Poet Lore/Volume 4/Number 12/Newton's Brain

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Jakub Arbes3293341Poet Lore, vol. 4, no. 12 — Newton's Brain1892Josef Jiří Král


By Jakub Arbes


My esteemed guests are separated into two camps,” he began, after the noise had subsided a little. “As a wretched artist desiring to please all who appreciate my art, I cannot at present satisfy either party, for I do not know which possesses the keener appreciation of my performance. There remains nothing for me but to satisfy both; therefore I ask your permission to finish my talk, and then the experiment shall immediately follow.”

“Very well!” all cried on the right, on the left, and in the centre; and my friend resumed,—

“The modern man’s proud boast of progress is really pitiable. It seems that a moment’s success, often questionable, of some ingenious head, dazzles a thousand others with a false vision of an amazing progress; and yet man’s powerlessness appears daily in a more and more intensive light. ‘The master and king of Nature,’ whose spirit is said to force Nature herself to bow to him,—this proud, vain, conceited giant among creatures will, in the light of exact science and logic, be shown to be a dwarf who really deserves pity. Early in our youth our teachers told us that the human sight was feebler than that of the eagle or the falcon; that man’s hearing, smell, touch, and other senses were duller than those of many animals. Man has known this long, hence his dreadful chase after some means to sharpen his senses. He strengthened them artificially, to be the more convinced how powerless, miserable, and wretched a being he is. He took a dissecting-knife, found and classified his organs, endeavored to find out their functions, established their importance and necessity, and became convinced that the life of the master of all creation, created ‘in God’s own image,’ did not and does not substantially differ from the life of the most subordinate creatures. He has traced the operations of his mind; he has gone far, but the boundary line between good and evil he has not yet defined exactly. He has penetrated deeply into the interior of the earth, and still deeper into the universe, with his physical and mental eye; he has endeavored to ascertain the laws of the world; but with all this he has been unable to repel the awful truth that merciless death and oblivion are awaiting him. Be born, live, and suffer, then perish, crumble into atoms, and vanish forever,—such is the horrible perspective which the progress of science opens to man. To feign ignorance, to console oneself with illusions and Utopian fiction, does not help any, and is cowardly. Let us remember to what we have come. Yet how do we regard human life in view of this horrible truth? Do we put a just value upon human life? Which of us can step forward and show that a single life he has destroyed ever revived? Still we look on at fearful mutual murders,—quick, by means of force, or slow, by means of enervating toil and suffering.”

My friend paused as though he was going to rest for a time. Not the least whisper disturbed the dead stillness. It was evident that the speaker tried to suppress his thoughts rather than give them free play; and for this very reason his discourse made a favorable impression upon those present.

After a few moments he proceeded,—

“Neither I nor anybody else could return life to a dead body. All my art is based on quickness, and in everything I rely upon the relative slowness of thought. It is generally supposed that there is nothing faster than thought. This is a mistaken notion. Figures—those cold, merciless, but most sincere friends of reasoning—have proved the contrary. It has been ascertained that compared with the velocity of light and electricity, the velocity of thought is astonishingly small. If I touch the skin of an adult’s leg, it takes no less than about one third of a second before the sensation is reported by the spinal cord to the brain,—the central organ of consciousness; whereas in the same time light will travel over more than fourteen thousand geographical miles; electricity, conducted by a copper wire, nearly thirty-one thousand miles. Just as slowly as the sensation of touch passes through the spine, every notion evidently passes through the brain.”

Again he paused for a short time.

I must confess that up to this time I had no idea what kind of an experiment he was going to perform. His disconnected talk excited my curiosity; but mentally I had already joined those who asked for an immediate performance of the experiment. Notwithstanding this, I was unwilling to interrupt, and so kept silence.

