5 January 2012

The Idea of a Camel

A Frenchman, an Englishman, and a German were commissioned, it is said, to give the world the benefit of their views on that interesting animal, the Camel. Away goes the Frenchman to the Jardin des Plantes, spends an hour there in rapid investigation, returns, and writes a feuilleton, in which there is no phrase the Academy can blame, but also no phrase which adds to the general knowledge. He is perfectly satisfied, however, and says, Le voilà, le chameau! The Englishman packs up his tea-caddy and a magazine of comforts; pitches his tent in the East; remains there two years studying the Camel in its habits; and returns with a thick volume of facts, arranged without order, expounded without philosophy, but serving as valuable materials for all who come after him. The German, despising the frivolity of the Frenchman, and the unphilosophic matter-of-factness of the Englishman, retires to his study, there to construct the Idea of a Camel from out of the depths of his own Moral Consciousness. And he is still at it.

-- George Henry Lewes

The Life and Works of Goethe, Vol. II (London: David Nutt, 1855), p. 201.