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When you and I are together, you often ask me questions about many things and I try to answer them. Now that you are at Mussoorie and I am in Allahabad we cannot have these talks. I am therefore going to write to you from time to time short accounts of the story of our earth and the many countries, great and small, into which it is divided. You have read a little about English history and Indian history. But England is only a little island and India, though a big country, is only a small part of the earth’s surface. If we want to know something about the story of this world of ours we must think of all the countries and all the peoples that have inhabited it, and not merely of one little country where we may have been born.
In my letter to you yesterday, I pointed out that we have to study the early story of the earth from the book of nature. The book consists of everything that you see around you—the rocks and mountains and valleys and rivers and seas and volcanoes. This book is always open before us but few of us pay any attention to it or try to read it! If we learnt how to read it and understand it, how many interesting stories it could tell us! The stories we would read about in its pages of stone would be more interesting than a fairy tale.
And so from this book of nature we would learn something of those far-off days when no man or animal lived on this earth of ours. As we read on, we shall see the first animals appear, and later more animals. And then will come man and woman, but they will be very different from the men and women we see today. They will be savages, not very different from animals. Gradually they will gather experience and begin to think. The power of thought
We saw in our last letter that for a long time the earth must have been too hot for any living things to exist on it. When did life begin on the earth and what were the first living things? That is a very interesting question but it is also a very difficult question to answer. Let us first consider what life is. You will probably say that men are living beings and so are all animals. What about trees and shrubs and flowers and vegetables? Surely they are living also. They grow and drink up the water and breathe the air and die. The chief difference between a tree and an animal is that the tree does not move about. If you remember, I showed you some plants in Kew Gardens in London. These plants--orchids and pitcher plants--actually eat flies. Then there are some animals, like sponges, which live at the bottom of the sea and do not move about. Sometimes it is very difficult to say whether a thing is an animal or a plant. When you study botany, the science which deals with plants, or
You know that the earth goes round the sun and the moon goes round the earth. You know also perhaps that there are several other bodies which, like the earth, go round the sun. All these, including our earth, are called planets of the sun. The moon is called a satellite of the earth because it hangs on to it. The other planets have also got their satellites. The sun and the planets with their satellites form a happy family. This is called the solar system. Solar means belonging to the sun, and the sun being the father of all the planets the whole group is called the solar system.
At night, you see thousands of stars in the sky. Only a few of these are the planets and these are really not called stars at all. Can you distinguish between a planet and a star? The planets are really quite tiny, like our earth, compared to the stars but they look bigger in the sky because they are much nearer to us. Just as the moon, which is really quite a baby, looks so big because it is
We have seen that the first signs of life on our earth probably were simple little sea animals and water plants. They could only live in the water and if they came out and dried up, they must have died as the jellyfish dies today if it gets stranded on the beach and dries up. But in those days there must have been plenty of water and marshy land, much more so than we have today. Now those jellyfishes and other sea animals which had slightly tougher skins could stay a little longer on dry land than the others as they did not dry up so soon. So gradually the soft jellyfishes and everything else like them became fewer and fewer as they could not face dry land easily, and those with harder coverings became more and more. This is a very interesting thing to notice. It means that animals slowly fit themselves or adapt themselves to their surroundings. You have seen in the South Kensington Museum in London how birds and animals in winter, and in cold countries where there is a lot of ice,
We saw in our last letter how life came to the earth in very simple forms and slowly through millions of years evolved and became what it is today. We also noticed one very interesting and important rule in this evolution of life—animals are always trying to adapt themselves to their surroundings. In trying to do this, they have developed many new qualities and have become higher more complicated animals. We can see this change or progress in many ways. For instance, first of all there were animals without bones, but as these could not survive for long, they developed bones. The first bone they developed was the backbone. So we have a division of animals--the boneless ones and those with bones. Man and the animals you see about you have, of course, bones.
