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"' Immeasurably inferior as you may be, compared with ourselves,'it went on (' I do not wish to appear disrespectful; but I have a reason for speaking plainly), you possess something, as a race, which we lack.'
"I moved a little farther from the emphasizing paw. 'Pardon me,' I said; 'but if this is in the nature of a diplomatic conference, I must, ic behalf of civilized humanity, protest against such preliminary assumption of superiority.'
"The ape appeared much surprised. 'But really, you must see it for yourself. It seems to me so obvious. To take the first tangible illustration. If I stretched out my arm, your fragile frame would be crushed like an egg-shell. I might go on to your submerged tenth; but I don't wish to press the point.'
"It raised its arm gently as it spoke, and I saw it was not necessary, for the purposes of our argument, to carry the matter farther.
"'We have never failed,' it proceeded, 'to keep in view what I understand you call your civilization. It interests, yet at the same time amazes, us. Some of the humbler members of our community who have visited London and Paris, attached to barrel-organs, and who have succeeded in returning, find little to admire in your mode of life. Travellers' tales are proverbially unreliable; but many of these bear the stamp of truth. For example, in the dim mists of antiquity, our race addressed themselves to the solution of the problem of happiness. How to be constantly happy seemed to them a question of such paramount importance that they refused to deal with any other until it was satisfactorily settled. It blocked the way, so to speak. Our European travellers tell us that this is still a moot point with you.'
"I admitted it. With that mighty paw waving so near, I felt that it was still a moot point with me. 'But you must find life dull in these solitudes/1 said. The ape seemed puzzled.
"'Dull?' it murmured. 'But — ah! — I see. You are, of course, unable to appreciate the effect of innumerable successions of absolute tranquillity. Still, you have your theories of heredity; but, I remember now, you only use them in connection with crime, insanity, and so forth. Dear me, how very curious! I ought not to smile, I know,' it went on, 'because, after all, it is a serious matter for you. Bred on telegraphs, nurtured on express trains and telephones, maturing beneath
electric lights, and constantly haunted by a weird desire to discover something still quicker, stronger, and more dazzling, your condition grows sadder every day. To demonstrate this, allow me to suggest a simple experiment. Take any tall-hatted gentleman haphazard from Charing Cross or Lombard Street. Place him here alone for one single week. Surely no hard fate, for the trees and grasses are green and the winds are warm. Whence comes the strange weariness — the shadow like the fear of death — which creeps to his soul? We don't feel it. Ask the birds and butterflies, and they would be simply unable to understand you. Yet the explanation is simplicity itself. When one stands at the corner of the Mansion House, and watches the hurrying crowds, it might be imagined they are merely bent on ordinary business — buying, selling, cornering markets, floating bogus mines, and so on. A busy broker would probably be annoyed if you stopped him at the door of the House, and seriously warned him against following the example of Frankenstein. Yet the monster he is creating is a terrible one. It nay be able only to worry and vex him if he has to wait ten minutes for a train; but it would become a really dangerous adversary if it caught him alone in a wood.'
"I pointed out that it is impossible to institute a comparison between a civilized man and a mere animal. I said that the cases were not parallel. The ape smiled again with a blandness which irritated me. 'They are not at all parallel. I hope I may say, without conceit, that they are widely different. For example, we know what we want. Can you honestly say the same? If I climb up that tree for a bunch of bananas, I know that I want them to eat. Will you tell me what your millionaires want more gold for? Not necessarily for their descendants. Mr. Carnegie pointed out quite recently what a bad thing unlimited money is for descendants, and yet they toil up harder trees than any in this forest to obtain it. As you say, the cases are not parallel.'
"'It is difficult,' I said, 'to explain clearly to an ape — I don't use the term disrespectfully — the complex nature of man as compared with the lowei and simpler organization of the brute.'
"The ape reflected for a few moments. 'But, pardon me,'it said, 'what has complexity to do with it? Why should not a man — you will acquit me of any desire to use the terra offensively — aspire to be upon a level with apes in this respect? If you cannot attain this position unaided, perhaps your British Association might be induced to visit us in order to determine scientifically the exact nature of the bars which stand between fin-de-silcle civilization and happiness?'
"* But do I understand you are absolutely contented here ?' I said.
"* If by contentment you mean lack of power to picture and desire to attain a higher life, we are not contented. We are perfectly aware there is no state so hopeless as that of having every hope fulfilled. Surely we may be happy without abandoning hope?'
"When a monkey takes up a position of this kind it is difficult to argue with it. I relapsed into silence.
