Monday, April 28, 2014

William Harrison Riley, “A Visitor from Luna" (1901)


I am a native of Luna. By what means I reached this earth I shall not, in this brief narrative, explain. It is evident that I am here, this writing being sufficient evidence thereof.
In the ancient, powerful and glorious kingdom of Dementia. (whose flag has braved, ten thousand years, the battle and the breeze) I was introduced as a native-born citizen by my parents (and by gracious permission of the Royal Clerics) in the year of Sanctity 72,942. One year previous to my birth, my parents had purchased a right to become parents from the above-named Royal Clerics; therefore I was legally introduced into Luna.
Before I was one month old, I was carried to one of the offices of the Royal Clerical Emporium, where my parents purchased the right to confer on me the name, Tcej Busa. The Royal Clerics performed a solemn ceremony suitable and essential to the occasion. They lubricated my nose with oil, and publicly informed Jupiter, Saturn and Mars that I was a legal person, with a legal name, and that the regular fees required to establish any person in such a legal position had been duly paid to, and pocketed by, the only genuine agents of the only genuine Emporium.
Jupiter, Saturn and Mars are (as all true Lunatics profess to believe) three persons of one substance, power and eternity. Saturn is the breath of Jupiter, and Mars is the breath of Jupiter and Saturn. Mars is of one substance, majesty and glory with Jupiter and Saturn, very and eternal Sol. There is but one living and true So], everlasting, without body, parts or passions; and this one Sol—having no body nor parts—is composed of three persons: Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. Such is the foundation of the simple, logical and sublime belief, of which the King of Dementia is the Protector.
When Sol created mankind he declared the work to be good; yet, strange to say, mankind are born physically imperfect. Of course, this is not Sol’s fault; but it is due to the obstinacy of mankind, who malevolently assume imperfect forms previous to their birth. I was no exception to this lamentable rule, for I had stubbornly caused myself to be born with two ears. In spite of the legality of my conception, I was born in sin and shapen in iniquity. I, alone, was to blame; for the marriage of my parents was sanctified by the Royal Clerics, and Sol, our Creator, cannot err (Pelttileno troflli newteh illimyt sloofno).
When I was six weeks old, an order was issued by the King of Dementia and delivered to my parents by one of his Detective Agents, commanding the removal of my left ear, according to law; and my parents (who were not associates of the “silly clique of anti-amputators") obeyed the order, and paid the fees.
[It is necessary to explain, that a learned Royal Amputator had discovered that cutting off the left ear was a certain preventative of boils. A patient might suffer internally from poison or from the accumulation of waste matter, and might die in consequence thereof, but no boils or pimples could appear on the skin after the left ear had been amputated—successfully.]
My left ear having been (“successfully”) removed from my head, I had surmounted the third step of legal subjection. I was a legal inhabitant of Luna; I had a legal name; I had a legal constitution. If I died before reaching the age of discretion, I should be transformed into a miburehc—and I couldn’t die of boils.
When I was six years old, I was sent to a school, in which I was taught to spell, write and cipher. I learned how to spell my name, but was never told what I was or whence I came. After a time, however, I was informed by some boys that I was found in a cabbage field, and mother confirmed the statement. When I asked my Sunday-school teacher, he told me I was made of dust; and when I asked him who made me, he said it was Sol,
Now I was an exceedingly precocious boy, insomuch that I was often spoken of as the meddlesome question-asker, and I asked many questions about Sol. I asked where Sol was; and some told me he was in Heaven, and others said “he is everywhere." Then I asked: “Is Sol alive?” and was answered, “Yes, He is the ever-living Sol.” “But,” said I, “he—he can’t move! There is no place to move to when he is everywhere to begin with." Then I was reproved, and told that something very dreadful was sure to happen to me.
At another time, I asked: “Is Sol a person? Has he—has he got a head?” For that question I was punished, and was told to pray to Sol to give me faith and knowledge; but I retorted: “If you have prayed and got the knowledge, why don’t you tell me if Sol has got a head and legs and things like we have?"
Often, I wanted to pray; but I had no idea of the being I was told to address. Praying to the air, merely, seemed like praying to nothing. Then I reasoned—for, alas! I was an unregenerate boy and was tempted by the omnipresent, everlasting Serpent. I argued thus: “If Sol is everywhere, he cannot have any shape; and I cannot think of such a being." Then I tried to pray, and I said: “Help me, oh Sol, of whom I know nothing—of whom I cannot even think.”
