THE NUPTIAL FLIGHT


WE will now consider the manner in which the impregnation of the

queen-bee comes to pass. Here again nature has taken extraordinary

measures to favour the union of males with females of a different

stock; a strange law, whereto nothing would seem to compel her; a

caprice, or initial inadvertence, perhaps, whose reparation calls

for the most marvellous forces her activity knows.



If she had devoted half the
genius she lavishes on crossed

fertilisation and other arbitrary desires to making life more

certain, to alleviating pain, to softening death and warding off

horrible accidents, the universe would probably have presented an

enigma less incomprehensible, less pitiable, than the one we are

striving to solve. But our consciousness, and the interest we take

in existence, must grapple, not with what might have been, but with

what is.



Around the virgin queen, and dwelling with her in the hive, are

hundreds of exuberant males, forever drunk on honey; the sole reason

for their existence being one act of love. But, notwithstanding the

incessant contact of two desires that elsewhere invariably triumph

over every obstacle, the union never takes place in the hive, nor

has it been possible to bring about the impregnation of a captive

queen.*



*Professor McLain has recently succeeded in causing a few queens to

be artificially impregnated; but this has been the result of a

veritable surgical operation, of the most delicate and complicated

nature. Moreover, the fertility of the queens was restricted and

ephemeral.



While she lives in their midst the lovers about her know not what

she is. They seek her in space, in the remote depths of the horizon,

never suspecting that they have but this moment quitted her, have

shared the same comb with her, have brushed against her, perhaps, in

the eagerness of their departure. One might almost believe that

those wonderful eyes of theirs, that cover their head as though with

a glittering helmet, do not recognise or desire her save when she

soars in the blue. Each day, from noon till three, when the sun

shines resplendent, this plumed horde sallies forth in search of the

bride, who is indeed more royal, more difficult of conquest, than

the most inaccessible princess of fairy legend; for twenty or thirty

tribes will hasten from all the neighbouring cities, her court thus

consisting of more than ten thousand suitors; and from these ten

thousand one alone will be chosen for the unique kiss of an instant

that shall wed him to death no less than to happiness; while the

others will fly helplessly round the intertwined pair, and soon will

perish without ever again beholding this prodigious and fatal

apparition.







I am not exaggerating this wild and amazing prodigality of nature.

The best-conducted hives will, as a rule, contain four to five

hundred males. Weaker or degenerate ones will often have as many as

four or five thousand; for the more a hive inclines to its ruin, the

more males will it produce. It may be said that, on an average, an

apiary composed of ten colonies will at a given moment send an army

of ten thousand males into the air, of whom ten or fifteen at most

will have the occasion of performing the one act for which they were

born.



In the meanwhile they exhaust the supplies of the city; each one of

the parasites requiring the unceasing labour of five or six workers

to maintain it in its abounding and voracious idleness, its activity

being indeed solely confined to its jaws. But nature is always

magnificent when dealing with the privileges and prerogatives of

love. She becomes miserly only when doling out the organs and

instruments of labour. She is especially severe on what men have

termed virtue, whereas she strews the path of the most uninteresting

lovers with innumerable jewels and favours. "Unite and multiply;

there is no other law, or aim, than love," would seem to be her

constant cry on all sides, while she mutters to herself, perhaps:

"and exist afterwards if you can; that is no concern of mine." Do or

desire what else we may, we find, everywhere on our road, this

morality that differs so much from our own. And note, too, in these

same little creatures, her unjust avarice and insensate waste. From

her birth to her death, the austere forager has to travel abroad in

search of the myriad flowers that hide in the depths of the

thickets. She has to discover the honey and pollen that lurk in the

labyrinths of the nectaries and in the most secret recesses of the

anthers. And yet her eyes and olfactory organs are like the eyes and

organs of the infirm, compared with those of the male. Were the

drones almost blind, had they only the most rudimentary sense of

smell, they scarcely would suffer. They have nothing to do, no prey

to hunt down; their food is brought to them ready prepared, and

their existence is spent in the obscurity of the hive, lapping honey

from the comb. But they are the agents of love; and the most

enormous, most useless gifts are flung with both hands into the

abyss of the future. Out of a thousand of them, one only, once in

his life, will have to seek, in the depths of the azure, the

presence of the royal virgin. Out of a thousand one only will have,

for one instant, to follow in space the female who desires not to

escape. That suffices. The partial power flings open her treasury,

wildly, even deliriously. To every one of these unlikely lovers, of

whom nine hundred and ninety-nine will be put to death a few days

after the fatal nuptials of the thousandth, she has given thirteen

thousand eyes on each side of their head, while the worker has only

six thousand. According to Cheshire's calculations, she has provided

each of their antennae with thirty-seven thousand eight hundred

olfactory cavities, while the worker has only five thousand in both.

