IS INTELLECT A CURSE?
Droch. 1895. "Is Intellect a Curse?" Life 25(648): 354-355.
A book of considerable power and undoubted originality is "The Curse
of Intellect" (Roberts Bros.) published anonymously, but reported to be
by the daughter of Lord Salisbury. It is a trying comparison — but this
story forcibly reminds one of "Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Here is the same
attempt by a strange device to separate the personality of a man into its
opposing parts. Then each part of the personality is pushed to its logical
and astounding conclusion.
In "The Curse of Intellect" the problem is not to divide a personality
into one part wholly good and another wholly bad, but to slowly transfer
the soul from a man by his own volition to a beast.
This curious device is adopted of having the man in the story (who is
an Oxford graduate of unusual ability) spend twenty-four years in educating
a huge monkey to be his intellectual companion. At the end of that period
the strange pair appear in London society, and by wealth and ingenuity
become the rage.
The bald statement of this plot sounds like the wildest farce; any one
would say that here is a situation that can only be treated with broad
humor. Instead of that there is hardly a gleam of humnor in the book; it
is biting sarcasm from end to end.
It requires no small ability in the writing way to create the illusion
from the first that the situation is not impossible. The author is tremendously
in earnest, and deals with moral problems of such intensity that the reader
forgets to laugh, and listens with a certain sense of uncanniness. This
monkey is no more amusing than Poe's monkey of the "Murders of the Rue
The problem that the man, Power, set for himself in his strange experiment
was to arrive at a "a new standpoint of criticism." He says early in his
career, "I should like to know from some independent source what I really
After more than twenty years of the experiment the conclusion of the
whole matter is as follows:
The Beast says: "Man without reason was probably as pure and happy an
animal as a monkey. Intellect in man was a curse." And he arraigns the
man for ever putting into him such a terrible thing as a soul.
The Man's verdict is than in losing his soul he has lost the power of
human affection. Nothing in the world is worthwhile, nothing is left to
The attitude of the author is evidently shown in the last paragraph,
which expresses profound pity for the Beast "with power of reflection suddenly
born in him, full, from reading, of belief in man's God-like greatness,
to be confronted suddenly with the human beast that he is!"
For the author the whole spectacle of the world is but "a stinking slough
of selfish, dirt-bespattered, dirt bespattering creatures."
This is the final flower of modern pessimism — to curse the instrument
of reason that has raised man to be a little lower than the angels, and
to covet in its stead the happiness of instinct that belongs to the beast
of the field.
The book as a whole is a most depressing piece of allegory, written
with a certain force that compels unwilling attention.