The first night the gods and heroes assembled on the heights around
Florence. From the magnificent town there came only a faint glimmer of
artificial light, and the Arno rolled its waves melodiously towards the
sea. On a height full of convenient terraces, offering a view on the
Lily of the Arno, on Fiesole, and on the finely undulating outlines of
the Apennine Mountains, the Assembly sat down. From afar one could see
the bold lines of the copy of Michelangelo’s David on the hill. The
evening was lovely and balmy. Zeus opened the meeting with a request
directed to Alexander, King of Macedon, to ask his teacher Aristotle
to entertain them with his experiences at the seats of modern learning
and study. Alexander did so, and the grave Stagirite, mellowed by the
years, addressed the Assembly as follows:
“All my mortal life I have tried, by reading, by making vast
collections of natural objects and animals, and by the closest thinking
on the facts furnished to me by men of all sorts of professions and
crafts, to get at some unity of knowledge. I held, and still hold,
that just as Nature is one, so ought Knowledge too to be. I have
written a very large number of treatises, many of which, thanks to Thy
Providence, O Zeus, have escaped the smallpox called commentaries, in
that the little ones never got possession of those works. But while
always loving detail and single facts, I never lost sight of the
connection of facts. As a coin, whether a penny or a sovereign, has
no currency unless the image of the prince is cut out on it, even so
has no fact scientific value unless the image of an underlying general
principle is grafted thereon. This great truth I taught all my pupils,
and I hoped that men would carefully observe it in all their studies.
When then I went amongst the little ones, I expected them to do as I
had taught their teachers to do. However, what I found was, O Zeus, the
funniest of all things.
“On my visit to what they call Universities I happened to call, in the
first place, on a professor who said he studied history. In my time I
believed that history was not as suggestive of philosophical truths as
is poetry. Since then I have somewhat altered my view. Naturally enough
I was curious to know what my Professor of History thought of that, and
I asked him to that effect. He looked at me with a singular smile and
said: ‘My young friend (–I had assumed the appearance of a student–),
my young friend, history is neither more nor less than a science. As
such it consists of a long array of specialities.’ ‘And which,’ I asked
timidly, ‘is your special period?’ Whereupon the professor gravely
said: ‘The afternoons of the year 1234 A.D.'” While everybody present
in the Assembly, including even St Francis of Assisi, laughed at this
point of Aristotle’s narrative, Diogenes exclaimed: “Why has the good
man not selected the nights of that year? It would greatly reduce his
A peal of laughter rewarded the lively remark. Aristotle resumed his
tale, and said: “When the professor saw that I was a little amused
at his statement, he frowned on me and exclaimed in a deep voice,
if with frequent stammerings, which as I subsequently learnt is the
chief attraction of their diction, ‘My young friend, you must learn
to understand that we modern historians have discovered a method so
subtle, and so effective, that, with all deference be it said, we are
in some respects stronger even than the gods. For the gods cannot
change the past; but we modern historians can. We do it every day of
our lives, and some of us have obtained a very remarkable skill at it.'”
At this point of Aristotle’s narrative Homeric laughter seized all
present, and Aristophanes patted the Stagirite on the back, saying:
“Pray, consider yourself engaged. At the next performance of my best
comedy you will be my protagonist.” Aristotle thanked him with much
grace, and continued: “I was naturally very curious to learn what my
Professor of History thought of the great Greeks of my own time and of
that of my ancestors. I mentioned Homer. I had barely done so but what
my professor burst into a coarse and disdainful guffaw.
“‘Homer?’ he exclaimed; ‘Homer?–but of whom do you speak?
Homer is nothing more nor less than a multiple syndicate of
street-ballad-singers who, by a belated process of throwing back the
“reflex” of present and modern events to remote ages, and by the
well-known means of literary contamination, epical syncretism, and
religious, mythopoeic, and subconscious impersonation have been hashed
into the appearance of one great poet.
“‘Our critical methods, my young friend, are so keen that, to speak by
way of simile, we are able to spot, from looking at the footprints of a
man walking in the sand, what sort of buttons he wore on his cuffs.
“‘Poor Cuvier–otherwise one of my revered colleagues–used to say:
“Give me a tooth of an animal and I will reconstruct the rest of the
animal’s body.” What is Cuvier’s feat as compared with ours? He still
wanted a tooth; he still was in need of so clumsy and palpable a thing
as a tooth; perhaps a molar. We, the super-Cuviers of history, we do
not want a tooth any more than toothache; we want nothing. No tooth,
no footprint even, simply nothing. Is it not divine? We form, as it
were, an _Ex Nihilo_ Club. We have nothing, we want nothing, and yet
give everything. Although we have neither leg to stand on, nor tooth to
bite with, we staunchly prove that Homer was not Homer, but a lot of
Homers. Is that not marvellous? But even this, my young friend, is only
a trifle. We have done far greater things.