The fourth step of legal advancement was “Ratification." At the solemn ceremony of nose-oiling, my parents had pledged their word that I believed all the articles of the Saturnalian faith; and in consideration of that pledge, and of other reasonable, faithful and veracious pledges (and a pecuniary fee) the Royal Clerics had declared me Regenerate. Alas! I was a miserable little sinner, a downright heretic!
The inhabitants of the kingdom of Sundia did not profess to worship Sol, as we did; but were idolatrous Heathen, who worshipped the universe; and therefore our king sent an army of our people to conquer the Sundians. Our soldiers killed many thousands of the Heathen, and burned their towns; but, after a few months, our army was driven from the country with the army of the enemy following closely behind. When our army in its retreat passed through the town I lived in they set fire to it, to destroy it, so that the enemy might not get possession of it. My parents died in the conflagration. I was having a day in the country, and thus I escaped.
The people talked of “the enemy” almost unceasingly; but I could not help thinking that our greatest enemies were the King of Dementia and his hired agents, and I laid to their charge the murder of my parents.
I was adopted by an uncle, for whom I worked several years. I toiled hard for scanty food, and was told that I should be grateful for the opportunity.
In Dementia, every square yard of land is owned as private property, except such portions as are occupied by roads, streets, prisons and a few other small government properties, and I found that I had no legal right to live anywhere, except in prison, unless some private owner of a portion of the land of my birth sold me permission to live on his portion. And how was I to get the means of purchasing such permission? I had no legal right to compel any private individual to hire me as his servant. I was a legal person, with a legal name and a legal constitution, but I had no legal right to live except in a prison, a poorhouse or a lunatic asylum. I hoped to find equitable statutes on this planet.
The legal right to own the land of Dementia as private property is based upon conquest. The proprietors are the heirs of foreign soldiers who invaded Dementia, drove the people off their farms and destroyed their villages. And our King (by the grace of Sol) claims to be a direct descendant of the chief of the invading, conquering, devastating army of murderers, and the lineage is considered honorable. I hoped to find wiser ideas on this planet.
During my nine years of servitude in Dementia I felt rebellious towards society and its statutes. I felt that I was under no moral obligation to respect the statutes. I had entered into no contract, and therefore could not break one. I had not even been asked or even permitted to endorse the statutes. They were not in conformity with the laws of Sol, as revealed by Nature, and were not even in conformity with the laws of the Book of Sol—the book which Dementian society professed to reverence and implicitly believe. The book emphatically recognised the right of the people to live by free labor. It commanded that the land should be equitably shared amongst the people. It forbade usury, and it denounced kingcraft and priestcraft. I hoped to find more honesty and less hypocrisy on this planet.
Loyal Dementians told me I should honor the King. But why should If He has never done anything of use to me, and I have never heard that he had ever done any noble or brave work, He has occupied much of his time in destroying innocent little animals, and in gambling and wine-drinking.
The only inventions I can remember that have been introduced by the royally-patented nobility are:
The Game of Spellakins.
The Game of Tiddledewinks.
The Game of Pony Polo.
The Game of Dove Killing.
The Game of Knocker Wrenching.
A Pipe to smoke in Bed.
Transparent Cards.
A Walking-stick, with a Dagger concealed therein.
A Double-headed Coin, for Tossing with.
The Game of shooting large animals from a Safe Place. There are other similar pastimes, such as the hunting of weak animals by troops of red-coated and red-faced men, assisted by many large dogs.
There are in Dementia two regular political parties, called the Tops and the Bottoms. In the Tops are nearly all of the land-usurpers, and the Bottoms party works for the interests of the money-profiters. Both parties are Royalists, and neither of them has any desire to emancipate the disinherited working people. I hoped to find the People governing on this planet.
I did not blame our King, or his gang of lords; he correctly represented a majority of the people, for most of the men drink, gamble and love cruel sports. When Dementia is fit to have a nobler representative as its figure-head, one will be peaceably chosen—not as governor, but as chief servant.
I have seen on this planet you call the Earth, some countries named “Republics” over which there should be imperial dictators until the people are better qualified to elect legislators than the people of England and America are today.
Some of your kings resemble our king of Dementia, and some of your Presidents are more oppressive than the most despotic of your kings. When the people are fit for freedom they will be free; and then they will not need either President or King. And I think that until you are fit for freedom you had better keep your kings and provide for them a larger revenue than their richest subjects receive; for it is well that your kings should be placed above the reach of bribery.
