| Madam How and Lady Why|
|by Charles Kingsley|
|Introduces children to geology through conversations about earthquakes, volcanoes, coral reefs, and so on. Encourages children to wonder about the distinctive features of the landscape around them and how they came to be the way they are. Ages 10-14 |
FIELD AND WILD
HERE were we to go next? Into the far West, to see how all the
way along the railroads the new rocks and soils lie above the
older, and yet how, when we get westward, the oldest rocks rise
highest into the air.
Well, we will go: but not, I think, to-day. Indeed I hardly know
how we could get as far as Reading; for all the world is in the
hayfield, and even the old horse must go thither too, and take
his turn at the haycart. Well, the rocks have been where they
are for many a year, and they will wait our leisure patiently
enough: but Midsummer and the hayfield will not wait. Let us
take what God gives when He sends it, and learn the lesson that
lies nearest to us. After all, it is more to my old mind, and
perhaps to your young mind too, to look at things which are young
and fresh and living, rather than things which are old and worn
and dead. Let us leave the old stones, and the old bones, and
old shells, the wrecks of ancient worlds which have gone down into
the kingdom of death, to teach us their grand lessons some other
day; and let us look now at the world of light and life and
beauty, which begins here at the open door, and stretches away
over the hayfields, over the woods, over the southern moors, over
sunny France, and sunnier Spain, and over the tropic seas, down to
the equator, and the palm-groves of the eternal summer. If we
cannot find something, even at starting from the open door, to
teach us about Why and How, we must be very short-sighted, or very
There is the old cock starling screeching in the eaves, because he
wants to frighten us away, and take a worm to his children,
without our finding out whereabouts his hole is. How does he know
that we might hurt him? and how again does he not know that we
shall not hurt him?—we, who for five-and-twenty years have let him
and his ancestors build under those eaves in peace? How did he
get that quantity of half-wit, that sort of stupid cunning, into
his little brain, and yet get no more? And why (for this is a
question of Why, and not of How) does he labour all day long,
hunting for worms and insects for his children, while his wife
nurses them in the nest? Why, too, did he help her to build that
nest with toil and care this spring, for the sake of a set of
nestlings who can be of no gain or use to him, but only take
food out of his mouth? Simply out of—what shall I call it, my
child?—Love; that same sense of love and duty, coming surely from
that one Fountain of all duty and all love, which makes your
father work for you. That the mother should take care of her
young, is wonderful enough: but that (at least among many birds)
the father should help likewise, is (as you will find out as you
grow older) more wonderful far. So there already the old starling
has set us two fresh puzzles about How and Why, neither of which
we shall get answered, at least on this side of the grave.
Come on, up the field, under the great generous sun, who quarrels
with no one, grudges no one, but shines alike upon the evil and
the good. What a gay picture he is painting now, with his light-pencils; for in them, remember, and not in the things themselves
the colour lies. See how, where the hay has been already carried,
he floods all the slopes with yellow light, making them stand out
sharp against the black shadows of the wood; while where the grass
is standing still, he makes the sheets of sorrel-flower blush rosy
red, or dapples the field with white oxeyes.
But is not the sorrel itself red, and the oxeyes white?
What colour are they at night, when the sun is gone?
 That is, no colour. The very grass is not green at night.
Oh, but it is, if you look at it with a lantern.
No, no. It is the light of the lantern, which happens to be
strong enough to make the leaves look green, though it is not
strong enough to make a geranium look red.
No; the geranium flowers by a lantern look black, while the leaves
look green. If you don't believe me, we will try.
But why is that?
Why, I cannot tell: and how, you had best ask Professor Tyndall,
if you ever have the honour of meeting him.
But now—hark to the mowing-machine, humming like a giant night-jar. Come up and look at it, and see how swift and smooth it
shears the long grass down, so that in the middle of the swathe it
seems to have merely fallen flat, and you must move it before you
find out that it has been cut off.
Ah, there is a proof to us of what men may do if they will only
learn the lessons which Madam How can teach them. There is that
boy, fresh from the National School, cutting more grass in a day
than six strong mowers could have cut, and cutting it better, too;
for the mowing-machine goes so much nearer to the ground than the
scythe, that we gain by
 it two hundredweight of hay on every acre.
