Gorilla snippets from the 1800's

I’m skipping around the net doing some historical research today, and I’ve been running across stories that try to describe apes to the general public, around the 1860’s, when live apes had not yet been seen in America.

Here’s a description from the NY Times archive of a public lecture in 1868: “The Gorilla: Lecture by Dr. Lemercier at the Cooper Union”. An excerpt:

It may be safely concluded, then, said the Doctor, that materially and morally, there is not the slightest ground for comparison between the two species. It is sheer nonsense to say that the gorilla was our great, great grandfather. He was not our progenitor [Great laughter and applause.] The gorilla has probably existed as long as men have, and who can show us any perfection in his organization. Like other animals the gorilla can be improved by man, but it cannot improve itself....The gorilla is simply a beast and nothing more. He was born thus and must always remain the same.

The New York public could get a full course on gorillas from lectures in 1868. Paul du Chaillu had passed through earlier in the year (relating to the next post about Barnum’s gorilla. The Times reported on du Chaillu’s lecture on February 18, 1868, “DU CHAILLU’S LECTURES.; First of the course at Steinway Hall–The Gorilla, Orang–Outang, Gibbon and Chimpanzee, and their Affinity to Man. “

With reference to the brain capacity, the speaker said that the average in the gorilla is 28 cubic inches, (with very little growth from infancy,) and the highest 34 cubic inches, while in man the capacity of the lowest average [sic, I wonder from context if this should have read "savage"] is 63 cubic inches, and that of the highest civilization 114 cubic inches. This distance between the capacity of men's brains is measured by regular intervals, but that between man and the gorilla is a great gap with no gradiations.... Mons. Du Chaillu closed his able lecture with the most emphatic declarations of his belief in the superiority of man to, and his distinct difference from, the animals of the African forest of which he had spoken.