There we have an instance of the almost universal disproportion that

exists between the gifts she rains upon love and her niggardly doles

to labour; between the favours she accords to what shall, in an

ecstasy, create new life, and the indifference wherewith she regards

what will patiently have to maintain itself by toil. Whoever would

seek faithfully to depict the character of nature, in accordance

with the traits we discover here, would design an extraordinary

figure, very foreign to our ideal, which nevertheless can only

emanate from her. But too many things are unknown to man for him to

essay such a portrait, wherein all would be deep shadow save one or

two points of flickering light.







Very few, I imagine, have profaned the secret of the queen-bee's

wedding, which comes to pass in the infinite, radiant circles of a

beautiful sky. But we are able to witness the hesitating departure

of the bride-elect and the murderous return of the bride.



However great her impatience, she will yet choose her day and her

hour, and linger in the shadow of the portal till a marvellous

morning fling open wide the nuptial spaces in the depths of the

great azure vault. She loves the moment when drops of dew still

moisten the leaves and the flowers, when the last fragrance of dying

dawn still wrestles with burning day, like a maiden caught in the

arms of a heavy warrior; when through the silence of approaching

noon is heard, once and again, a transparent cry that has lingered

from sunrise.



Then she appears on the threshold--in the midst of indifferent

foragers, if she have left sisters in the hive; or surrounded by a

delirious throng of workers, should it be impossible to fill her

place.



She starts her flight backwards; returns twice or thrice to the

alighting-board; and then, having definitely fixed in her mind the

exact situation and aspect of the kingdom she has never yet seen

from without, she departs like an arrow to the zenith of the blue.

She soars to a height, a luminous zone, that other bees attain at no

period of their life. Far away, caressing their idleness in the

midst of the flowers, the males have beheld the apparition, have

breathed the magnetic perfume that spreads from group to group till

every apiary near is instinct with it. Immediately crowds collect,

and follow her into the sea of gladness, whose limpid boundaries

ever recede. She, drunk with her wings, obeying the magnificent law

of the race that chooses her lover, and enacts that the strongest

alone shall attain her in the solitude of the ether, she rises

still; and, for the first time in her life, the blue morning air

rushes into her stigmata, singing its song, like the blood of

heaven, in the myriad tubes of the tracheal sacs, nourished on

space, that fill the centre of her body. She rises still. A region

must be found unhaunted by birds, that else might profane the

mystery. She rises still; and already the ill-assorted troop below

are dwindling and falling asunder. The feeble, infirm, the aged,

unwelcome, ill-fed, who have flown from inactive or impoverished

cities, these renounce the pursuit and disappear in the void. Only a

small, indefatigable cluster remain, suspended in infinite opal. She

summons her wings for one final effort; and now the chosen of

incomprehensible forces has reached her, has seized her, and

bounding aloft with united impetus, the ascending spiral of their

intertwined flight whirls for one second in the hostile madness of

love.







Most creatures have a vague belief that a very precarious hazard, a

kind of transparent membrane, divides death from love; and that the

profound idea of nature demands that the giver of life should die at

the moment of giving. Here this idea, whose memory lingers still

over the kisses of man, is realised in its primal simplicity. No

sooner has the union been accomplished than the male's abdomen

opens, the organ detaches itself, dragging with it the mass of the

entrails; the wings relax, and, as though struck by lightning, the

emptied body turns and turns on itself and sinks down into the

abyss.



The same idea that, before, in parthenogenesis, sacrificed the

future of the hive to the unwonted multiplication of males, now

sacrifices the male to the future of the hive.