“Along with all his other knowledge the modern man also knows how to declaim beautifully upon immortality, although he realizes too well that his final inevitable lot is oblivion. Truly he has ever been and is endeavoring with all his power to save a picture of himself or a scene for his descendants; but art in all its phases has proved unable to do more than preserve a mere shadow of a picture,—a shadow that fades and vanishes until it disappears entirely and forever, just like the original. I have been thinking about it several years; and aided by all the discoveries of science that were accessible to me, I have become able to present vividly to human eyes any scene that existed hundreds or even thousands of years ago.”

“What? What?” was heard on all sides.

Curiosity, which my friend evidently aimed to awaken by his speech, was universal. But he went on:—

“If before the invention of glass and the telescope anybody should have appeared before a learned body of men like the present, and claimed that by means of certain instruments it would sometime become possible to look out over distances of many miles, even to study heavenly bodies, his story surely would have been listened to with distrust even by the most profound thinker of the time. The same would have happened if before the invention of the steam-engine or the telegraph any one should have claimed that a journey of several months might be made in a few hours, or that one might in a moment’s time hear from a person hundreds of miles away. To-day we should compassionately smile at the sceptics; yet I am sure that I shall not be believed if I make an analogous assertion before my experiment is finished. For I have succeeded in discovering an alloy out of which a tool may be made which excels the most perfect microscopes and telescopes of to-day, although it looks just like ordinary eye-glasses. These eye-glasses enable a person clearly to distinguish things at enormous distances, a milliard of miles, for example.”

“That is impossible! A fairy tale!” came from various parts of the hall.

“Considering what I have said,” my friend continued, “I had to expect that I would not be believed. It is the same as if half a thousand years ago I should have asserted what has since been conclusively proved,—that the earth moves around the sun. I am not at all surprised, therefore, that my esteemed guests think it impossible that I should have invented a better instrument than all our telescopes, and an incredibly simple one at that. But this is not all. For I have made another invention more improbable than the first. In truth, it is no new invention, for it has been known for ages; but its application is wholly modern. Its simplicity will surprise every one; but he who recalls the fact that the results of all human thinking may be summed up in a few words, who knows that the apparent chaos of the universe and all its millions of natural forces are governed by one law,—he will at least understand how for a given purpose we may use the resultant of only a few forces. I have succeeded in inventing, or utilizing rather, a precious motor that has been known for ages, a motor whose velocity exceeds that of light; ay, even that of electricity.”

“A Utopian idea!” some of the guests exclaimed.

“Yet I shall prove it,” my friend went on, “for I have constructed a machine to test the effects of this wonderful force; the machine, ready for the most daring experiments, is here, and any one may convince himself of the truth of my words.”

My friend looked up. I noticed that a large regular triangle was hanging in the air where the metallic coffin-lid had been before. One corner of the triangle pointed to the ceiling; the opposite side was in a horizontal position. The triangle was so large that two persons could comfortably stand in it. I could not tell of what material it was made. It looked as though it were made of bright, strong wire; all three sides glittered as if rays of light were reflected from a smooth wire.

Before I could examine the machine from afar, my friend simply beckoned, and the triangle instantly slipped down upon the table. And look! First now I noticed that at its two lower corners there were hanging two glittering objects which I failed to see before. My friend put both of these upon the table and said,—

“Let any one who wants to convince himself come forward and examine my apparatus.”

The guests surrounded the table. I too, being exceedingly curious, hastened forward and struggled to get as near as possible to the table, so that I could view the instruments closely. I saw two pairs of eye-glasses, seemingly common glass. I looked through them, but found nothing peculiar. They seemed to be common, unpolished glass. The triangular instrument was more peculiar. What from a distance seemed to be a bright, thick wire was an unknown, thin, cobwebby matter, as tough as a wire and glittering; its resemblance to a thick wire was evidently an optical delusion. I, and many of the guests, examined the machine with our own eyes and our own touch.

