“Et nous jongleurs inutiles, frivoles joueurs de luth!”. . . Useless jugglers, frivolous players on the lute! Must we so describe ourselves, we, the producers, season by season, of so many hundreds of “remarkable” works of fiction?–for though, when we take up the remarkable works of our fellows, we “really cannot read them!” the Press and the advertisements of our publishers tell us that they are “remarkable.”
A story goes that once in the twilight undergrowth of a forest of nut-bearing trees a number of little purblind creatures wandered, singing for nuts. On some of these purblind creatures the nuts fell heavy and full, extremely indigestible, and were quickly swallowed; on others they fell light, and contained nothing, because the kernel had already been eaten up above, and these light and kernel-less nuts were accompanied by sibilations or laughter. On others again no nuts at all, empty or full, came down. But nuts or no nuts, full nuts or empty nuts, the purblind creatures below went on wandering and singing. A traveller one day stopped one of these creatures whose voice was peculiarly disagreeable, and asked “Why do you sing like this? Is it for pleasure that you do it, or for pain? What do you get out of it? Is it for the sake of those up there? Is it for your own sake–for the sake of your family–for whose sake? Do you think your songs worth listening to? Answer!”
The creature scratched itself, and sang the louder.
“Ah! Cacoethes! I pity, but do not blame you,” said the traveller.
He left the creature, and presently came to another which sang a squeaky treble song. It wandered round in a ring under a grove of stunted trees, and the traveller noticed that it never went out of that grove.
“Is it really necessary,” he said, “for you to express yourself thus?”
And as he spoke showers of tiny hard nuts came down on the little creature, who ate them greedily. The traveller opened one; it was extremely small and tasted of dry rot.
“Why, at all events,” he said, “need you stay under these trees? the nuts are not good here.”
But for answer the little creature ran round and round, and round and round.
“I suppose,” said the traveller, “small bad nuts are better than no bread; if you went out of this grove you would starve?”
The purblind little creature shrieked. The traveller took the sound for affirmation, and passed on. He came to a third little creature who, under a tall tree, was singing very loudly indeed, while all around was a great silence, broken only by sounds like the snuffling of small noses. The creature stopped singing as the traveller came up, and at once a storm of huge nuts came down; the traveller found them sweetish and very oily.
“Why,” he said to the creature, “did you sing so loud? You cannot eat all these nuts. You really do sing louder than seems necessary; come, answer me!”
But the purblind little creature began to sing again at the top of its voice, and the noise of the snuffling of small noses became so great that the traveller hastened away. He passed many other purblind little creatures in the twilight of this forest, till at last he came to one that looked even blinder than the rest, but whose song was sweet and low and clear, breaking a perfect stillness; and the traveller sat down to listen. For a long time he listened to that song without noticing that not a nut was falling. But suddenly he heard a faint rustle and three little oval nuts lay on the ground.
The traveller cracked one of them. It was of delicate flavour. He looked at the little creature standing with its face raised, and said:
“Tell me, little blind creature, whose song is so charming, where did you learn to sing?”
The little creature turned its head a trifle to one side as though listening for the fall of nuts.