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Of A Book Unwritten

Accomplished literature is all very well in its way, no doubt, but much
more fascinating to the contemplative man are the books that have not
been written. These latter are no trouble to hold; there are no pages to
turn over. One can read them in bed on sleepless nights without a
candle. Turning to another topic, primitive man in the works of the
descriptive anthropologist is certainly a very entertaining and quaint
person, but the man of the future, if we only had the facts, would
appeal to us more strongly. Yet where are the books? As Ruskin has said
somewhere, _ propos_ of Darwin, it is not what man has been, but what
he will be, that should interest us.

The contemplative man in his easy-chair, pondering this saying, suddenly
beholds in the fire, through the blue haze of his pipe, one of these
great unwritten volumes. It is large in size, heavy in lettering,
seemingly by one Professor Holzkopf, presumably Professor at
Weissnichtwo. "The Necessary Characters of the Man of the Remote Future
deduced from the Existing Stream of Tendency" is the title. The worthy
Professor is severely scientific in his method, and deliberate and
cautious in his deductions, the contemplative man discovers as he
pursues his theme, and yet the conclusions are, to say the least,
remarkable. We must figure the excellent Professor expanding the matter
at great length, voluminously technical, but the contemplative
man--since he has access to the only copy--is clearly at liberty to make
such extracts and abstracts as he chooses for the unscientific reader.
Here, for instance, is something of practicable lucidity that he
considers admits of quotation. "The theory of evolution," writes the
Professor, "is now universally accepted by zoologists and botanists, and
it is applied unreservedly to man. Some question, indeed, whether it
fits his soul, but all agree it accounts for his body. Man, we are
assured, is descended from ape-like ancestors, moulded by circumstances
into men, and these apes again were derived from ancestral forms of a
lower order, and so up from the primordial protoplasmic jelly. Clearly
then, man, unless the order of the universe has come to an end, will
undergo further modification in the future, and at last cease to be man,
giving rise to some other type of animated being. At once the
fascinating question arises, What will this being be? Let us consider
for a little the plastic influences at work upon our species.

"Just as the bird is the creature of the wing, and is all moulded and
modified to flying, and just as the fish is the creature that swims, and
has had to meet the inflexible conditions of a problem in hydrodynamics,
so man is the creature of the brain; he will live by intelligence, and
not by physical strength, if he live at all. So that much that is purely
'animal' about him is being, and must be, beyond all question,
suppressed in his ultimate development. Evolution is no mechanical
tendency making for perfection, according to the ideas current in the
year of grace 1897; it is simply the continual adaptation of plastic
life, for good or evil, to the circumstances that surround it.... We
notice this decay of the animal part around us now, in the loss of teeth
and hair, in the dwindling hands and feet of men, in their smaller jaws,
and slighter mouths and ears. Man now does by wit and machinery and
verbal agreement what he once did by bodily toil; for once he had to
catch his dinner, capture his wife, run away from his enemies, and
continually exercise himself, for love of himself, to perform these
duties well. But now all this is changed. Cabs, trains, trams, render
speed unnecessary, the pursuit of food becomes easier; his wife is no
longer hunted, but rather, in view of the crowded matrimonial market,
seeks him out. One needs wits now to live, and physical activity is a
drug, a snare even; it seeks artificial outlets, and overflows in
games. Athleticism takes up time and cripples a man in his competitive
examinations, and in business. So is your fleshly man handicapped
against his subtler brother. He is unsuccessful in life, does not marry.
The better adapted survive."

The coming man, then, will clearly have a larger brain, and a slighter
body than the present. But the Professor makes one exception to this.
"The human hand, since it is the teacher and interpreter of the brain,
will become constantly more powerful and subtle as the rest of the
musculature dwindles."

Then in the physiology of these children of men, with their expanding
brains, their great sensitive hands and diminishing bodies, great
changes were necessarily worked. "We see now," says the Professor, "in
the more intellectual sections of humanity an increasing sensitiveness
to stimulants, a growing inability to grapple with such a matter as
alcohol, for instance. No longer can men drink a bottleful of port; some
cannot drink tea; it is too exciting for their highly-wrought nervous
systems. The process will go on, and the Sir Wilfrid Lawson of some near
generation may find it his duty and pleasure to make the silvery spray
of his wisdom tintinnabulate against the tea-tray. These facts lead
naturally to the comprehension of others. Fresh raw meat was once a dish
for a king. Now refined persons scarcely touch meat unless it is
cunningly disguised. Again, consider the case of turnips; the raw root
is now a thing almost uneatable, but once upon a time a turnip must have
been a rare and fortunate find, to be torn up with delirious eagerness
and devoured in ecstasy. The time will come when the change will affect
all the other fruits of the earth. Even now, only the young of mankind
eat apples raw--the young always preserving ancestral characteristics
after their disappearance in the adult. Some day even boys will regard
apples without emotion. The boy of the future, one must believe, will
gaze on an apple with the same unspeculative languor with which he now
regards a flint"--in the absence of a cat.

"Furthermore, fresh chemical discoveries came into action as modifying
influences upon men. In the prehistoric period even, man's mouth had
ceased to be an instrument for grasping food; it is still growing
continually less prehensile, his front teeth are smaller, his lips
thinner and less muscular; he has a new organ, a mandible not of
irreparable tissue, but of bone and steel--a knife and fork. There is no
reason why things should stop at partial artificial division thus
afforded; there is every reason, on the contrary, to believe my
statement that some cunning exterior mechanism will presently masticate
and insalivate his dinner, relieve his diminishing salivary glands and
teeth, and at last altogether abolish them."

