EVERY one who is interested in the practical application of science, and whoever reads the magazines, must be more or less wonderstruck and excited over the transformations which Mr. Burbank has of late years wrought in the vegetable world. The new forms of plant life which he has developed by judicious manipulation and mingling of the old are more amazing than the marvels of the Arabian Nights, and more than justify the threadbare phrase so common on the pen of the journalist, “the miracles of science.”
Gratitude for what one has, however, is apt to carry with it the increase of desire for what one has not, and here as elsewhere the appetite grows by what it feeds upon. Once started, the fancy is not to be restricted to the vegetable kingdom, but goes swiftly on to conjure up possibilities in the field of animal combinations. The old fables may surely be realized, now that science has gone so far in the art of combining living elements. Why, with the horse and the condor at the service of the Burbank of the animal kingdom, need Pegasus remain a mythical creature; or the unicorn exist only in heraldry while the Shetland pony and rhinoceros offer the elements for its appearance in the flesh ? The gryphon and the sacred fringed tortoise of the East might not be of any very great practical value, but they would be highly interesting from association, and would lend an admirable air of distinction to the lawn of their fortunate possessor.
In the way of practical combinations the field is unlimited. From the trustworthiness and docility of the dog and the clever agility of the monkey might be developed a domestic creature which would solve the question of servants without giving offense to the most fanatical enemy of slavery; already science has gone far toward producing a race of cows giving pure cream, and it is only a step to a herd producing butter at first hand; the fancy of crossing bees with glow-worms, so that the resulting insects may be able to work at night, has been exploited as a jest, to the utter confounding of the Englishman’s perception of American humor, but it may after all come to be a practical possibility; if the strength and marvelous intelligence of the elephant could be tempered by the willingness and placidity of the ox, man would have such a beast for work as the world has never seen; to attempt to give to the horse the jumping powers of the grasshopper or the flea might prove too much even for science, but something might be done by utilizing the splendid lightness of the deer. What a blessing, moreover, would he confer on his race — and the thing seems well within the probabilities blessedly shining through the mists of the future — who should produce a dumb cat! Perhaps the rabbit would do for the dumbness, or the badger; but however it came, nations would arise to call that man blessed by whose skill the tabbies of the back alleys wandered through the spring nights in their amorous ecstasies— screechless. Combinations undreamed of would undoubtedly develop as science proceeded, and the limit is not to be set to the wonders which would result.
To consider humanity itself as subjected to the will of science, and individuals altered in form for the convenience of the race at large, may seem to some a matter too serious to be even speculated about; yet the bees set man the example, and rear from similar grubs a drone, a worker, or a queen, as best suits the public need, and modern philosophers are not wanting who imagine that here is to be found a foreshadowing of what is to befall the human race in some future stage of development. If humanity is to be thus manipulated, many results long desired may be attained, and possibilities dimly hinted at in mythology be realized here also. Janus may be only the mythical prototype of the future schoolmaster, able to face the blackboard and the school at the same time; the sphinx may in veritable flesh stand sentry at our gates; and, most blessed dream of all! the time may come when six arms may sprout from the shoulders of the overworked mortal who now longs for three pairs of hands when the accumulated tasks cannot be accomplished by any means less. To think of a servant with six hands, the waiter in a restaurant, the taker of tickets, the busy needlewoman, as so abundantly endowed by nature is in itself enough to make one envy our descendants who may see this in the reality. Yet one awful thought intrudes itself; suppose the six-armed mother had offspring of her own sort! A household of children each with six hands devoted to mischief! The fancy reels at the idea, and reason suggests that after all there may be compensations for having been born before the Burbank of the animal kingdom has done his perfect work.