The Reading Room
~ 9 ~
The Nineteenth Century Grows An Impressive Crop of Weenies
(Editor’s Note: The reader may be curious why, not even having covered the Middle Ages, the Crusades, the Renaissance, the “Age of Reason”, the French Revolution, or the invention of the harmonica, the author is skipping all the way to the Nineteenth Century. Do not be concerned; we will get back to everything. Please remember that this sequential way of doing things is only a figment of your ethnocentric Western mind and that the liberated author is free to do things in any manner she sees fit. The next chapter will be about 3rd-century Tibet.)
SOMETIME CONSIDERABLY AFTER the Dawn of Time, located conveniently nestled between the Eighteenth and the Twentieth Century, there was a period of time referred to rather romantically as the “Nineteenth Century”. This period, so I’m told, lasted about one hundred years, and rather interestingly this is the same amount of time as the Eighteenth and Twentieth Centuries. There seems to be something going on here.
Things were a little different in the Nineteenth Century. Fashions were changing… the guy with the powdered wig was being laughed at. The guy with the frilled cape was being shunned by his neighbors.
Now in were beards as long as the floor would allow. Women wore undergarments that we now use to restrain mental patients, and wore entire stuffed birds on their heads, and bunny slippers on their feet made out of real bunnies. Life was sweet in the spring, when the boys courted the girls with zinnias, and everybody drank patent medicines for a good time.
The first thing that happened in the Nineteenth Century was that the first minor planet, Ceres (so named for the little spot above a bird’s bill that you use to determine its sex), was identified (1 January 1801.)
After all of this time, to discover that there was something else spinning around out there was enough to set folks on the edge. They thought that they had everything figured out - after all, they had just come out of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, and, well, Ptolemy and Aristotle said so, darn it!
Many people thought this was the end, and that the Nineteenth Century would be over nearly before it was started. It made all of the people already in line for the Twentieth Century a little nervous, too.
But not Carl Frederick Gauss - for him, this was a beginning. He was a Great Mathematician, and in those days, you didn’t even need a beard or a certification of insanity to be a Great Mathematician… although it helped if you dressed funnily.
Everybody knew that Gauss had fashion sense. They didn’t realize that, inside his bean, lay a great and contemplative mathematical mind. So everybody was listening when Gauss, who wore pillbox hats a century before they became fashionable, made a great prediction about the new asteroid Ceres.
He predicted that it would land right on Napoleon’s head.
Now, of course, he knew that the odds of it hitting little-bitty Nap were pretty small - infinitesimal, in fact (now there’s a word that definitely isn’t “infinitesimal.” Nor “diminutive” or “microscopic.” Maybe “tiny” though.)
But the point was the sensationalism of the thing. Before he knew it, he was being quoted in Poor Richard’s Almanack, the London Telegraph, and the Paris Le Monde. Headlines like “Mathematician Predicts Little Tyrant to be Crushed by Minor Planet”, “Goliath Again Conquered by a Rock”, “Judgement on Bonaparte from the Heavens”, etc., made good news.
Everybody was having so much fun with this that nobody even noticed when, well, Ceres didn’t crush Napoleon or anything.
But Gauss knew that there would always be new fears to capitalize upon. Besides discovering many wonderful mathematical phenomena, he’s made a great living in the prophesy of doom business. He’s been in it ever since, predicting the portence of the meteor shower of November 1833, the freak winter storms in July 1819, and, more recently, Skylab and Comet Hale-Bopp.
Oh, Napoleon! He was the next really big thing that I should mention. He was a little stubby guy with a continually cold hand and a penchant for fine wine, but if you had ever saw him in person, you’d be struck by how much he looked like that fellow in the history books on the horse with the sword. All of the leading military minds of the day loved Napoleon. Winston Churchill didn’t like Napoleon, and Doug MacArthur didn’t like Napoleon, but this is all right, as they hadn’t been born yet.