“‘These ancient Greeks (quite clever fellows, I must tell you, and some
of them _could_ write grammatical Greek), these ancient Greeks had,
amongst other remarkable men, one called Aristotle. He wrote quite a
number of works; of course, not quite as many as he thought he did. For
we have proved by our _Ex Nihilo_ methods that much of what he thought
he had written was not written by him, but dictated. We have gone even
so far (I myself, although used to our exploits, stand sometimes agape
at our sagacity), we have gone so far as to prove that in the dictation
of some of his writings Aristotle was repeatedly interrupted by letters
or telephonic messages, which accounts for gaps and other shortcomings.
“‘Well, this man Aristotle (for, we have not yet pluralised him,
although I–but this would pass your horizon, my young friend)–this
clever man has left us, amongst other works, one called “Politics.” It
is not wanting in quality, and it is said, if with certain doubts, that
there are a few things to be learnt from it. It is, of course, also
said that no professor has ever learnt them. But this is mere calumny.
Look at their vast commentaries. Of course, how can one accept some of
the glaring fallacies of Aristotle? Imagine, that man Aristotle wants
us to believe that nearly all Greek states were founded, equipped with
a constitution, and in a word, completely fitted out by _one_ man in
each case. Thus, that Sparta was founded, washed, dressed, fed, and
educated by one Lycurgus. How ridiculous!
“‘Having proved, as we have, that Homer’s poetry, a mere book, was
made by a Joint Stock Company, Unlimited, how can we admit that a big
and famous state like Sparta was ordered, cut out, tailored, stuffed
and set on foot by one man? Where would be Evolution? If a state like
Sparta was made in the course of a few months by one man, what would
Evolution do with all the many, many years and ages she has to drag
along? Why, she would die with _ennui_, bored to death. Can we admit
that? _Can one let Evolution die?_ Is she not a nice, handy, comely
Evolution, and so useful in the household that we cannot be happy
until we get her? To believe in a big, important state like Sparta
having been completely established by one man is like saying that
my colleague, the Professor of Zoology, taking a shilling bottle of
Bovril, has reconstituted out of its contents a live ox walking stately
into his lecture-room. Hah-hah-hah! Very good joke. (Secretary! Put it
into my table-talk! Voltairian joke! serious, but not grave.)
“‘Now, you see, my young friend, in that capital point Aristotle was
most childishly mistaken; and even so in many another point. We have
definitely done away with all state-founders of the ancients. Romulus
is a myth; so is Theseus; so is Moses; so is Samson (not to speak of
Delilah); so is everybody who pretended to have founded a city-state.
Since he never existed, how could he have founded anything? Could I
found a city-state? Or any state, except a certain state of mind, in
which I say that no single man can found a city-state? Could I? Of
course, I could not. Well then, how could Lycurgus? Was he a LL.D.?
Was he a member of the British Academy? Was he a professor at Oxford?
Had he written numerous letters to _The Times_? Was he subscriber to
so respectable a paper as _The Spectator_? It is ridiculous to speak
of such a thing. Lycurgus founding Sparta! It is too amusing for
words. These are all myths. Whatever we cannot understand, we call a
myth; and since we do not understand many things, we get every day a
richer harvest of myths. We are full of them. We are the real living
“To this long oration,” Aristotle continued, “I retorted as calmly
as I could, that we Greeks had states totally different from those
of the moderns, just as the latter had a Church system absolutely
different from our religious institutions; so that if anyone had tried
to persuade an Athenian of my time that a few hundred years later there
would be Popes, or single men claiming and obtaining the implicit
obedience of all believers in all countries, the Athenian would sooner
have gone mad than believe such stuff. For, to him, as a Greek, it must
have seemed hopelessly incredible that an office such as that of the
universal Pope should ever be tolerated; or, in other words, that a
single man should ever be given such boundless spiritual power. I said
all that with much apparent deference; but my professor got more and
more out of control.
“‘What,’ said he, ‘what do you drag in Popes for? We talk of Lycurgus,
not of Popes. Was Lycurgus a Christian? Let us stick to the point. The
point is that Lycurgus never existed, since so many professors, who do
exist beyond doubt, deny his historical existence. Now, either you deny
the existence of these professors, which you can’t; or you deny that
of Lycurgus, which you must. Existence cannot include non-existence.
For, non-existence is, is it not?–the negation of existence. And since
the professors exist, their non-existence would involve us in the
most exasperating contradictions with them, with ourselves, and with
the daily Press. This, however, would be a disaster too awful to be
seriously thought of. Consequently, Lycurgus did not exist; nor did any
other state-founding personality in Greek or Roman times.
“‘In fact when you come to think of it, nobody ever existed except
ourselves. Adam was not; he will be at the end of ends. The whole
concept of the world is wrong as understood by the vulgar. Those old
Greek and Roman heroes, like Aristomenes, Coriolanus, Cincinnatus,
never existed for a day. Nor did the Doric Migration, the Twelve
Tables, and lots of other so-called events. They have been invented
by schoolmasters for purposes of exams. Did Draco’s laws ever exist?
Ridiculous. That man Aristotle speaks of them, but it is as evident as
soap that he invented them for mods. or other exams. of his.