This idea is always astounding; and the further we penetrate into

it, the fewer do our certitudes become. Darwin, for instance, to

take the man of all men who studied it the most methodically and

most passionately, Darwin, though scarcely confessing it to himself,

loses confidence at every step, and retreats before the unexpected

and the irreconcilable. Would you have before you the nobly

humiliating spectacle of human genius battling with infinite power,

you have but to follow Darwin's endeavours to unravel the strange,

incoherent, inconceivably mysterious laws of the sterility and

fecundity of hybrids, or of the variations of specific and generic

characters. Scarcely has he formulated a principle when numberless

exceptions assail him; and this very principle, soon completely

overwhelmed, is glad to find refuge in some corner, and preserve a

shred of existence there under the title of an exception.



For the fact is that in hybridity, in variability (notably in the

simultaneous variations known as correlations of growth), in

instinct, in the processes of vital competition, in geologic

succession and the geographic distribution of organised beings, in

mutual affinities, as indeed in every other direction, the idea of

nature reveals itself, in one and the same phenomenon and at the

very same time, as circumspect and shiftless, niggard and prodigal,

prudent and careless, fickle and stable, agitated and immovable, one

and innumerable, magnificent and squalid. There lay open before her

the immense and virgin fields of simplicity; she chose to people

them with trivial errors, with petty contradictory laws that stray

through existence like a flock of blind sheep. It is true that our

eye, before which these things happen, can only reflect a reality

proportionate to our needs and our stature; nor have we any warrant

for believing that nature ever loses sight of her wandering results

and causes.



In any event she will rarely permit them to stray too far, or

approach illogical or dangerous regions. She disposes of two forces

that never can err; and when the phenomenon shall have trespassed

beyond certain limits, she will beckon to life or to death--which

arrives, re-establishes order, and unconcernedly marks out the path

afresh.







She eludes us on every side; she repudiates most of our rules and

breaks our standards to pieces. On our right she sinks far beneath

the level of our thoughts, on our left she towers mountain-high

above them. She appears to be constantly blundering, no less in the

world of her first experiments than in that of her last, of man.

There she invests with her sanction the instincts of the obscure

mass, the unconscious injustice of the multitude, the defeat of

intelligence and virtue, the uninspired morality which urges on the

great wave of the race, though manifestly inferior to the morality

that could be conceived or desired by the minds composing the small

and the clearer wave that ascends the other. And yet, can such a

mind be wrong if it ask itself whether the whole truth--moral

truths, therefore, as well as non-moral--had not better be sought in

this chaos than in itself, where these truths would seem

comparatively clear and precise?



The man who feels thus will never attempt to deny the reason or

virtue of his ideal, hallowed by so many heroes and sages; but there

are times when he will whisper to himself that this ideal has

perhaps been formed at too great a distance from the enormous mass

whose diverse beauty it would fain represent. He has, hitherto,

legitimately feared that the attempt to adapt his morality to that

of nature would risk the destruction of what was her masterpiece.

But to-day he understands her a little better; and from some of her

replies, which, though still vague, reveal an unexpected breadth, he

has been enabled to seize a glimpse of a plan and an intellect

vaster than could be conceived by his unaided imagination; wherefore

he has grown less afraid, nor feels any longer the same imperious

need of the refuge his own special virtue and reason afford him. He

concludes that what is so great could surely teach nothing that

would tend to lessen itself. He wonders whether the moment may not

have arrived for submitting to a more judicious examination his

convictions, his principles, and his dreams.



Once more, he has not the slightest desire to abandon his human

ideal. That even which at first diverts him from this ideal teaches

him to return to it. It were impossible for nature to give ill

advice to a man who declines to include in the great scheme he is

endeavouring to grasp, who declines to regard as sufficiently lofty

to be definitive, any truth that is not at least as lofty as the

truth he himself desires. Nothing shifts its place in his life save

only to rise with him; and he knows he is rising when he finds

himself drawing near to his ancient image of good. But all things

transform themselves more freely in his thoughts; and he can descend

with impunity, for he has the presentiment that numbers of

successive valleys will lead him to the plateau that he expects.