I have heard of a country in which the people live naked and unashamed; where there is no hypocrisy, no usurer, no spirit-dealer, no prison, and where there are no locks or bolts; a country in which all men and women do their share of the little work that is needed where there is no war or usury and all work and share equitably. I am going to that country, and I hope I may be permitted to live and die there.
Farewell, you people who are mad with avarice, boastful of robberies, saturated with superstitions, rioting in vicious luxuries, adulterators, peculators, pilferers, falsifiers, disguisers, equivocators—all you who fear the truth and who are ashamed of the light. Farewell, also, you who have been degraded by destitution and tortured by the scorn of the usurers. You will get your reward, and so will they. Farewell to you who are preaching the true gospel—to all the brave pioneers: your noble work will not be in vain. You are sowing the seed, and the seed will bear fruit, and multiply. If it were possible to stay with you, I would stay. But the gods are with you, and you will find some of the fruit of your work in the heavens that are not now visible to you.
Farewell, you hired Clerics, and you hired killers of men. Farewell, you most pitiful usurers. Farewell, you tinselled kings!
Tcej Busa.

[Translated by Wm. HARRISON RILEY, Lunenberg, Mass]

William Harrison Riley, “A Visitor from Luna,” Freedom 15 no, 159 (August, 1901): 41-42.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Charlton King, "The Visual Telephone" (1904)


By Charlton King

I’M rather glad to see that, Edison’s going to have another show,” said the Commonplace Man, looking up from his paper.
“He’s been rather out of it lately, hasn’t he?” queried the Cynic. “Which is strange, seeing that people used to imagine that the faculty for invention was a close monopoly of the great Anglo-Saxon family. The discovery by mere aliens of the X-rays, wireless telegraphy, and radium, has rather exploded a theory which, whatever else might have been said for it, had the merit of being comfortably insular. What?”
“The foreigner is sometimes capable of putting out a solitary invention, I grant you,” said the Enthusiast. “But what of that? Edison has a whole string of them to his credit.”
His eyes kindling, he began to enumerate the list on his fingers. “ There was the electric light,” he said, “the kinetoscope, the telephone, the —”
“The phonograph!” broke in the Cynic, with a bitter sneer. “ That marvellous instrument which has brought a surfeit of music into the homes of the humble!”
“Say rather,” the Enthusiast returned impressively, “the instrument which has enabled the clarion voice of a Gladstone to reverberate down the ages! “
The Cynic laughed. “My dear fellow,” he said, “when you talk like that, it makes me feel there ought to be a phonograph handy to receive your own utterances. Still, I prefer to regard it as a musical entertainer on Suburbia’s lower slopes.”
“I’ve been seriously thinking about getting one,” said the Commonplace Man.
“Mind you choose one of the smaller, quieter kinds,” counselled the Enthusiast.
“Not so,” said the Cynic. “That would be arrant selfishness. He who lays in a low-pressure phonograph benefits only his own household; but he who buys its enlarged, trumpet - tongued edition, the gramophone, is a benefactor to the whole street and a part of the next. Let others participate in your pleasures, and your own enjoyment of them becomes all the keener. I am a convert, you see, to the communal idea with regard to phonographs. They should be as ‘free’ asour baths are free, our libraries, and our schools.”
“Haven’t we had enough of them? “ inquired the Commonplace Man, plaintively.
“Enough of the phonograph P” replied the Cynic, promptly. “I quite agree. \Ve’ve had more than enough of it, although it’s only been before the world for a matter of ten years or so. But what about this latest scheme of Edison’s?”
The Enthusiast, grasping the Commonplace Man’s paper, read as follows :—
“Mr. Edison hopes soon to invent a telephone which will carry not only sound, but sight—that is, it will bring, not only the human voice along the wire, but the image of the speaker as well. It may yet be that we shall sit by our own firesides and see our kin across the sea, that we shall be ‘switched on’ from our drawing-rooms to be present at some great battlefield, and that the streets of all the world’s capitals will be familiar to those who never leave their London.”
“Well, that beats all,” was the Commonplace Man’s commentary, but the Cynic only muttered, “Worse and worse.”
“Why worse?” asked the Enthusiast, impatiently.
“Give me time, and I might love the phonograph with all its faults, but this never!” the Cynic replied.
“But consider its possibilities, man,” the Enthusiast protested.
