| Parables from Nature|
|by Margaret S. Gatty|
|Parables for children inspired by nature. This collection includes all 29 stories from the first, second, third, and fourth series, originally published in separate volumes. Ages 6-12 |
"How? when? and I whence? The gods give no reply.
Let so it is suffice, and cease to question why."
 WHAT do they say?—what do they say?—what do they say?—
What can they have to say, those noisy, cawing rooks,
as they sail along the sky over our heads, gathering
more and more friends as they go, to the appointed
place of meeting?
What have they to say?—What have we to say, they may
equally ask. They have life, and labour, and food, and
children to say their say about; and if they do not say
it in what we are pleased to call language, they say it
in a way intelligible to each other, which is all that
That they do understand each other's say is clear, for
they are collecting from far and near in large numbers
for a definite object—viz. that of assembling in some
field, or open pasturage, or park, where they will
settle down together for upwards of an hour, and walk
or hop about, as if they had serious thoughts of giving
up flying altogether, and taking to an earthly life;
saying a say, all the while, whereof we are altogether
as ignorant as they would be of ours round a large
dinner-table, if they had the opportunity of hearing
 We call their say noisy cawing; what they would call
ours round the large dinner-table one cannot guess;
but if they concluded it had no meaning, because they
did not happen to understand it, their judgment would
not be worth much.
As to the noises, there is not much to choose between
them in the matter of agreeableness. Nay, of the two,
perhaps the din produced by human voices is the more
discordant and confused.
If you never thought of this before, O reader, think of
it now, and take an early opportunity of listening and
judging for yourself. Listen, not as listening to the
meaning of what is uttered, but to the mass of noise as
Listen to it, as you might imagine a rook
to do, ignorant of human speech, and judging only of
the hubbub of sounds; and then own to yourself—for
conscience will force you so to do—that there is
neither sweetness nor sublimity, neither melody or
majesty, in the shouting, and piping, and whistling,
and hissing, and barking, of closely intermixed human
voices and laughter.
Alas, for the barriers which lie so mysteriously
between us and the other creatures among whom we are
born, and pass our short existence upon
earth!—Alas!—for a desire for intercommunion is one of
the strong instincts of our nature, and yet it is one
which, as regards all the rest of creation, but our
human fellow-beings, we have to unlearn from babyhood.
Alas for the barriers which lie so mysteriously between us and the other creatures among whom we are born.
See the little child as she babbles to her cat on the
rug, and would fain be friends with the soft plaything.
Observe in every action how she expects it to
understand her, and return her love. Look at the angry
disappointment, if a vicious bite or scratch
the security of the affectionate dream. It is not pain
alone the child feels, let the matter-of-fact observer
say what he will; there is the vexation of hurt
feelings as well. Puss should not have behaved so to
her; puss, with whom she had so gladly shared her
breakfast of milk; puss, whom she had nursed on her
knee; puss, who must have known how much she loved her!
. . . .
And then follows the lesson:—it may have been given
before, but it has to be given again; and while mamma
tells her little one that poor pussy does not know what
she means, cannot hear what she says, cannot talk as
she can, has no sense to know how much she loves her,
and therefore is not to blame for biting, although she
must be slapped when she does it, to make her remember
not to do it again;—behold! how the wistful eyes of the
listening child haze over with a dull dreaminess as she
becomes more and more perplexed.
It is all far too
puzzling for her to understand, and when she turns
again to puss—as if by looking at her to make it
out—lo! the veil between the two natures remains as
thick as before; neither the bite, nor anything else,
has been explained.
But, practically, the unlearning of the instinct has
begun, and so, practically, the lesson goes on, until
we get so used to it, we forget it was ever a lesson at
all; and only a few of us, here and there in grown-up
life, are haunted, as we stand among the lower forms of
creation, by a painful wonder at the gulf which lies
That the lower should not fully understand the higher;
that they should not understand us, is comprehensible
enough; nay, is a necessity involved in the very idea
of a lower and higher; let the
philoso-  phers rave as
they will at the chains thereby hung around their own
necks. But that the higher should not fully understand
a mystery indeed, and one of which no solution has been
What more natural than that the dog should not know
much about his master? What more strange than that the
master should know so little of his dog? In one sense,
of course, he knows all about him, i.e. the uses he
can put him to, and what he may expect from him; but of
the inner world of the dog's life, his feelings and
motives of action, he knows almost nothing.
of his physical capabilities he has no complete idea.
