The Life of the Spider
The Garden Spiders: The Question Of Property
A dog has found a bone. He lies in the shade, holding it between his paws, and studies it
fondly. It is his sacred property, his chattel. An Epeira has woven her web. Here again
is property; and owning a better title than the other. Favoured by chance and assisted by
his scent, the Dog has merely had a find; he has neither worked nor paid for it. The
Spider is more than a casual owner, she has created what is hers. Its substance issued
from her body, its structure from her brain. If ever property was sacrosanct, hers is.
Far higher stands the work of the weaver of ideas, who tissues a book, that other Spider’s
web, and out of his thought makes something that shall instruct or thrill us. To protect
our ‘bone,’ we have the police, invented for the express purpose. To protect the book, we
have none but farcical means. Place a few bricks one atop the other; join them with
mortar; and the law will defend your wall. Build up in writing an edifice of your
thoughts; and it will be open to any one, without serious impediment, to abstract stones
from it, even to take the whole, if it suit him. A rabbit-hutch is property; the work of the
mind is not. If the animal has eccentric views as regards the possessions of others, we
have ours as well.
‘Might always has the best of the argument,’ said La Fontaine, to the great scandal of the
peace-lovers. The exigencies of verse, rhyme and rhythm, carried the worthy fabulist
further than he intended: he meant to say that, in a fight between mastiffs and in other
brute conflicts, the stronger is left master of the bone. He well knew that, as things go,
success is no certificate of excellence. Others came, the notorious evil-doers of
humanity, who made a law of the savage maxim that might is right.
We are the larvae with the changing skins, the ugly caterpillars of a society that is slowly,
very slowly, wending its way to the triumph of right over might. When will this sublime
metamorphosis be accomplished? To free ourselves from those wild-beast brutalities,
must we wait for the ocean-plains of the southern hemisphere to flow to our side,
changing the face of continents and renewing the glacial period of the Reindeer and the
Mammoth? Perhaps, so slow is moral progress.
True, we have the bicycle, the motor-car, the dirigible airship and other marvellous
means of breaking our bones; but our morality is not one rung the higher for it all. One
would even say that, the farther we proceed in our conquest of matter, the more our
morality recedes. The most advanced of our inventions consists in bringing men down
with grapeshot and explosives with the swiftness of the reaper mowing the corn.
Would we see this might triumphant in all its beauty? Let us spend a few weeks in the
Epeira’s company. She is the owner of a web, her work, her most lawful property. The
question at once presents itself: Does the Spider possibly recognize her fabric by certain
trademarks and distinguish it from that of her fellows?