And see, too, how persevering old Madam How will not stop her
work, though the machine has cut off all the grass which she has
been making for the last three months; for as fast as we shear it
off, she makes it grow again. There are fresh blades, here at our
feet, a full inch long, which have sprung up in the last two days,
for the cattle when they are turned in next week.
But if the machine cuts all the grass, the poor mowers will have
nothing to do.
Not so. They are all busy enough elsewhere. There is plenty of
other work to be done, thank God; and wholesomer and easier work
than mowing with a burning sun on their backs, drinking gallons of
beer, and getting first hot and then cold across the loins, till
they lay in a store of lumbago and sciatica, to cripple them in
their old age. You delight in machinery because it is curious:
you should delight in it besides because it does good, and nothing
but good, where it is used, according to the laws of Lady Why,
with care, moderation, and mercy, and fair play between man and
man. For example: just as the mowing-machine saves the mowers,
the threshing-machine saves the threshers from rheumatism and
chest complaints, which they used to catch in the draught and
dust of the unhealthiest place in the whole parish, which is, the
old-fashioned barn's floor.
 And so, we may hope, in future years
all heavy drudgery and dirty work will be done more and more by
machines, and people will have more and more chance of keeping
themselves clean and healthy, and more and more time to read, and
learn, and think, and be true civilized men and women, instead of
being mere live ploughs, or live manure-carts, such as I have seen
A live manure-cart?
Yes, child. If you had seen, as I have seen, in foreign lands,
poor women, haggard, dirty, grown old before their youth was over,
toiling up hill with baskets of foul manure upon their backs, you
would have said, as I have said, "Oh for Madam How to cure that
ignorance! Oh for Lady Why to cure that barbarism! Oh that Madam
How would teach them that machinery must always be cheaper in the
long run than human muscles and nerves! Oh that Lady Why would
teach them that a woman is the most precious thing on earth, and
that if she be turned into a beast of burden, Lady Why—and Madam
How likewise—will surely avenge the wrongs of their human
sister!" There, you do not quite know what I mean, and I do not
care that you should. It is good for little folk that big folk
should now and then "talk over their heads," as the saying is, and
make them feel how ignorant they are, and how many solemn and
earnest questions there are in the world
 on which they must make
up their minds some day, though not yet. But now we will talk
about the hay; or rather do you and the rest go and play in the
hay, and gather it up, build forts of it, storm them, pull them
down, build them up again, shout, laugh, and scream till you are
hot and tired. You will please Madam How thereby, and Lady Why
Because Madam How naturally wants her work to succeed, and she is
at work now making you.
Of course. Making a man of you, out of a boy. And that can only
be done by the life-blood which runs through and through you. And
the more you laugh and shout, the more pure air will pass into
your blood, and make it red and healthy; and the more you romp and
play—unless you overtire yourself—the quicker will that blood
flow through all your limbs, to make bone and muscle, and help you
to grow into a man.
But why does Lady Why like to see us play?
She likes to see you happy, as she likes to see the trees and
birds happy. For she knows well that there is no food, nor
medicine either, like happiness. If people are not happy enough,
they are often tempted to do many wrong deeds, and to think many
wrong thoughts: and if by God's grace they know the laws of Lady
Why, and keep from sin,
 still unhappiness, if it goes on too long,
wears them out, body and mind; and they grow ill and die, of
broken hearts, and broken brains, my child; and so at last, poor
souls, find "Rest beneath the Cross."
Children, too, who are unhappy; children who are bullied, and
frightened, and kept dull and silent, never thrive. Their bodies
do not thrive; for they grow up weak. Their minds do not thrive;
for they grow up dull. Their souls do not thrive; for they learn
mean, sly, slavish ways, which God forbid you should ever learn.
Well said the wise man, "The human plant, like the vegetables, can
only flower in sunshine."
So do you go, and enjoy yourself in the sunshine; but remember
this—You know what happiness is. Then if you wish to please Lady
Why, and Lady Why's Lord and King likewise, you will never pass a
little child without trying to make it happier, even by a passing
smile. And now be off, and play in the hay, and come back to me
when you are tired.