Who has ever explained by what power a dog will take a
short cut across the country to the house where his
master is, although he has never been the road before?
or why he never, even by any accident or mistake,
brings back any but the stone his master threw—thrown,
perhaps, with a gloved hand, and into wet meadow grass,
and not found for several minutes?
Verily, in more than one sense, we are "strangers and
pilgrims upon earth;" for, from the first moment of
waking to conscious thought, we find ourselves in a
country where all utterances but our own are to us a
blank; all the creatures strange; all life
unintelligible, both in its beginning and its end: all
the present, as well as the past and future, a mystery.
"Only children, or child-like men," says Novalis, "have
any chance of breaking through the charm which holds
nature thus as it were frozen around us, like a
petrified magic city." Oh,
if this be true, who would
not be a child again? Reader, can you hear this and
remain unmoved, or shall you and I become
 children in
heart once more? Come! own with me how hateful were the
lessons which undeceived us from our earlier instincts
of faith and sweet companionship with all created
things: and let us go forth together, and for a while
forget such teaching.
Hand in hand, in the dear confiding way in which only
children use, let us go forth into the fields, and read
the hidden secrets of the world. Clasp mine firmly as I
clasp yours. See, there is magic in the action itself!
So we placed our hands in those of our parents; so our
children love to place theirs in our own. So, then,
even so, let us two walk trustingly and lovingly
together for a while, and join again the broken threads
of old feelings, wishes, friendships, and hopes.
Hush! is it a parliament, or a congregation, or what,
that darkens over yonder field? Are rook-politics, or
rook-faith, or rook domestic hopes and fears, the
subjects of that everlasting cawing, those restless
movements, those hoppings and peckings, and changes of
Cower down here with me by this hole in the hedge;—let
us lean against this old elm-root and look through.
See! the honeysuckle is twined in the thorn above our
heads, and is giving out its scent around us, as if to
bid us welcome.
Oh, dear companion, do you see the dark glossy
creatures at their play? Their play? am I not bold to
do so? They have come here for some object—with some
distinct intention and purpose. Yonder, in the tall oak
that overlooks the field in the opposite corner, I see
the sentinel guard, who will never stir
 from his post
until the assembly has dispersed, unless he hears or
sees symptoms of danger or interruption, and then he
will dash out and fly among them, making his warning
cry, so different from all others, that any one who has
once heard it, will recognise it again. We must whisper
our remarks very softly then, or he may give notice of
our presence here, and all the flock may forsake the
How solemn and grave, yet how keen and attentive he
looks! How patient and observant! Contented not to join
the fun himself, so that he may but promote it.
Unselfish, dark watchman, are you paid for your
trouble, and if so, how?
Or do you do it out of love
and affection for your brethren, expecting love and
affection from them in return, on some future occasion,
when one of them will watch, and you be allowed to
play? Play, I still say; but can this be only play
indeed? Surely something graver and more important than
play must have brought these different companies and
families from their often distant homes, to this spot?
Alas! how vain are my questionings! nature remains mute
around me, and man is ignorant and unable to answer,
let him say what he
Hear this, oh you philosophers,—you lights of the
world, with your books and papers and diagrams, and
collected facts, and self-confidence unlimited! You who
turn the bull's-eye of your miserable lanthorns upon
isolated corners of the universe, and fancy you are
sitting in the supreme light of creative knowledge!
Hear this; you are ignorant and unable to answer; or
disprove it if you can, by showing me that you do know
this one simple thing which puzzles me now! Tell me
what the rooks are doing and
 saying; those inferior
animals about whom you, in your wisdom, ought to know
everything. Tell me that, and I will own that your eyes
have been opened indeed, and that you are as gods,
knowing good and evil.
Tell me what these grand assemblies are for; tell me
how they are called; tell me how they are conducted;
tell me by what message the distant colonies are warned
of the particular spot and hour of meeting. Tell me by
what rules the place is chosen. Tell me how the
messenger is instructed. Tell me by what means he
delivers his message. Tell me why they meet on level
ground and walk like men, and not rather in their own
deep woods, where they might fly and roost on branches,
and run no danger, and need no guard?
Tell me what do they say, what do they say, what do
they say, when they meet at last, and whether they are
here for business or for play. Tell me these things,
and then I will listen to you when you point out to me
the counsels and the workings of the Creator of rooks
and of men.
