Melbourne and Mars/Chapter 11

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Mars and Malthus.

MY recital aroused the elderly lady, and evidently called to mind some familiar chains of thought, Said she:—

'Are you aware that your discovery has once more answered an old chain of fallacious reasoning?'

'No, I know nothing of any reasoning that I have answered.'

'Then I will tell you of something fresh to your mind. I am Edith Somers. Some people call me Dr. Somers, and I have written a little on Social Science, I have said that our world is not yet fully populated; that discoveries may any day be made that will double our resources. Such a discovery you have made. By its use the snow line, north and south, will be driven back, and millions of acres of useless land made available for tillage and the residence of happy men and women. And by its use this very land upon which we are looking will probably have its productiveness doubled.'

'You are much more sanguine than I am regarding the ultimate effects of my experiments. It is nevertheless my intention to try the snow lines. Good may be done there. As for tropical plains such as this I do not think their productiveness can be much increased. And further, we have yet to see whether or not land will be impoverished by being made to produce more rapidly and freely. We have already come to the conclusion that chemical elements have to be supplied in greater quantities, though so far our experiments have left us in a little doubt. Certainly I do not expect to be responsible for any vast increase in our population.'

'Still my idea is that you have done more for us than Weston did when he drained our Great Swamp and gave to the world this fair land. You have provided an answer for the Croakers, and I have great hopes for the future, of your discovery, especially seeing you so young and full of life, and evidently bent on making the most of a great thing.'

'Who are the Croakers you speak of?'

'They are writers who from time immemorial, from the very depths of almost prehistoric period's, have complained of the population being too numerous. They have always found that population increased more rapidly than the means of subsistence, and have threatened us with universal famine in a few years, or at most, a few generations.'

'Yes, my son. What Dr. Somers tells you is quite true, and it may astonish you to learn that what is true of Mars is equally true of the earth. It, according to the disciples of a well-meaning man named Malthus, is in danger of over-population.'

'But that cannot be, the earth is a large planet and very young. It is seven times the bulk of ours, and is lighter, warmer, and more moist, I have read that it is thinly populated, that only about twelve hundred million human dwellers inhabit it; that its productions are mostly consumed by animals, and that there are millions of square miles that have never been trodden by human feet. Until the other day I read these statements with some doubt, but now I only wonder that the history and literature of the earth are not incorporated with those of Mars.'

'To some extent they are,' said Dr. Somers. 'My old friend Andrew Grayson and I are both acquainted with the main outlines of the history of the earth, and we have read some of the productions of Homer and Shakespeare.'

'Excuse my negligence, Dr. Somers,' said Grayson. 'I ought to have introduced Charles Frankston to you at dinner time, and to have told you that he is an earthborn and yet incorporated there, though not hitherto conscious on this side of his being. That was my reason for mentioning Malthus when I so unceremoniously joined in your conversation.'

'Say nothing about that, my valued friend. Have not we been acquainted for ten years or more?' said the physician. 'I was telling Frankston that his discovery had provided an answer to the population croakers who from age to age threaten us with starvation and advise us to cease marrying, or to marry when life has lost the charm of youth.'

'So it has, though I have not yet mentioned that side of the matter to him. Each human being who is into the world brings a mouth to feed, but also two hands with which to feed it. Given a sphere of labor and each worker will provide more than he consumes. One man working there in the open can grow more provision than one hundred can eat; but that one man, as a troglodyte in his cave, might find life hard if he had to gather shellfish and catch swimming ones for a family of four.'

'The world must have been over populated many times,' said I, 'for it has undergone so many changes. We keep no large animals now, each cow must have eaten the food of ten humans?'

'The cow,' said Dr. Somers, 'was quite a tolerable being; not nearly so wasteful as some; its milk, butter, and cheese were handy though highly concentrated articles of food, and we killed it and ate its flesh. Every portion of it was useful. The hog was more wasteful: it only gave its dead carcase; returning probably one hundredth part of what it had devoured.'

'It was frequently diseased was it not?' I asked.

'Yes! it was a strumous beast and people who consumed much of its flesh, grew coarse. It carried many kinds of parasites into humans; and actually lowered the moral tone, making people more sensual. It was a red-letter day in our calendar when we decided that it should breed no more.'

