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magnificently, and when constructing the nest for its
young often goes without food for weeks at a time;
in fact it is an ebony jar of energy which it dispenses
for its offspring.

And the little worm when it wakes to life and
looks about it for nourishment shows just as won-
derful instinct. If you pierce his birthchamber with
a needle and let the air in while trying to study him,
he will at once close it up with excrement, and re-
peat the experiment as often as you please.

But how, it may be asked, does the little larva
manage to get out of his terra-cotta prison? He
has to reckon, it appears, on chance for salvation.
The first rainy day will make his prison soft and
spongy, and he can cut his way out into the light.
If no rain falls he dies. The first day of his de-
liverance he takes a sun bath. He will crawl up
a blade of grass and sit sunning himself all day


long without an attempt to find food, the next day
his appetite awakens, and his normal life begins.

Fabre describes other nests as complicated as the
nest of this beetle Is simple; nests that are found
five feet and six feet under ground; nests with long
corridors and galleries where not one pear Is pre-
pared for the offspring, but half a dozen; and where
the heat of the sun Is tempered for the little naked

The maternal Instinct, with Its self-sacrifice and
foresight and care. Is often wise with the wisdom
of a fiend, and cruel to a degree almost unknown
among beings of a larger growth. The hardest
problem for the mother Is to ensure good food for
her offspring — food that will remain soft and eata-
ble and, If possible, fresh for weeks. Certain
species have hit upon a remarkable way of solving
the difficulty. Fabre found in their nests what at
first seemed to him the carcasses of other beetles.
Then he was struck by the fact that these carcasses
had not gone bad. Studying the bodies, he dis-
covered that the beetles were still alive, and they
lived on under glass In his room for as much as a
month or five weeks. Yet they could not move,
and could do nothing to defend themselves — could
indeed be eaten while alive by the tiny, soft larva.
They had been paralysed. In fact — but how?

First of all he noticed that nearly all of them
belonged to one species, and then he discovered

FAB RE 291

that this species had the ganglia of motor-nerves
concentrated just between the corselet over the
chest and the corselet over the stomach. Here,
then, was the vulnerable point. An experiment or
two showed him that if he pricked them in this
spot with a needle having a drop of ammonia on
it he could paralyse the motor centres — in fact he
could make the beetle as helpless as he had found
it in the nest. The next thing was to find out whether
this was the way their enemies proceeded.

In a chapter called "A Clever Butcher" he tells
us the story: he watched the insects at work. The
insect he calls the Cerceris is the butcher. The
Cerceris seizes the larger beetle by the head and
pushes him backwards till the corselet protecting
the chest and the corselet protecting the stomach are
separated; he then darts his sting into the ganglia
between the two armors. Immediately the beetle
falls as if struck by lightning. Its legs may move
spasmodically for a second or two, but that's all.
Its assailant stands watching its victim in its agony.
When the Cerceris sees that the beetle is quiet he
drags it off by the leg to lay up in warm storage
for weeks and weeks, to be eaten bit by bit, while
still alive by the little larva. No more horrible
cruelty can be imagined. Tennyson was right when
he talked of Nature lending evil dreams. But what
cleverness in the Cerceris 1 Who taught the little
beast the vulnerable point? If chance discovered


the weak spot it needed reasoning power to act on
the discovery and turn hazard into instinct. But
Fabre will provide us with instances of still more
intelligent cleverness and still more fiendish cruelty.

I have never heard or read of any fights so des-
perate, so diabohcally clever and cruel, as those
Fabre describes between insects. Dozens of dif-
ferent species paralyse their victims by stinging
them in the nerve-centres. Not one bungles the op-
eration or stings at random; knowledge directs the
weapon — one might almost say scientific knowledge.
As Fabre says, chance knows no rule.