But, miserable guides, miserable comforters are ye all!
Better a thousand times to be a child as I am now,
lying under this twining honeysuckle, and listening
reverently to the unknown murmurs in the field! But oh!
twining honeysuckle, why do you breathe out only scent
around me? Stoop, stoop, stoop! I know you know! Why
not whisper in my ear, then, what they say?
Tell me, what do they say? Childlike, I ask, childlike
must I always ask in vain?
But hush for a moment! some one speaks; some stranger
interrupts us already!—calls, "gentlemen!" as if
gentlemen were here. Oh! go, go, go, whoever
 you may
be. There are no gentlemen here—only children: children
for one brief hour of weary grown-up life. Leave us;
let us dream our dream in peace.
But how is this? I see no one near, yet the voice is
louder than before. Companion, where are you? Look!
There is no disturbance in the field; the sentry sits
firm at his post; the rest are hopping, pecking,
jumping as before; and yet I hear—oh, what do I hear?—a
voice—and from among the rooks themselves! Have my
senses left me, or have I received another? Anyhow the
spell is broken at last, and language, language,
language, resounds on every side! Quick, then, my
tablets! Let me record what I see and hear.
One among them comes forward—a crowd surrounds him—he
is congratulated—he inclines his head—he thanks his
friends for a reception so far beyond his merits or his
hopes. . . . Oh, folly! are they aping the mockeries of
men? Wait! he is serious once more, and here on my
tablets I record,
"The origin, therefore, of these creatures,—these
men,—whom we equally fear and dislike, is decidedly the
most useful of all subjects of study. How can it be
otherwise? Their treatment of us, and our feelings to
them, can never be placed on a proper footing, until we
know something of the nature of the people themselves.
In fact, my friends, I base my whole enquiry upon these
two assumptions; first, that it is desirable to
ascertain the exact truth on the subject; secondly,
that it is possible to ascertain the exact truth upon
any subject, if one chooses to try.
 "Whoever goes along with me on these points, will be so
good as to rise from the ground by a hop, and give a
caw. . . .
. . . "Thank you, thank you, gentlemen, for your
applause! My recognition of our common capabilities is
acceptable to you I perceive. Unlimited faith in them
is indeed the keystone of all knowledge. . . . Thank
you, thank you, once more!"
—But I—the transcriber of this arrogant nonsense—am
ready, as I listen to their senseless caws, to throw
down my tablets in despair. Oh! to think of finding the
false glozings of philosophical conceit among the birds
of the air, and as welcome as . . . but hush! he speaks
"How, when, whence, and why, then, are the questions we
must put and learn to answer. How came this creature in
the land, and whence? when was he first our foe, and
why? Why also is he here at all?
"These are difficult questions indeed, and before we
answer them, let us look at the facts of the case.
Unhappily they are too well known to need much
description. It is, and has been from time immemorial
(I have made enquiry of our oldest relations), a system
of encroachment on one side, and retreat on the other.
He comes near us and we fly; he pursues us again, and
again we retire before him. Old solitudes and woodland
homes are invaded, and made public; and we seek fresh
retreats, only to be driven out afresh. It is a
terrible position, and a time will certainly come when
we must seek a new world, or cease to exist, unless
some remedy for the threatened evil can be found.
"Now, the WHY of
our yielding our place to man is fear.
We can none of us deny it: a cowardly terror
seems to have possessed our race as far back as our
oldest grandsires can recollect.
"But the WHY of this fear? What is that? Well! I am
told on all sides that it is our sense of man's
superiority to ourselves. Hence we give way, overawed
by his presence. And here I will at once confess, that
I was for a long time myself as firm a believer in this
old tradition as any of you can be at the present
moment. When I beheld ancient woods deserted, ancient
homes forsaken, how could I fail to tremble before him
who, I was told, was the mighty cause of such
disturbance? But thanks to the awakened spirit of
enquiry, I emerged at last from the labyrinth of what I
now believe to be an old wife's tale.
"The why of our giving way, was fear: that was obvious
enough; the why of the fear, man's superiority. So it
was said, at least; but of this, what proofs? was my
next demand; and no one could give me an answer! Here
was a position for an intelligent creature! Everything
mysterious, unknown, and taken for granted; nothing
proved. I shouted for proofs till I was hoarse, but
every one turned away silent. Who can wonder, then,
that my next enquiry was a doubt.
