Chapter II. The Pine Processsionary: The Nest; The Community

Jean-Henri Fabre The Life of the Caterpillar

Pine Caterpillar nest

Pine Processionary Caterpillar nest

NOVEMBER arrives, however, bringing cold weather; the time has come to build the stout winter tabernacle. High up in the pine the tip of a bough is chosen, with suitably close-packed and convergent leaves The spinners surround it with a spreading network, which bends the adjacent leaves a little nearer and ends by incorporating them into the fabric. In this way they obtain an enclosure half silk, half leaves, capable of withstanding the inclemencies of the weather.

Early in December the work has increased to the size of a man's two fists or more. In its ultimate perfection, it attains a volume of nearly half a gallon by the end of Winter.

It is roughly egg-shaped, tapering to a certain length below and extended into a sheath which envelops the supporting branch. The origin of this silky extension is as follows: every evening between seven and nine o'clock, weather permitting, the caterpillars leave the nest and go down the bare part of the bough which forms the pole of the tent. The road is broad, for this axis is sometimes as wide as the neck of a claret-bottle. The descent is accomplished without any attempt at order and always slowly, so much so that the first caterpillars to come out have not yet dispersed before they are caught up by the others. The branch is thus covered by a continuous bark of caterpillars, made up of the whole community, which gradually divides into squads and disperses to this side and that on the nearest branches to crop their leaves. Now not one of the caterpillars moves a step without working his spinneret. Therefore the broad downward path, which on the way back will be the ascending path, is covered, as the result of constant traffic, with a multitude of threads forming an unbroken sheath.

It is obvious that this sheath, in which each caterpillar, passing backwards and forwards on his nocturnal rambles, leaves a double thread, is not an indicator laid down with the sole object of simplifying the journey back to the nest: a mere ribbon would be enough for that. Its use might well be to strengthen the edifice, to give it deeper foundations and to join it by a multitude of cables to the steady branch.

The whole thing thus consists, above, of the home distended into an ovoid and, below, of the stalk, the sheath surrounding the support and adding its resistance to that of the numerous other fastenings.

Each nest that has not yet had its shape altered by the prolonged residence of the caterpillars shows in the centre a bulky, milk-white shell, with around it a wrapper of diaphanous gauze. The central mass, formed of thickly~woven threads, has for a wall a thick quilt into which are absorbed, as supports, numbers of leaves, green and intact. The thickness of this wall may be anything up to three-quarters of an inch.

At the top of the dome are round openings, Varying greatly in number and distribution, as wide across as an ordinary lead-pencil. These are the doors of the house, through which the caterpillars go in and out. All around the shell are projecting leaves, which the insects' teeth have respected. From the tip of each leaf there radiate, in graceful, undulating curves, threads which, loosely interlaced, form a light tent, a spacious verandah of careful workmanship, especially in the upper part. Here we find a broad terrace on which, in the daytime, the caterpillars come and doze in the sun, heaped one upon the other, with rounded backs. The network stretching overhead does duty as an awning: it moderates the heat of the sun's rays; it also saves the sleepers from a fall when the bough rocks in the wind.

Let us take our scissors and rip open the nest from end to end longitudinally. A wide window opens and allows us to see the arrangement of the inside. The first thing to strike us is that the leaves contained in the enclosure are intact and quite sound. The young caterpillars in their temporary establishments gnaw the leaves within the silken wrapper to death; they thus have their larder stocked for a few days without having to quit their shelter in bad weather, a condition made necessary by their weakness. When they grow stronger and start working on their winter home, they are very careful not to touch the leaves. Why these new scruples?

The reason is evident. If bruised, those leaves, the framework of the house, would very soon wither and then be blown off with the first breath of wind. The silken purse, torn from its base, would collapse. On the other hand, if the leaves are respected, they remain vigorous and furnish a stout support against the assaults of winter. A solid fastening is superfluous for the summer tent, which lasts but a day; it is indispensable to the permanent shelter which will have to bear the burden of heavy snows and the buffeting of icy winds. Fully alive to these perils, the spinner of the pine-tree considers himself bound, however importunate his hunger, not to saw through the rafters of his house.

