Meda: a Tale of the Future/Part III
SOCIETY OF ARTS AND SCIENCE.
WE entered the building by a door that led into a large hall. At one side of this hall was a desk, and seated at the desk was a female clerk. The Recorder went up, and said a few words to her, and she then handed him a small metal token. He told me this was a special pass that would admit us to every part of the establishment. We first entered a great room where students of both sexes were engaged in modelling the human figure such as they believed it to be in my own day. These models were being produced from engravings on metal plates of various sizes that were supposed to represent the various celebrated pieces of statuary of Rome, Greece, and England. Now, being an artist, I felt that this was at least a subject with which I was conversant. I examined many of these works, but found them not the least like the originals that I had seen. The ideas that these people had of the true proportions of the human frame of those they called the ancients, was to me almost grotesque. They apparently could not realize the fact that the heads of their figures were at least twice the size they should be; and they apparently failed to see that the enormous chests that they gave their figures did not exist in the days of the ancients, nor did they realize the fact, that the ancients had stomachs of a reasonable size. Only think of a large-headed, big-chested Venus having her ancles garnished with these extraordinary leg weights. On passing into another room, I saw the cause of this disregard of the true proportions of the ancients. Here the students were working from the living model. It so happened that Venus was the subject, and I must say I never saw a more extraordinary Venus. The modelling of these students, who evidently belonged to a very advanced class, was wonderfully true to modern nature. You could see every muscle and every line of expression truly represented. The positions were true to life, but then what seemed absurd to me was calling such monstrosities as these, models of the ancients. I felt aggrieved at this disregard to truth, and I considered it debasing to the art I loved. I must have looked all I thought, because the Recorder said to me, "This is the first time, since I have been in your company, that I have seen you look really sad. I shall ask you to explain the cause when we get outside, for although I can partially follow your thoughts, and although I see you appear disgusted, yet I can't understand what there is in that which you have seen to give you pain."
We now entered the school of painting. Here again were hundreds of students at work, some painting flowers and birds, which were lovely. The harmony of colour, and the correctness of the drawing, were something wonderful. Each flower, each petal, each leaf, each stem, seemed to stand out in the boldest relief, and the feathers of the birds had that soft separate distinctness which is necessary to form a true representation of the living whole: could almost imagine that they were about to spring from the tiny stem on which they perched; the eyes appeared to twinkle, and the throat to warble. Truly, these were studies true to life, both in form and colour.
We passed on from one group of students to another, and I examined their work with the interest that only an artist can take in art. One girl was at work on a colossal painting of a man of her period. Here, the drawing and colouring was all that could be desired; but the subject! No doubt it pleased her; yet the so-called beauty and proportion of this extraordinary race was in discord with all my pre-conceived notions of what is symmetrical in the human form. Still I afterward discovered that it was possible to have one's ideas altered.
Coming to a group of landscape painters I noticed that their work was wanting in originality. No doubt it was in detail true to nature. No doubt the colours were properly blended, and put on with great skill, exactitude, and softness, but there was a want of that dashing artistic effect, that light and shade, that glimmer and sheen, which stamps the true artistic genius that is only rarely met with. All these drawings and all these paintings of landscape had a preciseness and exactitude about them, that indicates continuous schooling by hard and fast rules and principles, rather than by the spontaneous outcome of genius.
When we got outside of the hall of painting, the Recorder stopped and said, "Now, my Specimen, explain to me what has been troubling you while in the School of Art?" "Well," I said, "I have been less impressed by this school of yours than by anything I have yet seen in your strange country. The drawing of your students is wonderfully exact, and their colouring is all that could be desired. So long as they keep to birds and subjects that are individual, so long as they keep to still life, or even to painting single figures from life, they produce splendid work; but when they try grouping, when they try to represent distance, the exactness of their details destroys the entire effect. Then when we come to their modelling in clay—what you call reproductions of ancient statuary—when I think of Venus with a head out of all proportion to her body, with a chest big enough for three Venuses, and with a waist not big enough for a baby Venus, and twice as long as it should be, it is to me really too awful to contemplate."
