Quote: Huxley on traveler's tales and primate discovery05 Jan 2013
Thomas Huxley devoted his 1863 book, Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature, to describing what was then known about the anatomy and biology of the living apes, including gibbons, orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas. Earlier descriptions of these primates had spawned endless confusion. Huxley showed (brilliantly) how the confusion resulted from incorrect accounts of the primates from travelers and the study by European anatomists of mostly juvenile skeletons carried away shipboard from the tropical homes of these primates. After this long discussion, he wrote, with great charity:
Once in a generation, a Wallace may be found physically, mentally, and morally qualified to wander unscathed through the tropical wilds of America and of Asia; to form magnificent collections as he wanders; and withal to think out sagaciously the conclusions suggested by his collections: but, to the ordinary explorer or collector, the dense forests of equatorial Asia and Africa, which constitute the favourite habitation of the Orang, the Chimpanzee, and the Gorilla, present difficulties of no ordinary magnitude: and the man who risks his life by even a short visit to the malarious shores of those regions may well be excused if he shrinks from facing the dangers of the interior; if he contents himself with stimulating the industry of the better seasoned natives, and collecting and collating the more or less mythical reports and traditions with which they are too ready to supply him. In such a manner most of the earlier accounts of the habits of the man-like Apes originated; and even now a good deal of what passes current must be admitted to have no very safe foundation.
I just love the way that passage starts!