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No. XXVIII. WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 1828.
66 Something alone yet not alone, to be wished, and only to be found, in a friend."-SIR WILLIAM TEmple.
A BATTLE OF ANTS.-DESIRABLENESS OF DRAWING DISTINCTION BETWEEN POWERS COMMON TO OTHER ANIMALS, AND THOSE PECULIAR TO MAN. TAKING up, the other day, the last number of the Edinburgh Journal of Science, we met with the following account of a battle of ants. It is contained in the notice of a memoir by M. Hanhart, who describes the battle as having taken place between two species of these insects; "one the formica rufa, and the other a little black ant, which he does not name (probably the fofusca.)" In other respects, as the reviewer observes, the subject is not new, the celebrated Huber having described a battle of this kind before; but as natural history lies out of the way of many readers (though calculated to please them all, if they are genuine readers of anything), and as it has suggested to us a few remarks, which may further the objects we have in writing, the account shall be here repeated.
"M. Hanhart saw these insects approach in armies composed of their respective swarms, and advancing towards each other in the greatest
order. The Formica rufa marched with one in front, on a line from nine to twelve feet in length, flanked by several corps in square masses, composed of from twenty to sixty individuals.
"The second species (little blacks), forming an army much more numerous, marched to meet the enemy on a very extended line, and from one to three individuals abreast. They left a detachment at the foot of their hillock to defend it against any unlooked-for attack. The rest of the army marched to battle, with its right wing supported by a solid corps of several hundred individuals, and the left wing supported by a similar body of more than a thousand. These groups advanced in the greatest order, and without changing their positions. The two lateral corps took no part in the principal action. That of the right wing made a halt and formed an army of reserve; whilst the corps which marched in column on the left wing manoeuvred so as to turn the hostile army, and advanced with a hurried march to the hillock of the Formica rufa, and took it by assault.
"The two armies attacked each other and fought for a long time without breaking their lines. At length disorder appeared in various points, and the combat was maintained in detached groups; and after a bloody battle, which continued from three to four hours, the Formica rufa were put to flight, and forced to abandon their two hillocks and go off to establish themselves at some other point with the remains of their army.
"The most interesting part of this exhibition, says M. Hanhart, was to see these insects reciprocally making prisoners, and transporting their own wounded to their hillocks. Their devotedness to the wounded was carried so far, that the Formica rufa, in conveying them to their nests, allowed themselves to be killed by the little blacks without any resistance, rather than abandon their precious charge.
"From the observations of M. Huber, it is known that when an ant hillock is taken by the enemy, the vanquished are reduced to slavery, and employed in the interior labours of their habitation."-Bull. Univ. Mai 1826.
There is no sort of reason, observe, to mistrust these accounts. The "lords of creation" may be slow in admitting the approaches of other animals to a participation of what they consider eminently human and skilful; but ants, in some of their habits, have a great resemblance to bees; and after what is now universally known
respecting the polity and behaviour of the bees, the doubt will rather be, whether a share in the arts of war and government is not disposed among a far greater number of beings than we have yet discovered.
Here then, among a set of little creatures not bigger than grains of rice, is war in its regular human shape; war, not only in its violence, but its patriotism or fellow-feeling; and not only in its patriotism (which in our summary mode of settling all creatures' affections but our own, might be referred to instinct), but war in its science and battle array! The red ants make their advance in a line from nine to twelve feet in length, flanked by several corps in square masses; the "little blacks," more numerous, come up three abreast, leaving a detachment at the foot of their hillock, to defend it against unlooked-for attack. There are wings, right and left; they halt; they form an army of reserve; one side manœuvres so as to turn the other; the hillock is taken by assault; the lines are broken; and in fine, after a “bloody battle" of three or four hours, the red ants are put to flight.
What is there different in all this from a battle of Waterloo or Malplaquet? We look down upon these little energetic and skilful creatures, as beings of a similar disproportion might look upon us; and do we not laugh then? We may for an instant, thinking of the little Wellingtons and Napoleons that may have led them; but such laughter is wrong on reflexion, and we leave it to those who do not reflect at all, and who would be the first to resent laughter against themselves.