And, while he thus seeks for conviction, while his researches even

conduct him to the very reverse of that which he loves, he directs

his conduct by the most humanly beautiful truth, and clings to the

one that provisionally seems to be highest. All that may add to

beneficent virtue enters his heart at once; all that would tend to

lessen it remaining there in suspense, like insoluble salts that

change not till the hour for decisive experiment. He may accept an

inferior truth, but before he will act in accordance therewith he

will wait, if need be for centuries, until he perceive the

connection this truth must possess with truths so infinite as to

include and surpass all others.



In a word, he divides the moral from the intellectual order,

admitting in the former that only which is greater and more

beautiful than was there before. And blameworthy as it may be to

separate the two orders in cases, only too frequent in life, where

we suffer our conduct to be inferior to our thoughts, where, seeing

the good, we follow the worse--to see the worse and follow the

better, to raise our actions high over our idea, must ever be

reasonable and salutary; for human experience renders it daily more

clear that the highest thought we can attain will long be inferior

still to the mysterious truth we seek. Moreover, should nothing of

what goes before be true, a reason more simple and more familiar

would counsel him not yet to abandon his human ideal. For the more

strength he accords to the laws which would seem to set egoism,

injustice, and cruelty as examples for men to follow, the more

strength does be at the same time confer on the others that ordain

generosity, justice, and pity; and these last laws are found to

contain something as profoundly natural as the first, the moment he

begins to equalise, or allot more methodically, the share he

attributes to the universe and to himself.







Let us return to the tragic nuptials of the queen. Here it is

evidently nature's wish, in the interests of crossed fertilisation,

that the union of the drone and the queen-bee should be possible

only in the open sky. But her desires blend network-fashion, and her

most valued laws have to pass through the meshes of other laws,

which, in their turn, the moment after, are compelled to pass

through the first.



In the sky she has planted so many dangers--cold winds,

storm-currents, birds, insects, drops of water, all of which also

obey invincible laws--that she must of necessity arrange for this

union to be as brief as possible. It is so, thanks to the

startlingly sudden death of the male. One embrace suffices; the rest

all enacts itself in the very flanks of the bride.



She descends from the azure heights and returns to the hive,

trailing behind her, like an oriflamme, the unfolded entrails of her

lover. Some writers pretend that the bees manifest great joy at this

return so big with promise--Buchner, among others, giving a detailed

account of it. I have many a time lain in wait for the queen-bee's

return, and I confess that I have never noticed any unusual emotion

except in the case of a young queen who had gone forth at the head

of a swarm, and represented the unique hope of a newly founded and

still empty city. In that instance the workers were all wildly

excited, and rushed to meet her. But as a rule they appear to forget

her, even though the future of their city will often be no less

imperilled. They act with consistent prudence in all things, till

the moment when they authorise the massacre of the rival queens.

That point reached, their instinct halts; and there is, as it were,

a gap in their foresight.--They appear to be wholly indifferent.

They raise their heads; recognise, probably, the murderous tokens of

impregnation; but, still mistrustful, manifest none of the gladness

our expectation had pictured. Being positive in their ways, and slow

at illusion, they probably need further proofs before permitting

themselves to rejoice. Why endeavour to render too logical, or too

human, the feelings of little creatures so different from ourselves?

Neither among the bees nor among any other animals that have a ray

of our intellect, do things happen with the precision our books

record. Too many circumstances remain unknown to us. Why try to

depict the bees as more perfect than they are, by saying that which

is not? Those who would deem them more interesting did they resemble

ourselves, have not yet truly realised what it is that should awaken

the interest of a sincere mind. The aim of the observer is not to

surprise, but to comprehend; and to point out the gaps existing in

an intellect, and the signs of a cerebral organisation different

from our own, is more curious by far than the relating of mere

marvels concerning it.



But this indifference is not shared by all; and when the breathless

queen has reached the alighting-board, some groups will form and

accompany her into the hive; where the sun, hero of every festivity

in which the bees take part, is entering with little timid steps,

and bathing in azure and shadow the waxen walls and curtains of

honey. Nor does the new bride, indeed, show more concern than her

people, there being not room for many emotions in her narrow,

barbarous, practical brain. She has but one thought, which is to rid

herself as quickly as possible of the embarrassing souvenirs her

consort has left her, whereby her movements are hampered. She seats

herself on the threshold, and carefully strips off the useless

organs, that are borne far away by the workers; for the male has

given her all he possessed, and much more than she requires. She

retains only, in her spermatheca, the seminal liquid where millions

of germs are floating, which, until her last day, will issue one by

one, as the eggs pass by, and in the obscurity of her body

accomplish the mysterious union of the male and female element,

whence the worker-bees are born. Through a curious inversion, it is

she who furnishes the male principle, and the drone who provides the

female. Two days after the union she lays her first eggs, and her

people immediately surround her with the most particular care. From

that moment, possessed of a dual sex, having within her an

inexhaustible male, she begins her veritable life; she will never

again leave the hive, unless to accompany a swarm; and her fecundity

will cease only at the approach of death.







