Benefactor and example

The British Snail-Watching Society, first heard from on this page in 1946, was founded to call attention to the British snail. But the society itself got so much attention that its founder was obliged to publish reports long after it had disbanded. These excerpts are from ''Snail Watch, 1960'' (Jan. 16), and the essay to the left indicates that there are still loyal members watching.

The past year has again provided evidence that the work of the British Snail-Watching Society from 1945 to 1947 was not in vain.

During those two years the Society, founded ''to promote interest in and appreciation of the snail for its own sake,'' toiled constantly to obtain for the snail and for its exemplary character a due mead of public recognition. The success of the Society's efforts now belongs to history. In the fall of 1947 with the consciousness of work well done the Society closed down; the snail had been well and truly placed on the map and could thenceforth be left to paddle its own canoe.

The Society was unique in its conception and achievement. It is still unique now that it no longer exists. In spite of its nonexistence it continues to issue from time to time an annual report. This report records how the snail, safely launched but now left to fend for itself, is effectively maintaining its place in the public eye as an example to and a benefactor of the human race.

The annual report is only available to full members of the Society enrolled before Aug. 31, 1947, the date of the Society's final meeting in the Rectory garden at the village of Yattendon in Berkshire, England. . . .

The one discordant note in the annual report of the British Snail-Watching Society is a remark attributed to the director of a Research Foundation in Philadelphia. This director is reported to have said: ''It seems reasonable to suppose that a man has a greater potentiality for joy than a snail.''

Snail-watchers are prepared to admit that a snail's potentiality for joy may indeed fall short of a man's; but anyone who has observed a concourse of snails disporting themselves in the sunshine after rain knows the immense capacity of these lively, intelligent creatures for joy. The selection of the snail for unfavorable comparison in this matter seems singularly inept.

The snail is certainly never hilarious, but then hilarity has never constituted the essence of joy. The snail's capacity for sober delight, like so many of its other capacities, offers an example which humanity could profitably follow.

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