The above imperfect sketch fails to give the charm and magnetic attraction of the man, and for this one must go to his works, which for those who knew him are very illuminating in this respect. In them one catches a glimpse of his plan for keeping young and cheerful in "the land of regrets," for one of his charms was his youthfulness and interest in life. He refused to be depressed by his lonely life. "I am only an exile," he remarks, "endeavouring to work a successful existence in Dustypore, and not to let my environment shape me as a pudding takes the shape of its mould, but to make it tributary to my own happiness." He therefore urges his readers to cultivate a hobby.
"It is strange," he says, "that Europeans in India know so little, see so little, care so little, about all the intense life that surrounds them. The boy who was the most ardent of bug-hunters, or the most enthusiastic of bird-nesters in England, where one shilling will buy nearly all that is known, or can be known, about birds or butterflies, maintains in this country, aided by Messrs. B. &. S., an unequal strife with the insupportableness of an ennui-smitten life. Why, if he would stir up for one day the embers of the old flame, he could not quench it again with such a prairie of fuel around him. I am not speaking of Bombay people, with their clubs and gymkhanas and other devices for oiling the wheels of existence, but of the dreary up-country exile, whose life is a blank, a moral Sahara, a catechism of the Nihilist creed. What such a one needs is a hobby. Every hobby is good—a sign of good and an influence for good. Any hobby will draw out the mind, but the one I plead for touches the soul too, keeps the milk of human kindness from souring, puts a gentle poetry into the prosiest life. That all my own finer feelings have not long since withered in this land of separation from 'old familiar faces,' I attribute partly to a pair of rabbits. All rabbits are idiotic things, but these come in and sit up meekly and beg a crust of bread, and even a perennial fare of village moorgee cannot induce me to issue the order for their execution and conversion into pie. But if such considerations cannot lead, the struggle for existence should drive a man in this country to learn the ways of his border tribes. For no one, I take it, who reflects for an instant will deny that a small mosquito, with black rings upon a white ground, or a sparrow that has finally made up its mind to rear a family in your ceiling, exercises an influence on your personal happiness far beyond the Czar of the Russias. It is not a question of scientific frontiers—the enemy invades us on all, sides. We are plundered, insulted, phlebotomised under our own vine and fig-tree. We might make head against the foe if we laid to heart the lesson our national history in India teaches—namely, that the way to fight uncivilised enemies is to encourage them to cut one another's throats, and then step in and inherit the spoil. But we murder our friends, exterminate our allies, and then groan under the oppression of the enemy. I might illustrate this by the case of the meek and long-suffering musk-rat, by spiders or ants, but these must wait another day."
Again he says, "The 'poor dumb animals' can give each other a bit of their minds like their betters, and to me their fierce and tender little passions, their loves and hates, their envies and jealousies, and their small vanities beget a sense of fellow-feeling which makes their presence society. The touch of Nature which makes the whole world kin is infirmity. A man without a weakness is insupportable company, and so is a man who does not feel the heat. There is a large grey ring-dove that sits in the blazing sun all through the hottest hours of the day, and says coo-coo, coo, coo-coo, coo until the melancholy sweet monotony of that sound is as thoroughly mixed up in my brain with 110° in the shade as physic in my infantile memories with the peppermint lozenges which used to 'put away the taste,' But as for these creatures, which confess the heat and come into the house and gasp, I feel drawn to them. I should like to offer them cooling drinks. Not that all my midday guests are equally welcome: I could dispense, for instance, with the grey-ringed bee which has just reconnoitred my ear for the third time, and guesses it is a key-hole—she is away just now, but only, I fancy, for clay to stop it up with. There are others also to which I would give their congé if they would take it. But good, bad, or indifferent they give us their company whether we want it or not."
Eha certainly found company in beasts all his life, and kept the charm of youth about him in consequence to the end. If his lot were cast, as it often was, in lonely places, he kept pets, and made friends besides of many of the members of the tribes on his frontier; if in Bombay city he consoled himself with his aquarium and the museum of the Bombay Natural History Society. When the present writer chummed with him in a flat on the Apollo Bunder in Bombay, he remembers well that aquarium and the Sunday-morning expeditions to the malarious ravines at the back of Malabar Hill to search for mosquito larvae to feed its inmates. For at that time Mr. Aitken was investigating the capabilities for the destruction of larvae, of a small surface-feeding fish with an ivory-white spot on the top of its head, which he had found at Vehar in the stream below the bund. It took him some time to identify these particular fishes (Haplochilus lineatus), and in the meantime he dubbed them "Scooties" from the lightning rapidity of their movements, and in his own admirable manner made himself a sharer of their joys and sorrows, their cares and interests. With these he stocked the ornamental fountains of Bombay to keep them from becoming breeding-grounds for mosquitoes, and they are now largely used throughout India for this very purpose. It will be recognised, therefore, that Mr. Aitken studied natural history not only for its own sake, but as a means of benefiting the people of India, whom he had learned to love, as is so plainly shown in Behind the Bungalow.
He was an indefatigable worker in the museum of the Bombay Natural History Society, which he helped to found, and many of his papers and notes are preserved for us in the pages of its excellent Journal, of which he was an original joint-editor. He was for long secretary of the Insect Section, and then president. Before his retirement he was elected one of the Vice-Presidents of the Society.