Prodigious nuptials these, the most fairylike that can be conceived,

azure and tragic, raised high above life by the impetus of desire;

imperishable and terrible, unique and bewildering, solitary and

infinite. An admirable ecstasy, wherein death supervening in all

that our sphere has of most limpid and loveliest, in virginal,

limitless space, stamps the instant of happiness in the sublime

transparence of the great sky; purifying in that immaculate light

the something of wretchedness that always hovers around love,

rendering the kiss one that can never be forgotten; and, content

this time with moderate tithe, proceeding herself, with hands that

are almost maternal, to introduce and unite, in one body, for a long

and inseparable future, two little fragile lives.



Profound truth has not this poetry, but possesses another that we

are less apt to grasp, which, however, we should end, perhaps, by

understanding and loving. Nature has not gone out of her way to

provide these two "abbreviated atoms," as Pascal would call them,

with a resplendent marriage, or an ideal moment of love. Her

concern, as we have said, was merely to improve the race by means of

crossed fertilisation. To ensure this she has contrived the organ of

the male in such a fashion that he can make use of it only in space.

A prolonged flight must first expand his two great tracheal sacs;

these enormous receptacles being gorged on air will throw back the

lower part of the abdomen, and permit the exsertion of the organ.

There we have the whole physiological secret--which will seem

ordinary enough to some, and almost vulgar to others--of this

dazzling pursuit and these magnificent nuptials.







"But must we always, then," the poet will wonder, "rejoice in

regions that are loftier than the truth?"



Yes, in all things, at all times, let us rejoice, not in regions

loftier than the truth, for that were impossible, but in regions

higher than the little truths that our eye can seize. Should a

chance, a recollection, an illusion, a passion,--in a word, should

any motive whatever cause an object to reveal itself to us in a more

beautiful light than to others, let that motive be first of all dear

to us. It may only be error, perhaps; but this error will not

prevent the moment wherein this object appears the most admirable to

us from being the moment wherein we are likeliest to perceive its

real beauty. The beauty we lend it directs our attention to its

veritable beauty and grandeur, which, derived as they are from the

relation wherein every object must of necessity stand to general,

eternal, forces and laws, might otherwise escape observation. The

faculty of admiring which an illusion may have created within us

will serve for the truth that must come, be it sooner or later. It

is with the words, the feelings, and ardour created by ancient and

imaginary beauties, that humanity welcomes today truths which

perhaps would have never been born, which might not have been able

to find so propitious a home, had these sacrificed illusions not

first of all dwelt in, and kindled, the heart and the reason

whereinto these truths should descend. Happy the eyes that need no

illusion to see that the spectacle is great! It is illusion that

teaches the others to look, to admire, and rejoice. And look as high

as they will, they never can look too high. Truth rises as they draw

nearer; they draw nearer when they admire. And whatever the heights

may be whereon they rejoice, this rejoicing can never take place in

the void, or above the unknown and eternal truth that rests over all

things like beauty in suspense.







Does this mean that we should attach ourselves to falsehood, to an

unreal and factitious poetry, and find our gladness therein for want

of anything better? Or that in the example before us--in itself

nothing, but we dwell on it because it stands for a thousand others,

as also for our entire attitude in face of divers orders of

truths--that here we should ignore the physiological explanation,

and retain and taste only the emotions of this nuptial flight, which

is yet, and whatever the cause, one of the most lyrical, most

beautiful acts of that suddenly disinterested, irresistible force

which all living creatures obey and are wont to call love? That were

too childish; nor is it possible, thanks to the excellent habits

every loyal mind has today acquired.



