To this ungrateful task—ungrateful, but in reality pleasurable, so strongly had he the vocation, the feeling, and the genius of the teacher— Fabre applied himself thenceforth with all his heart, and for nine years never lifted his hand.
How insipid, how forbidding were the usual classbooks, the second-rate natural histories above all, stuffed with dry statements, with raw knowledge, which brought nothing but the memory into play! How many youthful faces had grown pale above them!
What a contrast and a deliverance in these little books of Fabre's, so clear, so luminous, so simple, which for the first time spoke to the heart and the understanding; for "work which one does not understand disgusts one." (5/1.)
To initiate others into science or art, it is not enough to have understood them oneself; it is not enough even that one should be an artist or a scientist. Scientists of the highest flight are sometimes very unskilful teachers, and very indifferent hands at explaining the alphabet. It is not given to the first comer to educate the young; to understand how to identify his understanding with theirs, to measure their powers. It is a matter of instinct and good sense rather than of memory or erudition, and Fabre, who had never in his life been the pupil of any one, could better than any remember the phases through which his mind had passed, could recollect by what detours of the mind, by what secret labours of thought, by what intuitive methods he had succeeded in conquering, one by one, all the difficulties in his path, and in gradually attaining to knowledge.
It is wonderful to watch the mastery with which he conducts his demonstrations, the simplest as well as the most involved, singling out the essential, little by little evoking the sense of things, ingeniously seeking familiar examples, finding comparisons, and employing picturesque and striking images, which throw a dazzling light upon the obscurest question or the most difficult problem. How in such matters can one dispense with figurative speech, when one is reduced, as a rule, to an inability to show the things themselves, but only their images and their symbols?
Follow him, for example, in the "The Sky" (5/2.), which seems to thrill with the ardent and comprehensive genius of a Humboldt, and admire the ease with which he surmounts all the difficulties and smooths the way for the vast voyage on which he conducts you, past the infinity of the suns and the stars in their millions, scintillating in the cold air of night, to descend once more to our humble "Earth" (5/3.); first an ocean of fire, rolling its heavy waves of molten porphyry and granite, then "slowly hardening into strange floes and bergs, hotter than the red iron in the fire of the forge," rounding its back, all covered with gaping pustules, eruptive mountains and craters, and the first folds of its calcined crust, until the day when the vast mist of densest vapours, heaped up on every hand and of immeasurable depth, begins gradually to show rifts, giving rise at last to an infinite storm, a stupendous deluge, and forming the strange universal sea, "a mineral sludge, veiled by a chaos of smoke," whence at length the primitive soil emerges, "and at last the green grass."
And although "a little animal proteid, capable of pleasure and pain, surpasses in interest the whole immense creation of dead matter," he does not forget to show us the spectacle of life flowing through matter itself; and he animates even the simple elementary bodies, celebrating the marvellous activities of the air, the violence of Chlorine, the metamorphoses of Carbon, the miraculous bridals of Phosphorus, and "the splendours which accompany the birth of a drop of water." (5/4.)
A man must indeed love knowledge deeply before he can make others love it, or render it easy and attractive, revealing only the smiling highways; and Fabre, above all things the impassioned professor, was the very man to lead his disciples "between the hedges of hawthorn and sloe," whether to show them the sap, "that fruitful current, that flowing flesh, that vegetable blood," or how the plant, by a mysterious transubstantiation, makes its wood, "and the delicate bundle of swaddling-bands of its buds," or how "from a putrid ordure it extracts the flavour and the fragrance of its fruits"; or whether he seeks to evoke the murderous plants that live as parasites at the cost of others; the white Clandestinus, "which strangles the roots of the alders beside the rivers," the Cuscuta, "which knows nothing of labour," the wicked Orobanche, plump, powerful and brazen, the skin covered with ugly scales, "with sombre flowers that wear the livery of death, which leaps at the throat of the clover, stifling it, devouring it, sucking its blood." (5/5.)
Botany, by this genial treatment, becomes a most interesting study, and I know of no more captivating reading than "The Plant" and "The Story of the Log," the jewels of this incomparable series.
Employ Fabre's method if you wish to learn by yourself, or to evoke in your children a love of science, and, according to the phrase of the gentle Jean-Jacques, to help them "to buy at the best possible of prices." Give them as sole guides these exquisite manuals, which touch upon everything, initiating them into everything, and bringing within the reach of all, for their instruction or amusement, the heavens and the earth, the planets and their moons, the mechanism of the great natural forces and the laws which govern them, life and its materials, agriculture and its applications. For more than a quarter of a century these catechisms of science, models of lucidity and good sense, effected the education of generations of Frenchmen. Abridgments of all knowledge, veritable codes of rural wisdom, these perfect breviaries have never been surpassed.
It was after reading these little books, it is said, that Duruy conceived the idea of confiding to this admirable teacher the education of the Imperial heir; and it is very probable that this was, in reality, the secret motive which would explain why he had so expressly summoned Fabre to Paris. What an ideal tutor he had thought of, and how proud might others have been of such a choice! But the man was too zealous of his independence, too difficult to tame, to bear with the environment of a court, and God knows whether he was made for such refulgence! We need not be surprised that Fabre never heard of it; it must have sufficed the minister to speak with him for a few minutes to realize that the most tempting offers and all the powers of seduction would never overcome his insurmountable dislike of life in a capital, nor prevail against his inborn, passionate, exclusive love of the open.
For these volumes Fabre was at first rather wretchedly paid; at all events, until public education had definitely received a fresh impulse; and for a long time his life at Orange was literally a hand-to-mouth existence.
As soon as he was able to realize a few advances, he had nothing so much at heart as the repayment of Mill, and he hastened to call on the philosopher; all the more filled with gratitude for his generosity in that the loan, although of the comparatively large amount of three thousand francs, was made without security, practically from hand to hand, with no other warranty than his probity.
For this reason this episode was always engraven on his memory. Thirty years later he would relate the affair even to the most insignificant details. How many times has he not reminded me of the transaction, insisting that I should make a note of it, so anxious was he that this incident in his career should not be lost in oblivion! How often has he not recalled the infinite delicacy of Mill, and his excessive scrupulousness, which went so far that he wished to give a written acknowledgment of the repayment of the debt, of which there was no record whatever save in the conscience of the debtor!
Scarcely two years later Mill died suddenly at Avignon. Grief finally killed him; for this unexpected death seemed to have been only the ultimate climax of the secret malady which had so long been undermining him.
It was in the outskirts of Orange that Fabre for the last time met him and accompanied him upon a botanizing expedition. He was struck by his weakness and his rapid decline. Mill could hardly drag himself along, and when he stooped to gather a specimen he had the greatest difficulty in rising. They were never to meet again.
A few days later—on the 8th May, 1873—Fabre was invited to lunch with the philosopher. Before going to the little house by the cemetery he halted, as was his custom, at the Libraire Saint-Just. It was there that he learned, with amazement, of the tragic and sudden event which set a so unexpected term to a friendship which was doubtless a little remote, but which was, on both sides, a singularly lofty and beautiful attachment.
His class-books were now bringing in scarcely anything; their preparation, moreover, involved an excessive expenditure of time, and gave him a great deal of trouble; it is impossible to imagine what scrupulous care, what zeal and self-respect Fabre brought to the execution of the programme which he had to fulfil.
To begin with, he considered that he could not enjoy a more splendid opportunity to give children a taste for science and to stimulate their curiosity than by finding a means to interest them, from their earliest infancy, in their simple playthings, even the crudest and most inexpensive; so true is it that "in the smallest mechanical device or engine, even in its simplest form, as conceived by the industry of a child, there is often the germ of important truths, and, better than books, the school of the playroom, if gently disciplined, will open for the child the windows of the universe."
"The humble teetotum, made of a crust of rye-bread transfixed by a twig, silently spinning on the cover of a school-book, will give a correct enough image of the earth, which retains unmoved its original impulse, and travels along a great circle, at the same time turning on itself. Gummed on its disc, scraps of paper properly coloured will tell us of white light, decomposable into various coloured rays...
"There will be the pop-gun, with its ramrod and its two plugs of tow, the hinder one expelling the foremost by the elasticity of the compressed air. Thus we get a glimpse of the ballistics of gunpowder, and the pressure of steam in engines..."
The little hydraulic fountain made of an apricot stone, patiently hollowed and pierced with a hole at either side, into which two straws are fitted, one dipping into a cup of water and the other duly capped, "expelling a slender thread of water in which the sunlight flickers," will introduce us to the true syphon of physics.
"What amusing and useful lessons" a well-balanced scheme of education might extract from this "academy of childish ingenuity"! (5/6.)
At this time he was undertaking the education of his own children. His chemistry lessons especially had a great success. (5/7.) With apparatus of his own devising and of the simplest kind, he could perform a host of elementary experiments, the apparatus as a rule consisting of the most ordinary materials, such as a common flask or bottle, an old mustard-pot, a tumbler, a goose-quill or a pipe-stem.
A series of astonishing phenomena amazed their wondering eyes. He made them see, touch, taste, handle, and smell, and always "the hand assisted the word," always "the example accompanied the precept," for no one more fully valued the profound maxim, so neglected and misunderstood, that "to see is to know."
He exerted himself to arouse their curiosity, to provoke their questions, to discover their mistakes, to set their ideas in order; he accustomed them to rectify their errors themselves, and from all this he obtained excellent material for his books.
For those more especially intended for the education of girls he took counsel with his daughter Antonia, inviting her collaboration, begging her to suggest every aspect of the matter that occurred to her; for instance, in respect of the chemistry of the household, "where exact science should shed its light upon a host of facts relating to domestic economy" (5/8.), from the washing of clothes to the making of a stew.