“‘The vulgar constantly ask me whether or no history repeats itself.
What, for goodness’ sake, does that matter to me? It is sufficient
for all purposes that historians repeat each other, for it is in
that way that historical truth is established. Or do not the great
business-princes thus establish their reputation? They go on repeating
“Best furniture at Staple’s,” “Best furniture at Staple’s,” three
hundred and sixty-five times a year, in three hundred and sixty-five
papers a day. By repetition of the same thing they establish truth. So
do we historians. That’s business. What, under the circumstances, does
it matter, whether history itself does or does not repeat itself?
“‘One arrogant fellow who published a wretched book on “General
History,” thought wonders what he did not do by saying, that
“_History does repeat itself in institutions, but never in events or
persons._” Can such drivel be tolerated! Why, the repetition by and
through persons (read: historians) is the very soul of history. We in
this country have said and written in and out of time and on every
sort of paper, that the “Decline and Fall of the Burmese Empire”
is the greatest historical work ever written by a Byzantine, or a
post-Byzantine. We have said it so frequently, so incessantly, that at
present it is an established truth. Who would dare to say that it is
not? Why, the very _Daily Nail_ would consider such a person as being
beneath it.
“‘We real historians go for facts only. Ideas are sheer dilettantism.
Give us facts, nothing but single, limited, middle-class facts. In the
Republic of Letters we do not suffer any lordly ideas, no more than the
idea of lords. One fact is as good as another, and far worse. Has not
our greatest authority taught that the British Empire was established
in and by absent-mindedness, that is, without a trace of reasoned
ideas? As the British Empire, even so the British historians, and,
_cela vo sang dir_, all the other historians. Mind is absent. “Mind” is
a periodical; not a necessity. We solid researchers crawl from one fact
to another for crawling’s sake.'”
* * * * *
The gods and heroes were highly amused with the tale of Aristotle,
and it was with genuine delight that they saw him resume the story of
his experiences at the seats of learning. “When I left the Professor
of History,” continued Aristotle, “I felt somewhat heavy and dull.
I could not easily persuade myself that such utter confusion should
reign in the study of history after so many centuries of endless
research. I hoped that the little ones might have made more real
advance in philosophy; and with a view to ascertain the fact, I entered
a lecturing hall where a professor was even then holding forth on my
treatise ‘De Anima.’ He had just published a thick book on my little
treatise, although (or perhaps because?…) another professor, a
Frenchman, had recently published a much thicker book on it.
“I listened very attentively, but could not understand a word
of what he said. He treated me text-critically, philologically,
hermeneutically,–everything, except understandingly. I felt that my
treatise was not mine at all. It was his. At a given moment I could
not help uttering aloud a sarcastic remark about the professor’s
explanations. Down he came on me like thunder, and with a triumphant
sneer he proved to me that what I had said I had not said at all.
In that I differed entirely from a great statesman of theirs, who
_had_ said what he had said. The professor put me under a regular
examination, and after twenty minutes formally ploughed me in ‘De
“This was a novel experience for me. In the Middle Ages, it is true,
I had repeatedly had the same experience, and Albertus Magnus and St
Thomas Aquinas had done me the same honour. But in modern times I had
not yet experienced it. The next day I called upon the professor, who
lived in a beautiful house, filled with books, amongst which I saw a
great number of editions of my own works.
“I asked him whether he had ever cared to study the _anima_, or what
they call the psychology of animals. I added that Aristotle had
evidently done so, as his works explicitly prove, and that after he
had surveyed all sorts of souls in the vegetable, animal and human
kingdom, both normal and pathological, he wrote his treatise ‘De
Anima,’ the real sense of which must escape him who has not taken such
a wide range of the question. Ah–you ought to have seen the professor!
He jumped from his seat, took another whisky and soda and said: ‘My
young friend, the first thing in science is to distinguish well. _Bene
docet qui bene distinguit._ You speak of animals. What have they to do
with human psychology? Their souls are studied by my colleague who goes
in for comparative psychology; or rather by several of my colleagues,
one of whom studies the comparative psychology of the senses; the
other that of the emotions; the third that of memory; the fourth–the
fifth–the sixth, etc., etc., etc.
“‘I, I stick to my point. I have my speciality. You might think that
my speciality is psychology, or Aristotle’s psychology. Not at all.
This is all too vague, too general. My speciality is quite special; a
particularly singular speciality: the text of Aristotle’s psychology.
And even that goes too far; for what I really call my speciality
is _my_ version of the text which is said to have been written by
“‘Now at last we are on firm ground. What under those conditions need
I trouble about cats and rats? The latter, the rats, have, I admit,
some little importance for me. They have in their time devoured parts
of Aristotle’s manuscripts, and I have now to reconstitute what they
have swallowed. I am to them a kind of literary Beecham’s Pill. But
as to cats, mules or donkeys? What have they to do with me? Can they
influence my version of the text? Hardly.
