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Title: Falling in Love - With Other Essays on More Exact Branches of Science
Author: Allen, Grant, 1848-1899
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[_All rights reserved_]


Some people complain that science is dry. That is, of course, a matter
of taste. For my own part, I like my science and my champagne as dry as
I can get them. But the public thinks otherwise. So I have ventured to
sweeten accompanying samples as far as possible to suit the demand, and
trust they will meet with the approbation of consumers.

Of the specimens here selected for exhibition, my title piece originally
appeared in the _Fortnightly Review_: 'Honey Dew' and 'The First Potter'
were contributions to _Longman's Magazine_: and all the rest found
friendly shelter between the familiar yellow covers of the good old
_Cornhill_. My thanks are due to the proprietors and editors of those
various periodicals for kind permission to reproduce them here.



_September_, 1889.



FALLING IN LOVE             1
RIGHT AND LEFT             18
EVOLUTION                  31
STRICTLY INCOG.            50
A VERY OLD MASTER         106
THUNDERBOLTS              137
HONEY-DEW                 159
FOOD AND FEEDING          193
DE BANANA                 216
GO TO THE ANT             233
BIG ANIMALS               251
FOSSIL FOOD               271
OGBURY BARROWS            287
FISH OUT OF WATER         302
THE FIRST POTTER          316
DESERT SANDS              341


An ancient and famous human institution is in pressing danger. Sir
George Campbell has set his face against the time-honoured practice of
Falling in Love. Parents innumerable, it is true, have set their faces
against it already from immemorial antiquity; but then they only
attacked the particular instance, without venturing to impugn the
institution itself on general principles. An old Indian administrator,
however, goes to work in all things on a different pattern. He would
always like to regulate human life generally as a department of the
India Office; and so Sir George Campbell would fain have husbands and
wives selected for one another (perhaps on Dr. Johnson's principle, by
the Lord Chancellor) with a view to the future development of the race,
in the process which he not very felicitously or elegantly describes as
'man-breeding.' 'Probably,' he says, as reported in _Nature_, 'we have
enough physiological knowledge to effect a vast improvement in the
pairing of individuals of the same or allied races if we could only
apply that knowledge to make fitting marriages, instead of giving way to
foolish ideas about love and the tastes of young people, whom we can
hardly trust to choose their own bonnets, much less to choose in a
graver matter in which they are most likely to be influenced by
frivolous prejudices.' He wants us, in other words, to discard the
deep-seated inner physiological promptings of inherited instinct, and to
substitute for them some calm and dispassionate but artificial
selection of a fitting partner as the father or mother of future

Now this is of course a serious subject, and it ought to be treated
seriously and reverently. But, it seems to me, Sir George Campbell's
conclusion is exactly the opposite one from the conclusion now being
forced upon men of science by a study of the biological and
psychological elements in this very complex problem of heredity. So far
from considering love as a 'foolish idea,' opposed to the best interests
of the race, I believe most competent physiologists and psychologists,
especially those of the modern evolutionary school, would regard it
rather as an essentially beneficent and conservative instinct developed
and maintained in us by natural causes, for the very purpose of insuring
just those precise advantages and improvements which Sir George Campbell
thinks he could himself effect by a conscious and deliberate process of
selection. More than that, I believe, for my own part (and I feel sure
most evolutionists would cordially agree with me), that this beneficent
inherited instinct of Falling in Love effects the object it has in view
far more admirably, subtly, and satisfactorily, on the average of
instances, than any clumsy human selective substitute could possibly
effect it.

In short, my doctrine is simply the old-fashioned and confiding belief
that marriages are made in heaven: with the further corollary that
heaven manages them, one time with another, a great deal better than Sir
George Campbell.

Let us first look how Falling in Love affects the standard of human
efficiency; and then let us consider what would be the probable result
of any definite conscious attempt to substitute for it some more
deliberate external agency.

Falling in Love, as modern biology teaches us to believe, is nothing
more than the latest, highest, and most involved exemplification, in the
human race, of that almost universal selective process which Mr. Darwin
has enabled us to recognise throughout the whole long series of the
animal kingdom. The butterfly that circles and eddies in his aërial
dance around his observant mate is endeavouring to charm her by the
delicacy of his colouring, and to overcome her coyness by the display of
his skill. The peacock that struts about in imperial pride under the
eyes of his attentive hens, is really contributing to the future beauty
and strength of his race by collecting to himself a harem through whom
he hands down to posterity the valuable qualities which have gained the
admiration of his mates in his own person. Mr. Wallace has shown that to
be beautiful is to be efficient; and sexual selection is thus, as it
were, a mere lateral form of natural selection--a survival of the
fittest in the guise of mutual attractiveness and mutual adaptability,
producing on the average a maximum of the best properties of the race in
the resulting offspring. I need not dwell here upon this aspect of the
case, because it is one with which, since the publication of the
'Descent of Man,' all the world has been sufficiently familiar.

In our own species, the selective process is marked by all the features
common to selection throughout the whole animal kingdom; but it is also,
as might be expected, far more specialised, far more individualised, far
more cognisant of personal traits and minor peculiarities. It is
furthermore exerted to a far greater extent upon mental and moral as
well as physical peculiarities in the individual.

We cannot fall in love with everybody alike. Some of us fall in love
with one person, some with another. This instinctive and deep-seated
differential feeling we may regard as the outcome of complementary
features, mental, moral, or physical, in the two persons concerned; and
experience shows us that, in nine cases out of ten, it is a reciprocal
affection, that is to say, in other words, an affection roused in unison
by varying qualities in the respective individuals.

Of its eminently conservative and even upward tendency very little doubt
can be reasonably entertained. We _do_ fall in love, taking us in the
lump, with the young, the beautiful, the strong, and the healthy; we do
_not_ fall in love, taking us in the lump, with the aged, the ugly, the
feeble, and the sickly. The prohibition of the Church is scarcely needed
to prevent a man from marrying his grandmother. Moralists have always
borne a special grudge to pretty faces; but, as Mr. Herbert Spencer
admirably put it (long before the appearance of Darwin's selective
theory), 'the saying that beauty is but skin-deep is itself but a
skin-deep saying.' In reality, beauty is one of the very best guides we
can possibly have to the desirability, so far as race-preservation is
concerned, of any man or any woman as a partner in marriage. A fine
form, a good figure, a beautiful bust, a round arm and neck, a fresh
complexion, a lovely face, are all outward and visible signs of the
physical qualities that on the whole conspire to make up a healthy and
vigorous wife and mother; they imply soundness, fertility, a good
circulation, a good digestion. Conversely, sallowness and paleness are
roughly indicative of dyspepsia and anæmia; a flat chest is a symptom of
deficient maternity; and what we call a bad figure is really, in one way
or another, an unhealthy departure from the central norma and standard
of the race. Good teeth mean good deglutition; a clear eye means an
active liver; scrubbiness and undersizedness mean feeble virility. Nor
are indications of mental and moral efficiency by any means wanting as
recognised elements in personal beauty. A good-humoured face is in
itself almost pretty. A pleasant smile half redeems unattractive
features. Low, receding foreheads strike us unfavourably. Heavy, stolid,
half-idiotic countenances can never be beautiful, however regular their
lines and contours. Intelligence and goodness are almost as necessary as
health and vigour in order to make up our perfect ideal of a beautiful
human face and figure. The Apollo Belvedere is no fool; the murderers in
the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's are for the most part no

What we all fall in love with, then, as a race, is in most cases
efficiency and ability. What we each fall in love with individually is,
I believe, our moral, mental, and physical complement. Not our like, not
our counterpart; quite the contrary; within healthy limits, our unlike
and our opposite. That this is so has long been more or less a
commonplace of ordinary conversation; that it is scientifically true,
one time with another, when we take an extended range of cases, may, I
think, be almost demonstrated by sure and certain warranty of human

Brothers and sisters have more in common, mentally and physically, than
any other members of the same race can possibly have with one another.
But nobody falls in love with his sister. A profound instinct has taught
even the lower races of men (for the most part) to avoid such union of
the all-but-identical. In the higher races the idea never so much as
occurs to us. Even cousins seldom fall in love--seldom, that is to say,
in comparison with the frequent opportunities of intercourse they enjoy,
relatively to the remainder of general society. When they do, and when
they carry out their perilous choice effectively by marriage, natural
selection soon avenges Nature upon the offspring by cutting off the
idiots, the consumptives, the weaklings, and the cripples, who often
result from such consanguineous marriages. In narrow communities, where
breeding in-and-in becomes almost inevitable, natural selection has
similarly to exert itself upon a crowd of _crétins_ and other hapless
incapables. But in wide and open champaign countries, where individual
choice has free room for exercise, men and women as a rule (if not
constrained by parents and moralists) marry for love, and marry on the
whole their natural complements. They prefer outsiders, fresh blood,
somebody who comes from beyond the community, to the people of their own
immediate surroundings. In many men the dislike to marrying among the
folk with whom they have been brought up amounts almost to a positive
instinct; they feel it as impossible to fall in love with a
fellow-townswoman as to fall in love with their own first cousins. Among
exogamous tribes such an instinct (aided, of course, by other extraneous
causes) has hardened into custom; and there is reason to believe (from
the universal traces among the higher civilisations of marriage by
capture) that all the leading races of the world are ultimately derived
from exogamous ancestors, possessing this healthy and excellent

In minor matters, it is of course universally admitted that short men,
as a rule, prefer tall women, while tall men admire little women. Dark
pairs by preference with fair; the commonplace often runs after the
original. People have long noticed that this attraction towards one's
opposite tends to keep true the standard of the race; they have not,
perhaps, so generally observed that it also indicates roughly the
existence in either individual of a desire for its own natural
complement. It is difficult here to give definite examples, but
everybody knows how, in the subtle psychology of Falling in Love, there
are involved innumerable minor elements, physical and mental, which
strike us exactly because of their absolute adaptation to form with
ourselves an adequate union. Of course we do not definitely seek out
and discover such qualities; instinct works far more intuitively than
that; but we find at last, by subsequent observation, how true and how
trustworthy were its immediate indications. That is to say, those men do
so who were wise enough or fortunate enough to follow the earliest
promptings of their own hearts, and not to be ashamed of that divinest
and deepest of human intuitions, love at first sight.

How very subtle this intuition is, we can only guess in part by the
apparent capriciousness and incomprehensibility of its occasional
action. We know that some men and women fall in love easily, while
others are only moved to love by some very special and singular
combination of peculiarities. We know that one man is readily stirred by
every pretty face he sees, while another man can only be roused by
intellectual qualities or by moral beauty. We know that sometimes we
meet people possessing every virtue and grace under heaven, and yet for
some unknown and incomprehensible reason we could no more fall in love
with them than we could fall in love with the Ten Commandments. I don't,
of course, for a moment accept the silly romantic notion that men and
women fall in love only once in their lives, or that each one of us has
somewhere on earth his or her exact affinity, whom we must sooner or
later meet or else die unsatisfied. Almost every healthy normal man or
woman has probably fallen in love over and over again in the course of a
lifetime (except in case of very early marriage), and could easily find
dozens of persons with whom they would be capable of falling in love
again if due occasion offered. We are not all created in pairs, like the
Exchequer tallies, exactly intended to fit into one another's minor
idiosyncrasies. Men and women as a rule very sensibly fall in love with
one another in the particular places and the particular societies they
happen to be cast among. A man at Ashby-de-la-Zouch does not hunt the
world over to find his pre-established harmony at Paray-le-Monial or at
Denver, Colorado. But among the women he actually meets, a vast number
are purely indifferent to him; only one or two, here and there, strike
him in the light of possible wives, and only one in the last resort
(outside Salt Lake City) approves herself to his inmost nature as the
actual wife of his final selection.

Now this very indifference to the vast mass of our fellow-countrymen or
fellow-countrywomen, this extreme pitch of selective preference in the
human species, is just one mark of our extraordinary specialisation, one
stamp and token of our high supremacy. The brutes do not so pick and
choose, though even there, as Darwin has shown, selection plays a large
part (for the very butterflies are coy, and must be wooed and won). It
is only in the human race itself that selection descends into such
minute, such subtle, such indefinable discriminations. Why should a
universal and common impulse have in our case these special limits? Why
should we be by nature so fastidious and so diversely affected? Surely
for some good and sufficient purpose. No deep-seated want of our complex
life would be so narrowly restricted without a law and a meaning.
Sometimes we can in part explain its conditions. Here, we see that
beauty plays a great _rôle_; there, we recognise the importance of
strength, of manner, of grace, of moral qualities. Vivacity, as Mr.
Galton justly remarks, is one of the most powerful among human
attractions, and often accounts for what might otherwise seem
unaccountable preferences. But after all is said and done, there remains
a vast mass of instinctive and inexplicable elements: a power deeper and
more marvellous in its inscrutable ramifications than human
consciousness. 'What on earth,' we say, 'could So-and-so see in
So-and-so to fall in love with?' This very inexplicability I take to be
the sign and seal of a profound importance. An instinct so conditioned,
so curious, so vague, so unfathomable, as we may guess by analogy with
all other instincts, must be Nature's guiding voice within us, speaking
for the good of the human race in all future generations.

On the other hand, let us suppose for a moment (impossible supposition!)
that mankind could conceivably divest itself of 'these foolish ideas
about love and the tastes of young people,' and could hand over the
choice of partners for life to a committee of anthropologists, presided
over by Sir George Campbell. Would the committee manage things, I
wonder, very much better than the Creator has managed them? Where would
they obtain that intimate knowledge of individual structures and
functions and differences which would enable them to join together in
holy matrimony fitting and complementary idiosyncrasies? Is a living
man, with all his organs, and powers, and faculties, and dispositions,
so simple and easy a problem to read that anybody else can readily
undertake to pick out off-hand a help meet for him? I trow not! A man is
not a horse or a terrier. You cannot discern his 'points' by simple
inspection. You cannot see _à priori_ why a Hanoverian bandsman and his
heavy, ignorant, uncultured wife, should conspire to produce a Sir
William Herschel. If you tried to improve the breed artificially, either
by choice from outside, or by the creation of an independent moral
sentiment, irrespective of that instinctive preference which we call
Falling in Love, I believe that so far from improving man, you would
only do one of two things--either spoil his constitution, or produce a
tame stereotyped pattern of amiable imbecility. You would crush out all
initiative, all spontaneity, all diversity, all originality; you would
get an animated moral code instead of living men and women.

Look at the analogy of domestic animals. That is the analogy to which
breeding reformers always point with special pride: but what does it
really teach us? That you can't improve the efficiency of animals in any
one point to any high degree, without upsetting the general balance of
their constitution. The race-horse can run a mile on a particular day at
a particular place, bar accidents, with wonderful speed: but that is
about all he is good for. His health as a whole is so surprisingly
feeble that he has to be treated with as much care as a delicate exotic.
'In regard to animals and plants,' says Sir George Campbell, 'we have
very largely mastered the principles of heredity and culture, and the
modes by which good qualities may be maximised, bad qualities
minimised.' True, so far as concerns a few points prized by ourselves
for our own purposes. But in doing this, we have so lowered the general
constitutional vigour of the plants or animals that our vines fall an
easy prey to oidium and phylloxera, our potatoes to the potato disease
and the Colorado beetle; our sheep are stupid, our rabbits idiotic, our
domestic breeds generally threatened with dangers to life and limb
unknown to their wiry ancestors in the wild state. And when one comes to
deal with the infinitely more complex individuality of man, what hope
would there be of our improving the breed by deliberate selection? If we
developed the intellect, we would probably stunt the physique or the
moral nature; if we aimed at a general culture of all faculties alike,
we would probably end by a Chinese uniformity of mediocre dead level.

The balance of organs and faculties in a race is a very delicate organic
equilibrium. How delicate we now know from thousands of examples, from
the correlations of seemingly unlike parts, from the wide-spread
effects of small conditions, from the utter dying out of races like the
Tasmanians or the Paraguay Indians under circumstances different from
those with which their ancestors were familiar. What folly to interfere
with a marvellous instinct which now preserves this balance intact, in
favour of an untried artificial system which would probably wreck it as
helplessly as the modern system of higher education for women is
wrecking the maternal powers of the best class in our English community!

Indeed, within the race itself, as it now exists, free choice, aided by
natural selection, is actually improving every good point, and is for
ever weeding out all the occasional failures and shortcomings of nature.
For weakly children, feeble children, stupid children, heavy children,
are undoubtedly born under this very régime of falling in love, whose
average results I believe to be so highly beneficial. How is this? Well,
one has to take into consideration two points in seeking for the
solution of that obvious problem.

In the first place, no instinct is absolutely perfect. All of them
necessarily fail at some points. If on the average they do good, they
are sufficiently justified. Now the material with which you have to
start in this case is not perfect. Each man marries, even in favourable
circumstances, not the abstractly best adapted woman in the world to
supplement or counteract his individual peculiarities, but the best
woman then and there obtainable for him. The result is frequently far
from perfect; all I claim is that it would be as bad or a good deal
worse if somebody else made the choice for him, or if he made the choice
himself on abstract biological and 'eugenic' principles. And, indeed,
the very existence of better and worse in the world is a condition
precedent of all upward evolution. Without an overstocked world, with
individual variations, some progressive, some retrograde, there could be
no natural selection, no survival of the fittest. That is the chief
besetting danger of cut-and-dried doctrinaire views. Malthus was a very
great man; but if his principle of prudential restraint were fully
carried out, the prudent would cease to reproduce their like, and the
world would be peopled in a few generations by the hereditarily reckless
and dissolute and imprudent. Even so, if eugenic principles were
universally adopted, the chance of exceptional and elevated natures
would be largely reduced, and natural selection would be in so much
interfered with or sensibly retarded.

In the second place, again, it must not be forgotten that falling in
love has never yet, among civilised men at least, had a fair field and
no favour. Many marriages are arranged on very different
grounds--grounds of convenience, grounds of cupidity, grounds of
religion, grounds of snobbishness. In many cases it is clearly
demonstrable that such marriages are productive in the highest degree of
evil consequences. Take the case of heiresses. An heiress is almost by
necessity the one last feeble and flickering relic of a moribund
stock--often of a stock reduced by the sordid pursuit of ill-gotten
wealth almost to the very verge of actual insanity. But let her be ever
so ugly, ever so unhealthy, ever so hysterical, ever so mad, somebody or
other will be ready and eager to marry her on any terms. Considerations
of this sort have helped to stock the world with many feeble and
unhealthy persons. Among the middle and upper classes it may be safely
said only a very small percentage of marriages is ever due to love
alone; in other words, to instinctive feeling. The remainder have been
influenced by various side advantages, and nature has taken her
vengeance accordingly on the unhappy offspring. Parents and moralists
are ever ready to drown her voice, and to counsel marriage within one's
own class, among nice people, with a really religious girl, and so forth
_ad infinitum_. By many well-meaning young people these deadly
interferences with natural impulse are accepted as part of a higher and
nobler law of conduct. The wretched belief that one should subordinate
the promptings of one's own soul to the dictates of a miscalculating and
misdirecting prudence has been instilled into the minds of girls
especially, until at last many of them have almost come to look upon
their natural instincts as wrong, and the immoral, race-destructive
counsels of their seniors or advisers as the truest and purest earthly
wisdom. Among certain small religious sects, again, such as the Quakers,
the duty of 'marrying in' has been strenuously inculcated, and only the
stronger-minded and more individualistic members have had courage and
initiative enough to disregard precedent, and to follow the internal
divine monitor, as against the externally-imposed law of their
particular community. Even among wider bodies it is commonly held that
Catholics must not marry Protestants; and the admirable results obtained
by the mixture of Jewish with European blood have almost all been
reached by male Jews having the temerity to marry 'Christian' women in
the face of opposition and persecution from their co-nationalists. It is
very rarely indeed that a Jewess will accept a European for a husband.
In so many ways, and on so many grounds, does convention interfere with
the plain and evident dictates of nature.

Against all such evil parental promptings, however, a great safeguard is
afforded to society by the wholesome and essentially philosophical
teaching of romance and poetry. I do not approve of novels. They are for
the most part a futile and unprofitable form of literature; and it may
profoundly be regretted that the mere blind laws of supply and demand
should have diverted such an immense number of the ablest minds in
England, France, and America, from more serious subjects to the
production of such very frivolous and, on the whole, ephemeral works of
art. But the novel has this one great counterpoise of undoubted good to
set against all the manifold disadvantages and shortcomings of romantic
literature--that it always appeals to the true internal promptings of
inherited instinct, and opposes the foolish and selfish suggestions of
interested outsiders. It is the perpetual protest of poor banished human
nature against the expelling pitchfork of calculating expediency in the
matrimonial market. While parents and moralists are for ever saying,
'Don't marry for beauty; don't marry for inclination; don't marry for
love: marry for money, marry for social position, marry for advancement,
marry for our convenience, not for your own,' the romance-writer is for
ever urging, on the other hand, 'Marry for love, and for love only.' His
great theme in all ages has been the opposition between parental or
other external wishes and the true promptings of the young and
unsophisticated human heart. He has been the chief ally of sentiment and
of nature. He has filled the heads of all our girls with what Sir George
Campbell describes off-hand as 'foolish ideas about love.' He has
preserved us from the hateful conventions of civilisation. He has
exalted the claims of personal attraction, of the mysterious native
yearning of heart for heart, of the indefinite and indescribable element
of mutual selection; and, in so doing, he has unconsciously proved
himself the best friend of human improvement and the deadliest enemy of
all those hideous 'social lies which warp us from the living truth.' His
mission is to deliver the world from Dr. Johnson and Sir George

For, strange to say, it is the moralists and the doctrinaires who are
always in the wrong: it is the sentimentalists and the rebels who are
always in the right in this matter. If the common moral maxims of
society could have had their way--if we had all chosen our wives and our
husbands, not for their beauty or their manliness, not for their eyes or
their moustaches, not for their attractiveness or their vivacity, but
for their 'sterling qualities of mind and character,' we should now
doubtless be a miserable race of prigs and bookworms, of martinets and
puritans, of nervous invalids and feeble idiots. It is because our young
men and maidens will not hearken to these penny-wise apophthegms of
shallow sophistry--because they often prefer _Romeo and Juliet_ to the
'Whole Duty of Man,' and a beautiful face to a round balance at
Coutts's--that we still preserve some vitality and some individual
features, in spite of our grinding and crushing civilisation. The men
who marry balances, as Mr. Galton has shown, happily die out, leaving
none to represent them: the men who marry women they have been weak
enough and silly enough to fall in love with, recruit the race with fine
and vigorous and intelligent children, fortunately compounded of the
complementary traits derived from two fairly contrasted and mutually
reinforcing individualities.

I have spoken throughout, for argument's sake, as though the only
interest to be considered in the married relation were the interests of
the offspring, and so ultimately of the race at large, rather than of
the persons themselves who enter into it. But I do not quite see why
each generation should thus be sacrificed to the welfare of the
generations that afterwards succeed it. Now it is one of the strongest
points in favour of the system of falling in love that it does, by
common experience in the vast majority of instances, assort together
persons who subsequently prove themselves thoroughly congenial and
helpful to one another. And this result I look upon as one great proof
of the real value and importance of the instinct. Most men and women
select for themselves partners for life at an age when they know but
little of the world, when they judge but superficially of characters and
motives, when they still make many mistakes in the conduct of life and
in the estimation of chances. Yet most of them find in after days that
they have really chosen out of all the world one of the persons best
adapted by native idiosyncrasy to make their joint lives enjoyable and
useful. I make every allowance for the effects of habit, for the growth
of sentiment, for the gradual approximation of tastes and sympathies;
but surely, even so, it is a common consciousness with every one of us
who has been long married, that we could hardly conceivably have made
ourselves happy with any of the partners whom others have chosen; and
that we have actually made ourselves so with the partners we chose for
ourselves under the guidance of an almost unerring native instinct. Yet
adaptation between husband and wife, so far as their own happiness is
concerned, can have had comparatively little to do with the evolution of
the instinct, as compared with adaptation for the joint production of
vigorous and successful offspring. Natural selection lays almost all the
stress on the last point, and hardly any at all upon the first one. If,
then, the instinct is found on the whole so trustworthy in the minor
matter, for which it has not specially been fashioned, how far more
trustworthy and valuable must it probably prove in the greater
matter--greater, I mean, as regards the interests of the race--for which
it has been mainly or almost solely developed!

I do not doubt that, as the world goes on, a deeper sense of moral
responsibility in the matter of marriage will grow up among us. But it
will not take the false direction of ignoring these our profoundest and
holiest instincts. Marriage for money may go; marriage for rank may go;
marriage for position may go; but marriage for love, I believe and
trust, will last for ever. Men in the future will probably feel that a
union with their cousins or near relations is positively wicked; that a
union with those too like them in person or disposition is at least
undesirable; that a union based upon considerations of wealth or any
other consideration save considerations of immediate natural impulse, is
base and disgraceful. But to the end of time they will continue to feel,
in spite of doctrinaires, that the voice of nature is better far than
the voice of the Lord Chancellor or the Royal Society; and that the
instinctive desire for a particular helpmate is a surer guide for the
ultimate happiness, both of the race and of the individual, than any
amount of deliberate consultation. It is not the foolish fancies of
youth that will have to be got rid of, but the foolish, wicked, and
mischievous interference of parents or outsiders.


Adult man is the only animal who, in the familiar scriptural phrase,
'knoweth the right hand from the left.' This fact in his economy goes
closely together with the other facts, that he is the only animal on
this sublunary planet who habitually uses a knife and fork, articulate
language, the art of cookery, the common pump, and the musical glasses.
His right-handedness, in short, is part cause and part effect of his
universal supremacy in animated nature. He is what he is, to a great
extent, 'by his own right hand;' and his own right hand, we may shrewdly
suspect, would never have differed at all from his left were it not for
the manifold arts and trades and activities he practises.

It was not always so, when wild in woods the noble savage ran. Man was
once, in his childhood on earth, what Charles Reade wanted him again to
be in his maturer centuries, ambidextrous. And lest any lady readers of
this volume--in the Cape of Good Hope, for example, or the remoter
portions of the Australian bush, whither the culture of Girton and the
familiar knowledge of the Latin language have not yet penetrated--should
complain that I speak with unknown tongues, I will further explain for
their special benefit that ambidextrous means equally-handed, using the
right and the left indiscriminately. This, as Mr. Andrew Lang remarks
in immortal verse, 'was the manner of Primitive Man.' He never minded
twopence which hand he used, as long as he got the fruit or the scalp he
wanted. How could he when twopence wasn't yet invented? His mamma never
said to him in early youth, 'Why-why,' or 'Tomtom,' as the case might
be, 'that's the wrong hand to hold your flint-scraper in.' He grew up to
man's estate in happy ignorance of such minute and invidious
distinctions between his anterior extremities. Enough for him that his
hands could grasp the forest boughs or chip the stone into shapely
arrows; and he never even thought in his innocent soul which particular
hand he did it with.

How can I make this confident assertion, you ask, about a gentleman whom
I never personally saw, and whose habits the intervention of five
hundred centuries has precluded me from studying at close quarters? At
first sight, you would suppose the evidence on such a point must be
purely negative. The reconstructive historian must surely be inventing
_à priori_ facts, evolved, _more Germanico_, from his inner
consciousness. Not so. See how clever modern archæology has become! I
base my assertion upon solid evidence. I know that Primitive Man was
ambidextrous, because he wrote and painted just as often with his left
as with his right, and just as successfully.

This seems once more a hazardous statement to make about a remote
ancestor, in the age before the great glacial epoch had furrowed the
mountains of Northern Europe; but, nevertheless, it is strictly true and
strictly demonstrable. Just try, as you read, to draw with the
forefinger and thumb of your right hand an imaginary human profile on
the page on which these words are printed. Do you observe that (unless
you are an artist, and therefore sophisticated) you naturally and
instinctively draw it with the face turned towards your left shoulder?
Try now to draw it with the profile to the right, and you will find it
requires a far greater effort of the thumb and fingers. The hand moves
of its own accord from without inward, not from within outward. Then,
again, draw with your left thumb and forefinger another imaginary
profile, and you will find, for the same reason, that the face in this
case looks rightward. Existing savages, and our own young children,
whenever they draw a figure in profile, be it of man or beast, with
their right hand, draw it almost always with the face or head turned to
the left, in accordance with this natural human instinct. Their doing so
is a test of their perfect right-handedness.

But Primitive Man, or at any rate the most primitive men we know
personally, the carvers of the figures from the French bone-caves, drew
men and beasts, on bone or mammoth-tusk, turned either way
indiscriminately. The inference is obvious. They must have been
ambidextrous. Only ambidextrous people draw so at the present day; and
indeed to scrape a figure otherwise with a sharp flint on a piece of
bone or tooth or mammoth-tusk would, even for a practised hand, be
comparatively difficult.

I have begun my consideration of rights and lefts with this one very
clear historical datum, because it is interesting to be able to say with
tolerable certainty that there really was a period in our life as a
species when man in the lump was ambidextrous. Why and how did he become
otherwise? This question is not only of importance in itself, as helping
to explain the origin and source of man's supremacy in nature--his
tool-using faculty--but it is also of interest from the light it casts
on that fallacy of poor Charles Reade's already alluded to--that we
ought all of us in this respect to hark back to the condition of
savages. I think when we have seen the reasons which make civilised man
now right-handed, we shall also see why it would be highly undesirable
for him to return, after so many ages of practice, to the condition of
his undeveloped stone-age ancestors.

The very beginning of our modern right-handedness goes back, indeed, to
the most primitive savagery. Why did one hand ever come to be different
in use and function from another? The answer is, because man, in spite
of all appearances to the contrary, is really one-sided. Externally,
indeed, his congenital one-sidedness doesn't show: but it shows
internally. We all of us know, in spite of Sganarelle's assertion to the
contrary, that the apex of the heart inclines to the left side, and that
the liver and other internal organs show a generous disregard for strict
and formal symmetry. In this irregular distribution of those human
organs which polite society agrees to ignore, we get the clue to the
irregularity of right and left in the human arm, and finally even the
particular direction of the printed letters now before you.

For primitive man did not belong to polite society. His manners were
strikingly deficient in that repose which stamps the caste of Vere de
Vere. When primitive man felt the tender passion steal over his soul, he
lay in wait in the hush for the Phyllis or Daphne whose charms had
inspired his heart with young desire; and when she passed his
hiding-place, in maiden meditation, fancy free, he felled her with a
club, caught her tight by the hair of her head, and dragged her off in
triumph to his cave or his rock-shelter. (Marriage by capture, the
learned call this simple mode of primeval courtship.) When he found some
Strephon or Damoetas rival him in the affections of the dusky sex, he
and that rival fought the matter out like two bulls in a field; and the
victor and his Phyllis supped that evening off the roasted remains of
the vanquished suitor. I don't say these habits and manners were pretty;
but they were the custom of the time, and there's no good denying them.

Now, Primitive Man, being thus by nature a fighting animal, fought for
the most part at first with his great canine teeth, his nails, and his
fists; till in process of time he added to these early and natural
weapons the further persuasions of a club or shillelagh. He also fought,
as Darwin has very conclusively shown, in the main for the possession of
the ladies of his kind, against other members of his own sex and
species. And if you fight, you soon learn to protect the most exposed
and vulnerable portion of your body; or, if you don't, natural selection
manages it for you, by killing you off as an immediate consequence. To
the boxer, wrestler, or hand-to-hand combatant, that most vulnerable
portion is undoubtedly the heart. A hard blow, well delivered on the
left breast, will easily kill, or at any rate stun, even a very strong
man. Hence, from a very early period, men have used the right hand to
fight with, and have employed the left arm chiefly to cover the heart
and to parry a blow aimed at that specially vulnerable region. And when
weapons of offence and defence supersede mere fists and teeth, it is the
right hand that grasps the spear or sword, while the left holds over the
heart for defence the shield or buckler.

From this simple origin, then, the whole vast difference of right and
left in civilised life takes its beginning. At first, no doubt, the
superiority of the right hand was only felt in the matter of fighting.
But that alone gave it a distinct pull, and paved the way, at last, for
its supremacy elsewhere. For when weapons came into use, the habitual
employment of the right hand to grasp the spear, sword, or knife made
the nerves and muscles of the right side far more obedient to the
control of the will than those of the left. The dexterity thus acquired
by the right--see how the very word 'dexterity' implies this fact--made
it more natural for the early hunter and artificer to employ the same
hand preferentially in the manufacture of flint hatchets, bows and
arrows, and in all the other manifold activities of savage life. It was
the hand with which he grasped his weapon; it was therefore the hand
with which he chipped it. To the very end, however, the right hand
remains especially 'the hand in which you hold your knife;' and that is
exactly how our own children to this day decide the question which is
which, when they begin to know their right hand from their left for
practical purposes.

A difference like this, once set up, implies thereafter innumerable
other differences which naturally flow from it. Some of them are
extremely remote and derivative. Take, for example, the case of writing
and printing. Why do these run from left to right? At first sight such a
practice seems clearly contrary to the instinctive tendency I noticed
above--the tendency to draw from right to left, in accordance with the
natural sweep of the hand and arm. And, indeed, it is a fact that all
early writing habitually took the opposite direction from that which is
now universal in western countries. Every schoolboy knows, for instance
(or at least he would if he came up to the proper Macaulay standard),
that Hebrew is written from right to left, and that each book begins at
the wrong cover. The reason is that words, and letters, and
hieroglyphics were originally carved, scratched, or incised, instead of
being written with coloured ink, and the hand was thus allowed to follow
its natural bent, and to proceed, as we all do in naïve drawing, with a
free curve from the right leftward.

Nevertheless, the very same fact--that we use the right hand alone in
writing--made the letters run the opposite way in the end; and the
change was due to the use of ink and other pigments for staining
papyrus, parchment, or paper. If the hand in this case moved from right
to left it would of course smear what it had already written; and to
prevent such untidy smudging of the words, the order of writing was
reversed from left rightward. The use of wax tablets also, no doubt,
helped forward the revolution, for in this case, too, the hand would
cover and rub out the words written.

The strict dependence of writing, indeed, upon the material employed is
nowhere better shown than in the case of the Assyrian cuneiform
inscriptions. The ordinary substitute for cream-laid note in the
Euphrates valley in its palmy days was a clay or terra-cotta tablet, on
which the words to be recorded--usually a deed of sale or something of
the sort--were impressed while it was wet and then baked in, solid. And
the method of impressing them was very simple; the workman merely
pressed the end of his graver or wedge into the moist clay, thus giving
rise to triangular marks which were arranged in the shapes of various
letters. When alabaster, or any other hard material, was substituted for
clay, the sculptor imitated these natural dabs or triangular imprints;
and that was the origin of those mysterious and very learned-looking
cuneiforms. This, I admit, is a palpable digression; but inasmuch as it
throws an indirect light on the simple reasons which sometimes bring
about great results, I hold it not wholly alien to the present serious
philosophical inquiry.

Printing, in turn, necessarily follows the rule of writing, so that in
fact the order of letters and words on this page depends ultimately upon
the remote fact that primitive man had to use his right hand to deliver
a blow, and his left to parry, or to guard his heart.

Some curious and hardly noticeable results flow once more from this
order of writing from left to right. You will find, if you watch
yourself closely, that in examining a landscape, or the view from a
hill-top, your eye naturally ranges from left to right; and that you
begin your survey, as you would begin reading a page of print, from the
left-hand corner. Apparently, the now almost instinctive act of reading
(for Dogberry was right after all, for the civilised infant) has
accustomed our eyes to this particular movement, and has made it
especially natural when we are trying to 'read' or take in at a glance
the meaning of any complex and varied total.

In the matter of pictures, I notice, the correlation has even gone a
step farther. Not only do we usually take in the episodes of a painting
from left to right, but the painter definitely and deliberately intends
us so to take them in. For wherever two or three distinct episodes in
succession are represented on a single plane in the same picture--as
happens often in early art--they are invariably represented in the
precise order of the words on a written or printed page, beginning at
the upper left-hand corner, and ending at the lower right-hand angle. I
first noticed this curious extension of the common principle in the
mediæval frescoes of the Campo Santo at Pisa; and I have since verified
it by observations on many other pictures elsewhere, both ancient and
modern. The Campo Santo, however, forms an exceptionally good museum of
such story-telling frescoes by various painters, as almost every picture
consists of several successive episodes. The famous Benozzo Gozzoli, for
example, of Noah's Vineyard represents on a single plane all the stages
in that earliest drama of intoxication, from the first act of gathering
the grapes on the top left, to the scandalised lady, the _vergognosa di
Pisa_, who covers her face with her hands in shocked horror at the
patriarch's disgrace in the lower right-hand corner.

Observe, too, that the very conditions of _technique_ demand this order
almost as rigorously in painting as in writing. For the painter will
naturally so work as not to smudge over what he has already painted: and
he will also naturally begin with the earliest episode in the story he
unfolds, proceeding to the others in due succession. From which two
principles it necessarily results that he will begin at the upper left,
and end at the lower right-hand corner.

I have skipped lightly, I admit, over a considerable interval between
primitive man and Benozzo Gozzoli. But consider further that during all
that time the uses of the right and left hand were becoming by gradual
degrees each day still further differentiated and specialised.
Innumerable trades, occupations, and habits imply ever-widening
differences in the way we use them. It is not the right hand alone that
has undergone an education in this respect: the left, too, though
subordinate, has still its own special functions to perform. If the
savage chips his flints with a blow of the right, he holds the core, or
main mass of stone from which he strikes it, firmly with his left. If
one hand is specially devoted to the knife, the other grasps the fork to
make up for it. In almost every act we do with both hands, each has a
separate office to which it is best fitted. Take, for example, so simple
a matter as buttoning one's coat, where a curious distinction between
the habits of the sexes enables us to test the principle with ease and
certainty. Men's clothes are always made with the buttons on the right
side and the button-holes on the left. Women's, on the contrary, are
always made with the buttons on the left side, and the button-holes on
the right. (The occult reason for this curious distinction, which has
long engaged the attention of philosophers, has never yet been
discovered, but it is probably to be accounted for by the perversity of
women.) Well, if a man tries to put on a woman's waterproof, or a woman
to put on a man's ulster, each will find that neither hand is readily
able to perform the part of the other. A man, in buttoning, grasps the
button in his right hand, pushes it through with his right thumb, holds
the button-hole open with his left, and pulls all straight with his
right forefinger. Reverse the sides, and both hands at once seem
equally helpless.

It is curious to note how many little peculiarities of dress or
manufacture are equally necessitated by this prime distinction of right
and left. Here are a very few of them, which the reader can indefinitely
increase for himself. (I leave out of consideration obvious cases like
boots and gloves: to insult that proverbially intelligent person's
intelligence with those were surely unpardonable.) A scarf habitually
tied in a sailor's knot acquires one long side, left, and one short one,
right, from the way it is manipulated by the right hand; if it were tied
by the left, the relations would be reversed. The spiral of corkscrews
and of ordinary screws turned by hand goes in accordance with the
natural twist of the right hand: try to drive in an imaginary corkscrew
with the right hand, the opposite way, and you will see how utterly
awkward and clumsy is the motion. The strap of the flap that covers the
keyhole in trunks and portmanteaus always has its fixed side over to the
right, and its buckle to the left; in this way only can it be
conveniently buckled by a right-handed person. The hands of watches and
the numbers of dial-faced barometers run from left to right: this is a
peculiarity dependent upon the left to right system of writing. A
servant offers you dishes from the left side: you can't so readily help
yourself from the right, unless left-handed. Schopenhauer despaired of
the German race, because it could never be taught like the English to
keep to the right side of the pavement in walking. A sword is worn at
the left hip: a handkerchief is carried in the right pocket, if at the
side; in the left, if in the coat-tails: in either case for the right
hand to get at it most easily. A watch-pocket is made in the left
breast; a pocket for railway tickets half-way down the right side. Try to
reverse any one of these simple actions, and you will see at once that
they are immediately implied in the very fact of our original

And herein, I think, we find the true answer to Charles Reade's mistaken
notion of the advantages of ambidexterity. You couldn't make both hands
do everything alike without a considerable loss of time, effort,
efficiency, and convenience. Each hand learns to do its own work and to
do it well; if you made it do the other hand's into the bargain, it
would have a great deal more to learn, and we should find it difficult
even then to prevent specialisation. We should have to make things
deliberately different for the two hands--to have rights and lefts in
everything, as we have them now in boots and gloves--or else one hand
must inevitably gain the supremacy. Sword-handles, shears, surgical
instruments, and hundreds of other things have to be made right-handed,
while palettes and a few like subsidiary objects are adapted to the
left; in each case for a perfectly sufficient reason. You can't upset
all this without causing confusion. More than that, the division of
labour thus brought about is certainly a gain to those who possess it:
for if it were not so, the ambidextrous races would have beaten the
dextro-sinistrals in the struggle for existence; whereas we know that
the exact opposite has been the case. Man's special use of the right
hand is one of his points of superiority to the brutes. If ever his
right hand should forget its cunning, his supremacy would indeed begin
to totter. Depend upon it, Nature is wiser than even Charles Reade. What
she finds most useful in the long run must certainly have many good
points to recommend it.

And this last consideration suggests another aspect of right and left
which must not be passed over without one word in this brief survey of
the philosophy of the subject. The superiority of the right caused it
early to be regarded as the fortunate, lucky, and trusty hand; the
inferiority of the left caused it equally to be considered as
ill-omened, unlucky, and, in one expressive word, sinister. Hence come
innumerable phrases and superstitions. It is the right hand of
friendship that we always grasp; it is with our own right hand that we
vindicate our honour against sinister suspicions. On the other hand, it
is 'over the left' that we believe a doubtful or incredible statement; a
left-handed compliment or a left-handed marriage carry their own
condemnation with them. On the right hand of the host is the seat of
honour; it is to the left that the goats of ecclesiastical controversy
are invariably relegated. The very notions of the right hand and ethical
right have got mixed up inextricably in every language: _droit_ and _la
droite_ display it in French as much as right and the right in English.
But to be _gauche_ is merely to be awkward and clumsy; while to be right
is something far higher and more important.

So unlucky, indeed, does the left hand at last become that merely to
mention it is an evil omen; and so the Greeks refused to use the true
old Greek word for left at all, and preferred euphemistically to
describe it as _euonymos_, the well-named or happy-omened. Our own
_left_ seems equally to mean the hand that is left after the right has
been mentioned, or, in short, the other one. Many things which are lucky
if seen on the right are fateful omens if seen to leftward. On the other
hand, if you spill the salt, you propitiate destiny by tossing a pinch
of it over the left shoulder. A murderer's left hand is said by good
authorities to be an excellent thing to do magic with; but here I cannot
speak from personal experience. Nor do I know why the wedding-ring is
worn on the left hand; though it is significant, at any rate, that the
mark of slavery should be put by the man with his own right upon the
inferior member of the weaker vessel. Strong-minded ladies may get up an
agitation if they like to alter this gross injustice of the centuries.

One curious minor application of rights and lefts is the rule of the
road as it exists in England. How it arose I can't say, any more than I
can say why a lady sits her side-saddle to the left. Coachmen, to be
sure, are quite unanimous that the leftward route enables them to see
how close they are passing to another carriage; but, as all continental
authority is equally convinced the other way, I make no doubt this is a
mere illusion of long-continued custom. It is curious, however, that the
English usage, having once obtained in these islands, has influenced
railways, not only in Britain, but over all Europe. Trains, like
carriages, go to the left when they pass; and this habit, quite natural
in England, was transplanted by the early engineers to the Continent,
where ordinary carriages, of course, go to the right. In America, to be
sure, the trains also go right like the carriages; but then, those
Americans have such a curiously un-English way of being strictly
consistent and logical in their doings. In Britain we should have
compromised the matter by going sometimes one way and sometimes the


Everybody nowadays talks about evolution. Like electricity, the cholera
germ, woman's rights, the great mining boom, and the Eastern Question,
it is 'in the air.' It pervades society everywhere with its subtle
essence; it infects small-talk with its familiar catchwords and its
slang phrases; it even permeates that last stronghold of rampant
Philistinism, the third leader in the penny papers. Everybody believes
he knows all about it, and discusses it as glibly in his everyday
conversation as he discusses the points of racehorses he has never seen,
the charms of peeresses he has never spoken to, and the demerits of
authors he has never read. Everybody is aware, in a dim and nebulous
semi-conscious fashion, that it was all invented by the late Mr. Darwin,
and reduced to a system by Mr. Herbert Spencer--don't you know?--and a
lot more of those scientific fellows. It is generally understood in the
best-informed circles that evolutionism consists for the most part in a
belief about nature at large essentially similar to that applied by
Topsy to her own origin and early history. It is conceived, in short,
that most things 'growed.' Especially is it known that in the opinion of
the evolutionists as a body we are all of us ultimately descended from
men with tails, who were the final offspring and improved edition of the
common gorilla. That, very briefly put, is the popular conception of the
various points in the great modern evolutionary programme.

It is scarcely necessary to inform the intelligent reader, who of course
differs fundamentally from that inferior class of human beings known to
all of us in our own minds as 'other people,' that almost every point in
the catalogue thus briefly enumerated is a popular fallacy of the
wildest description. Mr. Darwin did not invent evolution any more than
George Stephenson invented the steam-engine, or Mr. Edison the electric
telegraph. We are not descended from men with tails, any more than we
are descended from Indian elephants. There is no evidence that we have
anything in particular more than the remotest fiftieth cousinship with
our poor relation the West African gorilla. Science is not in search of
a 'missing link'; few links are anywhere missing, and those are for the
most part wholly unimportant ones. If we found the imaginary link in
question, he would not be a monkey, nor yet in any way a tailed man. And
so forth generally through the whole list of popular beliefs and current
fallacies as to the real meaning of evolutionary teaching. Whatever most
people think evolutionary is for the most part a pure parody of the
evolutionist's opinion.

But a more serious error than all these pervades what we may call the
drawing-room view of the evolutionist theory. So far as Society with a
big initial is concerned, evolutionism first began to be talked about,
and therefore known (for Society does not read; it listens, or rather it
overhears and catches fragmentary echoes) when Darwin published his
'Origin of Species.' That great book consisted simply of a theory as to
the causes which led to the distinctions of kind between plants and
animals. With evolution at large it had nothing to do; it took for
granted the origin of sun, moon, and stars, planets and comets, the
earth and all that in it is, the sea and the dry land, the mountains and
the valleys, nay even life itself in the crude form, everything in fact,
save the one point of the various types and species of living beings.
Long before Darwin's book appeared evolution had been a recognised force
in the moving world of science and philosophy. Kant and Laplace had
worked out the development of suns and earths from white-hot
star-clouds. Lyell had worked out the evolution of the earth's surface
to its present highly complex geographical condition. Lamarck had worked
out the descent of plants and animals from a common ancestor by slow
modification. Herbert Spencer had worked out the growth of mind from its
simplest beginnings to its highest outcome in human thought.

But Society, like Gallio, cared nothing for all these things. The
evolutionary principles had never been put into a single big book, asked
for at Mudie's, and permitted to lie on the drawing-room table side by
side with the last new novel and the last fat volume of scandalous court
memoirs. Therefore Society ignored them and knew them not; the word
evolution scarcely entered at all as yet into its polite and refined
dinner-table vocabulary. It recognised only the 'Darwinian theory,'
'natural selection,' 'the missing link,' and the belief that men were
merely monkeys who had lost their tails, presumably by sitting upon
them. To the world at large that learned Mr. Darwin had invented and
patented the entire business, including descent with modification, if
such notions ever occurred at all to the world-at-large's speculative

Now, evolutionism is really a thing of far deeper growth and older
antecedents than this easy, superficial drawing-room view would lead us
to imagine. It is a very ancient and respectable theory indeed, and it
has an immense variety of minor developments. I am not going to push it
back, in the fashionable modern scientific manner, to the vague and
indefinite hints in our old friend Lucretius. The great original Roman
poet--the only original poet in the Latin language--did indeed hit out
for himself a very good rough working sketch of a sort of nebulous and
shapeless evolutionism. It was bold, it was consistent, for its time it
was wonderful. But Lucretius's philosophy, like all the philosophies of
the older world, was a mere speculative idea, a fancy picture of the
development of things, not dependent upon observation of facts at all,
but wholly evolved, like the German thinker's camel, out of its author's
own pregnant inner consciousness. The Roman poet would no doubt have
built an excellent superstructure if he had only possessed a little
straw to make his bricks of. As it was, however, scientific brick-making
being still in its infancy, he could only construct in a day a shadowy
Aladdin's palace of pure fanciful Epicurean phantasms, an imaginary
world of imaginary atoms, fortuitously concurring out of void chaos into
an orderly universe, as though by miracle. It is not thus that systems
arise which regenerate the thought of humanity; he who would build for
all time must make sure first of a solid foundation, and then use sound
bricks in place of the airy nothings of metaphysical speculation.

It was in the last century that the evolutionary idea really began to
take form and shape in the separate conceptions of Kant, Laplace,
Lamarck, and Erasmus Darwin. These were the true founders of our modern
evolutionism. Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer were the Joshuas who
led the chosen people into the land which more than one venturous Moses
had already dimly descried afar off from the Pisgah top of the
eighteenth century.

Kant and Laplace came first in time, as astronomy comes first in logical
order. Stars and suns, and planets and satellites, necessarily precede
in development plants and animals. You can have no cabbages without a
world to grow them in. The science of the stars was therefore reduced to
comparative system and order, while the sciences of life, and mind, and
matter were still a hopeless and inextricable muddle. It was no wonder,
then, that the evolution of the heavenly bodies should have been clearly
apprehended and definitely formulated while the evolution of the earth's
crust was still imperfectly understood, and the evolution of living
beings was only tentatively and hypothetically hinted at in a timid

In the beginning, say the astronomical evolutionists, not only this
world, but all the other worlds in the universe, existed potentially, as
the poet justly remarks, in 'a haze of fluid light,' a vast nebula of
enormous extent and almost inconceivable material thinness. The world
arose out of a sort of primitive world-gruel. The matter of which it was
composed was gas, of such an extraordinary and unimaginable gasiness
that millions of cubic miles of it might easily be compressed into a
common antibilious pill-box. The pill-box itself, in fact, is the net
result of a prolonged secular condensation of myriads of such enormous
cubes of this primæval matter. Slowly setting around common centres,
however, in anticipation of Sir Isaac Newton's gravitative theories, the
fluid haze gradually collected into suns and stars, whose light and heat
is presumably due to the clashing together of their component atoms as
they fall perpetually towards the central mass. Just as in a burning
candle the impact of the oxygen atoms in the air against the carbon and
hydrogen atoms in the melted and rarefied wax or tallow produces the
light and heat of the flame, so in nebula or sun the impact of the
various gravitating atoms one against the other produces the light and
heat by whose aid we are enabled to see and know those distant bodies.
The universe, according to this now fashionable nebular theory, began as
a single vast ocean of matter of immense tenuity, spread all alike over
all space as far as nowhere, and comparatively little different within
itself when looked at side by side with its own final historical
outcome. In Mr. Spencer's perspicuous phrase, evolution in this aspect
is a change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous, from the
incoherent to the coherent, and from the indefinite to the definite
condition. Difficult words at first to apprehend, no doubt, and
therefore to many people, as to Mr. Matthew Arnold, very repellent, but
full of meaning, lucidity, and suggestiveness, if only we once take the
trouble fairly and squarely to understand them.

Every sun and every star thus formed is for ever gathering in the hem of
its outer robe upon itself, for ever radiating off its light and heat
into surrounding space, and for ever growing denser and colder as it
sets slowly towards its centre of gravity. Our own sun and solar system
may be taken as good typical working examples of how the stars thus
constantly shrink into smaller and ever smaller dimensions around their
own fixed centre. Naturally, we know more about our own solar system
than about any other in our own universe, and it also possesses for us a
greater practical and personal interest than any outside portion of the
galaxy. Nobody can pretend to be profoundly immersed in the internal
affairs of Sirius or of Alpha Centauri. A fiery revolution in the belt
of Orion would affect us less than a passing finger-ache in a certain
single terrestrial baby of our own household. Therefore I shall not
apologise in any way for leaving the remainder of the sidereal universe
to its unknown fate, and concentrating my attention mainly on the
affairs of that solitary little, out-of-the-way, second-rate system,
whereof we form an inappreciable portion. The matter which now composes
the sun and its attendant bodies (the satellites included) was once
spread out, according to Laplace, to at least the furthest orbit of the
outermost planet--that is to say, so far as our present knowledge goes,
the planet Neptune. Of course, when it was expanded to that immense
distance, it must have been very thin indeed, thinner than our clumsy
human senses can even conceive of. An American would say, too thin; but
I put Americans out of court at once as mere irreverent scoffers. From
the orbit of Neptune, or something outside it, the faint and cloud-like
mass which bore within it Cæsar and his fortunes, not to mention the
remainder of the earth and the solar system, began slowly to converge
and gather itself in, growing denser and denser but smaller and smaller
as it gradually neared its existing dimensions. How long a time it took
to do it is for our present purpose relatively unimportant: the cruel
physicists will only let us have a beggarly hundred million years or so
for the process, while the grasping and extravagant evolutionary
geologists beg with tears for at least double or even ten times that
limited period. But at any rate it has taken a good long while, and, as
far as most of us are personally concerned, the difference of one or two
hundred millions, if it comes to that, is not really at all an
appreciable one.

As it condensed and lessened towards its central core, revolving rapidly
on its great axis, the solar mist left behind at irregular intervals
concentric rings or belts of cloud-like matter, cast off from its
equator; which belts, once more undergoing a similar evolution on their
own account, have hardened round their private centres of gravity into
Jupiter or Saturn, the Earth or Venus. Round these again, minor belts or
rings have sometimes formed, as in Saturn's girdle of petty satellites;
or subsidiary planets, thrown out into space, have circled round their
own primaries, as the moon does around this sublunary world of ours.
Meanwhile, the main central mass of all, retreating ever inward as it
dropped behind it these occasional little reminders of its temporary
stoppages, formed at last the sun itself, the main luminary of our
entire system. Now, I won't deny that this primitive Kantian and
Laplacian evolutionism, this nebular theory of such exquisite
concinnity, here reduced to its simplest terms and most elementary
dimensions, has received many hard knocks from later astronomers, and
has been a good deal bowled over, both on mathematical and astronomical
grounds, by recent investigators of nebulæ and meteors. Observations on
comets and on the sun's surface have lately shown that it contains in
all likelihood a very considerable fanciful admixture. It isn't more
than half true; and even the half now totters in places. Still, as a
vehicle of popular exposition the crude nebular hypothesis in its rawest
form serves a great deal better than the truth, so far as yet known, on
the good old Greek principle of the half being often more than the
whole. The great point which it impresses on the mind is the cardinal
idea of the sun and planets, with their attendant satellites, not as
turned out like manufactured articles, ready made, at measured
intervals, in a vast and deliberate celestial Orrery, but as due to the
slow and gradual working of natural laws, in accordance with which each
has assumed by force of circumstances its existing place, weight, orbit,
and motion.

The grand conception of a gradual becoming, instead of a sudden making,
which Kant and Laplace thus applied to the component bodies of the
universe at large, was further applied by Lyell and his school to the
outer crust of this one particular petty planet of ours. While the
astronomers went in for the evolution of suns, stars, and worlds, Lyell
and his geological brethren went in for the evolution of the earth's
surface. As theirs was stellar, so his was mundane. If the world began
by being a red-hot mass of planetary matter in a high state of internal
excitement, boiling and dancing with the heat of its emotions, it
gradually cooled down with age and experience, for growing old is
growing cold, as every one of us in time, alas, discovers. As it passed
from its fiery and volcanic youth to its staider and soberer middle age,
a solid crust began to form in filmy fashion upon its cooling surface.
The aqueous vapour that had floated at first as steam around its heated
mass condensed with time into a wide ocean over the now hardened shell.
Gradually this ocean shifted its bulk into two or three main bodies that
sank into hollows of the viscid crust, the precursors of Atlantic,
Pacific, and the Indian Seas. Wrinklings of the crust, produced by the
cooling and consequent contraction, gave rise at first to baby mountain
ranges, and afterwards to the earliest rough draughts of the still very
vague and sketchy continents. The world grew daily more complex and more
diverse; it progressed, in accordance with the Spencerian law, from the
homogeneous to the heterogeneous, and so forth, as aforesaid, with
delightful regularity.

At last, by long and graduated changes, seas and lands, peninsulas and
islands, lakes and rivers, hills and mountains, were wrought out by
internal or external energies on the crust thus generally fashioned.
Evaporation from the oceans gave rise to clouds and rain and hailstorms;
the water that fell upon the mountain tops cut out the valleys and river
basins; rills gathered into brooks, brooks into streams, streams into
primæval Niles, and Amazons, and Mississippis. Volcanic forces uplifted
here an Alpine chain, or depressed there a deep-sea hollow. Sediment
washed from the hills and plains, or formed from countless skeletons of
marine creatures, gathered on the sinking bed of the ocean as soft ooze,
or crumbling sand, or thick mud, or gravel and conglomerate. Now
upheaved into an elevated table-land, now slowly carved again by rain
and rill into valley and watershed, and now worn down once more into
the mere degraded stump of a plateau, the crust underwent innumerable
changes, but almost all of them exactly the same in kind, and mostly in
degree, as those we still see at work imperceptibly in the world around
us. Rain washing down the soil; weather crumbling the solid rock; waves
dashing at the foot of the cliffs; rivers forming deltas at their barred
mouths; shingle gathering on the low spits; floods sweeping before them
the countryside; ice grinding ceaselessly at the mountain top; peat
filling up the shallow lake--these are the chief factors which have gone
to make the physical world as we now actually know it. Land and sea,
coast and contour, hill and valley, dale and gorge, earth-sculpture
generally--all are due to the ceaseless interaction of these separately
small and unnoticeable causes, aided or retarded by the slow effects of
elevation or depression from the earth's shrinkage towards its own
centre. Geology, in short, has shown us that the world is what it is,
not by virtue of a single sudden creative act, nor by virtue of
successive terrible and recurrent cataclysms, but by virtue of the slow
continuous action of causes still always equally operative.

Evolution in geology leads up naturally to evolution in the science of
life. If the world itself grew, why not also the animals and plants that
inhabit it? Already in the eager active eighteenth century this obvious
idea had struck in the germ a large number of zoologists and botanists,
and in the hands of Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin it took form as a
distinct and elaborate system of organic evolution. Buffon had been the
first to hint at the truth; but Buffon was an eminently respectable
nobleman in the dubious days of the tottering monarchy, and he did not
care personally for the Bastille, viewed as a place of permanent
residence. In Louis Quinze's France, indeed, as things then went, a man
who offended the orthodoxy of the Sorbonne was prone to find himself
shortly ensconced in free quarters, and kept there for the term of his
natural existence without expense to his heirs or executors. So Buffon
did not venture to say outright that he thought all animals and plants
were descended one from the other with slight modifications; that would
have been wicked, and the Sorbonne would have proved its wickedness to
him in a most conclusive fashion by promptly getting him imprisoned or
silenced. It is so easy to confute your opponent when you are a hundred
strong and he is one weak unit. Buffon merely said, therefore, that if
we didn't know the contrary to be the case by sure warrant, we might
easily have concluded (so fallible is our reason) that animals always
varied slightly, and that such variations, indefinitely accumulated,
would suffice to account for almost any amount of ultimate difference. A
donkey might thus have grown into a horse, and a bird might have
developed from a primitive lizard. Only we know it was quite otherwise!
A quiet hint from Buffon was as good as a declaration from many less
knowing or suggestive people. All over Europe, the wise took Buffon's
hint for what he meant it; and the unwise blandly passed it by as a mere
passing little foolish vagary of that great ironical writer and thinker.

Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of his grandson, was no fool; on the
contrary, he was the most far-sighted man of his day in England; he saw
at once what Buffon was driving at; and he worked out 'Mr. Buffon's'
half-concealed hint to all its natural and legitimate conclusions. The
great Count was always plain Mr. Buffon to his English contemporary.
Life, said Erasmus Darwin nearly a century since, began in very minute
marine forms, which gradually acquired fresh powers and larger bodies,
so as imperceptibly to transform themselves into different creatures.
Man, he remarked, anticipating his descendant, takes rabbits or
pigeons, and alters them almost to his own fancy, by immensely changing
their shapes and colours. If man can make a pouter or a fantail out of
the common runt, if he can produce a piebald lop-ear from the brown wild
rabbit, if he can transform Dorkings into Black Spanish, why cannot
Nature, with longer time to work in, and endless lives to try with,
produce all the varieties of vertebrate animals out of one single common
ancestor? It was a bold idea of the Lichfield doctor--bold, at least,
for the times he lived in--when Sam Johnson was held a mighty sage, and
physical speculation was regarded askance as having in it a dangerous
touch of the devil. But the Darwins were always a bold folk, and had the
courage of their opinions more than most men. So even in Lichfield,
cathedral city as it was, and in the politely somnolent eighteenth
century, Erasmus Darwin ventured to point out the probability that
quadrupeds, birds, reptiles, and men were all mere divergent descendants
of a single similar original form, and even that 'one and the same kind
of living filament is, and has been, the cause of organic life.'

The eighteenth century laughed, of course. It always laughed at all
reformers. It said Dr. Darwin was very clever, but really a most
eccentric man. His 'Temple of Nature,' now, and his 'Botanic Garden,'
were vastly fine and charming poems--those sweet lines, you know, about
poor Eliza!--but his zoological theories were built of course upon a
most absurd and uncertain foundation. In prose, no sensible person could
ever take the doctor seriously. A freak of genius--nothing more; a mere
desire to seem clever and singular. But what a Nemesis the whirligig of
time has brought around with it! By a strange irony of fate, those
admired verses are now almost entirely forgotten; poor Eliza has
survived only as our awful example of artificial pathos; and the
zoological heresies, at which the eighteenth century shrugged its fat
shoulders and dimpled the corners of its ample mouth, have grown to be
the chief cornerstone of all accepted modern zoological science.

In the first year of the present century, Lamarck followed Erasmus
Darwin's lead with an open avowal that in his belief all animals and
plants were really descended from one or a few common ancestors. He held
that organisms were just as much the result of law, not of miraculous
interposition, as suns and worlds and all the natural phenomena around
us generally. He saw that what naturalists call a species differs from
what naturalists call a variety, merely in the way of being a little
more distinctly marked, a little less like its nearest congeners
elsewhere. He recognised the perfect gradation of forms by which in many
cases one species after another merges into the next on either side of
it. He observed the analogy between the modifications induced by man and
the modifications induced by nature. In fact, he was a thorough-going
and convinced evolutionist, holding every salient opinion which Society
still believes to have been due to the works of Charles Darwin. In one
point only, a minor point to outsiders, though a point of cardinal
importance to the inner brotherhood of evolutionism, he did not
anticipate his more famous successor. He thought organic evolution was
wholly due to the direct action of surrounding circumstances, to the
intercrossing of existing forms, and above all to the actual efforts of
animals themselves. In other words, he had not discovered natural
selection, the cardinal idea of Charles Darwin's epoch-making book. For
him, the giraffe had acquired its long neck by constant reaching up to
the boughs of trees; the monkey had acquired its opposable thumb by
constant grasping at the neighbouring branches; and the serpent had
acquired its sinuous shape by constant wriggling through the grass of
the meadows. Charles Darwin improved upon all that by his suggestive
hint of survival of the fittest, and in so far, but in so far alone, he
became the real father of modern biological evolutionism.

From the days of Lamarck, to the day when Charles Darwin himself
published his wonderful 'Origin of Species,' this idea that plants and
animals might really have grown, instead of having been made all of a
piece, kept brewing everywhere in the minds and brains of scientific
thinkers. The notions which to the outside public were startlingly new
when Darwin's book took the world by storm, were old indeed to the
thinkers and workers who had long been familiar with the principle of
descent with modification and the speculations of the Lichfield doctor
or the Paris philosopher. Long before Darwin wrote his great work,
Herbert Spencer had put forth in plain language every idea which the
drawing-room biologists attributed to Darwin. The supporters of the
development hypothesis, he said seven years earlier--yes, he called it
the 'development hypothesis' in so many words--'can show that
modification has effected and is effecting great changes in all
organisms, subject to modifying influences.' They can show, he goes on
(if I may venture to condense so great a thinker), that any existing
plant or animal, placed under new conditions, begins to undergo adaptive
changes of form and structure; that in successive generations these
changes continue, till the plant or animal acquires totally new habits;
that in cultivated plants and domesticated animals changes of the sort
habitually occur; that the differences thus caused, as for example in
dogs, are often greater than those on which species in the wild state
are founded, and that throughout all organic nature there _is_ at work a
modifying influence of the same sort as that which they believed to
have caused the differences of species--'an influence which, to all
appearance, would produce in the millions of years and under the great
variety of conditions which geological records imply, any amount of
change.' What is this but pure Darwinism, as the drawing-room
philosopher still understands the word? And yet it was written seven
years before Darwin published the 'Origin of Species.'

The fact is, one might draw up quite a long list of Darwinians before
Darwin. Here are a few of them--Buffon, Lamarck, Goethe, Oken, Bates,
Wallace, Lecoq, Von Baer, Robert Chambers, Matthew, and Herbert Spencer.
Depend upon it, no one man ever yet of himself discovered anything. As
well say that Luther made the German Reformation, that Lionardo made the
Italian Renaissance, or that Robespierre made the French Revolution, as
say that Charles Darwin, and Charles Darwin alone, made the evolutionary
movement, even in the restricted field of life only. A thousand
predecessors worked up towards him; a thousand contemporaries helped to
diffuse and to confirm his various principles.

