Not all so brilliant in colour but very delightful to watch are the fly-catchers. Of these there are no less than twenty-six species, the most remarkable being the fairy blue-chat, which is brilliantly marked with different shades of glistening blue, and another which is strikingly coloured in almost uniform verditer blue. In the very lowest valleys is found the beautiful paradise fly-catcher, with a long-pointed black crest, the rest of the plumage white with black shafts and the tail 14 inches in length. The quickness and agility this lovely bird displays as it darts and twists and turns in the pursuit of butterflies in their uneven dodging flight is one of the marvels of forest life.
Game-birds are not abundant, but four species of pheasant are found, of which the largest and handsomest is the moonal, bronze-green glossed with gold and with a tail of cinnamon red. Sportsmen in the Himalaya are familiar with the sight of this radiantly-coloured bird swishing down the mountain-side with apparently the speed and almost the brilliancy of a flash of lightning. Not so handsome as the moonal, being small and greyish in colour on the back, is the blood-pheasant, remarkable for its blood-red streaks on the breast and its blood-red under-tail-coverts.
Bulbuls are largely represented and may be seen in large flocks among the scrub—delightful, homely little birds with bright and cheery ways which specially attract us. Not very common, but to be found in the lower part of the valley, is the beautiful fairy bluebird, a large bird 10 inches in length with a glistening cobalt-blue upper part and velvet black beneath. The European cuckoo may be heard all day long in the season from about 3,500 feet upwards. And about a dozen other cuckoos visit Sikkim, of which by far the prettiest is the emerald cuckoo, a small bird not much more than 6 inches long, of a brilliant emerald green with golden sheen, and below white barred with shining green. Kingfishers are not numerous, as fish are scarce. But there are four species, of which the prettiest is a lovely little creature about 5 inches long, coloured with rufous, white, and different shades of blue and violet.
These are only a few of the most striking birds; but to give an idea of the variety of other birds which may be found in Sikkim, many of which are hardly less beautiful than those above described, we may learn from Gammie that among the birds of prey there are eleven eagles; the peregrine falcon, a little pigmy falcon, and five other falcons; a big brown wood-owl, 2 feet in length, a pigmy owlet measuring only 6 inches, and nine other owls; and six kites;—among the game-birds, besides pheasants, three quails, two hill-partridges, a jungle-fowl, woodcock, a snow-cock, and a snow-partridge;—among other classes of birds, nine or ten species of pigeons and doves; the European raven and a jungle crow; one jay and several magpies; two hornbills, one of which is 4 feet in length; the common and the Nepal swallow; about thirty species of finches, among them being three bullfinches and eight rose-finches; three or four larks; numerous and varied tits; wagtails; five species of parrots; eight or nine species of wren; thrushes of a dozen species; ten species of robin; and, lastly, many species of waders such as florekin, cranes, plovers, snipe, sandpipers, coots, water-hen, storks, heron, cormorants, terns, divers, and ducks.
* * *
Reptiles are not commonly accounted among the beauties of Nature; but they must not be lost sight of in reviewing the life of the forest. The largest is the python, whose usual length is 12 feet, though individuals of 16 to 20 feet are not very rare. A very beautiful snake found in the cool forests is green with a broad black band on each side of the hinder half of the body and tail, the green scales being margined with black. Another snake of the same length is a handsome green whip-snake, graceful in its movements, but ferocious and aggressive in its habits, although quite harmless. The ordinary cobra is not uncommon. The giant cobra is also found in the lower valleys, and grows to a length of 12 or 13 feet. Four species of pit vipers are found. The krait occurs, but is not common. Altogether there are nine species of venomous snakes and thirty species of non-venomous snakes found in Sikkim.
Of lizards there are ten species. One is popularly known as the chameleon on account of its rather showy colours, but does not really belong to that family. And a beautiful grass-snake, which, as it is limbless, is often mistaken for a tree-snake, is also of the lizard genus.
Of frogs and toads there are about sixteen species. Among them are several prettily-coloured tree-frogs. Several of the species are recognised by their call.
* * *
Of mammals about eighty-one species are found. They include three monkeys, eight of the cat tribe, two civet cats, one tree cat, two mongooses, two of the dog tribe, five pole-cats and weasels, one ferret-badger, three otters, one cat-bear, two bears, one tree-shrew, one mole, six shrews, two water-shrews, twelve bats, four squirrels, two marmots, eight rats and mice, one vole, one porcupine, four deer, two forest-goats, one goat, one sheep, and one ant-eater.
The common monkey of India, the Bengal monkey, is found in large companies at low elevations. The Himalayan monkey is abundant from 3,000 to 6,000 feet; and the Himalayan langur frequents the zone from 7,000 to 12,000 feet.
The tiger inhabits the Terai at the foot of the mountains, but is only an occasional visitor to Sikkim proper. But the leopard and the clouded leopard are permanent residents and fairly common. This last is of a most beautiful mottled colouring. Another leopard is the snow-leopard, which inhabits high altitudes only. The marbled-cat is a miniature edition of the clouded leopard, and the leopard-cat of the common leopard. The large Indian civet-cat is not uncommon, but the spotted tiger-civet, a very beautiful and active creature, is rare. The jackal is not uncommon, and there is at least one species of wild-dog. These dogs hunt in packs and kill wild-pig, deer, goats, etc. A very peculiar and interesting animal is the cat-bear, which has the head and arms of a minute bear and the tail of a cat. The brown bear occurs at high altitudes, and the Himalayan black bear is common lower down. The black hill squirrel is a large handsome animal of the lower forests, and a very handsome flying squirrel inhabits the forests between 5,000 and 10,000 feet.
The great Sikkim stag is not found in Sikkim proper, but inhabits the Chumbi Valley. The sambhar stag is abundant. The commonest of the deer tribe is the khakar, or barking deer. It is, says Hodgson, unmatched for flexibility and power of creeping through tangled underwood. The musk deer remains at high elevations.
In addition to the above, elephants come up from the forests in the plains, and in these plain forests are found (besides tigers and boars) rhinoceros, bison, and buffalo.
* * *
This has been a long enumeration of the animal life, in its many branches, which is found in the forest. The mere cataloguing of it is sufficient to show the extent and variety of insect, bird, reptile, and mammal life which the forest contains. But it is with the beauty of this animal life, rather than with its extent and variety, that we are concerned. And if the Artist is to see its full beauty, he must see it with the eyes of the naturalist and sportsman—men whose eyes are trained to observe in minutest detail the form and colour and character of each animal, bird, or insect, and who know something of the life each has to lead, and the conditions in which it is placed. More sportsmen than naturalists, and more naturalists than artists, observe these and other animals in their natural surroundings. But, nowadays, at least photographers and cinematographers are going into the wilds to portray them. And perhaps naturalist-artists will arise who, every bit as keen as sportsmen now are to get to close quarters with game animals, will want to get into positions from which they will be able carefully to observe animals of all kinds and take note of every characteristic. These artists will have to be fully as alert as the sportsmen, and be able on the instant, and from a fleeting glimpse, to note the lines and shades and character of the animal. But, if they do this, they will, in all probability, bring back more lasting and deeper impressions of the animals than the sportsman with all his keen observation ever receives—and they will enjoy a greater pleasure. An artist, who from observing an animal in its own haunts, and from the sketches and notes he made there, could paint a picture of it in its own surroundings, would assuredly derive more pleasure from his enterprise than the sportsman who simply brought back the animal's head. In addition he would have enabled others to share his enjoyment with him. There is a great field here for the painter; and many would welcome a change from the same old cows and sheep tamely grazing in a meadow, which is all that artists usually present to us of animal life.
Among the most conspicuous animals met with are the elephant, the bison, the buffalo, and the rhinoceros. And it would be hard to discover beauty in any of these. As we see the rhinoceros, for example, in the Zoological Gardens nothing could be more ugly. Yet we should not despair of finding beauty even in a rhinoceros if we could study him in his natural surroundings and understand all the circumstances of his life. If we observed him and his habits and habitat with the knowledge of the naturalist and the keenness of the sportsman, we might find that in his form and colour he does in his own peculiar fashion fitly express the purpose of his being. And whatever adequately expresses a definite purpose is beautiful. Where a dainty antelope would be altogether out of place, the ponderous rhinoceros may be completely in his element. Where a tender-skinned horse would be driven mad by insects, the thick-skinned beast passes the time untroubled. In a drawing-room a daintily-dressed lady is a vision of loveliness. In a ploughed field she would look ridiculous. In a drawing-room a peasant would look uncouth. In a field, as Millet has shown us, he possesses a beauty, dignified and touching. It is not impossible, therefore, that an artist who had the opportunity of entering into the life of a rhinoceros, as Millet had of entering into the life of a peasant, might discover beauty even in that monstrosity. This, however, I allow is an extreme case.
In a less extreme case beauty has already been discovered. The bison does not at first sight strike us as a beautiful animal. Yet Mr. Stebbing, the naturalist-sportsman, says that, as he caught sight of one after a long stalk, and watched it with palpitating heart, he was fascinated by the grand sight—18 hands of coal-black beauty shining like satin in the light filtering through the branches of the trees.
When we move on from the bison to the stag the beauty is evident enough. A stag carries himself right royally, and has a rugged, majestic beauty all his own. There are few more beautiful sights in the animal world than that of a lordly stag standing tense with preparedness to turn swiftly, and, on the instant, bound away in any direction.
