Etidorhpa – The Last Contest
I, Lewellyn Drury, had been so absorbed in the fantastic story the old man read so fluently from the execrably written manuscript, and in the metaphysical argument which followed his account of the vision he had introduced so artfully as to lead me to think it was a part of his narrative, that I scarcely noted the passage of time. Upon seeing him suspend his reading, fold the manuscript, and place it in his pocket, I reverted to material things, and glancing at the clock, perceived that the hands pointed to bed-time.
” To-morrow evening,” said he, ” I will return at nine o’clock. In the interim, if you still question any part of the story, or wish further information on any subject connected with my journey, I will be prepared to answer your queries. Since, however, that will be your last opportunity, I suggest that you make notes of all subjects that you wish to discuss.”
Then, in his usual self-possessed, exquisitely polite manner, he bowed himself out.
I spent the next day reviewing the most questionable features. of his history, recalling the several statements that had been made. Remembering the humiliation I had experienced in my previous attempts to confute him, I determined to select such subjects as would appear the most difficult to explain, and to attack the old man with vehemence.
I confess, that notwithstanding my several failures, and his successful and constant elucidation and minute details in regard to occurrences which he related, and which anticipated many points I had once had in mind to question, misgivings still possessed me concerning the truthfulness of the story. If these remarkable episodes were true, could there be such a thing as fiction? If not all true, where did fact end and fancy begin ?
Accordingly I devoted the following day to meditating my plan of attack, for I felt that I had been challenged to a final contest. Late the next day, I felt confident of my own ability to dispossess him, and in order further to test his power, when night came I doubly locked the door to my room, first with the key and next with the inside bolt. I had determined to force him again to induce inert material to obey his command, as he had done at our first interview. The reader will remember that Prof. Chickering had deemed that occurrence an illusion, and I confess that time had dimmed the vividness of the scene in my own mind. Hence I proposed to verify the matter. Therefore, at the approach of nine o’clock, the evening following, I sat with my gaze riveted on the bolt of the door, determined not to answer his knock.
He gave me no chance to neglect a response to his rap. Exactly at the stroke of nine the door swung noiselessly on its hinges, the wizard entered, and the door closed again. The bolt had not moved, the knob did not turn. The bar passed through the catch and back to its seat,- I sprung from my chair, and excitedly and rudely rushed past my guest. I grasped the knob, wrenched it with all my might. Vainly; the door was locked, the bolt was fastened. Then I turned to my visitor. He was quietly seated in his accustomed place, and apparently failed to notice my discomposure, although he must have realized that he had withstood my first test.
This pronounced defeat, at the very beginning of our proposed contest, produced a depressing effect; nevertheless I made an effort at self-control, and seating myself opposite, looked my antagonist in the face. Calm, dignified, with the brow of a philosopher, and the countenance of a philanthropist, a perfect type of the exquisite gentleman, and the cultured scholar, my guest, as serene and complacent as though, instead of an intruder, he were an invited participant of the comforts of my fireside, or even the host himself, laid his hat upon the table, stroked his silvery, translucent beard, and said:
I accepted the challenge, for the word, as he emphasized it, was a challenge, and hurled at him, in hopes to catch him unprepared, the following abrupt sentence:
” I doubt the possibility of the existence of a great cavern such as you have described. The superincumbent mass of earth would crush the strongest metal. No material known to man could withstand a pressure so great as would overlie an arch as large as that you depict; material would succumb even if the roof were made of steel.”
” Do not be so positive,” he replied. ” By what authority do you make this assertion?”
” By the authority of common sense as opposed to an unreasonable hypothesis. You should know that there is a limit to the strength of all things, and that no substance is capable of making an arch of thousands of miles, which, according to your assertion, must have been the diameter of the roof of your inland sea.”
” Ah,” he replied, ” and so you again crush my facts with your theory. Well, let me ask a question.”
” Did you ever observe a bubble resting on a bubble?”
” Did you ever place a pipe-stem in a partly filled bowl of soap water, and by blowing through it fill the bowl with bubbles?”
” Did you ever calculate the tensile strength of the material from which you blew the bubble?”
” No; for soap water has no appreciable strength.”
” And yet you know that a bubble made of suds has not only strength, but elasticity. Suppose a bubble of energy floating in space were to be covered to the depth of the thickness of a sheet of tissue paper with the dust of space, would that surprise you?”
” Suppose two such globes of energy, covered with dust, were to be telescoped or attached together, would you marvel at the fact ?”
He drew a picture on a piece of paper, in which one line was inclosed by another, and remarked:
” The pencil mark on this paper is proportionately thicker than the crust of the earth over the earth cavern I have described. Even if it were made of soap suds, it could revolve through space and maintain its contour.”
” But the earth is a globe,” I interjected.
” You do not mean an exact globe?”
” No; it is flattened at the poles.”