A few minutes later my friend politely asked the guests to resume their seats. Then he proceeded,—

“By way of introduction I shall give a few well-known facts concerning the velocity of light. The speed of my machine will then be better understood. As is well known, the velocity of light is computed to be more than forty-two thousand geographical miles a second.[1] A ray of moonlight, therefore, reaches the earth in about a second and a half; sunlight arrives in about eight minutes. The light of Neptune, the farthest-known planet, needs nearly three hours to reach the earth. The nearest fixed star is four billion miles distant from us; it takes no less than three thousand two hundred years before we see its light. The distance of the fixed stars of the twelfth magnitude, according to Struve, is about five billion miles, and their light comes to us in four thousand years. And Rosse’s gigantic telescope discovered stars so remote that their light reaches us only in about thirty million years. Accordingly the so-called universe must be at least thirty million years old. All this is well known, however. I merely state it to prove my assertion. If by means of polished glasses we are enabled to view bodies so distant, why should we not, by means of a far more perfect instrument, look, say, from a fixed star of the twelfth magnitude, at the earth and see everything as distinctly as a naked eye sees even minute objects at a distance of ten or twelve inches?”

“Humbug!” burst from some one in the rear.

A light smile passed over my friend’s face; so smiles a man who is sure of victory.

“Any one may doubt all I have said until I prove its truth,” he went on. “But certainly every one will admit that if it were possible for us in one hour to make a journey of five billion miles from a star of the twelfth magnitude to our earth, and were our eyes strengthened as I have mentioned, we could, in as short a time, view scenes from the whole of mankind’s history, beginning with the first man down to this very moment. This, too, every one will admit: that if the traveller desired to view a scene longer, he would have to fly with the same velocity and in the same direction as light does. Now, if we should soar up from this hall and fly with the velocity of light, we would see continually the very scene that is now before our eyes. But if we should suddenly be transferred to a point distant a little over 3,225,000,000 miles from the earth, and should then speed on with the velocity of light, the earth would appear to us as it looked twenty-four hours ago. If we should then suddenly advance ten, a hundred, or a thousand times as far, we should see what had happened on earth ten, a hundred, or a thousand days ago, and so on. The course of our flight of course would not be direct or arbitrary; it would be a gigantic cycloid, so as to follow not only the earth’s rotation around its axis, but also its course around the sun. Of all the scenes that have taken place on the face of the globe, not a single one has been lost, but images of all are being preserved in the great mirror of the universe. By means of enormous speed all these images may be traced, looked at, and examined at will. I have invented the instruments necessary for this journey, and although they may surprise everybody by their unparalleled simplicity, they have been so often successfully tested that I can to-night invite any one of the company to undertake with me an expedition into the universe.”

Loud laughter, expressive partly of distrust, partly of ridicule, shook the hall. “A Utopian scheme! A hypothesis! Non-sense!” Such and similar cries came from various parts of the room. After the laughter had somewhat subsided, the same grumbler in the rear who had interrupted my friend shortly before remarked,—

Jules Verne is ahead of you, for he undertook a like journey to the moon!”

A light smile again passed over my friend’s face.

“You are right,” he said, “but only partly so; for even Jules Verne was not the first to undertake so adventurous a journey. Edgar Allan Poe went on a like journey about a quarter of a century before him; and so did one Cyrano de Bergerac in the seventeenth century. The course of the journey is the same, but the means and the object are different. All of those who have undertaken the journey before have employed complicated apparatus, and have intended to amuse and to instruct, but I use the simplest means, and the object of my journey is—”

“We don’t care what it is!” the morose guest in the rear interjected. “We want proof that such an excursion is feasible!”

“I shall furnish the proof immediately,” my friend answered. “Let any one who chooses take a slip of paper and write down what event of history he wants to see; then let a delegate be chosen who shall undertake the journey with me as a manager of the machine.”

