Seeing the title this post over at HM’s (it refers to the second clip) reminded me that I came across another passage the other day which can usefully join the set of beaver-blogging posts from this time last year which are assembled over here. It’s Anthony Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury, reflecting on the animal kingdom, with a valuable reflection on the elephant as well as on the beaver:
Well it is perhaps for Mankind, that tho there are so many Animals who naturally herd for Companyâ€™s sake, and mutual Affection, there are so few who for Conveniency, and by Necessity are obligâ€™d to a strict Union, and kind of confederate State. The Creatures who, according to the OEconomy of their Kind, are obligâ€™d to make themselves Habitations of Defense against the Seasons and other Incidents; they who in some parts of the Year are deprivâ€™d of all Subsistence, and are therefore necessitated to accumulate in another, and to provide withal for the Safety of their collected Stores, are by their Nature indeed as strictly joinâ€™d, and with as proper Affections towards their Publick and Community, as the looser Kind, of a more easy Subsistence and Support, are united in what relates merely to their Offspring, and the Propagation of their Species. Of these thorowly associating and confederate-Animals, there are none I have ever heard of, who in Bulk or Strength exceed the BEAVER. The major part of these political Animals, and Creatures of a joint Stock, are as inconsiderable as the Race of ANTS or BEES. But had Nature assignâ€™d such an OEconomy as this to so puissant an Animal, for instance, as the ELEPHANT, and made him withal as prolifick as those smaller Creatures commonly are; it might have gone hard perhaps with Mankind: And a single Animal, who by his proper Might and Prowess has often decided the Fate of the greatest Battels which have been fought by Human Race, shouâ€™d he have grown up into a Society, with a Genius for Architecture and Mechanicks proportionable to what we observe in those smaller Creatures; we shouâ€™d, with all our invented Machines, have found it hard to dispute with him the Dominion of the Continent.
That’s from Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, vol.3 pp.134-5 of the Liberty ed.