NOT much of the chalk is left
in Scotland. An occasional flint rolling in upon the shore seems to hint at
a possible deposit under water off Aberdeen. That and a few patches on the
west coast are all. With the chalk my story begins. A somewhat dim phase of
geologic time, it was pregnant with great issues in the evolution of life.
Archaic creatures enter, to appear on the hither side as forms with which we
are more familiar.
In the interval the mammals
received their initial development. Among the rest the ungulates may be said
to have come into being. In numbers they crowded forth. In vast flocks and
herds they scattered over the plains and marshes of a new world. If not
exactly as we know them, still sufficiently near to be easily recognized.
Their habits were as now. Their share was every green thing, the grass that
grows for the cattle.
That they are hoofed animals
is diagnostic enough, but not quite in balance. We give our names at
haphazard, or without reference to other names. We might as well call the
cats clawed animals. The cats and the cattle-excuse the slight alliteration
if not something worse-run in couples, and should be named along the same
lines. There is a history and brief chronicle in well-chosen names where one
leads on to another. If we called them grass-eaters quite a world of
obscurity would be cleared up.
For we straightway come upon
the flesh-eaters. Indeed the two were twin-born from the same generalized
form. There is a natural fitness in the arrangement, a sequence which we
should most assuredly observe. In two groups thus linked, to call one by the
teeth and the other by the hoofs is the act of blunderers. The first group
eat grass, and so make flesh, therefore graminivores; the second group eat
the flesh thus made, so carnivores.
No other two forms have a
like significance. No others are so linked in bonds that are indissoluble.
These were the two great protagonists. Like other twins, they straightway
fell out. There is a sense in which ungulate is not unfitting. Ingenuity can
always find a meaning in the blunders of the name-givers, even when it is
not the most obvious one. It was a trial of speed against strength; of hoof
with teeth. The tragedy of the world began then. The cry of fear and pain
seems to reach us across the aeons. These things had been before, but in
dimmer and more uncouth forms the Calibans of creation - which do not touch
As in other matters, the past
may be re-created out of the present. A few incidents, once common where we
stand, are still enacted elsewhere. In South Africa, for instance, where
herds of wary grass-feeders out on the plain are ready to start on the first
alarm, while silent carnivores-the lion and the leopard-prowl round the
outskirts, or stalk with a certain deadly skill. This discipline has been at
the forming of our tame cattle. It helps to explain a hundred little ways
they have got, taken by the dull herd as a matter of course, but really
dating back beyond Guelph and Plantagenet.
We have changed all that. And
here the larger outlines of the persecution are seen, the beginning of the
policy which has kept on in lesser circles, and whose working is not stayed.
The psychology of the movement is also made plain. The motives which are
hidden under so many flattering aliases.
In a sense we are carnivores,
though, conveniently for ourselves, we combine the tastes of both. In this
we brook no rival, nor are we delicate in our methods of getting rid of
those which exist. Our nomenclature here also is defective, by reason of
weakness. Ours is the good old rule, the simple plan that they may take who
have the power. We are an aggressive race. We have really no other right to
do anything of the kind, no right but might. No right but the weapons we
have been able to make, and the excuses we have been able to frame. We do a
thing and then include it in a decalogue, shift the responsibility
elsewhere. We may assume a virtue, but certainly we have it not. Fine names
butter no parsnips, nor do they alter facts. Nor do the commandments satisfy
a conscience that is not moulded to order. I have heard the whole matter
condensed into the convenient formula that animals have no souls. This is
clearly a case of swollen head. An unvarnished statement of the relation is
nearer the truth.
We came between the
carnivores and their dinner, and having slain the slayer sat down to the
repast, upon which we said grace. We killed them out because they persisted
in using their canines, and then proceeded to use our own. Before eating we
lit a fire to show how cooking alters the moral complexion of actions. We
rung down the curtain that the tragedy might be enacted behind; deadened the
cry of pain and fear that it might not reach over-sensitive ears.
The sentinel, the false
alarm, the short fierce combat - which were at least picturesque and
impressive, and half redeemed the ruder parts belong to an heroic age. We
have no belief in heroics. We seek no arena for our deeds, which might lend
them of its own greatness. We act secretly in dark, narrow places. Were we
dealing with men we might be said to assassinate.
