The Theosophical Forum – August 1936

THE NEW NATURALIST — Hugh Percy Leonard

The study of Animated Nature in times gone by amounted to little more than the observation of the shot specimen, and the giving it an appellation derived from an ancient language as dead as itself. We are now beginning to see that the main interest lies not so much with the outer form as with the living dweller in that form, our younger brother on a lower rung of life's ascending ladder of degrees. A comparative study of the bewildering variety of form and color in the different species may lead us down many a fair avenue, and disclose the most suggestive links and correspondences amongst the specimens under consideration; and yet, surely, the object of the quest should be that shy, elusive dweller in the inmost place where glows the spark of life now on its way to blend itself with the clear flame from whence it sprang.

Everyone knows the outward appearance of the beaver — his strong, incisive, chisel-teeth, his damp-proof coat of fur, and his spatulate, fantastic tail, wrongly supposed to serve him as a trowel. But how immensely it adds to our understanding of the essential beaver to learn that when a party of dam-builders has succeeded in placing a more than usually refractory log they let themselves go in a perfectly human way and celebrate the occasion by a wild orgy of horseplay and riotous fun. They make the water boil with their mock battles and their mad pursuit, and to the sympathetic onlooker it suggests that their mentality must vary very little from our own, and their reactions correspond with those of humankind.

A naturalist of the school now happily obsolescent may understand the classification of "the burnished dove," and the secret of the lively iris on its neck; but can he follow it into those calm regions of untroubled peace from whence the brooding bird derives its soothing song? He may be well acquainted with the mechanism of the mockingbird's larynx, but can he tune his heart to harmony with the gray singer in the palm who makes night ring with his triumphant joy? We must all welcome the new ideal which has come in with the camera and the valuable information gained by its harmless shooting. The patient devotion of the naturalist-photographer is worthy of all praise, and is a pleasant contrast to the stark butchery of the ruthless gunner of former days.

A new school of field-naturalists is on its way, a school whose students will discard the rifle and the trap, the poison and the net, faring forth into the wild places of the earth as patient watchers with observing eyes. Their hearts will be sensitized by their sympathy with the shy inhabitants and thus they will read their lives like an open book.

In an East Indian book there is a passage enumerating the magical Powers to be acquired by the initiated yogi, the final climax being reached in the statement that "he perceives what is passing in the mind of the ant." This may strike the casual reader as something of an anticlimax; but surely it is a magnificent tribute to the completeness of the initiate's detachment from the entanglement of the personal center, and his ability to blend his mind with that of a creature that surveys life from a point of view so far removed from ours. Milton has written of:

The parsimonious emmet
In small room large heart inclosed,

yet truly the heart of the emmet is large beyond the furthest stretch of the imagination of most of us. She is a member of a community in which the thought of private property and personal rights has no place, so that the busy, cheerful workers seem to have no other aim or object in their lives except to spend them in unstinted labor for the welfare of their native nest.

Where is the naturalist who can tell us "what is passing in the mind of an ant," and can explain in human terms that irresistible driving force that would raise a crawling insect to the rank of saint and hero but for the fact that it is carried along by an urge that is irresistible and cosmic in its sweep. For such a sublime enterprise something more than a clever intellect is needed — a sensitive and sympathetic heart.

Sweet is the lore that Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous forms of things:
We murder to dissect.

Enough of science and of art;
Close up those barren leaves:
Come forth and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

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