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47 Works of Grant Allen

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Right and Left

Story type: Literature

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Adult man is the only animal who, in the familiar scriptural phrase, ‘knoweth the right hand from the left.’ This fact in his economy goes closely together with the other facts, that he is the only animal on this sublunary planet who habitually uses a knife and fork, articulate language, the art of cookery, the […]

Desert Sands

Story type: Literature

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If deserts have a fault (which their present biographer is far from admitting), that fault may doubtless be found in the fact that their scenery as a rule tends to be just a trifle monotonous. Though fine in themselves, they lack variety. To be sure, very few of the deserts of real life possess that […]

Standing to-day before the dim outline of Orcagna’s “Hell” in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, at Florence, and mentally comparing those mediaeval demons and monsters and torturers on the frescoed wall in front of me with the more antique Etruscan devils and tormentors pictured centuries earlier on the ancient tombs of Etrurian princes, the […]

Everybody knows, of course, that up and down over the face of England a whole crop of places may be found with such terminations as Lancaster, Doncaster, Manchester, Leicester, Gloucester, or Exeter; and everybody also knows that these words are various corruptions or alterations of the Latin castra, or perhaps we ought rather to say […]

"Mere Amateurs"

Story type: Essay

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“He was a mere amateur; but still, he did some good work in science.” Increasingly of late years I have heard these condescending words uttered, in the fatherland of Bacon, of Newton, of Darwin, when some Bates or Spottiswoode has been gathered to his fathers. It was not so once. Time was when all English […]

The Bronze Axe

Story type: Essay

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There is always a certain fascination in beginning a subject at the wrong end and working backward: it has the charm which inevitably attaches to all evil practices; you know you oughtn’t, and so you can’t resist the temptation to outrage the proprieties and do it. I can’t myself resist the temptation of beginning this […]

The world has expanded faster in the last thirty years than in any previous age since “the spacious days of great Elizabeth.” And with its expansion, of course, our ideas have widened. I believe Europe is now in the midst of just such an outburst of thought and invention as that which followed the discovery […]

Perhaps you have never heard its name before; yet in the earlier ages of this kingdom of Britain, Ruim Isle, rising dim through the mist of prehistoric oceans, was once in its own way famous and important. Off the old and obliterated south-eastern promontory of our island, where the land of Kent shelved almost imperceptibly […]

In the first of these after-dinner causeries I ventured humbly to remark that Patriotism was a vulgar vice of which I had never been guilty. That innocent indiscretion of mine aroused at the moment some unfavourable comment. I confess I was sorry for it. But I passed it by at the time, lest I should […]

Every American woman is by birth a duchess. There, you see, I have taken you in. When you saw the heading, “American Duchesses,” you thought I was going to purvey some piquant scandal about high-placed ladies; and you straightway began to read my essay. That shows I rightly interpreted your human nature. There’s a deal […]

For the reasons which have determined the existence of Sussex as a county of England, and which have given it the exact boundaries that it now possesses, we must go back to the remote geological history of the secondary ages. Its limits and its very existence as a separate shire were predetermined for it by […]

‘Why, what did they want to build a city right up here for, anyway?’ the pretty American asked, who had come with us to Fiesole, as we rested, panting, after our long steep climb, on the cathedral platform. Now the question was a pertinent and in its way a truly philosophical one. Fiesole crests the […]

Westminster Gazette, 1 (25 February 1893) Britain is now the centre of civilisation. Will it always be so? Is our commercial supremacy decaying or not? Have we begun to reach the period of inevitable decline? Or is decline indeed inevitable at all? Might a nation go on being great for ever? If so, are we […]

A sportive friend of mine, a mighty golfer, is fond of saying, “You Radicals want to play the game without the rules.” To which I am accustomed mildly to retort, “Not at all; but we think the rules unfair, and so we want to see them altered.” Now life is a very peculiar game, which […]

Mud

Story type: Essay

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Even a prejudiced observer will readily admit that the most valuable mineral on earth is mud. Diamonds and rubies are just nowhere by comparison. I don’t mean weight for weight, of course–mud is ‘cheap as dirt,’ to buy in small quantities–but aggregate for aggregate. Quite literally, and without hocus-pocus of any sort, the money valuation […]

One great English thinker and artist once tried the rash experiment of being true to himself–of saying out boldly, without fear or reserve, the highest and noblest and best that was in him. He gave us the most exquisite lyrics in the English language; he moulded the thought of our first youth as no other […]

