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QJorncU Uniueraitij Hibrart} 

3tliara, Nero ^ork 





• 1691 

Cornell University 

The original of this book is in 
the Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 

Cornell University Library 
QL 751.A31 

3 1924 024 783 445 





BY E. H. AITKEN (" EHA ") 



I.M.S., C.S.I. 















EARS 58 

































Special thanks are due to the Editors and 
Proprietors of the Strand Magazine, Pall 
Mali Magazine and Times of India for their 
courtesy in permitting the reprinting of the 
articles in this book which originally appeared 
in their columns. 


" eha " ....... Frontispiece 









BEAK 48 

























"EHA " 

Edward Hamilton Aitken, the author of the 
following sketches, was well known to the present 
generation of Anglo-Indians, by his pen-name of 
Eha, as an accurate and amusing writer on natural 
history subjects. Those who were privileged to 
know him intimately, as the writer of this sketch did, 
knew him as a Christian gentleman of singular 
simplicity and modesty and great charm of manner. 
He was always ready to help a fellow-worker in 
science or philanthropy if it were possible for him 
to do so. Thus, indeed, began the friendship between 
us. For when plague first invaded India in 1896, 
the writer was one of those sent to Bombay to 
work at the problem of its causation from the 
scientific side, thereby becoming interested in the 
life history of rats, which were shown to be inti- 
mately connected with the spread of this dire 
disease. Having for years admired Eha's books 
on natural history — The Tribes on my Frontier, 
An Indian Naturalist's Foreign Policy, and The 


Naturalist on the Prowl, I ventured to write to him 
on the subject of rats and their habits, and asked 
him whether he could not throw some light on 
the problem of plague and its spread, from the 
naturalist's point of view. 

In response to this appeal he wrote a most in- 
forming and characteristic article for The Times of 
India (July 19, 1899), which threw a flood of light 
on the subject of the habits and characteristics of 
the Indian rat as found in town and country. He 
was the first to show that Mus rattus, the old 
English black rat, which is the common house rat 
of India outside the large seaports, has become, 
through centuries of contact with the Indian people, 
a domestic animal like the cat in Britain. When 
one realises the fact that this same rat is responsible 
for the spread of plague in India, and that every 
house is full of them, the value of this naturalist's 
observation is plain. Thus began an intimacy 
which lasted till Eha's death in 1909. 

The first time I met Mr. Aitken was at a meeting 
of the Free Church of Scotland Literary Society in 
1899, when he read a paper on the early experiences 
of the English in Bombay. The minute he entered 
the room I recognised him from the caricatures of 
himself in the Tribes. The long, thin, erect, bearded 
man was unmistakable, with a typically Scots face 
lit up with the humorous twinkle one came to 
know so well. Many a time in after-years has that 
look been seen as he discoursed, as only he could, 


on the ways of man and beast, bird or insect, as 
one tramped with him through the jungles on the 
hills around Bombay during week-ends spent with 
him at Vehar or elsewhere. He was an ideal com- 
panion on such occasions, always at his best when 
acting the part of The Naturalist on the Prowl. 

Mr. Aitken was born at Satara in the Bombay 
Presidency on August 16, 1851. His father was 
the Rev. James Aitken, missionary of the Free 
Church of Scotland. His mother was a sister of 
the Rev. Daniel Edward, missionary to the Jews 
at Breslau for some fifty years. He was educated 
by his father in India, and one can well realise the 
sort of education he got from such parents from 
the many allusions to the Bible and its old Testa- 
ment characters that one constantly finds used 
with such effect in his books. His farther education 
was obtained at Bombay and Poona. He passed 
M.A. and B.A. of Bombay University first on the 
list, and won the Homejee Cursetjee prize with a 
poem in 1880. From 1870 to 1876 he was Latin 
Reader in the Deccan College at Poona, which 
accounts for the extensive acquaintance with the 
Latin classics so charmingly manifest in his writings. 
That he was well grounded in Greek is also certain, 
for the writer, while living in a chummery with 
him in Bombay in 1902, saw him constantly reading 
the Greek Testament in the mornings without the 
aid of a dictionary. 

He entered the Customs and Salt Department 


of the Government of Bombay in April 1876, and 
served in Kharaghoda (the Dustypore of the Tribes), 
Uran, North Kanara and Goa Frontier, Ratnagin, 
and Bombay itself. In May, 1903, he was appointed 
Chief Collector of Customs and Salt Revenue at 
Karachi, and in November, 1905, was made Superin- 
tendent in charge of the District Gazetteer of 
Sind. He retired from the service in August 1906. 

He married in 1883 the daughter of the Rev. J. 
Chalmers Blake, and left a family of two sons and 
three daughters. 

In 1902 he was deputed, on special duty, to in- 
vestigate the prevalence of malaria at the Customs 
stations along the frontier of Goa, and to devise 
means for removing the Salt Peons at these posts, 
from the neighbourhood of the anopheles mosquito, 
by that time recognised as the cause of the deadly 
malaria, which made service on that frontier 
dreaded by all. 

It was during this expedition that he discovered 
a new species of anopheline mosquito, which after 
identification by Major James, I. M.S., was named 
after him Anopheles aitkeni. During his long service 
there are to be found in the Annual Reports of the 
Customs Department frequent mention of Mr. 
Aitken's good work, but it is doubtful whether 
the Government ever fully realised what an able 
literary man they had in their service, wasting his 
talent in the Salt Department. On two occasions 
only did congenial work come to him in the course 


of his public duty — namely, when he was sent to 
study, from the naturalist's point of view, the 
malarial conditions prevailing on the frontier of 
Goa ; and when during the last two years of his 
service he was put in literary charge of The Sind 
Gazetteer. In this book one can see the light and 
graceful literary touch of Eha frequently cropping 
up amidst the dry bones of public health and 
commercial statistics, and the book is enlivened 
by innumerable witty and philosophic touches 
appearing in the most unlikely places, such as he 
alone could enliven a dull subject with. Would 
that all Government gazetteers were similarly 
adorned ! But there are not many " Ehas " in 
Government employ in India. 

On completion of this work he retired to Edinburgh, 
where most of the sketches contained in this volume 
were written. He was very happy with his family 
in his home at Morningside, and was beginning to 
surround himself with pets and flowers, as was his 
wont all his life, and to get a good connection with 
the home newspapers and magazines, when, alas! 
death stepped in, and he died after a short illness 
on April 25, 1909. 

He was interested in the home birds and beasts 
as he had been with those in India, and the last 
time the writer met him he was taking home some 
gold-fish for his aquarium. A few days before his 
death he had found his way down to the Morning- 
side cemetery, where he had been enjoying the sun- 


shine and flowers of Spring, and he remarked to 
his wife that he would often go there in future to 
watch the birds building their nests. 

Before that time came, he was himself laid to 
rest in that very spot in sure and certain hope of 
a blessed resurrection. 

The above imperfect sketch fails to give the charm 
and magnetic attraction of the man, and for this 
one must go to his works, which for those who 
knew him are very illuminating in this respect. 
In them one catches a glimpse of his plan for 
keeping young and cheerful in " the land of regrets," 
for one of his charms was his youthfulness and 
interest in life. He refused to be depressed by 
his lonely life. " I am only an exile," he remarks, 
" endeavouring to work a successful existence in 
Dustypore, and not to let my environment shape 
me as a pudding takes the shape of its mould, 
but to make it tributary to my own happiness." 
He therefore urges his readers to cultivate a hobby. 

" It is strange," he says, " that Europeans in 
India know so little, see so little, care so little, 
about all the intense life that surrounds them. 
Xhe boy who was the most ardent of bug-hunters, 
or the most enthusiastic of bird-nesters in England, 
where one shilling will buy nearly all that is known, 
or can be known, about birds or butterflies, main- 
tains in this country, aided by Messrs. B. &. S., 
an unequal strife with the insupportableness of an 
ennui-smitten life. Why, if he would stir up for 


one day the embers of the old flame, he could not 
quench it again with such a prairie of fuel around 
him. I am not speaking of Bombay people, with 
their clubs and gymkhanas and other devices for 
oiling the wheels of existence, but of the dreary 
up-country exile, whose life is a blank, a moral 
Sahara, a catechism of the Nihilist creed. What 
such a one needs is a hobby. Every hobby is good — 
a sign of good and an influence for good. Any 
hobby will draw out the mind, but the one I plead 
for touches the soul too, keeps the milk of human 
kindness from souring, puts a gentle poetry into 
the prosiest life. That all my own finer feelings 
have not long since withered in this land of separa- 
tion from ' old familiar faces,' I attribute partly 
to a pair of rabbits. All rabbits are idiotic things, 
but these come in and sit up meekly and beg a crust 
of bread, and even a perennial fare of village moor gee 
cannot induce me to issue the order for their 
execution and conversion into pie. But if such 
considerations cannot lead, the struggle for existence 
should drive a man in this country to learn the 
ways of his border tribes. For no one, I take it, 
who reflects for an instant will deny that a small 
mosquito, with black rings upon a white ground, 
or a sparrow that has finally made up its mind to 
rear a family in your ceiling, exercises an influence 
on your personal happiness far beyond the Czar of 
the Russias. It is not a question of scientific 
frontiers — the enemy invades us on all sides. We 


are plundered, insulted, phlebotomised under our 
own vine and fig-tree. We might make head 
against the foe if we laid to heart the lesson our 
national history in India teaches— namely, that 
the way to fight uncivilised enemies is to encourage 
them to cut one another's throats, and then step 
in and inherit the spoil. But we murder our friends, 
exterminate our allies, and then groan under the 
oppression of the enemy. I might illustrate this 
by the case of the meek and long-suffering musk-rat, 
by spiders or ants, but these must wait another 

Again he^says, " The ' poor dumb animals ' can 
give each otHer a bit of their minds like their betters, 
and to me their fierce and tender little passions, 
their loves and hates, their envies and jealousies, 
and their small vanities beget a sense of fellow- 
feeling which makes their presence society. The 
touch of Nature which makes the whole world kin 
is infirmity. A man without a weakness is insup- 
portable company, and so is a man who does not 
feel the heat. There is a large grey ring-dove that 
sits in the blazing sun all through the hottest 
hours of the day, and says coo-coo, coo, coo-coo, coo 
until the melancholy sweet monotony of that sound 
is as thoroughly mixed up in my brain with no 
in the shade as physic in my infantile memories 
with the peppermint lozenges which used to " put 
away the taste." But as for these creatures, which 
confess the heat and come into the house and gasp, 


I feel drawn to them. I should like to offer them 
cooling drinks. Not that all my midday guests 
are equally welcome : I could dispense, for instance, 
with the grey-ringed bee which has just recon- 
noitred my ear for the third time, and guesses it 
is a key-hole — she is away just now, but only, I 
fancy, for clay to stop it up with. There are 
others also to which I would give their congi if they 
would take it. But good, bad, or indifferent they 
give us their company whether we want it or 

Eha certainly found company in beasts all his 
life, and kept the charm of youth about him in 
consequence to the end. If his lot were cast, as 
it often was, in lonely places, he kept pets, and 
made friends besides of many of the members of 
the tribes on his frontier; if in Bombay city he 
consoled himself with his aquarium and the museum 
of the Bombay Natural History Society. When 
the present writer chummed with him in a flat 
on the Apollo Bunder in Bombay, he remembers 
well that aquarium and the Sunday-morning expedi- 
tions to the malarious ravines at the back of Malabar 
Hill to search for mosquito larvae to feed its inmates. 
For at that time Mr. Aitken was investigating 
the capabilities for the destruction of larvae, of a 
small surface-feeding fish with an ivory-white spot 
on the top of its head, which he had found at 
Vehar in the stream below the bund. It took 
him some time to identify these particular fishes 


(Haplochilus Uneatus), and in the meantime he 
dubbed them " Scooties " from the lightning 
rapidity of their movements, and in his own 
admirable manner made himself a sharer of their 
joys and sorrows, their cares and interests. With 
these he stocked the ornamental fountains of Bom- 
bay to keep them from becoming breeding-grounds 
for mosquitoes, and they are now largely used 
throughout India for this very purpose. It will be 
recognised, therefore, that Mr. Aitken studied natural 
history not only for its own sake, but as a means 
of benefiting the people of India, whom he had 
learned to love, as is so plainly shown in Behind 
the Bungalow. 

He was an indefatigable worker in the museum 
of the Bombay Natural History Society, which he 
helped to found, and many of his papers and notes 
are preserved for us in the pages of its excellent 
Journal, of which he was an original joint -editor. 
He was for long secretary of the Insect Section, and 
then president. Before his retirement he was 
elected one of the Vice-Presidents of the Society. 

Mr. Aitken was a deeply religious man, and was 
for some twenty years an elder in the congregation 
of the United Free Church of Scotland in Bombay. 
He was for some years Superintendent of the Sunday 
School in connection with this congregation, and a 
member of the Committee of the Bombay Scottish 
Orphanage and the Scottish High Schools. His 
former minister says of him, " He was deeply inter- 


ested in theology, and remained wonderfully orthodox 
in spite of" (or, as the present writer would prefer 
to say, because of) " his scientific knowledge. He 
always thought that the evidence for the doctrine 
of evolution had been pressed for more than it was 
worth, and he had many criticisms to make upon 
the Higher Critics of the Bible. Many a discussion 
we had, in which, against me, he took the conserva- 
tive side." 

He lets one see very clearly into the workings of 
his mind in this direction in what is perhaps the 
finest, although the least well known of his books, 
The Five Windows of the Soul (John Murray), in 
which he discourses in his own inimitable way of 
the five senses, and how they bring man and beast 
into contact with their surroundings. It is a book 
on perceiving, and shows how according as this 
faculty is exercised it makes each man such as 
he is. The following extract from the book shows 
Mr. Aitken's style, and may perhaps induce some 
to go to the book itself for more from the same 
source. He is speaking of the moral sense. " And 
it is almost a truism to say that, if a man has any 
taste, it will show itself in his dress and in his dwell- 
ing. No doubt, through indolence and slovenly 
habits, a man may allow his surroundings to fall 
far below what he is capable of approving ; but 
every one who does so pays the penalty in the 
gradual deterioration of his perceptions. 

"How many times more true is all this in the case 


of the moral sense ? When the heart is still young 
and tender, how spontaneously and sweetly and 
urgently does every vision of goodness and noble- 
ness in the conduct of another awaken the impulse 
to go and do likewise ! And if that impulse is not 
obeyed, how certainly does the first approving 
perception of the beauty of goodness become duller, 
until at last we may even come to hate it where 
we find it, for its discordance with the ' motions of 
sins in our members ' ! 

" But not less certainly will every earnest effort to 
bring the life into unison with what we perceive 
to be right bring its own reward in a clearer and 
more joyful perception of what is right, and a 
keener sensitiveness to every discord in ourselves. 
How all such discord may be removed, how the 
chords of the heart may be tuned and the life 
become music, — these are questions of religion, 
which are quite beyond our scope. But I take it 
that every religion which has prevailed among the 
children of Adam is in itself an evidence that, how- 
ever debased and perverted the moral sense may 
have become, the painful consciousness that his 
heart is ' like sweet bells jangled ' still presses 
everywhere and always on the spirit of man ; and 
it is also a conscious or unconscious admission that 
there is no blessedness for him until his life shall 
march in step with the music of the ' Eternal 
Righteousness.' " 

Mr. Aitken's name will be kept green among 


Anglo-Indians by the well-known series of books 
published by Messrs. Thacker & Co., of London 
and Calcutta. They are The Tribes on my Frontier, 
An Indian Naturalist's Foreign Policy, which was 
published in 1883, and of which a seventh edition 
appeared in 1910. This book deals with the common 
birds, beasts, and insects in and around an Indian 
bungalow, and it should be put into the hands of 
every one whose lot is cast in India. It will open 
their eyes to the beauty and interests of their 
surroundings in a truly wonderful way, and may 
be read again and again with increasing pleasure 
as one's experience of Indian life increases. 

This was followed in 1889 by Behind the Bungalow, 
which describes with charming insight the strange 
manners and customs of our Indian domestic ser- 
vants. The witty and yet kindly way in which 
their excellencies and defects are touched off is 
delightful, and many a harassed mem-sahib must 
bless Eha for showing her the humorous and human 
side of her life surrounded as it is by those necessary 
but annoying inhabitants of the Godowns behind 
the bungalow. A tenth edition of this book was 
published in 1911. 

The Naturalist on the Prowl was brought out in 
1894, and a third edition was published in 1905. 
It contains sketches on the same lines as those in 
The Tribes, but deals more with the jungles, and 
not so much with the immediate surroundings of 
the bungalow. The very smell of the country is 


in these chapters, and will vividly recall memories 
to those who know the country along the West 
Coast of India southward of Bombay. 

In 1900 was published The Common Birds of 
Bombay, which contains descriptions of the ordinary 
birds one sees about the bungalow or in the country. 
As is well said by the writer of the obituary notice 
in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History 
Society, Eha " had a special genius for seizing the 
striking and characteristic points in the appearance 
and behaviour of individual species and a happy 
knack of translating them into print so as to render 
his descriptions unmistakable. He looked upon all 
creatures in the proper way, as if each had a soul 
and character of its own. He loved them all, 
and was unwilling to hurt any of them." These 
characteristics are well shown in this book, for one 
is able to recognise the birds easily from some 
prominent feature described therein. 1 

The Five Windows of the Soul, published by John 
Murray in 1898, is of quite another character from 
the above, and was regarded by its author with 
great affection as the best of his books. It is 
certainly a wonderfully self-revealing book, and full 
of the most beautiful thoughts. A second impression 

1 The illustrations axe his own work, but the blocks having 
been produced in India, they do not do justice to the extreme 
delicacy of workmanship and fine perception of detail which 
characterise the originals, as all who have been privileged to see 
these will agree. 


appeared in the following year, and a new and 
cheaper edition has just been published. 

The portrait of Eha is reproduced from one taken 
in 1902 in a flat on the Apollo Bunder, and shows 
the man as he was in workaday life in Bombay. 
The humorous and kindly look is, I think, well 
brought out, and will stir pleasant memories in all 
who knew Mr. Aitken. 

W. B. B. 

January 191 4. 




It is evident that, in what is called the evolution 
of animal forms, the foot came in suddenly when 
the backboned creatures began to live on the dry 
land — that is, with the frogs. How it came in is 
a question which still puzzles the phylogenists, who 
cannot find a sure pedigree for the frog. There it 
is, anyhow, and the remarkable point about it is 
that the foot of a frog is not a rudimentary thing, 
but an authentic standard foot, like the yard measure 
kept in the Tower of London, of which all other feet 
are copies or adaptations. This instrument, as 
part of the original outfit given to the pioneers of 
the brainy, backboned, and four-limbed races, 
when they were sent out to multiply and replenish 
the earth, is surely worth considering well. It 
consists essentially of a sole, or palm, made up of 
small bones and of -five separate digits, each with 
several joints. 

In the hind foot of a frog the toes are very long 
and webbed from point to point. In this it differs 


a good deal from the toad, and there is significance 
in the difference. The " heavy-gaited toad," satis- 
fied with sour ants, hard beetles, and such other 
fare as it can easily pick up, and grown nasty in 

so that no- 
thing seeks to 
eat it, has 
through life, 
like a ple- 
thoric old 
until the 
present day, 
on its original 
feet. The 
more versatile 
and nimble- 
witted frog, 
an authentic standard foot. seeking better 

diet and 
greater security of life, went back to the element in 
which it was bred, and, swimming much, became 
better fitted for swimming. The soft elastic skin 
between the fingers or toes is just the sort of tissue 
which responds most readily to inward impulses, 
and we find that the very same change has come 
about in those birds and beasts which live much in 
water. I know that this is not the accepted theory 


of evolution, but I am waiting till it shall become so. 
We all develop in the direction of our tendencies, 
and shall, I doubt not, be wise enough some day 
to give animals leave to do the same. 

It seems strange that any creature, furnished with 
such tricky and adaptable instruments to go about 
the world with, should tire of them and wish to get 
rid of them, but so it happened at a very early stage. 
It must have been a consequence, I think, of growing 
too fast. Mark Twain remarked about a dachshund 
that it seemed to want another pair of legs in the 
middle to prevent it sagging. Now, some lizards 
are so long that they cannot keep from sagging, and 
their progress becomes a painful wriggle. But if 
you must go by wriggling, then what is the use of 
legs to knock against stems and stones ? So some 
lizards have discarded two of their legs and some all 
four. Zoologically they are not snakes, but snakes 
are only a further advance in the same direction. 
That snakes did not start fair without legs is clear, 
for the python has to this day two tell-tale leg-bones 
buried in its flesh. 

When we pass from reptiles to birds, lo ! an 
astounding thing has happened. That there were 
flying reptiles in the fossil ages we know, and there 
are flying beasts in our own. But the wings of these 
are simple mechanical alterations, which the imagina- 
tion of a child, or a savage, could explain. 

The hands of a bat are hands still, and, though 
the fingers are hampered by their awkward gloves, 


the thumbs are free. The giant fruit bats of the 
tropics clamber about the trees quite acrobatically 
with their thumbs and feet. 

That Apollyonic monster of the prime, the ptero- 
dactyl, did even better. Stretching on each little 
finger a lateen sail that would have served to waft 
a skiff across the Thames, it kept the rest of its hands 
for other uses. But what bearing has all this on the 
case of birds? Here is a whole sub-kingdom, as 
they call it, of the animal world which has un- 
reservedly and irrevocably bartered one pair of its 
limbs for a flying-machine. The apparatus is made 
of feathers — a new invention, unknown to amphibian 
or saurian, whence obtained nobody can say — and 
these are grafted into the transformed frame of the 
old limbs. The bargain was worth making, for the 
winged bird at once soared away in all senses from 
the creeping things of earth, and became a more 
ethereal being ; " like a blown flame, it rests upon 
the air, subdues it, surpasses it, outraces it ; it is 
the air, conscious of itself, conquering itself, ruling 
itself." But the price was heavy. The bird must 
get through life with one pair of feet and its mouth. 
But this was all the bodily furniture of Charles 
Francois Felu, who, without arms, became a famous 

A friend of mine, standing behind him in a salon 
and watching him at work, saw him lay down his 
brush and, raising his foot to his head, take off his 
hat and scratch his crown with his great toe. My 


friend was nearly hypnotised by the sight, yet it 
scarcely strikes us as a wonder when a parrot, standing 
on one foot, takes its meals with the other. It is 
a wonder, and stamps the parrot as a bird of talent. 
A mine of hidden possibilities is in us all, but those 
who dig resolutely into it and bring out treasure 
are few. 

And let us note that the art of standing began 
with birds. Frogs sit, and, as far as I know, every 
reptile, be it lizard, crocodile, alligator, or tortoise, 
lays its body on the ground when not actually carry- 
ing it. And these have each four fat legs. Contrast 
the flamingo, which, having only two, and those 
like willow wands, tucks up one of them and sleeps 
poised high on the other, like a tulip on its stem. 

Note also that one toe has been altogether dis- 
carded by birds as superfluous. The germ, or bud, 
must be there, for the Dorking fowl has produced a 
fifth toe under some influence of the poultry-yard, 
but no natural bird has more than four. Except 
in swifts, which never perch, but cling to rocks and 
walls, one is turned backwards, and, by a cunning 
contrivance, the act of bending the leg draws 
them all automatically together. So a hen closes 
its toes at every step it takes, as if it grasped some- 
thing, and, of course, when it settles down on its 
roost, they grasp that tight and hold it fast till 
morning. But to birds that do not perch this 
mechanism is only an encumbrance, so many of 
them, like the plovers, abolish the hind toe entirely, 


and the prince of all two-legged runners, the ostrich, 
has got rid of one of the front toes also, retaining 
only two. 

To a man who thinks, it is very interesting to 
observe that beasts have been led along gradually 
in the very same direction. All the common beasts, 
such as cats, dogs, rats, stoats, and so on, have five 
ordinary toes. On the hind feet there may be only 

four. But as 
soon as we 
come to those 
that feed on 
grass and 
standing or 
walking all 
the while, we 
find that the 
feet are shod 
with hoofs 
instead of 
being tipped 
with claws. 
First the five 
toes, though 

clubbed together, have each a separate hoof, as in 
the elephant ; then the hippopotamus follows with 
four toes, and the rhinoceros with practically three. 
These beasts are all clodhoppers, and their feet are 
hobnailed boots. The more active deer and all 



cattle keep only two toes for practical purposes, 
though stumps of two more remain. Finally, the 
horse gathers all its foot into one boot, and becomes 
the champion runner of the world. 

It is not without significance that this degeneracy 
of the feet goes with a decline in the brain, whether 
as cause or effect I will not pretend to know. These 
hoofed beasts have shallow natures and live shallow 
lives. They eat what is spread by Nature before 
their noses, have no homes, and do nothing but feed 
and fight with each other. The elephant is a notable 
exception, but then the nose of the elephant, be- 
coming a hand, has redeemed its mind. As for the 
horse, whatever its admirers may say, it is just a 
great ass. There is a lesson in all this : " from him 
that hath not shall be taken even that which he 

There is another dull beast which, from the point 
of view of the mere systematist, seems as far removed 
from those that wear hoofs as it could be, but the 
philosopher, considering the point at which it has 
arrived, rather than the route by which it got there, 
will class it with them, for its idea of life is just theirs 
turned topsy-turvy. The nails of the sloth, instead 
of being hammered into hoofs on the hard ground, 
have grown long and curved, like those of a caged 
bird, and become hooks by which it can hang, with- 
out effort, in the midst of the leaves on which it 
feeds. A minimum of intellect is required for such 
an existence, and the sloth has lost any superfluous 


brain that it may have had, as well as two, or even 
three, of its five toes. 

To return to those birds and beasts with standard 
feet, I find that the first outside purpose for which 
they find them serviceable is to scratch themselves. 
This is a universal need. But a foot is handy in 
many other ways. A hen and chickens, getting 
into my garden, transferred a whole flower-bed to 
the walk in half an hour. Yet a bird trying to do 
anything with its foot is like a man putting on his 
socks standing, and birds as a race have turned their 
feet to very little account outside of their original pur- 
pose. Such a simple thing as holding down its food 
with one foot scarcely occurs to an ordinary bird. A 
hen will pull about a cabbage leaf and shake it in the 
hope that a small piece may come away, but it never 
enters her head to put her foot on it. In this and other 
matters the parrot stands apart, and also the hawk, 
eagle, and owl ; but these are not ordinary birds. 

Beasts, having twice as many feet as birds, have 
learned to apply them to many uses. They dig with 
them, hold down their food with them, fondle their 
children with them, paw their friends, and scratch 
their enemies. One does more of one thing and 
another of another, and the feet soon show the effects 
of the occupation, the claws first, then the muscles, 
and even the bones dwindling by disuse, or waxing 
stout and strong. Then the joy of doing what it 
can do well impels the beast further on the same 
path, and its offspring after it. 



And this leads at last to specialism. The Indian 
black bear is a "handyman," like the British Tar — 
good all round. Its great soft paw is a very service- 
able tool and weapon, armed with claws which will 
take the face off a man or grub up a root with equal 
ease. When a black bear has found an ant-hill it 
takes but a few minutes to tear up the hard, cemented 
clay and lay the deep galleries bare ; then, putting 
its gutta-percha muzzle to the mouth of each, it 
draws such a blast of air through them that the 
industrious labourers are sucked into its gullet in 
drifts. Afterwards it digs right down to the royal 
chamber, licks up the bloated queen, and goes its 

But there is .another worker in the same mine 
which does not go to work this way. The ant-eater 
found fat termites so satisfying that it left all other 
things and devoted its life to the exploiting of ant- 
hills, and now it has no rival at that business, but 
it is fit for nothing else. Its awkward digging tools 
will not allow it to put the sole of its foot to the 
ground, so it has to double them under and hobble 
about like a Chinese lady. It has no teeth, and 
stupidity is the most prominent feature of its char- 
acter. It has become that poor thing, a man of one 

But the bear is like a sign-post at a parting of 
the ways. If you compare a brown bear with the 
black Indian, or sloth bear, as it is sometimes called, 
you may detect a small but pregnant difference. 
























When the former walks, its claws are lifted, so that 
their points do not touch the ground. Why ? I 
have no information, but I know that it is not con- 
tent with a vegetarian diet, like its black relative, 
but hankers after sheep and goats, and I guess that 
its murderous thoughts flow down its nerves to those 
keen claws. It reminds me of a man clenching his 
fist unconsciously when he thinks of the liar who has 
slandered him. 

But what ages of concentration on the thought 
and practice of assassination must have been re- 
quired to perfect that most awful weapon in Nature, 
the paw of a tiger, or, indeed, of any cat, for they 
are all of one pattern. The sharpened flint of the 
savage has become the scimitar of Saladin, keeping 
the keenness of its edge in a velvet sheath and flashing 
out only on the field of battle. Compare that paw 
with the foot of a dog, and you will, perhaps, see 
with me that the servility and pliancy of the slave 
of man has usurped a place in his esteem which is 
not its due. The cat is much the nobler animal. 
Dogs, with wolves, jackals, and all of their kin, love 
to fall upon their victim in overwhelming force, like a 
rascally mob, and bite, tear, and worry until the life 
has gone out of it ; the tiger, rushing single-handed, 
with a fearful challenge, on the gigantic buffalo, 
grasps its nose with one paw and its shoulder with the 
other, and has broken its massive neck in a manner 
so dexterous and instantaneous that scarcely two 
sportsmen can agree about how the thing is done. 


I have said that the foot first appeared when the 
backboned creatures came out of the waters to live 
upon the dry land. But all mundane things (not 
excepting politics) tend to move in circles, ending 
where they began ; and so the foot, if we follow it 
far enough, will take us back into water. See how 
the rat — I mean our common, omnivorous, scaven- 
ging, thieving, poaching brown rat — when it lives 
near a pond or stream, learns to swim and dive as 
naturally as a duck. Next comes the vole, or 
water-rat, which will not live away from water. 
Then there are water shrews, the beaver, otter, 
duck-billed platypus, and a host of others, not 
related, just as, among birds, there are water ousels, 
moorhens, ducks, divers, etc., which have per- 
manently made the water their home and seek their 
living in it. All these have attained to web-footed- 
ness in a greater or less degree. 