Even now, to his despair, although freed from the cares of school life, he was always almost wholly without leisure to devote himself to his chosen subjects.
It was at this period above all that he felt so "lonely, abandoned, struggling against misfortune; and before one can philosophize one has to live." (5/9.)
And his incessant labour was aggravated by a bitter disappointment. In the year of Mill's death Fabre was dismissed from his post as conservator of the Requien Museum, which he had held in spite of his departure from Avignon, going thither regularly twice a week to acquit himself of his duties. The municipality, working in the dark, suddenly dismissed him without explanation. To Fabre this dismissal was infinitely bitter; "a sweeper-boy would have been treated with as much ceremony." (5/10.) What afflicted him most was not the undeserved slight of the dismissal, but his unspeakable regret at quitting those beloved vegetable collections, "amassed with such love" by Requien, who was his friend and master, and by Mill and himself; and the thought that he would henceforth perhaps be unable to save these precious but perishable things from oblivion, or terminate the botanical geography of Vaucluse, on which he had been thirty years at work!
For this reason, when there was some talk of establishing an agronomic station at Avignon, and of appointing him director, he was at first warmly in favour of the idea. (5/11.) Already he foresaw a host of fascinating experiments, of the highest practical value, conducted in the peace and leisure and security of a fixed appointment. It is indeed probable that in so vast a field he would have demonstrated many valuable truths, fruitful in practical results; he was certainly meant for such a task, and he would have performed it with genuine personal satisfaction. He had already exerted his ingenuity by trying to develop, among the children of the countryside, a taste for agriculture, which he rightly considered the logical complement of the primary school, and which is based upon all the sciences which he himself had studied, probed, taught, and popularized.
It will be remembered how patiently he devoted himself for twelve years to the study of madder, multiplying his researches, and applying himself not only to extracting the colouring principle, but also to indicating means whereby adulteration and fraud might be detected.
He had published memoirs of great importance dealing with entomology in its relations to agriculture. Impressed with the importance of this little world, he suggested valuable remedies, means of preservation; which were all the more logical in that the destruction of insects, if it is to be efficacious, must be based not upon a gross empiricism, but on a previous study of their social life and their habits.
With what patience he observed the terribly destructive weevils, and those formidable moths with downy wings, which fly without sound of a night, and whose depredations have often been valued at millions of francs! How meticulously he has recorded the conditions which favour or check the development of those parasitic fungi whose mortal blemishes are seen on buds and flowers, on the green shoots and clusters that promise a prosperous vintage!
But then he became anxious. Was it all worth the sacrifice of his liberty? "Would he not suffer a thousand annoyances from pretentious nobodies?" for as things were, all ideas of again "enregimenting" himself "filled him with horror." (5/12.)
Slowly, however, the first instalment of the work which he had spent nearly twenty-five years in planning, creating, and polishing, began to take shape. At the end of the year 1878 he was able to assemble a sufficient number of studies to form material for what was to be the first volume of his "Souvenirs entomologiques." (A selection of which forms "Social Life in the Insect World" (T. Fisher Unwin, 1912).)
Let us stop for a moment to consider this first book, whose publication constitutes a truly historical date, not only in the career of Fabre, but in the annals of universal science. It was at once the foundation and the keystone of the marvellous edifice which we shall watch unfolding and increasing, but to which the future was in reality to add nothing essential. The cardinal ideas as to instinct and evolution, the necessity of experimenting in the psychology of animals, and the harmonic laws of the conservation of the individual, are here already expounded in their final and definite form. This fruitful and decisive year brought Fabre a great grief. He lost his son Jules, that one of all his children whom he seems most ardently to have loved.
He was a youth of great promise, "all fire, all flame"; of a serious nature; an exquisite being, of a precocious intelligence, whose rare aptitudes both for science and literature were truly extraordinary. Such too was the subtlety of his senses that by handling no matter what plant, with his eyes closed, he could recognize and define it merely by the sense of touch. This delightful companion of his father's studies had scarcely passed his fifteenth year when death removed him. A terrible void was left in his heart, which was never filled. Thirty years later the least allusion to this child, however tactful, which recalled this dear memory to his mind, would still wring his heart, and his whole body would be shaken by his sobs. As always, work was his refuge and consolation; but this terrible blow shattered his health, until then so robust. In the midst of this disastrous winter he fell seriously ill. He was stricken with pneumonia, which all but carried him off, and every one gave him up for lost. However, he recovered, and issued from his convalescence as though regenerated, and with strength renewed he attacked the next stage of his labours.
But what are the most fruitful resolutions, and what poor playthings are we in the hands of the unexpected! A vulgar incident of every-day life had sufficed to make Fabre decide to break openly with the University, and to leave Avignon. The secret motive of his departure from Orange was scarcely more solid. His new landlord concluded one day, either from cupidity or stupidity, to lop most ferociously the two magnificent rows of plane-trees which formed a shady avenue before his house, in which the birds piped and warbled in the spring, and the cicadae chorused in the summer. Fabre could not endure this massacre, this barbarous mutilation, this crime against nature. Hungry for peace and quiet, the enjoyment of a dwelling-place could no longer content him; at all costs he must own his own home.
So, having won the modest ransom of his deliverance, he waited no longer, but quitted the cities for ever; retiring to Srignan, to the peaceful obscurity of a tiny hamlet, and this quiet corner of the earth had henceforth all his heart and soul in keeping.
CHAPTER 6. THE HERMITAGE.
Goethe has somewhere written: Whosoever would understand the poet and his work should visit the poet's country.
Let us, then, the latest of many, make the pilgrimage which all those who are fascinated by the enigma of nature will accomplish later, with the same piety that has led so many and so fervent admirers to the dwelling of Mistral at Maillane.
Starting from Orange and crossing the Aygues, a torrent whose muddy waters are lost in the Rhne, but whose bed is dried by the July and August suns, leaving only a desert of pebbles, where the Mason-bee builds her pretty turrets of rock-work, we come presently to the Srignaise country; an arid, stony tract, planted with vines and olives, coloured a rusty red, or touched here and there with almost a hue of blood; and here and there a grove of cypress makes a sombre blot. To the north runs a long black line of hills, covered with box and ilex and the giant heather of the south. Far in the distance, to the east, the immense plain is closed in by the wall of Saint-Amant and the ridge of the Dentelle, behind which the lofty Ventoux rears its rocky, cloven bosom abruptly to the clouds. At the end of a few miles of dusty road, swept by the powerful breath of the mistral, we suddenly reach a little village. It is a curious little community, with its central street adorned by a double row of plane-trees, its leaping fountains, and its almost Italian air. The houses are lime-washed, with flat roofs; and sometimes, at the side of some small or decrepit dwelling, we see the unexpected curves of a loggia. At a distance the facade of the church has the harmonious lines of a little antique temple; close at hand is the graceful campanile, an old octagonal tower surmounted by a narrow mitre wrought in hammered iron, in the midst of which are seen the black profiles of the bells.
I shall never forget my first visit. It was in the month of August; and the whole countryside was ringing with the song of the cicadae. I had applied to a job-master of Orange, counting on him to take me thither; but he had never driven any one to Srignan, had hardly heard of Fabre, and did not know where his house was. At length, however, we contrived to find it. At the entrance of the little market-town, in a solitary corner, in the centre of an enclosure of lofty walls, which were taller than the crests of the pines and cypresses, his dwelling was hidden away. No sound proceeded from it; but for the baying of the faithful Tom I do not think I should have dared to knock on the great door, which turned slowly on its hinges. A pink house with green shutters, half-hidden amid the sombre foliage, appears at the end of an alley of lilacs, "which sway in the spring under the weight of their balmy thyrsi." Before the house are the shady plane-trees, where during the burning hours of August the cicada of the flowering ash, the deafening cacan, concealed beneath the leaves, fills the hot atmosphere with its eager cries, the only sound that disturbs the profound silence of this solitude.
Before us, beyond a little wall of a height to lean upon, on an isolated lawn, beneath the shade of great trees with interwoven boughs, a circular basin displays its still surface, across which the skating Hydrometra traces its wide circles. Then, suddenly, we see an opening into the most extraordinary and unexpected of gardens; a wild park, full of strenuous vegetation, which hides the pebbly soil in all directions; a chaos of plants and bushes, created throughout especially to attract the insects of the neighbourhood.
Thickets of wild laurel and dense clumps of lavender encroach upon the paths, alternating with great bushes of coronilla, which bar the flight of the butterfly with their yellow-winged flowers, and whose searching fragrance embalms all the air about them.
It is as though the neighbouring mountain had one day departed, leaving here its thistles, its dogberry-trees, its brooms, its rushes, its juniper- bushes, its laburnums, and its spurges. There too grows the "strawberry tree," whose red fruits wear so familiar an appearance; and tall pines, the giants of this "pigmy forest." There the Japanese privet ripens its black berries, mingled with the Paulownia and the Cratoegus with their tender green foliage. Coltsfoot mingles with violets; clumps of sage and thyme mix their fragrance with the scent of rosemary and a host of balsamic plants. Amid the cacti, their fleshy leaves bristling with prickles, the periwinkle opens its scattered blossoms, while in a corner the serpent arum raises its cornucopia, in which those insects that love putrescence fall engulfed, deceived by the horrible savour of its exhalations.
It is in the spring above all that one should see this torrent of verdure, when the whole enclosure awakens in its festival attire, decked with all the flowers of May, and the warm air, full of the hum of insects, is perfumed with a thousand intoxicating scents. It is in the spring that one should see the "Harmas," the open-air observatory, "the laboratory of living entomology" (6/1.); a name and a spot which Fabre has made famous throughout the world.
