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SIGHT IN SAVAGES

SIGHT IN SAVAGES

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Written by Hunter   
Sunday, 26 October 2008 16:30



In Patagonia [Footnote: Patagonia: the southern part of Argentine
Republic.] I added something to my small stock of private facts
concerning eyes--their appearance, color, and expression--and vision,
subjects which have had a mild attraction for me as long as I can
remember. When, as a boy, I mixed with the gauchos [Footnote: Gauchos:
these people are of Spanish-American descent. They are the native
inhabitants of the pampas, and live chiefly by cattle-raising.] of the
pampas, [Footnote: Pampas: vast plains in the southern part of South
America, chiefly in the Argentine Republic.] there was one among them
who greatly awed me by his appearance and character. He was
distinguished among his fellows by his tallness, the thickness of his
eyebrows and the great length of his crow-black beard, the form and
length of his "facon," or knife, which was nothing but a sword worn
knife-wise, and the ballads he composed, in which were recounted, in a
harsh tuneless voice to the strum-strum of a guitar, the hand-to-hand
combats he had had with others of his class--fighters and
desperadoes--and in which he had always been the victor, for his
adversaries had all been slain to a man. But his eyes, his most
wonderful feature, impressed me more than anything else; for one was
black and the other dark blue. All other strange and extranatural things
in nature, of which I had personal knowledge, as, for instance,
mushrooms growing in rings, and the shrinking of the sensitive plant
when touched, and Will-o'-the-wisps, and crowing hens, and the murderous
attack of social birds and beasts on one of their fellows, seemed less
strange and wonderful than the fact that this man's eyes did not
correspond, but were the eyes of two men, as if there had been two
natures and souls in one body. My astonishment was, perhaps, not
unaccountable, when we reflect that the eye is to us the window of the
mind or soul, that it expresses the soul, and is, as it were, the soul
itself materialized.

Some person lately published in England a book entitled "Soul-Shapes,"
treating not only of the shapes of souls but also of their color. The
letter-press of this work interests me less than the colored plates
adorning it. Passing over the mixed and vari-colored souls, which
resemble, in the illustrations, colored maps in an atlas, we come to the
blue soul, for which the author has a very special regard. Its blue is
like that of the commonest type of blue eye. This curious fancy of a
blue soul probably originated in the close association of eye and soul
in the mind. It is worthy of note that while the mixed and other colored
souls seem very much out of shape, like an old felt hat or a stranded
jelly fish, the pure colored blue soul is round, like an iris, and only
wanted a pupil to be made an eye.

Here again I recall an incident of my boyhood, and am not sure that it
was not this that first gave me an interest in the subject.

One summer day, at home, I was attentively listening, out of doors, to a
conversation between two men, both past middle life and about the same
age, one an educated Englishman, wearing spectacles, the other a native,
who was very impressive in his manner, and was holding forth in a loud
authoritative voice on a variety of subjects. All at once he fixed his
eyes on the spectacles worn by the other, and, bursting into a laugh,
cried out, "Why do you always wear those eye-hiding glasses straddled
across your nose? Are they supposed to make a man look handsomer or
wiser than his fellows, or do you, a sensible person, really believe
that you can see better than another man because of them? If so, then
all I can say is that it is a fable, a delusion; no man can believe such
a thing."

He was only expressing the feeling that all persons of his class, whose
lives are passed in the semi-barbarous conditions of the gauchos on the
pampas, experience at the sight of such artificial helps to vision as
spectacles. They look through a pane of glass, and it makes the view no
clearer, but rather dimmer--how can the two diminutive circular panes
carried before the eyes produce any other effect? Besides, their sight
as a rule is good when they are young, and as they progress in life they
are not conscious of decadence in it; from infancy to old age the world
looks, they imagine, the same; the grass as green, the sky as blue as
ever, and the scarlet verbenas in the grass just as scarlet. The man
lives in his sight; it is his life; he speaks of the loss of it as a
calamity great as the loss of reason. To see spectacles amuses and
irritates him at the same time; he has the monkey's impulse to snatch
the idle things from his fellow's nose; for not only is it useless to
the wearer, and a sham, but it is annoying to others, who do not like to
look at a man and not properly see his eyes and the thought that is in
them.

To the mocking speech he had made, the other good humoredly replied that
he had worn glasses for twenty years, that not only did they enable him
to see much better than he could without them, but they had preserved
his sight from further decadence. Not satisfied with defending himself
against the charge of being a fantastical person for wearing glasses, he
in his turn attacked the mocker. "How do you know," he said, "that your
own eyesight has not degenerated with time? You can only ascertain that
by trying on a number of glasses suited to a variety of sights, all in
some degree defective. A score of men with defective sight may be
together, and in no two will the sight be the same. You must try on
spectacles, as you try on boots, until you find a pair to fit you. You
may try mine, if you like; our years are the same, and it is just
possible that our eyes may be in the same condition."

The gaucho laughed a loud and scornful laugh, and exclaimed that the
idea was too ridiculous. "What, see better with this thing!" and he took
them gingerly in his hand, and held them up to examine them, and finally
put them on his nose--something in the spirit of the person who takes a
newspaper twisted into the shape of an extinguisher, and puts it on his
head. He looked at the other, then at me, then stared all round him with
an expression of utter astonishment, and in the end burst out in loud
exclamations of delight. For, strange to say, the glasses exactly suited
his vision, which, unknown to him, had probably been decaying for years.
"Angels of heaven, what is this I see!" he shouted. "What makes the
trees look so green--they were never so green before! And so distinct--I
can count their leaves! And the cart over there--why, it is red as
blood!" And to satisfy himself that it had not just been freshly
painted, he ran over to it and placed his hand on the wood. It proved
hard to convince him that objects had once looked as distinct, and
leaves as green, and the sky as blue, and red paint as red, to his
natural sight, as they now did through those magical glasses. The
distinctness and brightness seemed artificial and uncanny. But in the
end he was convinced, and then he wanted to keep the spectacles, and
pulled out his money to pay for them there and then, and was very much
put out when their owner insisted on having them back. However, shortly
afterwards a pair was got for him; and with these on his nose he
galloped about the country, exhibiting them to all his neighbors, and
boasting of the miraculous power they imparted to his eyes of seeing the
world as no one else could see it.

--W.H. HUDSON.

[Footnote: What things in nature do you think most interested the
writer? Do you imagine that he would be a good out-of-doors companion?
Why? Was the native in the story the sort of person whom you would
expect to "hold forth in an authoritative voice on a variety of
subjects"? Do you know what the general attitude of the savage and
semi-civilized people is toward strange things? Note the rambling,
conversational style in which this sketch is written. Compare it with
Stevenson, Aldrich, and Edwards. Note the delightfully whimsical quality
of the humor. Can you see any likeness in this to Lamb and Hawthorne?]
 
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