The Hollow Earth theories of John Cleves Symmes

hollowearthOne of the collections that I most enjoy working on is “Possible and Impossible Worlds,” which collects proto-science fiction, utopian stories, weird science and the like. There are close connections between that material and the anarchist history archives. Free thinkers in one area often tend to be mavericks in others as well, and there is no shortage of alternative scientific accounts in the main collection. John Cleves Symmes, however, doesn’t seem to have been political in any very serious sense, although he came out of the same milieu, Cincinnati in its early heyday, as Josiah Warren. His crusade was to establish the truth of his theory that the earth was hollow, composed of concentric spheres and inhabitable within. He had his work cut out for him. As in the case of Emperor Norton, I’ve been a bit surprised at how difficult it has been to round up Symmes own writings on the hollow earth theory. After combing several newspaper archives, and searching secondary sources for clues, I think I have now assembled six of the first seven “memoirs” which James McBride, a contemporary of Symmes and popularizer of his work, identified as essential. I’ve identified over thirty texts by Symmes and dozens of commentaries and responses. As with my Emperor Norton collection, I’m posting a preliminary selection online, under the title “Principles of the Mundane System,” and will periodically update the pdf as I uncover new texts.

Comments Off on The Hollow Earth theories of John Cleves Symmes

Filed under Lost Columns

Proclamations of Emperor Norton

Norton-2Sometimes interesting commentary on political questions comes from unusual sources, and, of course, there has always been an eccentric element in anti-authoritarian thought, which has even at times demonstrated delusions of grandeur. Think of Stephen Pearl Andrews’ pantarchy, for example. While I wouldn’t go so far as to claim Norton I, the would-be Emperor of the United States of North America and Protector of Mexico (etc.) as an anti-authoritarian figure, I do think his semi-delusional perspective on government is sometimes good to think with. And the Emperor’s proclamations are, if nothing else, entertaining reading.

I’ve started to compile a bibliography of Emperor Norton’s published proclamations on the Labyrinth wiki, and have posted a first collection of the proclamations in the catalog. This is an ongoing project, and I’ll be regularly updating the anthology.

1 Comment

Filed under Lost Columns

Welcome to the new Libertarian Labyrinth

It’s hard to believe, but I began to archive anarchist materials online almost twenty years ago. I was working with an established online archive, but I kept finding that the material that I was most interested in making available tended to sit right on the margins of what was considered appropriate for those collections. I was exploring mutualism, for example, at a time when none of us were quite sure how to think about that school of thought, primarily because we didn’t really know what it was.

The first version of the Libertarian Labyrinth archive was essentially just a collection of works by and about Greene, but that ended up covering quite a bit of ground, as the Rev. Mr. William Batchelder Greene had not only been an American interpreter of Proudhon and an early defender of women’s rights, but also a Union Army colonel, tasked with the defense of Washington during the Civil War, a freemason, and probably a neurasthenic.

The personalities ended up interesting me as much as the ideas and ideologies, and as my research continued and the archive grew, it inevitably ended up including a lot of articles on bee-keeping, library cataloging, spelling reform, etc. What started out as a bit of an accident has become collection development policy over the years. What you will find in the Libertarian Labyrinth is material by and about anarchists, whether or not it is about anarchism.

For several years, the Labyrinth archive has been primarily a Mediawiki-based affair, with some duplicate and special collections spread over a number of blogs. It has been very much like having my file cabinet open to the internet, with things in a variety of stages of completion. But the focus has been largely on the texts. Recently, it seems to me that a number of things have changed, both in my own focus and in the sites available from which to serve texts, and I’m inclined to think that my time may be better spent on indexes and bibliographies. So the new center of the Labyrinth is an Omeka-based catalog, featuring a library of close to 1500 bibliographic records, of which almost 500 now include the full, formatted text of the articles. Specialized collections which have been housed on separate blogs will gradually become libraries and exhibits there. The old Libertarian Labyrinth wiki will remain for those projects best adapted to wiki-style hypertext, and a couple of other related sites will probably eventually be folded into the wiki. Many more of the texts that have been available on the wiki will be shared with cooperating sites like The Anarchist Library.

It’s a long, slow, sometimes messy process, but I’m working steadily, and expect to have most of the integration and clean-up accomplished by summer’s end.

Comments Off on Welcome to the new Libertarian Labyrinth

Filed under Contr'un, duplicate posts

Gastrolatry / Gastronomy / Gastrosophy

These entries are from the Dictionary Of Phalansterian Sociology:

GASTROLATRY. — Ignoble role of the man who only knows how to play with his jaw. — New Industrial World, 259. Theory of Universal Unity, 109.
— See: Gluttony.
GASTRONOMY. — In civilization gastronomy can only play a very subordinate role, nearer to debauchery than to wisdom. — New Industrial World, 258.
— Conditions which render gastronomy honorable and praiseworthy.  X. 251.
— Gastronomy is a seed of attraction more effective than any other. N. 260, 382.
GASTROSOPHY. — Gastrosophy is gastronomy applied to industrial attraction and to hygiene.
— Gastronomy, which in civilization is only a simple and contemptible sensuality, becomes in harmony a science of high social politics, called Gastrosophy, high gastronomic wisdom, profound and sublime theory of social equilibrium. — Theory of Universal Unity, III. 139.
— Gastrosophy or hygienic wisdom engendered by the 4 functions: Gastronomy, Cooking, Preserving, Cultivation. — New Industrial World, 258.
— Graded gastronomy is the mechanism organized to work promptly as mechanism of attraction in a trial phalanx. — New Industrial World, 102. – Motifs by which the gastronomic passion has a strong influence for the success of the beginnings of Harmony. — New Industrial World, 261.
— Necessity of speculating on gastronomy to make industrial attractions bloom. New Industrial World, 300. Is disdained today by women. — New Industrial World, 206. — But will be the most powerful emulative mechanism in education in the combined order. Livret d’Annonce, 31.
— Gastronomy or gastrosophy will be the source of refinements in the quality of products, which will allow the poorest Harmonian to claim to be better served than the kings of Civilization. — New Industrial World, 273.
— Utility of the gastrosophic antiennefor classifying temperaments from an early age. — New Industrial World, 343.
— Combined gastronomy envisioned in its political, material and passional sense. — Theory of the Four Movements, 236, 243, 253.
— Wonders composite, serial gastronomy. Melons that never deceive. — Theory of Universal Unity, III. 47.
— Problem of bi-composite gastronomy. The triumph of the tough poultry. — Theory of Universal Unity, III. 135.
— Major or gastrosophic war. (The word “war” is used in the sense of rivalry.) — Theory of Universal Unity, IV. 352. See: Industrial armies.
Gastrosophy is derided by the Civilized, even though it is their guilty pleasure, for the love of good food reigns as much in the philosopher as in the prelate who rants against the pleasures of the table. — Theory of Universal Unity, IV. 418.
— Gastrosophy demands the cooperation of four sciences: chemical,  agronomical, medicinal and culinary. — Theory of Universal Unity, IV. 420.
— See: gourmandise, hygiene.

Comments Off on Gastrolatry / Gastronomy / Gastrosophy

Filed under Dictionary Of Phalansterian Sociology, Edouard Silberling, gastronomy and gastrosophy, translations

Edouard Silberling, Entries from the Dictionary Of Phalansterian Sociology

There was apparently a little flurry of Fourierist publication in France in 1911, which the American Economic Review characterized as “the farewell attempt of a passing school.” I came across Edouard Silberling’s Dictionnaire de sociologie phalanstérienne while trying to answer some questions regarding a translation that Joan Roelofs and I have been working on, and although it didn’t actually help me much at that moment I promised to myself that I would return and explore the work more fully. Political dictionaries are strange things, full of words which might not have much political significance to most people, displayed as occasions for explorations of the application of the political ideology in question. (See, for example, Claude Pelletier’s definition of “quarry,” from his own socialist dictionary.) This Fourierist dictionary certainly has some of that character, but it also functions a something like a concordance to Fourier’s works. Here, as a first taste of what Silberling was up to, are the first three:
Entries from the
DICTIONARY OF PHALANSTERIAN SOCIOLOGY
ABANDONMENT.—The abandonment of the weak, of children and of the elderly is one of the characteristics that civilization has borrowedfrom savagery. New Industrial World.109, 407, 424.—The civilized order can only produce eviland hypocrisy. It is powerless to ensure the effective protection of the weak. Supportfor children quickly degenerates intoexploitation, under the mask of charity, and assistance for the infirmand elderly degenerates into abuse.
BEE.—The beehive and the hornets’ nest depict the two political orders of harmony and civilization. Q. 429.—The hive depicts the three functions of unitary industry: production, distribution, consumption. III. 215.
— A bee transported to an island furnished only with bare rock will nonetheless be attracted to flowers. II. 315. — Attraction is a primordial impulse, indestructible in all the beings in creation. Attraction is the divine impetus.
ABUNDANCE.—Abundance will result from the organization of the passional series, or societary regime, which will multiply the pastures, the orchards, the poultry-yards, etc. It will increase the cultivated land in all zones, along with industry and all the sources of wealth.  Q. 243. III. 564, 567, 568, 571. L. 19.
— In civilization we see the abundance of products alongside poverty and hunger, and if the people of civilization do not die of the urgent need for food, they die of hunger slowly through privations, surrounded by products in superabundance. N. 29, 30. — We see entire peoples,  like the Irish in 1822, die of hunger in times of perfect peace and abundance. IV. 362. Haven’t we seen recently, in India, whole populations dying beside piles of wheat?
— In civilization poverty is born from abundance itself. N. 35. — It is an economic monstrosityendemic in advanced civilization. We have a recent example of it in France, where the surplus production of wine has caused the poverty of the producers.

Comments Off on Edouard Silberling, Entries from the Dictionary Of Phalansterian Sociology

Filed under encyclopedia entries

A Voyage from Pole to Pole by way of the Center of the Earth (1721) — I

 