Beethoven was going to dedicate his famous “Eroica” symphony to Nap, but then figured out that he really needed to put an ‘H’ at the beginning of that title, and drop the ‘a’ from the end, but by the time that he had done that, Napoleon had declared himself Emperor and Grand Head Cheese of the Whole Dang Universe, and You’d Better Believe It, and Beethoven was so disgusted that he scribbled out his former dedication, burned his musical manuscripts and his cottage, and turned to a successful career writing history books.
So Napoleon went around for a little while, laughing his laughs and singing little songs like we all do, until it was all tragically cut short after he missed the bus at Waterloo, got lost somewhere around Elba or Patmos or such, and then promptly fell over the edge of the world.
So that was it for Napoleon. Oh, yeah, and he fought some historic battles and stuff.
It was during this time (or pretty close to it, I don’t really care) that anesthetics were developed for use in surgery. This was a good thing for the medical patient. Instead of going to the dentist and writhing in pain in his chair, you could be made numb, feel nothing of the operation, go home, let the anesthetic wear off, and writhe in your own chair at home. People greatly appreciated being able to choose where and when they were going to writhe, and loved the convenience of being able to writhe at home.
The introduction of anesthetics introduced a Writhing Revolution just like the birth-control pill introduced a Sexual Revolution a hundred or some years later (see Chapter 189.) But like all chemical-induced revolutions, it was soon over, you soon got over it, and soon you were thinking, “What the heck was I doing back there? Was I mad?” History is grand fun, when you’re allowed to experiment by giving people drugs.
~ ã ~
The United States of America was at this time a little patch of woods, except for the coasts, which had little patches of beach. New York City was about as big as the little town your Aunt Carol came from, and was populated mainly by newsboys with Brooklyn accents and big, fat rich men with monocles and a resemblance to Rich Uncle Pennybags (hey, I learn all this stuff from the movies!)
The main export of the United States at this time was dreams, and the main import was people. This was in the days, of course, when you found out that the new land you had traveled five thousand miles to was essentially a wilderness, and that you had to actually carve out a place for yourself, that you couldn’t merely turn back and chicken out like we enlightened ones of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries. America was the “Land of Opportunity” - mainly because it was a clean slate, a virgin untouched wildland that had yet to be spoiled by civilized Man (and Woman, I forget the Feminists were alive and well at this time, too.)
But from this patch of woods came Zachary Taylor, greatest ideal of the Nineteenth Century gentleman.
He never drank beer, because the buzz-per-dollar ratio of such weak liquor was too low. The Nineteenth Century gentleman could never waste money. Remember, these were the days Charles Dickens had to work in a blacking factory to bail his father out of debtor’s prison. These were the days the wretched poor of the cities suffered in seas of hunger, dirt, and disease. These were the days of Oliver Twist and Uncle Scrooge.
Anyway, Zach wasn’t a beer-drinking man; he never bothered with anything weaker than Alabama whiskey, and the cheaper, the better. This was the 1800's; he drank it like tea, and if he had any little ones, they’d have it, too, and the little woman, pull up to the bar! Zach’s buying hooch for all!
After his booze, Zach was a real charmer. His beard seemed a lot longer, and his mutton chops seemed a lot meatier. He lacquered his words with the honey of fermented corn mash, and eloquently elaborated upon his natural charms with the coy mannerisms of…
…Wait a minute, what am I writing? Sorry -- I always get carried away when I get to the part with Zachary Taylor.
Anyway, jumping to a completely different subject, besides Zach Taylor, there were a number of interesting people (different from Zachary Taylor) who lived about this time.
There was, of course, Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who created Superman comics. His most famous work, though, was of course Thus Spake Zarathustra’s Kid Brother:
“I looked around startledly to find that my tour guide had lost me. I was left
alone in a mysterious chamber, which I trod endlessly searching for meaning.
Then the all-seeing Magic Mexican Jumping Bean inside my head, which had
never deserted me, said: ‘You are in the never-ending Torus of Life. Life is
so shaped, that the end meets the beginning and the beginning meets the end
and the end meets the beginning meets the beginning meets the end and the
end...’ I slapped myself to make the Bean continue. ‘Yes. Ahem. Wisdom is
also somewhat like a Klein bottle, except it is many-faceted. Be aware that the golden
imprint of the wisdoms of Zarathustra shall make much sauce out of the shape of
our universe. Life is kind of like a hypergeometric plane, in that it’s very hard to
draw. But I can say no more... know now that Man was not meant to know
everything, just the silliest things.’ And I woke from the Bean’s revelation to find
my feet seven thousand cubits above the bronzed cities of the earth. I wet myself.”
