23. Effect of Music upon Animals.


A few years ago some French philosophers made a concert for the national elephants, to try their taste for music. The same thing had been done forty years before them by John Wesley. “I thought,” says he, “it would be worth while to make an odd experiment. Remembering how surprisingly fond of music the lion at Edinburgh was, I determined to try whether this was the case with 37all animals of the same kind. I accordingly went to the Tower with one who plays on the German flute; he began playing near four or five lions; only one of these (the rest not seeming to regard it at all) rose up, came to the front of his den, and seemed to be all attention; meantime a tyger in the same den started up, leaped over the lion’s back, turned and ran under his belly, leaped over him again, and so to and fro incessantly. Can we account for this by any principle of mechanism? Can we account for it at all?” Where is the mystery? Animals are affected by music just as men are who know nothing of the theory, and, like men, some have musical ears and some have not. One dog will howl at a flute or trumpet, while another is perfectly indifferent to it. This howling is probably not the effect of pain, as the animal shews no mark of displeasure; he seems to mean it as a vocal accompaniment.

38Sir William Jones relates some remarkable instances of the effect of music upon animals, which has certainly been known from time immemorial; the tales of Orpheus would not else have existed. The fact is applied to good purpose by the eastern snake-catchers, and perhaps the story of the pied piper of Hammel is but an exaggerated account of some musical rat-catcher. Beasts of prey are less likely to be affected by it than such as live upon the alarm, and have consequently a quicker and finer sense of hearing.


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