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- Caesar's Column - 3/54 -
the numbers on the mirror; and he explained to me that if I would select any state or country and touch the corresponding button the news of the day, from that state or country, would appear in the mirror. He called my attention to, the fact that every guest in the room had in front of him a similar mirror, and many of them were reading the news of the day as they ate. I touched the knob corresponding with the name of the new state of Uganda, in Africa, and immediately there appeared in the mirror all the doings of the people of that state--its crimes, its accidents, its business, the output of its mines, the markets, the sayings and doings of its prominent men; in fact, the whole life of the community was unrolled before me like a panorama. I then touched the button for another African state, Nyanza; and at once I began to read of new lines of railroad; new steam-ship fleets upon the great lake; of large colonies of white men, settling new States, upon the higher lands of the interior; of their colleges, books, newspapers; and particularly of a dissertation upon the genius of Chaucer, written by a Zulu professor, which had created considerable interest among the learned societies of the Transvaal. I touched the button for China and read the important news that the Republican Congress of that great and highly civilized nation had decreed that English, the universal language of the rest of the globe, should be hereafter used in the courts of justice and taught in all the schools. Then came the news that a Manchurian professor, an iconoclast, had written a learned work, in English, to prove that George Washington's genius and moral greatness had been much over-rated by the partiality of his countrymen. He was answered by a learned doctor of Japan who argued that the greatness of all great men consisted simply in opportunity, and that for every illustrious name that shone in the pages of history, associated with important events, a hundred abler men had lived and died unknown. The battle was raging hotly, and all China and Japan were dividing into contending factions upon this great issue.
Our poor ignorant ancestors of a hundred years ago drank alcohol in various forms, in quantities which the system could not consume or assimilate, and it destroyed their organs and shortened their lives. Great agitations arose until the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was prohibited over nearly all the world. At length the scientists observed that the craving was based on a natural want of the system; that alcohol was found in small quantities in nearly every article of food; and that the true course was to so increase the amount of alcohol in the food, without gratifying the palate, as to meet the real necessities of the system, and prevent a decrease of the vital powers.
It is laughable to read of those days when men were drugged with pills, boluses and powders. Now our physic is in our food; and the doctor prescribes a series of articles to be eaten or avoided, as the case may be. One can see at once by consulting his "vital-watch," which shows every change in the magnetic and electric forces of the body, just how his physical strength wanes or increases; and he can modify his diet accordingly; he can select, for instance, a dish highly charged with quinine or iron, and yet perfectly palatable; hence, among the wealthier classes, a man of one hundred is as common now-a-days as a man of seventy was a century ago; and many go far beyond that point, in full possession of all their faculties.
I glanced around the great dining-room and inspected my neighbors. They all carried the appearance of wealth; they were quiet, decorous and courteous. But I could not help noticing that the women, young and old, were much alike in some particulars, as if some general causes had molded them into the same form. Their brows were all fine--broad, square, and deep from the ear forward; and their jaws also were firmly developed, square like a soldier's; while the profiles were classic in their regularity, and marked by great firmness. The most peculiar feature was their eyes. They had none of that soft, gentle, benevolent look which so adorns the expression of my dear mother and other good women whom we know. On the contrary, their looks were bold, penetrating, immodest, if I may so express it, almost to fierceness: they challenged you; they invited you; they held intercourse with your soul.
The chief features in the expression of the men were incredulity, unbelief, cunning, observation, heartlessness. I did not see a good face in the whole room: powerful faces there were, I grant you; high noses, resolute mouths, fine brows; all the marks of shrewdness and energy; a forcible and capable race; but that was all. I did not see one, my dear brother of whom I could say, "That man would sacrifice himself for another; that man loves his fellow man."
I could not but think how universal and irresistible must have been the influences of the age that could mold all these Men and women into the same soulless likeness. I pitied them. I pitied mankind, caught in the grip of such wide-spreading tendencies. I said to myself: "Where is it all to end? What are we to expect of a race without heart or honor? What may we look for when the powers of the highest civilization supplement the instincts of tigers and wolves? Can the brain of man flourish when the heart is dead?"
I rose and left the room.