The fact being incontestable, we must evidently admit that the

exsertion of the organ is rendered possible only by the expansion of

the tracheal vesicles. But if we, content with this fact, did not

let our eyes roam beyond it; if we deduced therefrom that every

thought that rises too high or wanders too far must be of necessity

wrong, and that truth must be looked for only in the material

details; if we did not seek, no matter where, in uncertainties often

far greater than the one this little explanation has solved, in the

strange mystery of crossed fertilisation for instance, or in the

perpetuity of the race and life, or in the scheme of nature; if we

did not seek in these for something beyond the current explanation,

something that should prolong it, and conduct us to the beauty and

grandeur that repose in the unknown, I would almost venture to

assert that we should pass our existence further away from the truth

than those, even, who in this case wilfully shut their eyes to all

save the poetic and wholly imaginary interpretation of these

marvellous nuptials. They evidently misjudge the form and colour of

the truth, but they live in its atmosphere and its influence far

more than the others, who complacently believe that the entire truth

lies captive within their two hands. For the first have made ample

preparations to receive the truth, have provided most hospitable

lodging within them; and even though their eyes may not see it, they

are eagerly looking towards the beauty and grandeur where its

residence surely must be.



We know nothing of nature's aim, which for us is the truth that

dominates every other. But for the very love of this truth, and to

preserve in our soul the ardour we need for its search, it behoves

us to deem it great. And if we should find one day that we have been

on a wrong road, that this aim is incoherent and petty, we shall

have discovered its pettiness by means of the very zeal its presumed

grandeur had created within us; and this pettiness once established,

it will teach us what we have to do. In the meanwhile it cannot be

unwise to devote to its search the most strenuous, daring efforts of

our heart and our reason. And should the last word of all this be

wretched, it will be no little achievement to have laid bare the

inanity and the pettiness of the aim of nature.



"There is no truth for us yet," a great physiologist of our day

remarked to me once, as I walked with him in the country; "there is

no truth yet, but there are everywhere three very good semblances of

truth. Each man makes his own choice, or rather, perhaps, has it

thrust upon him; and this choice, whether it be thrust upon him, or

whether, as is often the case, he have made it without due

reflection, this choice, to which he clings, will determine the form

and the conduct of all that enters within him. The friend whom we

meet, the woman who approaches and smiles, the love that unlocks our

heart, the death or sorrow that seals it, the September sky above

us, this superb and delightful garden, wherein we see, as in

Corneille's 'Psyche,' bowers of greenery resting on gilded statues,

and the flocks grazing yonder, with their shepherd asleep, and the

last houses of the village, and the sea between the trees,--all

these are raised or degraded before they enter within us, are

adorned or despoiled, in accordance with the little signal this

choice of ours makes to them. We must learn to select from among

these semblances of truth. I have spent my own life in eager search

for the smaller truths, the physical causes; and now, at the end of

my days, I begin to cherish, not what would lead me from these, but

what would precede them, and, above all, what would somewhat surpass

them." We had attained the summit of a plateau in the "pays de

Caux," in Normandy, which is supple as an English park, but natural

and limitless. It is one of the rare spots on the globe where nature

reveals herself to us unfailingly wholesome and green. A little

further to the north the country is threatened with barrenness, a

little further to the south, it is fatigued and scorched by the sun.

At the end of a plain that ran down to the edge of the sea, some

peasants were erecting a stack of corn. "Look," he said, "seen from

here, they are beautiful. They are constructing that simple and yet

so important thing, which is above all else the happy and almost

unvarying monument of human life taking root--a stack of corn. The

distance, the air of the evening, weave their joyous cries into a

kind of song without words, which replies to the noble song of the

leaves as they whisper over our heads. Above them the sky is

magnificent; and one almost might fancy that beneficent spirits,

waving palm-trees of fire, had swept all the light towards the

stack, to give the workers more time. And the track of the palms

still remains in the sky. See the humble church by their side,

overlooking and watching them, in the midst of the rounded lime

trees and the grass of the homely graveyard, that faces its native

ocean. They are fitly erecting their monument of life underneath the

monuments of their dead, who made the same gestures and still are

with them. Take in the whole picture. There are no special,

characteristic features, such as we find in England, Provence, or

Holland. It is the presentment, large and ordinary enough to be

symbolic, of a natural and happy life. Observe how rhythmic human

existence becomes in its useful moments. Look at the man who is

leading the horses, at that other who throws up the sheaves on his

fork, at the women bending over the corn, and the children at play.

