How truly was the old naturalist inspired! Let us repeat with him: “What power, what wisdom, what inconceivable perfection in this least of secrets that the vineyard locust has shown us!”
I have heard that a learned inquirer, for whom life is only a conflict of physical and chemical forces, does not despair of one day obtaining artificially organisable matter—protoplasm, as the official jargon has it. If it were in my power I should hasten to satisfy this ambitious gentleman.
But so be it: you have really prepared protoplasm. By force of meditation, profound study, minute care, impregnable patience, your desire is realised: you have extracted from your apparatus an albuminous slime, easily corruptible and stinking like the devil at the end of a few days: in short, a nastiness. What are you going to do with it?
Organise something? Will you give it the structure of a living edifice? Will you inject it with a hypodermic syringe between two impalpable plates to obtain were it only the wing of a fly?
That is very much what the locust does. It injects its protoplasm between the two surfaces of an embryo organ, and the material forms a wing-cover, because it finds as guide the ideal archetype of which I spoke but now. It is controlled in the labyrinth of its course by a device anterior to the injection: anterior to the material itself.
This archetype, the co-ordinator of forms; this primordial regulator; have you got it on the end of your syringe? No! Then throw away your product. Life will never spring from that chemical filth.
The orthodox denomination of this insect is Melolontha fullo, Lin. It does not answer, I am very well aware, to be difficult in matters of nomenclature; make a noise of some sort, affix a Latin termination, and you will have, as far as euphony goes, the equivalent of many of the tickets pasted in the entomologist’s specimen boxes. The cacophony would be excusable if the barbarous term signified nothing but the creature signified; but as a rule this name possesses, hidden in its Greek or other roots, a certain meaning in which the novice hopes to find instruction.
The hope is a delusion. The learned term refers to subtleties difficult to comprehend, and of very indifferent importance. Too often it leads the student astray, giving him glimpses that have nothing whatever in common with the truth as we know it from observation. Very often the errors implied by such names are flagrant; sometimes the allusions are ridiculous, grotesque, or merely imbecile. So long as they have a decent sound, how infinitely preferable are locutions in which etymology finds nothing to dissect! Of such would be the word fullo, were it not that it already has a meaning which immediately occurs to the mind. This Latin expression means a fuller; a person who kneads and presses cloth under a stream of water, making it flexible and ridding it of the asperities of weaving. What connection has the subject of this chapter with the fuller of cloth? I may puzzle my head in vain: no acceptable reply will occur to me.