After an important conversation which has furnished matter for after-reflection to all who have taken part in it, there commonly follows a sort of pause, which in appearance is like a general embarrassment. They walked up and down the saloon. The Assistant turned over the leaves of various books, and came at last on the folio of engravings which had remained lying there since Luciana’s time. As soon as he saw that it contained nothing but apes, he shut it up again.
It may have been this, however, which gave occasion to a conversation of which we find traces in Ottilie’s diary.
“It is strange how men can have the heart to take such pains with the pictures of those hideous monkeys. One lowers one’s-self sufficiently when one looks at them merely as animals, but it is really wicked to give way to the inclination to look for people whom we know behind such masks.”
“It is a sure mark of a certain obliquity, to take pleasure in caricatures and monstrous faces, and pigmies. I have to thank our kind Assistant that I have never been vexed with natural history; I could never make myself at home with worms and beetles.”
“Just now he acknowledged to me, that it was the same with him. ’Of nature,’ he said, ’we ought to know nothing except what is actually alive immediately around us. With the trees which blossom and put out leaves and bear fruit in our own neighborhood, with every shrub which we pass by, with every blade of grass on which we tread, we stand in a real relation. They are our genuine compatriots. The birds which hop up and down among our branches, which sing among our leaves, belong to us; they speak to us from our childhood upward, and we learn to understand their language. But let a man ask himself whether or not every strange creature, torn out of its natural environment, does not at first sight make a sort of painful impression upon him, which is only deadened by custom. It is a mark of a motley, dissipated sort of life, to be able to endure monkeys, and parrots, and black people, about one’s self.”
“Many times when a certain longing curiosity about these strange objects has come over me, I have envied the traveler who sees such marvels in living, everyday connection with other marvels. But he, too, must have become another man. Palm-trees will not allow a man to wander among them with impunity; and doubtless his tone of thinking becomes very different in a land where elephants and tigers are at home.”
“The only inquirers into nature whom we care to respect, are such as know how to describe and to represent to us the strange wonderful things which they have seen in their proper locality, each in its own especial element. How I should enjoy once hearing Humboldt talk!”
“A cabinet of natural curiosities we may regard like an Egyptian burying-place, where the various plant gods and animal gods stand about embalmed. It may be well enough for a priest-caste to busy itself with such things in a twilight of mystery. But in general instruction, they have no place or business; and we must beware of them all the more, because what is nearer to us, and more valuable, may be so easily thrust aside by them.”