He took from his pocket two thin rubber balls, one slightly larger than the other. With his knife he divided the larger ball, cutting it into halves. He then placed one of the sections upon the perfect ball, and held the arrangement between
the gas light and the wall.
” See; is not the shadow flattened,as your earth is, at the poles?”
” Yes; but the earth is not a shadow.”
” We will not argue that point now,” he replied, and then asked: ” Suppose such a compound shell as this were to revolve through space and continuously collect dust, most of it of the earth’s temperature, forming a fluid ( water ), would not that dust be propelled naturally from the poles?”
” Yes; according to our theory.”
” Perhaps,” said he, ” the contact edge of the invisible spheres of energy which compose your earth bubbles, for planets are bubbles, that have been covered with water and soil during the time the energy bubble, which is the real bone of the globe, has been revolving through space; perhaps, could you reach the foundation of the earth dust, you would find it not a perfect sphere, but a compound skeleton, as of two bubbles locked, or rather telescoped together. See dig. 34.1
” Are you sure that my guide did not lead me through the space between the bubbles?”
Then he continued:
” Do not be shocked at what I am about to assert, for, as a member of materialistic humanity, you will surely consider me irrational when I say that matter, materials, ponderous substances, one and all, so far as the ponderous part is concerned, have no strength.”
” What! No strength ?”
” None whatever.”
I grasped the poker.
” Is not this matter?”
” I can not break it.”
” Have not I strength?”
” Confine your argument now to the poker; we will consider you
next. You can not break it.”
” I can break this pencil, though,” and I snapped it in his face.
” Yes. ”
I curled my lip in disdain.
” You carry this argument too far.”
” Why? ”
” I can break the pencil, I can not break the poker; had these materials not different strengths there could be no distinction; had I no strength I could not have broken either.”
” Are you ready to listen?” he replied.
” Yes; but do not exasperate me.”
” I did not say that the combination you call a poker had no strength, neither did I assert that you could not break a pencil.”
” A distinction without a difference; you play upon words.”
” I said that matter, the ponderous side of material substances, has no strength.”
” And I say differently.”
He thrust the end of the poker into the fire, and soon drew it forth red-hot. Is it as strong as before ?” No.” Heat it to whiteness and it becomes plastic.
” Heat it still more and it changes to a liquid.”
” Has liquid iron strength?”
” Very little, if any.”
” Is it still matter?”
” Is it the material of the iron, or is it the energy called heat that qualifies the strength of the metal? It seems to me that were I in your place I would now argue that absence of heat constitutes strength,” he sarcastically continued.
” Go on.”
” Cool this red-hot poker by thrusting it into a pail of cold water, and it becomes very hard and brittle.”
” Cool it slowly, and it is comparatively soft and plastic.”
” The material is the same, is it not?”
” Go on.”
” What strength has charcoal?”
” Scarcely any.”
” Crystallize it, and the diamond results.”
” I did not speak of diamond.”
” Ah! and is not the same amount of the same material present in each, a grain of diamond and a grain of charcoal? What is present in a grain of diamond that is not present in a grain of charcoal?”
” Go on.”
” Answer my question.”
” I can not.”
” Why does brittle, cold zinc, when heated, become first ductile, and then, at an increased temperature, become brittle again? In each case the same material is present.”
” I do not know; but this I do know: I am an organized being, and I have strength of body.”
The old man grasped the heavy iron poker with both hands, and suddenly rising to his full height, swung it about his head, then with a motion so menacing that I, shrunk back into my chair and cried out in alarm, seemed about to strike, with full force, my defenseless brow.
” My God,” I shouted, ” what have I done that you should
He lowered the weapon, and calmly asked:
” Suppose that I had crushed your skull-where then would be your vaunted strength?”
I made no reply, for as yet I had not recovered from the mental shock.
” Could you then have snapped a pencil? Could you have broken a reed? Could you even have blown the down from a thistle bloom ?”
” Would not your material body have been intact?”
” Listen,” said he. ” Matter has no strength, matter obeys spirit, and spirit dominates all things material. Energy in some form holds particles of matter together, and energy in other forms loosens them. ‘Tis this imponderable force that gives strength to substances, not the ponderable side of the material. Granite crushed is still granite, but destitute of rigidity. Creatures dead are still organic structures, but devoid of strength or motion. The spirit that pervades all material things gives to them form and existence. Take from your earth its vital spirit, the energy that subjects matter, and your so-called adamantine rocks would disintegrate, and sift as dust into the interstices of space. Your so-called rigid globe, a shell of space dust, would dissolve, collapse, and as the spray of a burst bubble, its ponderous side would vanish in the depths of force.”
I sat motionless.
” Listen,” he repeated. ” You wrong your own common sense when you place dead matter above the spirit of matter. Atoms come and go in their ceaseless transmigrations, worlds move, universes circulate, not because they are material bodies, but because as points of matter, in a flood of force, they obey the spirit that can blot out a sun, or dissolve the earth, as easily as it can unlink two atoms. Matter is an illusion, spirit is the reality.”