Inside the nest, therefore, opened by my scissors I see a thick arcade of green leaves, more or less closely wrapped in a silky sheath whence dangle shreds of cast skin and strings of dried droppings. In short, this interior is an extremely unpleasant place, a rag-shop and a sewage-farm in one, and corresponds in no way with the imposing exterior. All around is a solid wall of quilting and of loosely-woven leaves. There are no chambers, no compartments marked off by partition-walls. It is a single room, turned into a labyrinth by the colonnade of green leaves placed in rows one above the other throughout the oval hall. Here the caterpillars stay when resting, gathered on the columns, heaped in confused masses.

When we remove the hopeless tangle at the top, we see the light filtering in at certain points of the roof. These luminous points correspond with the openings that communicate with the outer air. The network that forms a wrapper to the nest has no special exits. To pass through it in either direction, the caterpillars have only to push the sparse threads aside slightly. The inner wall, a compact rampart, has its doors; the flimsy outer veil has none.

It is in the morning, at about ten o'clock, that the caterpillars leave their night-apartment and come to take the sun on their terrace, under the awning which the points of the leaves hold up at a distance. They spend the whole day there dozing. Motionless, heaped together, they steep themselves deliciously in warmth and from time to time betray their bliss by nodding and wagging their heads. At six or seven o'clock, when it grows dark, the sleepers awake, bestir themselves, separate and go their several ways over the surface of the nest.

We now behold an indeed delightful spectacle. Bright-red stripes meander in every direction over the white sheet of silk. One goes up, another comes down, a third moves aslant; others form a short procession. And, as they solemnly walk about in a splendid disorder, each glues to the ground which it covers the thread that constantly hangs from its lip.

Thus is the thickness of the shelter increased by a fine layer added immediately above the previous structure; thus is the dwelling strengthened by fresh supports. The adjoining green leaves are taken into the net-work and absorbed in the building. If the tiniest bit of them remains free, curves radiate from that point, increasing the size of the veil and fastening it at a greater distance. Every evening, therefore, for an hour or two, great animation reigns on the surface of the nest, if the weather permits; and the work of consolidating and thickening the structure is carried on with indefatigable zeal.

Do they foresee the future, these wary ones who take such precautions against the rigours of winter? Obviously not. Their few months' experience--if indeed experience can be mentioned in connection with a caterpillar--tells them of savoury bellyfuls of green stuff, of gentle slumbers in the sun on the terrace of the nest; but nothing hitherto has made them acquainted with cold, steady rain, with frost, snow and furious blasts of wind. And these creatures, knowing naught of winter's woes, take the same precautions as if they were thoroughly aware of all that the inclement season holds in store for them. They work away at their house with an ardour that seems to say:

„Oh, how nice and warm we shall be in our beds here, nestling one against the other, when the pine-tree swings aloft its frosted candelabra! Let us work with a will! Laboremus!“

Yes, caterpillars, my friends, let us work with a will, great and small, men and grubs alike, so that we may fall asleep peacefully; you with the torpor that makes way for your transformation into Moths, we with that last sleep which breaks off life only to renew it. Laboremus!

Anxious to watch my caterpillars' habits in detail, without having to sally forth by lantern light, often in bad weather, to see what happens in the pine-trees at the end of the enclosure, I have installed half-a-dozen nests in a greenhouse, a modest, glazed shelter which though hardly any warmer than the air outside, at least affords protection from the wind and rain. Fixed in the sand, at a height of about eighteen inches, by the base of the bough that serves as both an axis and a framework, each nest receives for rations a bundle of little pine-branches, which are renewed as soon as they are consumed. I take my lantern every evening and pay my boarders a visit This is the way in which most of my facts are obtained.

