A Propos of Insects

— When one reflects upon the manner in which man sweeps out of existence those insects which are noxious or unpleasant to him, and when one perceives that he thinks himself perfectly justified in his careless slaughter, because these animals are of low and he is of high estate in the order of creation, one is forced to give thought to the fact that the insects are themselves wholly unconscious of the nature and extent of their offenses against their superior. It is true that it seems as if mosquitoes and flies know the evil they do, and take pleasure therein, but still I maintain that this seeming does not image the verity as to their consciousness.

Doubtless a fly plays upon the bald surface of an elderly gentleman’s head in all innocence, as a child runs about the barren sides of a volcanic mountain. Nor is it likely that, after thus merrily disporting himself, the fly any more comprehends why he should be summarily crushed to death beneath a folded newspaper than the aforesaid infant sees any appropriateness in the sudden descent of a lava stream, which puts an end forever to his mirthful movements. As for the creatures that swarm upon the territories men themselves wish to occupy, such as army worms and potato bugs, how is it possible they should refer the doom by which they are often overtaken to the agency of human beings, or know that that doom is drawn upon them by mischief which they do in their instinctive search for the necessities of their petty baneful life ? This wide separation between the effect and its cause, rendering it impossible for the baser intelligence to perceive any connection between the two or the reasons which justify either, brings to me at times a question which, I confess, I do not willingly entertain. When we mundane folk are blown away by cyclones, swallowed up in earthquakes, stifled with hot ashes by volcanoes, or smitten by strange diseases that seem to be borne abroad on the winds of an unpitying heaven, may it be that we unconsciously have been playing the part of pestilent insects in the universe, and have put ourselves disagreeably in the way of greater beings, who have unceremoniously brushed us aside ? And are these beings so much greater than we, that they have not needed to excuse themselves for dealing out our destruction any more than we needed balm for a prick to our consciences when we burned the nests of the caterpillars that devastated our beloved apple orchards ? It is a ghastly conception — to us ; but it may be that a view of the relation of man and the caterpillar would be ghastly — to the caterpillar, if once he apprehended it.

Froude, in The Nemesis of Faith, that tabooed work of his youth, suggests a still sadder explanation of life, — sadder because there is in it less notion of service done to the higher existence by the suffering and ruin of the lower. “ Ay,” he says, after celebrating the virtues of men who dare to follow the divine prompting, “ but for these, these few martyred heroes, it might be, after all, that the earth was but a huge loss-andprofit ledger book, or a toy machine some great angel had invented for the amusement of his nursery; and the storm and the sunshine but the tears and the smiles of laughter in which he and his baby cherubs dressed their faces.”

A gentler fancy came, many years ago, from the lips of a friend of mine. We were sailing in a little boat over the lovely waters of Plymouth Bay, which take upon themselves the colors of the rainbow and the opal when the tide retires to the ocean, and permits the sands and seaweeds of the bottom to glisten through the shallow, half - transparent element above. We neared the green shores of an historic island. A little child stood by the landing and danced in the sunshine, shouting and clapping her tiny hands in a wild glee that had its source in some pure recess in her own heart. My friend watched her, and a yearning wistfulness crept into his gaze. “ Do we look ‘ cunning ’ like that to God ? ” he said. “ Is all our goodness and all our wickedness, in God’s eyes, like the goodness and the naughtiness of little children, — something rather pretty, something to be tender over, and something to amuse him ? ”

I was young myself then, and I pondered over his meaning, puzzled and surprised by this un-Puritanie view of the relations of the Creator to the created. It hinted of an affectionateness of attitude which, whimsical as it appears now that much time has passed, and some matters of thought have taken on new phases in my mind, does not wholly distinguish itself from the loftier vision of God which enabled Whittier to say, as he contemplated the mysteries of life and death : —

“ And so beside the silent sea,
I wait the muffled oar ;
No harm from Him can come to me,
On ocean or on shore.”