Many of these combats rather resemble a fight
between a pirate and a merchant-ship — the differ-
ence in size is more than made up by the difference
in armament. The pirate is sure to win. But
Fabre tells also of death-struggles where every con-
ceivable advantage is with the big fellow, and yet
the daring little assailant brings off the victory.
For example, every one knows the terrible spider
of the South — the spider with the black belly, the
Tarantula — whose poisonous bite kills a mole or
a small bird, and often makes even a man seriously
ill. Well, there is a waspish creature called the
Calicurgue Annele, or Pompile, not half the size
of the Tarantula, and with a sting not a tithe as
venomous, who does not hesitate to attack the great
spider. On dissecting the Tarantula, Fabre found
that the thorax was the place in which a sting would


paralyse its motor-nerves. He then brought the
two enemies face to face. The disproportion in
size, strength, and armor seemed enormous; yet
the Pompile was not frightened. He walked round
the spider and halted, as if to seize it by a limb. At
once the great Tarantula rose on its hind legs and
opened its mouth : Fabre saw the poison glistening
on its dagger fangs. The Pompile walked away,
but was not frightened. It was the Tarantula that
showed fear and hate; he hurried after the Pom-
pile and seized him; put his poison-fangs on him,
but did not bite; why not? Fabre could not im-
agine. But the fact remains. One day, however,
the Pompile assaulted the Tarantula face to face
and stung him — in the thorax? No, he knew a
trick worth two of that, a trick which the human
anatomist had overlooked.

If he paralysed the motor-nerves the Tarantula
might still bite him. With the utmost precision and
care the Pompile stabbed the great spider in the
mouth, thus rendering him incapable of using his
fangs, and then, after examining his head to make
sure it was powerless, he darted his sting into the
thorax again and again, so that his young might
not be incommoded by the spider's movements.
The little insect is as clever as a surgeon practised
in dissection.

There is still another insect that attacks and
conquers in the same way; but as soon as it has


brought off the stab in the mouth it executes a tri-
umphal, ferocious war dance round its victim.
"Look at the great brute," It seems to say. "I've
pricked him and made him harmless; I am a cham-
pion at the game." Then having made sure that
its victim is Indeed powerless to strike, It proceeds
scientifically to paralyse one motor-centre after the
other, and sometimes there are a dozen that must
be operated upon before the victim is entirely

The love-making of many insects is just as inter-
esting as their mortal combats. Fabre has a chap-
ter on the pairing of the Scorpions of Languedoc,
which is more fascinating than most of our novels.

He begins by describing the creature. It is some
three inches long, and straw-colored. Its tail,
which it generally carries arched over its back, is
in reality the stomach, and the last joint of it con-
tains the poisonous sting. The poison itself looks
like a drop of water, and no chemical analysis of
it has yet been successful, for when the ingredients
revealed by the analysis are again combined, the
poison has lost its power. The sting itself is very
strong and sharp, curved like the striking tooth of a
snake, and, like the snake's poison-fang, the hole
from which the poison issues Is a little away from
the end. The animal uses Its front claws or pincers
as a weapon or as a means of getting information.

Fabre keeps his scorpions in a glass cage, and


studies them at leisure. For the most part of the
year they are quiet and solitary; two are never seen
together. But In April they begin to move about
and get lively. He suddenly becomes aware that
they are eating one another; here is a pair, and half
of one is already consumed. Is it the result of a
combat? A little later he finds another, and yet
another instance of cannibalism. As the summer
advances the fact becomes common. He begins to
study It. He notices at once that the one eaten Is
always middle-sized and a little paler In color than
the cannibal. In other words, it Is the large brown
female which eats the male. It Is always the male
which is eaten. Fabre pursues his investigation by
night with a lantern. To his astonishment he finds
a sort of ball going on. These creatures, which used
to be so solitary and so shy now come out of the
shade and hurry together in crowds under the light
as to a dance. Their agility makes the onlooker
smile. Clearly they are sorting themselves out In
pairs. Here the male touches a female with the
end of his claw, but immediately springs back again
as if he had been burnt. Another pair join hands,
but as soon as their tails meet and touch they move
away from each other as if in disgust. At times
there is a regular tumult; a whole crowd of claws
and pincers and tails rubbing and touching and
pinching, one scarcely knows whether In anger or
in love. The play is madder than a romp of kit-


tens. They all fly apart; then they begin to come
together again. Suddenly Fabre notices a pair
which take hands in a friendly way, and rub tails
with manifest content. Side by side, claw in claw,
they walk away together. They are evidently
courting like a village boy and girl. Every now and
then the male caresses the back of his companion
with his tail. The female accepts his caress.

