Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/508

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created before the germs of the first men were formed: these plants and animals, whatever properties and powers they might have had, were entirely useless, because utility, as we understand it, means the service which a thing might render to man; therefore, there was nothing useful prior to man's advent in the world.

Man is born, and all beings at once take rank in relation to him. The wild beast, rushing to devour him, enters into the first category of noxious things; the poisonous plant reveals to him its baneful properties; the thorns which prick his limbs, the insects which prey on his body, are noxious to him in degrees varying according to the amount of pain which he suffers or dreads.

The timid animals that flee before him, the plant which neither injures nor nourishes him, the hidden mineral lying in unseen veins under his feet, are all either unimportant or useless.

The useful is that which makes man's life more easy or more agreeable. But we have agreed, in the hypothesis of the shipwrecked sailor, that Nature by herself supplies us with very few useful things. Excepting the soil which sustains us, the air we breathe, the water we drink, there is nothing which, to my mind, is due to her.

Our first resources, or, more properly speaking, all the gifts of humanity, are the conquests of labor.

Man can neither create nor destroy an atom of matter, yet he can assimilate and identify himself with whatever suits him; he can turn aside whatever menaces him; above all, he can adapt for his use and employ for his profit, that which was originally valueless or even dangerous. By means of labor he impresses the stamp of utility upon all he touches, and thus little by little annexes, as it were, the entire earth.

Utility proceeds from and returns to man. If we do not create things themselves, we create their usefulness. But that costs something. Nothing is got for nothing. We are not Nature's spoiled children. After man was created, he appears to have been told: "I leave you to yourself. Whatever you produce is your own."

Do you wish to see by some examples how man does his part and becomes the producer of utility?

If, on leaving home an hour hence, you meet a lion at the bottom of the stair, should you hesitate for an instant in regarding it as a noxious animal? Is not this true?

However, thanks to the strenuous exertions of several generations, lions, driven from Europe, have now no abode save Africa. The distance which separates you from them enables you to think of them with indifference.

When an agile, a brave, and skilful man succeeds at the risk of his life in accomplishing the trifling task of lodging a ball between a lion's eyes, the animal is no longer noxious, nor even indifferent and useless. Its skin is worth 100 francs; it will make a rug.

Suppose that, instead of shooting the brute, a prudent hunter, by