Charles Darwin added to the primitive evolutionary idea the special
notion of natural selection. That is to say, he pointed out that while
plants and animals vary perpetually and vary indefinitely, all the
varieties so produced are not equally adapted to the circumstances of
the species. If the variation is a bad one, it tends to die out, because
every point of disadvantage tells against the individual in the struggle
for life. If the variation is a good one, it tends to persist, because
every point of advantage similarly tells in the individual's favour in
that ceaseless and viewless battle. It was this addition to the
evolutionary concept, fortified by Darwin's powerful advocacy of the
general principle of descent with modification, that won over the whole
world to the 'Darwinian theory.' Before Darwin, many men of science
were evolutionists: after Darwin, all men of science became so at once,
and the rest of the world is rapidly preparing to follow their

As applied to life, then, the evolutionary idea is briefly this--that
plants and animals have all a natural origin from a single primitive
living creature, which itself was the product of light and heat acting
on the special chemical constituents of an ancient ocean. Starting from
that single early form, they have gone on developing ever since, from
the homogeneous to the heterogeneous, assuming ever more varied shapes,
till at last they have reached their present enormous variety of tree,
and shrub, and herb, and seaweed, of beast, and bird, and fish, and
creeping insect. Evolution throughout has been one and continuous, from
nebula to sun, from gas-cloud to planet, from early jelly-speck to man
or elephant. So at least evolutionists say--and of course they ought to
know most about it.

But evolution, according to the evolutionists, does not even stop here.
Psychology as well as biology has also its evolutionary explanation:
mind is concerned as truly as matter. If the bodies of animals are
evolved, their minds must be evolved likewise. Herbert Spencer and his
followers have been mainly instrumental in elucidating this aspect of
the case. They have shown, or they have tried to show (for I don't want
to dogmatise on the subject), how mind is gradually built up from the
simplest raw elements of sense and feeling; how emotions and intellect
slowly arise; how the action of the environment on the organism begets a
nervous system of ever greater and greater complexity, culminating at
last in the brain of a Newton, a Shakespeare, or a Mendelssohn. Step by
step, nerves have built themselves up out of the soft tissues as
channels of communication between part and part. Sense-organs of
extreme simplicity have first been formed on the outside of the body,
where it comes most into contact with external nature. Use and wont have
fashioned them through long ages into organs of taste and smell and
touch; pigment spots, sensitive to light or shade, have grown by
infinite gradations into the human eye or into the myriad facets of bee
and beetle; tremulous nerve-ends, responsive sympathetically to waves of
sound, have tuned themselves at last into a perfect gamut in the
developed ear of men and mammals. Meanwhile corresponding percipient
centres have grown up in the brain, so that the coloured picture flashed
by an external scene upon the eye is telegraphed from the sensitive
mirror of the retina, through the many-stranded cable of the optic
nerve, straight up to the appropriate headquarters in the thinking
brain. Stage by stage the continuous process has gone on unceasingly,
from the jelly-fish with its tiny black specks of eyes, through infinite
steps of progression, induced by ever-widening intercourse with the
outer world, to the final outcome in the senses and the emotions, the
intellect and the will, of civilised man. Mind begins as a vague
consciousness of touch or pressure on the part of some primitive,
shapeless, soft creature: it ends as an organised and co-ordinated
reflection of the entire physical and psychical universe on the part of
a great cosmical philosopher.

Last of all, like diners-out at dessert, the evolutionists take to
politics. Having shown us entirely to their own satisfaction the growth
of suns, and systems, and worlds, and continents, and oceans, and
plants, and animals, and minds, they proceed to show us the exactly
analogous and parallel growth of communities, and nations, and
languages, and religions, and customs, and arts, and institutions, and
literatures. Man, the evolving savage, as Tylor, Lubbock, and others
have proved for us, slowly putting off his brute aspect derived from his
early ape-like ancestors, learned by infinitesimal degrees the use of
fire, the mode of manufacturing stone hatchets and flint arrowheads, the
earliest beginnings of the art of pottery. With drill or flint he became
the Prometheus to his own small heap of sticks and dry leaves among the
tertiary forests. By his nightly camp-fire he beat out gradually his
excited gesture-language and his oral speech. He tamed the dog, the
horse, the cow, the camel. He taught himself to hew small clearings in
the woodland, and to plant the banana, the yam, the bread-fruit, and the
coco-nut. He picked and improved the seeds of his wild cereals till he
made himself from grass-like grains his barley, his oats, his wheat, his
Indian corn. In time, he dug out ore from mines, and learnt the use
first of gold, next of silver, then of copper, tin, bronze, and iron.
Side by side with these long secular changes, he evolved the family,
communal or patriarchal, polygamic or monogamous. He built the hut, the
house, and the palace. He clothed or adorned himself first in skins and
leaves and feathers; next in woven wool and fibre; last of all in purple
and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. He gathered into
hordes, tribes, and nations; he chose himself a king, gave himself laws,
and built up great empires in Egypt, Assyria, China, and Peru. He raised
him altars, Stonehenges and Karnaks. His picture-writing grew into
hieroglyphs and cuneiforms, and finally emerged, by imperceptible steps,
into alphabetic symbols, the raw material of the art of printing. His
dug-out canoe culminates in the iron-clad and the 'Great Eastern'; his
boomerang and slingstone in the Woolwich infant; his boiling pipkin and
his wheeled car in the locomotive engine; his picture-message in the
telephone and the Atlantic cable. Here, where the course of evolution
has really been most marvellous, its steps have been all more distinctly
historical; so that nobody now doubts the true descent of Italian,
French, and Spanish from provincial Latin, or the successive growth of
the trireme, the 'Great Harry,' the 'Victory,' and the 'Minotaur' from
the coracles or praus of prehistoric antiquity.

The grand conception of the uniform origin and development of all
things, earthly or sidereal, thus summed up for us in the one word
evolution, belongs by right neither to Charles Darwin nor to any other
single thinker. It is the joint product of innumerable workers, all
working up, though some of them unconsciously, towards a grand final
unified philosophy of the cosmos. In astronomy, Kant, Laplace, and the
Herschels; in geology, Hutton, Lyell, and the Geikies; in biology,
Buffon, Lamarck, the Darwins, Huxley, and Spencer; in psychology,
Spencer, Romanes, Sully, and Ribot; in sociology, Spencer, Tylor,
Lubbock, and De Mortillet--these have been the chief evolutionary
teachers and discoverers. But the use of the word evolution itself, and
the establishment of the general evolutionary theory as a system of
philosophy applicable to the entire universe, we owe to one man
alone--Herbert Spencer. Many other minds--from Galileo and Copernicus,
from Kepler and Newton, from Linnæus and Tournefort, from D'Alembert and
Diderot, nay, even, in a sense, from Aristotle and Lucretius--had been
piling together the vast collection of raw material from which that
great and stately superstructure was to be finally edified. But the
architect who placed each block in its proper niche, who planned and
designed the whole elevation, who planted the building firmly on the
rock and poised the coping-stone on the topmost pinnacle, was the author
of the 'System of Synthetic Philosophy,' and none other. It is a strange
proof of how little people know about their own ideas, that among the
thousands who talk glibly every day of evolution, not ten per cent. are
probably aware that both word and conception are alike due to the
commanding intelligence and vast generalising power of Herbert Spencer.


Among the reefs of rock upon the Australian coast, an explorer's dredge
often brings up to the surface some tangled tresses of reddish seaweed,
which, when placed for a while in a bucket of water, begin slowly to
uncoil themselves as if endowed with animal life, and finally to swim
about with a gentle tremulous motion in a mute inquiring way from side
to side of the pail that contains them. Looked at closely with an
attentive eye, the complex moving mass gradually resolves itself into
two parts: one a ruddy seaweed with long streaming fronds; the other, a
strangely misshapen and dishevelled pipe-fish, exactly imitating the
weed itself in form and colour. When removed from the water, this queer
pipe-fish proves in general outline somewhat to resemble the well-known
hippocampus or sea-horse of the aquariums, whose dried remains, in a
mummified state, form a standing wonder in many tiny domestic museums.
But the Australian species, instead of merely mimicking the knight on a
chess-board, looks rather like a hippocampus in the most advanced stage
of lunacy, with its tail and fins and the appendages of its spines
flattened out into long thin streaming filaments, utterly
indistinguishable in hue and shape from the fucus round which the
creature clings for support with its prehensile tail. Only a rude and
shapeless rough draught of a head, vaguely horse-like in contour, and
inconspicuously provided with an unobtrusive snout and a pair of very
unnoticeable eyes, at all suggests to the most microscopic observer its
animal nature. Taken as a whole, nobody could at first sight distinguish
it in any way from the waving weed among which it vegetates.

Clearly, this curious Australian cousin of the Mediterranean sea-horses
has acquired so marvellous a resemblance to a bit of fucus in order to
deceive the eyes of its ever-watchful enemies, and to become
indistinguishable from the uneatable weed whose colour and form it so
surprisingly imitates. Protective resemblances of the sort are extremely
common among the pipe-fish family, and the reason why they should be so
is no doubt sufficiently obvious at first sight to any reflecting
mind--such, for example, as the intelligent reader's. Pipe-fish, as
everybody knows, are far from giddy. They do not swim in the vortex of
piscine dissipation. Being mostly small and defenceless creatures,
lurking among the marine vegetation of the shoals and reefs, they are
usually accustomed to cling for support by their snake-like tails to the
stalks or leaves of those submerged forests. The omniscient schoolboy
must often have watched in aquariums the habits and manners of the
common sea-horses, twisted together by their long thin bodies into one
inextricable mass of living matwork, or anchored firmly with a treble
serpentine coil to some projecting branch of coralline or of quivering
sea-wrack. Bad swimmers by nature, utterly unarmed, and wholly
undefended by protective mail, the pipe-fish generally can neither fight
nor run away: and therefore they depend entirely for their lives upon
their peculiar skulking and lurking habits. Their one mode of defence is
not to show themselves; discretion is the better part of their valour;
they hide as much as possible among the thickest seaweed, and trust to
Providence to escape observation.

Now, with any animals thus constituted, cowards by hereditary
predilection, it must necessarily happen that the more brightly coloured
or obtrusive individuals will most readily be spotted and most
unceremoniously devoured by their sharp-sighted foes, the predatory
fishes. On the other hand, just in proportion as any particular
pipe-fish happens to display any chance resemblance in colour or
appearance to the special seaweed in whose folds it lurks, to that
extent will it be likely to escape detection, and to hand on its
peculiarities to its future descendants. A long-continued course of the
simple process thus roughly described must of necessity result at last
in the elimination of all the most conspicuous pipe-fish, and the
survival of all those unobtrusive and retiring individuals which in any
respect happen to resemble the fucus or coralline among which they
dwell. Hence, in many places, various kinds of pipe-fish exhibit an
extraordinary amount of imitative likeness to the sargasso or seaweed to
whose tags they cling; and in the three most highly developed Australian
species the likeness becomes so ridiculously close that it is with
difficulty one can persuade oneself one is really and truly looking at a
fish, and not at a piece of strangely animated and locomotive fucus.

Of course, the playful pipe-fish is by no means alone in his assumption
of so neat and effective a disguise. Protective resemblances of just the
same sort as that thus exhibited by this extraordinary little creature
are common throughout the whole range of nature; instances are to be
found in abundance, not only among beasts, birds, reptiles, and fishes,
but even among caterpillars, butterflies, and spiders, of species which
preserve the strictest incognito. Everywhere in the world, animals and
plants are perpetually masquerading in various assumed characters; and
sometimes their make-up is so exceedingly good as to take in for a while
not merely the uninstructed ordinary observer, but even the scientific
and systematic naturalist.

A few selected instances of such successful masquerading will perhaps
best serve to introduce the general principles upon which all animal
mimicry ultimately depends. Indeed, naturalists of late years have been
largely employed in fishing up examples from the ends of the earth and
from the depths of the sea for the elucidation of this very subject.
There is a certain butterfly in the islands of the Malay Archipelago
(its learned name, if anybody wishes to be formally introduced, is
_Kallima paralekta_) which always rests among dead or dry leaves, and
has itself leaf-like wings, all spotted over at intervals with wee
speckles to imitate the tiny spots of fungi on the foliage it resembles.
The well-known stick and leaf insects from the same rich neighbourhood
in like manner exactly mimic the twigs and leaves of the forest among
which they lurk: some of them look for all the world like little bits of
walking bamboo, while others appear in all varieties of hue, as if
opening buds and full-blown leaves and pieces of yellow foliage
sprinkled with the tints and moulds of decay had of a sudden raised
themselves erect upon six legs, and begun incontinently to perambulate
the Malayan woodlands like vegetable Frankensteins in all their glory.
The larva of one such deceptive insect, observed in Nicaragua by
sharp-eyed Mr. Belt, appeared at first sight like a mere fragment of the
moss on which it rested, its body being all prolonged into little
thread-like green filaments, precisely imitating the foliage around it.
Once more, there are common flies which secure protection for themselves
by growing into the counterfeit presentment of wasps or hornets, and so
obtaining immunity from the attacks of birds or animals. Many of these
curiously mimetic insects are banded with yellow and black in the very
image of their stinging originals, and have their tails sharpened, _in
terrorem_, into a pretended sting, to give point and verisimilitude to
the deceptive resemblance. More curious still, certain South American
butterflies of a perfectly inoffensive and edible family mimic in every
spot and line of colour sundry other butterflies of an utterly unrelated
and fundamentally dissimilar type, but of so disagreeable a taste as
never to be eaten by birds or lizards. The origin of these curious
resemblances I shall endeavour to explain (after Messrs. Bates and
Wallace) a little farther on: for the present it is enough to observe
that the extraordinary resemblances thus produced have often deceived
the very elect, and have caused experienced naturalists for a time to
stick some deceptive specimen of a fly among the wasps and hornets, or
some masquerading cricket into the midst of a cabinet full of saw-flies
or ichneumons.

Let us look briefly at the other instances of protective coloration in
nature generally which lead up to these final bizarre exemplifications
of the masquerading tendency.

Wherever all the world around is remarkably uniform in colour and
appearance, all the animals, birds, and insects alike necessarily
disguise themselves in its prevailing tint to escape observation. It
does not matter in the least whether they are predatory or defenceless,
the hunters or the hunted: if they are to escape destruction or
starvation, as the case may be, they must assume the hue of all the rest
of nature about them. In the arctic snows, for example, all animals,
without exception, must needs be snow-white. The polar bear, if he were
brown or black, would immediately be observed among the unvaried
ice-fields by his expected prey, and could never get a chance of
approaching his quarry unperceived at close quarters. On the other hand,
the arctic hare must equally be dressed in a snow-white coat, or the
arctic fox would too readily discover him and pounce down upon him
off-hand; while, conversely, the fox himself, if red or brown, could
never creep upon the unwary hare without previous detection, which would
defeat his purpose. For this reason, the ptarmigan and the willow grouse
become as white in winter as the vast snow-fields under which they
burrow; the ermine changes his dusky summer coat for the expensive
wintry suit beloved of British Themis; the snow-bunting acquires his
milk-white plumage; and even the weasel assimilates himself more or less
in hue to the unvarying garb of arctic nature. To be out of the fashion
is there quite literally to be out of the world: no half-measures will
suit the stern decree of polar biology; strict compliance with the law
of winter change is absolutely necessary to success in the struggle for

Now, how has this curious uniformity of dress in arctic animals been
brought about? Why, simply by that unyielding principle of Nature which
condemns the less adapted for ever to extinction, and exalts the better
adapted to the high places of her hierarchy in their stead. The
ptarmigan and the snow-buntings that look most like the snow have for
ages been least likely to attract the unfavourable attention of arctic
fox or prowling ermine; the fox or ermine that came most silently and
most unperceived across the shifting drifts has been most likely to
steal unawares upon the heedless flocks of ptarmigan and snow-bunting.
In the one case protective colouring preserves the animal from himself
being devoured; in the other case it enables him the more easily to
devour others. And since 'Eat or be eaten' is the shrill sentence of
Nature upon all animal life, the final result is the unbroken whiteness
of the arctic fauna in all its developments of fur or feather.

Where the colouring of nature is absolutely uniform, as among the arctic
snows or the chilly mountain tops, the colouring of the animals is
uniform too. Where it is slightly diversified from point to point, as in
the sands of the desert, the animals that imitate it are speckled or
diversified with various soft neutral tints. All the birds, reptiles,
and insects of Sahara, says Canon Tristram, copy closely the grey or
isabelline colour of the boundless sands that stretch around them. Lord
George Campbell, in his amusing 'Log Letters from the "Challenger,"'
mentions a butterfly on the shore at Amboyna which looked exactly like a
bit of the beach, until it spread its wings and fluttered away gaily to
leeward. Soles and other flat-fish similarly resemble the sands or banks
on which they lie, and accommodate themselves specifically to the
particular colour of their special bottom. Thus the flounder imitates
the muddy bars at the mouths of rivers, where he loves to half bury
himself in the congenial ooze; the sole, who rather affects clean hard
sand-banks, is simply sandy and speckled with grey; the plaice, who goes
in by preference for a bed of mixed pebbles, has red and yellow spots
scattered up and down irregularly among the brown, to look as much as
possible like agates and carnelians: the brill, who hugs a still rougher
ledge, has gone so far as to acquire raised lumps or tubercles on his
upper surface, which make him seem like a mere bit of the shingle-strewn
rock on which he reposes. In short, where the environment is most
uniform the colouring follows suit: just in proportion as the
environment varies from place to place, the colouring must vary in order
to simulate it. There is a deep biological joy in the term
'environment'; it almost rivals the well-known consolatory properties of
that sweet word 'Mesopotamia.' 'Surroundings,' perhaps, would equally
well express the meaning, but then, as Mr. Wordsworth justly observes,
'the difference to me!'

Between England and the West Indies, about the time when one begins to
recover from the first bout of sea-sickness, we come upon a certain
sluggish tract of ocean, uninvaded by either Gulf Stream or arctic
current, but slowly stagnating in a sort of endless eddy of its own, and
known to sailors and books of physical geography as the Sargasso Sea.
The sargasso or floating seaweed from which it takes its poetical name
is a pretty yellow rootless alga, swimming in vast quantities on the
surface of the water, and covered with tiny bladder-like bodies which at
first sight might easily be mistaken for amber berries. If you drop a
bucket over the ship's side and pull up a tangled mass of this beautiful
seaweed, it will seem at first to be all plant alike; but, when you come
to examine its tangles closely, you will find that it simply swarms with
tiny crabs, fishes, and shrimps, all coloured so precisely to shade that
they look exactly like the sargasso itself. Here the colour about is
less uniform than in the arctic snows, but, so far as the
sargasso-haunting animals are concerned, it comes pretty much to the
same thing. The floating mass of weed is their whole world, and they
have had to accommodate themselves to its tawny hue under pain of death,
immediate and violent.

Caterpillars and butterflies often show us a further step in advance in
the direction of minute imitation of ordinary surroundings. Dr. Weismann
has published a very long and learned memoir, fraught with the best
German erudition and prolixity, upon this highly interesting and obscure
subject. As English readers, however, not unnaturally object to trudging
through a stout volume on the larva of the sphinx moth, conceived in the
spirit of those patriarchal ages of Hilpa and Shalum, when man lived to
nine hundred and ninety-nine years, and devoted a stray century or so
without stint to the work of education, I shall not refer them to Dr.
Weismann's original treatise, as well translated and still further
enlarged by Mr. Raphael Meldola, but will present them instead with a
brief _résumé_, boiled down and condensed into a patent royal elixir of
learning. Your caterpillar, then, runs many serious risks in early life
from the annoying persistence of sundry evil-disposed birds, who insist
at inconvenient times in picking him off the leaves of gooseberry bushes
and other his chosen places of residence. His infant mortality, indeed,
is something simply appalling, and it is only by laying the eggs that
produce him in enormous quantities that his fond mother the butterfly
ever succeeds in rearing on an average two of her brood to replace the
imago generation just departed. Accordingly, the caterpillar has been
forced by adverse circumstances to assume the most ridiculous and
impossible disguises, appearing now in the shape of a leaf or stem, now
as a bundle of dark-green pine needles, and now again as a bud or
flower, all for the innocent purpose of concealing his whereabouts from
the inquisitive gaze of the birds his enemies.

When the caterpillar lives on a plant like a grass, the ribs or veins of
which run up and down longitudinally, he is usually striped or streaked
with darker lines in the same direction as those on his native foliage.
When, on the contrary, he lives upon broader leaves, provided with a
midrib and branching veins, his stripes and streaks (not to be out of
the fashion) run transversely and obliquely, at exactly the same angle
as those of his wonted food-plant. Very often, if you take a green
caterpillar of this sort away from his natural surroundings, you will be
surprised at the conspicuousness of his pale lilac or mauve markings;
surely, you will think to yourself, such very distinct variegation as
that must betray him instantly to his watchful enemies. But no; if you
replace him gently where you first found him, you will see that the
lines exactly harmonise with the joints and shading of his native leaf:
they are delicate representations of the soft shadow cast by a rib or
vein, and the local colour is precisely what a painter would have had to
use in order to produce the corresponding effect. The shadow of
yellowish green is, of course, always purplish or lilac. It may at first
sight seem surprising that a caterpillar should possess so much artistic
sense and dexterity; but then the penalty for bungling or inharmonious
work is so very severe as necessarily to stimulate his imitative genius.
Birds are for ever hunting him down among the green leaves, and only
those caterpillars which effectually deceive them by their admirable
imitations can ever hope to survive and become the butterflies who hand
on their larval peculiarities to after ages. Need I add that the
variations are, of course, unconscious, and that accident in the first
place is ultimately answerable for each fresh step in the direction of
still closer simulation?

The geometric moths have brown caterpillars, which generally stand erect
when at rest on the branches of trees and so resemble small twigs; and,
in order that the resemblance may be the more striking, they are often
covered with tiny warts which look like buds or knots upon the surface.
The larva of that familiar and much-dreaded insect, the death's-head
hawk-moth, feeds as a rule on the foliage of the potato, and its very
varied colouring, as Sir John Lubbock has pointed out, so beautifully
harmonises with the brown of the earth, the yellow and green of the
leaves, and the faint purplish blue of the lurid flowers, that it can
only be distinguished when the eye happens accidentally to focus itself
exactly upon the spot occupied by the unobtrusive caterpillar. Other
larvæ which frequent pine trees have their bodies covered with tufts of
green hairs that serve to imitate the peculiar pine foliage. One queer
little caterpillar, which lives upon the hoary foliage of the
sea-buckthorn, has a grey-green body, just like the buckthorn leaves,
relieved by a very conspicuous red spot which really represents in size
and colour one of the berries that grow around it. Finally the larva of
the elephant hawk-moth, which grows to a very large size, has a pair of
huge spots that seem like great eyes; and direct experiment establishes
the fact that small birds mistake it for a young snake, and stand in
terrible awe of it accordingly, though it is in reality a perfectly
harmless insect, and also, as I am credibly informed (for I cannot speak
upon the point from personal experience), a very tasty and
well-flavoured insect, and 'quite good to eat' too, says an eminent
authority. One of these big snake-like caterpillars once frightened Mr.
Bates himself on the banks of the Amazon.

Now, I know that cantankerous person, the universal objector, has all
along been bursting to interrupt me and declare that he himself
frequently finds no end of caterpillars, and has not the slightest
difficulty at all in distinguishing them with the naked eye from the
leaves and plants among which they are lurking. But observe how promptly
we crush and demolish this very inconvenient and disconcerting critic.
The caterpillars _he_ finds are almost all hairy ones, very conspicuous
and easy to discover--'woolly bears,' and such like common and unclean
creatures--and the reason they take no pains to conceal themselves from
his unobservant eyes is simply this: nobody on earth wants to discover
them. For either they are protectively encased in horrid hairs, which
get down your throat and choke you and bother you (I speak as a bird,
from the point of view of a confirmed caterpillar eater), or else they
are bitter and nasty to the taste, like the larva of the spurge moth and
the machaon butterfly. These are the ordinary brown and red and banded
caterpillars that the critical objector finds in hundreds on his
peregrinations about his own garden--commonplace things which the
experienced naturalist has long since got utterly tired of. But has
your rash objector ever lighted upon that rare larva which lives among
the periwinkles, and exactly imitates a periwinkle petal? Has he ever
discovered those deceptive creatures which pretend for all the world to
be leaves of lady's-bedstraw, or dress themselves up as flowers of
buttonweed? Has he ever hit upon those immoral caterpillars which
wriggle through life upon the false pretence that they are only the
shadows of projecting ribs on the under surface of a full-grown lime
leaf? No, not he; he passes them all by without one single glance of
recognition; and when the painstaking naturalist who has hunted them
every one down with lens and butterfly net ventures tentatively to
describe their personal appearance, he comes up smiling with his great
russet woolly bear comfortably nestling upon a green cabbage leaf, and
asks you in a voice of triumphant demonstration, where is the trace of
concealment or disguise in that amiable but very inedible insect? Go to,
Sir Critic, I will have none of you; I only use you for a metaphorical
marionette to set up and knock down again, as Mr. Punch in the street
show knocks down the policeman who comes to arrest him, and the grimy
black personage of sulphurous antecedents who pops up with a fizz
through the floor of his apartment.

Queerer still than the caterpillars which pretend to be leaves or
flowers for the sake of protection are those truly diabolical and
perfidious Brazilian spiders which, as Mr. Bates observed, are
brilliantly coloured with crimson and purple, but 'double themselves up
at the base of leaf-stalks, so as to resemble flower buds, and thus
deceive the insects upon which they prey.' There is something hideously
wicked and cruel in this lowest depth of imitative infamy. A flower-bud
is something so innocent and childlike; and to disguise oneself as such
for purposes of murder and rapine argues the final abyss of arachnoid
perfidy. It reminds one of that charming and amiable young lady in Mr.
Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Dynamiter,' who amused herself in moments of
temporary gaiety by blowing up inhabited houses, inmates and all, out of
pure lightness of heart and girlish frivolity. An Indian mantis or
praying insect, a little less wicked, though no less cruel than the
spiders, deceives the flies who come to his arms under the false
pretence of being a quiet leaf, upon which they may light in safety for
rest and refreshment. Yet another abandoned member of the same family,
relying boldly upon the resources of tropical nature, gets itself up as
a complete orchid, the head and fangs being moulded in the exact image
of the beautiful blossom, and the arms folding treacherously around the
unhappy insect which ventures to seek for honey in its deceptive jaws.

Happily, however, the tyrants and murderers do not always have things
all their own way. Sometimes the inoffensive prey turn the tables upon
their torturers with distinguished success. For example, Mr. Wallace
noticed a kind of sand-wasp, in Borneo, much given to devouring
crickets; but there was one species of cricket which exactly reproduced
the features of the sand-wasps, and mixed among them on equal terms
without fear of detection. Mr. Belt saw a green leaf-like locust in
Nicaragua, overrun by foraging ants in search of meat for dinner, but
remaining perfectly motionless all the time, and evidently mistaken by
the hungry foragers for a real piece of the foliage it mimicked. So
thoroughly did this innocent locust understand the necessity for
remaining still, and pretending to be a leaf under all advances, that
even when Mr. Belt took it up in his hands it never budged an inch, but
strenuously preserved its rigid leaf-like attitude. As other insects
'sham dead,' this ingenious creature shammed vegetable.

In order to understand how cases like these begin to arise, we must
remember that first of all they start of necessity from very slight and
indefinite resemblances, which succeed as it were by accident in
occasionally eluding the vigilance of enemies. Thus, there are stick
insects which only look like long round cylinders, not obviously
stick-shaped, but rudely resembling a bit of wood in outline only. These
imperfectly mimetic insects may often obtain a casual immunity from
attack by being mistaken for a twig by birds or lizards. There are
others, again, in which natural selection has gone a step further, so as
to produce upon their bodies bark-like colouring and rough patches which
imitate knots, wrinkles, and leaf-buds. In these cases the protection
given is far more marked, and the chances of detection are
proportionately lessened. But sharp-eyed birds, with senses quickened by
hunger, the true mother of invention, must learn at last to pierce such
flimsy disguises, and suspect a stick insect in the most
innocent-looking and apparently rigid twigs. The final step, therefore,
consists in the production of that extraordinary actor, the _Xeroxylus
laceratus_, whose formidable name means no more than 'ragged dry-stick,'
and which really mimics down to the minutest particular a broken twig,
overgrown with mosses, liverworts, and lichens.

Take, on the other hand, the well-known case of that predaceous mantis
which exactly imitates the white ants, and, mixing with them like one of
their own horde, quietly devours a stray fat termite or so, from time to
time, as occasion offers. Here we must suppose that the ancestral mantis
happened to be somewhat paler and smaller than most of its
fellow-tribesmen, and so at times managed unobserved to mingle with the
white ants, especially in the shade or under a dusky sky, much to the
advantage of its own appetite. But the termites would soon begin to
observe the visits of their suspicious friend, and to note their
coincidence with the frequent mysterious disappearance of a
fellow-townswoman, evaporated into space, like the missing young women
in neat cloth jackets who periodically vanish from the London suburbs.
In proportion as their reasonable suspicions increased, the termites
would carefully avoid all doubtful looking mantises; but, at the same
time, they would only succeed in making the mantises which survived
their inquisition grow more and more closely to resemble the termite
pattern in all particulars. For any mantis which happened to come a
little nearer the white ants in hue or shape would thereby be enabled to
make a more secure meal upon his unfortunate victims; and so the very
vigilance which the ants exerted against his vile deception would itself
react in time against their own kind, by leaving only the most ruthless
and indistinguishable of their foes to become the parents of future
generations of mantises.

Once more, the beetles and flies of Central America must have learned by
experience to get out of the way of the nimble Central American lizards
with great agility, cunning, and alertness. But green lizards are less
easy to notice beforehand than brown or red ones; and so the lizards of
tropical countries are almost always bright green, with complementary
shades of yellow, grey, and purple, just to fit them in with the foliage
they lurk among. Everybody who has ever hunted the green tree-toads on
the leaves of waterside plants on the Riviera must know how difficult it
is to discriminate these brilliant leaf-coloured creatures from the
almost identical background on which they rest. Now, just in proportion
as the beetles and flies grow still more cautious, even the green
lizards themselves fail to pick up a satisfactory livelihood; and so at
last we get that most remarkable Nicaraguan form, decked all round with
leaf-like expansions, and looking so like the foliage on which it rests
that no beetle on earth can possibly detect it. The more cunning you get
your detectives, the more cunning do the thieves become to outwit them.

Look, again, at the curious life-history of the flies which dwell as
unbidden guests or social parasites in the nests and hives of wild
honey-bees. These burglarious flies are belted and bearded in the very
self-same pattern as the bumble-bees themselves; but their larvæ live
upon the young grubs of the hive, and repay the unconscious hospitality
of the busy workers by devouring the future hope of their unwilling
hosts. Obviously, any fly which entered a bee-hive could only escape
detection and extermination at the hands (or stings) of its outraged
inhabitants, provided it so far resembled the real householders as to be
mistaken at a first glance by the invaded community for one of its own
numerous members. Thus any fly which showed the slightest superficial
resemblance to a bee might at first be enabled to rob honey for a time
with comparative impunity, and to lay its eggs among the cells of the
helpless larvæ. But when once the vile attempt was fairly discovered,
the burglars could only escape fatal detection from generation to
generation just in proportion as they more and more closely approximated
to the shape and colour of the bees themselves. For, as Mr. Belt has
well pointed out, while the mimicking species would become naturally
more numerous from age to age, the senses of the mimicked species would
grow sharper and sharper by constant practice in detecting and punishing
the unwelcome intruders.

It is only in external matters, however, that the appearance of such
mimetic species can ever be altered. Their underlying points of
structure and formative detail always show to the very end (if only one
happens to observe them) their proper place in a scientific
classification. For instance, these same parasitic flies which so
closely resemble bees in their shape and colour have only one pair of
wings apiece, like all the rest of the fly order, while the bees of
course have the full complement of two pairs, an upper and an under,
possessed by them in common with all other well-conducted members of the
hymenopterous family. So, too, there is a certain curious American
insect, belonging to the very unsavoury tribe which supplies London
lodging-houses with one of their most familiar entomological specimens;
and this cleverly disguised little creature is banded and striped in
every part exactly like a local hornet, for whom it evidently wishes
itself to be mistaken. If you were travelling in the wilder parts of
Colorado you would find a close resemblance to Buffalo Bill was no mean
personal protection. Hornets, in fact, are insects to which birds and
other insectivorous animals prefer to give a very wide berth, and the
reason why they should be imitated by a defenceless beetle must be
obvious to the intelligent student. But while the vibrating wing-cases
of this deceptive masquerader are made to look as thin and hornet-like
as possible, in all underlying points of structure any competent
naturalist would see at once that the creature must really be classed
among the noisome Hemiptera. I seldom trouble the public with a Greek or
Latin name, but on this occasion I trust I may be pardoned for not
indulging in all the ingenuous bluntness of the vernacular.

Sometimes this effective mimicry of stinging insects seems to be even
consciously performed by the tiny actors. Many creatures, which do not
themselves possess stings, nevertheless endeavour to frighten their
enemies by assuming the characteristic hostile attitudes of wasps or
hornets. Everybody in England must be well acquainted with those common
British earwig-looking insects, popularly known as the devil's
coach-horses, which, when irritated or interfered with, cock up their
tails behind them in the most aggressive fashion, exactly reproducing
the threatening action of an angry scorpion. Now, as a matter of fact,
the devil's coach-horse is quite harmless, but I have often seen, not
only little boys and girls, but also chickens, small birds, and
shrew-mice, evidently alarmed at his minatory attitude. So, too, the
bumble-bee flies, which are inoffensive insects got up in sedulous
imitation of various species of wild bee, flit about and buzz angrily in
the sunlight, quite after the fashion of the insects they mimic; and
when disturbed they pretend to get excited, and seem as if they wished
to fly in their assailant's face and roundly sting him. This curious
instinct may be put side by side with the parallel instinct of shamming
dead, possessed by many beetles and other small defenceless species.

Certain beetles have also been modified so as exactly to imitate wasps;
and in these cases the beetle waist, usually so solid, thick, and
clumsy, grows as slender and graceful as if the insects had been
supplied with corsets by a fashionable West End house. But the greatest
refinement of all is perhaps that noticed in certain allied species
which mimic bees, and which have acquired useless little tufts of hair
on their hind shanks to represent the dilated and tufted
pollen-gathering apparatus of the true bees.

I have left to the last the most marvellous cases of mimicry of
all--those noticed among South American butterflies by Mr. Bates, who
found that certain edible kinds exactly resembled a handsome and
conspicuous but bitter-tasted species 'in every shade and stripe of
colour.' Several of these South American imitative insects long deceived
the very entomologists; and it was only by a close inspection of their
structural differences that the utter distinctness of the mimickers and
the mimicked was satisfactorily settled. Scarcely less curious is the
case of Mr. Wallace's Malayan orioles, two species of which exactly copy
two pugnacious honey-suckers in every detail of plumage and coloration.
As the honey-suckers are avoided by birds of prey, owing to their
surprising strength and pugnacity, the orioles gain immunity from attack
by their close resemblance to the protected species. When Dr. Sclater,
the distinguished ornithologist, was examining Mr. Forbes's collections
from Timorlaut, even his experienced eye was so taken in by another of
these deceptive bird-mimicries that he classified two birds of totally
distinct families as two different individuals of the same species.

Even among plants a few instances of true mimicry have been observed. In
the stony African Karoo, where every plant is eagerly sought out for
food by the scanty local fauna, there are tubers which exactly resemble
the pebbles around them; and I have little doubt that our perfectly
harmless English dead-nettle secures itself from the attacks of browsing
animals by its close likeness to the wholly unrelated, but
well-protected, stinging-nettle.

Finally, we must not forget the device of those animals which not merely
assimilate themselves in colour to the ordinary environment in a general
way, but have also the power of adapting themselves at will to whatever
object they may happen to lie against. Cases like that of the ptarmigan,
which in summer harmonises with the brown heather and grey rock, while
in winter it changes to the white of the snow-fields, lead us up
gradually to such ultimate results of the masquerading tendency. There
is a tiny crustacean, the chameleon shrimp, which can alter its hue to
that of any material on which it happens to rest. On a sandy bottom it
appears grey or sand-coloured; when lurking among seaweed it becomes
green, or red, or brown, according to the nature of its momentary
background. Probably the effect is quite unconscious, or at least
involuntary, like blushing with ourselves--and nobody ever blushes on
purpose, though they do say a distinguished poet once complained that an
eminent actor did not follow his stage directions because he omitted to
obey the rubrical remark, 'Here Harold purples with anger.' The change
is produced by certain automatic muscles which force up particular
pigment cells above the others, green coming to the top on a green
surface, red on a ruddy one, and brown or grey where the circumstances
demand them. Many kinds of fish similarly alter their colour to suit
their background by forcing forward or backward certain special
pigment-cells known as chromatophores, whose various combinations
produce at will almost any required tone or shade. Almost all reptiles
and amphibians possess the power of changing their hue in accordance
with their environment in a very high degree; and among certain
tree-toads and frogs it is difficult to say what is the normal
colouring, as they vary indefinitely from buff and dove-colour to
chocolate-brown, rose, and even lilac.

But of all the particoloured reptiles the chameleon is by far the best
known, and on the whole the most remarkable for his inconstancy of
coloration. Like a lacertine Vicar of Bray, he varies incontinently from
buff to blue, and from blue back to orange again, under stress of
circumstances. The mechanism of this curious change is extremely
complex. Tiny corpuscles of different pigments are sometimes hidden in
the depths of the chameleon's skin, and sometimes spread out on its
surface in an interlacing network of brown or purple. In addition to
this prime colouring matter, however, the animal also possesses a normal
yellow pigment, and a bluish layer in the skin which acts like the
iridium glass so largely employed by Dr. Salviati, being seen as
straw-coloured with a transmitted light, but assuming a faint lilac tint
against an opaque absorbent surface. While sleeping the chameleon
becomes almost white in the shade, but if light falls upon him he slowly
darkens by an automatic process. The movements of the corpuscles are
governed by opposite nerves and muscles, which either cause them to bury
themselves under the true skin, or to form an opaque ground behind the
blue layer, or to spread out in a ramifying mass on the outer surface,
and so produce as desired almost any necessary shade of grey, green,
black, or yellow. It is an interesting fact that many chrysalids undergo
precisely similar changes of colour in adaptation to the background
against which they suspend themselves, being grey on a grey surface,
green on a green one, and even half black and half red when hung up
against pieces of particoloured paper.

Nothing could more beautifully prove the noble superiority of the human
intellect than the fact that while our grouse are russet-brown to suit
the bracken and heather, and our caterpillars green to suit the lettuce
and the cabbage leaves, our British soldier should be wisely coated in
brilliant scarlet to form an effective mark for the rifles of an enemy.
Red is the easiest of all colours at which to aim from a great distance;
and its selection by authority for the uniform of unfortunate Tommy
Atkins reminds me of nothing so much as Mr. McClelland's exquisite
suggestion that the peculiar brilliancy of the Indian river carps makes
them serve 'as a better mark for kingfishers, terns, and other birds
which are destined to keep the number of these fishes in check.' The
idea of Providence and the Horse Guards conspiring to render any
creature an easier target for the attacks of enemies is worthy of the
decadent school of natural history, and cannot for a moment be
dispassionately considered by a judicious critic. Nowadays we all know
that the carp are decked in crimson and blue to please their partners,
and that soldiers are dressed in brilliant red to please the æsthetic
authorities who command them from a distance.


For many generations past that problematical animal, the toad-in-a-hole
(literal, not culinary) has been one of the most familiar and
interesting personages of contemporary folk-lore and popular natural
history. From time to time he turns up afresh, with his own wonted
perennial vigour, on paper at least, in company with the great
sea-serpent, the big gooseberry, the shower of frogs, the two-headed
calf, and all the other common objects of the country or the seaside in
the silly season. No extraordinary natural phenomenon on earth was ever
better vouched for--in the fashion rendered familiar to us by the
Tichborne claimant--that is to say, no other could ever get a larger
number of unprejudiced witnesses to swear positively and unreservedly in
its favour. Unfortunately, however, swearing alone no longer settles
causes off-hand, as if by show of hands, 'the Ayes have it,' after the
fashion prevalent in the good old days when the whole Hundred used to
testify that of its certain knowledge John Nokes did not commit such and
such a murder; whereupon John Nokes was forthwith acquitted accordingly.
Nowadays, both justice and science have become more exacting; they
insist upon the unpleasant and discourteous habit of cross-examining
their witnesses (as if they doubted them, forsooth!), instead of
accepting the witnesses' own simple assertion that it's all right, and
there's no need for making a fuss about it. Did you yourself see the
block of stone in which the toad is said to have been found, before the
toad himself was actually extracted? Did you examine it all round to
make quite sure there was no hole, or crack, or passage in it anywhere?
Did you satisfy yourself after the toad was released from his close
quarters that no such hole, or crack, or passage had been dexterously
closed up, with intent to deceive, by plaster, cement, or other
artificial composition? Did you ever offer the workmen who found it a
nominal reward--say five shillings--for the first perfectly unanswerable
specimen of a genuine unadulterated antediluvian toad? Have you got the
toad now present, and can you produce him here in court (on writ of
_habeas corpus_ or otherwise), together with all the fragments of the
stone or tree from which he was extracted? These are the disagreeable,
prying, inquisitorial, I may even say insulting, questions with which a
modern man of science is ready to assail the truthful and reputable
gentlemen who venture to assert their discovery, in these degenerate
days, of the ancient and unsophisticated toad-in-a-hole.

Now, the worst of it is that the gentlemen in question, being unfamiliar
with what is technically described as scientific methods of
investigation, are very apt to lose their temper when thus
cross-questioned, and to reply, after the fashion usually attributed to
the female mind, with another question, whether the scientific person
wishes to accuse them of downright lying. And as nothing on earth could
be further from the scientific person's mind than such an imputation, he
is usually fain in the end to give up the social pursuit of postprandial
natural history (the subject generally crops up about the same time as
the after-dinner coffee), and to let the prehistoric toad go on his own
triumphant way, unheeded.

As a matter of fact, nobody ever makes larger allowances for other
people, in the estimate of their veracity, than the scientific
inquirer. Knowing himself, by painful experience, how extremely
difficult a matter it is to make perfectly sure you have observed
anything on earth quite correctly, and have eliminated all possible
chances of error, he acquires the fixed habit of doubting about one-half
of whatever his fellow-creatures tell him in ordinary conversation,
without for a single moment venturing to suspect them of deliberate
untruthfulness. Children and servants, if they find that anything they
have been told is erroneous, immediately jump at the conclusion that the
person who told them meant deliberately to deceive them; in their own
simple and categorical fashion they answer plumply, 'That's a lie.' But
the man of science is only too well acquainted in his own person with
the exceeding difficulty of ever getting at the exact truth. He has
spent hours of toil, himself, in watching and observing the behaviour of
some plant, or animal, or gas, or metal; and after repeated experiments,
carefully designed to exclude all possibility of mistake, so far as he
can foresee it, he at last believes he has really settled some moot
point, and triumphantly publishes his final conclusions in a scientific
journal. Ten to one, the very next number of that same journal contains
a dozen supercilious letters from a dozen learned and high-salaried
professors, each pointing out a dozen distinct and separate precautions
which the painstaking observer neglected to take, and any one of which
would be quite sufficient to vitiate the whole body of his observations.
There might have been germs in the tube in which he boiled the water
(germs are very fashionable just at present); or some of the germs might
have survived and rather enjoyed the boiling; or they might have adhered
to the under surface of the cork; or the mixture might have been
tampered with during the experimenter's temporary absence by his son,
aged ten years (scientific observers have no right, apparently, to have
sons of ten years old, except perhaps for purposes of psychological
research); and so forth, _ad infinitum_. And the worst of it all is that
the unhappy experimenter is bound himself to admit that every one of the
objections is perfectly valid, and that he very likely never really saw
what with perfect confidence he thought and said he had seen.

This being an unbelieving age, then, when even the book of Deuteronomy
is 'critically examined,' let us see how much can really be said for and
against our old friend, the toad-in-a-hole; and first let us begin with
the antecedent probability, or otherwise, of any animal being able to
live in a more or less torpid condition, without air or food, for any
considerable period of time together.

A certain famous historical desert snail was brought from Egypt to
England as a conchological specimen in the year 1846. This particular
mollusk (the only one of his race, probably, who ever attained to
individual distinction), at the time of his arrival in London, was
really alive and vigorous; but as the authorities of the British Museum,
to whose tender care he was consigned, were ignorant of this important
fact in his economy, he was gummed, mouth downward, on to a piece of
cardboard, and duly labelled and dated with scientific accuracy, '_Helix
desertorum_, March 25, 1846.' Being a snail of a retiring and contented
disposition, however, accustomed to long droughts and corresponding naps
in his native sand-wastes, our mollusk thereupon simply curled himself
up into the topmost recesses of his own whorls, and went placidly to
sleep in perfect contentment for an unlimited period. Every conchologist
takes it for granted, of course, that the shells which he receives from
foreign parts have had their inhabitants properly boiled and extracted
before being exported; for it is only the mere outer shell or skeleton
of the animal that we preserve in our cabinets, leaving the actual flesh
and muscles of the creature himself to wither unobserved upon its
native shores. At the British Museum the desert snail might have snoozed
away his inglorious existence unsuspected, but for a happy accident
which attracted public attention to his remarkable case in a most
extraordinary manner. On March 7, 1850, nearly four years later, it was
casually observed that the card on which he reposed was slightly
discoloured; and this discovery led to the suspicion that perhaps a
living animal might be temporarily immured within that papery tomb. The
Museum authorities accordingly ordered our friend a warm bath (who shall
say hereafter that science is unfeeling!), upon which the grateful
snail, waking up at the touch of the familiar moisture, put his head
cautiously out of his shell, walked up to the top of the basin, and
began to take a cursory survey of British institutions with his four
eye-bearing tentacles. So strange a recovery from a long torpid
condition, only equalled by that of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus,
deserved an exceptional amount of scientific recognition. The desert
snail at once awoke and found himself famous. Nay, he actually sat for
his portrait to an eminent zoological artist, Mr. Waterhouse; and a
woodcut from the sketch thus procured, with a history of his life and
adventures, may be found even unto this day in Dr. Woodward's 'Manual of
the Mollusca,' to witness if I lie.

I mention this curious instance first, because it is the best
authenticated case on record (so far as my knowledge goes) of any animal
existing in a state of suspended animation for any long period of time
together. But there are other cases of encysted or immured animals
which, though less striking as regards the length of time during which
torpidity has been observed, are much more closely analogous to the real
or mythical conditions of the toad-in-a-hole. That curious West African
mud-fish, the Lepidosiren (familiar to all readers of evolutionary
literature as one of the most singular existing links between fish and
amphibians), lives among the shallow pools and broads of the Gambia,
which are dried up during the greater part of the tropical summer. To
provide against this annual contingency, the mud-fish retires into the
soft clay at the bottom of the pools, where it forms itself a sort of
nest, and there hibernates, or rather æstivates, for months together, in
a torpid condition. The surrounding mud then hardens into a dry ball;
and these balls are dug out of the soil of the rice-fields by the
natives, with the fish inside them, by which means many specimens of
lepidosiren have been sent alive to Europe, embedded in their natural
covering. Here the strange fish is chiefly prized as a zoological
curiosity for aquariums, because of its possessing gills and lungs
together, to fit it for its double existence; but the unsophisticated
West Africans grub it up on their own account as a delicacy, regardless
of its claims to scientific consideration as the earliest known ancestor
of all existing terrestrial animals. Now, the torpid state of the
mud-fish in his hardened ball of clay closely resembles the real or
supposed condition of the toad-in-a-hole; but with one important
exception. The mud-fish leaves a small canal or pipe open in his cell at
either end to admit the air for breathing, though he breathes (as I
shall proceed to explain) in a very slight degree during his æstivation;
whereas every proper toad-in-a-hole ought by all accounts to live
entirely without either feeding or breathing in any way. However, this
is a mere detail; and indeed, if toads-in-a-hole do really exist at all,
we must in all probability ultimately admit that they breathe to some
extent, though perhaps very slightly, during their long immurement.

And this leads us on to consider what in reality hibernation is.
Everybody knows nowadays, I suppose, that there is a very close analogy
between an animal and a steam-engine. Food is the fuel that makes the
animal engine go; and this food acts almost exactly as coal does in the
artificial machine. But coal alone will not drive an engine; a free
draught of open air is also required in order to produce combustion.
Just in like manner the food we eat cannot be utilised to drive our
muscles and other organs unless it is supplied with oxygen from the air
to burn it slowly inside our bodies. This oxygen is taken into the
system, in all higher animals, by means of lungs or gills. Now, when we
are working at all hard, we require a great deal of oxygen, as most of
us have familiarly discovered (especially if we are somewhat stout) in
the act of climbing hills or running to catch a train. But when we are
doing very little work indeed, as in our sleeping hours, during which
muscular movement is suspended, and only the general organic life
continues, we breathe much more slowly and at longer intervals. However,
there is this important difference (generally speaking) between an
animal and a steam-engine. You can let the engine run short of coals and
come to a dead standstill, without impairing its future possibilities of
similar motion; you have only to get fresh coals, after weeks or months
of inaction, and light up a fresh fire, when your engine will
immediately begin to work again, exactly the same as before. But if an
animal organism once fairly runs down, either from want of food or any
other cause--in short, if it dies--it very seldom comes to life again.

I say 'very seldom' on purpose, because there are a few cases among the
extreme lower animals where a water-haunting creature can be taken out
of the water and can be thoroughly dried and desiccated, or even kept
for an apparently unlimited period wrapped up in paper or on the slide
of a microscope; and yet, the moment a drop of water is placed on top of
it, it begins to move and live again exactly as before. This sort of
thorough-going suspended animation is the kind we ought to expect from
any well-constituted and proper-minded toad-in-a-hole. Whether anything
like it ever really occurs in the higher ranks of animal life, however,
is a different question; but there can be no doubt that to some slight
extent a body to all intents and purposes quite dead (physically
speaking) by long immersion in water--a drowned man, for example--may
really be resuscitated by heat and stimulants, applied immediately,
provided no part of the working organism has been seriously injured or
decomposed. Such people may be said to be _pro tem._ functionally,
though not structurally, dead. The heart has practically ceased to beat,
the lungs have ceased to breathe, and physical life in the body is
temporarily extinct. The fire, in short, has gone out. But if only it
can be lighted again before any serious change in the system takes
place, all may still go on precisely as of old.

Many animals, however, find it convenient to assume a state of less
complete suspended animation during certain special periods of the year,
according to the circumstances of their peculiar climate and mode of
life. Among the very highest animals, the most familiar example of this
sort of semi-torpidity is to be found among the bears and the dormice.
The common European brown bear is a carnivore by descent, who has become
a vegetarian in practice, though whether from conscientious scruples or
mere practical considerations of expediency, does not appear. He feeds
chiefly on roots, berries, fruits, vegetables, and honey, all of which
he finds it comparatively difficult to procure during winter weather.
Accordingly, as everyone knows, he eats immoderately in the summer
season, till he has grown fat enough to supply bear's grease to all
Christendom. Then he hunts himself out a hollow tree or rock-shelter,
curls himself up quietly to sleep, and snores away the whole livelong
winter. During this period of hibernation, the action of the heart is
reduced to a minimum, and the bear breathes but very slowly. Still, he
does breathe, and his heart does beat; and in performing those
indispensable functions, all his store of accumulated fat is gradually
used up, so that he wakes in spring as thin as a lath and as hungry as a
hunter. The machine has been working at very low pressure all the
winter: but it _has_ been working for all that, and the continuity of
its action has never once for a moment been interrupted. This is the
central principle of all hibernation; it consists essentially of a very
long and profound sleep, during which all muscular motion, except that
of the heart and lungs, is completely suspended, while even these last
are reduced to the very smallest amount compatible with the final
restoration of full animal activity.

Thus, even among warm-blooded animals like the bears and dormice,
hibernation actually occurs to a very considerable degree; but it is far
more common and more complete among cold-blooded creatures, whose bodies
do not need to be kept heated to the same degree, and with whom,
accordingly, hibernation becomes almost a complete torpor, the breathing
and the action of the heart being still further reduced to very nearly
zero. Mollusks in particular, like oysters and mussels, lead very
monotonous and uneventful lives, only varied as a rule by the welcome
change of being cut out of their shells and eaten alive; and their
powers of living without food under adverse circumstances are really
very remarkable. Freshwater snails and mussels, in cold weather, bury
themselves in the mud of ponds or rivers; and land-snails hide
themselves in the ground or under moss and leaves. The heart then
ceases perceptibly to beat, but respiration continues in a very faint
degree. The common garden snail closes the mouth of his shell when he
wants to hibernate, with a slimy covering; but he leaves a very small
hole in it somewhere, so as to allow a little air to get in, and keep up
his breathing to a slight amount. My experience has been, however, that
a great many snails go to sleep in this way, and never wake up again.
Either they get frozen to death, or else the respiration falls so low
that it never picks itself up properly when spring returns. In warm
climates, it is during the summer that mollusks and other mud-haunting
creatures go to sleep; and when they get well plastered round with clay,
they almost approach in tenacity of life the mildest recorded specimens
of the toad-in-a-hole.

For example, take the following cases, which I extract, with needful
simplifications, from Dr. Woodward.

'In June 1850, a living pond mussel, which had been more than a year out
of water, was sent to Mr. Gray, from Australia. The big pond snails of
the tropics have been found alive in logs of mahogany imported from
Honduras; and M. Caillaud carried some from Egypt to Paris, packed in
sawdust. Indeed, it isn't easy to ascertain the limit of their
endurance; for Mr. Laidlay, having placed a number in a drawer for this
very purpose, found them alive after _five years'_ torpidity, although
in the warm climate of Calcutta. The pretty snails called _cyclostomas_,
which have a lid to their shells, are well known to survive
imprisonments of many months; but in the ordinary open-mouthed
land-snails such cases are even more remarkable. Several of the enormous
tropical snails often used to decorate cottage mantelpieces, brought by
Lieutenant Greaves from Valparaiso, revived after being packed, some for
thirteen, others for twenty months. In 1849, Mr. Pickering received
from Mr. Wollaston a basketful of Madeira snails (of twenty or thirty
different kinds), three-fourths of which proved to be alive, after
several months' confinement, including a sea voyage. Mr. Wollaston has
himself recorded the fact that specimens of two Madeira snails survived
a fast and imprisonment in pill-boxes of two years and a half duration,
and that large numbers of a small species, brought to England at the
same time, were _all_ living after being inclosed in a dry bag for a
year and a half.'

Whether the snails themselves liked their long deprivation of food and
moisture we are not informed; their personal tastes and inclinations
were very little consulted in the matter; but as they and their
ancestors for many generations must have been accustomed to similar long
fasts during tropical droughts, in all likelihood they did not much mind

The real question, then, about the historical toad-in-a-hole narrows
itself down in the end merely to this--how long is it credible that a
cold-blooded creature might sustain life in a torpid or hibernating
condition, without food, and with a very small quantity of fresh air,
supplied (let us say) from time to time through an almost imperceptible
fissure? It is well known that reptiles and amphibians are particularly
tenacious of life, and that some turtles in particular will live for
months, or even for years, without tasting food. The common Greek
tortoise, hawked on barrows about the streets of London and bought by a
confiding British public under the mistaken impression that its chief
fare consists of slugs and cockroaches (it is really far more likely to
feed upon its purchaser's choicest seakale and asparagus), buries itself
in the ground at the first approach of winter, and snoozes away five
months of the year in a most comfortable and dignified torpidity. A
snake at the Zoo has even been known to live eighteen months in a
voluntary fast, refusing all the most tempting offers of birds and
rabbits, merely out of pique at her forcible confinement in a strange
cage. As this was a lady snake, however, it is possible that she only
went on living out of feminine obstinacy, so that this case really
counts for very little.

Toads themselves are well known to possess all the qualities of mind and
body which go to make up the career of a successful and enduring
anchorite. At the best of times they eat seldom and sparingly, while a
forty days' fast, like Dr. Tanner's, would seem to them but an ordinary
incident in their everyday existence. In the winter they hibernate by
burying themselves in the mud, or by getting down cracks in the ground.
It is also undoubtedly true that they creep into holes wherever they can
find one, and that in these holes they lie torpid for a considerable
period. On the other hand, there is every reason to believe that they
cannot live for more than a certain fixed and relatively short time
entirely without food or air. Dr. Buckland tried a number of experiments
upon toads in this manner--experiments wholly unnecessary, considering
the trivial nature of the point at issue--and his conclusion was that no
toad could get beyond two years without feeding or breathing. There can
be very little doubt that in this conclusion he was practically correct,
and that the real fine old crusted antediluvian toad-in-a-hole is really
a snare and a delusion.

That, however, does not wholly settle the question about such toads,
because, even though they may not be all that their admirers claim for
them, they may yet possess a very respectable antiquity of their own,
and may be very far from the category of mere vulgar cheats and
impostors. Because a toad is not as old as Methuselah, it need not
follow that he may not be as old as Old Parr; because he does not date
back to the Flood, it need not follow that he cannot remember Queen
Elizabeth. There are some toads-in-a-hole, indeed, which, however we may
account for the origin of their legend, are on the very face of it
utterly incredible. For example, there is the favourite and immensely
popular toad who was extracted from a perfectly closed hole in a marble
mantelpiece. The implication of the legend clearly is that the toad was
coeval with the marble. But marble is limestone, altered in texture by
pressure and heat, till it has assumed a crystalline structure. In other
words we are asked to believe that that toad lived through an amount of
fiery heat sufficient to burn him up into fine powder, and yet remains
to tell the tale. Such a toad as this obviously deserves no credit. His
discoverers may have believed in him themselves, but they will hardly
get other people to do so.

Still, there are a great many ways in which it is quite conceivable that
toads might get into holes in rocks or trees so as to give rise to the
common stories about them, and might even manage to live there for a
considerable time with very small quantities of food or air. It must be
remembered that from the very nature of the conditions the hole can
never be properly examined and inspected until after it has been split
open and the toad has been extracted from it. Now, if you split open a
tree or a rock, and find a toad inside it, with a cavity which he
exactly fills, it is extremely difficult to say whether there was or was
not a fissure before you broke the thing to pieces with your hatchet or
pickaxe. A very small fissure indeed would be quite sufficient to
account for the whole delusion; for if the toad could get a little air
to breathe slowly during his torpid period, and could find a few dead
flies or worms among the water that trickled scantily into his hole, he
could manage to drag out a peaceful and monotonous existence almost
indefinitely. Here are a few possible cases, any one of which will
quite suffice to give rise to at least as good a toad-in-the-hole as
ninety-nine out of a hundred published instances.

An adult toad buries himself in the mud by a dry pond, and gets coated
with a hard solid coat of sun-baked clay. His nodule is broken open with
a spade, and the toad himself is found inside, almost exactly filling
the space within the cavity. He has only been there for a few months at
the outside; but the clay is as hard as a stone, and to the bucolic mind
looks as if it might have been there ever since the Deluge. Good blue
lias clay, which dries as solid as limestone, would perform this trick
to perfection; and the toad might easily be relegated accordingly to the
secondary ages of geology. Observe, however, that the actual toads so
found are not the geological toads we should naturally expect under such
remarkable circumstances, but the common everyday toads of modern
England. This shows a want of accurate scientific knowledge on the part
of the toads which is truly lamentable. A toad who really wished to
qualify himself for the post ought at least to avoid presenting himself
before a critical eye in the foolish guise of an embodied anachronism.
He reminds one of the Roman mother in a popular burlesque, who suspects
her son of smoking, and vehemently declares that she smells tobacco,
but, after a moment, recollects the historical proprieties, and mutters
to herself, apologetically, 'No, not tobacco; that's not yet invented.'
A would-be silurian or triassic toad ought, in like manner, to remember
that in the ages to whose honours he aspires his own amphibian kind was
not yet developed. He ought rather to come out in the character of a
ceratodus or a labyrinthodon.

Again, another adult toad crawls into the hollow of a tree, and there
hibernates. The bark partially closes over the slit by which he entered,
but leaves a little crack by which air can enter freely. The grubs in
the bark and other insects supply him from time to time with a frugal
repast. There is no good reason why, under such circumstances, a placid
and contented toad might not manage to prolong his existence for several
consecutive seasons.

Once more, the spawn of toads is very small, as regards the size of the
individual eggs, compared with the size of the full-grown animal.
Nothing would be easier than for a piece of spawn or a tiny tadpole to
be washed into some hole in a mine or cave, where there was sufficient
water for its developement, and where the trickling drops brought down
minute objects of food, enough to keep up its simple existence. A toad
brought up under such peculiar circumstances might pass almost its
entire life in a state of torpidity, and yet might grow and thrive in
its own sleepy vegetative fashion.

In short, while it would be difficult in any given case to prove to a
certainty either that the particular toad-in-a-hole had or had not
access to air and food, the ordinary conditions of toad life are exactly
those under which the delusive appearance of venerable antiquity would
be almost certain frequently to arise. The toad is a nocturnal animal;
it lives through the daytime in dark and damp places; it shows a decided
liking for crannies and crevices; it is wonderfully tenacious of life;
it possesses the power of hibernation; it can live on extremely small
quantities of food for very long periods of time together; it buries
itself in mud or clay; it passes the early part of its life as a
water-haunting tadpole; and last, not least, it can swell out its body
to nearly double its natural size by inflating itself, which fully
accounts for the stories of toads being taken out of holes every bit as
big as themselves. Considering all these things, it would be wonderful
indeed if toads were not often found in places and conditions which
would naturally give rise to the familiar myth. Throw in a little
allowance for human credulity, human exaggeration, and human love of the
marvellous, and you have all the elements of a very excellent
toad-in-the-hole in the highest ideal perfection.

At the same time I think it quite possible that some toads, under
natural circumstances, do really remain in a torpid or semi-torpid
condition for a period far exceeding the twenty-four months allowed as
the maximum in Dr. Buckland's unpleasant experiments. If the amount of
air supplied through a crack or through the texture of the stone were
exactly sufficient for keeping the animal alive in the very slightest
fashion--the engine working at the lowest possible pressure, short of
absolute cessation--I see no reason on earth why a toad might not remain
dormant, in a moist place, with perhaps a very occasional worm or grub
for breakfast, for at least as long a time as the desert snail slept
comfortably in the British Museum. Altogether, while it is impossible to
believe the stories about toads that have been buried in a mine for
whole centuries, and still more impossible to believe in their being
disentombed from marble mantelpieces or very ancient geological
formations, it is quite conceivable that some toads-in-a-hole may really
be far from mere vulgar impostors, and may have passed the traditional
seven years of the Indian philosophers in solitary meditation on the
syllable Om, or on the equally significant Ko-ax, Ko-ax of the
irreverent Attic dramatist. "Certainly not a centenarian, but perhaps a
good seven-year sleeper for all that," is the final verdict which the
court is disposed to return, after due consideration of all the
probabilities _in re_ the toad-in-a-hole.


If an intelligent Australian colonist were suddenly to be translated
backward from Collins Street, Melbourne, into the flourishing woods of
the secondary geological period--say about the precise moment of time
when the English chalk downs were slowly accumulating, speck by speck,
on the silent floor of some long-forgotten Mediterranean--the
intelligent colonist would look around him with a sweet smile of
cheerful recognition, and say to himself in some surprise, 'Why, this is
just like Australia.' The animals, the trees, the plants, the insects,
would all more or less vividly remind him of those he had left behind
him in his happy home of the southern seas and the nineteenth century.
The sun would have moved back on the dial of ages for a few million
summers or so, indefinitely (in geology we refuse to be bound by dates),
and would have landed him at last, to his immense astonishment, pretty
much at the exact point whence he first started.

In other words, with a few needful qualifications, to be made hereafter,
Australia is, so to speak, a fossil continent, a country still in its
secondary age, a surviving fragment of the primitive world of the chalk
period or earlier ages. Isolated from all the remainder of the earth
about the beginning of the tertiary epoch, long before the mammoth and
the mastodon had yet dreamt of appearing upon the stage of existence,
long before the first shadowy ancestor of the horse had turned tail on
nature's rough draft of the still undeveloped and unspecialised lion,
long before the extinct dinotheriums and gigantic Irish elks and
colossal giraffes of late tertiary times had even begun to run their
race on the broad plains of Europe and America, the Australian continent
found itself at an early period of its development cut off entirely from
all social intercourse with the remainder of our planet, and turned upon
itself, like the German philosopher, to evolve its own plants and
animals out of its own inner consciousness. The natural consequence was
that progress in Australia has been absurdly slow, and that the country
as a whole has fallen most woefully behind the times in all matters
pertaining to the existence of life upon its surface. Everybody knows
that Australia as a whole is a very peculiar and original continent; its
peculiarity, however, consists, at bottom, for the most part in the fact
that it still remains at very nearly the same early point of development
which Europe had attained a couple of million years ago or thereabouts.
"Advance, Australia," says the national motto; and, indeed, it is quite
time nowadays that Australia should advance; for, so far, she has been
left out of the running for some four mundane ages or so at a rough

Example, says the wisdom of our ancestors, is better than precept; so
perhaps, if I take a single example to start with, I shall make the
principle I wish to illustrate a trifle clearer to the European
comprehension. In Australia, when Cook or Van Diemen first visited it,
there were no horses, cows, or sheep; no rabbits, weasels, or cats; no
indigenous quadrupeds of any sort except the pouched mammals or
marsupials, familiarly typified to every one of us by the mamma kangaroo
in Regent's Park, who carries the baby kangaroos about with her, neatly
deposited in the sac or pouch which nature has provided for them instead
of a cradle. To this rough generalisation, to be sure, two special
exceptions must needs be made; namely, the noble Australian black-fellow
himself, and the dingo or wild dog whose ancestors no doubt came to the
country in the same ship with him, as the brown rat came to England with
George I. of blessed memory. But of these two solitary representatives
of the later and higher Asiatic fauna 'more anon'; for the present we
may regard it as approximately true that aboriginal and unsophisticated
Australia in the lump was wholly given over, on its first discovery, to
kangaroos, phalangers, dasyures, wombats, and other quaint marsupial
animals, with names as strange and clumsy as their forms.