Then what is not needed disappears. What use is there for external ears,
nose, and brow ridges now? The two latter once protected the eye from
injury in conflict and in falls, but in these days we keep on our legs,
and at peace. Directing his thoughts in this way, the reader may
presently conjure up a dim, strange vision of the latter-day face: "Eyes
large, lustrous, beautiful, soulful; above them, no longer separated by
rugged brow ridges, is the top of the head, a glistening, hairless dome,
terete and beautiful; no craggy nose rises to disturb by its unmeaning
shadows the symmetry of that calm face, no vestigial ears project; the
mouth is a small, perfectly round aperture, toothless and gumless,
jawless, unanimal, no futile emotions disturbing its roundness as it
lies, like the harvest moon or the evening star, in the wide firmament
of face." Such is the face the Professor beholds in the future.

Of course parallel modifications will also affect the body and limbs.
"Every day so many hours and so much energy are required for digestion;
a gross torpidity, a carnal lethargy, seizes on mortal men after dinner.
This may and can be avoided. Man's knowledge of organic chemistry widens
daily. Already he can supplement the gastric glands by artificial
devices. Every doctor who administers physic implies that the bodily
functions may be artificially superseded. We have pepsine, pancreatine,
artificial gastric acid--I know not what like mixtures. Why, then,
should not the stomach be ultimately superannuated altogether? A man
who could not only leave his dinner to be cooked, but also leave it to
be masticated and digested, would have vast social advantages over his
food-digesting fellow. This is, let me remind you here, the calmest,
most passionless, and scientific working out of the future forms of
things from the data of the present. At this stage the following facts
may perhaps stimulate your imagination. There can be no doubt that many
of the Arthropods, a division of animals more ancient and even now more
prevalent than the Vertebrata, have undergone more phylogenetic
modification"--a beautiful phrase--"than even the most modified of
vertebrated animals. Simple forms like the lobsters display a primitive
structure parallel with that of the fishes. However, in such a form as
the degraded 'Chondracanthus,' the structure has diverged far more
widely from its original type than in man. Among some of these most
highly modified crustaceans the whole of the alimentary canal--that is,
all the food-digesting and food-absorbing parts--form a useless solid
cord: the animal is nourished--it is a parasite--by absorption of the
nutritive fluid in which it swims. Is there any absolute impossibility
in supposing man to be destined for a similar change; to imagine him no
longer dining, with unwieldy paraphernalia of servants and plates, upon
food queerly dyed and distorted, but nourishing himself in elegant
simplicity by immersion in a tub of nutritive fluid?

"There grows upon the impatient imagination a building, a dome of
crystal, across the translucent surface of which flushes of the most
glorious and pure prismatic colours pass and fade and change. In the
centre of this transparent chameleon-tinted dome is a circular white
marble basin filled with some clear, mobile, amber liquid, and in this
plunge and float strange beings. Are they birds?

"They are the descendants of man--at dinner. Watch them as they hop on
their hands--a method of progression advocated already by
Bjornsen--about the pure white marble floor. Great hands they have,
enormous brains, soft, liquid, soulful eyes. Their whole muscular
system, their legs, their abdomens, are shrivelled to nothing, a
dangling, degraded pendant to their minds."

The further visions of the Professor are less alluring.

"The animals and plants die away before men, except such as he preserves
for his food or delight, or such as maintain a precarious footing about
him as commensals and parasites. These vermin and pests must succumb
sooner or later to his untiring inventiveness and incessantly growing
discipline. When he learns (the chemists are doubtless getting towards
the secret now) to do the work of chlorophyll without the plant, then
his necessity for other animals and plants upon the earth will
disappear. Sooner or later, where there is no power of resistance and no
necessity, there comes extinction. In the last days man will be alone on
the earth, and his food will be won by the chemist from the dead rocks
and the sunlight.

"And--one may learn the full reason in that explicit and painfully right
book, the _Data of Ethics_--the irrational fellowship of man will give
place to an intellectual co-operation, and emotion fall within the
scheme of reason. Undoubtedly it is a long time yet, but a long time is
nothing in the face of eternity, and every man who dares think of these
things must look eternity in the face."

Then the earth is ever radiating away heat into space, the Professor
reminds us. And so at last comes a vision of earthly cherubim, hopping
heads, great unemotional intelligences, and little hearts, fighting
together perforce and fiercely against the cold that grips them tighter
and tighter. For the world is cooling--slowly and inevitably it grows
colder as the years roll by. "We must imagine these creatures," says the
Professor, "in galleries and laboratories deep down in the bowels of the
earth. The whole world will be snow-covered and piled with ice; all
animals, all vegetation vanished, except this last branch of the tree of
life. The last men have gone even deeper, following the diminishing heat
of the planet, and vast metallic shafts and ventilators make way for the
air they need."

So with a glimpse of these human tadpoles, in their deep close gallery,
with their boring machinery ringing away, and artificial lights glaring
and casting black shadows, the Professor's horoscope concludes. Humanity
in dismal retreat before the cold, changed beyond recognition. Yet the
Professor is reasonable enough, his facts are current science, his
methods orderly. The contemplative man shivers at the prospect, starts
up to poke the fire, and the whole of this remarkable book that is not
written vanishes straightway in the smoke of his pipe. This is the great
advantage of this unwritten literature: there is no bother in changing
the books. The contemplative man consoles himself for the destiny of the
species with the lost portion of Kubla Khan.

H.G. Wells