I enter the dining-room, whose wide, half-closed shutters allow only a half-light to enter between the printed curtains. Rush-bottomed chairs, a great table, about which seven persons daily take their places, a few poor pieces of furniture, and a simple bookcase; such are all the contents. On the mantel, a clock in black marble, a precious souvenir, the only present which Fabre received at the time of his exodus from Avignon; it was given by his old pupils, the young girls who used to attend the free lectures at Saint-Martial's.
There, every afternoon, half lying on a little sofa, the naturalist has the habit of taking a short siesta. This light repose, even without sleep, was of old enough to restore his energies, exhausted by hours of labour. Thenceforth he was once more alert, and ready for the remainder of the day.
But already he is on his feet, bareheaded, in his waistcoat, his silk necktie carelessly fastened under the soft turned-down collar of his half- open shirt, his gesture, in the shadowy chamber, full of welcome.
Franois Sicard, in his faultless medal and his admirable bust, has succeeded with rare felicity in reproducing for posterity this rugged, shaven face, full of laborious years; a peasant face, stamped with originality, under the wide felt hat of Provence; touched with geniality and benevolence, yet reflecting a world of energy. Sicard has fixed for ever this strange mask; the thin cheeks, ploughed into deep furrows, the strained nose, the pendent wrinkles of the throat, the thin, shrivelled lips, with an indescribable fold of bitterness at the corners of the mouth. The hair, tossed back, falls in fine curls over the ears, revealing a high, rounded forehead, obstinate and full of thought. But what chisel, what graver could reproduce the surprising shrewdness of that gaze, eclipsed from time to time by a convulsive tremor of the eyelids! What Holbein, what Chardin could render the almost extraordinary brilliance of those black eyes, those dilated pupils: the eyes of a prophet, a seer; singularly wide and deeply set, as though gazing always upon the mystery of things, as though made expressly to scrutinize Nature and decipher her enigmas? Above the orbits, two short, bristling eyebrows seem set there to guide the vision; one, by dint of knitting itself above the magnifying-glass, has retained an indelible fold of continual attention; the other, on the contrary, always updrawn, has the look of defying the interlocutor, of foreseeing his objections, of waiting with an ever-ready return-thrust. Such is this striking physiognomy, which one who has seen it cannot forget.
There, in this "hermit's retreat," as he himself has defined it, the sage is voluntarily sequestered; a true saint of science, an ascetic living only on fruits, vegetables, and a little wine; so in love with retirement that even in the village he was for a long time almost unknown, so careful was he to go round instead of through it on his way to the neighbouring mountain, where he would often spend whole days alone with wild nature.
It is in this silent Thebad, so far from the atmosphere of cities, the vain agitations and storms of the world, that his life has been passed, in unchanging uniformity; and here he has been able to pursue, with resolute labour and incredible patience, that prodigious series of marvellous observations which for nearly fifty years he has never ceased to accumulate.
Let us indeed remember how much time has been required and what effort has been expended to complete the long and patient inquiries which he had hitherto accomplished; obliged, as he was, to allow himself to be interrupted at any moment, and to postpone his observations often at the most interesting moment, in order to undertake some enervating labour, or the disagreeable and mechanical duties of his profession. Remember that his first labours already dated from twenty-five years earlier, and at the moment when we observe him in his solitude at Srignan he had only just painfully gathered together the material for his first book. What a contrast to the thirty fruitful years that were to follow! Now nearly ten volumes, no less overflowing with the richest material, were to succeed one another at almost regular intervals—about one in every three years.
To be sure, he would have gathered his harvest in no matter what corner of the world, provided he had found within his reach, in whatever sphere of life he had been placed, any subject of inquiry whatever; such was Rousseau, botanizing over the bunch of chickweed provided for his canary; such was Bernardin Saint-Pierre, discovering a world in a strawberry-plant which had sprouted by chance at the corner of his window. (6/2.) But the field in which he had hitherto been able to glean was indeed barren. That he was able, later on, to narrate the wonderful history of the Pelopaeus, whose habits he had observed at Avignon, was due to the fact that this curious insect had come to lodge with him, having chosen Fabre's chamber for its dwelling. None the less he threw himself eagerly upon all such scraps of information as happened to come under his notice; witness the observations which he embodied in a memoir touching the phosphorescence of certain earth-worms which, abounding in a little courtyard near his dwelling, were so rare elsewhere that he was never again able to find them. (6/3.) It was therefore fortunate, if not for himself, at least for his genius, that he did not become, as he had wished, a professor in a faculty; there, to be sure, he would have found a theatre worthy of his efforts, in which he might even have demonstrated, in all its magnificence, his incomparable gift of teaching; but it is probable too that he would have been stranded in shoal waters; that in the official atmosphere of a city his still more marvellous gifts of observation would scarcely have found employment.
It was only by belonging fully to himself that he could fruitfully exercise his talents. Necessary to every scholar, to every inquirer, to an open-air observer like Fabre liberty and leisure were more than usually essential; failing these he might never have accomplished his mission. How many lives are wasted, how many minds expended in sheer loss, in default of this sufficiency of leisure! How many scholars tied to the soil, how many physicians absorbed by an exigent practice, who perhaps had somewhat to say, have succeeded only in devising plans, for ever postponing their realization to some miraculous tomorrow, which always recedes!
But we must not fall into illusions. How many might be tempted to imitate him, hoping to see some unknown talent awaken or expand within them, only to find themselves incapable of producing anything, and to consume themselves in an insurmountable and barren ennui! One must be rich in one's own nature, rich in will and in ability, to live apart and seek new paths in solitude, and it is not without reason that the majority prefer the turmoil of cities and the murmur of men to the silence of the country.
The atmosphere of a great capital, for instance, is singularly conducive to work. Living constantly within the circle of light shed by the masters, within reach of the laboratories and the great libraries, we are less likely to go astray; we are stimulated by the contact of others; we profit by their advice and experience; and it is easy to borrow ideas if we lack them. Then there is the stimulant of self-respect, the sense of rivalry, the eager desire to advance, to distinguish oneself, to shine, to attract attention, to become in one's turn an arbiter, an object of wonder and envy, without which stimulus many would merely have existed, and would never have become what they are.
On the other hand, a man needs an intrinsic radio-activity, and a real talent; and the aid, moreover, of exceptional circumstances, if fame is to consent to come to him and take him by the hand in the depths of some unknown Maillane, some obscure Srignan; even, as in the case of Fabre, at the end only of a long life.
But he, by a kind of fatality inherent in his nature, loved "to circumscribe himself," according to the happy expression of Rousseau; and he profited, rather than otherwise, by living entirely to himself; for he had long been, indeed he always was, the man who, at twenty-five, writing to his brother, had said, in speaking of his native countryside:
"For a impassioned botanist, it is a delightful country, in which I could pass a month, two months, three months, a year even, alone, quite alone, with no other companion than the crows and the jays which gossip among the oak-trees; without being weary for a moment; there would be so many beautiful fungi, orange, rosy, and white, among the mosses, and so many flowers in the fields." (6/4.)
His work having brought him at last just enough to enable him to give himself the pleasure of becoming, in his turn, a proprietor, he had acquired, for a modest sum, this dilapidated dwelling and this deserted spot of ground; barren land, given over to couch-grass, thistles, and brambles; a sort of "accursed spot, to which no one would have confided even a pinch of turnip-seed." A piece of water in front of the house attracted all the frogs in the neighbourhood; the screech-owl mewed from the tops of the plane-trees, and numerous birds, no longer disturbed by the presence of man, had domiciled themselves in the lilacs and the cypresses. A host of insects had seized upon the dwelling, which had long been deserted.
He restored the house, and to some extent reduced confusion to order. In the uncultivated and pebbly plain where the plough had been long a stranger he established plants of a thousand varieties, and, the better to hide himself, he had walls built to shut himself in.
Why was he drawn by preference to this village of Srignan?—for he did not go thither without making some inquiries as to the possibility of obtaining shelter elsewhere, and the Carpentras cemetery had tempted him also; but what had particularly seduced and drawn him thither was the nearness of the mountain with its Mediterranean flora, so rich that it recalled the Corsican maquis; full of beautiful fungi and varied insects, where, under the flat stones exposed to the burning sun, the centipede burrowed and the scorpion slept; where a special fauna abounded—of curious dung-beetles, scarabaei, the Copris, the Minotaur, etc.—which only a little farther north grow rapidly scarcer and then altogether disappear.
He had thus at last arrived in port; he had found his "Eden."
He had realized, "after forty years of desperate struggles," the dearest, the most ardent, the longest cherished of all his desires. He could observe at leisure "every day, every hour," his beloved insects; "under the blue sky, to the music of the cigales." He had only to open his eyes and to see; to lend an ear and hear; to enjoy the great blessing of leisure to his heart's content.
Doffing the professor's frock-coat for the peasant's blouse, planting a root of sweet basil in his "topper," and finally kicking it to pieces, he snapped his fingers at his past life.
Liberated at last, far from all that could irritate or disturb him or make him feel dependent, satisfied with his modest earnings, reassured by the ever-increasing popularity of his little books, he had obtained entire possession of his own body and mind, and could give himself without reserve to his favourite subjects.
So, with Nature and her inexhaustible book before him, he truly commenced a new life.
But would this life have been possible without the support and comfort of those intimate feelings which are at the root of human nature? Man is seldom the master of these feelings, and they, with reason or despite reason, force themselves on his notice as the question of questions.