"Is man superior to
ourselves after all? No one can show me the fact by
proofs. May not this old tradition then be a mere myth?
the delusion of timid minds imposed upon weak ones for
truth? My friends! the moment when I asked myself these
questions was the turning-point of my life. Henceforth
I resolved to enquire and investigate for myself, and
the result of my labours I am going to place before
"Yet, lest you should accuse me also of mere
 assertion-making, let me guide you into examining the
facts of the matter fairly for yourselves.
"Now all common observation is against the superiority
of man. While we fly swiftly through the sky, behold
him creeping slowly along the ground. While we soar to
the very clouds, a brief jump and come down again is
all his utmost efforts can accomplish, though I have
seen him practising to get higher and higher, in his
leaps, as if at a game. And at all times, if one of his
legs is up, the other is obliged to be down, or the
superior creature would be apt to tumble on his nose.
Yet it is in this miserable lop-sided manner he moves
from place to place, unless he can get some other
being, more skilful than himself, to carry him along.
"Again, while we are clothed in a natural glossy
plumage, available equally for summer or winter, behold
man, not possessing in himself the means of protection
against any sort of weather whatever! Neither the
warmth of summer nor the cold of winter suits his
uncomfortable skin. In all seasons he must wear
clothes. Clumsy incumbrances, with which he is driven
by a sad necessity to supply the place of the feathers
or fur with which every other creature on earth but
himself is blessed. What sort of superiority is this?
"One more instance out of many, and I shall have said
enough for the present. It is one, the force of which
every philosophical mind will appreciate. While we are
satisfied with ourselves and all around us, man is ever
discontented and uneasy, seeking rest in everlasting
change, but neither finding it himself, nor allowing it
to others, as we know to our bitter cost.
"Ah, my friends, if restless dissatisfaction be a
of superiority, who would not be glad to be an inferior
"Now then, have I shaken the old faith in the old
tradition? If so, you will be better disposed to accept
the new. Whoever is satisfied of this, let him soar
from the ground and give a caw!"
—What a rising of dark forms in the air; what an
outburst of caws! Verily 'tis a beautiful language
after all, and beautiful creatures they are themselves!
Only I am not sure I do not like them better so, than
in the would-be wisdom of men. Yes! if they had but the
sense not to sit in judgment upon things beyond their
power! . . . But hush! he speaks again.
"One objection remains to be answered. It was suggested
by a keen-sighted friend, now, I am proud to say, a
warm supporter of my views. In some of the unmannerly
invasions of our premises already alluded to, painful
events occur. While standing under our roosting trees,
these creatures, men, will occasionally level at us
sticks, of the most contemptible size, but which, owing
to some contrivance which I have not at present had the
time to investigate, make suddenly an abominable
banging noise and a very unpleasant smoke. And no
sooner do our youngsters see and hear all this, than
some of them are pretty sure to fall down upon the
ground, as if crouching at the very feet of our foe.
All fathers of families here present will admit the
truth of this description, and know the terrible
result. The prostrate young ones are carried away
unresisting, and are never heard of more.
"Now this has actually been brought forward as a proof
of the superiority of man; though in what way wanton
cruelty proves superiority, I confess
 I am unable to
see. But what cannot we flatter ourselves we have
proved when our minds are warped by a theory! I,
looking at the fact with an unprejudiced eye, see in it
nothing but the miserable fruits of a delusion
encouraged through so long a succession of ages, that
we have transmitted to our very offspring an
inheritance of paralysing fear! For, observe, it is
rarely—very rarely—the grown-up bird who is the victim
of this terror. Only the tender and susceptible young
ones, with no experience of life to counteract the
insane cowardice which our obstinate adherence to the
old wife's tale has bequeathed to their constitutions.
"Enough of this. I pass now to the pleasanter part of
my task! The statement of a theory respecting the
origin of men, which affords a beautiful and consistent
explanation of all the puzzling facts we have been
considering, and opens up a vista of triumph to the
whole rook race!"
—Mercy! what thunders of applause!—I am deafened, but
curiosity is awakened at last.—What folly!—Yet if
ingenuity were wisdom. . . . Well, well, if it were,
judges would be overruled by barristers, and a thousand
unjust verdicts become law. Again he opens his bill. . . .
