[Helps adds a footnote to the very first sentence: “he printer in the the proof, put the word forensic instead of formic. All authors must have noticed that what are called printers' mistakes are often only a subtle expression of wit on the part of the printers, which, to vary a monotonous occupation, they cannot help indulging in, even at some trouble to themselves.”]

decorated initial TTHE ant is a most satirical creature, as may be seen by the quantity of formic acid it secretes, which is only latent criticism.

It was a rainy day; and a community of ants had blocked up all the avenues to their nest. Now the ant, though very industrious, is also very fond of amusement, and holds with Aristotle that " the object of labour is to pro- cure leisure." So, after having seen to the comfort of their wives and their babies—for the ant is very affectionate, as is the case with many satirical creatures—the males of the nest sat down in a lower room to have some good con- versation. A frequent subject with the ants is afforded by the goings-on of men, which they view with considerable contempt; and this subject they dilated upon at some length on the pr i t occasion. As is well known to those who have studied the ways of ants, they inter- change thought by means of touching one another with their antennae. A bitter old ant had touched off many satirical things about men, as regards their religion, their polity, and especially their social arrangements. ff There are plenty of paupers among men," he said ; "but there is no such thing as a pauper ant. We understand how to provide for every member of our community."

In every company there is generally found some one who, for the sake of contradiction and from love of argument, takes the unpopular side. A clever youth amongst the ants touched his neighbour's antennae, to the following effect. He intimated, with some signs of disapproval from the rest of the company, that there was a great deal of similarity, after all, between men and ants. They build nests, we build nests; they are masons, we are masons, nicy die carpenters, we are carpenters; they keep cows, we keep cows; they make wars, we make wars; they take slaves, we take slaves,—and so on. To this the bitter old ant replied, that men were not good to eat, and therefore he did not see why they had been created. They were great, heavy, clumsy creatures, and all their arts of life had been borrowed from them, the ants.

"At any rate," responded the younger ant, "they are like us in that they can communicate their ideas to one another, if it be but by horrid noises resembling the barking of dogs."

The old ant touched off a triumphant reply, bringing in Providence, as people often do when they want to say a very severe thing. He said, or rather intimated by pregnant touch, that this noise which men were obliged to make, in order to convey their ideas to one another, was a signal proof of their inferiority, and of their paucity of ideas. A kind Providence, seeing how few ideas they have to communicate, had given them this slow, but upon that account beneficent, way of conveying their ideas. He, the present toucher, had known from a friend of his, an ant who lived under the flooring in one .of their talking nests, that a man would make a noise for three hours to convey only two ideas.

Each ant touched his neighbour with laughter, and the whole company laughed so obstrepe- ously that the female ants ran down from he upper chambers to learn what was the matter.

Thus it may be seen how the greatest gifts, Even the gift of speech, may be depreciated; and it also may be observed what extraordinary powers have been conferred even upon what we call inferior creatures—powers which, in any state of being, we can hardly imagine to be conferred upon ourselves. [66-69]


[Helps, Sir Arthur]. Brevia: Short Essays and Aphorisms by the Author of “Friends in Council”. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1871. The reverse of the title page has the following: “Chiswick Press: — printed by Whittingham and Wilkins, Tooks Court, Chancery Lane [London].”

Last modified 5 December 2011