Now, who and what are the marsupials as a family, viewed in the dry
light of modern science? Well, they are simply one of the very oldest
mammalian families, and therefore, I need hardly say, in the levelling
and topsy-turvy view of evolutionary biology, the least entitled to
consideration or respect from rational observers. For of course in the
kingdom of science the last shall be first, and the first last; it is
the oldest families that are accounted the worst, while the best
families mean always the newest. Now, the earliest mammals to appear on
earth were creatures of distinctly marsupial type. As long ago as the
time when the red marl of Devonshire and the blue lias of Lyme Regis
were laid down on the bed of the muddy sea that once covered the surface
of Dorset and the English Channel, a little creature like the kangaroo
rats of Southern Australia lived among the plains of what is now the
south of England. In the ages succeeding the deposition of the red marl
Europe seems to have been broken up into an archipelago of coral reefs
and atolls; and the islands of this ancient oolitic ocean were tenanted
by numbers of tiny ancestral marsupials, some of which approached in
appearance the pouched ant-eaters of Western Australia, while others
resembled rather the phalangers and wombats, or turned into excellent
imitation carnivores, like our modern friend the Tasmanian devil. Up to
the end of the time when the chalk deposits of Surrey, Kent, and Sussex
were laid down, indeed, there is no evidence of the existence anywhere
in the world of any mammals differing in type from those which now
inhabit Australia. In other words, so far as regards mammalian life, the
whole of the world had then already reached pretty nearly the same point
of evolution that poor Australia still sticks at.

About the beginning of the tertiary period, however, just after the
chalk was all deposited, and just before the comparatively modern clays
and sandstones of the London basin began to be laid down, an arm of the
sea broke up the connection which once subsisted between Australia and
the rest of the world, probably by a land bridge, _viâ_ Java, Sumatra,
the Malay peninsula, and Asia generally. 'But how do you know,' asks the
candid inquirer, 'that such a connection ever existed at all?' Simply
thus, most laudable investigator--because there are large land mammals
in Australia. Now, large land mammals do not swim across a broad ocean.
There are none in New Zealand, none in the Azores, none in Fiji, none in
Tahiti, none in Madeira, none in Teneriffe--none, in short, in any
oceanic island which never at any time formed part of a great continent.
How could there be, indeed? The mammals must necessarily have got there
from somewhere; and whenever we find islands like Britain, or Japan, or
Newfoundland, or Sicily, possessing large and abundant indigenous
quadrupeds, of the same general type as adjacent continents, we see at
once that the island must formerly have been a mere peninsula, like
Italy or Nova Scotia at the present day. The very fact that Australia
incloses a large group of biggish quadrupeds, whose congeners once
inhabited Europe and America, suffices in itself to prove beyond
question that uninterrupted land communication must once have existed
between Australia and those distant continents.

In fact, to this day a belt of very deep sea, known as Wallace's Line,
from the great naturalist who first pointed out its far-reaching
zoological importance, separates what is called by science 'the
Australian province' on the southwest from 'the Indo-Malayan province'
to the north and east of it. This belt of deep sea divides off sharply
the plants and animals of the Australian type from those of the common
Indian and Burmese pattern. South of Wallace's Line we now find several
islands, big and small, including New Guinea, Australia, Tasmania, the
Moluccas, Celebes, Timor, Amboyna, and Banda. All these lands, whose
precise geographical position on the map must of course be readily
remembered, in this age of school boards and universal examination, by
every pupil-teacher and every Girton girl, are now divided by minor
straits of much shallower water; but they all stand on a great submarine
bank, and obviously formed at one time parts of the same wide Australian
continent, because animals of the Australian type are still found in
every one of them. No Indian or Malayan animal, however, of the larger
sort (other than birds) is to be discovered anywhere south of Wallace's
Line. That narrow belt of deep sea, in short, forms an ocean barrier
which has subsisted there without alteration ever since the end of the
secondary period. From that time to this, as the evidence shows us,
there has never been any direct land communication between Australia and
any part of the outer world beyond that narrow line of division.

Some years ago, in fact, a clever hoax took the world by surprise for a
moment, under the audacious title of 'Captain Lawson's Adventures in New
Guinea.' The gallant captain, or his unknown creator in some London
lodging, pretended to have explored the Papuan jungles, and there to
have met with marvellous escapes from terrible beasts of the common
tropical Asiatic pattern--rhinoceroses, tigers, monkeys, and leopards.
Everybody believed the new Munchausen at first, except the zoologists.
Those canny folks saw through the wicked hoax on the very first blush of
it. If there were rhinoceroses in Papua, they must have got there by an
overland route. If there had ever been a land connection between New
Guinea and the Malay region, then, since Australian animals range into
New Guinea, Malayan animals would have ranged into Australia, and we
should find Victoria and New South Wales at the present day peopled by
tapirs, orang-outangs, wild boars, deer, elephants, and squirrels, like
those which now people Borneo, instead of, or side by side with, the
kangaroos, wombats, and other marsupials, which, as we know, actually
form the sole indigenous mammalian population of Greater Britain beneath
the Southern Cross. Of course, in the end, the mysterious and tremendous
Captain Lawson proved to be a myth, an airy nothing upon whom
imagination had bestowed a local habitation (in New Guinea) and a name
(not to be found in the Army List). Wallace's Line was saved from
reproach, and the intrusive rhinoceros was banished without appeal from
the soil of Papua.

After the deep belt of open sea was thus established between the bigger
Australian continent and the Malayan region, however, the mammals of the
great mainlands continued to develop on their own account, in accordance
with the strictest Darwinian principles, among the wider plains of their
own habitats. The competition there was fiercer and more general; the
struggle for life was bloodier and more arduous. Hence, while the
old-fashioned marsupials continued to survive and to evolve slowly along
their own lines in their own restricted southern world, their
collateral descendants in Europe and Asia and America or elsewhere went
on progressing into far higher, stronger, and better adapted forms--the
great central mammalian fauna. In place of the petty phalangers and
pouched ant-eaters of the oolitic period, our tertiary strata in the
larger continents show us a rapid and extraordinary development of the
mammalian race into monstrous creatures, some of them now quite extinct,
and some still holding their own undisturbed in India, Africa, and the
American prairies. The palæotherium and the deinoceras, the mastodon and
the mammoth, the huge giraffes and antelopes of sunnier times, succeed
to the ancestral kangaroos and wombats of the secondary strata. Slowly
the horses grow more horse-like, the shadowy camel begins to camelise
himself, the buffaloes acquire the rudiments of horns, the deer branch
out by tentative steps into still more complicated and more complicated
antlers. Side by side with this wonderful outgrowth of the mammalian
type, in the first plasticity of its vigorous youth, the older
marsupials die away one by one in the geological record before the faces
of their more successful competitors; the new carnivores devour them
wholesale, the new ruminants eat up their pastures, the new rodents
outwit them in the modernised forests. At last the pouched creatures all
disappear utterly from all the world, save only Australia, with the
solitary exception of a single advanced marsupial family, the familiar
opossum of plantation melodies. And the history of the opossum himself
is so very singular that it almost deserves to receive the polite
attention of a separate paragraph for its own proper elucidation.

For the opossums form the only members of the marsupial class now living
outside Australia; and yet, what is at least equally remarkable, none of
the opossums are found _per contra_ in Australia itself. They are, in
fact, the highest and best product of the old dying marsupial stock,
specially evolved in the great continents through the fierce competition
of the higher mammals then being developed on every side of them.
Therefore, being later in point of time than the separation, they could
no more get over to Australia than the elephants and tigers and
rhinoceroses could. They are the last bid for life of the marsupial race
in its hopeless struggle against its more developed mammalian cousins.
In Europe and Asia the opossums lived on lustily, in spite of
competition, during the whole of the Eocene period, side by side with
hog-like creatures not yet perfectly piggish, with nondescript animals,
half horse half tapir, and with hornless forms of deer and antelopes,
unprovided, so far, with the first rudiment of budding antlers. But in
the succeeding age they seem to disappear from the eastern continent,
though in the western, thanks to their hand-like feet, opposable thumb,
and tree-haunting life, they still drag out a precarious existence in
many forms from Virginia to Chili, and from Brazil to California. It is
worth while to notice, too, that whereas the kangaroos and other
Australian marsupials are proverbially the very stupidest of mammals,
the opossums, on the contrary, are well known to those accurate
observers of animal psychology, the plantation negroes, to be the very
cleverest, cunningest, and slyest of American quadrupeds. In the fierce
struggle for life of the crowded American lowlands, the opossum was
absolutely forced to acquire a certain amount of Yankee smartness, or
else to be improved off the face of the earth by the keen competition of
the pouchless mammals.

Up to the day, then, when Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks, landing for
the first time on the coast of New South Wales, saw an animal with short
front limbs, huge hind legs, a monstrous tail, and a curious habit of
hopping along the ground (called by the natives a kangaroo), the
opossums of America were the only pouched mammals known to the European
world in any part of the explored continents. Australia, severed from
all the rest of the earth--_penitus toto orbe divisa_--ever since the
end of the secondary period, remained as yet, so to speak, in the
secondary age so far as its larger life-elements were concerned, and
presented to the first comers a certain vague and indefinite picture of
what 'the world before the flood' must have looked like. Only it was a
very remote flood; an antediluvian age separated from our own not by
thousands, but by millions, of seasons.

To this rough approximate statement, however, sundry needful
qualifications must be made at the very outset. No statement is ever
quite correct until you have contradicted in minute detail about
two-thirds of it.

In the first place there are a good many modern elements in the
indigenous population of Australia; but then they are elements of the
stray and casual sort one always finds even in remote oceanic islands.
They are waifs wafted by accident from other places. For example, the
flora is by no means exclusively an ancient flora, for a considerable
number of seeds and fruits and spores of ferns always get blown by the
wind, or washed by the sea, or carried on the feet or feathers of birds,
from one part of the world to another. In all these various ways, no
doubt, modern plants from the Asiatic region have invaded Australia at
different times, and altered to some extent the character and aspect of
its original native vegetation. Nevertheless, even in the matter of its
plants and trees, Australia must still be considered a very
old-fashioned and stick-in-the-mud continent. The strange
puzzle-monkeys, the quaint-jointed casuarinas (like horsetails grown
into big willows), and the park-like forests of blue gum-trees, with
their smooth stems robbed of their outer bark, impart a marvellously
antiquated and unfamiliar tone to the general appearance of Australian
woodland. All these types belong by birth to classes long since extinct
in the larger continents. The scrub shows no turfy greensward; grasses,
which elsewhere carpet the ground, were almost unknown till introduced
from Europe; in the wild lands, bushes, and undershrubs of ancient
aspect cover the soil, remarkable for their stiff, dry, wiry foliage,
their vertically instead of horizontally flattened leaves, and their
general dead blue-green or glaucous colour. Altogether, the vegetation
itself, though it contains a few more modern forms than the animal
world, is still essentially antique in type, a strange survival from the
forgotten flora of the chalk age, the oolite, and even the lias.

Again, to winged animals, such as birds and bats and flying insects, the
ocean forms far less of a barrier than it does to quadrupeds, to
reptiles, and to fresh-water fishes. Hence Australia has, to some
extent, been invaded by later types of birds and other flying creatures,
who live on there side by side with the ancient animals of the secondary
pattern. Warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, shrikes, and crows must all be
comparatively recent immigrants from the Asiatic mainland. Even in this
respect, however, the Australian life-region still bears an antiquated
and undeveloped aspect. Nowhere else in the world do we find those very
oldest types of birds represented by the cassowaries, the emus, and the
mooruk of New Britain. The extreme term in this exceedingly ancient set
of creature is given us by the wingless bird, the apteryx or kiwi of New
Zealand, whose feathers nearly resemble hair, and whose grotesque
appearance makes it as much a wonder in its own class as the
puzzle-monkey and the casuarina are among forest trees. No feathered
creatures so closely approach the lizard-tailed birds of the oolite or
the toothed birds of the cretaceous period as do these Australian and
New Zealand emus and apteryxes. Again, while many characteristic
Oriental families are quite absent, like the vultures, woodpeckers,
pheasants and bulbuls, the Australian region has many other fairly
ancient birds, found nowhere else on the surface of our modern planet.
Such are the so-called brush turkeys and mound builders, the only
feathered things that never sit upon their own eggs, but allow them to
be hatched, after the fashion of reptiles, by the heat of the sand or of
fermenting vegetable matter. The piping crows, the honey-suckers, the
lyre-birds, and the more-porks are all peculiar to the Australian
region. So are the wonderful and æsthetic bower-birds. Brush-tongued
lories, black cockatoos, and gorgeously coloured pigeons, though
somewhat less antique, perhaps, in type, give a special character to the
bird-life of the country. And in New Guinea, an isolated bit of the same
old continent, the birds of paradise, found nowhere else in the whole
world, seem to recall some forgotten Eden of the remote past, some
golden age of Saturnian splendour. Poetry apart, into which I have
dropped for a moment like Mr. Silas Wegg, the birds of paradise are, in
fact, gorgeously dressed crows, specially adapted to forest life in a
rich fruit-bearing tropical country, where food is abundant and enemies

Last of all, a certain small number of modern mammals have passed over
to Australia at various times by pure chance. They fall into two
classes--the rats and mice, who doubtless got transported across on
floating logs or balks of timber; and the human importations, including
the dog, who came, perhaps on their owners' canoes, perhaps on the wreck
and _débris_ of inundations. Yet even in these cases again, Australia
still maintains its proud pre-eminence as the most antiquated and
unprogressive of continents. For the Australian black-fellow must have
got there a very long time ago indeed; he belongs to an extremely
ancient human type, and strikingly recalls in his jaws and skull the
Neanderthal savage and other early prehistoric races; while the
woolly-headed Tasmanian, a member of a totally distinct human family,
and perhaps the very lowest sample of humanity that has survived to
modern times, must have crossed over to Tasmania even earlier still, his
brethren on the mainland having no doubt been exterminated later on when
the stone-age Australian black-fellows first got cast ashore upon the
continent inhabited by the yet more barbaric and helpless negrito race.
As for the dingo, or Australian wild dog, only half domesticated by the
savage natives, he represents a low ancestral dog type, half wolf and
half jackal, incapable of the higher canine traits, and with a
suspicious, ferocious, glaring eye that betrays at once his
uncivilisable tendencies.

Omitting these later importations, however--the modern plants, birds,
and human beings--it may be fairly said that Australia is still in its
secondary stage, while the rest of the world has reached the tertiary
and quaternary periods. Here again, however, a deduction must be made,
in order to attain the necessary accuracy. Even in Australia the world
never stands still. Though the Australian animals are still at bottom
the European and Asiatic animals of the secondary age, they are those
animals with a difference. They have undergone an evolution of their
own. It has not been the evolution of the great continents; but it has
been evolution all the same; slower, more local, narrower, more
restricted, yet evolution in the truest sense. One might compare the
difference to the difference between the civilisation of Europe and the
civilisation of Mexico or Peru. The Mexicans, when Cortez blotted out
their indigenous culture, were still, to be sure, in their stone age;
but it was a very different stone age from that of the cave-dwellers or
mound builders in Britain. Even so, though Australia is still
zoologically in the secondary period, it is a secondary period a good
deal altered and adapted in detail to meet the wants of special

The oldest types of animals in Australia are the ornithorhynchus and the
echidna, the 'beast with a bill,' and the 'porcupine ant-eater' of
popular natural history. These curious creatures, genuine living
fossils, occupy in some respects an intermediate place between the
mammals on the one hand and the birds and lizards on the other. The
echidna has no teeth, and a very bird-like skull and body; the
ornithorhynchus has a bill like a duck's, webbed feet, and a great many
quaint anatomical peculiarities which closely ally it to the birds and
reptiles. Both, in fact, are early arrested stages in the development of
mammals from the old common vertebrate ancestor; and they could only
have struggled on to our own day in a continent free from the severe
competition of the higher types which have since been evolved in Europe
and Asia. Even in Australia itself the ornithorhynchus and echidna have
had to put up perforce with the lower places in the hierarchy of nature.
The first is a burrowing and aquatic creature, specialised in a thousand
minute ways for his amphibious life and queer subterranean habits; the
second is a spiny hedgehog-like nocturnal prowler, who buries himself in
the earth during the day, and lives by night on insects which he licks
up greedily with his long ribbon-like tongue. Apart from the
specialisations brought about by their necessary adaptation to a
particular niche in the economy of life, these two quaint and very
ancient animals probably preserve for us in their general structure the
features of an extremely early descendant of the common ancestor from
whom mammals, birds, and reptiles alike are originally derived.

The ordinary Australian pouched mammals belong to far less ancient types
than ornithorhynchus and echidna, but they too are very old in
structure, though they have undergone an extraordinary separate
evolution to fit them for the most diverse positions in life. Almost
every main form of higher mammal (except the biggest ones) has, as it
were, its analogue or representative among the marsupial fauna of the
Australasian region fitted to fill the same niche in nature. For
instance, in the blue gum forests of New South Wales a small animal
inhabits the trees, in form and aspect exactly like a flying squirrel.
Nobody who was not a structural and anatomical naturalist would ever for
a moment dream of doubting its close affinity to the flying squirrels of
the American woodlands. It has just the same general outline, just the
same bushy tail, just the same rough arrangement of colours, and just
the same expanded parachute-like membrane stretching between the fore
and hind limbs. Why should this be so? Clearly because both animals have
independently adapted themselves to the same mode of life under the same
general circumstances. Natural selection, acting upon unlike original
types, but in like conditions, has produced in the end very similar
results in both cases. Still, when we come to examine the more intimate
underlying structure of the two animals, a profound fundamental
difference at once exhibits itself. The one is distinctly a true
squirrel, a rodent of the rodents, externally adapted to an arboreal
existence; the other is equally a true phalanger, a marsupial of the
marsupials, which has independently undergone on his own account very
much the same adaptation, for very much the same reasons. Just so a
dolphin looks externally very like a fish, in head and tail and form and
movement; its flippers closely resemble fins; and nothing about it
seems to differ very markedly from the outer aspect of a shark or a
codfish. But in reality it has no gills and no swim-bladder; it lays no
eggs; it does not own one truly fish-like organ. It breathes air, it
possesses lungs, it has warm blood, it suckles its young; in heart and
brain and nerves and organisation it is a thorough-going mammal, with an
acquired resemblance to the fishy form, due entirely to mere similarity
in place of residence.

Running hastily through the chief marsupial developments, one may say
that the wombats are pouched animals who take the place of rabbits or
marmots in Europe, and resemble them both in burrowing habits and more
or less in shape, which closely approaches the familiar and ungraceful
guinea-pig outline. The vulpine phalanger does duty for a fox; the fat
and sleepy little dormouse phalanger takes the place of a European
dormouse. Both are so ridiculously like the analogous animals of the
larger continents that the colonists always call them, in perfect good
faith, by the familiar names of the old-country creatures. The koala
poses as a small bear; the cuscus answers to the racoons of America. The
pouched badgers explain themselves at once by their very name, like the
Plyants, the Pinchwifes, the Brainsicks, and the Carelesses of the
Restoration comedy. The 'native rabbit' of Swan River is a rabbit-like
bandicoot; the pouched ant-eater similarly takes the place of the true
ant-eaters of other continents. By way of carnivores, the Tasmanian
devil is a fierce and savage marsupial analogue of the American
wolverine; a smaller species of the same type usurps the name and place
of the marten; and the dog-headed Thylacinus is in form and figure
precisely like a wolf or a jackal. The pouched weasels are very
weasel-like; the kangaroo rats and kangaroo mice run the true rats and
mice a close race in every particular. And it is worth notice, in this
connection, that the one marsupial family which could compete with
higher American life, the opossums, are really, so to speak, the monkey
development of the marsupial race. They have opposable thumbs, which
make their feet almost into hands; they have prehensile tails, by which
they hang from branches in true monkey fashion; they lead an arboreal
omnivorous existence; they feed off fruits, birds' eggs, insects, and
roots; and altogether they are just active, cunning, intelligent,
tree-haunting marsupial spider-monkeys.

Australia has also one still more ancient denizen than any of these, a
living fossil of the very oldest sort, a creature of wholly immemorial
and primitive antiquity. The story of its discovery teems with the
strangest romance of natural history. To those who could appreciate the
facts of the case it was just as curious and just as interesting as
though we were now to discover somewhere in an unknown island or an
African oasis some surviving mammoth, some belated megatherium, or some
gigantic and misshapen liassic saurian. Imagine the extinct animals of
the Crystal Palace grounds suddenly appearing to our dazzled eyes in a
tropical ramble, and you can faintly conceive the delight and
astonishment of naturalists at large when the barramunda first 'swam
into their ken' in the rivers of Queensland. To be sure, in size and
shape this 'extinct fish,' still living and grunting quietly in our
midst, is comparatively insignificant beside the 'dragons of the prime'
immortalised in a famous stanza by Tennyson: but, to the true
enthusiast, size is nothing; and the barramunda is just as much a marvel
and a monster as the Atlantosaurus himself would have been if he had
suddenly walked upon the stage of time, dragging fifty feet of
lizard-like tail in a train behind him. And this is the plain story of
that marvellous discovery of a 'missing link' in our own pedigree.

In the oldest secondary rocks of Britain and elsewhere there occur in
abundance the teeth of a genus of ganoid fishes known as the Ceratodi.
(I apologise for ganoid, though it is not a swear-word). These teeth
reappear from time to time in several subsequent formations, but at last
slowly die out altogether; and of course all naturalists naturally
concluded that the creature to which they belonged had died out also,
and was long since numbered with the dodo and the mastodon. The idea
that a Ceratodus could still be living, far less that it formed an
important link in the development of all the higher animals, could never
for a moment have occurred to anybody. As well expect to find a
palæolithic man quietly chipping flints on a Pacific atoll, or to
discover the ancestor of all horses on the isolated and crag-encircled
summit of Roraima, as to unearth a real live Ceratodus from a modern
estuary. In 1870, however, Mr. Krefft took away the breath of scientific
Europe by informing it that he had found the extinct ganoid swimming
about as large as life, and six feet long, without the faintest
consciousness of its own scientific importance, in a river in Queensland
at the present day. The unsophisticated aborigines knew it as
barramunda; the almost equally ignorant white settlers called it with
irreverent and unfilial contempt the flat-head. On further examination,
however, the despised barramunda proved to be a connecting link of
primary rank between the oldest surviving group of fishes and the lowest
air-breathing animals like the frogs and salamanders. Though a true
fish, it leaves its native streams at night, and sets out on a foraging
expedition after vegetable food in the neighbouring woodlands. There it
browses on myrtle leaves and grasses, and otherwise behaves itself in a
manner wholly unbecoming its piscine antecedents and aquatic education.
To fit it for this strange amphibious life, the barramunda has both
lungs and gills; it can breathe either air or water at will, or, if it
chooses, the two together. Though covered with scales, and most
fish-like in outline, it presents points of anatomical resemblance both
to salamanders and lizards; and, as a connecting bond between the North
American mud-fish on the one hand and the wonderful lepidosiren on the
other, it forms a true member of the long series by which the higher
animals generally trace their descent from a remote race of marine
ancestors. It is very interesting, therefore, to find that this living
fossil link between fish and reptiles should have survived only in the
fossil continent, Australia. Everywhere else it has long since been
beaten out of the field by its own more developed amphibian descendants;
in Australia alone it still drags on a lonely existence as the last
relic of an otherwise long-forgotten and extinct family.


The work of art which lies before me is old, unquestionably old; a good
deal older, in fact, than Archbishop Ussher (who invented all out of his
own archiepiscopal head the date commonly assigned for the creation of
the world) would by any means have been ready to admit. It is a
bas-relief by an old master, considerably more antique in origin than
the most archaic gem or intaglio in the Museo Borbonico at Naples, the
mildly decorous Louvre in Paris, or the eminently respectable British
Museum, which is the glory of our own smoky London in the spectacled
eyes of German professors, all put together. When Assyrian sculptors
carved in fresh white alabaster the flowing curls of Sennacherib's hair,
just like a modern coachman's wig, this work of primæval art was already
hoary with the rime of ages. When Memphian artists were busy in the
morning twilight of time with the towering coiffure of Ramses or
Sesostris, this far more ancient relic of plastic handicraft was lying,
already fossil and forgotten, beneath the concreted floor of a cave in
the Dordogne. If we were to divide the period for which we possess
authentic records of man's abode upon this oblate spheroid into ten
epochs--an epoch being a good high-sounding word which doesn't commit
one to any definite chronology in particular--then it is probable that
all known art, from the Egyptian onward, would fall into the tenth of
the epochs thus loosely demarcated, while my old French bas-relief
would fall into the first. To put the date quite succinctly, I should
say it was most likely about 244,000 years before the creation of Adam
according to Ussher.

The work of the old master is lightly incised on reindeer horn, and
represents two horses, of a very early and heavy type, following one
another, with heads stretched forward, as if sniffing the air
suspiciously in search of enemies. The horses would certainly excite
unfavourable comment at Newmarket. Their 'points' are undoubtedly coarse
and clumsy: their heads are big, thick, stupid, and ungainly; their
manes are bushy and ill-defined; their legs are distinctly feeble and
spindle-shaped; their tails more closely resemble the tail of the
domestic pig than that of the noble animal beloved with a love passing
the love of women by the English aristocracy. Nevertheless there is
little (if any) reason to doubt that my very old master did, on the
whole, accurately represent the ancestral steed of his own exceedingly
remote period. There were once horses even as is the horse of the
prehistoric Dordonian artist. Such clumsy, big-headed brutes, dun in hue
and striped down the back like modern donkeys, did actually once roam
over the low plains where Paris now stands, and browse off lush grass
and tall water-plants around the quays of Bordeaux and Lyons. Not only
do the bones of the contemporary horses, dug up in caves, prove this,
but quite recently the Russian traveller Prjevalsky (whose name is so
much easier to spell than to pronounce) has discovered a similar living
horse, which drags on an obscure existence somewhere in the high
table-lands of Central Asia. Prjevalsky's horse (you see, as I have only
to write the word, without uttering it, I don't mind how often or how
intrepidly I use it) is so singularly like the clumsy brutes that sat,
or rather stood, for their portraits to my old master that we can't do
better than begin by describing him _in propria persona_.

The horse family of the present day is divided, like most other
families, into two factions, which may be described for variety's sake
as those of the true horses and the donkeys, these latter including also
the zebras, quaggas, and various other unfamiliar creatures whose names,
in very choice Latin, are only known to the more diligent visitors at
the Sunday Zoo. Now everybody must have noticed that the chief broad
distinction between these two great groups consists in the feathering of
the tail. The domestic donkey, with his near congeners, the zebra and
co., have smooth short-haired tails, ending in a single bunch or
fly-whisk of long hairs collected together in a tufted bundle at the
extreme tip. The horse, on the other hand, besides having horny patches
or callosities on both fore and hind legs, while the donkeys have them
on the fore legs only, has a hairy tail, in which the long hairs are
almost equally distributed from top to bottom, thus giving it its
peculiarly bushy and brushy appearance. But Prjevalsky's horse, as one
would naturally expect from an early intermediate form, stands half-way
in this respect between the two groups, and acts the thankless part of a
family mediator; for it has most of its long tail-hairs collected in a
final flourish, like the donkey, but several of them spring from the
middle distance, as in the genuine Arab, though never from the very top,
thus showing an approach to the true horsey habit without actually
attaining that final pinnacle of equine glory. So far as one can make
out from the somewhat rude handicraft of my prehistoric Phidias the
horse of the quaternary epoch had much the same caudal peculiarity; his
tail was bushy, but only in the lower half. He was still in the
intermediate stage between horse and donkey, a natural mule still
struggling up aspiringly toward perfect horsehood. In all other matters
the two creatures--the cave man's horse and Prjevalsky's--closely agree.
Both display large heads, thick necks, coarse manes, and a general
disregard of 'points' which would strike disgust and dismay into the
stout breasts of Messrs. Tattersall. In fact over a T.Y.C. it may be
confidently asserted, in the pure Saxon of the sporting papers, that
Prjevalsky's and the cave man's lot wouldn't be in it. Nevertheless a
candid critic would be forced to admit that, in spite of clumsiness,
they both mean staying.

So much for the two sitters; now let us turn to the artist who sketched
them. Who was he, and when did he live? Well, his name, like that of
many other old masters, is quite unknown to us; but what does that
matter so long as his work itself lives and survives? Like the Comtists
he has managed to obtain objective immortality. The work, after all, is
for the most part all we ever have to go upon. 'I have my own theory
about the authorship of the Iliad and Odyssey,' said Lewis Carroll (of
'Alice in Wonderland') once in Christ Church common room: 'it is that
they weren't really written by Homer, but by another person of the same
name.' There you have the Iliad in a nutshell as regards the
authenticity of great works. All we know about the supposed Homer (if
anything) is that he was the reputed author of the two unapproachable
Greek epics; and all we know directly about my old master, viewed
personally, is that he once carved with a rude flint flake on a fragment
of reindeer horn these two clumsy prehistoric horses. Yet by putting two
and two together we can make, not four, as might be naturally expected,
but a fairly connected history of the old master himself and what Mr.
Herbert Spencer would no doubt playfully term 'his environment.'

The work of art was dug up from under the firm concreted floor of a cave
in the Dordogne. That cave was once inhabited by the nameless artist
himself, his wife, and family. It had been previously tenanted by
various other early families, as well as by bears, who seem to have
lived there in the intervals between the different human occupiers.
Probably the bears ejected the men, and the men in turn ejected the
bears, by the summary process of eating one another up. In any case the
freehold of the cave was at last settled upon our early French artist.
But the date of his occupancy is by no means recent; for since he lived
there the long cold spell known as the Great Ice Age, or Glacial Epoch,
has swept over the whole of Northern Europe, and swept before it the
shivering descendants of my poor prehistoric old master. Now, how long
ago was the Great Ice Age? As a rule, if you ask a geologist for a
definite date, you will find him very chary of giving you a distinct
answer. He knows that the chalk is older than the London clay, and the
oolite than the chalk, and the red marl than the oolite; and he knows
also that each of them took a very long time indeed to lay down, but
exactly how long he has no notion. If you say to him, 'Is it a million
years since the chalk was deposited?' he will answer, like the old lady
of Prague, whose ideas were excessively vague, 'Perhaps.' If you suggest
five millions, he will answer oracularly once more, 'Perhaps'; and if
you go on to twenty millions, 'Perhaps,' with a broad smile, is still
the only confession of faith that torture will wring out of him. But in
the matter of the Glacial Epoch, a comparatively late and almost
historical event, geologists have broken through their usual reserve on
this chronological question and condescended to give us a numerical
determination. And here is how Dr. Croll gets at it.

Every now and again, geological evidence goes to show us, a long cold
spell occurs in the northern or southern hemisphere. During these long
cold spells the ice cap at the poles increases largely, till it spreads
over a great part of what are now the temperate regions of the globe,
and makes ice a mere drug in the market as far south as Covent Garden or
the Halles at Paris. During the greatest extension of this ice sheet in
the last glacial epoch, in fact, all England except a small
south-western corner (about Torquay and Bournemouth) was completely
covered by one enormous mass of glaciers, as is still the case with
almost the whole of Greenland. The ice sheet, grinding slowly over the
hills and rocks, smoothed and polished and striated their surfaces in
many places till they resembled the _roches moutonnées_ similarly ground
down in our own day by the moving ice rivers of Chamouni and
Grindelwald. Now, since these great glaciations have occurred at various
intervals in the world's past history, they must depend upon some
frequently recurring cause. Such a cause, therefore, Dr. Croll began
ingeniously to hunt about for.

He found it at last in the eccentricity of the earth's orbit. This world
of ours, though usually steady enough in its movements, is at times
decidedly eccentric. Not that I mean to impute to our old and
exceedingly respectable planet any occasional aberrations of intellect,
or still less of morals (such as might be expected from Mars and Venus);
the word is here to be accepted strictly in its scientific or
Pickwickian sense as implying merely an irregularity of movement, a
slight wobbling out of the established path, a deviation from exact
circularity. Owing to a combination of astronomical revolutions, the
precession of the equinoxes and the motion of the aphelion (I am not
going to explain them here; the names alone will be quite sufficient for
most people; they will take the rest on trust)--owing to the
combination of these profoundly interesting causes, I say, there occur
certain periods in the world's life when for a very long time together
(10,500 years, to be quite precise) the northern hemisphere is warmer
than the southern, or _vice versa_. Now, Dr. Croll has calculated that
about 250,000 years ago this eccentricity of the earth's orbit was at
its highest, so that a cycle of recurring cold and warm epochs in either
hemisphere alternately then set in; and such cold spells it was that
produced the Great Ice Age in Northern Europe. They went on till about
80,000 years ago, when they stopped short for the present, leaving the
climate of Britain and the neighbouring continent with its existing
inconvenient Laodicean temperature. And, as there are good reasons for
believing that my old master and his contemporaries lived just before
the greatest cold of the Glacial Epoch, and that his immediate
descendants, with the animals on which they feasted, were driven out of
Europe, or out of existence, by the slow approach of the enormous ice
sheet, we may, I think, fairly conclude that his date was somewhere
about B.C. 248,000. In any case we must at least admit, with Mr. Andrew
Lang, the laureate of the twenty-five thousandth century, that

    He lived in the long long agoes;
    'Twas the manner of primitive man.

The old master, then, carved his bas-relief in pre-Glacial Europe, just
at the moment before the temporary extinction of his race in France by
the coming on of the Great Ice Age. We can infer this fact from the
character of the fauna by which he was surrounded, a fauna in which
species of cold and warm climates are at times quite capriciously
intermingled. We get the reindeer and the mammoth side by side with the
hippopotamus and the hyena; we find the chilly cave bear and the Norway
lemming, the musk sheep and the Arctic fox in the same deposits with the
lion and the lynx, the leopard and the rhinoceros. The fact is, as Mr.
Alfred Russel Wallace has pointed out, we live to-day in a zoologically
impoverished world, from which all the largest, fiercest, and most
remarkable animals have lately been weeded out. And it was in all
probability the coming on of the Ice Age that did the weeding. Our Zoo
can boast no mammoth and no mastodon. The sabre-toothed lion has gone
the way of all flesh; the deinotherium and the colossal ruminants of the
Pliocene Age no longer browse beside the banks of Seine. But our old
master saw the last of some at least among those gigantic quadrupeds; it
was his hand or that of one among his fellows that scratched the famous
mammoth etching on the ivory of La Madelaine and carved the figure of
the extinct cave bear on the reindeer-horn ornaments of Laugerie Basse.
Probably, therefore, he lived in the period immediately preceding the
Great Ice Age, or else perhaps in one of the warm interglacial spells
with which the long secular winter of the northern hemisphere was then
from time to time agreeably diversified.

And what did the old master himself look like? Well, painters have
always been fond of reproducing their own lineaments. Have we not the
familiar young Raffael, painted by himself, and the Rembrandt, and the
Titian, and the Rubens, and a hundred other self-drawn portraits, all
flattering and all famous? Even so primitive man has drawn himself many
times over, not indeed on this particular piece of reindeer horn, but on
several other media to be seen elsewhere, in the original or in good
copies. One of the best portraits is that discovered in the old cave at
Laugerie Basse by M. Elie Massénat, where a very early pre-Glacial man
is represented in the act of hunting an aurochs, at which he is casting
a flint-tipped javelin. In this, as in all other pictures of the same
epoch, I regret to say that the ancient hunter is represented in the
costume of Adam before the fall. Our old master's studies, in fact, are
all in the nude. Primitive man was evidently unacquainted as yet with
the use of clothing, though primitive woman, while still unclad, had
already learnt how to heighten her natural charms by the simple addition
of a necklace and bracelets. Indeed, though dresses were still wholly
unknown, rouge was even then extremely fashionable among French ladies,
and lumps of the ruddle with which primitive woman made herself
beautiful for ever are now to be discovered in the corner of the cave
where she had her little prehistoric boudoir. To return to our hunter,
however, who for aught we know to the contrary may be our old master
himself in person, he is a rather crouching and semi-erect savage, with
an arched back, recalling somewhat that of the gorilla, a round head,
long neck, pointed beard, and weak, shambling, ill-developed legs. I
fear we must admit that pre-Glacial man cut, on the whole, a very sorry
and awkward figure.

Was he black? That we don't certainly know, but all analogy would lead
one to answer positively, Yes. White men seem, on the whole, to be a
very recent and novel improvement on the original evolutionary pattern.
At any rate he was distinctly hairy, like the Ainos, or aborigines of
Japan, in our own day, of whom Miss Isabella Bird has drawn so startling
and sensational a picture. Several of the pre-Glacial sketches show us
lank and gawky savages with the body covered with long scratches,
answering exactly to the scratches which represent the hanging hair of
the mammoth, and suggesting that man then still retained his old
original hairy covering. The few skulls and other fragments of
skeletons now preserved to us also indicate that our old master and his
contemporaries much resembled in shape and build the Australian black
fellows, though their foreheads were lower and more receding, while
their front teeth still projected in huge fangs, faintly recalling the
immense canines of the male gorilla. Quite apart from any theoretical
considerations as to our probable descent (or ascent) from Mr. Darwin's
hypothetical 'hairy arboreal quadrumanous ancestor,' whose existence may
or may not be really true, there can be no doubt that the actual
historical remains set before us pre-Glacial man as evidently
approaching in several important respects the higher monkeys.

It is interesting to note too that while the Men of the Time still
retained (to be frankly evolutionary) many traces of the old monkey-like
progenitor, the horses which our old master has so cleverly delineated
for us on his scrap of horn similarly retained many traces of the
earlier united horse-and-donkey ancestor. Professor Huxley has admirably
reconstructed for us the pedigree of the horse, beginning with a little
creature from the Eocene beds of New Mexico, with five toes to each hind
foot, and ending with the modern horse, whose hoof is now practically
reduced to a single and solid-nailed toe. Intermediate stages show us an
Upper Eocene animal as big as a fox, with four toes on his front feet
and three behind; a Miocene kind as big as a sheep, with only three toes
on the front foot, the two outer of which are smaller than the big
middle one; and finally a Pliocene form, as big as a donkey, with one
stout middle toe, the real hoof, flanked by two smaller ones, too short
by far to reach the ground. In our own horse these lateral toes have
become reduced to what are known by veterinaries as splint bones,
combined with the canon in a single solidly morticed piece. But in the
pre-Glacial horses the splint bones still generally remained quite
distinct, thus pointing back to the still earlier period when they
existed as two separate and independent side toes in the ancestral
quadruped. In a few cave specimens, however, the splints are found
united with the canons in a single piece, while conversely horses are
sometimes, though very rarely, born at the present day with three-toed
feet, exactly resembling those of their half-forgotten ancestor, the
Pliocene hipparion.

The reason why we know so much about the horses of the cave period is, I
am bound to admit, simply and solely because the man of the period ate
them. Hippophagy has always been popular in France; it was practised by
pre-Glacial man in the caves of Périgord, and revived with immense
enthusiasm by the gourmets of the Boulevards after the siege of Paris
and the hunger of the Commune. The cave men hunted and killed the wild
horse of their own times, and one of the best of their remaining works
of art represents a naked hunter attacking two horses, while a huge
snake winds itself unperceived behind close to his heel. In this rough
prehistoric sketch one seems to catch some faint antique foreshadowing
of the rude humour of the 'Petit Journal pour Rire.' Some archæologists
even believe that the horse was domesticated by the cave men as a source
of food, and argue that the familiarity with its form shown in the
drawings could only have been acquired by people who knew the animal in
its domesticated state; they declare that the cave man was obviously
horsey. But all the indications seem to me to show that tame animals
were quite unknown in the age of the cave men. The mammoth certainly was
never domesticated; yet there is a famous sketch of the huge beast upon
a piece of his own ivory, discovered in the cave of La Madelaine by
Messrs. Lartet and Christy, and engraved a hundred times in works on
archæology, which forms one of the finest existing relics of pre-Glacial
art. In another sketch, less well known, but not unworthy of admiration,
the early artist has given us with a few rapid but admirable strokes his
own reminiscence of the effect produced upon him by the sudden onslaught
of the hairy brute, tusks erect and mouth wide open, a perfect glimpse
of elephantine fury. It forms a capital example of early impressionism,
respectfully recommended to the favourable attention of Mr. J.M.

The reindeer, however, formed the favourite food and favourite model of
the pre-Glacial artists. Perhaps it was a better sitter than the
mammoth; certainly it is much more frequently represented on these early
prehistoric bas-reliefs. The high-water mark of palæolithic art is
undoubtedly to be found in the reindeer of the cave of Thayngen, in
Switzerland, a capital and spirited representation of a buck grazing, in
which the perspective of the two horns is better managed than a Chinese
artist would manage it at the present day. Another drawing of two
reindeer fighting, scratched on a fragment of schistose rock and
unearthed in one of the caves of Périgord, though far inferior to the
Swiss specimen in spirit and execution, is yet not without real merit.
The perspective, however, displays one marked infantile trait, for the
head and legs of one deer are seen distinctly through the body of
another. Cave bears, fish, musk sheep, foxes, and many other extinct or
existing animals are also found among the archaic sculptures. Probably
all these creatures were used as food; and it is even doubtful whether
the artistic troglodytes were not also confirmed cannibals. To quote Mr.
Andrew Lang once more on primitive man, 'he lived in a cave by the seas;
he lived upon oysters and foes.' The oysters are quite undoubted, and the
foes may be inferred with considerable certainty.

I have spoken of our old master more than once under this rather
question-begging style and title of primitive man. In reality, however,
the very facts which I have here been detailing serve themselves to show
how extremely far our hero was from being truly primitive. You can't
speak of a distinguished artist, who draws the portraits of extinct
animals with grace and accuracy, as in any proper sense primordial.
Grant that our good troglodytes were indeed light-hearted cannibals;
nevertheless they could design far better than the modern Esquimaux or
Polynesians, and carve far better than the civilised being who is now
calmly discoursing about their personal peculiarities in his own study.
Between the cave men of the pre-Glacial age and the hypothetical hairy
quadrumanous ancestor aforesaid there must have intervened innumerable
generations of gradually improving intermediate forms. The old master,
when he first makes his bow to us, naked and not ashamed, in his Swiss
or French grotto, flint scalpel in hand and necklet of bear's teeth
dropping loosely on his hairy bosom, is nevertheless in all essentials a
completely evolved human being, with a whole past of slowly acquired
culture lying dimly and mysteriously behind him. Already he had invented
the bow with its flint-tipped arrow, the neatly chipped javelin-head,
the bone harpoon, the barbed fish-hook, the axe, the lance, the dagger,
and the needle. Already he had learnt how to decorate his implements
with artistic skill, and to carve the handles of his knives with the
figures of animals. I have no doubt that he even knew how to brew and to
distil; and he was probably acquainted with the noble art of cookery as
applied to the persons of his human fellow creatures. Such a personage
cannot reasonably be called primitive; cannibalism, as somebody has
rightly remarked, is the first step on the road to civilisation.

No, if we want to get at genuine, unadulterated primitive man we must go
much further back in time than the mere trifle of 250,000 years with
which Dr. Croll and the cosmic astronomers so generously provide us for
pre-Glacial humanity. We must turn away to the immeasurably earlier
fire-split flints which the Abbé Bourgeois--undaunted mortal!--ventured
to discover among the Miocene strata of the _calcaire de Beauce_. Those
flints, if of human origin at all, were fashioned by some naked and
still more hairy creature who might fairly claim to be considered as
genuinely primitive. So rude are they that, though evidently artificial,
one distinguished archæologist will not admit they can be in any way
human; he will have it that they were really the handiwork of the great
European anthropoid ape of that early period. This, however, is nothing
more than very delicate hair-splitting; for what does it matter whether
you call the animal that fashioned these exceedingly rough and
fire-marked implements a man-like ape or an ape-like human being? The
fact remains quite unaltered, whichever name you choose to give to it.
When you have got to a monkey who can light a fire and proceed to
manufacture himself a convenient implement, you may be sure that man,
noble man, with all his glorious and admirable faculties--cannibal or
otherwise--is lurking somewhere very close just round the corner. The
more we examine the work of our old master, in fact, the more does the
conviction force itself upon us that he was very far indeed from being
primitive--that we must push back the early history of our race not for
250,000 winters alone, but perhaps for two or three million years into
the dim past of Tertiary ages.

But if pre-Glacial man is thus separated from the origin of the race by
a very long interval indeed, it is none the less true that he is
separated from our own time by the intervention of a vast blank space,
the space occupied by the coming on and passing away of the Glacial
Epoch. A great gap cuts him off from what we may consider as the
relatively modern age of the mound-builders, whose grassy barrows still
cap the summits of our southern chalk downs. When the great ice sheet
drove away palæolithic man--the man of the caves and the unwrought flint
axes--from Northern Europe, he was still nothing more than a naked
savage in the hunting stage, divinely gifted for art, indeed, but armed
only with roughly chipped stone implements, and wholly ignorant of
taming animals or of the very rudiments of agriculture. He knew nothing
of the use of metals--_aurum irrepertum spernere fortior_--and he had
not even learnt how to grind and polish his rude stone tomahawks to a
finished edge. He couldn't make himself a bowl of sun-baked pottery,
and, if he had discovered the almost universal art of manufacturing an
intoxicating liquor from grain or berries (for, as Byron, with too great
anthropological truth, justly remarks, 'man, being reasonable, _must_
get drunk'), he at least drank his aboriginal beer or toddy from the
capacious horn of a slaughtered aurochs. That was the kind of human
being who alone inhabited France and England during the later
pre-Glacial period.

A hundred and seventy thousand years elapse (as the play-bills put it),
and then the curtain rises afresh upon neolithic Europe. Man meanwhile,
loitering somewhere behind the scenes in Asia or Africa (as yet
imperfectly explored from this point of view), had acquired the
important arts of sharpening his tomahawks and producing hand-made
pottery for his kitchen utensils. When the great ice sheet cleared away
he followed the returning summer into Northern Europe, another man,
physically, intellectually, and morally, with all the slow accumulations
of nearly two thousand centuries (how easily one writes the words! how
hard to realise them!) upon his maturer shoulders. Then comes the age
of what older antiquaries used to regard as primitive antiquity--the age
of the English barrows, of the Danish kitchen middens, of the Swiss lake
dwellings. The men who lived in it had domesticated the dog, the cow,
the sheep, the goat, and the invaluable pig; they had begun to sow small
ancestral wheat and undeveloped barley; they had learnt to weave flax
and wear decent clothing: in a word, they had passed from the savage
hunting condition to the stage of barbaric herdsmen and agriculturists.
That is a comparatively modern period, and yet I suppose we must
conclude with Dr. James Geikie that it isn't to be measured by mere
calculations of ten or twenty centuries, but of ten or twenty thousand
years. The perspective of the past is opening up rapidly before us; what
looked quite close yesterday is shown to-day to lie away off somewhere
in the dim distance. Like our paleolithic artists, we fail to get the
reindeer fairly behind the ox in the foreground, as we ought to do if we
saw the whole scene properly foreshortened.

On the table where I write there lie two paper-weights, preserving from
the fate of the sibylline leaves the sheets of foolscap to which this
essay is now being committed. One of them is a very rude flint hatchet,
produced by merely chipping off flakes from its side by dexterous blows,
and utterly unpolished or unground in any way. It belongs to the age of
the very old master (or possibly even to a slightly earlier epoch), and
it was sent me from Ightham, in Kent, by that indefatigable unearther of
prehistoric memorials, Mr. Benjamin Harrison. That flint, which now
serves me in the office of a paper-weight, is far ruder, simpler, and
more ineffective than any weapon or implement at present in use among
the lowest savages. Yet with it, I doubt not, some naked black fellow by
the banks of the Thames has hunted the mammoth among unbroken forest
two hundred thousand years ago and more; with it he has faced the angry
cave bear and the original and only genuine British lion (for everybody
knows that the existing mongrel heraldic beast is nothing better than a
bastard modification of the leopard of the Plantagenets). Nay, I have
very little doubt in my own mind that with it some æsthetic ancestor has
brained and cut up for his use his next-door neighbour in the nearest
cavern, and then carved upon his well-picked bones an interesting sketch
of the entire performance. The Du Mauriers of that remote age, in fact,
habitually drew their society pictures upon the personal remains of the
mammoth or the man whom they wished to caricature in deathless
bone-cuts. The other paper-weight is a polished neolithic tomahawk,
belonging to the period of the mound-builders, who succeeded the Glacial
Epoch, and it measures the distance between the two levels of
civilisation with great accuracy. It is the military weapon of a trained
barbaric warrior as opposed to the universal implement and utensil of a
rude, solitary, savage hunter. Yet how curious it is that even in the
midst of this 'so-called nineteenth century,' which perpetually
proclaims itself an age of progress, men should still prefer to believe
themselves inferior to their original ancestors, instead of being
superior to them! The idea that man has risen is considered base,
degrading, and positively wicked; the idea that he has fallen is
considered to be immensely inspiring, ennobling, and beautiful. For
myself, I have somehow always preferred the boast of the Homeric Glaucus
that we indeed maintain ourselves to be much better men than ever were
our fathers.


Strictly speaking, there is nothing really and truly British; everybody
and everything is a naturalised alien. Viewed as Britons, we all of us,
human and animal, differ from one another simply in the length of time
we and our ancestors have continuously inhabited this favoured and foggy
isle of Britain. Look, for example, at the men and women of us. Some of
us, no doubt, are more or less remotely of Norman blood, and came over,
like that noble family the Slys, with Richard Conqueror. Others of us,
perhaps, are in the main Scandinavian, and date back a couple of
generations earlier, to the bare-legged followers of Canute and Guthrum.
Yet others, once more, are true Saxon Englishmen, descendants of
Hengest, if there ever was a Hengest, or of Horsa, if a genuine Horsa
ever actually existed. None of these, it is quite clear, have any just
right or title to be considered in the last resort as true-born Britons;
they are all of them just as much foreigners at bottom as the
Spitalfields Huguenots or the Pembrokeshire Flemings, the Italian
organ-boy and the Hindoo prince disguised as a crossing-sweeper. But
surely the Welshman and the Highland Scot at least are undeniable
Britishers, sprung from the soil and to the manner born! Not a bit of
it; inexorable modern science, diving back remorselessly into the
remoter past, traces the Cymry across the face of Germany, and fixes in
shadowy hypothetical numbers the exact date, to a few centuries, of the
first prehistoric Gaelic invasion. Even the still earlier brown
Euskarians and yellow Mongolians, who held the land before the advent of
the ancient Britons, were themselves immigrants; the very Autochthones
in person turn out, on close inspection, to be vagabonds and wanderers
and foreign colonists. In short, man as a whole is not an indigenous
animal at all in the British Isles. Be he who he may, when we push his
pedigree back to its prime original, we find him always arriving in the
end by the Dover steamer or the Harwich packet. Five years, in fact, are
quite sufficient to give him a legal title to letters of naturalisation,
unless indeed he be a German grand-duke, in which case he can always
become an Englishman off-hand by Act of Parliament.

It is just the same with all the other animals and plants that now
inhabit these isles of Britain. If there be anything at all with a claim
to be considered really indigenous, it is the Scotch ptarmigan and the
Alpine hare, the northern holygrass and the mountain flowers of the
Highland summits. All the rest are sojourners and wayfarers, brought
across as casuals, like the gipsies and the Oriental plane, at various
times to the United Kingdom, some of them recently, some of them long
ago, but not one of them (it seems), except the oyster, a true native.
The common brown rat, for instance, as everybody knows, came over, not,
it is true, with William the Conqueror, but with the Hanoverian dynasty
and King George I. of blessed memory. The familiar cockroach, or 'black
beetle,' of our lower regions, is an Oriental importation of the last
century. The hum of the mosquito is now just beginning to be heard in
the land, especially in some big London hotels. The Colorado beetle is
hourly expected by Cunard steamer. The Canadian roadside erigeron is
well established already in the remoter suburbs; the phylloxera battens
on our hothouse vines; the American river-weed stops the navigation on
our principal canals. The Ganges and the Mississippi have long since
flooded the tawny Thames, as Juvenal's cynical friend declared the
Syrian Orontes had flooded the Tiber. And what has thus been going on
slowly within the memory of the last few generations has been going on
constantly from time immemorial, and peopling Britain in all its parts
with its now existing fauna and flora.

But if all the plants and animals in our islands are thus ultimately
imported, the question naturally arises, What was there in Great Britain
and Ireland before any of their present inhabitants came to inherit
them? The answer is, succinctly, Nothing. Or if this be a little too
extreme, then let us imitate the modesty of Mr. Gilbert's hero and
modify the statement into Hardly anything. In England, as in Northern
Europe generally, modern history begins, not with the reign of Queen
Elizabeth, but with the passing away of the Glacial Epoch. During that
great age of universal ice our Britain, from end to end, was covered at
various times by sea and by glaciers; it resembled on the whole the
cheerful aspect of Spitzbergen or Nova Zembla at the present day. A few
reindeer wandered now and then over its frozen shores; a scanty
vegetation of the correlative reindeer-moss grew with difficulty under
the sheets and drifts of endless snow; a stray walrus or an occasional
seal basked in the chilly sunshine on the ice-bound coast. But during
the greatest extension of the North-European ice-sheet it is probable
that life in London was completely extinct; the metropolitan area did
not even vegetate. Snow and snow and snow and snow was then the short
sum-total of British scenery. Murray's Guides were rendered quite
unnecessary, and penny ices were a drug in the market. England was given
up to one unchanging universal winter.

Slowly, however, times altered, as they are much given to doing; and a
new era dawned upon Britain. The thermometer rose rapidly, or at least
it would have risen, with effusion, if it had yet been invented. The
land emerged from the sea, and southern plants and animals began to
invade the area that was afterwards to be England, across the broad belt
which then connected us with the Continental system. But in those days
communications were slow and land transit difficult. You had to foot it.
The European fauna and flora moved but gradually and tentatively
north-westward, and before any large part of it could settle in England
our island was finally cut off from the mainland by the long and gradual
wearing away of the cliffs at Dover and Calais. That accounts for the
comparative poverty of animal and vegetable life in England, and still
more for its extreme paucity and meagreness in Ireland and the
Highlands. It has been erroneously asserted, for example, that St.
Patrick expelled snakes and lizards, frogs and toads, from the soil of
Erin. This detail, as the French newspapers politely phrase it, is
inexact. St. Patrick did not expel the reptiles, because there were
never any reptiles in Ireland (except dynamiters) for him to expel. The
creatures never got so far on their long and toilsome north-westward
march before St. George's Channel intervened to prevent their passage
across to Dublin. It is really, therefore, to St. George, rather than to
St. Patrick, that the absence of toads and snakes from the soil of
Ireland is ultimately due. The doubtful Cappadocian prelate is well
known to have been always death on dragons and serpents.

As long ago as the sixteenth century, indeed, Verstegan the antiquary
clearly saw that the existence of badgers and foxes in England implied
the former presence of a belt of land joining the British Islands to the
Continent of Europe; for, as he acutely observed, nobody (before
fox-hunting, at least) would ever have taken the trouble to bring them
over. Still more does the presence in our islands of the red deer, and
formerly of the wild white cattle, the wolf, the bear, and the wild
boar, to say nothing of the beaver, the otter, the squirrel, and the
weasel, prove that England was once conterminous with France or Belgium.
At the very best of times, however, before Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel
had killed positively the last 'last wolf' in Britain (several other
'last wolves' having previously been despatched by various earlier
intrepid exterminators), our English fauna was far from a rich one,
especially as regards the larger quadrupeds. In bats, birds, and insects
we have always done better, because to such creatures a belt of sea is
not by any means an insuperable barrier; whereas in reptiles and
amphibians, on the contrary, we have always been weak, seeing that most
reptiles are bad swimmers, and very few can rival the late lamented
Captain Webb in his feat of crossing the Channel, as Leander and Lord
Byron did the Hellespont.

Only one good-sized animal, so far as known, is now peculiar to the
British Isles, and that is our familiar friend the red grouse of the
Scotch moors. I doubt, however, whether even he is really indigenous in
the strictest sense of the word: that is to say, whether he was evolved
in and for these islands exclusively, as the moa and the apteryx were
evolved for New Zealand, and the extinct dodo for Mauritius alone. It is
far more probable that the red grouse is the original variety of the
willow grouse of Scandinavia, which has retained throughout the year its
old plumage, while its more northern cousins among the fiords and fjelds
have taken, under stress of weather, to donning a complete white dress
in winter, and a grey or speckled tourist suit for the summer season.

Even since the insulation of Britain a great many new plants and
animals have been added to our population, both by human design and in
several other casual fashions. The fallow deer is said to have been
introduced by the Romans, and domesticated ever since in the successive
parks of Celt and Saxon, Dane and Norman. The edible snail, still
scattered thinly over our southern downs, and abundant at Box Hill and a
few other spots in Surrey or Sussex, was brought over, they tell us, by
the same luxurious Italian epicures, and is even now confined,
imaginative naturalists declare, to the immediate neighbourhood of Roman
stations. The mediæval monks, in like manner, introduced the carp for
their Friday dinners. One of our commonest river mussels at the present
day did not exist in England at all a century ago, but was ferried
hither from the Volga, clinging to the bottoms of vessels from the Black
Sea, and has now spread itself through all our brooks and streams to the
very heart and centre of England. Thus, from day to day, as in society
at large, new introductions constantly take place, and old friends die
out for ever. The brown rat replaces the old English black rat; strange
weeds kill off the weeds of ancient days; fresh flies and grubs and
beetles crop up, and disturb the primitive entomological balance. The
bustard is gone from Salisbury Plain; the fenland butterflies have
disappeared with the drainage of the fens. In their place the red-legged
partridge invades Norfolk; the American black bass is making himself
quite at home, with Yankee assurance, in our sluggish rivers; and the
spoonbill is nesting of its own accord among the warmer corners of the
Sussex downs.

In the plant world, substitution often takes place far more rapidly. I
doubt whether the stinging nettle, which renders picnicking a nuisance
in England, is truly indigenous; certainly the two worst kinds, the
smaller nettle and the Roman nettle, are quite recent denizens, never
straying, even at the present day, far from the precincts of farmyards
and villages. The shepherd's-purse and many other common garden weeds of
cultivation are of Eastern origin, and came to us at first with the
seed-corn and the peas from the Mediterranean region. Corn-cockles and
corn-flowers are equally foreign and equally artificial; even the
scarlet poppy, seldom found except in wheat-fields or around waste
places in villages, has probably followed the course of tillage from
some remote and ancient Eastern origin. There is a pretty blue veronica
which was unknown in England some thirty years since, but which then
began to spread in gardens, and is now one of the commonest and most
troublesome weeds throughout the whole country. Other familiar wild
plants have first been brought over as garden flowers. There is the
wall-flower, for instance, now escaped from cultivation in every part of
Britain, and mantling with its yellow bunches both old churches and
houses and also the crannies of the limestone cliffs around half the
shores of England. The common stock has similarly overrun the sea-front
of the Isle of Wight; the monkey-plant, originally a Chilian flower, has
run wild in many boggy spots in England and Wales; and a North American
balsam, seldom cultivated even in cottage gardens, has managed to
establish itself in profuse abundance along the banks of the Wey about
Guildford and Godalming. One little garden linaria, at first employed as
an ornament for hanging-baskets, has become so common on old walls and
banks as to be now considered a mere weed, and exterminated accordingly
by fashionable gardeners. Such are the unaccountable reverses of
fortune, that one age will pay fifty guineas a bulb for a plant which
the next age grubs up unanimously as a vulgar intruder. White of
Selborne noticed with delight in his own kitchen that rare insect, the
Oriental cockroach, lately imported; and Mr. Brewer observed with joy
in his garden at Reigate the blue Buxbaum speedwell, which is now the
acknowledged and hated pest of the Surrey agriculturist.

The history of some of these waifs and strays which go to make up the
wider population of Britain is indeed sufficiently remarkable. Like all
islands, England has a fragmentary fauna and flora, whose members have
often drifted towards it in the most wonderful and varied manner.
Sometimes they bear witness to ancient land connections, as in the case
of the spotted Portuguese slug which Professor Allman found calmly
disporting itself on the basking cliffs in the Killarney district. In
former days, when Spain and Ireland joined hands in the middle of the
Bay of Biscay, the ancestors of this placid Lusitanian mollusk must have
ranged (good word to apply to slugs) from the groves of Cintra to the
Cove of Cork. But, as time rolled on, the cruel crawling sea rolled on
also, and cut away all the western world from the foot of the Asturias
to Macgillicuddy's Reeks. So the spotted slug continued to survive in
two distinct and divided bodies, a large one in South-western Europe,
and a small isolated colony, all alone by itself, around the Kerry
mountains and the Lakes of Killarney. At other times pure accident
accounts for the presence of a particular species in the mainlands of
Britain. For example, the Bermuda grass-lily, a common American plant,
is known in a wild state nowhere in Europe save at a place called
Woodford, in county Galway. Nobody ever planted it there; it has simply
sprung up from some single seed, carried over, perhaps, on the feet of a
bird, or cast ashore by the Gulf Stream on the hospitable coast of
Western Ireland. Yet there it has flourished and thriven ever since, a
naturalised British subject of undoubted origin, without ever spreading
to north or south above a few miles from its adopted habitat.

There are several of these unconscious American importations in various
parts of Britain, some of them, no doubt, brought over with seed-corn or
among the straw of packing-cases, but others unconnected in any way with
human agency, and owing their presence here to natural causes. That
pretty little Yankee weed, the claytonia, now common in parts of
Lancashire and Oxfordshire, first made its appearance amongst us, I
believe, by its seeds being accidentally included with the sawdust in
which Wenham Lake ice is packed for transport. The Canadian river-weed
is known first to have escaped from the botanical gardens at Cambridge,
whence it spread rapidly through the congenial dykes and sluices of the
fen country, and so into the entire navigable network of the Midland
counties. But there are other aliens of older settlement amongst us,
aliens of American origin which nevertheless arrived in Britain, in all
probability, long before Columbus ever set foot on the low basking
sandbank of Cat Island. Such is the jointed pond-sedge of the Hebrides,
a water-weed found abundantly in the lakes and tarns of the Isle of
Skye, Mull and Coll, and the west coast of Ireland, but occurring
nowhere else throughout the whole expanse of Europe or Asia. How did it
get there? Clearly its seeds were either washed by the waves or carried
by birds, and thus deposited on the nearest European shores to America.
But if Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace had been alive in pre-Columban days
(which, as Euclid remarks, is absurd), he would readily have inferred,
from the frequent occurrence of such unknown plants along the western
verge of Britain, that a great continent lay unexplored to the westward,
and would promptly have proceeded to discover and annex it. As Mr.
Wallace was not yet born, however, Columbus took a mean advantage over
him, and discovered it first by mere right of primogeniture.

In other cases, the circumstances under which a particular plant appears
in England are often very suspicious. Take the instance of the
belladonna, or deadly nightshade, an extremely rare British species,
found only in the immediate neighbourhood of old castles and monastic
buildings. Belladonna, of course, is a deadly poison, and was much used
in the half-magical, half-criminal sorceries of the Middle Ages. Did you
wish to remove a troublesome rival or an elder brother, you treated him
to a dose of deadly nightshade. Yet why should it, in company with many
other poisonous exotics, be found so frequently around the ruins of
monasteries? Did the holy fathers--but no, the thought is too
irreverent. Let us keep our illusions, and forget the friar and the
apothecary in 'Romeo and Juliet.'

Belladonna has never fairly taken root in English soil. It remains, like
the Roman snail and the Portuguese slug, a mere casual straggler about
its ancient haunts. But there are other plants which have fairly
established their claim to be considered as native-born Britons, though
they came to us at first as aliens and colonists from foreign parts.
Such, to take a single case, is the history of the common alexanders,
now a familiar weed around villages and farmyards, but only introduced
into England as a pot-herb about the eighth or ninth century. It was
long grown in cottage gardens for table purposes, but has for ages been
superseded in that way by celery. Nevertheless, it continues to grow all
about our lanes and hedges, side by side with another quaintly-named
plant, bishop-weed or gout-weed, whose very titles in themselves bear
curious witness to its original uses in this isle of Britain. I don't
know why, but it is an historical fact that the early prelates of the
English Church, saintly or otherwise, were peculiarly liable to that
very episcopal disease, the gout. Whether their frequent fasting
produced this effect; whether, as they themselves piously alleged, it
was due to constant kneeling on the cold stones of churches; or whether,
as their enemies rather insinuated, it was due in greater measure to the
excellent wines presented to them by their Italian _confrères_, is a
minute question to be decided by Mr. Freeman, not by the present humble
inquirer. But the fact remains that bishops and gout got indelibly
associated in the public mind; that the episcopal toes were looked upon
as especially subject to that insidious disease up to the very end of
the last century; and that they do say the bishops even now--but I
refrain from the commission of _scandalum magnatum_. Anyhow, this
particular weed was held to be a specific for the bishop's evil; and,
being introduced and cultivated for the purpose, it came to be known
indifferently to herbalists as bishop-weed and gout-weed. It has now
long since ceased to be a recognised member of the British
Pharmacopoeia, but, having overrun our lanes and thickets in its
flush period, it remains to this day a visible botanical and
etymological memento of the past twinges of episcopal remorse.