"My friends, man is not our superior, was never so, for
he is neither more nor less than a degenerated brother
of our own race! Yes, I venture confidently to look
back thousands on thousands of generations, and I see
that men were once rooks! Like us they were covered
with feathers, like us lived in trees, flew instead of
walking, roosted instead of squatting in stone boxes,
and were happy and contented as we are now!
"This is a bold proposition, and I do not ask you
assent to it at once. But if on testing it in various
ways, you are forced to admit that by it you are able
to explain things hitherto inexplicable, and to account
for things otherwise unaccountable, though ocular proof
cannot be had, then I insist that you cannot reasonably
reject my solution, without offering me a better one in
exchange. If things are not so, how are they? is the
ground I stand upon. For remember we have already laid
down the maxim that everything ought to be
and can be explained.
"Well! here then I advance another step forward. I give
an explanation (supported of course by facts), and I
challenge you either to accept it, or to answer the
searching enquiry, 'If things are not so, how are
they?' Gentlemen who see the justice of this remark,
will, perhaps, afford me a congratulatory caw.
"Almost unanimous, I declare! and my venerable friends
who hesitate—well, well—it is from the young I look for
support. A natural distaste to disturbance of ideas
comes on with declining years. Thank you, gentlemen,
again; the voices of my young supporters are loud and
—Oh, birds of the air, the world and the vanities and
follies of it are as deep in your hearts as in ours!
But again he resumes—
"The test I begin with is this. Supposing that my
theory be true, and that men are degenerated rooks,
what would be the condition of their minds, what their
feeling and conduct towards us, the original race?
Would not the painful sense of degradation, in the
first place, cause them to be restless and uneasy with
their present condition, as in fact we see they are?
And would it not, in the second place stimulate them
to an incessant craving for
re-association—  a desire to
be with us, among us, of us, and like us, once more?
What more natural then than that they should pursue
us with almost tiresome pertinacity (a fact
inexplicable on the theory of man's superiority), and
that when we retreat before them in fear, they should
still follow us, not, however, as we have for so long
imagined, with evil intent, but with the outstretched
arms of love?
"My friends, I feel the moisture tremble in my eyes at
the thought of the gross misconceptions we have
cherished with respect to this much-maligned human
race. How cruel, how cold we must have appeared to
them! How heartless—pardon my emotion! . . . Give me
encouragement by an approving caw." . . .
Louder than ever, only hoarse with suppressed emotion.
The dream of nonsense is becoming real and exciting! He
"And now, even for the terrible loss of our young ones,
an explanation dawns; and their probable fate becomes
clear; and happily it is one of which, in the midst of
parental regrets, we cannot but be proud. Yes! I boldly
picture to myself those lost young ones, carried away
to become the friends and instructors of the race we
have dreaded as enemies. I do not hesitate to imagine
them tenderly nursed and watched in the stone boxes
into which we cannot see, but which they inhabit as
homes—every movement an object of interest to their
captors, every action creating admiration, and made a
subject of imitation—and I see no improbability in the
"For if, as I shall presently show by
unanswerable proofs, men are imitating not only our
appearance, but our very customs and manners, their
 to do so can only be attributed to the
instructions imparted to them, whether by example or
precept, by our own offspring,—for who else can have
taught them? Ages may pass away before the re-union of
the two races takes place, but when it does (and I look
forward to it in confident faith), it will be our own
children who will have been the means of bringing the
long-parted brethren together: those children who once
fell down in fear at the feet of men, and over whose
fate, hitherto, the veil of an impenetrable mystery has
been thrown. My friends, it is my proud delight at this
moment to lift that veil, and reveal to the
affectionate mourners the bright and pleasurable
"And thus the mysteries of man's pursuit, and apparent
ill-usage of us, become in the light of my theory
natural and intelligible facts. But you have a right to
reply. 'Clear as all this would be, if the thing itself
could be, that still remains to be shown. By what
possible means could birds ever degenerate into men?'
"Nothing can be more reasonable than the enquiry;
nothing more conclusive I believe than the
explanation I am able to give.