After the day's work comes the evening meal The caterpillars descend from the nest, adding a few more threads to the silvery sheath of the support, and reach the posy of fresh green stuff which is lying quite near. It is a magnificent sight to see the red-coated band lined up in twos and threes on each and in ranks so closely formed that the green sprigs of the bunch bend under the load.

The diners, all motionless, all poking their heads forward, nibble in silence, placidly. Their broad black foreheads gleam in the rays of the lantern. A shower of granules drops on the sand below. These are the residues of easy-going stomachs, only too ready to digest their food. By to-morrow morning the soil will have disappeared under a greenish layer of this intestinal hail. Yes, indeed, it is a sight to see, one far more stimulating than that of the Silk-worms' mess-room. Young and old, we are all so much interested in it that our evenings almost invariably end in a visit to the greenhouse caterpillars.

The meal is prolonged far into the night. Satisfied at last, some sooner, some later, they go back to the nest, where for a little longer, feeling their silk-glands filled, they continue spinning on the surface. These hard workers would scruple to cross the white carpet without contributing a few threads. It is getting on for one or even two o'clock in the morning when the last of the band goes indoors.

My duty as a foster-father is daily to renew the bunch of sprigs, which are shorn to the last leaf; on the other hand, my duty as an historian is to enquire to what extent the diet can be varied. The district supplies me with Processionaries on the Scotch pine, the maritime pine and the Aleppo pine indifferently, but never on the other Conifers. one would think that any resin-scented leaf ought to suit. So says chemical analysis.

We must mistrust the chemist's retort when it pokes its nose into the kitchen. It may succeed in making butter out of tallow-candles and brandy out of potatoes; but, when it tells us that the products are identical, we shall do well to refuse these abominations. Science, astonishingly rich as it is in poison, will never provide us with anything fit to eat, because, though the raw substance falls to a large extent within its domain, that same substance escapes its methods the moment that it is wanted organized, divided and subdivided indefinitely by the process of life, as needed by the stomach, whose requirements are not be met by measured doses of our reagents. The raw material of cell and fibre may perhaps be artificially obtained, some day; cell and fibre themselves, never. There's the rub with your chemical feeding.

The caterpillars loudly proclaim the insurmountable difficulty of the problem. Relying my chemical data, I offer them the different substitutes for the pine growing in my closure: the spruce, the yew, the thuja, the juniper, the cypress. What! Am I asking them, Pine Caterpillars, to bite into that? They will take good care not to, despite the tempting resinous smell! They would die of hunger rather than touch it! One conifer and one only is excepted: the cedar. My charges browse upon its leaves with no appreciable repugnance. Why the cedar and not the others? I do not know. The caterpillar's sto­mach, fastidious as our own, has its secrets.

Let us pass to other tests. I have just slit open longitudinally a nest whose internal structure I want to explore. Owing to the natural shrinkage of the split swan's-down, the cleft reaches two fingers' breadth in the centre and tapers at the top and bottom. What will the spinners do in the presence of such a disaster? The operation is performed by day, while the caterpillars are slumbering in heaps upon the dome. As the living-room is deserted at this time, I can cut boldly with the scissors without risk of damaging any part of the population.

My ravages do not wake the sleepers: all day long not one appears upon the breach. This indifference looks as though it were due to the fact that the danger is not yet known. Things will be different to-night, when the busy work begins again. However dull they may be, the caterpillars will certainly notice hat huge window which freely admits the deadly draughts of winter; and, possessing any amount of padding, they will crowd round the dangerous gap and stop it up in a trice. Thus do we argue, forgetting the animal's inte­llectual darkness.

What really happens is that, when night falls the indifference of the caterpillars remains as great as ever. The breach in the tent provokes not a sign of excitement. They move to and fro on the surface of the nest; they work, they spin as usual. There is no change, absolutely none, in their behaviour. When the road covered chances to bring some of them to the brink of the ravine, we see no alacrity on their part, no sign of anxiety, no attempt to close up the two edges of the slit. They simply strive to accomplish the difficult crossing and to continue their stroll as though they were walking on a perfect web. And they manage it somehow or other, by fixing the thread as far as the length of their body permits.