My friend gave a sign with his hand, and the machine flew up several times, and again slipped noiselessly down upon the table. Its movements were so rapid that it was impossible to count them. This showed that the machine was really something wonderful. Thereupon there was a moderate commotion in the hall. Some of the guests, served with small slips of paper by the valets, wrote what events they wished to see; others stood in groups and talked, while my friend quietly waited at his table until all would be ready. Like the rest, I too was fully convinced that a real performance of this fantastic excursion into the universe could not even be thought of; yet I was eager to see how my friend would proceed. Positive that the experiment could not be performed save by means of an optical delusion, I was the more curious to see how he would delude the senses of so choice a company, and whether he would succeed in deceiving me too.

After the notes had been written and put on the table, he resumed,— “You will please choose your delegate. The journey is a daring one; your delegate will stand in the triangle with me, and so we shall start up.”

“Why should we choose? Let us give preference to volunteers,” said the archbishop.

“Who will volunteer?” asked my friend.

No one replied. The silence of the grave prevailed. “Now you have the opportunity to examine the whole thing with your own senses,” I said to myself; and as my friend repeated his question, I rose and slowly walked to his table. A placid smile passed across his lips as he saw that I was the volunteer, and when I came to his desk he said,—“My esteemed guests, the gentleman who is willing to go on the excursion is a friend of mine. If I do not wish to be considered a charlatan who performs his experiments with the aid of his secret allies, then I cannot accept his services unless you expressly declare that you accept him as your delegate.”

All fastened their searching eyes on me; it seemed to me as though each guest tried to read in my face whether I deserved to be trusted. Then some one in the centre suggested,—

“We cannot do otherwise, as no one else has applied. After all, the main thing is proof; and our delegate must prove the trustworthiness of his report.”

“Exactly so!” came from the tables to the right.

“We are satisfied!” came from the left.

“I am willing,” I said, with some hesitation, “to furnish not only a faithful account of what I shall see, but also proof—if possible.”

“First of all,” my friend resumed, “permit me to arrange the papers chronologically.”

Then he began to arrange them rapidly. Standing close to his table, I could in many cases easily read what was written on this or that slip. There were over four hundred slips. Evidently many wrote more than one note. He showed such skill in arranging them that it took him only about five minutes.

“The first event,” he then said to the guests, “ which, according to the written notes, is to be seen anew, happened 119 days ago. If, therefore, we wish once more to see it as it is mirrored in the universe, we must first make a long journey, such as light has made in 119 days; then we shall for a moment regard the scene. If we wish to look longer, we must speed on with the velocity of light. In this case our first task will be to get ahead of the light. As light travels over 42,000 miles in a second, it makes 2,520,000 miles in a minute, about 3,629,000,000 miles in a day, and more than 431,851,000,000 miles in 119 days. With my machine we shall reach that distance in a moment, and then we shall fly on, either with the velocity of light or a little faster, in a gigantic spiral answering to the rotation of the earth both around its axis and around the sun.”

He pushed the table a little forward, and his triangle slid down to the ground without any noise. Then he put on a pair of the wonderful spectacles and entered the triangle. I followed his example.

Silence prevailed in the hall. No one stirred; evidently every one expected with eagerness what would follow. Suddenly it occurred to me that it would be impossible to break through the ceiling with the machine. I looked up toward the ceiling, and lo! I saw a large round aperture, through which I saw the sky and some groups of stars. Before I asked for an explanation of this strange change which I had not noticed before, I heard a clear clink, as though some one had struck a silvery bell; and instantly it seemed to me that we were flying up. I say expressly that it seemed to me; for the scene in the hall was constantly before me.

“Do we fly, or do we not?” I inquired of my friend, who, holding the guests’ notes in one hand, was managing the machine with the other.

“We do fly,” was his answer. “We have only the velocity of light now, and consequently you see the same scene you saw before we started. In a few seconds I shall so direct the machine that we shall suddenly find ourselves 431,851,000,000 miles away from the earth, whereupon we shall fly for some time with the velocity of light merely.”

“All right,” I said.

The scene before me grew misty. Soon I saw nothing but gray dusk passing into darkness until there was impenetrable darkness before me.

