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- The Life of the Fly - 1/49 -


THE LIFE OF THE FLY: With Which are Interspersed Some Chapters of Autobiography

By J. Henri Fabre

Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos Fellow of the Zoological Society of London

CONTENTS

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE I THE HARMAS II THE ANTHRAX III ANOTHER PROBER (PERFORATOR) IV LARVAL DIMORPHISM V HEREDITY VI MY SCHOOLING VII THE POND VIII THE CADDIS WORM IX THE GREENBOTTLES X THE GRAY FLESH FLIES XI THE BUMBLEBEE FLY XII MATHEMATICAL MEMORIES: NEWTON'S BINOMIAL THEOREM XIII MATHEMATICAL MEMORIES: MY LITTLE TABLE XIV THE BLUEBOTTLE: THE LAYING XV THE BLUEBOTTLE: THE GRUB XVI A PARASITE OF THE MAGGOT XVII RECOLLECTIONS OF CHILDHOOD XVIII INSECTS AND MUSHROOMS XIX A MEMORABLE LESSON XX INDUSTRIAL CHEMISTRY

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE

The present volume contains all the essays on flies, or Diptera, from the Souvenirs entomologiques, to which I have added, in order to make the dimensions uniform with those of the other volumes of the series, the purely autobiographical essays comprised in the Souvenirs. These essays, though they have no bearing upon the life of the fly, are among the most interesting that Henri Fabre has written and will, I am persuaded, make a special appeal to the reader. The chapter entitled The Caddis Worm has been included as following directly upon The Pond.

Since publishing The Life of the Spider, I was much struck by a passage in Dr. Chalmers Mitchell's stimulating work, The Childhood of Animals, in which the secretary of the Zoological Society of London says: 'I have attempted to avoid the use of terms familiar only to students of zoology and to refrain from anatomical detail, but at the same time to refrain from the irritating habit assuming that my readers have no knowledge, no dictionaries and no other books.'

I began to wonder whether I had gone too far in simplifying the terminology of the Fabre essays and in appending explanatory footnotes to the inevitable number of outlandish names of insects. But my doubts vanished when I thought upon Fabre's own words in the first chapter of this book: 'If I write for men of learning, for philosophers...I write above all things for the young. I want to make them love the natural story which you make them hate; and that is why, while keeping strictly to the domain of truth, I avoid your scientific prose, which too often, alas, seems borrowed from some Iroquois idiom!'

And I can but apologize if I have been too lavish with my notes to this chapter in particular, which introduces to us, as in a sort of litany, a multitude of the insects studied by the author. For the rest, I have continued my system of references to the earlier Fabre books, whether translated by myself or others. Of the following essays, The Harmas has appeared, under another title, in The Daily Mail; The Pond, Industrial Chemistry and the two Chapters on the bluebottle in The English Review; and The Harmas, The Pond and Industrial Chemistry in the New York Bookman. The others are new to England and America, unless any of them should be issued in newspapers or magazines between this date and the publication of the book.

I wish once more to thank Miss Frances Rodwell for her assistance in the details of my work and in the verification of the many references; and my thanks are also due to Mr. Edward Cahen, who has been good enough to revise the two chemistry chapters for me, and to Mr. W. S. Graff Baker, who has performed the same kindly task towards the two chapters entitled Mathematical Memories. -- Alexander Teixeira de Mattos. Chelsea, 8 July, 1913.

[Recorder's Note: Most Translator's Footnotes have been omitted from this text, but some of his references to localities and insect names are included in brackets. I apologize to English readers for changes to American spelling.]

CHAPTER I THE HARMAS

This is what I wished for, hoc erat in votis: a bit of land, oh, not so very large, but fenced in, to avoid the drawbacks of a public way; an abandoned, barren, sun scorched bit of land, favored by thistles and by wasps and bees. Here, without fear of being troubled by the passersby, I could consult the Ammophila and the Sphex [two digger or hunting wasps] and engage in that difficult conversation whose questions and answers have experiment for their language; here, without distant expeditions that take up my time, without tiring rambles that strain my nerves, I could contrive my plans of attack, lay my ambushes and watch their effects at every hour of the day. Hoc erat in votis. Yes, this was my wish, my dream, always cherished, always vanishing into the mists of the future.