An Account of a Voyage
from the Arctic to the Antarctic Pole
by way
of the
Center of the Earth.
With the description of that perilous Passage, & of the
marvelous & astonishing things that were discovered
beneath the Antarctic Pole.
WITH FIGURES.
Amsterdam
M. DCC. XXI
TABLE OF CHAPTERS.
I. Departure of the Author from Amsterdam for Greenland; how the Author & his Companions began to realize that they were nearing the dreadful maelstrom which is under the Arctic Pole; description of the maelstrom.
II. How the Vessel was swallowed up at the center of the maelstrom; how they would find themselves in time under the Antarctic Pole, & how they knew that they were no longer under Northern Skies..
III. They land on the Coast, & penetrate about a league & a half into the country; description of the great Floating Island which is under the Antarctic Pole, & of the mountain of ice which is in the middle of a Pyramidal Figure, & which seems cut in facets; of the marvelous Meteors which appear from time to time around the Floating Island. 
IV. Of the marvelous lake whose waters are almost always warm, & of its five admirable Cascades; description of the Valley of White Roses, where they see a very remarkable Monument, a rare & singular Fountain, & some shrubs, very lovely & agreeable to the view.
V. Of some monstrous Fish that we saw in these Seas; tragic & lamentable Accident that happened to two Sailors of the crew; of the 7 inaccessible Isles, & what the Author saw there with a great Spyglass.
VI. Of the great Promontory or Cape which is always covered with clouds; of the miraculous Jet of water that was seen there; of the large & deep Cavern through which passes a deep & wide Torrent; extraordinary Combat between two white Bears & three Seals.
VII. Of the Strait of the Bears; of the marvelous rock archway or natural bridge; of the appalling precipice we saw between some high mountains near the Strait of the Bears; of the thunderous subterrainean noises accompanied by flashes that we heard in a large Rock far out to Sea.
VIII. Of a beautiful & spacious Plain enclosed by three great hills; of a very beautiful & strange Plant; of some ruins; of the curious remains of an ancient Wall in the vicinity of the Sea; of a marvelous Echo; of the crowned Bird which made its nest underground.
IX. Of a great & beautiful Harbor formed by a rocky enclosure on the same Gulf of which we just spoke; of a great & high Mountain which appeared suspended in the air; of an Archipelago or several islands clustered together; of a large & tall Column of Fire on the Sea & of a Phenomenon which had the shape of the Sun.
X. The Author & his companions set sail for the old world; some time after they find in their path a dreadful reef; they arrive at the Cape of Good Hope; extraordinary adventure that happened to the Author some days after landing.
THE PASSAGE
FROM THE ARCTIC POLE,
TO THE ANTARCTIC POLE,
BY WAY OF
THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.
Chapter I.
Departure of the Author from Amsterdam for Greenland; how the Author & his Companions began to realize that they were nearing the dreadful maelstrom which is under the Arctic Pole; description of the maelstrom.
Having always had, from my youth, a very great passion for Voyages, I have traveled, in order to satisfy my curiosity, through all the principal parts of the Old & New Worlds, & at the end of my last passage, I found myself in the great & famous City of Amsterdam, where I met with three or four great Merchants who told me that they were equipping a Vessel to carry them to Greenland to the Whale Fishery. At this news, I felt my natural inclinations rekindle, & I conceived at once the design to make that Voyage, having still not seen the icy Climates of the Frigid Zones. I commenced then & there to buy all that I believed necessary, & having put in order all my small equipage, I embarked on the third day of May, of the year seventeen hundred & fourteen.
We set off with a Favorable Wind & had perfect weather for some days, but on the tenth, towards evening, the Heavens darkened, & were covered in no time with dark & heavy clouds, & the Winds started to blow with such vehemence & fury that the crew was on the alert all the following night. That tempest carried us to the West so rapidly, despite all our maneuvers, that in the morning, around four o’clock, we found ourselves in view of the Coasts of the Isle of Iceland, which were only about three leagues distant. The Wind having dropped for the moment, a calm of twelve hours succeeded it, after which we resumed our route with a light South-East Wind. We we so fortunate in our sailing that within fourteen hours we perceived two Vessels which appeared to us to come from Greenland, & to take route to Holland. We were then at sixty-eight degrees, 17 minutes latitude. However, we quickly lost sight of the Vessels, for the weather changed suddenly, & we saw a fearsome Storm form to our East, which approached us in the space of a few minutes. We were first surround by an endless number of flashes, which were followed by appalling claps of thunder & a rain so heavy, strong & long, that the Heavens seemed to threaten the Earth with a second deluge. The darkness was so great that we could not distinguish objects from the Stern to the Prow. The waves were so heavy, & the Winds clattered with so much fury that our Pilot, although highly experienced, hardly knew what course to take. Finally, after we had been for a long time a mere hair’s breadth from death, that horrible tempest began to dissipate. The sun reappeared & we found ourselves in a wide Sea, filled everywhere with great blocks of ice, which rolled against & onto one another. We were afraid of being capsized or crushed. It became very cold, & we saw around us neither Isles nor Coasts.
We had lost our route & consulting our sextant, we found ourselves at seventy-three degrees twenty-two minutes. A light South Wind pushed us always towards the North, & carried us finally to a place where the Sea seemed to us to slope slightly, & where the thread of the water led us, albeit slowly, always to one side of the Pole. Then an old Sailor told us he had once heard a famous Pilot, who had roamed much in the Seas of the North, say that there was beneath the Arctic Pole a terrifying maelstrom, which could be seventy or eighty leagues in circumference. He reckoned this to be the most dangerous hazard in the world, in the midst of which there must be a terrible & bottomless gulf, where all the waters of these Seas rush, having communication by way of the center of the earth, with the Seas which are beneath the Antarctic Pole. This tale chilled us with fright, & we trembled in all the parts of our bodies, for we saw what the course of the water would bring us to, & that it was impossible for us to reverse that course.
We took counsel, & it was concluded that, although there was hardly any hope of salvation for us, it was nonetheless necessary to take every imaginable precaution, & to seal all the openings of the Vessel, to close off every avenue to the water. We performed this task right away, with an incredible eagerness & diligence, after which we all went up on Deck to see if together we could not find a way to avoid the hideous peril which threatened us.
For the moment the Sun did not set, & we always saw it turning around us on the edges of the Horizon, but it was a bit pale. We saw towards the West a rather long Coast, which had three Capes, of which the middle one extended much further into the Sea than the other two. We saw there many high Mountains all covered with snow & ice, & of which the middle-ground appeared to us all on fire. On this same coast, by turning towards the right, we saw a great mass of clouds, of an almost green color, mixed with a very dark gray, & one part of which descended so low that it almost touched the Sea. There came out from it an endless flight of birds, whose numbers, as they flew towards us, was increased so prodigiously that all the air around us was darkened. One flock detached itself from the mass, & passing immediately above our heads, they entered into such a furious battle against one another that they crushed one another cruelly, & with such force that three fell dead on our Deck. Their plumage was deep black, & their beaks were red as blood. From the head down to the tip of the tail they had a stripe white as the snow. But soon all these birds were lost from view.
One will perhaps ask how the birds could traverse these vast Seas, but it is to be presumed that they rest from time to time on those great pieces of ice that one finds in various places in the Northern Seas.
Meanwhile, we had to always follow the penchant of the waters, until suddenly our Vessel made something like a half turn to the left, & then we sailed with a circular movement, which informed us that we had entered into the maelstrom.
That swirling Sea abounded with countless numbers of small Fish, about the size of Herring. From the middle of the body to the tip of the tail, they were of a very beautiful gold color, & as they almost always swam upside down & just below the surface, & as the Sun reflecting on all those tails which were entirely out of the water, that turning resembled a watery Heavens all covered with an infinite number of golden stars in a perpetual movement. An object of that nature would doubtless charm those people who could contemplate it with a tranquil eye.
After having made several turns, we perceived, in the midst of the maelstrom, a sort of floating isle more white than snow, but as our circular movement drew us steadily towards the center, we recognized that the supposed Isle was only a high mass of foam that the waters, pouring & rushing into that abyss, formed on their surface. We judged then that it was time for us to retire within the Vessel, which we did in an instant, all descending into the heart of the ship, to await that which Heaven had ordained for us.
Chapter II
How the Vessel was swallowed up at the center of the maelstrom; how they would find themselves in time under the Antarctic Pole, & how they knew that they were no longer under Northern Skies.
We had hardly been in the hold ten or twelve minutes when we felt ourselves sink with inconceivable speed into that deep abyss. The horrible whistling & humming that we heard around us constantly, carrying terror & dread into our souls, little by little robbed us of all cognizance, & cast us into a sort of swoon, leaving us in no state to recognize how long we remained among the appalling torrents which roll so impetuously in those terrifying underground regions. Finally, however, being awakened from the daze into which we had sunk, & not knowing clearly if we were alive or dead, we soon returned to our senses. Listening, we heard nothing at all, & it seemed to us all that our Vessel was nearly without movement.
Our Pilot, being the boldest of us, ventured to go upstairs. He opened a hatch on the stern side, & climbed onto the Deck. We all followed him, one after another, & we were astonished to find ourselves on a calm Sea, & surrounded by a fog so thick it was impossible to distinguish any object at all around us. The fog & the Sea was of the same color, so that that it seemed to us that our vessel was suspended in the air. But little by little the air cleared & the day was almost like Summer in our Climes, a mere half hour after the Sun has gone down.
It is easy to imagine the joy that filled us, having thought ourselves lost without resources, seeing that we could still hope to return to our homeland. However, we did not know where we were, & our Pilot having gone up, we found ourselves seventy-one degrees & eight minutes southern latitude, which let us know that we were in the Southern Seas, under the Antarctic Pole.
For some time there was not the least bit of wind, & we applied ourselves to restoring, as much as was possible, all our cordage & sails. We still had sufficient provisions in our vessel for some time.
After about four or five hours a light Northwest wind rose, but it was so terribly cold that the Sea was all frozen over in the space of a few moments. I can say that I have never felt a cold so penetrating, & I doubt that we could have withstood it if it had continued long. But, fortunately, a light, sweet rain suddenly began to fall, & we passed in a few minutes from the roughest Winter to Spring. Wise Providence, to make up for the lack of the Sun which strays for so long from these sad Climes, tempers their extreme cold with some warm vapors, which preserve the grasses, plants, & shrubs that we saw there even far into winter.
We sailed with all our canvas aloft, towards a great Coast that we could make out to the East, in the hope of being able to set foot on land somewhere, & we saw at one of its extremities, which advanced towards the Antarctic Pole, a light which rather resembled the aurora. We knew very well that this was not the precursor of the Sun, since several months must pass before it reappeared in these regions. We could no longer distinguish between the day & the night, or between morning & evening. However, the light was sufficient to prevent us from seeing the stars. Luminous vapors rose in the air during the absence of the Sun. Otherwise, the two cold zones would be by turns buried for six months in a terrible night.
As we sailed slowly toward that coast, we saw in four or five places, about the range of a musket from one another, heavy foam which rose high & furiously, forming above the surface of the Sea like little hills. These boilings of water & foam had so much strength, that as our vessel passed through them we thought we would be overturned. We could never understand what that Phenomenon could be, & we have not seen it since. However, the light of which I have just spoken, having little by little diffused the clouds that concealed it from us, rose suddenly, & shone so brightly before our eyes that we were all awestruck. It was a marvelous meteor, which formed a perfect oval of a very dark blue, & which was all studded with stars, of which the middle was the largest, & seemed to dominate all the others, as one can see in FIGURE A. That admirable Phenomenon increased the light on the Coast by half, so that we could see more distinctly all the objects around us. We were already very close, & having finally reached the Coast, we lowered the anchor, as we intended to go ashore.
Chapter III.
They land on the Coast, & penetrate about a league & a half into the country; description of the great Floating Island which is under the Antarctic Pole, & of the mountain of ice which is in the middle of a Pyramidal Figure, & which seems cut in facets; of the marvelous Meteors which appear from time to time around the Floating Island.
At the point where we dropped anchor, the coast was bordered everywhere with tall reeds, which out of the water appeared as tall as a pike & as large as an arm, & which ended in a very sharp point. They had nodes at intervals, & below these nodes hung large, wide, yellowish leaves, around the length of a Dutch ell. We lowered the longboat onto the sea to go ashore, & we had great difficulty passing through those reeds, because they were very dense & close to one another. We took all our firearms, as much to defend ourselves from ferocious beasts as to kill some game, if we chanced to encounter any.
We clambered up, because the terrain was steep, & found a beautiful Plain, all sown with a short & fine grass which gave off an agreeable aroma. The Plain was bounded by three great mountain ranges which extended out of sight to the right & left. These mountains appeared to us laid out like an Amphitheater, the second rank being higher than the first, & the third much higher than the second. The first range, the one closest to us, were properly only large hills, all covered with green moss. The mountains of the second were all covered with snow, & those of the third appeared in the distance a flaming red, which produced one of the most beautiful vistas that one can imagine.
When we had traversed the Plain, & gained the base of the hills, we went further, & saw that they formed in this place a large pen or enclosure around a full league in diameter. This enclosure was full of tall grass, so high that the two tallest men of our troop having entered there, we hardly saw the top of their heads. We noted that all around the enclosure there were in the hills large holes or dens, which we judged to be the retreats of some wild beasts, & indeed, a few moments later, we saw come out of the tall grass, two hundred paces from us, three white bears of prodigious size, which without turning to one side or the other, entered the den that was across from them. We did not think it proper after that to remain in this place, which seemed so perilous to us.
We came out onto the field, & advancing always towards the mountains, we found a small stream of fresh, clear water, on the banks of which we saw promenading a great number of birds roughly the size of quail. They were so tame that they let us take them in our hands. We killed a few of them, which we sent aboard our vessel.
