Non-Fictional Prose

by Charles G.D. Roberts

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley and Laurel Boone


Babes of the Wild*


Sir,—In your most kind and understanding review of my new book "Babes of the Wild" (The Times, September 19, 1912) there are several questions raised which seem to call for a word in reply. Your reviewer asks, "Can either a bear or a swordfish, for example, nurse a desire for vengeance against another kind of animal, or a woodchuck care what ‘impression’ it had made upon a gander?" In regard to the bear, I should answer most confidently, Yes! It is known, I think, to most observers of wild animals that they often manifest very pronounced likes and dislikes toward individuals of other and most widely differentiated race; and there are plenty of well-attested cases where a bear or a fox or an elephant, for instance, has cherished a long grudge, to gratify it, at last, with stern effectiveness. In regard to the swordfish it seems to me conceivable that some such emotion as a desire for vengeance might maintain itself dimly in that not very complex brain—but in this case I should not like to be called upon to prove my contention! The question of the woodchuck, however, seems to me as clear and certain as that of the bear. Wild creatures are continually trying to impress other creatures in one way or another. The impression which they strive, so often and so unmistakably, to make upon a possible assailant, for instance, is that they are dangerous and better left alone. The incident of the big hunting spider killing the baby bat is based upon my knowledge of the ferocity and vigour of the spiders in question, upon my own belief that they are quite capable of such a feat as I have credited to them, and upon the testimony (to be taken always cum grano, to be sure) of amateur naturalists of the country-side. It is one of those incidents which I have introduced because I believe them consistent with truth, although, for obvious reasons, I have not been privileged to see them with my own eyes. (There are other incidents, in certain parts of the stories, where such a privilege might be considered a doubtful one.)

The case of the otter, on the other hand, stands on a very different foundation. I am confident that many observers—patient watchers, like myself, beside the silent backwoods trails—have seen the mother otter toss her cherished little ones into the pool, for no apparent reason other than to make them swim. In striving to get at the psychology of the wild creatures it seems to me that one must begin by observing their actions, and then from these actions proceed to infer only the simplest and most obvious motives.


"Babes of the Wild," Times Literary Supplement 11:563, 34 October 1912, 465 [back]