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"Well, Mr. Idiot," said Mr. Pedagog, as the guests gathered about the table, "how goes the noble art of invention with you? You've been at it for some time now. Do you find that you have succeeded in your self-imposed mission and made the condition of the civilized less unbearable?"
"Frankly, Mr. Pedagog, I have failed," said the Idiot, sadly. "Failed egregiously. I cannot find that of all the many schemes I have evolved for the benefit of the human race any single one has been adopted by those who would be benefited. Wherefore, with the exception of Dreamaline, which I have not yet developed to my satisfaction, I shall do no more inventing. What is the use? Even you, gentlemen, here have tacitly declined to accept my plan for the elimination of irritation on Waffle Days, a plan at once simple, picturesque, and efficacious. With such discouragement at home, what hope have I for better fortune abroad?"
"It is dreadful to be an unappreciated genius!" said the Bibliomaniac, gruffly. "It's better to be a plain lunatic. A plain lunatic is at least free from the consciousness of failure."
"Nevertheless, I'd rather be myself than any one else at this board," rejoined the Idiot. "Unappreciated though I be, I am at least happy. Consciousness of failure need not necessarily destroy one's happiness. If I do the best I can with the tools I have I needn't weep because I fail, and with his consciousness of failure the unappreciated genius always has the consolation of knowing that it is not he but the world that is wrong. If I am a philanthropist and offer a thousand dollars to a charity, and the charity declines to accept it because I happen to have made it out of my interest in 'A Widows' and Orphans' Speculation Company, Large Losses a Surety,' it is the charity that loses, not I. So with my plans. Social expansion is not taken up by society—who dies, I or society? Capitalists decline to consider my proposition for a General Poetry Trust and Supply Company. Who loses a fine chance, I or the capitalists? I may be a little discouraged for the time being, but what of that? Invention isn't the only occupation in the world for me. I can give up Philanthropy and take up Misanthropy in a moment if I want to—and with Dreamaline I can rule the world."
"Ah—just what is this Dreamaline?" asked Mr. Whitechoker, interested.
"That, sir, is the question which I am now trying to answer for myself," returned the Idiot. "If I could answer it, as I have said, I could rule the world—everybody could rule the world; that is to say, his own world. It is based on an old idea which has been found by some to be practicable, but it has never been developed to the point which I hope to attain."
"Wake me up when he gets to the point, will you, kindly?" whispered the Doctor to the Bibliomaniac.
"If you sleep until then you'll never wake," said the Bibliomaniac. "To my mind the Idiot never comes to a point."
"You are a little too mysterious for me," observed Mr. Whitechoker. "I know no more about Dreamaline now than I did when you began."
"Which is my case exactly," said the Idiot. "It is a vague, shadowy something as yet. It is only a germ lost in my cerebral wrinkles, but I hope by a persistent smoothing out of those wrinkles with what I might call the flat-iron of thought, I may yet lay hold of the microbe, and with it electrify the world. Once Dreamaline is discovered all other discoveries become as nothing; all other inventions for the amelioration of the condition of the civilized will be unnecessary, and even Progressive Waffles will cease to fascinate."
"Perhaps," said the Bibliomaniac, "if you will give us a hint as to the nature of your plan in general we may be able to help you in carrying it out."
"The Doctor might," said the Idiot. "My genial friend who occasionally imbibes might—even the Poet, with his taste for Welsh rarebits, might—but from you and Mr. Pedagog and Mr. Whitechoker I fear I should receive little assistance. Indeed, I am not sure but that Mr. Whitechoker might disapprove of the plan altogether."
"Any plan which makes life happier and better is sure to meet with my approval," said Mr. Whitechoker.
"With that encouragement, then," said the Idiot, "I will endeavor to lay before you my crowning invention. Dreamaline, as its name may suggest, should be a patent medicine, by taking which man should become oblivious to care."
"What's the matter with champagne for that?" interrupted the Genial Old Gentleman who occasionally imbibes.
"Champagne has some good points," said the Idiot. "But there are two drawbacks—the effects and the price. Both of these drawbacks, so far from making us oblivious to our cares, add to them. The superiority of Dreamaline over champagne, or even over beer, which is comparatively cheap, is that one dose of Dreamaline, costing one cent, will do more for the patient than one case of champagne or one keg of beer; it is not intoxicating or ruinous to the purse. Furthermore, it is more potent for good, since, under its genial influences, man can do that to which he aspires, or, what is perhaps better yet, merely imagine that he is doing that to which he aspires, and so avoid the disappointment which I am told always comes with ambition achieved.
