Meda: a Tale of the Future/Part X
HOW long I slept I know not, and never asked, having now got to that state of mind that enables one to receive the information that is tendered to him and ask no questions. I felt that when I thought much I got sad and miserable, so I tried to cast my thoughts aside, devote my time to observation, and keep it open to instruction. When I wakened there was no one in the room. I did not feel inclined to rise, so I lay and ruminated about all that had taken place during the last few days. As I lay in this state thinking how silly it was of me to give way as I did yesterday, I made up my mind to show no more weakness of this kind in the future, but to accommodate myself to the circumstances in which I was placed, and try to enjoy things as they existed, instead of worrying about the past, and trying to pry into the future. Thus I argued with my own weakness, and doing so gave me strength of mind; and so I gradually began to get cheerful. At last I said, "Hang it, I will be happy." I threw off the coverlet and jumped out of bed on to the floor, when I began to hop about again like a ball. This elastic life coming so soon after my serious thoughts and sorrows made me feel that hopping about without being able to settle down, was a position of the most ridiculous absurdity. I thought to myself how I would laugh at seeing any one going through this operation. I tried to keep grave, but could not for the life of me do so; I fairly gave way, and burst out in a regular jolly old side-splitting, neck-cracking laugh, in fact a laugh of my own people, that the Recorder termed "the Ancients." The loudness of my laugh was something terrible; I tried hard to modify it; but every time I hopped on the floor, out it would come again and again. In the middle of my performance in rushed the two Recorders, who looked at me in astonishment, holding their ears, but this only made me laugh the more.
"Quiet, quiet, my Specimen," my Recorder roared out to me at the pitch of his voice; "you are excited, you are ill, but do not for any sake continue making such a diabolical noise."
I had now come to rest, and explained that I was not ill, but only laughing at my own absurd position. Both shook their heads, however, saying:—
"You require rest, you are very ill, your nerves are unstrung." So they lifted me on the couch again, and I was passed to sleep.
When I next awoke, I was quite calm and collected. I determined not to move with such rashness again, and got out of bed in a very gingerly way. Inch by inch I moved, in case I should get on the hop again. While doing so, I could not help thinking of the peculiarities of human nature, and the liability of thinking mortals to go from one extreme to another. How often had I seen illustrations of this in my former life. I had seen men of the soberest minds rushing into actions of the greatest absurdity. I had seen men rushing from sanctity of the strictest kind to the most depraved sin. I had noticed engineers who had in the first instance made a structure rather light, going to the other extreme and making the next absurdly heavy; and here was I, getting out of my couch at a snail's pace to avoid getting on the hop that was only produced by a sudden bound. Could we but hit the happy medium in all our actions, how much better it would have been for the world at large. What religious fanaticism it would have saved, what disappointment and sorrow it would have prevented, what terrible enmities might have been avoided, and what peace and happiness might have been attained. Such, however, was evidently not to be, and therefore has not existed for some good and sound reason not open to our limited intelligence.
The Recorder on seeing me pronounced me to be recovered, and we proceeded on our journey. I need not take you, reader, over all our travels to the various cities, or rather ruins of cities that we passed near, or to the various seats of governments that we went through, as all bore a marked resemblance to those I have already described. Everywhere I went I found the Recorder was received with respect as a leader of the people. I had not the slightest doubt that I was an object of great interest to all the scientists at all the seats of government, and at all the schools, but none of the people annoyed me by impertinent curiosity or questions. There were no enterprising interviewers asking me questions as to my likes for or dislikes to this new state of society. But all the same, I felt confident that at every one of these places I had been the subject of internal and external medical examination. While I was asleep, I felt certain that every Medical School had been provided with a model of me made from life studies. All my poor details had been examined and reproduced, and knowing this, I got so inured to it that I began to think: "Well, why should I trouble myself about trifles? These are a persevering people that will have information if they want it, therefore there is no use in me objecting. I am now resigned to my fate, so let them have their way. They want instruction in the past formation of man, and they do me no harm in gratifying their desire for information."