Having once crossed the gulf, they pursue their way imperturbably, without stopping any more at the breach. Others come upon the scene and, using the threads already laid as foot-bridges, pass over the rent and walk on, leaving their own thread as they go. Thus the first night's work results in the laying over the cleft of a filmy gauze, hardly perceptible, but just sufficient for the traffic of the colony. The same thing is repeated on the nights that follow; and the crevice ends by being closed with a scanty sort of Spider's web. And that is all.

There is no improvement by the end of the winter. The window made by my scissors is still wide open, though thinly veiled; its black spindle shape shows from the top of the nest to the bottom. There is no darn in the split texture, no piece of swan's-down let in between the two edges to restore the roof to its original state. If the accident had happened in the open air and not under glass, the foolish spinners would probably have died of cold in their cracked house.

Twice renewed with the same results, this test proves that the Pine Caterpillars are not alive to the danger of their split dwelling.

Expert spinners though they be, they seem unconscious of the ruin of their work as the spools in a factory are of a broken thread. They could easily make good the damage by topping up the breach with the silk that is lavished elsewhere without urgent need; they could weave upon it a material as thick and solid as the rest of the walls. But no, they placidly continue their habitual task; they spin as they spun yesterday and as they will spin to-morrow, strengthening the parts that are already strong, thickening what is already thick enough; and not one thinks of stopping the disastrous gap. To let a piece into that hole would mean weaving the tent all over again from the beginning; and no insect, however industrious, goes back to what it has already done.

I have often called attention to this feature in animal psychology; notably I have described the ineptitude of the caterpillar of the Great Peacock Moth. the course of an essay on aberration of instinct in a certain Mason-wasp which is not yet translated into English.--Translator's Note. When the experimenter lops the top off the complicated eel-trap which forms the pointed end of the cocoon, this caterpillar spends the silk remaining to him in work of secondary importance, instead of making good the series of cones, each fitting into the other, which are so essential to the hermit's protec­tion. He continues his normal task imperturbably, as though nothing out of the way had taken Place. Even so does the spinner in the pine-tree act with his burst tent.

Your foster-parent must perpetrate yet another piece of mischief; O my Processionary; but this time it shall be to your advantage! It does not take me long to perceive that the nests intended to last through the winter often contain a population much greater than that of the temporary shelters woven by the very young caterpillars. I also notice that, when they have attained their ultimate dimensions, these nests differ very considerably in size. The largest of them are equal to five or six of the smallest. What is the cause of these variations?

Certainly, if all the eggs turned out well, the scaly cylinder containing the laying of a single mother would be enough to fill a splendid purse: there are three hundred enamelled beads here for hatching. But in families which swarm unduly an enormous waste always takes places and restores the balance of things; if the called are legion, the chosen are a well thinned-out troop, as is proved by the Cicada, the Praying Mantis predatory insect, akin to the Locusts and Crickets, which, when at rest, adopts an attitude resembling that of Prayer. Cf. Social Life in the Insect World: chaps. v to vii.--Translator's Note. and the Cricket. The Pine Processionary, another crucible of organic matter of which various devourers take advantage, is also reduced in numbers immediately after the hatching. The delicate mouthful has shrunk to a few dozens of survivors around the light globular network in which the family passes the sunny autumn days. Soon they will have to be thinking of the stoutly-built winter tent. At such a time, it would be a boon if they could be many, for from union springs strength.

I suspect an easy method of fusion among a few families. To serve them as a guide peregrinations about the tree, the caterpillars have their silk ribbon, which they follow on their return, after describing a bend. They may also miss it and strike another, one differing in no respect from their own. This new ribbon marks the way to some nest situated in the neighbourhood. The strayed caterpillars, failing to distinguish it from their own ribbon, follow it conscientiously and in this manner end by reaching a strange dwelling. Suppose them to be peacefully received: what will happen?