I felt that he had silenced me against my will, and although I could not gainsay his assertions, I determined to study the subject carefully, at my leisure.
” As you please,” he interjected into my musings; ” but since you are so determined, you would better study from books that are written by authors who know whereof they write, and who are not obliged to theorize from speculative data concerning the intrastructural earth crust.”
” But where call I find such works? I do not know of any.”
” Then,” said he, ” perhaps it would be better to cease doubting the word of one who has acquired the knowledge to write such a book, and who has no object in misleading you.”
” Still other questions arise,” I said.
” I consider the account of the intra-earth fungus intoxicant beyond the realm of fact.”
” In what respect?”
” The perfect loss of self that resulted immediately, in an instant, after swallowing the juice of the fungous fruit, so that you could not distinguish between the real guide at your side and the phantom that sprung into existence, is incredible. An element of time is a factor in the operation of nerve impressions.”
” Have you investigated all possible anaesthetics?” he asked.
” Of course not.”
” Or all possible narcotics?”
” How long does it require for pure prussic acid to produce its physiological action ?”
” I do not know.”
He ignored my reply, and continued:
” Since there exists a relative difference between the time that is required for ether and chloroform to produce insensibility, and between the actions and resultant effects of all known an xstlletics, intoxicants, and narcotics, I think you are hypercritical. Some nerve excitants known to you act slowly, others quickly; why not others still instantaneously? If you can rest your assertion on any good basis, I will gladly meet your questions, but I do not accept such evidence as you now introduce, and I do not care to argue for both parties.”
( It is well that reference was made to this point. Few readers would probably notice that Chapter XXXVI. begun a narcotic hallucination.- J. U. L. )
Again I was becoming irritated, for I was not satisfied with the manner in which I upheld my part of the argument, and naturally, as is usually the case with the defeated party, became incensed at my invincible antagonist.
” Well,” I said, ” I criticise your credulity. The drunkards of the drunkards’ cavern were beyond all credence. I can not conceive of such abnormal creations, even in illusion. Had I met with your experiences I would not have supposed, for an instant, that the fantastic shapes could have been aught but a dream, or the result of hallucination, while, without a question, you considered them real”
” You are certainly pressed for subjects about which to complain when you resort to criticising the possibilities in creations of a mind under the influence of a more powerful intoxicant than is known to surface earth” he remarked. ” However, I will show you that nature fashions animals in forms more fantastic than I saw, and that even these figures were not overdrawn ”
Without heeding his remark, I interrupted his discourse, determined to have my say:
” And I furthermore question the uncouth personage you describe as your guide. Would you have me believe that such a being has an existence outside an abnormal thought-creation?”
” Ah,” he replied, ” you have done well to ask these two questions in succession, for you permit me to answer both at once. Listen: The Monkey, of all animals, seems to approach closest to man in figure, the Siamang Gibon of Asia, the Baldheaded Saki of South America, with its stub of a tail, being nearest. From these types we have great deviations as in the Wanderer of India, with its whiskered face, and the Black Macaque of the Island of Celebes, with its hairy topknot, and hairless stub of a tail, or the well-known Squirrel Monkey, with its long supple tail, and the Thumbless Spider Monkey, of South America. Between these types we have among monkeys, nearly every conceivable shape of limb and figure, and in color of their faces and bodies, all the shades of the rainbow.
” Some Squirrels jump and then sail through the air. The Sloth can barely move on the earth. Ant-eaters have no teeth at all, while the Grizzly Bear can crush a gun barrel with its molars.
” The Duck-billed Platypus of South Australia has the body of a mole, the tail of a raccoon, the flat bill of a duck, and the flipper of a seal, combined with the feet of a rat. It lays eggs as birds do, but suckles its young as do other mammalia. The Opossum has a prehensile tail, as have some monkeys, and in addition a living bag or pouch in which the female carries her tiny young. The young of a kind of tree frog of the genus Hylodes, breathe through a special organ in their tails; the young of the Pipa, a great South American toad, burrow into the skin of the mother, and still another from Chili, as soon as hatched, creep down the throat of the father frog, and find below the jaw an opening into a false membrane covering the entire abdomen, in which they repose in safety. Three species of frogs and toads have no tongue at all, while in all the others the tongue is attached by its tip to the end of the mouth, and is free behind. The ordinary Bullfrog has conspicuous great legs, while a relative, the Cocilia ( and others as well ) have a head reminding of the frog, but neither tail nor legs, the body being elongated as if it were a worm. The long, slender fingers of a Bat are united by means of a membrane that enables it to fly like a bird, while as a contrast, the fingers of a Mole, its near cousin, are short and stubby, and massive as compared with its frame. The former flies through the air, the latter burrows ( almost flies ) through the earth. The Great Ant-eater has a curved head which is drawn out into a slender snout, no teeth, a long, slender tongue, a great bushy tail, and claws that neither allow the creature to burrow in the earth nor climb into trees, but which are admirably adapted to tear an ant-hill into fragments. Its close relatives, the Apar and Armadillo, have a round body covered with bony plates, and a short, horny, curved tail, while another relative, the Long-tailed Pangolin, has a great alligator-like tail which, together-with its body, is covered with horny, overlapping scales.