“‘My young friend, if Aristotle himself came to me, I should tell him:
“My good man, unless you accept my version of your text, you are out of
court. I am a professor, and you are only an author. Worse than that–a
Greek author. As theologians fix the value and meaning of gospel-words;
as the State makes a piece of worthless paper worth five pounds
sterling by a mere declaration; even so we say what you Aristotle did
say. What _you_ said or meant is indifferent; what we say you said or
meant is alone of consequence.” How then could even Aristotle refute me
regarding my view of his views? It is logically impossible.
“‘Don’t you see, this is why we have invented our beautiful system
of excessive specialisation. Where each of us studies only one very
small thing, there he need not fear much competition, but may hope for
exclusive authority. We shall soon establish chairs for professors of
philosophy, who will study, each of them, just a mere splinter of a
twig of one branch of the tree of philosophy; or better still, just
one leaf of such a twig of such a branch; and finally, just a dewdrop
on such a leaf of such a twig of such a branch. Then we shall have
completed our network of authority.
“‘Our contemptible enemies say that our talk about Aristotle and
Plato is like the gossip of lackeys in the pot-house about their
noble masters. We know better. You are a young man. I will give you a
bit of profound advice. If you want to make your way in the literary
world rapidly and with ease, hitch on your name to some universally
acknowledged celebrity. Do not write on obscure, if great authors or
heroes; but pick out Homer, Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, or
Napoleon. Write constantly on some speciality of these men; thus,
on the adjectives in Homer; on the neutral article in Plato; on the
conjunctions in Dante; on the plant-lore in Shakespeare; on the names
of women in Goethe; or on the hats of Napoleon.
“‘Your name will then incessantly be before the public together with
that of Homer or Shakespeare or Napoleon. After a time, by a natural
association of ideas, something of the lustre of the immortal will
fall on you. Note how the most elaborate writers on, say Shakespeare,
are almost invariably men of the most sincere mediocrity. They are,
nevertheless, exceedingly clever tacticians. They become “authorities.”
We are not authorities because we are specialists; we have, on the
contrary, introduced the system of specialities in order to pass
for authorities. To use Plato’s terms: our whole business spells
_effectology_, and nothing else. Take this to heart and be successful.’
* * * * *
“On leaving the professor,” Aristotle said, “I felt that I had
made several steps forward in the comprehension of that system
of specialisation which I heard praised and admired in all the
Universities. I need not tell you, my friends, how utterly wrong
that system is. As humans do not think in words, but in whole
sentences, so Nature does not act in particulars, but in wholes. The
particulars are ours, not Nature’s. In making them we act arbitrarily.
Why should dentistry be one speciality? Why should there not be
thirty-two different specialist dentists for our thirty-two teeth?
All specialisation in the realm of knowledge is rank arbitrariness.
Without exception, the great leading ideas in all organised thought
have invariably been made by wholesale thinkers like Pythagoras, Plato,
I venture to add: myself, Lionardo da Vinci, Kepler, Newton, Pascal,
Leibniz, Darwin. That is precisely where humans differ from animals.
All animals are the most conceited specialists.”
Here Diogenes interrupted: “Does the converse hold good, O Aristotle?”
“I will leave,” Aristotle replied with a smile, “the consideration of
this case to your own discretion. I do repeat it, that each animal is
an out-and-out specialist. It troubles about nothing else than the two
or three things it takes a professional interest in. It eats, sleeps,
and propagates; occasionally it adds a tightly circumscribed activity
of some kind. That’s why animals do not talk. It is not part of their
speciality. They do not talk for the same reason that the English do
not produce fine music, nor the Prussians tactful behaviour. In all
these cases the interest of the specialist lies elsewhere.
“Does a modern specialist in heart-diseases study the kidneys? Does
a specialist in surgery care to study the nerves? Even so an animal
does not care to speak. It is a specialist; it restricts itself to
its ‘business,’ to ‘the point.’ The little ones say that animals have
no general ideas, and that is why they cannot speak. But have human
specialists any general ideas of anything, and yet–do they not speak?
The argument is too foolish for words.
“Why, Nature created men in order to have a few _generalists_, if I may
say so, amongst all the specialists called animals or plants; just as
amongst men she created Homers and Platos and Galileos and Leibnizes,
in order to save the rest of humans from their evil tendency to
over-specialisation. It is a plan as plain as transparent glass.
“Thousands of years ago Nature found out that, with all these endless
vegetal and animal specialists on hand, she would soon have to declare
herself bankrupt. One specialist ignored the other; or hampered, hurt,
and paralysed the other; they could not understand one another, because
they had no common interest. In her predicament, Nature created human
beings for the same reason that men invented the locomotive or the
telegraph. She could no longer be without him. Man was, by his very
needs, obliged to drop over-specialisation. He interested himself,
for a variety of ends and reasons, in stones as much as in plants and
animals. By exterminating some of the most damaging species of animals,
he saved the life of millions of specimens of other animals that would
otherwise have been killed out by ferocious specialists, such as the
tiger, the leopard, and the wolf. The same he did to plants, and partly
to rivers and lakes. He brought a little order into this pandemonium of
specialists in Nature.