Taken as a whole, one may fairly say that the total population of the
British Isles consists mainly of three great elements. The first and
oldest--the only one with any real claim to be considered as truly
native--is the cold Northern, Alpine and Arctic element, comprising such
animals as the white hare of Scotland, the ptarmigan, the pine marten,
and the capercailzie--the last once extinct, and now reintroduced into
the Highlands as a game bird. This very ancient fauna and flora, left
behind soon after the Glacial Epoch, and perhaps in part a relic of the
type which still struggled on in favoured spots during that terrible
period of universal ice and snow, now survives for the most part only in
the extreme north and on the highest and chilliest mountain-tops, where
it has gradually been driven, like tourists in August, by the increasing
warmth and sultriness of the southern lowlands. The summits of the
principal Scotch hills are occupied by many Arctic plants, now slowly
dying out, but lingering yet as last relics of that old native British
flora. The Alpine milk vetch thus loiters among the rocks of Braemar and
Clova; the Arctic brook-saxifrage flowers but sparingly near the summit
of Ben Lawers, Ben Nevis, and Lochnagar; its still more northern ally,
the drooping saxifrage, is now extinct in all Britain, save on a single
snowy Scotch height, where it now rarely blossoms, and will soon become
altogether obsolete. There are other northern plants of this first and
oldest British type, like the Ural oxytrope, the cloudberry, and the
white dryas, which remain as yet even in the moors of Yorkshire, or over
considerable tracts in the Scotch Highlands; there are others restricted
to a single spot among the Welsh hills, an isolated skerry among the
outer Hebrides, or a solitary summit in the Lake District. But wherever
they linger, these true-born Britons of the old rock are now but
strangers and outcasts in the land; the intrusive foreigner has driven
them to die on the cold mountain-tops, as the Celt drove the Mongolian
to the hills, and the Saxon, in turn, has driven the Celt to the
Highlands and the islands. Yet as late as the twelfth century itself,
even the true reindeer, the Arctic monarch of the Glacial Epoch, was
still hunted by Norwegian jarls of Orkney on the mainland of Caithness
and Sutherlandshire.

Second in age is the warm western and south-western type, the type
represented by the Portuguese slug, the arbutus trees and Mediterranean
heaths of the Killarney district, the flora of Cornwall and the Scilly
Isles, and the peculiar wild flowers of South Wales, Devonshire, and the
west country generally. This class belongs by origin to the submerged
land of Lyonesse, the warm champaign country that once spread westward
over the Bay of Biscay, and derived from the Gulf Stream the genial
climate still preserved by its last remnants at Tresco and St. Mary's.
The animals belonging to this secondary stratum of our British
population are few and rare, but of its plants there are not a few, some
of them extending over the whole western shores of England, Wales,
Scotland, and Ireland, wherever they are washed by the Gulf Stream, and
others now confined to particular spots, often with the oddest apparent
capriciousness. Thus, two or three southern types of clover are peculiar
to the Lizard Point, in Cornwall; a little Spanish and Italian
restharrow has got stranded in the Channel Islands and on the Mull of
Galloway; the spotted rock-rose of the Mediterranean grows only in
Kerry, Galway, and Anglesea; while other plants of the same warm habit
are confined to such spots as Torquay, Babbicombe, Dawlish, Cork,
Swansea, Axminster, and the Scilly Isles. Of course, all peninsulas and
islands are warmer in temperature than inland places, and so these
relics of the lost Lyonesse have survived here and there in Cornwall,
Carnarvonshire, Kerry, and other very projecting headlands long after
they have died out altogether from the main central mass of Britain.
South-western Ireland in particular is almost Portuguese in the general
aspect of its fauna and flora.

Third and latest of all in time, though almost contemporary with the
southern type, is the central European or Germanic element in our
population. Sad as it is to confess it, the truth must nevertheless be
told, that our beasts and birds, our plants and flowers, are for the
most part of purely Teutonic origin. Even as the rude and hard-headed
Anglo-Saxon has driven the gentle, poetical, and imaginative Celt ever
westward before him into the hills and the sea, so the rude and vigorous
Germanic beasts and weeds have driven the gentler and softer southern
types into Wales and Cornwall, Galloway and Connemara. It is to the
central European population that we owe or owed the red deer, the wild
boar, the bear, the wolf, the beaver, the fox, the badger, the otter,
and the squirrel. It is to the central European flora that we owe the
larger part of the most familiar plants in all eastern and southeastern
England. They crossed in bands over the old land belt before Britain was
finally insulated, and they have gone on steadily ever since, with true
Teutonic persistence, overrunning the land and pushing slowly westward,
like all other German bands before or since, to the detriment and
discomfort of the previous inhabitants. Let us humbly remember that we
are all of us at bottom foreigners alike, but that it is the Teutonic
English, the people from the old Low Dutch fatherland by the Elbe, who
have finally given to this isle its name of England, and to every one of
us, Celt or Teuton, their own Teutonic name of Englishmen. We are at
best, as an irate Teuton once remarked, 'nozzing but segond-hand
Chermans.' In the words of a distinguished modern philologist of our own
blood, 'English is Dutch, spoken with a Welsh accent.'


The subject of thunderbolts is a very fascinating one, and all the more
so because there are no such things in existence at all as thunderbolts
of any sort. Like the snakes of Iceland, their whole history might, from
the positive point of view at least, be summed up in the simple
statement of their utter nonentity. But does that do away in the least,
I should like to know, with their intrinsic interest and importance? Not
a bit of it. It only adds to the mystery and charm of the whole subject.
Does anyone feel as keenly interested in any real living cobra or
anaconda as in the non-existent great sea-serpent? Are ghosts and
vampires less attractive objects of popular study than cats and donkeys?
Can the present King of Abyssinia, interviewed by our own correspondent,
equal the romantic charm of Prester John, or the butcher in the next
street rival the personality of Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne,
Baronet? No, the real fact is this: if there _were_ thunderbolts, the
question of their nature and action would be a wholly dull, scientific,
and priggish one; it is their unreality alone that invests them with all
the mysterious weirdness of pure fiction. Lightning, now, is a common
thing that one reads about wearily in the books on electricity, a mere
ordinary matter of positive and negative, density and potential, to be
measured in ohms (whatever they may be), and partially imitated with
Leyden jars and red sealing-wax apparatus. Why, did not Benjamin
Franklin, a fat old gentleman in ill-fitting small clothes, bring it
down from the clouds with a simple door-key, somewhere near
Philadelphia? and does not Mr. Robert Scott (of the Meteorological
Office) calmly predict its probable occurrence within the next
twenty-four hours in his daily report, as published regularly in the
morning papers? This is lightning, mere vulgar lightning, a simple
result of electrical conditions in the upper atmosphere, inconveniently
connected with algebraical formulas in _x_, _y_, _z_, with horrid
symbols interspersed in Greek letters. But the real thunderbolts of
Jove, the weapons that the angry Zeus, or Thor, or Indra hurls down upon
the head of the trembling malefactor--how infinitely grander, more
fearsome, and more mysterious!

And yet even nowadays, I believe, there are a large number of
well-informed people, who have passed the sixth standard, taken prizes
at the Oxford Local, and attended the dullest lectures of the Society
for University Extension, but who nevertheless in some vague and dim
corner of their consciousness retain somehow a lingering faith in the
existence of thunderbolts. They have not yet grasped in its entirety the
simple truth that lightning is the reality of which thunderbolts are the
mythical, or fanciful, or verbal representation. We all of us know now
that lightning is a mere flash of electric light and heat; that it has
no solid existence or core of any sort; in short, that it is dynamical
rather than material, a state or movement rather than a body or thing.
To be sure, local newspapers still talk with much show of learning about
'the electric fluid' which did such remarkable damage last week upon the
slated steeple of Peddlington Torpida Church; but the well-crammed
schoolboy of the present day has long since learned that the electric
fluid is an exploded fallacy, and that the lightning which pulled the
ten slates off the steeple in question was nothing more in its real
nature than a very big immaterial spark. However, the word thunderbolt
has survived to us from the days when people still believed that the
thing which did the damage during a thunderstorm was really and truly a
gigantic white-hot bolt or arrow; and, as there is a natural tendency in
human nature to fit an existence to every word, people even now continue
to imagine that there must be actually something or other somewhere
called a thunderbolt. They don't figure this thing to themselves as
being identical with the lightning; on the contrary, they seem to regard
it as something infinitely rarer, more terrible, and more mystic; but
they firmly hold that thunderbolts do exist in real life, and even
sometimes assert that they themselves have positively seen them.

But, if seeing is believing, it is equally true, as all who have looked
into the phenomena of spiritualism and 'psychical research' (modern
English for ghost-hunting) know too well, that believing is seeing also.
The origin of the faith in thunderbolts must be looked for (like the
origin of the faith in ghosts and 'psychical phenomena') far back in the
history of our race. The noble savage, at that early period when wild in
woods he ran, naturally noticed the existence of thunder and lightning,
because thunder and lightning are things that forcibly obtrude
themselves upon the attention of the observer, however little he may by
nature be scientifically inclined. Indeed, the noble savage, sleeping
naked on the bare ground, in tropical countries where thunder occurs
almost every night on an average, was sure to be pretty often awaked
from his peaceful slumbers by the torrents of rain that habitually
accompany thunderstorms in the happy realms of everlasting dog-days.
Primitive man was thereupon compelled to do a little philosophising on
his own account as to the cause and origin of the rumbling and flashing
which he saw so constantly around him. Naturally enough, he concluded
that the sound must be the voice of somebody; and that the fiery shaft,
whose effects he sometimes noted upon trees, animals, and his
fellow-man, must be the somebody's arrow. It is immaterial from this
point of view whether, as the scientific anthropologists hold, he was
led to his conception of these supernatural personages from his prior
belief in ghosts and spirits, or whether, as Professor Max Müller will
have it, he felt a deep yearning in his primitive savage breast toward
the Infinite and the Unknowable (which he would doubtless have spelt,
like the Professor, with a capital initial, had he been acquainted with
the intricacies of the yet uninvented alphabet); but this much at least
is pretty certain, that he looked upon the thunder and the lightning as
in some sense the voice and the arrows of an aërial god.

Now, this idea about the arrows is itself very significant of the mental
attitude of primitive man, and of the way that mental attitude has
coloured all subsequent thinking and superstition upon this very
subject. Curiously enough, to the present day the conception of the
thunderbolt is essentially one of a _bolt_--that is to say, an arrow, or
at least an arrowhead. All existing thunderbolts (and there are plenty
of them lying about casually in country houses and local museums) are
more or less arrow-like in shape and appearance; some of them, indeed,
as we shall see by-and-by, are the actual stone arrowheads of primitive
man himself in person. Of course the noble savage was himself in the
constant habit of shooting at animals and enemies with a bow and arrow.
When, then, he tried to figure to himself the angry god, seated in the
storm-clouds, who spoke with such a loud rumbling voice, and killed
those who displeased him with his fiery darts, he naturally thought of
him as using in his cloudy home the familiar bow and arrow of this
nether planet. To us nowadays, if we were to begin forming the idea for
ourselves all over again _de novo_, it would be far more natural to
think of the thunder as the noise of a big gun, of the lightning as the
flash of the powder, and of the supposed 'bolt' as a shell or bullet.
There is really a ridiculous resemblance between a thunderstorm and a
discharge of artillery. But the old conception derived from so many
generations of primitive men has held its own against such mere modern
devices as gunpowder and rifle balls; and none of the objects commonly
shown as thunderbolts are ever round: they are distinguished, whatever
their origin, by the common peculiarity that they more or less closely
resemble a dart or arrowhead.

Let us begin, then, by clearly disembarrassing our minds of any
lingering belief in the existence of thunderbolts. There are absolutely
no such things known to science. The two real phenomena that underlie
the fable are simply thunder and lightning. A thunderstorm is merely a
series of electrical discharges between one cloud and another, or
between clouds and the earth; and these discharges manifest themselves
to our senses under two forms--to the eye as lightning, to the ear as
thunder. All that passes in each case is a huge spark--a commotion, not
a material object. It is in principle just like the spark from an
electrical machine; but while the most powerful machine of human
construction will only send a spark for three feet, the enormous
electrical apparatus provided for us by nature will send one for four,
five, or even ten miles. Though lightning when it touches the earth
always seems to us to come from the clouds to the ground, it is by no
means certain that the real course may not at least occasionally be in
the opposite direction. All we know is that sometimes there is an
instantaneous discharge between one cloud and another, and sometimes an
instantaneous discharge between a cloud and the earth.

But this idea of a mere passage of highly concentrated energy from one
point to another was far too abstract, of course, for primitive man, and
is far too abstract even now for nine out of ten of our
fellow-creatures. Those who don't still believe in the bodily
thunderbolt, a fearsome aërial weapon which buries itself deep in the
bosom of the earth, look upon lightning as at least an embodiment of the
electric fluid, a long spout or line of molten fire, which is usually
conceived of as striking the ground and then proceeding to hide itself
under the roots of a tree or beneath the foundations of a tottering
house. Primitive man naturally took to the grosser and more material
conception. He figured to himself the thunderbolt as a barbed arrowhead;
and the forked zigzag character of the visible flash, as it darts
rapidly from point to point, seemed almost inevitably to suggest to him
the barbs, as one sees them represented on all the Greek and Roman gems,
in the red right hand of the angry Jupiter.

The thunderbolt being thus an accepted fact, it followed naturally that
whenever any dart-like object of unknown origin was dug up out of the
ground, it was at once set down as being a thunderbolt; and, on the
other hand, the frequent occurrence of such dart-like objects, precisely
where one might expect to find them in accordance with the theory,
necessarily strengthened the belief itself. So commonly are thunderbolts
picked up to the present day that to disbelieve in them seems to many
country people a piece of ridiculous and stubborn scepticism. Why,
they've ploughed up dozens of them themselves in their time, and just
about the very place where the thunderbolt struck the old elm-tree two
years ago, too.

The most favourite form of thunderbolt is the polished stone hatchet or
'celt' of the newer stone age men. I have never heard the very rude
chipped and unpolished axes of the older drift men or cave men described
as thunderbolts: they are too rough and shapeless ever to attract
attention from any except professed archæologists. Indeed, the wicked
have been known to scoff at them freely as mere accidental lumps of
broken flint, and to deride the notion of their being due in any way to
deliberate human handicraft. These are the sort of people who would
regard a grand piano as a fortuitous concourse of atoms. But the shapely
stone hatchet of the later neolithic farmer and herdsman is usually a
beautifully polished wedge-shaped piece of solid greenstone; and its
edge has been ground to such a delicate smoothness that it seems rather
like a bit of nature's exquisite workmanship than a simple relic of
prehistoric man. There is something very fascinating about the naïf
belief that the neolithic axe is a genuine unadulterated thunderbolt.
You dig it up in the ground exactly where you would expect a thunderbolt
(if there were such things) to be. It is heavy, smooth, well shaped, and
neatly pointed at one end. If it could really descend in a red-hot state
from the depths of the sky, launched forth like a cannon-ball by some
fierce discharge of heavenly artillery, it would certainly prove a very
formidable weapon indeed; and one could easily imagine it scoring the
bark of some aged oak, or tearing off the tiles from a projecting
turret, exactly as the lightning is so well known to do in this prosaic
workaday world of ours. In short, there is really nothing on earth
against the theory of the stone axe being a true thunderbolt, except the
fact that it unfortunately happens to be a neolithic hatchet.

But the course of reasoning by which we discover the true nature of the
stone axe is not one that would in any case appeal strongly to the
fancy or the intelligence of the British farmer. It is no use telling
him that whenever one opens a barrow of the stone age one is pretty sure
to find a neolithic axe and a few broken pieces of pottery beside the
mouldering skeleton of the old nameless chief who lies there buried. The
British farmer will doubtless stolidly retort that thunderbolts often
strike the tops of hills, which are just the places where barrows and
tumuli (tumps, he calls them) most do congregate; and that as to the
skeleton, isn't it just as likely that the man was killed by the
thunderbolt as that the thunderbolt was made by a man? Ay, and a sight
likelier, too.

All the world over, this simple and easy belief, that the buried stone
axe is a thunderbolt, exists among Europeans and savages alike. In the
West of England, the labourers will tell you that the thunder-axes they
dig up fell from the sky. In Brittany, says Mr. Tylor, the old man who
mends umbrellas at Carnac, beside the mysterious stone avenues of that
great French Stonehenge, inquires on his rounds for _pierres de
tonnerre_, which of course are found with suspicious frequency in the
immediate neighbourhood of prehistoric remains. In the Chinese
Encyclopædia we are told that the 'lightning stones' have sometimes the
shape of a hatchet, sometimes that of a knife, and sometimes that of a
mallet. And then, by a curious misapprehension, the sapient author of
that work goes on to observe that these lightning stones are used by the
wandering Mongols instead of copper and steel. It never seems to have
struck his celestial intelligence that the Mongols made the lightning
stones instead of digging them up out of the earth. So deeply had the
idea of the thunderbolt buried itself in the recesses of his soul, that
though a neighbouring people were still actually manufacturing stone
axes almost under his very eyes, he reversed mentally the entire
process, and supposed they dug up the thunderbolts which he saw them
using, and employed them as common hatchets. This is one of the finest
instances on record of the popular figure which grammarians call the
_hysteron proteron_, and ordinary folk describe as putting the cart
before the horse. Just so, while in some parts of Brazil the Indians are
still laboriously polishing their stone hatchets, in other parts the
planters are digging up the precisely similar stone hatchets of earlier
generations, and religiously preserving them in their houses as
undoubted thunderbolts. I have myself had pressed upon my attention as
genuine lightning stones, in the West Indies, the exquisitely polished
greenstone tomahawks of the old Carib marauders. But then, in this
matter, I am pretty much in the position of that philosophic sceptic
who, when he was asked by a lady whether he believed in ghosts, answered
wisely, 'No, madam, I have seen by far too many of them.'

One of the finest accounts ever given of the nature of thunderbolts is
that mentioned by Adrianus Tollius in his edition of 'Boethius on Gems.'
He gives illustrations of some neolithic axes and hammers, and then
proceeds to state that in the opinion of philosophers they are generated
in the sky by a fulgureous exhalation (whatever that may look like)
conglobed in a cloud by a circumfixed humour, and baked hard, as it
were, by intense heat. The weapon, it seems, then becomes pointed by the
damp mixed with it flying from the dry part, and leaving the other end
denser; while the exhalations press it so hard that it breaks out
through the cloud, and makes thunder and lightning. A very lucid
explanation certainly, but rendered a little difficult of apprehension
by the effort necessary for realising in a mental picture the
conglobation of a fulgureous exhalation by a circumfixed humour.

One would like to see a drawing of the process, though the sketch would
probably much resemble the picture of a muchness, so admirably described
by the mock turtle. The excellent Tollius himself, however, while
demurring on the whole to this hypothesis of the philosophers, bases his
objection mainly on the ground that, if this were so, then it is odd the
thunderbolts are not round, but wedge-shaped, and that they have holes
in them, and those holes not equal throughout, but widest at the ends.
As a matter of fact, Tollius has here hit the right nail on the head
quite accidentally; for the holes are really there, of course, to
receive the haft of the axe or hammer. But if they were truly
thunderbolts, and if the bolts were shafted, then the holes would have
been lengthwise, as in an arrowhead, not crosswise, as in an axe or
hammer. Which is a complete _reductio ad absurdum_ of the philosophic

Some of the cerauniæ, says Pliny, are like hatchets. He would have been
nearer the mark if he had said 'are hatchets' outright. But this
_aperçu_, which was to Pliny merely a stray suggestion, became to the
northern peoples a firm article of belief, and caused them to represent
to themselves their god Thor or Thunor as armed, not with a bolt, but
with an axe or hammer. Etymologically Thor, Thunor, and thunder are the
self-same word; but while the southern races looked upon Zeus or Indra
as wielding his forked darts in his red right hand, the northern races
looked upon the Thunder-god as hurling down an angry hammer from his
seat in the clouds. There can be but little doubt that the very notion
of Thor's hammer itself was derived from the shape of the supposed
thunderbolt, which the Scandinavians and Teutons rightly saw at once to
be an axe or mallet, not an arrowhead. The 'fiery axe' of Thunor is a
common metaphor in Anglo-Saxon poetry. Thus, Thor's hammer is itself
merely the picture which our northern ancestors formed to themselves,
by compounding the idea of thunder and lightning with the idea of the
polished stone hatchets they dug up among the fields and meadows.

Flint arrowheads of the stone age are less often taken for thunderbolts,
no doubt because they are so much smaller that they look quite too
insignificant for the weapons of an angry god. They are more frequently
described as fairy-darts or fairy-bolts. Still, I have known even
arrowheads regarded as thunderbolts, and preserved superstitiously
under that belief. In Finland, stone arrows are universally so viewed;
and the rainbow is looked upon as the bow of Tiermes, the thunder-god,
who shoots with it the guilty sorcerers.

But why should thunderbolts, whether stone axes or flint arrowheads, be
preserved, not merely as curiosities, but from motives of superstition?
The reason is a simple one. Everybody knows that in all magical
ceremonies it is necessary to have something belonging to the person you
wish to conjure against, in order to make your spells effectual. A bone,
be it but a joint of the little finger, is sufficient to raise the ghost
to which it once belonged; cuttings of hair or clippings of nails are
enough to put their owner magically in your power; and that is the
reason why, if you are a prudent person, you will always burn all such
off-castings of your body, lest haply an enemy should get hold of them,
and cast the evil eye upon you with their potent aid. In the same way,
if you can lay hands upon anything that once belonged to an elf, such as
a fairy-bolt or flint arrowhead, you can get its former possessor to do
anything you wish by simply rubbing it and calling upon him to appear.
This is the secret of half the charms and amulets in existence, most of
which are either real old arrowheads, or carnelians cut in the same
shape, which has now mostly degenerated from the barb to the
conventional heart, and been mistakenly associated with the idea of
love. This is the secret, too, of all the rings, lamps, gems, and boxes,
possession of which gives a man power over fairies, spirits, gnomes, and
genii. All magic proceeds upon the prime belief that you must possess
something belonging to the person you wish to control, constrain, or
injure. And, failing anything else, you must at least have a wax image
of him, which you call by his name, and use as his substitute in your

On this primitive principle, possession of a thunderbolt gives you some
sort of hold, as it were, over the thunder-god himself in person. If you
keep a thunderbolt in your house it will never be struck by lightning.
In Shetland, stone axes are religiously preserved in every cottage as a
cheap and simple substitute for lightning-rods. In Cornwall, the stone
hatchets and arrowheads not only guard the house from thunder, but also
act as magical barometers, changing colour with the changes of the
weather, as if in sympathy with the temper of the thunder-god. In
Germany, the house where a thunderbolt is kept is safe from the storm;
and the bolt itself begins to sweat on the approach of lightning-clouds.
Nay, so potent is the protection afforded by a thunderbolt that where
the lightning has once struck it never strikes again; the bolt already
buried in the soil seems to preserve the surrounding place from the
anger of the deity. Old and pagan in their nature as are these beliefs,
they yet survive so thoroughly into Christian times that I have seen a
stone hatchet built into the steeple of a church to protect it from
lightning. Indeed, steeples have always of course attracted the electric
discharge to a singular degree by their height and tapering form,
especially before the introduction of lighting-rods; and it was a sore
trial of faith to mediæval reasoners to understand why heaven should
hurl its angry darts so often against the towers of its very own
churches. In the Abruzzi the flint axe has actually been Christianised
into St. Paul's arrows--_saetti de San Paolo_. Families hand down the
miraculous stones from father to son as a precious legacy; and mothers
hang them on their children's necks side by side with medals of saints
and madonnas, which themselves are hardly so highly prized as the stones
that fall from heaven.

Another and very different form of thunderbolt is the belemnite, a
common English fossil often preserved in houses in the west country with
the same superstitious reverence as the neolithic hatchets. The very
form of the belemnite at once suggests the notion of a dart or
lance-head, which has gained for it its scientific name. At the present
day, when all our girls go to Girton and enter for the classical tripos,
I need hardly translate the word belemnite 'for the benefit of the
ladies,' as people used to do in the dark and unemancipated eighteenth
century; but as our boys have left off learning Greek just as their
sisters are beginning to act the 'Antigone' at private theatricals, I
may perhaps be pardoned if I explain, 'for the benefit of the
gentlemen,' that the word is practically equivalent to javelin-fossil.
The belemnites are the internal shells of a sort of cuttle-fish which
swam about in enormous numbers in the seas whose sediment forms our
modern lias, oolite, and gault. A great many different species are known
and have acquired charming names in very doubtful Attic at the hands of
profoundly learned geological investigators, but almost all are equally
good representatives of the mythical thunderbolt. The finest specimens
are long, thick, cylindrical, and gradually tapering, with a hole at one
end as if on purpose to receive the shaft. Sometimes they have
petrified into iron pyrites or copper compounds, shining like gold, and
then they make very noble thunderbolts indeed, heavy as lead, and
capable of doing profound mischief if properly directed. At other times
they have crystallised in transparent spar, and then they form very
beautiful objects, as smooth and polished as the best lapidary could
possibly make them. Belemnites are generally found in immense numbers
together, especially in the marlstone quarries of the Midlands, and in
the lias cliffs of Dorsetshire. Yet the quarrymen who find them never
seem to have their faith shaken in the least by the enormous quantities
of thunderbolts that would appear to have struck a single spot with such
extraordinary frequency This little fact also tells rather hardly
against the theory that the lightning never falls twice upon the same

Only the largest and heaviest belemnites are known as thunder stones;
the smaller ones are more commonly described as agate pencils. In
Shakespeare's country their connection with thunder is well known, so
that in all probability a belemnite is the original of the beautiful
lines in 'Cymbeline':--

    Fear no more the lightning flash,
    Nor the all-dreaded thunder stone,

where the distinction between the lightning and the thunderbolt is
particularly well indicated. In every part of Europe belemnites and
stone hatchets are alike regarded as thunderbolts; so that we have the
curious result that people confuse under a single name a natural fossil
of immense antiquity and a human product of comparatively recent but
still prehistoric date. Indeed, I have had two thunderbolts shown me at
once, one of which was a large belemnite, and the other a modern Indian
tomahawk. Curiously enough, English sailors still call the nearest
surviving relatives of the belemnites, the squids or calamaries of the
Atlantic, by the appropriate name of sea-arrows.

Many other natural or artificial objects have added their tittle to the
belief in thunderbolts. In the Himalayas, for example, where awful
thunderstorms are always occurring as common objects of the country, the
torrents which follow them tear out of the loose soil fossil bones and
tusks and teeth, which are universally looked upon as lightning-stones.
The nodules of pyrites, often picked up on beaches, with their false
appearance of having been melted by intense heat, pass muster easily
with children and sailor folk for the genuine thunderbolts. But the
grand upholder of the belief, the one true undeniable reality which has
kept alive the thunderbolt even in a wicked and sceptical age, is,
beyond all question, the occasional falling of meteoric stones. Your
meteor is an incontrovertible fact; there is no getting over him; in the
British Museum itself you will find him duly classified and labelled and
catalogued. Here, surely, we have the ultimate substratum of the
thunderbolt myth. To be sure, meteors have no kind of natural connection
with thunderstorms; they may fall anywhere and at any time; but to
object thus is to be hypercritical. A stone that falls from heaven, no
matter how or when, is quite good enough to be considered as a

Meteors, indeed, might very easily be confounded with lightning,
especially by people who already have the full-blown conception of a
thunderbolt floating about vaguely in their brains. The meteor leaps
upon the earth suddenly with a rushing noise; it is usually red-hot when
it falls, by friction against the air; it is mostly composed of native
iron and other heavy metallic bodies; and it does its best to bury
itself in the ground in the most orthodox and respectable manner. The
man who sees this parlous monster come whizzing through the clouds from
planetary space, making a fiery track like a great dragon as it moves
rapidly across the sky, and finally ploughing its way into the earth in
his own back garden, may well be excused for regarding it as a fine
specimen of the true antique thunderbolt. The same virtues which belong
to the buried stone are in some other places claimed for meteoric iron,
small pieces of which are worn as charms, specially useful in protecting
the wearer against thunder, lightning, and evil incantations. In many
cases miraculous images have been hewn out of the stones that have
fallen from heaven; and in others the meteorite itself is carefully
preserved or worshipped as the actual representative of god or goddess,
saint or madonna. The image that fell down from Jupiter may itself have
been a mass of meteoric iron.

Both meteorites and stone hatchets, as well as all other forms of
thunderbolt, are in excellent repute as amulets, not only against
lightning, but against the evil eye generally. In Italy they protect the
owner from thunder, epidemics, and cattle disease, the last two of which
are well known to be caused by witchcraft; while Prospero in the
'Tempest' is a surviving proof how thunderstorms, too, can be magically
produced. The tongues of sheep-bells ought to be made of meteoric iron
or of elf-bolts, in order to insure the animals against foot-and-mouth
disease or death by storm. Built into walls or placed on the threshold
of stables, thunderbolts are capital preventives of fire or other
damage, though not perhaps in this respect quite equal to a rusty
horseshoe from a prehistoric battlefield. Thrown into a well they purify
the water; and boiled in the drink of diseased sheep they render a cure
positively certain. In Cornwall thunderbolts are a sovereign remedy for
rheumatism; and in the popular pharmacopoeia of Ireland they have
been employed with success for ophthalmia, pleurisy, and many other
painful diseases. If finely powdered and swallowed piecemeal, they
render the person who swallows them invulnerable for the rest of his
lifetime. But they cannot conscientiously be recommended for dyspepsia
and other forms of indigestion.

As if on purpose to confuse our already very vague ideas about
thunderbolts, there is one special kind of lightning which really seems
intentionally to simulate a meteorite, and that is the kind known as
fire-balls or (more scientifically) globular lightning. A fire-ball
generally appears as a sphere of light, sometimes only as big as a Dutch
cheese, sometimes as large as three feet in diameter. It moves along
very slowly and demurely through the air, remaining visible for a whole
minute or two together; and in the end it generally bursts up with great
violence, as if it were a London railway station being experimented upon
by Irish patriots. At Milan one day a fire-ball of this description
walked down one of the streets so slowly that a small crowd walked after
it admiringly, to see where it was going. It made straight for a church
steeple, after the common but sacrilegious fashion of all lightning,
struck the gilded cross on the topmost pinnacle, and then immediately
vanished, like a Virgilian apparition, into thin air.

A few years ago, too, Dr. Tripe was watching a very severe thunderstorm,
when he saw a fire-ball come quietly gliding up to him, apparently
rising from the earth rather than falling towards it. Instead of running
away, like a practical man, the intrepid doctor held his ground quietly
and observed the fiery monster with scientific nonchalance. After
continuing its course for some time in a peaceful and regular fashion,
however, without attempting to assault him, it finally darted off at a
tangent in another direction, and turned apparently into forked
lightning. A fire-ball, noticed among the Glendowan Mountains in
Donegal, behaved even more eccentrically, as might be expected from its
Irish antecedents. It first skirted the earth in a leisurely way for
several hundred yards like a cannon-ball; then it struck the ground,
ricochetted, and once more bounded along for another short spell; after
which it disappeared in the boggy soil, as if it were completely
finished and done for. But in another moment it rose again, nothing
daunted, with Celtic irrepressibility, several yards away, pursued its
ghostly course across a running stream (which shows, at least, there
could have been no witchcraft in it), and finally ran to earth for good
in the opposite bank, leaving a round hole in the sloping peat at the
spot where it buried itself. Where it first struck, it cut up the peat
as if with a knife, and made a broad deep trench which remained
afterwards as a witness of its eccentric conduct. If the person who
observed it had been of a superstitious turn of mind we should have had
here one of the finest and most terrifying ghost stories on the entire
record, which would have made an exceptionally splendid show in the
'Transactions of the Society for Psychical Research.' Unfortunately,
however, he was only a man of science, ungifted with the precious dower
of poetical imagination; so he stupidly called it a remarkable
fire-ball, measured the ground carefully like a common engineer, and
sent an account of the phenomenon to that far more prosaic periodical,
the 'Quarterly Journal of the Meteorological Society.' Another splendid
apparition thrown away recklessly, for ever!

There is a curious form of electrical discharge, somewhat similar to the
fire-ball but on a smaller scale, which may be regarded as the exact
opposite of the thunderbolt, inasmuch as it is always quite harmless.
This is St. Elmo's fire, a brush of lambent light, which plays around
the masts of ships and the tops of trees, when clouds are low and
tension great. It is, in fact, the equivalent in nature of the brush
discharge from an electric machine. The Greeks and Romans looked upon
this lambent display as a sign of the presence of Castor and Pollux,
'fratres Helenæ, lucida sidera,' and held that its appearance was an
omen of safety, as everybody who has read the 'Lays of Ancient Rome'
must surely remember. The modern name, St. Elmo's fire, is itself a
curiously twisted and perversely Christianised reminiscence of the great
twin brethren; for St. Elmo is merely a corruption of Helena, made
masculine and canonised by the grateful sailors. It was as Helen's
brothers that they best knew the Dioscuri in the good old days of the
upper empire; and when the new religion forbade them any longer to
worship those vain heathen deities, they managed to hand over the flames
at the masthead to an imaginary St. Elmo, whose protection stood them in
just as good stead as that of the original alternate immortals.

Finally, the effects of lightning itself are sometimes such as to
produce upon the mind of an impartial but unscientific beholder the firm
idea that a bodily thunderbolt must necessarily have descended from
heaven. In sand or rock, where lightning has struck, it often forms long
hollow tubes, known to the calmly discriminating geological intelligence
as fulgurites, and looking for all the world like gigantic drills such
as quarrymen make for putting in a blast. They are produced, of course,
by the melting of the rock under the terrific heat of the electric
spark; and they grow narrower and narrower as they descend till they
finally disappear. But to a casual observer, they irresistibly suggest
the notion that a material weapon has struck the ground, and buried
itself at the bottom of the hole. The summit of Little Ararat, that
weather-beaten and many-fabled peak (where an enterprising journalist
not long ago discovered the remains of Noah's Ark), has been riddled
through and through by frequent lightnings, till the rock is now a mere
honeycombed mass of drills and tubes, like an old target at the end of a
long day's constant rifle practice. Pieces of the red trachyte from the
summit, a foot long, have been brought to Europe, perforated all over
with these natural bullet marks, each of them lined with black glass,
due to the fusion of the rock by the passage of the spark. Specimens of
such thunder-drilled rock may be seen in most geological museums. On
some which Humboldt collected from a peak in Mexico, the fused slag from
the wall of the tube has overflowed on to the surrounding surface, thus
conclusively proving (if proof were necessary) that the holes are due to
melting heat alone, and not to the passage of any solid thunderbolt.

But it was the introduction and general employment of lightning-rods
that dealt a final deathblow to the thunderbolt theory. A
lightning-conductor consists essentially of a long piece of metal,
pointed at the end whose business it is, not so much (as most people
imagine) to carry off the flash of lightning harmlessly, should it
happen to strike the house to which the conductor is attached, but
rather to prevent the occurrence of a flash at all, by gradually and
gently drawing off the electricity as fast as it gathers before it has
had time to collect in sufficient force for a destructive discharge. It
resembles in effect an overflow pipe which drains off the surplus water
of a pond as soon as it runs in, in such a manner as to prevent the
possibility of an inundation, which might occur if the water were
allowed to collect in force behind a dam or embankment. It is a
flood-gate, not a moat: it carries away the electricity of the air
quietly to the ground, without allowing it to gather in sufficient
amount to produce a flash of lightning. It might thus be better called
a lightning-preventer than a lightning-conductor: it conducts
electricity, but it prevents lightning. At first, all lightning-rods
used to be made with knobs on the top, and then the electricity used to
collect at the surface until the electric force was sufficient to cause
a spark. In those happy days, you had the pleasure of seeing that the
lightning was actually being drawn off from your neighbourhood
piecemeal. Knobs, it was held, must be the best things, because you
could incontestably see the sparks striking them with your own eyes. But
as time went on, electricians discovered that if you fixed a fine metal
point to the conductor of an electric machine it was impossible to get
up any appreciable charge because the electricity kept always leaking
out by means of the point. Then it was seen that if you made your
lightning-rods pointed at the end, you would be able in the same way to
dissipate your electricity before it ever had time to come to a head in
the shape of lightning. From that moment the thunderbolt was safely dead
and buried. It was urged, indeed, that the attempt thus to rob Heaven of
its thunders was wicked and impious; but the common-sense of mankind
refused to believe that absolute omnipotence could be sensibly defied by
twenty yards of cylindrical iron tubing. Thenceforth the thunderbolt
ceased to exist, save in poetry, country houses, and the most rural
circles; even the electric fluid was generally relegated to the
provincial press, where it still keeps company harmoniously with
caloric, the devouring element, nature's abhorrence of a vacuum, and
many other like philosophical fossils: while lightning itself, shorn of
its former glories, could no longer wage impious war against cathedral
towers, but was compelled to restrict itself to blasting a solitary
rider now and again in the open fields, or drilling more holes in the
already crumbling summit of Mount Ararat. Yet it will be a thousand
years more, in all probability, before the last thunderbolt ceases to be
shown as a curiosity here and there to marvelling visitors, and takes
its proper place in some village museum as a belemnite, a meteoric
stone, or a polished axe-head of our neolithic ancestors. Even then, no
doubt, the original bolt will still survive as a recognised property in
the stock-in-trade of every well-equipped poet.


Place, the garden. Time, summer. Dramatis personæ, a couple of small
brown garden-ants, and a lazy clustering colony of wee green
'plant-lice,' or 'blight,' or aphides. The exact scene is usually on the
young and succulent branches of a luxuriant rose-bush, into whose soft
shoots the aphides have deeply buried their long trunk-like snouts, in
search of the sap off which they live so contentedly through their brief
lifetime. To them, enter the two small brown ants, their lawful
possessors; for ants, too, though absolutely unrecognised by English law
('de minimis non curat lex,' says the legal aphorism), are nevertheless
in their own commonwealth duly seised of many and various goods and
chattels; and these same aphides, as everybody has heard, stand to them
in pretty much the same position as cows stand to human herdsmen. Throw
in for sole spectator a loitering naturalist, and you get the entire
_mise-en-scène_ of a quaint little drama that works itself out a dozen
times among the wilted rose-trees beneath the latticed cottage windows
every summer morning.

It is a delightful sight to watch the two little lilliputian proprietors
approaching and milking these their wee green motionless cattle. First
of all, the ants quickly scent their way with protruded antennæ (for
they are as good as blind, poor things!) up the prickly stem of the
rose-bush, guided, no doubt, by the faint perfume exhaled from the
nectar above them. Smelling their road cautiously to the ends of the
branches, they soon reach their own particular aphides, whose bodies
they proceed gently to stroke with their outstretched feelers, and then
stand by quietly for a moment in happy anticipation of the coming
dinner. Presently, the obedient aphis, conscious of its lawful master's
friendly presence, begins slowly to emit from two long horn-like tubes
near the centre of its back a couple of limpid drops of a sticky pale
yellow fluid. Honey-dew our English rustics still call it, because, when
the aphides are not milked often enough by ants, they discharge it
awkwardly of their own accord, and then it falls as a sweet clammy dew
upon the grass beneath them. The ant, approaching the two tubes with
cautious tenderness, removes the sweet drops without injuring in any way
his little _protégé_, and then passes on to the next in order of his
tiny cattle, leaving the aphis apparently as much relieved by the
process as a cow with a full hanging udder is relieved by the timely
attention of the human milkmaid.

Evidently, this is a case of mutual accommodation in the political
economy of the ants and aphides: a free interchange of services between
the ant as consumer and the aphis as producer. Why the aphides should
have acquired the curious necessity for getting rid of this sweet,
sticky, and nutritious secretion nobody knows with certainty; but it is
at least quite clear that the liquid is a considerable nuisance to them
in their very sedentary and monotonous existence--a waste product of
which they are anxious to disembarrass themselves as easily as
possible--and that while they themselves stand to the ants in the
relation of purveyors of food supply, the ants in return stand to them
in the relation of scavengers, or contractors for the removal of useless

Everybody knows the aphides well by sight, in one of their forms at
least, the familiar rose aphis; but probably few people ever look at
them closely and critically enough to observe how very beautiful and
wonderful is the organisation of their tiny limbs in all its exquisite
detail. If you pick off one good-sized wingless insect, however, from a
blighted rose-leaf, and put him on a glass slide under a low power of
the microscope, you will most likely be quite surprised to find what a
lovely little creature it is that you have been poisoning wholesale all
your life long with diluted tobacco-juice. His body is so transparent
that you can see through it by transmitted light: a dainty glass globe,
you would say, of emerald green, set upon six tapering, jointed, hairy
legs, and provided in front with two large black eyes of many facets,
and a pair of long and very flexible antennæ, easily moved in any
direction, but usually bent backward when the creature is at rest so as
to reach nearly to his tail as he stands at ease upon his native
rose-leaf. There are, however, two other features about him which
specially attract attention, as being very characteristic of the aphides
and their allies among all other insects. In the first place, his mouth
is provided with a very long snout or proboscis, classically described
as a rostrum, with which he pierces the outer skin of the rose-shoot
where he lives, and sucks up incessantly its sweet juices. This organ is
common to the aphis with all the other bugs and plant-lice. In the
second place, he has half-way down his back (or a little more) a pair of
very peculiar hollow organs, the honey tubes, from which exudes that
singular secretion, the honey-dew. These tubes are not found in quite
all species of aphides, but they are very common among the class, and
they form by far the most conspicuous and interesting organs in all
those aphides which do possess them.

The life-history of the rose-aphis, small and familiar as is the insect
itself, forms one of the most marvellous and extraordinary chapters in
all the fairy tales of modern science. Nobody need wonder why the blight
attacks his roses so persistently when once he has learnt the unusual
provision for exceptional fertility in the reproduction of these insect
plagues. The whole story is too long to give at full length, but here is
a brief recapitulation of a year's generations of common aphides.

In the spring, the eggs of last year's crop, which have been laid by the
mothers in nooks and crannies out of reach of the frost, are quickened
into life by the first return of warm weather, and hatch out their brood
of insects. All this brood consists of imperfect females, without a
single male among them; and they all fasten at once upon the young buds
of their native bush, where they pass a sluggish and uneventful
existence in sucking up the juice from the veins on the one hand, and
secreting honey-dew upon the other. Four times they moult their skins,
these moults being in some respects analogous to the metamorphosis of
the caterpillar into chrysalis and butterfly. After the fourth moult,
the young aphides attain maturity; and then they give origin,
parthenogenetically, to a second brood, also of imperfect females, all
produced without any fathers. This second brood brings forth in like
manner a third generation, asexual, as before; and the same process is
repeated without intermission as long as the warm weather lasts. In each
case, the young simply bud out from the ovaries of the mothers, exactly
as new crops of leaves bud out from the rose-branch on which they grow.
Eleven generations have thus been observed to follow one another rapidly
in a single summer; and indeed, by keeping the aphides in a warm room,
one may even make them continue their reproduction in this purely
vegetative fashion for as many as four years running. But as soon as
the cold weather begins to set in, perfect male and female insects are
produced by the last swarm of parthenogenetic mothers; and these true
females, after being fertilised, lay the eggs which remain through the
winter, and from which the next summer's broods have to begin afresh the
wonderful cycle. Thus, only one generation of aphides, out of ten or
eleven, consists of true males and females: all the rest are false
females, producing young by a process of budding.

Setting aside for the present certain special modifications of this
strange cycle which have been lately described by M. Jules Lichtenstein,
let us consider for a moment what can be the origin and meaning of such
an unusual and curious mode of reproduction.

The aphides are on the whole the most purely inactive and vegetative of
all insects, unless indeed we except a few very debased and degraded
parasites. They fasten themselves early in life on to a particular shoot
of a particular plant; they drink in its juices, digest them, grow, and
undergo their incomplete metamorphoses; they produce new generations
with extraordinary rapidity; and they vegetate, in fact, almost as much
as the plant itself upon which they are living. Their existence is
duller than that of the very dullest cathedral city. They are thus
essentially degenerate creatures: they have found the conditions of life
too easy for them, and they have reverted to something so low and simple
that they are almost plant-like in some of their habits and

The ancestors of the aphides were free winged insects; and, in certain
stages of their existence, most living species of aphides possess at
least some winged members. On the rose-bush, you can generally pick off
a few such larger winged forms, side by side with the wee green wingless
insects. But creatures which have taken to passing most of their life
upon a single spot on a single plant hardly need the luxury of wings;
and so, in nine cases out of ten, natural selection has dispensed with
those needless encumbrances. Even the legs are comparatively little
wanted by our modern aphides, which only require them to walk away in a
stately sleepy manner when rudely disturbed by man, lady-birds, or other
enemies; and indeed the legs are now very weak and feeble, and incapable
of walking for more than a short distance at a time under exceptional
provocation. The eyes remain, it is true; but only the big ones: the
little ocelli at the top of the head, found amongst so many of their
allies, are quite wanting in all the aphides. In short, the plant-lice
have degenerated into mere mouths and sacks for sucking and storing food
from the tissues of plants, provided with large honey-tubes for getting
rid of the waste sugar.

Now, the greater the amount of food any animal gets, and the less the
amount of expenditure it performs in muscular action, the greater will
be the surplus it has left over for the purposes of reproduction. Eggs
or young, in fact, represent the amount thus left over after all the
wants of the body have been provided for. But in the rose-aphis the
wants of the body, when once the insect has reached its full growth, are
absolutely nothing; and it therefore then begins to bud out new
generations in rapid succession as fast as ever it can produce them.
This is strictly analogous to what we see every day taking place in all
the plants around us. New leaves are produced one after another, as fast
as material can be supplied for their nutrition, and each of these new
leaves is known to be a separate individual, just as much as the
individual aphis. At last, however, a time comes when the reproductive
power of the plant begins to fail, and then it produces flowers, that is
to say stamens (male) and pistils (female), whose union results in
fertilisation and the subsequent outgrowth of fruit and seeds. Thus a
year's cycle of the plant-lice exactly answers to the life-history of an
ordinary annual. The eggs correspond to the seeds; the various
generations of aphides budding out from one another by parthenogenesis
correspond to the leaves budded out by one another throughout the
summer; and the final brood of perfect males and females answers to the
flower with its stamen and pistils, producing the seeds, as they produce
the eggs, for setting up afresh the next year's cycle.

This consideration, I fancy, suggests to us the most probable
explanation of the honey-tubes and honey-dew. Creatures that eat so much
and reproduce so fast as the aphides are rapidly sucking up juices all
the time from the plant on which they fasten, and converting most of the
nutriment so absorbed into material for fresh generations. That is how
they swarm so fast over all our shrubs and flowers. But if there is any
one kind of material in their food in excess of their needs, they would
naturally have to secrete it by a special organ developed or enlarged
for the purpose. I don't mean that the organ would or could be developed
all at once, by a sudden effort, but that as the habit of fixing
themselves upon plants and sucking their juices grew from generation to
generation with these descendants of originally winged insects, an organ
for permitting the waste product to exude must necessarily have grown
side by side with it. Sugar seems to have been such a waste product,
contained in the juices of the plant to an extent beyond what the
aphides could assimilate or use up in the production of new broods; and
this sugar is therefore secreted by special organs, the honey-tubes. One
can readily imagine that it may at first have escaped in small
quantities, and that two pores on their last segment but two may have
been gradually specialised into regular secreting organs, perhaps under
the peculiar agency of the ants, who have regularly appropriated so many
kinds of aphides as miniature milch cows.

So completely have some species of ants come to recognise their own
proprietary interest in the persons of the aphides, that they provide
them with fences and cow-sheds on the most approved human pattern.
Sometimes they build up covered galleries to protect their tiny cattle;
and these galleries lead from the nest to the place where the aphides
are fixed, and completely enclose the little creatures from all chance
of harm. If intruders try to attack the farmyard, the ants drive them
away by biting and lacerating them. Sir John Lubbock, who has paid great
attention to the mutual relations of ants and aphides, has even shown
that various kinds of ants domesticate various species of aphis. The
common brown garden-ant, one of the darkest skinned among our English
races, 'devotes itself principally to aphides which frequent twigs and
leaves'; especially, so far as I have myself observed, the bright green
aphis of the rose, and the closely allied little black aphis of the
broad bean. On the other hand a nearly related reddish ant pays
attention chiefly to those aphides which live on the bark of trees,
while the yellow meadow-ants, a far more subterranean species, keep
flocks and herds of the like-minded aphides which feed upon the roots of
herbs and grasses.

Sir John Lubbock, indeed, even suggests--and how the suggestion would
have charmed 'Civilisation' Buckle!--that to this difference of food and
habit the distinctive colours of the various species may very probably
be due. The ground which he adduces for this ingenious idea is a capital
example of the excellent use to which out-of-the-way evidence may be
cleverly put by a competent evolutionary thinker. 'The Baltic amber,' he
says, 'contains among the remains of many other insects a species of
ant intermediate between our small brown garden-ants and the little
yellow meadow-ants. This is possibly the stock from which these and
other allied species are descended. One is tempted to suggest that the
brown species which live so much in the open air, and climb up trees and
bushes, have retained and even deepened their dark colour; while others,
such as the yellow meadow-ant, which lives almost entirely below ground,
have become much paler.' He might have added, as confirmatory evidence,
the fact that the perfect winged males and females of the yellow
species, which fly about freely during the brief honeymoon in the open
air, are even darker in hue than the brown garden-ant. But how the light
colour of the neuter workers gets transmitted through these dusky
parents from one generation to another is part of that most insoluble
crux of all evolutionary reasoning--the transmission of special
qualities to neuters by parents who have never possessed them.

This last-mentioned yellow meadow-ant has carried the system of
domestication further in all probability than any other species among
its congeners. Not only do the yellow ants collect the root-feeding
aphides in their own nests, and tend them as carefully as their own
young, but they also gather and guard the eggs of the aphides, which,
till they come to maturity, are of course quite useless. Sir John
Lubbock found that his yellow ants carried the winter eggs of a species
of aphis into their nest, and there took great care of them. In the
spring, the eggs hatched out; and the ants actually carried the young
aphides out of the nest again, and placed them on the leaves of a daisy
growing in the immediate neighbourhood. They then built up a wall of
earth over and round them. The aphides went on in their usual lazy
fashion throughout the summer, and in October they laid another lot of
eggs, precisely like those of the preceding autumn. This case, as the
practised observer himself remarks, is an instance of prudence
unexampled, perhaps, in the animal kingdom, outside man. 'The eggs are
laid early in October on the food-plant of the insect. They are of no
direct use to the ants; yet they are not left where they are laid,
exposed to the severity of the weather and to innumerable dangers, but
brought into their nests by the ants, and tended by them with the utmost
care through the long winter months until the following March, when the
young ones are brought out again and placed on the young shoots of the
daisy.' Mr. White of Stonehouse has also noted an exactly similar
instance of formican providence.

The connection between so many ants and so many species of the aphides
being so close and intimate, it does not seem extravagant to suppose
that the honey-tubes in their existing advanced form at least may be due
to the deliberate selective action of these tiny insect-breeders.
Indeed, when we consider that there are certain species of beetles which
have never been found anywhere except in ants' nests, it appears highly
probable that these domesticated forms have been produced by the ants
themselves, exactly as the dog, the sheep, and the cow, in their
existing types, have been produced by deliberate human selection. If
this be so, then there is nothing very out-of-the-way in the idea that
the ants have also produced the honey-tubes of aphides by their long
selective action. It must be remembered that ants, in point of
antiquity, date back, under one form or another, no doubt to a very
remote period of geological time. Their immense variety of genera and
species (over a thousand distinct kinds are known) show them to be a
very ancient family, or else they would not have had time to be
specially modified in such a wonderful multiformity of ways. Even as
long ago as the time when the tertiary deposits of Oeningen and
Radoboj were laid down, Dr. Heer of Zurich has shown that at least
eighty-three distinct species of ants already existed; and the number
that have left no trace behind is most probably far greater. Some of the
beetles and woodlice which ants domesticate in their nests have been
kept underground so long that they have become quite blind--that is to
say, have ceased altogether to produce eyes, which would be of no use to
them in their subterranean galleries; and one such blind beetle, known
as Claviger, has even lost the power of feeding itself, and has to be
fed by its masters from their own mandibles. Dr. Taschenberg enumerates
300 species of true ants'-nest insects, mostly beetles, in Germany
alone; and M. André gives a list of 584 kinds, habitually found in
association with ants in one country or another. Compared with these
singular results of formican selection, the mere production or further
development of the honey-tubes appears to be a very small matter.

But what good do the aphides themselves derive from the power of
secreting honey-dew? For we know now that no animal or plant is ever
provided with any organ or part merely for the benefit of another
creature: the advantage must at least be mutual. Well, in the first
place, it is likely that, in any case, the amount of sugary matter in
the food of the aphides is quite in excess of their needs; they
assimilate the nitrogenous material of the sap, and secrete its
saccharine material as honey-dew. That, however, would hardly account
for the development of special secretory ducts, like the honey-tubes, in
which you can actually see the little drops of honey rolling, under the
microscope. But the ants are useful allies to the aphides, in guarding
them from another very dangerous type of insect. They are subject to the
attacks of an ichneumon fly, which lays its eggs in them, meaning its
larvæ to feed upon their living bodies; and the ants watch over the
aphides with the greatest vigilance, driving off the ichneumons whenever
they approach their little _protégés_.

Many other insects besides ants, however, are fond of the sweet
secretions of the aphides, and it is probable that the honey-dew thus
acts to some extent as a preservative of the species, by diverting
possible foes from the insects themselves, to the sugary liquid which
they distil from their food-plants. Having more than enough and to spare
for all their own needs, and the needs of their offspring, the
plant-lice can afford to employ a little of their nutriment as a bribe
to secure them from the attacks of possible enemies. Such compensatory
bribes are common enough in the economy of nature. Thus our common
English vetch secretes a little honey on the stipules or wing-like
leaflets on the stem, and so distracts thieving ants from committing
their depredations upon the nectaries in the flowers, which are intended
for the attraction of the fertilising bees; and a South American acacia,
as Mr. Belt has shown, bears hollow thorns and produces honey from a
gland in each leaflet, in order to allure myriads of small ants which
nest in the thorns, eat the honey, and repay the plant by driving away
their leaf-cutting congeners. Indeed, as they sting violently, and issue
forth in enormous swarms whenever the plant is attacked, they are even
able to frighten off browsing cattle from their own peculiar acacia.

Aphides, then, are essentially degraded insects, which have become
almost vegetative in their habits, and even in their mode of
reproduction, but which still retain a few marks of their original
descent from higher and more locomotive ancestors. Their wings,
especially, are useful to the perfect forms in finding one another, and
to the imperfect ones in migrating from one plant to its nearest
neighbours, where they soon become the parents of fresh hordes in rapid
succession. Hence various kinds of aphides are among the most dreaded
plagues of agriculturists. The 'fly,' which Kentish farmers know so well
on hops, is an aphis specialised for that particular bine; and, when
once it appears in the gardens, it spreads with startling rapidity from
one end of the long rows to the other. The phylloxera which has spoilt
the French vineyards is a root-feeding form that attacks the vine, and
kills or maims the plant terribly, by sucking the vital juices on their
way up into the fresh-forming foliage. The 'American blight' on apple
trees is yet another member of the same family, a wee creeping cottony
creature that hides among the fissures of the bark, and drives its very
long beak far down into the green sappy layer underlying the dead outer
covering. In fact, almost all the best-known 'blights' and
bladder-forming insects are aphides of one kind or another, affecting
leaves, or stalks, or roots, or branches.

It is one of the most remarkable examples of the limitation of human
powers that while we can easily exterminate large animals like the wolf
and the bear in England, or the puma and the wolverine in the settled
States of America, we should be so comparatively weak against the
Colorado beetle or the fourteen-year locust, and so absolutely powerless
against the hop-fly, the turnip-fly, and the phylloxera. The smaller and
the more insignificant our enemy, viewed individually, the more
difficult is he to cope with in the mass. All the elephants in the world
could have been hunted down and annihilated, in all probability, with
far less labour than has been expended upon one single little all but
microscopic parasite in France alone. The enormous rapidity of
reproduction in the family of aphides is the true cause of our
helplessness before them. It has been calculated that a single aphis may
during its own lifetime become the progenitor of 5,904,900,000
descendants. Each imperfect female produces about ninety young ones,
and lives long enough to see its children's children to the fifth
generation. Now, ninety multiplied by ninety four times over gives the
number above stated. Of course, this makes no allowance for casualties
which must be pretty frequent: but even so, the sum-total of aphides
produced within a small garden in a single summer must be something very

It is curious, too, that aphides on the whole seem to escape the notice
of insect-eating birds very tolerably. I cannot, in fact, discover that
birds ever eat them, their chief real enemy being the little lizard-like
larva of the lady-bird, which devours them everywhere greedily in
immense numbers. Indeed, aphides form almost the sole food of the entire
lady-bird tribe in their earlier stages of existence; and there is no
better way of getting rid of blight on roses and other garden plants
than to bring in a good boxful of these active and voracious little
grubs from the fields and hedges. They will pounce upon the aphides
forthwith as a cat pounces upon the mice in a well-stocked barn or
farmyard. The two-spotted lady-bird in particular is the determined
exterminator of the destructive hop-fly, and is much beloved accordingly
by Kentish farmers. No doubt, one reason why birds do not readily see
the aphis of the rose and most other species is because of their
prevailing green tint, and the close way in which they stick to the
leaves or shoots on whose juices they are preying. But in the case of
many black and violet species, this protection of imitative colour is
wanting, and yet the birds do not seem to care for the very conspicuous
little insects on the broad bean, for example, whose dusky hue makes
them quite noticeable in large masses. Here there may very likely be
some special protection of nauseous taste in the aphides themselves (I
will confess that I have not ventured to try the experiment in person),
as in many other instances we know that conspicuously-coloured insects
advertise their nastiness, as it were, to the birds by their own
integuments, and so escape being eaten in mistake for any of their less
protected relatives.

On the other hand, it seems pretty clear that certain plants have
efficiently armed themselves against the aphides, in turn, by secreting
bitter or otherwise unpleasant juices. So far as I can discover, the
little plunderers seldom touch the pungent 'nasturtiums' or tropsælums
of our flower-gardens, even when these grow side by side with other
plants on which the aphides are swarming. Often, indeed, I find winged
forms upon the leaf-stem of a nasturtium, having come there evidently in
hopes of starting a new colony; but usually in a dead or dying
condition--the pungent juice seems to have poisoned them. So, too,
spinach and lettuce may be covered with blight, while the bitter
spurges, the woolly-leaved arabis, and the strong-scented thyme close by
are utterly untouched. Plants seem to have acquired all these devices,
such as close networks of hair upon the leaves, strong essences, bitter
or pungent juices, and poisonous principles, mainly as deterrents for
insect enemies, of which caterpillars and plant-lice are by far the most
destructive. It would be unpardonable, of course, to write about
honey-dew without mentioning tobacco; and I may add parenthetically that
aphides are determined anti-tobacconists, nicotine, in fact, being a
deadly poison to them. Smoking with tobacco, or sprinkling with
tobacco-water, are familiar modes of getting rid of the unwelcome
intruders in gardens. Doubtless this peculiar property of the tobacco
plant has been developed as a prophylactic against insect enemies: and
if so, we may perhaps owe the weed itself, as a smokable leaf, to the
little aphides. Granting this hypothetical connection, the name of
honey-dew would indeed be a peculiarly appropriate one. I may mention in
passing that tobacco is quite fatal to almost all insects, a fact which
I present gratuitously to the blowers of counterblasts, who are at
liberty to make whatever use they choose of it. Quassia and aloes are
also well-known preventives of fly or blight in gardens.

The most complete life-history yet given of any member of the aphis
family is that which M. Jules Lichtenstein has worked out with so much
care in the case of the phylloxera of the oak-tree. In April, the winter
eggs of this species, laid in the bark of an oak, each hatch out a
wingless imperfect female, which M. Lichtenstein calls the foundress.
After moulting four times, the foundress produces, by parthenogenesis, a
number of false eggs, which it fastens to the leaf-stalks and under side
of the foliage. These false eggs hatch out a larval form, wingless, but
bigger than any of the subsequent generations; and the larvæ so produced
themselves once more give origin to more larvæ, which acquire wings, and
fly away from the oak on which they were born to another of a different
species in the same neighbourhood. There these larvæ of the second crop
once more lay false eggs, from which the third larval generation is
developed. This brood is again wingless, and it proceeds at once to bud
out several generations more, by internal gemmation, as long as the warm
weather lasts. According to M. Lichtenstein, all previous observations
have been made only on aphides of this third type; and he maintains that
every species in the whole family really undergoes an analogous
alternation of generations. At last, when the cold weather begins to set
in, a fourth larval form appears, which soon obtains wings, and flies
back to the same kind of oak on which the foundresses were first hatched
out, all the intervening generations having passed their lives in
sucking the juices of the other oak to which the second larval form
migrated. The fourth type here produce perfect male and female insects,
which are wingless, and have no sucking apparatus. The females, after
being impregnated, lay a single egg each, which they hide in the bark,
where it remains during the winter, till in spring it once more hatches
out into a foundress, and the whole cycle begins over again. Whether all
the aphides do or do not pass through corresponding stages is not yet
quite certain. But Kentish farmers believe that the hop-fly migrates to
hop-bines from plum-trees in the neighbourhood; and M. Lichtenstein
considers that such migrations from one plant to another are quite
normal in the family. We know, indeed, that many great plagues of our
crops are thus propagated, sometimes among closely related plants, but
sometimes also among the most widely separated species. For example,
turnip-fly (which is not an aphis, but a small beetle) always begins its
ravages (as Miss Ormerod has abundantly shown) upon a plot of charlock,
and then spreads from patches of that weed to the neighbouring turnips,
which are slightly diverse members of the same genus. But, on the other
hand, it has long been well known that rust in wheat is specially
connected with the presence of the barberry bush; and it has recently
been proved that the fungus which produces the disease passes its early
stages on the barberry leaves, and only migrates in later generations to
the growing wheat. This last case brings even more prominently into
light than ever the essential resemblance of the aphides to


For many centuries the occult problem how to account for the milk in the
coco-nut has awakened the profoundest interest alike of ingenuous
infancy and of maturer scientific age. Though it cannot be truthfully
affirmed of it, as of the cosmogony or creation of the world, in the
'Vicar of Wakefield,' that it 'has puzzled the philosophers of all ages'
(for Sanchoniathon was certainly ignorant of the very existence of that
delicious juice, and Manetho doubtless went to his grave without ever
having tasted it fresh from the nut under a tropical verandah), yet it
may be safely asserted that for the last three hundred years the
philosopher who has not at some time or other of his life meditated upon
that abstruse question is unworthy of such an exalted name. The
cosmogony and the milk in the coco-nut are, however, a great deal closer
together in thought than Sanchoniathon or Manetho, or the rogue who
quoted them so glibly, is ever at all likely, in his wildest moments, to
have imagined.

The coco-nut, in fact, is a subject well deserving of the most
sympathetic treatment at the gentle hands of grateful humanity. No other
plant is useful to us in so many diverse and remarkable manners. It has
been truly said of that friend of man, the domestic pig, that he is all
good, from the end of his snout to the tip of his tail; but even the
pig, though he furnishes us with so many necessaries or luxuries--from
tooth-brushes to sausages, from ham to lard, from pepsine wine to pork
pies--does not nearly approach, in the multiplicity and variety of his
virtues, the all-sufficing and world-supplying coco-nut. A Chinese
proverb says that there are as many useful properties in the coco-nut
palm as there are days in the year; and a Polynesian saying tells us
that the man who plants a coco-nut plants meat and drink, hearth and
home, vessels and clothing, for himself and his children after him. Like
the great Mr. Whiteley, the invaluable palm-tree might modestly
advertise itself as a universal provider. The solid part of the nut
supplies food almost alone to thousands of people daily, and the milk
serves them for drink, thus acting as an efficient filter to the water
absorbed by the roots in the most polluted or malarious regions. If you
tap the flower stalk you get a sweet juice, which can be boiled down
into the peculiar sugar called (in the charming dialect of commerce)
jaggery; or it can be fermented into a very nasty spirit known as
palm-wine, toddy, or arrack; or it can be mixed with bitter herbs and
roots to make that delectable compound 'native beer.' If you squeeze the
dry nut you get coco-nut oil, which is as good as lard for frying when
fresh, and is 'an excellent substitute for butter at breakfast,' on
tropical tables. Under the mysterious name of copra (which most of us
have seen with awe described in the market reports as 'firm' or 'weak,'
'receding' or 'steady') it forms the main or only export of many Oceanic
islands, and is largely imported into this realm of England, where the
thicker portion is called stearine, and used for making sundry candles
with fanciful names, while the clear oil is employed for burning in
ordinary lamps. In the process of purification, it yields glycerine; and
it enters largely into the manufacture of most better-class soaps. The
fibre that surrounds the nut makes up the other mysterious article of
commerce known as coir, which is twisted into stout ropes, or woven into
coco-nut matting and ordinary door-mats. Brushes and brooms are also
made of it, and it is used, not always in the most honest fashion, in
place of real horse-hair in stuffing cushions. The shell, cut in half,
supplies good cups, and is artistically carved by the Polynesians,
Japanese, Hindoos, and other benighted heathen, who have not yet learnt
the true methods of civilised machine-made shoddy manufacture. The
leaves serve as excellent thatch; on the flat blades, prepared like
papyrus, the most famous Buddhist manuscripts are written; the long
mid-ribs or branches (strictly speaking, the leaf-stalks) answer
admirably for rafters, posts, or fencing; the fibrous sheath at the base
is a remarkable natural imitation of cloth, employed for strainers,
wrappers, and native hats; while the trunk, or stem, passes in carpentry
under the name of porcupine wood, and produces beautiful effects as a
wonderfully coloured cabinet-makers' material. These are only a few
selected instances out of the innumerable uses of the coco-nut palm.