Let us lie down at the foot of this old oak, and see what we can
And hear what we can hear, too. What is that humming all round
us, now that the noisy mowing-machine has stopped?
And as much softer than the noise of mowing-machine hum, as the
machines which make it are more delicate and more curious. Madam
 a very skilful workwoman, and has eyes which see deeper and
clearer than all microscopes; as you would find, if you tried to
see what makes that "Midsummer hum" of which the haymakers are so
fond, because it promises fair weather.
Why, it is only the gnats and flies.
Only the gnats and flies? You might study those gnats and flies
for your whole life without finding out all—or more than a very
little—about them. I wish I knew how they move those tiny wings
of theirs—a thousand times in a second, I dare say, some of them.
I wish I knew how far they know that they are happy—for happy
they must be, whether they know it or not. I wish I knew how they
live at all. I wish I even knew how many sorts there are humming
round us at this moment.
How many kinds? Three or four?
More probably thirty or forty round this single tree.
But why should there be so many kinds of living things? Would not
one or two have done just as well?
Why, indeed? Why should there not have been only one sort of
butterfly, and he only of one colour, a plain brown, or a plain
And why should there be so many sorts of birds, all robbing the
garden at once? Thrushes, and blackbirds, and sparrows, and
chaffinches, and greenfinches, and bullfinches, and tomtits.
 And there are four kinds of tomtits round here, remember: but we
may go on with such talk for ever. Wiser men than we have asked
the same question: but Lady Why will not answer them yet.
However, there is another question, which Madam How seems inclined
to answer just now, which is almost as deep and mysterious.
How all these different kinds of things became different.
Oh, do tell me!
Not I. You must begin at the beginning, before you can end at the
end, or even make one step towards the end.
What do you mean?
You must learn the differences between things, before you can find
out how those differences came about. You must learn Madam How's
alphabet before you can read her book. And Madam How's alphabet
of animals and plants is, Species, Kinds of things. You must see
which are like, and which unlike; what they are like in, and what
they are unlike in. You are beginning to do that with your
collection of butterflies. You like to arrange them, and those
that are most like nearest to each other, and to compare them.
You must do that with thousands of different kinds of things
before you can read one page of Madam How's Natural History Book
 But it will take so much time and so much trouble.
God grant that you may not spend more time on worse matters, and
take more trouble over things which will profit you far less. But
so it must be, willy-nilly. You must learn the alphabet if you
mean to read. And you must learn the value of the figures before
you can do a sum. Why, what would you think of any one who sat
down to play at cards—for money too (which I hope and trust you
never will do)—before he knew the names of the cards, and which
counted highest, and took the other?
Of course he would be very foolish.
Just as foolish are those who make up "theories" (as they call
them) about this world, and how it was made, before they have
found out what the world is made of. You might as well try to
find out how this hayfield was made, without finding out first
what the hay is made of.
How the hayfield was made? Was it not always a hayfield?
Ah, yes; the old story, my child: Was not the earth always just
what it is now? Let us see for ourselves whether this was always
Just pick out all the different kinds of plants and flowers you
can find round us here. How many do you think there are?
Oh—there seem to be four or five.
 Just as there were three or four kinds of flies in the air. Pick
them, child, and count. Let us have facts.
How many? What! a dozen already?
Yes—and here is another, and another. Why, I have got I don't
know how many.
Why not? Bring them here, and let us see. Nine kinds of grasses,
and a rush. Six kinds of clovers and vetches; and besides,
dandelion, and rattle, and oxeye, and sorrel, and plantain, and
buttercup, and a little stitchwort, and pignut, and mouse-ear
hawkweed, too, which nobody wants.
Because they are a sign that I am not a good farmer enough, and
have not quite turned my Wild into Field.
What do you mean?
Look outside the boundary fence, at the moors and woods; they are
forest, Wild—"Wald," as the Germans would call it. Inside the
fence is Field—"Feld," as the Germans would call it. Guess why?
Is it because the trees inside have been felled?
Well, some say so, who know more than I. But now go over the
fence, and see how many of these plants you can find on the moor.
Oh, I think I know. I am so often on the moor.
I think you would find more kinds outside than you fancy. But
what do you know?