"Take, for instance, the literary man. We know of many cases in which the literary man has stimulated his imagination by means of drugs, and while under the influence has penned the most marvellous tales. That man sacrifices himself for the delectation of others. In order to write something for the world to rave over, he takes a dose which makes him rave, and which ultimately kills him. Dreamaline will make this entirely unnecessary. Instead of the writers taking hasheesh, the reader takes Dreamaline. Instead of one man having to smoke opium for millions, the millions take Dreamaline for themselves as individuals. I would have the scientists, then, the chemists, study the subject carefully, decide what quality it is in hasheesh that makes a writer conceive of these horrible situations, put this into a nostrum, and sell it to those who like horrible situations, and let them dream their own stories."
"Very interesting," said the Bibliomaniac, "but all readers do not like horrible situations. We are not all morbid."
"For which we should be devoutly thankful," said the Idiot. "But your point is not well taken. On each bottle of what I should call 'Literary Dreamaline,' to distinguish it from 'Art Dreamaline,' 'Scientific Dreamaline,' and so on, I should have printed explicit directions showing consumers how the dose should be modified to meet the consumer's taste. One man likes a De Maupassant story. Let him take his Dreamaline straight, lie down and dream. He'd get his De Maupassant story with a vengeance. Another likes the modern story in realism—a story in which a prize might be offered to the reader who finds a situation, an incident in the three hundred odd pages of the book he reads. This man could take a spoonful of Dreamaline and dilute it to his taste. A drop of Dreamaline, which taken raw would give a man a dream like Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, put into a hogshead of pure water would enable the man who took a spoonful of it before going to bed to fall asleep and walk through a three-volume novel by Henry James. Thus every man could get what he wanted at small expense. Dreamaline for readers sold at a dollar a quart would give every consumer as big and varied a library as he wished, and would be a great saving to the eyes. People would have more time for other pleasures if by taking a dose of Dreamaline before retiring they could get all their literature in their sleeping hours. Then every bottle would pay for itself ten times over if on awakening the next morning the consumer would write out the story he had dreamed and publish it for the benefit of those who were afraid to take the medicine."
"You wouldn't make much money out of it, though," said the Poet. "If one bottle sufficed for a library you wouldn't find much of a demand."
"That could be got around in two ways," said the Idiot. "We could copyright every bottle of Dreamaline and require the consumers to pay us a royalty on every book inspired by it, or we could ourselves take what I would call Financial Dreamaline, one dose of which would make a man feel like a millionaire. Life is only feeling after all. If you feel like a millionaire you are as happy as a millionaire—happier, in fact, because in reality you do not have to wear your thumbs out cutting coupons on the first of every month. Then I should have Art Dreamaline. You could have it arranged so that by a certain dose you could have old masters all over your house; by another dose you could get a collection of modern French paintings, and by swallowing a whole bottle you could dream that your walls were lined with mysteries that would drive the Impressionists crazy with envy. In Scientific Dreamaline you would get ideas for invention that would revolutionize the world."
"How about the poets and the humorists?" asked the Poet.
"They'd be easy," said the Idiot. "I wouldn't have any hasheesh in the mixture for them. Welsh rarebit would do, and you'd get poems so mysterious and jokes so uproarious that the whole world would soon be filled with wonder and with laughter. In short, Dreamaline would go into every walk of life. Music, letters, art, poetry, finance. Every man according to his bent or his tastes could partake. Every man could make with it his own little world in which he was himself the prime mover, and so harmless would it be that when next morning he awoke he would be as tranquil and as happy as a babe. I hope, gentlemen, to see the day when Dreamaline is an established fact, when we cannot enter a household in the land that does not have hanging on its walls, after the manner of those glass fire hand-grenades, a wire rack holding a row of bottles labelled Art, Letters, Music, and so on, instead of libraries, picture-galleries, music-rooms, and laboratories. The rich and the poor alike may have it. The child who loves to have stories told to him will cry for it; the poor wanderer who loves opera and cannot afford even to pass the opera-house in a cable-car, can go into a drug-store, and for a cent, begged of a kind-hearted pedestrian on the street, purchase a sufficient quantity to imagine himself a box-holder; the ambitious statesman can through its influences enjoy the sensation of thinking himself President of the United States. Not a man, woman, or child lives but would find it a boon, and as harmless as a Graham cracker. That, gentlemen, is my crowning invention, and until I see it realized I invent no more. Good-morning."
And in a moment he was gone.
"Well!" said Mr. Pedagog. "That's the cap to the climax."
"Yes," said Mrs. Smithers-Pedagog.
"Where do you suppose he got the idea?" asked the Bibliomaniac.
"I don't know," said the Doctor. "But I suspect that without knowing it he's had some of the stuff he describes. Most of his schemes indicate it, and Dreamaline, I think, proves it."
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