” The Greenland Whale has an enormous head occupying more than one-third its length, no teeth, and a throat scarcely larger than that of a sucker fish. The Golden Mole has a body so nearly symmetrical that, were it not for the snout, it would be difficult to determine the location of the head without close inspection, and it has legs so short that, were it not for the powerful claws, they would not be observed at all. The Narwhal has a straight, twisted tusk, a “-
” Hold, hold,” I interrupted; ” do you think that I am concerned in these well known contrasts in animal structure?”
” Did you not question the possibility of the description I gave of my grotesque drunkards, and of the form of my subterranean guide?” my guest retorted.
” Yes; but I spoke of men, you describe animals.”
” Man is an animal, and between the various species of animals that you say are well known, greater distinctions can be drawn than between my guide and surface-earth man. Besides, had you allowed me to proceed to a description of animal life beneath the surface of the earth, I would have shown you that my guide partook of their attributes. Of the creatures described, one only was of the intra-earth origin- the Mole,-and like my guide, it is practically eyeless.”
” Go on,” I said; “‘tis useless for me to resist. And yet “-
” And yet what?”
” And yet I have other subjects to discuss.”
” I do not like the way in which you constantly criticise science, especially in referring thereto the responsibilities of the crazed anatomist. It seems to me that he was a monomaniac, gifted, but crazed, and that science was unfortunate in being burdened with such an incubus.”
” True, and yet science advances largely by the work of such apparently heartless creatures. Were it not for investigators who overstep the bounds of established methods, and thus criticise their predecessors, science would rust and disintegrate. Besides, why should not science be judged by the rule she applies to others ?”
” What do you mean?”
” Who is more free to criticise religion than the materialistic man of science?”
” But a religious man is not cruel.”
” Have you not read history? Have you not shuddered at the crimes recorded in the name of the religions of man?”
* This section ( see p. 190 ) was excised, being too painful.- J. U. L.
” Yes; but these cruelties were committed by misguided men under the cloak of the church, or of false religions, during the dark ages. Do not blame religion, but the men who abused the cause.”
” Yes,” he added, ” you are right; they were fanatics, crazed beings, men; yes, even communities, raving mad. Crazed leaders can infuse the minds of the people with their fallacies, and thus become leaders of crazed nations. Not, as I have depicted in my scientific enthusiast, one man alone in the privacy of his home torturing a single child, but whole nations pillaging, burning, torturing, and destroying. But this is foreign to our subject. Beware, I reiterate, of the science of humnan biology. The man who enters the field can not foresee the end, the man who studies the science of life, and records his experiments, can not know the extremes to which a fanatical follower may carry the thought-current of his leader. I have not overdrawn the lesson. Besides, science is now really torturing, burning, maiming, and destroying humanity. The act of destruction has been transferred from barbarians and the fanatic in religion to the follower of the devotees of science.”
” No; I say, no.”
” Who created the steam engine? Who evolves improved machinery? Who creates improved artillery, and explosives? Scientific men.”
” Go on.”
” Accumulate the maimed and destroyed each year; add together the miseries and sorrows that result from the explosions, accidents, and catastrophes resulting from science improvements, and the dark ages scarcely offer a parallel. Add thereto the fearful destruction that follows a war among nations scientific, and it will be seen that the scientific enthusiast of the present has taken the place of the misguided fanatic of the past. Let us be just. Place to the credit of religion the good that religion has done, place to the credit of science the good that science is doing, and yet do not mistake, both leave in their wake an atmosphere saturated with misery, a road whitened with humanity’s bones. Neither the young nor the old are spared, and so far as the sufferer is concerned it matters not whether the person has been racked by the tortures of an inquisition, or the sword of an infidel, is shrieking in the agony of a scald by super-heated steam, or is mangled by an explosion of nitroglycerin.”
Again he hesitated.
” Go on.”
” One of science’s most serious responsibilities, from which religion has nearly escaped, is that of supplying thought-food to fanatics, and from this science can not escape.”
” Explain yourself.”
” Who places the infidel in possession of arguments to combat sacred teachings? Who deliberately tortures animals, and suggests that biological experimentation in the name of science, before cultured audiences even, is legitimate, such as making public dissections of living creatures?”
” Enough, enough,” I cried, thinking of his crazed anatomist, and covering my face with my hands; ” you make my blood creep.”
