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- This Simian World - 3/9 -
There are no lights in these streets, though these people are abroad much at night. All you see are stars overhead and the glowing eyes of cat ladies, of lithe silken ladies who pass you, or of stiff-whiskered men. Beware of those men and the gleam of the split-pupiled stare. They are haughty, punctilious, inflammable: self-absorbed too, however. They will probably not even notice you; but if they do, you are lost. They take offense in a flash, abhor strangers, despise hospitality, and would think nothing of killing you or me on their way home to dinner.
Follow one of them. Enter this house. Ah what splendor! No servants, though a few abject .monkeys wait at the back-doors, and submissively run little errands. But of course they are never let inside: they would seem out of place. Gorgeous couches, rich colors, silken walls, an oriental magnificence. In here is the ballroom. But wait: what is this in the corner? A large triumphal statue--of a cat overcoming a dog. And look at this dining-room, its exquisite appointments, its--daintiness: faucets for hot and cold milk in the pantry, and a gold bowl of cream.
Some one is entering. Hush! If I could but describe her! Languorous, slender and passionate. Sleepy eyes that see everything. An indolent purposeful step. An unimaginable grace. If you were /her/ lover, my boy, you would learn how fierce love can be, how capricious and sudden, how hostile, how ecstatic, how violent!
Think what the state of the arts would have been in such cities.
They would have had few comedies on their stage; no farces. Cats care little for fun. In the circus, superlative acrobats. No clowns.
In drama and singing they would have surpassed us probably. Even in the state of arrested development as mere animals, in which we see cats, they wail with a passionate intensity at night in our yards. Imagine how a Caruso descended from such beings would sing.
In literature they would not have begged for happy endings.
They would have been personally more self-assured than we, far freer of cheap imitativeness of each other in manners and art, and hence more original in art; more clearly aware of what they really desired; not cringingly watchful of what was expected of them; less widely observant perhaps, more deeply thoughtful.
Their artists would have produced less however, even though they felt more. A super-cat artist would have valued the pictures he drew for their effects on himself; he wouldn't have cared a rap whether anyone else saw them or not. He would not have bothered, usually, to give any form to his conceptions. Simply to have had the sensation would have for him been enough. But since simians love to be noticed, it does not content them to have a conception; they must wrestle with it until it takes a form in which others can see it. They doom the artistic impulse to toil with its nose to the grindstone, until their idea is expressed in a book or a statue. Are they right? I have doubts. The artistic impulse seems not to wish to produce finished work. It certainly deserts us half-way, after the idea is born; and if we go on, art is labor. With the cats, art is joy.
But the dominant characteristic of this fine race is cunning. And hence I think it would have been through their craftiness, chiefly, that they would have felt the impulse to study, and the wish to advance. Craft is a cat's delight: craft they never can have too much of. So it would have been from one triumph of cunning to another that they would have marched. That would have been the greatest driving force of their civilization.
This would have meant great progress in invention and science--or in some fields of science, the economic for instance. But it would have retarded them in others. Craft studies the world calculatingly, from without, instead of understandingly from within. Especially would it have cheapened the feline philosophies; for not simply how to know but how to circumvent the universe would have been their desire. Mankind's curiosity is disinterested; it seems purer by contrast. That is to say, made as we are, it seems purer to us. What we call disinterested, however, super-cats might call aimless. (Aimlessness is one of the regular simian traits.)
I don't mean to be prejudiced in favor of the simian side. Curiosity may be as debasing, I grant you, as craft. And craft might turn into artifices of a kind which would be noble and fine. Just as the ignorant and fitful curiosity of some little monkey is hardly to be compared to the astronomer's magnificent search, so the craft and cunning we see in our pussies would bear small relation to the high-minded planning of some ruler of the race we are imagining.
And yet--craft /is/ self-defeating in the end. Transmute it into its finest possible form, let it be as subtle and civilized as you please, as yearning and noble, as enlightened, it still sets itself over against the wholeness of things; its role is that of the part at war with the whole. Milton's Lucifer had the mind of a fine super-cat.