"The ape soon resumed the attack: 'What amazes us so out here,' it went on, 'is that you don't see the simplicity of this problem of life. A child might solve it. In fact, children do solve it, every day. Watch them as they play, before your Board Schools absorb them. They are happy — happy as the bird in the air, as the despised monkey in the tree. Then, stroll on to any great social function, an "at home," or the dance of a society queen. The estimable people whom you see wish to be happy. They surround themselves with costly accessories — flowers and soon — for that object; but the bird in the hedge beats them still. They strain science to its limits; they descend to the most unmeaning trivialities; yet still the child leaves them hopelessly behind. And the ludicrous part of it all is that they can't tell why. If it were not so intensely sad,' the ape continued, 'nothing would amuse me more than to spend a week in London, and note carefully all your frantic attempts at being happy. The amount of wealth, toil, and toilsomely acquired knowledge which you devote to this object is simply astounding to a monkey. Let us take such a tour in imagination. So this fine building is your Stock Exchange? And what is this ingenious little machine that ticks? The record of all the very latest prices. Marvellous! The cleverest monkey in all Africa could never have invented such a remarkable piece of mechanism. One moment; I wish to note the radiant delight on the countenances of the possessors of this last boon of civilization. Thanks; I'm quite ready to go now. Your Houses of Parliament, you say? The concentrated wisdom of the nation. The concentrated wisdom seems rather hot and excited and angry to-night. Let
| us go away. Ah! a garden-party, given by a dignitary of your Church. Haven of
! bliss — at last, at lastl But does it not strike you that the men look bored and weary, and that the smiles of the ladies relax with curious rapidity when the object smiled upon has passed? Now, do you mind showing me happiness? Ah ! I beg your pardon — I see. That dingy little hedge-sparrow, rejoicing from the depths of its heart in the bright green leaves of summer. Another thing strikes us. You always set so much store upon what you call "high principle." Why upon "high principle"? It is obviously a most dangerous weapon in any but an unerring hand. This term "high principle" has led you astray from the beginning. It was this which made you try to teach some of the most beautiful Christian lessons with a thumbscrew. Why not keep to love? That has never led you wrong, from Christ to Father Damien.'
"' But since you despise us so bitterly, why do you seek communion with us?' I asked.
"The ape looked at me with strange, wistful eyes.
"' I cannot tell. Something faintly moving in our hearts calls out to you. Our wheel is turning peacefully; but it is still in the green forest. Yours revolves roughly, and it jars as it goes along. But, standing here, afar off, we see what you cannot see. It is ascending the mountainside ; it is getting nearer to the stars.'
"That is all," said Newton, after a pause. "I suppose I was more roughly shaken than I knew, for when Frankland's people found me, they say, I was insensible and alone.
"Dear me," thought the Regius Professor of Obsolete Theologies as he wended his way home; "what a sad thing it will be if poor Newton has really gone wrong in the head."
H. Knight Horsfield.
From The Asiatic Quarterly Review. A MARCH THROUGH THE GREAT PERSIAN DESERT.
BY C. E. BIDDULPH.
It is strange to observe the vague fears and superstitions which, in the minds of the more settled population in the neighborhood, surround the vast extent of barren and, as far as Europeans are concerned, almost unexplored country, known as the Great Desert of Persia. So little are they acquainted with these regions, into which they rarely venture themselves, that there is nothing which they are not ready to believe regarding the wonders and horrors to be seen there, and described by those whom the overpowering calls of superstition,— as in the case of pilgrims to the sacred shrine of Meshed, — or business, — as in that of the camel owners who gain their living by transporting merchandise to and fro, between the towns and villages on either side of this desert, — have compelled, however unwillingly, to visit the strange region. These even hurryalong the beaten tracks which have been traversed for unknown centuries, looking neither to the right nor to the left, thankful to get each day to their journey's end, without having encountered devil, monster, or bandit, and to find there a supply of water sufficient for their needs, but utterly ignorant of anything regarding the country they have passed through, beyond that portion of it which lay within a few hundred yards of their path. And yet such is the scene of absolute desolation which encounters the eye in every direction as one marches on hour after hour and day after day through these vast solitudes, and the weirdness of the appearances of the forms assumed by the ragged and broken outlines of the sterile ranges of hills and mountains which rise abruptly at intervals from the otherwise level surface of the plains, — rendered still more grotesque and imposing through the dryness and clearness of the atmosphere, which magnifies their dimension tenfold and equally exaggerates the relief between light and shade, till a little bush appears in the distance like a big tree, and a trifling rock like a huge mountain, while the mountains themselves appear covered with all sorts of fantastic appearances, in the forms of castles, precipices, and black, awesome abysses, — so strange and unworldlike is the landscape thus presented on all sides, that even to the prosaic and well-balanced mind of the European traveller the desert is not without its charms, if only on account of the strange qualms which the extreme solitude of the scene and the unaccustomed appearances which there surround him produce upon his mind. The only beings who frequent these parts are scattered bands of the Ibyats, or wandering tribes of Persia, who graze their flocks in the more favored portions, where a supply of water sufficient for the purpose of supporting their limited numbers is to be found; and these,
in the wildness of their manners and appearance, accord well with the surroundings amidst which they spend their lives.