"At this very moment, then, my friends, we are
ourselves living examples of a first step in the same
direction! Here we are assembled from all quarters of
the country, having deserted our trees and woods, to
meet in an open field, as men meet; walk lopsided as
they walk, with one leg up and the other down; or jump
in short hops instead of using our wings. What account
can we give of this? To descend to the earth for a few
moments for food, sticks, or wool, as they are needed,
is one thing; to prolong our stay upon it, as we do
now, is a matter of dangerous
 choice. Alas! indolence
and a fatal tendency to yield to the ease of the
moment, are the causes of our own conduct; and so they
were, I can have no doubt whatever, of the degradation
of our ancestors.
"Ages indeed may pass away without any
perceptible effect being produced upon the individuals
of a race, by the bad habits in which all are indulging.
In fact, where a gradual change is creeping over all,
it attracts the attention of none. But heap ages upon
ages, and other ages upon them, in a succession to
which the century-lives of our grandfathers are a tiny
fraction of time, and what then? Anything is possible
in the course of such a period. Can any one disprove
what I say? If so, let him caw it publicly out; if not,
let him hold his tongue. You are silent: I perceive
that you assent.
"Now, then, let us imagine a race of bygone rooks, less
energetic even than ourselves; nay, we will, if you
please, imagine them with some temporary weakness in
their wings (such deviations from a general standard
are quite possible), and indulging gradually more and
more in the relief afforded to the evil by this
pernicious habit of ground-walking.
"There seems to me
to be no great difficulty in believing that a weakness
so indulged should gain ground in proportion to the
extent of the indulgence, until, in the course of the
long ages alluded to, and by many inheritances of
increased want of power, the mischief, once trifling,
became insurmountable, and a race incapable of using
their wings at all, arose.
"Now, it is well known to you all, by observation of
our young ones, that wings grow by use. After the young
brood make efforts at flying, those necessary
appendages increase. Thus much therefore is clear.
 Practice brings power, and power brings on growth and
enlargement. And, in a similar manner, want of practice
brings a falling away of strength, and diminution in
"Why then should there be any insuperable
difficulty in further believing it possible that the
never-used and consequently constantly diminishing
wings of generation after generation, should disappear
at last entirely as wings, leaving only the outer bone
remaining, as a sort of claw whereby to lay hold on
what was wanted—bared of all its beauty and
ornament,—in fact, the long uncouth arm of the present
"And I can hardly doubt that in a similar manner, the
other unused feathers on back and breast and legs,
would also gradually fail. No air blowing through them,
no freedom of action, no battling with the breeze. On
the contrary, a stuffy life in close stone boxes,
inclosed on all sides. Well might wings diminish in
size, and feathers decrease in quantity, until at
length, in the naked, claw-armed, bare-legged creature,
not a trace of them could be found!
"Every probability is in favour of such a result,
provided you only allow time enough for the
imperceptible action of the change.
"And now reflect upon the miserable creature presented
to your imagination! Enlarged, it is true, in length,
for his lazy habits encourage that sort of feeble
growth; and the power which once produced feathers,
must needs develop in some other form! But behold him—a
featherless, thin-skinned biped—neither beast, nor
bird, nor fish; wandering, shivering, over the face of
the earth, needing help from every other creature
around him, yet never satisfied with anything he gets!
Need I fill up the
 picture further, or will not every
one recognise at once in this miserable animal the
portrait of the superior being, MAN?"
—Well may the listeners caw! well may they wheel round
and round in exulting flight. I myself grow giddy and
confused. Am I then half convinced?—Yet for an
imperfect being to hope to fathom the higher nature?
Bah! what balderdash of folly! But hark, he has begun
"That such a degeneration is possible is therefore
clear; and of the thousand difficulties cleared away by
the establishment of this fact, I will offer you one
"You must all admit that one of the most puzzling whys
in connexion with man, is, why he wears clothes? A habit
which, viewing him as a perfect animal, it would be
impossible to account for, but which, on the contrary,
considering him as a degenerated one, is just what
might be expected. He had his natural clothes once,
like the rest of the animals of the earth; he has lost
them now, through the disease of his deterioration, and
must supply himself with the miserable make-shifts of
"My friends, time does not allow me to give you now
more than a few examples of my collection of proofs,
the extent of which is enormous; for even after my own
convictions were fixed for ever by the discoveries I
have already named, I never relaxed in my researches;
but being unable to be personally in more places than
one at a time, I employed in active investigations
several distinguished friends; I will mention
particularly Mr. Raven-wing, Mr. Yellow-beak, and Mr.