Once fused, the several groups assembled by the accident of the path will form a powerful city, fitted to produce great works; the concerted weaklings will give rise to a strong, united body. This would explain the thickly-populated, bulky nests situated so near to others that have remained puny. The former would be the work of a syndicate incorporating the interests of spinners collected from different parts; the latter would belong to families left in isolation by the luck of the road.

It remains to be seen whether the chance-comers, guided by a strange ribbon, meet with a good reception in the new abode. The experiment is easily made upon the nests in the greenhouse. In the evening, at the hours devoted to grazing, I remove with a pruning-shears the different little branches covered with the population of one nest and lay them on the provisions of the neighbouring nest, which provisions are also overrun with caterpillars. Or I can make shorter work of it by taking the whole bunch, well covered with the troop, of the first pouch and planting it right beside the bunch of the second, so that the leaves of the two mingle a little at the edges.

There is not the least quarrelling between the real proprietors and the new arrivals. Both go on peacefully browsing, as though nothing had happened. And all without hesitation, when bed-time comes, make for the nest like brothers who have always lived together; all do some spinning before retiring to rest, thicken the blanket a little and are then swallowed up in the dormitory. By repeating the same operation next day and, if necessary, the day after, in order to collect the laggards, I succeed without the slightest difficulty in wholly depopulating the first nest and transferring all its caterpillars to the second.

I venture to do something better still. The same method of transportation allows me to quadruple the output of a spinning-mill by adding to it the workers of three similar establishments. And, if I limit myself to this increase, the reason is not that any confusion manifests itself in this shifting of quarters, but that I see no bounds to my experiment, so cheerfully do the caterpillars accept any addition to their number. The more spinners, the more spinning: a very judicious rule of conduct.

Let us add that the caterpillars which have been transported cherish no regrets for their old house. They are quite at home with the others and make no attempt to regain the nest whence they were banished by my artifices. It is not the distance that discourages them, for the empty dwelling is only half a yard away at most. If, for the purpose of my studies, I wish to restock the deserted nest, I am obliged once more to resort to transportation, which invariably proves successful.

Later, in February, when an occasional fine day allows of long processions on the walls and the sand-covered shelf of the greenhouse, I am able to watch the fusing of two groups without personally intervening. All that I have to do is patiently to follow the evolutions of a file on the march. I see it sometimes, after leaving one nest, enter a different one, guided by some fortuitous change of route. Thenceforward the strangers form part of the community on the same footing as the others. In a like fashion, when the caterpillars walk abroad upon the tree at night, the scanty groups of the outset must increase and gather the number of spinners which an extensive building requires.

Everything for everybody. So says the Pine Processionary, nibbling his leaves without quarrelling in the least over his neighbours' mouthfuls, or else entering--and being always peacefully received--another's home precisely as he would his own. Whether a member of the tribe or a stranger, he finds room in the refectory and room in the dormitory The others' nest is his nest. The others' grazing-ground is his grazing-ground, m which he is entitled to his fair share, one neither greater nor smaller than the share of his habitual or casual companions.

Each for all and all for each. So says the Processionary, who every evening spends his little capital of silk on enlarging a shelter that is often new to him. What would he do with his puny skein, if alone? Hardly anything. But there are hundreds and hundreds of them in the spinning-mill; and the result of their infinitesimal contributions, woven into a common stuff, is a thick blanket capable of resisting the winter. In working for himself, each works for the others; and these on their side work as zealously for each. O lucky animals that know nothing of property, the mother of strife! O enviable cenobites, who practise the strictest communism!

These habits of the caterpillars invite a few reflections. Generous minds, richer in illusions than in logic, set communism before us as the sovereign cure for human ills. Is it practicable among mankind? At all times there have been, there still are and there always will be, fortunately, associations in which it is possible to forget in common some small part of the hardships of life; but is it possible to generalize?

