And Adrian Desmond.
London: Penguin Books, 2004 (Rpt. Of 1879), Pp. 23, 100, 119.
In Perceiving Animals
3 the historian Erica Fudge identifies the
Seccombe, Thomas (Rev. DJ Galloway): ‘Lindsay, William Lauder (1829-1880),
Physician And Botanist’, In Oxford Dictionary Of National Biography
, Oxford: Oxford
Fudge, Erica: Perceiving Animals: Humans And Beasts In Early Modern English
. Illinois: University Of Illinois Press.
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