I mean what I say: science in education, not education in science. It is the last of these that all the scientific men of England have so long been fighting for. And a very good thing it is in its way, and I hope they may get as much as they want of it. But […]

It is a common, not to say a vulgar error, to believe that trees and plants grow out of the ground. And of course, having thus begun by calling it bad names, I will not for a moment insult the intelligence of my readers by supposing them to share so foolish a delusion. I beg […]

“Alas, how easily things go wrong!” says Dr. George MacDonald. And all the world over, when things do go wrong, the natural and instinctive desire of the human animal is–to find a scapegoat. When the great French nation in the lump embarks its capital in a hopeless scheme for cutting a canal through the Isthmus […]

Pretty Poll

Story type: Essay

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It is an error of youth to despise parrots for their much talking. Loquacity isn’t always a sign of empty-headedness, nor is silence a sure proof of weight and wisdom. Biologists, for their part, know better than that. By common consent, they rank the parrot group as the very head and crown of bird creation. […]

Fish As Fathers

Story type: Essay

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Comparatively little is known as yet, even in this age of publicity, about the domestic arrangements and private life of fishes. Not that the creatures themselves shun the wiles of the interviewer, or are at all shy and retiring, as a matter of delicacy, about their family affairs; on the contrary, they display a striking […]

High Life

Story type: Essay

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Everybody knows mountain flowers are beautiful. As one rises up any minor height in the Alps or the Pyrenees below snow-level, one notices at once the extraordinary brilliancy and richness of the blossoms one meets there. All nature is dressed in its brightest robes. Great belts of blue gentian hang like a zone on the […]

A distinguished Positivist friend of mine, who is in most matters a practical man of the world, astonished me greatly the other day at Venice, by the grave remark that Italian was destined to be the language of the future. I found on inquiry he had inherited the notion direct from Auguste Comte, who justified […]

A singular opportunity was afforded me last summer for making myself thoroughly at home with the habits and manners of the common English geometrical spider. By the pure chance of circumstance, two ladies of that intelligent and interesting species were kind enough to select for their temporary residence a large pane of glass just outside […]

Aristocracies, as a rule, all the world over, consist, and have always consisted, of barbaric conquerors or their descendants, who remain to the last, on the average of instances, at a lower grade of civilisation and morals than the democracy they live among. I know this view is to some extent opposed to the common […]

De Banana

Story type: Essay

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The title which heads this paper is intended to be Latin, and is modelled on the precedent of the De Amicitia, De Senectute, De Corona, and other time-honoured plagues of our innocent boyhood. It is meant to give dignity and authority to the subject with which it deals, as well as to rouse curiosity in […]

Of course, you know my friend the squirting cucumber. If you don’t, that can be only because you’ve never looked in the right place to find him. On all waste ground outside most southern cities–Nice, Cannes, Florence: Rome, Algiers, Granada: Athens, Palermo, Tunis, where you will–the soil is thickly covered by dark trailing vines which […]

A Desert Fruit

Story type: Essay

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Who knows the Mediterranean, knows the prickly pear. Not that that quaint and uncanny-looking cactus, with its yellow blossoms and bristling fruits that seem to grow paradoxically out of the edge of thick fleshy leaves, is really a native of Italy, Spain, and North Africa, where it now abounds on every sun-smitten hillside. Like Mr. […]

Go To The Ant

Story type: Essay

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In the market-place at Santa Fe, in Mexico, peasant women from the neighbouring villages bring in for sale trayfuls of living ants, each about as big and round as a large white currant, and each entirely filled with honey or grape sugar, much appreciated by the ingenuous Mexican youth as an excellent substitute for Everton […]

My Islands

Story type: Essay

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About the middle of the Miocene period, as well as I can now remember (for I made no note of the precise date at the moment), my islands first appeared above the stormy sheet of the North-West Atlantic as a little rising group of mountain tops, capping a broad boss of submarine volcanoes. My attention […]

Thunderbolts

Story type: Essay

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The subject of thunderbolts is a very fascinating one, and all the more so because there are no such things in existence at all as thunderbolts of any sort. Like the snakes of Iceland, their whole history might, from the positive point of view at least, be summed up in the simple statement of their […]

If any one were to ask me (which is highly unlikely) ‘In what university would an intelligent young man do best to study?’ I think I should be very much inclined indeed to answer offhand, ‘In the Tropics.’ No doubt this advice sounds on first hearing just a trifle paradoxical; and no doubt, too, the […]