The caterpillars of the pine can give us much valuable information in this respect. Let us have no false shame: our material needs are shared by the animals; they struggle as we do to take part in the general banquet of the living; and the manner in which they solve the problem of existence is not to be despised. Let us then ask ourselves what the reasons that cause cenobitism to flourish among the Processionaries.

One answer suggests itself inevitably, to begin with: the food problem, that terrible disturber of the world's tranqu­illity, is here non-existent. Peace reigns as soon as the stomach is certain of being filled without a struggle. A pine-needle or even less suffices for the caterpillar's meal; and that needle is always there, waiting to be eaten, is there in inexhaustible numbers, almost on the threshold of home. When dinner-time arrives, we caterpillars go out, we take the air, we walk a little in procession; then, without laborious seeking, without jealous rivalries, we seat ourselves at the banquet. The table is plentifully spread and will never be bare, so large generous is the pine; all that we need is, from one evening to the next, to move our dining-room a little farther on. Consequently, there are no present and no future cares on the subject of provisions: the caterpillar finds food to eat almost as easily as he finds air to breathe.

The atmosphere feeds all creatures on air with a bounty which it is not necessary to crave. All unknown to itself, without the agency of any effort or labour, the animal receives its share of the most vital of elements. The niggardly earth, on the contrary, surrenders its gifts only when laboriously forced. Not fruitful enough to satisfy every need, it leaves the division of the food to the fierce eagerness of competition.

The mouthful to be procured engenders war between consumers. Look at two Ground-beetles coming at the same time upon a bit of Earth-worm. Which of the two shall have the morsel? The matter shall be decided by battle, desperate, ferocious battle. With these famished ones, who eat at long intervals and do not always eat their fill, communal life is out of the question.

The Pine Caterpillar is free from these woes. He finds the earth as generous as the atmosphere; he finds eating as easy as breathing. Other instances of perfect communism might be named. All occur among species living on a vegetable diet, provided however that victuals are plentiful and obtainable without a hard search. An animal diet, on the contrary, a prey, always more or less difficult to secure, banishes cenobitism. Where the portion is too small for one, what excuse would there be for guests?

The Pine Processionary knows nothing of privation. He knows as little of family ties, other source of unrelenting competition. To make ourselves a place in the sun is but a half of the struggle imposed upon us by life: we must also, as far as possible, prepare a place for our successors; and, as the preservation of the species is of greater importance than that of the individual, the struggle for the future is even fiercer than the struggle for the present. Every mother regards the welfare of her offspring as her primary law. Perish all else, provided that the brood flourish! Every one for himself is her maxim, imposed by the rigours of the general conflict; every one for himself is her rule, the safeguard of the future.

With maternity and its imperious duties, communism ceases to be practicable. At first sight, certain Hymenoptera order of insects embracing the Bees, Wasps, Ants, Saw-flies, Ichneumon-flies, etc.--Translator's Note. seem to declare the contrary. We find, for instance, the Mason-bees of the Sheds The Mason-bees by J. Henri Fabre, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, passim.--Translator's Note. nesting in myriads on the same tiles and building a monumental edifice at which all the mothers work. Is this really a community? Not at all. It is a city in which the inhabitants have neighbours, not collaborators. Each mother kneads her pots of honey; each amasses a dowry for her offspring and nothing but a dowry for her offspring; each wears herself out for her family and only for her family. Oh, it would be a serious business if some one merely came and alighted on the brim of a cell that did not belong to her; the mistress of the house would give her to understand, by means of a sound drubbing, that manners such as those are not to be endured! She would have to skedaddle very quickly, unless she wanted a fight. The rights of property are sacred here.