Even as I write a little
group of cattle - the one nearest an innocent-looking brute, with a great
disc of white round the eye-are passing the window on their way from the
pasture to the town. Behind is a lout, with no special marks of person to
commend him as anything superior to his charge. Perhaps the chief advantage
is the stick, the original of weapons, the crudest symbol of man's
In his reminiscences, Dean
Ramsay tells of a guest in a Scots house who was late in coming down to
dinner. Donald, the manservant,. sent to find out the reason of the delay,
surprised him using an instrument with which he, Donald, was unfamiliar-a
tooth-brush, to wit. Still the guest delayed. "But, Donald," said the
master, "are you sure you made the gentleman understand?" "Understand," was
the retort, "I'se warrant he understands. He's sharpin' his teeth." While
the herd was on the way, the town was sharpin' its teeth.
So it is. The great
carnivores are extinct, killed by our hands. The grass-eaters are preserved.
Not because we love them, save in a very carnal way. The warfare goes on,
only in a less interesting mode, and with a change of one of the combatants.
We hide it from others by a sort of common understanding ; and from
ourselves because we would rather feel virtuous.
While we settle our
differences with our fellow carnivores, the ungulates are not spared. They
can have no opinion to offer in favour of the change. It can make very
little difference to them who eats, so long as they are eaten. An Englishman
dearly loves his dinner. A Scotsman does not like to be without. It is our
infirmity. We all eat. There is no harm. We were made that way. We should
all be less open to criticism if we did not strike an attitude ; and
compound for the sins of our mouth by the length of our face. I n the
rough-and-tumble past, we have somehow come out at the top. Had we been
under, we might have seen from another point of view. The advantage of a
little imagination is, that it helps us to see ourselves from the outside.
One, well known in London,
got into a bypath in Scotland. When wending his way up a Highland glen he
chanced to meet strange cattle -long-horned, shaggy-coated, some dun-coloured,
like the evening light along the slope of the hills, some wan as a stormy
gleam on the loch. They were such as Rosa Bonheur would have delighted to
paint. To her, they would have been welcome, and looked friendly. In her,
they would have awakened only admiration for their strength and
picturesqueness, and a sense how well they became the rude path, and the
rough moorland, stretching away to the misty hill tops. Now Rosa Bonheur
would never have thought of painting the visitor as a fine animal-which
probably he was not-nor as anything else. Scant appeal would he have made to
her artistic sense. In indifference or contempt she would have turned away
to stroke the dun or wan shoulders.
All is in the soul, or want
of soul, that looks. In the new-comer, these children of the wilds excited
only fear and trembling, and a sense of danger to life and limb. The long
horns and rough coat, which brought the glow to the wandering artist's face,
were the panoply of a ferocious nature ; the eyes glistening through their
shaggy fringes with a wild and alluring light meant mischief, of which he
was, perhaps, the immediate object. Barren of the artistic love which
casteth out fear, he was craven before these fearless mountaineers. On a
fenceless moor, they had all the advantage.
What means he took to secure
his safety is not on record ; but, on his return home, he wrote to a
magazine, protesting against allowing wild beasts to wander in the possible
track of innocents abroad. Think of the loss to society if one of them were
impaled. Possibly they met under happier circumstances, for the tourist.
Highland cattle do sometimes leave their native wilds to visit Smithfield
Market. With his legs under his own mahogany, and his napkin duly spread
over his waistcoat, man would be master of the situation.
In the Highlands are other
ungulates than the cattle. Sooner or later, in its windings among the hills,
the glen would eddy into some stern culde-sac, misnamed a forest. The deer
pent in there are no longer simple-horned, but antlered. Less formidable
than picturesque, the appeal of the head is aesthetic. Little tines or
branchlets to the number, it may be, of a score, shoot out here and there.
In woodland animals, these might serve for concealment, the tines being lost
amid the tracery of the trees. That they are weapons of offence is witnessed
by the deadly combats among the stags, while the hinds stand by with the
cruelty of gentleness. Moods there are in which the approach of man is made
at his own risk.
