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"If I were beginning life all over again," said the Idiot, "I'd be an electrician. It seems to me that of all modern pursuits, barring architecture perhaps, electricity is the most fascinating."
"There's probably more money in it than there is in Idiocy, too, I fancy," said the Bibliomaniac, dryly.
"Well, I should think so," assented the Idiot. "Idiocy is merely an intellectual diversion. Electricity is a practical science. Idiocy cannot be said to be anything more than a luxury, while electricity has become a necessity. I do not even claim that any real lasting benefit can come to the world through Idiocy, but in electricity are possibilities, not yet realized, for which the world will be distinctly better and happier."
"It is kind of you to speak so highly of electricity," said the Doctor. "The science may now advance, knowing that you approve."
"Approve?" cried the Idiot. "Approve is not the word, sir. I enthuse—and why should I not, feeling, as I do, that in the electrical current lies the germ of the Elixir of Life! I thoroughly believe that a bottle of liquefied electricity would make us all young."
"Then don't take it!" said the School-master. "You have suffered from an aggravated case of youngness for as long a time as I have known you. Pray do nothing to intensify your youth."
"I fear I shall be forced to deny myself that pleasure, Mr. Pedagog," returned the Idiot, mildly, "for the unhappy reason that as yet the formula for the Electrical Elixir has not been discovered; that it will be discovered before I die I hope and pray, because, unlike the man in the hymn, I would live always. I'd like to be an immortal."
"An immortal Idiot! Think of it!" said the Doctor.
"I didn't expect much sympathy from you, Dr. Capsule," said the Idiot. "The man with car-horses to sell does not dote upon the trolley-car."
"The application of the allegory is not entirely apparent," said the Doctor.
"No?" said the Idiot. "I am surprised. I thought you intellectuals absorbed ideas more quickly. To deal in plain terms, since it appears to be necessary, a plan which involves the indefinite extension of mortal life and the elimination of bodily ills is not likely to receive the hearty endorsement of the medical profession. If a man could come home on a stormy night and offset the deleterious effects of wet feet by swallowing an electric pill, one containing two volts, like a two-grain quinine pill, for instance, with greater certainty than one feels in taking quinine, your profession would have to put up the shutters and go into some such business as writing articles on 'Measles as It Used to Be,' or 'Disorders of the Ante-Electrical Period.' The fine part of it all is that we should not have to rely for our medicines upon the state of the arsenic market, or the quinine supply, or the squill product of the year. Electric sparks can be made without number whether the sun shines or not. The failure of the Peruvian Bark Crop, or the destruction by an early frost of the Castor Oil Wells, would cease to be a hideous possibility to delicate natures. They could all fail for all mankind need fear, for electricity can be generated when and wherever one has need of it. If your electric pills were used up, and the chemist too far away from your house for you to get the supply replenished at the moment, you could put on your slippers and by walking up and down your carpeted floor for ten or fifteen minutes generate enough electricity to see you through. Of course you'd have to have a pair of dynamic-storage-reservoir slippers to catch the sparks as they flew, but I fancy they'd be less costly in the long run than the medicines we have to-day."
"Why have wet feet at all if electricity is to be so all-powerful?" suggested Mr. Whitechoker. "Why not devise an electrical foot-protector and ward off all possibility of damp, cold feet?"
"You couldn't do that with men and women constituted as they are," said the Idiot. "Your foot-protector would no doubt be a good thing, but so are rubber overshoes. Nothing will ever be patented to compel a man to keep his feet dry, and he won't do it except under compulsion, but once having his feet wet he will seek the remedy. It's the Elixir of Life that I bank on most, however. I don't believe there is one among us, excepting Mrs. Pedagog, to whom twenty-five was not the most delightful period of existence. To Mrs. Pedagog, as to all women, eighteen is the limit. But men at twenty-five and women at eighteen know so much, enjoy so much, regard themselves so highly! There is nothing blasé about them then. Disillusion—which I think ought to be called dissolution—comes later. At thirty a man discovers that the things he knew at twenty-five aren't so; and as for a woman at twenty-five, if so be she is unmarried, her life is empty, and if so be she is married, she has cares in the shape of children and a husband, who as a theory was a poet, but who as a reality is a mere business machine who is oftentimes no fonder of staying at home than he was before he was married and went out to see her every night."
"What a wise little pessimist he is!" said Mr. Pedagog to the Doctor.
"Very. But I fail to comprehend why he branches off into Pessimism when Electricity was his text," said the Doctor.
"Because he's the Id—" began the Bibliomaniac, but the Idiot interrupted him.
"Don't jump fences, gentlemen, before you know whether they are made of barbed wire or not. I'm coming to the points you are bringing up, and if you are not careful they may puncture you," he said. "I am not in any sense a pessimist. Quite the contrary. I am an optimist. I'm not old enough or cross-grained enough as yet to be a pessimist, and it's because I don't want to be a pessimist that I want this Elixir of Electricity to hurry up and have itself patented. If men when they reached the age of twenty-five, and women at eighteen, would begin to take this they might live to be a thousand and yet retain all the spirit and feelings of twenty-five and eighteen. That's the connection, Dr. Capsule. If I could be twenty-five all my life I'd be as happy as a bird—and if I were the Poet here I'd immortalize that idea in verse—"A man's the biggest thing alive
"That's a good idea," returned the Poet. "I'll make a note of that, and if I sell it I'll give you a commission."
