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The sloth, when placed on the ground, seems strangely and awkwardly formed. His fore legs, or, more correctly speaking, his arms, are apparently much too long, while his hind legs are very short and look as if they could be bent almost to the shape of a corkscrew; so that when put on the floor, his belly touches the ground.
Suppose, then, he supported himself on his legs, like other animals, he would be in pain, for he has no soles to his feet, and his claws are very sharp, and long, and curved, so that if his body were supported by his feet, it would be by their extremities—just as your body would be, if you were to throw yourself on all fours, and try to support it on the ends of your toes and fingers!
If the floor were made of glass, or of a polished surface, the sloth would actually be quite stationary; but as the ground is generally rough, with little rising upon it, from stones, roots of grass, etc., this just suits him, and he moves his fore legs in all directions, in order to find something to lay hold of.
When he has succeeded, he pulls himself forward, and is thus enabled to travel onward, but at the same time in so tardy and awkward a manner, as to acquire him the name of sloth. Indeed, his looks and gestures show his uncomfortable situation; and as a sigh every now and then escapes him, we may be entitled to conclude that he is actually in pain.
But the sloth, in its wild state, spends its whole life in trees, and never leaves them but through force or by accident. God has made man to tread on the surface of the Earth, the eagle to soar in the expanse of the skies, and the monkey and squirrel to inhabit the trees; still these may change their relative situations without feeling much inconvenience; but the sloth is doomed to spend his whole life in the trees; and, what is more extraordinary, not upon the branches, like the squirrel and the monkey, nor does he hang head downward, like the bat, but under the branches.
When asleep, he supports himself from a branch parallel to the Earth. He first seizes the branch, so that all four are in a line; and in this position he seems perfectly at rest. Now, if he had a tail, he would be at a loss to know what to do with it: were he to draw it up within his legs, it would interfere with them; and were he to let it hand down, it would become the sport of the winds. His tail scarcely exceeds an inch and a half [3.8099999999999996 centimeters] in length, and its shortness is a benefit to him.
One day, a man in the forest found a large two-toed sloth on the ground, upon the bank of the Essequibo. “As soon as I got up to him,”; he says, “the sloth threw himself upon his back, and defended himself in gallant style with his fore legs.”
“Come, poor fellow,” said he said, “I'll take no advantage of you in your misfortune; the forest is large enough for both you and me to rove in; go your ways up above, and enjoy yourself in these endless wilds; it is more than probable you will never have another interview with man; so fare thee well.”
On saying this, he took a long stick which was lying there, held it for him to hook on, and then conveyed him to a high and stately mora. The sloth ascended with wonderful rapidity, and in about a minute he was almost at the top of the tree.
Thus, the world has erred in its judgments concerning the sloth, from descriptions being given of him on the ground, and not in the only position in which he ought to have been describe, namely, clinging to the branch of a tree.
We must be careful not to judge others. People are to be appreciated for those things which they do best. We must remember that people have different abilities, experience and education. A weaver would make a poor blacksmith; a carpenter would make a poor tailor; and yet each of them, kept to his place, may do his work well; and no one is to be blamed for the lack of what he never had an opportunity of acquiring.
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