“How is it that I do not see anything?” I inquire of my friend.

“We are as far from the earth,” says my friend, “as light has travelled in 119 days. From a distance of more than 431,851,000,000 miles you see now the region where the event happened 119 days ago in the night. We fly on with the velocity of light. A light pressure on the main spring of my machine will, however, suffice to make us fly faster, and so the whole scene will gradually develop before your eyes.”

I did not answer, for in the same moment it seemed to me that darkness was changing into twilight with a reddish coloring. Now flames flash through the dusk, and now the landscape emerges. I see at first only indistinct outlines of mountains, woods, rivers, cities, and villages. Soon everything looks clearer. I distinguish single fields, highways, farms, and houses; I see entire villages ablaze, and innumerable lesser lights scattered all over the region like will-o’-the-wisps. The scene grows still more distinct. I notice how dark shadows are hurrying in a wild disorder along the highways and over the fields. Soon I perceive that the shadows are numberless living beings. I recognize horsemen and wagons and foot-soldiers. I see how in some places groups or streams of men are fleeing in disorder, how in others they form immovable crowds. All this I see in the twilight of a summer night. The landscape gradually becomes more distinct. Near the burning villages I see swarms of men. Then I recognize the groups as camps of larger and smaller divisions of soldiery, or stations where the wounded are being cared for. I see places strewn with dead horses and men, with overturned wagons and cannons, and distinguish single individuals,—some digging graves, others spying about, others, again, picking up the fallen men and carrying them to the camp-fires or to the graves.

In another moment I have a perfect bird’s-eye view of an evening-clad landscape with a battlefield after battle. The scene extends several miles in width and. length. Nearly a hundred towns and villages are before me, and I seem to recognize some of them. But the strange image does not remain unchanged. The longer I look at it the brighter it becomes, and I see everything clearly as though I were looking down from a tower. It is a panorama of a battle, but the scenes follow one another in reversed order, from the end of the fight to its beginning. Thus I see successively images of soldiers fleeing and pursuing, then fighting, and later preparing for battle. Now there is a daring and bloody attack of a few regiments against a firm position of the enemy, then a wild combat of single regiments of horsemen, manœuvres of the infantry, movements of the artillery. At times I see only clouds of white smoke with occasional flashes of fire. The silence of a grave is spread over the entire scene. I do not hear the thunder of cannons, the rattle of drums, and the clang of trumpets, the clashing of arms, and the moans of the wounded. I see a vivid and horrible but noiseless scene. Gradually the scene of a terrible battle is changing into a milder one, until I see a peaceful region in the lustre of the golden rays of a summer sun.

How strange! It took less time to survey the whole scene than it takes to read this description. The skill with which my friend had deluded my eyes was indeed surprising, and I fully believed that his other experiments would be equally successful.

“I think I have seen an image of the battle of Königgrätz,” I said to my friend, who, standing silently by me in the triangle, was engineering the machine.

“You are right,” he replied; “now you will see all the battles of the Seven Days’ War in a reverse order. I shall assist you with short explanations, so that you can have more time to look.”

“I am satisfied,” I said, waiting quietly for what would follow. I did not have to wait long. The image of the peaceful region began to darken, and in a few seconds I had utter darkness before me again. I had hardly noticed the change, when darkness began to yield to twilight, twilight to daylight, and I saw another battle,—the battle of Königinhof. Then followed in rapid succession the battles of Trutnov, Skalice, Náchod, Jičin, and Podol, and many skirmishes and smaller engagements of the Austro-Prussian War.

“No less than forty-five thousand men were killed in seven days,” remarked my friend.

“On!” I exclaimed, and in a moment the scene was changed. Again I saw scenes of battles from the Polish Revolution and the Schleswig-Holstein War. Then followed the terrible battle of Pueblo, and scenes from the French invasion of Mexico, further on the internecine battle of Fredericksburg and a series of battles and skirmishes of the Civil War.