"No, don't do that," said the Idiot, slyly. "I shall be satisfied to see your name in print."
The Poet having accepted this sally in the spirit in which it was intended, the Idiot resumed:
"But of course the Elixir and the Electrical Pills are as yet all in the air. We haven't even taken a step in that direction. Mr. Edison and other wizards have been too much occupied with electric lights and telephones and phonographs and transatlantic notions to pay any attention to schemes to prolong life and keep us, despite our years, perpetually young."
"I fancy they are likely to continue to do so," said the Doctor. "Whatever motive you may attribute to me for pooh-poohing your notions, I do so. No sane person wants to live forever, and if it were possible that all men might live forever, you'd soon find the world so crowded that the slighter actors in the human comedy would be shoved off the stage. There are enough people in the world now, without man's adding all future generations to their number and making death an impossibility."
"That's all nonsense," said the Idiot. "My Elixir wouldn't make death an impossibility. Any man who thought he'd had enough at the end of a thousand years could stop taking the Elixir and shuffle off the mortal coil. As a matter of fact, not more than ten per cent. of the people in the world would have any faith in the Elixir at all. I know people to-day who do not take advantage of the many patent remedies that are within their reach, preferring the mustard-plaster and catnip-tea of their forefathers. There's where human nature works again. I believe that if I were myself the discoverer of the formula for my mixture, and for an advertisement secured a letter from a man saying, 'I was dying of old age, having reached the advanced period of ninety-seven; I took two bottles of your Electrical Elixir and am now celebrating my twenty-fifth birthday again,' ninety-nine per cent. of the people who read it would laugh and think it had strayed out of the funny column. People lack confidence in their fellow-men—that's all; but if they were twenty-five and eighteen that would all be changed. We are very trustful at twenty-five and eighteen, which is one of the things I like about those respective ages. When I was twenty-five I believed in everybody, including myself. Now—well, I'm older. But enough of schemes, which I must admit are somewhat visionary—as the telephone would have seemed one hundred years ago. Let us come down to realities in electricity. I can't see why more is not made of the phonograph for the benefit of the public. Take a man like Chauncey M. De Choate. He goes here and he goes there to make speeches, when I've no doubt he'd much prefer to stay at home cutting coupons off his bonds. Why can't the phonograph voice do his duty? Instead of making the same speech over and over again, why can't some electrician so improve the phonograph that De Choate can say what he has to say through a funnel, have it impressed on a cylinder, duplicated and reduplicated and scattered broadcast over the world? If Mr. Edison could impart what poets call stentorian tones to the phonograph, he'd be doing a great and noble work. Again, for smaller things, like a dance, Why can't the phonograph be made useful at a ball? I attended one the other night, and when I wanted to dance the two-step the band played the polka; if I wished the polka it played a waltz. Some men can only dance the two-step—they don't know the waltz, the polka, or the schottische. Now why can't the phonograph come to the rescue? In almost any hotel in New York you can drop a nickel in a slot and hear Sousa's band on the phonograph. Why not extend the principle and have a phonograph for men who can dance nothing but the two-step, charged with 'The Washington Post March,' and supplied with four tubes with receivers to put in the ears of the listeners? Make it small enough for a man to carry in his pocket; then at a ball he could go up to a young lady, ask her to dance, put two of the receivers in her ears, two in his, and trip the light fantastic toe utterly independently of what other people were dancing. It's possible. Mr. Edison could do it in five minutes, and every one would be satisfied. It might be rather droll to see two people dancing the two-step while eight others were fastened on to a lanciers phonograph, and a dozen or more other couples were dancing respectively the waltz, schottische, and Virginia reel, but we'd soon get used to that, and no man need become a wall-flower because he couldn't dance the dance that happened to be on. Furthermore, you'd be able to do away with the musicians, who always cast a pall over dances because of their superiority to the rest of the world in general and the dancers in particular."
"How about your couple that prefer to sit out the dance on the stairs?" said the Poet, who, in common with the Idiot, knew several things about dances that Messrs. Pedagog and Whitechoker did not.
"It would be particularly attractive to them," said the Idiot. "They could sit on the stairs and wax sentimental over any dreamy air the man happened to have in his vest-pocket. He could arrange all that beforehand—find out what song she thought divinest, and go loaded accordingly. And as for the things that usually happen on stairs at dances, as well as in conservatories at balls, with the aid of a phonograph a man could propose to a girl in the presence of a thousand people, and nobody but the maiden herself would be the wiser. I tell you, gentlemen," the Idiot added, enthusiastically, as he rose to depart, "if the phonograph people only knew their power they'd do great things. The patent vest-pocket phonograph for music at balls and proposals for bashful men alone would make their fortunes if they only could see it. I almost wish I were an electrician and not an Idiot."
With which he left the room, and Mr. Pedagog whispered to Mrs. Pedagog that while he considered the Idiot very much of an idiot, there was no denying that at times he did get hold of ideas that were not wholly bad.
"That's true," said the good landlady. "I think if you had proposed to me through a phonograph I should not have had to guess at what you meant and lead you on to express yourself more clearly. I didn't want to say yes until I was fully convinced that you meant what you didn't seem able to say."
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