Not majestic like the great deer, but of a more airy grace and daintiness, are the smaller deer and antelope. The lightness of their tread, their suppleness of movement, and their spring and litheness, fill us with delight.
* * *
We now come to the crown of the animal kingdom—man. And in the Sikkim Himalaya are to be found men of all the stages of civilisation from the most primitive to the most advanced. Inhabiting the forests at the foot of the mountains are certain jungle peoples of extreme interest simply by reason of their primitiveness. They represent the very early stages of man, and in observing them in their own haunts, we shall understand something of the immensity and the delicacy of man's task in gaining his ascendancy in the animal world and acquiring a greater mastery over his surroundings.
In these forests teeming with animal life of all kinds man had to hold his own against dangerous and stronger animals, and to supply himself with food in the face of many rivals. He had to be as alert as the sharpest-witted and as cunning as the most crafty, and to have physical fitness and endurance to stand the strain of incessant rivalry. This is what these jungle people have. Their alertness, their capacity to glide through the forest almost as stealthily as an animal, their keenness of sight, their acute sense of hearing, their knowledge of jungle lore and of the habits of animals, and their ability to stand long and hard physical strain, are the envy of us civilised men when we find ourselves among them. Particularly is this shown when tracking. They will note the slightest indication of the passage of the animal they are after—the faintest footprint, a stone overturned and showing the moisture on its under surface, a broken twig, a bitten leaf, the bark rubbed—and they will be able to judge from the exact appearance of these signs how long it is since the animal made them. They will, too, detect sounds which we civilised men would certainly never hear, and from a note of alarm in these sounds, or from excitement among birds, infer the presence of a dangerous animal.
When seen outside the forests these jungle men look wild and unkempt, but seen in their natural surroundings and compared there with the white man, they have a Beauty which is wanting in the white man. In these surroundings they have a dignity and composure and assurance which the European lacks. They are on their own ground, and there they are beautiful.
And these primitive men are worthy of being painted by the very greatest of painters, and of having their praises sung by the very first of poets. For it is they and their like who, with only such weapons as the forest affords and their own ingenuity devised, won the way through for us civilised men, won the battle against the fierce and much more powerful beasts around them, and by great daring and through sheer skill, courage, and endurance led the way to the light. It was a marvellous feat. For all the privileges and immunities which we men of to-day enjoy we have to thank these primitive forest men, and our gratitude could never be too great. They are deserving of the closest attention and the warmest appreciation.
Not many of these really primitive peoples are nowadays left in the jungles. But the tea-gardens have attracted a primitive people, the Santals, who are typical of the true Dravidian stock of India—a jolly, cheerful, easy-going, and, on the whole, law-abiding, truthful, and honest people who love a roaming life, with plenty of hunting and fishing.
The Lepchas of Sikkim have risen above the first primitive stage. They clothe themselves well and dwell in well-built houses. They do not possess for us the same essential interest as belongs to truly primitive people. But on account of their intimate knowledge of the forest and its denizens, and by reason also of their being a remarkably simple, gentle, and likeable people, they have an unusual attraction for travellers. Hooker, who was one of the first to live among them, and Claude White, who lived among them for many years, both write of them in affectionate terms. They are child-like and engaging, good-humoured, cheery and amiable, free and unrestrained. They have, too, a reputation for honesty and truthfulness.
More vigorous, capable, and virile than the Lepchas are the Nepalese, who, migrating from Nepal, are found in great numbers in this region. They are more given to agriculture than the Lepchas, and are thrifty, industrious, and resourceful. Though excitable and aggressive, they are also law-abiding.
Less numerous but prominent inhabitants of this region are the Bhutias, who consist of four classes; Bhutias, who are a mixed race of Tibetans and Lepchas; Sherpa Bhutias, who come from the east of Nepal, the word sher merely meaning "east"; the Drukpa or Dharma Bhutias, whose home is Bhutan; and the Tibetan Bhutias from Tibet. They are strong, sturdy men, merry and cheerful.
These Lepchas, Nepalese, and Bhutias are all of Mongolian origin, and therefore have the distinctively Mongolian appearance. But besides these, in Darjiling and on the tea-gardens are to be found Bengali clerks, Marwari merchants from Rajputana, Punjabi traders, Hindustani mechanics, and Chinese carpenters. And in addition to all these are British Government officials, tea-planters, and a continual stream of visitors from all parts of Europe and America, who come to Darjiling to view the snowy range.
So that in this small region may be found representatives of every grade of civilisation and a great variety of types. And what an amount of Beauty—as distinct from mere prettiness—there is to discover in even the rough local people may be seen from the pictures of the Russian painter Verestchagin, engravings from which are given in his autobiographical sketches entitled "Vassili Verestchagin." This great painter evidently succeeded in getting inside the wild peoples he loved; and his pictures reveal to us beauties we might without them never have known. In these people's gait, their attitudes, their grouping, as well as in their features, he was able to discern the hardihood, the patience, the impetuosity, the gentleness of their character, and portray it for us.
Putting aside the obvious differences between us and them, we are able to detect our fundamental identity of nature, have a fellow-feeling with them, recognise sameness between us and so see their beauty.
THE SUM IMPRESSION
The Artist has now to stand back and view the forest as a whole. And he must test his view in the light of reason—bring Truth to bear upon Beauty. The forest with its multitudinous and varied life, ranging from simplest to most cultured man, is an epitome of Nature so far as she is manifested on this planet. And he will from this epitome try to get a view of the real character of Nature. As he takes stock of the impressions which have been made upon him, he will have to form a conclusion of absolutely fundamental importance for the enjoyment of Natural Beauty.
Men's hearts instinctively go out to Nature, and in consequence they see Beauty in her. As children they love flowers and love animals. And the most primitive races have the same feeling though they are just as callous in their treatment of animals as children are in their treatment of one another. In the more cultured races this instinctive love of Nature and appreciation of Natural Beauty has enormously developed. But if men ever came to hold the idea—as so many since the doctrine of the survival of the fittest has come into prominence are inclined to do—that Nature is at heart cold and hard, and recks nothing of human joys and sorrows, then love of Nature would fade away from men's hearts. Being out of sympathy and repelled from entering into deep communion with her, men would never again see Beauty in her. The enjoyment of Natural Beauty would pass from them for ever.
So the Artist will try to get at the true Heart of Nature. If the Naturalist part of him tells him that at bottom Nature is merciless and unrelenting, utterly regardless of the things of most worth in life; that Nature is indeed "red in tooth and claw"; that all she cares for—all she selects as the fittest to survive—are the merely strongest, the most pushing and aggressive, the individuals who will simply trample down their neighbours in order that they themselves may "survive"; or if, again, the Naturalist convinces him that all he has seen in the forest has come about by pure chance; that it is by a mere fluke that we find orchids and not mushrooms, men and not monkeys, at the head of plant and animal life; and that Nature herself is wholly indifferent as to which of the two establishes its preeminence—then he will feel the chill upon his soul, he will shrivel up within himself, the very fountain-spring of Beauty will be frozen up, and never again will he see Beauty in any single one of Nature's manifestations.
But if, on the other hand, the Naturalist is able to convince the Artist that in spite of the very evident struggle for existence Nature does not care twopence whether the "fittest" survive or not so long as what is best in the end prevails; that far from things coming about by mere chance Nature has a distinct end in view, and that end the accomplishment of what he himself most prizes, then the heart of the Artist will warm to the heart of Nature with a fervour it had never known before; his heart will throb with her heart, and every beauty he has seen in plain or mountain, in flower, bird, or man, will be a hundredfold increased.
Which of these two views of Nature, so far as Nature can be judged from what we see of her on this planet, is correct, he has now to determine. The profound mystery which everywhere prevails in the forest and which exerts such a compelling spell upon us he will want to probe to the bottom. He will not be content with the outward prettiness of butterfly and orchid, or with the mere profusion and variety of life, or with the colossal size of animals and trees. He will want to burrow down and get at the very root and mainspring of this forest life. He will want to reach the very Heart of Nature here manifested in such manifold variety. He will want to arrive at the inner significance of all this variety of life. Then only will he understand Nature and be able to decide whether Nature is cruel and therefore to be feared, or kind and gracious and therefore to be loved.
* * *
Now, when we go into the forest and look into it in detail, the profusion is even greater than we expected. In this damp tropical region where there is ample heat and moisture, plant life comes springing out of the earth with a prolificness which seems inexhaustible. And when plant life is abundant, animal and insect life is abundant also. So profuse, indeed, is the output of living things that it seems simply wasteful. A single tree may produce thousands of flowers. Each flower may have dozens of seeds. The tree may go on flowering for a hundred or two hundred years. So a single tree may produce millions of seeds, each capable of growing into a forest giant like its parent.
With insect life the same profusion of life is evident. A single moth or butterfly lays thousands of eggs. Mosquitoes, flies, gnats, midges, leeches swarm in myriads upon myriads.
The abundance and superabundance of life is the first outstanding —though it will prove not the most important—impression made upon us by a contemplation of the forest as a whole.