By following this brook we were led gradually between two rocks, which we both very high & steep, & all covered from top to bottom with ice. We were shocked to feel an extreme cold there, & we could not understand how, starting from an atmosphere that was so mild & almost warm, we could enter one which was so harsh. We marched for the time being on a very hard-packed snow, & our little stream was entirely frozen in that space. The mountain which was on our right receiving on its icy surface all the light of the meteor of which I have spoken, & reflecting it on the mountain opposite it, they both shone in such a manner that our eyes were dazzled by it, & we could hardly see what was before us.
As soon as we came out from between these mountains, we felt a gentle & temperate breeze, & the stream flowed & wound as it had on the other side. Two hundred paces from there we saw it disappear into the earth, opposite a rock which had the shape of a large, round tower. Nature had dug a kind of Grotto there, which had three openings from top to bottom, in the form of Arches, & inside, in the middle we saw a great basin into which the stream burst by way of a subterranean tunnel. In that grotto were several niches, where we found the nests of birds, & in some of them we found eggs of a very pale green, three times larger than the eggs of ducks. The top of that rock was flat like a terrace, & full of an herb much like our purslane, but much larger. Its leaves were extremely wide & close to the thickness of a little finger, & its stalk was so long, that several hung the full length of the rock.
After admiring this work of Nature we did not judge it proper to push further forward, & we retraced the route to our vessel, but not by precisely the same road. We veered a little to the left, & after having walked for some little time, our ears were suddenly struck by horrible roars & howls which came from the same side where we had seen the three white bears. The air all around us resounded so loudly, that we judged that there must be a very great number of those wild animals in this place. We came gradually onto a flatt & stony terrain which led us towards a mass of large rocks placed very close to each other. They had red, green & blue veins almost like marble, & as we could see a sort of marsh to our right & to our left, we were forced to pass right across them. We found various paths which crossed one another as in a labyrinth, & so many that we were lost there for some time. But finally, one of us having found an exit, we left.
Hardly had we taken four strides, when a monstrous beast rushed at us from behind a small boulder. It had the shape & color of a toad, but it was infinitely larger. It had on its head a great crest of a pale, ugly blue & shot from time to time from its mouth a yellow & green foam. It turned towards the marsh & with a single bound, it plunged so deep into it that we no longer saw it. We did not doubt that there were several more in this place of the same species, & that these beasts might be very venomous.
We continued to walk with much difficulty down this rocky road, up to the beautiful plain where we had come ashore, & we went happily aboard ship, where we cooked the birds that we had taken. the flesh was very tough, but tasty enough & with a flavor like duck. We formed the intention of soon making a second trip & of taking these birds & all other species that we could find, in order to save the rest of our biscuit & the other provisions which could be preserved.
We observed with chagrin the vanishing of the beautiful meteor which had begun to appear when we arrived on that coast, & then we had a little rain mixed with snow & large hail which lasted more than fifteen hours. (We measured our time with an hourglass that we had been fortunate to find in the vessel.) The air became so cold that it was impossible for us to remain even an eighth of an hour on deck, but the rain having ceased, the air warmed so much that we seemed to breath an Autumn breeze, as it is in temperate climates, & another phenomenon appeared from the West side, which was not anywhere near as bright as the first, but still very beautiful. It formed an irregular zig-zag, & very much resembled a constellation. It had in the lower part a sort of tail which was very wide at the end, as one can see in FIGURE B.
 It should be noted, that since we had been at anchor, our view had always been limited towards the South, that is, from the side of the Antarctic Pole, by large, thick clouds which were finally dissipated by one of those beautiful luminous exhalations so frequent under the Poles, so much that that we suddenly discovered an isle which appeared to us to float on the surface of the waters, & that we in fact saw approach us to about the range of a cannon shot. That isle was nearly round, & was doubtless only a collection of those great pieces of ice that we saw in the seas, which are linked & frozen together. There was a great mountain of ice in the middle of which rose high in a pyramidal figure, & the pieces forming it were arranged by a surprising artifice, in such a way that it appeared all carved in facets like a diamond, with this difference, that the facets were proportional to the size, the isle was all covered with snow, & we saw on its banks at intervals that looked like little trees of ice, which flung out branches, laden with flockings of snow which served them in place of leaves & fruits. But on the mountain there was not the least bit of snow. All the ice was clear & transparent as crystal.
We considered all these things for quite a long time, & then we went to rest. After we had slept a few hours, wanting to go on deck, we were terrified to find the air all ablaze. But having cast a look in the direct of the isle, we knew that this great illumination proceeded from six amazing lights in the sky, which hung in the air at about an equal distance all around the mountain, like so many grand & magnificent chandeliers. They were all of the same shape & were each composed of four great globes of fire. The one on the bottom was the largest, the second, the third & the fourth being progressively smaller, as one can see in FIGURE C. All these luminous globes being infinitely multiplied in the facets of the mountain, made it appear to be all on fire. All these great & surprising objects taken together made an effect which ravished & enchanted the eye, & was of such strength, that we remained for some moments immobile as statues, struck with admiration & astonishment.
As we were still carefully contemplating  them, we perceived very high in the air three large birds which suddenly swooped down across from us on the coast. Their plumage was a mixture of gray & brown on their head. They had a large plume of three snow-white feathers, the ends of which were a very fine crimson, & their tails were longer than their bodies, & seemed a half-open fan. They were larger & broader than eagles, & after they had pecked & searched the grass for some time, they all three flew off rapidly toward the mountain of ice, & having flown around it for a long time, they mounted to its summit, & we saw them no longer. We judged that perhaps they had their nests there. They were very beautiful birds.
Chapter IV.
Of the marvelous lake whose waters are almost always warm, & of its five admirable Cascades; description of the Valley of White Roses, where they see a very remarkable Monument, a rare & singular Fountain, & some shrubs, very lovely & agreeable to the view.
As we were in a deep sleep, we were awakened by an impetuous wind, which gave such shocks to our vessel, that we all got up, fearing that our cable might be broken. But we no longer saw the floating isle, nor the beautiful phenomena which were all around. The sea was very rough, & full of large pieces of ice which piled up on one another, formed here & there small floating mountains.
As soon as the weather was better, which was not long, we resolved to make, as we had planned, a second trip into the country. Leaving two or three of us aboard ship, we took all our arms, & threaded a different path than the first time. It should be noted that this coast is very mountainous, but we found there a few small Plains & valleys. First we walked between some dry & sepia-colored rocks, where there was neither grass nor moss, & we found there frightful precipices, at the base of which rolled rough torrents with a dreadful noise. We were forced to travel some small paths, very narrow & very dangerous, but, finally, we fortunately came out of the place that we had entered, & we climbed a high mountain from which we could take a look in all directions. We saw Summer & Winter all at once, for on one side there were Plains where everything was frozen & covered with snow, & on the other valleys where a pleasant verdure reigned over all. The air there was so clear & so luminous, that without the aid of the Sun we could easily distinguish the smallest objects. We descended, & found all these places carpeted with a short & fine grass. Here & there we saw plants, which has long & thick foliage. We uprooted some of them, & the roots were round & smooth, almost as big around as your fist, & covered with a very thin black skin. The flesh was a reddish white & with a taste approaching that of the almond. We found a lot of it afterwards on the coast, near the place where we dropped anchor, which we ate instead of bread.
This place appeared so agreeable to us that we rested there for some time. From there we went between two long chains of mountains covered in moss from the foot all the way to the summit, which exuded a sort of odoriferous gum. That double chain was not straight, & formed a great elbow which entirely limited our view, but when we came to the end we suddenly discovered a lake, whose water was greenish, & nearly warm. It exhaled over all of its surface a multitude of little black vapors. We thought, & with reason, that the heat & the vapors proceeded from sulfurous & bituminous materials which must be in its depths. There was not the least little bit of grass on its banks. After following them for some time, we heard a noise & murmur which increased as we advanced, & finally we noted that the end of the lake was all bordered with small rocks, between which the water flowed down, caused the noise that we heard. We doubled our pace, & were very surprised to see five beautiful Cascades, of which the middle was the largest. It formed three great sheets of water, which fell on one another, at three roughly equal degrees of distance, & the water of all these Cascades merging a bit below, fell on a large, nearly flat rock, & falling from there, went on to be lost between the rocks which were below. Since this lake always remained equally full, despite all the water that flowed so abundantly from this side, it must have been the case that there were subterranean channels which constantly furnished it anew.
As we stood there in thought, there suddenly appeared, on a large Hill that was opposite us, a great herd of large & powerful Bears, white as snow. We noticed that there were two or three of them that were dappled with black all over their bodies. One of them descended the Hill, & having crossed a small Brook which was at the base, it slipped between two Rocks. Scarcely had it done so, than it began to make a certain cry, as if he called to the others, & they actually began to follow, jostling & hurrying one another. We had just lost sight of them, when we saw several Birds emerge from these same Rocks. They were soon followed by an even greater number, which all took flight towards some high, snow-covered mountains which were on our right. These Birds apparently had their nests in the cracks & fissures that we could see there, but they were in places that were so steep & so high that it was impossible to reach them.
Moving away from these five admirable Cascades, we descended with much difficulty down a mountain whose pitch was very steep into a long & narrow Plain, pierced all over by little holes which twisted deep into the earth. There must have been in this place a nearly infinite number of animals of some species, which doubtless was unknown to us, but we did not see even one. Walking among these holes, we heard a certain sound, as if there were caves or vaults beneath us. At the end of that Plain, we came out into a great Crossroads, where there were five different routes arranged in a star. We weighed for some time the choice of which we should take. There was one of them between mountains of a height so prodigious, that we were nearly terrified. One entered beneath a large & high portal, the structure of which was just a great piece of Rock, which being detached from one of the sides above, had follow across onto the other, & had perhaps remained suspended there for a very long time. That route was very sandy, & we sank in it up to the ankle. We followed another much more serviceable route. The mountains which lined it were of a nearly black Rock, with great white & gleaming veins, a bit like alum.
We found there above all a great quantity of a sort of Lizard. They were so tame that they constantly passed between our legs, & over our feet. They had a perfectly black head, a reddish body, & an extraordinarily long tail.
The more we advanced down this path, the more it widened. It led us finally into a very pretty and, & very spacious Valley, where we breathed a Spring air. It was covered all over with a plant like the violet. We saw on the majority, in the middle of the stem, a white flower of the size of a Ducatoon. That flower had eight serrated petals, the four largest above, & the smaller four below. The middle was covered with little red grains, It was not a bad likeness of a simple Rose, & had a very sweet odor. The tincture of these flowers, together with the green of their stems made a charming effect all through this Valley. A little Brook of very clear water wound towards the middle.
At the back of a hollow we perceived something white through the tall grass. Approaching, we saw to our great surprise, a small Building  of a singular structure. It was all of white stone. The upper part was a large, flat stone, in the shape of a triangle, set on six high columns about three feet, on an oval base which raised it four or five inches about the ground. On the triangular stone we saw an Inscription of bizarre characters, which were known to none of our party, & down low, on the circumference of the base, were spaced more of the same characters, but nearly effaced. This Monument gave rise in us to many speculations, for we could well see that it was not a Work of chance, but I leave the decision about it to those more clever than me. Leaving this place we walked right to the Brook I have just mentioned, & we followed it back towards its source. It came from a lovely Spring that was in a Grotto hollowed by nature in one of the mountains of the Valley.
I entered first. It was carpeted from top to bottom with a lovely green moss, & in the back of the grotto at the height of a man, we saw three channels in a line, & at equal distances. The water flowing out of these channels made a pleasant little murmur, which was like the twittering of birds, & fell into a sort of Basin, which being very full, poured out over all its banks, & gathering before a great crevasse which was in the Rock immediately in front of it, drained down. This Basin was around a foot deep, & in the bottom there were several small stones, red & flat & of different shapes, including square, round, triangular, & in the form of a heart. Wanting to take some, I could hardly endure the excessive cold of the water. Beside the Spring & within the Grotto, there was a round & very deep hole, about a span in width, which exhaled a steam so hot, that I thought it would burn my face. Being by chance close to both, it was not without an extreme astonishment that I saw emanate from nearly the same place hot & cold, all together.
There were in several places in this Valley, various very beautiful & very peculiar shrubs, & one among them of which I have given the picture in FIGURE E. Its leaves sprouted at three levels, equal distances from one another. They were all covered with a sort of down, which made them as soft to the touch as velvet, & they were edged all around with the most beautiful yellow in the world. Above the leaves, & precisely at the place where they were attached to the stalk, we saw some little red seeds sprout, each at the end of a very long stem. They were the size of peas, and formed a perfect circle, & at the top they bore a bouquet of these same seeds, very closely & tightly bunched, which was nearly the shape of a small Pinecone.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Comments Off on A Voyage from Pole to Pole by way of the Center of the Earth (1721) — I