That this has occurred among reptiles, beasts, 
and birds alike shows what an easy, or natural, or 
obvious (put it as you will) modification it is. And 
it has a consequence not to be escaped. Just as a 
man who rides a great deal and never walks acquires 
a certain indirectness of the legs, and you never 
mistake a jockey for a drill-sergeant, so the web- 
footed beasts are not among the things that are 
" comely in going." 

Following this road you arrive at the seal and sea- 
lion. Of all the feet that I have looked at I know 
only one more utterly ridiculous than the twisted 


flipper on which the sea-lion props his great bulk in 
front, and that is the forked fly-flap which extends 
from the hinder parts of the same. How can it be 
worth any beast's while to carry such an absurd 
apparatus with it just for the sake of getting out into 
the air sometimes and pushing itself about on the 
ice and being eaten by Polar bears ? The porpoise 
has discarded one pair, turned the other into decent 
fins, and recovered a grace and power of motion in 
water which are not equalled by the greyhound on 
land. Why have the seals hung back ? I believe 
I know the secret. It is the baby ! No one knows 
where the porpoise and the whale cradle their new- 
born infants — it is so difficult to pry into the domestic 
ways of these sea-people — but evidently the seals 
cannot manage it, so they are forced to return to the 
land when the cares of maternity are on them. 

I have called the feet of these sea beasts ridiculous 
things, and so they are as we see them ; but strip 
off the skin, and lo ! there appears a plain foot, 
with its five digits, each of several joints, tipped 
with claws — nowise essentially different, in short, 
from that with which the toad, or frog, first set out 
in a past too distant for our infirm imagination. 
Admiration itself is paralysed by a contrivance so 
simple, so transmutable, and so sufficient for every 
need that time and change could bring. 

There remains yet one transformation which 
seems simple compared with some that I have 
noticed, but is more full of fate than they all ; for 


by it the foot becomes a hand. This comes about 
by easy stages. The reason why one of a bird's four 
toes is turned back is quite plain : trees are the 
proper home of birds, and they require feet that will 
grasp branches. So those beasts also that have 
taken to living in trees have got one toe detached 
more or less from the rest and arranged so that it 
can co-operate with them to catch hold of a thing. 
Then other changes quickly follow. For, in judging 
whether you have got hold of a thing and how much 
force you must put forth to keep hold of it, you are 
guided entirely by the pressure on the finger-points, 
and to gauge this pressure nicely the nerves must be 
refined and educated. In fact, the exercise itself, 
with the intent direction of the mind to the finger- 
points, brings about the refinement and education 
in accordance with Sandow's principle of muscle 

For an example of the result do not look at the 
gross paw of any so-called anthropoid ape, gorilla, 
orang-outang, or chimpanzee, but study the gentle 
lemur. At the point of each digit is a broad elastic 
pad, plentifully supplied with delicate nerves, and 
the vital energy which has been directed into them 
appears to have been withdrawn from the growth of 
the claws, which have shrunk into fine nails just 
shielding the fleshy tips. In short, the lemur has 
a hand on each of its four limbs, and no feet at all. 
And as it goes about its cage— I am at the Zoo in 
spirit— with a silent wonder shining out of its great 


eyes, it examines things by feeling them with its 

How plainly a new avenue from the outer world 
into its mind has been opened by those fingers ! 
But how about scratching ? What would be the gain 
of having higher susceptibilities and keener percep- 
tions if they only aggravated the triumph of the 
insulting flea ? Nay, this disaster has been averted 
by reserving a good sharp claw on the forefinger 
(not the thumb) of each hind hand. 

The old naturalists called the apes and lemurs 
Quadrumana, the " four-handed," and separated 
the Bimana, with one species — namely, Homo sapiens. 
Now we have anatomy cited to belittle the difference 
between a hand and a fbot, and geology importuned 
to show us the missing link, pending which an order 
has been instituted roomy enough to hold monkeys, 
gorillas, and men. It is a strange perversity. How 
much more fitting it were to bow in reverent ignor- 
ance before the perfect hand, taken up from the 
ground, no more to dull its percipient surfaces on 
earth and stones and bark, but to minister to its 
lord's expanding mind and obey his creative will, 
while his frame stands upright and firm upon a 
single pair of true feet, with their toes all in one 



The prospectus, or advertisement, of a certain 
American typewriting machine commences by in- 
forming the public that " The typewriter is 

founded on an idea." When I saw this phrase I 
secured it for my collection, for I felt that, without 
jest, it contained the kernel of a true philosophy of 
Nature. The forms, the phainomena, of Nature are 
innumerable, multifarious, interwoven, and infinitely 
perplexing, and you may spend a happy life in un- 
ravelling their relations and devising their evolu- 
tions ; but until you have looked through them 
and seen the ideas that are behind them you are a 
mere materialist and a blind worker. The soul of 
Nature is hid from you. 

What is the bill of a bird and what does it mean ? 
I do not refer to the bill of a hawk, or a heron, or 
an owl, or an ostrich, but to that which is the 
abstract of all these and a thousand more. I hold, 
regardless of anatomy and physiology, that a bird 
is a higher being than a beast. No beast soars and 
sings to its sweetheart ; no beast remains in lifelong 



partnership with the wife of its youth ; no beast 
builds itself a summer-house and decks it with 
feathers and bright shells. A beast is a grovelling 
denizen of the earth ; a bird is a free citizen of the 
air. And who can say that there is not a connection 
between this difference and other developments ? 
The beast, thinking only of its appetites, has evolved 
a delicate nose, a discriminating palate, three kinds 
of teeth to cut, tear, and grind its food, salivary 
glands to moisten the same, and a perfected apparatus 
of digestion. 

The bird, occupied with thoughts of love and 
beauty, with " fields, or waves, or mountains " and 
" shapes of sky or plain," has made little advance 
in the art and instruments of good living. It 
swallows its food whole, scarcely knowing the taste 
of it, and a pair of forceps for picking it up, tipped 
and cased with horn, is the whole of its dining 
furniture. For the bill of a bird, primarily and 
essentially, is that and nothing else. In the chickens 
and the sparrows that come to steal their food, and 
the robin that looks on, and all the little dicky- 
birds, you may see it in its simplicity. The size and 
shape may vary, as a Canadian axe differs from a 
Scotch axe ; some are short and stout and have a 
sharp edge for shelling seeds ; some are longer and 
fine-pointed, for picking worms and caterpillars out 
of their hiding-places ; some a little hooked at their 
points, and one, that of the crossbill, with points 
crossed for picking the small seeds out of fir-cones ; 


but all are practically, the same tool. Yet the last 
distinctly points the way to those modifications by 
which the simple bill is gradually adapted to one 
special purpose or another, until it becomes a wonder- 
ful mechanism in which the original intention is 
quite out of sight. 

At this point I find an instructive parable in my 
tool chest. Fully half of the tools are just knives. 
A chisel is a knife, a plane is a knife set in a block of 
wood, a saw is a knife with the edge notched. More- 
over, there are many sorts of curious planes and 
saws, each intended for one distinct kind of fine work. 
All these the joiner has need of, but a schoolboy 
would rather have one good, strong pocket-knife 
than the whole boxful. For, just in proportion as 
each tool is perfected for its own special work, it 
becomes useless for any other. And your schoolboy 
is not a specialist. He wants a tool that will cut a 
stick, carve a boat, peel an apple, dig out a worm — 
in short, one that will do whatever his active mind 
wants done. 

Now apply this parable to the birds. If you see a 
bill that is nothing but a large and powerful pair of 
forceps, good for any rough job, you may know 
without further inquiry that the owner is no limited 
specialist, but a " handy man," bold, enterprising, 
resourceful, and good all round. He will not starve 
in the desert. No wholesome food comes amiss to 
him — grub, slug, or snail, fruit, eggs, a live mouse 
or a dead rat, and he can deal with them all. Such 



are the magpie, the crow, the jackdaw, and all of 
that ilk ; and these are the birds that are found 
in all countries and climates, and prosper wherever 
they go. 
But all birds cannot play that part. One is timid, 


another fastidious, another shy but ingenious. So, 
in the universal competition for a living, each has 
taken its own line according to the bent of its nature, 
and its one tool has been perfected for its trade until 
it can follow no other. The thrush catches such 
worms as rashly show themselves above-ground ; 
but an ancient ancestor of the snipe found that, 


if it followed them into marshy lands, it could probe 
the soft ground and drag them out of their chambers. 
For this operation it has now a bill three inches 
long, straight, thin and sensitive at the tip, a beautiful 
instrument, but good for no purpose except extract- 
ing worms from soft ground. If frost or drought 
hardens the ground, the snipe must starve or travel. 
Among the many " lang nebbit " birds that follow 
the same profession as the snipe, some, like the 
curlew and the ibis, have curved bills of prodigious 
length. I do not know the comparative advantages 
of the two forms, but no doubt each bird swears by 
its own pattern, as every golfer does by his own 

But now behold another grub-hunter, which, 
distasting mud, has discovered an unworked mine 
in the trunks of trees. There, in deep burrows, 
lurked great succulent bettle-grubs, demanding only 
a tool with which they might be dug out. This 
has been perfected by many stages, and I have now 
before me a splendid specimen of the most improved 
pattern — namely, the bill of the great black wood- 
pecker of Western India, a bird nearly as big as a 
crow. It is nothing else than a hatchet in two 
parts, which, when locked together, present a steeled 
edge about three-eighths of an inch in breadth. The 
hatchet is two and a half inches long by one in 
breadth at the base, and a prominent ridge, or keel, 
runs down the top from base to point. It is further 
strengthened by a keel on each side. Inside of it, 


ere the bird became a mummy, was her tongue, 
which I myself drew out three inches beyond the 
point of the bill. It was rough and tough, like gutta- 
percha, tipped with a fine spike, and armed on each 
side, for the last inch of its length, with a row of 
sharp barbs pointing backwards. The whole was 
lubricated with some patent stickfast, " always 
ready for use." That grub must sit tight indeed 
which this corkscrew will not draw when once the 
hatchet has opened a way. 

The swallows and swifts, untirable on their wings, 
but too gentle to hold their own in a jostling crowd, 
soared away after the midges and May-flies and 
pestilent gnats that rise from marsh and pond 
to hold their joyous dances under the blue dome. 
Continually rushing open-mouthed after these, they 
have stretched their gape from ear to ear ; but their 
bills have dwindled by disuse and left only an apology 
for their absence. 

Compared with all these, the birds that can do 
with a diet of fruit only lead an easy life. They 
have just to pluck and eat — that is, if they are 
pleased with small fruits and content to swallow 
them whole. But the hornbills, being too bulky 
to hop among twigs, need a long reach ; hence 
the portentous machines which they carry on their 
faces. The beak of a hornbill is nothing else than 
a pair of tongs long enough to reach and strong 
enough to wrench off a wild fig from its thick stem. 
If it were of iron it would be thin and heavy ; being 



of cellular horn-stuff it is bulky but light. If you 
ask why it should rise up into an absurd helmet 


on the queer fowl's head, I cannot tell. Nature has 
quaint ways of using up surplus material. 

An easy life begets luxury, and among fruit-eaters 
the parrot has become an epicure. It will not 


swallow its food whole, and its bill deserves study. 
In birds generally the upper mandible is more or 
less joined to the skull, leaving only the lower jaw 
free to move. But in the parrot the upper mandible 
is also hinged, so that each plays freely on the other. 
The upper, as we all know, is hooked and pointed ; 
the lower has a sharp edge. The tongue is thick, 
muscular, and sensitive. The whole makes a won- 
derful instrument, unique among birds, for feelingly 
manipulating a dainty morsel, shelling, peeling, and 
slicing, until nothing is left but the sweetest part 
of the core. Of all gourmands Polly is the most 
shameless waster. 

Long before land, trees, and air had been exploited 
the primitive bird must have discovered the harvest 
of the waters, and here the competition has been very 
keen indeed. Yet the form of bill most in use is 
very simple — just a plain pair of forceps, long and 
sharp-pointed like scissors. This is evidently hard 
to beat, for birds of many sorts use it, handling it 
variously. The kingfisher plumps bodily down on 
the minnow from an overhanging perch ; the solan 
goose, soaring, plunges from a " pernicious height " ; 
the heron, high on its stilts, darts out a long and 
serpentine neck ; the diver, with similar beak and 
neck, but different legs, pursues the fleeing shoals 
under water ; to the swift and slippery fish all are 
alike terrible in their certainty. 

There are, however, other varieties of the fishing 
bill. Some have a hook at the point, as that of the 


cormorant, and some are straight at the top, but 
curved on the under side. This last form is handy 
for storks, which do not pluck fish out of water so 
much, but scoop up frogs, crabs, and reptiles from 
the ground. The ridiculous bill of the puffin, or 
sea-parrot, is an eccentricity. There may be some 
idea in it, but I suspect it is an effect of vanity merely, 
being coloured blue, yellow, and red, and quite in 
keeping with the other absurdities of the wearer. 

Apart from all these and by itself stands a princely 
fisher whose bill is no modification, but an original 
invention and a marvellous one. Larger than a 
swan and gluttonous withal, the pelican cannot 
live on single fishes. It has given up angling alto- 
gether and taken to netting ; and the way in which 
the net has been constructed out of the pair of 
forceps provided in the original plan of its con- 
struction is as well worth your examining as any- 
thing I know. It is a foot in length, the upper 
jaw is flat and broad, while the lower consists of 
two thin, elastic bones joined at the point, a mere 
ring to carry the curious yellow bag that hangs 
from it. In pictures this is represented as a creel 
in which the kind pelican carries home the child- 
ren's breakfast ; you are allowed to see the tail of 
a big fish hanging out. But it is not a creel ; it is 
a net. The great birds, marshalled in line on some 
broad lake or marsh, and beating the water with 
their wings, drive the fish before them until they 
have got a dense crowd huddled in panic and con- 

'r /. 

^ ¥v ;4 






fusion between them and the shore. Now watch 
them narrowly. As each monstrous bill opens, the 
thin bones of the lower jaw stretch sideways to the 
breadth of a span by some curious mechanism not 
described in the books, and at the same time the 
shrunken bag expands into a deep, capacious net. 
Simultaneously the whole instrument is plunged 
into the struggling, silvery mass and comes up full. 
The side bones instantly contract again, and the 
upper jaw is clapped on them like a lid. No wonder 
the fishermen of the East detest the pelican. 

In the same marsh, perhaps, standing with un- 
equalled grace upon the longest legs known in this 
world, is a troop of giant birds as wonderful as the 
pelican, but how opposite ! The beautiful flamingo 
is a bird of feeble intellect, delicate appetite, and 
genteel tastes. It cannot eat fish, for its slender 
throat would scarcely admit a pea. Besides, the 
idea of catching anything, or even picking up food 
from the ground, does not occur to its simple mind. 
Its diet consists of certain small crustaceans, classed 
by naturalists with water-fleas, which abound in 
brackish water ; and it has an instrument for taking 
these which it knows how to use. I kept flamingos 
once, and, after trying many things in vain, offered 
them bran, or boiled rice, floating in water. Then 
they dined, and I learned the construction and 
working of the most marvellous of all bills. The 
lower jaw is deep and hollow, and its upper edges 
turn in to meet each other, so that you may fairly 


describe it as a pipe with a narrow slit along the 
upper side. In this pipe lies the tongue, and it 
cannot get out, for it is wider than the slit, but it 
can be pressed against the top to close the slit, 
and then the lower jaw becomes an actual pipe. 
The root of the tongue is furnished on both sides 
with a loose fringe which we will call the first 
strainer. The upper jaw is thin and flat and rests 
on the lower like a lid, and it is beautifully fringed 
along both sides with small, leathery points, close 
set, like the teeth of a very fine saw. This is the 
second strainer. To work the machine you dip 
the point into dirty water full of water-fleas, draw 
back the tip of the tongue a little, and suck in 
water till the lower jaw (the pipe) is full, then close 
the point again with the tip of the tongue and 
force the water out. It can only get out by passing 
through the first strainers at the root of the tongue, 
then over the palate, and so through the second 
strainers at the sides of the bill ; and all the solid 
matter it contained will remain in the mouth. The 
sucking in and squirting out of the water is managed 
by the cheeks, or rather by the cheek, for a flamingo 
has only one cheek, and that is situated under the 
chin. When the bird is feeding you will see this 
throbbing faster than the eye can follow it, while 
water squirts from the sides of the mouth in a con- 
tinuous stream. I should have said that the whole 
bill is sharply bent downwards at the middle. 
The advantage of this is that when the bird lets 


down its head into the water, like a bucket into a 
well, the point of the bill does not stick in the mud, 
but lies flat on it, upside down. 

In conclusion, let us not fail to note, whatever 
be our political creed, that, while all the birds pursue 
their respective industries, there sit apart, in pride 
of place, some whose bills are not tools wherewith 
to work, but weapons wherewith to slay. And 
these take tribute of the rest, not with their consent, 
but of right. 



The secrets of Nature often play like an iridescence 
on the surface, and escape the eye of her worshipper 
because it is stopped with a microscope. There are 
mysteries all about us as omnipresent as the move- 
ment of the air that lifts the smoke and stirs the 
leaves, which I cannot find that any philosopher has 
looked into. Often and deeply have I been im- 
pressed with this. For example, there is scarcely, 
in this world, a commoner or a humbler thing than 
a tail, yet how multifarious is it in aspect, in con- 
struction, and in function, a hundred different 
things and yet one. Some are of feathers and some 
of hair, and some bare and skinny ; some are long 
and some are short, some stick up and some hang 
down, some wag for ever and some are still ; the 
uses that they serve cannot be numbered, but one 
name covers them all. In the course of evolution 
they came in with the fishes and went out with man. 
What was their purpose and mission ? What place 
have they filled in the scheme of things ? In short, 
what is the true inwardness of a tail ? 
If we try to commence — as scientific method 



requires — with a definition, we stumble on a key, 
at the very threshold, which opens the door. For 
there is no definition of a tail ; it is not, in its 
nature, anything at all. When an animal's fore-legs 
are fitted on to its backbone at the proper dis- 
tance from the hind-legs, if any of the backbone 
remains over, we call it a tail. But it has no pur- 
pose ; it is a mere surplus, which a tailor (the pun 
is unavoidable) would have trimmed off. And, lo ! 
in this very negativeness lies the whole secret of the 
multifarious positiveness of tails. For the absence 
of special purpose is the chance of general usefulness. 
The ear must fulfil its purpose or fail entirely, for it 
can do nothing else. Eyes, nose and mouth, hands 
and feet, all have their duties ; the tail is the un- 
employed. And if we allow that life has had any 
hand in the shaping of its own destiny, then the 
ingenuity of the devices for turning the useless 
member to account affords one of the most exhilara- 
ting subjects of contemplation in the whole panorama 
of Nature. The fishes fitted it up at once as a twin- 
propeller, with results so satisfactory that the whale 
and the porpoise, coming long after, adopted the 
invention. And be it noted that these last and their 
kin are now the only ocean-going mammals in the 
world. The whole tribe of paddle-steamers, such 
as seals and walruses and dugongs, are only coasters. 
Among those beasts that would live on the dry 
land, the primitive kangaroo could think of nothing 
better to do with his tail than to make a stool of it. 


It was a simple thought, but a happy one. Sitting 
up like a gentleman, he has his hands free to scratch 
his ribs or twitch his moustache. And when he 
goes he needs not to put them to the ground, for 
his great tail so nearly equals the weight of his 
body that one pair of legs keeps the balance even. 
And so the kangaroo, almost the lowest of beasts, 
comes closer to man in his postures than any other. 
The squirrel also sits up and uses his forepaws for 
hands, but the squirrel is a sybarite who lies abed 
in cold weather, and it is every way characteristic 
of him that he has sent his tail to the furrier and 
had it done up into a boa, or comforter, at once warm 
and becoming. See, too, how daintily he lifts it 
over his back to keep it clean. The rat is a near 
relation of the squirrel zoologically, but personally 
he is a gutter-snipe, and you may know that by 
one look at the tail which he drags after him like a 
dirty rope. Others of the same family, cleaner, 
though not more ingenious, like the guinea-pig, 
have simply dispensed with the encumbrance ; 
but the rabbit has kept enough to make a white 
cockade, which it hoists when bolting from danger. 
This is for the guidance of the youngsters. Nearly 
every kind of deer and antelope carries the same 
signal, with which, when fleeing through dusky 
woods, the leader shows the way to the herd and 
the doe to her fawn. 

But of beasts that graze and browse, a large 
number have turned their tails rather to a use 


which throws a pathetic light on misery of which 
we have little experience. We do, indeed, growl 
at the gnats of a summer evening and think ourselves 
very ill-used. How little do we know or think of 
the unintermitted and unabated torment that the 
most harmless classes of beasts suffer from the 
bands of beggars which follow them night and day, 
demanding blood, and will take no refusal. Driven 
from the brow they settle on the neck, shaken from 
the neck they dive between the legs, and but for 
that far-reaching whisk at the end of the tail, they 
would found a permanent colony on the flanks and 
defy ejection, like the raiders of Vatersay. Darwin 
argues that the tail-brush may have materially 
helped to secure the survival of those species of 
beasts that possessed it, and no doubt he is right. 
The subject is interminable, but we must give a 
passing glance to some quixotic tails. The opossum 
scampers up a tree, carrying all her numerous family 
on her back, and they do not fall off because each 
infant is securely moored by its own tail to the 
uplifted tail of its mother. The opossum is a very 
primitive beast, and so early and useful an invention 
should, one would think, have been spread widely 
in after time ; but there appears to be some diffi- 
culty in developing muscles at the thin end of a 
long tail, for the animals that have turned it into 
a grasping organ are few and are widely scattered. 
Examples are the chameleon among lizards, our 
own little harvest mouse, and, pre-eminent above 


all, the American monkeys. To a howler, or spider- 
monkey, its long tail is a swing and a trapeze in 
its forest gymnasium. Humboldt saw (he says it) 
a cluster of them all hanging from a tree by one 
tail, which proceeded from a Sandow in the middle. 
I should like to see that too. It is worth noting, 
by the way, that no old-world monkey has attained 
to this application of its tail. 

Then there is the beaver, whose tail I am con- 
vinced is a trowel. I know of no naturalist who 
has mentioned this, but such negative evidence is 
of little weight. The beaver, as everybody knows, 
is a builder, who cuts down trees and piles log upon 
log until he has raised a solid, domed cabin from 
seven to twenty feet in diameter, which he then 
plasters over with clay and straw. If he does not 
turn round and beat the work smooth with his tail, 
then I require to know for what purpose he carries 
that broad, heavy, and hard tool behind him. 

How few even among lovers of Nature know why 
a frog has no tail ! The reason is simply that it 
used that organ up when it was in want. In early 
life, as a jolly tadpole, it had a flourishing tail to 
swim with, and gills for breathing water, and an 
infantile mouth for taking vegetable nourishment. 
But when it began to draw near to frog's estate, 
serious changes were required in its structure to fit 
it for the life of a land animal. Four tiny legs 
appeared from under its skin, the gills gave place 
to air-breathing lungs, and the infant lips to a great, 


gaping mouth. Now, during this " temporary 
alteration of the premises " all business was of neces- 
sity stopped. The half-fish, half-frog could neither 
sup like an infant nor eat like a man. In this 
extremity it fed on its own tail — absorbed it as a 
camel is said to absorb its hump when travelling 
in the foodless desert — and so it entered on its new 
life without one. 

Aeronautics have changed the whole perspective 
of life for birds, as they may for us shortly ; so it 
is no surprise to find that birds have, almost with 
one consent, converted their tails into steering-gear. 
A commonplace bird, like a sparrow, scarcely 
requires this except as a brake when in the act of 
alighting ; but to those birds with which flight is 
an art and an accomplishment, an expansive forked 
or rounded tail (there are two patents) is indispen- 
sable. We have shot almost all the birds of this 
sort in our own country, and must travel if we would 
enjoy that enchanting sight — a pair of eagles or a 
party of kites gone aloft for a sail when the wind is 
rising, like skaters to a pond when the ice is bearing. 
For an hour on end, in restful ease or swift joy, 
they trace ever-varying circles and spirals against 
the dark storm-cloud, now rising, now falling, turn- 
ing and reversing, but never once flapping their 
widespread pinions. 

How is it done ? How does the Shamrock sail ? 
Watch, and you will see. When the wind is behind, 
each stiff quill at the end of the wing stands out by 


itself and is caught and driven by the blast ; but 
as the bird turns round to face the gale, they all 
close up and form a continuous mainsail, close- 
hauled. And all the while the expanded tail is in 
play, dipping first at one side and then at the other, 
and turning the trim craft with easy grace " as the 
governor listeth." 

Besides ground birds, like the quail, there are 


some eccentrics, such as Jenny wren, which have 
despised their tails, and there are specialists also 
which require them for other purposes than flying. 
The woodpecker's tail is quite useless as a rudder, 
for he is a woodman and has altered and adapted 
it for a portable stool to rest against as he plies his 

But that man must be very blind to the place 
which birds have taken in the progress of civilisa- 


tion who can suppose it possible that they should 
think only of utility in such a question as the 
disposal of their tails. It is a common notion among 
those who have acquired some smattering of the 
theory of evolution that fishes developed into reptiles, 
reptiles into birds, and birds into beasts ; but this 
is as wrong as it could be. Whatever the genealogy 
of the beasts may be, they certainly were not evolved 
from birds, and are in many respects not above 
them but below them. These are two independent 
branches of the tree of living forms, as the Greeks 
and Romans were branches of the stock of Japheth. 
The beasts may stand for the conquering Romans if 
you like, but the birds are the Greeks, and have 
advanced far beyond them in all emotional and 
artistic sensibility. They worship in the temple of 
music and beauty. And, like ourselves, they have 
found no subject so worthy of the highest efforts 
of art as their own dress. But the clothing of the 
body must conform more or less to the figure, and 
so, for a field in which invention and fancy may 
sport untrammelled, a lady turns to her hat and a 
bird to its tail. And by both, with equal heroism, 
every consideration of mere comfort, convenience, 
health, or safety is swept aside in obedience to the 
higher aim. Is this only a flippant jocularity, or 
is there here in very truth some profound law of 
the mind revealing itself in spheres seemingly so 
disconnected ? 
Look at a peacock. Its train, by the way, is a 


false tail, like the chignon of twenty years ago, or 
the fringe of the present day ; the true tail is under 
it, and serves no purpose but to support it. Now 
the peacock lives on the ground, among scrub and 
brushwood , haunted by j ackals and wild cats. They, 
like soldiers in khaki, reconnoitre him in a uniform 
expressly designed to elude the eye, but he flaunts 
a flag resplendent with green and gold. And when 
his one chance of life lies in springing nimbly from 
the ground and committing himself to his strong 
wings, he must lift and carry this ponderous para- 
phernalia with him. And the terrible Bonelli's 
eagle is soaring above. But all is risked proudly 
for the sake of the morning hour in the glade where 
the ladies assemble. And the peacock is only one 
of many. Not to mention the lyre bird, the Argus 
pheasant, the bird of paradise, and other splendid 
examples, there are common dicky-birds which point 
the moral and adorn the tail as emphatically. 

If the tail is a rudder, where should you look to 
find it in its most simple and efficient form but 
among the flycatchers, which make their living by 
aerial acrobatics after flies ? Yet this family seems 
to be peculiarly prone to the vanity of a stylish tail. 
The paradise flycatcher flutters two streamers a foot 
long, like white ribbons, behind it. The fantail 
could hide behind its own fan. The bee-eater has 
the two central feathers prolonged and pointed. 
The drongos, which are flycatchers in habit, wear 
their tails very long and deeply forked ; and one of 


them, the racket-tailed drongo, has the two side 
feathers extended beyond the rest for nearly a foot, 
and as thin as wires, expanding into a blade at the 
ends. I have seen nothing in ladies' hats more 
preposterous. It is vain to object that there can 
be no proper comparison between tails and hats 
because the woman chooses her own hat while the 
bird has to wear what Nature has given it. I know 
that, but the contention is utterly superficial. What 
choice has a woman as to the style of her hat ? 
Fashion prescribes for her, and Nature for the birds ; 
that is all the difference. No doubt she acquiesces 
when theoretically she might rebel. The bird cannot 
rebel, but does it not acquiesce ? Does a lyre bird 
submit to its tail — wear it under protest, so to speak ? 
Believe me, every bird that has an aesthetic tail 
knows the fact, and tries to live up to it. We may 
push the argument even further, for the motmot 
of Brazil is not content with a ready-made tail, but 
actually strips the web off the two long side feathers 
with its own beak, except a little patch at the end, 
so as to get the pattern which Nature, if one must 
use the phrase, gave to the racket- tailed drongo. 
A specimen is exhibited in the hall of the South 
Kensington Museum. 

In this connection I may also say that the shape 
or colour of a tail is not everything. An observant 
eye may find much to note in the wearing of them. 
There is a stylish way of carrying a tail and a 
slovenly way, and there are coquettish arts for the 


display of recherche tails. A blackbird and a 
starling are both tidy birds, and both walk much 
on the ground, but the one lifts its skirts, while the 
other, more practical and less fashionable, wears a 
walking dress and saves itself trouble. 

