Etidorhpa – The Old Man Relates a Story as an Object Lesson
” But you have not lived up to the promise; you have evaded part of the bargain,” I continued. ” While you have certainly performed some curious experiments in physics which seem to be unique, yet, I am only an amateur in science, and your hydrostatic illustrations may be repetitions of investigations already recorded, that have escaped the attention of the scientific gentlemen to whom I have hitherto applied.”
” Man’s mind is a creature of doubts and questions,” he observed. ” Answer one query, and others rise. His inner self is never satisfied, and you are not to blame for wishing for a sign, as all self-conscious conditions of your former existence compel.
Now that I have brushed aside the more prominent questionings, you insist upon those omitted, and appeal to me to “- he hesitated.
To what?” I asked, curious to see if he had intuitively grasped my unspoken sentence.
” To exhibit to you your own brain,” he replied.
” That is it exactly,” I said; ” you promised it, and you shall be held strictly to your bargain. You agreed to show me my own brain, and it seems evident that you have purposely evaded the promise.”
” That I have made the promise and deferred its completion can not be denied, but not by reason of an inability to fulfill the contract. I will admit that I purposely deferred the exhibition, hoping on your own account that you, would forget the hasty promise. You would better release me from the promise; you do not know what you ask.”
” I believe that I ask more than you can perform,” I answered, ” and that you know it.”
( The reader is invited to skip this chapter of horrors.- J. U. L. )
” Let me give you a history,” he said, ” and then perhaps you will relent. Listen. A man once became involved in the study of anatomy. It led him to destruction. He commenced the study in order to learn a profession; he hoped to become a physician. Materia medica, pharmacy, chemistry, enticed him at first, but after a time presented no charms. He was a dull student in much that men usually consider essential to the practice of medicine. He was not fitted to be a physician. Gradually he became absorbed in two branches, physiology and anatomy. Within his mental self a latent something developed that neither himself nor his friends had suspected. This was an increasing desire for knowledge concerning the human body. The insatiable craving for anatomy grew upon him, and as it did so other sections of medicine were neglected. Gradually he lost sight of his professional object; he dropped chemistry, materia inedica, pharmacy, and at last, morbidly lived only in the aforenamed two branches.
” His first visit to the dissecting room was disagreeable. The odor of putrid flesh, the sight of the mutilated bodies repulsed him. When first his hand, warm in life, touched the clammy flesh of a corpse, he shuddered. Then when his fingers came in contact with the viscera of a cadaver, that of a little child, he cried out in horror. The demonstrator of anatomy urged him on; he finally was induced to dissect part of the infant. The reflex action on his sensitive mind first stunned, and then warped his senses. His companions had to lead him from the room. `Wash it off, wash it off,’ he repeated, trying to throw his hand from his person. `Horrid, horrible, unclean. The child is yet before me,’ he insisted. Then he went into a fever and raved. `Some mother will meet me on the street and curse me,’ he cried. ” That hand is red with the blood of my darling ; it has desecrated the innocent dead, and mutilated that which is most precious to a mother.” Take the hand away, wash it,’ he shouted. `The mother curses me; she demands retribution. Better that a man be dead than cursed by a mother whose child has been desecrated.’ So the unfortunate being raved, dreaming all manner of horrid imaginings. But at last he recovered, a different man. He returned voluntarily to the dissecting-room, and wrapped himself in the uncouth work.
Nothing in connection with corpse-mutilation was now offensive or unclean. He threw aside his other studies, he became a slave possessed of one idea. He scarcely took time to dine respectably; indeed, he often ate his lunch in the dissecting-room. The blood of a child was again and again on his fingers; it mattered not, he did not take the trouble to wash it off. `The liver of man is not more sacred than the liver of a hog,’ he argued; `the flesh of a man is the same as other forms of animal food. When a person dies the vital heat escapes, consciousness is dissipated, and the cold, rigid remains are only animal. Consciousness and life are all that is of man-one is force, the other matter; when man dies both perish and are dissipated.’ His friends perceived his fondness for dissection, and argued with him again, endeavoring now to overcome his infatuation; he repelled them. ` I learned in my vision,’ he said, referring to his fever, `that Pope was right in saying that the ” proper study of mankind is man “; I care nothing for your priestly superstitions concerning the dead. These fables are the invention of designing churchmen who live on the superstitions of the ignorant. I am an infidel, and believe in no spirit intangible; that which can be seen, felt, and weighed is, all else is not. Life is simply a sensation. All beyond is chimerical, less than fantastic, believed in only by dupes and weak-minded, credulous tools of knaves, or creatures of blind superstition.’ He carried the finely articulated, bleached skull of a cadaver to his room, and placed it beside a marble statue that was a valued heirloom, the model of Venus of Milo. `Both are lime compounds,’ he cynically observed, ` neither is better than the other.’ His friends protested. `Your superstitious education is at fault,’ he answered; `you mentally clothe one of these objects in a quality it does not deserve, and the thought creates a pleasant emotion. The other, equally as pure, reminds you of the grave that you fear, and you shudder. These mental pulsations are artificial, both being either survivals of superstition, or creations of your own mind. The lime in the skull is now as inanimate as that of the statue; neither object is responsible for its form, neither is unclean. To me, the delicate configuration, the exact articulation, the perfect adaptation for the office it originally filled, makes each bone of this skull a thing of beauty, an object of admiration. As a whole, it gives me pleasure to think of this wonderful, exquisitely arranged piece of mechanism. The statue you admire is in every respect outrivaled by the skull, and I have placed the two together because it pleases me to demonstrate that man’s most artistic creation is far inferior to material man. Throw aside your sentimental prejudices, and join with me in the admiration of this thing of beauty;’ and he toyed with the skull as if it were a work of art. So he argued, and arguing passed from bone to bone, and from organ to organ. He filled his room with abnormal fragments of the human body, and surrounded himself with jars of preserved anatomical specimens. His friends fled in disgust, and he smiled, glad to be alone with his ghastly subjects. He was infatuated in one of the alcoves of science.”