Grey-leg. Furnished with a complete understanding of
what I believed and wished to be proved, these
gentlemen have been unremitting
 in their efforts to
procure corroborative facts; of which therefore, I
will, before I conclude, mention a few of the most
"Mr. Raven-wing's particular line was to find evidence
of attempts on the part of man to recover the colour of
the original race, namely, black; and to this end he did
not shrink even from the distasteful task of
approaching those vast masses of men's stone boxes,
which they call cities, towns, or villages, in order
that he might observe the proceedings of their
inhabitants. And he came back to me absolutely
overwhelmed with what he had met with. Black in all the
streets struggling to overpower every other hue. Black
quiescent on the pavements and walls. Black rising
triumphantly into the air from the mouths of those
smaller boxes, which are placed on the summit of the
larger ones, apparently to raise their height—of which
singular fact I shall have more to say by and by.
"Black also the usual colour of the coverings with
which men protect their heads from the outer air. Black
even the clumsy boots which cover their feet. Black
pretty nearly everything, everywhere, Mr. Raven-wing
"And on another occasion, in some parts of the country,
he came upon whole races of men who left their homes
every morning at an early hour, white, but returned to
them every evening black, having accomplished this
transformation during the course of the day. But by
what means this significant change was effected he
could not precisely ascertain; for the places to which
these creatures resorted for the purpose were either
deep holes in the earth, into which they descended, and
soon disappeared from sight, or large dark inclosures,
full of fire and heat
 and smoke, into which no bird
could follow them and live; so that all he knew of them
was that everything there being black, people became
blackened who remained there long enough.
sufferings men endure in their struggles to become like
ourselves, it is pitiful to reflect upon! And the
repetition of the endurance is not the least remarkable
fact of the case. For unhappily the desired result
appears to last for only the period of one day. These
men emerge from their stone boxes next morning, pallid
as before, again to go forth to similar haunts, and
undergo the same tortures, to bring back for the same
short time the coveted colour of their cheeks!
"All these circumstances, gentlemen, fell under Mr.
Raven-wing's personal observation, and of them,
therefore, no doubt can be entertained. But it is fair
to tell you also that he did, in the course of his
travels, hear of another class of facts, highly
corroborative of these, but of which, as depending upon
hearsay evidence, I cannot so positively speak.
hearsay evidence went to show that there are already
existing in the world, a class of men whose black
colour remains with them for life—nay, who transmit it
to their offspring, so effectual have been the means
used by their ancestors in acquiring it! Singular and
interesting as this circumstance is, if true, I do not
wish to dwell upon it. Imperfect evidence is the one
thing in the world on which no fair enquirer likes to
"On the other hand, Mr. Yellow-beak's mission was to
obtain proofs of man's endeavour to resume his life in
trees; and of this some very interesting instances were
adduced. In the same cities or towns which were the
seat of Mr. Raven-wing's investigations,
Yellow-beak discovered narrow, upright, and very much
elongated brick boxes, no thicker than the stems of our
large trees, and in many cases strongly resembling them
in formation, only destitute altogether of branches and
"And out of the tops of these Mr. Yellow-beak
noticed to issue those same columns of black smoke, as
he was told it was called, which Mr. Raven-wing had
observed before, and which is evidently one of the many
contrivances by which man is endeavouring after a
restoration to the appearances of his lost primeval
"Indeed, my esteemed and acute friend satisfied himself
that there was, at the present day, going on among men
a series of systematic and unremitting efforts for a
return to the lost forests and the original condition;
of which efforts these stem-like buildings furnish a
"Let some ingenious plan be devised for
the construction of branches on each side, and there
can be no possible reason why men should not, in the
course of time—but, mark me—I do say in the course of
time—roost in these brick trees, as they did of yore in
the natural ones. In fact, that this will eventually
take place, and that men will make their homes in the
branched chimneys of cities, I see no difficulty in
supposing; nor that this will be one most powerful step
towards a return to the common interests and hopes
between ourselves and them.
"Mr. Grey-leg's information was of a miscellaneous
character. He was out early one morning, near a large
village, and having fixed his attention on one of those
smaller boxes usually placed on the others to raise the
height of the building, he all at once observed
emerging from its mouth a living creature.
 My friends,
it is a solemn and important fact that this creature
was black all over.
