Hydrogen Jukebox Press
An Online Edition
edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers
Tuesday, June 23, 1914
"Well! and what have you been doing all day?" was the Pigeon's cheerful greeting to the Sparrow, who fluttered to the rim of the basin as the sun was falling behind the roofs.
The little fellow seemed to take the question petulantly; he whetted his back on the iron, and shook his wings in a disgruntled manner before answering.
"The same thing--the same thing as always, and the same, I suppose, as all of us--trying to get a living," he replied. "And a hard business it is, I wake up before daybreak, set out to catch the early worm for my fledglings; another bird beats me to it, and so I lose that chance. With a hundred other breakfastless Sparrows, I bide my time, I scour the street, I pick and peck and scratch and bore for morsels, stand upside down and peer into chinks for them, scrutinize the trees, the grass, the gutters, the heat-softened pavement; I lie in ambush for drifting insects; I attack another fellow who has a prize, and am beaten off defeated; I entertain high hopes and am forestalled, frustrated, disappointed. This is not only the story of every day, but of every meal. There is no difference except as winter comes on and the struggle becomes more keen."
The Pigeons were amused. "Well," answered the Gray Pigeon, philosophically, "this is how birds live, and how birds are made. We are all children of the Struggle. It has shaped us, fitted us, beak and limb, claw and wing, as we make our living by strength or speed; by wading or perching, by searching the ground or the air."
"There is nothing," added the White Pigeon, "in the mere fact that life is hard to make any one so indignant. It is but the ordinary course of nature that creatures should toil and suffer pain. The Good Gray Mother's laws once for all are such, and so long as we are all in the same boat we can stand it. If among us thin[g]s are unequally divided as as among men, we might have more cause for complaint."
"In the beginning of mankind," said the Fireman, "this is how the early ancestral type of man lived, and this is how he was made. If you were migratory and went, say, as far as the extreme south of South America, you might have an opportunity of seeing how the plan works.
"You could start with a savage in the primeval wild, and see what the struggle for life does for him. You would likely find him sitting in the sun. But the Good Gray Mother does not intend that he shall sit there. She is going to do something for him. She is going to move him. Why? Because moving means work, and work is exercise, and exercise means improvement. How? By keeping everything around him in motion. This is one of her great principles in her most high work of making things make themselves.
"So the sun moves away to the west and he has to move or freeze in the chill of the night. The prowling wolves move from their lairs, and he must move or be eaten. His breakfast of ripe fruit has been digested hours ago, has moved away to nourish the tissues and cells of his b[o]dy, and more fruit must be moved in to replace it or he will perish of starvation. So he jumps up and goes to work--works for food, shelter, safety, and his movements build and strengthen his body, improve the quality of thews and muscles, stimulate nerves, stir intelligence, set habits of activity and skill, and as he repeats these movements better and better, he becomes a stronger, higher man.
"This is only the beginning. She multiplies these motions, and so multiplies him. She makes him do things he has never done before. Say the earth moves round in its orbit till the sun is far away and frosts begin to take hold of him and his world. He must overcome his natural and instinctive fear of fire and use it to replace the vanished warmth; he must chase or outwit a bear or a panther, kill it and clothe himself in its skin. Now from a man he has become a hunger, a wielder of weapons, a user of tools. Not because he wanted to be any of these things, in furtherance of human evolution; he only wanted to be let alone, to sit in the sun. If the Good Gray Mother had let him he would have sat there till he died, and man as we know him would never have come into being.
"Kipling has showed how all through
the rise of civilization man's very weakness, especially against other men, has been his
'Men are not moved to higher things
By wit or common sense,
But cursed by priests and kicked by kings,
Use them in self-defense.'"
"But," asked the Gray Pigeon, thinking hard, "why did not the Good Gray Mother drive other creatures up the long ascent as well as man?"
"For many reasons," said the Fireman. "Some she drives far, other not to any level; some she even allows to slip back from ground once won, even to parasitism. Now, for instance, the progenitors of the birds and the progenitors of man at a period unimaginably remote were probably of very similar types. But at some point they parted company and diverged hopelessly and forever. The birds took one road--'the way of an eagle in the air,' and the vertebrates another--'the way of a serpent upon a rock.' In consequence the birds lost forever the possibility of becoming the leading mind of the organic world. You see, the price they paid for the power of flight was this--the wing was made at the expense of the hand. With this consummate piece of animal mechanism wrapped and buried in feathers, the use which the higher vertebrates made of it was lost to them. Birds have all the bones for a hand, and could have had a hand, but they sold their right to it.
"How much man owes to his hand; how much other creatures have lost by the want of it, takes the time and thought of a trained observor to realize. Had man not been a tool-using animal, he would probably never have become man. The bird, partly because its hand became a plane for aerial locomotion, has never been anything but a bird. To one organism only out of the millions of species was it given to keep on the straight and narrow path of progress to the end, and so fulfill the final purpose that makes him ruler of the world."