“The South-American wars,” my friend said, “took 519,000, the North American War 381,000 lives.”

“On!” I urged, and in a moment I saw the battle of Aspremonte, the capture of Palermo, the slaughters of Solferino, Magenta, and a number of smaller battles, then scenes of dread and shame from the Hindoo Revolution and equally bloody events of the Crimean War, from the last frightful attack on Sebastopol to the murderous battles of Balaklava and Inkerman.

“No less than 785,000 men was the cost of the Crimean War,” my friend commented coolly.

“On, on!” I exclaimed; and instantly there were passing before my eyes scenes of street barricades following Napoleon’s coup d'état, and scenes of dread and cruelty from the stormy years of 1849 and 1848, in a wonderful mass and all in reversed chronological order.

The battlefields were scattered all over Europe. I saw the camp at Vilagos, the defeats of the Magyars, the bombardment of Pesth, scenes from the Paris Revolution of June, the capture of Ofen by the Magyars, the defeats of the Italians, and scenes from the Milan Revolution.

I was going to speak; but my friend silenced me with a move of his hand.

Other defeats of the Magyars followed, then the taking and the siege of Vienna, scenes from the Viennese Revolution of October, from the Prague uprising of June and the bombardment of Prague by Windischgrätz, defeats of the Italians, scenes from the Paris Revolution of February and the first stormy scenes from the revolutionary movements in Italy.

“And is it possible to count the victims of all these wars and battles?” my friend asked when these images had disappeared, and for a short time I beheld only quiet scenes of peace.

“Let us go on!” I urge, and soon I gaze upon scenes from the Polish Revolution of 1846, and after a pause, various scenes from the uprising of republicans in Paris, Toulon, and Grenoble in 1834, the capture of Warsaw by the Russian army in 1831, the Dresden tumults, and the battle of Ostrolenka.

While looking at this horrible fratricidal battle of the Slavs, I asked,—

“How far are we from the earth?”

“About 46,000,000,000 miles,” was his answer.

Thereupon I saw scenes from the Parisian Revolution of July, the taking of Erivan by Paskievich, and the bloody battle of Missolonghi; then followed various scenes from the wars of independence on the Balkan Peninsula.

After a long pause again I saw a terrible battle.

“How far are we from the earth now?” I inquired.

“About 68,000,000,000 miles,” said my friend; “you have just seen the battle of Waterloo.”

While my friend was continuing his short explanations, I viewed the three days’ carnage of Leipzig, the battles of Montmartre and Kulm, the remnant of the French army crossing the Berezina, the conflagration of Moscow, the battle of Borodino, the battle of Aspern, scenes from the revolutions of Peru and Mexico, and again scenes from Napoleon’s wars, the slaughter of Austerlitz, and the magnificent naval battle of Trafalgar.

“Is it possible to tell the number of the victims of the ambition of one despot,—Napoleon?” my friend asked.

I did not answer.

We sped on. I saw the taking of Praga by Suvarov, the fratricidal battle of Maciejovice, where Kosciusko fell down wounded with the exclamation, “Finis Poloniæ!” Then came the bloody scenes of the great French Revolution, of the Polish insurrection, of the wars with the Turks; scenes from the American War of Independence; scenes from the Seven Years’ War; a series of scenes from the fierce Northern war between the Russians and the Swedes; the battle of Narva; scenes from the Spanish war of succession; the defeat of the Turks at Vienna by the Polish king, Sobieski, and wars of the French with the Spanish and Dutch. I saw the battle of Dunbar, where Cromwell gained victory, and a series of battles down to that of Marston Moor, where ten thousand Royalists were killed. Intermixed with these battles were scenes from the Swedish invasion of Bohemia; then followed scenes of brutality from the Thirty Years’ War, and finally the beheading of Bohemian patriots at Prague and the battle of the White Mountain, of 1620, where the independence of Bohemia was crushed forever.

“How far are we from the earth now?” I inquired.