Then again, you find the simple animals like fishes laying eggs and leaving them. They lay thousands of eggs at a time but do not look after them. The mother does not care for her children at all. She simply
We saw in our last letter that the chief difference between man and the other animals was the intelligence of man. This intelligence made him cleverer and stronger than enormous animals who would otherwise have destroyed him. As man's intelligence grew, so also grew his power. To begin with, man had no special weapons to fight his enemies. He could only throw stones at them. Then he began to make out of stone: axe spears and many other things, including 'fine stone needles. We saw many of these stone weapons in the South Kensington Museum and also in the museum in Geneva.
The Ice Age, about which I said something in my last letter, slowly ended and the glaciers disappeared from Central Europe and Asia. As it became warmer, men spread out.
The Ice Age, about which I said something in my last letter, slowly ended and the glaciers disappeared from Central Europe and Asia. As it became warmer, men spread out. In those days there were no houses or other
We discussed in our last letter the Neolithic men who used to live chiefly in lake dwellings. We saw that they had made great progress in many ways. They discovered agriculture and knew how to cook and to tame animals for their use. All this was many thousands of years ago and we do not know much about them. But probably most of the races of men we have in the world today have descended from these Neolithic people. We find now, as you know, white men and yellow men and brown and black. But as a matter of fact, it is not easy to divide the races of men into these four divisions. Races have got mixed up and it is difficult to say about many of them to which division they belong. Scientists measure the heads of people and by this measurement they can sometimes find out the race. There are other ways of finding this out also.
How did these different races come into existence? If they are all descended from the same people, why do they differ so much from each other now?
We cannot say in what part of the world man first came into existence, nor do we know where the first human settlements were. Perhaps men came into existence in several parts at more or less the same time. It is likely, however, that when the great glaciers of the Ice Age were melting away and going back towards the north, men lived in the warmer regions. When the ice went, there must have been vast steppes, something like the tundras which we have in Siberia now. These must have become grasslands, and men must have wandered about them as they wanted grass for their cattle. These people who have no fixed place to live in and are always wandering about are called 'nomads'. Even now, we have some nomads in many countries, including India, like the gypsies.
People must have settled down near great rivers, for the land near the rivers was very rich and good for agriculture. There was plenty of water and it was easy to grow food on the land. So we suppose that
We have seen how the Aryans spread out over many countries, and carried their language, whatever it was, wherever they went. But different climates and different conditions produced many differences in various groups of the Aryans. Each group went on changing in its own way with new habits and customs. They could not meet the other groups in other countries as it was exceedingly difficult to travel about in those days. Each group was cut off from the others. If the people of one country learnt something new, they could not tell it to the people of another country. So changes came in, and after some generations the one Aryan family became split up into many. Perhaps they even forgot that they all belonged to one large family. Their one language became many languages, which seemed to differ greatly from each other.
But although they seemed so different there were many common words and similarities. Even now, after thousands of years, we can find these common words in
I am going to tell you something about the early civilizations. But before I do so, we must try to form some idea of what civilization means. The dictionary will tell you that to civilize means to better, to refine, to replace savage habits by good ones. And it especially refers to society or a group of people. The savage condition of people when men are little better than beasts is called barbarism. Civilization is the reverse of that. The further away we get from barbarism, the more civilized we are.
But how can we find out if a person or a society is barbarous or civilized? Many people in Europe think that they are very civilized and the people of Asia are quite barbarous. Is this because the people of Europe put on more clothes than the peoples of Asia and Africa? But clothes depend on the climate. In a cold climate men put on more clothes than in a hot climate. Or is it because a man with a gun is stronger than the man without a weapon and is therefore more
I have told you in my previous letters how man was very much like an animal when he first appeared on the earth. Slowly, over thousands of years, he developed and became something better. At first he must have hunted all by himself, like some of the wild beasts today. Then he found that it was wiser and safer to go about in herds with other men. If many men kept together, they were stronger and could defend themselves better against the attacks of beasts and maybe of other men. Even the animals go about in herds in this way for their own safety. Sheep and goats and deer and even elephants move about in herds. When the herds sleep, some of them remain awake and watch over them. You must have read stories of packs of wolves also. In Russia, in winter, these wolves go about in packs and when they are hungry, as they often are in winter, they attack men. One wolf would seldom attack a man, but a crowd of them feel strong enough to attack a party of men. And the men have to fly for