To his amazement, they stop and kiss. There
can be no doubt about it. Fabre has watched it
again and again. The two faces — or what should
be faces — come together and the two mouths meet.
The two hands are clasped, too, the male sometimes
lets loose one pair of pincers in order to pass his
claw tenderly over the horny head of his com-
panion. Clearly the pair are kissing; yet there is
no face there, nothing but two eyes and a great
cavity and a jaw, and still the two horrible masks
evidently enjoy the embrace. Now and then the
male pretends to bite her, and his mouth mumbles
her mouth, while his front claws are caressing the
horrible mask that is no doubt lovely in his sight.
There is a French proverb which says the dove ia-
vented the kiss, but the scorpion, Fabre says, was
before the dove.

There is every trick of coquetry In this female.
Suddenly she has had enough, and strikes the male's
wrists away, and pretends to go off by herself.
The male follows her, takes her claws in one of his,


and caresses her back with his tail. Again they re-
sume their walk together. A piece of tile is in their
way. At once the male works with his tail and
one daw in order to make a cave underneath the
tile. He tries to draw the female in ; but she re-
sists; she will not enter the newly made bridal-
chamber. With sulky determination she draws the
male from underneath the tile, and they continue
their walk. For hours the courtship goes on.
Again the male finds a sheltered nook; this time
under a slate. Again the female resists; but this
time the male is more determined, and draws her
resolutely toward the cave in spite of her resistance.
But when she comes to the edge of the slate she
finds support. Not only does she root her claws
in the ground, but curls her tail over so that it
stems itself against the slate; she then stiffens into
rigidity. The struggle continues minute after min-
ute, but at length the male has to give in; the pres-
sure is relaxed and the walk resumed, with its
caressings and hideous kissings.

This courtship has all sorts of incidents. Every
now and then the pair meet some other females,
who always stop and watch the couple, perhaps out
of jealousy, for now and then one throws herself
on the female and holds her claws and does her
best to stop the walk. The male protests against
the interference. He pulls and drags at his com-
panion in vain; he cannot budge the two females;


again and again he strains to the task, but withoui
success. Suddenly he gives up the courtship and
turns away. Another female is close by; he seizes
her by the claws and invites her to continue the
promenade, but she will not; she resists, struggles
with him, and then scuttles away. Nothing daunt-
ed, he goes to a third in the crowd of female on-
lookers, and this time is more fortunate, the female
accepts his claw and they go off together. With
this lady the courtship is not so long. At the first
piece of tile the male drops one claw of his com-
panion and uses his free claw and his tail to hol-
low out a cave. Little by little he enters, drawing
the complacent female with him. Soon they have
both disappeared. A movement or two of the tail
on the inside and a little mound of sand is pushed
up behind them; the door is shut, the couple are
at home.

Again and again Fabre lifts the tile, but discovers
nothing: the claws are intertwined, the mouths
touching, but as soon as the light falls on them
the lovers separate; yet in the morning, if he leaves
them undisturbed, he always finds the tragedy com-
pleted, the male has fulfilled the purpose of his
brief life and is already partially devoured by the
female. She goes to work quite calmly to eat him,
and returns again and again to the loathsome feast
until her lover is all consumed except the hardest
parts of his claws and tail. All the coquetry, all


the love-making, all the caressing and kissing ends
in the murder of the lover and the disgusting feast
on his remains.

As if to complete the horrible parody of human
life, these cannibal scorpions make noble, self-sac-
rificing mothers. They take infinite care of their
little ones, spending weeks on their nurture and
training, weeks in which the mother does not even
eat, so devoted is she to her young.

Scorpions are supposed to be viviparous, but
Fabre proves that their young come into the world
in a sort of soft egg like a snake's egg, and have
to be freed and cleansed by the mother.

He tells, too, how the scorpion family is brought
into the world in July, and how nearly he missed
the experience because some great naturalist had
said the time was September. For years, he de-
clares, he has read very little. He prefers the book
of Nature which is open before him and which does
not lie. Most of the printed books, he says, even
those of the masters, are so full of errors that he
prefers to see and record facts for himself.