"My poor Specimen," he said, "I can now quite understand your horror. It is quite natural for you to feel as you do, but you must remember that our people do not see as you see. You notice as we came along that I could see and recognise my friends that were approaching me long before you were conscious that they were coming towards us. All our people see with the same distinctness, and if they painted pictures that appeared correct to you, they would in their eyes be entirely out of drawing. As regards Venus, we have all been taught that she was the most beautiful woman that ever lived. Now, tell me, how could a woman with a pin head, a sunken chest, and a waist as large as that of four women, be a beautiful woman? Such a person could neither be interesting, intelligent, nor even wholesome, and could never be a true Venus, at least according to our conceptions of beauty. I have seen several drawings and bronze statues of Venus, dating as far back as three thousand years; but the ancients had no idea of beauty or of the true symmetrical proportions of the human form; they represented bloated gluttons, not intelligent mortals."
We moved along in silence, but I could not help ruminating over what this wise man had said. Here was a man of wondrous intelligence, here was a man possessed of a marvellous power of conception, a man that I believed to be the most thoughtful and wise philosopher that I had ever met or read of, talking what to me appeared the most absurd nonsense that it was ever my lot to listen to.
I could understand his explanation about the necessity of distinctness of detail in modern landscapes, but to make a Venus with a head, a chest, a waist like that, was not, could not, be the outcome of intelligence. It was the purest heathen Vandalism, but further ruminating brought me to think that this experience carried with it an important moral, and that is, "Never judge the actions, thoughts or tastes of others harshly," for what they do, and think, may, according to their lights, be absolutely right; if we could only see with their eyes we might be of the same opinion and act as they do. The Recorder, saying he would take me next through the Medical School, beginning with the Museum, turned to the left and entered a long corridor. While going along this corridor I thought, as no one was present, I might venture to ask him a question, and I said, "When you were adjusting my garments to-day, you said you did so to prevent the people from staring at me. Now, although we have seen a great many people to-day, not one of them has shown much interest in me. How is this? My appearance, although I am clothed in the same way as you are, is very different." He looked at me with great earnestness for a moment or two, his face literally glowing with pleasure, and said, "My dear Specimen, we have to-day been moving among the higher intellects of our people, who make it part of their nature never to be surprised, and above all things never to be rude. Besides, to be frank with you, most of them must have seen and examined you before. You forget how long you have slept. During that time you have been seen by many of our great minds, several of whom came great distances to see and medically examine you. I shall presently give you proof of the great interest that has been and is taken in you. This is the Museum." We here entered a splendid hall fitted with all kinds of cases and stands, on which were placed medical specimens and models. Here was a great model of a Brain, that was mapped out in minute squares of about one-tenth of an inch. Each square had a number on it that corresponded with a chart on the wall, drawn to a very large scale, the squares on the chart being again subdivided into minute squares, each of which bore a number or sign. The Recorder explained to me that each globule of the brain controlled a separate nerve or system of nerves.
