Where were we to go next? Into the far west, to see how all the way along the railroads the new rocks and soils lie above the older, and yet how, when we get westward, the oldest rocks rise highest into the air.
Well, we will go: but not, I think, to-day. Indeed I hardly know how we could get as far as Reading; for all the world is in the hay-field, and even the old horse must go thither too, and take his turn at the hay-cart. Well, the rocks have been where they are for many a year, and they will wait our leisure patiently enough: but Midsummer and the hay- field will not wait. Let us take what God gives when He sends it, and learn the lesson that lies nearest to us. After all, it is more to my old mind, and perhaps to your young mind too, to look at things which are young and fresh and living, rather than things which are old and worn and dead. Let us leave the old stones, and the old bones, and the old shells, the wrecks of ancient worlds which have gone down into the kingdom of death, to teach us their grand lessons some other day; and let us look now at the world of light and life and beauty, which begins here at the open door, and stretches away over the hay-fields, over the woods, over the southern moors, over sunny France, and sunnier Spain, and over the tropic seas, down to the equator, and the palm-groves of the eternal summer. If we cannot find something, even at starting from the open door, to teach us about Why and How, we must be very short-sighted, or very shallow-hearted.
There is the old cock starling screeching in the eaves, because he wants to frighten us away, and take a worm to his children, without our finding out whereabouts his hole is. How does he know that we might hurt him? and how again does he not know that we shall not hurt him? we, who for five-and-twenty years have let him and his ancestors build under those eaves in peace? How did he get that quantity of half-wit, that sort of stupid cunning, into his little brain, and yet get no more? And why (for this is a question of Why, and not of How) does he labour all day long, hunting for worms and insects for his children, while his wife nurses them in the nest? Why, too, did he help her to build that nest with toil and care this spring, for the sake of a set of nestlings who can be of no gain or use to him, but only take the food out of his mouth? Simply out of--what shall I call it, my child?--Love; that same sense of love and duty, coming surely from that one Fountain of all duty and all love, which makes your father work for you. That the mother should take care of her young, is wonderful enough; but that (at least among many birds) the father should help likewise, is (as you will find out as you grow older) more wonderful far. So there already the old starling has set us two fresh puzzles about How and Why, neither of which we shall get answered, at least on this side of the grave.
Come on, up the field, under the great generous sun, who quarrels with no one, grudges no one, but shines alike upon the evil and the good. What a gay picture he is painting now, with his light-pencils; for in them, remember, and not in the things themselves the colour lies. See how, where the hay has been already carried, he floods all the slopes with yellow light, making them stand out sharp against the black shadows of the wood; while where the grass is standing still, he makes the sheets of sorrel-flower blush rosy red, or dapples the field with white oxeyes.
But is not the sorrel itself red, and the oxeyes white?
What colour are they at night, when the sun is gone?
That is, no colour. The very grass is not green at night.
Oh, but it is if you look at it with a lantern.
No, no. It is the light of the lantern, which happens to be strong enough to make the leaves look green, though it is not strong enough to make a geranium look red.
No; the geranium flowers by a lantern look black, while the leaves look green. If you don't believe me, we will try.
But why is that?
Why, I cannot tell: and how, you had best ask Professor Tyndall, if you ever have the honour of meeting him.
But now--hark to the mowing-machine, humming like a giant night-jar. Come up and look at it, and see how swift and smooth it shears the long grass down, so that in the middle of the swathe it seems to have merely fallen flat, and you must move it before you find that it has been cut off.
Ah, there is a proof to us of what men may do if they will only learn the lessons which Madam How can teach them. There is that boy, fresh from the National School, cutting more grass in a day than six strong mowers could have cut, and cutting it better, too; for the mowing-machine goes so much nearer to the ground than the scythe, that we gain by it two hundredweight of hay on every acre. And see, too, how persevering old Madam How will not stop her work, though the machine has cut off all the grass which she has been making for the last three months; for as fast as we shear it off, she makes it grow again. There are fresh blades, here at our feet, a full inch long, which have sprung up in the last two days, for the cattle when they are turned in next week.