That craft may defeat itself in the end, however, is not the real point. That doesn't explain why the lions aren't ruling the planet. The trouble is, it would defeat itself in the beginning. It would have too bitterly stressed the struggle for existence. Conflict and struggle make civilizations virile, but they do not by themselves make civilizations. Mutual aid and support are needed for that. There the felines are lacking. They do not co-operate well; they have small group-devotion. Their lordliness, their strong self-regard, and their coolness of heart, have somehow thwarted the chance of their racial progress.
There are many other beasts that one might once have thought had a chance.
Some, like horses and deer, were not bold enough; or were stupid, like buffaloes.
Some had over-trustful characters, like the seals; or exploitable characters, like cows, and chickens, and sheep. Such creatures sentence themselves to be captives, by their lack of ambition.
Dogs? They have more spirit. But they have lost their chance of kingship through worshipping us. The dog's finer qualities can't be praised too warmly; there is a purity about his devotion which makes mere men feel speechless: but with all love for dogs, one must grant they are vassals, not rulers. They are too parasitic--the one willing servant class of the world. And we have betrayed them by making under-simians of them. We have taught them some of our own ways of behaving, and frowned upon theirs. Loving us, they let us stop their developing in tune with their natures; and they've patiently tried ever since to adopt ways of ours. They have done it, too; but of course they can't get far: it's not their own road. Dogs have more love than integrity. They've been true to us, yes, but they haven't been true to themselves.
Pigs? The pig is remarkably intelligent and brave,--but he's gross; and grossness delays one's achievement, it takes so much time. The snake too, though wise, has a way of eating himself into stupors. If super-snake-men had had banquets they would have been too vast to describe. Each little snake family could have eaten a herd of cattle at Christmas.
Goats, then? Bears or turtles? Wolves, whales, crows? Each ha brains and pride, and would have been glad to rule the world if they could; but each had their defects, and their weaknesses for such a position.
The elephant? Ah! Evolution has had its tragedies, hasn't it, as well as its triumphs; and well should the elephant know it. He had the best chance of all. Wiser even than the lion, or the wisest of apes, his wisdom furthermore was benign where theirs was sinister. Consider his dignity, his poise and skill. He was plastic, too. He had learned to eat many foods and endure many climates. Once, some say, this race explored the globe. Their bones are found everywhere, in South America even; so the elephants' Columbus may have found some road here before ours. They are cosmopolitans, these suave and well-bred beings. They have rich emotional natures, long memories, loyalty; they are steady and sure; and not narrow, not self-absorbed, for they seem interested in everything. What was it then, that put them out of the race?
Could it have been a quite natural belief that they had already won?
And when they saw that they hadn't, and that the monkey-men were getting ahead, were they too great-minded and decent to exterminate their puny rivals?
It may have been their tolerance and patience that betrayed them. They wait too long before they resent an imposition or insult. Just as ants are too energetic and cats too shrewd for their own highest good, so the elephants suffer from too much patience. Their exhibitions of it may seem superb,--such power and such restraint, combined, are noble,--but a quality carried to excess defeats itself. Kings who won't lift their scepters must yield in the end; and, the worst of it is, to upstarts who snatch at their crowns.
I fancy the elephants would have been gentler masters than we: more live-and-let-live in allowing other species to stay here. Our way is to kill good and bad, male and female and babies, till the few last survivors lie hidden away from our guns. All species must surrender unconditionally--those are our terms--and come and live in barns alongside us; or on us, as parasites. The creatures that want to live a life of their own, we call wild. If wild, then no matter how harmless we treat them as outlaws, and those of us who are specially well brought up shoot them for fun. Some might be our friends. We don't wish it. We keep them all terrorized. When one of us conquering monkey-men enters the woods, most animals that scent him slink away, or race off in a panic. It is not that we have planned this deliberately: but they know what we're like. Race by race they have been slaughtered. Soon all will be gone. We give neither freedom nor life-room to those we defeat.
If we had been as strong as the elephants, we might have been kinder. When great power comes naturally to people, it is used more urbanely. We use it as parvenus do, because that's what we are. The elephant, being born to it, is easy-going, confident, tolerant. He would have been a more humane king.
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