” Yes,” he added sarcastically; ” you shudder now and criticise my truthful study, and to-morrow you will forget the lesson, and perhaps for dinner you will relish your dish of veal, the favorite food of mothers, the nearest approach to the flesh of babies.”
Then his manner changed, and in his usual mild, pleasant way, he said:
” Take what I have said kindly; I wish only to induce your religious part to have more charity for your scientific self, and the reverse. Both religion and science are working towards the good of man, although their devotees are human, and by human errors bring privations, sufferings, and sorrows to men. Neither can fill the place of the other; each should extend a helping hand, and have charity for the shortcomings of the other; they are not antagonists, but workers in one field; both must stand the criticisms of mutual antagonists, and both have cause to fear the evils of fanaticism within their own ranks more than the attacks of opponents from without. Let the religious enthusiast exercise care; his burning, earnest words may lead a weakminded father to murder an innocent family, and yet ‘tis not religion that commits the crime. Let the zealous scientific man hesitate; he piles up fuel by which minds unbalanced, or dispositions perverted, seek to burn and destroy hopes that have long served the yearnings of humanity’s soul. Neither pure religion nor true science is to blame for the acts of its devotees, and yet each must share the responsibility of its human agents.”
” We will discuss the subject no further,” I said; ” it is not agreeable.”
Then I continued:
” The idea of eternity without time is not quite clear to me, although I catch an imperfect conception of the argument advanced. Do you mean to say that when a soul leaves the body, the earth life of the individual, dominated by the soul, is thrown off from it as is the snap of a whip-lash, and that into the point between life and death, the hereafter of that mortal may be concentrated?”
” I simply give you the words of my guide,” he replied, ” but you have expressed the idea about as well as your word language will admit. Such a conception of eternity is more rational to one who, like myself, has lived through an instant that covered, so far as mind is concerned, a trillion years of time, than is ail attempt to grasp a conception of an eternity, without beginning or end, by basing an argument on conditions governing material substances, as these substances are known to man. You have the germ of the idea which may be simply a thought for you to ponder over; you can study the problem at your leisure. Do not, however, I warn you, attempt to comprehend the notion of eternity by throwing into it the conception of time as men accept that term, for the very word time, as men define it, demands that there be both a beginning and an end. With the sense of time in one’s mind, there can be no conception of the term eternity.”
Then, as I had so often done before, I unwarily gave him an opportunity to enlarge on his theme, to my disadvantage. I had determined not to ask any questions concerning his replies to my criticism, for whenever I had previously done so, the result had been disastrous to me. In this case I unwittingly said:
” Why do you say that our language will not permit of clearer conceptions than you give?”
” Because your education does not permit you to think outside of words; you are word-bound.”
” You astonish me by making such an arrogant assertion. Do you mean to assert that I can not think without using words?”
” Yes. Every thought you indulge in is circumscribed. You presumably attempt to throw a thought-line forward, and yet you step backward and spin it in words that have been handed you from the past, and, struggle as you may, you can not liberate yourself from the dead incubus. Attempt to originate an idea, and see if you can escape your word-master?”
” Go on; I am listening.”
” Men scientific think in language scientific. Men poetical think in language poetic. All educated men use words in thinking of their subjects, words that came to them from the past, and enslave their intellect. Thus it is that the novelist can not snake fiction less real than is fact; that scientists can not commence at the outside, and build a theory back to phenomena understood. In each case the foundation of a thought is a word that in the very beginning carries to the mind a meaning, a something from the past. Each thought ramification is an offshoot from words that express ideas and govern ideas, yes, create ideas, even dominating the mind. Men speak of ideas when they intend to refer to an image in the mind, but in reality they have no ideas outside of the word sentences they uncon-sciously reformulate. Define the term idea correctly, and it will be shown that an idea is a sentence, and if a sentence is made of words already created, there can be no new idea, for every word has a fixed meaning. Hence, when men think, they only rearrange words that carry with themselves networks of ideas, and thus play upon their several established meanings. How can men so circumscribed construct a new idea or teach a new science ?”
” New words are being created.”
” Language is slowly progressing, but no new word adds itself to a language; it is linked to thought-chains that precede. In order to create a word, as a rule, roots are used that are as established in philology as are building materials in architecture. When a new sound is thrust into a language, its intent must be introduced by words already known, after which it conveys a meaning derived from the past, and becomes a part of mind sentences already constructed, as it does of spoken language. Language has thus been painfully and slowly evolved and is still being enlarged, but while new impressions may be felt by an educated person, the formulated feeling is inseparable, from well-known surviving words.”
” Some men are dumb.”
” Yes; and yet they frame mind-impressions into unspoken words of their own, otherwise they would be scarcely more than animals. Place an uneducated dumb person in a room with a complicated instrument, and although he may comprehend its uses, he can not do so unless he frames sense-impressions into, what is to him, a formulated mind-word sequence.”