The old man paused.
” Shall I proceed?” he asked.
” Yes,” I said, but involuntarily moved my chair back, for I began again to be afraid of the speaker.
” At last this scientific man had mastered all that was known concerning physiology and anatomy. He learned by heart the wording of great volumes devoted to these subjects. The human frame became to him as an open book. He knew the articulation of every muscle, could name a bone from a mere fragment. The microscope ceased to be an object of interest, the secrets of pathology and physiology had been mastered. Then, unconsciously, he was infected by another tendency ; a new thought was destined to dominate his brain. `What is it that animates this frame? What lies inside to give it life?’ He became enthused again: `The dead body, to which I have given my time, is not the conscious part of man,’ he said to himself; `I must find this thing of life within; I have been only a butcher of the dead. My knowledge is superficial.”‘
Again the old man hesitated and looked at me inquiringly.
” Shall I proceed?” he repeated.
I was possessed by horror, but yet fascinated, and answered ,determinedly: ” Go on.”
” Beware,” he added, ” beware of the Science of Life.”
Pleadingly he looked at me.
” Go on,” I commanded.
” With the cunning of a madman, this person of profound learning, led from the innocence of ignorance to the heartlessness of advanced biological science, secretly planned to seek the vital forces. ` I must begin with a child, for the life essence shows its first manifestations in children,’ he reasoned. He moved to an unfrequented locality, discharged his servants, and notified his former friends that visitors were unwelcome. He had determined that no interruption to his work should occur. This course was unnecessary, however, for now he had neither friends nor visitors. He employed carpenters and artisans, and perfected a series of mechanical tables, beautiful examples of automatic mechanism. From the inner room of that house no cry could be heard by persons outside.
[ It will be seen, by referring to the epilogue, that Mr. Drury agreed to mutilate part of the book. This I have gladly done, excising the heart-rending passages that follow. To use the words of Prof. Venable, they do not ” comport with the general delicacy of the book.? J. U. I,.]
” Hold, old man, cease,” I cried aghast; ” I have had enough of this. You trifle with me, demon; I have not asked for nightmare stories, heart-curdling accounts of maniacal investigators, who madly pursue their revolting calling, and discredit the name of science.”
” You asked to see your own brain,” he replied.
” And have been given a terrible story instead,” I retorted.
” So men perverted, misconstruing the aim of science, answer the cry of humanity,” he said. ” One by one the cherished treasures of Christianity have been stolen from the faithful. What, to the mother, can replace the babe that has been lost??
” The next world,” I answered, ” offers a comfort.”
” Bah,” he said; ” does not another searcher in that same science field tell the mother that there is no personal hereafter, that she will never see her babe again ? One man of science steals the body, another man of science takes away the soul, the third annihilates heaven; they go like pestilence and famine, hand in hand, subsisting on all that craving humanity considers sacred, and offering no tangible return beyond a materialistic present. This same science that seems to be doing so much for humanity will continue to elevate so-called material civilization until, as the yeast ferment is smothered in its own excretion, so will science-thought create conditions to blot itself from existence, and destroy the civilization it creates. Science is heartless, notwithstanding the personal purity of the majority of her helpless votaries. She is a thief, not of ordinary riches, but of treasures that can not be replaced. Before science provings the love of a mother perishes, the hope of immortality is annihilated. Beware of materialism, the end of the science of man. Beware of the beginning of biological inquiry, for he who commences, can not foresee the termination. I say to you in candor, no man ever engaged in the part of science lore that questions the life essence, realizing the possible end of his investigations. The insidious servant becomes a tyrannical master; the housebreaker is innocent, the horse thief guiltless in comparison. Science thought begins in the brain of man; science provings end all things with the end of the material brain of man. Beware of your own brain.”
” I have no fear,” I replied, ” that I will ever be led to disturb the creeds of the faithful, and I will not be diverted. I demand to see my brain.”
” Your demand shall now be fulfilled; you have been warned of the return that may follow the commencement of this study; you force the issue; my responsibility ceases. No man of science realized the end when he began to investigate his throbbing brain, and the end of the fabric that science is weaving for man rests in the hidden future. The story I have related is a true one, as thousands of faithful men who unconsciously have been led into infidelity have experienced; and as the faithful followers of sacred teachings can also perceive, who recognize that their religion and the hope of heaven is slipping away beneath the steady inroad of the heartless materialistic investigator, who clothes himself in the garb of science.”
Rising abruptly from his chair, he grasped my hand. ” You shall see your brain, man; come.”