Apart even from the manifold merits of the tree that bears it, the milk
itself has many and great claims to our respect and esteem, as everybody
who has ever drunk it in its native surroundings will enthusiastically
admit. In England, to be sure, the white milk in the dry nuts is a very
poor stuff, sickly, and strong-flavoured, and rather indigestible. But
in the tropics, coco-nut milk, or, as we oftener call it there, coco-nut
water, is a very different and vastly superior sort of beverage. At
eleven o'clock every morning, when you are hot and tired with the day's
work, your black servant, clad from head to foot in his cool clean white
linen suit, brings you in a tall soda glass full of a clear, light,
crystal liquid, temptingly displayed against the yellow background of a
chased Benares brass-work tray. The lump of ice bobs enticingly up and
down in the centre of the tumbler, or clinks musically against the edge
of the glass as he carries it along. You take the cool cup thankfully
and swallow it down at one long draught; fresh as a May morning, pure as
an English hillside spring, delicate as--well, as coco-nut water. None
but itself can be its parallel. It is certainly the most delicious,
dainty, transparent, crystal drink ever invented. How did it get there,
and what is it for?

In the early green stage at which coco-nuts are generally picked for
household use in the tropics the shell hasn't yet solidified into a hard
stony coat, but still remains quite soft enough to be readily cut
through with a sharp table knife--just like young walnuts picked for
pickling. If you cut one across while it's in this unsophisticated
state, it is easy enough to see the arrangement of the interior, and the
part borne by the milk in the development and growth of the mature nut.
The ordinary tropical way of opening coco-nuts for table, indeed, is by
cutting off the top of the shell and rind in successive slices, at the
end where the three pores are situated, until you reach the level of the
water, which fills up the whole interior. The nutty part around the
inside of the shell is then extremely soft and jelly-like, so that it
can be readily eaten with a spoon; but as a matter of fact very few
people ever do eat the flesh at all. After their first few months in the
tropics, they lose the taste for this comparatively indigestible part,
and confine themselves entirely (like patients at a German spa) to
drinking the water. A young coco-nut is thus seen to consist, first of a
green outer skin, then of a fibrous coat, which afterwards becomes the
hair, and next of a harder shell which finally gets quite woody; while
inside all comes the actual seed or unripe nut itself. The office of the
coco-nut water is the deposition of the nutty part around the side of
the shell; it is, so to speak, the mother liquid, from which the harder
eatable portion is afterwards derived. This state is not uncommon in
embryo seeds. In a very young pea, for example, the inside is quite
watery, and only the outer skin is at all solid, as we have all observed
when green peas first come into season. But the special peculiarity of
the coco-nut consists in the fact that this liquid condition of the
interior continues even after the nut is ripe, and that is the really
curious point about the milk in the coco-nut which does actually need
accounting for.

In order to understand it one ought to examine a coco-nut in the act of
budding, and to do this it is by no means necessary to visit the West
Indies or the Pacific Islands; all you need to do is to ask a Covent
Garden fruit salesman to get you a few 'growers.' On the voyage to
England, a certain number of precocious coco-nuts, stimulated by the
congenial warmth and damp of most shipholds, usually begin to sprout
before their time; and these waste nuts are sold by the dealers at a low
rate to East-end children and inquiring botanists. An examination of a
'grower' very soon convinces one what is the use of the milk in the

It must be duly borne in mind, to begin with, that the prime end and
object of the nut is not to be eaten raw by the ingenious monkey, or to
be converted by lordly man into coco-nut biscuits, or coco-nut pudding,
but simply and solely to reproduce the coco-nut palm in sufficient
numbers to future generations. For this purpose the nut has slowly
acquired by natural selection a number of protective defences against
its numerous enemies, which serve to guard it admirably in the native
state from almost all possible animal depredators. First of all, the
actual nut or seed itself consists of a tiny embryo plant, placed just
inside the softest of the three pores or pits at the end of the shell,
and surrounded by a vast quantity of nutritious pulp, destined to feed
and support it during its earliest unprotected days, if not otherwise
diverted by man or monkey. But as whatever feeds a young plant will also
feed an animal, and as many animals betray a felonious desire to
appropriate to their own wicked ends the food-stuffs laid up by the palm
for the use of its own seedling, the coco-nut has been compelled to
inclose this particularly large and rich kernel in a very solid and
defensive shell. And, once more, since the palm grows at a very great
height from the ground--I have seen them up to ninety feet in favourable
circumstances--this shell stands a very good chance of getting broken in
tumbling to the earth, so that it has been necessary to surround it with
a mass of soft and yielding fibrous material, which breaks its fall, and
acts as a buffer to it when it comes in contact with the soil beneath.
So many protections has the coco-nut gradually devised for itself by the
continuous survival of the best adapted amid numberless and endless
spontaneous variations of all its kind in past time.

Now, when the coco-nut has actually reached the ground at last, and
proceeds to sprout in the spot where chance (perhaps in the bodily shape
of a disappointed monkey) has chosen to cast it, these numerous
safeguards and solid envelopes naturally begin to prove decided
nuisances to the embryo within. It starts under the great disadvantage
of being hermetically sealed within a solid wooden shell, so that no
water can possibly get at it to aid it as most other seeds are aided in
the process of germination. Fancy yourself a seed-pea, anxious to
sprout, but coated all round with a hard covering of impermeable
sealing-wax, and you will be in a position faintly to appreciate the
unfortunate predicament of a grower coco-nut. Natural selection,
however--that _deus ex machinâ_ of modern science, which can perform
such endless wonders, if only you give it time enough to work in and
variations enough to work upon--natural selection has come to the rescue
of the unhappy plant by leaving it a little hole at the top of the
shell, out of which it can push its feathery green head without
difficulty. Everybody knows that if you look at the sharp end of a
coco-nut you will see three little brown pits or depressions on its
surface. Most people also know that two of these are firmly stopped up
(for a reason to which I shall presently recur), but that the third one
is only closed by a slight film or very thin shell, which can be easily
bored through with a pocket knife, so as to let the milk run off before
cracking the shell. So much we have all learnt during our ardent pursuit
of natural knowledge on half-holidays in early life. But we probably
then failed to observe that just opposite this soft hole lies a small
roundish knob, imbedded in the pulp or eatable portion, which knob is in
fact the embryo palm or seedling, for whose ultimate benefit the whole
arrangement (in brown and green) has been invented. That is very much
the way with man: he notices what concerns his own appetite, and omits
all the really important parts of the whole subject. _We_ think the use
of the hole is to let out the milk; but the nut knows that its real
object is to let out the seedling. The knob grows out at last into the
young plantlet, and it is by means of the soft hole that it makes its
escape through the shell to the air and the sunshine which it seeks
without. This brings us really down at last to the true _raison d'être_
for the milk in the coco-nut. As the seed or kernel cannot easily get at
much water from outside, it has a good supply of water laid up for it
ready beforehand within its own encircling shell. The mother liquid from
which the pulp or nutty part has been deposited remains in the centre,
as the milk, till the tiny embryo begins to sprout. As soon as it does
so, the little knob which was at first so very small enlarges rapidly
and absorbs the water, till it grows out into a big spongy cellular
mass, which at last almost fills up the entire shell. At the same time,
its other end pushes its way out through the soft hole, and then gives
birth to a growing bud at the top--the future stem and leaves--and to a
number of long threads beneath--the future roots. Meanwhile, the spongy
mass inside begins gradually to absorb all the nutty part, using up its
oils and starches for the purpose of feeding the young plant above,
until it is of an age to expand its leaves to the open tropical sunlight
and shift for itself in the struggle for life. It seems at first sight
very hard to understand how any tissue so solid as the pulp of coco-nut
can be thus softened and absorbed without any visible cause; but in the
subtle chemistry of living vegetation such a transformation is
comparatively simple and easy to perform. Nature sometimes works much
greater miracles than this in the same way: for example, what is called
vegetable ivory, a substance so solid that it can be carved or turned
only with great difficulty, is really the kernel of another palm-nut,
allied to the coco-palm, and its very stony particles are all similarly
absorbed during germination by the dissolving power of the young

Why, however, has the coco-nut three pores at the top instead of one,
and why are two out of the three so carefully and firmly sealed up? The
explanation of this strange peculiarity is only to be found in the
ancestral history of the coco-nut kind. Most nuts, indeed, start in
their earlier stage as if they meant to produce two or more seeds each;
but as they ripen, all the seeds except one become abortive. The almond,
for example, has in the flower two seeds or kernels to each nut; but in
the ripe state there is generally only one, though occasionally we find
an almond with two--a philipoena, as we commonly call it--just to
keep in memory the original arrangement of its earlier ancestors. The
reason for this is that plants whose fruits have no special protection
for their seeds are obliged to produce a great many of them at once, in
order that one seed in a thousand may finally survive the onslaughts of
their Argus-eyed enemies; but when they learn to protect themselves by
hard coverings from birds and beasts, they can dispense with some of
these supernumerary seeds, and put more nutriment into each one of those
that they still retain. Compare, for example, the innumerable small
round seedlets of the poppyhead with the solitary large and richly
stored seed of the walnut, or the tiny black specks of mustard and cress
with the single compact and well-filled seed of the filbert and the
acorn. To the very end, however, most nuts begin in the flower as if
they meant to produce a whole capsuleful of small unstored and
unprotected seeds, like their original ancestors; it is only at the last
moment that they recollect themselves, suppress all their ovules except
one, and store that one with all the best and oiliest food-stuffs at
their disposal. The nuts, in fact, have learned by long experience that
it is better to be the only son and heir of a wealthy house, set up in
life with a good capital to begin upon, than to be one of a poor family
of thirteen needy and unprovided children.

Now, the coco-nuts are descended from a great tribe--the palms and
lilies--which have as their main distinguishing peculiarity the
arrangement of parts in their flowers and fruits by threes each. For
example, in the most typical flowers of this great group, there are
three green outer calyx-pieces, three bright-coloured petals, three long
outer stamens, three short inner stamens, three valves to the capsule,
and three seeds or three rows of seeds in each fruit. Many palms still
keep pretty well to this primitive arrangement, but a few of them which
have specially protected or highly developed fruits or nuts have lost in
their later stages the threefold disposition in the fruit, and possess
only one seed, often a very large one. There is no better and more
typical nut in the whole world than a coco-nut--that is to say, from our
present point of view at least, though the fear of that awful person,
the botanical Smelfungus, compels me to add that this is not quite
technically true. Smelfungus, indeed, would insist upon it that the
coco-nut is not a nut at all, and would thrill us with the delightful
information, innocently conveyed in that delicious dialect of which he
is so great a master, that it is really 'a drupaceous fruit with a
fibrous mesocarp.' Still, in spite of Smelfungus with his nice
hair-splitting distinctions, it remains true that humanity at large will
still call a nut a nut, and that the coco-nut is the highest known
development of the peculiar nutty tactics. It has the largest and most
richly stored seed of any known plant; and this seed is surrounded by
one of the hardest and most unmanageable of any known shells. Hence the
coco-nut has readily been able to dispense with the three kernels which
each nut used in its earlier and less developed days to produce. But
though the palm has thus taken to reducing the number of its seeds in
each fruit to the lowest possible point consistent with its continued
existence at all, it still goes on retaining many signs of its ancient
threefold arrangement. The ancestral and most deeply ingrained habits
persist in the earlier stages; it is only in the mature form that the
later acquired habits begin fully to predominate. Even so our own boys
pass through an essentially savage childhood of ogres and fairies, bows
and arrows, sugar-plums and barbaric nursery tales, as well as a
romantic boyhood of mediæval chivalry and adventure, before they steady
down into that crowning glory of our race, the solid, sober,
matter-of-fact, commercial British Philistine. Hence the coco-nut in its
unstripped state is roughly triangular in form, its angles answering to
the separate three fruits of simpler palms; and it has three pits or
weak places in the shell, through which the embryos of the three
original kernels used to force their way out. But as only one of them is
now needed, that one alone is left soft; the other two, which would be
merely a source of weakness to the plant if unprotected, are covered in
the existing nut by harder shell. Doubtless they serve in part to
deceive the too inquisitive monkey or other enemy, who probably
concludes that if one of the pits is hard and impermeable, the other two
are so likewise.

Though I have now, I hope, satisfactorily accounted for the milk in the
coco-nut, and incidentally for some other matters in its economy as
well, I am loth to leave the young seedling whom I have brought so far
on his way to the tender mercies of the winds and storms and tropical
animals, some of whom are extremely fond of his juicy and delicate
shoots. Indeed, the growing point or bud of most palms is a very
pleasant succulent vegetable, and one kind--the West Indian mountain
cabbage--deserves a better and more justly descriptive name, for it is
really much more like seakale or asparagus. I shall try to follow our
young seedling on in life, therefore, so as to give, while I am about
it, a fairly comprehensive and complete biography of a single
flourishing coco-nut palm.

Beginning, then, with the fall of the nut from the parent-tree, the
troubles of the future palm confront it at once in the shape of the
nut-eating crab. This evil-disposed crustacean is common around the
sea-coast of the eastern tropical islands, which is also the region
mainly affected by the coco-nut palm; for coco-nuts are essentially
shore-loving trees, and thrive best in the immediate neighbourhood of
the sea. Among the fallen nuts, the clumsy-looking thief of a crab (his
appropriate Latin name is _Birgus latro_) makes great and dreaded havoc.
To assist him in his unlawful object he has developed a pair of front
legs, with specially strong and heavy claws, supplemented by a last or
tail-end pair armed only with very narrow and slender pincers. He
subsists entirely upon a coco-nut diet. Setting to work upon a big
fallen nut--with the husk on, coco-nuts measure in the raw state about
twelve inches the long way--he tears off all the coarse fibre bit by
bit, and gets down at last to the hard shell. Then he hammers away with
his heavy claw on the softest eye-hole till he has pounded an opening
right through it. This done he twists round his body so as to turn his
back upon the coco-nut he is operating upon (crabs are never famous
either for good manners or gracefulness) and proceeds awkwardly but
effectually to extract all the white kernel or pulp through the breach
with his narrow pair of hind pincers. Like man, too, the robber-crab
knows the value of the outer husk as well as of the eatable nut itself,
for he collects the fibre in surprising quantities to line his burrow,
and lies upon it, the clumsy sybarite, for a luxurious couch. Alas,
however, for the helplessness of crabs, and the rapacity and cunning of
all-appropriating man! The spoil-sport Malay digs up the nest for the
sake of the fibre it contains, which spares him the trouble of picking
junk on his own account, and then he eats the industrious crab who has
laid it all up, while he melts down the great lump of fat under the
robber's capacious tail, and sometimes gets from it as much as a good
quart of what may be practically considered as limpid coco-nut oil. _Sic
vos non vobis_ is certainly the melancholy refrain of all natural
history. The coco-nut palm intends the oil for the nourishment of its
own seedling; the crab feloniously appropriates it and stores it up
under his capacious tail for future personal use; the Malay steals it
again from the thief for his own purposes; and ten to one the Dutch or
English merchant beguiles it from him with sized calico or poisoned rum,
and transmits it to Europe, where it serves to lighten our nights and
assist at our matutinal tub, to point a moral and adorn the present

If, however, our coco-nut is lucky enough to escape the robber-crabs,
the pigs, and the monkeys, as well as to avoid falling into the hands of
man, and being converted into the copra of commerce, or sold from a
costermonger's barrow in the chilly streets of ungenial London at a
penny a slice, it may very probably succeed in germinating after the
fashion I have already described, and pushing up its head through the
surrounding foliage to the sunlight above. As a rule, the coco-nut has
been dropped by its mother tree on the sandy soil of a sea-beach; and
this is the spot it best loves, and where it grows to the stateliest
height. Sometimes, however, it falls into the sea itself, and then the
loose husk buoys it up, so that it floats away bravely till it is cast
by the waves upon some distant coral reef or desert island. It is this
power of floating and surviving a long voyage that has dispersed the
coco-nut so widely among oceanic islands, where so few plants are
generally to be found. Indeed, on many atolls or isolated reefs (for
example, on Keeling Island) it is the only tree or shrub that grows in
any quantity, and on it the pigs, the poultry, the ducks, and the land
crabs of the place entirely subsist. In any case, wherever it happens to
strike, the young coco-nut sends up at first a fine rosette of big
spreading leaves, not raised as afterwards on a tall stem, but springing
direct from the ground in a wide circle, something like a very big and
graceful fern. In this early stage nothing can be more beautiful or more
essentially tropical in appearance than a plantation of young coco-nuts.
Their long feathery leaves spreading out in great clumps from the buried
stock, and waving with lithe motion before the strong sea-breeze of the
Indies, are the very embodiment of those deceptive ideal tropics which,
alas, are to be found in actual reality nowhere on earth save in the
artificial palm-houses at Kew, and the Casino Gardens at too entrancing
Monte Carlo.

For the first two or three years the young palms must be well watered,
and the soil around them opened; after which the tall graceful stem
begins to rise rapidly into the open air. In this condition it may be
literally said to make the tropics--those fallacious tropics, I mean, of
painters and poets, of Enoch Arden and of Locksley Hall. You may observe
that whenever an artist wants to make a tropical picture, he puts a
group of coco-nut palms in the foreground, as much as to say, 'You see
there's no deception; these are the genuine unadulterated tropics.' But
as to painting the tropics without the palms, he might just as well
think of painting the desert without the camels. At eight or ten years
old the tree flowers, bearing blossoms of the ordinary palm type,
degraded likenesses of the lilies and yuccas, greenish and
inconspicuous, but visited by insects for the sake of their pollen. The
flower, however, is fertilised by the wind, which carries the pollen
grains from one bunch of blossoms to another. Then the nuts gradually
swell out to an enormous size, and ripen very slowly, even under the
brilliant tropical sun. (I will admit that the tropics are hot, though
in other respects I hold them to be arrant impostors, like that
precocious American youth who announced on his tenth birthday that in
his opinion life wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.) But the worst
thing about the coco-nut palm, the missionaries always say, is the
fatal fact that, when once fairly started, it goes on bearing fruit
uninterruptedly for forty years. This is very immoral and wrong of the
ill-conditioned tree, because it encourages the idyllic Polynesian to
lie under the palms, all day long, cooling his limbs in the sea
occasionally, sporting with Amaryllis in the shade, or with the tangles
of Neæra's hair, and waiting for the nuts to drop down in due time, when
he ought (according to European notions) to be killing himself with hard
work under a blazing sky, raising cotton, sugar, indigo, and coffee, for
the immediate benefit of the white merchant, and the ultimate advantage
of the British public. It doesn't enforce habits of steady industry and
perseverance, the good missionaries say; it doesn't induce the native to
feel that burning desire for Manchester piece-goods and the other
blessings of civilisation which ought properly to accompany the
propagation of the missionary in foreign parts. You stick your nut in
the sand; you sit by a few years and watch it growing; you pick up the
ripe fruits as they fall from the tree; and you sell them at last for
illimitable red cloth to the Manchester piece-goods merchant. Nothing
could be more simple or more satisfactory. And yet it is difficult to
see the precise moral distinction between the owner of a coco-nut grove
in the South Sea Islands and the owner of a coal-mine or a big estate in
commercial England. Each lounges decorously through life after his own
fashion; only the one lounges in a Russia leather chair at a club in
Pall Mall, while the other lounges in a nice soft dust-heap beside a
rolling surf in Tahiti or the Hawaiian Archipelago.

Curiously enough, at a little distance from the sandy levels or alluvial
flats of the sea-shore, the sea-loving coco-nut will not bring its nuts
to perfection. It will grow, indeed, but it will not thrive or fruit in
due season. On the coast-line of Southern India, immense groves of
coco-nuts fringe the shore for miles and miles together; and in some
parts, as in Travancore, they form the chief agricultural staple of the
whole country. 'The State has hence facetiously been called
Coconutcore,' says its historian; which charmingly illustrates the true
Anglo-Indian notion of what constitutes facetiousness, and ought to
strike the last nail into the coffin of a competitive examination
system. A good tree in full bearing should produce 120 coco-nuts in a
season; so that a very small grove is quite sufficient to maintain a
respectable family in decency and comfort. Ah, what a mistake the
English climate made when it left off its primitive warmth of the
tertiary period, and got chilled by the ice and snow of the Glacial
Epoch down to its present misty and dreary wheat-growing condition! If
it were not for that, those odious habits of steady industry and
perseverance might never have been developed in ourselves at all, and we
might be lazily picking copra off our own coco-palms, to this day, to
export in return for the piece-goods of some Arctic Manchester situated
somewhere about the north of Spitzbergen or the New Siberian Islands.

Even as things stand at the present day, however, it is wonderful how
much use we modern Englishmen now make in our own houses of this far
Eastern nut, whose very name still bears upon its face the impress of
its originally savage origin. From morning to night we never leave off
being indebted to it. We wash with it as old brown Windsor or glycerine
soap the moment we leave our beds. We walk across our passages on the
mats made from its fibre. We sweep our rooms with its brushes, and wipe
our feet on it as we enter our doors. As rope, it ties up our trunks and
packages; in the hands of the housemaid it scrubs our floors; or else,
woven into coarse cloth, it acts as a covering for bales and furniture
sent by rail or steamboat. The confectioner undermines our digestion in
early life with coco-nut candy; the cook tempts us later on with
coco-nut cake; and Messrs. Huntley and Palmer cordially invite us to
complete the ruin with coco-nut biscuits. We anoint our chapped hands
with one of its preparations after washing; and grease the wheels of our
carriages with another to make them run smoothly. Finally, we use the
oil to burn in our reading lamps, and light ourselves at last to bed
with stearine candles. Altogether, an amateur census of a single small
English cottage results in the startling discovery that it contains
twenty-seven distinct articles which owe their origin in one way or
another to the coco-nut palm. And yet we affect in our black ingratitude
to despise the question of the milk in the coco-nut.


When a man and a bear meet together casually in an American forest, it
makes a great deal of difference, to the two parties concerned at least,
whether the bear eats the man or the man eats the bear. We haven't the
slightest difficulty in deciding afterwards which of the two, in each
particular case, has been the eater, and which the eaten. Here, we say,
is the grizzly that eat the man; or, here is the man that smoked and
dined off the hams of the grizzly. Basing our opinion upon such familiar
and well-known instances, we are apt to take it for granted far too
readily that between eating and being eaten, between the active and the
passive voice of the verb _edo_, there exists necessarily a profound and
impassable native antithesis. To swallow an oyster is, in our own
personal histories, so very different a thing from being swallowed by a
shark that we can hardly realise at first the underlying fundamental
identity of eating with mere coalescence. And yet, at the very outset of
the art of feeding, when the nascent animal first began to indulge in
this very essential animal practice, one may fairly say that no
practical difference as yet existed between the creature that ate and
the creature that was eaten. After the man and the bear had finished
their little meal, if one may be frankly metaphorical, it was impossible
to decide whether the remaining being was the man or the bear, or which
of the two had swallowed the other. The dinner having been purely
mutual, the resulting animal represented both the litigants equally;
just as, in cannibal New Zealand, the chief who ate up his brother chief
was held naturally to inherit the goods and chattels of the vanquished
and absorbed rival, whom he had thus literally and physically

A jelly-speck, floating about at his ease in a drop of stagnant water
under the field of a microscope, collides accidentally with another
jelly-speck who happens to be travelling in the opposite direction
across the same miniature ocean. What thereupon occurs? One jelly-speck
rolls itself gradually into the other, so that, instead of two, there is
now one; and the united body proceeds to float away quite unconcernedly,
without waiting to trouble itself for a second with the profound
metaphysical question, which half of it is the original personality, and
which half the devoured and digested. In these minute and very simple
animals there is absolutely no division of labour between part and part;
every bit of the jelly-like mass is alike head and foot and mouth and
stomach. The jelly-speck has no permanent limbs, but it keeps putting
forth vague arms and legs every now and then from one side or the other;
and with these temporary and ever-dissolving members it crawls along
merrily through its tiny drop of stagnant water. If two of the legs or
arms happen to knock up casually against one another, they coalesce at
once, just like two drops of water on a window-pane, or two strings of
treacle slowly spreading along the surface of a plate. When the
jelly-speck meets any edible thing--a bit of dead plant, a wee creature
like itself, a microscopic egg--it proceeds to fold its own substance
slimily around it, making, as it were, a temporary mouth for the purpose
of swallowing it, and a temporary stomach for the purpose of quietly
digesting and assimilating it afterwards. Thus what at one moment is a
foot may at the next moment become a mouth, and at the moment after that
again a rudimentary stomach. The animal has no skin and no body, no
outside and no inside, no distinction of parts or members, no
individuality, no identity. Roll it up into one with another of its
kind, and it couldn't tell you itself a minute afterwards which of the
two it had really been a minute before. The question of personal
identity is here considerably mixed.

But as soon as we get to rather larger creatures of the same type, the
antithesis between the eater and the eaten begins to assume a more
definite character. The big jelly-bag approaches a good many smaller
jelly-bags, microscopic plants, and other appropriate food-stuffs, and,
surrounding them rapidly with its crawling arms, envelopes them in its
own substance, which closes behind them and gradually digests them.
Everybody knows, by name at least, that revolutionary and evolutionary
hero, the amoeba--the terror of theologians, the pet of professors,
and the insufferable bore of the general reader. Well, this parlous and
subversive little animal consists of a comparatively large mass of soft
jelly, pushing forth slender lobes, like threads or fingers, from its
own substance, and gliding about, by means of these tiny legs, over
water-plants and other submerged surfaces. But though it can literally
turn itself inside out, like a glove, it still has some faint beginnings
of a mouth and stomach, for it generally takes in food and absorbs water
through a particular part of its surface, where the slimy mass of its
body is thinnest. Thus the amoeba may be said really to eat and
drink, though quite devoid of any special organs for eating or drinking.

The particular point to which I wish to draw attention here, however, is
this: that even the very simplest and most primitive animals do
discriminate somehow between what is eatable and what isn't. The
amoeba has no eyes, no nose, no mouth, no tongue, no nerves of taste,
no special means of discrimination of any kind; and yet, so long as it
meets only grains of sand or bits of shell, it makes no effort in any
way to swallow them; but, the moment it comes across a bit of material
fit for its food, it begins at once to spread its clammy fingers around
the nutritious morsel. The fact is, every part of the amoeba's body
apparently possesses, in a very vague form, the first beginnings of
those senses which in us are specialised and confined to a single spot.
And it is because of the light which the amoeba thus incidentally
casts upon the nature of the specialised senses in higher animals that I
have ventured once more to drag out of the private life of his native
pond that already too notorious and obtrusive rhizopod.

With us lordly human beings, at the extreme opposite end in the scale of
being from the microscopic jelly-specks, the art of feeding and the
mechanism which provides for it have both reached a very high state of
advanced perfection. We have slowly evolved a tongue and palate on the
one hand, and French cooks and _pâté de foie gras_ on the other. But
while everybody knows practically how things taste to us, and which
things respectively we like and dislike, comparatively few people ever
recognise that the sense of taste is not merely intended as a source of
gratification, but serves a useful purpose in our bodily economy, in
informing us what we ought to eat and what to refuse. Paradoxical as it
may sound at first to most people, nice things are, in the main, things
that are good for us, and nasty things are poisonous or otherwise
injurious. That we often practically find the exact contrary the case
(alas!) is due, not to the provisions of nature, but to the artificial
surroundings in which we live, and to the cunning way in which we
flavour up unwholesome food, so as to deceive and cajole the natural
palate. Yet, after all, it is a pleasant gospel that what we like is
really good for us, and, when we have made some small allowances for
artificial conditions, it is in the main a true one also.

The sense of taste, which in the lowest animals is diffused equally over
the whole frame, is in ourselves and other higher creatures concentrated
in a special part of the body, namely the mouth, where the food about to
be swallowed is chewed and otherwise prepared beforehand for the work of
digestion. Now it is, of course, quite clear that some sort of
supervision must be exercised by the body over the kind of food that is
going to be put into it. Common experience teaches us that prussic acid
and pure opium are undesirable food-stuffs in large quantities; that raw
spirits, petroleum, and red lead should be sparingly partaken of by the
judicious feeder; and that even green fruit, the bitter end of cucumber,
and the berries of deadly nightshade are unsatisfactory articles of diet
when continuously persisted in. If, at the very outset of our digestive
apparatus, we hadn't a sort of automatic premonitory adviser upon the
kinds of food we ought or ought not to indulge in, we should naturally
commit considerable imprudences in the way of eating and drinking--even
more than we do at present. Natural selection has therefore provided us
with a fairly efficient guide in this respect in the sense of taste,
which is placed at the very threshold, as it were, of our digestive
mechanism. It is the duty of taste to warn us against uneatable things,
and to recommend to our favourable attention eatable and wholesome ones;
and, on the whole, in spite of small occasional remissness, it performs
this duty with creditable success.

Taste, however, is not equally distributed over the whole surface of the
tongue alike. There are three distinct regions or tracts, each of which
has to perform its own special office and function. The tip of the
tongue is concerned mainly with pungent and acrid tastes; the middle
portion is sensitive chiefly to sweets and bitters; while the back or
lower portion confines itself almost entirely to the flavours of roast
meats, butter, oils, and other rich or fatty substances. There are very
good reasons for this subdivision of faculties in the tongue, the object
being, as it were, to make each piece of food undergo three separate
examinations (like 'smalls,' 'mods,' and 'greats' at Oxford), which must
be successively passed before it is admitted into full participation in
the human economy. The first examination, as we shall shortly see, gets
rid at once of substances which would be actively and immediately
destructive to the very tissues of the mouth and body; the second
discriminates between poisonous and chemically harmless food-stuffs; and
the third merely decides the minor question whether the particular food
is likely to prove then and there wholesome or indigestible to the
particular person. The sense of taste proceeds, in fact, upon the
principle of gradual selection and elimination; it refuses first what is
positively destructive, next what is more remotely deleterious, and
finally what is only undesirable or over-luscious.

When we want to assure ourselves, by means of taste, about any unknown
object--say a lump of some white stuff, which may be crystal, or glass,
or alum, or borax, or quartz, or rock-salt--we put the tip of the tongue
against it gingerly. If it begins to burn us, we draw it away more or
less rapidly with an accompaniment in language strictly dependent upon
our personal habits and manners. The test we thus occasionally apply,
even in the civilised adult state, to unknown bodies is one that is
being applied every day and all day long by children and savages.
Unsophisticated humanity is constantly putting everything it sees up to
its mouth in a frank spirit of experimental inquiry as to its gustatory
properties. In civilised life we find everything ready labelled and
assorted for us; we comparatively seldom require to roll the contents of
a suspicious bottle (in very small quantities) doubtfully upon the
tongue in order to discover whether it is pale sherry or Chili vinegar,
Dublin stout or mushroom ketchup. But in the savage state, from which,
geologically and biologically speaking, we have only just emerged,
bottles and labels do not exist. Primitive man, therefore, in his sweet
simplicity, has only two modes open before him for deciding whether the
things he finds are or are not strictly edible. The first thing he does
is to sniff at them; and smell, being, as Mr. Herbert Spencer has well
put it, an anticipatory taste, generally gives him some idea of what the
thing is likely to prove. The second thing he does is to pop it into his
mouth, and proceed practically to examine its further characteristics.

Strictly speaking, with the tip of the tongue one can't really taste at
all. If you put a small drop of honey or of oil of bitter almonds on
that part of the mouth, you will find (no doubt to your great surprise)
that it produces no effect of any sort; you only taste it when it begins
slowly to diffuse itself, and reaches the true tasting region in the
middle distance. But if you put a little cayenne or mustard on the same
part, you will find that it bites you immediately--the experiment should
be tried sparingly--while if you put it lower down in the mouth you will
swallow it almost without noticing the pungency of the stimulant. The
reason is, that the tip of the tongue is supplied only with nerves which
are really nerves of touch, not nerves of taste proper; they belong to a
totally different main branch, and they go to a different centre in the
brain, together with the very similar threads which supply the nerves
of smell for mustard and pepper. That is why the smell and taste of
these pungent substances are so much alike, as everybody must have
noticed, a good sniff at a mustard-pot producing almost the same
irritating effects as an incautious mouthful. As a rule we don't
accurately distinguish, it is true, between these different regions of
taste in the mouth in ordinary life; but that is because we usually roll
our food about instinctively, without paying much attention to the
particular part affected by it. Indeed, when one is trying deliberate
experiments in the subject, in order to test the varying sensitiveness
of the different parts to different substances, it is necessary to keep
the tongue quite dry, in order to isolate the thing you are
experimenting with, and prevent its spreading to all parts of the mouth
together. In actual practice this result is obtained in a rather
ludicrous manner--by blowing upon the tongue, between each experiment,
with a pair of bellows. To such undignified expedients does the pursuit
of science lead the ardent modern psychologist. Those domestic rivals of
Dr. Forbes Winslow, the servants, who behold the enthusiastic
investigator alternately drying his tongue in this ridiculous fashion,
as if he were a blacksmith's fire, and then squeezing out a single drop
of essence of pepper, vinegar, or beef-tea from a glass syringe upon the
dry surface, not unnaturally arrive at the conclusion that master has
gone stark mad, and that, in their private opinion, it's the microscope
and the skeleton as has done it.

Above all things, we don't want to be flayed alive. So the kinds of
tastes discriminated by the tip of the tongue are the pungent, like
pepper, cayenne and mustard; the astringent, like borax and alum; the
alkaline, like soda and potash; the acid, like vinegar and green fruit;
and the saline, like salt and ammonia. Almost all the bodies likely to
give rise to such tastes (or, more correctly, sensations of touch in
the tongue) are obviously unwholesome and destructive in their
character, at least when taken in large quantities. Nobody wishes to
drink nitric acid by the quart. The first business of this part of the
tongue is, therefore, to warn us emphatically against caustic substances
and corrosive acids, against vitriol and kerosene, spirits of wine and
ether, capsicums and burning leaves or roots, such as those of the
common English lords-and-ladies. Things of this sort are immediately
destructive to the very tissues of the tongue and palate; if taken
incautiously in too large doses, they burn the skin off the roof of the
mouth; and when swallowed they play havoc, of course, with our internal
arrangements. It is highly advisable, therefore, to have an immediate
warning of these extremely dangerous substances, at the very outset of
our feeding apparatus.

This kind of taste hardly differs from touch or burning. The sensibility
of the tip of the tongue is only a very slight modification of the
sensibility possessed by the skin generally, and especially by the inner
folds over all delicate parts of the body. We all know that common
caustic burns us wherever it touches; and it burns the tongue only in a
somewhat more marked manner. Nitric or sulphuric acid attacks the
fingers each after its own kind. A mustard plaster makes us tingle
almost immediately; and the action of mustard on the tongue hardly
differs, except in being more instantaneous and more discriminative.
Cantharides work in just the same way. If you cut a red pepper in two
and rub it on your neck, it will sting just as it does when put into
soup (this experiment, however, is best tried upon one's younger
brother; if made personally, it hardly repays the trouble and
annoyance). Even vinegar and other acids, rubbed into the skin, are
followed by a slight tingling; while the effect of brandy, applied,
say, to the arms, is gently stimulating and pleasurable, somewhat in the
same way as when normally swallowed in conjunction with the habitual
seltzer. In short, most things which give rise to distinct tastes when
applied to the tip of the tongue give rise to fainter sensations when
applied to the skin generally. And one hardly needs to be reminded that
pepper or vinegar placed (accidentally as a rule) on the inner surface
of the eyelids produces a very distinct and unpleasant smart.

The fact is, the liability to be chemically affected by pungent or acid
bodies is common to every part of the skin; but it is least felt where
the tough outer skin is thickest, and most felt where that skin is
thinnest, and the nerves are most plentifully distributed near the
surface. A mustard plaster would probably fail to draw at all on one's
heel or the palm of one's hand; while it is decidedly painful on one's
neck or chest; and a mere speck of mustard inside the eyelid gives one
positive torture for hours together. Now, the tip of the tongue is just
a part of one's body specially set aside for this very object, provided
with an extremely thin skin, and supplied with an immense number of
nerves, on purpose so as to be easily affected by all such pungent,
alkaline, or spirituous substances. Sir Wilfrid Lawson would probably
conclude that it was deliberately designed by Providence to warn us
against a wicked indulgence in the brandy and seltzer aforesaid.

At first sight it might seem as though there were hardly enough of such
pungent and fiery things in existence to make it worth while for us to
be provided with a special mechanism for guarding against them. That is
true enough, no doubt, as regards our modern civilised life; though,
even now, it is perhaps just as well that our children should have an
internal monitor (other than conscience) to dissuade them immediately
from indiscriminate indulgence in photographic chemicals, the contents
of stray medicine bottles, and the best dried West India chilies. But in
an earlier period of progress, and especially in tropical countries
(where the Darwinians have now decided the human race made its first
_début_ upon this or any other stage), things were very different
indeed. Pungent and poisonous plants and fruits abounded on every side.
We have all of us in our youth been taken in by some too cruelly waggish
companion, who insisted upon making us eat the bright, glossy leaves of
the common English arum, which without look pretty and juicy enough, but
within are full of the concentrated essence of pungency and profanity.
Well, there are hundreds of such plants, even in cold climates, to tempt
the eyes and poison the veins of unsuspecting cattle or childish
humanity. There is buttercup, so horribly acrid that cows carefully
avoid it in their closest cropped pastures; and yet your cow is not
usually a too dainty animal. There is aconite, the deadly poison with
which Dr. Lamson removed his troublesome relatives. There is baneberry,
whose very name sufficiently describes its dangerous nature. There are
horse-radish, and stinging rocket, and biting wall-pepper, and still
smarter water-pepper, and worm-wood, and nightshade, and spurge, and
hemlock, and half a dozen other equally unpleasant weeds. All of these
have acquired their pungent and poisonous properties, just as nettles
have acquired their sting, and thistles their thorns, in order to
prevent animals from browsing upon them and destroying them. And the
animals in turn have acquired a very delicate sense of pungency on
purpose to warn them beforehand of the existence of such dangerous and
undesirable qualities in the plants which they might otherwise be
tempted incautiously to swallow.

In tropical woods, where our 'hairy quadrumanous ancestor' (Darwinian
for the primæval monkey, from whom we are presumably descended) used
playfully to disport himself, as yet unconscious of his glorious destiny
as the remote progenitor of Shakespeare, Milton, and the late Mr.
Peace--in tropical woods, such acrid or pungent fruits and plants are
particularly common, and correspondingly annoying. The fact is, our
primitive forefather and all the other monkeys are, or were, confirmed
fruit-eaters. But to guard against their depredations a vast number of
tropical fruits and nuts have acquired disagreeable or fiery rinds and
shells, which suffice to deter the bold aggressor. It may not be nice to
get your tongue burnt with a root or fruit, but it is at least a great
deal better than getting poisoned; and, roughly speaking, pungency in
external nature exactly answers to the rough gaudy labels which some
chemists paste on bottles containing poisons. It means to say, 'This
fruit or leaf, if you eat it in any quantities, will kill you.' That is
the true explanation of capsicums, pimento, colocynth, croton oil, the
upas tree, and the vast majority of bitter, acrid, or fiery fruits and
leaves. If we had to pick up our own livelihood, as our naked ancestors
had to do, from roots, seeds, and berries, we should far more readily
appreciate this simple truth. We should know that a great many more
plants than we now suspect are bitter or pungent, and therefore
poisonous. Even in England we are familiar enough with such defences as
those possessed by the outer rind of the walnut; but the tropical
cashew-nut has a rind so intensely acrid that it blisters the lips and
fingers instantaneously, in the same way as cantharides would do. I
believe that on the whole, taking nature throughout, more fruits and
nuts are poisonous, or intensely bitter, or very fiery, than are sweet,
luscious, and edible.

'But,' says that fidgety person, the hypothetical objector (whom one
always sets up for the express purpose of promptly knocking him down
again), 'if it be the business of the fore part of the tongue to warn us
against pungent and acrid substances, how comes it that we purposely use
such things as mustard, pepper, curry-powder, and vinegar?' Well, in
themselves all these things are, strictly speaking, bad for us; but in
small quantities they act as agreeable stimulants; and we take care in
preparing most of them to get rid of the most objectionable properties.
Moreover, we use them, not as foods, but merely as condiments. One drop
of oil of capsicums is enough to kill a man, if taken undiluted; but in
actual practice we buy it in such a very diluted form that comparatively
little harm arises from using it. Still, very young children dislike all
these violent stimulants, even in small quantities; they won't touch
mustard, pepper, or vinegar, and they recoil at once from wine or
spirits. It is only by slow degrees that we learn these unnatural
tastes, as our nerves get blunted and our palates jaded; and we all know
that the old Indian who can eat nothing but dry curries, devilled
biscuits, anchovy paste, pepper-pot, mulligatawny soup, Worcestershire
sauce, preserved ginger, hot pickles, fiery sherry, and neat cognac, is
also a person with no digestion, a fragmentary liver, and very little
chance of getting himself accepted by any safe and solvent insurance
office. Throughout, the warning in itself is a useful one; it is we who
foolishly and persistently disregard it. Alcohol, for example, tells us
at once that it is bad for us; yet we manage so to dress it up with
flavouring matters and dilute it with water that we overlook the fiery
character of the spirit itself. But that alcohol is in itself a bad
thing (when freely indulged in) has been so abundantly demonstrated in
the history of mankind that it hardly needs any further proof.

The middle region of the tongue is the part with which we experience
sensations of taste proper--that is to say, of sweetness and bitterness.
In a healthy, natural state all sweet things are pleasant to us, and all
bitters (even if combined with sherry) unpleasant. The reason for this
is easy enough to understand. It carries us back at once into those
primæval tropical forests, where our 'hairy ancestor' used to diet
himself upon the fruits of the earth in due season. Now, almost all
edible fruits, roots, and tubers contain sugar; and therefore the
presence of sugar is, in the wild condition, as good a rough test of
whether anything is good to eat as one could easily find. In fact, the
argument cuts both ways: edible fruits are sweet because they are
intended for man and other animals to eat; and man and other animals
have a tongue pleasurably affected by sugar because sugary things in
nature are for them in the highest degree edible. Our early progenitors
formed their taste upon oranges, mangoes, bananas, and grapes; upon
sweet potatoes, sugar-cane, dates, and wild honey. There is scarcely
anything fitted for human food in the vegetable world (and our earliest
ancestors were most undoubted vegetarians) which does not contain sugar
in considerable quantities. In temperate climates (where man is but a
recent intruder), we have taken, it is true, to regarding wheaten bread
as the staff of life; but in our native tropics enormous populations
still live almost exclusively upon plantains, bananas, bread-fruit,
yams, sweet potatoes, dates, cocoanuts, melons, cassava, pine-apples,
and figs. Our nerves have been adapted to the circumstances of our early
life as a race in tropical forests; and we still retain a marked liking
for sweets of every sort. Not content with our strawberries,
raspberries, gooseberries, currants, apples, pears, cherries, plums and
other northern fruits, we ransack the world for dates, figs, raisins,
and oranges. Indeed, in spite of our acquired meat-eating propensities,
it may be fairly said that fruits and seeds (including wheat, rice,
peas, beans, and other grains and pulse) still form by far the most
important element in the food-stuffs of human populations generally.

But besides the natural sweets, we have also taken to producing
artificial ones. Has any housewife ever realised the alarming condition
of cookery in the benighted generations before the invention of sugar?
It is really almost too appalling to think about. So many things that we
now look upon as all but necessaries--cakes, puddings, made dishes,
confectionery, preserves, sweet biscuits, jellies, cooked fruits, tarts,
and so forth--were then practically quite impossible. Fancy attempting
nowadays to live a single day without sugar; no tea, no coffee, no jam,
no pudding, no cake, no sweets, no hot toddy before one goes to bed; the
bare idea of it is too terrible. And yet that was really the abject
condition of all the civilised world up to the middle of the middle
ages. Horace's punch was sugarless and lemonless; the gentle Virgil
never tasted the congenial cup of afternoon tea; and Socrates went from
his cradle to his grave without ever knowing the flavour of peppermint
bull's eyes. How the children managed to spend their Saturday _as_, or
their weekly _obolus_, is a profound mystery. To be sure, people had
honey; but honey is rare, dear, and scanty; it can never have filled one
quarter the place that sugar fills in our modern affections. Try for a
moment to realise drinking honey with one's whisky-and-water, or doing
the year's preserving with a pot of best Narbonne, and you get at once a
common measure of the difference between the two as practical
sweeteners. Nowadays, we get sugar from cane and beet-root in abundance,
while sugar-maples and palm-trees of various sorts afford a considerable
supply to remoter countries. But the childhood of the little Greeks and
Romans must have been absolutely unlighted by a single ray of joy from
chocolate creams or Everton toffee.

The consequence of this excessive production of sweets in modern times
is, of course, that we have begun to distrust the indications afforded
us by the sense of taste in this particular as to the wholesomeness of
various objects. We can mix sugar with anything we like, whether it had
sugar in it to begin with or otherwise; and by sweetening and flavouring
we can give a false palatableness to even the worst and most
indigestible rubbish, such as plaster-of-Paris, largely sold under the
name of sugared almonds to the ingenuous youth of two hemispheres. But
in untouched nature the test rarely or never fails. As long as fruits
are unripe and unfit for human food, they are green and sour; as soon as
they ripen they become soft and sweet, and usually acquire some bright
colour as a sort of advertisement of their edibility. In the main, bar
the accidents of civilisation, whatever is sweet is good to eat--nay
more, is meant to be eaten; it is only our own perverse folly that makes
us sometimes think all nice things bad for us, and all wholesome things
nasty. In a state of nature, the exact opposite is really the case. One
may observe, too, that children, who are literally young savages in more
senses than one, stand nearer to the primitive feeling in this respect
than grown-up people. They unaffectedly like sweets; adults, who have
grown more accustomed to the artificial meat diet, don't, as a rule,
care much for puddings, cakes, and made dishes. (May I venture
parenthetically to add, any appearance to the contrary notwithstanding,
that I am not a vegetarian, and that I am far from desiring to bring
down upon my devoted head the imprecation pronounced against the rash
person who would rob a poor man of his beer. It is quite possible to
believe that vegetarianism was the starting point of the race, without
wishing to consider it also as the goal; just as it is quite possible to
regard clothes as purely artificial products of civilisation, without
desiring personally to return to the charming simplicity of the Garden
of Eden.)

Bitter things in nature at large, on the contrary, are almost invariably
poisonous. Strychnia, for example, is intensely bitter, and it is well
known that life cannot be supported on strychnia alone for more than a
few hours. Again, colocynth and aloes are far from being wholesome food
stuffs, for a continuance; and the bitter end of cucumber does not
conduce to the highest standard of good living. The bitter matter in
decaying apples is highly injurious when swallowed, which it isn't
likely to be by anybody who ever tastes it. Wormwood and walnut-shells
contain other bitter and poisonous principles; absinthe, which is made
from one of them, is a favourite slow poison with the fashionable young
men of Paris, who wish to escape prematurely from 'Le monde où l'on
s'ennuie.' But prussic acid is the commonest component in all natural
bitters, being found in bitter almonds, apple pips, the kernels of
mangosteens, and many other seeds and fruits. Indeed, one may say
roughly that the object of nature generally is to prevent the actual
seeds of edible fruits from being eaten and digested; and for this
purpose, while she stores the pulp with sweet juices, she encloses the
seed itself in hard stony coverings, and makes it nasty with bitter
essences. Eat an orange-pip, and you will promptly observe how effectual
is this arrangement. As a rule, the outer rind of nuts is bitter, and
the inner kernel of edible fruits. The tongue thus warns us immediately
against bitter things, as being poisonous, and prevents us automatically
from swallowing them.

'But how is it,' asks our objector again, 'that so many poisons are
tasteless, or even, like sugar of lead, pleasant to the palate?' The
answer is (you see, we knock him down again, as usual) because these
poisons are themselves for the most part artificial products; they do
not occur in a state of nature, at least in man's ordinary surroundings.
Almost every poisonous thing that we are really liable to meet with in
the wild state we are warned against at once by the sense of taste; but
of course it would be absurd to suppose that natural selection could
have produced a mode of warning us against poisons which have never
before occurred in human experience. One might just as well expect that
it should have rendered us dynamite-proof, or have given us a skin like
the hide of a rhinoceros to protect us against the future contingency of
the invention of rifles.

Sweets and bitters are really almost the only tastes proper, almost the
only ones discriminated by this central and truly gustatory region of
the tongue and palate. Most so-called flavourings will be found on
strict examination to be nothing more than mixtures with these of
certain smells, or else of pungent, salty, or alkaline matters,
distinguished as such by the tip of the tongue. For instance,
paradoxical as it sounds to say so, cinnamon has really no taste at all,
but only a smell. Nobody will ever believe this on first hearing, but
nothing on earth is easier than to put it to the test. Take a small
piece of cinnamon, hold your nose tightly, rather high up, between the
thumb and finger, and begin chewing it. You will find that it is
absolutely tasteless; you are merely chewing a perfectly insipid bit of
bark. Then let go your nose, and you will find immediately that it
'tastes' strongly, though in reality it is only the perfume from it that
you now permit to rise into the smelling-chamber in the nose. So, again,
cloves have only a pungent taste and a peculiar smell, and the same is
the case more or less with almost all distinctive flavourings. When you
come to find of what they are made up, they consist generally of sweets
or bitters, intermixed with certain ethereal perfumes, or with pungent
or acid tastes, or with both or several such together. In this way, a
comparatively small number of original elements, variously combined,
suffice to make up the whole enormous mass of recognisably different
tastes and flavours.

The third and lowest part of the tongue and throat is the seat of those
peculiar tastes to which Professor Bain, the great authority upon this
important philosophical subject, has given the names of relishes and
disgusts. It is here, chiefly, that we taste animal food, fats, butters,
oils, and the richer class of vegetables and made dishes. If we like
them, we experience a sensation which may be called a relish, and which
induces one to keep rolling the morsel farther down the throat, till it
passes at last beyond the region of our voluntary control. If we don't
like them, we get the sensation which may be called a disgust, and which
is very different from the mere unpleasantness of excessively pungent or
bitter things. It is far less of an intellectual and far more of a
physical and emotional feeling. We say, and say rightly, of such things
that we find it hard to swallow them; a something within us (of a very
tangible nature) seems to rise up bodily and protest against them. As a
very good example of this experience, take one's first attempt to
swallow cod-liver oil. Other things may be unpleasant or unpalatable,
but things of this class are in the strictest sense nasty and

The fact is, the lower part of the tongue is supplied with nerves in
close sympathy with the digestion. If the food which has been passed by
the two previous examiners is found here to be simple and digestible, it
is permitted to go on unchallenged; if it is found to be too rich, too
bilious, or too indigestible, a protest is promptly entered against it,
and if we are wise we will immediately desist from eating any more of
it. It is here that the impartial tribunal of nature pronounces
definitely against roast goose, mince pies, _pâté de foie gras_, sally
lunn, muffins and crumpets, and creamy puddings. It is here, too, that
the slightest taint in meat, milk, or butter is immediately detected;
that rancid pastry from the pastrycook's is ruthlessly exposed; and that
the wiles of the fishmonger are set at naught by the judicious palate.
It is the special duty, in fact, of this last examiner to discover, not
whether food is positively destructive, not whether it is poisonous or
deleterious in nature, but merely whether it is then and there
digestible or undesirable.

As our state of health varies greatly from time to time, however, so do
the warnings of this last sympathetic adviser change and flicker. Sweet
things are always sweet, and bitter things always bitter; vinegar is
always sour, and ginger always hot in the mouth, too, whatever our state
of health or feeling. But our taste for roast loin of mutton, high game,
salmon cutlets, and Gorgonzola cheese varies immensely from time to
time, with the passing condition of our health and digestion. In
illness, and especially in sea-sickness, one gets the distaste carried
to the extreme: you may eat grapes or suck an orange in the chops of the
Channel, but you do not feel warmly attached to the steward who offers
you a basin of greasy ox-tail, or consoles you with promises of ham
sandwiches in half a minute. Under those two painful conditions it is
the very light, fresh, and stimulating things that one can most easily
swallow--champagne, soda-water, strawberries, peaches; not lobster
salad, sardines on toast, green Chartreuse, or hot brandy-and-water. On
the other hand, in robust health, and when hungry with exercise, you can
eat fat pork with relish on a Scotch hillside, or dine off fresh salmon
three days running without inconvenience. Even a Spanish stew, with
plenty of garlic in it, and floating in olive oil, tastes positively
delicious after a day's mountaineering in the Pyrenees.

The healthy popular belief, still surviving in spite of cookery, that
our likes and dislikes are the best guide to what is good for us, finds
its justification in this fact, that whatever is relished will prove on
the average wholesome, and whatever rouses disgust will prove on the
whole indigestible. Nothing can be more wrong, for example, than to make
children eat fat when they don't want it. A healthy child likes fat, and
eats as much of it as he can get. If a child shows signs of disgust at
fat, that proves that it is of a bilious temperament, and it ought never
to be forced into eating it against its will. Most of us are bilious in
after-life just because we were compelled to eat rich food in childhood,
which we felt instinctively was unsuitable for us. We might still be
indulging with impunity in thick turtle, canvas-back ducks, devilled
whitebait, meringues, and Nesselrode puddings, if we hadn't been so
persistently overdosed in our earlier years with things that we didn't
want and knew were indigestible.

Of course, in our existing modern cookery, very few simple and
uncompounded tastes are still left to us; everything is so mixed up
together that only by an effort of deliberate experiment can one
discover what are the special effects of special tastes upon the tongue
and palate. Salt is mixed with almost everything we eat--_sal sapit
omnia_--and pepper or cayenne is nearly equally common. Butter is put
into the peas, which have been previously adulterated by being boiled
with mint; and cucumber is unknown except in conjunction with oil and
vinegar. This makes it comparatively difficult for us to realise the
distinctness of the elements which go to make up most tastes as we
actually experience them. Moreover, a great many eatable objects have
hardly any taste of their own, properly speaking, but only a feeling of
softness, or hardness, or glutinousness in the mouth, mainly observed in
the act of chewing them. For example, plain boiled rice is almost wholly
insipid; but even in its plainest form salt has usually been boiled with
it, and in practice we generally eat it with sugar, preserves, curry, or
some other strongly flavoured condiment. Again, plain boiled tapioca and
sago (in water) are as nearly tasteless as anything can be; they merely
yield a feeling of gumminess; but milk, in which they are oftenest
cooked, gives them a relish (in the sense here restricted), and sugar,
eggs, cinnamon, or nutmeg are usually added by way of flavouring. Even
turbot has hardly any taste proper, except in the glutinous skin, which
has a faint relish; the epicure values it rather because of its
softness, its delicacy, and its light flesh. Gelatine by itself is
merely very swallowable; we must mix sugar, wine, lemon-juice, and other
flavourings in order to make it into good jelly. Salt, spices, essences,
vanilla, vinegar, pickles, capers, ketchups, sauces, chutneys,
lime-juice, curry, and all the rest, are just our civilised expedients
for adding the pleasure of pungency and acidity to naturally insipid
foods, by stimulating the nerves of touch in the tongue, just as sugar
is our tribute to the pure gustatory sense, and oil, butter, bacon,
lard, and the various fats used in frying to the sense of relish which
forms the last element in our compound taste. A boiled sole is all very
well when one is just convalescent, but in robust health we demand the
delights of egg and bread-crumb, which are after all only the vehicle
for the appetising grease. Plain boiled macaroni may pass muster in the
unsophisticated nursery, but in the pampered dining-room it requires the
aid of toasted parmesan. Good modern cookery is the practical result of
centuries of experience in this direction; the final flower of ages of
evolution, devoted to the equalisation of flavours in all human food.
Think of the generations of fruitless experiment that must have passed
before mankind discovered that mint sauce (itself a cunning compound of
vinegar and sugar) ought to be eaten with leg of lamb, that roast goose
required a corrective in the shape of apple, and that while a
pre-established harmony existed between salmon and lobster, oysters were
ordained beforehand by nature as the proper accompaniment of boiled cod.
Whenever I reflect upon such things, I become at once a good Positivist,
and offer up praise in my own private chapel to the Spirit of Humanity
which has slowly perfected these profound rules of good living.


The title which heads this paper is intended to be Latin, and is
modelled on the precedent of the De Amicitia, De Senectute, De Corona,
and other time-honoured plagues of our innocent boyhood. It is meant to
give dignity and authority to the subject with which it deals, as well
as to rouse curiosity in the ingenuous breast of the candid reader, who
may perhaps mistake it, at first sight, for negro-English, or for the
name of a distinguished Norman family. In anticipation of the possible
objection that the word 'Banana' is not strictly classical, I would
humbly urge the precept and example of my old friend Horace--enemy I
once thought him--who expresses his approbation of those happy
innovations whereby Latium was gradually enriched with a copious
vocabulary. I maintain that if Banana, bananæ, &c., is not already a
Latin noun of the first declension, why then it ought to be, and it
shall be in future. Linnæus indeed thought otherwise. He too assigned
the plant and fruit to the first declension, but handed it over to none
other than our earliest acquaintance in the Latin language, Musa. He
called the banana _Musa sapientum_. What connection he could possibly
conceive between that woolly fruit and the daughters of the ægis-bearing
Zeus, or why he should consider it a proof of wisdom to eat a
particularly indigestible and nightmare-begetting food-stuff, passes my
humble comprehension. The muses, so far as I have personally noticed
their habits, always greatly prefer the grape to the banana, and wise
men shun the one at least as sedulously as they avoid the other.

Let it not for a moment be supposed, however, that I wish to treat the
useful and ornamental banana with intentional disrespect. On the
contrary, I cherish for it--at a distance--feelings of the highest
esteem and admiration. We are so parochial in our views, taking us as a
species, that I dare say very few English people really know how
immensely useful a plant is the common banana. To most of us it
envisages itself merely as a curious tropical fruit, largely imported at
Covent Garden, and a capital thing to stick on one of the tall
dessert-dishes when you give a dinner-party, because it looks
delightfully foreign, and just serves to balance the pine-apple at the
opposite end of the hospitable mahogany. Perhaps such innocent readers
will be surprised to learn that bananas and plantains supply the
principal food-stuff of a far larger fraction of the human race than
that which is supported by wheaten bread. They form the veritable staff
of life to the inhabitants of both eastern and western tropics. What the
potato is to the degenerate descendant of Celtic kings; what the oat is
to the kilted Highlandman; what rice is to the Bengalee, and Indian corn
to the American negro, that is the muse of sages (I translate literally
from the immortal Swede) to African savages and Brazilian slaves.
Humboldt calculated that an acre of bananas would supply a greater
quantity of solid food to hungry humanity than could possibly be
extracted from the same extent of cultivated ground by any other known
plant. So you see the question is no small one; to sing the praise of
this Linnæan muse is a task well worthy of the Pierian muses.

Do you know the outer look and aspect of the banana plant? If not, then
you have never voyaged to those delusive tropics. Tropical vegetation,
as ordinarily understood by poets and painters, consists entirely of the
coco-nut palm and the banana bush. Do you wish to paint a beautiful
picture of a rich ambrosial tropical island, _à la_ Tennyson--a summer
isle of Eden lying in dark purple spheres of sea?--then you introduce a
group of coco-nuts, whispering in odorous heights of even, in the very
foreground of your pretty sketch, just to let your public understand at
a glance that these are the delicious poetical tropics. Do you desire to
create an ideal paradise, _à la_ Bernardin de St. Pierre, where idyllic
Virginies die of pure modesty rather than appear before the eyes of
their beloved but unwedded Pauls in a lace-bedraped _peignoir_?--then
you strike the keynote by sticking in the middle distance a hut or
cottage, overshadowed by the broad and graceful foliage of the
picturesque banana. ('Hut' is a poor and chilly word for these glowing
descriptions, far inferior to the pretty and high-sounding original
_chaumière_.) That is how we do the tropics when we want to work upon
the emotions of the reader. But it is all a delicate theatrical
illusion; a trick of art meant to deceive and impose upon the unwary who
have never been there, and would like to think it all genuine. In
reality, nine times out of ten, you might cast your eyes casually around
you in any tropical valley, and, if there didn't happen to be a native
cottage with a coco-nut grove and banana patch anywhere in the
neighbourhood, you would see nothing in the way of vegetation which you
mightn't see at home any day in Europe. But what painter would ever
venture to paint the tropics without the palm trees? He might just as
well try to paint the desert without the camels, or to represent St.
Sebastian without a sheaf of arrows sticking unperceived in the calm
centre of his unruffled bosom, to mark and emphasise his Sebastianic

Still, I will frankly admit that the banana itself, with its practically
almost identical relation, the plantain, is a real bit of tropical
foliage. I confess to a settled prejudice against the tropics generally,
but I allow the sunsets, the coco-nuts, and the bananas. The true stem
creeps underground, and sends up each year an upright branch, thickly
covered with majestic broad green leaves, somewhat like those of the
canna cultivated in our gardens as 'Indian shot,' but far larger,
nobler, and handsomer. They sometimes measure from six to ten feet in
length, and their thick midrib and strongly marked diverging veins give
them a very lordly and graceful appearance. But they are apt in practice
to suffer much from the fury of the tropical storms. The wind rips the
leaves up between the veins as far as the midrib in tangled tatters; so
that after a good hurricane they look more like coco-nut palm leaves
than like single broad masses of foliage as they ought properly to do.
This, of course, is the effect of a gentle and balmy hurricane--a mere
capful of wind that tears and tatters them. After a really bad storm
(one of the sort when you tie ropes round your wooden house to prevent
its falling bodily to pieces, I mean) the bananas are all actually blown
down, and the crop for that season utterly destroyed. The apparent stem,
being merely composed of the overlapping and sheathing leaf-stalks, has
naturally very little stability; and the soft succulent trunk
accordingly gives way forthwith at the slightest onslaught. This
liability to be blown down in high winds forms the weak point of the
plantain, viewed as a food-stuff crop. In the South Sea Islands, where
there is little shelter, the poor Fijian, in cannibal days, often lost
his one means of subsistence from this cause, and was compelled to
satisfy the pangs of hunger on the plump persons of his immediate
relatives. But since the introduction of Christianity, and of a dwarf
stout wind-proof variety of banana, his condition in this respect, I am
glad to say, has been greatly ameliorated.

By descent the banana bush is a developed tropical lily, not at all
remotely allied to the common iris, only that its flowers and fruit are
clustered together on a hanging spike, instead of growing solitary and
separate as in the true irises. The blossoms, which, though pretty, are
comparatively inconspicuous for the size of the plant, show the
extraordinary persistence of the lily type; for almost all the vast
number of species, more or less directly descended from the primitive
lily, continue to the very end of the chapter to have six petals, six
stamens, and three rows of seeds in their fruits or capsules. But
practical man, with his eye always steadily fixed on the one important
quality of edibility--the sum and substance to most people of all
botanical research--has confined his attention almost entirely to the
fruit of the banana. In all essentials (other than the systematically
unimportant one just alluded to) the banana fruit in its original state
exactly resembles the capsule of the iris--that pretty pod that divides
in three when ripe, and shows the delicate orange-coated seeds lying in
triple rows within--only, in the banana, the fruit does not open; in the
sweet language of technical botany, it is an indehiscent capsule; and
the seeds, instead of standing separate and distinct, as in the iris,
are embedded in a soft and pulpy substance which forms the edible and
practical part of the entire arrangement.

This is the proper appearance of the original and natural banana, before
it has been taken in hand and cultivated by tropical man. When cut
across the middle, it ought to show three rows of seeds, interspersed
with pulp, and faintly preserving some dim memory of the dividing wall
which once separated them. In practice, however, the banana differs
widely from this theoretical ideal, as practice often _will_ differ
from theory; for it has been so long cultivated and selected by
man--being probably one of the very oldest, if not actually quite the
oldest, of domesticated plants--that it has all but lost the original
habit of producing seeds. This is a common effect of cultivation on
fruits, and it is of course deliberately aimed at by horticulturists, as
the seeds are generally a nuisance, regarded from the point of view of
the eater, and their absence improves the fruit, as long as one can
manage to get along somehow without them. In the pretty little
Tangierine oranges (so ingeniously corrupted by fruiterers into
mandarins) the seeds have almost been cultivated out; in the best
pine-apples, and in the small grapes known in the dried state as
currants, they have quite disappeared; while in some varieties of pears
they survive only in the form of shrivelled, barren, and useless pips.
But the banana, more than any other plant we know of, has managed for
many centuries to do without seeds altogether. The cultivated sort,
especially in America, is quite seedless, and the plants are propagated
entirely by suckers.