But if the machine cuts all the grass, the poor mowers will have nothing to do.
Not so. They are all busy enough elsewhere. There is plenty of other work to be done, thank God; and wholesomer and easier work than mowing with a burning sun on their backs, drinking gallons of beer, and getting first hot and then cold across the loins, till they lay in a store of lumbago and sciatica, to cripple them in their old age. You delight in machinery because it is curious: you should delight in it besides because it does good, and nothing but good, where it is used, according to the laws of Lady Why, with care, moderation, and mercy, and fair-play between man and man. For example: just as the mowing-machine saves the mowers, the threshing-machine saves the threshers from rheumatism and chest complaints,--which they used to catch in the draught and dust of the unhealthiest place in the whole parish, which is, the old-fashioned barn's floor. And so, we may hope, in future years all heavy drudgery and dirty work will be done more and more by machines, and people will have more and more chance of keeping themselves clean and healthy, and more and more time to read, and learn, and think, and be true civilised men and women, instead of being mere live ploughs, or live manure-carts, such as I have seen ere now.
A live manure-cart?
Yes, child. If you had seen, as I have seen, in foreign lands, poor women, haggard, dirty, grown old before their youth was over, toiling up hill with baskets of foul manure upon their backs, you would have said, as I have said, "Oh for Madam How to cure that ignorance! Oh for Lady Why to cure that barbarism! Oh that Madam How would teach them that machinery must always be cheaper in the long run than human muscles and nerves! Oh that Lady Why would teach them that a woman is the most precious thing on earth, and that if she be turned into a beast of burden, Lady Why--and Madam How likewise--will surely avenge the wrongs of their human sister!" There, you do not quite know what I mean, and I do not care that you should. It is good for little folk that big folk should now and then "talk over their heads," as the saying is, and make them feel how ignorant they are, and how many solemn and earnest questions there are in the world on which they must make up their minds some day, though not yet. But now we will talk about the hay: or rather do you and the rest go and play in the hay and gather it up, build forts of it, storm them, pull them down, build them up again, shout, laugh, and scream till you are hot and tired. You will please Madam How thereby, and Lady Why likewise.
Because Madam How naturally wants her work to succeed, and she is at work now making you.
Of course. Making a man of you, out of a boy. And that can only be done by the life-blood which runs through and through you. And the more you laugh and shout, the more pure air will pass into your blood, and make it red and healthy; and the more you romp and play--unless you overtire yourself--the quicker will that blood flow through all your limbs, to make bone and muscle, and help you to grow into a man.
But why does Lady Why like to see us play?
She likes to see you happy, as she likes to see the trees and birds happy. For she knows well that there is no food, nor medicine either, like happiness. If people are not happy enough, they are often tempted to do many wrong deeds, and to think many wrong thoughts: and if by God's grace they know the laws of Lady Why, and keep from sin, still unhappiness, if it goes on too long, wears them out, body and mind; and they grow ill and die, of broken hearts, and broken brains, my child; and so at last, poor souls, find "Rest beneath the Cross."
Children, too, who are unhappy; children who are bullied, and frightened, and kept dull and silent, never thrive. Their bodies do not thrive; for they grow up weak. Their minds do not thrive; for they grow up dull. Their souls do not thrive; for they learn mean, sly, slavish ways, which God forbid you should ever learn. Well said the wise man, "The human plant, like the vegetables, can only flower in sunshine."
So do you go, and enjoy yourself in the sunshine; but remember this--You know what happiness is. Then if you wish to please Lady Why, and Lady Why's Lord and King likewise, you will never pass a little child without trying to make it happier, even by a passing smile. And now be off, and play in the hay, and come back to me when you are tired.
* * * * * * *
Let us lie down at the foot of this old oak, and see what we can see.
And hear what we can hear, too. What is that humming all round us, now that the noisy mowing-machine has stopped?