That beside some short fine grass about the cattle paths, there
are hardly any grasses on the moor save deer's hair and glade-grass; and all the rest is heath, and moss, and furze, and fern.
Softly—not all; you have forgotten the bog plants; and there are
(as I said) many more plants beside on the moor than you fancy.
But we will look into that another time. At all events, the
plants outside are on the whole quite different from the hay-field.
Of course: that is what makes the field look green and the moor
 Not a doubt. They are so different, that they look like bits of
two different continents. Scrambling over the fence is like
scrambling out of Europe into Australia. Now, how was that
difference made? Think. Don't guess, but think. Why does the
rich grass come up to the bank, and yet not spread beyond it?
I suppose because it cannot get over.
Not get over? Would not the wind blow the seeds, and the birds
carry them? They do get over, in millions, I don't doubt, every
Then why do they not grow?
Is there any difference in the soil inside and out?
A very good guess. But guesses are no use without facts. Look.
Oh, I remember now. I know now the soil of the field is brown,
like the garden; and the soil of the moor all black and peaty.
Yes. But if you dig down two or three feet, you will find the
soils of the moor and the field just the same. So perhaps the top
soils were once both alike.
Well, and what do you think about it now? I want you to look and
think. I want every one to look and think. Half the misery in
the world comes first from not looking, and then from not
thinking. And I do not want you to be miserable.
 But shall I be miserable if I do not find out such little things
You will be miserable if you do not learn to understand little
things: because then you will not be able to understand great
things when you meet them. Children who are not trained to use
their eyes and their common sense grow up the more miserable the
cleverer they are.
Because they grow up what men call dreamers, and bigots, and
fanatics, causing misery to themselves and to all who deal with
them. So I say again, think.
Well, I suppose men must have altered the soil inside the bank.
Well done. But why do you think so?
Because, of course, some one made the bank; and the brown soil
only goes up to it.
Well, that is something like common sense. Now you will not say
any more, as the cows or the butterflies might, that the hayfield
was always there.
And how did men change the soil?
By tilling it with the plough, to sweeten it, and manuring it, to
make it rich.
And then did all these beautiful grasses grow up of themselves?
You ought to know that they most likely did not. You know the new
 Well then, do rich grasses come up on them, now that they are
Oh no, nothing but groundsel, and a few weeds.
Just what, I dare say, came up here at first. But this land was
tilled for corn, for hundreds of years, I believe. And just about
one hundred years ago it was laid down in grass; that is, sown
with grass seeds.
And where did men get the grass seeds from?
Ah, that is a long story; and one that shows our forefathers
(though they knew nothing about railroads or electricity) were not
such simpletons as some folks think. The way it must have been
done was this. Men watched the natural pastures where cattle get
fat on the wild grass, as they do in the Fens, and many other
parts of England. And then they saved the seeds of those
fattening wild grasses, and sowed them in fresh spots. Often they
made mistakes. They were careless, and got weeds among the seed—like the buttercups, which do so much harm to this pasture. Or
they sowed on soil which would not suit the seed, and it died.
But at last, after many failures, they have grown so careful and
so clever, that you may send to certain shops, saying what sort of
soil yours is, and they will send you just the seeds which will
grow there, and no other; and then you have a good pasture for as
long as you choose to keep it good.
And how is it kept good?
 Look at all those loads of hay, which are being carried off the
field. Do you think you can take all that away without putting
anything in its place?
If I took all the butter out of the churn, what must I do if I
want more butter still?
Put more cream in.
So, if I want more grass to grow, I must put on the soil more of
what grass is made of.
But the butter doen't
grow, and the grass does.
What does the grass grow in?
Yes. Just as the butter grows in the churn. So you must put
fresh grass-stuff continually into the soil, as you put fresh
cream into the churn. You have heard the farm men say, "That crop
has taken a good deal out of the land"?
Then they spoke exact truth. What will that hay turn into by
Christmas? Can't you tell? Into milk, of course, which you will
drink; and into horseflesh too, which you will use.
Use horseflesh? Not eat it?