Filed under Beyond the Labyrinth, duplicate posts, fiction, Working Translations

W. M. Stannard, “Mr. Corndropper’s Hired Man” (1900)

Mr. Corndropper’s Hired Man.
(A Companion to
“Ely’s Automatic Housemaid.”)
BY W. M. STANNARD.
_____
THERE was a mild sensation at the East Slowcombe railway station when a stranger, bearing a two-gallon can, carefully crated, stepped off the 3.30 accommodation, and there were many speculations hazarded as to his identity, business and destination, but, without stopping to question or exchange words with any of the waiting crowd, he stepped across the platform to where Farmer Corndropper was waiting with his gray mare and buggy. He handed the fanner a letter, stepped into the buggy and was driven slowly away. Without a word of welcome or of apology to his visitor, the farmer opened the letter and proceeded intently to read the contents:
Dear Sir: — We forward you herewith — or, rather this will be handed to you by — Tom, our Automatic Farmer (Ely’s patent). If same proves unsatisfactory after one month’s constant use, money will be refunded. The active principle by which the farmer is controlled is contained in an oil (two gallons forwarded) embodying all the essential nutritive elements which, acting upon our improved substitute for cerebral tissue, contained in the farmer’s cranial cavity, results in a faculty which cannot be distinguished from ordinary common sense.
Tom is guaranteed to do twenty-four hours’ work a day — seven days a week, if necessary — without strain. He can perform any ordinary task that an intelligent man can do.
Important. — The automatic farmer will obey only the person who feeds him. His present control expires at 6 p. M. to-day, after which hour be will be subject to your orders.
Convinced that Tom will give perfect satisfaction, we remain,
Yours sincerely,
The Ely Mfg. Co. (Limited).
Josiah Corndropper meditatively folded and pocketed this letter, clucked to the gray mare and fixed his gaze upon his silent companion, who, however, paid no heed. He was tall, broad-shouldered and robust looking, with a wonderfully intelligent and life-like countenance, upon which his owner gazed with wonder and admiration.
Tom promptly followed his master when he alighted at the farmhouse and seated himself in a corner of the kitchen, where he remained, dumb and deaf to all the subdued comments upon his appearance and deportment.
“No, M’riar,” answered the farmer to his wife’s enquiries, “he won’t be ready fuse tell six o’clock, so ye’ll hev ter wait,” and she returned reluctantly to her duties.
At six o’clock, sharp, following the printed directions stitched to the back of Tom’s vest, Josiah cautiously lifted the brim of his straw hat, poured some “food” into the aperture disclosed and stepped back to await results.
Instantly the figure gazed curiously around and then sat upright at attention, regarding his owner enquiringly.
“Gid up!” said Josiah.
Tom promptly arose and the farmer and his wife stumbled over the furniture in the involuntary backward movement which they simultaneously made.
“What you laughin’ fer, drat yer?” shouted Josiah, regaining his equilibrium, but the automaton made no response.
“Waal, he don’t talk back, like some hired men,” exclaimed Mrs. Corndropper, amused and relieved.
“Course, he’s only a machine,” said the farmer, mollified. “Tom, go milk the cows.”
This order was obeyed with neatness and dispatch. Four great pails were soon standing on the dairy floor, and Tom was awaiting further instructions.
“Waal, by gum, ye do work mighty spry,” ejaculated Josiah. “Ye might’s well go out an’ finish the chores,” and Tom was gone like a flash. Soon the wood box was brimming, the animals foddered, and all the odds and ends of the day’s work attended to in less than half the usual time, and the indefatigable farmer had again reported for duty.
Josiah scratched his head reflectively. “Able to work all night, is he? Guess I’ll set him t’ buildin’ stun wall. Here, Tom, go out ‘n straighten out th’ wall around the ten-acre lot. Then in the mornin’, ‘bout four o’clock, come in an’ wait at the back door, till I give ye su’thin’ else t’ do.” Tom was out of sight in the direction of the ten-acre lot before Corndropper had done wondering.
When Josiah came down in the morning the first thing he saw was the automaton, standing stolidly on the back porch, evidently awaiting orders.
“Mornin’, Tom. It’s time ter milk an’ do up the chores ag’in. Seems ez ef as intelligent-lookin’ a cuss ez you be would almost ‘a known it ‘thout bein’ told.” Before this mild criticism, the only reproof which his owner ever bestowed upon him, was finished, Tom was in the barnyard, dispatching the work.
“Waal, by gum!” chuckled Corndropper, “an’ only costs six cents a day, nuther. Gee, ef this ain’t a snap.” He scanned all he could see of the stone wall, and soliloquized:
“I b’leeve he’s done it all right. I must set him ‘bout the farmin’ right away; won’t need t’hire nobody this season!” and Josiah smiled audibly over the saving of three men’s hire as he went in to breakfast.
Picking his teeth on the porch, he said to his patient helper:
“Waal, Tommy, may’s well start in plowin’ to-day. Yoke up th’ three-year olds, an’ then I’ll tell ye what ter do.”
But Tom did not move.
“What ails ye?”
Josiah was alarmed. Could the machinery be out of order so soon? Was the thing a failure, after all? Visions of disappointed hopes flitted through his mind faster than he could formulate them, but as he stood in thought he happened to glance at the clock. The automaton must be fed regularly twice in twenty-four hours or it would “strike.”
“Waal, by gum! Why didn’t I think of that before? “
So Tom had his breakfast at once, after which he went to the barn and under fresh instructions returned with the astonished animals and with the big plow under one arm.
“Waal, by gum!” exclaimed Josiah.
As the days went on Tom plowed and planted, hoed, hayed and harvested, with no assistance other than general directions. He did all the “chores,” indoors and out, and when farm work was slack, made a firm friend of Mrs. Corndropper by beating carpets, moving furniture, scrubbing paint and blacking stoves.
Josiah thoroughly enjoyed the change. From being a hard-worked farmer, with three hired men to look after, he became a man of leisure, giving his attention to the settlement of important local and national affairs — at the village grocery.
Spring had passed, summer had come and gone, and autumn was waning, when one brisk October morning Josiah announced:
“I’m a-goin’ over ter th’ county seat to-day, to see ‘bout cancellin’ that morgidge — we’ve made ‘nough this summer to pay it off — an’ as I hain’t nothin’ special for Tom t’do, I’m a-goin’ ter leave him fer you.”
“Now, Josiah, you needn’t do no sech thing! Don’t you think I c’n look out f’r myself, ‘thout havin’ a iron man ‘round t’ keep tabs on me? “
Josiah saw that something was wrong.
“No, M’riar, I thought mebbe you’d hev suthin’ fer him t’ do.”
She said at first that she hadn’t, but the truth was, that having had no experience in “feeding” Tom, the act upon which his obedience depended, she rather dreaded the responsibility.
Josiah perceived her reluctance, and took a firm stand.
“Now, M’riar, I want ye to come right out and feed him; might as well larn fust as last. Needn’t use him ef y’ don’t want’er.”
So Mrs. Corndropper meekly accompanied her husband to Tom’s quarters and fed the automaton, who then, at her command, sat in a kitchen comer to be ready in case of need.
“Don’t fergit ter hev him do the chores,” said her husband, as he drove off.
When she was actually alone, she found the silence oppressive. Her thoughts, in spite of her best intentions, ran on the many depredations recently committed in neighboring towns, and supposed to be the work of tramps, and though she had never been molested by any of the fraternity, she could not help feeling apprehensive.
“I wish’t old Grip was here,” she thought, forgetting Tom entirely; “he use ter seem almost human, an’ would ha’ been kinder comp’ny. Don’t s’pose nuthin’ ‘ll happen, but he’d be wuth two men t’ lay out a tramp.”
But toward eleven o’clock her fears were forgotten, and she was just about to peel the potatoes for dinner, when a shadow fell upon the threshold, and she turned to see her worst apprehensions realized — there stood two of the dirtiest and most villanous-looking specimens of man she had ever seen.
“Please, mum, will yer gin us suthin’ to eat? “
“I never feed tramps.”
“Say, Bill, git onter dat! “
“Ef ye two don’t git out pretty lively, I’ll set th’ dog on yer! “
The tramps indulged in a hearty laugh, and then one said, in a peremptory tone:
“Come, ole lady, trot out yer grub, or we’ll help ourselves.”
Mrs. Corndropper’s temper, never of the mildest, was now strained beyond endurance, and she emptied the tin pan of potatoes and water over her visitors.
With the aid of a wet dish rag and two towels, she was soon bound, gagged and helpless, and was obliged to sit speechless in the kitchen while the tramps rummaged the pantry and gorged themselves on her abundant and unsurpassed cooking.
Then they proceeded to investigate the closets and dining-room for liquid refreshments and “boodle.”
While both were busily engaged in ransacking the sideboard, an idea occurred to Mrs. Corndropper. Wriggling and twisting, she rubbed the towel binding her hands upon a projecting nail until it parted, and then quickly untied the one fastening her to the chair. She took out her gag as she stole quietly to the corner where Tom was sitting, and whispered in his ear.
The tramps had just discovered a plump stocking in a drawer of the sideboard, and were about appraising its contents.
“Gosh, Jim, dis is der stuff! Ain’t we playin’ in great — “
He dropped the stocking with a howl, as a sharp rap descended upon his head. There was a simultaneous yell from Jim, two more blows and two loud screams.
“Now, Tom, take ‘em by the scruff o’ the neck, and thump their heads together.”
Howls, curses, kicks and blows were alike futile. The iron clutch kept its hold, and the thumps were delivered with clocklike regularity.
Mrs. Corndropper calmly superintended.
“Now, shake ‘em up well!”
The motion of the automaton changed, and dislocated curses and disconnected kicks, accompanied by the rattle of boots, heads and teeth, testified to the thoroughness of the shaking process.
“Take ‘em outdoors and squeeze ‘em,” was the next order, and the smothered execrations that floated in through the window told of a literal execution of the command.
Mrs. Corndropper closed and locked the windows and doors, pocketed the key, and said to Tom:
“There, that’ll do; pick ‘em up and go along ahead o’ me.”
Tom had them under his arms like two grain sacks, and was half way to the gate. As he passed through, both tramps made vigorous efforts to hold on to the gate posts, but only badly wrenched arms and roars of pain resulted.
Then they began to beg and plead for pardon and release, but Mrs. Corndropper paid no attention, and the little procession entered the village surrounded by small boys, and soon attracted half the floating population. At the constable’s door the tramps were handcuffed and committed to the lock-up, and Mrs. Corndropper entered a formal complaint.
Two weeks later she received the following letter:
Mrs. Josiah Corndropper,
Dear Madam: — Please find enclosed check for $500, being the amount of the joint reward offered by the towns of Enfield and Slowcumbe for the apprehension of James Sullivan and William McNulty, said desperadoes ‘Having been captured under your direction. Also please accept our thanks for your public-spirited action. Yours respectfully,
Henry Hawbuck, Town Treasurer.
As no vote of thanks could be made intelligible to Tom, and no increase of rations would be grateful or necessary to his inner anthropomorphy, the Corndroppers were forced to be content with putting their appreciation into a testimonial to the Ely Mfg. Co. (Limited), and such public utterances as Josiah found time to make at the grocery, where he never tired of boasting of a hired man who could do the work of three, on six cents a day, and earn his employer a five hundred dollar premium the first year.


[“Mr. Corndropper’s Hired Man” appeared in the The Black Cat for October, 1900.’

Comments Off on W. M. Stannard, “Mr. Corndropper’s Hired Man” (1900)

Filed under Beyond the Labyrinth, fiction

Elizabeth W. Bellamy, “Ely’s Automatic Housemaid” (1899)