. . . They have not displaced a stone, or removed a spadeful of

earth, to add to the beauty of the scenery; nor do they take one

step, plant a tree or a flower, that is not necessary. All that we

see is merely the involuntary result of the effort that man puts

forth to subsist for a moment in nature; and yet those among us

whose desire is only to create or imagine spectacles of peace, deep

thoughtfulness, or beatitude, have been able to find no scene more

perfect than this, which indeed they paint or describe whenever they

seek to present us with a picture of beauty or happiness. Here we

have the first semblance, which some will call the truth."





"Let us draw nearer. Can you distinguish the song that blended so

well with the whispering of the leaves? It is made up of abuse and

insult; and when laughter bursts forth, it is due to an obscene

remark some man or woman has made, to a jest at the expense of the

weaker,--of the hunchback unable to lift his load, the cripple they

have knocked over, or the idiot whom they make their butt.



"I have studied these people for many years. We are in Normandy; the

soil is rich and easily tilled. Around this stack of corn there is

rather more comfort than one would usually associate with a scene of

this kind. The result is that most of the men, and many of the

women, are alcoholic. Another poison also, which I need not name,

corrodes the race. To that, to the alcohol, are due the children

whom you see there: the dwarf, the one with the hare-lip, the others

who are knock-kneed, scrofulous, imbecile. All of them, men and

women, young and old, have the ordinary vices of the peasant. They

are brutal, suspicious, grasping, and envious; hypocrites, liars,

and slanderers; inclined to petty, illicit profits, mean

interpretations, and coarse flattery of the stronger. Necessity

brings them together, and compels them to help each other; but the

secret wish of every individual is to harm his neighbour as soon as

this can be done without danger to himself. The one substantial

pleasure of the village is procured by the sorrows of others. Should

a great disaster befall one of them, it will long be the subject of

secret, delighted comment among the rest. Every man watches his

fellow, is jealous of him, detests and despises him. While they are

poor, they hate their masters with a boiling and pent-up hatred

because of the harshness and avarice these last display; should they

in their turn have servants, they profit by their own experience of

servitude to reveal a harshness and avarice greater even than that

from which they have suffered. I could give you minutest details of

the meanness, deceit, injustice, tyranny, and malice that underlie

this picture of ethereal, peaceful toil. Do not imagine that the

sight of this marvellous sky, of the sea which spreads out yonder

behind the church and presents another, more sensitive sky, flowing

over the earth like a great mirror of wisdom and consciousness--do

not imagine that either sea or sky is capable of lifting their

thoughts or widening their minds. They have never looked at them.

Nothing has power to influence or move them save three or four

circumscribed fears, that of hunger, of force, of opinion and law,

and the terror of hell when they die. To show what they are, we

should have to consider them one by one. See that tall fellow there

on the right, who flings up such mighty sheaves. Last summer his

friends broke his right arm in some tavern row. I reduced the

fracture, which was a bad and compound one. I tended him for a long

time, and gave him the wherewithal to live till he should be able to

get back to work. He came to me every day. He profited by this to

spread the report in the village that he had discovered me in the

arms of my sister-in-law, and that my mother drank. He is not

vicious, he bears me no ill-will; on the contrary, see what a broad,

open smile spreads over his face as he sees me. It was not social

animosity that induced him to slander me. The peasant values wealth

far too much to hate the rich man. But I fancy my good corn-thrower

there could not understand my tending him without any profit to

myself. He was satisfied that there must be some underhand scheme,

and he declined to be my dupe. More than one before him, richer or

poorer, has acted in similar fashion, if not worse. It did not occur

to him that he was lying when he spread those inventions abroad; he

merely obeyed a confused command of the morality he saw about him.

He yielded unconsciously, against his will, as it were, to the

all-powerful desire of the general malevolence. . . . But why

complete a picture with which all are familiar who have spent some

years in the country? Here we have the second semblance that some

will call the real truth. It is the truth of practical life. It

undoubtedly is based on the most precise, the only, facts that one

can observe and test."