This line of observation leads to a higher, and 
reveals the most important purpose that tails have 
served in the economy of beast, bird, and reptile, 
and, perhaps, even cold-blooded fish. Before the 
godlike countenance of man appeared on the earth, 
with its contractile forehead and erectile eyebrows, 
the answering light of the eye, the expansive nostrils, 
and subtilely mobile lips ; before that the tail was 
the prime vehicle of emotion and safety-valve of 
passion. It is a great truth, too often buried in 
these days under rubbish of materialistic theories, 
that some way of self-manifestation is a supreme 
necessity of all sentient life. From the hot centre 
of thought and feeling the currents rush along the 
nervous ways and pervade the whole frame, seeking 
an outlet. But many passages are barred by duty, 
or fear, or eager purpose. A strong gust of passion 
may burst all barriers and force its way out at every 
point, but gentle currents flow along the lines of 
least resistance and find the idle tail. I do not 
know a better illustration of this than a cat watching 
a mouse. The ears are pricked forward, the eyes 
are fixed on the unsuspecting victim, every muscle 
of the legs is tense, like a bent bow ready to speed 
the arrow on its way. But see, the excitement 

4 o TAILS 

with which the whole body is charged cannot be 
wholly restrained, and oozes out at the point of the 
tail. " 

Every emotion and passion takes this course. 
The happy kid wags its tail as it runs to its mother, 
the donkey when it has executed a successful bray, 
and the dog when it sees its master. At the sight 
of a rival the dog holds its tail up stiffly, unless, 


indeed, the rival is a bigger dog than itself, in which 
case the index goes down quickly between the legs. 
An elated horse elevates its tail, and so does a duck 
in the same mood. A lizard preparing to fight 
another lizard 

Swinges the scaly horror of his folded tail, 

and the raging lion of fiction lashes its sides with 
the same nervous instrument. 
It would be tedious to dwell on the pretty part 


which the tail plays in the courtships of sparrows 
and pigeons, or on the sprightly attitudes by which 
birds of all sorts let off their spirits when shower 
and sunshine have overfilled their hearts with glad- 
ness. But birds twitch their tails constantly, with- 
out meaning anything by it. The ceaseless wagging 
of a wagtail is a mere habit of cheerfulness, like the 
twirling of her thumbs by an idle Scotswoman. 
The long tail is there and something must be done 
with it. Look at the embarrassment which a nervous 
young man shows about the disposal of his hands ; 
how he thrusts them into his trouser pockets, hangs 
them by their thumbs from the arm-holes of his 
waistcoat, or gives them a walking-stick to play with. 
I like to imagine what such a fellow would do with 
a long tail if he had it — how he would wind it round 
each leg in turn, rub up his back hair, and describe 
figures on the floor. But no animal so self-conscious 
as man could bear up long under the nervous strain 
of having to think continually of its tail. It would 
die young and the race would become extinct. 
Perhaps it did. 

A final word on the conclusion of the whole matter, 
for these reflections have a moral. As habit becomes 
character, so expression hardens into feature. The 
tail of a sheep grows downwards, but that of a goat 
upwards, and this is the only infallible outward mark 
of distinction between the two animals. But it 
is the permanent record of a long history. The sheep 
was never anything but sheepish ; the goat and its 


forefathers were pert as kids and insolent when their 
beards grew. It is useless to inquire why insolence 
should express itself by an upturned tail until 
someone can advance a reason why it should express 
itself in another way. 

For proof of the fact you need go no farther than 
your own dogs. The ancestral wolf, or jackal, hunt- 
ing and fighting, fearing and hoping, snowed every 
changing mood by the pose of its tail ; but a change 
came when it acquired an assured position of security 
and importance as the chosen companion of man, so 
dreaded by all its kith and kin. The tail went up 
at once and stayed there ; when it could go no 
higher, it curled over. But promotion breeds conceit 
only in base natures. The greyhound is a gentle- 
man, respectful and self-respecting, and it shows 
that by the very carriage of its tail. Only a snob 
at heart, petted and pampered for many generations, 
could have produced that perfect incarnation of 
smug self-satisfaction, the pug. Let us take the 
lesson home. The thoughts on which we let our 
minds dwell, and the sentiments that we harbour in 
our hearts, are the chisels with which we are carving 
put our faces and those of our children's children. 



Some may think that I have chosen a trivial subject, 
and they will look for frivolous treatment of it. 
I can only hope that they will be disappointed. 
There is nothing that the progress of science has 
taught us more emphatically than this — that we 
must call nothing insignificant. Seemingly trivial 
pursuits have led to discoveries which have benefited 
all mankind, and priceless truths have been dug 
out of the most unpromising mines. I am not 
insinuating that anyone's nose is an unpromising 
mine, but I say that I am persuaded there is wisdom 
hidden in that organ for him who will observingly 
distil it out. 

It possesses a peculiar and mystical significance 
not shared by any other feature. This is abund- 
antly proved by common speech, which is one of 
the most trustworthy of all kinds of evidence. For 
example, we speak of a person turning up his nose 
at a good offer. The phrase is absurd, for the power 
of turning up his nose is one which no human being 
ever possessed. A shrew can do it, but not a man. 
Yet the meaning of the saying needs no interpreta- 




tion. Akin to it is the classical phrase, adunco 
suspendere naso. What Horace means scarcely re- 
quires explanation, but no commentator has success- 
fully explained it. These expressions well illustrate 
the mystery that enshrouds our most salient feature. 
They show that, while everybody can see that dis- 
dain is expressed through the nose, nobody can define 
how it is done. Then there is that curious expres- 
sion " put his nose out of joint," which is quite 
inexplicable, the nose being destitute of joint. There 
are many other phrases and also gestures which 
point in the same direction, but need not be cited, 
being for the most part vulgar. Allusions to the 
nose have a tendency to be vulgar, which is another 
mystery inciting us to investigate it. So let us 

The first thing required by the principles of 
scientific precedure is a definition. What is a nose ? 
But this proves to be a much more difficult question 
than anyone would suspect before he tried to answer 
it. The individual human nose we can recognise, 
describe or sketch more easily than any other feature, 
but try to define the thing nose in Nature and it 
is a most elusive phenomenon. When we speak 
of a man being led by the nose we imply that it is 
a part of him which is prominent and situated in 
front, when we speak of keeping one's nose above 
water we refer to it as the breathing orifice, but 
when we say that this or that offends our nose we 
are regarding it as the seat of the sense of smell. 


I believe that all these three ideas must be included 
in any definition. It should follow that insects, 
which breathe through holes in their sides, cannot 
have noses, and this is the truth. 

Fishes, too, though they may have snouts, have 
not noses, because they breathe by gills. In truth, 
it seems that the nose was a very late and high 
acquisition, almost the finishing touch of the perfected 
animal form. And incidentally this leads us to notice 
what a great step was taken in evolution when the 
breathing holes were brought up to the region of 
the mouth. For the sense of taste is necessarily 
situated in the mouth, and the sense of smell is in 
close alliance with it. The mouth tastes food dis- 
solved in the saliva during the process of masti- 
cation, and the primary use of the sense of smell 
is to detect and analyse beforehand the small par- 
ticles given off by food and floating in the atmosphere. 

A good many years ago, when the late Sally 
chimpanzee was the darling of the Zoological Gardens 
in Regent's Park, I watched her eating dates. She 
was an epicure, and always peeled each date deli- 
cately with her preposterous lips before eating it, 
and during the process she would apply the date 
to her nose every second to test its quality or enjoy 
its aroma. The action was indescribably comical, 
but what would it have been if her nostrils had 
been situated among her ribs ? Imagine a mantis, 
for example, as he chews up a fly, lifting one of his 
wings and applying it to his flanks to see if it smells 


gamey. That is where some naturalists believe 
that the sense of smell is situated in insects. Others, 
however, think, with reason, that it is in the antennae 
or mouth. Nobody knows ; the senses of the lower 
animals seem to be stuck about all parts of the body. 

But, even if the sense of smell is at the mouth, 
how limited must its usefulness be when it can only 
deal with substances that are held to it ! A new era 
dawned when the passages by which the breath of 
life unceasingly comes and goes were transferred to 
the region of the mouth also. The nerves of smell 
quickly spread themselves over the lining membrane 
of those passages and became warders of the gate, 
challenging every waft of air that entered the body 
and examining what it carried. Thenceforth this 
region comprising the mouth, nostrils and surround- 
ing parts holds a new and high place in the economy 
of the body, for the headquarters of the intelligence 
department are located there, and all the faculties 
of the brain converge on that point. Of course, 
the eyes and ears claim a share, but they are not far 

Now it is being recognised more and more clearly 
by medical and physiological science that when 
the mind is much directed to any part of the body 
it exercises an influence in some way not under- 
stood on the flow of blood to that part to a degree 
which may seriously affect its functions and even 
its growth. When a person is suffering from any 
nervous affection, from heart disease, or even from 



weakness of the eyes, it is of the utmost importance 
to keep him from knowing it if possible, for if he 
knows it he will think about it, and that will inevitably 
aggravate it. This principle is well recognised in 
systems of physical culture. And surely it is impos- 
sible that so much intelligence should pass through 
that one sensitive region of the body which we are 
considering without affecting its growth and struc- 
ture. Every muscle in it becomes quick to respond 
to various sensations in different ways, till the very 
recollection of those sensations will excite the same 

Nay, we may go further. The mental emotions 
excited by those sensations will be expressed in 
the same way. For example, the sense of smell is 
peculiarly effective in exciting disgust. Anything 
which does violence to the sense of hearing exas- 
perates, but does not disgust. If a man practises 
the accordion all day in the next room you do not 
loathe him, you only want to kill him. But any- 
thing that stinks excites pure disgust. Here you 
have the key to the fact that disgust and all feelings 
akin to it, disdain, contempt and scorn, express 
themselves through the nose. Darwin says that 
when we think of anything base or vile in a man's 
character the expression of the face is the same " as 
if we smelled a bad smell." This is an example of 
the temporary expression of a passing emotion, and 
there are many others like it. But each of us has 
his prevailing and dominant emotions which con- 



stitute the habitual attitude of his mind. And by 
the habitual indulgence of any emotion the features 
will become habituated to the expression of it, and 
so the set of our features comes at last to express 
our prevailing and dominant emotions ; in other 
words, our character. 

But let us return to the evolution of the nose. In 
these days of universal " Nature study " nobody 
need be told that the practice of breathing through 
the nostrils was introduced by the amphibians and 
reptiles. The former (frogs and toads) take to it 
only when they come of age, but lizards, snakes 
and all other reptiles do it from infancy. But 
the nose is not yet. That is something too delicate 
to come out of a cold-blooded snout covered with 
hard scales. Birds, too, by having their mouth 
parts encased in a horny bill seem to be debarred 
from wearing noses. And yet there is one primeval 
fowl, most ancient of all the feathered families, 
which has come near it. I mean the apteryx, that 
eccentric, wingless recluse which hides itself in the 
scrub jungles of New Zealand. Its nostrils, unlike 
those of every other bird, are at the tip of its beak, 
which is swollen and sensitive ; and Dr. Buller says 
that as it wanders about in the night it makes a 
continual sniffing and softly taps the walls of its 
cage with the point of its bill. But the apteryx is 
one of those odd geniuses which come into the 
world too soon, and perish ineffectual. Its kindred 
are all extinct, and so will it be ere long. 



When we come to the beasts we find the right 
conditions at last for the growth of the nose. Take 
the horse for an example of the average beast 
without idiosyncrasy. Its profile is nearly a straight 


line from the crown to the nostrils, beyond which it 
slopes downwards to the lips. The skin of this 
part is soft and smooth, without hair, and the horse 
dearly loves to have it fondled. The sense of touch 


is evidently uppermost. At this stage there was 
what to the eye of fancy looks like a bold attempt 
to grow a nose in the case of a tapir, but it mis- 
carried. These hoofed beasts are all very hard up 
for something in the way of a hand to bring their 
food to their mouths. The camel employs its lips 
and the cow its tongue ; the muntjae or barking 
deer of India has attained a tongue of such length 
that it uses it for a handkerchief to wipe its eyes. 
So the tapir could not resist the temptation to mis- 
apply its nose to the purpose of gathering fodder, 
and the ultimate result was the elephant, whose 
nose is a wonderful hand and a bucket and other 
things. The pig, being a swine, debased its nose 
in a worse way, making a grubbing tool of it. 

There has been another attempt to misuse and 
pervert this part of the face which I scarcely dare 
to touch upon, for it is so utterly fantastic and 
mystical that I fear the charge of heresy if I give 
words to my thoughts. It occurs among bats, a 
tribe of obscure creatures about which common 
knowledge amounts to this, that they fly about 
after sunset, are uncanny, and fond of getting 
entangled in the hair of ladies, and should be killed. 
But there are certain families of bats, named horse- 
shoe bats, leaf-nosed bats and vampires about which 
common knowledge is nil, and the knowledge pos- 
sessed by naturalists very little, so I will tell what 
I know of them. They are larger than common 
bats, their wings are broad, soft and silent, like 


those of the owl, they sleep in caves, tombs and 
ruins, they do not flutter in the open air, but swiftly 
traverse gloomy avenues and shady glades, their 
prey is not gnats and midges, but the " droning 
beetle," the death's head moth, the cockchafer, 
croaking frogs, sleeping birds and human blood. 
The books will tell you that these bats are distin- 
guished by " complicated nasal appendages con- 
sisting of foliaceous skin processes around the 
nostrils," which is quite true and utterly futile. 
It may do for a dried skin or a specimen in spirits 
of wine. I have had the foul fiend in a cage and 
looked him in the face. His whole countenance, 
from lips to brow and from cheek to cheek, is covered 
and hidden by a hideous design of 

Spells and signs, 

Symbolic letters, circles, lines, 

sculptured in living, quivering skin. It is a sight 
to make the flesh creep. The books suggest that 
these foliaceous appendages are the organs of some 
special sense akin to touch. Futile again! There 
are things in Nature still which prompt the naturalist 
who has not atrophied his inner eye and starved 
his imagination to cry out : 

Science . . . 

Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart, 

Vulture, whose wings are dull realities ? 

Supposing there should be in the unseen universe 


an evil spirit, an imp of malice and mischief, not 
Milton's Satan, but the Deil of Burns : 

Whyles ranging, like a roaring lion, 

For prey, a' holes an' corners tryin ; 
Whyles on the strong-winged tempest flyin, 
Tirlin the kirks ; 
Whyles in the human bosom pryin, 

and supposing him to crave possession of a body 
through which he might get into touch with this 
material world and express himself in outward 
forms and motions ; then oh ! how fitly were this 
bat explained. 

But let us go back to firm ground. If you com- 
pare a dog's profile with that of a horse you will 
note at once that the nostrils are in advance of the 
lips, and have a kind of portal to themselves. This 
is a distinct advance. The sense of smell has come 
to the front and pushed aside the lower sense of 
touch. You will observe, too, that with the growth 
of the brain the brain-pan has elevated itself above 
the level of the nose. Through the cat to the 
monkeys the process proceeds, the forehead advanc- 
ing, the jaws retreating, and the nostrils leaving the 
lips, until they finally settle in a detached villa midway 
between the eyes and the mouth. This is the nose. 
I do not know the use of it. I cannot fathom the 
meaning of it. It is a solemn mystery. See the 
face of an orang-outang. It is a countenance, a sign- 
board with three distinct lines of writing on it, the 
eyes, the nose and the mouth. You may not think 



much of this particular nose. Neither do I. I 
think it is situated rather too near the eyes and too 

far from the mouth. It is a 
little too small also, and wants 
style. But you must not judge 
a first attempt too critically. 
I have seen human noses of a 
pattern not unlike this, but 
they are not considered aristo- 
cratic: perhaps they indicate a 
reversion to the ancestral type. 
But the noses even of 
monkeys are not all like this. 
In fact, there is a good deal 
of variety, and two in particular 
are not considered have struck me as quite re- 

ARISTOCRATIC. 11.1 r\ • xl i rjl 

markable. One is that of the 
long-nosed monkey (Semnopithecus nasalis). I think 
it must have suggested Sterne's stranger on a mule, 
who had travelled to the promontory of noses and 
threw all Strassburg into a ferment. I have often 
contemplated this nose in mute wonderment, and 
longed to see that monkey in life, if so be I 
might arrive at some understanding of it ; for the 
taxidermist cannot rise above his own level, and 
the man who would mount S. nasalis would need to 
be a Henry Irving. Then there is the sub-nosed 
monkey, labelled rhinopithecus, of which there is 
an expressive specimen at the South Kensington 
Museum. Who can consider that nose seriously and 






continue to believe in a recipe made up of struggle 

for existence, adaptation to environment, and natural 

selection quantum suf. ? If I 

could dine with that monkey, 

ask it to drink a glass of wine 

with me, offer it a pinch of snuff 

and so on, I might come in time 

to feel, if not to comprehend, 

the import of its nose. 

But one step further is required 
for the evolution of what we may 
call the human nose, and that is 
a solid foundation, a ridge of 
bone connecting it with the brow 
and separating the eyes from 
each other. I believe that the 
completeness of this is a fair 
index of the comparative advancement of different 
races of men. In the Greek ideal of a perfect face 
the profile forms a straight line from the top of the 
forehead to the tip of the nose. This is the type of 
face which painters have delighted to give to the 
Virgin Mary ; and, when looking at their Madonnas, 
one cannot help wondering whether they forgot that 
Mary was a Jewess. According to the Hebrew ideal, 
a perfect nose was like " the tower of Lebanon which 
looketh toward Damascus " (Song of Solomon, vii. 
4) ; but not even the ruins of that tower remain to 
help us to-day. The Romans, no doubt, accepted 
the ideal of the Greeks aesthetically, but their destiny 



had given them a very different nose, and they ruled 
the world. 

Here is the nose of Julius Csesar as a coin has pre- 
served it for us. I think that the outline is too 
straight for a typical Roman, but the deep dip under 
the brow and the downward point are characteristic. 
Now compare the nose of another race which rules 
an empire greater than that of the Caesars. Here 
is John Bull as Punch usually represents him. It 
belongs to the same genus as that of the Roman. 
The reason why this should be the nose of command 
is not easy to give with scientific precision, for we 
are dealing with the play of very subtle influences, 
so the man without imagination will no doubt scoff. 
But I will take shelter under Darwin. Dealing with 
the expression of pride he says, " A proud man 
exhibits his sense of superiority by holding his head 
and body erect. He is haughty (haut), or high, 
and makes himself appear as large as possible." 
Again, " The arrogant man looks down on others " ; 
and yet again, " In some photographs of patients 
affected by a monomania of pride, sent me by Dr. 
Crichton-Browne, the head and body were held erect 
and the mouth firmly closed, This latter action, 
expressive of decision, follows, I presume, from the 
proud man feeling perfect self-confidence in himself." 

Darwin says nothing about the nose, but I believe 
that, by physiological sympathy, it cannot but take 
part in the habitual downward look upon inferior 
beings. Darwin goes on to say that, " The whole 


expression of pride stands in direct antithesis to that 
of humility " ; from which it follows, if my philo- 
sophy is sound, that the nose of Uriah Heep was 
turned upwards. 

Of course, many emotions may share in the 
moulding of a nose, and the whole subject is too 
intricate and vast to be treated briefly. I have only 
given a few examples to illustrate my argument, and 
my conclusion is that the key to the peculiar signific- 
ance and personal quality of the nose is to be found 
in its immobility. The eyes and lips are incessantly 
in motion, we can twitch and wrinkle the cheeks 
and forehead, and muscles to move the ears are there, 
though most men have lost control of them. But 
the nose stands out like some bold promontory on a 
level coast, or like the Sphinx in the Egyptian desert, 
with an ancient history, no doubt, and a mystery 
perhaps, but without response to any appeal. And 
for this very reason it is an index, not to that which is 
transient in the man, but to that which is permanent. 
He may knit his brows to seem thoughtful and pro- 
found, or compress his lips to persuade his friends 
and himself that he has a strong will, but he can play 
no trick with his nose. There it stands, an incor- 
ruptible witness, testifying to what he is, and not 
only to what he is, but to the rock whence he was 
hewn and to the pit whence he was digged. For his 
nose is a bequest from his ancestors, an entailed 
estate which he cannot alienate. 



Men and women have ears, and so have jugs and 
pitchers. In the latter case they are useful : jugs 
and pitchers are lifted by them. And what is useful 
is fit, and fitness is the first condition of beauty. 
But human ears are put to no use, except sometimes 
when naughty little boys are lifted by them in the 
way of discipline ; and I can see no beauty in them. 
It is only because they are so common that we do 
not notice how ridiculous they are. In the days of 
Charles I. men sometimes had their ears cut off for 
holding wrong opinions, which would have made 
them famous and popular in these enlightened days, 
but at that time it made all right-thinking people 
despise them, so the fashion of going without ears 
did not spread among us. If it had, then how 
differently we should all think of the matter now ! 
If we were all accustomed to neat, round heads at 
drawing-rooms, levees and balls, how repulsive it 
would be to see a well-dressed man with two ridiculous, 
wrinkled appendages sticking out from the sides of 
his face ! 

In saying this I am not drawing on my fancy, 


but on my memory. I can recollect the time when 
no gentleman, still less any lady, would have owned 
a terrier with its ears on. And why go back so 
far ? The same sentiment is prevalent in good 
society with respect to men's beards in this year of 
grace and smooth faces. Yet, if one chance to be 
looking at a Rembrandt instead of at society, what 
an infinitely handsomer adjunct to a noble face is 
a fine beard than a pair of ears! 

When woman first looked at her face in a polished 
saucepan, she was at once struck with the comi- 
cality of those things, and bethought herself what 
to do with them. She decided to use them for pegs 
to hang ornaments on. The improvement excited 
the admiration of her husband and the envy of her 
rivals to such a degree that all other women of taste 
in her tribe did the same, and from that day to this, 
in almost every country in the world, it has been 
accounted a shame for any respectable woman to 
show her face in public in the hideousness of naked 
ears. This discovery of its capabilities gave a new 
value to the ear, and a large, roomy one became an 
asset in the marriage market. I have seen a pretty 
little damsel of Sind with fourteen jingling silver 
things hanging at regular intervals from the outside 
edge of each ear. If Nature had been niggardly, 
the lobe at least could be enlarged by boring it and 
thrusting in a small wooden peg, then a larger one, 
and so on until it could hold an ivory wheel as large 
as a quoit, and hung down to the shoulders. 

60 EARS 

But Nature surely did not intend the ear for this 
purpose. Then what did she intend ? A popular 
error is that the ears are given to hear with, but the 
ears cannot hear. The hearing is done by a box 
of assorted instruments (malleus, incus, stapes, etc.) 
hidden in a burrow which has its entrance inside 
of the ear. If you argue that the ears are intended 
to catch sounds and direct them down to the hearing 
instrument, then explain their absurd shape. They 
are useless. A man who wants to hear distinctly 
puts his hand to his ear. And why do they not 
turn to meet the sounds that come from different 
quarters ? They are absolutely immovable, and 
therefore also expressionless. A savage expresses 
his mind with all the rest of his face ; he smiles and 
grins and pouts and frowns, but his ears stand like 
gravestones with the inscriptions effaced. How 
different is the case when you turn from man to the 
" irrational " animals ! The eyes of a fawn are 
lustrous and beautiful, but they would be as mean- 
ingless as polished stones without the eloquent ears 
that stand behind them and tell her thoughts. 
Curiosity, suspicion, alarm, anger, submission, 
friendliness, every emotion that flits across her 
quick, sensitive mind speaks through them. They 
are in touch with her soul, and half the music of 
her life is played on them. And if you abstract 
yourself from individuals and look at that thing, the 
ear, in the wide field of life, what a great, living 
reality it is !— a spiritual unity under infinite diver- 



sity of material form and fashion. It is like the 
telegraph wire overhead, the commonest and plainest 
of material things, but charged with the silent and 
invisible currents of the life of the world. 

" Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery 

Birds have no ears, nor have crocodiles, nor 
frogs, nor 
Ears seem 
to be for 
beasts only. 
And not 
for all 
Seals are 
divided by 
into two 

great fami- 
lies — those 
with ears, 
and those 
without . 
The com- 
mon seal belongs to the latter class, and the sea- 
lion to the former. A common seal lives in the sea, 
and when it does wriggle up on the beach of an 
iceberg there is nothing to hear, I suppose, or 
perhaps when it wants to listen it raises a nipper 


62 EARS 

to its ear. I never saw one doing so, but we do 
not see everything that happens in the world. 
The sea-lion, with its stouter limbs, can lift its 
forepart, raise its head and look about it, and 
even flop about the ice-fields at a respectable 
rate. And there is no doubt that one of these 
is as much above an earless seal as fifty years of 
Europe are better than a cycle of Cathay. When 
performing seals are exhibited at a circus sitting on 
chairs, catching balls on the points of their noses 
and playing diabolo with them, or balancing billiard 
cues on their snouts, and doing other miraculous 
things, they are always sea-lions, not common seals. 
Of course, I do not mean to insinuate that sea-lions 
invented the ear and stuck it on : that would be 
unscientific ; but I mean that their general intelli- 
gence and interest in affairs created that demand 
for more distinct hearing which led to the develop- 
ment of an ear trumpet. This view is wholly 
scientific, though pedants may quarrel with my way 
of putting it. 

The sea-lion's ears are very minute, mere apologies 
one might think ; but don't be hasty. The finny 
prey of the sea-lion makes no sound as it skims 
through the water ; and perhaps the padded foot 
of that stealthy garrotter, the Polar bear, makes 
as little on the smooth ice ; for catching the one 
and not being caught by the other the sea-lion must 
trust to the keenness of its great goggle eyes. But 
it is a social beast, and it wants to catch the bellow- 


ing of its fellows far across the foggy waste of 
ice-floes ; and that little leather scoop standing 
behind the ear-hole seems to be just the instrument 
required to catch and send down those sounds which 
would otherwise glance off the glossy fur and never 
find entrance to the tiny orifice at all. If it were 
any larger than is absolutely necessary it would be 
a serious impediment to a professional diver and 
swimmer like the sea-lion. This is the reason why 
otters have very small ears, and why whales and 
porpoises have none at all. 

But when a beast lives on land the conditions are 
all altered, and then the ear blossoms out into an 
infinite variety of forms and sizes, from each of 
which the true naturalist may divine the manner 
of life of its wearer as surely as the palmist tells 
your past, present and future from the lines on your 
hand. First, he will divide all beasts into those 
that pursue and those that flee, oppressors and 
oppressed. The former point their ears forwards, 
but the latter backwards. There may be a good 
deal of free play in both cases, but I am thinking 
of the habitual position. When a cat is making 
its felonious way along the garden wall, wrapped in 
thoughts of blackbirds and thrushes, its ears look 
straight forwards, and this is the way in which a cat's 
portrait is always taken, because it is characteristic. 
It cannot turn them round to catch sounds from 
behind, and would scorn to do so; when accosted 
from behind, it turns its head and looks danger in 

64 EARS 

the face. It can fold them down backwards when 
the danger is a terrier and the decks are cleared for 
action, but that is another story. Contrast Brer 
Rabbit as he comes " lopin' up de big road." His 
ears are turning every way scouting for danger, not 
always in unison, but independently ; but when he 

is at rest they are set to alarm 
from the flank and rear. 

But when he " tear out the 
house like the dogs wuz atter 
him," then they point straight 
back. He was made to be 
eaten, and he knows it. So it 
is with the whole tribe of deer, 
^j\ J and even with the horse, pam- 
C> pered and cared for and un- 
acquainted with danger ; his 
• ft i ears are a weathercock regis- 

tear out the house hke tering the drift of all his petty 
hopes and fears. I see the 
left ear go forward and prepare 
for a desperate shy at that wheelbarrow. He knows 
a wheelbarrow familiarly — there is one in his stall 
all day — but I am taking him a road he does not 
want to go, and so the hypocrite is going to pretend 
that barrow is of a dangerous sort. I prepare to apply 
a counter-irritant : he sees it with the corner of his 
eye, and both ears turn back like a tuning-fork. 

The size and quality of the ear serve to show 
how far the owner depends on it. You will never 




begin to understand Nature until you see clearly 
that every life is dominated by two supreme anxieties 
which push aside all other concerns — viz., to eat, 
and not to be eaten. The one is uppermost in those 
that pursue, and the other in those that flee. Now 
if the pursuer fails he loses a dinner, but if the 
fugitive fails he loses his life, from which it follows 
that the very best sort of ears will be found among 
those beasts that do not ravage but run. 

But there is another matter to be taken into 
account. The ears are not the whole of the beast's 
outfit. It has eyes, and it has a nose. Which of the 
three it most relies on depends upon the manner of 
its life. A bird lives in trees or the air, looking 
down at the prowling cat or up at the hawk hovering 
in the clear sky ; so it does not keep ears, and its nose 
is of no account. But what four-footed thing can 
see like a bird ? The squirrel also lives in the trees, 
and its ears are frivolously decorated with tufts of 
hair. You will not find many beasts that can afford 
to prostitute their ears to ornamental purposes. 
The only other beast that I can think of at this 
moment which has tufted ears is the lynx. Now 
the lynx is a tree cat, and there is proverbial wisdom 
in the saying " Eyes like a lynx." 

But go to the timid beasts that spend their lives 
on the ground among grass and brushwood and woods 
and coppices, where murderous foes are prowling 
unseen, and you will see ears indeed — expansive, 
tremulous, turning lightly on well-oiled pivots, and 



catching, like large sea-shells, the mingled murmur 
of rustling leaves and snapping twigs and chirping 
insects and falling seeds, and the slight, occasional, 



abrupt, fateful sound which is none of these. It is 
impossible, no doubt, for us ever to think ourselves 
into the life which these beasts live — moving, think- 
ing and sleeping in a circumambient atmosphere 


of never-ceasing sound ; sitting, as it were, at the 
receiving station of a system of wireless telegraphy, 
and catching cross-currents of floating intelligence 
from all quarters, mostly undiscernible by us if we 
listened for it, but which they, by long practice, 
instantly locate and interpret without conscious 

The zoologist classifies them under many heads. 
The field mouse and rabbits are rodentia, the deer 
ungulata, the kangaroos marsupialia. In my 
museum they are all one family, and their labels are 
their ears. In these days of international confer- 
ences, parliaments of religion, pan-everything-in- 
turn councils, might we not arrange for a great 
catholic congress of distinguished ears ? What a 
glow of new life it would shed upon our straitened, 
traditional ways of thinking about the social prob- 
lems of our humble fellow-creatures ! I would exclude 
the eared owls, whose ears are a mere sport of 
fashion, like the hideous imitations of birds' wings 
which ladies stick on their hats. 

But just when this peep into the rare show of 
Nature is lifting my soul into sublimity, I am brought 
down to the base earth again by an exception. 
This is the plague of all high science. You design a 
stately theory, collect from many quarters a wealth 
of facts to establish it with, and have arranged them 
with cumulative and irresistible force, when some 
disgusting, uninvited case thrusts itself in on your 
notice and refuses to fit into your argument at all. 