'The animal whose extinction I most regret,' remarks Grayson, 'was the horse.'

'But he is not extinct,' answered Dr. Somers, 'there are hundreds yet in use in the stone quarries of Kempton and in the marble quarries of Middleham.'

'True! but he is doomed; it takes all that an acre of rich land can grow to feed him; he cannot compete with electricity that eats nothing, and he is not so hardy as the ass who picks up his food by the wayside, and does not leave his home. Our feathered friends and a few small playfellows will be all our animals in a few years hence.'

'Very probably,' said Dr. Somers; 'but after all a human life is more valuable than an animal one, and being capable of more happiness ought to be encouraged.'

'So it is,' assented Grayson, 'and more than that, humans themselves are always undergoing selection; nature at the last only conserves the best. The criminal, the pauper, the vagrant, the selfish livers have in turn all had to go, and even the few mostly harmless lunatics found in our asylums are fewer in number each decade, and the number of incurables in our hospitals does not increase. The rigour of our long winters used to kill thousands of our people, but now pulmonary diseases are very rare. To-day we are more numerous, longer lived, healthier, more prosperous, happier than we have ever been.'

'What is the number of our population?' I asked.

'In round numbers five thousand two hundred and thirty-seven millions, about four times the present population of the earth. We are not at a standstill; there is a gradual increase still going on. We number four times as many as dwell on the earth, and that planet is far larger and its resources greater. When the earth has twenty thousand millions of people upon its surface it will not be densely populated,' answered Grayson.

'The Malthusian idea need not trouble earth-dwellers for some ages,' I remarked, looking at Dr. Somers, whom I could see had something to say.

The doctor drew her seat forward and came to where the light revealed her more fully. I then saw that she was a grand and handsome woman, with clearly defined features, a massive forehead, and eyes that seemed capable of at once revealing her soul and exploring the innermost recesses of those around her. She was not young, she might be five and twenty but her face was unwrinkled, and her hair a wavy brown without a thread of gray in it.

I learned afterwards that she was a distinguished physician and a metropolitan teacher of physiology.

Slowly and impressively the doctor began to speak. Evidently she meant to say something final regarding Malthusianism as taught in both worlds. She said:—'We have been speaking in a cursory manner about a subject to which I have paid much thoughtful attention, and about which I feel deeply. These worlds are the creations of the Divinity; the father and mother God rules beneficently in both. We may take it for granted that He knows something about mating and governing planets of various sizes and kinds and adapting life to its surroundings. Here are two populations, both human, both civilised to a certain extent, both morally responsible, both religious in proportion to capacity, and yet both doubting and fearing. Why is this? Our Maker has fitted us in all respects to our surroundings. Put an earth man on Mars, and the internal pressure of air would explode him, and if he could endure our comparatively rarefied air he would not be able to adapt his muscles to our half pressure gravitation. With our light he could hardly see, and even our summer temperature would starve him. Our temperate zones in winter would remind him of Greenland and Spitzbergen; our frosts would certainly congeal his great watery body. Put a martial man on Earth and the density of the atmosphere would crush his organs together; his muscles would not enable him to drag along; the moist, hot air would suffocate him, the light would blind him, and though a man on Mars he would appear a dwarf amongst the larger and more burly and muscular earth men. Surely if the Deity has made humans with so much in common and yet so different, he has in other respects adapted them to the worlds they occupy. The human race grows upon its planet as an individual grows. It is at first little, weak and inefficient; then it gains strength and grows more rapidly. In a while it attains to its full size, but is not educated, matured, perfected. As it lives on it improves, becomes more sensible, more intelligent, more moral; it purges itself of selfishness and becomes more altruistic. A race life is the same. The race on earth is young yet, it is that of a child. It has not yet learned to talk properly; its nations remind us of children heaping up ridges of sand and saying, 'This is my house,' and fighting if one knocks down a wall and claims two shares. So far the race has wasted most of its force in fighting for small slices of cultivated land while three-fourths of the earth is yet a wilderness. Arbitration between nations is but commencing, and Federation of a few of the most civilised and powerful nations is but a dream of the future. They are where we were a thousand years before the declaration of Perpetual Peace, and our population has increased fivefold since then. It may yet increase, may even double again and be easily sustained. Science has told us this; nothing is more sensitive than population. If there is room for expansion it expands, if life becomes harder it remains stationary, and if the conditions become painfully severe, as in the Black Century, it decreases, and all this without any special action of optimist or pessimist. When a planet is full of happy human life the race may be said to have attained to manhood and maturity. It may then remain full until the conditions again change, and the human life and that of the planet pass into senility together. If there are any creators then their cry will be that the race is growing old and ceasing to be productive. Whatever does put a check upon population be sure that it will not be a painful thing: War, Famine, Pestilence and Co. are said to be the natural checks, but these cannot be. For long before the race can attain full growth Altruism must abolish war, cleanliness must make pestilence impossible, and as to famine—well, we have made provision already for several bad harvests of a world-wide extension. The check to the population of a planet is like the check to an individual. On Earth men grow and reach six feet in height, on Mars they reach but four feet, and yet one is not conscious of his bigness nor the other of his littleness, for each is adapted to his surroundings and circumstances, and what is true of the atom, is true of the whole.'