* * *
Scarcely less striking than the abundance is the variety. Life does not spring up from the earth in forms as alike one another as two peas. Each individual plant or animal, however small, however simple, has its own distinctive characteristics, There is variety and variation everywhere. Variety in form, variety in colour, variety in size, variety in character and habit. In size there is the difference between the huge terminalia towering up 200 feet high and the tiny little potentilla; between the atlas moth 12 inches in spread and the hardly discernible midges; between the elephant, massive enough to trample its way through the densest forest, and the humble little mouse peeping out of its hole in the ground. In colour the difference ranges from the light blue of the forget-me-not to the deep blue of the gentian; from the delicate pink of the dianthus to the deep crimson of the rhododendron; from the brilliant hues of the orchids to the dull browns and greens of inconspicuous tree flowers; from the vivid light greens, yellows, and reds of the young leaves of these tropical forests to the greyer green of their maturity; from the smiting reds and blues of the most gaudy butterflies, beetles, and dragon-flies to the modest browns of night-flying moths; from the gorgeous colours of the parrots to the familiar black of crows; from the yellow-striped tiger to the earth-coloured hare; from the dark-skinned aborigine to the yellow-skinned Mongolian and the fair European. Similarly do plants and animals vary in form: from the straight pines and palms to the spreading, umbrageous oaks and laurels; from upstanding lilies to parasitical orchids; from monstrous spiky beetles to symmetrical dragon-flies; from ungainly rhinoceros to graceful antelope; from short, sturdy Bhutias to tall, slim Hindustanis. Likewise in character individuals are as different as the strong, firm tree standing open-faced, four-square to all the world and the creeping, insinuating parasite; as the intelligent, industrious ant and the clumsy, plodding beetle; as the plucky boar and the timid hare; as the rough forest tribesman and the cultured Bengali.
Lastly, there is variety among not only the different species of plants, animals, insects, etc., but also the individuals of the same species. We ourselves know the differences there are between one man and another, and as far as that goes between ourselves on one day and ourselves on the next. Each plant—and still more each animal—has its own unique individuality. Every cavalry officer, every shepherd, every dog-owner, every pigeon-fancier knows that each horse, sheep, dog, pigeon has its own individuality and is distinctly different from all others of its kind. And so does every gardener know that each rose, each tulip, each pansy is different from all other roses, tulips, and pansies. It is the same in the forest. Hardly two trees or plants of the same species develop their young leaves, open their flowers, ripen their seeds, and drop their leaves at the same time. Apart from the size of the flower and leaf there are differences in colour, shape, and marking. Each in appearance and in habit has an individuality of its own.
Such is the variety in the abundant life of the forest that no two individuals, no two blades of grass, or no two leaves are in every detail precisely alike. And this is the second outstanding impression we receive.
* * *
The abundance and variety of life are evident enough. Not so evident but equally noteworthy is the intensity. In the still forest one of the giant trees looks utterly impassive and immobile. It stands there calm and unmoved. Not a leaf stirs. Yet the whole and every minutest part of it is instinct with intensest life. It is made up of countless microscopic cells in unceasing activity. Highly sensitive and mobile cells form the root-tips and insinuate their way into every crevice in search of food for the tree, rejecting what is unpalatable and forwarding what is useful for building up and sustaining the monarch. Other cells take in necessary food from the air. Others build up the trunk and its protective bark. Others, and most important of all, go to make up the flowers of the tree and the organs of reproduction which enable the tree to propagate its kind.
All this activity of the separate cells and combinations of cells is taking place. And in addition there is that activity of them all in their togetherness, that activity which keeps the cells together, and which if relaxed for a moment would mean that the cells would all collapse as the grains of dust in an eddying dust-devil at a street corner collapse once the gust of wind which stirred them and keeps them together drops away. What must be the intensity of life required to develop the tree from the seed and to rear that giant straight up from the level soil 200 feet into the air and maintain it there two hundred years, we can only imagine; for to outward appearance the tree is quite impassive. It does not move a muscle of its face to reveal the intensity of life within.
The tree is characteristic of every living thing. Every plant and every animal, however seemingly sluggish, is working to fulfil its life, to nourish itself, to reproduce its kind.
* * *
Now, the amount of air and sunshine for plants may be practically unlimited, but air and sunshine are not all that plants require. They want soil and moisture as well. And the standing-room for plants is strictly limited. The forest stretches away up to the snows; but there it stops. Necessarily, therefore, there must be the keenest and most incessant struggle among the plants for standing-room. Only a comparatively few can be accommodated. The rest cannot survive. And as the number of plants which can survive is thus limited, the number of animals is limited also, for animals are dependent on plants. Plants, therefore, in spite of their eminently pacific appearance are engaged in a fierce struggle with one another for standing-room. And animals are likewise engaged in a struggle among themselves for the plants.
There is competition among the roots of the different individual plants for the food and water of the soil. And there is competition among the leaves for the sunlight. Each plant is pushing its roots downwards and spreading outward for more food and to root itself more firmly. Each is straining upward to receive more sunlight. Each is struggling with its fellows for room and means to develop its life. Competitors in hundreds and thousands are forced to withdraw and succumb. And even when a forest giant has defeated all competitors and reached its full maturity it has still to maintain the struggle and hold its own continually against other individuals whose roots are reaching out below and whose branches are spreading out above; against climbers who would smother it; and against parasites who would suck its very life-blood. The battle, moreover, is often not so much between one species and another species as between individuals of the same species. And it is a war which continues through life.
The struggle for existence among the plants and trees is keen beyond imagination. And the struggle among the insects, birds and beasts, and man for the plants and products of the trees is no less severe. So now our impression is that of an abundant, varied and intense life in which the individuals are perpetually struggling with one another for bare existence.
* * *
Under these stringent and stressful conditions does each living being come into the world. He has to battle his way through—or succumb. Plants as well as men, and men as well as plants. So, as we look into the structure of animals and plants, we are not surprised to find that in order to cope with their surroundings they have developed organs which are specially adapted to enable them to secure the needful food, to hold their own against the competition of their neighbours, to meet the exigencies of their surroundings, and to pursue their own life to the full extent of its possibilities. Even plants are like sentient beings in this respect. The sensitive tips of their roots are organs admirably adapted for feeling their way through the soil and selecting from its constituents what will best nourish the plant. The leaves opening out to the air and sunshine are other organs adapted for gathering in nourishment. And thorns and poisonous juices are means adapted to fend off destructive neighbours. The eyes and ears in animals are other instances of organs which enable them to see what will serve them as food, or to hear what may be possible enemies, and to make use of what will help them to the proper fulfilment of their life.
We see each individual plant and animal striving to the best of his ability to adjust himself to the conditions in which he finds himself, trying to adapt himself to his surroundings—to his physical surroundings, such as the climate and soil, and to his social surroundings, consisting of his plant and animal neighbours and rivals. We shall probably notice, too, that he seems to be driven by some inner impulse (which in its turn is a responding to the impress of the totality of the individual's surroundings) to strive to do something more than merely adapt himself to his surroundings. He is urged on to rise superior to them.
So the course of the individual's life is continually being affected by surroundings which compel him to adapt himself to them on pain of extinction if he fails. On the other hand, he is himself, in his own small way, affecting his surroundings and causing them to adapt themselves to him. Even the humblest plant takes from the surrounding soil and air what it needs as food and changes it in the process of assimilation, so that the surroundings are, to a slight extent at least, changed by the activity of the plant. And we already have noticed how a plant's insect surroundings have to adapt themselves to the plant. There is reciprocal action, therefore—the surroundings forcing the individual to adapt himself to them, and the individual causing the surroundings to adapt themselves to him.
Here we have reached the point where, besides the struggle for existence among the individuals of an abundant, varied, and intense life, there is adaptation among the individuals to their surroundings and of their surroundings to the individuals.
* * *
We have now to note how with the adaptation goes selection. Set amid these physical and organic surroundings, some helpful, some harmful, the individual has to spend his life in selecting and rejecting what will further or hinder his natural development. He has to reject much, for there is much that will harm him. He has to select a little—for that little is vitally necessary for his upbuilding and maintenance. From among the elements of the soil he has to choose those particular elements that he needs. Thus a plant selects through its roots from the elements of the soil, and through its leaves from the elements of the air, those elements and in those quantities that it needs for nourishment and growth. But it has also, by means of thorns or poison juices or other device, to protect itself from being itself selected by some animal for that animal's own nourishment and growth.
So the individual is constantly selecting, and is as constantly on the guard against being selected. The principle of selection among the abundant and varied life is in continual operation. And unless he selects wisely he will not survive; for he will either have insufficient to live on or else have what is harmful to his life. Nor will he survive unless he is able to fend off those who would select him for their own maintenance. There is selection everywhere—selection by the individual and selection of the individual by surrounding neighbours and circumstances.
* * *
Thus far we have only recapitulated what most men are familiar with since Darwin commenced preaching the doctrine of Evolution by Natural Selection sixty years ago. But the Naturalist-Artist of the future will probably not be content with the conclusion to which so many jump that all that Nature teaches or expects of individuals —plants, beasts, or men—is that they should adapt themselves to their surroundings and fit themselves to survive; that all Nature has at heart is adaptability of individuals to their surroundings and their fitness to survive. The lowly amoeba can perform these unenterprising functions more fitly than himself. And the Artist would never be satisfied with so mean and meagre an ambition as merely to adapt himself to his surroundings and fit himself to survive. If he saw evidence of no higher expectation than that in the workings of Nature, his heart would certainly not cleave to her heart. And there being estrangement and coolness between his heart and hers, he would see no Beauty in Nature and his pursuit of Natural Beauty might here end.
But an instinct within him tells him that this cannot be the last word as to Nature's character and methods. He himself is constantly risking his life with no thought of trying to survive, and he sees his neighbours doing the same. And his inclination is to go a good deal farther than tamely adapting himself to his surroundings. He wants and strives to rise superior to them—and he finds his neighbours likewise striving. So with this instinct goading him on he is driven to probe deeper still into the mystery of the forest life.