And as much softer than the noise of mowing-machine hum, as the machines which make it are more delicate and more curious. Madam How is a very skilful workwoman, and has eyes which see deeper and clearer than all microscopes; as you would find, if you tried to see what makes that "Midsummer hum" of which the haymakers are so fond, because it promises fair weather.
Why, it is only the gnats and flies.
Only the gnats and flies? You might study those gnats and flies for your whole life without finding out all--or more than a very little--about them. I wish I knew how they move those tiny wings of theirs--a thousand times in a second, I dare say, some of them. I wish I knew how far they know that they are happy--for happy they must be, whether they know it or not. I wish I knew how they live at all. I wish I even knew how many sorts there are humming round us at this moment.
How many kinds? Three or four?
More probably thirty or forty round this single tree.
But why should there be so many kinds of living things? Would not one or two have done just as well?
Why, indeed? Why should there not have been only one sort of butterfly, and he only of one colour, a plain brown, or a plain white?
And why should there be so many sorts of birds, all robbing the garden at once? Thrushes, and blackbirds, and sparrows, and chaffinches, and greenfinches, and bullfinches, and tomtits.
And there are four kinds of tomtits round here, remember: but we may go on with such talk for ever. Wiser men than we have asked the same question: but Lady Why will not answer them yet. However, there is another question, which Madam How seems inclined to answer just now, which is almost as deep and mysterious.
How all these different kinds of things became different.
Oh, do tell me!
Not I. You must begin at the beginning, before you can end at the end, or even make one step towards the end.
What do you mean?
You must learn the differences between things, before you can find out how those differences came about. You must learn Madam How's alphabet before you can read her book. And Madam How's alphabet of animals and plants is, Species, Kinds of things. You must see which are like, and which unlike; what they are like in, and what they are unlike in. You are beginning to do that with your collection of butterflies. You like to arrange them, and those that are most like nearest to each other, and to compare them. You must do that with thousands of different kinds of things before you can read one page of Madam How's Natural History Book rightly.
But it will take so much time and so much trouble.
God grant that you may not spend more time on worse matters, and take more trouble over things which will profit you far less. But so it must be, willy-nilly. You must learn the alphabet if you mean to read. And you must learn the value of the figures before you can do a sum. Why, what would you think of any one who sat down to play at cards--for money too (which I hope and trust you never will do)--before he knew the names of the cards, and which counted highest, and took the other?
Of course he would be very foolish.
Just as foolish are those who make up "theories" (as they call them) about this world, and how it was made, before they have found out what the world is made of. You might as well try to find out how this hay- field was made, without finding out first what the hay is made of.
How the hay-field was made? Was it not always a hay-field?
Ah, yes; the old story, my child: Was not the earth always just what it is now? Let us see for ourselves whether this was always a hay-field.
Just pick out all the different kinds of plants and flowers you can find round us here. How many do you think there are?
Oh--there seem to be four or five.
Just as there were three or four kinds of flies in the air. Pick them, child, and count. Let us have facts.
How many? What! a dozen already?
Yes--and here is another, and another. Why, I have got I don't know how many.
Why not? Bring them here, and let us see. Nine kinds of grasses, and a rush. Six kinds of clovers and vetches; and besides, dandelion, and rattle, and oxeye, and sorrel, and plantain, and buttercup, and a little stitchwort, and pignut, and mouse-ear hawkweed, too, which nobody wants.
Because they are a sign that I am not a good farmer enough, and have not quite turned my Wild into Field.
What do you mean?
Look outside the boundary fence, at the moors and woods; they are forest, Wild--"Wald," as the Germans would call it. Inside the fence is Field--"Feld," as the Germans would call it. Guess why?
Is it because the trees inside have been felled?
Well, some say so, who know more than I. But now go over the fence, and see how many of these plants you can find on the moor.
Oh, I think I know. I am so often on the moor.
I think you would find more kinds outside than you fancy. But what do you know?
That beside some short fine grass about the cattle-paths, there are hardly any grasses on the moor save deer's hair and glade-grass; and all the rest is heath, and moss, and furze, and fern.
