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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Cyrano de Bergerac (1619–1655)

The Soul of the Cabbage

From “Voyage to the Moon”

WE laid ourselves along upon very soft quilts, covered with large carpets; and a young man that waited on us, taking the oldest of our philosophers, led him into a little parlor apart, where my Spirit called to him to come back to us as soon as he had supped.

This humor of eating separately gave me the curiosity of asking the cause of it. “He’ll not relish,” said he, “the steam of meat, nor yet of herbs, unless they die of themselves, because he thinks they are sensible of pain.” “I wonder not so much,” replied I, “that he abstains from flesh, and all things that have had a sensitive life. For in our world the Pythagoreans, and even some holy Anchorites, have followed that rule; but not to dare, for instance, cut a cabbage, for fear of hurting it—that seems to me altogether ridiculous.” “And for my part,” answered my Spirit, “I find a great deal of reason in his opinion.

“For, tell me, is not that cabbage you speak of a being existent in Nature as well as you? Is not she the common mother of you both? Yet the opinion that Nature is kinder to mankind than to cabbage-kind, tickles and makes us laugh. But, seeing she is incapable of passion, she can neither love nor hate anything; and were she susceptible of love, she would rather bestow her affection upon this cabbage, which you grant cannot offend her, than upon that man who would destroy her if it lay in his power.

“And, moreover, man cannot be born innocent, being a part of the first offender. But we know very well that the first cabbage did not offend its Creator. If it be said that we are made after the image of the Supreme Being, and the cabbage is not—grant that to be true; yet by polluting our soul, wherein we resembled Him, we have effaced that likeness, seeing nothing is more contrary to God than sin. If, then, our soul be no longer His image, we resemble Him no more in our feet, hands, mouth, forehead, and ears, than a cabbage in its leaves, flowers, stalk, pith, and head—do not you really think that if this poor plant could speak when one cuts it, it would not say, ‘Dear brother man, what have I done to thee that deserves death? I never grow but in gardens, and am never to be found in desert places, where I might live in security; I disdain all other company but thine, and scarcely am I sowed in thy garden when, to show thee my good-will, I blossom, stretch out my arms to thee, offer thee my children in grain; and, as a requital for my civility, thou causest my head to be chopped off.’ Thus would a cabbage discourse if it could speak.

“To massacre a man is not so great sin as to cut and kill a cabbage, because one day the man will rise again, but the cabbage has no other life to hope for. By putting to death a cabbage, you annihilate it; but in killing a man, you make him only change his habitation. Nay, I’ll go farther with you still: since God doth equally cherish all His works, and hath equally divided the benefits betwixt us and plants, it is but just we should have an equal esteem for them as for ourselves. It is true we were born first, but in the family of God there is no birthright. If, then, the cabbage share not with us in the inheritance of immortality, without doubt that want was made up by some other advantage, that may make amends for the shortness of its being—maybe by an universal intellect, or a perfect knowledge of all things in their causes. And it is for that reason that the wise Mover of all things hath not shaped for it organs like ours, which are proper only for simple reasoning, not only weak, but often fallacious too; but others, more ingeniously framed, stronger, and more numerous, which serve to conduct its speculative exercises. You’ll ask me, perhaps, whenever any cabbage imparted those lofty conceptions to us? But tell me, again, who ever discovered to us certain beings, which we allow to be above us, to whom we bear no analogy nor proportion, and whose existence it is as hard for us to comprehend as the understanding and ways whereby a cabbage expresses itself to its like, though not to us, because our senses are too dull to penetrate so far?

“Moses, the greatest of philosophers, who drew the knowledge of nature from the fountain-head, Nature herself, hinted this truth to us when he spoke of the Tree of Knowledge; and without doubt he intended to intimate to us under that figure that plants, in exclusion of mankind, possess perfect philosophy. Remember, then, oh, thou proudest of animals, that though a cabbage which thou cuttest sayeth not a word, yet it pays in thinking. But the poor vegetable has no fit organs to howl as you do, nor yet to frisk about and weep. Yet it hath those that are proper to complain of the wrong you do it, and to draw a judgment from Heaven upon you for the injustice. But if you still demand of me how I come to know that cabbages and coleworts conceive such pretty thoughts, then will I ask you, how come you to know that they do not; and how that some among them, when they shut up at night, may not compliment one another as you do, saying, ‘Good-night, Master Cole-Curled-Pate! Your most humble servant, good Master Cabbage-Round-Head!’”