No; we have not got as far as that. We did not even make up our
minds to taste the Cambridge donkey. But every time the horse
draws the carriage, he uses up so much muscle; and that muscle he
must get back again by eating hay and corn; and
 that hay and corn
must be put back again into the land by manure, or there will be
all the less for the horse next year. For one cannot eat one's
cake and keep it too; and no more can one eat one's grass.
So this field is a truly wonderful place. It is no ugly pile of
brick and mortar, with a tall chimney pouring out smoke and evil
smells, with unhealthy, haggard people toiling inside. Why do you
Because—because nobody ever said it was. You mean a manufactory.
Well, and this hayfield is a manufactory: only like most of
Madam How's workshops, infinitely more beautiful, as well as
infinitely more crafty, than any manufactory of man's building.
It is beautiful to behold, and healthy to work in; a joy and
blessing alike to the eye, and the mind, and the body: and yet it
is a manufactory.
But a manufactory of what?
Of milk of course, and cows, and sheep, and horses; and of your
body and mine—for we shall drink the milk and eat the meat. And
therefore it is a flesh and milk manufactory. We must put into it
every year yard-stuff, tank-stuff, guano, bones, and anything and
everything of that kind, that Madam How may cook it for us into
grass, and cook the grass again into milk and meat. But if we
don't give Madam How material to work
 on, we cannot expect her to
work for us. And what do you think will happen then? She will
set to work for herself. The rich grasses will dwindle for want
of ammonia (that is smelling-salts), and the rich clovers for want
of phosphates (that is bone-earth): and in their places will come
over the bank the old weeds and grass off the moor, which have not
room to get in now, because the ground is covered already. They
want no ammonia nor phosphates—at all events they have none, and
that is why the cattle on the moor never get fat. So they can
live where these rich grasses cannot. And then they will conquer
and thrive; and the Field will turn into Wild once more.
Ah, my child, thank God for your forefathers, when you look over
that boundary mark. For the difference between the Field and the
Wild is the difference between the old England of Madam How's
making, and the new England which she has taught man to make,
carrying on what she had only begun and had not time to finish.
That moor is a pattern bit left to show what the greater part of
this land was like for long ages after it had risen out of the
sea; when there was little or nothing on the flat upper moors save
heaths, and ling, and club-mosses, and soft gorse, and needle-whin, and creeping willows; and furze and fern upon the brows; and
in the bottoms oak and ash,
 beech and alder, hazel and mountain
ash, holly and thorn, with here and there an aspen or a buckthorn
(berry-bearing alder as you call it), and everywhere—where he
could thrust down his long root, and thrust up his long shoots—that intruding conqueror and insolent tyrant, the bramble. There
were sedges and rushes, too, in the bogs, and coarse grass on the
forest pastures—or "leas" as we call them to this day round here—but no real green fields; and, I suspect, very few gay flowers,
save in spring the sheets of golden gorse, and in summer the
purple heather. Such was old England—or rather, such was this
land before it was England; a far sadder, damper, poorer land than
now. For one man or one cow or sheep which could have lived on it
then, a hundred can live now. And yet, what it was once, that it
might become again,—it surely would round here, if this brave
English people died out of it, and the land was left to itself
What would happen then, you may guess for yourself, from what you
see happen whenever the land is left to itself, as it is in the
wood above. In that wood you can still see the grass ridges and
furrows which show that it was once ploughed and sown by man;
perhaps as late as the time of Henry the Eighth, when a great deal
of poor land, as you will read some day, was thrown out of
 to become forest and down once more. And what is the
mount now? A jungle of oak and beech, cherry and holly, young and
old all growing up together, with the mountain ash and bramble and
furze coming up so fast beneath them, that we have to cut the
paths clear again year by year. Why, even the little cow-wheat, a
very old-world plant, which only grows in ancient woods, has found
its way back again, I know not whence, and covers the open spaces
with its pretty yellow and white
 flowers. Man had conquered this
mount, you see, from Madam How, hundreds of years ago. And she
always lets man conquer her, because Lady Why wishes man to
conquer: only he must have a fair fight with Madam How first, and
try his strength against hers to the utmost. So man conquered the
wood for a while; and it became cornfield instead of forest: but
he was not strong and wise enough, three hundred years ago to keep
what he had conquered; and back came Madam How, and took the place
into her own hands, and bade the old forest trees and plants come
back again—as they would come if they were not stopped year by
year, down from the wood, over the pastures—killing the rich
grasses as they went, till they met another forest coming up from
below, and fought it for many a year, till both made peace, and
lived quietly side by side for ages.