Even the much more social Hive-bee is no exception to the rule of maternal egoism. To each hive one mother. If there be two, civil war breaks out and one of them perishes by the other's dagger or else quits the country, followed by a part of the swarm. Although virtually fit to lay eggs, the other Bees, to the number of some twenty thousand, renounce maternity and vow themselves to celibacy in order to bring up the prodigious family of the one and only mother. Here, communism reigns, under certain aspects; but, for the immense majority, motherhood is forthwith abolished.

Even so with the Wasps, the Ants, the Termites Ants.--Translator's Note. and the various social insects. Life in common costs them dear. Thousands and thousands remain incomplete and become the humble auxiliaries of a few who are sexually endowed. But, whenever maternity is the general portion, individualism reappears, as among the Mason-bees, notwithstanding their show of communism.

The Pine Caterpillars are exempt from the duty of preserving the race. They have no sex, or rather are obscurely preparing one, as undecided and rudimentary as all that is not yet but must one day be. With the blossoming of maternity, that flower of adult age, individual property will not fail to appear, attended by its rivalries. The insect now so peaceable will, like the others, have its displays of selfish intolerance. The mothers will isolate themselves, jealous of the double pine-needle in which the cylinder of eggs is to be fixed; the males, fluttering their wings, will challenge one another for the possession of the coveted bride. It is not a serious struggle among these easy-going ones, but still it presents a faint picture of those mortal affrays which the mating so often produces. Love rules the world by battle; it too is a hotbed of competition.

The caterpillar, being almost sexless, is indifferent to amorous instincts. This is the first condition for living pacifically in common. But it is not enough. The perfect concord of the community demands among all its members an equal division of strength and talent, of taste and capacity for work. This condition, which perhaps is the most important of all, is fulfilled preeminently. If there were hundreds, if there were thousands of them in the same nest, there would be no difference between any of them.

They are all the same size and equally strong; all wear the same dress; all possess the same gift for spinning; and all with equal zeal expend the contents of their silk-glands for the general welfare. No one idles, no one lounges along when there is work to be done. With no other stimulus than the satisfaction of doing their duty, every evening, when the weather is favourable, they all spin with equal industry and drain to the last drop their reservoirs of silk, which have become distended during the day. In their tribe there is no question of skilled or unskilled, of strong or weak, of abstemious or gluttonous; there are neither hard-workers nor idlers, neither or spendthrifts. What one does the others do, with a like zeal, no more and no less well. It is a splendid world of equality truly, but, alas, a world of caterpillars!

If it suited us to go to school to the Pine Processionary, we should soon see the inanity of our levelling and communistic theories. Equality is a magnificent political catchword, but little more. Where is it, this equality of ours? In our social groups, could we find as many as two persons exactly equal in strength, health, intelligence, capacity for work, foresight and all the other gifts which are the great factors of prosperity? Where should we find anything analogous to the exact parity prevailing among caterpillars? Nowhere. Inequality is our law. And a good thing, too.

A sound which is invariably the same, however often multiplied, does not constitute a harmony. We need dissimilarities, sounds loud and soft, deep and shrill; we need even discords which, by their harshness, throw into relief the sweetness of the chords. In the same way, human societies are harmonious only with the aid of contraries. If the dreams of our levellers could be realized, we should sink to the monotony of the caterpillar societies; art, science, progress and the lofty flights of the imagination would slumber indefinitely in the dead calm of mediocrity.

Besides, if this general levelling were effected, we should still be very far from communism. To achieve that, we should have to do away with the family, as the caterpillars and Plato teach us; we should need abundance of food obtained without any effort. So long as a mouthful of bread is difficult to acquire, demanding an industry and labour of which we are not all equally capable, so long as the family remains the sacred reason for our foresight, so long will the generous theory of all for each and each for all be absolutely impracticable.

And then should we gain by abolishing the struggle for the daily bread of ourselves and those dependent on us? It is very doubtful.

We should be getting rid of this world's two great joys, work and the family, the only joys that give any value to life; we should be stifling exactly that which makes our greatness. And the result of this bestial sacrilege would be a community of human caterpillars. Thus does the Pine Processionary teach us by his example.


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