This delicate problem Fabre had to resolve after suffering a fresh grief. Hardly had he commenced to enjoy the benefits of this profound peace, when he lost his wife. At this moment his children were already grown up; some were married and some ready to leave him; and he could not hope much longer to keep his old father, the ex-caf-keeper of Pierrelatte, who had come to rejoin him; and who might be seen, even in his extreme old age, going forth in all weathers and dragging his aged limbs along all the roads of Srignan. (6/5.) The son, moreover, had inherited from his father his profound inaptitude for the practical business of life, and was equally incapable of managing his interests and the economics of the house. This is why, after two years of widowerhood, having already passed his sixtieth year, although still physically quite youthful, he remarried. Careless of opinion, obeying only the dictates of his own heart and mind, and following also the intuitions of unerring instinct, which was superior to the understanding of those who thought it their duty to oppose him, he married, as Boaz married Ruth, a young woman, industrious, full of freshness and life, already completely devoted to his service, and admirably fitted to satisfy that craving for order, peace, quiet, and moral tranquillity, which to him were above all things indispensable.
His new companion, moreover, was in all things faithful to her mission, and it was thanks to the benefits of this union, as the future was to show, that Fabre was in a position to pursue his long-delayed inquiries.
Three children, a son and two daughters, were born in swift succession, and reconstituted "the family," which was very soon increased by the youngest of his daughters by his first wife, who had not married; this was that Agla, who so often helped her father with her childlike attentions, and, "her cheek blooming with animation," collaborated in some of his most famous observations (6/6.); an unobtrusive figure, a soul full of devotion and resignation, heroic and tender. Having in vain ventured into the world, she had returned to the beloved roof at Srignan, unable to part from the father she so admired and adored.
Later, when the shadow of age grew denser and heavier, the young wife and the younger children of the famous poet-entomologist took part in his labours also; they gave him their material assistance, their hands, their eyes, their hearing, their feet; he in the midst of them was the conceiving, reasoning, interpreting, and directing brain.
>From this time forward the biography of Fabre becomes simplified, and remains a statement of his inner life. For thirty years he never emerged from his horizon of mountains and his garden of shingle; he lived wholly absorbed in domestic affections and the tasks of a naturalist. None the less, he still exercised his vocation as teacher, for neither pure science nor poetry was sufficient to nourish his mind, and he was still Professor Fabre, untiringly pursuing his programme of education, although no longer applying himself thereto exclusively.
This long active period was also the most silent period of his life, although not an hour, not a minute of his many days was left unoccupied.
In the first few months at his new home he resumed his hymn to labour.
"You will learn in your turn," he writes to his son mile, "you will learn, I hope, that we are never so happy as when work does not leave us a moment's repose. To act is to live." (6/7.)
The better to belong to himself, he eluded all invitations, even those from his nearest or most intimate friends; he hated to go away even for a few hours, preferring to enjoy in his own house their presence amidst his habitual and delightful surroundings. Everything in this still unexplored country was new to him. What would he do elsewhere, even in his beloved Carpentras, whither his faithful friend and pupil Devillario, who had formerly followed him in his walks around Avignon, would endeavour from time to time to draw him? Devillario was a magistrate, a collector and palaeontologist; his simple tastes, his wide culture, and his passion for natural history would surely have decided Fabre to accept his invitations, but that he forbade himself the pleasure. "I am afraid the hospitable cutlet that awaits me at your table will have time to grow cold; I am up to the neck in my work (6/8.)...But you, when you can, escape from your courts, and we will philosophize at random, as is our custom when we can manage to pass a few hours together. As for me, it is very doubtful whether the temptation will seize me to come to Carpentras. A hermit of the Thebad was no more diligent in his cell than I in my village home." (6/9.)
CHAPTER 7. THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE.
Was there not indeed a sufficiency of captivating matters all about him, and beneath his very feet?
In his deep, sunny garden a thousand insects fly, creep, crawl, and hum, and each relates its history to him. A golden gardener-beetle trots along the path. Rose-beetles pass, in snoring flight, on every hand, the gold and emerald of their elytra gleaming; now and again one of them alights for a moment on the flowering head of a thistle; he seizes it carefully with the tips of his nervous, pointed fingers, seems to caress it, speaks to it, and then suddenly restores it to freedom.
Wasps are pillaging the centauries. On the blossoms of the camomile the larvae of the Melo are waiting for the Anthophorae to carry them off to their cells, while around them roam the Cicindelae, their green bodies "spotted with points of amaranth." At the bottom of the walls "the chilly Psyche creeps slowly along under her cloak of tiny twigs." In the dead bough of a lilac-tree the dark-hued Xylocopa, the wood-boring bee, is busy tunnelling her gallery. In the shade of the rushes the Praying Mantis, rustling the floating robe of her long tender green wings, "gazes alertly, on the watch, her arms folded on her breast, her appearance that of one praying," and paralyses the great grey locust, nailed to its place by fear.
Nothing here is insignificant; what the world would smile at or deride will provide the sage with food for thought and reflection. "Nothing is trivial in the majestic problem of nature; our laboratory acquaria are of less value than the imprint which the shoe of a mule has left in the clay, when the rain has filled the primitive basin, and life has peopled it with marvels"; and the least fact offered us by chance on the most thoroughly beaten track may possibly open prospects as vast as all the starry sky.
Tell yourself that everything in nature is a symbol of something like a specimen of an abstruse cryptogram, all the characters of which conceal some meaning. But when we have succeeded in deciphering these living texts, and have grasped the allusion; when, beside the symbol, we have succeeded in finding the commentary, then the most desolate corner of the earth appears to the solitary seeker as a gallery full of the masterpieces of an unsuspected art. Fabre puts into our hands the golden key which opens the doors of this marvellous museum.
Let us consider the terebinth louse; it is just a little yellow mite; but is it nothing else? Its genealogical history teaches us "by what amazing essays of passion and variety the universal law which rules the transmission of life is evolved. Here is neither father nor eggs; all these mites are mothers; and the young are born living, just like their mothers." To this end "almost the whole of the maternal substance is disintegrated and renewed and conglobated to form the ovarium...the whole creature has become an egg, which has, for its shell, the dry skin of the tiny creature, and the microscope will show a whole world in formation...a nebulosity as of white of egg, in which fresh centres of life are forming, as the suns are condensed in the nebulae of the heavens." (7/1.)
What is this fleck of foam, like a drop of saliva, which we see in springtime on the weeds of the meadows; among others on the spurge, when its stems begin to shoot, and its sombre flowers open in the sunlight? "It is the work of an insect. It is the shelter in which the Cicadellina deposits her eggs. What a miraculous chemist! Her stiletto excels the finest craft of the botanical anatomist" by its sovereign art of separating the acrid poison which flows with the sap in the veins of the most venomous plants, and extracting therefrom only an inoffensive fluid. (7/2.)
At every step the insects set us problems equally varied. The other creatures are nearer to us; they resemble us in many respects. But insects, almost the first-born of creation, form a world apart, and contain, in their tiny bodies, as Raumur has admirably said, "more parts than the most gigantic animals." They have senses and faculties of their own, which enable them to accomplish actions, which are doubtless very simply related in reality, but which seem, to our minds, as extraordinary as the habits of the inhabitants of Mars might, if by chance they were to descend in our midst. We do not know how they hear, nor how they see through their compound eyes, and our ignorance concerning the majority of their senses still further increases the difficulty, which so often arrests us, of interpreting their actions.
The tubercled Cerceris "finds by the hundred" and almost immediately a species of weevil, the Cleona ophthalmica, on which it feeds its larvae, and which the human eye, though it searches for hours, can scarcely find anywhere. The eyes of the Cerceris are like magnifying glasses, veritable microscopes, which immediately distinguish, in the vast field of nature, an object that human vision is powerless to discover. (7/3.)
How does the Ammophila, hovering over the turf and investigating it far and wide, in its search for a grey grub, contrive to discern the precise point in the depth of the subsoil where the larva is slumbering in immobility? "Neither touch nor sight can come into play, for the grub is sealed up in its burrow at a depth of several inches; nor the scent, since it is absolutely inodorous; nor the hearing, since its immobility is absolute during the daytime." (7/4.)
The Processional caterpillar of the pine-trees, "endowed with an exquisite hygrometric sensibility," is a barometer more infallible than that of the physicists. "It foresees the tempests preparing afar, at enormous distances, almost in the other hemisphere," and announces them several days before the least sign of them appears on the horizon. (7/5.)
A wild bee, the Chalicodoma, and a wasp, the Cerceris, carried in the dark far from their familiar pastures, to a distance of several miles, and released in spots which they have never seen, cross vast and unknown spaces with absolute certainty, and regain their nests; even after long absence, and in spite of contrary winds and the most unexpected obstacles. It is not memory that guides them, but a special faculty whose astonishing results we must admit without attempting to explain them, so far removed are they from our own psychology. (7/6.) But here is another example:
The Greater Peacock moths cross hills and valleys in the darkness, with a heavy flight of wings spotted with inexplicable hieroglyphics. They hasten from the remotest depths of the horizon to find their "sleeping beauties," drawn thereto by unknown odours, inappreciable by our senses, yet so penetrating that the branch of almond on which the female has perched, and which she has impregnated with her effluvium, exerts the same extraordinary attraction. (7/7.)
Considering these creatures, we end by discovering more things than are contained in all the philosophies...if we know how to look for them.
Among so many unimaginable phenomena, which bewilder us, "because there is nothing analogous in us," we succeed in perceiving, here and there, a few glimpses of day, which suddenly throw a singular light upon this black labyrinth, in which the least secret we can surprise "enters perhaps more directly into the profound enigma of our ends and our origins than the secret of the most urgent and most closely studied of our passions." (7/8.)