Ely’s Automatic Housemaid.
BY ELIZABETH W. BELLAMY.
_____
IN order for a man to have faith in such an invention, he would have to know Harrison Ely. For Harrison Ely was a genius. I had known him in college, a man amazingly dull in Latin and Greek and even in English, but with ideas of his own that could not be expressed in language. His bent was purely mechanical, and found expression in innumerable ingenious contrivances to facilitate the study to which he had no inclination. His self-acting lexicon-holder was a matter of admiring wonder to his classmates, but it did not serve to increase the tenacity of his mental grasp upon the contents of the volume, and so did little to recommend him to the faculty. And his self-feeding safety student lamp admirably illuminated everything for him save the true and only path to an honorable degree.
It had been years since I had seen him or thought of him, but the memory is tenacious of small things, and the big yellow envelope which I found one morning awaiting me upon my breakfast table brought his eccentric personality back to me with a rush. It was addressed to me in the Archimedean script always so characteristic of him, combining, as it seemed to do, the principles of the screw and of the inclined plane, and in its superscription Harrison Ely stood unmistakably revealed.
It was the first morning of a new cook, the latest potentate of a dynasty of ten who had briefly ruled in turn over our kitchen and ourselves during the preceding three months, and successively abdicated in favor of one another under the compelling influences of popular clamor, and in the face of such a political crisis my classmate’s letter failed to receive immediate attention. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly the latest occupant of our culinary throne began her reign with no conspicuous reforms, and we received in gloomy silence her preliminary enactments in the way of greasy omelette and turbid and flavorless coffee, the yellow screed of Harrison Ely looking on the while with bilious sympathy as it leaned unopened against the water-bottle beside me.
As I drained the last medicinal drop of coffee my eye fell upon it, and needing a vicarious outlet for my feelings toward the cook, I seized it and tore it viciously open. It contained a letter from my classmate and half a dozen printed circulars. I spread open the former, and my eye fastened at once upon this sympathetic exordium:
“Doubtless, my dear friend, you have known what discomfort it is to be at the mercy of incompetent domestics — ”
But my attention was distracted at this point by one of the circulars, which displayed an array of startling, cheering, alluring words, followed by plentiful exclamation points, that, like a bunch of keys, opened to my enraptured vision the gates of a terrestrial Paradise, where Bridgets should be no more, and where ill-cooked meals should become a mechanical impossibility. The boon we had been sighing for now presented itself for my acceptance, an accomplished fact. Harrison Ely had invented “An Automatic Household Beneficent Genius. — A Practical Realization of the Fabled Familiar of the Middle Ages.” So the circular set forth.
Returning to the letter, I read that Harrison Ely, having exhausted his means in working out his invention, was unable to manufacture his “machine” in quantity as yet; but that he had just two on hand which he would sell in order to raise some ready money. He hoped that I would buy one of his automatons, and aid him to sell the other.
Never did a request come at a more propitious moment. I had always entertained a kindness for Harrison Ely, and now such was my disgust at the incompetence of Bridget and Juliana and their predecessors that I was eager to stake the price of a “Household Beneficent Genius” on the success of my friend’s invention.
So, having grasped the purport of the circulars and letter, I broke forth to my wife:
“My dear, you’ve heard me speak of Harrison Ely — ”
“That man who is always so near doing something great, and never has done anything?” said she.
“He has done it at last!” I declared. “Harrison Ely is one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever seen. He has invented an ‘Automatic-Electric Machine-Servant.’”
My wife said, “Oh!”
There was not an atom of enthusiasm in that “Oh!” but I was not to be daunted.
“I am ready,” I resumed, “to invest my bottom dollar in two of Harrison Ely’s machine-servants.”
Her eyes were fixed upon me as if they would read my very soul. “What do they cost?” she mildly asked.
“In comparison with the benefits to be derived, little enough. Listen!” I seized a circular at random, and began to read:
“The Automatic Household Genius, a veritable Domestic Fairy, swift, silent, sure; a Permanent, Inalienable, First-class Servant, warranted to give Satisfaction.”
“Ah!” said my wife; and the enthusiasm that was lacking in the “Oh!” made itself eloquent in that “Ah!” “What is the price?” she asked again.
“The price is all right, and we are going to try the experiment.”
“Are we though?” said she, between doubt and desire.
“Most assuredly; it will be a saving in the end. I shall write to Harrison Ely this very night.”
The return mail brought me a reply stating that two Electric-Automatic Household Benefi­cent Geniuses had been shipped me by express. The letter enclosed a pamphlet that gave a more particular account of the E. A. H. B. G. than the circulars contained. My friend’s invention was shaped in the likeness of the human figure, with body, head, arms, legs, hands and feet. It was clad in waterproof cloth, with a hood of the same to protect the head, and was shod with felt. The trunk contained the wheels and springs, and in the head was fixed the electric battery. The face, of bisque, was described as possessing “a very natural and pleasing expression.”
Just at dusk an oblong box arrived by express and was duly delivered in our hall, but at my wife’s urgent entreaty I consented not to unpack the machines until next day.
“If we should not get the knack of managing them, they might give us trouble,” said this wise wife of mine.
I agreed to this, and having sent away Bridget with a week’s wages, to the satisfaction of all parties, we went to bed in high hopes.
Early next morning we were astir.
“My dear,” I said, “do not give yourself the least concern about breakfast; I am determined that Harrison’s invention shall have fair play.”
“Very well,” my wife assented: but she prudently administered bread and butter to her offspring.
I opened the oblong box, where lay the automatons side by side, their hands placidly folded upon their waterproof breasts, and their eyes looking placidly expectant from under their waterproof hoods.
I confess the sight gave me a shock. Anna Maria turned pale; the children hid their faces in her skirts.
“Once out of the box,” I said to myself, “and the horror will be over.”
The machines stood on their feet admirably, but the horror was not materially lessened by this change of position. However, I assumed a bold front, and said, jocosely:
“Now, which is Bridget, and which is Juliana — which the cook, and which the housemaid?”
This distinction was made clear by dial-plates and indicators, set conspicuously between the shoulders, an opening being cut in the waterproof for that purpose. The housemaid’s dial-plate was stamped around the circumference with the words: Bed, Broom, Duster, Door-bell, Dining-room Service, Parlor Service, etc. In like manner, the cook’s dial-plate bore the words that pertained to her department. I gave myself first to “setting” the housemaid, as being the simpler of the two.
“Now, my dear,” said I, confidently, “we shall see how this Juliana can make the beds.”
I proceeded, according to the pamphlet’s directions, to point the indicator to the word “Bed.” Next, as there were three beds to be made, I pushed in three of the five little red points surrounding the word. Then I set the “clock” connected with the indicator, for a thirty minutes’ job, thinking it might take about ten minutes to a bed. I did not consult my wife, for women do not understand machinery, and any suggestion of hesitancy on my part would have demoralized her.
The last thing to be done was to connect the indicator with the battery, a simple enough performance in itself, but the pamphlet of directions gave a repeated and red-lettered “Caution,” never to interfere with the machine while it was at work! I therefore issued the command, “Non-combatants to the rear!” and was promptly obeyed.
What happened next I do not pretend to account for. By what subtle and mysterious action of electricity, by what unerring affinity, working through a marvellous mechanism, that Electric-Automatic Household Beneficent Genius, whom — or which, for short — we called Juliana, sought its appropriate task, is the inventor’s secret. I don’t undertake to explain, I merely narrate. With a “click” the connection was made, and the new Juliana went upstairs at a brisk and business-like pace.
We followed in breathless amazement. In less than five minutes, bed number one was made, and in a twinkling the second was taken in hand, and number three also was fairly accomplished, long before the allotted thirty minutes had expired. By this time, familiarity had somewhat dulled that awe and wonder with which we had gaped upon the first performance, and I beheld a smile of hopeful satisfaction on my wife’s anxious countenance.
Our youngest, a boy aged three, was quick to feel the genial influence of this smile, and encouraged thereby, he bounced into the middle of the first bed. Hardly had he alighted there, when our automaton, having finished making the third bed, returned to her first job, and, before we could imagine mischief, the mattresses were jerked about, and the child was tumbled, headforemost on the floor!
Had the flesh-and-blood Juliana been guilty of such an act, she should have been dismissed on the spot; but, as it was, no one of us ventured so much as a remonstrance. My wife lifted the screaming child, and the imperturbable machine went on to readjust the bed with mechanical exactitude.
At this point a wild shout of mingled exultation, amazement and terror arose from below, and we hastened down-stall’s to find our son John hugging his elbows and capering frantically in front of the kitchen-door, where the electric cook was stirring empty nothing in a pan, with a zeal worthy a dozen eggs.
My eldest hopeful, impelled by that spirit of enterprise and audacity characteristic of nine-year-old boys, had ventured to experiment with the kitchen automaton, and by sheer accident had effected a working connection between the battery and the indicator, and the machine, in “going off,” had given the boy a blow that made him feel, as he expressed it, “like a funny-bone all over.”
“And served you right!” cried I. The thing was set for an hour and a half of work, according to the showing of the dial-plate, and no chance to stop it before I must leave for my office. Had the materials been supplied, we might have had breakfast; but, remembering the red-lettered “Caution,” we dared not supply materials while that indefatigable spoon was gyrating in the empty pan. For my distraction, Kitty, my daughter of seven years, now called to me from lip-stab’s: “Papa, you better come, quick! It’s a-tearin’ up these beds!” “My dear,” I sighed, “there’s no way to stop it. We’ll have to wait for the works to run down. I must call Harrison’s attention to this defect. He ought to provide some sort of brake.”
We went up-stairs again. The B. G. Juliana stood beside the bed which she had just torn up for the sixth or seventh time, when suddenly she became, so to speak, paralyzed; her arms, in the act of spreading the sheets, dropped by her sides, her back stiffened, and she stood absolutely motionless, leaving her job unfinished — the B. G. would move no more until duly “set” again.
I now discovered that I was hungry. “If that Fiend in the kitchen were only at work about something substantial, instead of whipping the air into imaginary omelettes!” I groaned.
“Never mind,” said my wife; “I’ve a pot of coffee on the kerosene stove.”
Bless her! She was worth a thousand Beneficent Geniuses, and so I told her.
I did not return until late, but I was in good spirits, and I greeted my wife gayly:
“Well, how do they work?”
Like fiends!” my usually placid helpmeet replied, so vehemently that I was alarmed. “They flagged at first,” she proceeded, excitedly, “and I oiled them, which I am not going to do, ever again. According to the directions, I poured the oil down their throats. It was horrible! They seemed to me to drink it greedily”
“Nonsense! That’s your imagination.”
“Very well,” said Anna Maria. “You can do the oiling in future. They took a good deal this morning; it wasn’t easy to stop pouring it down. And they worked — obstreperously. That Fiend in the kitchen has cooked all the provisions I am going to supply this day, but still she goes on, and it’s no use to say a word.”
“Don’t be absurd,” I remonstrated. “The thing is only a machine.”
“I’m not so sure about that!” she retorted. “As for the other one — I set it sweeping, and it is sweeping still!”
We ate the dinner prepared by the kitchen Fiend, and really, I was tempted to compliment the cook in a set speech, but recollected myself in time to spare Anna Maria the triumph of saying,” I told you so!”
Now, that John of mine, still in pursuit of knowledge, had spent the day studying Harrison Ely’s pamphlet, and he learned that the machines could be set, like an alarm-clock, for any given hour. Therefore, as soon as the Juliana had collapsed over a pile of dust in the middle of the hall, John, unknown to us, set her indicator to the broom-handle for seven o’clock the following morning. When the Fiend in the kitchen ran down, leaving everything in confusion, my much-tried wife persuaded me to give my exclusive attention to that machine, and the Juliana was put safely in a comer. Thus it happened that John’s interference escaped detection. I set Bridget’s indicator for kitchen-cleaning at seven-thirty the next morning.
“When we understand them better,” I said to my wife, “we will set their morning tasks for an earlier hour, but we won’t put it too early now, since we must first learn their ways.”
“That’s the trouble with all new servants,” said Anna Maria.
The next morning at seven-thirty, precisely, we were awakened by a commotion in the kitchen.
“By George Washington!” I exclaimed. “The Thing’s on time!”
I needed no urging to make me forsake my pillow, but Anna Maria was ahead of me.
“Now, my dear, don’t get excited,” I exhorted, but in vain.
“Don’t you hear?” she whispered, in terror. “The other one! — swe — eep — ing!” And she darted from the room.
I paused to listen, and heard the patter of three pairs of little bare feet across the hall up-stairs. The children were following their mother. The next sound I heard was like the dragging of a rug along the floor. I recognized this peculiar sound as the footsteps of the B. G. Then came a dull thud, mingled with a shout from Johnnie, a scream from my wife, and the terrified cries of the two younger children. I rushed out just in time to see John, in his night-clothes, with his hair on end, tear down-stairs like a streak of lightning. My little Kitty and the three-year-old baby stood clasped in each other’s arms at the head of the stairs, sobbing in terror, and, half-way down, was my wife, leaning over the railing, with ashen face and rigid body, her fascinated gaze fixed upon a dark and struggling mass in the hall below.
John, when he reached the bottom of the stairs, began capering like a goat gone mad, digging the floor with his bare heels, clapping his hands with an awful glee, and shouting:
“Bet your bottom dollar on the one that whips!”
The Juliana and the Bridget were fighting for the broom!
I comprehended the situation intuitively. The kitchen-cleaning, for which the Fiend had been “set,” had reached a point that demanded the broom, and that subtle, attractive affinity, which my friend’s genius had known how to produce, but had not learned to regulate, impelled the unerring automaton towards the only broom in the house, which was now in the hands of its fellow-automaton, and a struggle was inevitable. What I could not understand — Johnnie having kept his own counsel — was this uncontrollable sweeping impulse that possessed the Juliana.
However, this was no time for investigating the exact cause of the terrific row now going on in our front hall. The Beneficent Geniuses had each a firm grip of the broom-handle, and they might have performed the sweeping very amicably together, could they but have agreed as to the field of labor, but their conflicting tendencies on this point brought about a rotary motion that sent them spinning around the hall, and kept them alternately cracking each other’s head with a violence that ought to have drawn blood. Considering their life-likeness, we should hardly have thought it strange if blood had flowed, and it would have been a relief had the combatants but called each other names, so much did their dumbness intensify the horror of a struggle, in the midst of which the waterproof hoods fell off, revealing their startlingly human countenances, not distorted by angry passions, but resolute, inexorable, calm, as though each was sustained in the contest by a lofty sense of duty.
“They’re alive! Kill ‘em! Kill ‘em, quick!” shrieked my wife, as the gyrating couple moved towards the stair-case.
“Let ’em alone,” said Johnnie — his sporting blood, which he inherits from his father, thoroughly roused — dancing about the automatic pugilists in delight, and alternately encouraging the one or the other to increased efforts.
Thus the fight went on with appalling energy and reckless courage on both sides, my wife wringing her hands upon the staircase, our infants wailing in terror upon the landing above, and I wavering between an honest desire to see fair play and an apprehensive dread of consequences which was not unjustified.
In one of their frantic gyrations the figures struck the hat-rack and promptly converted it into a mass of splinters. In a minute more they became involved with a rubber plant — the pride of my wife’s heart — and distributed it impartially all over the premises. From this they caromed against the front door, wrecking both its stained-glass panes, and then down the length of the hall they sped again, fighting fiercely and dealing one another’s imperturbable countenances ringing blows with the disputed broom.
We became aware through Johnnie’s excited comments, that Juliana had lost an ear in the fray, and presently it was discernible that a fractured nose had somewhat modified the set geniality of expression that had distinguished Bridget’s face in its prime.
How this fierce and equal combat would have culminated if further prolonged no one but Harrison Ely can conjecture, but it came to an abrupt termination as the parlor clock chimed eight, the hour when the two automatons should have completed their appointed tasks.
Though quite late at my office that morning, I wired Ely before attending to business. Long-haired, gaunt and haggard, but cheerful as ever, he arrived next day, on fire with enthusiasm. He could hardly be persuaded to refresh himself with a cup of coffee before he took his two recalcitrant Geniuses in hand. It was curious to see him examine each machine, much as a physician would examine a patient. Finally his brow cleared, he gave a little puff of satisfaction, and exclaimed:
“Why, man alive, there’s nothing the matter — not a thing! What you consider a defect is really a merit — merely a surplus of mental energy. They’ve had too big a dose of oil. Few housekeepers have any idea about proper lubrication,” and he emitted another little snort, at which my wife colored guiltily.
“I see just what’s wanted,” he resumed. “The will-power generated and not immediately expended becomes cumulative and gets beyond control. I’ll introduce a little compensator, to take up the excess and regulate the flow. Then a child can operate them.”
It was now Johnnie’s turn to blush.
“Ship ‘em right back to the factory, and we’ll have ‘em all right in a few days. I see where the mechanism can be greatly improved, and when you get ‘em again I know you’ll never consent to part with ‘em!”
That was four months ago. The “Domestic Fairies” have not yet been returned from Harrison’s laboratory, but I am confidently looking for the familiar oblong packing case, and expect any day to see in the papers the prospectus of the syndicate which Ely informs me is being “promoted” to manufacture his automatic housemaid.
[“Ely’s Automatic Housemaid” originally appeared in the December, 1899 issue of The Black Cat.]

Comments Off on Elizabeth W. Bellamy, “Ely’s Automatic Housemaid” (1899)

Filed under Beyond the Labyrinth, fiction

Edward Page Mitchell, “The Ablest Man In The World” (1879)

The Ablest Man In The World.
 By
Edward PageMitchell.
1879
[Originally published without attribution in the New York Sun May 4, 1879]

 

