The Toys of Peace and Other Stories HTML version

The Mappined Life
"These Mappin Terraces at the Zoological Gardens are a great improvement on the old
style of wild-beast cage," said Mrs. James Gurtleberry, putting down an illustrated paper;
"they give one the illusion of seeing the animals in their natural surroundings. I wonder
how much of the illusion is passed on to the animals?"
"That would depend on the animal," said her niece; "a jungle-fowl, for instance, would no
doubt think its lawful jungle surroundings were faithfully reproduced if you gave it a
sufficiency of wives, a goodly variety of seed food and ants' eggs, a commodious bank of
loose earth to dust itself in, a convenient roosting tree, and a rival or two to make matters
interesting. Of course there ought to be jungle-cats and birds of prey and other agencies
of sudden death to add to the illusion of liberty, but the bird's own imagination is capable
of inventing those--look how a domestic fowl will squawk an alarm note if a rook or
wood pigeon passes over its run when it has chickens."
"You think, then, they really do have a sort of illusion, if you give them space enough--"
"In a few cases only. Nothing will make me believe that an acre or so of concrete
enclosure will make up to a wolf or a tiger-cat for the range of night prowling that would
belong to it in a wild state. Think of the dictionary of sound and scent and recollection
that unfolds before a real wild beat as it comes out from its lair every evening, with the
knowledge that in a few minutes it will be hieing along to some distant hunting ground
where all the joy and fury of the chase awaits it; think of the crowded sensations of the
brain when every rustle, every cry, every bent twig, and every whiff across the nostrils
means something, something to do with life and death and dinner. Imagine the
satisfaction of stealing down to your own particular drinking spot, choosing your own
particular tree to scrape your claws on, finding your own particular bed of dried grass to
roll on. Then, in the place of all that, put a concrete promenade, which will be of exactly
the same dimensions whether you race or crawl across it, coated with stale, unvarying
scents and surrounded with cries and noises that have ceased to have the least meaning or
interest. As a substitute for a narrow cage the new enclosures are excellent, but I should
think they are a poor imitation of a life of liberty."
"It's rather depressing to think that," said Mrs. Gurtleberry; "they look so spacious and so
natural, but I suppose a good deal of what seems natural to us would be meaningless to a
wild animal."
"That is where our superior powers of self-deception come in," said the niece; "we are
able to live our unreal, stupid little lives on our particular Mappin terrace, and persuade
ourselves that we really are untrammelled men and women leading a reasonable existence
in a reasonable sphere."
"But good gracious," exclaimed the aunt, bouncing into an attitude of scandalised
defence, "we are leading reasonable existences! What on earth do you mean by