Our first day's experience of this uncanny region was not, on the whole, unfavorable. It is true that we had to march sixteen miles on end before we could reach any water, that we lost our way amidst the labyrinth of low hills in the centre of which the particular spring which was the goal of our day's march was situated; and that all our servants and followers were of the most resolutely despondent frame of mind regarding the proposed line of march, and were determined that we were all fated to die of thirst, or in some strange or violent manner in the desert; also that the spring itself, when we found it, was so brackish in its taste we could hardly drink it, and so limited in the amount it supplied that our camels and mules could only drink by detachments, each successive one waiting till the little hollow in the ground which it filled, and which had been completely emptied by the one preceding it, had had time to fill itself again. In spite, however, of these little tUsagr/ments, the air which we breathed was fresh and bracing, and the temperature so dettciously cool, that the discomfort resulting from them appeared hardly worth considering, compared with the general sensation experienced of health and enjoyment.
As night fell, our servants, having exhausted their alarms regarding the perils to be encountered from risk of thirst or starvation, had a fresh access on account of those which they imagined they might be likely to incur from robbers; and nothing would satisfy them but that our armament of rifles and revolvers should be distributed amongst them, equipped with which they patrolled the camp all night, while we slept in peaceful security under such ample protection. The night passed without any occasion for resorting to extremes, and we arose refreshed by our slumbers to continue our journey to the next spring, which in this case lay about twenty-five miles distant amongst the recesses of the Siah Kab, or Black Mountains, which stand out as an important feature in the general landscape, being visible for many miles on all sides. These mountains have always had an unenviable reputation, as being, on account of their inaccessibility, the haunts of all sorts of outcasts and refugees from other parts of Persia, and similar desperate characters; so much so, that Shah Abbas the Great, — who appears to have been the only one of the sovereigns of Persia, within memory, who had any sense of duty towards his country and his subjects, — caused no less than three strongly fortified caravansarais to be built, within about ten miles of each other, in spots where water was procurable amidst the valleys of these mountains; so that travellers might, within the protection thus afforded, feel themselves secure from all danger at the hands of the lawless population which haunted the neighborhood. And here these caravansarais still stand, though in a lamentable condition of ruin; for not only have none of this monarch's successors had the public spirit to keep them in repair, but it is even said that one of the earlier members of the present Kazar dynasty, in an inconceivably childish spirit of jealousy at the greatness of his predecessor, truly Oriental in its character, did his utmost to destroy them. In spite, however, of this barbarous treatment and the ravages of time, these buildings, thanks to the substantial manner in which they were erected, still afford a considerable amount of shelter to the traveller, if not the degree of protection for which they were intended in former times.
Shah Abbas appears, indeed, to have been an unaccountably enlightened monarch to have been produced in such an obstinately non-progressive country as Persia. Had it been any other country or people that were concerned, one would have said that he had been before his times; in a Mohammedan country, however, all times are the same, for the idea of any advancement proportionate to the duration of the national existence is quite opposed to all the ideas current amongst the followers of a religion to which every other consideration is subordinate, and the main principles of the teaching of which is based upon a doctrine of fatalism, according to which the greatest duty of mankind is to accept everything which may occur, whether inevitable or no, as the will of God, and that to attempt to evade it by any personal exercise of energy or authority is nothing less than an impious interference with his decrees.
Though the monarch Shah Abbas thus cannot be said to be before his times according to Mohammedan ideas, he is a singular character amidst them, for wherever there are to be seen the ruins of a road, a bridge, a caravansarai, or any work intended for the benefit of mankind throughout Persia, its origin is invariably ascribed to him. We did not camp at either of these caravansarais, as the water
there, though abundant and to all appearance as bright and pure and sparkling as could be seen, was, we found on trial, too salt to be drinkable by those unaccustomed to its flavor; and we continued our march a few miles farther on, where the water was less tainted by minerals. Here we determined to halt for a day before undertaking the long march which lay between us and the next reliable supply of water, distant about forty miles off, across a plain covered with salt incrustation known locally by the term kavir. Early next morning we ascended the highest points of the mountains to view the neighborhood, and trace out if possible our proposed route, and here we were rewarded by the prospect of one of the most peculiar sights it had been our fortune to look upon, and one, too, as unexpected as it was strange, for the very existence of this wonderful natural phenomenon was, we found, completely unknown to the European population in Persia, none of whom had ever had the enterprise to venture so far off the beaten track into these unpromising regions. At our feet lay what looked like an immense frozen sea, but which was in reality a deposit of salt, which entirely filled the hollow in the plains towards the south and stretched away as far as the eye could reach on either side, glittering in the sun like a sheet of glass. According to the accounts of the guides who had accompanied us, this vast deposit of salt was in reality of the consistency of ice, and, like the latter, formed a coat of varying degrees of thickness upon the surface of the water or swampy ground which lay beneath it. In places this incrustation attained a thickness of many feet, and in others an unknown depth, so that laden mules and camels could pass over it with perfect safety; elsewhere, however, where this was not the case, it would break beneath their weight did they venture upon it, and they would be forthwith swallowed up by the morass which lay below. The path across was thus only known to those who were in the habit of traversing it, and a very little deviation on either side of this would probably involve certain destruction; and many were the tales they recounted of the various travellers who had attempted to cross it without sufficient acquaintance with the route or at unfavorable times, such as by day or in a storm, and had never been heard of again.