68 EARS 

In this instance it is " my lord the elephant." That 
he has no need to concern himself about any blood- 
thirsty beast that may be lurking in the jungle is 
not more obvious than that his ears are the biggest 
in the world. Now there are two ways of getting 
rid of an obstruction of this kind. One is to betake 
yourself to your thinking chair and pipe and to rake 
up the possibilities of the Pleiocene and Meiocene 
ages, and prove that when the immense ear of the 
elephant was evolved there must have been some 
carnivorous monster, some sabre-toothed tiger or 
cave bear, which preyed on elephants. 

The other way is to get acquainted with the 
elephant, cultivate an intimacy with him, and find 
out what his ears are to him. I prefer the second 
way. I would patiently watch him as he stands 
drowsily under an umbrageous banian tree on a 
sultry day before the monsoon has burst and re- 
freshed earth and air. So might I note that his ears 
are incessantly moving, but not turning this way and 
that to catch sounds — just flapping, flapping, as if 
to cool his great temples. So have I seen the 
gigantic fruit bats, called flying foxes in India, 
hanging in hundreds in the upper branches of a tall 
peepul tree at noon, feeling too hot to sleep, and all 
fanning themselves in unison with one wing — a 
comic spectacle. And at each flap of the elephant's 
ears I would observe that a cloud of flies (for the 
elephant is not too great to be pestered by the 
despicable hordes of beggars for blood) were dis- 


lodged from their feeding grounds about his head 
and neck, and, trying to settle about his rear parts, 
were driven back again by the swinging of his tail. 
Then I should say that ear is just a fan. How 
significant it is that among the emblems of royalty 
in the East the three chiefest are an umbrella-bearer, 
two men who stand behind and swing great punkahs 
modelled on the elephant's ear, and two others 
carrying yak's tails wherewith to scare the flies 
from the royal person ! The elephant is a rajah ! 

There is another mysterious ear which is a 
stumbling-block to the simple theory-monger. It is 
in fashion among a tribe of bats to which belongs 
the so-called vampire of India. This monster is 
fond of coming into your bedroom at midnight 
through the open windows, but not to suck your 
blood, for it has little in common with the true 
vampire of South America. It brings its dinner 
with it and hangs from the ceiling, " feeding like 
horses when you hear them feed." You hear its 
jaws working — crunch, crunch, crunch, but feel too 
drowsy to get up and expel it. 

When you get up in the morning there on your 
clean dressing table, just below the place where it 
' hung, are the bloody remains of a sparrow, or the 
crumbs of a tree-frog. The servants will tell you 
that the sparrow was killed and eaten by a rat, but 
if you rise softly next night when you hear the sound 
of feeding, and shut the windows, you will find a 
goblin hanging from the ceiling in the morning, 

70 EARS 

hideous beyond the power of words to tell. Its 
ears, thin, membranous and longer than its head, 
tremble incessantly. Inside of them is another 
pair, much smaller than the first, and tuned to their 
octave, I should guess, while two membranous 
smelling trumpets of similar pattern rise over the 
nose. What is the meaning of these repulsive 
instruments, and how does that strange beast catch 
sparrows ? When it comes out after dark and 
quarters the garden, passing swiftly under and 
through the branches of trees, they are sound 
asleep hidden among the leaves, motionless and 
silent. But their flesh may be scented, and their 
gentle breathing heard if you have instruments 
sufficiently delicate. Then the ample wings may 
suddenly enfold the sleeping body, and the savage 
jaws grip the startled head before there is time even 
to scream. Without a doubt this is the secret 
of the vampire bat's ears. 

But to find food and flee death are not the only 
interests in life even to the meanest creature. There 
are social pleasures, family affections and fellowship, 
sympathy and co-operation in the struggles of life. 
And there is love. 

Omne adeo genus in terris hominumque ferarumque, 
Et genus aequoreum, pecudes, pictseque volucres, 
In furias ignemque ruunt : amor omnibus idem. 

The chirping of the cricket, the song of the lark, 
the call of the sentinel crane, the watchword with 


which the migratory geese keep their squadrons 
together, the howling of jackals, the lowing of cows, 
the hum of the hive, the chatter of the drawing-room, 
and a hundred other voices in forest and field and 
town remind us that the voice and the ear are the 
pair of wheels on which society runs. 

And this thought points the way out of another 
contradictious puzzle, that which confronts my 
argument from the ears of an ass. It roams treeless 
deserts where no foe can approach unseen. Thistles 
make no sound. Why should it be adorned with 
ears which in their amplitude are scarcely surpassed 
by those of the rabbit and the hare. There is no 
answer unless their function is to hear the bray of 
a fellow-ass. . . . One may object that that majestic 
sound is surely of force to impress itself without 
any aid from an external ear ; but that is a vain 
argument built on the costermonger's moke — • 
dreary exile from its fatherland. Remember that 
its ancestors wandered on the steppes of Central 
Asia or the borders of the Sahara. In those bound- 
less solitudes, with nothing that eye can see or that 
common ear can hear to remind her that she is not 
the sole inhabitant of the universe, the wild ass 
" snuff eth up the wind in her desire," and lifting 
her windsails to the hot blast, hears, borne across 
miles of white sand and shimmering mirage, the 
joyful reverberations of that music which tells of 
old comrades and boon companions scouring the 
plain and kicking up their exultant heels. 

72 EARS 

Monkeys taking to trees were like the birds, they 
scarcely needed ears. And so by the high road of 
evolution you arrive at man and the enigma of 
his ear. It is a shrunken and shrivelled remnant, 
a moss-grown ruin, a derelict ship. It is to a 
pattern ear what the old shoe which you find in a 
country lane, shed from the foot of some " unem- 
ployed," is to one of Waukenphast's " five-miles-an- 
hour-easy" boots. We ought to temper our con- 
tempt for what it is with respect for what it was. 
All the parts of it are there and recognisable, even 
to the muscles that should move it, but we have 
lost control of them. I believe anyone could regain 
that by persevering exercise of his will power for 
a time — that is, if he has any. I have a friend who, 
if you treat him with disrespect, shrivels you up 
with a sarcastic wag of his right ear. 

The ears of dogs open up another vista for the 
questioning philosopher. Their day is past, too, 
and man may cut them short to match his own, 
but the dog grows them longer than before. When 
he first took service with man, and grew careless 
and lazy, the muscles got slack and the ears dropped, 
which is in accordance with Nature. Then, instead 
of being allowed to wither away, they have been 
handed over to the milliner and shaped and trimmed 
in harmony with the "style" of each breed of 
dogs. How it has been done is one of those mysteries 
which will not open to the iron keys of Darwin. 
But there it is for those to see who have eyes. 



The ears of the little dogs bred for ladies' laps are 
the curls of a mother's darling ; the pendant love- 
locks of the old, old maid 
who, despite of changeful 
fashions, clings to those 
memorials of the pensive 
beauty of her youth, are 
repeated in solemn mimicry 
by the dachshund trotting 
at her heels ; but the sensible 
fur cap of the dignified 
Newfoundland reminds us 
of the cold regions from 
which his forefathers came. 
Some kinds of terriers still 
have their ears starched up 
to look perky, and I have occasionally seen a dog 
with one ear up and the other down as if straining 
after the elusive idea expressed in the Baden-Powell 
hat. All which shows that " one touch of nature 
makes the whole world kin." 





Among the many and various strangers within my 
gates who have helped to enliven the days of my 
exile, Tommy was one towards whom I still feel 
a certain sense of obligation because he taught me 
for the first time what an owl is. For Tommy was 
an owl. From any dictionary you may ascertain 
that an owl is a nocturnal, carnivorous bird, of a 
short, stout form, with downy feathers and a large 
head ; and if that does not satisfy you, there is no 
lack of books which will furnish fuller and more 
precise descriptions. 

But descriptions cannot impart acquaintance. I 
had sought acquaintance and had gained some 
knowledge such as books cannot supply, not only 
of owls in general, but of that particular species of 
owls to which Tommy belonged, who, in the heral- 
dry of ornithology, was Carine brahma, an Indian 
spotted owlet. This branch of the ancient family 
of owls has always been eccentric. It does not 
mope and to the moon complain. It flouts the moon 



and the sun and everyone who passes by, showing 
its round face at its door and even coming out, at 
odd times of the day, to stare and bob and play the 
clown. It does not cry " Tuwhoo, Tuwhoo," as the 
poets would have it, but laughs, jabbers, squeaks 
and chants clamorous duets with its spouse. 

All this I knew. I had also gathered from his 
public appearances that a spotted owlet is happy in 
his domestic life and that he is fond of fat white 
ants, for, when their winged swarms were flying, 
I had seen him making short flights from his perch 
in a tree and catching them with his feet ; and I 
believed that he fed in secret on mice and lizards. 
But all that did not amount to understanding an 
owl, as I discovered when Tommy became a member 
of our chummery. 

Tommy was born in " the second city of the 
British Empire," to wit, Bombay, in the month of 
March, 1901. His birthplace was a hole in an old 
" Coral " tree. Domestic life in that hole was not 
conducted with regularity. Meals were at uncertain 
hours and uncertain also in their quantity and 
quality. The parents were hunters and were absent 
for long periods, and though there was incredible 
shouting and laughter when they returned, they 
came at such irregular times that we did not suspect 
that they were permanent residents and had a 
family. One night, however, Tommy, being pre- 
cocious and, as we discovered afterwards, keen on 
seeing life, took advantage of parental absence to 


clamber to the entrance of the nursery and, losing 
his balance, toppled over into the garden. He kept 
cool, however, and tried to conceal himself, but 
Hurree the malee, watering the plants early in the 
morning, spied him lying with his face on the earth 
and brought him to us. 

He seemed dead, but he was very much alive, as 
appeared when he was made to sit up and turned 
those wonderful eyes of his upon us. He was a 
droll little object at that time, nearly globular in 
form and covered with down, like a toy for children 
to play with. His head turned like a revolving 
lighthouse and flared those eyes upon you wherever 
you went, great luminous orbs, black-centred and 
gold-ringed and full of silent wonder, or, I should 
rather say, surprise. This never left him. To the 
last everything that presented itself to his gaze, 
though he had seen it a hundred times, seemed to 
fill him with fresh surprise. Nothing ever. became 
familiar. What an enviable cast of mind ! It must 
make the brightness of childhood perennial. 

There was some discussion as to how Tommy 
should be fed, and we finally decided that one should 
try to open the small hooked beak, whose point 
could just be detected protruding from a nest of 
fluff, while another held a piece of raw meat ready 
to pop in. It did not look an easy job, but we had 
scarcely set about it when Tommy himself solved 
the difficulty by plucking the meat out of our 
fingers and swallowing it. This early intimation 


that, however absent he might look, he was " all 
there" was never belied, and there was no further 
difficulty about the feeding of him. When he saw 
us coming he always fell into the same ridiculous 
attitude, with his face in the dust, but we just 
picked him up and stood him on his proper end 
and showed him the meat and his bashfulness 
vanished at once. 

After sunset he would get livery arid begin calling 
for his mother in a strange husky voice. At this 
time we would let him out in the garden, watching 
him closely, for, if he thought he was alone, he would 
sneak away slyly, then make a run for liberty, 
hobbling along at a good rate with the aid of his 
wings, though he never attempted to fly as yet. 
When detected and overtaken, he fell on his face as 
before. One memorable day he found a hole in 
a stone wall and, before we could stop him, he was 
in. The hole was too small to admit a hand, 
though not a rat or a snake, so the prospect was 
gloomy. Suddenly a happy inspiration came to 
me. That sad, husky cry with which he expressed 
his need of a mother was not difficult to mimic, 
and he might be cheated into thinking that a lost 
brother or sister was looking for him. I retired 
and made the attempt, and, hark! a faint echo 
came from the wall. At each repetition it became 
clearer, until the round face and great eyes appeared 
at the mouth of the hole. Then the round body 
tumbled out, and little Tommy was hobbling about, 


looking, with pathetic eagerness, for " the old 
familiar faces." When he discovered how he had 
been betrayed, his face went down and he suffered 
himself to be carried quietly to the canary's cage 
in which he was kept. 

It seemed to be time now to begin Tommy's 
education, for I judged that, if he had been at home, 
he would ere then have been getting nightly lessons 
in the poacher's art. So I procured a small gecko, 
one of those grey house lizards, with pellets at the 
ends of their toes, which come down from the roof 
after the lamps are lit and gorge themselves on the 
foolish moths and plant bugs that come to the 
light. Securing it with a thin cord tied round its 
waist, I introduced it into Tommy's cage. He 
looked surprised, very much surprised. He raised 
himself to his full height. He gazed at it. He 
curtseyed. He gave a little jump and was standing 
with both feet on the lizard. A moment more 
and the lizard was gliding down his throat with my 
thin cord after it. Mr. Seton Thompson would have 
us believe that all young things are laboriously 
trained by their parents, just like human children, 
and if he was an eye-witness of all the scenes that 
he describes so vividly, it must be so with other 
young things. But he did not know Tommy, who 
is the bird of Minerva and evidently sprang into 
being, like his patron goddess, with all his armour 

After a time, when he had exchanged his infant 


down for a suit of feathers, he was promoted to a 
large cage out in the garden, and his regular diet 
was a little raw meat or a mutton bone tied to one 
of his perches, but, by way of a treat, I would offer 
him, whenever I could get it, a locust, or large grass- 
hopper. His way of accepting this was unique and 
pretty. He would look surprised, stare, curtsey 
once or twice, stare again and then, suddenly, noise- 
lessly and as lightly as a fairy, flit across the cage 
and, without alighting, pluck the insect from my 
fingers with both his feet and return to his perch. 
Why he bowed to his food and to everybody and 
everything that presented itself before him was a 
riddle that I never solved. A materialistic friend 
suggested that he was adjusting the focus of his 
wonderful eyes, and the action was certainly like 
that of an optician examining a lens ; but I feel 
that there was something more ceremonial about it. 
This punctiliousness cost him his dinner once. I 
was curious to know what he would do with a 
mouse, so, having caught one alive, I slipped it 
quietly into his cage. He was more surprised than 
ever before, raised himself erect, bowed to the earth 
once, twice and three times, stared, bowed again 
and so on until, to his evident astonishment and 
chagrin, the mouse found an opening and was gone. 
The lesson was not lost. A few days later I got 
another mouse, to which he began to do obeisance 
as before, but very soon and suddenly, though as 
softly as falling snow, he plumped upon it with 


both feet and, spreading his wings on the ground, 
looked all round him with infinite satisfaction. 
The mouse squeaked, but he stopped that by cracking 
its skull quietly with his beak. Then he gathered 
himself up and flew to the perch with his prize. 

One thing I noted about Tommy most emphati- 
cally. He never showed a sign of affection, or 
what is called attachment. He maintained a strictly 
bowing acquaintance with me. He was not afraid, 
but he would suffer no familiarity. He would 
come and eat, with due ceremony, out of my hand, 
but if I offered to touch him he was surprised and 
affronted and went off at once. When I moved to 
another house I found that I could not continue 
to keep him, so I sent him to the zoological garden, 
where I visited him sometimes, but he never vouch- 
safed a token of recognition. His heart was locked 
except to his own kin. 

But since that time, when I have seen an owl, 
even a barn owl, or a great horned owl, swiftly 
cross the sky in the darkness of night, I have felt 
that I could accompany it, in imagination, on its 
secret quest. It will arrive silently, like the angel 
of death, in a tree overlooking a field in which a 
rat, whose hour has come, is furtively feeding, all 
alert and tremulous, but unaware of any impending 
danger. The rat will go on feeding, unconscious 
of the mocking curtsey and the baleful eyes that 
follow with mute attention its every motion, until 
the hand of the clock has moved to the point assigned 


by fate, and then it will feel eight sharp talons 
plunged into its flesh. I have seen the fierce dash 
of the sparrow hawk into a crowd of unsuspecting 
sparrows, I know the triumph of the falcon as it 
rises for the final, fatal swoop on the flying duck, 
and I have watched the kestrel, high in air, scanning 
the field for some rash mouse or lizard that has 
wandered too far from shelter. The owl is also a 
bird of prey, but its idea is different from all these. 



A thunderstorm has burst on the common rat. 
Its complicity in the spread of the plague, which 
has been proved up to the hilt, has filled the cup of 
its iniquities to overflowing, and we have awakened 
to the fact that it is and always has been an arch- 
enemy of mankind. Simultaneously, in widely 
separated parts of the world, a " pogrom " has been 
proclaimed, and the accounts of the massacre which 
come to us from great cities like Calcutta and 
Bombay are appalling and almost incredible. They 
would move to pity the most callous heart, if pity 
could be associated with the rat. But it cannot. 

The wild rat deserves that humane consideration 
to which all our natural fellow-creatures on this earth 
are entitled ; but the domestic rat (I use this term 
advisedly, for though man has not domesticated it, 
it has thoroughly domesticated itself) cannot justify 
its existence. It is a fungus of civilisation. If it 
confined itself to its natural food, the farmer's 
grain, the tax which it levies on the country would 



still be such as no free people ought to endure. But 
it confines itself to nothing. As Waterton says : 
" After dining on carrion in the filthiest sink, it 
will often manage to sup on the choicest dainties of 
the larder, where like Celoeno of old vestigia foeda 
relinquit." It kills chickens, plunders the nests of 
little birds, devouring mother, eggs and young, 
murders and feeds on its brothers and sisters and 
even its own offspring, and not infrequently tastes 
even man when it finds him asleep. The bite of a 
rat is sometimes very poisonous, and I have had to 
give three months' sick leave to a clerk who had 
been bitten by one. Add to this that the rat multi- 
plies at a rate which is simply criminal, rearing a 
family of perhaps a dozen every two or three 
months, and no further argument is needed to justify 
the war which has been declared against it. Every 
engine of war will, no doubt, be brought into use, 
traps of many kinds, poisons, cats, the professional 
rat-catcher, and a rat bacillus which, if once it 
gets a footing, is expected to originate a fearful 

But I need not linger any more among rats, which 
are not my subject. I am writing in the hope that 
this may be an opportune time to put in a plea for 
a much persecuted native of this and many other 
countries, whose principal function in the economy 
of nature is to kill rats and mice. The barn, or 
screech, owl, which is found over a great part of 
Europe and Asia and also in America, was once 


very common in Britain, inhabiting every " ivy- 
mantled tower," church steeple, barn loft, hollow 
tree, or dovecot, in which it could get a lodging. 
But it was never welcome. Like the Jews in the 
days of King John it has been relentlessly persecuted 
by superstition, ignorance and avarice. Avarice, 
instigated by ladies and milliners, has looked with 
covetous eye on its downy and beautiful plumes ; 
while ignorance and superstition have feared and 
hated the owl in all countries and all ages. In 
ancient Rome it was a bird of evil omen. 

Foedaque fit volucris venturi nuncia luctus, 
Ignavus bubo, dirum mortalibus omen. 

In India, to-day, if an owl sits on the house-top, 
the occupants dare scarcely lie down to sleep, for 
they know that the devil is walking the rooms and 
marking someone for death. Lady Macbeth, when 
about the murder of Duncan, starts and whispers, 

Hark I Peace ! It was the owl that shrieked, 
The fatal bellman. 

And even as late as the nineteenth century, Water- 
ton's aged housekeeper " knew full well what sorrow 
it had brought into other houses when she was a 
young woman." Witches, like modern ladies of 
fashion, set great value on its wings. The latter stick 
them on their hats, the witches in Macbeth threw 
them into their boiling cauldron. Horace's Canidia 
could not complete her recipe without 
" Plumamque nocturnoe strigis." 


We may suppose that in Britain these supersti- 
tions are gone for ever, killed and buried by board 
schools and compulsory education. If they are 
(there is room for an if) they have been succeeded 
by a worse, the superstition of gamekeepers and 
farmers. It is worse in effect, because these men 
have guns, which their predecessors had not. And 
it is more wicked, because it is founded on an ignor- 
ance for which there is no excuse. How little harm 
the barn owl is likely to do game may be inferred 
from the fact that, when it makes its lodging in a 
dovecot, the pigeons suffer no concern! Water- 
ton (and no better authority could be quoted) scouts 
the idea, common among farmers, that its business 
there is to eat the pigeons' eggs. " They lay the 
saddle," he says, " on the wrong horse. They ought 
to put it on the rat." His predecessor in the estate 
had allowed the owls to be destroyed and the rats 
to multiply, and there were few young pigeons 
in the dovecot. Waterton took strong measures to 
exterminate the rats, but built breeding places for 
the owls, and the dovecot, which they constantly 
frequented, became prolific again. 

But granting that the owls did twice the injury 
to game with which they are credited, it would 
be repaid many times over by their services. Water- 
ton well says that, if we knew its utility in thinning 
the country of mice, it would be with us what the 
ibis was with the Egyptians — a sacred bird. He 
examined the pellets ejected by a pair of owls that 


occupied a ruined gateway on the estate. Every 
pellet contained skeletons of from four to seven 
mice. Owls, it may be necessary to explain, 
swallow their food without separating flesh from 
bone, skin and hair, and afterwards disgorge the 
indigestible portions rolled up into little balls. 
In sixteen months the pair of owls above-mentioned 
had accumulated a deposit of more than a bushel 
of these pellets, each a funeral urn of from four to 
seven mice I In the old Portuguese fort of Bassein 
in Western India I noticed that the earth at the foot 
of a ruined tower was plentifully mixed with small 
skulls, jaws and other bones. Taking home a hand- 
ful and examining them, I found that they were 
the remains of rats, mice and muskrats. 

The owl kills small birds, large insects, frogs and 
even fishes, but these are extras : its profession 
is rat-catching and mousing, and only those who 
have a very intimate personal acquaintance with 
it know how peculiarly its equipment and methods 
are adapted to this work. The falcon gives open 
chase to the wild duck, keeping above it if possible 
until near enough for a last spurt ; then it comes 
down at a speed which is terrific, and, striking the 
duck from above, dashes it to the ground. The 
sparrow hawk plunges unexpectedly into a group of 
little birds and nips up one with a long outstretched 
foot before they have time to get clear of each 
other. The harrier skims over field, copse and 
meadow, suddenly rounding corners and topping 


fences and surprising small birds, or mice, on which 
it drops before they have recovered from their 

The owl does none of these things. For one 
thing, it hunts in the night, when its sight is keenest 
and rats are abroad feeding. Its flight is almost 
noiseless and yet marvellously light and rapid when 
it pleases. Sailing over field, lane and hedgerow 
and examining the ground as it goes, it finds a 
likely place and takes a post of observation on a 
fence perhaps, or a sheaf of corn. Here it sits, bolt 
upright, all eyes. It sees a rat emerge from the 
grass and advance slowly, as it feeds, into open 
ground. There is no hurry, for the doom of that 
rat is already fixed. So the owl just sits and watches 
till the right moment has arrived ; then it flits 
swiftly, softly, silently, across the intervening space 
and drops like a flake of snow. Without warning, 
or suspicion of danger, the rat feels eight sharp 
claws buried in its flesh. It protests with frantic 
squeals, but these are stopped with a nip that 
crunches its skull, and the owl is away with it to 
the old tower, where the hungry children are calling, 
with weird, impatient hisses, for something to eat. 

The owl does not hunt the fields and hedgerows 
only. It goes to all places where rats or mice may 
be, reconnoitres farmyards, barns and dwelling 
houses and boldly enters open windows. Sometimes 
it hovers in the air, like a kestrel, scanning the 
ground below. And though its regular hunting 


hours are from dusk till dawn, it has been seen at 
work as late as nine or ten on a bright summer 
morning. But the vulgar boys of bird society are 
fond of mobbing it when it appears abroad by day, 
and it dislikes publicity. 

The barn owl lays its eggs in the places which 
it inhabits. There is usually a thick bed of pellets 
on the floor, and it considers no other nest needful. 
The eggs are said to be laid in pairs. There may be 
two, four, or six, of different eggs, in the nest, and 
perhaps a young one, or two, at the same time. Eggs 
are found from April, or even March, till June or 
July, and there is, sometimes at any rate, a second 
brood as late as November or December. This owl 
does not hoot, but screeches. A weird and ghostly 
voice it is, from which, according to Ovid, the bird 
has its Latin name, Strix (pronounced " Streex," 
probably, at that time). 

Est illis strigibus nomen, sed nominis hujus. 
Causa, quod horrenda stridere nocte silent. 

It is a sound which, coming suddenly out of the 
darkness, might well start fears and forebodings in 
the dark and guilty mind of untutored man, which 
would not be dispelled by a nearer view of the 
strange object from which they proceeded. White, 
ghostly, upright, spindle-shaped and biggest at the 
top, where two great orbs flare, like fiery bull's-eyes, 
from the centres of two round white targets, it 
stands solemn and speechless ; you approach nearer 


and it falls into fearsome pantomimic attitudes and 
grimaces, like a clown trying to frighten a child. 
And now a new horror has been added to the barn 
owl. The numerous letters which appeared in The 
Times and were summarised, with comments, by 
Sir T. Digby Pigott, C.B., in The Contemporary 
Review of July 1908, leave no reasonable room for 
doubt that this bird sometimes becomes brightly 
luminous, and is the will-o'-the-wisp for believing in 
which we are deriding our forefathers. All things 
considered, I cannot withhold my sympathy and 
some respect for the superstition of aged house- 
keepers, Romans and Indians. For that of game- 
keepers and farmers I have neither. All our new 
schemes of "Nature study" will surely deserve 
the reproach of futility if, in the next generation, 
every farmhouse in England has not its own Owl 
Tower for the encouragement of this friend of man. 



Long before Jubal became the father of all such as 

handle the harp and the organ and Tubalcain the 

instructor of every artificer in brass and iron, Abel 

was a keeper of sheep, but the sacred writer has not 

informed us how he first caught them and tamed 

them. If we consult other records of the infancy 

of the human race, they reveal as little. When the 

Egyptians began to portray their daily life on stone 

6,000 or 7,000 years ago, they already had cattle 

and sheep, geese and ducks and dogs and plenty of 

asses, though not horses. They got these from the 

Assyrians, who had used them in their chariots long 

before they began to record anything. 

Further back than this we have no one to question 

except those shadowy men of the Stone Age who 

have left us heaps of their implements, but none of 

their bones. They were not so careful of the bones 

of horses, which he in thousands about the precincts 

of their untidy villages, but not a scrawl on a bit 

of a mammoth tusk has been found to indicate 

whether these were ridden and driven, or only 

hunted and eaten. 



Why should it be recorded that Cadmus invented 
letters ? Why should we inquire who first made 
gunpowder and glass ? Why should every school- 
boy be taught that Watt was the inventor of the 
steam engine ? Can any of these be put in the 
scale, as benefactors of our race, with the man who 
first trained a horse to carry him on its back, or 
drew milk with his hands from the udders of a cow ? 
The familiarity of the thing has made us callous to 
the wonder of it. Let us put it before us, like a 
painting or a statue, and have a good look at it. 

There is a farmhouse, any common farmhouse, 
just one of the molecules that constitute the mass 
of our wholesome country life. A horse is being 
harnessed for the plough : its ancestors sniffed the 
wind on the steppes of Tartary. Meek cows are 
standing to be milked : when primitive man first 
knew them in their native forests he used to give 
them a wide berth, for his flint arrows fell harmless 
off their tough hides, and they were fierce exceedingly. 
A cock is crowing on the fence as if the whole farm 
belonged to himself : he ought to be skulking in an 
Indian jungle. The sheep have no business here : 
their place is on the rocky mountains of Asia. As 
for the dog, it is difficult to assign it a country, for 
it owns no wild kindred in any part of the world, 
but it ought at least to be worrying the sheep. If 
there is an ass, it is a native of Abyssinia, and the 
Turkeys are Americans. The cat derives its descent 
from an Egyptian. 


But all these are of one country now and of one 
religion. They know no home nor desire any, 
except the farmhouse, in which they were born and 
bred, and the lord of it is their lord, to whom they 
look for food and protection. And what would he 
do without them ? What should we do without 
them ? It is impossible to conceive that life could 
be carried on if we were deprived of these obedient 
and uncomplaining servants. High civilisation has 
been attained without steam engines ; education, 
as we use the term now, is superfluous — Runjeet 
Singh, the Lion of the Punjab, could neither read 
nor write ; the human race has prospered and multi- 
plied without the knowledge of iron ; but we know 
of no time when man did without domestic animals. 

It is vain to speculate how the thing first came 
about, whether the sportive anthropoid ape took 
to riding on a wild goat before he emerged as a man 
keeping flocks, or whether some great pioneer, 
destined to be worshipped in after ages as a demigod, 
showed his fellows how the wild calves, if taken 
young, might be trained into tractable slaves; 
and it is hopeless to expect that any record will now 
leap to light which will give us knowledge in place 
of speculation. But it might not be unprofitable 
to seek for some clue to the strange selection which 
the domesticating genius of man has made from 
among the multifarious material presented to it by 
the animal kingdom. If we do so we shall almost 
be forced to the conclusion that domesticability is 


a character, or quality, inherent in some animals 
and entirely wanting in others. 

Let us begin with pigeons, a very large group, 
but one that shows more unity than any of the other 
Orders into which naturalists divide birds. It 
embraces turtle doves of many species, wood 
pigeons, ground pigeons, fruit pigeons and some 
strange forms like the great crowned pigeon of 
Victoria. Of all these only one, the common blue 
rock, has been domesticated. The ring dove of 
Asia has been kept as a cage bird for so long that a 
permanent albino and also a fawn-coloured variety 
have been established and are more common in 
aviaries than birds of the natural colour ; but the 
ring dove has not become a domestic fowl, and never 
will. In this instance there is a plausible explana- 
tion, for the blue rock, unlike the rest of the tribe, 
nests and roosts in holes and is also gregarious ; 
therefore, if provided with accommodation of the 
kind it requires, it will form a permanent settlement 
and remain with us on the same terms as the honey 
bee ; while the ring dove, not caring for a fixed home, 
must be confined, however tame it may become, or 
it will wander and be lost. 

But this explanation will not fit other cases. 
What a multitude of wild ducks there are in Scotland 
and every other country, mallards, pintails, gad- 
walls, widgeons, pochards and teals, all very much 
alike in their habits and tastes ! But of them all 
only one species, and that a migratory one, the 


mallard, has been persuaded to abandon its wander- 
ing ways and settle down to a life of ease and obesity 
as a dependant of man. In India there is a duck 
of the same genus as the mallard, known as the 
spotted-billed duck (Anas poecilorhynchus) , which 
is as large as the mallard and quite as tasty, and is, 
moreover, not migratory, but remains and breeds 
in the country. But it has not been domesticated : 
the tame ducks in India, as here, are all mallards. 
The muscovy duck is a distinct species which has 
been domesticated elsewhere and introduced. 

