Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/696

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powers to an end not beyond man's reach; it develops invention and the imaginative faculties; it distracts the mind from the vexed question, never wholly to be put aside, of man's own ultimate destiny; it gives him rest; it gives him hope that, even as from the work of his own hands here there arise things of beauty and of use, so from his whole life's work there may arise in the “hereafter,” which in some sense may be only another form of the “present,” a something of even greater use and greater beauty still.

It is in this wise that I commend to you all the life of the workman, of the workman working in little in the spirit of the whole.



THE appropriation of the riches of the vegetable world is accomplished in two ways, according as our principal effort is to make use of the spontaneous products of wild plants or to multiply them by cultivation. The former, which constitutes the system of selection, reduces itself to mere taking possession, and, as it is executed by the most simple means, it can be practiced by all animals. The second method, which is applied to the production of resources that are needed, alone achieves a conquest and a durable empire. But it requires superior capacity and a degree of intelligence and reflection to which no other animal than man has risen. Cultivation might therefore serve, as does the use of fire, to mark the precise boundary where reason is separated from instinct and passes beyond it.

During an initial period of very long duration, man, destitute of knowledge and without power to act upon Nature, had to satisfy himself with utilizing the spontaneous products of plants, while he was incapable of adding to them by his industry. Like all plant-eating animals he subsisted on the resources of a hazardous collection. This sort of life demanded nothing more than an attentive search and the instinct to profit by happy finds. Existence was passed in wandering in quest of nutritious plants and gathering their fruits. The numerous families of monkeys and even some human tribes still live in this way.

So simple a method of exploitation is necessarily very restricted. Man did not in the beginning know the value of all the productions that abounded around him. First of all, he had to

  1. From his book, Conquéte du Monde Végétal (Conquest of the Vegetable World). Félix Alcan, Paris, publisher.