Softly--not all; you have forgotten the bog plants; and there are (as I said) many more plants beside on the moor than you fancy. But we will look into that another time. At all events, the plants outside are on the whole quite different from the hay-field.
Of course: that is what makes the field look green and the moor brown.
Not a doubt. They are so different, that they look like bits of two different continents. Scrambling over the fence is like scrambling out of Europe into Australia. Now, how was that difference made? Think. Don't guess, but think. Why does the rich grass come up to the bank, and yet not spread beyond it?
I suppose because it cannot get over.
Not get over? Would not the wind blow the seeds, and the birds carry them? They do get over, in millions, I don't doubt, every summer.
Then why do they not grow?
Is there any difference in the soil inside and out?
A very good guess. But guesses are no use without facts. Look.
Oh, I remember now. I know now the soil of the field is brown, like the garden; and the soil of the moor all black and peaty.
Yes. But if you dig down two or three feet, you will find the soils of the moor and the field just the same. So perhaps the top soils were once both alike.
Well, and what do you think about it now? I want you to look and think. I want every one to look and think. Half the misery in the world comes first from not looking, and then from not thinking. And I do not want you to be miserable.
But shall I be miserable if I do not find out such little things as this.
You will be miserable if you do not learn to understand little things: because then you will not be able to understand great things when you meet them. Children who are not trained to use their eyes and their common sense grow up the more miserable the cleverer they are.
Because they grow up what men call dreamers, and bigots, and fanatics, causing misery to themselves and to all who deal with them. So I say again, think.
Well, I suppose men must have altered the soil inside the bank.
Well done. But why do you think so?
Because, of course, some one made the bank; and the brown soil only goes up to it.
Well, that is something like common sense. Now you will not say any more, as the cows or the butterflies might, that the hay-field was always there.
And how did men change the soil?
By tilling it with the plough, to sweeten it, and manuring it, to make it rich.
And then did all these beautiful grasses grow up of themselves?
You ought to know that they most likely did not. You know the new enclosures?
Well then, do rich grasses come up on them, now that they are broken up?
Oh no, nothing but groundsel, and a few weeds.
Just what, I dare say, came up here at first. But this land was tilled for corn, for hundreds of years, I believe. And just about one hundred years ago it was laid down in grass; that is, sown with grass seeds.
And where did men get the grass seeds from?
Ah, that is a long story; and one that shows our forefathers (though they knew nothing about railroads or electricity) were not such simpletons as some folks think. The way it must have been done was this. Men watched the natural pastures where cattle get fat on the wild grass, as they do in the Fens, and many other parts of England. And then they saved the seeds of those fattening wild grasses, and sowed them in fresh spots. Often they made mistakes. They were careless, and got weeds among the seed--like the buttercups, which do so much harm to this pasture. Or they sowed on soil which would not suit the seed, and it died. But at last, after many failures, they have grown so careful and so clever, that you may send to certain shops, saying what sort of soil yours is, and they will send you just the seeds which will grow there, and no other; and then you have a good pasture for as long as you choose to keep it good.
And how is it kept good?
Look at all those loads of hay, which are being carried off the field. Do you think you can take all that away without putting anything in its place?
If I took all the butter out of the churn, what must I do if I want more butter still?
Put more cream in.
So, if I want more grass to grow, I must put on the soil more of what grass is made of.
But the butter don't grow, and the grass does.
What does the grass grow in?
Yes. Just as the butter grows in the churn. So you must put fresh grass- stuff continually into the soil, as you put fresh cream into the churn. You have heard the farm men say, "That crop has taken a good deal out of the land"?
Then they spoke exact truth. What will that hay turn into by Christmas? Can't you tell? Into milk, of course, which you will drink; and into horseflesh too, which you will use.
Use horseflesh? Not eat it?
No; we have not got as far as that. We did not even make up our minds to taste the Cambridge donkey. But every time the horse draws the carriage, he uses up so much muscle; and that muscle he must get back again by eating hay and corn; and that hay and corn must be put back again into the land by manure, or there will be all the less for the horse next year. For one cannot eat one's cake and keep it too; and no more can one eat one's grass.