I should like to tell of Fabre's other activities and
wider views. There is an interview with Pasteur as
a young man which is a masterpiece of kindly ob-
servation and sunny humor. Fabre's poetry, too,
should be described; for he has a genuine poetic
gift, childishly simple yet touching, with a rare feel-
ing both for the color of words and their rhythm.


I like to picture him as he sits before his cottage;
the spare, bent figure; the wide, soft hat, the soft,
white, turned-down collar setting off the clean-
shaven face — a finely balanced face which should
have been drawn by Holbein, with its broad fore-
head, strong nose, and large, firm chin, for Hol-
bein alone could give us the effect of the crow's-feet
and the intent, piercing eyes, made small as if to
shutter out the too strong light, the sharp eyes
which are yet patient and at bottom sad, very, very

For this is the soul of the great searcher after
truth : he will see all there is to be seen and brings
to the task infinite courage and patience; but "van-
ity of vanities, all is vanity" is to him the sorrowful
conclusion of the whole matter:

"I should like to believe in progress/' he says, "in the
gradual growth of intelligence from plane to plane, the
progress upwards and development ; I should like to believe
in it if I could ; but I can't. . . .

"I find God in my own heart more clearly than anywhere
in the outside world. . . .

"The world I have studied is a tiny world, and yet this
little patch of life is an infinite ocean, still unsounded and
full of undiscovered secrets. The light penetrates a little
way below the surface; but lower down all is darkness and
silence, abyss opening into abyss. . . .

"Success in this world is to the noisy and combative, to
those who talk about themselves in and out of season like


cheap jacks at a fair: they become known because they
make a fuss."

"But have you reached no conclusion, M. Fabre?" one
asks. "Does no hypothesis lead to the heart of the mys-

He shakes his head. "I have found none. To science
nature is an enigma without a solution. Every generation
has its own pet hypothesis. We climb over the crumbling
ruins of forgotten theories, but truth always escapes us.
We have no net with which to capture truth. . . .

"Are we not even a mystery to each other? Nay, is
not each man a mystery to himself? a creature of infinite
possibilities, of miserable imperfect achievement?"

So talks a very wise man and certainly one of
the best-read In the book of Nature of whom the
centuries have left us any record.


THERE is nothing very new to be said of
Maurice Maeterlinck's work. While still a
young man he had won place as an European ce-
lebrity. Plays like the Princesse Maleine and Pel-
leas et Melisande were known at once and appre-
ciated by the dozen or so lettered readers who are
to be found in every capital. And the judgment of
these refined jurors is very like the judgment of
posterity in sympathetic comprehension.

In spite of these early successes Maeterlinck has
gone on working, and in La Vie des Abeilles and
Le Tresor des Humbles, in Monna Fauna, and La
Magdalena he has given record of the various
stages of his soul's growth. Since the death of
Tolstoy he has become one of the most interesting
figures in modern Europe, and certainly the most
popular. Yet when one surveys the whole of his
work one is tempted to doubt whether he will excite
as much interest twenty years hence. His most
characteristic and perhaps his best works so far
are La Vie des Abeilles, Le Tresor des Humbles,
and the play La Magdalena. Is there in them that



fount of new truth or rare beauty which ensures
perdurable renown?

The boundaries of art are continually being ex-
tended and new fields added to her glorious do-
main: Rousseau and Byron made descriptions of
natural beauty a part of literature, and in our time
the rights of citizenship, so to speak, have been
conferred on the so-called lower animals. Fabre
in France and, in lesser degree, Kipling in Eng-
land have dramatized for us the stories of speechless
suffering and inarticulate delight.

This growth of sympathy and appreciation has
its own peculiar charm, which is heightened by the
novelty of the appeal: but I do not feel sure that
the work done in these outlying new fields is as
valuable and enduring as work done at the centre.
The one subject for the artist which can never
grow old, or fall out of fashion or lose its pristine
and permanent interest for us all, Is man. What-
ever has to do with humanity is of palmary im-
portance: the heart does not alter or change: it is
the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Paint a
picture of a girl's love more passionate than the
Antigone, call her Francesca and set her supernal
radiance in the gloom of the Inferno, or christen
her Gretchen and condemn her to madness and
prison, still the picture will delight every one, age
after age, and confer immortality on its author.
Would one say as much of a scene which describes


the loves or fears or hatreds of one of the lower
animals? I do not think so.