Honey-Dew

Story type: Essay

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Place, the garden. Time, summer. Dramatis personae, a couple of small brown garden-ants, and a lazy clustering colony of wee green ‘plant-lice,’ or ‘blight,’ or aphides. The exact scene is usually on the young and succulent branches of a luxuriant rose-bush, into whose soft shoots the aphides have deeply buried their long trunk-like snouts, in […]

For many centuries the occult problem how to account for the milk in the coco-nut has awakened the profoundest interest alike of ingenuous infancy and of maturer scientific age. Though it cannot be truthfully affirmed of it, as of the cosmogony or creation of the world, in the ‘Vicar of Wakefield,’ that it ‘has puzzled […]

When a man and a bear meet together casually in an American forest, it makes a great deal of difference, to the two parties concerned at least, whether the bear eats the man or the man eats the bear. We haven’t the slightest difficulty in deciding afterwards which of the two, in each particular case, […]

For many generations past that problematical animal, the toad-in-a-hole(literal, not culinary) has been one of the most familiar andinteresting personages of contemporary folk-lore and popular naturalhistory. From time to time he turns up afresh, with his own wontedperennial vigour, on paper at least, in company with the greatsea-serpent, the big gooseberry, the shower of frogs, […]

If an intelligent Australian colonist were suddenly to be translated backward from Collins Street, Melbourne, into the flourishing woods of the secondary geological period–say about the precise moment of time when the English chalk downs were slowly accumulating, speck by speck, on the silent floor of some long-forgotten Mediterranean–the intelligent colonist would look around him […]

The work of art which lies before me is old, unquestionably old; a good deal older, in fact, than Archbishop Ussher (who invented all out of his own archiepiscopal head the date commonly assigned for the creation of the world) would by any means have been ready to admit. It is a bas-relief by an […]

Strictly speaking, there is nothing really and truly British; everybody and everything is a naturalised alien. Viewed as Britons, we all of us, human and animal, differ from one another simply in the length of time we and our ancestors have continuously inhabited this favoured and foggy isle of Britain. Look, for example, at the […]

Fossil Food

Story type: Essay

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There is something at first sight rather ridiculous in the idea of eating a fossil. To be sure, when the frozen mammoths of Siberia were first discovered, though they had been dead for at least 80,000 years (according to Dr. Croll’s minimum reckoning for the end of the great ice age), and might therefore naturally […]

Big Animals

Story type: Essay

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‘The Atlantosaurus,’ said I, pointing affectionately with a wave of my left hand to all that was immortal of that extinct reptile, ‘is estimated to have had a total length of one hundred feet, and was probably the very biggest lizard that ever lived, even in Western America, where his earthly remains were first disinhumed […]

Falling In Love

Story type: Essay

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An ancient and famous human institution is in pressing danger. Sir George Campbell has set his face against the time-honoured practice of Falling in Love. Parents innumerable, it is true, have set their faces against it already from immemorial antiquity; but then they only attacked the particular instance, without venturing to impugn the institution itself […]

The Recipe For Genius

Story type: Literature

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Let us start fair by frankly admitting that the genius, like the poet, is born and not made. If you wish to apply the recipe for producing him, it is unfortunately necessary to set out by selecting beforehand his grandfathers and grandmothers, to the third and fourth generation of those that precede him. Nevertheless, there […]

Strictly Incog

Story type: Essay

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Among the reefs of rock upon the Australian coast, an explorer’s dredge often brings up to the surface some tangled tresses of reddish seaweed, which, when placed for a while in a bucket of water, begin slowly to uncoil themselves as if endowed with animal life, and finally to swim about with a gentle tremulous […]

Collective humanity owes a great debt of gratitude to the first potter. Before his days the art of boiling, though in one sense very simple and primitive indeed, was in another sense very complex, cumbersome, and lengthy. The unsophisticated savage, having duly speared and killed his antelope, proceeded to light a roaring fire, with flint […]

Strolling one day in what is euphemistically termed, in equatorial latitudes, ‘the cool of the evening,’ along a tangled tropical American field-path, through a low region of lagoons and watercourses, my attention happened to be momentarily attracted from the monotonous pursuit of the nimble mosquito by a small animal scuttling along irregularly before me, as […]

Ogbury Barrows

Story type: Essay

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We went to Ogbury Barrows on an archaeological expedition. And as the very name of archaeology, owing to a serious misconception incidental to human nature, is enough to deter most people from taking any further interest in our proceedings when once we got there, I may as well begin by explaining, for the benefit of […]