So this field is a truly wonderful place. It is no ugly pile of brick and mortar, with a tall chimney pouring out smoke and evil smells, with unhealthy, haggard people toiling inside. Why do you look surprised?
Because--because nobody ever said it was. You mean a manufactory.
Well, and this hay-field is a manufactory: only like most of Madam How's workshops, infinitely more beautiful, as well as infinitely more crafty, than any manufactory of man's building. It is beautiful to behold, and healthy to work in; a joy and blessing alike to the eye, and the mind, and the body: and yet it is a manufactory.
But a manufactory of what?
Of milk of course, and cows, and sheep, and horses; and of your body and mine--for we shall drink the milk and eat the meat. And therefore it is a flesh and milk manufactory. We must put into it every year yard-stuff, tank-stuff, guano, bones, and anything and everything of that kin, that Madam How may cook it for us into grass, and cook the grass again into milk and meat. But if we don't give Madam How material to work on, we cannot expect her to work for us. And what do you think will happen then? She will set to work for herself. The rich grasses will dwindle for want of ammonia (that is smelling salts), and the rich clovers for want of phosphates (that is bone-earth): and in their places will come over the bank the old weeds and grass off the moor, which have not room to get in now, because the ground is coveted already. They want no ammonia nor phosphates--at all events they have none, and that is why the cattle on the moor never get fat. So they can live where these rich grasses cannot. And then they will conquer and thrive; and the Field will turn into Wild once more.
Ah, my child, thank God for your forefathers, when you look over that boundary mark. For the difference between the Field and the Wild is the difference between the old England of Madam How's making, and the new England which she has taught man to make, carrying on what she had only begun and had not time to finish.
That moor is a pattern bit left to show what the greater part of this land was like for long ages after it had risen out of the sea; when there was little or nothing on the flat upper moors save heaths, and ling, and club-mosses, and soft gorse, and needle-whin, and creeping willows; and furze and fern upon the brows; and in the bottoms oak and ash, beech and alder, hazel and mountain ash, holly and thorn, with here and there an aspen or a buckthorn (berry-bearing alder as you call it), and everywhere--where he could thrust down his long root, and thrust up his long shoots--that intruding conqueror and insolent tyrant, the bramble. There were sedges and rushes, too, in the bogs, and coarse grass on the forest pastures--or "leas" as we call them to this day round here--but no real green fields; and, I suspect, very few gay flowers, save in spring the sheets of golden gorse, and in summer the purple heather. Such was old England--or rather, such was this land before it was England; a far sadder, damper, poorer land than now. For one man or one cow or sheep which could have lived on it then, a hundred can live now. And yet, what it was once, that it might become again,--it surely would round here, if this brave English people died out of it, and the land was left to itself once more.
What would happen then, you may guess for yourself, from what you see happen whenever the land is left to itself, as it is in the wood above. In that wood you can still see the grass ridges and furrows which show that it was once ploughed and sown by man; perhaps as late as the time of Henry the Eighth, when a great deal of poor land, as you will read some day, was thrown out of tillage, to become forest and down once more. And what is the mount now? A jungle of oak and beech, cherry and holly, young and old all growing up together, with the mountain ash and bramble and furze coming up so fast beneath them, that we have to cut the paths clear again year by year. Why, even the little cow-wheat, a very old- world plant, which only grows in ancient woods, has found its way back again, I know not whence, and covers the open spaces with its pretty yellow and white flowers. Man had conquered this mount, you see, from Madam How, hundreds of years ago. And she always lets man conquer her, because Lady Why wishes man to conquer: only he must have a fair fight with Madam How first, and try his strength against hers to the utmost. So man conquered the wood for a while; and it became cornfield instead of forest: but he was not strong and wise enough three hundred years ago to keep what he had conquered; and back came Madam How, and took the place into her own hands, and bade the old forest trees and plants come back again--as they would come if they were not stopped year by year, down from the wood, over the pastures--killing the rich grasses as they went, till they met another forest coming up from below, and fought it for many a year, till both made peace, and lived quietly side by side for ages.