” But he can think about it.”
” No; unless he has already constructed previous impressions into word-meanings of his own, he can not think about it at all. Words, whether spoken or unspoken, underlie all ideas. Try, if you believe I am mistaken, try to think of any subject outside of words?”
I sat a moment, and mentally attempted the task, and shook my head.
” Then,” said the old man, ” how can I use words with established meanings to convey to your senses an entirely new idea? If I use new sounds, strung together, they are not words to you, and convey no meaning; if I use words familiar, they reach backward as well as forward. Thus it is possible to instruct you, by a laborious course of reasoning, concerning a phenomenon that is connected with phenomena already understood by you, for your word-language can be thrust out from the parent stalk, and can thus follow the outreaching branches. However, in the case of, phenomena that exist on other planes, or are separated from any known material, or force, as is the true conception that envelops the word eternity, there being neither connecting materials, forces, nor words to unite the outside with the inside, the known with the unknown, how can I tell you more than I have done? You are word-bound.”
” Nevertheless, I still believe that I can think outside of words.”
” Well, perhaps after you attempt to do so, and fail again and again, you will appreciate that a truth is a truth, humiliating as it may be to acknowledge the fact.”
” A Digger Indian has scarcely a word-language,” I asserted, loth to relinquish the argument.
” You can go farther back if you desire, back to primitive man; man without language at all, and with ideas as circumscribed as those of the brutes, and still you have not strengthened your argument concerning civilized man. But you are tired, I see.”
” Yes; tired of endeavoring to combat your assertions. You invariably lead me into the realms of speculation, and then throw me upon the defensive by asking me to prove my own theories, or with apparent sincerity, you advance an unreasonable hypothesis, and then, before I am aware of your purpose, force me to acquiesce because I can not find facts to confute you. You very artfully throw the burden of proof on me in all cases, for either by physical comparisons that I can not make, I must demonstrate the falsity of your metaphysical assertions, or by abstract reasonings disprove statements you assert to be facts.”
” You are peevish and exhausted, or you would perceive that I have generally allowed you to make the issue, and more than once have endeavored to dissuade you from doing so. Besides, did I not several times in the past bring experimental proof to dispel your incredulity ? Have I not been courteous ?”
” Yes,” I petulantly admitted; ” yes.”
Then I determined to imitate his artful methods, and throw him upon the defensive as often as he had done with me. I had finally become familiar with his process of arguing a question, for, instead of coming immediately to his subject, he invariably led by circuitous route to the matter under discussion. Before reaching the point he would manage to commit me to his own side of the subject, or place me in a defenseless position. So with covert aim I began:
” I believe that friction is one method of producing heat.”
” I have been told that the North American Indians snake fires by rubbing together two pieces of dry wood.”
” I have understood that the light of a shooting star results from the heat of friction, producing combustion of its particles.”
” Partly,” he answered.
” That when the meteoric fragment of space dust strikes the air, the friction resulting from its velocity heats it to redness, fuses its surface, or even burns its very substance into ashes.”
” I have seen the spindle of a wheel charred by friction.”
” I have drawn a wire rapidly through a handkerchief tightly grasped in my hands, and have warmed the wire considerably in doing so.”
I felt that I had him committed to my side of the question, and I prepared to force him to disprove the possibility of one assertion that he had made concerning his journey.
” You stated that you rode in a boat on the underground lake.”
” With-great rapidity?”
” Rapid motion produces friction, I believe?”
” And heat?”
” Why did not your boat become heated even to redness? You rode at the rate of nine hundred miles an hour,” I cried exultingly.
” For two reasons,” he calmly replied; ” two natural causes prevented such a catastrophe.”
And again he warned me, as he had done before, by saying:
” While you should not seek for supernatural agencies to account for any phenomena in life, for all that is is natural, neither should you fail to study the differences that varying conditions produce in results already known. A miracle ceases to be a miracle when we understand the scientific cause underlying the wonder; occultism is natural, for if there be occult phenomena they must be governed by natural law; mystery is not mysterious if the veil of ignorance that envelops the investigator is lifted. What you have said is true concerning the heat that results from friction, but-
” First, the attraction of gravitation was inconsiderable where the boat, to which you refer, rested on the water.