 It may or may not be remembered that in 1878 General Ignatieff spent several weeks of July at the Badischer Hof in Baden. The public journals gave out that he visited the watering-place for the benefit of his health, said to be much broken by protracted anxiety and responsibility in the service of the Czar. But everybody knew that Ignatieff was just then out of favor at St. Petersburg, and that his absence from the centres of active statecraft at a time when the peace of Europe fluttered like a shuttlecock in the air, between Salisbury and Shouvaloff, was nothing more or less than politely disguised exile.
I am indebted for the following facts to my friend Fisher, of New York, who arrived at Baden on the day after Ignatieff, and was duly announced in the official list of strangers as “Herr Doctor Professor Fischer, mit Frau Gattin und Bed. Nordamerika.”
The scarcity of titles among the travelling aristocracy of North America is a standing grievance with the ingenious person who compiles the official list. Professional pride and the instincts of hospitality alike impel him to supply the lack whenever he can. He distributes Governor, Major-General, and Doctor Professor with tolerable impartiality, according as the arriving Americans wear a distinguished, a martial, or a studious air. Fisher owed his title to his spectacles.
It was still early in the season. The theatre had not yet opened. The hotels were hardly half full, the concerts in the kiosk at the Conversationshaus were heard by scattering audiences, and the shopkeepers of the Bazaar had no better business than to spend their time in bewailing the degeneracy of Baden Baden since an end was put to the play. Few excursionists disturbed the meditations of the shriveled old custodian of the tower on the Mercuriusberg. Fisher found the place very stupid—as stupid as Saratoga in June or Long Branch in September. He was impatient to get to Switzerland, but his wife had contracted a table d’hôte intimacy with a Polish countess, and she positively refused to take any step that would sever so advantageous a connection.
One afternoon Fisher was standing on one of the little bridges that span the gutterwide Oosbach, idly gazing into the water and wondering whether a good sized Rangely trout could swim the stream without personal inconvenience, when the porter of the Badischer Hof came to him on the run.
“Herr Doctor Professor!” cried the porter, touching his cap. “I pray you pardon, but the highborn the Baron Savitch out of Moscow, of the General Ignatieff’s suite, suffers himself in a terrible fit, and appears to die.”
In vain Fisher assured the porter that it was a mistake to consider him a medical expert; that he professed no science save that of draw poker; that if a false impression prevailed in the hotel it was through a blunder for which he was in no way responsible; and that, much as he regretted the unfortunate condition of the highborn the Baron out of Moscow, he did not feel that his presence in the chamber of sickness would be of the slightest benefit. It was impossible to eradicate the idea that possessed the porter’s mind. Finding himself fairly dragged toward the hotel, Fisher at length concluded to make a virtue of necessity and to render his explanations to the Baron’s friends.
The Russian’s apartments were upon the second floor, not far from those occupied by Fisher. A French valet, almost beside himself with terror, came hurrying out of the room to meet the porter and the Doctor Professor. Fisher again attempted to explain, but to no purpose. The valet also had explanations to make, and the superior fluency of his French enabled him to monopolize the conversation. No, there was nobody there—nobody but himself, the faithful Auguste of the Baron. His Excellency, the General Ignatieff, his Highness, the Prince Koloff, Dr. Rapperschwyll, all the suite, all the world, had driven out that morning to Gernsbach. The Baron, meanwhile, had been seized by an effraying malady, and he, Auguste, was desolate with apprehension. He entreated Monsieur to lose no time in parley, but to hasten to the bedside of the Baron, who was already in the agonies of dissolution.
Fisher followed Auguste into the inner room. The Baron, in his boots, lay upon the bed, his body bent almost double by the unrelenting gripe of a distressful pain. His teeth were tightly clenched, and the rigid muscles around the mouth distorted the natural expression of his face. Every few seconds a prolonged groan escaped him. His fine eyes rolled piteously. Anon, he would press both hands upon his abdomen and shiver in every limb in the intensity of his suffering.
Fisher forgot his explanations. Had he been a Doctor Professor in fact, he could not have watched the symptoms of the Baron’s malady with greater interest.
“Can Monsieur preserve him?” whispered the terrified Auguste.
“Perhaps,” said Monsieur, dryly.
Fisher scribbled a note to his wife on the back of a card and dispatched it in the care of the hotel porter. That functionary returned with great promptness, bringing a black bottle and a glass. The bottle had come in Fisher’s trunk to Baden all the way from Liverpool, had crossed the sea to Liverpool from New York, and had journeyed to New York direct from Bourbon County, Kentucky. Fisher seized it eagerly but reverently, and held it up against the light. There were still three inches or three inches and a half in the bottom. He uttered a grunt of pleasure.
“There is some hope of saving the Baron,” he remarked to Auguste.
Fully one-half of the precious liquid was poured into the glass and administered without delay to the groaning, writhing patient. In a few minutes Fisher had the satisfaction of seeing the Baron sit up in bed. The muscles around his mouth relaxed, and the agonized expression was superseded by a look of placid contentment.
Fisher now had an opportunity to observe the personal characteristics of the Russian Baron. He was a young man of about thirty-five, with exceedingly handsome and clear-cut features, but a peculiar head. The peculiarity of his head was that it seemed to be perfectly round on top—that is, its diameter from ear to ear appeared quite equal to its anterior and posterior diameter. The curious effect of this unusual conformation was rendered more striking by the absence of all hair. There was nothing on the Baron’s head but a tightly fitting skull cap of black silk. A very deceptive wig hung upon one of the bed posts.
Being sufficiently recovered to recognize the presence of a stranger, Savitch made a courteous bow.
“How do you find yourself now?” inquired Fisher, in bad French.
“Very much better, thanks to Monsieur,” replied the Baron, in excellent English, spoken in a charming voice. “Very much better, though I feel a certain dizziness here.” And he pressed his hand to his forehead.
The valet withdrew at a sign from his master, and was followed by the porter. Fisher advanced to the bedside and took the Baron’s wrist. Even his unpractised touch told him that the pulse was alarmingly high. He was much puzzled, and not a little uneasy at the turn which the affair had taken. “Have I got myself and the Russian into an infernal scrape?” he thought. “But no—he’s well out of his teens, and half a tumbler of such whiskey as that ought not to go to a baby’s head.’’
Nevertheless, the new symptoms developed themselves with a rapidity and poignancy that made Fisher feel uncommonly anxious. Savitch’s face became as white as marble—its paleness rendered startling by the sharp contrast of the black skull cap. His form reeled as he sat on the bed, and he clasped his head convulsively with both hands, as if in terror lest it burst.
“I had better call your valet,” said Fisher, nervously.
“No, no!” gasped the Baron. “You are a medical man, and I shall have to trust you. There is something—wrong—here.” With a spasmodic gesture he vaguely indicated the top of his head.
“But I am not—” stammered Fisher.
“No words!” exclaimed the Russian, imperiously. “Act at once—there must be no delay. Unscrew the top of my head!”
Savitch tore off his skull cap and flung it aside. Fisher has no words to describe the bewilderment with which he beheld the actual fabric of the Baron’s cranium. The skull cap had concealed the fact that the entire top of Savitch’s head was a dome of polished silver.
“Unscrew it!” said Savitch again.
Fisher reluctantly placed both hands upon the silver skull and exerted a gentle pressure toward the left. The top yielded, turning easily and truly in its threads.
“Faster!” said the Baron, faintly. “I tell you no time must be lost.” Then he swooned.
At this instant there was a sound of voices in the outer room, and the door leading into the Baron’s bed-chamber was violently flung open and as violently closed. The new-comer was a short, spare man of middle age, with a keen visage and piercing, deep-set little gray eyes. He stood for a few seconds scrutinizing Fisher with a sharp, almost fiercely jealous regard.
The Baron recovered his consciousness and opened his eyes.
“Dr. Rapperschwyll!” he exclaimed.
Dr. Rapperschwyll, with a few rapid strides, approached the bed and confronted Fisher and Fisher’s patient. “What is all this?” he angrily demanded.
Without waiting for a reply he laid his hand rudely upon Fisher’s arm and pulled him away from the Baron. Fisher, more and more astonished, made no resistance, but suffered himself to be led, or pushed, toward the door. Dr. Rapperschwyll opened the door wide enough to give the American exit, and then closed it with a vicious slam. A quick click informed Fisher that the key had been turned in the lock.
II.
The next morning Fisher met Savitch coming from the Trinkhalle. The Baron bowed with cold politeness and passed on. Later in the day a valet de place handed to Fisher a small parcel, with the message: “Dr. Rapperschwyll supposes that this will be sufficient.” The parcel contained two gold pieces of twenty marks.
Fisher gritted his teeth. “He shall have back his forty marks,” he muttered to himself, “but I will have his confounded secret in return.”
Then Fisher discovered that even a Polish countess has her uses in the social economy.
Mrs. Fisher’s table d’hôte friend was amiability itself, when approached by Fisher (through Fisher’s wife) on the subject of the Baron Savitch of Moscow. Know anything about the Baron Savitch? Of course she did, and about everybody else worth knowing in Europe. Would she kindly communicate her knowledge? Of course she would, and be enchanted to gratify in the slightest degree the charming curiosity of her Americaine. It was quite refreshing for a blasé old woman, who had long since ceased to feel much interest in contemporary men, women, things and events, to encounter one so recently from the boundless prairies of the new world as to cherish a piquant inquisitiveness about -the affairs of the grand monde. Ah! yes, she would very willingly communicate the history of the Baron Savitch of Moscow, if that would amuse her dear Americaine.
The Polish countess abundantly redeemed her promise, throwing in for good measure many choice bits of gossip and scandalous anecdotes about the Russian nobility, which are not relevant to the present narrative. Her story, as summarized by Fisher, was this:
The Baron Savitch was not of an old creation. There was a mystery about his origin that had never been satisfactorily solved in St. Petersburg or in Moscow. It was said by some that he was a foundling from the Vospitatelnoi Dom. Others believed him to be the. unacknowledged son of a certain illustrious personage nearly related to the House of Romanoff. The latter theory was the more probable, since it accounted in a measure for the unexampled success of his career from the day that he was graduated at the University of Dorpat.
Rapid and brilliant beyond precedent this career had been. He entered the diplomatic service of the Czar, and for several years was attached to the legations at Vienna, London, and Paris. Created a Baron before his twenty-fifth birthday for the wonderful ability displayed in the conduct of negotiations of supreme importance and delicacy with the House of Hapsburg, he became a pet of Gortchakoff’s, and was given every opportunity for the exercise of his genius in diplomacy. It was even said in well-informed circles at St. Petersburg that the guiding mind which directed Russia’s course throughout the entire Eastern complication, which planned the campaign on the Danube, effected the combinations that gave victory to the Czar’s soldiers, and which meanwhile held Austria aloof, neutralized the immense power of Germany, and exasperated England only to the point where wrath expends itself in harmless threats, was the brain of the young Baron Savitch. It was certain that he had been with Ignatieff at Constantinople when the trouble was first fomented, with Shouvaloff in England at the time of the secret conference agreement, with the Grand Duke Nicholas at Adrianople when the protocol of an armistice was signed, and would soon be in Berlin behind the scenes of the Congress, where it was expected that he would outwit the statesmen of all Europe, and play with Bismarck and Disraeli as a strong man plays with two kicking babies.
But the countess had concerned herself very little with this handsome young man’s achievements in politics. She had been more particularly interested in his social career. His success in that field had been not less remarkable. Although no one knew with positive certainty his father’s name, he had conquered an absolute supremacy in the most exclusive circles surrounding the imperial court. His influence with the Czar himself was supposed to be unbounded. Birth apart, he was considered the best parti in Russia. From poverty and by the sheer force of intellect he had won for himself a colossal fortune. Report gave him forty million rubles, and doubtless report did not exceed the fact. Every speculative enterprise which he undertook, and they were many and various, was carried to sure success by the same qualifies of cool, unerring judgment, far-reaching sagacity, and apparently superhuman power of organizing, combining, and controlling, which had made him in politics the phenomenon of the age.
About Dr. Rapperschwyll? Yes, the countess knew him by reputation and by sight. He was the medical man in constant attendance upon the Baron Savitch, whose high-strung mental organization rendered him susceptible to sudden and alarming attacks of illness. Dr. Rapperschwyll was a Swiss—had originally been a watchmaker or artisan of some kind, she had heard. For the rest, he was a commonplace little old man, devoted to his profession and to the Baron, and evidently devoid of ambition, since he wholly neglected to turn the opportunities of his position and connections to the advancement of his personal fortunes.
Fortified with this information, Fisher felt better prepared to grapple with Rapperschwyll for the possession of the secret. For five days he lay in wait for the Swiss physician. On the sixth day the desired opportunity unexpectedly presented itself.
Half way up the Mercuriusberg, late in the afternoon, he encountered the custodian of the ruined tower, coming down. “No, the tower was not closed. A gentleman was up there, making observations of the country, and he, the custodian, would be back in an hour or two.” So Fisher kept on his way.
The upper part of this tower is in a dilapidated condition. The lack of a stairway to the summit is supplied by a temporary wooden ladder. Fisher’s head and shoulders were hardly through the trap that opens to the platform, before he discovered that the man already there was the man whom he sought. Dr. Rapperschwyll was studying the topography of the Black Forest through a pair of field glasses.
Fisher announced his arrival by an opportune stumble and a noisy effort to recover himself, at the same instant aiming a stealthy kick at the topmost round of the ladder, and scrambling ostentatiously over the edge of the trap. The ladder went down thirty or forty feet with a racket, clattering and banging against the walls of the tower.
Dr. Rapperschwyll at once appreciated the situation. He turned sharply around, and remarked with a sneer, “Monsieur is unaccountably awkward.” Then he scowled and showed his teeth, for he recognized Fisher.
“It is rather unfortunate,” said the New Yorker, with imperturbable coolness. “We shall be imprisoned here a couple of hours at the shortest. Let us congratulate ourselves that we each have intelligent company, besides a charming landscape to contemplate.”
The Swiss coldly bowed, and resumed his topographical studies. Fisher lighted a cigar.
“I also desire,” continued Fisher, puffing clouds of smoke in the direction of the Teufelmiihle, “to avail myself of this opportunity to return forty marks of yours, which reached me, I presume, by a mistake.”
“If Monsieur the American physician was not satisfied with his fee,” rejoined Rapperschwyll, venomously, “he can without doubt have the affair adjusted by applying to the Baron’s valet.”
Fisher paid no attention to this thrust, but calmly laid the gold pieces upon the parapet, directly under the nose of the Swiss.
“I could not think of accepting any fee,” he said, with deliberate emphasis. “I was abundantly rewarded for my trifling services by the novelty and interest of the case.”
The Swiss scanned the American’s countenance long and steadily with his sharp little gray eyes. At length he said, carelessly:
“Monsieur is a man of science?”
“Yes,” replied Fisher, with a mental reservation in favor of all sciences save that which illuminates and dignifies our national game.
“Then,” continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, “Monsieur will perhaps acknowledge that a more beautiful or more extensive case of trephining has rarely come under his observation.”
Fisher slightly raised his eyebrows.
“And Monsieur will also understand, being a physician,” continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, “the sensitiveness of the Baron himself, and of his friends upon the subject. He will therefore pardon my seeming rudeness at the time of his discovery.”
“He is smarter than I supposed,” thought Fisher. “He holds all the cards, while I have nothing—nothing, except a tolerably strong nerve when it comes to a game of bluff.”
“I deeply regret that sensitiveness,” he continued, aloud, “for it had occurred to me that an accurate account of what I saw, published in one of the scientific journals of England or America, would excite wide attention, and no doubt be received with interest on the Continent.”
“What you saw?” cried the Swiss, sharply. “It is false. You saw nothing—when I entered you had not even removed the ‘‘
Here he stopped short and muttered to himself, as if cursing his own impetuosity. Fisher celebrated his advantage by tossing away his half-burned cigar and lighting a fresh one.
“Since you compel me to be frank,” Dr. Rapperschwyll went on, with visibly increasing nervousness, “I will inform you that the Baron has assured me that you saw nothing. I interrupted you in the act of removing the silver cap.”
“I will be equally frank,” replied Fisher, stiffening his face for a final effort. “On that point, the Baron is not a competent witness. He was in a state of unconsciousness for some time before you entered. Perhaps I was removing the silver cap when you interrupted me—”
Dr. Rapperschwyll turned pale.
“And, perhaps,” said Fisher, coolly, “I was replacing it.”
The suggestion of this possibility seemed to strike Rapperschwyll like a sudden thunderbolt from the clouds. His knees parted, and he almost sank to the floor. He put his hands before his eyes, and wept like a child, or, rather, like a broken old man.
“He will publish it! He will publish it to the court and to the world!” he cried, hysterically. “And at this crisis—”
Then, by a desperate effort, the Swiss appeared to recover to some extent his self-control. He paced the diameter of the platform for several minutes, with his head bent and his arms folded across the breast. Turning again to his companion, he said:
“If any sum you may name will—”
Fisher cut the proposition short with a laugh.
“Then,” said Rapperschwyll, “if—if I throw myself on your generosity—”
“Well?” demanded Fisher.
“And ask a promise, on your honor, of absolute silence concerning what you have seen?”
“Silence until such time as the Baron Savitch shall have ceased to exist?”
“That will suffice,” said Rapperschwyll. “For when he ceases to exist I die. And your conditions?”
“The whole story, here and now, and without reservation.”
“It is a terrible price to ask me,” said Rapperschwyll, “but larger interests than my pride are at stake. You shall hear the story.
“I was bred a watchmaker,” he continued, after a long pause, “in the Canton of Zurich. It is not a matter of vanity when I say that I achieved a marvelous degree of skill in the craft. I developed a faculty of invention that led me into a series of experiments regarding the capabilities of purely mechanical combinations. I studied and improved upon the best automata ever constructed by human ingenuity. Babbage’s calculating machine especially interested me. I saw in Babbage’s idea the germ of something infinitely more important to the world.
“Then I threw up my business and went to Paris to study physiology. I spent three years at the Sorbonne and perfected myself- in that branch of knowledge. Meanwhile, my pursuits had extended far beyond the purely physical sciences. Psychology engaged me for a time; and then I ascended into the domain of sociology, which, when adequately understood, is the summary and final application of all knowledge.
“It was after years of preparation, and as the outcome of all my studies, that the great idea of my life, which had vaguely haunted me ever since the Zurich days, assumed at last a well-defined and perfect form.”
The manner of Dr. Rapperschwyll had changed from distrustful reluctance to frank enthusiasm. The man himself seemed transformed. Fisher listened attentively and without interrupting the relation. He could not help fancying that the necessity of yielding the secret, so long and so jealously guarded by the physician, was not entirely distasteful to the enthusiast.
“Now, attend, Monsieur,” continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, “to several separate propositions which may seem at first to have no direct bearing on each other.
“My endeavors in mechanism had resulted in a machine which went far beyond Babbage’s in its powers of calculation. Given the data, there was no limit to the possibilities in this direction. Babbage’s cogwheels and pinions calculated logarithms, calculated an eclipse. It was fed with figures, and produced results in figures. Now, the relations of cause and effect are as fixed and unalterable as the laws of arithmetic. Logic is, or should be, as exact a science as mathematics. My new machine was fed with facts, and produced conclusions. In short, it reasoned; and the results of its reasoning were always true, while the results of human reasoning are often, if not always, false. The source of error in human logic is what the philosophers call the ‘personal equation.’ My machine eliminated the personal equation; it proceeded from cause to effect, from premise to conclusion, with steady precision. The human intellect is fallible; my machine was, and is, infallible in its processes.
“Again, physiology and anatomy had taught me the fallacy of the medical superstition which holds the gray matter of the brain and the vital principle to be inseparable. I had seen men living with pistol balls imbedded in the medulla oblongata. I had seen the hemispheres and the cerebellum removed from the crania of birds and small animals, and yet they did not die. I believed that, though the brain were to be removed from a human skull, the subject would not die, although he would certainly be divested of the intelligence which governed all save the purely involuntary actions of his body.
“Once more: a profound study of history from the sociological point of view, and a not inconsiderable practical experience of human nature, had convinced me that the greatest geniuses that ever existed were on a plane not so very far removed above the level of average intellect. The grandest peaks in my native country, those which all the world knows by name, tower only a few hundred feet above the countless unnamed peaks that surround them. Napoleon Bonaparte towered only a little over the ablest men around him. Vet that little was everything, and he overran Europe. A man who surpassed Napoleon, as Napoleon surpassed Murat, in the mental qualities which transmute thought into fact, would have made himself master of the whole world.
“Now, to fuse these three propositions into one: suppose that I take a man, and, by removing the brain that enshrines all the errors and failures of his ancestors away back to the origin of the race, remove all sources of weakness in his future career. Suppose, that in place of the fallible intellect which I have removed, I endow him with an artificial intellect that operates with the certainty of universal laws. Suppose that I launch this superior being, who reasons truly, into the hurly burly of his inferiors, who reason falsely, and await the inevitable result with the tranquility of a philosopher.
“Monsieur, you have my secret. That is precisely what I have done. In Moscow, where my friend Dr. Duchat had charge of the new institution of St. Vasili for hopeless idiots, I found a boy of eleven whom they called Stepan Borovitch. Since he was born, he had not seen, heard, spoken or thought. Nature had granted him, it was believed, a fraction of the sense of smell, and perhaps a fraction of the sense of taste, but of even this there was no positive ascertainment. Nature had walled in his soul most effectually. Occasional inarticulate murmurings, and an incessant knitting and kneading of the fingers were his only manifestations of energy. On bright days they would place him in a little rocking-chair, in some spot where the sun fell warm, and he would rock to and fro for hours, working his slender fingers and mumbling forth his satisfaction at the warmth in the plaintive and unvarying refrain of idiocy. The boy was thus situated when I first saw him.
“I begged Stepan Borovitch of my good friend Dr. Duchat. If that excellent man had not long since died he should have shared in my triumph. I took Stepan to my home and plied the saw and the knife. I could operate on that poor, worthless, useless, hopeless travesty of humanity as fearlessly and as recklessly as upon a dog bought or caught for vivisection. That was a little more than twenty years ago. To-day Stepan Borovitch wields more power than any other man on the face of the earth. In ten years he will be the autocrat of Europe, the master of the world. He never errs; for the machine that reasons beneath his silver skull never makes a mistake.”
Fisher pointed downward at the old custodian of the tower, who was seen toiling up the hill.
“Dreamers,” continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, “have speculated on the possibility of finding among the ruins of the older civilizations some brief inscription which shall change the foundations of human knowledge. Wiser men deride the dream, and laugh at the idea of scientific kabbala. The wiser men are fools. Suppose that Aristotle had discovered on a cuneiform – covered tablet at Nineveh the few words, ‘ Survival of the Fittest.’ Philosophy would have gained twenty-two hundred years. I will give you, in almost as few words, a truth equally pregnant. The ultimate evolution of the creature is into the creator. Perhaps it will be twenty-two hundred years before the truth finds general acceptance, yet it is not the less a truth. The Baron Savitch is my creature, and I am his creator—creator of the ablest man in Europe, the ablest man in the world.
“Here is our ladder,” Monsieur. “I have fulfilled my part of the agreement. Remember yours.”