This book caused a considerable outrage in the philosophy community, which had formerly believed that books should generally make sense.
I’m not so sure. If books always made sense, history books would all need to be rewritten to tell a bunch of lies.
That’s why I figure that I’ll just go along with the consensus, and say that Nietzsche’s book was strange, nonetheless.
I’ll repeat one more quote from Fred Nietzsche, said at the time that he accepted his Persecuted Philosopher award from the Geneva Institute of Metaphysics and Tomfoolery before the prestigious Council: “There are those who question my godlike intelligence and stunning wit. These infidels, knowing secretly my truth, lack any integrity whatsoever, and are backwards idiots. Tomcats mewl for milk on Monday, and even so all of my opposition shall be crushed with my left hand.
“Besides, since Gauss I’ve never seen a Great Thinker™ with as much fashion sense as I have. Bow in adoration, simpering peons!”
Everybody liked avoiding Nietzsche. Actually, that was the most popular sport in the 1870’s, and Nietzsche’s incredibly immense ego made it quite difficult to do. Not until Sigmund Freud popped onto the scene did the avoiding Nietzsche craze diminish in popularity. So there.
~ ã ~
Just as the third millennium B.C. was the Bronze Age, the second millennium B.C. was the Iron Age, and the 1600's were the Silly Putty Age, the nineteenth century was the Mechanical Age. Coal and Steam were King and Queen, though how compatible as a married couple they were I wouldn’t care to guess, even though good King Coal was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he.
Now who is this, sitting atop a pile of nuts and bolts, so happily tinkering away? Why, it’s our friend, the nineteenth century inventor extraordinaire, Thomas Alva Edison.
He was the youngest of four brothers, Eustace Malva, Hansel Hank Aleva, Longsuffering and Thomas Alva. Because he was different, everybody picked on him – including himself.
Really, his childhood was far too gloomy to be funny. His teachers all thought that he was addle-headed, especially when he did things that they didn’t understand. He was continually taunted by his peers, and many times was beaten up for his patent medicine money.
Then, as a metaphor for his desire to undo his existence, the young Edison began to take things apart. Deconstructing things was his hobby throughout childhood.
But, in a concerted effort to make his life story more humorous for future generations, Edison decided that he had to find a useful outlet for his frustration. Hence, when he took something apart, he carefully watched what he found, and attempted to learn how everything worked.
He discovered that he had a way of tinkering with everything, and taking things apart to see how they worked, and then putting them together again.
He did this to his Uncle James Saliva Edison’s tape ticker, which was really astounding, because it hadn’t been a tape ticker in the first place, but a cotton gin. As a matter of fact, nobody had invented a tape ticker ever before, and Tommie’s family was a little surprised at his ingenuity. They didn’t do anything about it just then, though; they just sat the tape ticker in the corner, and listened to it click at night, and generally thought the whole thing rather strange.
But it turned out that Thomas had a genuine talent for taking things apart and not putting them back together. Once he took apart Granny Yolanda Edison’s sewing machine, and built it into a locomotive engine; then he transformed his Ma Regan Edison’s only coat hanger into the first motion picture camera.
One day, when he was fiddling with a hole punch, and out came a perfect phonograph, somebody said to him, “You know, Tommie, you really ought to take a couple of these things down to the Patent Office.”
But Edison of course could not bear to take any of his complete inventions down, but instead piled a bunch of spare parts into his little red wagon, and walked off to the nearest city.
And the scene was little interesting: Mr. Thomas Edison, who at this time was a worthless little nobody, came to the Patent Office taking his hopes and dreams. And there he won his place in the history books, and this is how it happened:
The patent officer was sitting at his table, combing the last few tangles from his tremendous beard, when Tommie wheeled his little red Radio Flyer wagon full of junk into the office.