” Second, the changing water carried away the heat as fast as it was produced. While it is true that a cannon ball becomes heated in its motion through the air, its surface is cooled when it strikes a body of water, notwithstanding that its great velocity is altogether overcome by the water. The friction between the water and the iron does not result in heated iron, but the contrary. The water above the rapids of a river has practically the temperature of the water below the rapids, regardless of the friction that ensues between these points. Admit, however, that heat is liberated as the result of the friction of solids with water, and still it does not follow that this heat will perceptibly affect the solid. With a boat each particle of water carries the heat away, each succeeding portion of water takes up the heat liberated by that preceding it. Thus the great body of water, over which our boat sped, in obedience to the ordinary law, became slightly warmed, but its effect upon the boat was scarcely perceptible. Your comparison of the motion of a meteor, with that of our boat, was unhappy. We moved rapidly, it is true, in comparison with the motion of vessels such as you know, but comparison can not be easily drawn between the velocity of a boat and that of a meteor. While we moved at the rate of many miles a minute, a meteor moves many times faster, perhaps as many miles in a second. Then you must remember that the force of gravitation was so slight in our position that “-
” Enough,” I interrupted. ” We will pass the subject. It seems that you draw upon science for knowledge to support your arguments, however irrational they may be, and then you sneer at this same method of argument when I employ it.”
He replied to my peevish complaint with the utmost respect by calling to my attention the fact that my own forced argument had led to the answer, and that he had simply replied to my attacks.
” If I am wrong in my philosophy, based on your science thought, I am right in my facts, and science thought is thus in the wrong, for facts overbalance theory. I ask you only to give me the attention that my statements merit. I am sincere, and aim to serve your interests. Should investigation lead you hereafter to infer that I am in error, at our final interview you can have my considerate attention. Be more charitable, please.”
Then he added:
” Is there any other subject you wish to argue?”
” Yes,” I answered, and again my combativeness arose; ” yes. One of the truly edifying features of your narrative is that of the intelligent guide,” and I emphasized the word intelligent, and curled up my lip in a sarcastic manner.
” He was verily a wonderful being; an eyeless creature, and yet possessed of sight and perception beyond that of mortal man; a creature who had been locked in the earth, and yet was more familiar with its surface than a philosopher; a cavern-bred monstrosity, and yet possessed of the mind of a sage; he was a scientific expert, a naturalist, a metaphysical reasoner, a critic of religion, and a prophet. He could see in absolute darkness as well as in daylight; without a compass he could guide a boat over a trackless sea, and could accomplish feats that throw Gulliver and Munchausen into disrepute.”
In perfect composure my aged guest listened to my cynical, and almost insulting tirade. He made no effort to restrain my impetuous sentences, and when I had finished replied in the polished language of a scholarly gentleman.
” You state truly, construe my words properly, as well as understand correctly.”
Then he continued musingly, as though speaking to himself:
” I would be at fault and deserve censure did I permit doubts to be thrown upon so clear a subject, or discredit on so magnanimous a person.”
Turning to me he continued:
” Certainly I did not intend to mislead or to be misunderstood, and am pleased to find you so earnest a scholar.”
And then in his soft, mild manner, he commenced his detail reply, pouring oil upon the waters of my troubled soul, his sweet, melodious voice being so in contrast to my rash harangue. He began with his expressive and often repeated word, ” listen.”
” Listen. You are right, my guide was a being wonderful to mortals. He was eyeless, but as I have shown you before, and now swear to the fact, was not sightless; surely,” he said, ” surely you have not forgotten that long ago I considered the phenomenal instinct at length. He predicted the future by means of his knowledge of the past- there is nothing wonderful in that. Can not a civil engineer continue a line into the beyond, and predict where the projection of that line will strike; can he not also calculate the effect that a curve will have on his line’s destiny? Why should a being conversant with the lines and curves of humanity’s journey for ages past not be able to indicate the lines that men must follow in the future? Of course he could guide the boat, in what was to the a trackless waste of water, but you err in asserting that I had said lie did not have a guide, even if it were not a compass. Many details concerning this journey have not been explained to you; indeed, I have acquainted you with but little that I experienced. Near surface earth we passed through caverns filled with creeping reptiles; through others we were surrounded by flying creatures, neither beast nor bird; we passed through passages of ooze and labyrinths of apparently interminable intra-earth structures; to have disported on such features of my journey would have been impracticable. From time to time I experienced strains of melody, such as never before had I conceived, seemingly choruses of angels were singing in and to my very soul. From empty space about me, from out the crevices beyond and behind me, from the depths of my spirit within me, came these strains in notes clear and distinct, but yet indescribable. Did I fancy, or was it real? I will not pretend to say. Flowers and structures beautiful, insects gorgeous and inexplicable were spread before me. Figures and forms I can not attempt to indicate in word descriptions, ever and anon surrounded, accompanied, and passed me by. The canvas conceptions of earth-bred artists bring to mind no forms so strange and weird and yet so beautiful as were these compound beings. Restful beyond description was it to drink in the indescribable strains of poetry of motion that I appreciated in the movements of fair creatures I have not mentioned, and it was no less soothing to experience the soul relief wrought by the sounds about me, for musicians know no notes so sweet and entrancing.
