HotFreeBooks.com
Falling in Love - With Other Essays on More Exact Branches of Science
by Grant Allen
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

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

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



FISH OUT OF WATER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



THE FIRST POTTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



THE RECIPE FOR GENIUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



DESERT SANDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse