GRIMM'S LAW AGAINDinner was now announced, and Oxenden laid the manuscript aside;
whereupon they adjourned to the cabin, where they proceeded to
discuss both the repast and the manuscript.
"Well," said Featherstone, "More's story seems to be approaching
a crisis. What do you think of it now, Melick? Do you still think
it a sensational novel?"
"Partly so," said Melick; "but it would be nearer the mark to
call it a satirical romance."
"Why not a scientific romance?"
"Because there's precious little science in it, but a good deal
of quiet satire."
"Satire on what?" asked Featherstone. "I'll be hanged if I can
"Oh, well," said Melick, "on things in general. The satire is
directed against the restlessness of humanity; its impulses,
feelings, hopes, and fears—all that men do and feel and suffer. It
mocks us by exhibiting a new race of men, animated by passions and
impulses which are directly the opposite of ours, and yet no nearer
happiness than we are. It shows us a world where our evil is made a
good, and our good an evil; there all that we consider a blessing
is had in abundance—prolonged and perpetual sunlight, riches,
power, fame—and yet these things are despised, and the people,
turning away from them, imagine that they can find happiness in
poverty, darkness, death, and unrequited love. The writer thus
mocks at all our dearest passions and strongest desires; and his
general aim is to show that the mere search for happiness per se is
a vulgar thing, and must always result in utter nothingness. The
writer also teaches the great lesson that the happiness of man
consists not in external surroundings, but in the internal
feelings, and that heaven itself is not a place, but a state. It is
the old lesson which Milton extorted from Satan:
"'What matter where, if I be still the same—'
"'The mind is its own place, and of itself Can make a heaven of
hell, a hell of heaven—'"
"That's good too," cried Oxenden. "That reminds me of the German
commentators who find in the Agamemnon of AEschylus or the OEdipus
of Sophocles or the Hamlet of Shakespeare motives and purposes of
which the authors could never have dreamed, and give us a
metaphysical, beer-and-tobacco, High-Dutch Clytemnestra or Antigone
or Lady Macbeth. No, my boy, More was a simple sailor, and had no
idea of satirizing anything."
"How, then, do you account for the perpetual undercurrent of
meaning and innuendo that may be found in every line?"
"I deny that there is anything of the sort," said Oxenden. "It
is a plain narrative of facts; but the facts are themselves such
that they give a new coloring to the facts of our own life. They
are in such profound antithesis to European ways that we consider
them as being written merely to indicate that difference. It is
like the Germania of Tacitus, which many critics still hold to be a
satire on Roman ways, while as a matter of fact it is simply a
narrative of German manners and customs."
"I hope," cried Melick, "that you do not mean to compare this
awful rot and rubbish to the Germania of Tacitus?"
"By no means," said Oxenden; "I merely asserted that in one
respect they were analogous. You f****d on the allusion to the
Germania by calling this 'rot and rubbish' a satirical
"Oh, well," said Melick, "I only referred to the intention of
the writer. His plan is one thing and his execution quite another.
His plan is not bad, but he fails utterly in his execution. The
style is detestable. If he had written in the style of a plain
seaman, and told a simple unvarnished tale, it would have been all
right. In order to carry out properly such a plan as this the
writer should take Defoe as his model, or, still better, Dean
Swift. Gulliver's Travels and Robinson Crusoe show what can be done
in this way, and form a standard by which all other attempts must
be judged. But this writer is tawdry; he has the worst vices of the
sensational school—he shows everywhere marks of haste, gross
carelessness, and universal feebleness. When he gets hold of a good
fancy, he lacks the patience that is necessary in order to work it
up in an effective way. He is a gross plagiarist, and over and over
again violates in the most glaring manner all the ordinary
proprieties of style. What can be more absurd, for instance, than
the language which he puts into the mouth of Layelah? Not content
with making her talk like a sentimental boarding-school,
bread-and-butter English miss, he actually forgets himself so far
as to put in her mouth a threadbare joke, which everyone has heard
"What is that?"
"Oh, that silly speech about the athaleb swallowing its victuals
"What's the matter with that?" asked Oxenden. "It's merely a
chance resemblance. In translating her words into English they fell
by accident into that shape. No one but you would find fault with
them. Would it have been better if he had translated her words into
the scientific phraseology which the doctor made use of with regard
to the ichthyosaurus? He might have made it this way: 'Does it
bite?' 'No; it swallows its food without mastication.' Would that
have been better? Besides, it's all very well to talk of imitating
Defoe and Swift; but suppose he couldn't do it?"
"Then he shouldn't have written the book."
"In that case how could his father have heard about his
"His father!" exclaimed Melick. "Do you mean to say that you
still accept all this as bona fide?"
"Do you mean to say," retorted Oxenden, "that you still have any
doubt about the authenticity of this remarkable manuscript?"
At this each looked at the other; Melick elevated his eyebrows,
and Oxenden shrugged his shoulders, but each seemed unable to find
words to express his amazement at the other's stupidity, and so
they took refuge in silence.
"What do you understand by this athaleb, doctor?" asked
"The athaleb?" said the doctor. "Why, it is clearly the
"By-the-bye," interrupted Oxenden, "do please take notice of
that name. It affords another exemplification of 'Grimm's Law.' The
Hebrew word is 'ataleph,' and means bat. The Kosekin word is
'athaleb.' Here you see the thin letter of Hebrew represented by
the aspirated letter of the Kosekin language, while the aspirated
Hebrew is represented by the Kosekin medial."
"Too true," exclaimed Melick, in a tone of deep conviction; "and
now, Oxenden, won't you sing us a song?"
"Nonsense," said Featherstone; "let the doctor tell us about the
"Well," resumed the doctor, "as I was saying, it must be
undoubtedly the pterodactyl. It is a most extraordinary animal, and
is a species of flying lizard, although differing from the lizard
in many respects. It has the head and neck of a bird, the trunk and
tail of an ordinary mammal, the jaws and teeth of a reptile, and
the wings of a bat. Owen describes one whose sweep of wings
exceeded twenty feet, and many have been found of every gradation
of size down to that of a bat. There is no reason why they should
not be as large as More says; and I for my part do not suspect him
of exaggeration. Some have supposed that a late, lingering
individual may have suggested the idea of the fabulous dragon—an
idea which seems to be in the minds of nearly all the human race,
for in the early records of many nations we find the destruction of
dragons assigned to their gods and heroes. The figure of the
pterodactyl represents pretty closely that which is given to the
dragons. It is not impossible that they may have existed into the
period which we call prehistoric, and that monsters far larger than
any which we have yet discovered may have lingered until the time
when man began to increase upon the earth, to spread over its
surface, and to carve upon wood and stone representations of the
most striking objects around him. When the living pterodactyls had
disappeared the memory of them was preserved; some new features
were added, and the imagination went so far as to endow them with
the power of belching forth smoke and flames. Thus the dragon idea
pervaded the minds of men, and instead of a natural animal it
became a fabulous one.
"The fingers of the forelegs were of the ordinary dimensions,
and terminated with crooked nails, and these were probably used to
suspend themselves from trees. When in repose it rested on its hind
legs like a bird, and held its neck curving behind, so that its
enormous head should not disturb its equilibrium. The size and form
of the feet, of the leg, and of the thigh prove that they could
hold themselves erect with firmness, their wings folded, and move
about in this way like birds, just as More describes them as doing.
Like birds they could also perch on trees, and could crawl like
bats and lizards along the rocks and cliffs.
"Some think that they were covered with scales, but I am of the
opinion that they had a horny hide, with a ridge of hair running
down their backs—in which opinion I am sustained by More's account.
The smaller kinds were undoubtedly insectivorous, but the larger
ones must have been carnivorous, and probably fed largely on
"Well, at any rate," said Melick, gravely, "this athaleb solves
the difficult question as to how the Troglodytes emigrated to the
"How?" asked the doctor.
"Why, they must have gone there on athalebs! Your friends the
pterodactyls probably lingered longest among the Troglodytes, who,
seeing that they were rapidly dying out, concluded to depart to
another and a better world. One beauty of this theory is that it
cannot possibly be disproved; another is that it satisfies all the
requirements of the case; a third is that it accounts for the
disappearance of the pterodactyls in our world, and their
appearance at the South Pole; and there are forty or fifty other
facts, all included in this theory, which I have not time just now
to enumerate, but will try to do so after we have finished reading
the manuscript. I will only add that the athaleb must be regarded
as another link which binds the Kosekin to the Semitic race."
"Another link?" said Oxenden. "That I already have; and it is
one that carries conviction with it."
"All your arguments invariably do, my dear fellow."
"What is it?" asked the doctor.
"The Kosekin alphabet," said Oxenden.
"I can't see how you can make anything out of that," said the
"Very well, I can easily explain," replied Oxenden. "In the
first place we must take the old Hebrew alphabet. I will write down
the letters in their order first."
Saying this he hastily jotted down some letters on a piece of
paper, and showed to the doctor the following:
Labials. Palatals. Linguals. A B C (or G) D E F Ch (or H) Dh (or
Th) I Liquids, L M N O P K T
"That," said he, "is substantially the order of the old Hebrew
"But," said the doctor, "the Kosekin alphabet differs in its
order altogether from that."
"That very difference can be shown to be all the stronger proof
of a connection between them," said Oxenden.
"I should like to know how."
"The fact is," said Oxenden, "these letters are represented
differently in the two languages in exact accordance with Grimm's
"By Jove!" cried Featherstone, "Grimm's Law again!"
"According to that law," continued Oxenden, "the letters of the
alphabet ought to change their order. Now let us leave out the
vowels and linguals, and deal only with the mutes. First, we have
in the Hebrew alphabet the medials B, G, and D. Very well; in the
Kosekin we have standing first the thin letters, or tenues,
according to Grimm's Law, namely, P, K, T. Next we have in the
Hebrew the aspirates F, Ch, Dh. In the Kosekin alphabet we have
corresponding to them the medials B, G, D. Next we have in the
Hebrew the tenues, or thin letters P, K, T. In the Kosekin we have
the corresponding aspirates F, Ch, Th. The vowels, liquids, and
sibilants need not be regarded just here, for the proof from the
mutes is sufficient to satisfy any reasonable man."
"Well," said Melick, "I for one am thoroughly satisfied, and
don't need another single word. The fact is, I never knew before
the all-sufficient nature of Grimm's Law. Why, it can unlock any
mystery! When I get home I must buy one—a tame one, if possible—and
keep him with me always. It is more useful to a literary man than
to any other. It is said that with a knowledge of Grimm's Law a man
may wander through the world from Iceland to Ceylon, and converse
pleasantly in all the Indo-European languages. More must have had
Grimm's Law stowed away somewhere about him; and that's the reason
why he escaped the icebergs, the volcanoes, the cannibals, the
subterranean channel monster, and arrived at last safe and sound in
the land of the Kosekin. What I want is Grimm's Law—a nice tidy
one, well trained, in good working order, and kind in harness; and
the moment I get one I intend to go to the land of the Kosekin