Another forest coming up from below? Where would it come from?
From where it is now. Come down and look along the brook, and every drain and grip which runs into the brook. What is here?
Seedling alders, and some withies among them.
Very well. You know how we pull these alders up, and cut them down, and yet they continually come again. Now, if we and all human beings were to leave this pasture for a few hundred years, would not those alders increase into a wood? Would they not kill the grass, and spread right and left, seeding themselves more and more as the grass died, and left the ground bare, till they met the oaks and beeches coming down the hill? And then would begin a great fight, for years and years, between oak and beech against alder and willow.
But how can trees fight? Could they move or beat each other with their boughs?
Not quite that; though they do beat each other with their boughs, fiercely enough, in a gale of wind; and then the trees who have strong and stiff boughs wound those who have brittle and limp boughs, and so hurt them, and if the storms come often enough, kill them. But among these trees in a sheltered valley the larger and stronger would kill the weaker and smaller by simply overshadowing their tops, and starving their roots; starving them, indeed, so much when they grow very thick, that the poor little acorns, and beech mast, and alder seeds would not be able to sprout at all. So they would fight, killing each other's children, till the war ended--I think I can guess how.
The beeches are as dainty as they are beautiful; and they do not like to get their feet wet. So they would venture down the hill only as far as the dry ground lasts, and those who tried to grow any lower would die. But the oaks are hardy, and do not care much where they grow. So they would fight their way down into the wet ground among the alders and willows, till they came to where their enemies were so thick and tall, that the acorns as they fell could not sprout in the darkness. And so you would have at last, along the hill-side, a forest of beech and oak, lower down a forest of oak and alder, and along the stream-side alders and willows only. And that would be a very fair example of the great law of the struggle for existence, which causes the competition of species.
What is that?
Madam How is very stern, though she is always perfectly just; and therefore she makes every living thing fight for its life, and earn its bread, from its birth till its death; and rewards it exactly according to its deserts, and neither more nor less.
And the competition of species means, that each thing, and kind of things, has to compete against the things round it; and to see which is the stronger; and the stronger live, and breed, and spread, and the weaker die out.
But that is very hard.
I know it, my child, I know it. But so it is. And Madam How, no doubt, would be often very clumsy and very cruel, without meaning it, because she never sees beyond her own nose, or thinks at all about the consequences of what she is doing. But Lady Why, who does think about consequences, is her mistress, and orders her about for ever. And Lady Why is, I believe, as loving as she is wise; and therefore we must trust that she guides this great war between living things, and takes care that Madam How kills nothing which ought not to die, and takes nothing away without putting something more beautiful and something more useful in its place; and that even if England were, which God forbid, overrun once more with forests and bramble-brakes, that too would be of use somehow, somewhere, somewhen, in the long ages which are to come hereafter.
And you must remember, too, that since men came into the world with rational heads on their shoulders, Lady Why has been handing over more and more of Madam How's work to them, and some of her own work too: and bids them to put beautiful and useful things in the place of ugly and useless ones; so that now it is men's own fault if they do not use their wits, and do by all the world what they have done by these pastures--change it from a barren moor into a rich hay-field, by copying the laws of Madam How, and making grass compete against heath. But you look thoughtful: what is it you want to know?
Why, you say all living things must fight and scramble for what they can get from each other: and must not I too? For I am a living thing.
Ah, that is the old question, which our Lord answered long ago, and said, "Be not anxious what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, or wherewithal you shall be clothed. For after all these things do the heathen seek, and your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." A few, very few, people have taken that advice. But they have been just the salt of the earth, which has kept mankind from decaying.
But what has that to do with it?
See. You are a living thing, you say. Are you a plant?
Are you an animal?
I do not know. Yes. I suppose I am. I eat, and drink, and sleep, just as dogs and cats do.