Fabre explains by hypnosis one of those curious facts which have hitherto been so poorly interpreted. When surprised by abnormal conditions, we see insects suddenly fall over, drop to the ground, and lie as though struck by lightning, gathering their limbs under their bodies. A shock, an unexpected odour, a loud noise, plunges them instantly into a sort of lethargy, more or less prolonged. The insect "feigns death," not because it simulates death, but in reality because this MAGNETIC condition resembles that of death. (7/9.) Now the Odynerus, the Anthidium, the Eucera, the Ammophila, and all the hymenoptera which Fabre has observed sleeping at the fall of night, "suspended in space solely by the strength of their mandibles, their bodies tense, their limbs retracted, without exhaustion or collapse"; and the larva of the Empusa, "which for some ten months hangs to a twig by its limbs, head downwards": do not these present a surprising analogy with those hypnotized persons who possess the faculty of remaining fixed in the most painful poses, and of supporting the most unusual attitudes, for an extremely long time; for instance, with one arm extended, or one foot raised from the ground, without appearing to experience the least fatigue, and with a persevering and unfaltering energy? (7/10.)
That the ex-schoolmaster was able to penetrate so far into this new world, and that he has been able to interest us in so many fascinating problems, was due to the fact that he had also "taken a wide bird's-eye view through all the windows of creation." His universal capabilities, his immense culture and almost encyclopaedic science have enabled him to utilize, thanks to his studies, all the knowledge allied to his subject. He is not one of those who understand only their speciality and who, knowing nothing outside their own province and their particular labours, refuse to grasp at anything beyond the narrow limits within which they stand installed.
All plants are to him so familiar that the flowers, for him, assume the airs of living persons. But without a profound knowledge of botany, who would hope to grasp the profound, perpetual, and intimate relations of the plant and the insect?
He has turned over strata and interrogated the schistous deposits, whose archives preserve the forms of vanished organizations, but "keep silence as to the origin of the instincts." Bending over his reagents, he has sought to discover, according to the phrase of a philosopher, those secret retreats in which Nature is seated before her furnaces, in the depths of her laboratory; following up the metamorphoses of matter even to the wings of the Scarabaei, and observing how life, returning to her crucible the debris and ashes of the organism, combines the elements anew, and from the elements of the urine can derive, for example, by a simple displacement of molecules, "all this dazzling magic of colours of innumerable shades: the amethystine violet of Geotrupes, the emerald of the rose-beetle, the gilded green of the Cantharides, the metallic lustre of the gardener-beetles, and all the pomp of the Buprestes and the dung-beetles." (7/11.)
His books are steeped in all the ideas of modern physics. The highest mathematical knowledge has been referred to with profit in his marvellous description of the hunting-net of the Epera. Whose "terribly scientific" combinations realize "the spiral logarithm of the geometers, so curious in its properties" (7/12.); a splendid observation, in which Fabre makes us admire, in the humble web of a spider, a masterpiece as astonishing and incomprehensible as and even more sublime than the honeycomb.
This explains why Fabre has always energetically denied that he is properly speaking an entomologist; and indeed the term appears often wrongly to describe him. He loves, on the contrary, to call himself a naturalist; that is, a biologist; biology being, by definition, the study of living creatures considered as a whole and from every point of view. And as nothing in life is isolated, as all things hold together, and as each part, in all its relations, presents itself to the gaze of the observer under innumerable aspects, one cannot be a true naturalist without being at the same time a philosopher.
But it is not enough to know and to observe.
To be admitted to the spectacle of these tiny creatures, to become familiar with their habits, to grasp the mysterious threads which connect them one with another and with the vast universe: for this the cold and deliberate vision of the specialist would often be insufficient. There is an art of observation, and the gift of observation is a true function of that constantly alert intelligence, continually dominated by the need of delving untiringly down to the ultimate truth accessible, "allowing ourselves to pass over nothing without seeking its reason, and habitually following up every response with another question, until we come to the granite wall of the Unknowable." Above all we need an ardent and interested sympathy, for "we penetrate farther into the secret of things by the heart than by the reason," as Toussenel has said; and "it is only by intuition that we can know what life truly is," adds Bergson profoundly. (7/13.) Now Fabre loves these little peoples and knows how to make us love them. How tenderly he speaks of them; with what solicitude he observes them; with what love he follows the progress of their nurslings; the young grubs wriggling in his test-tubes, with doddering heads, are happy; and he himself is happy to see them "well-fed and shining with health." He pities the bee stabbed by the Philanthus "in the holy joys of labour." He sympathizes with the sufferings of these little creatures and their hard labours. If, in his search for ideas, he has to overturn their dwellings, "he repents of subjecting maternal love to such tribulations," and if he is constrained to put them to the question, to torment them in order to extract their secrets, he is grieved to have provoked "such miseries!" (7/14.) Having provided for their needs, and satisfied with the secrets which they have revealed to him, it is not without regret and difficulty that he parts from them and restores them "to the delights of liberty."
He is thoroughly convinced, moreover, that all the creatures that share the face of the earth with us are accomplishing an august and appointed task. He welcomes the swallows to his dwelling, even surrendering his workroom to them, at the risk of jeopardizing his notes and books. He pleads for the frog, and applies himself to setting forth his unknown qualities; he rehabilitates the bat, the hedgehog, and the screech-owl, persecuted, defamed, crushed, stoned, and crucified! (7/15.)
So intimate is the life which he leads among them all that he makes himself truly their companion, and relates his own history in narrating theirs; pleased to discover in their joys and sorrows his own trials and delights; mingling in their annals his memories and his impressions; delightful fragments of a childlike autobiography, encrusted in his learned work; moving and delightful pages in which all the ingenuity of this noble mind reveals itself with a touching sincerity, in which all the freshness of this charming and so profoundly unworldly nature is seen as through a pure crystal.
There is no real communion with nature without sentiment, without an illuminating passion: often the sole and effectual grace which enables its true meaning to appear. Neither taste, nor intelligence, nor logic, nor all the science of the schools can suffice alone. To see further there is needed something like a gift of correspondence, surpassing the limits of observation and experience, which enables us to foresee and to divine the profound secrets of life which lie beneath appearances. Those who are so gifted have often only to open their eyes in order to grasp matters in their true light.
A great observer is in reality a poet who imagines and creates. The microscope, the magnifying glass, the scalpel, are as it were the strings of a lyre. "The felicitous and fruitful hypothesis which constitutes scientific invention is a gift of sentiment" in the words of Claude Bernard; and of this king of physiology, who commenced by proving himself in works of pure imagination, and whose genius finally took for its theme the manifold variations of living flesh, of him too may we not say that he has explored the labyrinths of life with "the torch of poetry in his hand"?
Similarly, do not the harmonious sequences which run through all the admirable discoveries of Pasteur give us the sensation of a veritable and gigantic poem?
In Fabre also it seems that the passion which he brings to all his patient observations is in itself truly creative: "his heart beats with emotion, the sweat drips from his brow to the soil, making mortar of the dust"; he forgets food and drink, and "thus passes hours of oblivion in the happiness of learning." I have seen him in his laboratory studying the spawning of the bluebottle, when I, at his side, could scarcely support the horrible stench which rose from the putrefying adders and lumps of meat; he, however, was oblivious of the frightful odour, and his face was inundated with smiles of delight.
Intelligence, then, must here be the servant of feeling and intuition; a kind of primitive faculty, mysterious and instinctive, which alone makes a great naturalist like Fabre, a great historian like Michelet, a great physician like Boherhaave or Bretonneau.
These last are not always the most scholarly nor the most learned nor the most patient, but they are those who possess in a high degree that special vision, that gift, properly speaking poetic, which is known as the clinical eye, which at the first glance perceives and confirms the diagnosis in all its detail.
Fabre has a mind propitious to such processes; and if, by chance, circumstances had directed his attention to medicine, that science which is based upon an abundant provision of facts, but in which good sense and a kind of divination play a still wider part, there is no doubt that he would have been capable of becoming a shining light in this new arena.
He was full of admiration for that other illustrious Vauclusian, Franois Raspail (7/16.), whose medical genius anticipated Pasteur and all the conceptions of modern medicine. It would seem that he found in him his own temper, his own fashion of seeing and representing things. He loved Raspail's books and his prescriptions, full of reason and a most judicious good sense, distrusting for himself and for his family the complicated formulae and cunning remedies of an art too considered and still unproved. At Carpentras, while his first-born, mile, was hovering between life and death, and the physician who came to see him, "being at the end of his resources," did nothing more for him and soon ceased to come, thinking that the child would not last till the morrow, Fabre flew to the works of Raspail.
"I searched to discover what his malady was. I found it, and he was treated day and night accordingly. To-day he is convalescent; and his appetite has returned. I believe he is saved, and I shall say, like Ambroise Par, 'I have nursed him; God has cured him.'" (7/17.)
The episode which he relates, when, at the primary school of Avignon, a retort had just burst, "spurting in all directions its contents of vitriol," right in the midst of the suddenly interrupted chemistry lesson, and when, thanks to his prompt action, he saved the sight of one of his comrades, does honour to his initiative and presence of mind. (7/18.)
While "all physicians should bow before the facts which he excels in discovering" (7/19.), he has also been able to make direct application of the marvels of entomology to some of the problems of hygiene and medicine. He has shown that the irritant poison secreted by certain caterpillars, "which sets the fingers which handle them on fire," is nothing but a waste product of the organism, a derivative of uric acid; he does not hesitate to perform painful experiments on himself in order to furnish the proof of his theory; and he explains thus the curious cases of dermatitis which are often observed among silkworm-breeders. (7/20.) He proves the uselessness of our meat-safes of metallic gauze, intended to preserve meat against contamination, and the efficacy of a mere envelope of paper, not only to preserve meat from flies, but also our garments from the clothes-moth. (7/21.) He recommends the curious Provenal recipe, which consists in boiling suspected mushrooms in salt and water before eating them. Finally he suggests to members of the medical profession that they might perhaps extract heroic remedies from these treacherous vegetables. (7/22.)