"For instance," said he, "one group controls the right hand and all its fingers and nerves, another, the left hand and all its fingers, and so on. In a left handed person, the left hand group is more strongly developed than the group belonging to the right hand, and in a right handed person, the right hand group of globules becomes more developed." Then he pointed out the sight globules, the hearing globules, the musical globules,—he knew all off by heart. There was a group that controlled each and every part of the body. My friend informed me that this brain was exceptionally large, and was the model of that of a great philosopher, who died about a year ago. We went round the hall examining everything of interest. We saw model lungs by the hundred, they were of immense size. We saw livers that the Recorder said belonged to full sized men, yet they were only about as big as a hen's. All the digestive organs were the merest toys of things, but the brains and the lungs were tremendous. Seeing my perplexity, he explained:—"You see, my Specimen, in your day, you gratified the desires of your palates, and neglected your brains. Now, in our day of advancement, we live by respiration, we live in fact on the air that is free to all, therefore our lungs must be large. The only thing we require to digest is a few drops of water daily, so we do not need the great cumbersome organs of digestion that you carry about with you. Would you like to see your liver?" I was horrified at this question, and thought, "What can the man mean, he is never going to operate on me?" I felt queer. The fact is I disliked surgery, particularly when I was to be the subject. He saw my state of mind at once, and smiling, said, "My good Specimen, do not think we would hurt you by thought, word, or knife; you are far too valuable and instructive to us to allow one hair of your head to be hurt. Come here!" And so saying he lifted a screen, and there I saw myself, my very self, lying on the same sofa that I had slept on, dressed in my old tweed suit, and fast asleep. I started back in utter astonishment, and clasped my hands to my head. I felt quite dazed and stupid, and fully believed that my spirit must have come out of my body, and gone into that of another man, while the body was left to sleep. I stared at myself as I lay, and could see my chest heaving and falling in the gentle slumber that I so much enjoyed.
The Recorder was amused, I could see, at my dilemma. He said:—"You are not mad, my Specimen, you are only surprised." He went up to me as I lay; he opened my vest and shirt; he folded them back, but I never stirred; then he took my chest and lifted it off. At this I started back, and cried out, "Oh! please don't," but he smiled again, remarking, "What a beautiful model" (for model it was). "What skill is represented here. See the lungs moving, see the heart pumping, see the liver lying like a sluggish bloated monster devoted to gormandising and gluttony. There you are, Specimen, as true as life. Are you not ashamed of your internal construction so much given to greed, and so little given to intellect?" With this he replaced the chest, and took off the skull, leaving the brain exposed. "Look at this brain," he said; "it is diminutive in size, it is crude in construction, it is uncultivated. Compare it with the brain I let you see over there, and perhaps you will then be able to form some idea of the progress that intellect has made in the last three thousand years."
By this time I began to get very sick of myself. I never had my badness so fully laid bare to me before, and I hope I shall never experience the same humiliation again. He told me to be comforted, and to come and feel the model. I did so, but it was so natural that until I felt that it was wax, or rather an elastic material like wax, I was convinced that I had seen my own, my very own poor body lifted apart. I asked him:—"Had I been cut asunder while asleep to get this model made?" He said:—"We are wise, we are clever, but we have not yet arrived at that stage of scientific knowledge that would enable us to cut a living creature asunder and leave him uninjured. But we can so strongly illuminate the inside of any sleeping creature that when in a dark room the whole body becomes transparent, and we can then examine every nerve and every muscle through powerful magnifying glasses from the outside of the body. This is very useful for the examination of internal complaints or tumours whether in the lungs or in other parts of the body. Yes, my Specimen, I am glad you came. When I first saw you, I showed my extraordinary delight by the dance I made round you. I only dance when in the greatest height of my joy. Such an event as your arrival was truly worthy of a fitting expression of joy. Fancy, you brought us a living example of the poor manhood of over three thousand years ago. Truly, it is said that small sparks may kindle great fires. What a small spark you are, my Specimen, and still, I suppose, it cannot be doubted that it is from such as you that we are descended. Yet I do like you, and will devote myself to you while you are here, and if you do leave us you will leave us a wiser and a better man. I fear your skull is too hard now to expand, but, let me see, I think I could have it softened." "Oh, dear Mr. Recorder," I cried, "do not think of such a thing. I am now too old for such an experiment, and must be content with that which I have." "Very well," he said, "but we must try and have all the available space at our disposal in that skull of yours properly packed. I see that this inspection of your own details has been rather too much for you. Come, we will have a rest and refreshment before going further."