Another forest coming up from below? Where would it come from?
From where it is now. Come down and look along the brook, and
every drain and gripe which runs into the brook. What is here?
Seedling alders, and some withies among them.
Very well. You know how we pull these alders up, and cut them
down, and yet they continually come again. Now, if we and all
human beings were to leave this pasture for a few hundred years,
 would not those alders increase into a wood? Would they not kill
the grass, and spread right and left, seeding themselves more and
more as the grass died, and left the ground bare, till they met
the oaks and beeches coming down the hill? And then would begin a
great fight, for years and years, between oak and beech against
alder and willow.
But how can trees fight? Could they move, or beat each other with
Not quite that; though they do beat each other with their boughs,
fiercely enough, in a gale of wind; and then the trees who have
strong and stiff boughs wound those who have brittle and limp
boughs, and so hurt them, and if the storms come often enough,
kill them. But among these trees in a sheltered valley the larger
and stronger would kill the weaker and smaller by simply
overshadowing their tops, and starving their roots; starving them,
indeed, so much when they grow very thick, that the poor little
acorns, and beech mast, and alder seeds would not be able to
sprout at all. So they would fight, killing each other's
children, till the war ended—I think I can guess how.
The beeches are as dainty as they are beautiful; and they do not
like to get their feet wet. So they would venture down the hill
only as far as the dry ground lasts, and those who tried to grow
 would die. But the oaks are hardy, and do not care much
where they grow. So they would fight their way down into the wet
ground among the alders and willows, till they came to where their
enemies were so thick and tall, that the acorns as they fell could
not sprout in the darkness. And so you would have at last, along
the hill-side, a forest of beech and oak, lower down a forest of
oak and alder, and along the stream-side alders and willows only.
And that would be a very fair example of the great law of the
struggle for existence, which causes the competition of species.
What is that?
Madam How is very stern, though she is always perfectly just; and
therefore she makes every living thing fight for its life, and
earn its bread, from its birth till its death; and rewards it
exactly according to its deserts, and neither more nor less.
And the competition of species means, that each thing, and kind of
things, has to compete against the things round it; and to see
which is the stronger; and the stronger live, and breed, and
spread, and the weaker die out.
But that is very hard.
I know it, my child, I know it. But so it is. And Madam How, no
doubt, would be often very clumsy and very cruel, without meaning
it, because she never sees beyond her own nose, or thinks at
about the consequences of what she is doing. But Lady Why, who
does think about consequences, is her mistress, and orders her
about for ever. And Lady Why is, I believe, as loving as she is
wise; and therefore we must trust that she guides this great war
between living things, and takes care that Madam How kills nothing
which ought not to die, and takes nothing away without putting
something more beautiful and something more useful in its place;
and that even if England were, which God forbid, overrun once more
with forests and bramble-brakes, that too would be of use somehow,
somewhere, somewhen, in the long ages which are to come hereafter.
And you must remember, too, that since men came into the world
with rational heads on their shoulders, Lady Why has been handing
over more and more of Madam How's work to them, and some of her
own work too; and bids them to put beautiful and useful things in
the place of ugly and useless ones; so that now it is men's own
fault if they do not use their wits, and do by all the world what
they have done by these pastures—change it from a barren moor
into a rich hayfield, by copying the laws of Madam How, and
making grass compete against heath. But you look thoughtful:
what is it you want to know?
Why, you say all living things must fight and
 scramble for what
they can get from each other: and must not I too? For I am a
Ah, that is the old question, which our Lord answered long ago,
and said, "Be not anxious what ye shall eat or what ye shall
drink, or wherewithal you shall be clothed. For after all these
things do the heathen seek, and your Heavenly Father knoweth that
ye have need of these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of
God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to
you." A few, very few, people have taken that advice. But they
have been just the salt of the earth, which has kept mankind from
But what has that to do with it?
See. You are a living thing, you say. Are you a plant?
Are you an animal?