“That’s just what I am doing,” was the Cynic’s sorrowful response. “ Here is one of them. Suppose one has to transact business with some prolix, boresome, unspeakable fellow, one is always careful, under the present rĂ©gime, to impress him with the fact that the telephone is a highly convenient and absurdly accessible mode of communication. This avoids a personal contact which could not be otherwise than distasteful. But now Edison’s perverted ingenuity would rob us of this blessed security, and we shall not only have the piping, ungrammatical voice of the fellow transmitted along the wires, but his dull, vacuous face will be projected at us as well.”
“Pure misanthropy,” said the Enthusiast.
“Nay, only partial,” the Cynic replied, “which, paradoxical though it sounds, always constitutes the truest practical philanthropy, for that involves, above all things, a method of selection. Surely you don’t believe that the love of the philanthropist, however abounding it may be, embraces every prig and bore who seeks his friendship or taps his bounty?"
“This is all very relevant to visual telephony!" sneered the Enthusiast.
“It’s not so remote from the subject as you fancy,” the Cynic replied, with great seriousness. “I observe the newspaper man there speaks of ‘our kin across the sea.’ While I admire his novelty of phrasing, I can’t agree that the flashing of instantaneous photographs across the wires would be a beneficial thing either for Englishmen or Colonists. It might, indeed, tend to snap rather than to strengthen the links of Empire.”
“What unredeemed nonsense!” the
Enthusiast retorted. “Little Englandism in its most naked and shameless condition.”
“Now, don’t try to crush me with a party Shibboleth,” the Cynic cried, with reproach in his voice. “Take the trouble to understand my point of view, and you will discover that I am the soundest of patriots, the very biggest of Big Englanders. For what, after all, is the main object of the cult of Imperialism? What, but to keep the straggling masses of the Empire together. And, how can this be effected if, every time the Englishman is rung up to receive a message over the Antipodean cable, he actually sees the Australian who happens to be speaking to him?"
The Commonplace Man sniffed contemptuously. “Even if it were possible to telephone to Australia,” he said, “which, of course, it isn’t, I don’t understand how the visualisation of the speaker could have the effect you pretend to foresee.”
“Don’t you,” said the Cynic, patiently. “Then let me explain. All Englishmen have an impression of what the Australian is like, or what he ought to be like. Clad in picturesque red shirt and slouched wide-brimmed hat, he is usually discovered sitting listlessly over a bush fire. That yearning, pensive look in his eyes tells you clearly enough that his thoughts are stealing back to the dear homeland—the little English village, the weathered farmstead, the ivy-covered church tower. It is a highly-sentimentalised picture, and not entirely devoid of the romantic element, but an Australian friend of mine assures me that it hasn’t the advantage of being true in the slightest particular. The red-shirted Australian has no more tangible existence than the comic rustic of melodrama.”
“Let’s have the truth, then,” growled the Enthusiast. .
“I assure you, my friend,” the Cynic replied, “the truth isn’t always so desirable. Illusions have a greater value than you perceive. It is only the rash man who attempts to dispel them.”
“But it may be that the real Australian,” said the Commonplace Man, “is a much finer product than our sentimental conception of him.”
“Undoubtedly he is,” said the Cynic, “but that is hardly the point. It is not the quality of the Australian that we are discussing, but the dangers that might attend the too sudden dissipation of an insular illusion. That kind of thing wants doing very gradually.”
“Setting the Colonies aside, I suppose you’ll admit that the visual telephone has what I may call its domestic advantages?” timidly ventured the Commonplace Man.
The Cynic laughed outright “Domestic!” he cried. “With that awful word you expose the very worst side of Mr. Edison’s latest wonder. Can’t you see? At present, when a friend calls at one’s office and suggests a night of—well, relaxation, it is so easy telephone to an expectant spouse that so often successful excuse for one’s absence which is based upon the high pressure of our modern commercial system. The tedium in the voice convinces by adding the needed touch of verisimilitude. But when not only one’s words, but one’s lineaments, are shot over the wires into the domestic fastness, who but a consummate actor could conceal the look of elation, the sense of pleasure anticipated, the —”
The Commonplace Man shuddered. “I see what you mean,” he said.
“In spite of your trivial arguments,” the Enthusiast remarked decisively, “the sight telephone has some excellent features about it.”
“I fear you’ll discover some ‘features’ in it which are not exactly excellent when it’s in actual operation,” was the Cynic’s final rejoinder.
Charlton King, “The Visual Telephone,” Horlick's Magazine and Home Journal for Australia, India and the Colonies 1 (1904): 215-217.