It was very difficult, of course, to imagine how all this could be the case, as in a saturated solution of salt and water the salt would naturally be deposited upon the bottom, and not caked upon the surface. But in spite of the strangeness of the story we found it to be quite correct, for, our curiosity being whetted by the accounts they then gave us, and the strange appearance before us, we determined to march straight across "the plain of salt," instead of, as our intended route would have lain, round its edges; upon consultation, however, with our muleteers, we judged it wisest not to attempt this by day, as they told us that the glare would be so blinding that it would be almost impossible to avoid losing our way, while the brilliant moonlight — for the moon was at its full — offered every facility for marching by night. We resolved, therefore, to start the next day so as to arrive at its margin, which was about twenty miles distant from our camp, by sunset.
The next evening, accordingly, just as the sun was low on the horizon, found us approaching the brilliant white expanse which had attracted our attention so much on the previous day. This we found to be more immediately surrounded by a stretch of swampy ground, through which wound a single path, trodden into some degree of consistency by the traffic of ages. In the winter the ground on either side of this must constitute a regular morass, to judge from the skeletons lying about of animals who had wandered off the track, and, apparently sinking into it, had been unable to extricate themselves again, and thus died as they fell. After following this track for about a couple of miles, we came upon the actual sheet of salt. This at the edge was soft and sloppy, like half-melted ice; but, as we proceeded, it gained more and more in consistency, till at a distance of three or four miles it resembled nothing more than very solid ice, strong enough to bear any weight. After marching for a further distance of five or six miles upon this strange surface, we halted, to examine as far as we could, its composition; and by means of an iron tent peg and a hammer, we endeavored to detach a block to take with us; but we found it far too hard for us to be able to make any impression, and though we succeeded in bending our tent-pins, we made no impression upon the salt beyond detaching a few chips, which we were obliged to be satisfied with as the result of our labors; these we found to be of the purest white, and as hard as granite, though later on, in exposure to the damper air beyond the margin of the salt plain, they turned a greyish color and lost a good deal of their consistency, becoming quite pliable
in the hands. We were told that at this distance from the land the salt incrustation was many feet thick; and this we could easily believe to be the fact. Having completed the examination, we continued our way; and anything more weird and unworldlike than the scene which surrounded us it would be difficult to imagine. The last gleams of daylight had now disappeared, and the moon was shining brightly upon our way. All round us lay a boundless expanse of the most brilliant white salt, glimmering like snow in its light, and unbroken by any relief to the dead monotony of the effect thus produced, except in such cases as here and there a bush or a piece of stick, blown off the neighboring plains, had got imbedded in its surface. Not a sound was to be heard except the tramp of the animals and the clang of the mule bells, while every now and then, as a high wind was blowing, a piece of bramble or a wisp of grass would come racing past, along the level surface in a ghostly manner that was quite calculated to make one start. The effect of the moonlight upon the white ground was to render things less discernible than had we been on land; and we could easily understand how easy it must be to lose one's way here, for once or twice, getting separated from the kaffila, we found that the only guide toils position was the sound of its bells. The track, moreover, was of the vaguest description, the only signs by which it could be distinguished being the traces left by previous kaffilas; and these occasionally failed us, so that more than once we found ourselves, to our consternation, wandering off the route on to a surface which had apparently never been touched by man or beast.
We crossed the margin of the salt, on our entrance upon it about 6.30 P.m., and marching steadily at an average pace of not less than three and a half miles an hour, we found ourselves at the other side about 3 A.m., and must thus have traversed a distance from edge to edge of about twenty-five miles in a straight line. From the view which we obtained at various points of the vast hollow in which this incrustation is accumulated, and from the accounts of the people dwelling near, we reckoned that the total extent covered by it could not be less than about four hundred square miles, if only it stretched in the direction from east to west as far as it did in that in which we had crossed it, from north to south; but, as far as we could judge, it must have extended much farther.