” There were also, in side caverns to which I was led, combinations of sounds and scenes in which floating strains and fleeting figures were interwoven and interlaced so closely that the senses of both sight and hearing became blended into a single sense, new, weird, strange, and inexpressible. As flavor is the combination of odor and taste, and is neither taste nor odor, so these sounds and scenes combined were neither scenes’ nor sounds, but a complex sensation, new, delicious. Sometimes I begged to be permitted to stop and live forever ‘mid those heavenly charms, but with as firm a hand as when helping me through the chambers of mire, ooze, and creeping reptiles, my guide drew me onward.
” But to return to the subject. As to my guide being a cavern-bred monstrosity, I do not remember to have said that he was cavern-bred, and if I have forgotten a fact, I regret my short memory. Did I say that he was always a cavern being. Did I assert that he had never lived among mortals of upper earth? If so, I do not remember our conversation on that subject. He was surely a sage in knowledge, as you have experienced from my feeble efforts in explaining the nature of phenomena that were to you unknown, and yet have been gained by me largely through his instruction. He was a metaphysician, as you assert; you are surely right; he was a sincere, earnest reasoner and teacher. He was a conscientious student, and did not by any word lead me to feel that he did not respect all religions, and bow to the Creator of the universe, its sciences, and its religions. His demeanor was most considerate, his methods faultless, his love of nature deep, his patience inexhaustible, his sincerity unimpeachable. ” Yes,” the old man said; ” you are right in your admiration of this lovely personage, and when you come to meet this being as you are destined yet to do- for know now that you too will some day pass from surface earth, and leave only your name in connection with this story of myself- you will surely then form a still greater love and a deeper respect for one so gifted, and yet so self-sacrificing.”
” Old man,” I cried, ” you mock me. I spoke facetiously, and you answer literally. Know that I have no confidence in your sailor-like tales, your Marco Polo history.”
” Ah ! You discredit Marco Polo? And why do you doubt?”
” Because I have never seen such phenomena, I have never witnessed such occurrences. I must see a thing to believe it.”
” And so you believe only what you see?” he queried.
” Now answer promptly,” he commanded, and his manner changed as by magic to that of a master. ” Did you ever see Greenland?”
” A geyser?”
” A whale?”
” A walrus?”
” Then you do not believe that these conditions, countries, and animals have an existence?”
” Of course they have.”
” Why? ”
” Others have seen them.”
” Ah,” he said; ” then you wish to modify your assertion you only believe what others have seen?”
” Excepting one person,” I retorted.
Then he continued, seemingly not having noticed my personal allusion.
” Have you ever seen your heart?” I hesitated.
” Answer,” he commanded.
” Your stomach ?”
” Have you seen the stomach of any of your friends?”
” The back of your head?”
I became irritated, and made no reply.
” Answer,” he again commanded.
” I have seen its reflection in a glass.”
” I say no,” he replied ; ” you have not.”
” You are impudent,” I exclaimed.
” Not at all,” he said, good humoredly; ” how easy it is to make a mistake. I venture to say that you have never seen the reflection of the back of your head in a mirror.”
” Your presumption astounds me.”
” I will leave it to yourself.”
He took a hand-glass from the table and held it behind my head.
” Now, do you see the reflection?”
” No; the glass is behind me.”
” Ah, yes; and so is the back of your head.”
” Look,” I said, pointing to the great mirror on the bureau; ” look, there is the reflection of the back of my head.”
” No; it is the reflection of the reflection in my hand glass.”
” You have tricked me; you quibble!”
” Well,” he said, ignoring my remark; ” what do you believe?”
” I believe what others have seen, and what I can do.”
” Excluding thyself as to what others have seen,” he said facetiously.
” Perhaps,” I answered, relenting somewhat.
” Has any man of your acquaintance seen the middle of Africa?”
” The center of the earth ?”
” The opposite side of the moon?”
” The soul of man ?”
” Heat, light, electricity?”
” Then you do not believe that Africa has a midland, the earth a center, the moon an opposite side, man a soul, force an existence?”
” You distort my meaning.”
” Well, I ask questions in accord with your suggestions, and you defeat yourself. You have now only one point left. You believe only what you can do?”
” I will rest this case on one statement, then, and you may be the judge.”
” You can not do what any child in Cincinnati can accomplish. I assert that any other man, any other woman in the city can do more than you can. No cripple is so helpless, no invalid so feeble as not, in this respect, to be your superior.”
” You insult me,” I again retorted, almost viciously.
” Do you dispute the assertion seriously?”
” Well, let me see you kiss your elbow.”
Involuntarily I twisted my arm so as to bring the elbow towards my mouth, then, as I caught the full force of his meaning, the ridiculous result of my passionate wager came over me, and I laughed aloud. It was a change of thought from the sublime to the ludicrous.
The white-haired guest smiled in return, and kindly said:
” It pleases me to find you in good humor at last. I will return to-morrow evening and resume the reading of my manuscript. In the meantime take good exercise, eat heartily, and become more cheerful.”
He rose and bowed himself out.