Yes. There is no denying that. No one knew that better than St. Paul when he told men that they had a flesh; that is, a body, and an animal's nature in them. But St. Paul told them--of course he was not the first to say so, for all the wise heathens have known that--that there was something more in us, which he called a spirit. Some call it now the moral sentiment, some one thing, some another, but we will keep to the old word: we shall not find a better.
Yes, I know that I have a spirit, a soul.
Better to say that you are a spirit. But what does St. Paul say? That our spirit is to conquer our flesh, and keep it down. That the man in us, in short, which is made in the likeness of God, is to conquer the animal in us, which is made in the likeness of the dog and the cat, and sometimes (I fear) in the likeness of the ape or the pig. You would not wish to be like a cat, much less like an ape or a pig?
Of course not.
Then do not copy them, by competing and struggling for existence against other people.
What do you mean?
Did you never watch the pigs feeding?
Yes, and how they grudge and quarrel, and shove each other's noses out of the trough, and even bite each other because they are so jealous which shall get most.
That is it. And how the biggest pig drives the others away, and would starve them while he got fat, if the man did not drive him off in his turn.
Oh, yes; I know.
Then no wiser than those pigs are worldly men who compete, and grudge, and struggle with each other, which shall get most money, most fame, most power over their fellow-men. They will tell you, my child, that that is the true philosophy, and the true wisdom; that competition is the natural law of society, and the source of wealth and prosperity. Do not you listen to them. That is the wisdom of this world, which the flesh teaches the animals; and those who follow it, like the animals, will perish. Such men are not even as wise as Sweep the retriever.
Not as wise as Sweep?
Not they. Sweep will not take away Victor's bone, though he is ten times as big as Victor, and could kill him in a moment; and when he catches a rabbit, does he eat it himself?
Of course not; he brings it and lays it down at our feet.
Because he likes better to do his duty, and be praised for it, than to eat the rabbit, dearly as he longs to eat it.
But he is only an animal. Who taught him to be generous, and dutiful, and faithful?
Who, indeed! Not we, you know that, for he has grown up with us since a puppy. How he learnt it, and his parents before him, is a mystery, of which we can only say, God has taught them, we know not how. But see what has happened--that just because dogs have learnt not to be selfish and to compete--that is, have become civilised and tame--therefore we let them live with us, and love them. Because they try to be good in their simple way, therefore they too have all things added to them, and live far happier, and more comfortable lives than the selfish wolf and fox.
But why have not all animals found out that?
I cannot tell: there may be wise animals and foolish animals, as there are wise and foolish men. Indeed there are. I see a very wise animal there, who never competes; for she has learned something of the golden lesson--that it is more blessed to give than to receive; and she acts on what she has learnt, all day long.
Which do you mean? Why, that is a bee.
Yes, it is a bee: and I wish I were as worthy in my place as that bee is in hers. I wish I could act up as well as she does to the true wisdom, which is self-sacrifice. For whom is that bee working? For herself? If that was all, she only needs to suck the honey as she goes. But she is storing up the wax under her stomach, and bee-bread in her thighs--for whom? Not for herself only, or even for her own children: but for the children of another bee, her queen. For them she labours all day long, builds for them, feeds them, nurses them, spends her love and cunning on them. So does that ant on the path. She is carrying home that stick to build for other ants' children. So do the white ants in the tropics. They have learnt not to compete, but to help each other; not to be selfish, but to sacrifice themselves; and therefore they are strong.
But you told me once that ants would fight and plunder each other's nests. And once we saw two hives of bees fighting in the air, and falling dead by dozens.
My child, do not men fight, and kill each other by thousands with sharp shot and cold steel, because, though they have learnt the virtue of patriotism, they have not yet learnt that of humanity? We must not blame the bees and ants if they are no wiser than men. At least they are wise enough to stand up for their country, that is, their hive, and work for it, and die for it, if need be; and that makes them strong.
But how does that make them strong?