During my travels, I was presented to the king. He was a very old and wise-looking man, both kindly and fascinating in manner. I saw him in the midst of his advisers, as they were called, but I believe that in reality they were his directors. Like good, wise Queen Victoria of my era, he did what he was directed to do by the leading men of his country, in fact, he was the centre around which society and the various governments of his Empire revolved.
I saw the palace of the king, which was of modest dimensions as compared with the palaces of my time, yet withal, it had a kingly appearance; there was an indescribable something about the palace that was not to be found in any of the other buildings that I had seen. Whether it was the presence of more wise-looking men and women or the number of servants, I know not, but something there was that caused this distinction, and it was marked.
I said to the Recorder:—"From what I had seen, the people of his day had as great a veneration for royalty as we had in our day." He replied:—"Most certainly that is the case, my son. No country, no nation, no people can exist without a head; and if a country, a nation, or a people must have a head, it is necessary that the head that they have elected be venerated and respected by the people, if they have any respect for themselves, and if they do not respect themselves they are not worthy of the name of a people, a nation, or even of a community."
I then said:—"I fear that it will be difficult for you to get a king or queen of such intellectual ability as to command respect from such a wise generation as you are."
He replied:—"This is not so much an object with us as you imagine. In fact, it is not desirable for any nation that is really governed by the people to have a king or a queen that is in intellect higher than any of his or her advisers. If we had a king possessed of an overpowering intellect, that intellect would have some particular bent or inclination, that it might try and force on the people against their will. And again, this intellect, though very great, being, after all, but finite, might err in its judgment and do a grievous injury to the nation. No, we do not desire to have our greatest intellects elected as kings or queens, such would not be desirable. What we aim at is to train the minds of our royal family from the very earliest hours of their life to justice, and to take a wise and expansive view of all parties in the state and of all national subjects. We train them up rather to act as judges with judgment, than as actors in the scenes around them. We want them to fulfil the same functions as the fixed spindle on which a wheel revolves, that retains all in position while in motion, and is yet neutral to all that passes around it. And so with our rulers, we wish them to act towards all with the same even-handed justice and restraint, and to allow the arguments of each spoke in the political, social and intellectual world, to have unprejudiced influence on them, while guarding against being carried away by partiality to any. This is what we aim at, and in this we generally succeed."
It was great pleasure to me to draw the Recorder into conversation of this kind; his ideas were so simply and clearly put, that the merest child could understand his meanings. There was one building that interested me greatly,—the Prison of Treasure, situated not far from the ruins of London. It was only one storey in height, like all other modern buildings, but it was of immense extent. The walls were thick and massive, built of granite in huge blocks, and I should say that they must have been at least thirty feet high. We entered by a large door constructed of silver, on each panel of which were depicted men and women in various stages of misery and sin, some fighting with one another, some murdering one another, some in chains, some in wild carousals of drunkenness, some receiving the last sentence from a judge, and some being hanged or beheaded. The entire door was one ghastly record of past misery and sin. On entering the interior hall there was a swarm of horrible models, in wax, of misers, of avaricious men, of surface saints, that prayed for glory in heaven while they grasped with the grasp of desperation the money bags, that to them, in their secret hearts, were of more value than salvation. Then, there were wonderfully beautiful representations executed in the same wax like material, of scenes of robbery and murder for the purpose of acquiring wealth. There were models of the city schemer that was supposed by the world to be a saint; there he was—scheming out plans to defraud his fellows. The next model to this represented the same man after the successful carrying out of his nefarious enterprise. There was a sanctimonious grin of satisfaction on his face; he rubbed his hands with delight as he contemplated a huge pile of gold. In the distance was a transparent picture depicting the people this man had ruined. A grave-looking man was there with his wife and children starving in a miserable garret, and a poor widow with a weakly child at her breast, trying to support young life with the last drop of her own life's strength. There was the strong man struggling for life and battling for existence against the infamy of the unjust, and there was the weakly man, the woman and the child, crushed down and trampled to death by the weight of their miseries.