“Whew. What is all of this?” the clerk asked him.
Thomas merely raised his eyebrows knowingly, and in the sight of the patent officer, sat on the plank floor and began to tinker with the pile of junk.
Beneath the questioning eyes of the officer, a new invention was created and a strange shape began to take form under Edison’s industrious hands. An ominous swell of music from an unseen orchestra began to be heard in the distance. The masterful Edison put the last few pieces of trash together, and voila! Out came a little electric light.
Holding it triumphantly aloft, like the very embodiment of Manifest Destiny, illuminating all of the continent with the light of American Civilization, Edison beckoned felicitously with his free hand. At this instant, the wagon leaders gave the order to their oxen to push forward, and locomotives chugged on into unknown lands, and brave pioneers cleared the way for all to follow.
And somewhere, a little child sneezed.
The patent officer was so duly impressed that he awarded Tom the patent immediately, patted himself on the back, and went home to eat some cookies and warm tea.
Now after this, Thomas Edison’s reputation as a meddler was firmly established, and he had little choice but to continue for the rest of his life inventing things. This was well and fine for him, because it allowed him to live in relative safety from the ghosts of his past. It’s easy to be strange when you’re a genius.
Occasionally, while tinkering with his vast fortune of junk, Edison would run into a piece that he couldn’t figure out where it went, and which he couldn’t force anywhere in his invention, so he just stuck it in his pocket, or placed it in a bottle on his shelf, or gave it to his children to chew on, or something.
Over a lifetime of this, Tommie’s junk collection got very, extraordinarily large. The impressive stash filled seventeen sheds. If you want some of it, you can probably still write the Estate of Thomas Edison, Junk Collector Extraordinaire, at the address disclosed at the end of the book. I’ve done it. As a matter of fact, I proudly display a rusty screw Edison yanked from a threshing machine on top of my portmanteau. See? Studying world history impacts all of us.
Besides inventing useful contraptions on accident, Edison was also very good at inventing motivational sayings. One of his most famous quotes was, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent not knowing where these darn things go,” but he later revised it to, “Kennel brand dog food makes your dog go, go, go!”
Another great thing that Edison did was to institute the Great Inventor’s Klutz Board, made up of (at the first) Thomas Alva Edison, Robert Simon Fulton, and Alexander Theodore Bell. This was a great thing because it gave the inventors a forum to discuss ideas and demonstrate their new inventions, and it kept them from taking other people’s things apart.
And it’s true. Alexander Bell did beat Edison with the telephone. Twenty-three times, over the noggin, as the great tinkerer tried to take the contraption apart in Bell’s arms.
I’m pretty sure that Edison also invented the wheel around this time, which means that the Egyptians (see chapter 3) could finally finish their pyramids.
Before Edison’s career was over, he had filed over one thousand patents, most of them completely by accident, and a couple of them more than once. Along the way, he even patented a more efficient process for admitting patents, to make the rest of his inventing easier. Wasn’t he clever?
Edison, though active all of his life, spent the last ten years of his life in relative seclusion, to spend time with his inventive family.
And every now and again, he would reenact the scene of his highest triumph for his great-grandchildren. And every time the little ones saw him, with his Greek toga flowing in the wind of Wisdom and Phrygian cap shining with the Phrygian Cap Wax of Democracy, the spirit of Westward Expansion lived again.
Somewhere, somehow, Thomas Edison is still doing that for all of us. I know. I used to live next to him. Or maybe that was just some weird old guy who just thought he was Edison. I don’t know. He sure looked like him, though.
Oh, yeah. Westward expansion. I think that was what I was talking about. Roughly, this meant that the American people were expanding westwardly, because all of the immigration from Europe made the East really crowded.
It’s a game of International Musical Chairs, you see. By the year 2040, Europe will be where the USA is now, the USA will be where China is now, and China will be where Europe is now. And then, once the game’s over, we all jump up and down and award each other prizes.
I don’t know why so few people know this stuff.