I do not know. Yes. I suppose I am. I eat, and drink, and
sleep, just as dogs and cats do.
Yes. There is no denying that. No one knew that better than St.
Paul, when he told men that they had a flesh; that is, a body, and
an animal's nature in them. But St. Paul told them—of course he
was not the first to say so, for all the wise heathens have known
that—that there was something more in us, which he called a
spirit. Some call it now the moral sentiment, some one thing,
 some another, but we will keep to the old word: we shall not find
Yes, I know that I have a spirit, a soul.
Better to say that you are a spirit. But what does St. Paul say?
That our spirit is to conquer our flesh, and keep it down. That
the man in us, in short, which is made in the likeness of God, is
to conquer the animal in us, which is made in the likeness of the
dog and the cat, and sometimes (I fear) in the likeness of the ape
or the pig. You would not wish to be like a cat, much less like
an ape or a pig?
Of course not.
Then do not copy them, by competing and struggling for existence
against other people.
What do you mean?
Did you never watch the pigs feeding?
Yes, and how they grudge and quarrel, and shove each other's noses
out of the trough, and even bite each other because they are so
jealous which shall get most.
That is it. And how the biggest pig drives the others away, and
would starve them while he got fat, if the man did not drive him
off in his turn.
Oh, yes; I know.
Then no wiser than those pigs are worldly men who compete, and
grudge, and struggle with each other, which shall get most money,
most fame, most
 power over their fellow-men. They will tell you,
my child, that that is the true philosophy, and the true wisdom;
that competition is the natural law of society, and the source of
wealth and prosperity. Do not you listen to them. That is the
wisdom of this world, which the flesh teaches the animals; and
those who follow it, like the animals, will perish. Such men are
not even as wise as Sweep the retriever.
Not as wise as Sweep?
Not they. Sweep will not take away Victor's bone, though he is
ten times as big as Victor, and could kill him in a moment; and
when he catches a rabbit, does he eat it himself?
Of course not; he brings it and lays it down at our feet.
Because he likes better to do his duty, and be praised for it,
than to eat the rabbit, dearly as he longs to eat it.
But he is only an animal. Who taught him to be generous, and
dutiful, and faithful?
Who, indeed! Not we, you know that, for he has grown up with us
since a puppy. How he learnt it, and his parents before him, is a
mystery, of which we can only say, God has taught them, we know
not how. But see what has happened—that just because dogs have
learnt not to be selfish and to compete—that is, have become
 tame—therefore we let them live with us, and love
them. Because they try to be good in their simple way, therefore
they too have all things added to them, and live far happier, and
more comfortable lives than the selfish wolf and fox.
But why have not all animals found out that?
I cannot tell: there may be wise animals and foolish animals, as
there are wise and foolish men. Indeed there are. I see a very
wise animal there, who never competes; for she has learned
something of the golden lesson—that it is more blessed to give
than to receive; and she acts on what she has learnt, all day
Which do you mean? Why, that is a bee.
Yes, it is a bee: and I wish I were as worthy in my place as that
bee is in hers. I wish I could act up as well as she does to the
true wisdom, which is self-sacrifice. For whom is that bee
working? For herself? If that was all, she only needs to suck
the honey as she goes. But she is storing up the wax under her
stomach, and bee-bread in her thighs—for whom? Not for herself
only, or even for her own children: but for the children of
another bee, her queen. For them she labours all day long, builds
for them, feeds them, nurses them, spends her love and cunning on
them. So does that ant on the path. She is carrying home that
stick to build for other ants' children. So do the white ants in
 tropics. They have learnt not to compete, but to help each
other; not to be selfish, but to sacrifice themselves; and
therefore they are strong.
But you told me once that ants would fight and plunder each
other's nests. And once we saw two hives of bees fighting in the
air, and falling dead by dozens.
My child, do not men fight, and kill each other by thousands with
sharp shot and cold steel, because, though they have learnt the
virtue of patriotism, they have not yet learnt that of humanity?
We must not blame the bees and ants if they are no wiser than men.
At least they are wise enough to stand up for their country, that
is, their hive, and work for it, and die for it, if need be; and
that makes them strong.
But how does that make them strong?