* * *
Of selection and adaptation we have seen evidence throughout the whole forest life. Now, where there is selection and where there is adaptation there must be purposiveness. Selection implies the power of choice, and we have seen how plants as well as animals deliberately and effectively exercise this power of choice. And adaptation implies adjustment to an end, and we have seen how wonderfully plants no less than animals adapt themselves to certain ends. And where individuals have the power of choice and exercise that power; and where they have the power of adapting themselves to certain ends and exercise that power, there obviously is purposiveness.
Purposiveness runs like a streak through every activity. It permeates the whole forest life. It is observable in plants no less than in animals. Naturalists, indeed, regard trees and plants as truly sentient beings. And the means plants employ to compass the end they have in view, are truly wonderful. Still more remarkable is the fact that hardly two attain their object by exactly the same means. The tropical forest is full of climbing plants bent upon reaching the sunlight. But some climb by coiling round the trunk of a tree like a snake, some swarm up it by holding on with claws, some ascend by means of adhering aerial roots, and some reach what they want by pushing through a tangle of branches spreading out arms and hauling themselves up. And when plants have attained maturity and flowered, the flowers employ numberless ways of attracting insects for the purpose of fertilisation. In a still, tropical forest, such as that of Lower Sikkim, there is no hope of the pollen being carried from one flower to another by air-currents. The flowers have therefore to devise a means for the transport of the pollen. Efforts are made to induce winged creatures—insects in most cases, but sometimes birds—to render assistance. Colours for day-flying insects and scent for night-flying insects are accordingly employed as means to this end. Brilliant colours attract butterflies and bees by day. Strong scent —sometimes pleasant to our taste, sometimes the reverse—attracts moths and other insects by night. And the flowers which depend on their scents and not on colour are usually white or dull brown or green. And this scent is not exhaled when it is not needed, but only when the insects which the flowers wish to attract are about.
Orchids especially seem to know what they want. Their aerial roots wander about in search of what they want and seem to smell their way. They use discrimination in utilising their knowledge. They choose. And each individual seems to choose in its own way. From among many means of achieving the same end they make a definite choice, and different plants make different choices—they use different means.
Plants, therefore, quite evidently employ means to an end. They have an end in view—sometimes their own maintenance, sometimes the perpetuation of their kind, sometimes something else—and they employ means to achieve that end. They are, that is to say, purposive in their nature.
* * *
Evidence of purposiveness is also furnished by the wonderful organs of adaptation, root-tips, leaves, eyes, lungs, etc. It is extremely improbable that they came into being—or even started to come into being—by mere chance alone. The odds are countless millions to one against the atoms, molecules, and cells—myriads in number—of any one of these organs of adaptation having by mere chance grouped themselves in such a way as to form an effective eye, or lung, or leaf. It is, literally speaking, infinitely improbable that the organs of adaptation we see in a forest, in plant and animal, should have come into existence through chance alone.
The organs of adaptation are distinctly and definitely purposive structures—not purposed, perhaps, but certainly purposeful. In its struggle with its surroundings and with competitors the individual has been compelled to bring into being organs to fulfil a purpose. It is not the case that the organ was first created and then a use found for it, or use made of it. What actually happens is that first there is a vague but insistent reaching out towards an end, towards the fulfilment of some inner want or need—the need for food or to propagate, or whatever it may be—and that to achieve that end, or fulfil that need, the individual is driven to create a special organisation—as an Air Ministry was created during the War to fulfil the new need for fighting in the air—and so a new organ is produced: an essentially purposive structure such as the eye or the lung, though unpurposed before the need arose. The organs we see, therefore, are outward and visible signs of the existence within of a definite striving towards an end—that is, of a purpose.
The forest shows an abundant, varied, and intense life in which individuals are for ever battling with one another. But all is not happening by chance. Everywhere we see signs of purposiveness. Purposiveness—the striving towards an end—stands out as a dominating feature in forest life. Selections and adaptations are made, but they are made with some purpose in view. Purpose governs the adaptations and selections. What that purpose is we shall try and discover as we get to know still more of Nature.
* * *
So far we have been observing individuals as separate individuals. Now we must look at them gathered together as a whole. And the first point we note is that though each individual has his own unique individuality, whether he be plant or man, all are kept together as a single whole. We have seen the individuals battling with one another, competing with one another, struggling against one another. But that is only one side of the picture. Just as remarkable as the way in which they have to resist one another is the way in which they depend on one another. Their interdependence is, therefore, the point we have now to note.
Since Darwin drew our attention to the struggle for existence and survival of the fittest, the perpetual strife in Nature has been clear enough. But hard, selfish, cruel, brutal though the struggle frequently is, though the strong will often trample mercilessly on the weak and let the unfit go to the wall without any consideration whatever; yet the very strongest and fittest individual could not survive for a moment by itself alone. And what is just as remarkable as the struggle between individuals is their dependence upon one another.
All plants depend upon the natural elements—the soil, water, air, and light. Animals depend on plants. And many animals depend upon other animals. A forest tree in its maturity is covered with blossoms, some conspicuous, others inconspicuous to sight, but very conspicuous to smell. These blossoms, either by sight or scent, attract butterflies, bees, moths, and other insects to sip their nectar, and in so doing carry away the pollen of the flowers, and unwittingly pass it on to another flower and fertilise it. The insect thus enables the tree to procreate its species. But the butterfly, after sipping the nectar of the flower of the tree, deposits its eggs on the under surface of the leaves, and the leaves give nourishment to the caterpillars into which these eggs develop. Besides this, the flowers, having been fertilised by the insects, develop into fruits or berries containing seeds; and these fruits, berries, and seeds form food for monkeys, birds, bats, and rodents. In quarrelling for these many are dropped and form food for mice and others below. Birds, finding food so near, pair, build their nests, and bring up their young in its branches. And in addition to the birds which are attracted by the berries, fruits, and seeds, other birds which are attracted by the caterpillars come there and build their nests. Without the flowers the bees would be starved; without the bees or other insects the flowers would not be fertilised and the tree would not perpetuate itself.[*]
[*] I take this illustration from Rodway's "In the Guiana Forest." It applies equally to any tropical forest.
The lives of all individuals, whether plants, beasts, or men, are thus curiously interwoven with and interdependent on one another. They are also dependent upon the chemical elements in the soil and air. And even then the dependence does not cease, for they depend, too, upon the light and heat from the Sun. And the Sun itself, and this Earth as well, are subtly connected with the whole Stellar Universe.
It is only within limits that any individual can be regarded as a distinct and separate entity. It has its own unique individuality, it is true. But it is also connected with all the rest of the forest and with all the rest of the Earth, of the Solar System, and of the Universe. Each individual is to some extent dependent upon all other individuals. All influence and are influenced by all the rest. There is mutual influence everywhere. And all are connected in a whole—the whole influencing each individual and each individual influencing the whole.
So besides the resistance of individuals to one another, there is attraction. Besides conflict there is co-operation. Besides independence there is interdependence.
The life of the forest thus forms a whole. Individuals have their due allowance of freedom. But they are kept together in a whole. Running through the individuals in their ensemble, binding them together, in spite of the tether they are allowed, must therefore be some kind of Organising Activity. We cannot look into that marvellous forest life without seeing that at the back of it, working all the way through it, controlling, guiding, inspiring every movement, is some dominating Activity, which, while allowing individuals freedom for experimenting by the process of trial and error, yet keeps them all bound together as a whole. And when we note the evidence of purposiveness everywhere so abundant, we cannot resist the conclusion that this Activity also gives direction.
It is not necessary to suppose that this Activity emanates from any thing or person outside Nature. It may perfectly well exercise its control and guidance from within—just as the activity which is "I" controls, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, the movements and actions of every particle of which "my" body is made up. But what we cannot but assume is that throughout this prolific and marvellously varied forest life, through every tiny plant and every forest giant, through every leaf and petal, through each little insect and every bird and butterfly, through the wild beasts of the jungle, the wary forest folk, and the most cultured men—through each and all and the whole in its collectedness there runs some kind of unifying Activity, holding the whole together, ordering all, dominating all, directing all—just as the orchid-spirit holds together and directs the activities of each particle which goes to make up the orchid; or the eagle-spirit directs the activities of each particle which goes to make up the eagle.
Suffusing the whole, embracing the whole, permeating each single member of the whole, there must be an organising and directing Activity, or we should not see the order and purposiveness we do.
We shall now see that this Organising Activity gives not only direction, but an upward direction to the whole which it controls.
* * *
We have already noted that among individuals the variety is such that no two are exactly alike. Each individual, however nearly alike, varies in some slight degree from every other. And new variations are constantly being created. Now we have to note that besides variation there is gradation. There is a scale of being. And individuals are graded on that scale. One is higher than another.
As there are gradations in height from the plains to the outlying spurs of the Himalaya, and from these again to the higher ridges, and from these on to the great mountains, and finally to Kinchinjunga and Mount Everest; and as there are gradations in size from tiny plants to the giant trees; so there are gradations in worth and value from the simple lichen or moss to the highly complex orchid; from the microscopic animalculae of a stagnant pond to monkeys and men; from simple primitive men to the highly cultured Bengali; and from the simple Bengali villager to the poet Rabindranath Tagore. Everywhere there is scale, gradation, grade. The differences between individuals is not on the level but on ascending stages. Even in very primitive communities, where all men are equal to the extent that there are no formal chiefs, one or two men always stand out pre-eminently above the rest, above the younger, the less skilful, the less experienced.