III.
After a two months’ tour of Switzerland and the Italian lakes, the Fishers found themselves at the Hotel Splendide in Paris, surrounded by people from the States. It was a relief to Fisher, after his somewhat bewildering experience at Baden, followed by a surfeit of stupendous and ghostly snow peaks, to be once more among those who discriminated between a straight flush and a crooked straight, and whose bosoms thrilled responsive to his own at the sight of the star-spangled banner. It was particularly agreeable for him to find at the Hotel Splendide, in a party of Easterners who had come over to see the Exposition, Miss Bella Ward, of Portland, a pretty and bright girl, affianced to his best friend in New York.
With much less pleasure, Fisher learned that the Baron Savitch was in Paris, fresh from the Berlin Congress, and that he was the lion of the hour with the select few who read between the written lines of politics and knew the dummies of diplomacy from the real players in the tremendous game. Dr. Rapperschwyll was not with the Baron. He was detained in Switzerland, at the deathbed of his aged mother.
This last piece of information was welcome to Fisher. The more he reflected upon the interview on the Mercuriusberg, the more strongly he felt it to be his intellectual duty to persuade himself that the whole affair was an illusion, not a reality. He would have been glad, even at the sacrifice of his confidence in his own astuteness, to believe that the Swiss doctor had been amusing himself at the expense of his credulity. But the remembrance of the scene in the Baron’s bedroom at the Badischer Hof was too vivid to leave the slightest ground for this theory. He was obliged to be content with the thought that he should soon place the broad Atlantic between himself and a creature so unnatural, so dangerous, so monstrously impossible as the Baron Savitch.
Hardly a week had passed before he was thrown again into the society of that impossible person.
The ladies of the American party met the Russian Baron at a ball in the New Continental Hotel. They were charmed with his handsome face, his refinement of manner, his intelligence and wit. They met him again at the American Minister’s, and, to Fisher’s unspeakable consternation, the acquaintance thus established began to make rapid progress in the direction of intimacy. Baron Savitch became a frequent visitor at the Hotel Splendide.
Fisher does not like to dwell upon this period. For a month his peace of mind was rent alternately by apprehension and disgust. He is compelled to admit that the Baron’s demeanor toward himself was most friendly, although no allusion was made on either side to the incident at Baden. But the knowledge that no good could come to his friends from this association with a being in whom the moral principle had no doubt been supplanted by a system of cog-gear, kept him continually in a state of distraction. He would gladly have explained to his American friends the true character of the Russian, that he was not a man of healthy mental organization, but merely a marvel of mechanical ingenuity, constructed upon a principle subversive of all society as at present constituted— in short, a monster whose very existence must ever be revolting to right-minded persons with brains of honest gray and white. But the solemn promise to Dr. Rapperschwyll sealed his lips.
A trifling incident suddenly opened his eyes to the alarming character of the situation, and filled his heart with a new horror.
One evening, a few days before the date designated for the departure of the American party from Havre for home, Fisher happened to enter the private parlor which was, by common consent, the headquarters of his set. At first he thought that the room was unoccupied. Soon he perceived, in the recess of a window, and partly obscured by the drapery of the curtain, the forms of the Baron Savitch and Miss Ward of Portland. They did not observe his entrance. Miss Ward’s hand was in the Baron’s hand, and she was looking up into his handsome face with an expression which Fisher could not misinterpret.
Fisher coughed, and going to another window, pretended to be interested in affairs on the Boulevard. The couple emerged from the recess. Miss Ward’s face was ruddy with confusion, and she immediately withdrew. Not a sign of embarrassment was visible on the Baron’s countenance. He greeted Fisher with perfect self-possession, and began to talk of the great balloon in the Place du Carrousel.
Fisher pitied but could not blame the young lady. He believed her still loyal at heart to her New York engagement. He knew that her loyalty could not be shaken by the blandishments of any man on earth. He recognized the fact that she was under the spell of a power more than human. Yet what would be the outcome? He could not tell her all; his promise bound him. It would be useless to appeal to the generosity of the Baron; no human sentiments governed his exorable purposes. Must the affair drift on while he stood tied and helpless? Must this charming and innocent girl be sacrificed to the transient whim of an automaton? Allowing that the Baron’s intentions were of the most honorable character, was the situation any less horrible? Marry a Machine! His own loyalty to his friend in New York, his regard for Miss Ward, alike loudly called on him to act with promptness.
And, apart from all private interest, did he not owe a plain duty to society, to the liberties of the world? Was Savitch to be permitted to proceed in the career laid out for him by his creator, Dr. Rapperschwyll? He (Fisher) was the only man in the world in a position to thwart the ambitious programme. Was there ever greater need of a Brutus?
Between doubts and fears, the last days of Fisher’s stay in Paris were wretched beyond description. On the morning of the steamer day he had almost made up his mind to act.
The train for Havre departed at noon, and at eleven o’clock the Baron Savitch made his appearance at the Hotel Splendide to bid farewell to his American friends. Fisher watched Miss Ward closely. There was a constraint in her manner which fortified his resolution. The Baron incidentally remarked that he should make it his duty and pleasure to visit America within a very few months, and that he hoped then to renew the acquaintances now interrupted. As Savitch spoke, Fisher observed that his eyes met Miss Ward’s, while the slightest possible blush colored her cheeks. Fisher knew that the case was desperate, and demanded a desperate remedy.
He now joined the ladies of the party in urging the Baron to join them in the hasty lunch that was to precede the drive to the station. Savitch gladly accepted the cordial invitation. Wine he politely but firmly declined, pleading the absolute prohibition of his physician. Fisher left the room for an instant, and returned with the black bottle which had figured in the Baden episode.
“The Baron,” he said, “has already expressed his approval of the noblest of our American products, and he knows that this beverage has good medical endorsement.” So saying, he poured the remaining contents of the Kentucky bottle into a glass, and presented it to the Russian.
Savitch hesitated. His previous experience with the nectar was at the same time a temptation and a warning, yet he did not wish to seem discourteous. A chance remark from Miss Ward decided him.
“The Baron,” she said, with a smile, “will certainly not refuse to wish us bon voyage in the American fashion.”
Savitch drained the glass and the conversation turned to other matters. The carriages were already below. The parting compliments were being made, when Savitch suddenly pressed his hands to his forehead and clutched at the back of a chair. The ladies gathered around him in alarm.
“It is nothing,” he said faintly; “a temporary dizziness.”
“There is no time to be lost,” said Fisher, pressing forward. “The train leaves in twenty minutes. Get ready at once, and I will meanwhile attend to our friend.”
Fisher hurriedly led the Baron to his own bedroom. Savitch fell back upon the bed. The Baden symptoms repeated themselves. In two minutes the Russian was unconscious.
Fisher looked at his watch. He had three minutes to spare. He turned the key in the lock of the door and touched the knob of the electric annunciator.
Then, gaining the mastery of his nerves by one supreme effort for self-control, Fisher pulled the deceptive wig and the black skull-cap from the Baron’s head. “Heaven forgive me if I am making a fearful mistake!” he thought. But I believe it to be best for ourselves and for the world.” Rapidly, but with a steady hand, he unscrewed the silver dome. The Mechanism lay exposed before his eyes. The Baron groaned. Ruthlessly Fisher tore out the wondrous machine. He had no time and no inclination to examine it. He caught up a newspaper and hastily enfolded it. He thrust the bundle into his open travelling-bag. Then he screwed the silver top firmly upon the Baron’s head, and replaced the skullcap and the wig.
All this was done before the servant answered the bell. “The Baron Savitch is ill,” said Fisher to the attendant, when he came. “There is no cause for alarm. Send at once to the Hotel de l’Athenee for his valet, Auguste.” In twenty seconds Fisher was in a cab, whirling toward the Station St. Lazare.
When the steamship Pereire was well out at sea, with Ushant five hundred miles in her wake, and countless fathoms of water beneath her keel, Fisher took a newspaper parcel from his travelling-bag. His teeth were firm set and his lips rigid. He carried the heavy parcel to the side of the ship and dropped it into the Atlantic. It made a little eddy in the smooth water, and sank out of sight. Fisher fancied that he heard a wild, despairing cry, and put his hands to his ears to shut out the sound. A gull came circling over the steamer—the cry may have been the gull’s.
Fisher felt a light touch upon his arm. He turned quickly around. Miss Ward was standing at his side, close to the rail.
“Bless me, how white you are!” she said. “What in the world have you been doing?”
“I have been preserving the liberties of two continents,” slowly replied Fisher, “and perhaps saving your own peace of mind.”
“Indeed!” said she; “and how have you done that?”
“I have done it,’’ was Fisher’s grave answer, “by throwing overboard the Baron Savitch.”
Miss Ward burst into a ringing laugh. “You are sometimes too droll, Mr. Fisher,” she said.