“Look at the sea. There man was unable to exert his power for order
by general ideas. Look at the indescribable disorder and chaos and
monstrosity of life and living beings in the sea. They are hideous,
like an octopus; short-lived, nay, of a few minutes’ duration, like
the jelly-fish; fearful and yet cowardly like a shark; abominably
under-sized or over-sized; incapable of any real passion, except that
of eating and drinking. This liquid mass of fanatic and unsystematised
specialists render the sea as inferior to the land as is Thibet to Holy
Athens. People travelling in that ocean of specialists are exasperated
by foul sea-sickness; and empires built on it have repeatedly been
destroyed in a single week; ay, in one day.
“The dread of being swamped by specialists has driven Nature into
creating the most grotesque compositions of beings half plant and half
animal, or half stone and half plant; or again half male and half
female; or half land-animal, half fish. Another way adopted by Nature
in her attempt to obviate the ravages of specialists was by giving
them exceedingly short shrift, and just a mere speck of existence; or
again by forcing them to form big corporations and societies, such as
forests, prairies, meadows, swarms, troupes.
“In fact Nature is a free lance fighting incessantly the evil done by
the specialists. Ask Poseidon what trouble the sea gives him; ask Æolus
how his life is made a misery through the mad freaks of the various
specialists in winds. And what is the deep, underlying reason of all
this insane race for specialism? I will tell you that in one word. It
is Envy and Jealousy. In certain countries Envy and Jealousy are the
inextinguishable and ubiquitous hydra of life.
“Take England. She is a democracy, if a masked one. Hence Jealousy is
the dominating trait of her citizens. Jealousy has, thousands of years
ago, invented railways, telegraphs, wired and wireless ones, telephones
and Röntgen-rays, and all the rest of the infernal machines whereby
Space, Time, and Work is shortened, curtailed, annihilated. Jealousy
has at all times sent wireless messages over and through all the houses
of a town or an entire country. It has Röntgenised the most hidden
interiors; and its poison runs more quickly through all the veins and
nerves of men than does the electric spark.
“Look at the customs, social prejudices, or views of that nation. Over
one half of them was introduced to disarm the ever-present demon of
Jealousy. Why is a man a specialist? Because in that way he disarms
Jealousy more quickly and more surely than by any other expedient. It
gives him an air both of modesty and of strength by concentration.
In reality it does neither. It is only an air. The so-called Reality
consists of nothing but unrealities, of shams, and masks. A specialist
is not a master of his subject; he is a master of the art than which
there is no greater, the art of making other people believe that you
are not what you are, but what _they_ want you to be.
“Nature has a horror of specialists; and she will reveal her secrets to
an insane poet rather than to a specialist. Most great inventions were
made either by ‘outsiders,’ or by young men who had not yet had the
time to harden into specialists. In specialisation there is nothing but
a total misunderstanding of Nature.
“Nature acts by instantaneous correlation and co-operation of different
parts to one end; and to specialise is tantamount to taking a clock
to pieces, putting them separately in a row on the table, and then
expecting them to give you the exact time.
“In Nature there is no evolution, but only co-evolution; there is no
differentiation but only co-differentiation. The little ones have
quite overlooked all that; and that is why so many of the statements
of co-differentiation in my zoology can be neither confirmed nor
refuted by them. Who dare say which is a ‘part’ in Nature? Is the hand
a ‘part,’ that is, something that might legitimately be told off as a
speciality? Or must it be studied in connection with the arm, or with
its homologies in the nether part of the body?
“In the same way: what constitutes a ‘period’ in history? Any division
of a hundred or a thousand years by two, three, or four? Or by a
division of twenty-five or thirty only? Who can tell? A man who says
he is a specialist in the thirteenth century, is he not like a man who
pretends that he is a specialist in respiration in the evening?
“Nature does specialise; witness her innumerable specialists. But do
we know, do we possess the slightest idea as to how she does it? Can
we prove why a goose has its peculiar head and not that of a stork?
Evidently not, because we do not know what Nature calls a part, a
speciality. She abhors specialists, just because they know so little of
_her_ way of specialising.”
* * * * *
At this point of Aristotle’s speech, Aristophanes asked for leave to
protest. Having obtained it from Zeus, he commenced forthwith: “O
Father of Nature and Man, I can no longer stand the invective of the
Stagirite. In his time he was prudent enough to postpone his birth
till after my mortal days; otherwise I should have treated him as I
did Meton and Socrates, and other philosophers. But here he shall not
escape me. Just imagine, this man wants to deprive creation of the best
fun that is offered to the thinking beings amongst animals and humans.
“I wish he had overheard, as I have, when the other night I passed
through an old forest near Darlington, a conversation between an old
owl, a black woodpecker, and a badger. The owl sat, somewhat lower than
usual on a birch-tree, while the woodpecker stopped his work at the
bark of the groaning tree, and the badger had left his hole in order
to enjoy the cool breath of the night. The owl said: ‘Good-evening,
Mr Woodpecker, how is business? Many worms beneath the bark?’ The
woodpecker replied: ‘Thanks, madam, there is a slump, but one must put
up with what one can get.’