Still, you can never wholly circumvent nature. Expel her with a
pitchfork, _tamen usque recurrit_. Now nature has settled that the right
way to propagate plants is by means of seedlings. Strictly speaking,
indeed, it is the only way; the other modes of growth from bulbs or
cuttings are not really propagation, but mere reduplication by
splitting, as when you chop a worm in two, and a couple of worms wriggle
off contentedly forthwith in either direction. Just so when you divide a
plant by cuttings, suckers, slips, or runners; the two apparent plants
thus produced are in the last resort only separate parts of the same
individual--one and indivisible, like the French Republic. Seedlings are
absolutely distinct individuals; they are the product of the pollen of
one plant and the ovules of another, and they start afresh in life with
some chance of being fairly free from the hereditary taints or personal
failings of either parent. But cuttings or suckers are only the same old
plant over and over again in fresh circumstances, transplanted as it
were, but not truly renovated or rejuvenescent. That is the real reason
why our potatoes are now all going to--well, the same place as the army
has been going ever since the earliest memories of the oldest officer in
the whole service. We have gone on growing potatoes over and over again
from the tubers alone, and hardly ever from seed, till the whole
constitution of the potato kind has become permanently enfeebled by old
age and dotage. The eyes (as farmers call them) are only buds or
underground branches; and to plant potatoes as we usually do is nothing
more than to multiply the apparent scions by fission. Odd as it may
sound to say so, all the potato vines in a whole field are often, from
the strict biological point of view, parts of a single much-divided
individual. It is just as though one were to go on cutting up a single
worm, time after time, as soon as he grew again, till at last the one
original creature had multiplied into a whole colony of apparently
distinct individuals. Yet, if the first worm happened to have the gout
or the rheumatism (metaphorically speaking), all the other worms into
which his compound personality had been divided would doubtless suffer
from the same complaints throughout the whole of their joint lifetimes.

The banana, however, has very long resisted the inevitable tendency to
degeneration in plants thus artificially and unhealthily propagated.
Potatoes have only been in cultivation for a few hundred years; and yet
the potato constitution has become so far enfeebled by the practice of
growing from the tuber that the plants now fall an easy prey to potato
fungus, Colorado beetles, and a thousand other persistent enemies. It is
just the same with the vine--propagated too long by layers or cuttings,
its health has failed entirely, and it can no longer resist the ravages
of the phylloxera or the slow attacks of the vine-disease fungus. But
the banana, though of very ancient and positively immemorial antiquity
as a cultivated plant, seems somehow gifted with an extraordinary power
of holding its own in spite of long-continued unnatural propagation. For
thousands of years it has been grown in Asia in the seedless condition,
and yet it springs as heartily as ever still from the underground
suckers. Nevertheless, there must in the end be some natural limit to
this wonderful power of reproduction, or rather of longevity; for, in
the strictest sense, the banana bushes that now grow in the negro
gardens of Trinidad and Demerara are part and parcel of the very same
plants which grew and bore fruit a thousand years ago in the native
compounds of the Malay Archipelago.

In fact, I think there can be but little doubt that the banana is the
very oldest product of human tillage. Man, we must remember, is
essentially by origin a tropical animal, and wild tropical fruits must
necessarily have formed his earliest food-stuffs. It was among them of
course that his first experiments in primitive agriculture would be
tried; the little insignificant seeds and berries of cold northern
regions would only very slowly be added to his limited stock in
husbandry, as circumstances pushed some few outlying colonies northward
and ever northward toward the chillier unoccupied regions. Now, of all
tropical fruits, the banana is certainly the one that best repays
cultivation. It has been calculated that the same area which will
produce thirty-three pounds of wheat or ninety-nine pounds of potatoes
will produce 4,400 pounds of plantains or bananas. The cultivation of
the various varieties in India, China, and the Malay Archipelago dates,
says De Candolle, 'from an epoch impossible to realise.' Its diffusion,
as that great but very oracular authority remarks, may go back to a
period 'contemporary with or even anterior to that of the human races.'
What this remarkably illogical sentence may mean I am at a loss to
comprehend; perhaps M. de Candolle supposes that the banana was
originally cultivated by pre-human gorillas; perhaps he merely intends
to say that before men began to separate they sent special messengers on
in front of them to diffuse the banana in the different countries they
were about to visit. Even legend retains some trace of the extreme
antiquity of the species as a cultivated fruit, for Adam and Eve are
said to have reclined under the shadow of its branches, whence Linnæus
gave to the sort known as the plantain the Latin name of _Musa
paradisiaca_. If a plant was cultivated in Eden by the grand old
gardener and his wife, as Lord Tennyson democratically styled them
(before his elevation to the peerage), we may fairly conclude that it
possesses a very respectable antiquity indeed.

The wild banana is a native of the Malay region, according to De
Candolle, who has produced by far the most learned and unreadable work
on the origin of domestic plants ever yet written. (Please don't give me
undue credit for having heroically read it through out of pure love of
science: I was one of its unfortunate reviewers.) The wild form produces
seed, and grows in Cochin China, the Philippines, Ceylon, and Khasia.
Like most other large tropical fruits, it no doubt owes its original
development to the selective action of monkeys, hornbills, parrots and
other big fruit-eaters; and it shares with all fruits of similar origin
one curious tropical peculiarity. Most northern berries, like the
strawberry, the raspberry, the currant, and the blackberry, developed
by the selective action of small northern birds, can be popped at once
into the mouth and eaten whole; they have no tough outer rind or
defensive covering of any sort. But big tropical fruits, which lay
themselves out for the service of large birds or monkeys, have always
hard outer coats, because they could only be injured by smaller animals,
who would eat the pulp without helping in the dispersion of the useful
seeds, the one object really held in view by the mother plant. Often, as
in the case of the orange, the rind even contains a bitter, nauseous, or
pungent juice, while at times, as in the pine-apple, the prickly pear,
the sweet-sop, and the cherimoyer, the entire fruit is covered with
sharp projections, stinging hairs, or knobby protuberances, on purpose
to warn off the unauthorised depredator. It was this line of defence
that gave the banana in the first instance its thick yellow skin; and,
looking at the matter from the epicure's point of view, one may say
roughly that all tropical fruits have to be skinned before they can be
eaten. They are all adapted for being cut up with a knife and fork, or
dug out with a spoon, on a civilised dessert-plate. As for that most
delicious of Indian fruits, the mango, it has been well said that the
only proper way to eat it is over a tub of water, with a couple of
towels hanging gracefully across the side.

The varieties of the banana are infinite in number, and, as in most
other plants of ancient cultivation, they shade off into one another by
infinitesimal gradations. Two principal sorts, however, are commonly
recognised--the true banana of commerce, and the common plantain. The
banana proper is eaten raw, as a fruit, and is allowed accordingly to
ripen thoroughly before being picked for market; the plantain, which is
the true food-stuff of all the equatorial region in both hemispheres, is
gathered green and roasted as a vegetable, or, to use the more
expressive West Indian negro phrase, as a bread-kind. Millions of human
beings in Asia, Africa, America, and the islands of the Pacific Ocean
live almost entirely on the mild and succulent but tasteless plantain.
Some people like the fruit; to me personally it is more suggestive of a
very flavourless over-ripe pear than of anything else in heaven or earth
or the waters that are under the earth--the latter being the most
probable place to look for it, as its taste and substance are decidedly
watery. Baked dry in the green state 'it resembles roasted chestnuts,'
or rather baked parsnip; pulped and boiled with water it makes 'a very
agreeable sweet soup,' almost as nice as peasoup with brown sugar in it;
and cut into slices, sweetened, and fried, it forms 'an excellent
substitute for fruit pudding,' having a flavour much like that of
potatoes _à la maítre d'hótel_ served up in treacle.

Altogether a fruit to be sedulously avoided, the plantain, though
millions of our spiritually destitute African brethren haven't yet for a
moment discovered that it isn't every bit as good as wheaten bread and
fresh butter. Missionary enterprise will no doubt before long enlighten
them on this subject, and create a good market in time for American
flour and Manchester piece-goods.

Though by origin a Malayan plant, there can be little doubt that the
banana had already reached the mainland of America and the West India
Islands long before the voyage of Columbus. When Pizarro disembarked
upon the coast of Peru on his desolating expedition, the mild-eyed,
melancholy, doomed Peruvians flocked down to the shore and offered him
bananas in a lordly dish. Beds composed of banana leaves have been
discovered in the tombs of the Incas, of date anterior, of course, to
the Spanish conquest. How did they get there? Well, it is clearly an
absurd mistake to suppose that Columbus discovered America; as Artemus
Ward pertinently remarked, the noble Red Indian had obviously discovered
it long before him. There had been intercourse of old, too, between Asia
and the Western Continent; the elephant-headed god of Mexico, the
debased traces of Buddhism in the Aztec religion, the singular
coincidences between India and Peru, all seem to show that a stream of
communication, however faint, once existed between the Asiatic and
American worlds. Garcilaso himself, the half-Indian historian of Peru,
says that the banana was well known in his native country before the
conquest, and that the Indians say 'its origin is Ethiopia.' In some
strange way or other, then, long before Columbus set foot upon the low
sandbank of Cat's Island, the banana had been transported from Africa or
India to the Western hemisphere.

If it were a plant propagated by seed, one would suppose that it was
carried across by wind or waves, wafted on the feet of birds, or
accidentally introduced in the crannies of drift timber. So the coco-nut
made the tour of the world ages before either of the famous Cooks--the
Captain or the excursion agent--had rendered the same feat easy and
practicable; and so, too, a number of American plants have fixed their
home in the tarns of the Hebrides or among the lonely bogs of Western
Galway. But the banana must have been carried by man, because it is
unknown in the wild state in the Western Continent; and, as it is
practically seedless, it can only have been transported entire, in the
form of a root or sucker. An exactly similar proof of ancient
intercourse between the two worlds is afforded us by the sweet potato, a
plant of undoubted American origin, which was nevertheless naturalised
in China as early as the first centuries of the Christian era. Now that
we all know how the Scandinavians of the eleventh century went to
Massachusetts, which they called Vineland, and how the Mexican empire
had some knowledge of Accadian astronomy, people are beginning to
discover that Columbus himself was after all an egregious humbug.

In the old world the cultivation of the banana and the plantain goes
back, no doubt, to a most immemorial antiquity. Our Aryan ancestor
himself, Professor Max Müller's especial _protégé_, had already invented
several names for it, which duly survive in very classical Sanskrit. The
Greeks of Alexander's expedition saw it in India, where 'sages reposed
beneath its shade and ate of its fruit, whence the botanical name, _Musa
sapientum_.' As the sages in question were lazy Brahmans, always
celebrated for their immense capacity for doing nothing, the report, as
quoted by Pliny, is no doubt an accurate one. But the accepted
derivation of the word _Musa_ from an Arabic original seems to me highly
uncertain; for Linnæus, who first bestowed it on the genus, called
several other allied genera by such cognate names as Urania and
Heliconia. If, therefore, the father of botany knew that his own word
was originally Arabic, we cannot acquit him of the high crime and
misdemeanour of deliberate punning. Should the Royal Society get wind of
this, something serious would doubtless happen; for it is well known
that the possession of a sense of humour is absolutely fatal to the
pretensions of a man of science.

Besides its main use as an article of food, the banana serves
incidentally to supply a valuable fibre, obtained from the stem, and
employed for weaving into textile fabrics and making paper. Several
kinds of the plantain tribe are cultivated for this purpose exclusively,
the best known among them being the so-called manilla hemp, a plant
largely grown in the Philippine Islands. Many of the finest Indian
shawls are woven from banana stems, and much of the rope that we use in
our houses comes from the same singular origin. I know nothing more
strikingly illustrative of the extreme complexity of our modern
civilisation than the way in which we thus every day employ articles of
exotic manufacture in our ordinary life without ever for a moment
suspecting or inquiring into their true nature. What lady knows when she
puts on her delicate wrapper, from Liberty's or from Swan and Edgar's,
that the material from which it is woven is a Malayan plantain stalk?
Who ever thinks that the glycerine for our chapped hands comes from
Travancore coco-nuts, and that the pure butter supplied us from the farm
in the country is coloured yellow with Jamaican annatto? We break a
tooth, as Mr. Herbert Spencer has pointed out, because the grape-curers
of Zante are not careful enough about excluding small stones from their
stock of currants; and we suffer from indigestion because the Cape
wine-grower has doctored his light Burgundies with Brazilian logwood and
white rum, to make them taste like Portuguese port. Take merely this
very question of dessert, and how intensely complicated it really is.
The West Indian bananas keep company with sweet St. Michaels from the
Azores, and with Spanish cobnuts from Barcelona. Dried fruits from Metz,
figs from Smyrna, and dates from Tunis lie side by side on our table
with Brazil nuts and guava jelly and damson cheese and almonds and
raisins. We forget where everything comes from nowadays, in our general
consciousness that they all come from the Queen Victoria Street Stores,
and any real knowledge of common objects is rendered every day more and
more impossible by the bewildering complexity and variety, every day
increasing, of the common objects themselves, their substitutes,
adulterates, and spurious imitations. Why, you probably never heard of
manilla hemp before, until this very minute, and yet you have been
familiarly using it all your lifetime, while 400,000 hundredweights of
that useful article are annually imported into this country alone. It is
an interesting study to take any day a list of market quotations, and
ask oneself about every material quoted, what it is and what they do
with it.

For example, can you honestly pretend that you really understand the use
and importance of that valuable object of everyday demand, fustic? I
remember an ill-used telegraph clerk in a tropical colony once
complaining to me that English cable operators were so disgracefully
ignorant about this important staple as invariably to substitute for its
name the word 'justice' in all telegrams which originally referred to
it. Have you any clear and definite notions as to the prime origin and
final destination of a thing called jute, in whose sole manufacture the
whole great and flourishing town of Dundee lives and moves and has its
being? What is turmeric? Whence do we obtain vanilla? How many
commercial products are yielded by the orchids? How many totally
distinct plants in different countries afford the totally distinct
starches lumped together in grocers' lists under the absurd name of
arrowroot? When you ask for sago do you really see that you get it? and
how many entirely different objects described as sago are known to
commerce? Define the uses of partridge canes and cohune oil. What
objects are generally manufactured from tucum? Would it surprise you to
learn that English door-handles are commonly made out of coquilla nuts?
that your wife's buttons are turned from the indurated fruit of the
Tagua palm? and that the knobs of umbrellas grew originally in the
remote depths of Guatemalan forests? Are you aware that a plant called
manioc supplies the starchy food of about one-half the population of
tropical America? These are the sort of inquiries with which a new
edition of 'Mangnall's Questions' would have to be filled; and as to
answering them--why, even the pupil-teachers in a London Board School
(who represent, I suppose, the highest attainable level of human
knowledge) would often find themselves completely nonplussed. The fact
is, tropical trade has opened out so rapidly and so wonderfully that
nobody knows much about the chief articles of tropical growth; we go on
using them in an uninquiring spirit of childlike faith, much as the
Jamaica negroes go on using articles of European manufacture about whose
origin they are so ridiculously ignorant that one young woman once asked
me whether it was really true that cotton handkerchiefs were dug up out
of the ground over in England. Some dim confusion between coal or iron
and Manchester piece-goods seemed to have taken firm possession of her
infantile imagination.

That is why I have thought that a treatise De Banana might not, perhaps,
be wholly without its usefulness to the modern English reading world.
After all, a food-stuff which supports hundreds of millions among our
beloved tropical fellow-creatures ought to be very dear to the heart of
a nation which governs (and annually kills) more black people, taken in
the mass, than all the other European powers put together. We have
introduced the blessings of British rule--the good and well-paid
missionary, the Remington rifle, the red-cotton pocket-handkerchief, and
the use of 'the liquor called rum'--into so many remote corners of the
tropical world that it is high time we should begin in return to learn
somewhat about fetiches and fustic, Jamaica and jaggery, bananas and
Buddhism. We know too little still about our colonies and dependencies.
'Cape Breton an island!' cried King George's Minister, the Duke of
Newcastle, in the well-known story, 'Cape Breton an island! Why, so it
is! God bless my soul! I must go and tell the King that Cape Breton's
an island.' That was a hundred years ago; but only the other day the
Board of Trade placarded all our towns and villages with a flaming
notice to the effect that the Colorado beetle had made its appearance at
'a town in Canada called Ontario,' and might soon be expected to arrive
at Liverpool by Cunard steamer. The right honourables and other high
mightinesses who put forth the notice in question were evidently unaware
that Ontario is a province as big as England, including in its borders
Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, London, Hamilton, and other large and
flourishing towns. Apparently, in spite of competitive examinations, the
schoolmaster is still abroad in the Government offices.


In the market-place at Santa Fé, in Mexico, peasant women from the
neighbouring villages bring in for sale trayfuls of living ants, each
about as big and round as a large white currant, and each entirely
filled with honey or grape sugar, much appreciated by the ingenuous
Mexican youth as an excellent substitute for Everton toffee. The method
of eating them would hardly command the approbation of the Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is simple and primitive, but
decidedly not humane. Ingenuous youth holds the ant by its head and
shoulders, sucks out the honey with which the back part is absurdly
distended, and throws away the empty body as a thing with which it has
now no further sympathy. Maturer age buys the ants by the quart, presses
out the honey through a muslin strainer, and manufactures it into a very
sweet intoxicating drink, something like shandygaff, as I am credibly
informed by bold persons who have ventured to experiment upon it, taken

The curious insect which thus serves as an animated sweetmeat for the
Mexican children is the honey-ant of the Garden of the Gods; and it
affords a beautiful example of Mandeville's charming paradox that
personal vices are public benefits--_vitia privata humana commoda_. The
honey-ant is a greedy individual who has nevertheless nobly devoted
himself for the good of the community by converting himself into a
living honey-jar, from which all the other ants in his own nest may help
themselves freely from time to time, as occasion demands. The tribe to
which he belongs lives underground, in a dome-roofed vault, and only one
particular caste among the workers, known as rotunds from their
expansive girth, is told off for this special duty of storing honey
within their own bodies. Clinging to the top of their nest, with their
round, transparent abdomens hanging down loosely, mere globules of skin
enclosing the pale amber-coloured honey, these Daniel Lamberts of the
insect race look for all the world like clusters of the little American
Delaware grapes, with an ant's legs and head stuck awkwardly on to the
end instead of a stalk. They have, in fact, realised in everyday life
the awful fate of Mr. Gilbert's discontented sugar-broker, who laid on
flesh and 'adipose deposit' until he became converted at last into a
perfect rolling ball of globular humanity.

The manners of the honey-ant race are very simple. Most of the members
of each community are active and roving in their dispositions, and show
no tendency to undue distension of the nether extremities. They go out
at night and collect nectar or honey-dew from the gall-insects on
oak-trees; for the gall-insect, like love in the old Latin saw, is
fruitful both in sweets and bitters, _melle et felle_. This nectar they
then carry home, and give it to the rotunds or honey-bearers, who
swallow it and store it in their round abdomen until they can hold no
more, having stretched their skins literally to the very point of
bursting. They pass their time, like the Fat Boy in 'Pickwick,' chiefly
in sleeping, but they cling upside down meanwhile to the roof of their
residence. When the workers in turn require a meal, they go up to the
nearest honey-bearer and stroke her gently with their antennæ. The
honey-bearer thereupon throws up her head and regurgitates a large drop
of the amber liquid. ('Regurgitates' is a good word which I borrow from
Dr. McCook, of Philadelphia, the great authority upon honey-ants; and it
saves an immense deal of trouble in looking about for a respectable
periphrasis.) The workers feed upon the drops thus exuded, two or three
at once often standing around the living honey-jar, and lapping nectar
together from the lips of their devoted comrade. This may seem at first
sight rather an unpleasant practice on the part of the ants; but after
all, how does it really differ from our own habit of eating honey which
has been treated in very much the same unsophisticated manner by the
domestic bee?

Worse things than these, however, Dr. McCook records to the discredit of
the Colorado honey-ant. When he was opening some nests in the Garden of
the Gods, he happened accidentally to knock down some of the rotunds,
which straightway burst asunder in the middle, and scattered their store
of honey on the floor of the nest. At once the other ants, tempted away
from their instinctive task of carrying off the cocoons and young grubs,
clustered around their unfortunate companion, like street boys around a
broken molasses barrel, and, instead of forming themselves forthwith
into a volunteer ambulance company, proceeded immediately to lap up the
honey from their dying brother. On the other hand it must be said, to
the credit of the race, that (unlike the members of Arctic expeditions)
they never desecrate the remains of the dead. When a honey-bearer dies
at his post, a victim to his zeal for the common good, the workers
carefully remove his cold corpse from the roof where it still clings,
clip off the head and shoulders from the distended abdomen, and convey
their deceased brother piecemeal, in two detachments, to the formican
cemetery, undisturbed. If they chose, they might only bury the front
half of their late relation, while they retained his remaining moiety
as an available honey-bag: but from this cannibal proceeding
ant-etiquette recoils in decent horror; and the amber globes are 'pulled
up galleries, rolled along rooms, and bowled into the graveyard, along
with the juiceless heads, legs, and other members.' Such fraternal
conduct would be very creditable to the worker honey-ants, were it not
for a horrid doubt insinuated by Dr. McCook that perhaps the insects
don't know they could get at the honey by breaking up the body of their
lamented relative. If so, their apparent disregard of utilitarian
considerations may really be due not to their sentimentality but to
their hopeless stupidity.

The reason why the ants have taken thus to storing honey in the living
bodies of their own fellows is easy enough to understand. They want to
lay up for the future like prudent insects that they are; but they can't
make wax, as the bees do, and they have not yet evolved the purely human
art of pottery. Consequently--happy thought--why not tell off some of
our number to act as jars on behalf of the others? Some of the community
work by going out and gathering honey; they also serve who only stand
and wait--who receive it from the workers, and keep it stored up in
their own capacious indiarubber maws till further notice. So obvious is
this plan for converting ants into animated honey-jars, that several
different kinds of ants in different parts of the world, belonging to
the most widely distinct families, have independently hit upon the very
self-same device. Besides the Mexican species, there is a totally
different Australian honey-ant, and another equally separate in Borneo
and Singapore. This last kind does not store the honey in the hind part
of the body technically known as the abdomen, but in the middle division
which naturalists call the thorax, where it forms a transparent
bladder-like swelling, and makes the creature look as though it were
suffering with an acute attack of dropsy. In any case, the life of a
honey-bearer must be singularly uneventful, not to say dull and
monotonous; but no doubt any small inconvenience in this respect must be
more than compensated for by the glorious consciousness that one is
sacrificing one's own personal comfort for the common good of universal
anthood. Perhaps, however, the ants have not yet reached the Positivist
stage, and may be totally ignorant of the enthusiasm of formicity.

Equally curious are the habits and manners of the harvesting ants, the
species which Solomon seems to have had specially in view when he
advised his hearers to go to the ant--a piece of advice which I have
also adopted as the title of the present article, though I by no means
intend thereby to insinuate that the readers of this volume ought
properly to be classed as sluggards. These industrious little creatures
abound in India: they are so small that it takes eight or ten of them to
carry a single grain of wheat or barley; and yet they will patiently
drag along their big burden for five hundred or a thousand yards to the
door of their formicary. To prevent the grain from germinating, they
bite off the embryo root--a piece of animal intelligence outdone by
another species of ant, which actually allows the process of budding to
begin, so as to produce sugar, as in malting. After the last
thunderstorms of the monsoon the little proprietors bring up all the
grain from their granaries to dry in the tropical sunshine. The quantity
of grain stored up by the harvesting ants is often so large that the
hair-splitting Jewish casuists of the Mishna have seriously discussed
the question whether it belongs to the landowner or may lawfully be
appropriated by the gleaners. 'They do not appear,' says Sir John
Lubbock, 'to have considered the rights of the ants.' Indeed our duty
towards insects is a question which seems hitherto to have escaped the
notice of all moral philosophers. Even Mr. Herbert Spencer, the prophet
of individualism, has never taken exception to our gross disregard of
the proprietary rights of bees in their honey, or of silkworms in their
cocoons. There are signs, however, that the obtuse human conscience is
awakening in this respect; for when Dr. Loew suggested to bee-keepers
the desirability of testing the commercial value of honey-ants, as
rivals to the bee, Dr. McCook replied that 'the sentiment against the
use of honey thus taken from living insects, which is worthy of all
respect, would not be easily overcome.'

There are no harvesting ants in Northern Europe, though they extend as
far as Syria, Italy, and the Riviera, in which latter station I have
often observed them busily working. What most careless observers take
for grain in the nests of English ants are of course really the cocoons
of the pupæ. For many years, therefore, entomologists were under the
impression that Solomon had fallen into this popular error, and that
when he described the ant as 'gathering her food in the harvest' and
'preparing her meat in the summer,' he was speaking rather as a poet
than as a strict naturalist. Later observations, however, have
vindicated the general accuracy of the much-married king by showing that
true harvesting ants do actually occur in Syria, and that they lay by
stores for the winter in the very way stated by that early entomologist,
whose knowledge of 'creeping things' is specially enumerated in the long
list of his universal accomplishments.

Dr. Lincecum of Texan fame has even improved upon Solomon by his
discovery of those still more interesting and curious creatures, the
agricultural ants of Texas. America is essentially a farming country,
and the agricultural ants are born farmers. They make regular clearings
around their nests, and on these clearings they allow nothing to grow
except a particular kind of grain, known as ant-rice. Dr. Lincecum
maintains that the tiny farmers actually sow and cultivate the ant-rice.
Dr. McCook, on the other hand, is of opinion that the rice sows itself,
and that the insects' part is limited to preventing any other plants or
weeds from encroaching on the appropriated area. In any case, be they
squatters or planters, it is certain that the rice, when ripe, is duly
harvested, and that it is, to say the least, encouraged by the ants, to
the exclusion of all other competitors. 'After the maturing and
harvesting of the seed,' says Dr. Lincecum, 'the dry stubble is cut away
and removed from the pavement, which is thus left fallow until the
ensuing autumn, when the same species of grass, and in the same circle,
appears again, and receives the same agricultural care as did the
previous crop.' Sir John Lubbock, indeed, goes so far as to say that the
three stages of human progress--the hunter, the herdsman, and the
agriculturist--are all to be found among various species of existing

The Saüba ants of tropical America carry their agricultural operations a
step further. Dwelling in underground nests, they sally forth upon the
trees, and cut out of the leaves large round pieces, about as big as a
shilling. These pieces they drop upon the ground, where another
detachment is in waiting to convey them to the galleries of the nest.
There they store enormous quantities of these round pieces, which they
allow to decay in the dark, so as to form a sort of miniature mushroom
bed. On the mouldering vegetable heap they have thus piled up, they
induce a fungus to grow, and with this fungus they feed their young
grubs during their helpless infancy. Mr. Belt, the 'Naturalist in
Nicaragua,' found that native trees suffered far less from their
depredations than imported ones. The ants hardly touched the local
forests, but they stripped young plantations of orange, coffee, and
mango trees stark naked. He ingeniously accounts for this curious fact
by supposing that an internecine struggle has long been going on in the
countries inhabited by the Saübas between the ants and the forest trees.
Those trees that best resisted the ants, owing either to some unpleasant
taste or to hardness of foliage, have in the long run survived
destruction; but those which were suited for the purpose of the ants
have been reduced to nonentity, while the ants in turn were getting
slowly adapted to attack other trees. In this way almost all the native
trees have at last acquired some special means of protection against the
ravages of the leaf-cutters; so that they immediately fall upon all
imported and unprotected kinds as their natural prey. This ingenious and
wholly satisfactory explanation must of course go far to console the
Brazilian planters for the frequent loss of their orange and coffee

Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of the Darwinian theory
(whose honours he waived with rare generosity in favour of the older and
more distinguished naturalist), tells a curious story about the
predatory habits of these same Saübas. On one occasion, when he was
wandering about in search of specimens on the Rio Negro, he bought a
peck of rice, which was tied up, Indian fashion, in the local bandanna
of the happy plantation slave. At night he left his rice incautiously on
the bench of the hut where he was sleeping; and next morning the Saübas
had riddled the handkerchief like a sieve, and carried away a gallon of
the grain for their own felonious purposes. The underground galleries
which they dig can often be traced for hundreds of yards; and Mr. Hamlet
Clarke even asserts that in one case they have tunnelled under the bed
of a river where it is a quarter of a mile wide. This beats Brunel on
his own ground into the proverbial cocked hat, both for depth and

Within doors, in the tropics, ants are apt to put themselves obtrusively
forward in a manner little gratifying to any except the enthusiastically
entomological mind. The winged females, after their marriage flight,
have a disagreeable habit of flying in at the open doors and windows at
lunch time, settling upon the table like the Harpies in the Æneid, and
then quietly shuffling off their wings one at a time, by holding them
down against the table-cloth with one leg, and running away vigorously
with the five others. As soon as they have thus disembarrassed
themselves of their superfluous members, they proceed to run about over
the lunch as if the house belonged to them, and to make a series of
experiments upon the edible qualities of the different dishes. One
doesn't so much mind their philosophical inquiries into the nature of
the bread or even the meat; but when they come to drowning themselves by
dozens, in the pursuit of knowledge, in the soup and sherry, one feels
bound to protest energetically against the spirit of martyrdom by which
they are too profoundly animated. That is one of the slight drawbacks of
the realms of perpetual summer; in the poets you see only one side of
the picture--the palms, the orchids, the humming-birds, the great
trailing lianas: in practical life you see the reverse side--the
thermometer at 98°, the tepid drinking-water, the prickly heat, the
perpetual languor, the endless shoals of aggressive insects. A lady of
my acquaintance, indeed, made a valuable entomological collection in her
own dining-room, by the simple process of consigning to pill-boxes all
the moths and flies and beetles that settled upon the mangoes and
star-apples in the course of dessert.

Another objectionable habit of the tropical ants, viewed practically,
is their total disregard of vested interests in the case of house
property. Like Mr. George and his communistic friends, they disbelieve
entirely in the principle of private rights in real estate. They will
eat their way through the beams of your house till there is only a
slender core of solid wood left to support the entire burden. I have
taken down a rafter in my own house in Jamaica, originally 18 inches
thick each way, with a sound circular centre of no more than 6 inches in
diameter, upon which all the weight necessarily fell. With the material
extracted from the wooden beams they proceed to add insult to injury by
building long covered galleries right across the ceiling of your
drawing-room. As may be easily imagined, these galleries do not tend to
improve the appearance of the ceiling; and it becomes necessary to form
a Liberty and Property Defence League for the protection of one's
personal interests against the insect enemy. I have no objection to ants
building galleries on their own freehold, or even to their nationalising
the land in their native forests; but I do object strongly to their
unwarrantable intrusion upon the domain of private life. Expostulation
and active warfare, however, are equally useless. The carpenter-ant has
no moral sense, and is not amenable either to kindness or blows. On one
occasion, when a body of these intrusive creatures had constructed an
absurdly conspicuous brown gallery straight across the ceiling of my
drawing-room, I determined to declare open war against them, and,
getting my black servant to bring in the steps and a mop, I proceeded to
demolish the entire gallery just after breakfast. It was about 20 feet
long, as well as I can remember, and perhaps an inch in diameter. At one
o'clock I returned to lunch. My black servant pointed, with a broad grin
on his intelligent features, to the wooden ceiling. I looked up; in
those three hours the carpenter-ants had reconstructed the entire
gallery, and were doubtless mocking me at their ease, with their
uplifted antennæ, under that safe shelter. I retired at once from the
unequal contest. It was clearly impossible to go on knocking down a
fresh gallery every three hours of the day or night throughout a whole

Ants, says Mr. Wallace, without one touch of satire, 'force themselves
upon the attention of everyone who visits the tropics.' They do, indeed,
and that most pungently; if by no other method, at least by the simple
and effectual one of stinging. The majority of ants in every nest are of
course neuters, or workers, that is to say, strictly speaking,
undeveloped females, incapable of laying eggs. But they still retain the
ovipositor, which is converted into a sting, and supplied with a
poisonous liquid to eject afterwards into the wound. So admirably
adapted to its purpose is this beautiful provision of nature, that some
tropical ants can sting with such violence as to make your leg swell and
confine you for some days to your room; while cases have even been known
in which the person attacked has fainted with pain, or had a serious
attack of fever in consequence. It is not every kind of ant, however,
that can sting; a great many can only bite with their little hard horny
jaws, and then eject a drop of formic poison afterwards into the hole
caused by the bite. The distinction is a delicate physiological one, not
much appreciated by the victims of either mode of attack. The perfect
females can also sting, but not, of course, the males, who are poor,
wretched, useless creatures, only good as husbands for the community,
and dying off as soon as they have performed their part in the
world--another beautiful provision, which saves the workers the trouble
of killing them off, as bees do with drones after the marriage flight of
the queen bee.

The blind driver-ants of West Africa are among the very few species
that render any service to man, and that, of course, only incidentally.
Unlike most other members of their class, the driver-ants have no
settled place of residence; they are vagabonds and wanderers upon the
face of the earth, formican tramps, blind beggars, who lead a gipsy
existence, and keep perpetually upon the move, smelling their way
cautiously from one camping-place to another. They march by night, or on
cloudy days, like wise tropical strategists, and never expose themselves
to the heat of the day in broad sunshine, as though they were no better
than the mere numbered British Tommy Atkins at Coomassie or in the
Soudan. They move in vast armies across country, driving everything
before them as they go; for they belong to the stinging division, and
are very voracious in their personal habits. Not only do they eat up the
insects in their line of march, but they fall even upon larger creatures
and upon big snakes, which they attack first in the eyes, the most
vulnerable portion. When they reach a negro village the inhabitants turn
out _en masse_, and run away, exactly as if the visitors were English
explorers or brave Marines, bent upon retaliating for the theft of a
knife by nobly burning down King Tom's town or King Jumbo's capital.
Then the negroes wait in the jungle till the little black army has
passed on, after clearing out the huts by the way of everything eatable.
When they return they find their calabashes and saucepans licked clean,
but they also find every rat, mouse, lizard, cockroach, gecko, and
beetle completely cleared out from the whole village. Most of them have
cut and run at the first approach of the drivers; of the remainder, a
few blanched and neatly-picked skeletons alone remain to tell the tale.

As I wish to be considered a veracious historian, I will not retail the
further strange stories that still find their way into books of natural
history about the manners and habits of these blind marauders. They
cross rivers, the West African gossips declare, by a number of devoted
individuals flinging themselves first into the water as a living bridge,
like so many six-legged Marcus Curtiuses, while over their drowning
bodies the heedless remainder march in safety to the other side. If the
story is not true, it is at least well invented; for the
ant-commonwealth everywhere carries to the extremest pitch the old Roman
doctrine of the absolute subjection of the individual to the State. So
exactly is this the case that in some species there are a few large,
overgrown, lazy ants in each nest, which do no work themselves, but
accompany the workers on their expeditions; and the sole use of these
idle mouths seems to be to attract the attention of birds and other
enemies, and so distract it from the useful workers, the mainstay of the
entire community. It is almost as though an army, marching against a
tribe of cannibals, were to place itself in the centre of a hollow
square formed of all the fattest people in the country, whose fine
condition and fitness for killing might immediately engross the
attention of the hungry enemy. Ants, in fact, have, for the most part,
already reached the goal set before us as a delightful one by most
current schools of socialist philosophers, in which the individual is
absolutely sacrificed in every way to the needs of the community.

The most absurdly human, however, among all the tricks and habits of
ants are their well known cattle-farming and slaveholding instincts.
Everybody has heard, of course, how they keep the common rose-blight as
milch cows, and suck from them the sweet honey-dew. But everybody,
probably, does not yet know the large number of insects which they herd
in one form or another as domesticated animals. Man has, at most, some
twenty or thirty such, including cows, sheep, horses, donkeys, camels,
llamas, alpacas, reindeer, dogs, cats, canaries, pigs, fowl, ducks,
geese, turkeys, and silkworms. But ants have hundreds and hundreds, some
of them kept obviously for purposes of food; others apparently as pets;
and yet others again, as has been plausibly suggested, by reason of
superstition or as objects of worship. There is a curious blind beetle
which inhabits ants' nests, and is so absolutely dependent upon its
hosts for support that it has even lost the power of feeding itself. It
never quits the nest, but the ants bring it in food and supply it by
putting the nourishment actually into its mouth. But the beetle, in
return, seems to secrete a sweet liquid (or it may even be a stimulant
like beer, or a narcotic like tobacco) in a tuft of hairs near the
bottom of the hard wing-cases, and the ants often lick this tuft with
every appearance of satisfaction and enjoyment. In this case, and in
many others, there can be no doubt that the insects are kept for the
sake of food or some other advantage yielded by them.

But there are other instances of insects which haunt ants' nests, which
it is far harder to account for on any hypothesis save that of
superstitious veneration. There is a little weevil that runs about by
hundreds in the galleries of English ants, in and out among the free
citizens, making itself quite at home in their streets and public
places, but as little noticed by the ants themselves as dogs are in our
own cities. Then, again, there is a white woodlouse, something like the
common little armadillo, but blind from having lived so long
underground, which walks up and down the lanes and alleys of antdom,
without ever holding any communication of any sort with its hosts and
neighbours. In neither case has Sir John Lubbock ever seen an ant take
the slightest notice of the presence of these strange fellow-lodgers.
'One might almost imagine,' he says, 'that they had the cap of
invisibility.' Yet it is quite clear that the ants deliberately sanction
the residence of the weevils and woodlice in their nests, for any
unauthorised intruder would immediately be set upon and massacred

Sir John Lubbock suggests that they may perhaps be tolerated as
scavengers: or, again, it is possible that they may prey upon the eggs
or larvæ of some of the parasites to whose attacks the ants are subject.
In the first case, their use would be similar to that of the wild dogs
in Constantinople or the common black John-crow vultures in tropical
America: in the second case, they would be about equivalent to our own
cats or to the hedgehog often put in farmhouse kitchens to keep down

The crowning glory of owning slaves, which many philosophic Americans
(before the war) showed to be the highest and noblest function of the
most advanced humanity, has been attained by more than one variety of
anthood. Our great English horse-ant is a moderate slaveholder; but the
big red ant of Southern Europe carries the domestic institution many
steps further. It makes regular slave-raids upon the nests of the small
brown ants, and carries off the young in their pupa condition. By-and-by
the brown ants hatch out in the strange nest, and never having known any
other life except that of slavery, accommodate themselves to it readily
enough. The red ant, however, is still only an occasional slaveowner; if
necessary, he can get along by himself, without the aid of his little
brown servants. Indeed, there are free states and slave states of red
ants side by side with one another, as of old in Maryland and
Pennsylvania: in the first, the red ants do their work themselves, like
mere vulgar Ohio farmers; in the second, they get their work done for
them by their industrious little brown servants, like the aristocratic
first families of Virginia before the earthquake of emancipation.

But there are other degraded ants, whose life-history may be humbly
presented to the consideration of the Anti-Slavery Society, as speaking
more eloquently than any other known fact for the demoralising effect of
slaveowning upon the slaveholders themselves. The Swiss rufescent ant is
a species so long habituated to rely entirely upon the services of
slaves that it is no longer able to manage its own affairs when deprived
by man of its hereditary bondsmen. It has lost entirely the art of
constructing a nest; it can no longer tend its own young, whom it leaves
entirely to the care of negro nurses; and its bodily structure even has
changed, for the jaws have lost their teeth, and have been converted
into mere nippers, useful only as weapons of war. The rufescent ant, in
fact, is a purely military caste, which has devoted itself entirely to
the pursuit of arms, leaving every other form of activity to its slaves
and dependents. Officers of the old school will be glad to learn that
this military insect is dressed, if not in scarlet, at any rate in very
decent red, and that it refuses to be bothered in any way with questions
of transport or commissariat. If the community changes its nest, the
masters are carried on the backs of their slaves to the new position,
and the black ants have to undertake the entire duty of foraging and
bringing in stores of supply for their gentlemanly proprietors. Only
when war is to be made upon neighbouring nests does the thin red line
form itself into long file for active service. Nothing could be more
perfectly aristocratic than the views of life entertained and acted upon
by these distinguished slaveholders.

On the other hand, the picture has its reverse side, exhibiting clearly
the weak points of the slaveholding system. The rufescent ant has lost
even the very power of feeding itself. So completely dependent is each
upon his little black valet for daily bread, that he cannot so much as
help himself to the food that is set before him. Hüber put a few
slaveholders into a box with some of their own larvæ and pupæ, and a
supply of honey, in order to see what they would do with them. Appalled
at the novelty of the situation, the slaveholders seemed to come to the
conclusion that something must be done; so they began carrying the larvæ
about aimlessly in their mouths, and rushing up and down in search of
the servants. After a while, however, they gave it up and came to the
conclusion that life under such circumstances was clearly intolerable.
They never touched the honey, but resigned themselves to their fate like
officers and gentlemen. In less than two days, half of them had died of
hunger, rather than taste a dinner which was not supplied to them by a
properly constituted footman. Admiring their heroism or pitying their
incapacity, Hüber at last gave them just one slave between them all. The
plucky little negro, nothing daunted by the gravity of the situation,
set to work at once, dug a small nest, gathered together the larvæ,
helped several pupæ out of the cocoon, and saved the lives of the
surviving slaveowners. Other naturalists have tried similar experiments,
and always with the same result. The slaveowners will starve in the
midst of plenty rather than feed themselves without attendance. Either
they cannot or will not put the food into their own mouths with their
own mandibles.

There are yet other ants, such as the workerless _Anergates_, in which
the degradation of slaveholding has gone yet further. These wretched
creatures are the formican representatives of those Oriental despots who
are no longer even warlike, but are sunk in sloth and luxury, and pass
their lives in eating bang or smoking opium. Once upon a time, Sir John
Lubbock thinks, the ancestors of _Anergates_ were marauding
slaveowners, who attacked and made serfs of other ants. But gradually
they lost not only their arts but even their military prowess, and were
reduced to making war by stealth instead of openly carrying off their
slaves in fair battle. It seems probable that they now creep into a nest
of the far more powerful slave ants, poison or assassinate the queen,
and establish themselves by sheer usurpation in the queenless nest.
'Gradually,' says Sir John Lubbock, 'even their bodily force dwindled
away under the enervating influence to which they had subjected
themselves, until they sank to their present degraded condition--weak in
body and mind, few in numbers, and apparently nearly extinct, the
miserable representatives of far superior ancestors maintaining a
precarious existence as contemptible parasites of their former slaves.'
One may observe in passing that these wretched do-nothings cannot have
been the ants which Solomon commended to the favourable consideration of
the sluggard; though it is curious that the text was never pressed into
the service of defence for the peculiar institution by the advocates of
slavery in the South, who were always most anxious to prove the
righteousness of their cause by most sure and certain warranty of Holy


'The Atlantosaurus,' said I, pointing affectionately with a wave of my
left hand to all that was immortal of that extinct reptile, 'is
estimated to have had a total length of one hundred feet, and was
probably the very biggest lizard that ever lived, even in Western
America, where his earthly remains were first disinhumed by an
enthusiastic explorer.'

'Yes, yes,' my friend answered abstractedly. 'Of course, of course;
things were all so very big in those days, you know, my dear fellow.'

'Excuse me,' I replied with polite incredulity; 'I really don't know to
what particular period of time the phrase "in those days" may be
supposed precisely to refer.'

My friend shuffled inside his coat a little uneasily. (I will admit that
I was taking a mean advantage of him. The professorial lecture in
private life, especially when followed by a strict examination, is quite
undeniably a most intolerable nuisance.) 'Well,' he said, in a crusty
voice, after a moment's hesitation, 'I mean, you know, in geological
times ... well, there, my dear fellow, things used all to be so _very_
big in those days, usedn't they?'

I took compassion upon him and let him off easily. 'You've had enough of
the museum,' I said with magnanimous self-denial. 'The Atlantosaurus has
broken the camel's back. Let's go and have a quiet cigarette in the park

But if you suppose, reader, that I am going to carry my forbearance so
far as to let you, too, off the remainder of that geological
disquisition, you are certainly very much mistaken. A discourse which
would be quite unpardonable in social intercourse may be freely admitted
in the privacy of print; because, you see, while you can't easily tell a
man that his conversation bores you (though some people just avoid doing
so by an infinitesimal fraction), you can shut up a book whenever you
like, without the very faintest or remotest risk of hurting the author's
delicate susceptibilities.

The subject of my discourse naturally divides itself, like the
conventional sermon, into two heads--the precise date of 'geological
times,' and the exact bigness of the animals that lived in them. And I
may as well begin by announcing my general conclusion at the very
outset; first, that 'those days' never existed at all; and, secondly,
that the animals which now inhabit this particular planet are, on the
whole, about as big, taken in the lump, as any previous contemporary
fauna that ever lived at any one time together upon its changeful
surface. I know that to announce this sad conclusion is to break down
one more universal and cherished belief; everybody considers that
'geological animals' were ever so much bigger than their modern
representatives; but the interests of truth should always be paramount,
and, if the trade of an iconoclast is a somewhat cruel one, it is at
least a necessary function in a world so ludicrously overstocked with
popular delusions as this erring planet.

What, then, is the ordinary idea of 'geological time' in the minds of
people like my good friend who refused to discuss with me the exact
antiquity of the Atlantosaurian? They think of it all as immediate and
contemporaneous, a vast panorama of innumerable ages being all crammed
for them on to a single mental sheet, in which the dodo and the moa
hob-an'-nob amicably with the pterodactyl and the ammonite; in which the
tertiary megatherium goes cheek by jowl with the secondary deinosaurs
and the primary trilobites; in which the huge herbivores of the Paris
Basin are supposed to have browsed beneath the gigantic club-mosses of
the Carboniferous period, and to have been successfully hunted by the
great marine lizards and flying dragons of the Jurassic Epoch. Such a
picture is really just as absurd, or, to speak more correctly, a
thousand times absurder, than if one were to speak of those grand old
times when Homer and Virgil smoked their pipes together in the Mermaid
Tavern, while Shakespeare and Molière, crowned with summer roses, sipped
their Falernian at their ease beneath the whispering palmwoods of the
Nevsky Prospect, and discussed the details of the play they were to
produce to-morrow in the crowded Colosseum, on the occasion of
Napoleon's reception at Memphis by his victorious brother emperors,
Ramses and Sardanapalus. This is not, as the inexperienced reader may at
first sight imagine, a literal transcript from one of the glowing
descriptions that crowd the beautiful pages of Ouida; it is a faint
attempt to parallel in the brief moment of historical time the glaring
anachronisms perpetually committed as regards the vast lapse of
geological chronology even by well-informed and intelligent people.

We must remember, then, that in dealing with geological time we are
dealing with a positively awe-inspiring and unimaginable series of æons,
each of which occupied its own enormous and incalculable epoch, and each
of which saw the dawn, the rise, the culmination, and the downfall of
innumerable types of plant and animal. On the cosmic clock, by whose
pendulum alone we can faintly measure the dim ages behind us, the brief
lapse of historical time, from the earliest of Egyptian dynasties to
the events narrated in this evening's _Pall Mall_, is less than a
second, less than a unit, less than the smallest item by which we can
possibly guide our blind calculations. To a geologist the temples of
Karnak and the New Law Courts would be absolutely contemporaneous; he
has no means by which he could discriminate in date between a scarabæus
of Thothmes, a denarius of Antonine, and a bronze farthing of her Most
Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. Competent authorities have shown good
grounds for believing that the Glacial Epoch ended about 80,000 years
ago; and everything that has happened since the Glacial Epoch is, from
the geological point of view, described as 'recent.' A shell embedded in
a clay cliff sixty or seventy thousand years ago, while short and
swarthy Mongoloids still dwelt undisturbed in Britain, ages before the
irruption of the 'Ancient Britons' of our inadequate school-books, is,
in the eyes of geologists generally, still regarded as purely modern.

But behind that indivisible moment of recent time, that eighty thousand
years which coincides in part with the fraction of a single swing of the
cosmical pendulum, there lie hours, and days, and weeks, and months, and
years, and centuries, and ages of an infinite, an illimitable, an
inconceivable past, whose vast divisions unfold themselves slowly, one
beyond the other, to our aching vision in the half-deciphered pages of
the geological record. Before the Glacial Epoch there comes the
Pliocene, immeasurably longer than the whole expanse of recent time; and
before that again the still longer Miocene, and then the Eocene,
immeasurably longer than all the others put together. These three make
up in their sum the Tertiary period, which entire period can hardly have
occupied more time in its passage than a single division of the
Secondary, such as the Cretaceous, or the Oolite, or the Triassic; and
the Secondary period, once more, though itself of positively appalling
duration, seems but a patch (to use the expressive modernism) upon the
unthinkable and unrealisable vastness of the endless successive Primary
æons. So that in the end we can only say, like Michael Scott's mystic
head, 'Time was, Time is, Time will be.' The time we know affords us no
measure at all for even the nearest and briefest epochs of the time we
know not; and the time we know not seems to demand still vaster and more
inexpressible figures as we pry back curiously, with wondering eyes,
into its dimmest and earliest recesses.

These efforts to realise the unrealisable make one's head swim; let us
hark back once more from cosmical time to the puny bigness of our
earthly animals, living or extinct.

If we look at the whole of our existing fauna, marine and terrestrial,
we shall soon see that we could bring together at the present moment a
very goodly collection of extant monsters, most parlous monsters, too,
each about as fairly big in its own kind as almost anything that has
ever preceded it. Every age has its own _specialité_ in the way of
bigness; in one epoch it is the lizards that take suddenly to developing
overgrown creatures, the monarchs of creation in their little day; in
another, it is the fishes that blossom out unexpectedly into Titanic
proportions; in a third, it is the sloths or the proboscideans that wax
fat and kick with gigantic members; in a fourth, it may be the birds or
the men that are destined to evolve with future ages into veritable rocs
or purely realistic Gargantuas or Brobdingnagians. The present period is
most undoubtedly the period of the cetaceans; and the future geologist
who goes hunting for dry bones among the ooze of the Atlantic, now known
to us only by the scanty dredgings of our 'Alerts' and 'Challengers,'
but then upheaved into snow-clad Alps or vine-covered Apennines, will
doubtless stand aghast at the huge skeletons of our whales and our
razorbacks, and will mutter to himself in awe-struck astonishment, in
the exact words of my friend at South Kensington, 'Things used all to be
so very big in those days, usedn't they?'

Now, the fact as to the comparative size of our own cetaceans and of
'geological' animals is just this. The Atlantosaurus of the Western
American Jurassic beds, a great erect lizard, is the very largest
creature ever known to have inhabited this sublunary sphere. His entire
length is supposed to have reached about a hundred feet (for no complete
skeleton has ever been discovered), while in stature he appears to have
stood some thirty feet high, or over. In any case, he was undoubtedly a
very big animal indeed, for his thigh-bone alone measures eight feet, or
two feet taller than that glory of contemporary civilisation, a British
Grenadier. This, of course, implies a very decent total of height and
size; but our own sperm whale frequently attains a good length of
seventy feet, while the rorquals often run up to eighty, ninety, and
even a hundred feet. We are thus fairly entitled to say that we have at
least one species of animal now living which, occasionally at any rate,
equals in size the very biggest and most colossal form known
inferentially to geological science. Indeed when we consider the
extraordinary compactness and rotundity of the modern cetaceans, as
compared with the tall limbs and straggling skeleton of the huge
Jurassic deinosaurs, I am inclined to believe that the tonnage of a
decent modern rorqual must positively exceed that of the gigantic
Atlantosaurus, the great lizard of the west, _in propria persona_. I
doubt, in short, whether even the solid thigh-bone of the deinosaur
could ever have supported the prodigious weight of a full-grown family
razor-back whale. The mental picture of these unwieldy monsters hopping
casually about, like Alice's Gryphon in Tenniel's famous sketch, or
like that still more parlous brute, the chortling Jabberwock, must be
left to the vivid imagination of the courteous reader, who may fill in
the details for himself as well as he is able.

If we turn from the particular comparison of selected specimens (always
an unfair method of judging) to the general aspect of our contemporary
fauna, I venture confidently to claim for our own existing human period
as fine a collection of big animals as any other ever exhibited on this
planet by any one single rival epoch. Of course, if you are going to
lump all the extinct monsters and horrors into one imaginary unified
fauna, regardless of anachronisms, I have nothing more to say to you; I
will candidly admit that there were more great men in all previous
generations put together, from Homer to Dickens, from Agamemnon to
Wellington, than there are now existing in this last quarter of our
really very respectable nineteenth century. But if you compare honestly
age with age, one at a time, I fearlessly maintain that, so far from
there being any falling off in the average bigness of things generally
in these latter days, there are more big things now living than there
ever were in any one single epoch, even of much longer duration than the
'recent' period.

I suppose we may fairly say, from the evidence before us, that there
have been two Augustan Ages of big animals in the history of our
earth--the Jurassic period, which was the zenith of the reptilian type,
and the Pliocene, which was the zenith of the colossal terrestrial
tertiary mammals. I say on purpose, 'from the evidence before us,'
because, as I shall go on to explain hereafter, I do not myself believe
that any one age has much surpassed another in the general size of its
fauna, since the Permian Epoch at least; and where we do not get
geological evidence of the existence of big animals in any particular
deposit, we may take it for granted, I think, that that deposit was laid
down under conditions unfavourable to the preservation of the remains of
large species. For example, the sediment now being accumulated at the
bottom of the Caspian cannot possibly contain the bones of any creature
much larger than the Caspian seal, because there are no big species
there swimming; and yet that fact does not negative the existence in
other places of whales, elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, and hippopotami.
Nevertheless, we can only go upon the facts before us; and if we compare
our existing fauna with the fauna of Jurassic and Pliocene times, we
shall at any rate be putting it to the test of the severest competition
that lies within our power under the actual circumstances.

In the Jurassic age there were undoubtedly a great many very big
reptiles. 'A monstrous eft was of old the lord and master of earth: For
him did his high sun flame and his river billowing ran: And he felt
himself in his pride to be nature's crowning race.' There was the
ichthyosaurus, a fish-like marine lizard, familiar to us all from a
thousand reconstructions, with his long thin body, his strong flippers,
his stumpy neck, and his huge pair of staring goggle eyes. The
ichthyosaurus was certainly a most unpleasant creature to meet alone in
a narrow strait on a dark night; but if it comes to actual measurement,
the very biggest ichthyosaurian skeleton ever unearthed does not exceed
twenty-five feet from snout to tail. Now, this is an extremely decent
size for a reptile, as reptiles go; for the crocodile and alligator, the
two biggest existing lizards, seldom attain an extreme length of sixteen
feet. But there are other reptiles now living that easily beat the
ichthyosaurus, such, for example, as the larger pythons or rock-snakes,
which not infrequently reach to thirty feet, and measure round the
waist as much as a London alderman of the noblest proportions. Of
course, other Jurassic saurians easily beat this simple record. Our
British Megalosaurus only extended twenty-five feet in length, and
carried weight not exceeding three tons; but, his rival Ceteosaurus
stood ten feet high, and measured fifty feet from the tip of his snout
to the end of his tail; while the dimensions of Titanosaurus may be
briefly described as sixty feet by thirty, and those of Atlantosaurus as
one hundred by thirty-two. Viewed as reptiles, we have certainly nothing
at all to come up to these; but our cetaceans, as a group, show an
assemblage of species which could very favourably compete with the whole
lot of Jurassic saurians at any cattle show. Indeed, if it came to
tonnage, I believe a good blubbery right-whale could easily give points
to any deinosaur that ever moved upon oolitic continents.

The great mammals of the Pliocene age, again, such as the deinotherium
and the mastodon, were also, in their way, very big things in livestock;
but they scarcely exceeded the modern elephant, and by no means came
near the modern whales. A few colossal ruminants of the same period
could have held their own well against our existing giraffes, elks, and
buffaloes; but, taking the group as a group, I don't think there is any
reason to believe that it beat in general aspect the living fauna of
this present age.

For few people ever really remember how very many big animals we still
possess. We have the Indian and the African elephant, the hippopotamus,
the various rhinoceroses, the walrus, the giraffe, the elk, the bison,
the musk ox, the dromedary, and the camel. Big marine animals are
generally in all ages bigger than their biggest terrestrial rivals, and
most people lump all our big existing cetaceans under the common and
ridiculous title of whales, which makes this vast and varied assortment
of gigantic species seem all reducible to a common form. As a matter of
fact, however, there are several dozen colossal marine animals now
sporting and spouting in all oceans, as distinct from one another as the
camel is from the ox, or the elephant from the hippopotamus. Our New
Zealand Berardius easily beats the ichthyosaurus; our sperm whale is
more than a match for any Jurassic European deinosaur; our rorqual, one
hundred feet long, just equals the dimensions of the gigantic American
Atlantosaurus himself. Besides these exceptional monsters, our
bottleheads reach to forty feet, our California whales to forty-four,
our hump-backs to fifty, and our razor-backs to sixty or seventy. True
fish generally fall far short of these enormous dimensions, but some of
the larger sharks attain almost equal size with the biggest cetaceans.
The common blue shark, with his twenty-five feet of solid rapacity,
would have proved a tough antagonist, I venture to believe, for the best
bred enaliosaurian that ever munched a lias ammonite. I would back our
modern carcharodon, who grows to forty feet, against any plesiosaurus
that ever swam the Jurassic sea. As for rhinodon, a gigantic shark of
the Indian Ocean, he has been actually measured to a length of fifty
feet, and is stated often to attain seventy. I will stake my reputation
upon it that he would have cleared the secondary seas of their great
saurians in less than a century. When we come to add to these enormous
marine and terrestrial creatures such other examples as the great
snakes, the gigantic cuttle-fish, the grampuses, and manatees, and
sea-lions, and sunfish, I am quite prepared fearlessly to challenge any
other age that ever existed to enter the lists against our own for
colossal forms of animal life.

Again, it is a point worth noting that a great many of the very big
animals which people have in their minds when they talk vaguely about
everything having been so very much bigger 'in those days' have become
extinct within a very late period, and are often, from the geological
point of view, quite recent.

For example, there is our friend the mammoth. I suppose no animal is
more frequently present to the mind of the non-geological speaker, when
he talks indefinitely about the great extinct monsters, than the
familiar figure of that huge-tusked, hairy northern elephant. Yet the
mammoth, chronologically speaking, is but a thing of yesterday. He was
hunted here in England by men whose descendants are probably still
living--at least so Professor Boyd Dawkins solemnly assures us; while in
Siberia his frozen body, flesh and all, is found so very fresh that the
wolves devour it, without raising any unnecessary question as to its
fitness for lupine food. The Glacial Epoch is the yesterday of
geological time, and it was the Glacial Epoch that finally killed off
the last mammoth. Then, again, there is his neighbour, the mastodon.
That big tertiary proboscidean did not live quite long enough, it is
true, to be hunted by the cavemen of the Pleistocene age, but he
survived at any rate as long as the Pliocene--our day before
yesterday--and he often fell very likely before the fire-split flint
weapons of the Abbé Bourgeois' Miocene men. The period that separates
him from our own day is as nothing compared with the vast and
immeasurable interval that separates him from the huge marine saurians
of the Jurassic world. To compare the relative lapses of time with human
chronology, the mastodon stands to our own fauna as Beau Brummel stands
to the modern masher, while the saurians stand to it as the Egyptian and
Assyrian warriors stand to Lord Wolseley and the followers of the Mahdi.

Once more, take the gigantic moa of New Zealand, that enormous bird who
was to the ostrich as the giraffe is to the antelope; a monstrous emu,
as far surpassing the ostriches of to-day as the ostriches surpass all
the other fowls of the air. Yet the moa, though now extinct, is in the
strictest sense quite modern, a contemporary very likely of Queen
Elizabeth or Queen Anne, exterminated by the Maoris only a very little
time before the first white settlements in the great southern
archipelago. It is even doubtful whether the moa did not live down to
the days of the earliest colonists, for remains of Maori encampments are
still discovered, with the ashes of the fireplace even now unscattered,
and the close-gnawed bones of the gigantic bird lying in the very spot
where the natives left them after their destructive feasts. So, too,
with the big sharks. Our modern carcharodon, who runs (as I have before
noted) to forty feet in length, is a very respectable monster indeed, as
times go; and his huge snapping teeth, which measure nearly two inches
long by one and a half broad, would disdain to make two bites of the
able-bodied British seaman. But the naturalists of the 'Challenger'
expedition dredged up in numbers from the ooze of the Pacific similar
teeth, five inches long by four wide, so that the sharks to which they
originally belonged must, by parity of reasoning, have measured nearly a
hundred feet in length. This, no doubt, beats our biggest existing
shark, the rhinodon, by some thirty feet. Still, the ooze of the Pacific
is a quite recent or almost modern deposit, which is even now being
accumulated on the sea bottom, and there would be really nothing
astonishing in the discovery that some representatives of these colossal
carcharodons are to this day swimming about at their lordly leisure
among the coral reefs of the South Sea Islands. That very cautious
naturalist, Dr. Günther, of the British Museum, contents himself indeed
by merely saying: 'As we have no record of living individuals of that
bulk having been observed, the gigantic species to which these teeth
belonged must probably have become extinct within a comparatively recent

If these things are so, the question naturally suggests itself: Why
should certain types of animals have attained their greatest size at
certain different epochs, and been replaced at others by equally big
animals of wholly unlike sorts? The answer, I believe, is simply this:
Because there is not room and food in the world at any one time for more
than a certain relatively small number of gigantic species. Each great
group of animals has had successively its rise, its zenith, its
decadence, and its dotage; each at the period of its highest development
has produced a considerable number of colossal forms; each has been
supplanted in due time by higher groups of totally different structure,
which have killed off their predecessors, not indeed by actual stress of
battle, but by irresistible competition for food and prey. The great
saurians were thus succeeded by the great mammals, just as the great
mammals are themselves in turn being ousted, from the land at least, by
the human species.

Let us look briefly at the succession of big animals in the world, so
far as we can follow it from the mutilated and fragmentary record of the
geological remains.

The very earliest existing fossils would lead us to believe what is
otherwise quite probable, that life on our planet began with very small
forms--that it passed at first through a baby stage. The animals of the
Cambrian period are almost all small mollusks, star-fishes, sponges, and
other simple, primitive types of life. There were as yet no vertebrates
of any sort, not even fishes, far less amphibians, reptiles, birds, or
mammals. The veritable giants of the Cambrian world were the
crustaceans, and especially the trilobites, which, nevertheless, hardly
exceeded in size a good big modern lobster. The biggest trilobite is
some two feet long; and though we cannot by any means say that this was
really the largest form of animal life then existing, owing to the
extremely broken nature of the geological record, we have at least no
evidence that anything bigger as yet moved upon the face of the waters.
The trilobites, which were a sort of triple-tailed crabs (to speak very
popularly), began in the Cambrian Epoch, attained their culminating
point in the Silurian, waned in the Devonian, and died out utterly in
the Carboniferous seas.

It is in the second great epoch, the Silurian, that the cuttle-fish
tribe, still fairly represented by the nautilus, the argonaut, the
squid, and the octopus, first began to make their appearance upon this
or any other stage. The cuttle-fishes are among the most developed of
invertebrate animals; they are rapid swimmers; they have large and
powerful eyes; and they can easily enfold their prey (_teste_ Victor
Hugo) in their long and slimy sucker-clad arms. With these natural
advantages to back them up, it is not surprising that the cuttle family
rapidly made their mark in the world. They were by far the most advanced
thinkers and actors of their own age, and they rose almost at once to be
the dominant creatures of the primæval ocean in which they swam. There
were as yet no saurians or whales to dispute the dominion with these
rapacious cephalopods, and so the cuttle family had things for the time
all their own way. Before the end of the Silurian Epoch, according to
that accurate census-taker, M. Barrande, they had blossomed forth into
no less than 1,622 distinct species. For a single family to develop so
enormous a variety of separate forms, all presumably derived from a
single common ancestor, argues, of course, an immense success in life;
and it also argues a vast lapse of time during which the different
species were gradually demarcated from one another.

Some of the ammonites, which belonged to this cuttle-fish group, soon
attained a very considerable size; but a shell known as the orthoceras
(I wish my subject didn't compel me to use such _very_ long words, but I
am not personally answerable, thank heaven, for the vagaries of modern
scientific nomenclature) grew to a bigger size than that of any other
fossil mollusk, sometimes measuring as much as six feet in total length.
At what date the gigantic cuttles of the present day first began to make
their appearance it would be hard to say, for their shell-less bodies
are so soft that they could leave hardly anything behind in a fossil
state; but the largest known cuttle, measured by Mr. Gabriel, of
Newfoundland, was eighty feet in length, including the long arms.

These cuttles are the only invertebrates at all in the running so far as
colossal size is concerned, and it will be observed that here the
largest modern specimen immeasurably beats the largest fossil form of
the same type. I do not say that there were not fossil forms quite as
big as the gigantic calamaries of our own time--on the contrary, I
believe there were; but if we go by the record alone we must confess
that, in the matter of invertebrates at least, the balance of size is
all in favour of our own period.

The vertebrates first make their appearance, in the shape of fishes,
towards the close of the Silurian period, the second of the great
geological epochs. The earliest fish appear to have been small,
elongated, eel-like creatures, closely resembling the lampreys in
structure; but they rapidly developed in size and variety, and soon
became the ruling race in the waters of the ocean, where they maintained
their supremacy till the rise of the great secondary saurians. Even
then, in spite of the severe competition thus introduced, and still
later, in spite of the struggle for life against the huge modern
cetaceans (the true monarchs of the recent seas), the sharks continued
to hold their own as producers of gigantic forms; and at the present day
their largest types probably rank second only to the whales in the whole
range of animated nature. There seems no reason to doubt that modern
fish, as a whole, quite equal in size the piscine fauna of any previous
geological age.

It is somewhat different with the next great vertebrate group, the
amphibians, represented in our own world only by the frogs, the toads,
the newts, and the axolotls. Here we must certainly with shame confess
that the amphibians of old greatly surpassed their degenerate
descendants in our modern waters. The Japanese salamander, by far the
biggest among our existing newts, never exceeds a yard in length from
snout to tail; whereas some of the labyrinthodonts (forgive me once
more) of the Carboniferous Epoch must have reached at least seven or
eight feet from stem to stern. But the reason of this falling off is not
far to seek. When the adventurous newts and frogs of that remote period
first dropped their gills and hopped about inquiringly on the dry land,
under the shadow of the ancient tree-ferns and club-mosses, they were
the only terrestrial vertebrates then existing, and they had the field
(or, rather, the forest) all to themselves. For a while, therefore, like
all dominant races for the time being, they blossomed forth at their
ease into relatively gigantic forms. Frogs as big as donkeys, and efts
as long as crocodiles, luxuriated to their hearts' content in the marshy
lowlands, and lorded it freely over the small creatures which they found
in undisturbed possession of the Carboniferous isles. But as ages passed
away, and new improvements were slowly invented and patented by survival
of the fittest in the offices of nature, their own more advanced and
developed descendants, the reptiles and mammals, got the upper hand
with them, and soon lived them down in the struggle for life, so that
this essentially intermediate form is now almost entirely restricted to
its one adapted seat, the pools and ditches that dry up in summer.