From the ducks let us turn to the hens. The 
partridge, grouse and pheasant are all dainty birds, 
but if we desire to eat them we must shoot them, or 
(prok pudor .') snare them. Plover's eggs are worth 
four shillings a dozen, but we must seek them on 
the moors. The birds that have covenanted to 
accept our food and protection and lay their eggs 
for our use and rear their young for us to kill are 
descended from Gallus bankivus, the jungle fowl 
of Eastern India. How they came here history 
records not : perhaps the gipsies brought them. 
They appear now in strange and diverse guise, the 
ponderous and feather-legged Cochin-China, the 
clean-limbed and wiry game, the crested Houdan, 
the Minorca with its monstrous comb, and the puny 
bantam. In Japan there is a breed that carries a 
tail seven or eight feet in length, which has to be 
" done" regularly like a lady's hair, to keep it from 
dirt and damage. 


But however their outward aspects may differ, 
they are of the same blood and know it. A feather- 
weight bantam cock will stand up to an elephan- 
tine brahma and fight him according to the rules of 
the ring and next minute pay compliments to his 
lady in language which she will be at no loss to 
understand. And if the artificial conditions of 
their life were removed, they would soon all lapse 
alike to the image of the stock from which they are 
sprung. This is well illustrated in a show case in 
the South Kensington Museum exhibiting a group 
of fowls from Pitcairn' s Island. These are descended 
from some stock landed by the mutinous crew of 
H.M.S. Bounty in 1790, which ran wild, and in a 
century they have gone back to the small size and 
lithe figure and almost to the game colour of the 
wild birds from which they branched off before 
history dawned. 

If we turn next to the Ruminants, the clean beasts 
which chew the cud and divide the hoof, the puzzle 
becomes harder still. Deer and antelopes are often 
kept as pets, and become so tame that they are 
allowed to wander at liberty. In Egypt herds of 
gazelles were so kept before the days of Cheops. In 
India I have known a black buck which regularly 
attended the station cricket ground, moving among 
the nervous players with its nose in the air and 
insolence in its gait, fully aware that eighteen-inch 
horns with very sharp points insured respectful 
treatment. Mr. Sterndale trained a Neilghai to go 


in harness. The great bovine antelopes of Africa 
would become as tame, and there is no reason to 
suppose that their beef and milk would not be as 
good as those of the cow. But no antelope or deer 
appears ever to have been domesticated, with the 
exception of the reindeer. 

Of the other ruminants the ox, buffalo, yak, goat, 
sheep and a few others are domestic animals, while 
the bison and the gaur, or so-called Indian bison, 
and a large number of wild goats and sheep have 
been neglected. The buffalo and yak have probably 
come under the yoke in comparatively recent times, 
for they are little changed ; but the goat and still 
more the sheep have undergone a wonderful trans- 
formation within and without. Who could recognise 
in a Leicester ewe the wary denizen of precipitous 
mountains which will not feed until it has set a 
sentinel to give warning if danger approaches ? And 
here is a curious fact which has scarcely been noticed 
by naturalists. 

The original of our goat is supposed to be the 
Persian ibex. At any rate, it was an ibex of some 
species, as its horns plainly show. But on the 
plains of Northern India, under ranges of hills on 
which the Persian ibex wanders wild, the common 
domestic goat is a very different animal from that 
of Europe, and has peculiar spiral horns of the same 
pattern as the markhor, another grand species of 
wild goat which draws eager hunters to the higher 
reaches of the same mountains. From this it would 


appear that two species of wild goat have been 
domesticated and kept to some extent distinct, one 
eventually finding its way westward, but not east- 
ward and southward. 

The Indian humped cattle also differ so widely 
in form, structure and voice from those of Europe 
that there can scarcely be a doubt of their descent 
from distinct species. But both have entirely dis- 
appeared as wild animals, unless indeed the white 
cattle of ChilUngham are really descendants of 
Caesar's dreadful urus and not merely domestic 
cattle lapsed into savagery. So have the camel, and, 
with a similar possible exception, the horse. Was 
the whole race in each of these cases subjugated, or 
exterminated, and that by uncivilised man with his 
primitive weapons ? There is no analogy here 
with the extinction of such animals as the mam- 
moth, for the ox is a beast in every way fitted to 
live and thrive in the present condition of this 
world, as much so as the buffalo and the Indian 
bison, which show no sign of approaching extinction. 
Our fathers easily got rid of the difficulty by assum- 
ing that Noah never released these species after the 
Flood, but what shall those do who cannot believe 
in the literality of Noah's ark ? 

As for the dog, its domestication has been the 
creation of a new species. The material was perhaps 
the wolf, more likely the jackal, but possibly a blend 
of more than one species. But a dog is now a dog 
and neither a wolf nor a jackal. A mastiff, a pug, a 


collie, a greyhound, a pariah all recognise each other 
and observe the same rules of etiquette when they 

We must admit, however, that, whatever pliability 
of disposition, or other inherent suitability, led to 
the first domestication of certain species of animals, 
the changes induced in their natures by many genera- 
tions of domesticity have made them amenable to 
man's control to a degree which puts a wide differ- 
ence between them and their wild relations. A 
wild ass, though brought up from its birth in a 
stable, would make a very intractable costermonger's 
moke. We may infer from this that the first 
subjugation of each of our common domestic animals 
was the achievement of some genius, or of some 
tribe favourably situated, and that they spread 
from that centre by sale or barter, rather than that 
they were separately domesticated in many places. 
This would partly explain why a few species of 
widely different families are so universally kept in 
all countries to the exclusion of hundreds of species 
nearly allied and apparently as suitable. When a 
want could be supplied by obtaining from another 
country an animal bred to live with man and serve 
him, the long and difficult task of softening down the 
wild instincts of a beast taken from the forests or the 
hills and acclimatising its constitution to a domestic 
life was not likely to be attempted. 

But there have been a few recent additions to 
our list of domestic animals. The turkey and the 


guinea fowl are examples, and perhaps within another 
generation we may be able to add the zebra. And 
there may be many other animals fitted to enrich 
and adorn human life which would make no insuper- 
able resistance to domestication if wisely and 
patiently handled. Here is a noble opening for 
carrying out in its kindest sense the command, 
"Multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: 
and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over 
the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that 
moveth upon the face of the earth." 



I have met persons, otherwise quite sane, who told 
me that they would like to visit India if it were not 
for the snakes. Now there is something very depress- 
ing in the thought that this state of mind is extant 
in England, for it is calculated, on occasion, to have 
results of a most melancholy nature. By way of 
example, let us picture the case of a broken-hearted 
maiden forced to reject an ardent lover because 
duty calls him to a land where there are snakes. 
Think of his happiness blighted for ever and her 
doomed to a " perpetual maidenhood," harrowed 
with remorseful dreams of the hourly perils and 
horrors through which he must be passing without 
her, and dreading to enter an academy or picture- 
gallery lest a laocoon or a fury might revive appre- 
hensions too horrible to be borne. In view of 
possibilities so dreadful, surely it is a duty that a 
man owes to his kind to disseminate the truth, if 
he can, about the present condition in the East of 
that reptile which, crawling on its belly and eating 
dust and having its head bruised by the descendants 



of Eve, sometimes pays off her share of the curse 
on their heels. Here the truth is. 

Within the limits of our Indian Empire, including 
Burmah and Ceylon, there are at present known to 
naturalists two hundred and sixty-four species of 
snakes. Twenty-seven of these are sea-serpents, 
which never leave the sea, and could not if they 
would. The remaining two hundred and thirty- 
seven species comprise samples of every size and 
pattern of limbless reptile found on this globe, from 
the gigantic python, which crushes a jackal and 
swallows it whole, to the little burrowing Typhlops, 
whose proportions are those of an earthworm and 
its food white ants. 

If you have made up your mind never to touch 
a snake or go nearer to one than you can help, then 
I need scarcely tell you what you know already, 
that thes|! are all alike., hideous and repulsive in 
their aspects-being smeared from head to tail with 
a viscous and venomous slime, which, as your 
Shakespeare will tell you, leaves a trail even on fig- 
leaves when they have occasion to pass over such. 
This preparation would appear to line them inside 
as well as out, for there is no lack of ancient and 
modern testimony to the fact that they " slaver " 
their prey all over before swallowing it, that it may 
slide the more easily down their ghastly throats. 
Their eye is cruel and stony, and possesses a peculiar 
property known as " fascination," which places their 
victims entirely at their mercy. They have also 


the power of coiling themselves up like a watch- 
spring and discharging themselves from a consider- 
able distance at those whom they have doomed to 
death — a fact which is attested by such passages in 
the poets as — 

Like adder darting from his coil, 

and by travellers passim. 

This is the true faith with respect to all serpents, 
and if you are resolved to remain steadfast in it, 
you may do so even in India,nor it is possible to 
live in that country for months, I might almost say 
years, without ever getting a sight of a live snake 
except in the basket of a snake-charmer. If, how- 
ever, you are minded to cultivate an acquaintance 
with them, it is not difficult to find opportunities 
of doing so, but I must warn you that it will be 
with jeopardy to your faith, for the very first thing 
that will strike you about them will probably be 
their cleanness. What has become of the classical 
slime I cannot tell, but it is a fact that the skin of 
a modern snake is always delightfully dry and 
clean, and as smooth to the touch as velvet. 

The next thing that attracts attention is their 
beauty, not so much the beauty of their colours as 
of their forms. With few exceptions, snakes are the 
most graceful of living things. Every position into 
which they put themselves, and every motion of 
their perfectly proportioned forms, is artistic. The 
effect of this is enhanced by their gentleness and 
the softness of their movements. 


But if you want to see them properly, you must 
be careful not to frighten them, for there is no 
creature more timid at heart than a snake. One 
will sometimes let you get quite near to it and watch 
it, simply because it does not notice you, being 
rather deaf and very shortsighted, but when it does 
discover your presence, its one thought is to slip 
away quietly and hide itself. It is on account of 
this extreme timidity that we see them so seldom. 

Of the two hundred and thirty-seven kinds that 
I have referred to, some are, of course, very rare, 
or only found in particular parts of the country, but 
at least forty or fifty of them occur everywhere, and 
some are as plentiful as crows. Yet they keep 
themselves out of our way so successfully that it is 
quite a rare event to meet with one. Occasionally one 
finds its way into a house in quest of frogs, lizards, 
musk-rats, or some other of the numerous male- 
factors that use our dwellings as cities of refuge 
from the avenger, and it is discovered by the Hamal 
behind a cupboard, or under a carpet. He does the 
one thing which it occurs to a native to do in any 
emergency — viz. raises an alarm. Then there is a 
general hubbub, servants rush together with the 
longest sticks they can find, the children are hurried 
away to a place of safety, the master appears on 
the scene, armed with his gun, and the 

Wee, sleekit, cowrin', tim'rous beastie, 

trying to slip away from the fuss which it dislikes 


so much, is headed, and blown, or battered, to pieces. 
Then its head is pounded to a jelly, for the servants 
are agreed that, if this precaution is omitted, it 
will revive during the night and come and coil 
itself on the chest of its murderer. 

Finally a council is held and a unanimous resolu- 
tion recorded that deceased was a serpent of the 
deadliest kind. This is not a lie, for they believe 
it ; but in the great majority of cases it is an untruth. 
Of our two hundred and thirty-seven kinds of snakes 
only forty-four are ranked by naturalists as venomous, 
and many of these are quite incapable of killing 
any animal as large as a man. Others are very rare 
or local. In short, we may reckon the poisonous 
snakes with which we have any practical concern 
at four kinds, and the chance of a snake found in 
the house belonging to one of these kinds stands at 
less than one in ten. 

It is a sufficiently terrible thought, however, that 
there are even four kinds of reptiles going silently 
about the land whose bite is certain death. If they 
knew their powers and were maliciously disposed, 
our life in the East would be like Christian's progress 
through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. But 
the poisonous snakes are just as timid as the rest, 
and as little inclined to act on the offensive" against 
any living creature except the little animals on 
which they prey. Even a trodden worm will turn, 
and a snake has as much spirit as a worm. If a man 
treads on it, it will turn and bite him. But it has no 


desire to be trodden on. It does its best to avoid 
that mischance, and, I need scarcely say, so does a 
man unless he is drunk. When both parties are 
sincerely anxious to avoid a collision, a collision 
is not at all likely to occur, and the fact is that, of 
all forms of death to which we are exposed in India, 
death by snake-bite is about the one which we 
have least reason to apprehend. 

During a pretty long residence in India I have 
heard of only one instance of an Englishman being 
killed by a snake. It was in Manipur, and I read 
of it in the newspapers. During the same time I 
have heard of only one death by lightning and 
one by falling into the fermenting vat of a brewery, 
so I suppose these accidents are equally uncommon. 
Eating oysters is much more fatal : I have heard of 
at least four or five deaths from that cause. 

The natives are far more exposed to danger from 
snakes than we are, because they go barefoot, by 
night as well as day, through fields and along narrow, 
overgrown footpaths about their villages. The 
tread of a barefooted man does not make noise 
enough to warn a snake to get out of his way, 
and if he treads on one, there is nothing between 
its fangs and his skin. Again, the huts of the 
natives, being made of wattle and daub and 
thatched with straw, offer to snakes just the kind 
of shelter that they like, and the wonder is that 
naked men, sleeping on the ground in such places, 
and poking about dark corners, among their stores 


of fuel and other chattels, meet with so few accidents. 
It says a great deal for the mild and inoffensive 
nature of the snake. Still, the total number of 
deaths by snake-bite reported every year is very 
large, and looks absolutely appalling if you do not 
think of dividing it among three hundred millions. 
Treated in that way it shrivels up at once, and when 
compared with the results of other causes of death, 
looks quite insignificant. 

The natives themselves are so far from regarding 
the serpent tribe with our feelings that the deadliest 
of them all has been canonised and is treated with 
all the respect due to a sub-deity. No Brahmin, 
or religious-minded man of any respectable caste, 
will have a cobra killed on any account. If one 
takes to haunting his premises, he will propitiate it 
with offerings of silk and look for good luck from 
its patronage. 

About snakes other than the cobra the average 
native concerns himself so little that he does not 
know one from another by sight. They are all 
classed together as janwar, a word which answers 
exactly to the " venomous beast " of Acts xxviii. 4 ; 
and though they are aware that some are deadly 
and some are not, any particular snake that a sahib 
has had the honour to kill is one of the deadliest as 
a matter of course. I have never met a native who 
knew that a venomous snake could be distinguished 
by its fangs, except a few doctors and educated men 
who have imbibed western science. In fact they do 


not think of the venom as a material substance 
situated in the mouth. It is an effluence from the 
entire animal, which may be projected at a man in 
various ways, by biting him, or spitting at him, 
or giving him a flick with the tail. 

The Government of India spends a large sum of 
money every year in rewards for the destruction of 
snakes. This is one of those sacrifices to sentiment 
which every prudent government offers. The senti- 
ment to which respect is paid in this case is of course 
British, not Indian. Indian sentiment is propitiated 
by not levying any tax on dogs, so the pariah cur, 
owned and disowned, in all stages of starvation, 
mange and disease, infests every town and village, 
lying in wait for the bacillus of rabies. Against 
the one fatal case of snake-bite mentioned above, I 
have known of at least half a dozen deaths among 
Englishmen from the more horrible scourge of hydro- 
phobia. In the steamer which brought me home 
there were two private soldiers on their way to M. 
Pasteur, at the expense, of course, of the British 



We must wait for another month or two before we 
can think of the winter in this country in the past 
tense, but in India the month of March is the 
beginning of the hot season, and the tourists who 
have been enjoying the pleasant side of Anglo- 
Indian life and assuring themselves that their exiled 
countrymen have not much to grumble at will now 
be making haste to flee. 

During the month the various hotels of Bombay 
will be pretty familiar with the grey sun-hat, 
fortified with puggaree and pendent flap, which is 
the sign of the globe-trotter in the East. And all 
the tribe of birds of prey who look upon him as 
their lawful spoil will recognise the sign from afar 
and gather about him as he sits in the balcony 
after breakfast, taking his last view of the gorgeous 
East, and perhaps (it is to be feared) seeking inspira- 
tion for a few matured reflections wherewith to 
bring the forthcoming book to an impressive close. 
The vendor of Delhi jewellery will be there and the 
Sind- work-box- walla, with his small, compressed white 



turban and spotless robes, and the Cashmere shawl 
merchant and many more, pressing on the gentle- 
man's notice for the last time their most tempting 
wares and preparing for the long bout of fence which 
will decide at what point between " asking price " 
and "selling price" each article shall change 
ownership. The distance between these two points 
is wide and variable, depending upon the indications 
of wealth about the purchaser's person and the 
indications of innocence about his countenance. 

And when the poor globe-trotter, who has long 
since spent more money than he ever meant to spend, 
and loaded himself with things which he could have 
got cheaper in London or New York, tries to shake 
off his tormentors by getting up and leaning over 
the balcony rails, the shrill voice of the snake- 
charmer will assail him from below, promising him, 
in a torrent of sonorous Hindustanee, variegated 
with pigeon English and illuminated with wild 
gesticulations, such. a superfine tamasha as it never 
was the fortune of the sahib to witness before. 

Tamasha is one of those Indian words, like 
bundobust, for which there is no equivalent in the 
English language, and which are at once so com- 
prehensive and so expressive that, when once 
the use of them has been acquired, they become 
indispensable, so that they have gained a permanent 
place in the Anglo-Indian's vocabulary. It is not 
slang, but a good word of ancient origin. Hobson- 
Jobson quotes a curious Latin writer on the Empire 


of the Grand Mogul, who uses it with a definition 
appended, " ut spectet Thamasham, id est pugnas 
elephantorum, leonum, buffalorum et aliarum 
ferarum." "Show" comes nearest it in English, 
but falls far short of it. 

The tamasha which the snake-charmer promises 
the sahib will include serpent dances, a fight 
between a cobra and a mungoose, the inevitable 
mango tree, and other tricks of juggling. But to a 
stranger the snake-charmer himself is a better 
tamasha than anything he can show. He is indeed 
a most extraordinary animal. His hair and beard 
are long and unkempt, his general aspect wild, his 
clothing a mixture of savagery and the wreckage 
of civilisation. He wears a turban, of course, and 
generally a large one ; but it is put on without art, 
just wound about his head anyhow, and hanging 
lopsidedly over one ear. It and the loose cloth 
wrapped about the middle of him are as dirty as 
may be and truly Oriental, though erratic. But, 
besides these, he wears a jacket of coloured calico, 
or any other material, with one button fastened, 
probably on the wrong buttonhole, and under 
this, if the weather is cold, he may have a shirt 
seemingly obtained from some Indian representa- 
tive of Moses & Co. 

On his shoulder he carries a long bamboo, from 
the ends of which hang villainously shabby baskets, 
some flat and round, occupied by snakes, others 
large and oblong, filled with apparatus of jugglery. 


The members of his family, down to an unclothed, 
precocious imp of ten, accompany him, carrying 
similar baskets, or capacious wallets, or long, cylin- 
drical drums, on which they play with their fingers. 
The dramatic effect of the whole is enhanced when 
one of them allows a huge python, a snake of the 
Boa constrictor tribe, which kills its prey by crushing 
it, to wind its hideous, speckled coils round his body. 

What the snake-charmer is by race or origin 
ethnologists may determine when they have done 
with the gipsy. He is not a Hindu. No particular 
part of the country acknowledges him as its native. 
He is to the great races, castes, and creeds of India 
what the waif is to the billows of the sea. His 
language, in public at least, is Hindustanee, but 
this is a sort of lingua franca, the common property 
of all the inhabitants of the country. His religion 
is probably one of the many forms of demon worship 
which grow rank on the fringes of Hinduism. He 
must be classed, no doubt, with the other wandering 
tribes which roam the country, camping under 
umbrellas, or something little better, each conse- 
crated to some particular form of common crime, 
and each professing some not in itself dishonest occu- 
pation, like the tinkering of gipsies. 

But the snake-charmer is the best known and most 
widely spread of them all. By occupation he is a 
professor of three occult sciences. First, he is a 
juggler, and in this art he has some skill. His 
masterpiece is the famous mango trick, which 


consists in making a miniature mango tree grow 
up in a few minutes, and even blossom and bear 
fruit, out of some bare spot which he has covered 
with his mysterious basket. It has been written 
about by travellers in extravagant terms of astonish- 
ment and admiration, but, as generally performed, 
is an extremely clumsy-looking trick, though it is 
undoubtedly difficult to guess how it is done. A 
more blood-curdling feat is to put the unclothed 
and precocious imp aforementioned under a large 
basket, and then run a sword savagely through and 
through every corner of it, and draw it out covered 
with gore. When the sickened spectators are about 
to lynch the murderer, the imp runs in smiling from 
the garden gate. 

The connection between these performances and 
the man's second trade, namely, snake-charming, is 
not obvious to a Western mind ; but it must be 
remembered that the snake-charmer is not a mere, 
vulgar juggler, amusing people with sleight-of-hand. 
His feats are miracles, performed with the assistance 
of superior powers. In short, he is a theosophist, 
only his converse is not with excorporated Mahatmas 
from Thibet, but with spirits of another grade, 
whose Superior has been known from very remote 
antiquity as an Old Serpent. In deference to this 
respectable connection the cobra holds a distin- 
guished place even in orthodox Hinduism. So it 
is altogether fit that a performer of wonders should 
be on intimate terms with the serpent tribe. The 


snake-charmer keeps all sorts of them, but chiefly 
cobras. These he professes to charm from their 
holes by playing upon an instrument which may 
have some hereditary connection with the bagpipe, 
for it has an air-reservoir consisting of a large gourd, 
and it makes a most abominable noise. As soon 
as the cobra shows itself the charmer catches it by 
the tail with one hand, and, running the other 
swiftly along its body, grips it firmly just behind 
the jaws, so that it cannot turn and bite. Practice 
and coolness make this an easy feat. Then the 
poison fangs are pulled out with a pair of forceps 
and the cobra is quite harmless. It is kept in a 
round, flat basket, out of which, when the charmer 
removes the lid and begins to play, it raises its 
graceful head, and, expanding its hood, sways gently 
in response to the music. 

Scientific men aver that a snake has no ears and 
cannot possibly hear the strains of the pipe, but 
that sort of science simply spoils a picturesque 
subject like the snake-charmer. So much is certain, 
that all snakes cannot be played upon in this way : 
there are some species which are utterly callous to 
the influences to which the cobra yields itself so 
readily. No missionary will find any difficulty in 
getting a snake-charmer to appreciate that Scripture 
text about the deaf adder which will not listen to the 
voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. 

To these two occupations the snake-charmer adds 
that of a medicine man, for who should know the 


occult potencies of herbs and trees so well as he ? 
So, as he wanders from village to village, he is wel- 
comed as well as feared. But one wealthy tourist 
is worth more to him than a whole village of ryots, 
so he keeps his eye on every town in which he is 
likely to fall in with the travelling white man. And 
the travelling white man would be sorry to miss him, 
for he is one of the few relics of an ancient state of 
things which railways and telegraphs and the 
Educational Department have left unchanged. 

The itinerant jeweller and the Sin d- work-box- walla 
are unmistakably being left behind as the East hurries 
after the West, and we shall soon know them no 
more. Showy shops, where the inexperienced 
traveller may see all the products of Sind and 
Benares, and Cutch and Cashmere, spread before 
him at fixed prices, are multiplying rapidly and 
taking the bread from the mouth of the poor hawker. 
But the snake-charmer seems safe from that kind 
of competition. It is difficult to forecast a time 
when a broad signboard in Rampart Row will 
invite the passer-by to visit Mr. Nagshett's world- 
renowned Serpent Tamasha, Mungoose and Cobra 
Fight, Mango-tree Illusion, etc. Entrance, one 



In a little book on the snakes of India, published 
many years ago by Dr. Nicholson of the Madras 
Medical Service, the conviction was expressed that 
the snake-charmers of Burmah knew of some anti- 
dote to the poison of the cobra which gave them 
confidence in handling it. He said that nothing 
would induce them to divulge it, but that he sus- 
pected it consisted in gradual inoculation with 
the venom itself. Putting the question to himself 
why he did not attempt to attest this by experi- 
ment, he replied that there were two reasons, which, 
if I recollect rightly, were, first, that he had a strong 
natural repugnance to anything like cruelty to 
animals, and, secondly, that he had observed that 
as soon as a man got the notion into his head that 
he had discovered a cure for snake-bite, he began to 
show symptoms of insanity. 

It is rather remarkable that, after so many years, 
another Scottish doctor, not in Madras, but in 
Edinburgh, has proved, by just such experiments 
as Dr. Nicholson shrank from, that an " aged and 
previously sedate horse" may, by gradual inocula- 



tion with cobra poison, be rendered so thoroughly 
proof against it that a dose which would suffice to kill 
ten ordinary horses only imparts " increased vigour 
and liveliness " to it. Further, Dr. Fraser has found 
that the serum of the blood of an animal thus 
rendered proof against poison is itself an antidote 
capable of combating that poison after it has been 
at work for thirty minutes in the veins of a rabbit, 
and arresting its effects. And all this has been 
achieved without apparent detriment to the dis- 
tinguished doctor's sanity. 

This must be intensely interesting intelligence to 
Englishmen throughout India, and joyful intelli- 
gence too, for, scoff as we may at the danger of 
being bitten by a poisonous snake, nobody likes to 
think that, if such a thing should happen to him 
(and very narrow escapes sometimes remind us that 
it may) , there would be nothing for him to do but 
to lie down and die. And so, ever since the Honour- 
able East India Company was chartered, the anti- 
dote to snake poison has been a sort of philosopher's 
stone, sought after by doctors and men of science 
along many lines of investigation. And every now 
and then somebody has risen up and announced 
that he has found it, and has had disciples for a 

But one remedy after another, though it might 
give startling results in the laboratory, has proved 
to be useless in common life, and the majority of 
Englishmen have long since resigned themselves to 


the conclusion that there is no practical cure for 
the bite of a poisonous snake. For what avails it 
to carry about in your travelling bag a phial of 
strong ammonia and to live in more jeopardy of 
death by asphyxiation than you ever were by 
snakes, unless you have some guarantee that, when 
it is your fate to be bitten by a snake, the phial 
will be at hand ? For ammonia must act on the 
venom before the venom has had time to act upon 
you, or it will only add another pain to your end ; 
and that gives only a few minutes to go upon. So 
with nitric acid and every agent that operates by 
neutralising the poison and not by counteracting its 
effects. And this has been the character of all the 
remedies hitherto put forward. " They are," says 
Sir Joseph Fayrer, " absolutely without any specific 
effect on the condition produced by the poison." 

But " anti-venene," as Dr. Fraser calls his im- 
munised blood-serum, follows the poison into the 
system, even after the fatal symptoms have begun 
to show themselves, and arrests them at once. So 
the Anglo-Indian may throw away his ammonia 
phial and, arming himself with another of anti- 
venene and a hypodermic syringe, feel that he is safe 
against an accident which will never happen. As 
for the man who is not nervous, he will speak of the 
new antidote, and think of it as most interesting 
and valuable, and go on his way as before with no 
expectation of ever being bitten by a venomous 
snake. The medical man of every degree will 


order a supply as soon as it is to be had, and con- 
scientiously try to stamp out the smouldering hope 
within him that somebody in the station will soon 
be bitten by a cobra and give him a chance. 

Among the dusky millions of India Dr. Fraser's 
discovery will create no " catholic ravishment" 
because they will not hear of it. And if they 
did hear of it they would regard his labours as 
misapplied and the result as superfluous. For the 
Hindu has never shared the Englishman's opinion 
that there is no cure for snake-bite. On the con- 
trary, he is assured that there are not one or two 
but many specifics for the bite of every kind of 
snake, known to those whose business it is to know 
them. If they are not invariably efficacious, it is 
for the simple reason that if a man's time has come 
to die he will die. But if his time has not come to 
die they will not fail to cure him, and since no man 
can know when he is bitten whether his time has 
come or not, he will lay the odds against Fate by 
trying, not one or another of them, but as many as 
he can hear of or get. Some of them are drastic 
in their effects, and so it too often proves that the 
poor man's time has indeed come, for though he 
might survive the snake he succumbs to the cure. 

It is many years now since the news was brought 
to me one day that a man whom I knew very well 
had been bitten by a deadly serpent and was dying. 
He was a fine, strongly built young fellow, a Moham- 
medan, in the employ of a Parsee liquor distiller, 


in whose godown he was arranging firewood when 
he was bitten in the foot. Without looking at the 
snake he rushed out and, falling on his face on the 
ground, implored the bystanders to take care of his 
wife and children as he was a dead man. The news 
spread and all the village ran together. The man 
was taken to an open room in his employer's premises 
and vigorous measures for his recovery were set on 
foot, in which his employer's family and servants, 
his own friends and as many of the general public 
as chose to look in, were allowed to take part. 

First of all, some jungle men were called in, for 
the man of the jungle must naturally know more 
about snakes than other men. These were probably 
Katkurrees, an aboriginal race, who live by wood- 
cutting, hunting and other sylvan occupations. 
They proved to be practical men and at once sucked 
the wound. An intelligent Havildar of the Customs 
Department, who chanced to be present, then lanced 
the wound slightly to let the blood flow, and tied 
the leg tightly in two places above it. This was 
admirable. If what the jungle men and the Havildar 
did were always and promptly done whenever a man 
is bitten by a snake, few such accidents would end 

But this poor man's friends did not stop there. 
A supply of chickens had been procured with all 
haste, and these were scientifically applied. This 
is a remedy in which the natives have great faith, 
and I have known Europeans who were convinced 


of its efficacy. The manner of its application 
scarcely admits of description in these pages, but the 
effect is that the chickens absorb the poison and 
die, while the man lives. The number of chickens 
required is a gauge of the virulence of the serpent, 
for as soon as the venom is all extracted they cease 
to die. Nobody, however, could tell me how many 
chickens perished in this case. They were all too 
busy to stop and note the result of one remedy while 
another remained untried. And there were many 

Somebody suggested that the venom should be 
dislodged from the patient's stomach, so an emetic 
was administered in the form of a handful of common 
salt, with immediate and seismic effect. Then a 
decoction of neem leaves was poured down the man's 
throat. The neem tree is an enemy of all fevers 
and a friend of man generally, so much so that it 
is healthful to sleep under its shade. Therefore a 
decoction of the leaves could not fail to be beneficial 
in one way or another. The residue of the leaves 
was well rubbed into the crown of the man's head 
for more direct effect on the brains in case they 
might be affected. Something else was rubbed in 
under the root of the tongue. 