I was now taken into a side room where he touched a button, and immediately a large tray containing fruit and water was lowered by lines from the ceiling. We sat down, he sipped a little water. I ate some fruit, and drank a little also. After we had rested for a time, the Recorder said: "We have many other branches of arts and science that are taught here, such as chemistry, astronomy, botany, floriculture, mechanics, mathematics. We also teach the dead languages, such as English (what we call Ancient English), French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Hindustani, Greek, Latin, and many others. Most of our higher and middle orders study Ancient English and other languages, while the lower classes, that is such men as your guides, only study modern English and Latin, their intellects not being of sufficient power for greater study. As you are tired and overcome by your exertions I shall just take you hurriedly through some of these schools."
The first we went through was that of music. I was charmed by hearing the various classes of students singing part songs; their voices were not strong, or possibly my hearing was defective, but the tune and harmony were so good and the melodies so lovely, that I stood enchanted. There was no separation of sexes; they seemed to be mixed in all the classes. Indeed, now that I remember it, in all the classes this was the rule. The musical instruments used were mostly wind instruments, but quite unlike anything I had seen before. While they had a certain resemblance to those I had been used to, sufficient, indeed, to show that ancient man had something to do with their invention, yet modern man had a much larger share of credit due to him for his great improvements. The violin was used also. In this there was little alteration. It had held to its good old world fashion—strings, bridge, finger-board and all. I will ever respect this instrument for this lasting proof of the genius of the poor despised ancients.
My friend next took me into a garden of the college of floral decoration. Here hundreds of young men and women were at work planting, weeding, and training plants, suitable for ornament. The plots were laid out in various ways, with many combinations of colour. Harmony of colours seemed to be the great aim of the instructors of these students. One effect was very grand; it was a huge bed on an ascending slope, in the form of a great rainbow, giving all the primary colours, the blending of these colours, one with another, being truly perfect. The slope was completely covered by a little blue flower mingled with grey that formed a background representing the sky and clouds. Had there been but a slight shower of rain it would have made the scene true to nature. Then there were huge beds representing sea anemones, brilliant in all the glorious beauty of submarine colouring. Star fish were scattered here and there over the green sward, while a great snake was depicted in all the subdued colours of its slimy skin. Everything was a study of beauty for beauty's sake alone. Utility seemed entirely ignored. The labour and thought it must have taken to conceive and work out these wondrous designs, and to obtain plants that bloomed so regularly, and possessed colours so uniform and equal in growth as to produce the effects before me, must have been enormous.
The Recorder saw with pleasure my intense admiration of the beauty of the scene, and said:—"My Specimen, this is the school of harmony of colour for this great district. It is here that all the youth of our country have their tastes placed on a true and correct basis. All who have gone through this school have a sound knowledge of that harmony that is so beautiful in all things, and so necessary for the permanent good of the community. I have not had time to show you one-tenth of the classes of this great seat of education which stretches all along these two hills to the westward. You will notice that we keep everything clear of the ruined city you explored.
Our higher classes rarely visit these great city solitudes of desolation, except to survey the result of the futile labours of a sordid and selfish race of gluttons, that lived but to eat, drink, and die. If you feel strong enough I shall now take you to the abodes of our people, and show you their mode of living after they are married and settle down in life. After this survey of the surrounding district we shall come back, and have a few hours' sleep till midnight. Then I shall take you to the observatory to view the wondrous, the illimitable firmament, that is ruled, arranged, and controlled by that great—yes, that inconceivably great—being, the Creator of all things. When anyone of us begins to get proud of what we have achieved, or when we see that any of our people begin to think they are deserving of praise and esteem from their fellows, then such are taken to the observatory, and shown what space is. We thus cause them to think what an intellect it must be that can control this universe. When we show them those stars and planets, those suns and those moons moving in regular order, and when we ask them what are their achievements, what are their works, what are their minds to the Mind that has created all this, they sink within their miserable insignificance, and crawl away like the worms that they are, humbled to the very dust. What right have we poor mortals to be proud of anything we can do? No, this is not the creed that we would cultivate; this is not the creed that we would believe. Now that we have obtained a moderate amount of intellectual power, we can see and understand our littleness; we can be ambitious for more knowledge, but we cannot, we must not feel proud of the little we have. This pride of knowledge, this seeking after popular applause, this giving of applause to individuals who set themselves up as guides and philosophers, has been the ruin of hundreds of thousands of past generations, who thought they had great intellects—we see and know this, and we avoid it as we do Hades.
