Wednesday, September 28, 2016

John Milton Binckley: "A Frolic in Space. A Darwinian Forecast" (1872), Part 3

[John Milton Binckley: "A Frolic in Space. A Darwinian Forecast." Lakeside Monthly (Chicago), Volume VIII, July to December, 1872, pages 446-455. Some additional paragraph breaks added to the originals for easier reading].

Rapt by these bewildering realities, I stood till fatigue recalled my physical sufferings, and I bent to the ground. I felt that in some inscrutable way I had been brought to the wrong world where I was crushed by its appalling sublimity. Love for all things was lost in my master's fascination, and despair of his favor seized my shuddering soul. I implored him for life, thoughtless of my Maker in presence of a fellow creature so nobly my superior. He smiled with sympathy, and I opened my countenance into his with a trust perfectly implicit. He produced several small objects, and handing them to me I put one into my mouth. It enclosed, in the manner of a medicinal capsule, a fluid resembling the white of eggs, but of a sweetish taste. I eagerly swallowed several, and shortly afterwards fell asleep.

I awoke alone. The glorious quintuple luminary was all in purple shining shadow, sinking to the horizon. High in toward the zenith had come another globe that looked like the sweet moon of Earth. A train of fond recollections hurried over me like flocks of homeward birds. O, the feeling that the dear earth was forever lost! In my passionate grief I cried out "Where am I? What means this transformation of everything real, except my desolate identity alone, in this infinite and awful creation?" Hate arose with my terror. Who tore me from my home, and the love of my own lowly species, to torture me in this lonely and tremendous world?

I longed for the lordly being at whose feet I had crouched in worship so abject and so delicious, with desperate and frantic malice. He suddenly appeared, and I heaped myself on the ground in utter nothingness.

The patient ingenuity of my master, by influencing modifications of my constitution, and by contriving artificial agencies, was long in adapting me sufficiently to the conditions of life on his planet, to qualify me for receiving the instruction which was the object of my persistent curiosity. I learned with astonishment that the period during which the great sun was above the horizon was a season of artificial darkening and refrigeration to the inhabitants. Nobody could behold daylight so hot and bright. I was confounded by further facts.

That globe was a planet of virtual homogeneity, without flora or fauna, water, atmosphere, or vapor. All had disappeared aeons of time ago, and nothing, as it were, remained, but these exalted beings and their works. The atmosphere they breathed, the fluids they drank, the aliments they fed on, the trees, flowers, and, in a word, the landscape, were all artificial — the creation of creatures. It was terrible to reflect that the very breath of life should depend upon the laboratory, and that a whole race, even of superhuman rank, must perish in an hour, were their own art to fail them against the merciless energy of nature. There seemed something unspeakably dreadful in having nothing to trust in creation but Providence and one's own handiwork.

"Nay," said my benign master, "it is dreadful to trust anything else." 

My vesture was of gossamer fineness, and possessed of the peculiar property previously remarked of another, by which a palpable but invisible elasticity interposed to prevent actual contact with my skin, and to fill, as it were, the places, such as the ears, into which the covering could not penetrate, with a pressure like that of the atmosphere of my native planet. The modesty which suggested the addition of a mantle of almost intangible but luminous fineness, meekly blushed on my own human cheek, and the veil had been bestowed with a look of benignant humor. I found that the rhythmical character of motion, sound, and speech, was real and universal. 

My master smiled at my distinction between the actual and the poetical, as he spoke only in rhythmical measures of exquisite cadence; for all things are kindred and in harmony, and the humble singer of earth but faintly glimpses a law of the beautiful as universal as truth.

"Child of an unspent storm," said my reverend master, (transposing his words as I must,) "what you call phenomena, are equally wonderful anywhere, though not equally familiar." 

"Master," said I, "it is art, not phenomena, which most astonishes me. Here I behold a majestic population, existing in happiness, triumphant over all the assurances of certain death. Has Art triumphed over Nature ?" 

"Lowly aspirant, in whose troubled simplicity my fathers shuddered unnumbered ages ago, Art is Nature triumphing. Genius is Nature knowing herself." I begged for knowledge of the wonderful organ on his head.

"The rudiment of it is in your own, where parts of the brain perplex your anatomists. Even after birth, the fontanelles reluctantly close against a development not fitted with adequate conditions in your planet as yet. But it has a little influence on you. You long after a fact of perception not possible to any of your senses; not after an unthinkable Absolute, as you suppose. That perception is mine. One effect of that development of the eminent sense is the capacity for satisfactory ignorance. Beings with our senses cannot speculate. Whatever is knowledge to us, is already known; either actually or potentially. Results suspend themselves in our minds as in your own, under an hypothesis; but, its value at any stage of generalization is exactly demonstrable." 

I begged some illustration. He bade me look at the sky. I described the heavenly bodies in view. 

"The flimsy, inglorious efflux received by the visual sense, from some of the surfaces of bodies, which you call light, alone bespeaks to you the qualities you impute to yonder bodies. Yet it is not ordinarily present to my consciousness, flush with testimonies of reality, immeasurably more noble. You individualized only as you saw. But if I can more than see, my individual and yours may be different. You have adverted to gravity which holds bodies in space; might not that gravity be the individual object, and the globe you see, the incident only ?" 

"But the one is material, and the other immaterial," I ventured.

"But both make themselves known to sense: what you call the material, to your sense, and both of them to my sense. If, now, both affect my sense alike, both, being real, are alike material or immaterial." 

Was then vacancy itself sensible to the organs of higher beings? He divined my thought. 

"Lowly inquirer," said my master, "there is no vacancy. There is no super-reality, and there is no sub-reality; but there is Reality, and that is everywhere. A force impinging on you, is all you profess to know of reality. That is all I know; for even sense, as your own philosophers teach, must be just that, and nothing more. But if you had no eye, what would you suppose of the force which trembles across the limitless fields of heaven to the optic nerve, there to impinge, and reveal light? You would not believe there was such a force, and without knowledge of that, how few others could you ever have known?"

"Does the eminent sense enable you to perceive worlds too remote for telescopic vision?" l faltered to ask my awful master after the dear, distant globe, where Moses published the Law, where Homer sang, and where Humboldt reasoned — where my mother bore me, and where infancy hailed me father. 

My gentle master turned to a particular direction, and intently regarded the sky; the godly coronal flashing with the tension, until at length he spoke:

"Sad is the spectacle of your own planet — a nascent world, horrid with the raw violence of furious forces; quaking with internal fires; frozen with snows; inundated with seas; deformed with volcanic crags; darkened with fogs; and peopled with the repulsive creatures of infra-human grade, able even yet to dispute with man his prerogative in the progress." 

"But your world is in its giddy youth. As ages roll on, she will draw nearer to her sun; her mountains will wash into her seas; her vapors will solidify; her atmosphere will grow thinner; her animal and vegetal life will die out; and during all this, man will supply, by his expanding genius, the requisites for his subsistence and exaltation ; his coronal sense will emerge from his brain; his head will tower with the glory of its developed organ, and he will at length be as I am." 

"But long before he reaches my grade, he will shrink, with wonder and disgust, to look back at the selfishness of his ancestry — for he will have learned that fear was the sole origin of vice and folly, and ignorance the cause of fear; that as fast as he got knowledge, he got freedom; and with freedom, courage; and with courage, confidence; and with confidence, love. He will have learned that even Man is good, every whit he dares be."


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