I had observed that the air of the hotel was sweeter, purer and cooler than that of the streets outside. I asked one of the attendants for an explanation. He took me out to where we could command a view of the whole building, and showed me that a great canvas pipe rose high above the hotel, and, tracing it upwards, far as the eye could reach, he pointed out a balloon, anchored by cables, so high up as to be dwarfed to a mere speck against the face of the blue sky. He told me that the great pipe was double; that through one division rose the hot, exhausted air of the hotel, and that the powerful draft so created operated machinery which pumped down the pure, sweet air from a higher region, several miles above the earth; and, the current once established, the weight of the colder atmosphere kept up the movement, and the air was then distributed by pipes to every part of the hotel. He told me also that the hospitals of the city were supplied in the same manner; and the result had been, be said, to diminish the mortality of the sick one-half; for the air so brought to them was perfectly free from bacteria and full of all life-giving properties. A company had been organized to supply the houses of the rich with his cold, pure air for so much a thousand feet, as long ago illuminating gas was furnished.
I could not help but think that there was need that some man should open connection with the upper regions of God's charity, and bring down the pure beneficent spirit of brotherly love to this afflicted earth, that it might spread through all the tainted hospitals of corruption for the healing of the hearts and souls of the people.
This attendant, a sort of upper-servant, I suppose, was quite courteous and polite, and, seeing that I was a stranger, he proceeded to tell me that the whole city was warmed with hot water, drawn from the profound depths of the earth, and distributed as drinking water was distributed a century ago, in pipes, to all the houses, for a fixed and very reasonable charge. This heat-supply is so uniform and so cheap that it has quite driven out all the old forms of fuel--wood, coal, natural gas, etc.
And then he told me something which shocked me greatly. You know that according to our old-fashioned ideas it is unjustifiable for any person to take his own life, and thus rush into the presence of his Maker before he is called. We are of the opinion of Hamlet that God has "fixed his canon 'gainst self-slaughter." Would you believe it, my dear brother, in this city they actually facilitate suicide! A race of philosophers has arisen in the last fifty years who argue that, as man was not consulted about his coming into the world, he has a perfect right to leave it whenever it becomes uncomfortable. These strange arguments were supplemented by the economists, always a powerful body in this utilitarian land, and they urged that, as men could not be prevented from destroying themselves, if they had made up their minds to do so, they might just as well shuffle off the mortal coil in the way that would give least trouble to their surviving fellow-citizens. That, as it was, they polluted the rivers, and even the reservoirs of drinking-water, with their dead bodies, and put the city to great expense and trouble to recover and identify them. Then came the humanitarians, who said that many persons, intent on suicide, but knowing nothing of the best means of effecting their object, tore themselves to pieces with cruel pistol shots or knife wounds, or took corrosive poisons, which subjected them to agonizing tortures for hours before death came to their relief; and they argued that if a man had determined to leave the world it was a matter of humanity to help him out of it by the pleasantest means possible. These views at length prevailed, and now in all the public squares or parks they have erected hand some houses, beautifully furnished, with baths and bedrooms. If a man has decided to die, he goes there. He is first photographed; then his name, if he sees fit to give it, is recorded, with his residence; and his directions are taken as to the disposition of his body. There are tables at which he can write his farewell letters to his friends. A doctor explains to him the nature and effect of the different poisons, and he selects the kind he prefers. He is expected to bring with him the clothes in which he intends to be cremated. He swallows a little pill, lies down upon a bed, or, if he prefers it, in his coffin; pleasant music is played for him; he goes to sleep, and wakes up on the other side of the great line. Every day hundreds of people, men and women, perish in this way; and they are borne off to the great furnaces for the dead, and consumed. The authorities assert that it is a marked improvement over the old-fashioned methods; but to my mind it is a shocking combination of impiety and mock-philanthropy. The truth is, that, in this vast, over-crowded city, man is a drug,--a superfluity,--and I think many men and women end their lives out of an overwhelming sense of their own insignificance;--in other words, from a mere weariness of feeling that they are nothing, they become nothing.
I must bring this letter to an end, but before retiring I shall make a visit to the grand parlors of the hotel. You suppose I will walk there. Not at all, my dear brother. I shall sit down in a chair; there is an electric magazine in the seat of it. I touch a spring, and away it goes. I guide it with my feet. I drive into one of the great elevators. I descend to the drawing-room floor. I touch the spring again, and in a few moments I am moving around the grand salon, steering myself clear of hundreds of similar chairs, occupied by fine-looking men or the beautiful, keen-eyed, unsympathetic women I have described. The race has grown in power and loveliness--I fear it has lost in lovableness.
Good-by. With love to all, I remain your affectionate brotherly
My Dear Heinrich:
I little supposed when I wrote you yesterday that twenty four hours could so completely change my circumstances. Then I was a dweller in the palatial Darwin Hotel, luxuriating in all its magnificence. Now I am hiding in a strange house and trembling for my liberty;--but I
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