The doctor paused, and seemed for a moment afraid that her zeal had carried her too far. I set her mind at rest on that score by saying, 'Thank you, doctor, for your lucid reasoning of the question; your verbal answer to the croakers is surely superior to the practical one that you kindly placed to my credit. They have not a leg left to stand on. How I wish, that your argument could be conveyed to the Malthusians of earth, for there surely the idea of over-population is absurd.'

'What Dr. Somers says will be written on earth in a few hours' said Grayson. 'You will write it there. All you have to do is to see that your diary does not get lost like mine was.'

'Indeed,' said the doctor; 'Frankston is a diarist then?'

'He is, though strange to say he does not know it on this side of his being. If he should become conscious on both, sides he will convey a vast amount of information to both worlds. I hope to introduce him to the club of the earth born when we get to the metropolis.'

'I, too, shall be pleased to meet him; not at that club, for I have no right to enter that I know of, but in my own home.'

'Be sure that I shall make the most of your invitation,' I answered.

We separated, to spend the latter part of the afternoon each in our own way, Grayson remarking that we would remain the night here and spend the morning in visiting the sights he promised me. He made arrangements for our catching the boat at Port Howard at sixteen in the afternoon of next day.

I climbed Mount Weston on foot, and had a final view of the plain at sunset.

The next morning found Grayson and myself at an early hour flying rapidly towards a distant point on the plain. It was soon reached, and we entered a small building at the source of one of the rivers previously mentioned.

We went down a spiral staircase and entered a little room, one side of which had a wall moving in a circular movement in a close-fitting bed of what appeared to be bronze.

'What is this?' I asked. 'It is the axle of one of Weston's great wheels,' answered Grayson. 'It has never ceased to revolve for two hundred years.'

'Strange that it has not worn out in that time.'

'Had these been common steel and common bronze they would have been, but these metals are so tempered that a diamond will not cut them. There are three of these wheels here, and several more at low places on the plain. They are each one hundred feet in diameter and twelve feet wide. They scoop up the water and pour it into the aqueduct.'

We went through another door into a larger room that contained a model of the three wheels. It was set in motion, by a small electric motor, a reduced model of the one that drives the wheels. The one needs but a thread to drive it; the great one has its power carried by a thick cable. From one end of the model room we can look down into the cistern that catches the water from a score of great drains, and we can see the ascending buckets so slung that the movement of the great wheel does not spill the water back again until the proper place for tilting is reached. Were it not for these wheels much of the great plain would again become swampy. The water thrown up by these wheels is sufficient to make a respectable river to begin with. About a mile down stream the water flows very slowly, and the river is deep and clear. From this point it is used as a waterway for the carriage of produce, manures, etc. Railway lines run under the rivers at many points. 'This great work is one that no syndicate or company could have undertaken. It is one that would heavily tax the resources of a great nation. Such works are only possible to a peaceful federation of nations,' says Grayson, as we came away, 'and on your planet there are several such works waiting for the time when international action is possible. For instance, which nation will attempt to make Sahara into a sea, while its possession might have to be fought for by several European powers?'

Two hours later we were dining at Port Howard, and in another hour our great boat, with some two thousand passengers on board, was swiftly moving across the central ocean.