In the meantime a man with some experience in 
exorcism had brought twigs of a tree of well-ascer- 
tained potency in expelling the devil, and advised 
that, in view of the known connection between 
serpents and Satan, it would be well to try beating 


the patient with these. The advice was taken, and 
many stripes were laid upon him. Massage was also 
tried, and other homely expedients, such as bandaging 
and thumping with the fists, were not neglected. 

It was about noon when I was told of the accident, 
and I went down at once and found the poor man 
in a woeful state, as well he might be after such 
rough handling as he had suffered for four consecu- 
tive hours ; but he was quite conscious and there 
was neither pain nor swelling in the bitten foot. 
I remonstrated most vigorously, pointing out that 
the snake, which nobody had seen, might not have 
been a venomous one at all, that there were no 
symptoms of poisoning, except such as might also 
be explained by the treatment the man had suffered 
at the hands of his friends, and that, in short, I 
could see no reason to think he was going to die 
unless they were determined to kill him. 

My words appeared to produce a good effect on 
the Parsees at least, and they consented to stop 
curing the man and let him rest, giving him such 
stimulating refreshment as he would take, for he 
was a pious Mussulman and would not touch wine 
or spirits. I said what I could to cheer him up, 
and went away hoping that I had saved a human 
life. Alas! In an hour or so a friend came in 
with a root of rare virtue and persuaded the man 
to swallow some preparation of it. Post hoc, 
whether propter hoc I dare not say, he became un- 
conscious and sank. Before night he was buried. 


All this did not happen in some obscure village 
in a remote jungle. It happened within a mile and 
a half of a town controlled by a municipal corpora- 
tion which enjoys the rights and privileges of 
" local self-government." In that town there was 
a dispensary, with a very capable assistant-surgeon 
in charge, and in that dispensary I doubt not you 
would have found a bottle of strong liquor ammonia 
and a printed copy of the directions issued by a 
paternal Government for the recovery of persons 
bitten by venomous serpents. But when the man 
was bitten the one thing which occurred to nobody 
was to take him there, and when I heard of the 
matter the assistant-surgeon had just left for a dis- 
tant place, passing on his way the gate of the house 
in which the man lay. This was a bad case, but 
there is little reason to hope that it was altogether 
exceptional. I am afraid there can be no question 
at all that hundreds of the deaths put down to 
snake-bite by village punchayets every year might 
with more truth be registered as " cured to death." 



Beharilal Surajmul was the greatest money- 
lender in Dowlutpoor. He was a man of rare talents. 
He remembered the face of every man who had at 
any time come to borrow money of him since he 
began to work, as a little boy, in his father's office, 
so that it was impossible to deceive him. He had 
also such a miraculous skill in the making out of 
accounts that a poor man who had come to him in 
extremity for a loan of fifty rupees, to meet the 
expenses of his daughter's marriage, might go on 
making payments for the remainder of his life 
without reducing the debt by one rupee. In fact, 
it seemed to increase with each payment. 

And if the matter went into court, Beharilal never 
failed to show that there was still a balance due to 
him much larger than the original loan. But so 
courteous and pleasant was the Seth in his manner 
to all that such matters never went into court until 
the right time, of which he was an infallible judge, 
for he knew the private affairs of every family in 



Dowlutpoor. Then a decree was obtained and the 
debtor's house, or land, was sold to defray the debt, 
Beharilal himself being usually the purchaser, 
though not, of course, in his own name, for he was a 
prudent man. 

By these means Beharilal had become possessed 
of large estates, which he managed with such skill 
that they yielded to him revenues which they had 
never yielded to the former owners of them, while 
his tenants, who were mostly former owners, grew 
daily more deeply involved in their pecuniary 
obligations to him, and therefore entertained no 
thought of leaving him, for he could put them 
into prison any day if he chose. Their contentment 
gave him great satisfaction, and he treated them 
with benevolence, giving them advances of money 
for all their necessary expenses and appropriating 
the whole of their crops at the harvest to repay 
himself. He bound them to buy all that they had 
need of at his shop, so that he made profit off them 
on both sides. 

And as his wealth increased, his person increased 
with it and his appearance became more imposing, 
so that he was regarded everywhere with the highest 
respect and esteem. He was, moreover,, a very 
religious man and charitable beyond most. By 
early risers he might be seen in his garden seeking 
out the nests of ants and giving them, with his own 
hands, their daily dole of rice. It was his benevolent 
thoughtfulness which had supplied drinking troughs 


for the flocks of pigeons that continually plundered 
the stores of the other grain merchants. He had 
also established a pinjrapole for aged, sickly and 
ownerless animals of all kinds. To this he required 
all his tenants to send their bullocks when they 
became unfit for work, and he sold them new cattle, 
good and strong, at prices fixed by himself. If any 
of his old debtors, when reduced to beggary, came 
to his door for alms, they were never sent away 
without a handful of rice or a copper coin. He 
kept a bag of the smallest copper coins always at 
hand for such purposes. 

Beharilal had a fine house, designed by himself 
and surrounded by a vast garden stocked with 
mangoes, guavas, custard apples, oranges and other 
fruit trees, and made beautiful and fragrant with all 
manner of flowers. The cool shade drew together 
birds of many kinds from the dry plains of the sur- 
rounding country, and it pleased Beharilal to think 
that they also were recipients of his bounty and that 
the benefits which he conferred on them would 
certainly be entered to the credit of his account 
with Heaven. 

Some he fed, such as the crows, which flocked 
about the back door, like a convocation of Christian 
padres, in the morning and afternoon, when the ladies 
of his family gave out their portion of boiled rice 
and ghee. The pigeons also came together in 
hundreds in an open space under the shade of a 
noble peepul tree, where grain was thrown out for 


them at three o'clock every day ; and among them 
were many chattering sparrows and not a few 
green parrots, which walked quaintly among the 
bustling pigeons, their long tails moving from side 
to side like the pointer of the scale on which the 
Bunia weighed his rupees. This resemblance struck 
him as he reclined against the fat red cushion in 
his verandah summing up his gains. There were 
other birds which would not eat his food, but found 
abundance, suited to their respective castes, among 
the shrubs and trees that he had planted. Mynas 
walked eagerly on the lawns looking for grass- 
hoppers, glittering sunbirds hovered over the flowers, 
thrusting their slender bills into each nectar-laden 
blossom, bulbuls twittered among the mulberries 
and the koel made the shady banian tree resound 
with its melodious notes. 

In a remote corner of the garden, under the dark 
shade of a tamarind, there stood a small shrine, like 
a whitewashed tomb, with a niche or recess on one 
side of it containing a conical stone smeared with 
red ochre. Some called it Mahadeo and some Khan- 
doba, but no one could explain the presence of a 
Mahratta god in a Bunia' s garden in Dowlutpoor, 
except by quoting an old tradition about one 
Narayen who had come from the Mahratta country 
and lived for many years in this place. Some said 
he was a prosperous goldsmith of great piety, but 
others maintained that he was a Sunyasee, or saint, 
and there was no certainty in the matter. The one 


point on which all were agreed was the great sanctity 
of the shrine, and Beharilal was most careful to 
perform at it every ceremony which custom, or 
tradition, sanctioned for placating the god and 
averting any calamity that might arise from his 

At the base of one of the old cracked walls of the 
shrine there was a hole which was the den of a very 
large, black cobra. Several times it had been seen 
in the garden, and, when pursued, had glided into 
this hole and escaped. When Beharilal first heard 
of it he was much troubled in his mind, but, 
having consulted a Brahmin, he gave strict injunc- 
tions that the reptile should not be molested, and 
since that time he had never failed to place an 
offering of milk near to the hole in the morning 
and in the evening. 

Now it happened that at this time there was in 
Dowlutpoor an English doctor who was generally 
known as the Jadoo-walla Saheb, because he was 
believed to practise sorcery and had some mysterious 
need of snakes. Perhaps he was only making 
experiments with their venom. At any rate, he 
wanted live cobras and offered a good price for them. 
So when Nagoo, the snake-charmer, heard that there 
was a large one in Beharilal' s garden, he thought he 
might do good business by capturing it for the 
Jadoo-walla Saheb, and at the same time demanding 
a reward from the timorous Bunia for ridding him 
of such a dangerous neighbour. With this intent he 


repaired to the garden with all the apparatus of 
his art, his flat snake baskets, his mongoose and 
his crooked pipe. Having reconnoitred the ground, 
he commenced operations by sitting down on his 
hams and producing such ear-splitting strains from 
the crooked pipe as might have charmed Cerberus 
to leave his kennel at the gate of hell. Great was 
his surprise and mortification when he heard the 
voice of Beharilal raised in tones of unwonted 
passion and saw a stalwart Purdaisee advancing 
towards him armed with an iron-bound lathee, who, 
without ceremony, nay, with abusive epithets, 
hustled him and all his gear out of the garden. 
Nagoo was a snake-charmer and by nature a gipsy, 
and this treatment rankled in his dark bosom. 

Some weeks passed and the sun had scarcely 
risen when Beharilal sat in the ota in front of his 
house at his daily business, which began as soon 
as his teeth were cleaned and ended about eleven 
at night. The place was not tidy. Two or three 
mats were spread on the floor, a spare one was rolled 
up in a corner, several pairs of shoes were on the 
steps, umbrellas leaned against the wall, handles 
downwards, and a large chatty of drinking water 
stood beside them. The Bunia himself, bare- 
headed and bare-footed, sat cross-legged on a 
cushion, with a wooden stool in front of him, on 
which lay an open ledger of stout yellowish paper, 
bound in soft red leather and nearly two feet in 
length. In this he was carefully entering yesterday's 


transactions with a reed pen, which he dipped fre- 
quently in a brass inkpot filled with a sponge soaked 
in a muddy black fluid. 

Beside him sat his son, aged two years, playing 
with the red, lacquered cylinder in which he kept 
his reed pens. Beharilal had two girls also, but 
they were with the women folk in the interior of 
the house, where he was content they should stay. 
This was his only boy, the pride and joy of his 
heart. Engrossed as he was in recording his gains, 
he could not refrain from lifting his eyes now and 
again to feast them on that rotund little body, like 
a goblet set on two pillars. No clothing concealed 
the tense and shiny brown skin, but there were 
silver bracelets on the fat wrists and massive anklets 
where deep creases divided the fat little feet from 
the fat little legs, and a representation, in chased 
silver, of Eve's fig leaf hung from a silver chain 
which encircled the sphere that should have been 
his waist. His globular head was curiously shaven. 
From two deep pits between the bulging brow and 
the fat cheeks that nearly squeezed out the little 
nose between them, two black diamonds twinkled, 
full of wonder, as the small purse mouth prattled to 
itself softly and inarticulately of the mysteries of life. 

Suddenly a startled cry, passing into a prolonged 
wail of fear, roused old Beharilal, and he saw a sight 
that nearly caused him to swoon with terror. The 
little man, a moment ago so placid and happy, was 
shrinking back with "I don't like that thing" 


inscribed in lines of anguish on his distorted face, 
and not three feet from him a huge cobra, just 
emerged from the roll of matting, eyed him with a 
stony stare, its head raised and its hood expanded. 
Its quivering tongue flickered out from between 
its lips like distant flashes of forked lightning. 

For a moment Beharilal stood stupefied, then all 
the heroism that was in him spent itself at once. 
Seizing the heavy wooden stool in both his hands, 
he raised it high over his head and dashed it down 
on the reptile. The sharp edge of hard wood broke 
its back, and as it wriggled and lashed about, biting 
at everything within reach, the Bunia snatched up 
his boy and waddled into the house at a pace to 
which he had long been unaccustomed, calling out, 
in frantic gasps, for help. A rush of excited and 
screaming women met him in the inner court, and 
he dropped his precious burden, with pious ejacu- 
lations, into the arms of its mother, and stood 
panting and speechless. Then calling aloud to 
know if all danger was past, he ventured cautiously 
out again and saw that the Purdaisee and the Malee 
had ejected the wriggling cobra and were pounding 
its head into a jelly with a big stone. 

For some seconds he looked on in a strange 
stupor, and then he realised what he had done. He, 
Beharilal, the Bunia, who had always removed the 
insects so tenderly from his own person that they 
were not hurt, who had never committed the sin of 
killing a mosquito or a fly ; he, with his own hands, 


had taken the life of the guardian cobra of the 
shrine! "Urray-ray! Bap-ray!" he cried, "Jot 
what demerit of mine has this ill-luck befallen me 
in my old age ? What will happen now ? ' ' 

" Nay, Sethjkee," said the Malee, " be not afraid. 
It was in your destiny that this offspring of Satan 
should come to its end by your hand. We have 
pounded its head properly, so it will not return to 

" But what of its mate ? " said Beharilal. " I 
have heard that, if any man kills a cobra, its mate 
will follow him by day and by night until it has 
had its revenge. Is that not so ? " 

The Malee answered, " Chh, Chh ! There is no 
mate of this cobra,' ' but his tone was not confident. 

" Go," cried Beharilal — " go quickly and call 
Nagoo, the snake-charmer. He has knowledge." 

" I will go," said the Malee, and set off at a run ; 
but when he got out of the gate he lapsed into a 
leisurely walk, for why should a man lose his breath 
without cause ? In time he found his way to the 
little settlement of huts constructed of poles and 
mats, where Nagoo sat on the ground smoking his 
" chillum," and told his errand. 

" Why should I come ? " was Nagoo' s reply ; " I 
went to take away that cobra and the Bunia drove 
me from the garden with abuse. Why does he send 
for me now ? ' ' 

" He is a Bunia," said the Malee, as if that summed 
up the whole matter ; but he added, after a pause, 


" If he sees a burning ground, he shakes like a peepul 
leaf. The cobra has died by his hand and his liver 
has become like water. Whatever you ask he will 
give. You should come." 

Nagoo replied aloud, " I will come," and to him- 
self, "I will give him physic." Then he took up 
his baskets and his pipe and followed the Malee. 

Beharilal proceeded to business with a directness 
foreign to his habit, looking over his shoulder at 
intervals lest a snake might be silently approaching. 
" Good Nagoo," he said, " a great misfortune has 
happened. The cobra of the shrine has been killed. 
Has it a mate ? " 

"How can a cobra not have a mate ? " answered 
Nagoo curtly. 

Then Beharilal employed the most insinuating of 
the many tones of his voice. " Listen, Nagoo. You 
are a man of skill. Capture that cobra and I will 
pay you well. I will give you five rupees." Then, 
observing no response in the wrinkled visage of the 
charmer, " I will give you ten rupees." 

Nagoo would have sold his revenge for a tithe of 
the wealth thus dangled before him, but he saw no 
reason to suppose that there was another cobra 
anywhere in the garden, so he answered with the 
calm confidence of an expert, " That cannot be 
done. The serpent will not heed any pipe now. 
In its mind there is only revenge." 

"Then what will it do?" said the trembling 


" If its mate died by the hand of a man, it will 
follow that man until it has accomplished its 

"But how will it know," asked Beharilal, "by 
whose hand its mate died ? " 

Nagoo replied with pious simplicity, " How can 
I tell by what means it knows? God informs it." 

" But," pleaded Beharilal, " is there no escape ? 
— if a man goes away by the railway or by water ? ' ' 

Nagoo pondered for a moment and said, " If a 
man crossed the sea, the serpent would be baulked. 
If he goes by railway it will not leave him. Let 
him go to Madras, it will find him." 

With a faltering hand the Bunia put some rupees, 
uncounted, into the charmer's skinny palm, saying, 
" Go, make incantations. Do something. There is 
great knowledge of mysteries with you" ; and he 
hurried back into the house. 

His arrangements were very soon made. His 
account books, with a bundle of bonds and hoondies 
and cash and his son, were put into a small cart 
drawn by a pair of fast trotting bullocks, into which 
he himself climbed, after looking under the cushion 
to see that there was no evil beast lurking there, 
and got away in haste while the sun was yet hot. 
The rest of the family followed with the household 
property, and in a few days the house was empty 
and only the Malee remained in charge. Many years 
have passed and the house is empty still, and the 
Malee, grown grey and frail, is still in charge. He 


gets no wages, but he sells the jasmine flowers and 
the mangoes and guavas, and he grows chillies 
and brinjals, and so fills the stomachs of himself 
and his little grandson and is contented. If you 
ask him where the Seth has gone, he replies," " Who 
knows ? " His debt has gone with his creditor, " gone 
glimmering through the dream of things that were," 
and he has no desire to recall them. 

A civil or military officer from the station, taking 
a solitary walk, sometimes finds himself at the Cobra 
Bungalow, and turns in to wander among its old 
trees and unswept paths, obstructed by overgrown 
and untended shrubs, and wonders how it got its 
name. Then he pauses at the whitewashed shrine 
and notes that the god-stone has been freshly painted 
red and that chaplets of faded flowers he before it. 
But the old Malee approaches with a meek salaam 
and a posy of jasmine and marigolds and warns 
him that there is a cobra in the shrine. 



It was January 13 of a good many years ago, in 
those happy days that have " gone glimmering 
through the dream of things that were." The sun 
had scarcely risen, and I was sitting in the cosy 
cabin of my yacht enjoying my " chota hazree," 
which, being interpreted, means " lesser presence," 
and in Anglo-Indian speech signifies an " eye-opener " 
of tea and toast — the greater presence appears some 
hours later and we call it breakfast. I will not say 
that the view from my cabin windows was enchant- 
ing. The placid waters of the broad creek would 
have been pleasant to look upon if the level rays of 
the sun in his strength had not skimmed them with 
such a blinding glare, but the low, flat-topped hills 
that bounded them were forbidding. 

The people said truly that God had made this a 
country of stones, but they forgot that He had 
clothed the stones with trees of evergreen foliage 
and a dense undergrowth of shrubs and grass, to 
protect and hold together the thick bed of loam 
which the fallen leaves enriched from year to year. 
It was the axes of their fathers that felled the trees, 
21 > 35 


to sell for fuel, and the billhooks of their mothers 
that hacked away the bushes and grubbed up their 
very roots to burn on the household cooking hole. 
Then the torrential rains of the south-west monsoon 
came down on the naked, defenceless, parched and 
cracked soil and swept it in muddy cascades down 
to the sea, leaving fiats of bare rock, strewn thick 
with round stones, sore to the best-shod foot of man 
and cruel to the hoofs of a horse. About and among 
the huts of the unswept and malodorous hamlet 
just above the shore there were fine trees, mango, 
tamarind, babool and bor, showing what might 
have been elsewhere. 

On the rounded top of the highest hill frowned in 
black ruin an old Mahratta fort, covered on the top 
and sides and choked within by that dense mass 
of struggling vegetation which always takes posses- 
sion of old forts in India. The weather-worn stones 
and crumbling mortar seem to feed the trees to 
gluttony. First some bird drops the seeds of the 
banian fig into crevices of the ramparts, and its 
insidious roots push their way and grow and grow 
into great tortuous snakes, embracing the massive 
blocks of basalt, heaving them up and holding them 
up, so that they cannot fall. Then prickly shrubs 
and thorny trees follow, fighting for every inch of 
ground, but quite unable to eject the gently persistent 
custard-apple, descended doubtless irom seeds which 
the garrison dropped as they ate the luscious fruit, 
on account of which the Portuguese introduced the 


tree from South America. I had penetrated into that 
fort and had seen something of the snakes and birds 
of night, but not the ghosts and demons which I was 
assured made it their habitation by day. 

On a level place a little below the fort stood two 
monuments, telling of the days when the Honour- 
able East India Company maintained a "Resident" 
at this place. Here he lived in proud solitude, up- 
holding the British flag. But his wife and the little 
one on whose face he had not yet looked were on 
their way from Bombay in a native " pattimar " to 
join him, and as he stood gazing over the sea at the 
red setting sun one 5th of October, he thought of 
the glad to-morrow and the end of his dreary lone- 
liness. It fell to him to put up one of these monu- 
ments, with a sorrowful inscription to all that was 
left to him on the following morning, the " memory " 
of a beloved wife and an infant thirty-one days old, 
drowned in crossing the bar on October 6, 1853. 

We have strewed our best to the weeds unrest, 
To the shark and the sheering gull. 
If blood be the price of admiralty. 
Lord God, we ha' paid in full. 

I carried my gun and rifle with me in my yacht. 
They served to keep up my character as a sportsman, 
and did not often require to be cleaned. So the 
morning calm of my mind was lashed into an un- 
wonted tempest of excitement when my jolly skipper, 
Sheikh Abdul Rehman, came in and told me briefly 
that a "bag" (which word does not rhyme with 


rag, but must be pronounced like barg without the 
r and signifies a tiger or panther) had killed a cow 
in the village the night before last. 

When he added that the villagers had set a spring 
gun for it last evening and it had returned to the 
"kill" and been badly wounded, my excitement 
was turned into wrath. I had been at anchor here 
all yesterday. The Indian ryot everywhere turns 
instinctively to the sahib as his protector against 
all wild beasts. What did these men mean by 
keeping their own counsel and setting an infernal 
machine for their enemy ? Abdul Rehman ex- 
plained, and the explanation was simple andsufficient. 
My fat predecessor in the appointment that I held 
had no relish for sport and kept no guns, so the 
simple villagers, when they saw my boat with its 
familiar flag, looked for no help from that quarter. 
However, I might still win renown off that wounded 
" bag," if it was not a myth ; but, to tell the truth, 
I was sceptical. The tiger and the panther are not 
nomads on rocky plains, like the antelope. I 
landed, notwithstanding, promptly and visited the 
scene. Sure enough, there was a young heifer lying 
on its side, with the unmistakable deep pits where 
the jaws of the panther had gripped its throat, and a 
gory cavity where it had selected a gigot for its dinner. 

Round the corpse the villagers had arranged a 
circular fence of thorns, with one opening, across 
which they had stretched a cord, attached at the 
other end to the trigger of an old shooting iron of 


some sort, charged with slugs and looking hard at 
the opening. The gun had gone off during the night, 
and the ground was soaked with blood. A few yards 
off there was another great swamp of blood. The 
beast had staggered away and lain down for a while, 
faint and sick. Then it had got up and crawled 
home, still dripping with blood, by which we tracked 
it for a good distance, but the trace grew gradually 
fainter and at last ceased altogether. 

" It has gone to the fort," said the men — " bags 
always go to the fort." I pointed out that, if it 
had meant to go to the fort, it would have gone 
towards the fort, instead of in another direction ; 
but the argument did not move them. " The fort 
is a jungle, and where else should a ' bag ' take 
refuge but in a jungle ? " However, I was obstinate, 
and pursued the original direction until we arrived 
at the brow of the hill, where it sloped steeply down 
to the sea. The whole slope, for half a mile, was 
covered with a dense scrub of Lantana bushes. This 
is another plant introduced in some by-gone century 
from South America, and planted first in gardens for 
its profuse clusters of red and pink verbena-like 
blossoms (it is a near relation of the garden verbena), 
whence it has spread like the rabbit in New Zealand, 
and become a nuisance. " There," I cried, pointing 
at the scrub, " there, without doubt, your wounded 
' bag ' is lying." 

Some of the men, unbelieving still, were amusing 
themselves by rolling large stones down the slope, 


when suddenly there was a sound of scrambling, and 
across an opening in the scrub, in sight of us all, 
a huge hyaena scurried away " on three legs.' ' I sent 
a man post-haste for my rifle, which I had not 
brought with me, never expecting to require it until 
a regular campaign could be arranged. As soon as 
it arrived, we formed in line and advanced, throw- 
ing stones in all directions. 

Make no offering of admiration at the shrine of 
our hardihood, for we were in no peril. Among 
carnivorous beasts there is not a more contemptible 
poltroon than the hyaena, even when wounded. A 
friend of mine once tied up a billy goat as a bait 
for a panther and sat up over it in a tree. In the 
middle of the night a hyaena nosed it from afar, and 
came sneaking up in the rear, for hyaenas love the 
flesh of goats next to that of dogs. But the goat 
saw it, and, turning about bravely, presented his 
horned front. This the hyaena could not find 
stomach to face. For two hours he manoeuvred 
to take the goat in rear, but it turned as he circled, 
and stood up to him stoutly till the dawn came; and 
my friend cut short its disreputable career with a 

To return to my story, we had not gone far when, 
on a lower level, not many yards from me, I was 
suddenly confronted by that repulsive, ghoulish 
physiognomy which can never be forgotten when 
once seen, the smoky-black snout, broad forehead 
and great upstanding ears. Instantly the beast 


wheeled and scrambled over a bank, receiving a 
hasty rear shot which, as I afterwards found, left 
it but one limb to go with, for the bullet passed 
clean through a hindleg and lodged in a foreleg. It 
went on, however, and some time passed before I 
descried it far off dragging itself painfully across an 
open space. A careful shot finished it, and it died 
under a thick bush, where we found it and dragged 
it out. It proved to be a large male, measuring 
4 feet 7 inches, from which something over a foot 
must be deducted for its shabby tail. 

The natives all maintained still that their cow 
had been killed by a panther, saying that the 
hyaena had come on the second night, after their 
manner, to fill its base belly with the leavings. And 
there was some circumstantial evidence in favour 
of this view. In the first place, I never heard of a 
hyaena having the audacity to attack a cow ; in 
the second, the tooth-marks on the cow showed that 
it had been executed according to the tradition of 
all the great cats — by seizing its throat and breaking 
its neck ; and in the third, a hyaena, sitting down 
to such a meal, would certainly have begun with 
calf's head and crunched up every bone of the skull 
before thinking of sirloin or rumpsteak. But the 
absurdity of a panther being found in such a region 
outweighed all this and I scoffed. 

I was yet to learn a lesson in humility out of this 
adventure. Two years later I sailed over the bar 
and dropped anchor at the same spot. I was met 


with the intelligence that on the previous evening 
two panthers had been seen sitting on the brow of 
the hill and gazing at the beauties of the fading 
sunset, as wild beasts are so fond of doing. A night 
or two later a cow was attacked in a neighbouring 
field, and, staggering into the village, fell down and 
died in a narrow alley between two houses. The 
panther followed and prowled about all night, but 
the villagers, hammering at their doors with sticks, 
scared it from its meal. 

I at once had a nest put up in a small tree, and 
took my position in it at sunset. The common 
people in India do not waste much money on lamp 
oil, preferring to sleep during the hours appointed 
by Nature for the purpose, so it was not long before 
all doors were securely barred and quietness reigned. 
Then the mosquitoes awoke and came to inquire 
for me, the little bats (how I blessed them !) wheeled 
about my head, the night-jar called to his fellow, 
and the little owls sat on a branch together and 
talked to each other about me. Hour after hour 
passed, and it became too dark in that narrow alley 
to see a panther if it had come. So I came down 
and got to my boat. The panther was engaged a 
mile away dining on another cow! On further 
inquiry I learned that there was some good forest 
a day's journey distant, and it was quite the fashion 
among the panthers of that place to spend a week- 
end occasionally at a spot so full of all delights as 
this dark, jungle-smothered fort. 



I do not believe that the Member of Parliament who 
moved the adjournment of the House to consider the 
culpable carelessness of the Government of India in 
allowing the Rajah of Muttighur to fall into the 
moat of his own castle when he was drunk, could 
have told you what a Purbhoo is, not though you 
had spelled it Prabhu, so that he could find it in his 
Gazetteer. Of course he saw hundreds of them 
during that Christmas which he spent in the East 
before he wrote his book ; but then he took them all 
for Brahmins. He never noticed that the curve of 
their turbans was not the same, and the idol mark 
on their foreheads was quite different, nor even that 
their shoes were not forked at the toes, but ended 
in a sharp point curled upwards. And if he did not 
see these things which were on the surface, what 
could he know of matters that lie deeper ? 

Now the first and most important thing to be 
known respecting the Purbhoo, the fundamental 
fact of him, is that he is not a Brahmin. If he were 
a Brahmin, one essential piece of our administrative 
apparatus in India would be wanting, and without 
22 143 


it the whole machinery would assuredly go out of 
order. Nor is it easy to see how we could replace 
him. Not one of the other castes would serve even 
as a makeshift. They are all too far removed from 
the Brahmin. But the Purbhoo is near him, irri- 
tatingly near him, and he has proved in practice to 
be just the sort of homoeopathic remedy we require, 
the counter-irritant, the outward blister by wise 
application of which we can keep down the internal 

In speaking of the Brahmin as an inflammation 
in the body politic I disown all offensive and 
invidious implications. I am only using a convenient 
simile. You may reverse it if you like and make 
the disease stand for the Purbhoo, in which case 
the Brahmin will be the blister. Which way fits 
the facts best will depend upon which caste chances 
at the time to be nearest to the vitals of Government. 

The case stands thus. Before the days of British 
rule the Brahmin was the priest and man of letters, 
the " clerke " in short. The rajahs and chiefs 
were much of the same mind as old Douglas : 

Thanks to Saint Bothan son of mine, 
Save Gawain, ne'er could pen a line, 

Gawain being a bishop. As a Mohammedan gentle- 
man related to one of the ruling Indian princes put 
the matter when speaking to me a few years ago, 
" In those days none of us could write. Our pen 
was the sword. If any writing had to be done the 


Brahmin was called in." And no doubt he did 
excellent service, being diligent, astute, and withal 
pliant and diplomatic. If to these qualities he 
added ambition, he might, and often did, become a 
Cardinal Wolsey in the state. In Poona, for example, 
the Brahmin Prime Minister gradually overshadowed 
the Mahratta king, and the descendant of Shivajee 
was put on a back shelf as Rajah of Sattara, while 
the Peishwa ruled at the capital. 