The next scene was this same schemer's last days. He had amassed great wealth during his miserable life—he had done so by grinding the poor to the very death. He had no soft place in that heart of stone, and now that hard conscience of his, when brought to face eternity, had no soft spot within that could give mercy to its own badness. Truly it is said that once awakened to its own badness, man's conscience is its most severe judge on earth. Here was this man represented as on the rack of his own creation, still he was holding on to the filthy lucre that had been the ruin and damnation of his soul. He was conscious of his sin, but it had such a hold of him that he could neither forgive himself nor repent.
These scenes, representing various stages of avarice, were executed with such wonderful truth and force that my eyes could read all, as if the terrible story had been enacted in life itself before me.
We now entered a huge hall, over the door of which were inscribed the words, "Beauty in Treasure." The Recorder explained to me that this was a hall in which many of the gems of the nation had been arranged with a view to show that, apart from their ancient intrinsic value and deplorable history, they possessed of themselves wonderful beauty and interest. On entering, I was fully convinced of the truth of his remark. The walls of the building appeared to be constructed of silver and gold, and the panels were simply filled with diamonds, rubies and other precious stones. It was not so much the beauty of these stones themselves as the arrangement of the colours, and the harmony of the designs, that struck me; the effect was grand. The light came as usual from the ceiling, but by a sort of self-acting sliding screen that kept continually moving over it, while the light was as continually shifting and changing, and the effect was one of great beauty. At one moment you saw a gleam of light coming from pure diamonds, while anon this bright, pure light would change into a pink, a blue, or a green, and all the colours would for the moment blend, then disentangle working out into separate rays, asserting, as it were, their own individuality. A little further on they were in fond embrace, co-mingling beauty with beauty, and effect with effect, when anon as if by one consent they fall out; they become agitated, and quarrelling, separate. So the game continued, beauty contending with
This room reminded me strongly of real life in my day, as seen by an innocent and pure-minded man, the gems representing the good people of the earth, while the varied effects produced on them by the ever varying lights reminded me of the great joys and sorrows, the sunshine and the shadows that passed over us in those days, days that to me now began to look strange and dim. The Recorder's voice broke in on my reverie, saying:—
"My son, your thoughts are far, far away, and now that I have shown you the uncorrupted beauty of the precious metals and the precious stones of the ancients, I would like also to show you the record of some few of the crimes committed by man to satisfy their abominable craze for their possession. It was not that they loved them for their beauty; no, their love for them consisted in a selfish desire that they might possess something that they could flaunt in the eyes of their fellows, and look at them with an eye that said, 'I possess that which you would like to have but cannot get.' Women adorned themselves with them, not because of the beauty of the gems, but because they knew and prided themselves in the consciousness that they were raising the abominable feeling of envy in the bosoms of other women, who were perhaps purer in mind and in body than themselves."
We now entered another large room, over the door of which were the words "Beauty defiled by man." Here we saw numerous gems of various sizes placed on small obelisks about three feet high. The Recorder took me up to one of these, and asked me to read a Latin inscription that was written on the sides of the obelisk. It explained the gem's history, and stated that 1,600 men had been murdered for its sake, 2,463 had been maimed, thousands had been imprisoned, flogged and starved. It had engendered envy, hatred, and malice in the bosoms of untold millions; the lies told about it and for its possession were innumerable, and some had even denied and blasphemed God for its sake.
In reading over this terrible record of the crimes and miseries caused by the love of mortals for a senseless though beautiful stone, I felt the appropriateness of the institution in which we now were, and the wisdom of the people who had instituted it. Surely if these gems when set loose on earth caused such iniquity, the proper place for them was a prison where no individual could possess them. While they were open to all as a whole, they were available individually to none, and therefore they might do good, but could do no harm.
We examined hundreds of such specimens of beauty, each possessed of a sad history of crimes recorded on their pedestals. Gems that had adorned the profligate and the pure minded, the noble and the ignoble, the murderer and the murdered, the guilty and the innocent, there they were now confined in a prison. I said again, better far, that this should be as it is now, than be again as it was in my days.