There are superb qualities in the Life of the
Bees by Maeterlinck; chapters in which he shows
himself a great naturalist; others, like Le Vol
Nuptial, in which he unfolds all his poetic gift;
but one never thinks of rereading the book, and
as soon as it is read it begins to fade out of mem-
ory. It is a charming and informative book which
we are delighted to have read; but there is nothing
of permanent interest in it, no pages to which we
can return again and again with thrilling delight
as we return to the loves of Francesca and of

Le Tresor des Humbles gives us the measure of
the writer. In his earliest dramas, in La Princesse
Maleine, as in Pellcas et Mclisande, Maeterlinck
won our hearts by a certain mysticism, a northern
atmosphere, so to speak, of mist which lent a
vague symbolism and spirituality to his personages
while clothing his immaterial imaginings with the
majesty of purple shadows.

In these days of logical and clear materialism
when even a poet like Matthew Arnold could
write "miracles do not happen," though it would
be far truer and more scientifically exact to say
that whatever happens, is one long miracle, Mae-
terlinck's early dramas came with something of the
force of a revelation. Somehow or other he had


managed to drape his slight and Insubstantial fig-
ures with the magic of the Beyond, the wonder of
the Unknown, and all hearts beat high with the
hope that at length a Prophet-seer had come who
might give us an adequate interpretation of the Di-
vine, a new reading of the myriad new and unco-
ordinated facts of our unintelligible life.

La Vie des Aheilles brought us from the tiptoe
of expectance to a more reasonable attitude, and
Monna Fauna and the translation of Macbeth
keyed our hope still lower; but at length In Le
Tresor des Humbles Maeterlinck returned to his
early inspiration, and In a series of essays gave a
reasoned explanation of the faith that Is in him.
His first essay consisted of an elaboration of what
Carlyle and Emerson have said about "Silence,"
with a slight though characteristic addition:
"Without silence," Maeterlinck says, "love Itself
would have neither savor nor perfume of eternity.
We have all known those sacred moments when
lips separate and souls draw together without
words: we should seek them ceaselessly. (// faut
les rechercher sans cesse.) There is no silence so
docile as this silence of love, and in truth It Is the
only silence which belongs to us mortals. The
other great silences of death and dolor and des-
tiny are not under our control."

The greater part of this Treasury of the Hum-
ble is made up of essays on some of the great mys-


tics, on Ruysbroeck, on Novalls, on Emerson. I
should like to be able to say that Maeterlinck had
added something to this great Temple of the
Spirit; but I have not found a single addition, nor
even an explanation of any obscure statement.
Maeterlinck is content simply to restate this or that
thought which has pleased him and so to furnish
himself with a suit of clothes, so to speak, pieced
together from various royal wardrobes. It is true
he does realize that the soul has a speech of its
own; but he calls its speech silence; whereas silence
is only a condition, and not even a necessary con-
dition, of its audibility. I prefer Swinburne's word:

Eyesight and speech he wrought
As veils of the soul therein

But just because Maeterlinck feels these elemental
truths his language now and then assumes a pecu-
liar pathos and wins a new spiritual significance.
He tells us that "the souls of all our brethren are
perpetually following us about mutely imploring
from us some sign of recognition, some kiss of sym-
pathy. But most of us never dare to reply to the
beseeching invocation. It is the misfortune of our
existence that we thus live separated from our souls
and fearful or ashamed of their tremulous noble de-
sires." But how different this tentative statement is
from the language of the true seers, how different


and how inferior; how pale and weak and hesitating.
Maeterlinck is certain that "the writings of the mys-
tics contain some of the purest and most brilliant
gems in the treasure-house of humanity," but he has
not added to the store : he is a Moses, so to speak,
to whom it has not been given to enter the Prom-

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Online LibraryFrank HarrisContemporary portraits → online text (page 17 of 20)