Of course this carnal advancement was not gained 
without some sacrifice of his spiritual character, 
and the "secular" Brahmin had to bow, quoad 
sacra, to the penniless Bhut, or " regular " Brahmin, 
who, refusing to contaminate his sanctity by doing 
any kind of work, ate of the temple, or lived by royal 
bounty or private charity, and by the free breakfasts • 
without which a marriage, "thread ceremony" or 
funeral in a gentleman's house could not be respect- 
ably celebrated. Idleness and sanctity are a 
powerful combination, and it is written in the 
shastras that every day in which a holy man does 
no work for his bread, but lives by begging, is equal 
in the eyes of the gods to a day spent in fasting ; 
so, though the prospect of power and wealth might 
tempt a few restless and wayward spirits, the great 
mass of the Brahmin caste clung to the sacred calling. 

All this time the Purbhoo was in the land, but 
insignificant. He had no sacred calling. Tradition 
assigned him a hybrid origin. He could not presume 
to be a warrior, because bis mother was a shoodra, 


nor could he condescend to be a farmer, for his 
father was a kshutriya. So the gods had given 
him the pen, and he was a writer — not a secretary, 
but a humble quill-driver. But when the Portu- 
guese and then the British came upon the scene, 
not ruling by word of mouth, like the native rajahs, 
but inditing their orders and keeping records, the 
Purbhoo saw an open door and went in. 

Then the Brahmin woke up, for he saw that he 
was in evil case. The spirit of the British raj was 
falling like a blight and a pestilence upon the means 
by which he had lived, drying up the fountains of 
religious revenue and slowly but surely blighting 
the luxuriance of that pious liberality which always 
took the form of feeding holy men. He found that 
he must work for his bread whether he liked it or 
not, and the only implement of secular work that 
would not soil his priestly hand was the pen. And 
this was already taken up by the Purbhoo, who 
carried -himself haughtily under the new regime and 
showed no mind to make way for the holier man. 
Hence sprang those bitter enmities and jealousies 
which have done so much to lighten the difficulties 
of our position. 

The British Government has often been accused 
of acting on the maxim, Divide et impera. It is a 
libel. We do not divide, for there is no need. 
Division is already there. We have only to 
rejoice and rule. How well and justly we rule all 
the world knows, but only the initiated know how 


much we owe to the fact that the talents and 
energies which would otherwise be employed in 
thwarting our just intentions and phlebotomising 
the ryot are largely preoccupied with the more 
useful work of thwarting and undermining each 

What could a collector do single-handed against 
a host of clerks and subordinate magistrates and 
petty officials of every grade, all armed with the 
awfulness of a heaven-born sanctity, all hedged 
round with the prestige of an ancient supremacy, 
endowed with a mole-like genius for underground 
work which the Englishman never fathoms, and 
all leagued together to suck to the uttermost the 
life blood of those inferior castes which were created 
expressly for their advantage ? 

He is working in a foreign language, among customs 
and ways of thought which it takes a lifetime to 
understand : they are using their mother tongue 
and handling matters that they have known from 
childhood. He cannot tell a lie and is ashamed to 
deceive : they are trained in a thrifty policy which 
saves the truth for a last resort in case everything 
else should fail. He would be helpless in their hands 
as a sucking child. But he knows they will do for 
him what he cannot do for himself. The Purbhoo 
will lie in wait for the Brahmin, and the Brahmin 
will keep his lynx eye on the Purbhoo. And woe 
to the one who trips first. So the collector arranges 
his men with judicious skill to the fostering of each 


other's virtue, and the result is most gratifying. 
The country blesses his administration, and his 
subordinates are equally surprised and delighted at 
their own integrity. 

I speak of a wise and able administrator. There 
are men in the Indian Civil Service who are neither 
wise nor able, and some who are not administrators 
at all, having most unhappily mistaken their voca- 
tion. When such a one becomes collector of a 
district his chitnis, or' chief secretary, sees that that 
tide in the affairs of men has come which, " taken 
at the flood, leads on to fortune," and his caste- 
fellows all through the service are filled with unholy 
joy. But he does nothing rash or hasty. Wilily 
and patiently he goes to work to make his own 
foundation sure first of all. He studies his chief 
under all conditions, discovers his little foibles and 
vanities and feeds them sedulously. He masters 
codes, rules and regulations, standing orders, prece- 
dents and past correspondence, till it is dangerous 
to contradict him and always safe to trust him. In 
every difficulty he is at hand, clearing away per- 
plexity and refreshing the " swithering " mind with 
his precision and assurance. He becomes indispen- 
sable. The collector reposes absolute confidence 
in him and is proud to say so in his reports. 

Then the chitnis, if he is a Brahmin, addresses 
himself to the task of eliminating the Purbhoo from 
the service, or at least depriving him of place and 
power. It is a delicate task, but the Brahmin's 


touch is light. He never disparages a Purbhoo from 
that day; "damning with faint praise" is safer 
and as effectual. He practises the charity which 
covereth a multitude of faults, but he leaves a tag 
end of one peeping out to attract curiosity, and if 
the collector asks questions, he is candid and tells 
the truth, though with manifest reluctance. Then 
he grapples with the gradation lists, which have 
fallen into confusion, and puts them into such 
excellent order that the collector can see at a glance 
every man's past services and present claims to 
promotion. And from these lists it appears that 
clearly, whenever any vacancy has to be filled, a 
Brahmin has the first claim. And so, as the shades 
of night yield to the dawn of day, the Purbhoo by 
degrees fades away and disappears, and the star of 
the Brahmin rises and shines everywhere with still 
increasing splendour. 

But the Purbhoo possesses his soul in patience, 
and keeps a note of every slip that the Brahmin 
makes. For the next chitnis may be a Purbhoo, 
and then the day of reckoning will come and old 
scores will be paid off. The Brahmin knows that 
too, and the thought of it makes him walk warily 
even in the day of his prosperity. Thus our adminis- 
tration is saved from utter corruption. 



Among the classic fairy-tales which passed like 
shooting stars across those dark hours of our boy- 
hood in which we wrestled with the grim rudiments 
of Latin and Greek, and which abide in the memory 
after nearly all that they helped to brighten has 
passed away, there was one which related to a con- 
test between Neptune and Minerva as to which 
should confer the greatest benefit on the human 
race. Neptune first struck his trident on the ground 
(or was it on the waves? " Eheu fugaces" — no, 
that also is gone), and there sprang forth a noble 
steed, pawing the ground, terrible in war and no 
less useful in peace. Then the watery god leaned 
back and smiled as if he would say, " Now, beat 
that." But the Goddess of Wisdom brought out of 
the earth a modest, dark tree bearing olives and, in 
classic phrase, " took the cake.' ' Oriental mythology 
is more luxuriant and fantastic than that of the 
West, but I do not know if it has any legend parallel 
to this. If it has, then I am sure the palm is awarded 
to the deity who gave to the human race the tree 
that bears the coconut. 



Passing a confectioner's shop, I saw a tempting 
packet labelled " Cokernut Toffee." I bought a 
pennyworth and gave it to my little girl, and 

" I laye a-thynkynge, a-thynkynge, a-thynkynge." 

How many boys and girls are there in this king- 
dom to whom the word coconut connotes an 
ingredient which goes to the making of a very tooth- 
some sweetie ? And how many confectioners and 
shop girls are there whose idea is no broader ? Again : 

" I laye a-thynkynge, a-thynkynge, a-thynkynge, 
And merrie sang the Birde as she sat upon the spraye." 

And I said, " Little Bird, what do you know of 
the coconut ? " And it made answer, " It is a cup 
full of food, rich and sweet, which kind hands hang 
out for me in winter." How narrow may be the 
keyhole through which we take our outlook on 
things human and divine, never doubting that we 
see the whole ! In our own British Empire, only a 
few thousand miles away, sits a mild Hindu, almost 
unclad and wholly unlettered, to whom the tree 
that bore the fruit that flavoured the toffee that my 
little girl is enjoying seems to be one of the pre- 
dominating tints of the whole landscape of life. 
It puts a roof over his head, it lightens his dark- 
ness, it helps to feed his body, it furnishes the wine 
that maketh glad his heart and the oil that causeth 
bis face to shine, and time would fail me to tell of 
all the other things that it does for him. As a type 


and symbol, it is always about him, spanning the 
sunshine and shower of life with bows of hope. 

The coconut tree is a palm, and has nothing to 
do with cocoa of the breakfast table. That word 
is a perversion of " cacao," and came to us from 
Mexico : the other is the Portuguese word " coco," 
which means a nut. It is what Vasco da Gama 
called the thing when he first saw it, and the word, 
with our English translation added, has stuck to 
it. The tree is, I need scarcely say, a palm, one of 
many kinds that flourish in India. But none of 
them can be ranked with it. The rough date palm 
makes dense groves on sandy plains, but brings no 
fruit to perfection, pining for something which only 
Arabia can supply ; the strong but unprofitable 
" brab," or fan palm, rises on rocky hills, the beauti- 
ful fish-tailed palm in forests solitarily, while the 
"areca" rears its tall, smooth stem and delicate 
head in gardens and supplies millions with a solace 
more indispensable than tobacco or tea. But the 
coconut loves a sandy soil and the salt breath of the 
sea and the company of its own kind. The others 
grow erect as a mast, but the gentle coconuts lean 
on the wind and mingle the waving of their sisterly 
arms, casting a grateful shade on the humble folk 
who live under their blessing. 

To the mariner sailing by India's coral strand 
that country presents the aspect of an endless beach 
of shell sand, quite innocent of coral, on which the 
surf breaks continually into dazzling white foam 


against a dark background of pensive palms. He 
might naturally suppose that they had grown up of 
themselves, like the screw-pines and aloes which 
sometimes share the beach with them ; but that 
would be a great mistake. Everyone of them has 
been planted and carefully watered for years and 
manured annually with fresh foliage of forest trees 
buried in a moat round the root. And so it grew in 
stature, but not in girth, until its head was sixty, 
seventy or even eighty feet above the ground, and 
a hundred nuts of various sizes hung in bunches from 
long, shiny, green arms, each as thick as a man's, 
which had thrust themselves out from between the 
lower fronds. 

There is no production of Nature that I know of 
less negotiable than a coconut as the tree presents 
it. The man who first showed the way into it 
deserved a place in mythology with Prometheus, 
Jason and other heroes of the dawn. There is a 
crab, I know, which lives on coconuts, enjoying the 
scientific name of Birgus latro, the Burglar ; but 
it seems to be a special invention, as big as a cat 
and armed with two fearful pairs of pincers in front 
for rending the outside casings of the fruits, and a 
more delicate tool on its hindlegs for picking out 
the meat. Other animals have to do without it, 
as had man, I opine, in the stone and copper ages. 
With the iron age came a chopper, called in Western 
India a "koita," with which he can hack his way 
through most of the obstructions of life. When, 


with this, he has slashed off the tough outer rind 
and the inch-thick packing of agglutinated fibres, 
like metal wires, he has only to crack the hard shell 
which contains the kernel. 

How little we can conceive the spaces in his life 
that would be empty without that firm pulp, at 
once nutritious, sweet and fragrant ! Curry cannot 
be made without it, the cook cannot advance three 
steps in its absence, pattimars laden with it are 
sailing north, south, east and west, a thousand creaky 
wooden mills are squeezing the limpid oil out of it, 
a hundred thousand little earthen lamps filled with 
that oil are making visible the smoky darkness of 
hut and temple, brightening the wedding feast and 
illuminating the sad page over which the candidate 
for university honours nods his shaven head. That 
oil fed lighthouses of the first order and illuminated 
viceregal balls and durbars before paraffin and 
kerosene inundated the earth. And it has other 
uses. For arresting premature baldness and pre- 
venting the hair turning grey its virtues are equalled 
by no other oil known to us, and there is a fortune 
awaiting the hairdresser who can find means effec- 
tually to remove or suppress its peculiar and pene- 
trating odour. Joao Gomez, my faithful "boy," did 
not object to the odour, and when he had been 
tempted to pass my comb through his raven locks 
as he was dusting my dressing table, I always knew 

When the white kernel has been turned to account, 


the utilities of the coconut are not exhausted. The 
shell, neatly bisected, makes a pair of teacups, and 
either of these, fitted with a wooden handle, makes 
a handy spoon. Laurenco de Gama demands one 
or two of these inexpensive spoons to complete the 
furnishing of my kitchen. As for the obstinate 
casing that wraps the coconut shell, it is an article 
of commerce. It must first be soaked for some 
months in a pit on the slimy bank of the backwater, 
until all the stuff that holds it together in a stiff 
and obdurate mass has rotted away and set free 
those hard and smooth fibres which nothing can 
rot. These, when thoroughly purged of the foul 
black pollution in which they have sweltered so long, 
will go out to all quarters of the world under the 
name of " coir " to make indestructible door mats 
and other indispensable things. It will penetrate 
to every corner of India in which a white man 
lives, to mat his verandahs and stuff his mattresses. 
And who shall recount a tithe of its other uses ? 
Of course, the nude man under the coconut tree 
knows nothing of all this. He does without a 
mattress, and has no use for a door mat. But he 
cannot do without cordage, and if you took from 
him his coconut fibre, life would almost stop. 
Wherewith would he bind the rafters of his hut to 
the beams, or tether the cow, or let down the bucket 
into the well ? What would all the boats do that 
traverse the backwater, or he at anchor in the bay, 
or line the sandy beach ? From the cable of the 


great pattimar, now getting under weigh for the 
Persian Gulf with a cargo of coconuts, to the painter 
of the dugout, " hodee," every yard of cordage about 
them is made of imperishable coir. 

When the axe is at last laid to the old coconut 
tree, a beam will fall to the earth sixty feet in length, 
hard as teak and already rounded and smoothed. 
True, you cannot saw it into planks, but no one will 
complain of that in a village which does not own 
a saw. It cleaves readily enough and straightly, 
forming long troughs most useful for leading water 
from the well to the plantation and for many other 
purposes. It can also be chopped into lengths 
suitable for the ridge poles of the hut, or for bridges to 
span the deep ditches which drain the rice fields 
or feed the salt pans. When out in quest of snipe 
I have sometimes had to choose between crossing 
by one of those bridges, innocent of even a handrail, 
and wading through the black slough of despond 
which it spanned. Choosing neither, I went home, 
but the " Kolee" and the " Agree" trip over them 
like birds, balancing household chattels on their 
steady heads. 

We must not think, however, of the trunk as, 
at the best, anything more than a by-product of 
the coconut tree, whose head is more than its body. 
Even while it lives its head is shorn once a year, for, 
as fresh fronds push out and upward from the centre, 
those of the outer circle get old and must be cut 
away. And when one of those feathery, fern-like 


fronds, toying with the breeze, comes crashing to 
the ground, it is ten or twelve feet long, and consists 
of a great backbone, as thick at the base as a man's 
leg, with a close-set row of swords on either side, 
about a yard in length. They are hard and tough, 
but supple yet and of a shiny green colour ; but 
they will turn to brown as they wither. 

Now observe that this gigantic, unmanageable- 
looking leaf, like everything else about the coconut 
tree, is almost a ready-made article, demanding no 
machinery to turn it to account, except the " koita " 
which hangs ever ready from the nude man's girdle. 
With it he will cleave the backbone lengthwise, 
and then, taking each half separately, he will simply 
twist backwards every second sword and plait 
them all into a mat two feet wide, eight or ten feet 
long, and firmly bounded and held together on one 
side by the unbreakable backbone. This is a 
" jaolee," fighter than slates, or tiles, and more 
handy than any form of thatch. You have just to 
arrange your " jaolees " neatly on your bamboo 
frame, each overlapping the one below it, then tie 
them securely in their places with coir rope and 
your roof is made for a year. 

There is yet another benevolence of the coconut 
tree which I have left to the last, and the simple folk 
of whom I am trying to write with fellow feeling 
would certainly have named it first. I ought to 
refer to it as a curse : they, without qualm or 
question, call it a blessing. Let me try to describe 


it dispassionately. If you wander in any palm 
grove in Western India, looking upward, it will soon 
strike you that a large number of the trees do not 
seem to bear coconuts at all, but black earthen pots. 
If your visit should chance to be made early in the 
morning, or late in the afternoon, the mystery will 
soon be revealed. You will see a dusky, sinewy 
figure, not of a monkey, but of a man, ascending 
and descending those trees with marvellous celerity 
and ease, grasping the trunks with his hands and 
fitting his naked feet into slight notches cut in them. 
The distance between the notches is so great that 
his knee goes up to his chin at each step, but he 
is as supple as he is sinewy and feels no inconvenience. 
For he is a Bhundaree, or Toddy-drawer, and his 
forefathers have been Bhundarees since the time, 
I suppose, when Manu made his immortal laws. 

His waistcloth is tightly girded about him, in 
his hand he carries a broad billhook as bright and 
keen as a razor, and from his caudal region depends 
a tail more strange than any borne by beast or 
reptile. It looks like a large brown pot, constructed 
in the middle. It is, in fact, a large gourd, or cala- 
bash, hanging by a hook from the climber's waist- 
band. When he has reached the top of a tree, he 
gets among the branches and, sitting astride of 
one of them, proceeds to detach one of the black 
pots from the stout fruit stem on which it is fastened, 
and empty its contents into his tail. Then, taking 
his billhook, he carefully pares the raw end of the 

TODDY 159 

stem, refastens the black pot in its place and hurries 
down to make the ascent of another tree, and so 
on until his tail is full of a foaming white liquor 
spotted with drowned honey bees and fining the 
surrounding air with a rank odour of fermentation. 
This liquor is " toddy." 

If I were a Darwin I would not leave that word 
until I had traced the agencies which wafted it 
over sea and land from the shores of Hindustan to 
the Scottish coast, where it first took root and, 
quickly adapting itself to a strange environment, 
developed into a new and vigorous species, spread 
like the thistle and became a national institution. 
At first it was only the Briton's way of mouthing 
a common native word, " tadi " (pronounced ta-dee), 
which meant palm juice ; but it became current in 
its present shape as early as 1673, when the traveller 
Fryer wrote of " the natives singing and roaring 
all night long, being drunk with toddy, the wine 
of the cocoe." About a century later Burns sang, 

The lads and lasses, blythely bent. 
To mind baith saul and body, 
Sit round the table, weel content, 
And steer about the toddy. 

Between these I can find no vestigia, but imagina- 
tion easily fills the gap. I see a company of jovial 
Scots, met in Calcutta, or Surat, on St. Andrew's 
Day. European wines and beer are expensive, 
whisky not obtainable at all ; but the skilful 
khansamah makes up a punch with toddy spirit, 


hot water, sugar and limes, and they are " well 
content." After many years I see the few of them 
who still survive foregathered again in the old 
country, and one proposes to have a good brew of 
toddy for auld lang syne. If real toddy spirit 
cannot be had, what of that ? Whisky is found to 
take very kindly to hot water and sugar and limes, 
and the old folks at home and the neighbours and 
the minister himself pronounce a most favourable 
verdict on " toddy." In short, it has come to stay. 
But we must return to the liquor in the Bhun- 
daree's gourd. It is the rich sap which should 
have gone to the forming of coconuts, which is 
intercepted by cutting off the point of the fruit 
stalk and tying on an earthen pot. If the pot is 
clean, the juice, when it is taken down in the morn- 
ing, not fermented yet but just beginning to sparkle 
with minute bubbles, not too sweet and not so oily 
as the milk of the coconut, is nectar to a hot and 
thirsty soul. No summer drink have I drunk so 
innocently restorative after a hot and toilsome 
march on a broiling May morning. But the Bhun- 
daree will not squander it so : he takes care not to 
clean his pots, and when he takes them down in 
the morning the liquor is already foaming like 
London stout. Not that he means to drink it 
himself, for you must know that, by the rules of 
his caste, he is a total abstainer, being a Bhundaree, 
whose function is to draw toddy, not to drink it. 
This is one of those profound institutes by which 


the wisdom of the ancients fenced the whole social 
system of this strange land. 

But, while the Bhundaree must refuse all intoxi- 
cating drinks himself, it is his duty to exercise a 
large tolerance towards those who are not so hin- 
dered. He is, in fact, a partner in the business of 
Babajee, Licensed Vendor of Fresh Toddy, towards 
whose spacious, open-fronted shop, thatched with 
" jaolees," he now carries his gourds. There the 
contents will stand, in dirty vessels and a warm 
place, maturing their exhilarating qualities until the 
evening, when the Tarn o' Shanters and Souter 
Johnnies of the village begin to assemble and squat 
in a ring in the open space in front. They may be 
Kolees, or fishermen, and Agrees, who make salt, 
and aboriginal Katkurrees from the jungle, with their 
bows and arrows, most bibulous of all, but among 
them all there will be no Bhundaree. Babajee sits 
apart, presiding and serving, beside a dirty table, 
on which are many bottles and dirty tumblers of 
patterns which were on our tables thirty years ago. 
The assembly begins solemnly, discussing social pro- 
blems and bartering village gossip, for the Hindu 
is by nature staid. After a while, at the second 
bottle perhaps, cheerfulness will supervene, then 
mirth and garrulity, ending, as the night closes 
round, with wordy contention and a general brawl. 
But nothing serious will happen, for toddy, though 
decidedly heady, is at the worst a thin potation. 
A strong and very pure spirit is distilled from it, 


which has its devotees, but the rustic, as a rule, 
prefers quantity to quality. We are often told that 
the British Government taught the people of India 
to drink, but the scene that I have tried to describe 
is indigenous conviviality, much older than any 
European connection with the country. 

Is it any wonder that the coconut has become an 
emblem of fertility and prosperity and all good luck ? 
When a new house is building you will see a high 
pole over the doorway, bearing coconuts at the top, 
with an umbrella spread over them. Do not ask 
the owner the meaning of the sign, for he does not 
know. He does not think about such matters, but 
he feels about them and he knows that that is the 
right thing to do. Besides, he might ask you why 
you nail a horseshoe over your door. The difference 
between us and him is that we do such things in 
jest, no longer believing in them. They are the 
husks of a dead faith with us. But the Hindu's 
faith is very living still. So, when he breaks a 
coconut at the launching of a pattimar, he is a 
gainer in hope, if nothing else ; while we squander 
our champagne and gain nothing. That nut follows 
him even to the grave, or burning ground, with 
mystic significances which I cannot explain. I have 
been told that, when a very holy man dies, who 
always clothed himself in ashes and never profaned 
his hands with work, his disciples sometimes break 
a coconut over his head. If the spirit can escape 
from the body through the sutures of the skull 


instead of by any of the other orifices, it is believed 
to find a more direct route to heaven, so the purpose 
of this ceremony may be to facilitate its exit that 
way. In that case the breaking of the nut is perhaps 
only an accident, due to its not being so hard as the 
holy man's skull. 



One half the world does not know how the other 
half lives. Noticing a pot of areca nut tooth- 
paste on a chemist's counter, I asked him what 
the peculiar properties of the areca nut were — in 
short, what was it good for. He replied that it was 
an astringent and acted beneficially on the gums, 
but he had never heard that it was used for any other 
purpose than the manufacture of an elegant denti- 
frice. I felt inclined to question him about the 
camel in order to see whether he would tell me that 
it was a tropical animal, chiefly noted for the fine 
quality of its hair, from which artist's brushes were 
made. Here was a man whose special business it is 
to know the properties and uses of all drugs and 
their action on the human system, and he had not 
the faintest notion that there are nearly 300 
millions of His Majesty's subjects, and many 
millions more beyond his empire, who could scarcely 
think of life as a thing to be desired if they were 
obliged to go through it without the areca nut. 
For the areca nut is the betel nut. 

In the Canarese language and the kindred dialects 



of Malabar it is called by a name which is rendered 
as adike, or adika, in scientific books, but would stand 
more chance of being correctly pronounced by the 
average Englishman if it were spelled uddiky. The 
coast districts of Canara and Malabar being famed 
for their betel nuts, the trade name of the article 
was taken from the languages current there, and was 
tortured by the Portuguese into areca. Over the 
greater part of India the natives use the Hindus- 
tanee name supari, but by Englishmen it is best 
known as the betel nut, because it is always found 
in company with the betel leaf, with which, however, 
it has no more connection than strawberries have 
with cream. The one is the leaf of a kind of pepper 
vine, and the other is the seed, or nut, of a palm. 
But nature and man have combined to marry them 
to one another, and it is difficult to think of them 

In life the betel vine climbs up the stem of the 
areca palm, and in death the areca nut is rolled in 
a shroud of the betel leaf and the two are munched 
together. Other things are often added to the 
morsel, such as a clove, a cardamom, or a pinch of 
tobacco, and a small quantity of fresh lime is indis- 

What is the precise nature of the consolation 
derived from the chewing of this mixture it is not 
easy to say. Outwardly it produces effects which 
are visible enough, to wit, a most copious flow of 
"saliva, which is dyed deep red by the juice of the 


nut, so that a betel nut chewer seems to go about 
spitting blood all the day. As every Hindu is a 
betel nut chewer, those 943,903 superficial miles 
of country which make up our Indian Empire must 
be bespattered to a degree which it dizzies the mind 
to contemplate. This is one of the difficulties of 
Indian administration. In large towns and centres 
of business it is found necessary to fortify the public 
buildings in various ways. The Custom House in 
Bombay has the wall painted with dark red ochre 
to a height of three or four feet from the ground. 

But these are the outward results. What is the 
inwardness of the thing ? In a word, why do the 
people chew betel nut ? Surely not that they may 
spit on our public buildings. That is a chance result, 
not sought for and not shunned. There is, of course, 
some deeper reason. Early travellers in India were 
much exercised about this and used to question 
the people, from whom they got some curious 
explanations. One reports, " They say they do it 
to comfort the heart, nor could live without it." 
Another says, "It bites in the mouth, accords rheume, 
cooles the head, strengthens the teeth and is all 
their phisicke." A Latin writer gets quite eloquent. 
"Ex ea mansione "—by that chewing — he says, 
" mire recreantur, et ad labores tolerandos et ad 
languores discutiendos.' ' 

But the remarkable thing is that the betel nut 
has these effects only on the Hindu constitution. 
To a European the strong, astringent taste and 


penetrating odour of the betel nut are alike insuffer- 
able, and there is no instance on record, as far as I 
know, of an Englishman becoming a betel nut chewer. 
But wherever Hindu blood circulates, not in India 
only, but all through the islands of the Malay Archi- 
pelago, as far as the Philippines, the betel nut 
is an indispensable ingredient of any life that is 
worth living. Mohammedanism forbids spirits and 
Brahminism condemns all things that intoxicate 
or stupefy, but the betel nut is like the cup that 
cheers yet not inebriates. No religion speaks dis- 
respectfully of it. It flourishes, blessed by all, and 
takes its place among the institutions of civilisation. 
Indeed it is the chief cement of social intercourse 
in a country where all ordinary conviviality between 
man and man is almost strangled by the quarantine 
enforced against ceremonial defilement. Friend 
offers friend the betel nut box just as Scotsmen 
offered the snuff-box in the hearty old days that are 
passing away. And all visits of ceremony, durbars, 
receptions, leave-takings, and public functions of the 
like kind are brought to an august close by the 
distribution of fan sup an . To go through this rite 
without visible repugnance is part of the training 
of our young Civil Servants. When the interview or 
ceremony has lasted as long as it was intended to 
last, there enter, with due pomp, bearers of heavy- 
scented garlands, woven of jasmine and marigold, 
and in form like the muffs and boas that ladies wear 
in winter. These are put upon the necks and 


wrists of the guests in order of rank. Silver vases 
and sprinklers follow, containing rose-water and 
attar of roses. You may ward off the former from 
your person by offering your handkerchief for it, 
and you may present the back of your hand for the 
latter, of which one drop will be applied to your 
skin with a tiny silver or golden spoon. 

Finally, when everybody is reeking with incon- 
gruous odours and trying not to be sick, a silver 
tray appears with the daintiest little packets of pan 
supari, each pinned with a clove, and every guest is 
expected to transfer one to his mouth, for they have 
been prepared by a Brahmin and cannot hurt the 
most delicate caste. To an Englishman, however, 
it is now generally conceded to compromise by 
keeping the morsel in his hand, as if waiting an 
opportunity to enjoy it more at his leisure. When 
you get home your servant craves it of you and 
contrasts real rajah's pan supari with the stuff 
which the poor man gets in the bazaar. 

The chewing of betel nut requires more apparatus 
and makes greater demands on a man's time and 
personal care than the smoking of tobacco or any 
of the allied vices. To cut the nut neatly an instru- 
ment is used like an enormous pair of nutcrackers 
with a sharp cutting edge. The lime should be 
made from oyster shells and it must be freshly 
burned and slaked. Exposure to the air soon 
spoils it, so a small, air-tight tin box is required to 
keep it in. Lastly, the betel leaf must be fresh, 


and in a hot climate green leaves do not keep 
their freshness without special care. 

But the necessity for attending to all these matters 
no doubt adds greatly to the interest which a chewer 
of pan supari is able to find in life. Moreover, his 
taste and wealth have scope for expression in the 
elegance of his appointments, and by these you may 
generally judge of a man's rank and means. A 
well-to-do Mahratta cartman will carry in his 
waistband a sort of bijou hold-all of coloured cloth, 
which, when unrolled, displays neat pockets of 
different forms for the leaves, broken nuts, lime 
box, spices, etc. ; but a native magistrate, who goes 
about attended by a peon and need not carry his 
own things, will have a box of polished brass, or 
even silver, divided into compartments. 

One may easily infer that to meet such a universal 
want there must be a correspondingly great industry, 
and the cultivation of the betel nut is indeed a great 
industry, and a most beautiful one. Surely since 
Adam first began to till the ground in the sweat of 
his face, his children have found no tillage so Eden- 
like as this. India has produced no Virgil to take 
the common charms of a farmer's life and put them 
into immortal song, so we search her literature in 
vain to learn how her simple, rustic people feel 
about these things, and in what we see of their life 
there is little sign that they feel about them at 
all ; but when the Englishman, wandering, gun in 
hand, up a steaming valley among forest-clad hills, 


suddenly finds the path lead him into a betel nut 
garden, with no wire fence, or locked gate, or in- 
hospitable notice threatening prosecution to tres- 
passers, he feels as if he had entered some region of 
bliss where the earthly senses are too narrow for the 
delights that press for entrance to the soul. 

