The seven Books of Tan were supposed to illustrate the creation of the world and the origin of species upon a plan which out-Darwins Darwin, the progress of the human race being traced through seven stages of development up to a mysterious spiritual state which is too lunatic for serious consideration.
Here are some specimens from the first book, which may possibly relate to what Huxley would term the era of protoplasm, as they do not suggest anything else that can be thought of.
Professor Challenor mentions that the first figure in each of the original works is evidently designed to represent the Chinese Monad or symbol of Deity, but gives a mistaken interpretation of the next figures as pertaining to a chaotic era. The second form is evidently designed to give the white part of the symbol surrounded by black. (See the sign of the Monad as given on the illustrated title-page.) The Rev. Dr. Holt, who discovered that the Northern Pacific Railroad had unwittingly adopted the Monad as their seal, describes the parts as the Yen and Yin, representing the male and female principles of Chinese cosmogony. I am indebted to Chief Engineer McHenry, of the N. P. Railroad, for much valuable information on the subject.
In speaking of Chinese philosophy, Dr. Scott says : "They claim that the illimitable produced the extreme; the great extreme the two principles; the two principles produced the four dimensions, and from the four dimensions were developed what the Chinese call the eight diagrams of Feu-hi, over 3,000 years ago." All of which may be made to appear more tangible later on.
Alongside of the Monad stands the Swastika symbol, which Professor Thomas Wilson, of the Smithsonian Institute, proves, in his great work of 500 illustrations, to be the oldest human symbol known to science. It means in Sanskrit, "good fortune." But Professor Whitney, the profound archaeologist, explains its definition in Chinese to mean "many long years." The other figures which follow may represent chaos, as suggested by Professor Challenor, or pertain to ancient symbols of unknown significance; but it is a fact that Dr. Schliemann, in his excavations of the seven ancient cities, found many well-defined figures, like the following, which appear in the popular collections of Tangrams :
There is a popular little evolution word-game, to convert one word into another through a chain of proper words by merely changing one letter at a time; as, for example, to turn ape into man by seven changes--ape, aye, dye, die, din, Dan, man. This puzzle-game gives an excellent idea of the Chinese connecting links in the development of species. There being seven pieces in each design makes it possible by the slightest change to bring about a resemblance to some other object. So we are thus led by a connecting chain through all the species of birds, animals, and fishes, and, as a matter of fact, through the whole category of everything else. In many instances we are confronted by a clever puzzle in the nature of a challenge to discover the best connecting link between two forms.
The opening pages of the first book of Tan illustrate the primitive forms of life, by the following weird specimens of germs, wiggles, and squirmers, which might readily be taken for Professor Koch's latest discoveries of microbes and bacilli, or a microscopical exhibit of the inhabitants of a drop of water.