There is variation everywhere, and wherever there is variation there is gradation. Living beings are no more exactly equal than they are exactly alike. Either in proficiency, or in speed, or in strength, or in cunning, or in alertness, or in general worth, one is superior to the other. We determine which is the faster horse by pitting one against the other in a race. We find out which is the superior boxer by making the two men fight each other. We find out which is the cleverest boy by testing him at an examination. We expect to determine which is the ablest political leader by making him submit himself to a General Election. We decide which is the most beautiful rose or orchid by putting the various flowers before a committee of judges. It is seldom possible to say with strict accuracy which one individual is superior to the other, and to arrange the various individuals in their truly right place in the scale. But quite evidently we do recognise the scale and recognise that theoretically it is possible to grade each individual on it, even though our practical methods may be somewhat rough-and-ready.
This fact that gradation, as well as variation, exists is one of the great facts we have to note. For it indicates that the Organising Activity which keeps the individuals together is not keeping them together on a uniform dead level like the ocean, but is propelling them upward like the mountain. The significance of this fact has not hitherto been adequately noted. We are for ever speaking of equality when there is no equality. We have never noted with sufficient attention that everywhere there are grades and degrees. But it is a fact which a contemplation of the forest indelibly impresses on us. And it is a most welcome and inspiring fact, for it gives us a vision of higher things and promotes a zealous emulation among us.
* * *
And the Organising Activity is not only upward-reaching, but forward-looking. It looks to the future. We have remarked how the individuals strive and compete with one another in order to get food and air and light with which to nourish and maintain themselves. But self-maintenance is not their only object. They seek to propagate themselves—to perpetuate their kind. They even make provision for their offspring. They go further still and sacrifice themselves that their offspring may flourish.
Here again selfishness is not the last word. Even plants will make provision for their offspring, and in the last resort will sacrifice themselves that their offspring may survive. A plant will fight with its neighbours for the means wherewith to build itself up. But it will also provide for more than mere maintenance. It will build up organs for the purpose of propagating itself. Even ferns have their organs for producing seeds. And many a plant will make a supreme effort to produce offspring rather than die without having perpetuated its kind. And plants—and of course more markedly animals and men—do not stop with merely reproducing their kind. Besides devoting their energies to propagation, they will deliberately make special provision for their offspring; they will supply it with albumen and starch. And many insects are not only indefatigable, but highly intelligent, in providing food for their young even before the young are hatched out. They do not lay their eggs on any plant at random, but will wander for miles to find a plant on which their young can feed, and they then lay their eggs on that plant. Individual plants, insects, animals, or men may be frightfully selfish in their hard struggle for existence, but the one thing in regard to which no individual is selfish is in regard to its offspring. Primitive man, utterly callous about the sufferings of animals and of his own fellow-men and even of his wife, is tenderly careful of his child while it remains a child—and this is a very significant trait in his character.
However indifferent the individual may be to the sufferings of those about him, he will make any sacrifice for his offspring. There is some instinct within plants and animals alike which impels them to sacrifice themselves that their kind may continue.
So that Activity which is at the source of all life, and is keeping living things together in an interconnected whole, not only forces them upward in the scale of being, but is also driving them to look forward into the future, to provide for the future—and, indeed, to make the future better than the present.
* * *
This seems to be the way—judging by what we see in the forest—the Activity works. Things have I not come to be as they are by the slap-dash, irresponsible, unregulated methods of mere chance. We cannot fail to see that chance does play some part. One seed from a tree may fall into a rivulet and be swept away to the sea, while another may be borne by a gust of wind, or by a bird, on to rich soil where competitors are few, and be able to grow up into a monarch of the forest, to live for a hundred years, and to give birth to thousands like itself. This is true. But chance will not produce the advancement and progress which is observable. Chance will not produce a single one of those organs of adaptation we see in myriads in the forest. And chance would not have made the barren earth of a hundred million years ago bring forth the plant, animal, and human life we see on it to-day.
The Activity does not work on the haphazard methods of pure chance. Nor, on the other hand, are its operations conducted in the rigid, mechanical method of a machine. Nor, again, can the result we see be due to the working of blind physical and chemical processes alone. There is a great deal too much variety and spontaneity and originality about. We could not possibly look upon the forest as a machine—even of the most complicated kind. A machine goes grinding round and round, producing things of exactly the same pattern. Whereas no two things exactly alike are ever turned out in the forest. And blind physical and chemical processes could by themselves—by themselves alone—never produce the novelties, the entirely new and unique things, and things higher and higher in the scale of being, which we see in the forest. Only a man impervious to the teaching of common sense could suppose that the care which plant, beast, and man alike show for their offspring could be the result of bare physical and chemical processes without the inclusion with these processes of any other agency whatsoever.
Nor, on the other hand, do we see any signs of the forest being the result of a preconceived plan gradually being worked out—as a bridge is gradually built up according to the previously thought out plan of the engineer. The carrying out of a plan means that in course of time the plan will be completed, and that each stage is a step towards its completion. But in the forest life there is no sign of any beginning of an approach towards the completion of a plan. There is no tendency to a closing in. There is a reaching upward, it is true. But there is also a splaying outward. One line leads up to man. But others splay out to insects, birds, and elephants.
Another noticeable fact is that nowhere is perfection reached. If a plan were being worked we should expect to see the lower stages —like the foundations of the bridge—well and truly laid, incapable of improvement. But no living being—neither the lowliest nor the highest—is itself as a whole or in any one particular absolutely perfect. There is room for improvement everywhere. Most wonderful things we see. But not perfection. The eye is a wonderful thing. But an oculist would point out defects in even the best.
And if it be argued that there has not been sufficient time yet to work out a plan, the reply is that there has been infinite time. Time is infinite. If the Activity were merely working out a plan, the plan would have been completed ages ago.
So the Organising Activity which we see must be working at the back of things, keeping all the separate individuals together in a connected whole, not only preserves the strictest order among them, but grants them freedom, stimulates emulation among them, inspires them to reach upward and to look into and provide for the future. Such an Activity is no mere mechanical activity. It is a purposive Activity. It is an essentially spiritual Activity. Spirit is not the casual flash flaming up from the working of blind physical and chemical forces. Spirit dominates these blind forces. Spirit is a true determining factor in the whole process. Spirit is at the root and source and permeates the whole.
This Spiritual Activity is what in ordinary language we speak of as "the Spirit of Nature," and emanates from the Heart of Nature.
* * *
When, therefore, our Artist sums up his impressions of Nature as epitomised in the life of the forest; when he has been able to feel that he has, as it were, got inside the skin of Nature, entered into her Spirit and really understood her—as the artist-midge we have referred to would enter into the nature of a man and try and understand him—he will probably find that Nature works in very much the same way as he himself works, and is of much the same character as himself.
The Artist will observe that Nature neither works by mere chance, tossing up at each turning whether she shall go to the right or to the left, and quite indifferent as to which way she takes; nor in the set and rigid manner of a machine; nor yet, again, in the cut-and-dried fashion which the execution of a previously conceived plan implies. Order everywhere the Artist will have observed. But order need not mean woodenness and machinery. Order is simply the absolutely essential prerequisite of any Freedom. And it is Freedom that the Artist everywhere observes. Nature is not closed in by the designed overarch of an eventually-to-be-completed plan. The zenith and horizon are always open. There is always order, but there is scope illimitable for Nature's workings.
So the sum impression the Artist will probably receive is that Nature is in her essential character an Artist like himself—that she creates and goes on creating, just as he creates and goes on creating. A painter who is a true artist and not a mere copyist paints "out of his head," as the saying goes, pictures which are true creations —something new and unique, though founded on and related to the pre-existing. And there is no limit to the pictures he might paint out of his head. He is not tied down in advance by any preconceived plan. According as he is roused and stirred by the complex life around him, he could—if he were physically able—go on for ever painting picture after picture, each a new creation. In the same way a poet could go on writing poems. The poet does not turn out poems like a machine turns out pins, each like the other. He is not tied down to what he writes. He writes out of his own heart what he likes. And he does not and could not turn out two poems exactly the same. Nor does he write according to plan as the bridge-builder works according to the plan of the engineer. He works as he goes. He works by spontaneous creativeness. He is utterly original—a true creator. And even so will our Artist hold that Nature works.
The letters of Nature's alphabet which the Artist sees in the forest are not in the places they are either through mere chance or according to a definitely prepared plan. The letters form words, the words form lines, and the lines form poems. The Artist reads the words and understands the meaning of the poems, and so understands the character of the Poet—the Poet whose name is Nature. But the Artist knows that the words and lines and poems he sees in the forest are there as spontaneous creations from the mind of Nature as poems arise in his own mind. And he knows that Nature could go on—and must go on—creating these poems, painting these pictures, for ever and ever.
Nature will, indeed, work to an end as an Artist works to an end. Nature has purposiveness as an Artist has purposiveness. But that end is something which Nature, like the Artist, is always revising, re-creating, improving, perfecting. An Artist has the general end of creating Beauty, but he is always striving to enrich and intensify it, to create it in greater and greater perfection. And even so does Nature work.