~ ã ~
Social reform was in the air in the Nineteenth Century. Boy, oh, boy, was it ever in the air! So much had to be done to make the world a better place!
For instance, people still walked around with names like Fanny, and Horace, and Priscilla, and Edgar. It was shameful and degrading.
But thankfully, a group of concerned citizens, led by Mrs. Ignatia Mary Howe, newly from the American Women’s Temperance Union of Abolitionist Suffrage and Mercy, held a High Council at the VFW Bingo Hall Number 4, in Grant’s Pass, Oregon.
There, momentous societal changes took place. Once the quilting and rhubarb pie was done, the motion came before the Council to adopt a great, far-reaching Name Reform Bill. Much discussion was made over the bingo game about this Bill, and then they played Blackout until Ms. Prudella Primm Uptight-Snob, the only dissenting voter, fell asleep, and then they ran it through.
It only goes to show what a small group of concerned citizens can do when they put their minds to it. Why, what these people did in a bingo hall in Oregon has altered the behavior patterns of new parents everywhere! I’m so glad that today we have sensible names like Oomi, Honeybee, and Rykci-Rae.
Karl Marx was very fortunate that he was born after this Nineteenth Century Name Reform. His older brothers, Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and Gummo, were not so fortunate. As a matter of fact, they were full of resentment, and hated him forever for his more sensible name, which is why no photographs were taken of the six Marx brothers together. Later, Gummo would change his name to George, and suffer the same treatment. Zeppo, who later became Zechariah, was never as close to his brothers again after his change, but was not completely abandoned, since Zechariah was a pretty strange name too.
Anyway, Social Reform, the great guiding spirit of the Nineteenth Century, had an eye out for Mr. Marx as well - and beyond his name. You see, Marx was a working-class philosopher, and had lots of ideas how to take all of the good stuff from the people who had it, and how to give all of the money and property to the workers, and so make them really really rich. Then, free from their bourgeoisie masters, they could help write philosophy books, because doing all of the thinking all of the time made Marx’ head hurt.
Now, his system would have worked, except for one trifling detail - it didn’t. Which is why Marx undertook his Meisterwerke, Das Kapital, which was unusual in that it was written entirely in very long Greek letters.
But the fact that Marx could write a book still didn’t convince the workers to revolt. It took another fellow, a guy I’m going to talk about in the next chapter, named Lentil or something - I don’t have my notes in front of me - look it up in the Index - to incite revolution and uprising.
And there was a guy named Engels, too, but rarely does anybody remember him, because he fell off the edge of the world shortly after sending his name into the Who’s Who In Nineteenth Century History, and appears in this book only by that merit.
Sigmund Freud, a contemporary, would have blamed the formation of Marx’ revolutionary ideas on the familial tension between him and his father, and his secret desire to kill his siblings, marry his mother, and eat bubble gum ice cream with impunity (or were those Freud’s secret desires? I get them all mixed up.)
But I didn’t really mean to bring Freud up. What really should be mentioned - and which I’m not going to save for the next chapter - is how Marx and Lentil met their gory end. They were walking around together, talking about revolutionary revolution stuff, when a darn kiddy Yank landed a Cessna light plane right on top of their heads in the middle of Red Square.
Ah, World History is so exciting, isn’t it? I think they ought to give it ratings, just like in the movies.
~ ã ~
Anyway, far away and about forty years before all that happened (hey, I’m the historian and I order things as I please) lived a fairy king, whose rebellious son and heir wanted to go off to explore the world, searching for the Elysian Herb that granted immortality and eternal youth.
(Actually, I made that part up, but gosh darn, that’s so much more exciting than the truth.)
Anyway, this charmed son journeyed for many years on his mission. He rode a beagle over the Pacific Ocean (occasionally flying around on a Sopwith Camel) and for seven years, studied the beaks of birds and the innards of turtles.
When he was through, he came home a certified Bird-Beak-and-Turtle-Innard-ologist, which is a specialized form of biologist, who has adapted to his unique environment by pecking other scientists with his tremendous nose until they give in to his ideas, and including gratuitous illustrations of weird goop in all of his scientific presentations.