And it is no easy matter to acquire a laboratory in the open fields, when harassed by a terrible anxiety about one's daily bread. For forty years have I fought, with steadfast courage, against the paltry plagues of life; and the long-wished-for laboratory has come at last. What it has cost me in perseverance and relentless work I will not try to say. It has come; and, with it--a more serious condition--perhaps a little leisure. I say perhaps, for my leg is still hampered with a few links of the convict's chain.

The wish is realized. It is a little late, O my pretty insects! I greatly fear that the peach is offered to me when I am beginning to have no teeth wherewith to eat it. Yes, it is a little late: the wide horizons of the outset have shrunk into a low and stifling canopy, more and more straitened day by day. Regretting nothing in the past, save those whom I have lost; regretting nothing, not even my first youth; hoping nothing either, I have reached the point at which, worn out by the experience of things, we ask ourselves if life be worth the living.

Amid the ruins that surround me, one strip of wall remains standing, immovable upon its solid base: my passion for scientific truth. Is that enough, O my busy insects, to enable me to add yet a few seemly pages to your history? Will my strength not cheat my good intentions? Why, indeed, did I forsake you so long? Friends have reproached me for it. Ah, tell them, tell those friends, who are yours as well as mine, tell them that it was not forgetfulness on my part, not weariness, nor neglect: I thought of you; I was convinced that the Cerceris [a digger wasp] cave had more fair secrets to reveal to us, that the chase of the Sphex held fresh surprises in store. But time failed me; I was alone, deserted, struggling against misfortune. Before philosophizing, one had to live. Tell them that; and they will pardon me.

Others again have reproached me with my style, which has not the solemnity, nay, better, the dryness of the schools. They fear lest a page that is read without fatigue should not always be the expression of the truth. Were I to take their word for it, we are profound only on condition of being obscure. Come here, one and all of you--you, the sting bearers, and you, the wing-cased armor- clads--take up my defense and bear witness in my favor. Tell of the intimate terms on which I live with you, of the patience with which I observe you, of the care with which I record your actions. Your evidence is unanimous: yes, my pages, though they bristle not with hollow formulas nor learned smatterings, are the exact narrative of facts observed, neither more nor less; and whoever cares to question you in his turn will, obtain the same replies.

And then, my dear insects, if you cannot convince those good people, because you do not carry the weight of tedium, I, in my turn, will say to them: 'You rip up the animal and I study it alive; you turn it into an object of horror and pity, whereas I cause it to be loved; you labor in a torture chamber and dissecting room, I make my observations under the blue sky to the song of the cicadas, you subject cell and protoplasm to chemical tests, I study instinct in its loftiest manifestations; you pry into death, I pry into life. And why should I not complete my thought: the boars have muddied the clear stream; natural history, youth's glorious study, has, by dint of cellular improvements, become a hateful and repulsive thing. Well, if I write for men of learning, for philosophers, who, one day, will try to some extent to unravel the tough problem of instinct, I write also, I write above all things for the young. I want to make them love the natural history which you make them hate; and that is why, while keeping strictly to the domain of truth, I avoid your scientific prose, which too often, alas seems borrowed from some Iroquois idiom."

But this is not my business for the moment: I want to speak of the bit of land long cherished in my plans to form a laboratory of living entomology, the bit of land which I have at last obtained in the solitude of a little village. It is a harmas, the name given, in this district [the country round Serignan, in Provence], to an untilled, pebbly expanse abandoned to the vegetation of the thyme. It is too poor to repay the work of the plow; but the sheep passes there in spring, when it has chanced to rain and a little grass shoots up.

My harmas, however, because of its modicum of red earth swamped by a huge mass of stones, has received a rough first attempt at cultivation: I am told that vines once grew here. And, in fact, when we dig the ground before planting a few trees, we turn up,


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