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WE now pass on to the Natural History of the various grains, of the garden plants and flowers, and indeed of all the other productions, with the exception of the trees and shrubs, which the Earth, in her bounteousness, affords us—a boundless field for contemplation, if even we regard the herbs alone, when we take into consideration the varieties of them, their numbers, the flowers they produce, their odours, their colours, their juices, and the numerous properties they possess—all of which have been engendered by her with a view to either the preservation or the gratification of the human race.

On entering, however, upon this branch of my subject, it is my wish in the first place to plead the cause of the Earth, and to act as the advocate of her who is the common parent of all, although in the earlier1 part of this work I have already had occasion to speak in her defence. For my subject matter, as I proceed in the fulfillment of my task, will now lead me to consider her in the light of being the producer of various noxious substances as well; in consequence of which it is that we are in the habit of charging her with our crimes, and imputing to her a guilt that is our own. She has produced poisons, it is true; but who is it but man that has found them out? For the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, it is sufficient to be on their guard against them, and to keep at a distance from them. The elephant, we find, and the gurus, know how to sharpen2 and renovate their teeth against the trunks of trees, and the rhinoceros against rocks; wild boars, again, point their tusks like so many poniards by the aid of both rocks and trees; and all animals, in fact, are aware how to prepare themselves for the infliction of injury upon others; but still, which is there among them all, with the exception of man, that dips his weapons in poison? As for ourselves, we envenom the point of the arrow,3 and we contrive to add to the destructive powers of iron itself; by the aid of poisons we taint the waters of the stream, and we infect the various elements of Nature; indeed, the very air even, which is the main support of life, we turn into a medium for the destruction of life.

And it is not that we are to suppose that animals are ignorant of these means of defence, for we have already had occasion to point out4 the preparations which they make against the attacks of the serpent, and the methods they devise for effecting a cure when wounded by it; and yet, among them all, there is not one that fights by the aid of the poison that belongs to another, with the sole exception of man. Let us then candidly confess our guilt, we who are not contented even with the poisons as Nature has produced them; for by far the greater portion of them, in fact, are artificially prepared by the human hand!

And then besides, is it not the fact, that there are many men, the very existence of whom is a baneful poison, as it were? Like that of the serpent, they dart their livid tongue, and the venom of their disposition corrodes every object upon which it concentrates itself. Ever vilifying and maligning, like the ill-omened birds of the night, they disturb the repose of that darkness which is so peculiarly their own, and break in upon the quiet of the night even, by their moans and wailings, the only sounds they are ever heard to emit. Like animals of inauspicious presage, they only cross our path to prevent us from employing our energies or becoming useful to our fellow-men; and the only enjoyment that is sought by their abominable aspirations is centred in their universal hatred of mankind.

Still, however, even in this respect Nature has asserted her majestic sway; for how much more numerous5 are the good and estimable characters which she has produced! just in the same proportion that we find her giving birth to productions which are at once both salutary and nutritious to man. It is in our high esteem for men such as these, and the commendations they bestow, that we shall be content to leave the others, like so many brakes and brambles, to the devouring flames of their own bad passions, and to persist in promoting the welfare of the human race; and this, with all the more energy and perseverance, from the circumstance that it has been our object throughout, rather to produce a work of lasting utility than to ensure ourselves a widely-spread renown. We have only to speak, it is true, of the fields and of rustic operations; but still, it is upon these that the enjoyment of life so materially depends, and that the ancients conferred the very highest rank in their honors and commendations.

1 In B. ii. c. 63.

2 Of course this is only mere declamation; it is not probable that the animals have any notion at all of sharpening the weapons that nature has given; in addition to which, this mode of sharpening them against hard substances would only wear away the enamel, and ultimately destroy them. The acts of animals in a moment of rage or frenzy have evidently been mistaken here for the dictates of instinct, or even a superior intelligence.

3 See B. xxv. c. 25, and B. Xavier. c. 76.

4 In B. viii. c. 36. 41, 42. The works of the ancients, Fée remarks, are full of these puerilities.

5 This sentiment is not at all akin to the melancholy view which our author takes of mankind at the beginning of B. vii. and in other parts of this work. It is not improbable that his censures here are levelled against some who had endeavoured to impede him in the progress of his work.

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