In the first place, the areca nut palm is almost, 
if not altogether, the most graceful of all its graceful 
tribe. Unlike the coconut, it grows as erect as a 
flagstaff, and the effect of this is increased by its 
extreme slenderness, for though it may attain a 
height of fifty feet, its diameter scarcely exceeds 
six inches. At the top of the stem there is a sheath 
of polished green, from the top of which again 
there issues a tuft of the most ethereal, feathery 
fronds, diverging and drooping with matchless grace. 
Under these hang the clusters of reddish-brown nuts. 

As the areca nut will not grow except in places 
that are at once moist and warm, the gardens are 
generally situated in narrow valleys and dells among 
hills, with little streams of limpid water rippling 
past them or through them. The steaming heat 
of such situations can only be realised by one who 
has traversed them at noon in the month of May 
in pursuit of sport or natural history. But the 
palms grow so close together that their fronds mingle 
into an almost unbroken roof, through which the 
sun can scarcely peep, and every air that enters 
there has the heat charmed out of it, and as it 
wanders among the broad, aromatic leaves of the 


betel vines which wreathe the pillars of that fairy 
hall, it is softened with balmy moisture, and laden 
with fragrance and scent to woo your senses in 
perfect tune with the tinkling music of the water 
and the enchanting beauty of the whole scene. 

In a large hut among these shades, with bananas 
waving their banner leaves over the smooth and 
well-swept yard in front, where the children play, 
lives the family that cultivates the garden. They 
are a sect of Brahmins, but very unbrahminical, 
unsophisticated, industrious, temperate, kind and 
hospitable. Other Brahmins despise them and wish 
to deny them the name, because they have soiled 
their priestly hands with agriculture. But -they 
return the contempt, and walk in the way of their 
fathers, a way which leads them among the purest 
pleasures that this life affords and keeps them from 
many of its more sordid temptations. Perhaps the 
picture has its darker shades too. I have not seen 
them, and why should I look for them ? 

The betel nut harvest is something of the nature 
of an acrobatic performance, for the crop is not on 
the ground, but on poles forty or fifty feet high. 
This is the manner in which it is gathered. The 
farmer, attended by his wife, goes out, and slipping 
a loose loop of rope over his feet to keep them together, 
so that when he gets the trunk of a tree between 
them it may fit like a wedge, he clasps one of the 
trees with his hands and goes up at a surprising rate. 
He carries with him a long rope, and when he reaches 


the top, he fastens one end of it to the tree, and 
throws the other to his wife, who goes to a distance 
and draws it tight. Then the man breaks off a 
heavy bunch of ripe nuts, and hitching it on the 
rope lets it go. It shoots down with such velocity 
that it would knock his wife down did she not know 
how to dodge it skilfully and break its force in a 
bend of the rope. 

When all the bunches are on the ground, the man 
begins to sway his body violently till the tender 
and supple palm is swinging like a pendulum and 
almost striking the trees on either side. Watching 
his opportunity, the man grasps one of these and 
transfers himself to it with the nimbleness of a 
monkey. In this way he makes an aerial journey 
round the garden and avoids the fatigue of climb- 
ing up and down every separate tree. 

The gathered betel nuts soon find their way to 
the warehouses of fat Bunias at the coast ports, 
where they are peeled and prepared and sorted and 
piled in great heaps according to quality, and finally 
shipped in pattimars and cotias and coasting steamers, 
and so disseminated over the length and breadth of 
the land to be the comforters of poor and rich. 

It only remains to say that the betel nut is not 
used in the East for tooth-powder, though the 
natives belieye that the practice of chewing it saves 
them from toothache. When they use any denti- 
frice it is generally charcoal, and their toothbrush 
is either the forefinger or a fibrous stick chewed at 


the end till it becomes like a stiff paintbrush. 
But whatever he may use for the purpose, the Hindu 
cleans his teeth every morning, and that most 
thoroughly, before he will allow food to pass his 
lips, and the whiteness and soundness of his teeth 
are an object of envy to Englishmen. 


Poets may sing, 

" Let the ape and tiger die," 

but they are not quite dead yet, only caged, and 
where is the man in whose bosom there lurks no 
wish that he could open the door just once in a way 
and let them have a frisk ? In the East there is 
no hypocrisy about the matter. The tiger's den 
is barred and locked, and the British Government 
keeps the key, but the ape has an appointed day 
in the year on which he shall have his outing. They 
call it the Holi, which is a misnomer, for of all 
Hindu festivals this is the most unholy ; but of 
that anon. 

I asked a Brahmin what this festival comme- 
morated, and he said he did not know. He knew 
how to observe it, which was the main thing. Of 
course, there is an explanation of it in Hindu 
mythology, which the Brahmin ought to have 
known, and very probably did know, but was 
ashamed to tell. But it matters little, for we may 
be well assured that the explanation was invented 



to sanctify the festival long after the festival itself 
came into vogue, as has been the case with some of 
our most Christian holidays. 

The Holi comes round about the time of the vernal 
equinox, when victory declares for day and warmth 
in its long struggle with night and cold. Then 
Nature rises and shakes herself as Samson rose and 
shook himself and snapped the seven new cords 
that bound him, as tow is snapped when it smells 
the fire. Then "the wanton lapwing gets himself 
another crest," and then also the young Hindu's 
fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love ; and so 
it came about quite naturally that, looking around, 
among his plentiful gods, for a deity who might 
fitly be invited to preside over his lusty rejoicings 
at this season, he pitched upon Krishna. 

For Krishna, when he was upon this earth, was 
an amorous youth, and his goings on with certain 
milkmaids were such as would shock Mrs. Grundy 
at the present day even in India, supposing he had 
been only a man. But he was a god, therefore his 
doing a thing made it right, and, where he presides, 
his worshippers may do as he did. Consequently, 
man, woman and child of every caste and grade 
give themselves licence, during these days of the 
Holi, to act and speak in a manner that would be 
scandalous at any other time of the year. 

Hindus of the better sort are beginning to be 
outwardly, and some of them, I hope, inwardly, 
rather ashamed of this festival, and it is time they 


were. Yet there is always something cheering in the 
sight of untutored mirth and exuberant animal joy 
breaking out and triumphing over the sadness of 
life and the monotony of lowly toil ; and I confess 
that I find a pleasing side to this festival of the Holi. 
I like it best as I have seen it in a fishing village on 
the west coast of India. 

At first sight you would not suspect the black 
and brawny Koli of much gaiety, but there is deep 
down in him a spring of mirth and humour which, 
" when wine and free companions kindle him," can 
break out into the most boisterous hilarity and 
jocundity and even buffoonery, throwing aside all 
trammels of convention and decorum. His women 
folk, too, though they do not go out of their proper 
place in the social system, assert themselves vigor- 
ously within it, and are gay and vivacious and well 
aware of their personal attractions. So the Koli 
village looks forward to the Holi and makes timely 
preparation for it. 

The night before the poornima, or full moon, of 
the month Phalgoon arrives, each trim fishing 
boat is stored with flowers and leafy branches, all 
the flags that can be mustered and a drum ; then 
the whole village goes a-fishing. Next morning 
each housewife gets up early to decorate her house 
and trick out herself and her children. For though 
the Koli is the most naked of men, his whole work- 
a-day costume consisting of one rag about equal in 
amplitude to half a good pocket-handkerchief, his wife 


is the most dressy of women. She is always well- 
dressed even on common days. The bareness of 
her limbs may perhaps shock our notions of pro- 
priety at first, for, being a mud-wader of necessity, 
like the stork and the heron, she girds her garments 
about her very tightly indeed ; but this only sets 
off her wonderfully erect and athletic figure, while 
her well-set head looks all the nicer that it has no 
covering except her own neatly-bound hair. She 
never draws her saree coyly over her head, like other 
native women, when she meets a man. On this 
day there is no change in the fashion of her costume 
(that never changes), but she puts on her brightest 
dress, blue, or red, or lemon yellow, with all her 
private jewellery, and decks her hair with a small 
chaplet of bright flowers. 

Her children are tricked out with more fancy. 
The little brown girl, who yesterday had not one 
square inch of cloth on the whole of her tiny person, 
comes out a petite miss in a crimson bodice and a 
white skirt, with her shining black hair oiled and 
combed and plaited and decked with flowers, and 
her neck and arms and feet twinkling with orna- 
ments. Her brother of six or seven looks as if he 
were going to a fancy-dress ball in the character of 
His Highness the Holkar. His small head is set in 
a great three-cornered Maratha turban, and his 
body, a stranger to the feel of clothes, is masked 
in a resplendent purple jacket. The young men of 
the village, such of them as are not gone a-fishing, 


have donned clean white jackets. Beyond that 
they will not go, contemning effeminacy. 

About nine o'clock, when the sun is now well up, 
the distant sound of a tom-tom is heard, and the 
first of the returning fleet of muchwas appears at 
the mouth of the creek. A long line of red and 
white flags extends from the top of the mainyard 
to the helm and streamers flutter from the mast- 
heads. A monster bouquet of marigolds is mounted 
on the bowsprit, branches of trees are stuck about 
in all possible situations, and three or four large 
fishes hang from the bow, trailing their tails in the 
water. With the exception of the man at the helm, 
who sits stolid, minding his business, and one youth 
who plays the tom-tom, the crew are standing in a 
ring, gesticulating with their arms and legs, or 
waving wands and branches of trees. Some have 
half of their faces smeared with red paint. If a 
boat passes they greet it with a shout and a sally 
of wit or ribaldry. The other muchwas follow close 
behind, with every inch of white sail spread and all 
a-flutter with flags and streamers : it would be diffi- 
cult to imagine a prettier spectacle, and the tom- 
toming and the happiness beaming on the faces of 
the crews are almost infectious. One feels almost 
compelled to wave one's hat and cry, " Hip, hip, 
hooray ! " 

The boats come to shore, and then there ought 
to be a tumbling out of the silvery harvest and a 
gathering of women and a strife indescribable of 


shrill tongues, and then a long procession of wives 
and daughters trotting to market, each balancing a 
great, dripping basket on her comely head, while 
the husbands and fathers go home to eat and sleep. 
But there is none of that to-day. The silvery harvest 
may go to destruction and the husbands and fathers 
can do without sleep for once. The children are 
taken on board in all their finery, and friends 
join and musicians with their instruments. Then 
all sails are spread again and the boats start for 
a circuit round the harbour. The wind blows fiercely 
from the north, and each buoyant muchwa scuds 
along at a fearful pace, heeling over until the 
rippling water fingers the edge of the gunwale as 
if it were just getting ready to leap over and take 
possession. But the hilarious Koli balances himself 
on the sloping thwarts and jumps and sings and 
claps his hands, while the pipes screech and the 
drums rattle. Twice, or three times, does the whole 
fleet go out over the bar and wheel and return, 
each boat racing to be first, with no more sense of 
danger than a porpoise at play. 

At last they have had enough. The sails are 
furled and the boats beached, the big fishes are 
taken down from the bows, and the whole crowd, 
with their trophies and garlands, dance their way to 
the village. There it is better that we leave them. 
To-night great fires will be lighted in the middle of 
the main road and capacious pots of toddy will be 
at hand, and every merry Kofi will get hilariously 


drunk and do and say things which we had better 
not see and hear. And the children will look on and 
try to imitate their elders. And women will find 
it best to keep out of the way for the sake of their 
pretty dresses, if there were no better reason. 
For pots of water dyed crimson with goolal powder 
are ready, and everybody has licence to splash 
everybody when he gets a chance. Any time 
during the next two or three days you may find your 
own servants coming home dappled with red. 

So the ape has his fling. And the tiger is lurking 
not far behind. In each of those fires it is the 
proper thing to roast a cock, throwing him in alive. 
If the fire is a great one, a general village fire, then 
it is still greater fun to throw in a five goat. But 
the worst of these ceremonies are happily going out 
of fashion. For the English law is stern, and the 
sahibs have strange and quixotic notions about 
cruelty to animals, and although they are far away 
on tour at this season and no native officer would 
voluntarily interfere with an immemorial custom, 
still the tiger walks in fear in these days and the 
Koli is often content to roast a coconut as proxy for 
a cock or a goat. 



When Mr. Keir Hardie was in India he satisfied 
himself that the standard of living among the 
working classes in India has been deteriorating. This 
is interesting psychologically, and one would like to 
know by what means Mr. Keir Hardie attained to 
satisfaction on such a great and important question. 
Doubtless he had the ungrudging assistance of Mr. 

The poverty of India has for a good many years 
been a handy weapon, like the sailor's belaying pin, 
for everyone who wanted to "have at" our ad- 
ministration of that country ; and if "a he which 
is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies," then this 
one must be as black as Tartarus, for it is indubitably 
more than half a truth. The common field-labourer 
in India is about as poor as man can be. He is 
very nearly as poor as a sparrow. His hut, built 
by himself, is scarcely more substantial or per- 
manent than the sparrow's nest, and his clothing 
compares very unfavourably with the sparrow's 


feathers. The residue of his worldly goods consists 
of a few cooking pots and, it must be admitted, a 
few ornaments on his wife. 

But a sparrow is usually well fed and quite happy. 
It has no property simply because it wants none. 
If it stored honey like the busy bee, or nuts like 
the thrifty squirrel, it would be a prey to constant 
anxiety and stand in hourly danger of being plun- 
dered of its possessions, and perhaps killed for the 
sake of them. Therefore to speak of a Hindu's 
poverty as if it certainly implied want and un- 
happiness is mere misrepresentation born of ignor- 
ance. In all ages there have been men so enamoured 
of the possessionless life that they have abandoned 
their worldly goods and formed brotherhoods pledged 
to lifelong poverty. The majority of religious 
beggars in India belong to brotherhoods of this kind, 
and are the sturdiest and best-fed men to be seen 
in the country, especially in time of famine. 

But the Hindu peasant is not a begging friar, and 
may be supposed to have some share of the love 
of money which is common to humanity ; so it is 
worth while to inquire why he is normally so very 
poor. There are two reasons, both of which are 
so obvious and have so often been pointed out by 
those who have known him best, that there is little 
excuse for overlooking them. The first of them is 
thus stated in Tennant's Indian Recreations, written 
in 1797, before British rule had affected the people 
of India much in one direction or another. " In- 


dustry can hardly be ranked among their virtues. 
Among all classes it is necessity of subsistence and 
not choice that urges to labour ; a native will not 
earn six rupees a month by working a few hours 
more, if he can live upon three ; and if he has three 
he will not work at all." Such was the Hindu a 
century ago in the eyes of an observant and judicious 
man, studying him with all the sympathetic interest 
of novelty, and such he is now. 

The other reason for the chronic poverty of the 
Indian peasant is that, if he had money beyond his 
immediate necessity, he could not keep it. It is 
the despair of the Government of India and of every 
English official who endeavours to improve his 
condition that he cannot keep his land, or his 
cattle, or anything else on which his permanent 
welfare depends. The following extract from The 
Reminiscences of an Indian Police Official gives a 
lively picture of the effect of unaccustomed wealth, 
not on peasants, but on farmers owning land and 
cattle and used to something like comfort. 

" Yellapa, like all cotton growers in that part of 
the Western Presidency, profited enormously by the 
high price of the staple during the American war. 
Silver was poured into the country (literally) in 
crores (millions sterling), and cultivators who pre- 
viously had as much as they could do to live, 
suddenly found themselves possessed of sums their 
imagination had never dreamt of. What to do 
with their wealth, how to spend their cash was their 


problem. Having laden their women and children 
with ornaments, and decked them out in expensive 
sarees, they launched into the wildest extravagance 
in the matter of carts and trotting bullocks, going 
even as far as silver-plated yokes and harness 
studded with silver mountings. Even silver tyres 
to the wheels became the fashion. Twelve and 
fifteen rupees were eagerly paid for a pair of trotting 
bullocks. Trotting matches for large stakes were 
common ; and the whole rural population appeared 
with expensive red silk umbrellas, which an enter- 
prising English firm imported as likely to gratify the 
general taste for display. Many took to drink, not 
country liquors such as had satisfied them pre- 
viously, but British brandy, rum, gin, and even 

A few pages further on the author tells us of the 
ruin by debt and drunkenness of the families which 
had indulged in these extravagances. The fact is 
that to keep for to-morrow what is in the hand to-day 
demands imagination, purpose and self-discipline, 
which the Hindu working man has not. He is the 
product of centuries, during which his rulers made 
the fife of to-morrow too uncertain, while his climate 
made the fife of to-day too easy. No outward 
applications will alone cure his poverty, because it 
is a symptom of an inward disease. 

When a healthier state of mind shall awaken an 
appetite for comforts and conveniences, and create 
necessities unknown to his fathers, then degrading 


poverty will no longer be possible as the common 
lot. And it was to be hoped that the British rule 
would in time have this happy effect. Tennant 
evidently thought that it had begun to do so even 
in his day. " The existence," he says, " of a regular 
British Government is but a recent circumstance ; 
yet in the course of a few years complete security 
has been afforded to all of its' dependants ; many 
new manufactures have been established, many 
more have been extended to answer the demands 
of a larger exportation. We have therefore conferred 
upon our Asiatic subjects an increase of security, of 
industry and of produce, and of consequent greater 
means of enjoyment." 

It is therefore a very grave charge that Mr. Keir 
Hardie brings against the British Administration 
when he says, a century after these words were 
written, that the standard of living among the Hindu 
peasantry has deteriorated. Happily there does 
not appear to have been a close relation between 
facts and Mr. Keir Hardie' s conclusions during his 
Indian tour, so we may continue to put our con- 
fidence in the many hopeful indications that exist 
of a distinct improvement in the ideal of life which 
has so long prevailed among our poor Indian fellow- 
subjects. The rise in the wages of both skilled 
and unskilled labour during even the last thirty 
years, especially in and near important towns, has 
been most remarkable. 

It is more to the point to know what the labourer 


is able to do and actually does with his wages, 
and here the returns of trade and the reports of 
the railway companies, post office and savings 
bank have striking evidence to offer. They are 
published annually, and anyone, even Mr. Keir 
Hardie, may consult them who likes his facts in 
statistical form. For those who live in India there 
are abundant evidences with more colour in them. 
Some thirty years ago, or more, there was a steam- 
ship company in Bombay owning two small steamers 
which carried passengers across the harbour. By 
degrees it extended its operations and increased its 
fleet until it had a daily service of fast steamers, 
with accommodation for nearly a thousand third- 
class passengers, which went down the coast as 
far as Goa, calling at every petty port on the way. 
The head of the firm retired some years ago, having 
made his pile. Seldom has a more profitable enter- 
prise been started in Bombay. And whence did the 
profits come ? From the pockets of Hindu peasants. 
The Mahrattas of the Ratnagiri District supply most 
of the " labour " required in Bombay, and for these 
the company spread its nets. And by their incessant 
coming and going it amassed its wealth. 

Heads of mercantile firms and Government offices, 
and all who have to deal with the Mahratta " putti- 
wala,' ' viewed its success without surprise. Though 
always grumbling at his wages, he never appears to 
be without the means and the will to travel. A 
marriage, a religious ceremony in his family, or the 


death of some relative, requires his immediate 
presence in his village, and he asks for leave. If he 
cannot get it otherwise, he offers to forfeit his pay 
for the period. If it is still refused, he resigns his 
situation and goes. This does not indicate pinching 
poverty ; there must be some margin between such 
men and starvation. And a saunter through their 
villages will amply confirm such a surmise. 

It is no uncommon thing in these coast villages 
to see that foreign luxury, a chair, perhaps even 
an easy-chair, in the verandah of a common Bhun- 
daree (toddy-drawer). The rapidly growing use of 
chairs, glass tumblers, enamelled ironware, soda- 
water and lemonade, patent medicines, and even 
cheap watches, declares plainly that the young 
Hindu of the present day does not live as his fathers 
did. Men go better dressed, and their children are 
clothed at an earlier age. The advertisements in 
vernacular languages that one meets with, circulated 
and posted up in all sorts of places, tell the same 
tale convincingly ; for the advertiser knows his 
business, and will not angle where no fish rise. 

Nor are large towns like Bombay the only places 
where the Hindu peasant widens his horizon and 
acquires new tastes. In the Fiji Islands there are 
about 22,000 natives of India who went out as 
indentured coolies with the option of returning at 
the end of five years at their own expense, or after 
ten years at that of Government. When these men 
come home, they bring with them new tastes and 


new ideas, as well as the habit of saving money and 
thousands of rupees saved during their short exile. 
In Mauritius and South Africa the Hindu working 
man is learning the same lessons. When he gets 
back to the sleepy life of his native village, he is not 
likely to settle down contentedly at the level from 
which he started. 

On every hand, in short, forces are at work stirring 
discontent in the breasts of the younger generation 
with the existence which was the heritage of their 
fathers. These forces operate from the outside, and 
the mass is large and very inert : it would be rash 
to say that in the heart of it there are not still 
millions who regard a monotonous struggle for a 
bare existence as their portion from Providence. 
But when a man who has travelled in India for half 
a cold season tells us that the standard of living in 
India has deteriorated, we are tempted to quote 
from Sir Ali Baba : " What is it that these travel- 
ling people put on paper ? Let me put it in the 
form of a conundrum. Q. What is it that the 
travelling M.P. treasures up and the Anglo-Indian 
hastens to throw away ? A. Erroneous hazy, dis- 
torted impressions." " One of the most serious 
duties attending a residence in India is the correcting 
of those misapprehensions which your travelling 
M.P. sacrifices his bath to hustle upon paper." 



Of the results of the Roman supremacy in Britain 
none have been so permanent as their influence on 
our language. No doubt this was less due to any 
direct effect that their residence among the Britons 
had at the time on vernacular speech than to the 
fact that, for many centuries after their departure, 
Latin was the language, throughout Europe, of 
literature and scholarship. Our supremacy in India 
is acting on the languages of that country in both 
ways, and though it has scarcely lasted half as long 
yet as the Roman rule in Britain, English already 
bids fair to become one day the common tongue of 
the Hindus. But there is also a current flowing 
the other way, comparatively insignificant, but 
curious and interesting. 

Few persons in England are aware how often they 
use words of Indian origin in common speech. In 
attempting to give a list of these I will exclude the 
trade names of articles of Indian produce or manu- 
facture, which have no literary interest, and also 
words which indicate objects, ideas or customs 
that are not English, and therefore have no English 



equivalents, such as " tom-tom," " sepoy " and 
" suttee." I will also omit Indian words, such 
as "bundobust," and "griffin," which are used by 
writers like Thackeray in the same way in which 
French terms are commonly introduced into English 

Of course, it is not always possible to draw a hard 
and fast line. There are words which first came 
into England as the trade names of Indian products, 
but have extended their significance, or entirely 
changed it, and taken a permanent place in the 
English language. Pepper still means what it 
originally meant, but it has also become a verb. 
Another example is Shawl, a word which has lost all 
trace of its Oriental origin. It is a pure Hindustani 
word, pronounced " Shal," and indicating an article 
thus described in the seventeenth century by Theve- 
not, as quoted in Hobson-Jobson : — " Une Chal, qui 
est une manure de toilette d'une laine tr&s fine qui 
se fait a Cachmir." With the article to England 
came the name, but soon spread itself over all fabrics 
worn in the same fashion, except the Scotch plaid, 
which held its own. 

Somewhat similar is Calico, originally a fine 
cotton cloth imported from Calicut. This place is 
called Calicot by the natives, and may have dropped 
the final T through the influence of French dress- 
makers. Chintz is another example, being the 
Hindustani word " cheent," which means a spotted 
cotton cloth. In trade fabrics are always described 


in the plural, and the Z in Chintz is no doubt a 
perversion, through misunderstanding, of the ter- 
minal S. Lac is another Indian word which has 
retained its own meaning, but it has gone beyond 
it and given rise to a verb " to lacquer." 

With these perhaps should be mentioned Pyjamas 
and Shampoo, both of which have undergone strange 
perversions. Pyjama is an Indian name for loose 
drawers or trousers tied with a cord round the 
waist, such as Mussulmans of both sexes wear. In 
India the Pyjama was long ago adopted, with a 
loose coat to match, as a more decent and comfort- 
able costume than the British nightshirt, and when 
Anglo-Indians retired they brought the fashion 
home with them, English tailors called the whole 
costume a " Pyjama suit," but the second word 
was soon dropped and the first improved into the 
plural number. 

"Shampoo" comes from a verb " champna," to 
press or squeeze, and the imperative, " champo," 
as often happens, was the form in which it became 
English. Forbes, in his Oriental Memoirs, writes 
of " the effects of opium, champoing and other 
luxuries indulged in by Oriental sensualists." When 
the medical profession in England began to patronise 
the practice, it assumed a more dignified name, 
" massage," and the old word was relegated to the 
hairdressers, who appropriated it to the washing 
of the head, an operation with which the word has 
no proper relation at all. 


There are two words of doubtful derivation, 
which may be mentioned in this connection. Cot, 
in the sense of a light bed, or cradle, is not much 
used in England, but is given in Webster's and other 
dictionaries, with the same Saxon derivation, as 
the " cot beside the hill " which the poet Rogers 
sighed for. If this is correct, then it is at least 
curious that the word should have almost gone out 
of use in England and revived in India from a dis- 
tinct root. There it is the term in every-day use 
for any rough bedstead, such as the natives sleep 
on and call a khat. The average Englishman cannot 
aspirate a K, and never pronounces the Indian A 
aright unless it is followed by an R, so khat becomes 
" cot " by a process of which there are many illus- 

The other doubtful word mentioned above is 
Teapoy. It is defined in the dictionaries as an 
ornamental table, with a folding top, containing 
caddies for holding tea, but in India, where it is in 
much more general use than it is in England, it 
signifies simply a light tripod table and almost 
certainly comes from "teenpai" (three-foot), corre- 
sponding to another common word, " charpai " 
(four-foot), which means a native bedstead. The 
fact that it is sometimes spelled Tepoy confirms this, 
but the other spelling is commoner, and appears to 
have led to its getting a special meaning connected 
with tea among furniture sellers. 

Cheroot, Bangle, Curry and Kidgeree are examples 


of words which have come to us with the things 
which they signify, and retain their meaning though 
the thing itself may have undergone some change/ 
Curry as made in England is sometimes not recog- 
nisable by a new arrival from India, and Kidgeree is 
applied to a preparation of rice and fish, whereas it 
means properly a dish of rice, split peas and butter, 
or " ghee." Fish may be eaten with it, but is not 
an ingredient of it. Bazaar may be classed with 
these words, and also Polo, which is merely the name 
for a polo ball in the language of one of the Hima- 
layan tribes from whom we learned the game. It 
is said to have been played in England for the first 
time at Aldershot in 1871. 

More interest attaches to Gymkhana, for neither 
the word nor the thing which it signifies is Indian, 
though both originated in India, and the derivation 
of the word is unknown, though it is scarcely fifty 
years old. Several hybrid derivations have been 
suggested, none of them probable, and I lean to the 
suggestion that the starting-point of the word may 
have been " jumkhana, a term which, though it is 
not in Forbes' s Hindustani Dictionary, I have heard 
a native apply to a large cotton carpet, such as 
native acrobats, or wrestlers, might spread when 
about to give a performance. Our use of the words 
Arena, Stage, Boards, Footlights, etc., shows how 
easily a carpet might give name to a place of meeting 
for athletic exercises. 

There is another class of words which have come 


into England through returned Anglo-Indians and 
spread by their own merit. One of these is Loot. 
The dictionary says that it means "to plunder," 
but it holds more than that or any equivalent 
English word. Perhaps it has scarcely risen above 
the level of slang yet, but the phrase " to run amuck ' ' 
is classical, having been used by both Pope and 
Dryden. The pedantic attempt made by some 
writers to change the common way of writing 
it because the original Malay term is a single 
word, " amok," comes too late in view of Dryden' s 

" And runs an Indian muck at all he meets." 

Cheese, in the sense of a thing, or rather of " the 
very thing," must be ranked as slang too, though 
very common. The slang dictionaries give fanciful 
derivations from Anglo-Saxon roots, or suggest that 
it is a perversion of " chose " ; but it is a common 
Hindustani word for a thing, and when an English- 
man in India finds some article which exactly suits 
his purpose and exclaims, " Ah ! that's the cheese," 
no one needs to ask the derivation. If it did not 
come to us directly from India, then it came through 
the gipsies, for it is one of the many Hindustani 
words which occur in their language. Another 
word that came from India indirectly is Caste, but 
it is of Portuguese origin. The early Portuguese 
writers applied it ("casta") to the hereditary 
division of Hindu society, and the English adopted 


it. It has now become indispensable. We have 
no other word that could take its place in the lines, 

Her manners had not that repose 
Which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere. 

I must close with two familiar words which have 
been so long with us that few who use them ever 
suspect that they came from the East — namely, 
Punch and Toddy. The Rev. J. Ovington, who 
sailed to Bombay in 1689, in the ship that carried 
the glad news of the coronation of William and 
Mary, tells us that, in the East India Company's 
chief factory at Surat, the common table was sup- 
plied with "plenty of generous Sherash (Shiraz) 
wine and arak Punch." Arrack (properly " Urk "), 
sometimes abbreviated to Rack, means any distilled 
spirit, or essence, but is commonly used to distin- 
guish country liquor from imported spirits. The 
Company's factors drank it because European wines 
and beer were at that time very expensive in India, 
and to reconcile it to their palates they made it into 
a brew called Punch, from the Indian word " panch," 
meaning five, because it contained five ingredients — 
viz. arrack, hot water, limes, sugar and spice. This 
was the ordinary drink of poor Englishmen in India 
for a longtime, and public "Punch-houses" existed 
in every settlement of the East India Company. 

Now, one of the principal substances from which 
country liquor is distilled is palm juice, the native 
name for which, " tadee," has been perverted into 


" toddy" (as in the case of " cot" above-mentioned), 
and "toddy punch" meant the same thing as 
" arrack punch." Returning Anglo-Indians brought 
the receipt for making this brew to England, and 
lovers of Vanity Fair will remember how the whole 
course of that story was changed by the bowl of 
" rack punch " which Joseph Sedley ordered at Vaux- 
hall, where " everybody had rack punch." How 
soon both the brew and its Indian name took firm 
root and spread among us appears from the fact 
that, at the Holy Fair described by Burns in the 
century before last, the lads and lasses sit round a 
table and " steer about the toddy." 

Printed by Hautt, Watson & Viney, Li., London and Aylwbury.