Comments Off on Edward Page Mitchell, “The Ablest Man In The World” (1879)

Filed under Beyond the Labyrinth, fiction

The Symmesonian Letters (1824)

The “Symmesonian” Letters
DISPATCHES FROM THE HOLLOW EARTH
Cincinnati, 1824
Symmesonian.[1]
No. 1.[2]
Having been informed Mr. Editor, that your countrymen always require of every person when first introduced to them, a regular account of himself—including his name, his business, whence he came, where he is going, &c. &c. I shall commence this communication by informing you that I am desirous of concealing my name, and that all other matters concerning myself will be revealed to you in the course of several communications which I intend making. At present, I shall merely inform you whence I came, and my business here.
My country is that part of the concave surface of this sphere lately discovered by Capt. Symmes of this city, and named by him Symmesonia. I have been induced to undertake the dangerous and fatigueing journey from thence to this city, in consequence of a report by some of the red men of the north, (who have, as they say, been driven quite into the concave regions by your encroachments on their territory,) that an expedition was fitting out here under the command of Capt. Symmes for the purpose of visiting my country. From the character given of you by your red neighbours and their accounts of your conduct toward them, very great alarm has been excited in Symmesonia; and I have been deputed to undertake the journey to this place, in order to ascertain whether the character that has been given of you is correct, and if it be, what measures can be adopted to prevent the threatened expedition of Capt. Symmes; or if this cannot be done, what will be the most judicious course for the Symmesonians to adopt in order to ward themselves from the evils with which it threatens them.
The most difficult as well as the most important part of my business is to acquire a knowledge of the character of the Americans. Of this difficulty the contradictory opinions I have formed at different times on the same subjects may serve as exemplifications. Previous to my departure from Symmesonia, I was informed & believed that the most striking characteristic of your countrymen, was the desire of possessing lands; but long before I reached your city, I found that you I owned immense tracts of which no use whatever was made, and therefore, concluded that my information in this respect was entirely erroneous; in which conclusion I was confirmed by seeing how very small a part was cultivated of that which is settled. I was, however, soon driven back to my original opinions upon learning (soon after my arrival here,) that it is customary with your citizens, to buy and sell not only large tracts of land which they cannot possibly use, on earth, but also quite as large quantities in the moon, and these being more distant and not so valuable as those in Symmesonia, my fears were excited anew.
I was informed by your red neighbours that your government was in the habit of buying their lands, and paying for them principally by treaties,—things that they have no use for and know very little about, but which they consider as very dangerous articles, being liable to get broken; and when this happens, they say that you immediately send out armies to mend them by cutting the throats of those to whom they were given—a course of proceeding which altho’ of a very quieting and composing nature, would not suit the taste of the Symmesonians. Since I have been among you, however, I have heard that your practice of exterminating your neighbours is a trouble you take merely from benevolence and humanity,—which is a thing I cannot yet comprehend.
I was told that attempt had been made, at a place called Zanesville, to dig a passage to Symmesonia through the earth, and first directed my course towards that place in order to ascertain whether they were likely to succeed; but before I arrived there, I was told that they were merely digging for silver,—since I arrived here, however, I have been informed that this could not have been the case, as it was impossible that so many people as live there should be ignorant that silver is never found in such places as that where they were seeking it. Thus I am kept in a state of doubt and uncertainty, and cannot acquire the knowledge respecting your country, which I am seeking, as fast as Capt. Symmes acquires knowledge of Symmesonia, although so far distant from it. This is the reason of my opening a correspondence with you, (for I consider it necessary to keep myself concealed, lest I should be seized upon and compelled to guide those invaders to my country, whom I am endeavouring to discover the means of keeping from it); I hope that you will enable me to obtain correct information, without wasting too much of my time in search of it.
I perceive that I have little time to lose, for the expedition to the moon which is fitting out at Lexington, is an additional subject of apprehension with me. I suppose the object of that expedition must be to look after the lands that have been purchased in that quarter; if I am correctly informed, all that are contained in that planet, will not be sufficient to fulfil the contracts that have been made for them; those, therefore, who are disappointed in getting their supply, will naturally turn their attention to Symmesonia; the course to which country they will perceive on their route homeward.
The only circumstance that affords me any consolation is the indifference towards Capt. Symmes and his project that prevails among all classes; should this continue, I shall consider my country safe, but if otherwise; I dread the fate prepared for her.
__________
No. 2.[3]
TO THE SYMMESONIAN.
As you seem desirous of concealing your name, and announcing only the country or nation from which you came, I am under the necessity of addressing you by the vague appellation which you have assumed. The primary object of your visit to these upper regions appears to be, to determine the truth or falsity of certain flying reports amongst the northern aborigines prejudicial to our character as honest men and good Christians; and moreover, the probability or improbability of our furnishing Captain Symmes with an outfit sufficient to enable him to pay your country a visit. This information you suppose may be obtained from the editor of this paper. Here you are probably mistaken; as this gentleman, having acquired his knowledge principally from colleges and books, must necessarily be imperfectly acquainted with the true genius, principles, and usages of his own countrymen; while I, on the contrary, having read a little and travelled much, am consequently somewhat better qualified than him to set you right (as your information has been egregiously incorrect) on the important objects for which you visited our country.
The report spread abroad by our tawny neighbours of the north, that the government of the United States are in the habit of paying them for their lands in treaties, or, which is the same thing, cheating them out of them altogether, is totally incorrect. It is well known that they receive from our government a stipend annually, for a given number of years, as full satisfaction for the soil, even admitting they had a good title to it. Either a blanket, a cotton shawl, or a butcher knife, though not of the most superfine kind, is surely adequate remuneration for a million of acres over which a plough has never passed. Besides, we occasionally give them a little cash for pocket money, out of pure good nature; and if they pay it back to traders authorized by the government, for whiskey at a dollar per gallon, why that is their own look-out; and if they get drunk on the aforesaid liquor, and commit assault and battery on the whites, they ought not to think hard when an army is sent out with orders to extirpate whole tribes. The evil is of their own seeking.
But I lay down the position that the aborigines of this country, have no just right to the soil. We have a book amongst us called the Bible, of great antiquity and much value, and by the precepts of which, some of the knowing ones have clearly proven (to themselves at least) that the natives, being heathens, and consequently excluded from heaven, may of right be expelled from this continent—nay, from the whole earth, by us who are the chosen favorites of heaven, and who of course are alone worthy to possess the fat things of the earth. We have moreover another book, written by one Knickerbocker of standard value, which though composed in a more recent period o time, is much more valued, and referred by our Scavans. In this invaluable work a vast body of irrefutable arguments are adduced, all which go to prove conclusively that the aborigines of this continent have (a the lawyers say) “No claim, right, no title whatever to the premises abovementioned.” I regret that my present limit will not permit me to marshal before you this host of circumstances and arguments in order to convince you that the native have not, nor ever had, the shadow of claim to the soil of this continent—that therefore the government is not bound in duty to give them any thing in exchange for it—that they ought to consider all that we have given them, or agreed to give the in our treaties, as so many donations—and that we are perfectly justifiable in driving them whenever we choose to do so, not only from their present locations, but from the whole American continent. So much for the base aspersions on our character by you informants, the Arctic red men.
As to our purchasing and selling land which do not exist any where, or lands in the moon—the fact we do not pretend to deny; but clearly justify our conduct on the score, that we pay for them in funds that also have no existence—according to the old adage, “come easy go easy.” If you have come amongst us a little earlier, you would have seen that all our land speculation were bottomed on Bank notes, which were any thing but money, and cost us nothing. This was appropriately denominated moonshine, and was therefore a currency well adapted to pay for lands in the moon; and such traders might well be termed lunatics. This term, however, is not now used among us as one of reproach; as all our poets and lovers, to say nothing of millions besides, admit its applicability to them, and boast of the honor.
From what I have said you will perceive we are not that unjust, avaricious, and blood-thirsty people which those we have done so much to benefit have represented; and that therefore, you need not be alarmed for the safety of your nation when we shall have arrived amongst you, which, by the way, will be very shortly. We shall doubtless treat you pretty much in the same fair, humane, and religious manner in which we have treated your brother heathens, who, if different at all, are better than you—being above you on the globe, and therefore your superiors. In the first place, we shall probably offer you a few blankets, looking glasses, penknives, jews-harps, &c. &c in exchange for whole islands and continents, and if you do not see fit to accept this generous offer for lands to which, as I have shown above, you have no reasonable claim, we shall drive you from the whole at the point of the bayonet, an instrument with which you are probably yet unacquainted, but to which we shall introduce you in good time Meanwhile, as we shall be kindly packing you off very liberally to “another and a better world,” we shall send a large supply of missionaries to convert you to the “true faith,” (as yours is doubtless not orthodox) before giving you “the world to come” in exchange for a few dirty acres in this. This being the course we have pursued on similar occasions, we shall most likely pursue the same with you—a course in justification of which my reasoning has, I hope, convinced even yourself.
A consideration of the manner in which Capt. Symmes intends to discover your concave region—the way in which the means are to be raised—the correctness of his facts and reasoning, and the weakness of those of his opponents—together with sundry other relevant matters, I must postpone to another time, after barely premising that I am a true devotee to his theory, and the possibility of testing it by actual observations. S. R.
__________
No. 3.[4]
The reasonings of S. R. in your last, could not fail to convince me of the justice of the course adopted with respect to your Indian neighbours, and the propriety as well as probability of the same course being pursued towards the Symmesonians. I was aware that, in “extinguishing the Indian title” to lands, you always found it expedient to extinguish the Indians also; and expected no other course to be pursued towards us. But however just and proper this might be, we could never be brought to relish it heartily, and I have been endeavouring to devise some plan to avoid it. I could not discover any place to which we could make our escape, except the midplane space, where we might be employed at the blacksmith’s business, at the forges of which your volcanoes are the chimnies—but this being not suited to our taste, I have relinquished the idea of it and have since discovered a plan of safety for my country, which I think will prevent the necessity of our emigration.
I observe that the British are fitting out an expedition by sea and another by land, which will undoubtedly penetrate to Symmesonia, and tho’ at first I was led to fear them as enemies, I have since discovered the means of making them our friends and protectors.
I have learnt that when these people visit any foreign country, their minds are sure to be out of health and require the discharge of a great deal of ill humour before they can be recovered; this discharge generally commences by cursing the country they are in, for a d——d outlandish place, where nothing can be got fit to eat or drink, and where they have no respect shown them, on account of their being Englishmen. This checked, as it is very apt to be in this country by the resentment it excites; prevents

 

their restoration to health and (very properly) makes them your irreconcilable enemies. But if it be encouraged by submission and flattery,—if you allow them to boast as much as they please, to tell how they have beaten the French and Spaniards at all times, and every other nation when they pleased, if in addition to this, you drink the porter they bring with them and declare it the best in the world—if you suffer them to show you how to cook your victuals, and after it is done, agree that it is the best possible mode—if you then acknowledge them to be the richest people in the world and ask to negotiate a loan from them, you will make them your firm friends, and if you wish to carry on a war against any other country they will furnish you with ships, armies, and every thing necessary, and money to pay your expenses, and if you want any thing belonging to any other people, they will rob them in order to give it to you.
I have therefore, only to instruct my countrymen as to the course they are to pursue on the arrival of the British expeditions, and after adopting it, we shall be so far from fearing any thing from this country, that we shall require of you such a course e conduct as we may please to dictate: as by stating it to be necessary to keep up the “balance of power” between the concave and convex surfaces of the globe, and by sending Symmesonian stocks to the British exchange for sale, we can not only get Great Britain, but all Europe to take up arms, and compel you to allow us whatever we please to demand.
My mind being now relieved from the fears and cares that have oppressed it ever since left home, I shall spend some time in your country, and make observations respecting such of your manners and customs as I may have opportunities of seeing, and perhaps may communicate some of them to you. I may also want some information, which I trust that you or some of your correspondents will furnish me: in return for which I shall communicate such information respecting the concave as I may think it safe to entrust you with.


[1] Under this title, a series of communications appeared in the ”Cincinnatti Literary Gazette” in 1824, dealing with the hollow earth theories of John Cleves Symmes.
[2] Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Feb 28, 1824. p. 66
[3]Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Mar 6, 1824. p. 76
[4]Cincinnati Literary Gazette, Mar 20, 1824. p. 90

Comments Off on The Symmesonian Letters (1824)

Filed under Beyond the Labyrinth, fiction