The Republic of Beavers by La Hontan
To know Native and White Mythology
This article presents a preliminary exploration of eighteenth-century thought on the language of animals, especially beavers. Illustrations of the period which show beavers working together on the construction of their lodges and their dams can be examined in this context. The perceptions of Father Guillaume Hyacinthe Bougeant, Buffon and Charles Bonnet, as well as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who dedicated a few lines to the subject, are each examined. Certain thinkers, such as Bougeant, endowed beavers with a soul and language. Others hesitated to go so far; Buffon's opinion seemed to vacillate between the Cartesian concept of animal as mere machines, devoid of a soul and the ability to reason, and the view that acknowledges the emotions of domestic animals. Bonnet and Rousseau added to the debate, by introducing an important distinction between natural and conventional language, of which the latter is the sole privilege of human beings.