“About 325,000,000,000 miles,” my friend answered, adding, “But let us speed on; the hour is passing.” And in a moment we rushed on. Again I saw a series of horrible and bloody scenes,—the massacre of the Huguenots, the religious wars of France, the dire deeds of the Duke of Alva, the peasants’ uprisings. Then followed scenes of slaughter from Peru, Mexico, and other American countries to which European avarice brought destruction.

“On, on!” I exclaimed impatiently.

After a short pause I saw Mathias Corvinus defeated by the Bohemians, the Tartars by the Russians, and the fanatical German crusaders conquered by the Hussites. Then followed the fratricidal battle of Lipany, where the Taborites were defeated by their Bohemian brethren in 1434, the bloody victories of the Hussites, the camp of Žižka, and the hero himself dying at Přibyslav in 1424.

Grief overcame my heart for a time, but again I saw numerous victories of the Taborites under Žižka’s leadership, and after a short pause, the horrible spectacle of Huss dying at the stake at Constance in 1415. I could hardly catch sight of the images of all these scenes in flight before me, or listen to my friend’s instructive remarks; the blood began to rush to my head.

“How far are we now?” I inquired.

“About 598,000,000,000 miles,” was the quiet reply. “We have flown through a distance of about four hundred and fifty-one years. We have to travel a trifle of about 6,000,000,000,000 miles farther in order to reach the spheres of stars of the twelfth magnitude whose light needs more than four thousand years to reach the earth.”

“And is it possible to make this journey in an arbitrarily short time?” I asked, without thinking that I could not even imagine the enormous distance.

“Certainly,” my friend replied.

“But tell me, please, what wonderful motor is it that moves our machine so rapidly through the universe.”

“Later; later!” he answers; “I must manage the machine. The least fault would make us lose our balance, and we should fall.”

“Whither?” I ask.

“Do I know?”

“Let us rush on, then, as fast as we can!”

“If we are to finish our excursion in an hour, we must confine ourselves to a few more important views.”

“Speed on; speed on!” I urge him.

Again I see a wonderful but horrible panorama of strife. The scenes change rapidly, but each is very distinct. And lo! this time images of battles and skirmishes are intermingled with other scenes; but in all of them there is some struggle, in which the brutality of man’s nature is triumphing, in which sheer force or fraud and deception are gaining the victory over natural weakness or guilelessness.

Suddenly I notice that while the scene is changing, we are in darkness longer than usual.

“What’s the matter?” I ask impatiently.

“I direct the machine so that you may see the final scene. We are farther than the stars of the twelfth magnitude, in spheres whose light reaches the earth in about six thousand years. This time, however, we shall change our mode of observation. When we reach the point of view, I shall stop the machine, only allowing it to rotate, so that the scene will develop before your eye in the natural, not in the reversed, order.”

Soon a few bright rays pierce the darkness; then it changes into a gray fog, and the fog grows thinner and thinner. The dark contour of a wild, desolate land rises from the fog. Then I see a bare, stony plain, with a dense fir forest and a high mountain-range in the background. A sultry, oppressive dusk, such as usually precedes a storm, overspreads the landscape; and only now and then the sun’s rays pierce the dense clouds. Close to the forest, near a cave, I see a young woman with three children. Two of them cling to their mother in fear; the third, a babe in her arms, looks into its mother’s eyes with a smile of happiness on its childish lips. But the pale face of the mother shows inexpressible fear and dread. Her eyes are fastened upon the dark thicket of the forest; her naked body is shivering; and while pressing the naked babe to her bosom with her left hand, she stretches the right protectingly toward the other two naked children.

Suddenly a tall young man rushes out of the forest, carrying a doe on his shoulders. Another, stronger, rushes after him; a brutal fury blazes in his idiotic face. Both are naked. The first throws down the deer and courageously faces the other, who pursues him with a club in his hand. A duel ensues. The woman watches with deadly anxiety. It is a desperate fight for life. The first man falls; the stronger has broken his skull. The woman flies in despair, pressing the babe to her bosom. Both children follow her into the darkness of the forest.