How, is a deep question, and one I can hardly answer yet. But
that it has made them so there is no doubt. Look at the solitary
bees—the governors as we call them, who live in pairs, in little
holes in the banks. How few of them there are; and they never
seem to increase in numbers. Then look at the hive bees, how,
just because they are civilized,—that is, because they help each
other, and feed each other, instead of being solitary and
selfish,—they breed so fast, and get so much food, that if they
were not killed for their honey, they would
 soon become a
nuisance, and drive us out of the parish.
But then we give them their hives ready made.
True. But in old forest countries, where trees decay and grow
hollow, the bees breed in them.
Yes. I remember the bee-tree in the fir avenue.
Well then, in many forests in hot countries the bees swarm in
hollow trees; and they, and the ants, and the white ants, have it
all their own way, and are lords and masters, driving the very
wild beasts before them, while the ants and white ants eat up all
gardens, and plantations, and clothes, and furniture; till it is a
serious question whether in some hot countries man will ever be
able to settle, so strong have the ants grown, by ages of
civilization, and not competing against their brothers and
But may I not compete for prizes against the other boys?
Well, there is no harm in that; for you do not harm the others,
even if you win. They will have learnt all the more, while trying
for the prize; and so will you, even if you don't get it. But I
tell you fairly, trying for prizes is only fit for a child; and
when you become a man, you must put away childish things—competition among the rest.
But surely I may try to be better and wiser and more learned than
 My dearest child, why try for that? Try to be as good, and wise,
and learned as you can; and if you find any man, or ten thousand
men, superior to you, thank God for it. Do you think that there
can be too much wisdom in the world?
Of course not: but I should like to be the wisest man in it.
Then you would only have the heaviest burden of all men on your
Because you would be responsible for more foolish people than any
one else. Remember what wise old Moses said, when some one came
and told him that certain men in the camp were prophesying—"Would
God all the Lord's people did prophesy!" Yes; it would have saved
Moses many a heartache, and many a sleepless night, if all the
Jews had been wise as he was, and wiser still. So do not you
compete with good and wise men, but simply copy them: and
whatever you do, do not compete with the wolves, and the apes, and
the swine of this world; for that is a game at which you are sure
to be beaten.
Because Madam Why, if she loves you (as I trust she does), will
take care that you are beaten, lest you should fancy it was really
profitable to live like a cunning sort of animal, and not like a
true man. And how she will do that I can tell you.
 She will take
care that you always come across a worse man than you are trying
to be,—a more apish man, who can tumble and play monkey-tricks
for people's amusement better than you can; or a more swinish man,
who can get at more of the pig's-wash than you can; or a more
wolfish man, who will eat you up if you do not get out of his way;
and so she will disappoint and disgust you, my child, with that
greedy, selfish, vain animal life, till you turn round and see
your mistake, and try to live the true human life, which also is
divine;—to be just and honourable, gentle and forgiving, generous
and useful—in one word, to fear God, and keep His commandments:
and as you live that life, you will find that, by the eternal laws
of Lady Why, all other things will be added to you; that people
will be glad to know you, glad to help you, glad to employ you,
because they see that you will be of use to them, and will do them
no harm. And if you meet (as you will meet) with people better
and wiser than yourself, then so much the better for you; for they
will love you, and be glad to teach you when they see that you are
living the unselfish and harmless life; and that you come to them,
not as foolish Critias came to Socrates, to learn political
cunning, and become a selfish and ambitious tyrant, but as wise
Plato came, that he might learn the laws of Lady Why, and love
 for her sake, and teach them to all mankind. And so you,
like the plants and animals, will get your deserts exactly,
without competing and struggling for existence as they do.
And all this has come out of looking at the hayfield and the wild
Why not? There is an animal in you, and there is a man in you.
If the animal gets the upper hand, all your character will fall
back into wild useless moor; if the man gets the upper hand, all
your character will be cultivated into rich and fertile field.
Now come down home. The haymakers are resting under the hedge.
The horses are dawdling home to the farm. The sun is getting low,
and the shadows long. Come home, and go to bed while the house is
fragrant with the smell of hay, and dream that you are still
playing among the haycocks. When you grow old, you will have
other and sadder dreams.
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