The Life of the Spider HTML version

The Narbonne Lycosa: The Burrow
Michelet {23} has told us how, as a printer’s apprentice in a cellar, he established
amicable relations with a Spider. At a certain hour of the day, a ray of sunlight would
glint through the window of the gloomy workshop and light up the little compositor’s
case. Then his eight-legged neighbour would come down from her web and take her
share of the sunshine on the edge of the case. The boy did not interfere with her; he
welcomed the trusting visitor as a friend and as a pleasant diversion from the long
monotony. When we lack the society of our fellow-men, we take refuge in that of
animals, without always losing by the change.
I do not, thank God, suffer from the melancholy of a cellar: my solitude is gay with light
and verdure; I attend, whenever I please, the fields’ high festival, the Thrushes’ concert,
the Crickets’ symphony; and yet my friendly commerce with the Spider is marked by an
even greater devotion than the young typesetter’s. I admit her to the intimacy of my
study, I make room for her among my books, I set her in the sun on my window-ledge, I
visit her assiduously at her home, in the country. The object of our relations is not to
create a means of escape from the petty worries of life, pin-pricks whereof I have my
share like other men, a very large share, indeed; I propose to submit to the Spider a host
of questions whereto, at times, she condescends to reply.
To what fair problems does not the habit of frequenting her give rise! To set them forth
worthily, the marvellous art which the little printer was to acquire were not too much.
One needs the pen of a Michelet; and I have but a rough, blunt pencil. Let us try,
nevertheless: even when poorly clad, truth is still beautiful.
I will therefore once more take up the story of the Spider’s instinct, a story of which the
preceding chapters have given but a very rough idea. Since I wrote those earlier essays,
my field of observation has been greatly extended. My notes have been enriched by new
and most remarkable facts. It is right that I should employ them for the purpose of a
more detailed biography.
The exigencies of order and clearness expose me, it is true, to occasional repetitions.
This is inevitable when one has to marshal in an harmonious whole a thousand items
culled from day to day, often unexpectedly, and bearing no relation one to the other. The
observer is not master of his time; opportunity leads him and by unsuspected ways. A
certain question suggested by an earlier fact finds no reply until many years after. Its
scope, moreover, is amplified and completed with views collected on the road. In a
work, therefore, of this fragmentary character, repetitions, necessary for the due co-
ordination of ideas, are inevitable. I shall be as sparing of them as I can.
Let us once more introduce our old friends the Epeira and the Lycosa, who are the most
important Spiders in my district. The Narbonne Lycosa, or Black-bellied Tarantula,
chooses her domicile in the waste, pebbly lands beloved of the thyme. Her dwelling, a
fortress rather than a villa, is a burrow about nine inches deep and as wide as the neck of