"Now, my Specimen, shall we start? I am ready if you are; it will be an extended and hurried flight; sharpen your vision, absorb what you see with your mind; I want you to prepare yourself for what you have to hear from me of the history of the past, by first understanding the world as it now is. The limited area that I shall show you will give you an idea of what the rest is like, allowing for the variations of climate and temperature due to geographical positions."
We moved on through the garden until we got to the apex of the rainbow bed. Here he placed his right hand under my arm, grasping it as he did on the previous occasion. The same curious feeling of power flowing into my body was the result of this grasp. Presently he said, "Now then, my Specimen, we will start," and we began to travel across the country with the same rapidity as before. Hill and dale seemed to be no obstacle, on we went with wonderful speed. I noticed that while on my previous journey I could not see very distinctly, on this journey I could see almost everything that we passed over or near. I suppose the reason was that I was becoming more accustomed to the new atmosphere, new circumstances, and new life. The country that we were passing through was undulating, and dotted all over with small houses surrounded with gardens resplendent with beautiful flowers. The whole seemed to me like one great pleasure garden. At each house we generally saw one or two people, all wearing the same simple white costume. The women invariably had their heads decked with flowers, gracefully arranged. At one, we would hear instrumental music, at another, singing, at another, there would be groups of people playing some game or discussing some subject. Then, all in a moment they would start off in pursuit of us, and play around us like so many birds flying in the air, only none of us seemed to have the power of flying right off the ground—we simply tripped along it, barely touching it. It seemed to me as if some strong, buoyant layer of atmosphere covered the surface of the earth, as even in passing over the finest plots of flowers, we did not injure a single petal. There were no roads in this country, no railways, nothing but land and water, river, lake, gardens and mountains. I noticed that I had not seen a single animal except the little beasts like rabbits and hares that I saw among the ruins. No horses, no cows, no dogs. Of birds, there were a number of the smaller singing varieties, and many that were beautiful in plumage, but the Recorder told me there still existed many beasts and reptiles.
We came now to a country of hill and lake. The hillsides were laid out in the same way as the undulating country. Houses and gardens—no fields of corn, no utilitarian tillage—all appeared to be laid out for pleasure and intellectual enjoyment. Over the surface of the lakes there moved hundreds of little fairy-like boats that sped along at great speed without any apparent means of propulsion; in these were sitting, happy, laughing people, some alone, some with children, some playing musical instruments, some talking with their friends in neighbouring boats. The colours of these little crafts seemed to be very varied, but none were glaring: all were such as harmonised with the clear and pure-looking water that reflected these many tinted water sprites on its ever rippling surface. To this add the reflected beauty of a summer sky, and you have a picture that no artist could reproduce with truth to its loveliness.
We travelled on for some hours, resting at times on the mountain tops to view the villas and gardens beneath, and admire the gorgeous beauty of the entire scene. We now bent our way in a long sweep in the direction of our starting place, where we ultimately arrived, shortly before dark. I had seen much of this strange country, and noticed that desolation only existed where there were ruined cities and towns. I remarked this to my friend, and he said:—
"Oh, yes! My poor Specimen, these are terrible monuments to the perdition of a degraded people. You will hear their history in good time. We must now to rest, and prepare for the observatory." We went again into the building, and entering a hall, having about twenty sleeping couches, the Recorder selected two, and we lay down to rest. I soon was sound asleep, and out of all doubt as to security.