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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/557

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devoured and displaced the Indians; and some think the plucky English sparrow, after whipping all birds of its weight, is destined in the future to take their place. The law which permits such strange invasions of foreign seeds and insects is evidently not a demand for them in a place where they strike. It is no part of a scheme of use or beneficence; they are a law unto themselves, and attach where they can find a foothold. They ravage as a fire does where the air or the earth is ready to flame like tinder, and they challenge man, as yet victoriously, to match his newly acquired knowledge, his microscope, and his chemistry, with the vivacity of their attack. The renowned M. Pasteur vainly fights for his silk-worm, nor is the battle yet decided; soon all the resources of science, all the skill of the naturalist, will be needed to beat back the invading armies. Man has made, in so much, Nature his slave. He bridges the ocean, he pierces the Appian barrier, he trains the lightning to fetch and carry for him, he pierces stellar space, he analyzes the sun, and, when he feels an obstacle, he forces his way; neither the sands of Suez nor the marshes of Panama delay him; but he stands baffled before his invisible enemy. A breath of air can poison his cities, or devastate his harvests. Nature thus comes back with an unexpected boomerang. Entre nous, deux maintenant. And, though proud man clearly anticipates his final triumph, cholera and yellow fever come and go at their own sweet will. The Colorado beetle journeys comfortably to visit foreign parts. A new plague of locusts, the grasshopper of the West, leaves famine behind him as he moves, and even the Gascon wine, into which the nose of Thackeray once dipped, feels an unholy presence, the blight of a new disease.

But there are other things which fly on the wings of the wind besides the seed-capsule which nourishes, the flower-germ which ornaments; thought also goes with them as they fly. Never was it so volatile, not as once hoarded in some vast brain, packed into folios by the weary hand, buried in the silence of cloisters through long ages, and at last fructifying suddenly in a thousand lives. Thought now is ever active, omnipresent; an idea now germinates in San Francisco, and a week later is stale in India. The solidest creeds get their edges frittered away by these clouds of passing thought. Custom secures a little the stability of things, but much of it is automatic—the heart is gone out of it. The monarchist is often a better democrat than his American brother, the priest who intones his service is tampering with agnostic infidelities, the Arab sheik presents you with his photograph, and the King of Siam adds a lift to his palace. There is hardly such a thing as discussion; assertion usurps the hour, and there is no reply. Everybody could be on either side of the questions which once distracted the world; and as we see the Prince of Wales over a cigar, trifling with democratic notions, the old noble humbled before the feudality he represents, the priest meshed in a network of hypocrisies