* * *
As the Artist puts himself in touch with the Heart of Nature, the dominant impression he receives is of Nature ever straining after higher, perfection, ever striving to achieve a greater excellence, and create beings with higher and higher, modes of life. He sees her straining upward in the mountain, in the trees, in the climbers on the trees, in every blade of grass. He sees the whole of life, straining to achieve higher and higher forms, more perfect flowers, more intelligent animals, more spiritual men. He sees the life of the seas stretching up out of the seas on to the land. He sees the life of the land striving to reach the highest points on the land. And he sees it also soaring up into the air and making itself at home there, too. Everywhere he sees evidence of aspiration and upward effort.
But he notes also that with this upward effort there goes a downward pull. The mountain strives upward, but it is drawn down by the forces of gravitation. The eagle soars up in the sky, but has to come down to earth to rest and feed. The poet aspires to heaven, but has to stop on earth and earn his daily bread.
Nature, like himself, the Artist finds, is engaged in a constant struggle between an impulse to excentration and the necessity for concentration. She wants to fly off to the zenith and to the horizon, but is continually being drawn into the centre. She wants to let herself go, but has to keep herself in. And all this is to the good. For the necessity for concentration only serves to strengthen and refine her aspiration. And the net result is higher and higher perfection. She cannot rise any higher in a mountain, so she rises in a higher form in a tree. She cannot rise any higher in a tree, so she rises in higher form in an orchid. She cannot rise any higher in an orchid, so she rises in higher form in a man. She cannot rise any higher in man as an intelligent animal, so she rises in higher form in man as a spiritual being, capable of spiritual appreciation and of spiritual communion with her.
The gravitation to a centre—the necessity for concentration—does not suppress and crush the aspiration of Nature; it only serves to compel the aspiration to refine and perfect itself.
In this spirit of aspiration checked by concentration the Artist will surely find what is after his own heart. He will recognise that what is going on in Nature is the same as what goes on in his own heart. He and Nature have a common aspiration. As he aspires but has to concentrate, so does Nature aspire but has to concentrate. As he works, so does Nature work. What he aims at, that also does Nature aim at. And when the Naturalist within him convinces him that, so far as forest life reveals it, this is Nature's manner and this is Nature's end, then his heart goes out to the Heart of Nature, his heart and her heart become one; and from that community of heart Beauty unending springs.
He will without reserve or hesitation be able to throw his whole heart into the enjoyment of Natural Beauty in a way that would have been utterly impossible if he had had to come to the conclusion that Nature cared only for the brutally fittest, wholly irrespective of their worth, or that Nature was at the mercy of chance and had no wish, intention, or power to make good prevail over ill. And with his instinctive love of Natural Beauty thus confirmed and strengthened by this testing of his instinct against what cool reasoning on the facts revealed by observation in the forest had to say about it, he can with lightened heart search still further into Nature, and see her in higher, wider, deeper aspects than the forest alone can disclose.
Aspiration is the root sentiment at the Heart of Nature as she manifests herself in the forest—aspiration upward checked by concentration upon the inmost centre. And the very emblem of the aspiration of Nature kept in hand and under control is to be found in that proud pinnacle of the Sikkim Himalaya, Kinchinjunga, as it is seen from Darjiling rising from amidst the rich tropical forests which clothe its base. To Darjiling, therefore, we should be wise to go.
To reach it we must ascend the slopes of the outer ranges which rise abruptly from the plains. A giant forest now replaces the stunted and bushy timber of the Terai proper and clothes the steep mountain-sides with dense, deep-green, dripping vegetation. The trees are of great height, and are sheathed and festooned with climbing plants of many kinds. Bauhinias and robinias, like huge cables, join tree to tree. Peppers, vines, and convolvulus twine themselves round the trunks and branches, and hang in graceful pendants from the boughs. And the trees, besides being hung with climbers, are also decked with orchids and with foliaceous lichens and mosses. The wild banana with its crown of glistening leaves is everywhere conspicuous. Bamboos shoot up through the undergrowth to a hundred feet or more in height. The fallen trees are richly clothed with ferns typical of the hottest and dampest climates. And dendrobiums and other orchids fasten on the branches.
* * *
At Kurseong there is another striking change, for the vegetation now becomes more characteristic of the temperate zone. The spring here vividly recalls the spring in England. Oaks of a noble species and magnificent foliage are flowering and the birch bursting into leaf. The violet, strawberry, maple, geranium, and bramble appear, and mosses and lichens carpet the banks and roadsides. But the species of these plants differ from their European prototypes, and are accompanied at this elevation (and for 2,000 feet higher up) with tree ferns forty feet in height, bananas, palms, figs, pepper, numbers of epiphytal orchids, and similar genuine tropical genera.
From Kurseong we ascend through a magnificent forest of chestnut, walnut, oaks, and laurels. Hooker, when he subsequently visited the Khasia Hills in Assam, said that though the subtropical scenery on the outer Himalaya was on a much more gigantic scale, it was not comparable in beauty and luxuriance with the really tropical vegetation induced by the hot, damp, and insular climate of those perennially humid Khasia Hills. The forest of gigantic trees on the Himalaya, many of them deciduous, appear from a distance as masses of dark grey foliage, clothing mountains 10,000 feet high. Whereas in the Khasia Hills the individual trees are smaller, more varied in kind, of a brilliant green, and contrast with grey limestone and red sandstone rocks. Still, even of the forest between Kurseong and Darjiling, Hooker says that it is difficult to conceive a grander mass of vegetation—the straight shafts of the timber trees shooting aloft, some naked and clean with grey, pale, or brown bark; others literally clothed for yards with a continuous garment of epiphytes (air-plants), one mass of blossoms, especially the white orchids, coelogynes, which, bloom in a profuse manner, whitening their trunks like snow. More bulky trunks bear masses of interlacing climbers—vines, hydrangea, and peppers. And often the supporting tree has long ago decayed away and their climbers now enclose a hollow. Perpetual moisture nourishes this dripping forest, and pendulous mosses and lichens are met with in profusion.
For this forest life, however, we cannot at present spare the attention that is its due, for we want above all things to see the mountains on the far side of this outer ridge. Tropical forests may be seen in many other parts of the world. But only here on all the Earth can we see mountains on so magnificent a scale. So we do not pause, but cross the ridge and come to the slopes and spurs which face northward, away from the plains and towards the main range of the Himalaya.
Here is situated Darjiling, which ought to be set apart as a sacred place of pilgrimage for all the world. Directly facing the snowy range and set in the midst of a vast forest of oaks and laurels, rhododendrons, magnolias, and camellias, the branches and trunks of which are festooned with vines and smilax and covered with ferns and orchids, and at the base of which grow violets, lobelias, and geraniums, with berberries, brambles, and hydrangeas—it is adapted as few other places are for the contemplation of Nature's Beauty in its most splendid aspects.
Its only disadvantage is that it is so continually shrouded in mist. The range on which it stands being the first range against which the moisture-laden currents from the Bay of Bengal strike, the rainfall is very heavy and amounts to 140 or 160 inches in the year. And even when rain is not actually falling there is much cloud hanging about the mountains. So the traveller cannot count upon seeing the snows. There is no certainty that as he tops the ridge or turns the corner he will see Kinchinjunga in the full blaze of its glory. He cannot be as sure of seeing it as he is of seeing a picture on entering a gallery. During the month of November alone is there a reasonable surety. All the rest of the year he must take his chance and possess his soul in patience till the mountain is graciously pleased to reveal herself.
Perhaps because of the uncertainty of seeing Kinchinjunga the view when it is seen is all the more impressive. The traveller waits for hours and days, even for only a glimpse. One minute's sight of the mountains would satisfy him. But still the clouds eddy about in fleecy billows wholly obscuring the mountains. Six thousand feet below may now and then be seen the silver streak of the Rangit River and forest-clad mountains beyond. Around him are dripping forests, each leaf glistening with freshest greenness, long mosses hanging from the boughs, and the most delicate ferns and noblest orchids growing on the stems and branches. All is very beautiful, but it is the mountain he wants to see; and still the cloud-waves collect and disperse, throw out tender streamers and feelers, disappear and collect again, but always keep a veil between him and the mountain.
Then of a sudden there is a rent in the veil. Without an inkling of when it is to happen or what is to be revealed, those mists of infinite softness part asunder for a space. The traveller is told to look. He raises his eyes but sees nothing. He throws back his head to look higher. Then indeed he sees, and as he sees he gasps. For a moment the current of his being comes to a standstill. Then it rushes back in one thrill of joy. Much he will have heard about Kinchinjunga beforehand. Much he will remember of it if he has seen it before. But neither the expectation nor the memory ever comes up to the reality. From that time, henceforth and for ever, his whole life is lifted to a higher plane.
Through the rent in the fleecy veil he sees clear and clean against the intense blue sky the snowy summit of Kinchinjunga, the culminating peak of lesser heights converging upward to it and all ethereal as spirit, white and pure in the sunshine, yet suffused with the delicatest hues of blue and mauve and pink. It is a vision of colour and warmth and light—a heaven of beauty, love, and truth.
But what really thrills us is the thought that, incredibly high though it is, yet that heaven is part of earth, and may conceivably be attained by man. It is nearly double the height of Mont Blanc and more than six times the height of Ben Nevis, but still it is rooted in earth and part of our own home. This is what causes the stir within us.
Hardly less striking than its height is its purity and serenity. The subtle tints of colour and the brilliant sunlight dispel any coldness we might feel, while the purity is still maintained. And the serenity is accentuated by the ceaseless movements of the eddying clouds through which the vision is seen. There is about Kinchinjunga the calm and repose of stupendous upward effort successfully achieved.