“The badger then complained that he passed tedious hours in the ground,
and he wished he could again see the exciting times of a few hundred
thousand years ago when earthquakes and other catastrophes made
existence more entertaining. ‘Quite so,’ said the owl, ‘the forest is
getting too civilised, and too calm. But you see, my friends, I have
provided for much solid amusement for my old days. I used to visit a
human’s room, who read a great number of books. I asked him to teach
me that art. I found it easy enough, only that these humans will read
in a straight line from left to right, and I am accustomed to circular
looks all round.
“‘When I had quite acquired the art, I read some of his books. They
were all about us folk in the forest. Once I chanced upon a chapter on
owls. You may easily imagine how interested I was. I had not yet read
a few pages, when I was seized with such a laughter that the professor
became very indignant and told me to leave him. This I did; but
whenever he read his books, I read them too, perched on a tree not far
from his study. I cannot tell you how amusing it was.
“‘These humans tell stories about us owls, and about you, Mr
Woodpecker, and Mr Badger, that would cause a sloth to dance with joy.
They imagine they know how we see, how we fly, how we get our food, and
how we make our abodes. As a matter of fact they have hopelessly wrong
notions about all these things. They want, as my venerated father used
to say, to tap the lightning off into nice little flasks, in order to
study it conveniently. This they call Evolution.
“‘The idea was mostly developed in England, in a country where they
are proud of thinking that they always “muddle through somehow.” These
three words they apply to Nature, and call it Evolution. Once upon a
time, they say–it does not matter whether 200,000 or 300,000 years,
or perchance 645,789 years ago–there was my ancestor who, by mere
accident, had an eye that enabled him to see more clearly at night than
other birds did. This eye enabled him to catch more prey, thus to live
longer, and to transmit his _nocturne_ of an eye to his progeny. And
so by degrees we muddled into owlship.
“‘Is that not charming? My father used to laugh at that idea until all
the cuckoos came to inquire what illness had befallen him. He told me,
that an owl’s eye was in strict correlation with definite and strongly
individual formations of the ears, of the neck, of the feet, and of
the intestines, and that accordingly a mere accidental change in the
supposed ancestor’s eye was totally insufficient to account for the
corresponding and correlative formations just mentioned.
“‘Such correlative and simultaneous changes in various organs can
be the consequences only of a violent and, as it were, fulgurous
shock to the whole system of a bird. Such shocks are not a matter of
slow growth. As all individual animal life at present is called into
existence by one shock of fulgurant forces, even so it arose originally.
“‘But the English think that Nature is by birth an Englishman who
adopts new organisms as Englishmen adopt new systems of measures,
calendars, inventions, or laws,–_i.e._ hundreds of years after someone
else has fulgurated them out.
“‘They imagine Nature to be, by rank and profession, a middle-class
man and muddler; by religion, a Nonconformist; and by politics, a
Liberal. However, we know better. Nature is, by rank and profession,
a free lance and a genius; by religion, a Roman Catholic; and by
politics, a Tory of the Tories. Now this being so, you may imagine, Mr
Woodpecker and Mr Badger, what capital fun it is to read these learned
lucubrations about birds and other animals as written by humans.

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“‘The other day I called on Master Fox in the neighbourhood. He was
ill and, in order to amuse him, I told him what they say of him in
human books. He fairly burst with laughter. He told me later on, that
by narrating all the Don Quixote stories told of him by man, to a big
brown bear, he became the court-favourite of that dreaded king of the
“‘I have sent the swiftest bat, to whom I gave a safe conduct, to all
the birds and animals of this country, to meet at a given time on
one of the peaks of the Hartz Mountains, where I mean to entertain
them with the stories told by specialists on each of them, on their
structure, functions, and mode of life. It will be the greatest fun
we have had these two thousand years. I charged the nightingales, the
larks, and the mocking birds of America to open the meeting with the
most wonderful chorus that they have ever sung, and I am sure that I
will deserve well of the whole community of birds and other animals by
offering them this the most exhilarating amusement imaginable.’
“So spake the owl. And now, O Zeus, can you really brook Aristotle’s
attempt to demolish and to remove men who furnish pleasure and intense
amusement to so many animals holy to men and even to the gods? I
cannot believe it. You know how necessary it is to provide carefully
for the amusement of people. To neglect Dionysus is to court hideous
punishment. If the specialists in Nature should disappear, you will,
O Zeus, have endless anarchy on all sides. Birds, insects, snakes,
and reptiles, lions, felines, and bears–they will all rise in bored
discontent, in the waters, on land, in the air. You will never have a
free moment for calm repose.
“They will worry all the gods incessantly. They will make the most
annoying conspiracies and plots and intrigues against all of us. Let
us not take Aristotle seriously. He means well, and is no doubt quite
right, as far as reason goes. But does reason go very far? Can he now
deny the eternal rights of unreason? To remove the specialists in
biology and natural history is to remove the comedy from Athens. The
Athenians, in order to be ruled, must be entertained. But for me and
the like of me, the Athenians could never have held out as long as they
did hold out. It is even so with animals. They want their Aristophanes.
