I like that story of Stonewall Jackson and the owl. The owl was a general, and he rushed up to Jackson in the crisis of the first battle of Bull’s Run, crying “All is lost! We’re beaten!” “Oh,” said Jackson, “if that’s so I’d advise you to keep it to yourself.” Half-an-hour later the charge of Jackson’s brigade had won the battle. I do not know what happened to the owl, but I daresay he went on “Tu-whit-ing” and “Tu-whoo-ing” to the end. The owl can’t help being an owl.
Ah, there is little red waistcoat singing on the fence. Let us find a worm for the philosopher....
As I sat in the garden just now, with a writing-pad on my knee and my mind ranging the heavens above and the earth beneath in search of a subject, my eye fell on a tragedy in progress at my elbow. A small greenfly had got entangled in a spider’s web, and was fluttering its tiny wings violently to effect an escape. The filaments of the web were so delicate as to be hardly visible, but they were not too delicate to bear the spider whom I saw advancing upon his prey with dreadful menace. I forgot my dislike of greenflies, and was overcome with a fierce antagonism for the fat fellow who had the game so entirely in his hands. Here, said I, is the Hun encompassing the ruin of poor little Belgium. What chance has the weak and the innocent little creature against the cunning of this rascal, who hangs out his gossamer traps in the breeze and then lies in hiding until his victim is enmeshed and helpless? What justice is there in nature that allows this unequal combat?
By this time the spider had reached the fly and thrown a new filament round him. Then at frightful speed he raced to the top of his web and disappeared in the woodwork of the arbour, drawing the new filament tight round the victim, which continued its flutterings for a little time and then gave up the ghost. At this moment I was called in to lunch, and at the table I told the story of the spider and the fly with undisguised hostility to the spider. “That,” said Robert, home from the front—“that is simply a sentimental point of view. My sympathies as a practical person are all with the spider. He is the friend of man, the devourer of insects, the scavenger of the gardens. He helps in the great task of keeping the equilibrium of nature. Moreover,” said he, “I have seen you kill greenflies yourself. You killed them because you knew they were a nuisance. Why should you object to the spider doing the same useful work for a living?”
“Ah,” said I weakly, “I suppose it is because he does it for a living. Now I ...” “Now, you,” interrupted the other, “do it for a living, too, because you want your fruit trees to bear fruit, and your roses to thrive, and your cabbages to prosper. Who more merciless than you on slugs and other pests that fly or crawl? No, no, we are all out for a living, you as much as the spider, the spider as much as the fly.” “We are all Huns,” said I. “What a detestable world it is.” “Not at all,” said he. “It’s a very jolly world. I drink to the health of the spider.”