A sense of solemn elevation comes upon us as we view the mountain. We are uplifted. The entire scale of being is raised. Our outlook on life seems all at once to have been heightened. And not only is there this sense of elevation: we seem purified also. Meanness, pettiness, paltriness seem to shrink away abashed at the sight of that radiant purity.
The mountain has made appeal to, and called forth from us all that is most pure and most noble within us, and aroused our highest aspirations. Our heart, therefore, goes out lovingly to it. We long to see it again and again. We long to be always in a mood worthy of it. And we long to have that fineness of soul which would enable us to appreciate it still more fully. Glowing in the heart of the mountain is the pure flame of undaunted aspiration, and it sets something aglow in our hearts also which burns there unquenchably for the rest of our days. We see attainment of the I highest in the physical domain, and it stirs us to achieve the highest in the spiritual. Between ourselves and the mountain is the kinship of common effort towards high ends. And it is because of this kinship that we are able to see such lofty Beauty in the mountain.
For only a few minutes are we granted this heavenly vision. Then the veil is drawn again. But in those few minutes we have received an impression which has gone right down into the depths of our soul and will last there for a lifetime.
* * *
On other occasions the mountain is not so reserved, but reveals itself for whole days in all its glory. The central range of the Himalaya will be arrayed before us in its full majesty from one horizon to the other without a cloud to hide a single detail. We see the lesser ranges rolling up, wave after wave, in higher and higher effort towards the culminating line of peaks. And along this central line itself all the lesser heights we see converging on the supreme peak of Kinchinjunga. The scene, too, will be dazzling in the glorious sunshine and suffused with that purply-blue translucent atmosphere which gives to the whole a fairy-like, ethereal aspect.
And on this occasion we have no hurried glimpse of the mountain. We have ample time to contemplate it, looking at it, turning away from it to rest our souls from so deep an emotion, looking at it again, time after time, till we have entered into its spirit and its spirit has entered into us. And always our eyes insensibly revert to the culminating-point—the summit of Kinchinjunga itself. We note all the rich forest foreground, the deep valley beneath us, the verdure-covered subsidiary ranges, and the strong buttresses of the higher peaks. But our eyes do not linger there. They unconsciously raise themselves beyond them to the summit ridge. Nor do we look long on the distant peaks on either hand. They are over 24,000 feet in height. But they are not the highest. So our eyes pass over peaks of every remarkable form—abrupt, rugged, and enticing, and we seek the highest peak of all. And Kinchinjunga is a worthy mountain-monarch. It is not a needle-point—a sudden upstart which might easily be upset. Kinchinjunga is grand and massive and of ample gesture, broad and stable and yet also culminating in a clear and definite point. There is no mistaking her superiority both in massiveness and height to every peak around her.
And thick-mantled in deep and everlasting snow though the whole long range of mountains is, the spectacle of all this snow brings no chill upon us. For we are in latitudes more southern still than Italy and Greece—farther south than Cairo. The entire scene is bathed in warm and brilliant sunshine. The snows are glittering white, but with a white that does not strike cold upon us, for it is tinted in the tenderest way with the most delicate hues of blue and pink. They are, indeed, in the strictest sense not white at all, but a mingling of the very faintest essence of the rose, the violet, and the forget-me-not. And we view the distant mountains through an atmospheric veil which has the strange property of revealing instead of hiding the real nature of the object before which it stands. It does not conceal the mountains. It reveals them in their real nature—the spiritual. Each country has an atmosphere of its own. There is a blue of the Alps, a blue of Italy, a blue of Greece, and a blue of Kashmir. The blue of the Sikkim Himalaya, perhaps on account of the excessive amount of moisture in the air, has a special quality of its own. It seems to me to have more colour in it—a fuller colour, a bluer blue, a purpler purple than the atmosphere of these other countries. From this cause and from the greater brilliance of the sun there is a more satisfying warmth even in the snows.
So besides beauty in the form of the mountains there is this exquisite loveliness of colour. In the immediate foreground are greens, fresh and shining and of every tint. And these shade away into deep purples and violets of the supporting ranges, and these again into those most delicate hues of the snows which vary according to the time of day, from decided rose-pink in the early morning and evening to, perhaps, faintest blue or violet in the full day. And over all and as a background is a sky of the intensest blue. What these colours are it is impossible to describe in words, for even the violet, the rose, and the forget-me-not have not the delicacy which these colours in the atmosphere possess. And assuredly no painter could do them justice, simply because paints and canvas are mediums far too coarse in which to reproduce the impression which such brilliance of light acting on a medium so fine as the thin air produces. The great Russian painter Verestchagin once visited Darjiling, and took his seat to paint the scene. He looked and looked, but did not paint. His wife kept handing him the brush and paints. But time after time he said: "Not now, not now; it is all too splendid." Night came and the picture never was painted. And it never could be painted, though great artists most assuredly could at least point out to us in their pictures the subtler glories which are to be seen, and which we expect them to indicate to us.
* * *
So the view of the snows from Darjiling, grand and almost overpowering though it is, has warmth in it too. The main impression is one of magnitude and amplitude, of vastness and immensity, and withal of serene composure. The first view of the mountain seen through a rent in the clouds was perhaps more uplifting, though this view excites a sense of elevation also, for the eye is continually being drawn to the highest point. But in this full view the impression of breadth and bigness of scale is combined with the impression of height. The dimensions of life in every direction seem to be enlarged. We seem to be able to look at things from a broader, bigger point of view, as well as a higher. We ourselves and the world at large are all on a larger scale than we had hitherto suspected. And while on a broader scale, we feel that things are always working upward and converging towards some lofty but distinct, defined summit. This also do we feel, as we look upon the view, that with all the bigness and massiveness and loftiness there is the very finest tenderness as well—such delicacy as we had never before imagined.
And to anyone who really knows them the littleness of man in comparison with these mighty mountains is not the impression made upon him. He is not overawed and overcome by them. His soul goes out most lovingly to them because they have aroused in him all the greatness in his soul, and purified it—even if only for a time—of all its dross and despicableness. And he loves them for that. He does not go cringing along, feeling himself a worm in comparison with them. There is warm kinship between him and them. He knows what is in their soul. And they have aroused in his soul exactly what he rejoices in having aroused there, and which but for them might have remained for ever unsurmised. So he revels in their Beauty.
* * *
Another aspect in which we may see Kinchinjunga is in its aspect at dawn. It will be still night—a starlit night. The phantom snowy range and the fairy forms of the mountains will be bathed in that delicate yellow light the stars give forth. The far valley depths will be hidden in the sombrest purple. Overhead the sky will be glittering with brilliant gems set in a field of limpid sapphire. The hush of night will be over all—the hush which heralds some great and splendid pageant.
Then, almost before we have realised it, the eastward-facing scarps of the highest peaks are struck with rays of mingled rose and gold, and gleam like heavenly realms set high above the still night-enveloped world below. Farther and farther along the line, deep and deeper down it, the flush extends. The sapphire of the sky slowly lightens in its hue. The pale yellow of the starlight becomes merged in the gold of dawn. White billowy mists of most delicate softness imperceptibly form themselves in the valley depths and float up the mountain-sides. The deep hum of insect life, the chirping of the birds, the sounds of men, begin to break the hush of night. The snows become a delicate pink, the valleys are flooded with purple light, the sky becomes intensest blue, and the sun at last itself appears above the mountains, and the ardent life of day vibrates once more.
In the full glare of day the mountains are not seen at their very best. The best time of all to see them is in the evening. If we go out a little from Darjiling into the forest to some secluded spur we can enjoy an evening of rare felicity. On the edge of the spur the forest is more open. The ground is covered with grass and flowers and plants with many-coloured leaves. Rich orchids and tender ferns and pendant mosses clothe the trees. Graceful vines and creepers festoon themselves from bough to bough. The air is fragrant with the scent of flowers. Bright butterflies flutter noiselessly about. The soft purr of forest life drones around. Rays from the setting sun slant across the scene. The leaves in their freshest green and of every shade glitter like emeralds in the brilliant light.
Through the trunks of the stately trees and under their overarching boughs we look out towards the snowy mountains. We look over the brink of the spur, down into the deeps of the valleys richly filled with tropical vegetation, their eastward-facing sides now of purplest purple, their westward-facing slopes radiant in the evening sunshine, with the full richness of their foliage shown up by the dazzling light. Far below we see the silver streak of some foaming river, and then as we raise our eyes we mark ridge rising behind ridge, higher and higher and each of a deeper shade of purple than the one in front. The lower are still clothed in forest, but the green has been merged in the deep purple of the atmosphere. The higher are bare rock till the snow appears. But just across them floats a long level wisp of fleecy cloud, and apparently the limits of earth have been reached and sky has begun. We would rest content with that. But our eyes are drawn higher still. And high above the cloud, and rendered inconceivably higher by its presence, emerges the snowy summit of Kinchinjunga, serene and calm and flushed with the rose of the setting sun. As a background is a sky of the clearest, bluest blue.
These are the chief elements of the scene, but all is in process of incessant yet imperceptible change. The sunshine slowly softens, the purples deepen, the flush on the mountains reddens. The air becomes as soft as velvet. Not a leaf now stirs. A holy peace steals over the mountains and settles in the valleys. The snow mountains no longer look cold, hard, and austere. Their purity remains as true as ever. And they still possess their uplifting power. But they now speak of serenity and calm—not, indeed, of the unsatisfying ease of the slothful, but of the earned repose of high attainment. Great peace is about them—deep, strong, satisfying peace.