How, is a deep question, and one I can hardly answer yet. But that it has made them so there is no doubt. Look at the solitary bees--the governors as we call them, who live in pairs, in little holes in the banks. How few of them there are; and they never seem to increase in numbers. Then look at the hive bees, how, just because they are civilised,--that is, because they help each other, and feed each other, instead of being solitary and selfish,--they breed so fast, and get so much food, that if they were not killed for their honey, they would soon become a nuisance, and drive us out of the parish.
But then we give them their hives ready made.
True. But in old forest countries, where trees decay and grow hollow, the bees breed in them.
Yes. I remember the bee tree in the fir avenue.
Well then, in many forests in hot countries the bees swarm in hollow trees; and they, and the ants, and the white ants, have it all their own way, and are lords and masters, driving the very wild beasts before them, while the ants and white ants eat up all gardens, and plantations, and clothes, and furniture; till it is a serious question whether in some hot countries man will ever be able to settle, so strong have the ants grown, by ages of civilisation, and not competing against their brothers and sisters.
But may I not compete for prizes against the other boys?
Well, there is no harm in that; for you do not harm the others, even if you win. They will have learnt all the more, while trying for the prize; and so will you, even if you don't get it. But I tell you fairly, trying for prizes is only fit for a child; and when you become a man, you must put away childish things--competition among the rest.
But surely I may try to be better and wiser and more learned than everybody else?
My dearest child, why try for that? Try to be as good, and wise, and learned as you can, and if you find any man, or ten thousand men, superior to you, thank God for it. Do you think that there can be too much wisdom in the world?
Of course not: but I should like to be the wisest man in it.
Then you would only have the heaviest burden of all men on your shoulders.
Because you would be responsible for more foolish people than any one else. Remember what wise old Moses said, when some one came and told him that certain men in the camp were prophesying--"Would God all the Lord's people did prophesy!" Yes; it would have saved Moses many a heartache, and many a sleepless night, if all the Jews had been wise as he was, and wiser still. So do not you compete with good and wise men, but simply copy them: and whatever you do, do not compete with the wolves, and the apes, and the swine of this world; for that is a game at which you are sure to be beaten.
Because Lady Why, if she loves you (as I trust she does), will take care that you are beaten, lest you should fancy it was really profitable to live like a cunning sort of animal, and not like a true man. And how she will do that I can tell you. She will take care that you always come across a worse man than you are trying to be,--a more apish man, who can tumble and play monkey-tricks for people's amusement better than you can; or a more swinish man, who can get at more of the pig's-wash than you can; or a more wolfish man, who will eat you up if you do not get out of his way; and so she will disappoint and disgust you, my child, with that greedy, selfish, vain animal life, till you turn round and see your mistake, and try to live the true human life, which also is divine;--to be just and honourable, gentle and forgiving, generous and useful--in one word, to fear God, and keep His commandments: and as you live that life, you will find that, by the eternal laws of Lady Why, all other things will be added to you; that people will be glad to know you, glad to help you, glad to employ you, because they see that you will be of use to them, and will do them no harm. And if you meet (as you will meet) with people better and wiser than yourself, then so much the better for you; for they will love you, and be glad to teach you when they see that you are living the unselfish and harmless life; and that you come to them, not as foolish Critias came to Socrates, to learn political cunning, and become a selfish and ambitious tyrant, but as wise Plato came, that he might learn the laws of Lady Why, and love them for her sake, and teach them to all mankind. And so you, like the plants and animals, will get your deserts exactly, without competing and struggling for existence as they do.
And all this has come out of looking at the hay-field and the wild moor.
Why not? There is an animal in you, and there is a man in you. If the animal gets the upper hand, all your character will fall back into wild useless moor; if the man gets the upper hand, all your character will be cultivated into rich and fertile field. Choose.
Now come down home. The haymakers are resting under the hedge. The horses are dawdling home to the farm. The sun is getting low, and the shadows long. Come home, and go to bed while the house is fragrant with the smell of hay, and dream that you are still playing among the haycocks. When you grow old, you will have other and sadder dreams.