What then do we do? Are we to go into a corner, and effemi. nately weep over the miseries of the formican, as well as the human, race? saying how short is the life of ant! and Fourmis cometh up, and is cut down like a Frenchman? By no means. But we may contribute, by our reflections, an atom to the sum of human advancement; and if men advance, all the creatures of this world, for aught we know, may advance with them, or the places in which evil is found be diminished.
A little before we read this account of the battle of the ants, we'
saw pass by our window, a troop of horse; a set of gallant fellows, on animals almost as noble, the band playing, and colours flying; a strenuous sight; a progress of human hearts and thickcoming, trampling hoofs; a crowd of wills, composed into order and beauty by the will of another; ready death in the most gallant shape of life; self-sacrifice, taking out its holiday of admiration in the eyes of the feeble and the heroical, and moving through the sunshine to sounds of music, as if one moment of the very shew of sympathy were worth any price, even to its own confusion?
Was it all this? or was it nothing but a set of more imposing animals, led by others about half as thoughtless? Was it an imposition on themselves as well as the public, enticing the poor souls to be dressed up for the slaughter? a mass of superfluous human beings, cheated to come together, in order, as Mr Malthus thinks, that the superfluity may be got rid of, and the great have elbow-room at their feasts? or was it simply, as other philosophers think, because human experience is still in its boyhood, and men, in some respects, are not yet beyond the ants?
The sight of one of these military shows is, to us, the most elevating and the most humiliating thing in the world. It seems at once to raise us to the gods, and to sink us to the brutes. We feel of what noble things men are capable, and into what halfwitted things they may be deluded. At one moment we seem to ride in company with them to some glorious achievement, and rejoice in constituting a part of all that strength and warm blood which is to be let out for some great cause. At the next, they appear to us a parcel of poor fools, tricked, and tricked out; and we, because we are poorer ones, who see without being able to help it, must fain have the feeble tears come in our eyes. Oh! in that sorry little looking-glass of a tear, how many great human shows have been reflected, and made less !
But these weaknesses belong to the physical part of us. Philosophy sees farther, and hopes all. That war is an unmixed evil, we do not believe. We are sure it is otherwise. It sets in motion many noble qualities, and (in default of a better instrument) often
does a great deal of good. That it is not, at the same time, à great and monstrous evil, we believe a little. One field, after a battle, with the cries of the wounded and the dying, the dislocations, the tortures, the defeatures and the dismemberings, the dreadful lingering (perhaps on a winter's night), the shrieks for help, and the agonies of mortal thirst, is sufficient to do away all shallow and blustering attempts to make us take the shew of it for the substance. Even if we had no hope that the world could ever get rid of war, we should not blind ourselves to this its ghastly side; for its evils would then accumulate for want of being consisidered; and it is better at all times to look a truth manfully in the face, than trust for security ourselves, or credulity from others, to an effeminate hiding of our eyes. But the same love of truth that disguises nothing, may hope everything; and it is this that shall carry the world forward to benefits unthought of, if men of genius once come to set it up as their guide and standard.
What we intended by our present article was this; to suggest, whether we ought to value ourselves on any custom or skill which we possess in common with the lower animals; or whether we ought not rather to consider the participation as an argument that, in that respect, we have not yet got beyond the commonest instinct. If the military conduct of the ants be not instinct (or whatsoever human pride pleases to understand by that term), then are they in possession, so far, of human reason, and so far we do not see beyond them. If it be instinct, then war, and the conduct of it, are not the great things we suppose them; and a Wellington and a Washington may but follow the impulse of some mechanical energy, just as some insects are supposed to construct their dwellings in a particular shape, because they partake of it in their own conformation. In either case, we conceive, we ought to remind ourselves, that the greatest distinction hitherto discovered between men and other creatures, is that the human being is capable of improvement, and of seeing beyond the instincts common to all. Therefore, war is not a thing we arrive at after great improvement; it is a thing we begin with, before any; and what we take for improvements.in