The sun finally sets. Night has settled in the valleys. The lights of Darjiling sparkle in the darkness. But long afterwards a glow still remains on Kinchinjunga. Lastly that also fades away. And now night spreads her veil on every part. But here night brings with it no sense of gloom and darkness, much less death. Far otherwise, for now it seems as if we were only beginning our intenser and still wider life. The fret of ordinary life is soothed away in the serene ending of the day. The quietness, profound and meaningful, yet further calms our spirit. Every condition is now favourable for the life of that inmost soul of us, which is too sensitive often to emerge into the glare and rubs of daylight life, but which in this holy peace, in the presence of the heavenly mountains, and with the stars above to guide it, can reach out to its fullest extent and indulge its highest aspirations.
From these scenes of tropical luxuriance and teeming life I would transport the Artist to a region of austerest beauty, far at the back of the Himalaya, where only one white man as yet has penetrated: where no life at all exists—no tree, no simplest plant, no humblest animalcula; where, save for some rugged precipice too steep for snow to lie, and save also for the intense azure of the sky, all is radiant whiteness. A region far distant from any haunt of man, where reigns a mountain which acknowledges supremacy to Mount Everest alone. A region of completest solitude, where the solemn silence is unbroken by the twitter of a single bird or the drone of the smallest insect, and is disturbed only by the occasional thunder of an avalanche or the grinding crunch of the glacier as a reminder of the titanic forces which are perpetually though invisibly at work.
Freezing this region is and full of danger. And there is no short cut to it and no easy means of transport. Only men in the prime of health can reach there and return. And it is only men whose faculties are at their finest who are fit to stand the austerity of its cold, stern beauty. It lies at the dividing line between India and Central Asia where the waters which flow to India are parted from the waters which flow to Central Asia, and where the Indian and Chinese Empires touch one another. It may be approached from two directions—from Turkistan or from Kashmir and the Karakoram Pass. The Artist had better approach it by Kashmir, for he will see there certain beauties which even Sikkim does not possess, and this will make him further realise the variety of beauty this earth displays.
Kashmir is altogether different from Sikkim. In Sikkim the valleys are deep, steep, and narrow, and markedly inclined, so that the rivers run strong and there is no room or level for lakes. In Kashmir the main valley is from twenty to thirty miles broad and ninety miles long. Over a large portion it is nearly dead level. So the river is even and placid. And there are tranquil lakes and duck-haunted marshes.
The climate is different, too. It is the climate of North Italy. Consequently there are no tropical forests, and the mountain-sides are covered with trees of the temperate zone—the stately deodar cedars, spruce fir, maples, walnut, sycamore, and birch; while in the valley itself grow poplars, willows, mulberries, and most beautiful of all, and a speciality of Kashmir, the magnificent chenar tree—akin to the plane tree of Europe, but larger, fuller, and richer in its foliage.
In Kashmir there is also far more variety of colour than there is in Sikkim. And in the spring, with the willows and poplars in freshest green; the almond, pear, apple, apricot, and peach trees in full blossom, white and pink; the fields emerald with young wheat, blue with linseed, or yellow with mustard; and the village-borders purple with iris; or in the autumn when the chenars, the poplars, and apricots are turning to every tint of red and yellow and purple, Kashmir is in a glow of colour. And the famous Valley is all the more beautiful because it is ringed round with a circle of snowy mountains of at least Alpine magnitude, with a glimpse here and there, such as that of Nanga Parbat, of much more stupendous peaks beyond; and because the sky is so blue, the atmosphere so delicate in its hues, and the sunshine so general throughout the year.
In this favoured land there is many a variety of beauty, but all is of the easy, pleasant kind. All the colours are soft and soothing. It is a land to dream of, a gentle and indulgent land of soft repose, and calm content, and quiet relaxation; a dreamy, peaceful land where life glides smoothly forward, and all makes for enjoyment and idleness and holiday.
From the pleasant Vale of Kashmir the Artist would have to make his way up the Sind Valley—a valley, typical of those beautiful tributaries which add so much to the whole charm of Kashmir. These are comparatively narrow, and the mountain-sides are steep, but the valleys are not so narrow nor the sides so steep as the valleys of Sikkim, nor are the forests anything like so dense. The scenery is, indeed, much more Swiss in appearance with open pine forests, picturesque hamlets, grassy pasture-lands, flowery meadows, and clear, rushing rivers; and with the rocky crests or snow-capped summits of the engirdling mountains always in the background.
But when we emerge from this delightful valley of the Sind River and cross the Zoji-la Pass, we come upon a very different style of country—bare, dreary, desolate, monotonous, uninteresting. The forest has all disappeared, for the rainfall is here slight. The moisture-laden clouds have precipitated themselves upon the seaward-facing slopes of the mountains we have already passed through. And because of this lack of rainfall the valleys are not cut out deep, but are high and broad. It is a delightful experience to pass from this brown, depressing landscape to the rich beauties of the Sind Valley and Kashmir. But to make the journey the other way round, and to pass into the gloomy region after being spoilt by the luxuries of Kashmir, is sadly disheartening at first.
The experience has, however, its advantages, for it makes us throw off all ideas of soft ease we may have harboured in Kashmir, and reminds us that we have to prepare ourselves to face beauties of a far sterner kind. So we insensibly alter our whole attitude of mind, and as we plod our way through the mountains we summon up from within ourselves all the austerer stuff of which we are made.
We cross some easy passes of 13,000 feet or so in height. We cross the River Indus. We reach Leh. We cross a 17,000 feet pass and then a glacier pass of 18,000 feet, and then the watershed of India and Central Asia by the Karakoram Pass, nearly 19,000 feet in height. We are six hundred miles from the plains of India now, and in about as desolate a region as the world contains. Then, bearing westward, we make for the Aghil Pass. We have now got right in behind the Himalaya, and as we reach the top of the Aghil Pass we look towards the Himalaya from the Central Asian side, on what is known as the Karakoram Range, and here at last is the remote, secluded glacier region which has been the object of our search.
Its glory bursts upon us as we top the last rise to the Aghil Pass. Across the deep valley is arrayed in bold and jagged outline a series of pinnacles of ice glistening in the brilliant sunshine, showing up in clearest definition against the intense blue sky, and rising abruptly and incredibly high above the rock-bound Oprang River. They are the mighty peaks which group around K2—the noblest cluster in the whole Himalaya.
There are here no inviting grassy slopes and no enticing forests. The mountain-sides are all hard rock and rugged precipices. And the summits are of ice or with edges sharp and keen direct from Nature's workshop. But the sight, though it awes us, does not depress us or deter us. We are keyed up by high anticipation when we arrive on the threshold of this secluded region, and a fierce joy seizes us as we first set eyes on these mountains. We know we have before us one of the great sights of the world—something unique and apart, something the like of which we shall never see again. And awed as we are by the mountains' unsurpassed magnificence, we do not bow down in any abject way before them. We are not impressed by our littleness in comparison. They have, indeed, shown us that the world is something greater than we knew. But they have shown us also that we too are something greater than we knew. The peaks in their dazzling altitude have set an exacting standard for us. They have incited us to rise to that standard. Their call is great, but a thrill runs through us as we feel ourselves responding to the challenge, collecting ourselves together and gathering up every stiffest bit of ourselves to rise to their high standard. We feel nerved and steeled; and in high exhilaration we plunge down into the valley to join issue with the mountains.
Arrived on the Oprang River we can turn either to the left or the right. If we turn to the left we get right in under a knot of stupendous peaks. Towering high and solitary above the rocky wall which bounds the valley on the south is a peak which may be K2, 28,250 feet in height, which must be somewhere in the neighbourhood. But the investigations of the Duke of the Abruzzi throw a doubt as to whether this can be K2 itself. If it is not, it must be some unfixed and unnamed peak. At any rate it is a magnificent, upstanding peak rising proud and steep-sided high and clear above its neighbours. Then beyond it, farther up the Oprang Valley, we catch glimpses of that wondrous company of Gusherbrum Peaks—four of them over 26,000 feet in height, with rich glaciers flowing from them.
But if we turn to the right on descending from the Aghil Pass, and if we turn again in the direction of the Mustagh Pass, we come to an icy realm which has about it, above every other region, the impress of both extreme remoteness and loftiest seclusion. As we ascend right up the glacier—either the one coming down from the Mustagh Pass or the one to the east running parallel with the general line of the Karakoram Range—we feel not only far away from but also high above the rest of the world. And we seem to have risen to an altogether purer region. Especially if we sleep in the open, without any tent, with the mountains always before us, with the stars twinkling brightly above us, do we have this sense of having ascended to a loftier and serener world.
At the heads of these glaciers there is little else but snow and ice. The moraines have almost disappeared—or, rather, have hardly yet come into being. And the mountains are so deeply clothed in ice and snow, it is only when they are extremely steep that rock appears. The glacier-filled valley below and the mountain above are therefore almost purely white. The atmosphere, too, is marvellously clear, so that by day the mountains and glaciers glitter brightly in the sunshine, and at night the stars shine out with diamond brilliance. The effect on a moonlight night is that of fairyland. We see the mountains as clearly as we would by the daylight of many regions, but the light is now all silver, and the mountains not solid and substantial but ethereal as in a vision.