"Black as a black feather coat could
have made him. Black in his skin, black in his clothes,
black in the arm which lifted itself up and waved round
and round triumphantly something also black, and more
like a bird's feather than anything else. The gesture
was triumphant, and the voice scarcely less
so—Sweep-o-oh! Sweep-oh! Sweep-oh! Some feeble
attempt, we may suppose, at a return to the caw of
their better days, yet, in its monotony, indicating a
common origin of language.
"Mr. Grey-leg's observations were specially valuable,
however, in his discovery of more than one place near
great towns, in which attempts are frequently made, on
the part of our poor degenerate brothers, towards
bringing to perfection a substitute for the lost power
of soaring in the air. Clumsy as the machine or
used for this purpose is, the mere fact of its
invention forms one of the most valuable links in the
chain of evidence of man's determination to return as
soon as possible to the habits and manners of his
"Weary of his degradation, he is, no doubt,
at the very moment we are avoiding and fearing him,
longing to make known to us his sense of his misery,
and to obtain assistance and hope for the future. But,
among other things, the total loss of our language,
consequent upon a long cessation of intercourse,
remains as an almost insuperable difficulty between us.
"The sounds he emits now from his bill-less mouth are,
in truth, an unmeaning jargon, to which it is
absolutely painful to listen. It serves his present
necessities, we may presume, as orders seem to be
and taken between one individual and another; but
beyond this it is mere jaw, and jaw with as little
music in it as meaning.
"There is, in fact, 'neither sweetness nor sublimity,
neither melody nor majesty, in the shouting, and
piping, and whistling, and hissing, and barking of
closely intermixed human voices and laughter.' "
—Where am I?—where am I?—what am I about? Is some
mocking echo repeating my former words? But, hush once
more, for the voice is speaking again:—
—"This is but the faintest outline of what will be laid
before you hereafter, if, indeed, we ever meet again as
now. These points meanwhile are established as facts
which admit of no dispute:—man's degradation from his
original brotherhood with ourselves; his yearnings for
re-association; his constant efforts in that direction.
"And for my own part, I am equally satisfied of the
probability of his success in those efforts. I venture
confidently to anticipate futurity, and I see him
mounted in his brick-roosting homes, growing wings and
feathers, because they have become a necessity; while,
as the long ages pass over, and his present vile habits
die out from want of use, he will gradually lay aside
the unmeaning jargon which he has fallen into since he
ceased to be one of us, and return to the original caw
of his happier state.
"Alas! my friends, that for us, personally, these
bright visions cannot be realized! We shall none of us
behold that glorious day! I speak it with regret. As
long as we can hope to last, men will probably remain
the thin-skinned, clothes-wearing creatures our
grandsires remember them; still hop lop-sided
 on the
ground, and only occasionally, and by very clumsy
machines, soar into the sky.
"But I find no difficulty
in looking forward through innumerable successions of
ages to a time when men will again, through gradual
successive developments of down and feathers, become
swift-flying birds of the air; our friends, companions,
brothers—rooks, in fact, like ourselves. All
observations tend to show that a change in this
direction is already at work, nay, has been so for a
considerable length of time, and with increasing
symptoms of success, as the observations of Mr.
Raven-wing, Mr. Yellow-beak, and Mr. Grey-legs must
have convinced you. All probability therefore is in
favour of that success becoming one day complete.
"But, in the meantime, knowing the peculiar relations
between their race and ours, and anticipating the day
when they shall become one, should it not be our
endeavour to . . ." . . .
What silence is this, which has cut short the
sentence, and which neither their caws nor the voice of
the speaker break again? How is this?—where am I?—Do I
wake or dream?
I peep through the hedge once more, but see nothing but
a bare, deserted field. Gone, gone, all gone. The green
pasture lies void and empty under the setting sun. A
deathlike silence is around, or so it seems to me. Only
the constant honeysuckle wearies not of breathing out
its sweetness round my head. Companion, where are you?
Alas! no hand is clasped in mine. Alone, then, have I
been dreaming some foolish dream, or is some one in
secret sympathising with me still?
—Ah! memory re-awakens by degrees. I recall the book
that was lying upon my desk when I issued
 forth into
these fields; and the thought of the first temptation
of man flashes from another book upon my soul.
Woe upon us! The world grows old, and life is repeated
from age to age, and the same sins are sinned. Still we
desire to be as God in knowledge; still the hand writes
in fire upon our walls: "Except ye become as little
children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of
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