Long before Jubal became the father of all such as handle the harp and the organ and Tubalcain the instructor of every artificer in brass and iron, Abel was a keeper of sheep, but the sacred writer has not informed us how he first caught them and tamed them. If we consult other records of the infancy of the human race, they reveal as little. When the Egyptians began to portray their daily life on stone 6,000 or 7,000 years ago, they already had cattle and sheep, geese and ducks and dogs and plenty of asses, though not horses. They got these from the Assyrians, who had used them in their chariots long before they began to record anything.
Further back than this we have no one to question except those shadowy men of the Stone Age who have left us heaps of their implements, but none of their bones. They were not so careful of the bones of horses, which lie in thousands about the precincts of their untidy villages, but not a scrawl on a bit of a mammoth tusk has been found to indicate whether these were ridden and driven, or only hunted and eaten.
Why should it be recorded that Cadmus invented letters? Why should we inquire who first made gunpowder and glass? Why should every schoolboy be taught that Watt was the inventor of the steam engine? Can any of these be put in the scale, as benefactors of our race, with the man who first trained a horse to carry him on its back, or drew milk with his hands from the udders of a cow? The familiarity of the thing has made us callous to the wonder of it. Let us put it before us, like a painting or a statue, and have a good look at it.
There is a farmhouse, any common farmhouse, just one of the molecules that constitute the mass of our wholesome country life. A horse is being harnessed for the plough: its ancestors sniffed the wind on the steppes of Tartary. Meek cows are standing to be milked: when primitive man first knew them in their native forests he used to give them a wide berth, for his flint arrows fell harmless off their tough hides, and they were fierce exceedingly. A cock is crowing on the fence as if the whole farm belonged to himself: he ought to be skulking in an Indian jungle. The sheep have no business here; their place is on the rocky mountains of Asia. As for the dog, it is difficult to assign it a country, for it owns no wild kindred in any part of the world, but it ought at least to be worrying the sheep. If there is an ass, it is a native of Abyssinia, and the Turkeys are Americans. The cat derives its descent from an Egyptian.
But all these are of one country now and of one religion. They know no home nor desire any, except the farmhouse, in which they were born and bred, and the lord of it is their lord, to whom they look for food and protection. And what would he do without them? What should we do without them? It is impossible to conceive that life could be carried on if we were deprived of these obedient and uncomplaining servants. High civilisation has been attained without steam engines; education, as we use the term now, is superfluous—Runjeet Singh, the Lion of the Punjab, could neither read nor write; the human race has prospered and multiplied without the knowledge of iron; but we know of no time when man did without domestic animals.
It is vain to speculate how the thing first came about, whether the sportive anthropoid ape took to riding on a wild goat before he emerged as a man keeping flocks, or whether some great pioneer, destined to be worshipped in after ages as a demigod, showed his fellows how the wild calves, if taken young, might be trained into tractable slaves; and it is hopeless to expect that any record will now leap to light which will give us knowledge in place of speculation. But it might not be unprofitable to seek for some clue to the strange selection which the domesticating genius of man has made from among the multifarious material presented to it by the animal kingdom. If we do so we shall almost be forced to the conclusion that domesticability is a character, or quality, inherent in some animals and entirely wanting in others.
Let us begin with pigeons, a very large group, but one that shows more unity than any of the other Orders into which naturalists divide birds. It embraces turtle doves of many species, wood pigeons, ground pigeons, fruit pigeons and some strange forms like the great crowned pigeon of Victoria. Of all these only one, the common blue rock, has been domesticated. The ring dove of Asia has been kept as a cage bird for so long that a permanent albino and also a fawn-coloured variety have been established and are more common in aviaries than birds of the natural colour; but the ring dove has not become a domestic fowl, and never will. In this instance there is a plausible explanation, for the blue rock, unlike the rest of the tribe, nests and roosts in holes and is also gregarious; therefore, if provided with accommodation of the kind it requires, it will form a permanent settlement and remain with us on the same terms as the honey bee; while the ring dove, not caring for a fixed home, must be confined, however tame it may become, or it will wander and be lost.
But this explanation will not fit other cases. What a multitude of wild ducks there are in Scotland and every other country, mallards, pintails, gadwalls, widgeons, pochards and teals, all very much alike in their habits and tastes! But of them all only one species, and that a migratory one, the mallard, has been persuaded to abandon its wandering ways and settle down to a life of ease and obesity as a dependant of man. In India there is a duck of the same genus as the mallard, known as the spotted-billed duck (Anas poecilorhynchus), which is as large as the mallard and quite as tasty, and is, moreover, not migratory, but remains and breeds in the country. But it has not been domesticated: the tame ducks in India, as here, are all mallards. The muscovy duck is a distinct species which has been domesticated elsewhere and introduced.
From the ducks let us turn to the hens. The partridge, grouse and pheasant are all dainty birds, but if we desire to eat them we must shoot them, or (proh pudor!) snare them. Plover's eggs are worth four shillings a dozen, but we must seek them on the moors. The birds that have covenanted to accept our food and protection and lay their eggs for our use and rear their young for us to kill are descended from Gallus bankivus, the jungle fowl of Eastern India. How they came here history records not: perhaps the gipsies brought them. They appear now in strange and diverse guise, the ponderous and feather-legged Cochin-China, the clean-limbed and wiry game, the crested Houdan, the Minorca with its monstrous comb, and the puny bantam. In Japan there is a breed that carries a tail seven or eight feet in length, which has to be "done" regularly like a lady's hair, to keep it from dirt and damage.