They must have their specialists. Pray, Artemis, you who in your
hunts over dales and mountains have heard and observed everything
that concerns animals, join me in protesting against the onslaught of
Aristotle on men so necessary for the well-being of animated Nature.”
* * * * *
Artemis Diana laughed melodiously and nodded consent. The other gods,
amidst great hilarity, passed a vote against Aristotle, and the sage
smilingly bowed acceptance of the censure.
“I will abide,” he exclaimed, “by your decision. But, pray, let me
make just one more remark which, I have no doubt, the master-minds of
the unique city, over which we are hovering at present, will gladly
approve. I call upon you Lionardo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and
you magnificent Lorenzo, whether I am exceeding the limits of truth.
I do maintain that while the little ones have, in religion, gone from
Polytheism to Monotheism, they pretend that in matters of knowledge
time is constantly increasing the number of gods to be worshipped.
“At present they affect to believe no longer in the numerous gods and
goddesses of the Olympus, but only in one God. In point of knowledge,
on the other hand, they declare that each little department thereof
is endless, requiring the study and devotion of a whole lifetime,
and controlled, each of them, by a god whom they call an authority.
Now, nothing can be more evident than the fact that knowledge, real
knowledge, becomes increasingly more stenographic in expression, and
sensibly easier of acquisition. The Chinese write encyclopædias in
6000 volumes; the modern Europeans do so in twenty-four or thirty-six
Here Diogenes interrupted the Stagirite and said: “I am afraid, O
Aristotle, that your argument has little real force to boast of. It
does not prove at all that the Chinese have only crude, empirical, and
unorganised knowledge, while the little ones in Europe have a reasoned
and systematised, and hence a less cumbrous one. This is owing to quite
a different cause.
“The little ones have of late invented a method of publishing
encyclopædias in a manner so well adapted to tempt, threaten, bully,
or wire each member of the general public into the purchase of an
entire copy, that if their encyclopædias consisted of 6000 or 10,000
volumes each, the people of England, for instance, would have to
conquer Norway, Sweden, and Iceland first. Norway they would be
obliged to conquer, in order to possess themselves of sufficient
wood for the cases; Sweden, in order to appoint all Swedish gymnasts
for the acrobatic feat of fetching a volume from the fiftieth row of
a bookcase; and Iceland, in order to place excited readers of the
encyclopædia in a cool place. But for this circumstance, I am sure the
little ones in Europe would fain publish an encyclopædia in 15,000
* * * * *
When the laughter of the Assembly had subsided, Aristotle continued:
“Nothing has struck me more forcibly in my visit to their seats of
learning than this universal belief in the infinitude of each tiny
department or speciality. They do most gravely assert that ‘nowadays’
it is impossible to embrace more than one speciality; and they look
upon me or Leibniz with a certain knowing smile as if in our times all
knowledge would have consisted of a few jugs full of water, whereas
now it is no less than an ocean. But when you ask them the simplest
questions, they are at a loss how to answer them.
“I asked one of their most famous specialists why the eyebrows of men
are shorter than the moustaches. He did not know it. How could he?
It takes the knowledge of at least five so-called specialities to
answer such a question. I asked their most learned specialist in their
language, why the English have dropped the use of ‘thou,’ although no
other European nation has done so. He did not know it.
“They study a given subject when death has driven out all life from it.
They do not trouble about language as a living organism, full of fight,
of movement, of ruses, of intrigues, of sins and graces; but only of
language when it lies motionless, a veritable corpse, on the table
of the anatomical dissector and dictionary-fiend. They do not study
a butterfly when it is in full life, flirting, pilfering, gossiping,
merrymaking; but only when it is motionless, lifeless, pierced by a
pin. This is how they get their specialities.
“Death indeed is the greatest of all specialisers. As soon as a man is
dead, each hair or bone on or in his body takes up a separate line of
decay, caring nothing for the other, full of scorn for its immediate
neighbour, sulking by itself, wandering to the Styx alone and sullen.
“In England they have pushed that belief in specialities to a funereal
degree. I wonder they allow a man to play one of their instruments,
called the piano, with both his hands at a time. I wonder they do not
insist that a given piece by Chopin be played by two men, one of whom
should first play the part for the right hand, and afterwards the
other man the part for the left hand. To play both parts at a time,
and to have that done by one single man too,–what presumption! How
“In law they have long acted in this sense. There is one man, called
the solicitor (–a very good name–), who plays the bass, or left-hand
part with a vengeance, for several weeks. When that is done; when the
‘hearer’ or client lies prostrate on the ground from the infernal noise
made by the solicitor’s music, the solicitor hands over the whole case
to the other man, the barrister, who plays the most tortuous treble, in
a manner likely to madden Pan himself.
“The idea, accepted by all the other nations of Europe, that the whole
prejudicial business of a legal contention might very well be left to
one man, to a lawyer proper,–what presumption! How superficial!