Now, do you see him? (Not literally, silly, but in your imaginations!) See him, sitting in the fashionable sitting-room section of his laboratory with one of his friends! Who are these distinguished men of science?
Here was Charles Darwin, the celebrated British biologist who, in formulating his theory of evolution, catalogued three hundred specialized varieties of finch beaks, one hundred twenty-two spot varieties on English pepper moths, and fifty-seven varieties of Heinz’s Tomato Catsup.
And his friend was Thomas Huxley, who looked kind of like a bulldog, but we politely shouldn’t mention that.
Huxley sat, sampling the thirty-first new flavor of Baskin-Robbins ice cream that Darwin had discovered, with one of those little red plastic spoons. “This really is a remarkable theory, Chas.”
“Yes, it is remarkable.”
“How using less air in the mixing process results in a denser, thicker, creamier product! Amazing!” Huxley was really savoring his yummy frozen treat.
“Well, it was advanced aeration equipment that made it possible,” Darwin answered, proudly patting the ice cream churner sitting beside him. “It is a grand thing that we live in the Mechanical Age.”
“But back to talking about evolution. Where did we let off? ‘Nature red in tooth and claw...?’”
“Oh, yes.” Darwin continued: “Nature red in tooth and claw, makes a clicking with her jaw. If you hear it, please don’t tell; Turn around and wish her well.”
“This is a revolution!” Huxley blurted, between spoonfuls of ice cream.
“Now, it is my theory,” Darwin said, “that when an organism, by some process of biological mutation, is left better able to survive than its companion organisms, it will gradually become the dominant species.”
“Ah!” Huxley sighed wistfully. “How I wish I were a biological mutant!”
“Indeed,” Darwin smiled, and continued, “Hence, over a great period of time, animals develop in such manner as to thrive in the niche assigned them by nature.” Darwin excitedly rubbed the sweat from his forehead. “Over millennia, they dominate their peers, and the inferior organisms must also adapt or face extinction. Hence the driving forces of competition ultimately guide all of our lives. It’s not just our imaginations. The world really is to the strong, the race is to the swiftest, and the history books are written by insane people.”
Huxley dropped his spoon and clamped his hands over his temples. “But if only now we could adapt to ice-cream headaches.”
“Stop eating like a piggy, and it’ll go away,” Charles said, as he pinned a butterfly to a corkboard.
“The fitter organisms, you see, Hux, have the advantage in the game of survival. That’s why you see so many different examples of finch beaks displayed over my desk. Each one has some minor variation that has adapted it especially well to its environment. The one with the longer, thinner beak can find food in tighter spaces. This corkscrew-beaked one is especially adapted to opening bottles of wine, and hence is far more popular at parties than its straight-billed kin. And so on.”
“How interesting,” Huxley answered, rubbing his nose thoughtfully.
“Let me demonstrate this ‘survival of the fittest.’” Darwin treaded to a little cage near the back, where a little finch was busy picking at some seeds. He cupped the bird gently in his hands, and walked over to Huxley. “See?” He showed him the finch. “A little bird.” Huxley nodded.
Then, very suddenly, Darwin threw the bird against the floor, killing it.
“Now, if the finches had developed a healthy distrust of biologists, he would have flown from my hand and out that open window.” He pointed to a window, which was, indeed, standing open.
Huxley was absolutely disgusted with Darwin, but saw that there was some sense to the argument.
He soon went back to eating his ice cream, but the little cup was soon finished, and Huxley leaned back in his chair, giving a satisfied grunt. Then he scratched under his arm, his proper Englishman’s big hairy belly poking out from under his shirt. It was really disgusting, actually. And he did look like a bulldog. Phooey on politeness.
But it was the source of Darwin’s great epiphany.
“Huxley!” he stammered. “You’re such an ape!”
“Now, now,” Huxley began defending himself, “it’s not that I’m an ape, it’s that your ice cream was so delici--”
“Good heavens!” Darwin blurted, in an astounded voice. “We’re all apes!”
Huxley stopped to think about it. Finally, he scoffed. “Oh, that won’t fly at all, Darwin.”