"Let us sit on these sheaves," he continued, "and look again. Let us

reject not a single one of the little facts that build up the

reality of which I have spoken. Let us permit them to depart of

their own accord into space. They cumber the foreground, and yet we

cannot but be aware of the existence behind them of a great and very

curious force that sustains the whole. Does it only sustain and not

raise? These men whom we see before us are at least no longer the

ferocious animals of whom La Bruyere speaks, the wretches who talked

in a kind of inarticulate voice, and withdrew at night to their

dens, where they lived on black bread, water, and roots.



"The race, you will tell me, is neither as strong nor as healthy.

That may be; alcohol and the other scourge are accidents that

humanity has to surmount; ordeals, it may be, by which certain of

our organs, those of the nerves, for instance, may benefit; for we

invariably find that life profits by the ills that it overcomes.

Besides, a mere trifle that we may discover to-morrow may render

these poisons innocuous. These men have thoughts and feelings that

those of whom La Bruyere speaks had not." "I prefer the simple,

naked animal to the odious half-animal," I murmured. "You are

thinking of the first semblance now," he replied, "the semblance

dear to the poet, that we saw before; let us not confuse it with the

one we are now considering. These thoughts and feelings are petty,

if you will, and vile; but what is petty and vile is still better

than that which is not at all. Of these thoughts and feelings they

avail themselves only to hurt each other, and to persist in their

present mediocrity; but thus does it often happen in nature. The

gifts she accords are employed for evil at first, for the rendering

worse what she had apparently sought to improve; but, from this

evil, a certain good will always result in the end. Besides, I am by

no means anxious to prove that there has been progress, which may be

a very small thing or a very great thing, according to the place

whence we regard it. It is a vast achievement, the surest ideal,

perhaps, to render the condition of men a little less servile, a

little less painful; but let the mind detach itself for an instant

from material results, and the difference between the man who

marches in the van of progress and the other who is blindly dragged

at its tail ceases to be very considerable. Among these young

rustics, whose mind is haunted only by formless ideas, there are

many who have in themselves the possibility of attaining, in a short

space of time, the degree of consciousness that we both enjoy. One

is often struck by the narrowness of the dividing line between what

we regard as the unconsciousness of these people and the

consciousness that to us is the highest of all."



"Besides, of what is this consciousness composed, whereof we are so

proud? Of far more shadow than light, of far more acquired ignorance

than knowledge; of far more things whose comprehension, we are well

aware, must ever elude us, than of things that we actually know. And

yet in this consciousness lies all our dignity, our most veritable

greatness; it is probably the most surprising phenomenon this world

contains. It is this which permits us to raise our head before the

unknown principle, and say to it: 'What you are I know not; but

there is something within me that already enfolds you. You will

destroy me, perhaps, but if your object be not to construct from my

ruins an organism better than mine, you will prove yourself inferior

to what I am; and the silence that will follow the death of the race

to which I belong will declare to you that you have been judged. And

if you are not capable even of caring whether you be justly judged

or not, of what value can your secret be? It must be stupid or

hideous. Chance has enabled you to produce a creature that you

yourself lacked the quality to produce. It is fortunate for him that

a contrary chance should have permitted you to suppress him before

he had fathomed the depths of your unconsciousness; more fortunate

still that he does not survive the infinite series of your awful

experiments. He had nothing to do in a world where his intellect

corresponded to no eternal intellect, where his desire for the

better could attain no actual good.'



"Once more, for the spectacle to absorb us, there is no need of

progress. The enigma suffices; and that enigma is as great, and

shines as mysteriously, in the peasants as in ourselves. As we trace

life back to its all-powerful principle, it confronts us on every

side. To this principle each succeeding century has given a new

name. Some of these names were clear and consoling. It was found,

however, that consolation and clearness were alike illusory. But

whether we call it God, Providence, Nature, chance, life, fatality,

spirit, or matter, the mystery remains unaltered; and from the

experience of thousands of years we have learned nothing more than

to give it a vaster name, one nearer to ourselves, more congruous

with our expectation, with the unforeseen.



That is the name it bears to-day, wherefore it has never seemed

greater. Here we have one of the numberless aspects of the third

semblance, which also is truth."



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