The reptiles, again, are a class in which the biggest modern forms are
simply nowhere beside the gigantic extinct species. First appearing on
the earth at the very close of the vast primary periods--in the Permian
age--they attained in secondary times the most colossal proportions, and
have certainly never since been exceeded in size by any later forms of
life in whatever direction. But one must remember that during the heyday
of the great saurians, there were as yet no birds and no mammals. The
place now filled in the ocean by the whales and grampuses, as well as
the place now filled in the great continents by the elephants, the
rhinoceroses, the hippopotami, and the other big quadrupeds, was then
filled exclusively by huge reptiles, of the sort rendered familiar to us
all by the restored effigies on the little island in the Crystal Palace
grounds. Every dog has his day, and the reptiles had _their_ day in the
secondary period. The forms into which they developed were certainly
every whit as large as any ever seen on the surface of this planet, but
not, as I have already shown, appreciably larger than those of the
biggest cetaceans known to science in our own time.

During the very period, however, when enaliosaurians and pterodactyls
were playing such pranks before high heaven as might have made
contemporary angels weep, if they took any notice of saurian morality, a
small race of unobserved little prowlers was growing up in the dense
shades of the neighbouring forests which was destined at last to oust
the huge reptiles from their empire over earth, and to become in the
fulness of time the exclusively dominant type of the whole planet. In
the trias we get the first remains of mammalian life in the shape of
tiny rat-like animals, marsupial in type, and closely related to the
banded ant-eaters of New South Wales at the present day. Throughout the
long lapse of the secondary ages, across the lias, the oolite, the
wealden, and the chalk, we find the mammalian race slowly developing
into opossums and kangaroos, such as still inhabit the isolated and
antiquated continent of Australia. Gathering strength all the time for
the coming contest, increasing constantly in size of brain and keenness
of intelligence, the true mammals were able at last, towards the close
of the secondary ages, to enter the lists boldly against the gigantic
saurians. With the dawn of the tertiary period, the reign of the
reptiles begins to wane, and the reign of the mammals to set in at last
in real earnest. In place of the ichthyosaurs we get the huge cetaceans;
in place of the deinosaurs we get the mammoth and the mastodon; in place
of the dominant reptile groups we get the first precursors of man

The history of the great birds has been somewhat more singular. Unlike
the other main vertebrate classes, the birds (as if on purpose to
contradict the proverb) seem never yet to have had their day.
Unfortunately for them, or at least for their chance of producing
colossal species, their evolution went on side by side, apparently, with
that of the still more intelligent and more powerful mammals; so that,
wherever the mammalian type had once firmly established itself, the
birds were compelled to limit their aspirations to a very modest and
humble standard. Terrestrial mammals, however, cannot cross the sea; so
in isolated regions, such as New Zealand and Madagascar, the birds had
things all their own way. In New Zealand, there are no indigenous
quadrupeds at all; and there the huge moa attained to dimensions almost
equalling those of the giraffe. In Madagascar, the mammalian life was
small and of low grade, so the gigantic æpyornis became the very biggest
of all known birds. At the same time, these big species acquired their
immense size at the cost of the distinctive birdlike habit of flight. A
flying moa is almost an impossible conception; even the ostriches
compete practically with the zebras and antelopes rather than with the
eagles, the condors, or the albatrosses. In like manner, when a pigeon
found its way to Mauritius, it developed into the practically wingless
dodo; while in the northern penguins, on their icy perches, the fore
limbs have been gradually modified into swimming organs, exactly
analogous to the flippers of the seal.

Are the great animals now passing away and leaving no representatives of
their greatness to future ages? On land at least that is very probable.
Man, diminutive man, who, if he walked on all fours, would be no bigger
than a silly sheep, and who only partially disguises his native
smallness by his acquired habit of walking erect on what ought to be his
hind legs--man has upset the whole balanced economy of nature, and is
everywhere expelling and exterminating before him the great herbivores,
his predecessors. He needs for his corn and his bananas the fruitful
plains which were once laid down in prairie or scrubwood. Hence it seems
not unlikely that the elephant, the hippopotamus, the rhinoceros, and
the buffalo must go. But we are still a long way off from that final
consummation, even on dry land; while as for the water, it appears
highly probable that there are as good fish still in the sea as ever
came out of it. Whether man himself, now become the sole dominant animal
of our poor old planet, will ever develop into Titanic proportions,
seems far more problematical. The race is now no longer to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong. Brain counts for more than muscle, and
mind has gained the final victory over mere matter. Goliath of Gath has
shrunk into insignificance before the Gatling gun; as in the fairy tales
of old, it is cunning little Jack with his clever devices who wins the
day against the heavy, clumsy, muddle-headed giants. Nowadays it is our
'Minotaurs' and 'Warriors' that are the real leviathans and behemoths of
the great deep; our Krupps and Armstrongs are the fire-breathing krakens
of the latter-day seas. Instead of developing individually into huge
proportions, the human race tends rather to aggregate into vast empires,
which compete with one another by means of huge armaments, and invent
mitrailleuses and torpedos of incredible ferocity for their mutual
destruction. The dragons of the prime that tare each other in their
slime have yielded place to eighty-ton guns and armour-plated
turret-ships. Those are the genuine lineal representatives on our modern
seas of the secondary saurians. Let us hope that some coming geologist
of the dim future, finding the fossil remains of the sunken 'Captain,'
or the plated scales of the 'Comte de Grasse,' firmly embedded in the
upheaved ooze of the existing Atlantic, may shake his head in solemn
deprecation at the horrid sight, and thank heaven that such hideous
carnivorous creatures no longer exist in his own day.


There is something at first sight rather ridiculous in the idea of
eating a fossil. To be sure, when the frozen mammoths of Siberia were
first discovered, though they had been dead for at least 80,000 years
(according to Dr. Croll's minimum reckoning for the end of the great ice
age), and might therefore naturally have begun to get a little musty,
they had nevertheless been kept so fresh, like a sort of prehistoric
Australian mutton, in their vast natural refrigerators, that the wolves
and bears greedily devoured the precious relics for which the
naturalists of Europe would have been ready gladly to pay the highest
market price of best beefsteak. Those carnivorous vandals gnawed off the
skin and flesh with the utmost appreciation, and left nothing but the
tusks and bones to adorn the galleries of the new Natural History Museum
at South Kensington. But then wolves and bears, especially in Siberia,
are not exactly fastidious about the nature of their meat diet.
Furthermore, some of the bones of extinct animals found beneath the
stalagmitic floor of caves, in England and elsewhere, presumably of
about the same age as the Siberian mammoths, still contain enough animal
matter to produce a good strong stock for antediluvian broth, which has
been scientifically described by a high authority as pre-Adamite jelly.
The congress of naturalists at Tübingen a few years since had a smoking
tureen of this cave-bone soup placed upon the dinner-table at their
hotel one evening, and pronounced it with geological enthusiasm
'scarcely inferior to prime ox-tail.' But men of science, too, are
accustomed to trying unsavoury experiments, which would go sadly against
the grain with less philosophic and more squeamish palates. They think
nothing of tasting a caterpillar that birds will not touch, in order to
discover whether it owes its immunity from attack to some nauseous,
bitter, or pungent flavouring; and they even advise you calmly to
discriminate between two closely similar species of snails by trying
which of them when chewed has a delicate _soupçon_ of oniony aroma. So
that naturalists in this matter, as the children say, don't count: their
universal thirst for knowledge will prompt them to drink anything, down
even to _consommé_ of quaternary cave-bear.

There is one form of fossil food, however, which appears constantly upon
all our tables at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day, and which is
so perfectly familiar to every one of us that we almost forget entirely
its immensely remote geological origin. The salt in our salt-cellars is
a fossil product, laid down ages ago in some primæval Dead Sea or
Caspian, and derived in all probability (through the medium of the
grocer) from the triassic rocks of Cheshire or Worcestershire. Since
that thick bed of rock-salt was first precipitated upon the dry floor of
some old evaporated inland sea, the greater part of the geological
history known to the world at large has slowly unrolled itself through
incalculable ages. The dragons of the prime have begun and finished
their long (and Lord Tennyson says slimy) race. The fish-like saurians
and flying pterodactyls of the secondary period have come into existence
and gone out of it gracefully again. The whole family of birds has been
developed and diversified into its modern variety of eagles and titmice.
The beasts of the field have passed through sundry stages of mammoth
and mastodon, of sabre-toothed lion and huge rhinoceros. Man himself has
progressed gradually from the humble condition of a 'hairy arboreal
quadruped'--these bad words are Mr. Darwin's own--to the glorious
elevation of an erect, two-handed creature, with a county suffrage
question and an intelligent interest in the latest proceedings of the
central divorce court. And after all those manifold changes, compared to
which the entire period of English history, from the landing of Julius
Cæsar to the appearance of this present volume (to take two important
landmarks), is as one hour to a human lifetime, we quietly dig up the
salt to-day from that dry lake bottom and proceed to eat it with the
eggs laid by the hens this morning for this morning's breakfast, just as
though the one food-stuff were not a whit more ancient or more dignified
in nature than the other. Why, mammoth steak is really quite modern and
commonplace by the side of the salt in the salt-cellar that we treat so
cavalierly every day of our ephemeral existence.

The way salt got originally deposited in these great rock beds is very
well illustrated for us by the way it is still being deposited in the
evaporating waters of many inland seas. Every schoolboy knows of course
(though some persons who are no longer schoolboys may just possibly have
forgotten) that the Caspian is in reality only a little bit of the
Mediterranean, which has been cut off from the main sea by the gradual
elevation of the country between them. For many ages the intermediate
soil has been quite literally rising in the world; but to this day a
continuous chain of salt lakes and marshes runs between the Caspian and
the Black Sea, and does its best to keep alive the memory of the time
when they were both united in a single basin. All along this intervening
tract, once sea but now dry land, banks of shells belonging to kinds
still living in the Caspian and the Black Sea alike testify to the old
line of water communication. One fine morning (date unknown) the
intermediate belt began to rise up between them; the water was all
pushed off into the Caspian, but the shells remained to tell the tale
even unto this day.

Now, when a bit of the sea gets cut off in this way from the main ocean,
evaporation of its waters generally takes place rather faster than the
return supply of rain by rivers and lesser tributaries. In other words,
the inland sea or salt lake begins slowly to dry up. This is now just
happening in the Caspian, which is in fact a big pool in course of being
slowly evaporated. By-and-by a point is reached when the water can no
longer hold in solution the amount of salts of various sorts that it
originally contained. In the technical language of chemists and
physicists it begins to get supersaturated. Then the salts are thrown
down as a sediment at the bottom of the sea or lake, exactly as crust
formed on the bottom of a kettle. Gypsum is the first material to be so
thrown down, because it is less soluble than common salt, and therefore
sooner got rid of. It forms a thick bottom layer in the bed of all
evaporating inland seas; and as plaster of Paris it not only gives rise
finally to artistic monstrosities hawked about the streets for the
degradation of national taste, but also plays an important part in the
manufacture of bonbons, the destruction of the human digestion, and the
ultimate ruin of the dominant white European race. Only about a third of
the water in a salt lake need be evaporated before the gypsum begins to
be deposited in a solid layer over its whole bed; it is not till 93 per
cent. of the water has gone, and only 7 per cent. is left, that common
salt begins to be thrown down. When that point of intensity is reached,
the salt, too, falls as a sediment to the bottom, and there overlies the
gypsum deposit. Hence all the world over, wherever we come upon a bed
of rock salt, it almost invariably lies upon a floor of solid gypsum.

The Caspian, being still a very respectable modern sea, constantly
supplied with fresh water from the surrounding rivers, has not yet begun
by any means to deposit salt on its bottom from its whole mass; but the
shallow pools and long bays around its edge have crusts of beautiful
rose-coloured salt-crystals forming upon their sides; and as these
lesser basins gradually dry up, the sand, blown before the wind, slowly
drifts over them, so as to form miniature rock-salt beds on a very small
scale. Nevertheless, the young and vigorous Caspian only represents the
first stage in the process of evaporation of an inland sea. It is still
fresh enough to form the abode of fish and mollusks; and the
irrepressible young lady of the present generation is perhaps even aware
that it contains numbers of seals, being in fact the seat of one of the
most important and valuable seal-fisheries in the whole world. It may be
regarded as a typical example of a yet youthful and lively inland sea.

The Dead Sea, on the other hand, is an old and decrepit salt lake in a
very advanced state of evaporation. It lies several feet below the level
of the Mediterranean, just as the Caspian lies several feet below the
level of the Black Sea; and as in both cases the surface must once have
been continuous, it is clear that the water of either sheet must have
dried up to a very considerable extent. But, while the Caspian has
shrunk only to 85 feet below the Black Sea, the Dead Sea has shrunk to
the enormous depth of 1,292 feet below the Mediterranean. Every now and
then, some enterprising De Lesseps or other proposes to dig a canal from
the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea, and so re-establish the old high
level. The effect of this very revolutionary proceeding would be to
flood the entire Jordan Valley, connect the Sea of Galilee with the Dead
Sea, and play the dickens generally with Scripture geography, to the
infinite delight of Sunday school classes. Now, when the Dead Sea first
began its independent career as a separate sheet of water on its own
account, it no doubt occupied the whole bed of this imaginary engineers'
lake--spreading, if not from Dan to Beersheba, at any rate from Dan to
Edom, or, in other words, along the whole Jordan Valley from the Sea of
Galilee and even the Waters of Merom to the southern desert. (I will not
insult the reader's intelligence and orthodoxy by suggesting that
perhaps he may not be precisely certain as to the exact position of the
Waters of Merom; but I will merely recommend him just to refresh his
memory by turning to his atlas, as this is an opportunity which may not
again occur.) The modern Dead Sea is the last shrunken relic of such a
considerable ancient lake. Its waters are now so very concentrated and
so very nasty that no fish or other self-respecting animal can consent
to live in them; and so buoyant that a man can't drown himself, even if
he tries, because the sea is saturated with salts of various sorts till
it has become a kind of soup or porridge, in which a swimmer floats,
will he nill he. Persons in the neighbourhood who wish to commit suicide
are therefore obliged to go elsewhere: much as in Tasmania, the
healthiest climate in the world, people who want to die are obliged to
run across for a week to Sydney or Melbourne.

The waters of the Dead Sea are thus in the condition of having already
deposited almost all their gypsum, as well as the greater part of the
salt they originally contained. They are, in fact, much like sea water
which has been boiled down till it has reached the state of a thick
salty liquid; and though most of the salt is now already deposited in a
deep layer on the bottom, enough still remains in solution to make the
Dead Sea infinitely salter than the general ocean. At the same time,
there are a good many other things in solution in sea water besides
gypsum and common salt; such as chloride of magnesia sulphate of
potassium, and other interesting substances with pretty chemical names,
well calculated to endear them at first sight to the sentimental
affections of the general public. These other by-contents of the water
are often still longer in getting deposited than common salt; and, owing
to their intermixture in a very concentrated form with the mother liquid
of the Dead Sea, the water of that evaporating lake is not only salt but
also slimy and fetid to the last degree, its taste being accurately
described as half brine, half rancid oil. Indeed, the salt has been so
far precipitated already that there is now five times as much chloride
of magnesium left in the water as there is common salt. By the way, it
is a lucky thing for us that these various soluble minerals are of such
constitution as to be thrown down separately at different stages of
concentration in the evaporating liquid; for, if it were otherwise, they
would all get deposited together, and we should find on all old salt
lake beds only a mixed layer of gypsum, salt, and other chlorides and
sulphates, absolutely useless for any practical human purpose. In that
case, we should be entirely dependent upon marine salt pans and
artificial processes for our entire salt supply. As it is, we find the
materials deposited one above another in regular layers; first, the
gypsum at the bottom; then the rock-salt; and last of all, on top, the
more soluble mineral constituents.

The Great Salt Lake of Utah, sacred to the memory of Brigham Young,
gives us an example of a modern saline sheet of very different origin,
since it is in fact not a branch of the sea at all, but a mere shrunken
remnant of a very large fresh-water lake system, like that of the
still-existing St. Lawrence chain. Once upon a time, American geologists
say, a huge sheet of water, for which they have even invented a
definite name, Lake Bonneville, occupied a far larger valley among the
outliers of the Rocky Mountains, measuring 300 miles in one direction by
180 miles in the other. Beside this primitive Superior lay a second
great sheet--an early Huron--(Lake Lahontan, the geologists call it)
almost as big, and equally of fresh water. By-and-by--the precise dates
are necessarily indefinite--some change in the rainfall, unregistered by
any contemporary 'New York Herald,' made the waters of these big lakes
shrink and evaporate. Lake Lahontan shrank away like Alice in
Wonderland, till there was absolutely nothing left of it; Lake
Bonneville shrank till it attained the diminished size of the existing
Great Salt Lake. Terrace after terrace, running in long parallel lines
on the sides of the Wahsatch Mountains around, mark the various levels
at which it rested for awhile on its gradual downward course. It is
still falling indeed; and the plain around is being gradually uncovered,
forming the white salt-encrusted shore with which all visitors to the
Mormon city are so familiar.

But why should the water have become briny? Why should the evaporation
of an old Superior produce at last a Great Salt Lake? Well, there is a
small quantity of salt in solution even in the freshest of lakes and
ponds, brought down to them by the streams or rivers; and, as the water
of the hypothetical Lake Bonneville slowly evaporated, the salt and
other mineral constituents remained behind. Thus the solution grew
constantly more and more concentrated, till at the present day it is
extremely saline. Professor Geikie (to whose works the present paper is
much indebted) found that he floated on the water in spite of himself;
and the under sides of the steps at the bathing-places are all encrusted
with short stalactites of salt, produced from the drip of the bathers as
they leave the water. The mineral constituents, however, differ
considerably in their proportions from those found in true salt lakes of
marine origin; and the point at which the salt is thrown down is still
far from having been reached. Great Salt Lake must simmer in the sun for
many centuries yet before the point arrives at which (as cooks say) it
begins to settle.

That is the way in which deposits of salt are being now produced on the
world's surface, in preparation for that man of the future who, as we
learn from a duly constituted authority, is to be hairless, toothless,
web-footed, and far too respectable ever to be funny. Man of the present
derives his existing salt-supply chiefly from beds of rock-salt
similarly laid down against his expected appearance some hundred
thousand æons or so ago. (An æon is a very convenient geological unit
indeed to reckon by; as nobody has any idea how long it is, they can't
carp at you for a matter of an æon or two one way or the other.)
Rock-salt is found in most parts of the world, in beds of very various
ages. The great Salt Range of the Punjaub is probably the earliest in
date of all salt deposits; it was laid down at the bottom of some very
ancient Asiatic Mediterranean, whose last shrunken remnant covered the
upper basin of the Indus and its tributaries during the Silurian age.
Europe had then hardly begun to be; and England was probably still
covered from end to end by the primæval ocean. From this very primitive
salt deposit the greater part of India and Central Asia is still
supplied; and the Indian Government makes a pretty penny out of the dues
in the shape of the justly detested salt-tax--a tax especially odious
because it wrings the fraction of a farthing even from those unhappy
agricultural labourers who have never tasted ghee with their rice.

The thickness of the beds in each salt deposit of course depends
entirely upon the area of the original sea or salt-lake, and the length
of time during which the evaporation went on. Sometimes we may get a
mere film of salt; sometimes a solid bed six hundred feet thick.
Perfectly pure rock-salt is colourless and transparent; but one doesn't
often find it pure. Alas for a degenerate world! even in its original
site, Nature herself has taken the trouble to adulterate it beforehand.
(If she hadn't done so, one may be perfectly sure that commercial
enterprise would have proved equal to the occasion in the long run.) But
the adulteration hasn't spoilt the beauty of the salt; on the contrary,
it serves, like rouge, to give a fine fresh colour where none existed.
When iron is the chief colouring matter, rock-salt assumes a beautiful
clear red tint; in other cases it is emerald green or pale blue. As a
rule, salt is prepared from it for table by a regular process; but it
has become a fad of late with a few people to put crystals of native
rock-salt on their tables; and they decidedly look very pretty, and have
a certain distinctive flavour of their own that is not unpleasant.

Our English salt supply is chiefly derived from the Cheshire and
Worcestershire salt-regions, which are of triassic age. Many of the
places at which the salt is mined have names ending in _wich_, such as
Northwich, Middlewich, Nantwich, Droitwich, Netherwich, and Shirleywich.
This termination _wich_ is itself curiously significant, as Canon Isaac
Taylor has shown, of the necessary connection between salt and the sea.
The earliest known way of producing salt was of course in shallow pans
on the sea-shore, at the bottom of a shoal bay, called in Norse and
Early English a wick or wich; and the material so produced is still
known in trade as bay-salt. By-and-by, when people came to discover the
inland brine-pits and salt mines, they transferred to them the familiar
name, a wich; and the places where the salt was manufactured came to be
known as wych-houses. Droitwich, for example, was originally such a
wich, where the droits or dues on salt were paid at the time when
William the Conqueror's commissioners drew up their great survey for
Domesday Book. But the good, easy-going mediæval people who gave these
quaint names to the inland wiches had probably no idea that they were
really and truly dried-up bays, and that the salt they mined from their
pits was genuine ancient bay-salt, the deposit of an old inland sea,
evaporated by slow degrees a countless number of ages since, exactly as
the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake are getting evaporated in our own

Such, nevertheless, is actually the case. A good-sized Caspian used to
spread across the centre of England and north of Ireland in triassic
times, bounded here and there, as well as Dr. Hull can make out, by the
Welsh Mountains, the Cheviots, and the Donegal Hills, and with the Peak
of Derbyshire and the Isle of Man standing out as separate islands from
its blue expanse. (We will beg the question that the English seas were
then blue. They are certainly marked so in a very fine cerulean tint on
Dr. Hull's map of Triassic Britain.) Slowly, like most other inland
seas, this early British Caspian began to lose weight and to shrivel
away to ever smaller dimensions. In Devonshire, where it appears to have
first dried up, we get no salt, but only red marl, with here and there a
cubical cast, filling a hole once occupied by rock-salt, though the
percolation of the rain has long since melted out that very soluble
substance, and replaced it by a mere mould in the characteristic square
shape of salt crystals. But Worcestershire and Cheshire were the seat of
the inland sea when it had contracted to the dimensions of a mere salt
lake, and begun to throw down its dissolved saline materials. One of the
Cheshire beds is sometimes a hundred feet thick of almost pure and
crystalline rock-salt. The absence of fossils shows that animals must
have had as bad a time of it there as in the Dead Sea of our modern
Palestine. The Droitwich brine-pits have been known for many centuries,
since they were worked (and taxed) even before the Norman Conquest, as
were many other similar wells elsewhere. But the actual mining of
rock-salt as such in England dates back only as far as the reign of King
Charles II. of blessed memory, or more definitely to the very year in
which the 'Pilgrim's Progress' was conceived and written by John Bunyan.
During that particular summer, an enterprising person at Nantwich had
sunk a shaft for coal, which he failed to find; but on his way down he
came unexpectedly across the bed of rock-salt, then for the first time
discovered as a native mineral. Since that fortunate accident the beds
have been so energetically worked and the springs so energetically
pumped that some of the towns built on top of them have got undermined,
and now threaten from year to year, in the most literal sense, to cave
in. In fact, one or two subsidences of considerable extent have already
taken place, due in part no doubt to the dissolving action of rain
water, but in part also to the mode of working. The mines are approached
by a shaft; and, when you get down to the level of the old sea bottom,
you find yourself in a sort of artificial gallery, whose roof, with all
the world on top of it, is supported every here and there by massive
pillars about fifteen feet thick. Considering that the salt lies often a
hundred and fifty yards deep, and that these pillars have to bear the
weight of all that depth of solid rock, it is not surprising that
subsidences should sometimes occur in abandoned shafts, where the water
is allowed to collect, and slowly dissolve away the supporting columns.

Salt is a necessary article of food for animals, but in a far less
degree than is commonly supposed. Each of us eats on an average about
ten times as much salt as we actually require. In this respect popular
notions are as inexact as in the very similar case of the supply of
phosphorus. Because phosphorus is needful for brain action, people jump
forthwith to the absurd conclusion that fish and other foods rich in
phosphates ought to be specially good for students preparing for
examination, great thinkers, and literary men. Mark Twain indeed once
advised a poetical aspirant, who sent him a few verses for his critical
opinion, that fish was very feeding for the brains; he would recommend a
couple of young whales to begin upon. As a matter of fact, there is more
phosphorus in our daily bread than would have sufficed Shakespeare to
write 'Hamlet,' or Newton to discover the law of gravitation. It isn't
phosphorus that most of us need, but brains to burn it in. A man might
as well light a fire in a carriage, because coal makes an engine go, as
hope to mend the pace of his dull pate by eating fish for the sake of
the phosphates.

The question still remains, How did the salt originally get there? After
all, when we say that it was produced, as rock-salt, by evaporation of
the water in inland seas, we leave unanswered the main problem, How did
the brine in solution get into the sea at all in the first place? Well,
one might almost as well ask, How did anything come to be upon the earth
at any time, in any way? How did the sea itself get there? How did this
planet swim into existence at all? In the Indian mythology the world is
supported upon the back of an elephant, who is supported upon the back
of a tortoise; but what the tortoise in the last resort is supported
upon the Indian philosophers prudently say not. If we once begin thus
pushing back our inquiries into the genesis of the cosmos, we shall find
our search retreating step after step _ad infinitum_. The negro
preacher, describing the creation of Adam, and drawing slightly upon
his imagination, observed that when our prime forefather first came to
consciousness he found himself 'sot up agin a fence.' One of his hearers
ventured sceptically to ejaculate, 'Den whar dat fence come from,
ministah?' The outraged divine scratched his grey wool reflectively for
a moment, and replied, after a pause, with stern solemnity, 'Tree more
ob dem questions will undermine de whole system ob teology.'

However, we are not permitted humbly to imitate the prudent reticence of
the Indian philosophers. In these days of evolution hypotheses, and
nebular theories, and kinetic energy, and all the rest of it, the
question why the sea is salt rises up irrepressible and imperatively
demands to get itself answered. There was a sapient inquirer, recently
deceased, who had a short way out of this difficulty. He held that the
sea was only salt because of all the salt rivers that run into it.
Considering that the salt rivers are themselves salted by passing
through salt regions, or being fed by saline springs, all of which
derive their saltness from deposits laid down long ago by evaporation
from earlier seas or lake basins, this explanation savours somewhat of
circularity. It amounts in effect to saying that the sea is salt because
of the large amount of saline matter which it holds in solution. Cheese
is also a caseous preparation of milk; the duties of an archdeacon are
to perform archidiaconal functions; and opium puts one to sleep because
it possesses a soporific virtue.

Apart from such purely verbal explanations of the saltness of the sea,
however, one can only give some such account of the way it came to be
'the briny' as the following:--

This world was once a haze of fluid light, as the poets and the men of
science agree in informing us. As soon as it began to cool down a
little, the heavier materials naturally sank towards the centre, while
the lighter, now represented by the ocean and the atmosphere, floated in
a gaseous condition on the outside. But the great envelope of vapour
thus produced did not consist merely of the constituents of air and
water; many other gases and vapours mingled with them, as they still do
to a far less extent in our existing atmosphere. By-and-by, as the
cooling and condensing process continued, the water settled down from
the condition of steam into one of a liquid at a dull red heat. As it
condensed, it carried down with it a great many other substances, held
in solution, whose component elements had previously existed in the
primitive gaseous atmosphere. Thus the early ocean which covered the
whole earth was in all probability not only very salt, but also quite
thick with other mineral matters close up to the point of saturation. It
was full of lime, and raw flint, and sulphates, and many other
miscellaneous bodies. Moreover, it was not only just as salt as at the
present day, but even a great deal salter. For from that time to this
evaporation has constantly been going on in certain shallow isolated
areas, laying down great beds of gypsum and then of salt, which still
remain in the solid condition, while the water has, of course, been
correspondingly purified. The same thing has likewise happened in a
slightly different way with the lime and flint, which have been
separated from the water chiefly by living animals, and afterwards
deposited on the bottom of the ocean in immense layers as limestone,
chalk, sandstone, and clay.

Thus it turns out that in the end all our sources of salt-supply are
alike ultimately derived from the briny ocean. Whether we dig it out as
solid rock-salt from the open quarries of the Punjaub, or pump it up
from brine-wells sunk into the triassic rocks of Cheshire, or evaporate
it direct in the salt-pans of England and the shallow _salines_ of the
Mediterranean shore, it is still at bottom essentially sea-salt.
However distant the connection may seem, our salt is always in the last
resort obtained from the material held in solution in some ancient or
modern sea. Even the saline springs of Canada and the Northern States of
America, where the wapiti love to congregate, and the noble hunter lurks
in the thicket to murder them unperceived, derive their saltness, as an
able Canadian geologist has shown, from the thinly scattered salts still
retained among the sediments of that very archaic sea whose precipitates
form the earliest known life-bearing rocks. To the Homeric Greek, as to
Mr. Dick Swiveller, the ocean was always the briny: to modern science,
on the other hand (which neither of those worthies would probably have
appreciated at its own valuation), the briny is always the oceanic. The
fossil food which we find to-day on all our dinner-tables dates back its
origin primarily to the first seas that ever covered the surface of our
planet, and secondarily to the great rock deposits of the dried-up
triassic inland sea. And yet even our men of science habitually describe
that ancient mineral as common salt.


We went to Ogbury Barrows on an archæological expedition. And as the
very name of archæology, owing to a serious misconception incidental to
human nature, is enough to deter most people from taking any further
interest in our proceedings when once we got there, I may as well begin
by explaining, for the benefit of those who have never been to one, the
method and manner of an archæological outing.

The first thing you have to do is to catch your secretary. The genuine
secretary is born, not made; and therefore you have got to catch him,
not to appoint him. Appointing a secretary is pure vanity and vexation
of spirit; you must find the right man made ready to your hand; and when
you have found him you will soon see that he slips into the onerous
duties of the secretariat as if to the manner born, by pure instinct.
The perfect secretary is an urbane old gentleman of mature years and
portly bearing, a dignified representative of British archæology, with
plenty of money and plenty of leisure, possessing a heaven-born genius
for organisation, and utterly unhampered by any foolish views of his own
about archæological research or any other kindred subject. The secretary
who archæologises is lost. His business is not to discourse of early
English windows or of palæolithic hatchets, of buried villas or of
Plantagenet pedigrees, of Roman tile-work or of dolichocephalic skulls,
but to provide abundant brakes, drags, and carriages, to take care that
the owners of castles and baronial residences throw them open (with
lunch provided) to the ardent student of British antiquities, to see
that all the old ladies have somebody to talk to, and all the young ones
somebody to flirt with, and generally to superintend the morals,
happiness, and personal comfort of some fifty assorted scientific
enthusiasts. The secretary who diverges from these his proper and
elevated functions into trivial and puerile disquisitions upon the
antiquity of man (when he ought rather to be admiring the juvenility of
woman), or the precise date of the Anglo-Saxon conquest (when he should
by rights be concentrating the whole force of his massive intellect upon
the arduous task of arranging for dinner), proves himself at once
unworthy of his high position, and should forthwith be deposed from the
secretariat by public acclamation.

Having once entrapped your perfect secretary, you set him busily to work
beforehand to make all the arrangements for your expected excursion, the
archæologists generally cordially recognising the important principle
that he pays all the expenses he incurs out of his own pocket, and
drives splendid bargains on their account with hotel-keepers, coachmen,
railway companies, and others to feed, lodge, supply, and convey them at
fabulously low prices throughout the whole expedition. You also
understand that the secretary will call upon everybody in the
neighbourhood you propose to visit, induce the rectors to throw open
their churches, square the housekeepers of absentee dukes, and beard the
owners of Elizabethan mansions in their own dens. These little
preliminaries being amicably settled, you get together your
archæologists and set out upon your intended tour.

An archæologist, it should be further premised, has no necessary
personal connection with archæology in any way. He (or she) is a human
being, of assorted origin, age, and sex, known as an archæologist then
and there on no other ground than the possession of a ticket (price
half-a-guinea) for that particular archæological meeting. Who would not
be a man (or woman) of science on such easy and unexacting terms? Most
archæologists within my own private experience, indeed, are ladies of
various ages, many of them elderly, but many more young and pretty,
whose views about the styles of English architecture or the exact
distinction between Durotriges and Damnonians are of the vaguest and
most shadowy possible description. You all drive in brakes together to
the various points of interest in the surrounding country. When you
arrive at a point of interest, somebody or other with a bad cold in his
head reads a dull paper on its origin and nature, in which there is
fortunately no subsequent examination. If you are burning to learn all
about it, you put your hand up to your ear, and assume an attitude of
profound attention. If you are not burning with the desire for
information, you stroll off casually about the grounds and gardens with
the prettiest and pleasantest among the archæological sisters, whose
acquaintance you have made on the way thither. Sometimes it rains, and
then you obtain an admirable chance of offering your neighbour the
protection afforded by your brand-new silk umbrella. By-and-by the dull
paper gets finished, and somebody who lives in an adjoining house
volunteers to provide you with luncheon. Then you adjourn to the parish
church, where an old gentleman of feeble eyesight reads a long and
tedious account of all the persons whose monuments are or are not to be
found upon the walls of that poky little building. Nobody listens to
him; but everybody carries away a vague impression that some one or
other, temp. Henry the Second, married Adeliza, daughter and heiress of
Sir Ralph de Thingumbob, and had issue thirteen stalwart sons and
twenty-seven beautiful daughters, each founders of a noble family with a
correspondingly varied pedigree. Finally, you take tea and ices upon
somebody's lawn, by special invitation, and drive home, not without much
laughter, in the cool of the evening to an excellent table d'hôte dinner
at the marvellously cheap hotel, presided over by the ever-smiling and
urbane secretary. That is what we mean nowadays by being a member of an
archæological association.

It was on just such a pleasant excursion that we all went to Ogbury
Barrows. I was overflowing, myself, with bottled-up information on the
subject of those two prehistoric tumuli; for Ogbury Barrows have been
the hobby of my lifetime; but I didn't read a paper upon their origin
and meaning, first, because the secretary very happily forgot to ask me,
and secondly, because I was much better employed in psychological
research into the habits and manners of an extremely pretty
pink-and-white archæologist who stood beside me. Instead, therefore, of
boring her and my other companions with all my accumulated store of
information about Ogbury Barrows, I locked it up securely in my own
bosom, with the fell design of finally venting it all at once in one
vast flood upon the present article.

Ogbury Barrows, I would have said (had it not been for the praiseworthy
negligence of our esteemed secretary), stand upon the very verge of a
great chalk-down, overlooking a broad and fertile belt of valley, whose
slopes are terraced in the quaintest fashion with long parallel lines of
obviously human and industrial origin. The terracing must have been done
a very long time ago indeed, for it is a device for collecting enough
soil on a chalky hillside to grow corn in. Now, nobody ever tried to
grow corn on open chalk-downs in any civilised period of history until
the present century, because the downs are so much more naturally
adapted for sheep-walks that the attempt to turn them into waving
cornfields would never occur to anybody on earth except a barbarian or
an advanced agriculturist. But when Ogbury Downs were originally
terraced, I don't doubt that the primitive system of universal tribal
warfare still existed everywhere in Britain. This system is aptly summed
up in the familiar modern Black Country formula, 'Yon's a stranger.
'Eave 'arf a brick at him.' Each tribe was then perpetually at war with
every other tribe on either side of it: a simple plan which rendered
foreign tariffs quite unnecessary, and most effectually protected home
industries. The consequence was, each district had to produce for its
own tribe all the necessaries of life, however ill-adapted by nature for
their due production: because traffic and barter did not yet exist, and
the only form ever assumed by import trade was that of raiding on your
neighbours' territories, and bringing back with you whatever you could
lay hands on. So the people of the chalky Ogbury valley had perforce to
grow corn for themselves, whether nature would or nature wouldn't; and,
in order to grow it under such very unfavourable circumstances of soil
and climate, they terraced off the entire hillside, by catching the silt
as it washed slowly down, and keeping it in place by artificial

On the top of the down, overlooking this curious vale of prehistoric
terraces, rise the twin heights of Ogbury Barrows, familiar landmarks to
all the country side around for many miles. One of them is a tall,
circular mound or tumulus surrounded by a deep and well-marked trench:
the other, which stands a little on one side, is long and narrow, shaped
exactly like a modern grave, but of comparatively gigantic and colossal
proportions. Even the little children of Ogbury village have noticed
its close resemblance of shape and outline to the grassy hillocks in
their own churchyard, and whisper to one another when they play upon its
summit that a great giant in golden armour lies buried in a stone vault
underneath. But if only they knew the real truth, they would say instead
that that big, ungainly, overgrown grave covers the remains of a short,
squat, dwarfish chieftain, akin in shape and feature to the Lapps and
Finns, and about as much unlike a giant as human nature could easily
manage. It maybe regarded as a general truth of history that the
greatest men don't by any means always get the biggest monument.

The archæologists in becoming prints who went with us to the top of
Ogbury Barrows sagaciously surmised (with demonstrative parasol) that
'these mounds must have been made a very long time ago, indeed.' So in
fact they were: but though they stand now so close together, and look so
much like sisters and contemporaries, one is ages older than the other,
and was already green and grass-grown with immemorial antiquity when the
fresh earth of its neighbour tumulus was first thrown up by its side,
above the buried urn of some long-forgotten Celtic warrior. Let us begin
by considering the oldest first, and then pass on to its younger sister.

Ogbury Long Barrow is a very ancient monument indeed. Not, to be sure,
one quarter so ancient as the days of the extremely old master who
carved the mammoth on the fragments of his own tusk in the caves of the
Dordogne, and concerning whom I have indited a discourse in an earlier
portion of this volume: compared with that very antique personage, our
long barrow on Ogbury hill-top may in fact be looked upon as almost
modern. Still, when one isn't talking in geological language, ten or
twenty thousand years may be fairly considered a very long time as time
goes: and I have little doubt that from ten to twenty thousand years
have passed since the short, squat chieftain aforesaid was first
committed to his final resting-place in Ogbury Long Barrow. Two years
since, we local archæologists--_not_ in becoming prints this
time--opened the barrow to see what was inside it. We found, as we
expected, the 'stone vault' of the popular tradition, proving
conclusively that some faint memory of the original interment had clung
for all those long years around the grassy pile of that ancient tumulus.
Its centre, in fact, was occupied by a sepulchral chamber built of big
Sarsen stones from the surrounding hillsides; and in the midst of the
house of death thus rudely constructed lay the mouldering skeleton of
its original possessor--an old prehistoric Mongoloid chieftain. When I
stood for the first moment within that primæval palace of the dead,
never before entered by living man for a hundred centuries, I felt, I
must own, something like a burglar, something like a body-snatcher,
something like a resurrection man, but most of all like a happy

The big stone hut in which we found ourselves was, in fact, a buried
cromlech, covered all over (until we opened it) by the earth of the
barrow. Almost every cromlech, wherever found, was once, I believe, the
central chamber of just such a long barrow: but in some instances wind
and rain have beaten down and washed away the surrounding earth (and
then we call it a 'Druidical monument'), while in others the mound still
encloses its original deposit (and then we call it merely a prehistoric
tumulus). As a matter of fact, even the Druids themselves are quite
modern and commonplace personages compared with the short, squat
chieftains of the long barrows. For all the indications we found in the
long barrow at Ogbury (as in many others we had opened elsewhere) led us
at once to the strange conclusion that our new acquaintance, the
skeleton, had once been a living cannibal king of the newer stone-age in

The only weapons or implements we could discover in the barrow were two
neatly chipped flint arrowheads, and a very delicate ground greenstone
hatchet, or tomahawk. These were the weapons of the dead chief, laid
beside him in the stone chamber where we found his skeleton, for his
future use in his underground existence. A piece or two of rude
hand-made pottery, no doubt containing food and drink for the ghost, had
also been placed close to his side: but they had mouldered away with
time and damp, till it was quite impossible to recover more than a few
broken and shapeless fragments. There was no trace of metal in any way:
whereas if the tribesmen of our friend the skeleton had known at all the
art of smelting, we may be sure some bronze axe or spearhead would have
taken the place of the flint arrows and the greenstone tomahawk: for
savages always bury a man's best property together with his corpse,
while civilised men take care to preserve it with pious care in their
own possession, and to fight over it strenuously in the court of

The chief's own skeleton lay, or rather squatted, in the most
undignified attitude, in the central chamber. His people when they put
him there evidently considered that he was to sit at his ease, as he had
been accustomed to do in his lifetime, in the ordinary savage squatting
position, with his knees tucked up till they reached his chin, and his
body resting entirely on the heels and haunches. The skeleton was
entire: but just outside and above the stone vault we came upon a number
of other bones, which told another and very different story. Some of
them were the bones of the old prehistoric short-horned ox: others
belonged to wild boars, red deer, and sundry similar animals, for the
most part skulls and feet only, the relics of the savage funeral feast.
It was clear that as soon as the builders of the barrow had erected the
stone chamber of their dead chieftain, and placed within it his honoured
remains, they had held a great banquet on the spot, and, after killing
oxen and chasing red deer, had eaten all the eatable portions, and
thrown the skulls, horns, and hoofs on top of the tomb, as offerings to
the spirit of their departed master. But among these relics of the
funeral baked meats there were some that specially attracted our
attention--a number of broken human skulls, mingled indiscriminately
with the horns of deer and the bones of oxen. It was impossible to look
at them for a single moment, and not to recognise that we had here the
veritable remains of a cannibal feast, a hundred centuries ago, on
Ogbury hill-top.

Each skull was split or fractured, not clean cut, as with a sword or
bullet, but hacked and hewn with some blunt implement, presumably either
a club or a stone tomahawk. The skull of the great chief inside was
entire and his skeleton unmutilated: but we could see at a glance that
the remains we found huddled together on the top were those of slaves or
prisoners of war, sacrificed beside the dead chieftain's tomb, and eaten
with the other products of the chase by his surviving tribesmen. In an
inner chamber behind the chieftain's own hut we came upon yet a stranger
relic of primitive barbarism. Two complete human skeletons squatted
there in the same curious attitude as their lord's, as if in attendance
upon him in a neighbouring ante-chamber. They were the skeletons of
women--so our professional bone-scanner immediately told us--and each of
their skulls had been carefully cleft right down the middle by a single
blow from a sharp stone hatchet. But they were not the victims intended
for the _pièce de résistance_ at the funeral banquet. They were clearly
the two wives of the deceased chieftain, killed on his tomb by his son
and successor, in order to accompany their lord and master in his new
life underground as they had hitherto done in his rude wooden palace on
the surface of the middle earth.

We covered up the reopened sepulchre of the old cannibal savage king
(after abstracting for our local museum the arrowheads and tomahawk, as
well as the skull of the very ancient Briton himself), and when our
archæological society, ably led by the esteemed secretary, stood two
years later on the desecrated tomb, the grass had grown again as green
as ever, and not a sign remained of the sacrilegious act in which one of
the party then assembled there had been a prime actor. Looking down from
the summit of the long barrow on that bright summer morning, over the
gay group of picnicking archæologists, it was a curious contrast to
reinstate in fancy the scene at that first installation of the Ogbury
monument. In my mind's eye I saw once more the howling band of naked,
yellow-faced and yellow-limbed savages surge up the terraced slopes of
Ogbury Down; I saw them bear aloft, with beating of breasts and loud
gesticulations, the bent corpse of their dead chieftain; I saw the
terrified and fainting wives haled along by thongs of raw oxhide, and
the weeping prisoners driven passively like sheep to the slaughter; I
saw the fearful orgy of massacre and rapine around the open tumulus, the
wild priest shattering with his gleaming tomahawk the skulls of his
victims, the fire of gorse and low brushwood prepared to roast them, the
heads and feet flung carelessly on top of the yet uncovered stone
chamber, the awful dance of blood-stained cannibals around the mangled
remains of men and oxen, and finally the long task of heaping up above
the stone hut of the dead king the earthen mound that was never again to
be opened to the light of day till, ten thousand years later, we modern
Britons invaded with our prying, sacrilegious mattock the sacred privacy
of that cannibal ghost. All this passed like a vision before my mind's
eye; but I didn't mention anything of it at that particular moment to my
fellow-archæologists, because I saw they were all much more interested
in the pigeon-pie and the funny story about an exalted personage and a
distinguished actress with which the model secretary was just then duly
entertaining them.

Five thousand years or so slowly wore away, from the date of the
erection of the long barrow, and a new race had come to occupy the soil
of England, and had driven away or reduced to slavery the short, squat,
yellow-skinned cannibals of the earlier epoch. They were a pastoral and
agricultural people, these new comers, acquainted with the use and abuse
of bronze, and far more civilised in every way than their darker
predecessors. No trace remains behind to tell us now by what fierce
onslaught the Celtic invaders--for the bronze-age folk were presumably
Celts--swept through the little Ogbury valley, and brained the men of
the older race, while they made slaves of the younger women and
serviceable children. Nothing now stands to tell us anything of the long
years of Celtic domination, except the round barrow on the bare down,
just as green and as grass-grown nowadays as its far earlier and more
primitive neighbour.

We opened the Ogbury round barrow at the same time as the other, and
found in it, as we expected, no bones or skeleton of any sort, broken or
otherwise, but simply a large cinerary urn. The urn was formed of coarse
hand-made earthenware, very brittle by long burial in the earth, but not
by any means so old or porous as the fragments we had discovered in the
long barrow. A pretty pattern ran round its edge--a pattern in the
simplest and most primitive style of ornamentation; for it consisted
merely of the print of the potter's thumb-nail, firmly pressed into the
moist clay before baking. Beside the urn lay a second specimen of early
pottery, one of those curious perforated jars which antiquaries call by
the very question-begging name of incense-cups; and within it we
discovered the most precious part of all our 'find,' a beautiful
wedge-shaped bronze hatchet, and three thin gold beads. Having no
consideration for the feelings of the ashes, we promptly appropriated
both hatchet and beads, and took the urn and cup as a peace-offering to
the lord of the manor for our desecration of a tomb (with his full
consent) on the land of his fathers.

Why did these bronze-age people burn instead of burying their dead? Why
did they anticipate the latest fashionable mode of disposal of corpses,
and go in for cremation with such thorough conviction? They couldn't
have been influenced by those rather unpleasant sanitary considerations
which so profoundly agitated the mind of 'Graveyard Walker.' Sanitation
was still in a very rudimentary state in the year five thousand B.C.;
and the ingenious Celt, who is still given to 'waking' his neighbours,
when they die of small-pox, with a sublime indifference to the chances
of infection, must have had some other and more powerful reason for
adopting the comparatively unnatural system of cremation in preference
to that of simple burial. The change, I believe, was due to a further
development of religious ideas on the part of the Celtic tribesmen above
that of the primitive stone-age cannibals.

When men began to bury their dead, they did so in the firm belief in
another life, which life was regarded as the exact counterpart of this
present one. The unsophisticated savage, holding that in that equal sky
his faithful dog would bear him company, naturally enough had the dog
in question killed and buried with him, in order that it might follow
him to the happy hunting-grounds. Clearly, you can't hunt without your
arrows and your tomahawk; so the flint weapons and the trusty bow
accompanied their owner in his new dwelling-place. The wooden haft, the
deer-sinew bow-string, the perishable articles of food and drink have
long since decayed within the damp tumulus: but the harder stone and
earthenware articles have survived till now, to tell the story of that
crude and simple early faith. Very crude and illogical indeed it was,
however, for it is quite clear that the actual body of the dead man was
thought of as persisting to live a sort of underground life within the
barrow. A stone hut was constructed for its use; real weapons and
implements were left by its side; and slaves and wives were ruthlessly
massacred, as still in Ashantee, in order that their bodies might
accompany the corpse of the buried master in his subterranean dwelling.
In all this we have clear evidence of a very inconsistent, savage,
materialistic belief, not indeed in the immortality of the soul, but in
the continued underground life of the dead body.

With the progress of time, however, men's ideas upon these subjects
began to grow more definite and more consistent. Instead of the corpse,
we get the ghost; instead of the material underground world, we get the
idealised and sublimated conception of a shadowy Hades, a world of
shades, a realm of incorporeal, disembodied spirits. With the growth of
the idea in this ghostly nether world, there arises naturally the habit
of burning the dead in order fully to free the liberated spirit from the
earthly chains that clog and bind it. It is, indeed, a very noticeable
fact that wherever this belief in a world of shades is implicitly
accepted, there cremation follows as a matter of course; while wherever
(among savage or barbaric races) burial is practised, there a more
materialistic creed of bodily survival necessarily accompanies it. To
carry out this theory to its full extent, not only must the body itself
be burnt, but also all its belongings with it. Ghosts are clothed in
ghostly clothing; and the question has often been asked of modern
spiritualists by materialistic scoffers, 'Where do the ghosts get their
coats and dresses?' The true believer in cremation and the shadowy world
has no difficulty at all in answering that crucial inquiry; he would say
at once, 'They are the ghosts of the clothes that were burnt with the
body.' In the gossiping story of Periander, as veraciously retailed for
us by that dear old grandmotherly scandalmonger, Herodotus, the shade of
Melissa refuses to communicate with her late husband, by medium or
otherwise, on the ground that she found herself naked and shivering with
cold, because the garments buried with her had not been burnt, and
therefore were of no use to her in the world of shades. So Periander, to
put a stop to this sad state of spiritual destitution, requisitioned all
the best dresses of the Corinthian ladies, burnt them bodily in a great
trench, and received an immediate answer from the gratified shade, who
was thenceforth enabled to walk about in the principal promenades of
Hades among the best-dressed ghosts of that populous quarter.

The belief which thus survived among the civilised Greeks of the age of
the Despots is shared still by Fijis and Karens, and was derived by all
in common from early ancestors of like faith with the founders of Ogbury
round barrow. The weapons were broken and the clothes burnt, to liberate
their ghosts into the world of spirits, just as now, in Fiji, knives and
axes have their spiritual counterparts, which can only be released when
the material shape is destroyed or purified by the action of fire.
Everything, in such a state, is supposed to possess a soul of its own;
and the fire is the chosen mode for setting the soul free from all
clogging earthly impurities. So till yesterday, in the rite of suttee,
the Hindoo widow immolated herself upon her husband's pyre, in order
that her spirit might follow him unhampered to the world of ghosts
whither he was bound. Thus the twin barrows on Ogbury hillside bridge
over for us two vast epochs of human culture, both now so remote as to
merge together mentally to the casual eyes of modern observers, but yet
in reality marking in their very shape and disposition an immense, long,
and slow advance of human reason. For just as the long barrow answers in
form to the buried human corpse and the chambered hut that surrounds and
encloses it, so does the round barrow answer in form to the urn
containing the calcined ashes of the cremated barbarian. And is it not a
suggestive fact that when we turn to the little graveyard by the church
below we find the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body, as
opposed to the pagan belief in the immortality of the soul, once more
bringing us back to the small oblong mound which is after all but the
dwarfed and humbler modern representative of the long barrow? So deep is
the connection between that familiar shape and the practice of
inhumation that the dwarf long barrow seems everywhere to have come into
use again throughout all Europe, after whole centuries of continued
cremation, as the natural concomitant and necessary mark of Christian

This is what I would have said, if I had been asked, at Ogbury Barrows.
But I wasn't asked; so I devoted myself instead to psychological
research, and said nothing.


Strolling one day in what is euphemistically termed, in equatorial
latitudes, 'the cool of the evening,' along a tangled tropical American
field-path, through a low region of lagoons and watercourses, my
attention happened to be momentarily attracted from the monotonous
pursuit of the nimble mosquito by a small animal scuttling along
irregularly before me, as if in a great hurry to get out of my way
before I could turn him into an excellent specimen. At first sight I
took the little hopper, in the grey dusk, for one of the common, small
green lizards, and wasn't much disposed to pay it any distinguished
share either of personal or scientific attention. But as I walked on a
little further through the dense underbrush, more and more of these
shuffling and scurrying little creatures kept crossing the path,
hastily, all in one direction, and all, as it were, in a formed body or
marching phalanx. Looking closer, to my great surprise, I found they
were actually fish out of water, going on a walking tour, for change of
air, to a new residence--genuine fish, a couple of inches long each, not
eel-shaped or serpentine in outline, but closely resembling a red mullet
in miniature, though much more beautifully and delicately coloured, and
with fins and tails of the most orthodox spiny and prickly description.
They were travelling across country in a bee-line, thousands of them
together, not at all like the helpless fish out of water of popular
imagination, but as unconcernedly and naturally as if they had been
accustomed to the overland route for their whole lifetimes, and were
walking now on the king's highway without let or hindrance.

I took one up in my hand and examined it more carefully; though the
catching it wasn't by any means so easy as it sounds on paper, for these
perambulatory fish are thoroughly inured to the dangers and difficulties
of dry land, and can get out of your way when you try to capture them
with a rapidity and dexterity which are truly surprising. The little
creatures are very pretty, well-formed catfish, with bright, intelligent
eyes, and a body armed all over, like the armadillo's, with a continuous
coat of hard and horny mail. This coat is not formed of scales, as in
most fish, but of toughened skin, as in crocodiles and alligators,
arranged in two overlapping rows of imbricated shields, exactly like the
round tiles so common on the roofs of Italian cottages. The fish walks,
or rather shambles along ungracefully, by the shuffling movement of a
pair of stiff spines placed close behind his head, aided by the steering
action of his tail, and a constant snake-like wriggling motion of his
entire body. Leg spines of somewhat the same sort are found in the
common English gurnard, and in this age of Aquariums and Fisheries
Exhibitions, most adult persons above the age of twenty-one years must
have observed the gurnards themselves crawling along suspiciously by
their aid at the bottom of a tank at the Crystal Palace or the
polyonymous South Kensington building. But while the European gurnard
only uses his substitutes for legs on the bed of the ocean, my itinerant
tropical acquaintance (his name, I regret to say, is Callichthys) uses
them boldly for terrestrial locomotion across the dry lowlands of his
native country. And while the gurnard has no less than six of these
pro-legs, the American land fish has only a single pair with which to
accomplish his arduous journeys. If this be considered as a point of
inferiority in the armour-plated American species, we must remember that
while beetles and grasshoppers have as many as six legs apiece, man, the
head and crown of things, is content to scramble through life
ungracefully with no more than two.

There are a great many tropical American pond-fish which share these
adventurous gipsy habits of the pretty little Callichthys. Though they
belong to two distinct groups, otherwise unconnected, the circumstances
of the country they inhabit have induced in both families this queer
fashion of waddling out courageously on dry land, and going on voyages
of exploration in search of fresh ponds and shallows new, somewhere in
the neighbourhood of their late residence. One kind in particular, the
Brazilian Doras, takes land journeys of such surprising length, that he
often spends several nights on the way, and the Indians who meet the
wandering bands during their migrations fill several baskets full of the
prey thus dropped upon them, as it were, from the kindly clouds.

Both Doras and Callichthys, too, are well provided with means of defence
against the enemies they may chance to meet during their terrestrial
excursions; for in both kinds there are the same bony shields along the
sides, securing the little travellers, as far as possible, from attack
on the part of hungry piscivorous animals. Doras further utilises its
powers of living out of water by going ashore to fetch dry leaves, with
which it builds itself a regular nest, like a bird's, at the beginning
of the rainy season. In this nest the affectionate parents carefully
cover up their eggs, the hope of the race, and watch over them with the
utmost attention. Many other fish build nests in the water, of
materials naturally found at the bottom; but Doras, I believe, is the
only one that builds them on the beach, of materials sought for on the
dry land.

Such amphibious habits on the part of certain tropical fish are easy
enough to explain by the fashionable clue of 'adaptation to
environment.' Ponds are always very likely to dry up, and so the animals
that frequent ponds are usually capable of bearing a very long
deprivation of water. Indeed, our evolutionists generally hold that land
animals have in every case sprung from pond animals which have gradually
adapted themselves to do without water altogether. Life, according to
this theory, began in the ocean, spread up the estuaries into the
greater rivers, thence extended to the brooks and lakes, and finally
migrated to the ponds, puddles, swamps and marshes, whence it took at
last, by tentative degrees, to the solid shore, the plains, and the
mountains. Certainly the tenacity of life shown by pond animals is very
remarkable. Our own English carp bury themselves deeply in the mud in
winter, and there remain in a dormant condition many months entirely
without food. During this long hibernating period, they can be preserved
alive for a considerable time out of water, especially if their gills
are, from time to time, slightly moistened. They may then be sent to any
address by parcels post, packed in wet moss, without serious damage to
their constitution; though, according to Dr. Günther, these dissipated
products of civilisation prefer to have a piece of bread steeped in
brandy put into their mouths to sustain them beforehand. In Holland,
where the carp are not so sophisticated, they are often kept the whole
winter through, hung up in a net to keep them from freezing. At first
they require to be slightly wetted from time to time, just to
acclimatise them gradually to so dry an existence; but after a while
they adapt themselves cheerfully to their altered circumstances, and
feed on an occasional frugal meal of bread and milk with Christian

Of all land-frequenting fish, however, by far the most famous is the
so-called climbing perch of India, which not only walks bodily out of
the water, but even climbs trees by means of special spines, near the
head and tail, so arranged as to stick into the bark and enable it to
wriggle its way up awkwardly, something after the same fashion as the
'looping' of caterpillars. The tree-climber is a small scaly fish,
seldom more than seven inches long; but it has developed a special
breathing apparatus to enable it to keep up the stock of oxygen on its
terrestrial excursions, which may be regarded as to some extent the
exact converse of the means employed by divers to supply themselves with
air under water. Just above the gills, which form of course its natural
hereditary breathing apparatus, the climbing perch has invented a new
and wholly original water chamber, containing within it a frilled bony
organ, which enables it to extract oxygen from the stored-up water
during the course of its aërial peregrinations. While on shore it picks
up small insects, worms, and grubs; but it also has vegetarian tastes of
its own, and does not despise fruits and berries. The Indian jugglers
tame the climbing perches and carry them about with them as part of
their stock in trade; their ability to live for a long time out of water
makes them useful confederates in many small tricks which seem very
wonderful to people accustomed to believe that fish die almost at once
when taken out of their native element.

The Indian snakehead is a closely allied species, common in the shallow
ponds and fresh-water tanks of India, where holy Brahmans bathe and
drink and die and are buried, and most of which dry up entirely during
the dry season. The snakehead, therefore, has similarly accommodated
himself to this annual peculiarity in his local habitation by acquiring
a special chamber for retaining water to moisten his gills throughout
his long deprivation of that prime necessary. He lives composedly in
semi-fluid mud, or lies torpid in the hard baked clay at the bottom of
the dry tank from which all the water has utterly evaporated in the
drought of summer. As long as the mud remains soft enough to allow the
fish to rise slowly through it, they come to the surface every now and
then to take in a good hearty gulp of air, exactly as gold fish do in
England when confined with thoughtless or ignorant cruelty in a glass
globe too small to provide sufficient oxygen for their respiration. But
when the mud hardens entirely they hibernate or rather æstivate, in a
dormant condition, until the bursting of the monsoon fills the ponds
once more with the welcome water. Even in the perfectly dry state,
however, they probably manage to get a little air every now and again
through the numerous chinks and fissures in the sun-baked mud. Our Aryan
brother then goes a-fishing playfully with a spade and bucket, and digs
the snakehead in this mean fashion out of his comfortable lair, with an
ultimate view to the manufacture of pillau. In Burmah, indeed, while the
mud is still soft, the ingenious Burmese catch the helpless creatures by
a still meaner and more unsportsmanlike device. They spread a large
cloth over the slimy ooze where the snakeheads lie buried, and so cut
off entirely for the moment their supply of oxygen. The poor fish,
half-asphyxiated by this unkind treatment, come up gasping to the
surface under the cloth in search of fresh air, and are then easily
caught with the hand and tossed into baskets by the degenerate

Old Anglo-Indians even say that some of these mud haunting Oriental
fish will survive for many years in a state of suspended animation, and
that when ponds or jhíls which are known to have been dry for several
successive seasons are suddenly filled by heavy rains, they are found to
be swarming at once with full-grown snakeheads released in a moment from
what I may venture to call their living tomb in the hardened bottom.
Whether such statements are absolutely true or not the present deponent
would be loth to decide dogmatically; but, if we were implicitly to
swallow everything that the old Anglo-Indian in his simplicity assures
us he has seen--well, the clergy would have no further cause any longer
to deplore the growing scepticism and unbelief of these latter
unfaithful ages.

This habit of lying in the mud and there becoming torpid may be looked
upon as a natural alternative to the habit of migrating across country,
when your pond dries up, in search of larger and more permanent sheets
of water. Some fish solve the problem how to get through the dry season
in one of these two alternative fashions and some in the other. In flat
countries where small ponds and tanks alone exist, the burying plan is
almost universal; in plains traversed by large rivers or containing
considerable scattered lakes, the migratory system finds greater favour
with the piscine population.

One tropical species which adopts the tactics of hiding itself in the
hard clay, the African mud-fish, is specially interesting to us human
beings on two accounts--first, because, unlike almost all other kinds of
fish, it possesses lungs as well as gills; and, secondly, because it
forms an intermediate link between the true fish and the frogs or
amphibians, and therefore stands in all probability in the direct line
of human descent, being the living representative of one among our own
remote and early ancestors. Scientific interest and filial piety ought
alike to secure our attention for the African mud-fish. It lives its
amphibious life among the rice-fields on the Nile, the Zambesi, and the
Gambia, and is so greatly given to a terrestrial existence that its
swim-bladder has become porous and cellular, so as to be modified into a
pair of true and serviceable lungs. In fact, the lungs themselves in all
the higher animals are merely the swim-bladders of fish, slightly
altered so as to perform a new but closely allied office. The mud-fish
is common enough in all the larger English aquariums, owing to a
convenient habit in which it indulges, and which permits it to be
readily conveyed to all parts of the globe on the same principle as the
vans for furniture. When the dry season comes on and the rice-fields are
reduced to banks of baking mud, the mud-fish retire to the bottom of
their pools, where they form for themselves a sort of cocoon of hardened
clay, lined with mucus, and with a hole at each end to admit the air;
and in this snug retreat they remain torpid till the return of wet
weather. As the fish usually reach a length of three or four feet, the
cocoons are of course by no means easy to transport entire. Nevertheless
the natives manage to dig them up whole, fish and all; and if the
capsules are not broken, the unconscious inmates can be sent across by
steamer to Europe with perfect safety. Their astonishment when they
finally wake up after their long slumber, and find themselves inspecting
the British public, as introduced to them by Mr. Farini, through a sheet
of plate-glass, must be profound and interesting.

In England itself, on the other hand, we have at least one kind of fish
which exemplifies the opposite or migratory solution of the dry pond
problem, and that is our familiar friend the common eel. The ways of
eels are indeed mysterious, for nobody has ever yet succeeded in
discovering where, when, or how they manage to spawn; nobody has ever
yet seen an eel's egg, or caught a female eel in the spawning condition,
or even observed a really adult male or female specimen of perfect
development. All the eels ever found in fresh water are immature and
undeveloped creatures. But eels do certainly spawn somewhere or other in
the deep sea, and every year, in the course of the summer, flocks of
young ones, known as elvers, ascend the rivers in enormous quantities,
like a vast army under numberless leaders. At each tributary or
affluent, be it river, brook, stream, or ditch, a proportionate
detachment of the main body is given off to explore the various
branches, while the central force wriggles its way up the chief channel,
regardless of obstacles, with undiminished vigour. When the young elvers
come to a weir, a wall, a floodgate, or a lasher, they simply squirm
their way up the perpendicular barrier with indescribable wrigglings, as
if they were wholly unacquainted, physically as well as mentally, with
Newton's magnificent discovery of gravitation. Nothing stops them; they
go wherever water is to be found; and though millions perish hopelessly
in the attempt, millions more survive in the end to attain their goal in
the upper reaches. They even seem to scent ponds or lakes mysteriously,
at a distance, and will strike boldly straight across country, to sheets
of water wholly cut off from communication with the river which forms
their chief highway.

The full-grown eels are also given to journeying across country in a
more sober, sedate, and dignified manner, as becomes fish which have
fully arrived at years, or rather months, of discretion. When the ponds
in which they live dry up in summer, they make in a bee-line for the
nearest sheet of fresh water, whose direction and distance they appear
to know intuitively, through some strange instinctive geographical
faculty. On their way across country, they do not despise the succulent
rat, whom they swallow whole when caught with great gusto. To keep their
gills wet during these excursions, eels have the power of distending the
skin on each side of the neck, just below the head, so as to form a big
pouch or swelling. This pouch they fill with water, to carry a good
supply along with them, until they reach the ponds for which they are
making. It is the pouch alone that enables eels to live so long out of
water under all circumstances, and so incidentally exposes them to the
disagreeable experience of getting skinned alive, which it is to be
feared still forms the fate of most of those that fall into the clutches
of the human species.