“Of course not! It hasn’t feathers,” the biologist wittily replied.
“Oh, after this revelation,” Huxley gasped, “I am feeling faint. Pray, Chas, do you have any tonic on you?”
Darwin sighed and pulled out of a cabinet a little yellow bottle. It was Mother Marjorie’s Curative Sarsaparilla Tonic, guaranteed to cure warts, cancers, consumption, yellow fever, beriberi, and sobriety. Darwin sometimes used it to preserve biological specimens.
“Don’t leave the cork off too long – it might evaporate. And I don’t want the fumes of Mother Marjorie’s all over my laboratory.”
“Truly wondrous, how one little elixir of health can cure so many evil diseases,” Huxley gasped, after downing a healthy gulp of the stuff. “Are you not glad to be living in a century of such medical miracles?”
“It is remarkable,” Darwin answered, carefully sealing a specimen jar filled with the preservative Tonic. “But not as remarkable as my remarkably, eh, markable theory of evolution.”
“Oh, stop being an egotist,” Huxley returned, still smarting from the “ape” remark. “And what the heck is that?” he asked, pointing to a ticker-tape machine clicking away happily in the corner.
“Oh. That used to be a phonograph,” Darwin answered, contemptfully. “We used to have music in here. Now it’s just noise and ticking, though.”
At which, the jingly-jangly bells over Darwin’s door rang, which meant somebody was entering. And in came Charlie’s sister, Kaitlyn Darwin, wearing a stuffed finch on her head.
Both Huxley and Charles Darwin were horrified that a woman was entering a lab, but being men of propriety, they did not show their emotions at all. Rather, they, in a very business-like, hurried fashion, covered up all of the instruments of science and tables of knowledge with blankets they kept handy for such a purpose, so that the lady would not trouble her conscience contemplating the sordid, worldly doings of men.
Kaitlyn rather liked the hubbub that accompanied her entry, and wasn’t too offended by the display. She had seen it all before, and it wasn’t as if they were protecting her one bit. She let them continue doing it, because it was funny to watch, and because, for being such nincompoops, they exactly deserved to do it.
“I came by, dear Charles, to tell you that Mother has a new shipment of frog specimens for your laboratory,” Kaitlyn said, glancing at Huxley, who was anxiously hiding a Bunsen burner behind his back.
“Oh, oh, fine, Kaitlyn. Good-bye,” Charles muttered.
“Now, I intend to stay a moment. I have a question to ask. Why are you two chumming up in this dingy laboratory all day?” she queried, lifting a corner of a blanket to eye some of the instruments. Huxley batted it back down for her.
Darwin sighed. “If you stay a moment, Kaitlyn, I will explain briefly the new theory we are discussing. It might be of some curiosity to you.”
“If it will let you leave,” Huxley added, shoving the studies from a nearby shelf onto the floor.
“I can stay to hear it,” Kaitlyn answered, rolling her eyes.
“It is simplicity itself,” Darwin began. “Common sense, really.” With this, he dumped a shovel of ice cream into his mouth to hide it from Kaitlyn.
At this Kaitlyn said, “Charles, you’re such a pig.”
“No, he’s an ape,” Huxley helpfully interrupted. Charles gave him a lovely sneer.
“That too,” Kaitlyn smiled, with a nod of her head.
Composing himself to address Kaitlyn, Charles replied, “No, quite seriously, dear sister. After seven years sailing the sea, I have come to the scientific conclusion that man is a civilized ape.”
“Hm. Seven years on the sea would have taught me that man was an uncivilized ape, I think.”
Darwin was clamping his hands on his temples to ward off the sudden ice-cream headache. “No matter what conviction it brings you to, my dear, this is the highest fruit of my new theory, and its greatest child. We are apes!”
“That’s your great scientific discovery? That you’re an ape?”
“Well, you’re one too, my dear…”
“…That’s what you’re going to go down in history as? Charles Darwin, world-renowned ape?”
“I’m a hairless ape.”
“Oh. A bald ape. Um-hmm. This is very interesting, after all.”