He had need of that indefinite leisure which had hitherto been so wholly lacking, for the events of ephemeral lives occur at indeterminate hours, at unexpected moments, and are of brief duration.
So, attentive to their least movements, Fabre goes forth to observe them at the earliest break of day, in the red dawn, when the bee "pops her head out of her attic window to see what the weather is," and the spiders of the thickets lie in wait under the whorls of their nets, "which the tears of night have changed into chaplets of dewdrops, whose magic jewellery, sparkling in the sun," is already attracting moths and midges.
Seated for hours before a sprig of terebinth, his eye, armed with the magnifying glass, follows the slow manoeuvres of the terebinth louse, whose proboscis "cunningly distils the venom which causes the leaf to swell and produces those enormous tumours, those misshapen and monstrous galls, in which the young pass their period of slumber."
He watches at night, by the dim light of a lantern, to copy the Scolopendra at her task, seeking to surprise the secret of her eggs (7/23.); to observe the Cione constructing her capsule of goldbeater's skin, or the Processional caterpillars travelling head to tail along their satin trail, extinguishing his candle only when sleep at last sets his eyelids blinking. He will wake early to witness the fairy-like resurrection of the silkworm moth (7/24.); "in order not to lose the moment when the nymph bursts her swaddling-bands," or when the wing of the locust issues from its sheath and "commences to sprout"; no spectacle in the world is more wonderful than the sight of "this extraordinary anatomy in process of formation," the unrolling of these "bundles of tissue, cunningly folded and reduced to the smallest possible compass" in the insignificant alar stumps, which gradually unfold "like an immense set of sails," like the "body-linen of the princess" of the fairy-tale, which was contained in one single hemp- seed. (7/25.)
In his Harmas he is like a stranger discovering an unknown world; "like a kindly giant from Sirius, holding a magnifying glass to his eye, retaining his breath, lest it should overturn and sweep away the pigmies which he is observing."
His passion for interrogating the Sphinx of life, everywhere and at all moments, sufficed to fill his days from one end of the year to the other. When some distant subject interested him, even on the most scorching days, he would put "his lunch in his pocket, an apple and a crust of bread," and sit out in the hot sunlight, accompanied by his dog, Vasco, Tom, or Rabbit; fearing only that some importunate third person might come between nature and himself.
When he walked in his garden he would let nothing escape him; witness those precise notes of an eclipse of the sun, and of the effects which that phenomenon produces upon animal life as a whole.
While his children followed the progress of the moon across the sun through a pane of smoked glass, he attentively observed all that occurred in the countryside.
"It is four; the day grows pale; the temperature is fresher; the cocks crow, surprised by this kind of twilight which comes before the hour. A few dogs are baying...The swallows, numerous before, have all disappeared...a couple have taken refuge in my study, one window of which is open...when the normal light returns they will come outdoors once more...The nightingale, which had so long importuned me by his interminable song, is silent at last (7/26.); the black-capped skylarks, which were warbling continually, are suddenly still...only the young house-sparrows under the tiles of the roof are mournfully chirping...Peace and silence, the daylight more than half gone...In the Harmas I can no longer see the insects flying; I find only one bee pillaging the rosemary; all life has disappeared.
"Only a weevil, the Lixus," which he is observing in a cage, "continues, step by step, without the slightest emotion, his amorous by-play, as though nothing unusual were happening...The nightingale and the skylark may be silent, oppressed by fear; the bee may re-enter her hive; but is a weevil to be upset because the sun threatens to go out?" (7/27.)
He was no less curious concerning the resurrection of the sun, and every time he made an excursion to the Ventoux he was careful not to miss this spectacle; setting out at an early hour from the foot of the mountain, so that he might see the dawn grow bright from the summit of its rocky mass; then the sun, suddenly rising in the morning breeze, and setting fire, little by little, to the Alps of Dauphin and the hills of Comtat; and the Rhne, far below, slender as a silver thread.
He took infinite pleasure too in drinking his fill of the sublime terrors of the thunderstorm, which he regarded as one of the most magnificent spectacles which nature can offer; not content with observing it through glass, he would open wide the windows at night the better to enjoy the phosphorescence of the atmosphere, the conflagration of the clouds, the bursts of thunder, and all the solemn pomp with which the great purifying phenomenon manifests itself.
But pure observation, as practised by his predecessors, Raumur and Huber, is often insufficient, or "furnishes only a glimpse of matters."
He had recourse, therefore, to artificial observation of the kind known as experimentation, and we may say that Fabre was really the first to employ the experimental method in the study of the minds of animals.
Near the field of observation, therefore, is the naturalist's workshop, "the animal laboratory," in which such inductions as may be suggested by the doings and the movements of the insects "which roam at liberty amidst the thyme and lavender" are subjected to the test of experiment. It is a great, silent, isolated room, brilliantly lighted by two windows facing south, upon the garden, one at least of which is always kept open that the insects may come and go at liberty.
In the glass-topped boxes of pine which occupy almost the entire height of the whitewashed walls are carefully arranged the collections so patiently amassed; all the entomological fauna of the South of France, and the sea- shells of the Mediterranean; an abundant wealth also of divers rarities; numismatical treasures and fragments of pottery and other prehistorical documents, of which the numerous ossuaries in the neighbourhood of Srignan, scattered here and there upon the hills, contain many specimens.
At the top, crowning the facade of glass-topped cases like an immense frieze, is the colossal herbarium, the first volumes of which go back to the early youth of their owner; all the flora, both of the Midi and the North, those of the plains and those of the mountains, and all the algae of fresh and salt water.
But it must not be supposed that Fabre attaches any great value to these collections, enormous though the sum of labour which they represent. To him they have been a means of education, a means of organizing and arranging his knowledge, and not of satisfying an idle curiosity; not the amusement of one content with the rind of things. In order to identify at first sight such specimens as one encounters and proposes to examine, one must first of all learn to observe and to see thoroughly, and to school the eyes in the colours and forms peculiar to each individual species.
One may fairly complain of Raumur, for example, that his knowledge was uncertain and incomplete. Too often he leaves his readers undecided as to the nature of the species whose habits he describes. Fabre himself, by dint of criticizing with so much humour the abuse of classifications, has sometimes allowed himself to fall into the same fault. (7/28.) He has taken good care, however, not to neglect the systematic study of species; witness his "Flora of the Vaucluse" and that careful catalogue of Avignon which he has not disdained to republish. (7/29.) The truth is that "if we do not know their names the knowledge of the things escapes us" (7/30.), and he was profoundly conscious of the truth of this precept of the great Linnaeus.
The middle of the room is entirely occupied by a great table of walnut- wood, on which are arranged bottles, test-tubes, and old sardine-boxes, which Fabre employs in order to watch the evolution of a thousand nameless or doubtful eggs, to observe the labours of their larvae, the creation and the hatching of cocoons, and the little miracles of metamorphosis, "after a germination more wonderful than that of the acorn which makes the oak."
Covers of metallic gauze resting on earthenware saucers full of sand, a few carboys and flower-pots or sweetmeat jars closed with a square of glass; these serve as observation or experimental cages in which the progress and the actions of "these tiny living machines" can be examined.
Fabre has revealed himself as a psychologist without rival, of a consummate skill in the difficult and delicate art of experimentation; the art of making the insect speak, of putting questions to it, of forcing it to betray its secrets; for experiment is "the only method which can throw any light upon the nature of instincts."
His resources being slender and his mind inventive, he has ingeniously supplemented the poverty of his equipment, and has discovered less costly and less complex means of conducting his experiments; knowing the secret of extracting the sublimest truth from clumsy combinations of "trivial, peasant-made articles."
He has succeeded, in his rustic laboratory, in applying the rigorous rules of investigation and experimentation established by the great biologists. He has therefore been able to establish his beautiful observations in a manner so indisputable that those who come after him and are tempted to study the same things can but arrive at the same results, and derive inspiration from his researches.
To note with care all the details of a phenomenon is the first essential, so that others may afterwards refer to them and profit by them; the difficult thing is to interpret them, to discover the circumstances, the whys and wherefores, the consequences, and the connecting links.
But a single fact observed by chance at the wayside, and which would not even attract the attention of another, will be instantly luminous to this searching understanding, it will suggest questions unforeseen, and will evoke, by anticipation, preconceived ideas and sudden flashes of intuition, which will necessitate the test of experiment.
Why, for example, does the Philanthus, that slender wasp, which captures the honey-bee upon the blossoms in order to feed her larvae; why, before she carries her prey to her offspring, does she "outrage the dying insect," by squeezing its crop in order to empty it of honey, in which she appears to delight, and does indeed actually delight?
"The bandit greedily takes in her mouth the extended and sugared tongue of the dead insect; then once more she presses the neck and the thorax, and once more applies the pressure of her abdomen to the honey-sac of the bee. The honey oozes forth and is instantly licked up. Thus the bee is gradually compelled to disgorge the contents of the crop. This atrocious meal lasts often half an hour and longer, until the last trace of honey has disappeared."
The detailed answer is obtained by experiment, which perfectly explains this "odious feast," the excuse for which is simply maternity. The Philanthus knows, instinctively, without having learned it, that honey, which is her ordinary fare, is, by a very singular "inversion," a mortal poison to her larvae. (7/31.)