Morning and evening, when the
shadows fall eastward or westward, they come from the high grounds, to feed
on the long and juicy grasses by the ash-strip or the burn. Had the fresh or
tired tourist turned in that way, he might have seen no cause for alarm.
Deer are, in the main, shy, and when disturbed drift away like shadows. A
fleeting vision and they are lost, and the glen is empty, save of the
self-created fears of a great solitude.
With infinitely more of the
wild animal about them, deer help us to picture the old relations. They have
all the resources, all the wariness, all the pristine freshness of sense, of
days before the captivity. Scent is exquisite, sight keen. They hold a
wireless communication with an enemy coming down the wind, detect a distant
movement of the heather tuft which conceals danger. Fleet as the breeze
which brings the scent, is the speed of their vanishing. The hoof has the
old mission, to bear to some sanctuary, beyond the reach of pursuit.
Little happens in the herds
of South Africa that does not also happen in these glens, nothing essential.
On the veldt, both sides are serious, that is, perhaps, the only difference.
With the deer of the glen it is serious enough. It is all as when the wolf
came slinking up, under the shelter of the perched boulder, or, with his
long swinging gallop, followed on their track.
The wolf is no more. We
resented his interference, and wished the deer for ourselves. We killed him,
and took his place. We did not turn the quarry, which as successful rievers
we had thus acquired, within the fences, as we do cattle, to fatten for our
use. Rather we took a double toll. We sought to preserve the picturesque,
the heroic element. We could catch first and eat afterward. We would kill,
not behind doors, but in the open, and under the sky.
Our wit was pitted against
the wit of the quarry. We met wile with wile—ambushed, crawled, sought the
alliance of the wind, of the sympathetic shading of the ground until we came
within distance. We would even choose our body-covering to aid in
concealment, as the hair or fur is toned by nature. We would masquerade as
wild animals, as carnivores over against the feeding ungulates. There is
nothing original in all this. It is a case of reversion, a calling of the
underlying wild instincts to the surface.
An element of fair play
brightens the series of episodes. We give the deer a chance for its life,
which is more than we do for the cattle, only we see that it does not get
away, as it might do in a truly wild scene, and from its natural enemies.
This interval between the grazing and the gralloching, between appetite and
dinner, we call sport. It is a pretty name for a certain usurpation of the
methods of the animals we have first disinherited. As in other cases, we
adopt without acknowledgment. We deny the name to the manoeuvres we copy. We
think that sport is the prerogative of man, who has a soul. It is an
afterthought. What matter? They are alike. The same wild instincts are at
work, with the same pleasure in their exercise.
I have no quarrel with this
copy. I like heroics, even when they are not quite sincere. A very little
acquaintance with life tells us that it would be a poor show in the absence
of a little illusion. Only an enemy of his race would do away with the
staging-what the Frenchman calls the music. Sport has all the charm claimed
for it. The interlude makes all the difference between the death of the deer
on the heather at the end of a long stalk and the fate of cattle. I have
nothing to say in favour of driving.
Thus have we got, not only
the eating, but also the fun to ourselves, by the simple process of killing
out all that asked a share. We have put out myriad lights that every path,
save our own, should be dark. We have a monopoly of the pain and the
gladness of the earth. The pain is to others. The gladness may not be all it
seems. And, as we have had the making of the decalogues, we have found it
easy to prove that this was all right.
These are the days of small
things. Our activities are confined to the inner circles. We are busy among
the lesser carnivores, which in the absence of any small ungulates find
grass-eating prey of another kind. We step in between the weasel or the cat
and the rabbit. We are concerned about the warfare of the birds, and rescue
the grouse from the falcon. We want the game for ourselves.
We want also the savage
pleasure of the pursuit, or the kill. In so far only as we copy, has sport
any meaning. The methods we have added are spurious. It is we who are not
sportsmen. In the very act of removing the natural enemies we make the game
more helpless, killing easier, and sport impossible.
This may be civilization, but
it has a marvellous look of another thing. It seems somewhat of a grim
farce. It is well to keep the view narrowed, and the parson at our elbow. I
do not know how it would stand a little cross-questioning, or fare at a