I feel the blood running wildly in my veins, rushing to my brain, and vertigo seizing me. I try to speak, but fail. My friend forestalls me.

“You have just seen the first struggle of the first of men. We are at the end of our excursion. From beginning to end you saw nothing but continual strife,—a mutual killing and slaughter of the most perfect of beings. This struggle has been going on since the beginning of the world. In the course of several thousand years men tried to persuade themselves that the world was governed by the principle of love and humanity; but they find that they have been deceiving themselves. They have learned to know that a merciless and dreadful God has condemned to destruction everything that he has created weak and powerless. After thousands of years they recognize that life is but an everlasting struggle for mere existence. Men have been striving for power and glory, coveting riches, hugging their souls in the sweet embrace of sentimentality. The cold reason of Newton, fully penetrating the nothingness and perversion of men’s endeavors, frightened and terrified them. They dreaded the cold but truthful figures with which he measured the universe, the unmerciful consequences of his ice-cold but indisputable calculations ; and lo! to-day mankind stands before the throne of the Darwinian god,—a horrible god of force and power. Certain people have fought this god for years; but the purpose of the fight is only to put the dethroned gloomy god of religious fanaticism upon the throne of the god of force and power. But the fight against the Darwinian god is unequal. Should the whole world undertake the war, he cannot be dethroned. The throne of this god can be undermined only by principles of humanity.”

My friend paused. His words thundered like the stern sentence of a just and austere judge. But I could not see his face; for we were in utter darkness. I kept silence. Suddenly my friend began again:—

“What is that? Our machine is shaking! We have lost our balance! We sink!”

My friend’s doleful voice so frightened me that my heart grew cold.

“Drop the machine!” my friend exclaimed. “One of us must sacrifice himself, else both of us will perish!”

I did not answer; I could not. I only felt that my senses were failing.

“Leave, or I shall push you down!” my friend demanded again.

“Tell me the name of your motor, at least!” I pleaded. At the same time I felt that the machine was overturned. We fell rapidly headlong; I dropped.

It seemed to me as though I heard my friend’s wild laughter and these words,—

“Good-by forever! My motor is known to all the world. It is the ever-creating—fancy.”

The voice sounded hollow; I could hardly hear the last words, for I lost consciousness. *** Any one who has fallen asleep at an open window in autumn, and awakens suddenly, knows the peculiar sensation of chilliness which accompanies the awakening. A like chill thrilled me when I noticed the glimmering dawn, the faint rays pouring through the half-open window into my lone room.

I looked around in surprise, and my first thought was, Was it reality, a delusion, or a dream? But my senses were so dull that they could not answer the question. I remember only that it occurred to me at once that Dr. Sperlich, who announced the death of my friend in the Kinskýs’ villa, had been dead for years, and that in the castle itself there never were any such corridors as those through which I had wandered. I remember, too, that I was sitting at my desk, on which an astronomical book lay open that I must have been reading before I fell asleep. *** I recall no more. I became unconscious again. I did not wake up for some time. Then I lay on my bed, and my dear old mother was kneeling by me. I opened my eyes, and looked into her sincere, wrinkled face, and a feeling of inexpressible bliss thrilled my soul.

“Oh, my dear child, what were you doing? They ran for me and told me you were unconscious; this is the third day.”

“The third day?”

“The third,” my mother repeated. “The physician came here several times every day, and advised rest and quiet. He said something about signs of—insanity.”

A clear thought flashed through my clouded mind. I shivered. “And he said you must stop your studies for some time.” My mother rose and lightly kissed my brow. *** I followed the doctor’s advice, and stopped studying for some time; but the haunting thoughts return now after years.

Translated by Josef Jiří Král.


 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1951, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 72 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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  1. [It will be noted that the astronomical “facts” as well as the mathematics of the escamoteur are inaccurate.—The Editors.]