As an accomplished physiologist, Fabre conducts all kinds of experiments. Behind the wires of his cages, he provokes the moving spectacle of the scorpion at grip with the whole entomological fauna, in order to test the effects of its terrible venom upon various species; and thus he discovers the strange immunity of larvae; the virus, "the reagent of a transcendent chemistry, distinguishes the flesh of the larva from that of the adult; it is harmless to the former, but mortal to the latter"; a fresh proof that "metamorphosis modifies the substance of the organism to the point of changing its most intimate properties." (7/32.)
You may judge from this that he knows through and through the history of the creatures which form the subjects of his faithful narratives. He is informed of the smallest events of their lives. He possesses a calendar of their births; he records their chronology and the succession of generations; he has noted their methods of work, examined their diet, and recorded their meals. He discovers the motives which dictate their peculiarities of choice; why the Cerceris, for instance, among all the victims at its disposal, never selects anything but the Buprestis and the weevils. He is familiar too with their tactics of warfare and their methods of conflict.
His gaze has penetrated even the most hidden dwellings; those in which the Halictus "varnishes her cells and makes the round loaf which is to receive the egg"; in which, under the cover of cocoons, murderous grubs devour slumbering nymphs; even the depths of the soil are not hidden from him, for there, thanks to his artifices, he has surprised the astonishing secret of the Minotaur.
He sifts all doubtful stories; anecdotes, statements of supposed habits; all that is incoherent, or ill observed, or misinterpreted; all the cliches which the makers of books pass from hand to hand.
In place of repetition he gives us laws, constant facts, fixed rules.
With incomparable skill, he repeats and tests the ancient experiments of Raumur.
He is not content to show us that Erasmus Darwin is mistaken; he points out how it is that he has fallen into error. (7/33.)
He sets himself to decipher the meaning of old tales, skilfully disengaging the little parcel of truth which usually lies beneath a mass of incorrect or even false statements. He criticises La Fontaine, and questions the statements of Horus Apollo and Pliny. From a mass of undigested knowledge he has created the living science of entomology, which had received from Raumur a first breath of vitality, in such wise that each individual creature is presented in his work with its precise expression and the absolute truth of its character and attitudes; the inhabitants of the woods and fields, whether those which feed upon the crops or those which live in the crevices of the rocks, or the obscure workers that crawl upon the earth; all those which have a secret to tell or something to teach us; the Cigale, so different from the insect of the Fable; and above all that beetle whose name had hitherto been encountered arrayed in the most fantastic legends, the famous Scarabaeus sacer of the tombs, which Fabre preferred to place at the head of his epic as an agreeable prologue, although the inquiry relative to his amazing feats belongs chronologically to a comparatively recent period of his career.
How moderate he is in such suppositions as he ventures; how cautious when his persistent patience has at last struck against "the inaccessible wall of the Unknowable"! Then, with admirable frankness, tranquil and sincere, he simply owns that "he does not know," unlike so many others, whose uncritical minds are contented with a fragmentary vision, and run so far ahead of the facts that they can only promote indefinite illusion and error.
One is surprised indeed to remark how few even of the most learned and well-informed of men have a real aptitude for observation, and a highly instructive book might be written concerning the discrepancies and the weak points in our knowledge. If they were subjected to a sufficiently severe test, how threadbare would appear many of those problems which nature and the world present, and which are regarded as resolved!
How long, for instance, was needed to destroy the legend of the cuckoo, incessantly repeated down to the days of Xavier Raspail, and to us so familiar; to elucidate its history, and to set it in its true light! (7/34.)
It is by means of such data as these that a science is founded, for theories decay, and only well-observed facts remain irrefragable. With stones such as these, which are hewn by the great artisan, the structures of the future will be built, and our own science, perhaps, will one day be refashioned.
For this reason Fabre's books are an education for all those who wish to devote themselves to observation; a manual of mental discipline, a true "essay upon method," which should be read by every naturalist, and the most interesting, instructive, familiar and delightful course of training that has ever been known.
On the other hand, it is impossible to conceive what labour this delicate work demands; what perseverance Fabre has required painfully to extract one grain of gold; to glean and unite the definite factors, the positive documents, which served as foundations for each of his essays; lucid, limpid, and captivating as the most delightful of fairy-tales. We are charmed, fascinated, and astonished; we see nothing of the groping advance, the checks, and all the toil and the patience demanded. We do not suspect the long waiting, the hesitation, the desperate length of the inquiries. For example, to establish the curious relations which exist between the wasps and the Volucellae, what long and repeated experiments were needful! His notebooks, in which he records, from day to day, all that he sees, are evidence of this. What watches in the alley of lilacs, year after year, to decipher the mechanism and the mode of construction of the hunting-net of the Epera! Some of these histories, like that of the hyper-metamorphosis of the Melo, were only completed as the result of twenty-five years of assiduous inquiry, while forty years were required to complete that of the Scarabaeus sacer, for his observation of it was always partial; it is almost always impossible to divine what one cannot see from the little that one does see; and as a rule one must return to the same point over and over again in order to fill up lacunae.
The majority of the insects which Fabre has studied are solitary, and are only to be encountered singly, scattered over wide areas of country. Some live only in determined spots, and not elsewhere, such as the famous Cerceris, or the yellow-winged Sphex, of which no trace is to be found beyond the limits of the Carpentras countryside.
The proper season must be watched for; one must be ready at any moment to profit by a lucky chance, and resign oneself to interminable watches at the bottom of a ravine, or keep on the alert for hours under a fiery sun. Often the chance goes by, or the trail followed proves false; but the season is over, and one must wait for the return of another spring. The trade of observer in many cases resembles the exhausting labours of the Sisyphus beetle, painfully pushing his pellet up a rough and stony path; so that the team halts and staggers at every moment, the load spills over and rolls away, and all has to be commenced over again.
We can now cast back, in order to consider at leisure the immortal study which marked the beginning of his fame, with the greater interest and profit in that Fabre has been able, during his retirement, to generalize and extend his discovery. (7/35.)
Let us first of all note how the observation which Dufour had made of the nest of the Cerceris was transformed in his hands, and what developments he was able to evolve therefrom.
Since they have been definitely established by Fabre these curious facts have been well-known. They form perhaps the greatest prodigy presented by entomology, that science so full of marvels.
These wasps nourish themselves only on the nectar of flowers; but their larvae, which they will never behold, must have fresh and succulent flesh still palpitating with life.
The insect digs a tunnel in the soil, in which she places her eggs, and having provisioned the cell with selected game—cricket, spider, caterpillar, or beetle—she finally closes the entrance, which she does not again cross.
Like nearly all insects, the young wasp is born in the larval state, and from the moment of its hatching to the end of its growth—that is to say, for a period of many days—the grub enclosed in its cell can look for no help from without.
Here then is a fascinating problem: either the victims deposited by the mother are dead, and desiccation or putrefaction attacks them promptly, or else they are living, as indeed the larvae require; but then "what will become of this fragile creature, which a mere nothing will destroy, shut in the narrow chamber of the burrow among vigorous beetles, for weeks on end working their long spurred legs; or at grips with a monstrous caterpillar making play with its flanks and mandibles, rolling and unrolling its tortuous folds?"
Such is the thrilling mystery of which Fabre discovered the key.
With inconceivable ingenuity, the victim is seized and thrown to the ground, and the wasp plunges her sting, not at random into the body, which would involve the risk of death, but at determined points, exactly into the seat of those invisible nervous ganglions whose mechanism commands the various movements of the creature.
Immediately after these subtle wounds the prey is paralysed throughout its body; its members appear to be disarticulated, "as though all the springs were broken"; the true corpse is not more motionless.
But the wound is not mortal; not only does the insect continue to live, but it has acquired the strange prerogative of being able to live for a very long period without taking any nourishment, thanks precisely to the condition of immobility, in some sort vegetative, which paralysis confers upon it.
When the hour strikes the hungry larva will find its favourite meat served to its liking; and it will attack this defenceless prey with all the circumspection of a refined eater; "with an exquisitely delicate art, nibbling the viscera of its victim little by little, with an infallible method; the less essential parts first of all, and only in the last instance those which are necessary to life. Here then is an incomprehensible spectacle; the spectacle of an animal which, eaten alive, mouthful by mouthful, during nearly a fortnight, is hollowed out, grows less and less, and finally collapses," while retaining to the end its succulence and its freshness.
The fact is that the mother has taken care to deposit her egg "at a point always the same" in the region which her sting has rendered insensible, so that the first mouthfuls are only feebly resented. But as the enemy goes deeper and deeper "it sometimes happens that the cricket, bitten to the quick, attempts to retaliate; but it only succeeds in opening and closing the pincers of its mandibles on the empty air, or in uselessly waving its antennae." Vain efforts: "for now the voracious beast has bitten deep into the spot, and can with impunity ransack the entrails." What a slow and horrible agony for the paralysed victim, should some glimmer of consciousness still linger in its puny brain! What a terrible nightmare for the little field-cricket, suddenly plunged into the den of the Sphex, so far from the sunlit tuft of thyme which sheltered its retreat!
To paralyse without killing, "to deliver the prey to the larvae inert but living": that is the end to be attained; only the method varies according to the species of the hunter and the structure of the prey; thus the Cerceris, which attacks the coleoptera, and the Scolia, which preys upon the larvae of the rose-beetle, sting them only once and in a single place, because there is concentrated the mass of the motor ganglions.
The Pompilus, which selects a spider for its victim, no less than the redoubtable Tarantula, knows that its quarry "has two nervous centres which animate respectively the movements of the limbs and those of the terrible fangs; hence the two stabs of the sting." (7/36.)
