Lafcadio Hearn’s book, “In Ghostly Japan,”
there is a remarkable chapter on silk-worms.
Nümi’s neighbourhood, where there are plenty
of mulberry-trees, many families keep silkworms. . . .
It is curious to see hundreds of caterpillars feeding
all together in one tray, and to hear the soft, papery
noise which they make while gnawing their mulberry leaves.
As they approach maturity the creatures need almost constant
attention. At brief intervals some expert visits each
tray to inspect progress, picks up the plumpest feeders,
and decides by gently rolling them between his forefinger
and thumb, which are ready to [Page 13] spin.
. . . A few only of the best are suffered to emerge from
their silky sleep – the selected breeders. They
have beautiful wings, but cannot use them. They have mouths,
but do not eat. They only pair, lay eggs, and die. For
thousands of years their race has been so well cared for
that it can no longer take care of itself.”
moral to be deduced from this instance is obvious. Compare
with the silkworms our mortal selves. These happy grubs
are tended by a kindly boy, who supplies their every need;
they have not a wish unsatisfied. By a sort of miracle,
a supernatural power (as it would seem to them), they
have been removed from the field of competition. For them
the struggle for existence no longer exists. One imagines
that if they were capable of prayer they could ask no
more perfect gift than that which has been bestowed upon
them – immunity from strife and security in the
comforts of existence. What more do we ourselves ask?
Our prayer is almost never that [Page 14] we
may persist, endure, and overcome, but rather that we
may be removed by a kindly providence from the region
of struggle to some benign sphere where all the delights
of life may fall to our lot without an effort.
is probably an idle and wicked dream. Witness the case
of the silkworms. If you would form some notion of what
the imagined heaven might do for us, consider the case
of our small friends among the mulberry leaves. When we
think of the lilies of the field, and promise ourselves
a state like theirs according to the word, “Shall
He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”
we are prone to forget that every moment of their life
for untold ages has been filled with a strenuous purpose,
quiet and unperceived, yet none the less strong on that
account. Yes, we may have the motive and the vesture of
our little sisters of the field, but we must have their
tenacity and their indomitable endurance as well. To cease
to strive is to begin to degenerate. As Mr. Hearn says
“An early stage of that
degeneration would be represented by total incapacity
to help ourselves – then we should begin to lose
the use of our higher sense organs – later on, the
brain would shrink to a vanishing pin-point of matter;
still later we should dwindle into mere amorphous sacs,
mere blind stomachs. Such would be the physical consequence
of that kind of divine love which we so lazily wish for.
The longing for perpetual bliss and perpetual peace might
well seem a malevolent inspiration from the lords of death
Then follow these memorable sentences:
“All life that feels and thinks has been, and can
continue to be, only as the product of struggle and pain
– only as the outcome of endless battle with the
Powers of the Universe. And cosmic law is uncompromising.
Whatever organ ceases to know pain – whatever faculty
ceases to be used under the stimulus of pain – must
also cease to exist. Let pain and its effort be suspended,
and life must shrink [Page 16] back,
first into protoplastic shapelessness, thereafter into
Then we turn to a modern poet, and read:
soul of all things! make it mine
feel, amid the city’s jar,
abides a peace of thine,
did not make and cannot mar.
will to neither strive nor cry,
power to feel with others give!
calm me more! nor let me die,
I have begun to live.”
is one to reconcile Arnold’s prayer for calm with
the remorseless law of perpetual trial, perpetual endeavour?
Is there indeed, a peace “man did not make and
cannot mar?” Is the tremulous strain of modern
life, its killing excitement, its relentless rush, its
breathless haste, its eager and ruthless competition,
a part of the inevitable development of man’s
existence? Or should we combat these things as temporary
aberrations from the normal? Shall I serve my hour and
generation [Page 17] best by combating
the idea of strife and by insisting on peace and repose
in my own surroundings or by entering heart and mind
into the race and battle of the strong? Certainly I
shall best serve my fellows by following my own conviction
in the matter. That at least is sure; that at least
is the cosmic law; to each individual his own ideal
and the will to follow it. But how to know in the first
place? How to tell the best ideal from the second best?
Or is there, perhaps, some way of harmonizing both ideals
in a single line of action?
In that great pageant of the
seasons which passes by our door year after year, in
the myriad changes of the wonderful spectacle of this
greening and blanching orb, in all the processes of
that apparition we call Nature, do I not see both strife
and calm exemplified? That “calm soul of all things,”
which Arnold invokes, is really in constant strife.
Every moment the apparent calm of nature covers a relentless
battle for existence, tribe against [Page 18]
tribe, species against species; and the price
of life in unceasing struggle, the whole earth groaning
and travailing together. So that the appearance of calm
which settles on the face of our mother earth, in the
long, slow summer afternoon, is in reality but the veil
and deception of the truth. Is it? Or may we think that
the unaccounted powers of life at play through the world
partake of a universal peace as well as of a universal
How is it with ourselves? Is
there any man who can wholly possess his heart in patience?
Is there any who must always be striving? Is it not
rather true that to the most strenuous of us there come
fleeting moments when calm and self-possession seem
good? And does there live the most confirmed quietist
who has not at times been roused to action by love or
patriotism or generous indignation?
It may very well happen that
circumstances have placed you in the forefront of the
fight, where all your splendid life long you shall have
never a minute to call your own, where [Page
19] you shall never once be able to rest or
meditate or sun your spirit in a basking hour of leisure.
Complain not. This is the fortune of the captain of
humanity; be glad the good God has laid upon you a work
as great as your powers. The stern struggle and victorious
achievement can never be cramping to the soul. And the
vast cisterns of repose may be opened to you in another
incarnation; indeed they were possibly yours long since
and from them you have derived this burning energy.
It may be, on the other hand,
that inactive doubt and timorous incertitude beset me,
and that I am becoming stale for lack of use. Never
mind, the hour will one day strike, and the lethargic
torpor of temperamental incapacity will be broken up,
and I shall be remoulded into something more trenchant
and available for the forwarding of beneficent designs.
Meanwhile for both of us, it
may be, we shall find solace in a wise philosophic blending
of the two ideals. It is somehow possible [Page
20], I think, to be as strenuous and efficient
as nature herself in action, and yet to have in mind
always, as a standard of normal being, the inflexible
serenity of the wheeling sun [Page 21].