A far more singular walking fish than any of these is the odd creature
that rejoices (unfortunately) in the very classical surname of
Periophthalmus, which is, being interpreted, Stare-about. (If he had a
recognised English name of his own, I would gladly give it; but as he
hasn't, and as it is clearly necessary to call him something, I fear we
must stick to the somewhat alarming scientific nomenclature.)
Periophthalmus, then, is an odd fish of the tropical Pacific shores,
with a pair of very distinct forelegs (theoretically described as
modified pectoral fins), and with two goggle eyes, which he can protrude
at pleasure right outside the sockets, so as to look in whatever
direction he chooses, without even taking the trouble to turn his head
to left or right, backward or forward. At ebb tide this singular
peripatetic goby literally walks straight out of the water, and
promenades the bare beach erect on two legs, in search of small crabs
and other stray marine animals left behind by the receding waters. If
you try to catch him, he hops away briskly much like a frog, and stares
back at you grimly over his left shoulder, with his squinting optics.
So completely adapted is he for this amphibious long-shore existence,
that his big eyes, unlike those of most other fish, are formed for
seeing in the air as well as in the water. Nothing can be more ludicrous
than to watch him suddenly thrusting these very movable orbs right out
of their sockets like a pair of telescopes, and twisting them round in
all directions so as to see in front, behind, on top, and below, in one
delightful circular sweep.

There is also a certain curious tropical American carp which, though it
hardly deserves to be considered in the strictest sense as a fish out of
water, yet manages to fall nearly half-way under that peculiar category,
for it always swims with its head partly above the surface and partly
below. But the funniest thing in this queer arrangement is the fact that
one half of each eye is out in the air and the other half is beneath in
the water. Accordingly, the eye is divided horizontally by a dark strip
into two distinct and unlike portions, the upper one of which has a
pupil adapted to vision in the air alone, while the lower is adapted to
seeing in the water only. The fish, in fact, always swims with its eye
half out of the water, and it can see as well on dry land as in its
native ocean. Its name is Anableps, but in all probability it does not
wish the fact to be generally known.

The flying fish are fish out of water in a somewhat different and more
transitory sense. Their aërial excursions are brief and rapid; they can
only fly a very little way, and have soon to take once more for safety
to their own more natural and permanent element. More than forty kinds
of the family are known, in appearance very much like English herrings,
but with the front fins expanded and modified into veritable wings. It
is fashionable nowadays among naturalists to assert that the flying fish
don't fly; that they merely jump horizontally out of the water with a
powerful impulse, and fall again as soon as the force of the first
impetus is entirely spent. When men endeavour to persuade you to such
folly, believe them not. For my own part, I have _seen_ the flying fish
fly--deliberately fly, and flutter, and rise again, and change the
direction of their flight in mid-air, exactly after the fashion of a big
dragonfly. If the other people who have watched them haven't succeeded
in seeing them fly, that is their own fault, or at least their own
misfortune; perhaps their eyes weren't quick enough to catch the rapid,
though to me perfectly recognisable, hovering and fluttering of the
gauze-like wings; but I have seen them myself, and I maintain that on
such a question one piece of positive evidence is a great deal better
than a hundred negative. The testimony of all the witnesses who didn't
see the murder committed is as nothing compared with the single
testimony of the one man who really did see it. And in this case I have
met with many other quick observers who fully agreed with me, against
the weight of scientific opinion, that they have seen the flying fish
really fly with their own eyes, and no mistake about it. The German
professors, indeed, all think otherwise; but then the German professors
all wear green spectacles, which are the outward and visible sign of
'blinded eyesight poring over miserable books.' The unsophisticated
vision of the noble British seaman is unanimously with me on the matter
of the reality of the fishes' flight.

Another group of very interesting fish out of water are the flying
gurnards, common enough in the Mediterranean and the tropical Atlantic.
They are much heavier and bigger creatures than the true flying fish of
the herring type, being often a foot and a half long, and their wings
are much larger in proportion, though not, I think, really so powerful
as those of their pretty little silvery rivals. All the flying fish fly
only of necessity, not from choice. They leave the water when pursued
by their enemies, or when frightened by the rapid approach of a big
steamer. So swiftly do they fly, however, that they can far outstrip a
ship going at the rate of ten knots an hour; and I have often watched
one keep ahead of a great Pacific liner under full steam for many
minutes together in quick successive flights of three or four hundred
feet each. Oddly enough, they can fly further against the wind than
before it--a fact acknowledged even by the spectacled Germans
themselves, and very hard indeed to reconcile with the orthodox belief
that they are not flying at all, but only jumping. I don't know whether
the flying gurnards are good eating or not; but the silvery flying fish
are caught for market (sad desecration of the poetry of nature!) in the
Windward Islands, and when nicely fried in egg and bread-crumb are
really quite as good for practical purposes as smelts or whiting or any
other prosaic European substitute.

On the whole, it will be clear, I think, to the impartial reader from
this rapid survey that the helplessness and awkwardness of a fish out of
water has been much exaggerated by the thoughtless generalisation of
unscientific humanity. Granting, for argument's sake, that most fish
prefer the water, as a matter of abstract predilection, to the dry land,
it must be admitted _per contra_ that many fish cut a much better figure
on terra firma than most of their critics themselves would cut in
mid-ocean. There are fish that wriggle across country intrepidly with
the dexterity and agility of the most accomplished snakes; there are
fish that walk about on open sand-banks, semi-erect on two legs, as
easily as lizards; there are fish that hop and skip on tail and fins in
a manner that the celebrated jumping frog himself might have observed
with envy; and there are fish that fly through the air of heaven with a
grace and swiftness that would put to shame innumerable species among
their feathered competitors. Nay, there are even fish, like some kinds
of eels and the African mud-fish, that scarcely live in the water at
all, but merely frequent wet and marshy places, where they lie snugly in
the soft ooze and damp earth that line the bottom. If I have only
succeeded, therefore, in relieving the mind of one sensitive and
retiring fish from the absurd obloquy cast upon its appearance when it
ventures away for awhile from its proper element, then, in the pathetic
and prophetic words borrowed from a thousand uncut prefaces, this work
will not, I trust, have been written in vain.


Collective humanity owes a great debt of gratitude to the first potter.
Before his days the art of boiling, though in one sense very simple and
primitive indeed, was in another sense very complex, cumbersome, and
lengthy. The unsophisticated savage, having duly speared and killed his
antelope, proceeded to light a roaring fire, with flint or drill, by the
side of some convenient lake or river in his tropical jungle. Then he
dug a big hole in the soft mud close to the water's edge, and let the
water (rather muddy) percolate into it, or sometimes even he plastered
over its bottom with puddled clay. After that, he heated some smooth
round stones red hot in the fire close by, and drawing them out gingerly
between two pieces of stick, dropped them one by one, spluttering and
fizzing, into his improvised basin or kettle. This, of course, made the
water in the hole boil; and the unsophisticated savage thereupon thrust
into it his joint of antelope, repeating the process over and over again
until the sodden meat was completely seethed to taste on the outside. If
one application was not sufficient, he gnawed off the cooked meat from
the surface with his stout teeth, innocent as yet of the dentist's art,
and plunged the underdone core back again, till it exactly suited his
not over-delicate or dainty fancy.

To be sure, the primitive savage, unversed as he was in pastes and
glazes, in moulds and ornaments, did not pass his life entirely devoid
of cups and platters. Coconut shell and calabash rind, horn of ox and
skull of enemy, bamboo-joint and capacious rhomb-shell, all alike, no
doubt, supplied him with congenial implements for drink or storage. Like
Eve in the Miltonic Paradise, there lacked him not fit vessels pure;
picking some luscious tropical fruit, the savoury pulp he chewed, and in
the rind still as he thirsted scooped the brimming stream. This was
satisfactory as far as it went, of course, but it was not pottery. He
couldn't boil his joint for dinner in coco-nut or skull; he had to do it
with stone pot-boilers, in a rude kettle of puddled clay.

But at last one day, that inspired barbarian, the first potter, hit by
accident upon his grand discovery. He had carried some water in a big
calabash--the hard shell of a tropical fruit whose pulpy centre can be
easily scooped out--and a happy thought suddenly struck him: why not put
the calabash to boil upon the fire with a little clay smeared outside
it? The savage is conservative, but he loves to save trouble. He tried
the experiment, and it succeeded admirably. The water boiled, and the
calabash was not burnt or broken. Our nameless philosopher took the
primitive vessel off the fire with a forked branch and looked at it
critically with the delighted eyes of a first inventor. A wonderful
change had suddenly come over it. He had blundered accidentally upon the
art of pottery. For what is this that has happened to the clay? It went
in soft, brown, and muddy; it has come out hard, red, and stone-like.
The first potter ruminated and wondered. He didn't fully realise, no
doubt, what he had actually done; but he knew he had invented a means by
which you could put a calabash upon a fire and keep it there without
burning or bursting. That, after all, was at least something.

All this, you say (which, in effect, is Dr. Tylor's view), is purely
hypothetical. In one sense, yes; but not in another. We know that most
savage races still use natural vessels, made of coco-nuts, gourds, or
calabashes, for everyday purposes of carrying water; and we also know
that all the simplest and earliest pottery is moulded on the shape of
just such natural jars and bottles. The fact and the theory based on it
are no novelties. Early in the sixteenth century, indeed, the Sieur
Gonneville, skipper of Honfleur, sailing round the Cape of Good Hope,
made his way right across the Southern Ocean to some vague point of
South America where he found the people still just in the intermediate
stage between the use of natural vessels and the invention of pottery.
For these amiable savages (name and habitat unknown) had wooden pots
'plastered with a kind of clay a good finger thick, which prevents the
fire from burning them.' Here we catch industrial evolution in the very
act, and the potter's art in its first infancy, fossilised and
crystallised, as it were, in an embryo condition, and fixed for us
immovably by the unprogressive conservatism of a savage tribe. It was
this curious early observation of evolving keramic art that made
Goguet--an anthropologist born out of due season--first hit upon that
luminous theory of the origin of pottery now all but universally

Plenty of evidence to the same effect is now forthcoming for the modern
inquirer. Among the ancient monuments of the Mississippi valley, Squier
and Davis found the kilns in which the primitive pottery had been baked;
and among their relics were partially burnt pots retaining in part the
rinds of the gourds or calabashes on which they had been actually
modelled. Along the Gulf of Mexico gourds were also used to give shape
to the pot; and all over the world, even to this day, the gourd form is
a very common one for pottery of all sorts, thus pointing back, dimly
and curiously, to the original mode in which fictile ware generally
came to be invented. In Fiji and in many parts of Africa vessels
modelled upon natural forms are still universal. Of course all such pots
as these are purely hand-made; the invention of the potter's wheel, now
so indissolubly associated in all our minds with the production of
earthenware, belongs to an infinitely later and almost modern period.

And that consideration naturally suggests the fundamental question, When
did the first potter live? The world (as Sir Henry Taylor has oracularly
told us) knows nothing of its greatest men; and the very name of the
father of all potters has been utterly forgotten in the lapse of ages.
Indeed, paradoxical as it may sound to say so, one may reasonably doubt
whether there was ever actually any one single man on whom one could
definitely lay one's finger, and say with confidence, Here we have the
first potter. Pottery, no doubt, like most other things, grew by
imperceptible degrees from wholly vague and rudimentary beginnings. Just
as there were steam-engines before Watt, and locomotives before
Stephenson, so there were pots before the first potter. Many men must
have discovered separately, by half-unconscious trials, that a coat of
mud rudely plastered over the bottom of a calabash prevented it from
catching fire and spilling its contents; other men slowly learned to
plaster the mud higher and ever higher up the sides; and yet others
gradually introduced and patented new improvements for wholly encasing
the entire cup in an inch thickness of carefully kneaded clay. Bit by
bit the invention grew, like all great inventions, without any inventor.
Thus the question of the date of the first potter practically resolves
itself into the simpler question of the date of the earliest known

Did palæolithic man, that antique naked crouching savage who hunted the
mammoth, the reindeer, and the cave-bear among the frozen fields of
interglacial Gaul and Britain--did palæolithic man himself, in his rude
rock-shelters, possess a knowledge of the art of pottery? That is a
question which has been much debated amongst archæologists, and which
cannot even now be considered as finally settled before the tribunal of
science. He must have drunk out of something or other, but whether he
drank out of earthenware cups is still uncertain. It is pretty clear
that the earliest drinking vessels used in Europe were neither bowls of
earthenware nor shells of fruits, for the cold climate of interglacial
times did not permit the growth in northern latitudes of such large
natural vessels as gourds, calabashes, bamboos, or coco-nuts. In all
probability the horns of the aurochs and the wild cattle, and the
capacious skull of the fellow-man whose bones he had just picked at his
ease for his cannibal supper, formed the aboriginal goblets and basins
of the old black European savage. A curious verbal relic of the use of
horns as drinking-cups survives indeed down to almost modern times in
the Greek word _keramic_, still commonly applied to the art of pottery,
and derived, of course, from _keras_, a horn; while as to skulls, not
only were they frequently used as drinking-cups by our Scandinavian
ancestors, but there still exists a very singular intermediate American
vessel in which the clay has actually been moulded on a human skull as
model, just as other vessels have been moulded on calabashes or other
suitable vegetable shapes.

Still, the balance of evidence certainly seems to show that a little
very rude and almost shapeless hand-made pottery has really been
discovered amongst the buried caves where palæolithic men made for ages
their chief dwelling-places. Fragments of earthenware occurred in the
Hohefels cave near Ulm, in company with the bones of reindeer,
cave-bears, and mammoths, whose joints had doubtless been duly boiled,
a hundred thousand years ago, by the intelligent producer of those
identical sun-dried fleshpots; and M. Joly, of Toulouse, has in his
possession portions of an irregularly circular, flat-bottomed vessel,
from the cave of Nabrigas, on which the finger-marks of the hand that
moulded the clay are still clearly distinguishable on the baked
earthenware. That is the great merit of pottery, viewed as an historical
document; it retains its shape and peculiarities unaltered through
countless centuries, for the future edification of unborn antiquaries.
_Litera scripta manet_, and so does baked pottery. The hand itself that
formed that rude bowl has long since mouldered away, flesh and bone
alike, into the soil around it; but the print of its fingers, indelibly
fixed by fire into the hardened clay, remains for us still to tell the
story of that early triumph of nascent keramics.

The relics of palæolithic pottery are, however, so very fragmentary, and
the circumstances under which they have been discovered so extremely
doubtful, that many cautious and sceptical antiquarians will even now
have nothing to say to the suspected impostors. Among the remains of the
newer Stone Age, on the other hand, comparatively abundant keramic
specimens have been unearthed, without doubt or cavil, from the long
barrows--the burial-places of the early Mongoloid race, now represented
by the Finns and Lapps, which occupied the whole of Western Europe
before the advent of the Aryan vanguard. One of the best bits is a
curious wide-mouthed, semi-globular bowl from Norton Bavant, in
Wiltshire, whose singular shape suggests almost immediately the idea
that it must at least have been based, if not actually modelled, upon a
human skull. Its rim is rough and quite irregular, and there is no trace
of ornamentation of any sort; a fact quite in accordance with all the
other facts we know about the men of the newer Stone Age, who were far
less artistic and æsthetic in every way than their ruder predecessors of
the interglacial epoch.

Ornamentation, when it does begin to appear, arises at first in a
strictly practical and unintentional manner. Later examples elsewhere
show us by analogy how it first came into existence. The Indians of the
Ohio seem to have modelled their pottery in bags or nettings made of
coarse thread or twisted bark. Those of the Mississippi moulded them in
baskets of willow or splints. When the moist clay thus shaped and marked
by the indentations of the mould was baked in the kiln, it of course
retained the pretty dappling it received from the interlaced and woven
thrums, which were burnt off in the process of firing. Thus a rude sort
of natural diaper ornament was set up, to which the eye soon became
accustomed, and which it learned to regard as necessary for beauty.
Hence, wherever newer and more improved methods of modelling came into
use, there would arise an instinctive tendency on the part of the early
potter to imitate the familiar marking by artificial means. Dr. Klemm
long ago pointed out that the oldest German fictile vases have an
ornamentation in which plaiting is imitated by incised lines. 'What was
no longer wanted as a necessity,' he says, 'was kept up as an ornament

Another very simple form of ornamentation, reappearing everywhere all
the world over on primitive bowls and vases, is the rope pattern, a line
or string-course over the whole surface or near the mouth of the vessel.
Many of the indented patterns on early British pottery have been
produced, as Sir Daniel Wilson has pointed out, by the close impress of
twisted cord on the wet clay. Sometimes these cords seem to have been
originally left on the clay in the process of baking, and used as a
mould; at other times they may have been employed afterwards as
handles, as is still done in the case of some South African pots: and,
when the rope handle wore off, the pattern made by its indentation on
the plastic material before sun-baking would still remain as pure
ornament. Probably the very common idea of string-course ornamentation
just below the mouth or top of vases and bowls has its origin in this
early and almost universal practice.

When other conscious and intentional ornamentation began to supersede
these rude natural and undesigned patterns, they were at first mere
rough attempts on the part of the early potter to imitate, with the
simple means at his disposal, the characteristic marks of the ropes or
wickerwork by which the older vessels were necessarily surrounded. He
had gradually learned, as Mr. Tylor well puts it, that clay alone or
with some mixture of sand is capable of being used without any
extraneous support for the manufacture of drinking and cooking vessels.
He therefore began to model rudely thin globular bowls with his own
hands, dispensing with the aid of thongs or basketwork. But he still
naturally continued to imitate the original shapes--the gourd, the
calabash, the plaited net, the round basket; and his eye required the
familiar decoration which naturally resulted from the use of some one or
other among these primitive methods. So he tried his hand at deliberate
ornament in his own simple untutored fashion.

It was quite literally his hand, indeed, that he tried at first; for the
earliest decoration upon paleolithic pottery is made by pressing the
fingers into the clay so as to produce a couple of deep parallel
furrows, which is the sole attempt at ornament on M. Joly's Nabrigas
specimen; while the urns and drinking-cups taken from our English long
barrows are adorned with really pretty and effective patterns, produced
by pressing the tip of the finger and the nail into the plastic
material. It is wonderful what capital and varied results you can get
with no more recondite graver than the human finger-nail, sometimes
turned front downward, sometimes back downward, and sometimes used to
egg up the moist clay into small jagged and relieved designs. Most of
these patterns are more or less plaitlike in arrangement, evidently
suggested to the mind of the potter by the primitive marks of the old
basketwork. But, as time went on, the early artist learned to press into
his service new implements, pieces of wood, bone scrapers, and the flint
knife itself, with which he incised more regular patterns, straight or
zigzag lines, rows of dots, squares and triangles, concentric circles,
and even the mystic cross and swastika, the sacred symbols of yet unborn
and undreamt-of religions. As yet, there was no direct imitation of
plant or animal forms; once only, on a single specimen from a Swiss lake
dwelling, are the stem and veins of a leaf dimly figured on the
handiwork of the European prehistoric potter. Ornament in its pure form,
as pattern merely, had begun to exist; imitative work as such was yet
unknown, or almost unknown, to the eastern hemisphere.

In America, it was quite otherwise. The forgotten people who built the
mounds of Ohio and the great tumuli of the Mississippi valley decorated
their pottery not only with animal figures, such as snakes, fish, frogs,
and turtles, but also with human heads and faces, many of them evidently
modelled from the life, and some of them quite unmistakably genuine
portraits. On one such vase, found in Arkansas, and figured by the
Marquis de Nadaillac in his excellent work on Prehistoric America, the
ornamentation consists (in true Red Indian taste) of skeleton hands,
interspersed with crossbones; and the delicacy and anatomical
correctness of the detail inevitably suggest the idea that the unknown
artist must have worked with the actual hand of his slaughtered enemy
lying for a model on the table before him. Much of the early American
pottery is also coloured as well as figured, and that with considerable
real taste; the pigments were applied, however, after the baking, and so
possess little stability or permanence of character. But pots and vases
of these advanced styles have got so far ahead of the first potter that
we have really little or no business with them in this paper.

Prehistoric European pottery has never a spout, but it often indulges in
some simple form of ear or handle. The very ancient British bowl from
Bavant Long Barrow--produced by that old squat Finnlike race which
preceded the 'Ancient Britons' of our old-fashioned school-books--has
two ear-shaped handles projecting just below the rim, exactly as in the
modern form of vessel known as a crock, and still familiarly used for
household purposes. This long survival of a common domestic shape from
the most remote prehistoric antiquity to our own time is very
significant and very interesting. Many of the old British pots have also
a hole or two holes pierced through them, near the top, evidently for
the purpose of putting in a string or rope by way of a handle. With the
round barrows, which belong to the Bronze Age, and contain the remains
of a later and more civilised Celtic population, we get far more
advanced forms of pottery. Burial here is preceded by cremation, and the
ashes are enclosed in urns, many of which are very beautiful in form and
exquisitely decorated. Cremation, as Professor Rolleston used feelingly
to plead, is bad for the comparative anatomist and ethnographer, but it
is passing well for the collector of pottery. Where burning exists as a
common practice, there urns are frequent, and pottery an art in great
request. Drinking-cups and perforated incense burners accompany the
dead in the round barrows; but the use of the potter's wheel is still
unknown, and all the urns and vases belonging to this age are still

It is a curious reflection, however, that in spite of all the later
improvements in the fictile art--in spite of wheels and moulds, pastes
and glazes, stamps and pigments, and all the rest of it--the most
primitive methods of the first potter are still in use in many
countries, side by side with the most finished products of modern
European skill and industry. I have in my own possession some West
Indian calabashes, cut and decorated under my own eye by a Jamaican
negro for his personal use, and bought from him by me for the smallest
coin there current--calabashes carved round the edge through the rind
with a rude string-course, exactly like the common rope pattern of
prehistoric pottery. I have seen the same Jamaican negroes kneading
their hand-made porous earthenware beside a tropical stream, moulding it
on fruits or shaping it inside with a free sweep of the curved hand, and
drying it for use in the hot sun, or baking it in a hastily-formed kiln
of plastered mud into large coarse jars of prehistoric types, locally
known by the quaint West African name of 'yabbas.' Many of these yabbas,
if buried in the ground and exposed to damp and frost, till they almost
lost the effects of the baking, would be quite indistinguishable, even
by the skilled archæologist, from the actual handicraft of the
palæolithic potter. The West Indian negroes brought these simple arts
with them from their African home, where they have been handed down in
unbroken continuity from the very earliest age of fictile industry. New
and better methods have slowly grown up everywhere around them, but
these simplest, earliest, and easiest plans have survived none the less
for the most ordinary domestic uses, and will survive for ages yet, as
long as there remain any out-of-the-way places, remote from the main
streams of civilised commerce. Thus, while hundreds of thousands of
years, in all probability, separate us now from the ancient days of the
first potter, it is yet possible for us to see the first potter's own
methods and principles exemplified under our very eyes by people who
derive them in unbroken succession from the direct teaching of that
long-forgotten prehistoric savage.


Let us start fair by frankly admitting that the genius, like the poet,
is born and not made. If you wish to apply the recipe for producing him,
it is unfortunately necessary to set out by selecting beforehand his
grandfathers and grandmothers, to the third and fourth generation of
those that precede him. Nevertheless, there _is_ a recipe for the
production of genius, and every actual concrete genius who ever yet
adorned or disgraced this oblate spheroid of ours has been produced, I
believe, in strict accordance with its unwritten rules and unknown
regulations. In other words, geniuses don't crop up irregularly
anywhere, 'quite promiscuous like'; they have their fixed laws and their
adequate causes: they are the result and effect of certain fairly
demonstrable concatenations of circumstance: they are, in short, a
natural product, not a _lusus naturæ_. You get them only under sundry
relatively definite and settled conditions; and though it isn't
(unfortunately) quite true that the conditions will always infallibly
bring forth the genius, it is quite true that the genius can never be
brought forth at all without the conditions. Do men gather grapes of
thorns, or figs of thistles? No more can you get a poet from a family of
stockbrokers who have intermarried with the daughters of an eminent
alderman, or make a philosopher out of a country grocer's eldest son
whose amiable mother had no soul above the half-pounds of tea and

In the first place, by way of clearing the decks for action, I am going
to start even by getting rid once for all (so far as we are here
concerned) of that famous but misleading old distinction between genius
and talent. It is really a distinction without a difference. I suppose
there is probably no subject under heaven on which so much high-flown
stuff and nonsense has been talked and written as upon this well-known
and much-debated hair-splitting discrimination. It is just like that
other great distinction between fancy and imagination, about which poets
and essayists discoursed so fluently at the beginning of the present
century, until at last one fine day the world at large woke up suddenly
to the unpleasant consciousness that it had been wasting its time over a
non-existent difference, and that fancy and imagination were after all
absolutely identical. Now, I won't dogmatically assert that talent and
genius are exactly one and the same thing; but I do assert that genius
is simply talent raised to a slightly higher power; it differs from it
not in kind but merely in degree: it is talent at its best. There is no
drawing a hard-and-fast line of demarcation between the two. You might
just as well try to classify all mankind into tall men and short men,
and then endeavour to prove that a real distinction existed in nature
between your two artificial classes. As a matter of fact, men differ in
height and in ability by infinitesimal gradations: some men are very
short, others rather short, others medium-sized, others tall, and yet
others again of portentous stature like Mr. Chang and Jacob Omnium. So,
too, some men are idiots, some are next door to a fool, some are stupid,
some are worthy people, some are intelligent, some are clever, and some
geniuses. But genius is only the culminating point of ordinary
cleverness, and if you were to try and draw up a list of all the real
geniuses in the last hundred years, no two people could ever be found
to agree among themselves as to which should be included and which
excluded from the artificial catalogue. I have heard Kingsley and
Charles Lamb described as geniuses, and I have heard them both
absolutely denied every sort of literary merit. Carlyle thought Darwin a
poor creature, and Comte regarded Hegel himself as an empty windbag.

The fact is, most of the grandiose talk about the vast gulf which
separates genius from mere talent has been published and set abroad by
those fortunate persons who fell, or fancied themselves to fall, under
the former highly satisfactory and agreeable category. Genius, in short,
real or self-suspected, has always been at great pains to glorify itself
at the expense of poor, commonplace, inferior talent. There is a
certain type of great man in particular which is never tired of dilating
upon the noble supremacy of its own greatness over the spurious
imitation. It offers incense obliquely to itself in offering it
generically to the class genius. It brings ghee to its own image. There
are great men, for example, such as Lord Lytton, Disraeli, Victor Hugo,
the Lion Comique, and Mr. Oscar Wilde, who pose perpetually as great
men; they cry aloud to the poor silly public so far beneath them, 'I am
a genius! Admire me! Worship me!' Against this Byronic self-elevation on
an aërial pedestal, high above the heads of the blind and battling
multitude, we poor common mortals, who are not unfortunately geniuses,
are surely entitled to enter occasionally our humble protest. Our
contention is that the genius only differs from the man of ability as
the man of ability differs from the intelligent man, and the intelligent
man from the worthy person of sound common sense. The sliding scale of
brains has infinite gradations; and the gradations merge insensibly into
one another. There is no gulf, no gap, no sudden jump of nature; here
as elsewhere, throughout the whole range of her manifold productions,
our common mother _saltum non facit_.

The question before the house, then, narrows itself down finally to
this; what are the conditions under which exceptional ability or high
talent is likely to arise?

Now, I suppose everybody is ready to admit that two complete born fools
are not at all likely to become the proud father and happy mother of a
Shakespeare or a Newton. I suppose everybody will unhesitatingly allow
that a great mathematician could hardly by any conceivable chance arise
among the South African Bushmen, who cannot understand the arduous
arithmetical proposition that two and two make four. No amount of
education or careful training, I take it, would suffice to elevate the
most profoundly artistic among the Veddahs of Ceylon, who cannot even
comprehend an English drawing of a dog or horse, into a respectable
president of the Royal Academy. It is equally unlikely (as it seems to
me) that a Mendelssohn or a Beethoven could be raised in the bosom of a
family all of whose members on either side were incapable (like a
distinguished modern English poet) of discriminating any one note in an
octave from any other. Such leaps as these would be little short of pure
miracles. They would be equivalent to the sudden creation, without
antecedent cause, of a whole vast system of nerves and nerve-centres in
the prodigious brain of some infant phenomenon.

On the other hand, much of the commonplace, shallow fashionable talk
about hereditary genius--I don't mean, of course, the talk of our
Darwins and Galtons, but the cheap drawing-room philosophy of easy
sciolists who can't understand them--is itself fully as absurd in its
own way as the idea that something can come out of nothing. For it is no
explanation of the existence of genius to say that it is hereditary.
You only put the difficulty one place back. Granting that young Alastor
Jones is a budding poet because his father, Percy Bysshe Jones, was a
poet before him, why, pray, was Jones the elder a poet at all, to start
with? This kind of explanation, in fact, explains nothing; it begins by
positing the existence of one original genius, absolutely unaccounted
for, and then proceeds blandly to point out that the other geniuses
derive their characteristics from him, by virtue of descent, just as all
the sons of a peer are born honourables. The elephant supports the
earth, and the tortoise supports the elephant, but who, pray, supports
the tortoise? If the first chicken came out of an egg, what was the
origin of the hen that laid it?

Besides, the allegation as it stands is not even a true one. Genius, as
we actually know it, is by no means hereditary. The great man is not
necessarily the son of a great man or the father of a great man: often
enough, he stands quite isolated, a solitary golden link in a chain of
baser metal on either side of him. Mr. John Shakespeare woolstapler, of
Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, was no doubt an eminently respectable
person in his own trade, and he had sufficient intelligence to be mayor
of his native town once upon a time: but, so far as is known, none of
his literary remains are at all equal to _Macbeth_ or _Othello_. Parson
Newton, of the Parish of Woolsthorpe, in Lincolnshire, may have preached
a great many very excellent and convincing discourses, but there is no
evidence of any sort that he ever attempted to write the _Principia_.
_Per contra_ the Miss Miltons, good young ladies that they were (though
of conflicting memory), do not appear to have differed conspicuously in
ability from the other Priscillas and Patiences and Mercies amongst whom
their lot was cast; while the Marlboroughs and the Wellingtons do not
seem to bud out spontaneously into great commanders in the second
generation. True, there are numerous cases such as that of the
Herschels, father and son, or the two Scaligers, or the Caracci, or the
Pitts, or the Scipios, and a dozen more, where the genius, once
developed, has persisted for two or three, or even four lives: but these
instances really cast no light at all upon our central problem, which is
just this--How does the genius come in the first place to be developed
at all from parents in whom individually no particular genius is
ultimately to be seen?

Suppose we take, to start with, a race of hunting savages in the
earliest, lowest, and most undifferentiated stage, we shall get really
next to no personal peculiarities or idiosyncrasies of any sort amongst
them. Every one of them will be a good hunter, a good fisherman, a good
scalper and a good manufacturer of bows and arrows. Division of labour,
and the other troublesome technicalities of our modern political
economy, are as unknown among such folk as the modern nuisance of
dressing for dinner. Each man performs all the functions of a citizen on
his own account, because there is nobody else to perform them for
him--the medium of exchange known as hard cash has not, so far as he is
concerned, yet been invented; and he performs them well, such as they
are, because he inherits from all his ancestors aptitudes of brain and
muscle in these directions, owing to the simple fact that those among
his collateral predecessors who didn't know how to snare a bird, or were
hopelessly stupid in the art of chipping flint arrowheads, died out of
starvation, leaving no representatives. The beneficent institution of
the poor law does not exist among savages, in order to enable the
helpless and incompetent to bring up families in their own image. There,
survival of the fittest still works out its own ultimately benevolent
and useful end in its own directly cruel and relentless way, cutting
off ruthlessly the stupid or the weak, and allowing only the strong and
the cunning to become the parents of future generations.

Hence every young savage, being descended on both sides from ancestors
who in their own way perfectly fulfilled the ideal of complete
savagery--were good hunters, good fishers, good fighters, good craftsmen
of bow or boomerang--inherits from these his successful predecessors all
those qualities of eye and hand and brain and nervous system which go to
make up the abstractly Admirable Crichton of a savage. The qualities in
question are ensured in him by two separate means. In the first place,
survival of the fittest takes care that he and all his ancestors shall
have duly possessed them to some extent to start with; in the second
place, constant practice from boyhood upward increases and develops the
original faculty. Thus savages, as a rule, display absolutely
astonishing ability and cleverness in the few lines which they have made
their own. Their cunning in hunting, their patience in fishing, their
skill in trapping, their infinite dodges for deceiving and cajoling the
animals or enemies that they need to outwit, have moved the wonder and
admiration of innumerable travellers. The savage, in fact, is not
stupid: in his own way his cleverness is extraordinary. But the way is a
very narrow and restricted one, and all savages of the same race walk in
it exactly alike. Cunning they have, skill they have, instinct they
have, to a most marvellous degree; but of spontaneity, originality,
initiative, variability, not a single spark. Know one savage of a tribe
and you know them all. Their cleverness is not the cleverness of the
individual man: it is the inherited and garnered intelligence or
instinct of the entire race.

How, then, do originality, diversity, individuality, genius, begin to
come in? In this way, as it seems to me, looking at the matter both _à
priori_ and by the light of actual experience.

Suppose a country inhabited in its interior by a savage race of hunters
and fighters, and on its seaboard by an equally savage race of pirates
and fishermen, like the Dyaks of Borneo. Each of these races, if left to
itself, will develop in time its own peculiar and special type of savage
cleverness. Each (in the scientific slang of the day) will adapt itself
to its particular environment. The people of the interior will acquire
and inherit a wonderful facility in spearing monkeys and knocking down
parrots; while the people of the sea-coast will become skilful managers
of canoes upon the water, and merciless plunderers of one another's
villages, after the universal fashion of all pirates. These original
differences of position and function will necessarily entail a thousand
minor differences of intelligence and skill in a thousand different
ways. For example, the sea-coast people, having of pure need to make
themselves canoes and paddles, will probably learn to decorate their
handicraft with ornamental patterns; and the æsthetic taste thus aroused
will, no doubt, finally lead them to adorn the façades of their wooden
huts with the grinning skulls of slaughtered enemies, prettily disposed
at measured distances. A thoughtless world may laugh, indeed, at these
naïve expressions of the nascent artistic and decorative faculties in
the savage breast, but the æsthetic philosopher knows how to appreciate
them at their true worth, and to see in them the earliest ingenuous
precursors of our own Salisbury, Lichfield, and Westminster.

Now, so long as these two imaginary races of ours continue to remain
distinct and separate, it is not likely that idiosyncrasies or varieties
to any great extent will arise among them. But, as soon as you permit
intermarriage to take place, the inherited and developed qualities of
the one race will be liable to crop up in the next generation, diversely
intermixed in every variety of degree with the inherited and developed
qualities of the other. The children may take after either parent in any
combination of qualities whatsoever. You have admitted an apparently
capricious element of individuality: a power on the part of the
half-breeds of differing from one another to an extent quite impossible
in the two original homogeneous societies. In one word, you have made
possible the future existence of diversity in character.

If, now, we turn from these perfectly simple savage communities to our
own very complex and heterogeneous world, what do we find? An endless
variety of soldiers, sailors, tinkers, tailors, butchers, bakers,
candlestick makers, and jolly undertakers, most of whom fall into a
certain rough number of classes, each with its own developed and
inherited traits and peculiarities. Our world is made up, like the world
of ancient Egypt and of modern India, of an immense variety of separate
castes--not, indeed, rigidly demarcated and strictly limited as in those
extremely hierarchical societies, but still very fairly hereditary in
character, and given on the average to a tolerably close system of
intermarriage within the caste.

For example, there is the agricultural labourer caste--the Hodge
Chawbacon of urban humour, who in his military avatar also reappears as
Tommy Atkins, a little transfigured, but at bottom identical--the
alternative aspect of a single undivided central reality. Hodge for the
most part lives and dies in his ancestral village: marries Mary, the
daughter of Hodge Secundus of that parish, and begets assorted Hodges
and Marys in vast quantities, all of the same pattern, to replenish the
earth in the next generation. There you have a very well-marked
hereditary caste, little given to intermixture with others, and from
whose members, however recruited by fresh blood, the object of our
quest, the Divine Genius, is very unlikely to find his point of origin.
Then there is the town artisan caste, sprung originally, indeed, from
the ranks of the Hodges, but naturally selected out of its most active,
enterprising, and intelligent individuals, and often of many generations
standing in various forms of handicraft. This is a far higher and more
promising type of humanity, from the judicious intermixture of whose
best elements we are apt to get our Stephensons, our Arkwrights, our
Telfords, and our Edisons. In a rank of life just above the last, we
find the fixed and immobile farmer caste, which only rarely blossoms
out, under favourable circumstances on both sides, into a stray Cobbett
or an almost miraculous miller Constable. The shopkeepers are a tribe of
more varied interests and more diversified lives. An immense variety of
brain elements are called into play by their diverse functions in
diverse lines; and when we take them in conjunction with the upper
mercantile grades, which are chiefly composed of their ablest and most
successful members, we get considerable chances of those happy blendings
of individual excellences in their casual marriages which go to make up
talent, and, in their final outcome, genius. Last of all, in the
professional and upper classes there is a freedom and play of faculty
everywhere going on, which in the chances of intermarriage between
lawyer-folk and doctor-folk, scientific people and artistic people,
county families and bishops or law lords, and so forth _ad infinitum_,
offers by far the best opportunities of any for the occasional
development of that rare product of the highest humanity, the genuine

But in every case it is, I believe, essentially intermixture of
variously acquired hereditary characteristics that makes the best and
truest geniuses. Left to itself, each separate line of caste ancestry
would tend to produce a certain fixed Chinese or Japanese perfection of
handicraft in a certain definite, restricted direction, but not probably
anything worth calling real genius. For example, a family of artists,
starting with some sort of manual dexterity in imitating natural forms
and colours with paint and pencil, and strictly intermarrying always
with other families possessing exactly the same inherited endowments,
would probably go on getting more and more woodenly accurate in its
drawing; more and more conventionally correct in its grouping; more and
more technically perfect in its perspective and light-and-shade, and so
forth, by pure dint of accumulated hereditary experience from generation
to generation. It would pass from the Egyptian to the Chinese style of
art by slow degrees and with infinite gradations. But suppose, instead
of thus rigorously confining itself to its own caste, this family of
handicraft artists were to intermarry freely with poetical, or
seafaring, or candlestick-making stocks. What would be the consequence?
Why, such an infiltration of other hereditary characteristics, otherwise
acquired, as might make the young painters of future generations more
wide minded, more diversified, more individualistic, more vivid and
lifelike. Some divine spark of poetical imagination, some tenderness of
sentiment, some play of fancy, unknown perhaps, to the hard, dry,
matter-of-fact limners of the ancestral school, might thus be introduced
into the original line of hereditary artists. In this way one can easily
see how even intermarriage with non-artistic stocks might improve the
breed of a family of painters. For while each caste, left to itself, is
liable to harden down into a mere technical excellence after its own
kind, a wooden facility for drawing faces, or casting up columns of
figures, or hacking down enemies, or building steam-engines, a healthy
cross with other castes is liable to bring in all kinds of new and
valuable qualities, each of which, though acquired perhaps in a totally,
different line of life, is apt to bear a new application in the new
complex whereof it now forms a part.

In our very varied modern societies, every man and every woman, in the
upper and middle ranks of life at least, has an individuality and an
idiosyncrasy so compounded of endless varying stocks and races. Here is
one whose father was an Irishman and his mother a Scotchwoman; here is
another whose paternal line were country parsons, while his maternal
ancestors were city merchants or distinguished soldiers. Take almost
anybody's 'sixteen quarters'--his great-great grandfathers and
great-great grandmothers, of whom he has sixteen all told--and what do
you often find? A peer, a cobbler, a barrister, a common sailor, a Welsh
doctor, a Dutch merchant, a Huguenot pastor, a cornet of horse, an Irish
heiress, a farmer's daughter, a housemaid, an actress, a Devonshire
beauty, a rich young lady of sugar-broking extraction, a Lady Carolina,
a London lodging-house keeper. This is not by any means an exaggerated
case; it would be easy, indeed, from one's own knowledge of family
histories to supply a great many real examples far more startling than
this partially imaginary one. With such a variety of racial and
professional antecedents behind us, what infinite possibilities are
opened before us of children with ability, folly, stupidity, genius?

Infinite numbers of intermixtures everywhere exist in civilised
societies. Most of them are passable; many of them are execrable; a few
of them are admirable; and here and there, one of them consists of that
happy blending of individual characteristics which we all immediately
recognise as genius--at least after somebody else has told us so.

The ultimate recipe for genius, then, would appear to be somewhat after
this fashion. Take a number of good, strong, powerful stocks, mentally
or physically, endowed with something more than the average amount of
energy and application. Let them be as varied as possible in
characteristics; and, so far as convenient, try to include among them a
considerable small-change of races, dispositions, professions, and
temperaments. Mix, by marriage, to the proper consistency; educate the
offspring, especially by circumstances and environment, as broadly,
freely, and diversely as you can; let them all intermarry again with
other similarly produced, but personally unlike, idiosyncrasies; and
watch the result to find your genius in the fourth or fifth generation.
If the experiment has been properly performed, and all the conditions
have been decently favourable, you will get among the resultant five
hundred persons a considerable sprinkling of average fools, a fair
proportion of modest mediocrities, a small number of able people, and
(in case you are exceptionally lucky and have shuffled your cards very
carefully) perhaps among them all a single genius. But most probably the
genius will have died young of scarlet fever, or missed fire through
some tiny defect of internal brain structure. Nature herself is trying
this experiment unaided every day all around us, and, though she makes a
great many misses, occasionally she makes a stray hit and then we get a
Shakespeare or a Grimaldi.

'But you haven't proved all this: you have only suggested it.' Does one
prove a thesis of deep-reaching importance in a ten-page essay? And if
one proved it in a big book, with classified examples and detailed
genealogies of all the geniuses, would anybody on earth except Mr.
Francis Galton ever take the trouble to read it?


If deserts _have_ a fault (which their present biographer is far from
admitting), that fault may doubtless be found in the fact that their
scenery as a rule tends to be just a trifle monotonous. Though fine in
themselves, they lack variety. To be sure, very few of the deserts of
real life possess that absolute flatness, sandiness and sameness, which
characterises the familiar desert of the poet and of the annual
exhibitions--a desert all level yellow expanse, most bilious in its
colouring, and relieved by but four allowable academy properties, a
palm-tree, a camel, a sphinx, and a pyramid. For foreground, throw in a
sheikh in appropriate drapery; for background, a sky-line and a
bleaching skeleton; stir and mix, and your picture is finished. Most
practical deserts one comes across in travelling, however, are a great
deal less simple and theatrical than that; rock preponderates over sand
in their composition, and inequalities of surface are often the rule
rather than the exception. There is reason to believe, indeed, that the
artistic conception of the common or Burlington House desert has been
unduly influenced for evil by the accessibility and the poetic adjuncts
of the Egyptian sand-waste, which, being situated in a great alluvial
river valley is really flat, and, being the most familiar, has therefore
distorted to its own shape the mental picture of all its kind elsewhere.
But most deserts of actual nature are not all flat, nor all sandy; they
present a considerable diversity and variety of surface, and their rocks
are often unpleasantly obtrusive to the tender feet of the pedestrian

A desert, in fact, is only a place where the weather is always and
uniformly fine. The sand is there merely as what the logicians call, in
their cheerful way, 'a separable accident'; the essential of a desert,
as such, is the absence of vegetation, due to drought. The barometer in
those happy, too happy, regions, always stands at Set Fair. At least, it
would, if barometers commonly grew in the desert, where, however, in the
present condition of science, they are rarely found. It is this dryness
of the air, and this alone, that makes a desert; all the rest, like the
camels, the sphinx, the skeleton, and the pyramid, is only thrown in to
complete the picture.

Now the first question that occurs to the inquiring mind--which is but a
graceful periphrasis for the present writer--when it comes to examine in
detail the peculiarities of deserts is just this: Why are there places
on the earth's surface on which rain never falls? What makes it so
uncommonly dry in Sahara when it's so unpleasantly wet and so
unnecessarily foggy in this realm of England? And the obvious answer is,
of course, that deserts exist only in those parts of the world where the
run of mountain ranges, prevalent winds, and ocean currents conspire to
render the average rainfall as small as possible. But, strangely enough,
there is a large irregular belt of the great eastern continent where
these peculiar conditions occur in an almost unbroken line for thousands
of miles together, from the west coast of Africa to the borders of
China: and it is in this belt that all the best known deserts of the
world are actually situated. In one place it is the Atlas and the Kong
mountains (now don't pretend, as David Copperfield's aunt would have
said, you don't know the Kong mountains); at another place it is the
Arabian coast range, Lebanon, and the Beluchi hills; at a third, it is
the Himalayas and the Chinese heights that intercept and precipitate all
the moisture from the clouds. But, from whatever variety of local causes
it may arise, the fact still remains the same, that all the great
deserts run in this long, almost unbroken series, beginning with the
greater and the smaller Sahara, continuing in the Libyan and Egyptian
desert, spreading on through the larger part of Arabia, reappearing to
the north as the Syrian desert, and to the east as the desert of
Rajputana (the Great Indian Desert of the Anglo-Indian mind), while
further east again the long line terminates in the desert of Gobi on the
Chinese frontier.

In other parts of the world, deserts are less frequent. The peculiar
combination of circumstances which goes to produce them does not
elsewhere occur over any vast area, on so large a scale. Still, there is
one region in western America where the necessary conditions are found
to perfection. The high snow-clad peaks of the Rocky Mountains on the
one side check and condense all the moisture that comes from the
Atlantic; the Sierra Nevada and the Wahsatch range on the other, running
parallel with them to the west, check and condense all the moisture that
comes from the Pacific coast. In between these two great lines lies the
dry and almost rainless district known to the ambitious western mind as
the Great American Desert, enclosing in its midst that slowly
evaporating inland sea, the Great Salt Lake, a last relic of some
extinct chain of mighty waters once comparable to Superior, Erie, and
Ontario. In Mexico, again, where the twin ranges draw closer together,
desert conditions once more supervene. But it is in central Australia
that the causes which lead to the desert state are, perhaps on the
whole, best exemplified. There, ranges of high mountains extend almost
all round the coasts, and so completely intercept the rainfall which
ought to fertilise the great central plain that the rivers are almost
all short and local, and one thirsty waste spreads for miles and miles
together over the whole unexplored interior of the continent.

But why are deserts rocky and sandy? Why aren't they covered, like the
rest of the world, with earth, soil, mould, or dust? One can see plainly
enough why there should be little or no vegetation where no rain falls,
but one can't see quite so easily why there should be only sand and rock
instead of arid clay-field.

Well, the answer is that without vegetation there is no such thing as
soil on earth anywhere. The top layer of the land in all ordinary and
well-behaved countries is composed entirely of vegetable mould, the
decaying remains of innumerable generations of weeds and grasses. Earth
to earth is the rule of nature. Soil, in fact, consists entirely of dead
leaves. And where there are no leaves to die and decay, there can be no
mould or soil to speak of. Darwin showed, indeed, in his last great
book, that we owe the whole earthy covering of our hills and plains
almost entirely to the perennial exertions of that friend of the
farmers, the harmless, necessary earthworm. Year after year the silent
worker is busy every night pulling down leaves through his tunnelled
burrow into his underground nest, and there converting them by means of
his castings into the black mould which produces, in the end, for lordly
man, all his cultivable fields and pasture-lands and meadows. Where
there are no leaves and no earth-worms, therefore, there can be no soil;
and under those circumstances we get what we familiarly know as a

The normal course of events where new land rises above the sea is
something like this, as oceanic isles have sufficiently demonstrated.
The rock when it first emerges from the water rises bare and rugged like
a sea-cliff; no living thing, animal or vegetable, is harboured anywhere
on its naked surface. In time, however, as rain falls upon its jutting
peaks and barren pinnacles, disintegration sets in, or, to speak plainer
English, the rock crumbles; and soon streams wash down tiny deposits of
sand and mud thus produced into the valleys and hollows of the upheaved
area. At the same time lichens begin to spring in yellow patches upon
the bare face of the rock, and feathery ferns, whose spores have been
wafted by the wind, or carried by the waves, or borne on the feet of
unconscious birds, sprout here and there from the clefts and crannies.
These, as they die and decay, in turn form a thin layer of vegetable
mould, the first beginning of a local soil, in which the trusty
earthworm (imported in the egg on driftwood or floating weeds)
straightway sets to work to burrow, and which he rapidly increases by
his constant labour. On the soil thus deposited, flowering plants and
trees can soon root themselves, as fast as seeds, nuts or fruits are
wafted to the island by various accidents from surrounding countries.
The new land thrown up by the great eruption of Krakatoa has in this way
already clothed itself from head to foot with a luxuriant sheet of
ferns, mosses, and other vegetation.

First soil, then plant and animal life, are thus in the last resort
wholly dependent for their existence on the amount of rainfall. But in
deserts, where rain seldom or never falls (except by accident) the first
term in this series is altogether wanting. There can be no rivers,
brooks or streams to wash down beds of alluvial deposit from the
mountains to the valleys. Denudation (the term, though rather awful, is
not an improper one) must therefore take a different turn. Practically
speaking, there is no water action; the work is all done by sun and
wind. Under these circumstances, the rocks crumble away very slowly by
mere exposure into small fragments, which the wind knocks off and blows
about the surface, forming sand or dust of them in all convenient
hollows. The frequent currents, produced by the heated air that lies
upon the basking layer of sand, continually keep the surface agitated,
and so blow about the sand and grind one piece against the other till it
becomes ever finer and finer. Thus for the most part the hollows or
valleys of deserts are filled by plains of bare sand, while their higher
portions consist rather of barren, rocky mountains or table-land.

The effect upon whatever animal or vegetable life can manage here and
there to survive under such circumstances is very peculiar. Deserts are
the most exacting of all known environments, and they compel their
inhabitants with profound imperiousness to knuckle under to their
prejudices and preconceptions in ten thousand particulars.

To begin with, all the smaller denizens of the desert--whether
butterflies, beetles, birds, or lizards--must be quite uniformly
isabelline or sand-coloured. This universal determination of the
desert-haunting creatures to fall in with the fashion and to harmonise
with their surroundings adds considerably to the painfully monotonous
effect of desert scenery. A green plant, a blue butterfly, a red and
yellow bird, a black or bronze-coloured beetle or lizard would improve
the artistic aspect of the desert not a little. But no; the animals will
hear nothing of such gaudy hues; with Quaker uniformity they will clothe
themselves in dove-colour; they will all wear a sandy pepper-and-salt
with as great unanimity as the ladies of the Court (on receipt of
orders) wear Court mourning for the late lamented King of the Tongataboo

In reality, this universal sombre tint of desert animals is a beautiful
example of the imperious working of our modern _Deus ex machinâ_,
natural selection. The more uniform in hue is the environment of any
particular region, the more uniform in hue must be all its inhabitants.
In the arctic snows, for example, we find this principle pushed to its
furthest logical conclusion. There, everything is and must be
white--hares, foxes, and ptarmigans alike; and the reason is
obvious--there can be no exception. Any brown or black or reddish animal
who ventured north would at once render himself unpleasantly conspicuous
in the midst of the uniform arctic whiteness. If he were a brown hare,
for example, the foxes and bears and birds of prey of the district would
spot him at once on the white fields, and pounce down upon him forthwith
on his first appearance. That hare would leave no similar descendants to
continue the race of brown hares in arctic regions after him. Or,
suppose, on the other hand, it were a brown fox who invaded the domain
of eternal snow. All the hares and ptarmigans of his new district would
behold him coming from afar and keep well out of his way, while he, poor
creature, would never be able to spot them at all among the white
snow-fields. He would starve for want of prey, at the very time when the
white fox, his neighbour, was stealing unperceived with stealthy tread
upon the hares and ptarmigans. In this way, from generation to
generation of arctic animals, the blacker or browner have been
constantly weeded out, and the greyer and whiter have been constantly
encouraged, till now all arctic animals alike are as spotlessly snowy as
the snow around them.

In the desert much the same causes operate, in a slightly different way,
in favour of a general greyness or brownness as against pronounced
shades of black, white, red, green, or yellow. Desert animals, like
intense South Kensington, go in only for neutral tints. In proportion as
each individual approaches in hue to the sand about it will it succeed
in life in avoiding its enemies or in creeping upon its prey, according
to circumstances. In proportion as it presents a strikingly vivid or
distinct appearance among the surrounding sand will it make itself a
sure mark for its watchful foes, if it happen to be an unprotected
skulker, or will it be seen beforehand and avoided by its prey, if it
happen to be a predatory hunting or insect-eating beast. Hence on the
sandy desert all species alike are uniformly sand-coloured. Spotty
lizards bask on spotty sands, keeping a sharp look-out for spotty
butterflies and spotty beetles, only to be themselves spotted and
devoured in turn by equally spotty birds, or snakes, or tortoises. All
nature seems to have gone into half-mourning together, or, converted by
a passing Puritan missionary, to have clad itself incontinently in grey
and fawn-colour.

Even the larger beasts that haunt the desert take their tone not a
little from their sandy surroundings. You have only to compare the
desert-haunting lion with the other great cats to see at once the reason
for his peculiar uniform. The tigers and other tropical jungle-cats have
their coats arranged in vertical stripes of black and yellow, which,
though you would hardly believe it unless you saw them in their native
nullahs (good word 'nullah,' gives a convincing Indian tone to a
narrative of adventure), harmonise marvellously with the lights and
shades of the bamboos and cane-brakes through whose depths the tiger
moves so noiselessly.

Looking into the gloom of a tangled jungle, it is almost impossible to
pick out the beast from the yellow stems and dark shadows in which it
hides, save by the baleful gleam of those wicked eyes, catching the
light for one second as they turn wistfully and bloodthirstily towards
the approaching stranger. The jaguar, oncelot, leopard, and other
tree-cats, on the other hand, are dappled or spotted--a type of
coloration which exactly harmonises with the light and shade of the
round sun-spots seen through the foliage of a tropical forest. They,
too, are almost indistinguishable from the trees overhead as they creep
along cautiously on the trunks and branches. But spots or stripes would
at once betray the crouching lion among the bare rocks or desert sands;
and therefore the lion is approximately sand-coloured. Seen in a cage at
the Zoo, the British lion is a very conspicuous animal indeed; but
spread at full length on a sandy patch or among bare yellow rocks under
the Saharan sun, you may walk into his mouth before you are even aware
of his august existence.

The three other great desert beasts of Asia or Africa--the ostrich, the
giraffe, and the camel--are less protectively coloured, for various
reasons. Giraffes and ostriches go in herds; they trust for safety
mainly to their swiftness of foot, and, when driven to bay, like most
gregarious animals, they make common cause against the ill-advised
intruder. In such cases it is often well, for the sake of stragglers,
that the herd should be readily distinguished at a distance; and it is
to insure this advantage, I believe, that giraffes have acquired their
strongly marked spots, as zebras have acquired their distinctive
stripes, and hyænas their similarly banded or dappled coats. One must
always remember that disguise may be carried a trifle too far, and that
recognisability in the parents often gives the young and giddy a point
in their favour. For example, it seems certain that the general
grey-brown tint of European rabbits serves to render them
indistinguishable in a field of bracken, stubble, or dry grass. How hard
it is, either for man or hawk, to pick out rabbits so long as they sit
still, in an English meadow! But as soon as they begin to run towards
their burrows the white patch by their tails inevitably betrays them;
and this betrayal seems at first sight like a failure of adaptation.
Certainly many a rabbit must be spotted and shot, or killed by birds of
prey, solely on account of that tell-tale white patch as he makes for
his shelter. Nevertheless, when we come to look closer, we can see, as
Mr. Wallace acutely suggests, that the tell-tale patch has its function
also. On the first alarm the parent rabbits take to their heels at once,
and run at any untoward sight or sound toward the safety of the burrow.
The white patch and the hoisted tail act as a danger-signal to the
little bunnies, and direct them which way to escape the threatened
misfortune. The young ones take the hint at once and follow their
leader. Thus what may be sometimes a disadvantage to the individual
animal becomes in the long run of incalculable benefit to the entire

It is interesting to note, too, how much alike in build and gait are
these three thoroughbred desert roamers, the giraffe, the ostrich, and
the camel or dromedary. In their long legs, their stalking march, their
tall necks, and their ungainly appearance they all betoken their common
adaptation to the needs and demands of a special environment. Since food
is scarce and shelter rare, they have to run about much over large
spaces in search of a livelihood or to escape their enemies. Then the
burning nature of the sand as well as the need for speed compels them to
have long legs which in turn necessitate equally long necks, if they are
to reach the ground or the trees overhead for food and drink. Their feet
have to be soft and padded to enable them to run over the sand with
ease; and hard horny patches must protect their knees and all other
portions of the body liable to touch the sweltering surface when they
lie down to rest themselves. Finally, they can all endure thirst for
long periods together; and the camel, the most inveterate
desert-haunter of the trio, is even provided with a special stomach to
take in water for several days at a stretch, besides having a peculiarly
tough skin in which perspiration is reduced to a minimum. He carries his
own water-supply internally, and wastes as little of it by the way as

What the camel is among animals that is the cactus among plants--the
most confirmed and specialised of desert-haunting organisms. It has been
wholly developed in, by, and for the desert. I don't mean merely to say
that cactuses resemble camels because they are clumsy, ungainly,
awkward, and paradoxical; that would be a point of view almost as far
beneath the dignity of science (which in spite of occasional lapses into
the sin of levity I endeavour as a rule piously to uphold) as the old
and fallacious reason 'because there's a B in both.' But cactuses, like
camels, take in their water supply whenever they can get it, and never
waste any of it on the way by needless evaporation. As they form the
perfect central type of desert vegetation, and are also familiar plants
to everyone, they may be taken as a good illustrative example of the
effect that desert conditions inevitably produce upon vegetable

Quaint, shapeless, succulent, jointed, the cactuses look at first sight
as if they were all leaves, and had no stem or trunk worth mentioning.
Of course, therefore, the exact opposite is really the case; for, as a
late lamented poet has assured us in mournful numbers, things (generally
speaking) are not what they seem. The true truth about the cactuses runs
just the other way; they are all stem and no leaves; what look like
leaves being really joints of the trunk or branches, and the foliage
being all dwarfed and stunted into the prickly hairs that dot and
encumber the surface. All plants of very arid soils--for example, our
common English stonecrops--tend to be thick, jointed, and succulent;
the distinction between stem and leaves tends to disappear; and the
whole weed, accustomed at times to long drought, acquires the habit of
drinking in water greedily at its rootlets after every rain, and storing
it away for future use in its thick, sponge-like, and water-tight
tissues. To prevent undue evaporation, the surface also is covered with
a thick, shiny skin--a sort of vegetable macintosh, which effectually
checks all unnecessary transpiration. Of this desert type, then, the
cactus is the furthest possible term. It has no flat leaves with
expanded blades, to wither and die in the scorching desert air; but in
their stead the thick and jointed stems do the same work--absorb carbon
from the carbonic acid of the air, and store up water in the driest of
seasons. Then, to repel the attacks of herbivores, who would gladly get
at the juicy morsel if they could, the foliage has been turned into
sharp defensive spines and prickles. The cactus is tenacious of life to
a wonderful degree; and for reproduction it trusts not merely to its
brilliant flowers, fertilised for the most part by desert moths or
butterflies, and to its juicy fruit, of which the common prickly pear is
a familiar instance, but it has the special property of springing afresh
from any stray bit or fragment of the stem that happens to fall upon the
dry ground anywhere.

True cactuses (in the native state) are confined to America; but the
unhappy naturalist who ventures to say so in mixed society is sure to
get sat upon (without due cause) by numberless people who have seen 'the
cactus' wild all the world over. For one thing, the prickly pear and a
few other common American species, have been naturalised and run wild
throughout North Africa, the Mediterranean shores, and a great part of
India, Arabia, and Persia. But what is more interesting and more
confusing still, other desert plants which are _not_ cactuses, living
in South Africa, Sind, Rajputana, and elsewhere unspecified, have been
driven by the nature of their circumstances and the dryness of the soil
to adopt precisely the same tactics, and therefore unconsciously to
mimic or imitate the cactus tribe in the minutest details of their
personal appearance. Most of these fallacious pseudo-cactuses are really
spurges or euphorbias by family. They resemble the true Mexican type in
externals only; that is to say, their stems are thick, jointed, and
leaf-like, and they grow with clumsy and awkward angularity; but in the
flower, fruit, seed, and in short in all structural peculiarities
whatsoever, they differ utterly from the genuine cactus, and closely
resemble all their spurge relations. Adaptive likenesses of this sort,
due to mere stress of local conditions, have no more weight as
indications of real relationship than the wings of the bat or the
nippers of the seal, which don't make the one into a skylark, or the
other into a mackerel.

In Sahara, on the other hand, the prevailing type of vegetation
(wherever there is any) belongs to the kind playfully described by Sir
Lambert Playfair as 'salsolaceous,' that is to say, in plainer English,
it consists of plants like the glass-wort and the kali-weed, which are
commonly burnt to make soda. These fleshy weeds resemble the cactuses in
being succulent and thick-skinned but they differ from them in their
curious ability to live upon very salt and soda-laden water. All through
the great African desert region, in fact, most of the water is more or
less brackish; 'bitter lakes' are common, and gypsum often covers the
ground over immense areas. These districts occupy the beds of vast
ancient lakes, now almost dry, of which the existing _chotts_, or very
salt pools, are the last shrunken and evanescent relics.

And this point about the water brings me at last to a cardinal fact in
the constitution of deserts which is almost always utterly misconceived
in Europe. Most people at home picture the desert to themselves as
wholly dead, flat, and sandy. To talk about the fauna and flora of
Sahara sounds in their ears like self-contradictory nonsense. But, as a
matter of fact, that uniform and lifeless desert of the popular fancy
exists only in those sister arts that George II.--good, practical
man--so heartily despised, 'boetry and bainting.' The desert of real
life, though less impressive, is far more varied. It has its ups and
downs, its hills and valleys. It has its sandy plains and its rocky
ridges. It has its lakes and ponds, and even its rivers. It has its
plants and animals, its oases and palm-groves. In short, like everything
else on earth, it's a good deal more complex than people imagine.

One may take Sahara as a very good example of the actual desert of
physical geography, in contradistinction to the level and lifeless
desert that stretches like the sea over illimitable spaces in verse or
canvas. And here, I fear, I am going to dispel another common and
cherished illusion. It is my fate to be an iconoclast, and perhaps long
practice has made me rather like the trade than otherwise. A popular
belief exists all over Europe that the late M. Roudaire--that De Lesseps
who never quite 'came off'--proposed to cut a canal from the
Mediterranean into the heart of Africa, which was intended, in the
stereotyped phrase of journalism, to 'flood Sahara,' and convert the
desert into an inland sea. He might almost as well have talked of
cutting a canal from Brighton to the Devil's Dyke and 'submerging
England,' as the devil wished to do in the old legend. As a matter of
fact, good, practical M. Roudaire, sound engineer that he was, never
even dreamt of anything so chimerical. What he did really propose was
something far milder and simpler in its way, but, as his scheme has
given rise to the absurd notion that Sahara as a whole lies below
sea-level, it may be worth while briefly to explain what it was he
really thought of doing.

Some sixty miles south of Biskra, the most fashionable resort in the
Algerian Sahara, there is a deep depression two hundred and fifty miles
long, partly occupied by three salt lakes of the kind so common over the
whole dried-up Saharan area. These three lakes, shrunken remnants of
much larger sheets, lie below the level of the Mediterranean, but they
are separated from it, and from one another, by upland ranges which rise
considerably above the sea line. What M. Roudaire proposed to do was to
cut canals through these three barriers, and flood the basins of the
salt lakes. The result would have been, not as is commonly said to
submerge Sahara, nor even to form anything worth seriously describing as
'an inland sea,' but to substitute three larger salt lakes for the
existing three smaller ones. The area so flooded, however, would bear to
the whole area of Sahara something like the same proportion that Windsor
Park bears to the entire surface of England. This is the true truth
about that stupendous undertaking, which is to create a new
Mediterranean in the midst of the Dark Continent, and to modify the
climate of Northern Europe to something like the condition of the
Glacial Epoch. A new Dead Sea would be much nearer the mark, and the
only way Northern Europe would feel the change, if it felt it at all,
would be in a slight fall in the price of dates in the wholesale market.

No, Sahara as a whole is _not_ below sea-level; it is _not_ the dry bed
of a recent ocean; and it is _not_ as flat as the proverbial pancake all
over. Part of it, indeed, is very mountainous, and all of it is more or
less varied in level. The Upper Sahara consists of a rocky plateau,
rising at times into considerable peaks; the Lower, to which it
descends by a steep slope, is 'a vast depression of clay and sand,' but
still for the most part standing high above sea-level. No portion of the
Upper Sahara is less than 1,300 feet high--a good deal higher than
Dartmoor or Derbyshire. Most of the Lower reaches from two to three
hundred feet--quite as elevated as Essex or Leicester. The few spots
below sea-level consist of the beds of ancient lakes, now much shrunk by
evaporation, owing to the present rainless condition of the country; the
soil around these is deep in gypsum, and the water itself is
considerably salter than the sea. That, however, is always the case with
fresh-water lakes in their last dotage, as American geologists have amply
proved in the case of the Great Salt Lake of Utah. Moving sand
undoubtedly covers a large space in both divisions of the desert, but
according to Sir Lambert Playfair, our best modern authority on the
subject, it occupies not more than one-third part of the entire Algerian
Sahara. Elsewhere rock, clay, and muddy lake are the prevailing
features, interspersed with not infrequent date-groves and villages, the
product of artesian wells, or excavated spaces, or river oases. Even
Sahara, in short, to give it its due, is not by any means so black as
it's painted.


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