The Sphex plunges her dagger three times into the breast of the cricket, because she knows, by an intuition that we cannot comprehend, that the locomotor innervation of the cricket is actuated by three nervous centres, which lie wide apart. (7/37.)
Finally, the Ammophila, "the highest manifestation of the logic of instinct, whose profound knowledge leaves us confounded, stabs the caterpillar in nine places, because the body of the victim with which it feeds its larvae is a series of rings, set end to end, each of which possesses its little independent nervous centre." (7/38.)
This is not all; the genius of the Sphex is not yet at the end of its foresight. You have doubtless heard of the comatose state into which the wounded fall when, after a fracture of the skull, the brain is compressed by a violent haemorrhage or a bony splinter. The physiologists imitate this process of nature when they wish, for example, to obtain, in animals under experiment, a state of complete immobility. But did the first surgeon who thought of trepanning the skull in order to exert on the brain, by means of a sponge, a certain degree of compression, ever imagine that an analogous procedure had long been employed in the insect world, and that these clumsy methods were merely child's play beside the astonishing feats of the Unconscious?
For the stab in the thoracic ganglions, however efficacious, is often insufficient. Although the six limbs are paralysed, although the victim cannot move, its mandibles, "pointed, sharp, serrated, which close like a pair of scissors, still remain a menace to the tyrant; they might at least, by gripping the surrounding grasses, oppose a more or less effectual resistance to the process of carrying off." So the preceding manoeuvres are consummated by a kind of garrotting; that is, the insect "takes care to compress the brain of its victim, but so as to avoid wounding it; producing only a stupor, a simple torpor, a passing lethargy." Is not the ingenious observer justified in concluding that "this is alarmingly scientific"?
Between the dry statements of Dufour, which served Fabre as his original theme, and the unaccustomed wealth of this vast physiological poetry, what a distance has been covered!
How far have we outstripped this barren matter, these shapeless sketches! Dufour, another solitary, who retired to his province, in the depth of the Landes, was above all a descriptive anatomist, and he limited himself to an inventory of the nest of a Cerceris.
For him the Buprestes were dead, and their state of preservation was explained simply as a kind of embalming, due to some special action of the venom of the Hymenoptera.
These facts, therefore, were stated as simple curiosities.
Fabre proved that these victims possessed all the attributes of life excepting movement, by provoking contractions in their members under the influence of various stimulants, and by keeping them alive artificially for an indefinite period.
On the other hand, he demonstrated the comparative innocuousness of the venom of these wasps, some of which, like the great Cerceris or the beautiful and formidable Scolia, alarm by their enormous size and their terrifying aspect; so that the conservation of the prey could not be due to any occult quality, to some more or less active antiseptic virtue of the venomous fluid, but simply to the precision of the stab and the miraculous deftness of the "surgeon."
He also pointed out the fact that the sting of the insect is able immediately to dissociate the nervous system of the vegetative life from that of the correlative life, sparing the former, and taking care not to wound the abdomen, which contains the ganglions of the great sympathetic nerve, while it annihilates the latter, which is more or less concentrated along the ventral face of the thoracic region.
He completed this splendid demonstration, not only by provoking under his own eyes the "murderous manoeuvres, the intimate and passionate drama," but also by reproducing experimentally all these astonishing phenomena; expounding their mechanism and their variations with a logic and lucidity, an art and sagacity which raise this marvellous observation, one of the most beautiful known to science, to the height of the most immortal discoveries of physiology. Claude Bernard, in his celebrated experiments, certainly exhibited no greater invention, no truer genius.
CHAPTER 8. THE MIRACLE OF INSTINCT.
"The Spirit Bloweth Whither it Listeth."
What is this instinct, which guides the insect to such marvellous results? Is it merely a degree of intelligence, or some absolutely different form of activity?
Is it possible, by studying the habits of animals, to discover some of those elementary springs of action whose knowledge would enable us to dive more deeply into our own natures?
Fabre has presented us to his Sphex, the "infallible paralyser." Are we to credit her not only with memory, but also with the faculty of associating ideas, of judgment, and of pursuing a train of reasoning in respect of her astonishingly co-ordinated actions?
Put to the question by the malice of the operator, the "transcendent" anatomist trips over a mere trifle, and the slightest novelty confounds her.
Without the circle of her ordinary habits, what stupidity, "what darkness wraps her round"! She retreats; she refuses to understand; "she washes her eyes, first passing her hands across her mouth; she assumes a dreamy, meditative air." What can she be pondering? Under what form of thought, illusion, or mirage does the unfamiliar problem which has obtruded itself into her customary life present itself behind those faceted eyes? (8/1.)
How can we tell? We can only attain to knowledge of ourselves by direct intuition. It is only the idea of our ego which enables us to conjecture what is passing in the brains of our fellows. Between the insect and ourselves no understanding is possible, so remote are the analogies between its organization and our own; and we can only form idle hypotheses as to its states of consciousness and the real motive of its actions.
Consider only that unknown and mysterious energy which the insects display in their operations and their labours, as it is in itself, and let us content ourselves, first of all, with comparing it to our own intelligence, such as we conceive it to be.
In seeking to appreciate whereby it differs perhaps we shall gain more than by vainly seeking points of resemblance. We shall discover, in fact, behind the insect and its prodigious instincts, a vast and remote horizon, a region at once more profound, more extensive, and more fruitful than that of the intelligence; and if Fabre is able to help us to decipher a few pages of "the most difficult of all volumes, the book of ourselves," it is precisely, as a philosopher told him, because "man has remained instinctive in process of becoming intelligent." (8/2.)
The work of Fabre is from this point of view an invaluable treasury of observations and experiments, and the richest contribution which has ever been made to the study of these fascinating problems.
"The function of the intelligence is to reflect, to be conscious; that is, to relate the effect to its cause, to add a "because" to a "why"; to remedy the accidental; to adapt a new course of conduct to new circumstances."
In relation to the human intelligence thus defined Fabre has considered these nervous aptitudes, so well adjusted, according to the evolutionists, by ancient habit, that they have finally become impulsive and unconscious, and, properly speaking, innate. He has demonstrated, with an abundance of proof and a power of argument that we must admire, the blind mechanism which determines all the manifestations, even the most extraordinary, of that which we call instinct, and which heredity has fixed in a species of unchangeable automatism, like the rhythm of the heart and the lungs. (8/3.)
Let us, from this wealth of material, from among the most suggestive examples, select some of his most striking demonstrations, which are classics of their kind.
Fabre has not attempted to define instinct, for it is indefinable; nor to probe its essential nature, which is impenetrable. But to recognize the order of nature is in itself a sufficiently fascinating study, without striving to crack an unbreakable bone or wasting time in pondering insoluble enigmas. The important matter is to avoid the introduction of illusions, to beware of exceeding the data of observation and experiment, of substituting our own inferences for the facts, of outstripping reality and amplifying the marvellous.
Let us listen to the scrupulous analysis whose lessons, scattered through four thousand pages, teach us more concerning instinct and its innumerable variations than all the most learned treatises and speculations of the philosophers.
Nothing in the world perplexes the mind of the observer like the spectacle of the birth and growth of the instincts.
At precisely the right moment, just as failure or disaster seems foreordained by the previously established circumstances, Fabre shows us his insects as suddenly mastered by an irresistible force.
"At the right moment" they invincibly obey some sort of mysterious and inflexible prescription. Without apprenticeship, they perform the very actions required, and blindly accomplish their destiny.
Then, the moment having passed, the instincts "disappear and do not reawaken. A few days more or less modify the talents, and what the young insect knew the adult has often forgotten." (8/4.)
Among the Lycosae, at the moment of exodus, a sudden instinct is evolved which a few hours later disappears never to return. It is the climbing instinct, unknown to the adult spider, and soon forgotten by the emancipated young, who are destined to roam upon the face of the earth. But the young Lycosae, anxious to leave the maternal home and to travel, become suddenly ardent climbers and aeronauts, each releasing a long, light thread which serves it as parachute. The voyage accomplished, no trace of this ingenuity is left. Suddenly acquired, the climbing instinct no less suddenly disappears. (8/5.)
The great historiographer of instinct has thrown a wonderful light, by his beautiful experiments relating to the nidification of the mason-bee, upon the indissoluble succession of its different phases; the lineal concatenation, the inevitable and necessary order which presides over each of these nervous discharges of which the total series constitutes, properly speaking, a mode of action.
The mason-bee continues to build upon the ready-completed nest presented to her. She obstinately insists upon provisioning a cell already duly filled with the quantity of honey required by the larva, because, in this case as in the other, the impulse which incites her to build or to provision the nest has not yet been exhausted.
On the other hand, if we empty the little cup of its contents when she has filled it she will not recommence her labours. "The process of provisioning being complete, the secret impulse which urged her to collect her honey is no longer active. The insect therefore ceases to store her honey, and, in spite of this accident, lays her egg in the empty cell, thus leaving the future nursling without nourishment." (8/6.)
In the case of the Pelopaeus, Fabre calls our attention to one of the most instructive physiological spectacles that can be imagined.
While the mason-bee does not notice that her cell has been emptied, the Pelopaeus cannot perceive that the tricks of the experimenter have resulted in the disappearance of her progeny; and she "continues to store away spiders for a germ that no longer exists; she perseveres untiringly in her useless hunting, as though the future of her larva depended on it; she amasses provisions which will feed no one; more, she pushes aberration to the extent of plastering even the place where her nest was if we remove it, giving the last strokes of the trowel to an imaginary building, and putting her seals upon empty nothing." (8/7.)