“We needn’t stoke the interest of the female,” Huxley motioned.
“Oh, needn’t worry about us, I’m afraid. It’s always been well known that man was an ape; I just know very few men who rejoice in their simian identity so well.”
Darwin ignored the comment. “You see, dear child, when a new generation of organisms, by some genetic mutation, is better suited to survive in its environment, the progeny will gradually come to dominate over the inferior ancestors. This I call – oh, I don’t know – Darwinian evolution?”
Kaitlyn thoughtfully looked at the display of specimens along the wall. She also noticed that Charles couldn’t keep his eyes off of her finch.
“And the spirit of competition drives all of us forward, sister.”
“Oh, yes, just like those westwardly expanding fools in the Colonies,” she answered. “And like the imperial wars in Africa. Such insecurity. We are all afraid for our civilization, that one fell day might bring it all down. I wonder what will come of all of it in the end.”
“It will bring about a New Age, dear,” Charles explained. “Why, in another century Mankind will have completely dominated his environment, exploiting all of the resources of nature for his industry. Burgeoning cities will grow everywhere. The ocean will be harvested for her riches. Not one patch of land will be unused, not one source of riches unexploited. The whole world will have been civilized then, and all of the peoples will work in a common spirit of Industry and exert their control over the wild savagery of Nature.” Darwin’s eyes clouded over with the excitement of his great proclamation.
“Hm. And the apes will inherit the earth. I have to go down to the Bingo Hall, Charles,” Kaitlyn said. “Ms. MacReady has organized another suffrage – abolitionist – worker’s reform movement, and I feel like doing what I can towards correcting our little internal problems at the moment. We need to harness our power over ourselves before we may expect to exert it over the rest of nature. And if we are apes,” she finished, “I think that only illustrates the extent of our problems; I do not think it frees us from them.”
“I think we’re right,” Darwin said to Huxley. “We can justify the whole thing. Being so fit to survive, man is meant to rule all of the earth. And being finely evolved apes, your social reform is a bit misguided. The rich are rich for being highly evolved and the poor are poor for unproductivity.”
“Social Darwinism!” Huxley shouted out, giving Charles a high-five. “Right on!”
“Hm. The scientific theories are flowing out of nowhere today. Light travels through ether. See? Such is the joy and reward of the rational mind,” Darwin glowered. With that, he belatedly kicked the dead finch on the floor under the table.
“Finch beaks and pepper spots. What good could possibly come of it?” Kaitlyn answered with a sigh. “Have fun evolving in here. And try not to overrun the earth tonight with your primate grandness, boys.”
And Kaitlyn smiled and walked out.
~ ã ~
The Nineteenth Century ended about the year 1900, which is a great coincidence, because this was the time that the Twentieth Century was just starting. It’d be nice if they’d have overlapped a bit more; then at least the folks who lived on the cusp could’ve picked on a whim which century they truly belonged to. Then, I don’t know, they could have won a prize or something.
The nineteenth century mathematician, gentleman, philosopher, social scientist, biologist, inventor and otherwise - well, we’ve seen ‘em all. And maybe there’s an important lesson to be learnt from them. I’m not about to sift through all of this stuff to find it. What? Since when is a historian supposed to interpret history?
So the nineteenth century brought forth wonderful and marvelous weenies in every field of the human endeavour, which is a very good thing, ‘cause if they hadn’t kept themselves busy doing all of these silly things, who knows what trouble they might have caused, and who knows what historians would do today.
Names to Remember
Carl Frederick Gauss
Carl Friedrich Nietzsche
Frederick Carl Marx
Friedrich Gauss Marx-Nietzsche
James Saliva Edison
Historical Questions to Contemplate
1. Why on earth would anybody wear a stuffed bird on her head?
2. If Ceres didn’t land on top of Napoleon’s head, where did it land?
3. Was Nietzsche really a crazed loon who liked to pretend that he was a philosopher?
4. Why was New York full of newsboys and fat rich men with monocles?
5. Why did Beethoven and Freud get such short shrift in this chapter? And why isn’t Horatio Hornblower mentioned at all?