Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/136
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
morning. My servant insisted upon encircling my bed with a riata of horse-hair to protect me from their intrusions. Snakes are said to have a repugnance to being pricked by the extremities of the hair. The paisano, or chaparral cock, surrounds his antagonist, while asleep, with a chain of cactus-thorns. When the preparations are all made, the bird flutters over the head of the snake to arouse it to action; the latter, in its vain efforts to escape, is irritated to such a degree by running against the barrier encompassing it, that it ends its existence by burying its fangs in its own body."
To what end or purpose is all this wonderful strategy on the part of the bird? Is it simply to imprison the snake? Is it for the fun of seeing the reptile fooled? Is it merely that the snake should "inflict only mechanical injury upon its own body" which would not be at all likely to prove fatal; or is the whole story false?
A. J. Williams,
Cleveland, Ohio, February 21, 1889.
MILL'S-'Essay on Liberty" and Darwin's "Origin of Species" mark the opening of what we may regard as the latest chapter in the history of modern thought. Mill vindicated for all men the right, not only of using their individual judgment, but of expressing their individual opinions, upon all subjects whatsoever, and proclaimed it to b© at once the duty and the interest of society at large to see that no impediments were cast in the way of such exercise of intellectual liberty. Darwin furnished almost at the same moment a theory which ran so strongly counter to received opinions that to espouse it demanded no small amount of intellectual courage, and to discuss it fairly on its merits, without any appeal to theological prejudices, a somewhat rare degree of liberality. Darwin seemed to say to a society that had just received Mr. Mill's essay with acclaims of praise: "Well, here is a touchstone of your sincerity; here is a doctrine which I have carefully thought out, and which, if true, involves a complete reconstruction of many of your most cherished ideas: can you do it justice? Can you do justice to those who may accept it?" Outside of the theological colleges the world responded fairly well to the appeal, and "The Origin of Species," though keenly criticised, received the treatment due to a serious intellectual effort. How far the theological colleges, or the theologically governed colleges, lagged behind may be judged from the comparatively recent period at which a professor of eminence was removed from his chair in a Southern college because he had embraced and taught Darwinism in a very mild and inoffensive form.The question, however, at which we wish to glance very briefly, is not as to the merits of Darwinism, but as to whether a better basis for the claims of modern thought might not be found on the lines of Mill's famous essay than upon that profession of "agnosticism" to which so many nowadays betake themselves. A passage that falls under our eye, from a French moralist of the seventeenth century, may help to illustrate our meaning. "There is," says Nicole, the friend of Pascal, "a duty of conviction., which arises when we are face to face with evidence; a duty, also, of doubt., because it is absurd not to be in doubt regarding doubtful things; and a duty of opinion., because we are obliged to affirm that one thing is more probable than another, if proof to that effect is offered." Now, what a modern thinker may justly claim is, liberty to do what Nicole calls his "duty" in these three particulars: to believe in things certain, to doubt of things doubtful, and to have an opinion where the evidence, though not demonstrative, is sufficient to establish a probability. But from which of these three phases of duty should he choose a name for himself? Would it