“But when you tell them that they browbeat their own principle of
specialisation by taking their judges from amongst late barristers,
then they wax into an august anger. Yet no other nation does that. The
function of a judge is radically different from that of a barrister.
After a man has been a barrister for twenty years; after all his mind
has taken the creases and folds of barristerdom; after he has quite
specialised himself in that particular line, he is unlikely to have the
best qualities of a judge. If a barrister cannot be a solicitor; why
should he be at once, and suddenly able to become judge?
“Their arguments to that effect are most amusing. They dance a real
war-dance round the truth that they mean to scalp.
“The truth of course is that all the three have one and the same
speciality: that of running England. That country is lawyer-ridden, as
Egypt was priest-ridden, or Babylonia scribe-ridden. The English being
too proud to be stingy or petty in money matters, do not mind their
rulers, the solicitors-barristers-judges, because these deprive them
eventually only of what the English do not hold in great esteem, small
sums of money. In France, where people cling fanatically to a penny,
the barristers have not been allowed to become judges. In France
specialisation in law has triumphed, where in England it has failed.
“Does that not show that specialisation is done, not in obedience to
the behests of truth, but to those of interests?
“We Hellenes specialised on small city-states; we did not want to
widen out indefinitely into huge states; just because we wanted to
give each citizen a chance of coining out all his human capital, and
not to become, like our slaves, a limited specialist. In a huge state
specialisation becomes inevitable. In such states they must, more or
less, sterilise the human capital of millions of citizens, just as we
Hellenes sterilised the political capital of thousands of slaves.
“Specialisation _is_ enslaving, if not downright slavery. It furthers
truth very little; it cripples man.
“Just as a man who talks several languages well, will write his own
idiom better than do his less accomplished compatriots; even so the
man who keeps his mind open to more than one aspect of things, to more
than one ‘speciality’ will be by far more efficient than his less
broad-minded colleagues. Man may and shall invent, as I have long
predicted it, highly specialised machines doing the work of the weaver,
or the baker. But he himself must not become a machine. This is what
happens ‘now,’ as the little ones say all over Europe and America.
“Not only have they formed states with many, many millions of
people each. Worse than that, they have agglomerated the majority
of these millions into a few towns of unwieldy size. In those towns
specialisation is carried into every fibre of men and women. This
desiccates them, disemotions them, sterilises them. We Hellenes gladly
admit that the Europeans of the last four centuries have excelled us in
one art: in music. But their period for this exceeding excellence is
now gone.
“By over-specialisation of thought and heart, caused chiefly by
over-urbanisation, the very wells of music begin to dry up. The music
of the day is hysterical, neurasthenic, and false. It is the cry,
not of an aching heart, but of an aching tooth, of a gouty toe, or a
rheumatic nerve. It does not weep; it coughs phthisically. It does not
sigh; it sneezes. It is a blend of what we used to call Phrygian and
Corybantic rhapsodies.
“And as in music, even so in character. Where each individual distorts
himself or herself into a narrow speciality, there people must needs
become as angular, lop-sided, and grotesque as possible. They are, when
together in a room, like the words on a page of a dictionary: they have
nothing to communicate to one another. There they stand, each in his
cage, uncommunicative, sulky, and forbidding. One thinks in F major;
the other in F sharp minor. Harmony amongst them is impossible. Every
one of them is hopelessly right in every one of his ideas; and of all
mental processes, that of doubt or hesitation in judgment is the last
they practise.
“A specialist does not doubt. Why should he? To him the most
complicated things human appear as mere specialities, that is, as mere
fragments. A woman is only a specialist in parturition. A physician
is only a specialist in writing Latin words on small slips of paper.
A barrister is only a man who wears neither moustache nor beard. A
clergyman is practically a collar buttoning behind, and supported by a
sort of man inside it. In that way everything is so simplified that no
difficulty of comprehending it remains.
“All this clearly proves, O Empedocles, how right and, at the same
time, how wrong you were in your view of the origin of things. Perhaps
you were right in saying that the parts or organs of our bodies arose
singly, or, as it were, as specialists. In times long before us there
arose, as you taught, heads without necks; arms wandering alone in
space; eyes, without foreheads, roaming about by themselves. But
when you say that all this happened only at the beginning of things,
you are, I take it, sorely mistaken. Indeed it is still going on in
countries where specialism reigns supreme; at anyrate it is going on
in the moral world. In such countries you still see arms wandering
alone in space, or eyes roaming about without foreheads, as well as
heads without brains flying about in space. Not literally, of course.
But what else is a character-specialist cultivating exclusively _one_
quality of the human soul than an arm wandering about alone? The little
ones must come back to the Hellenic idea of seeing things as a whole,
and not, as do wretched flies, as mere chips of things.”
* * * * *
The divine Assembly had listened deferentially to the great sage. Zeus
now charged Hermes to fetch some of the masterpieces from the room
called the _Tribuna_ at the Uffizi in Florence. Hermes, aided by a
number of nymphs, fetched them and, placing them in the midst of the
Assembly, exhibited their perfect beauty to the gods and heroes. This
refreshed their souls sickened with the story of the serfdom of modern