Mizora, by Mary E. Bradley Lane

Chapter 10

When a question as to the existence of social distinctions would be asked the citizens of Mizora, the invariable answer would be — there were none; yet a long and intimate acquaintance with them assured me that there were. They had an aristocracy; but of so peculiar and amiable a kind that it deserves a special mention. It took a long time for me to comprehend the exact condition of their society in this respect. That there were really no dividing lines between the person who superintended the kitchen and the one who paid her for it, in a social point of view, I could plainly see; yet there were distinctions; and rather sharply defined ones too.

In order to explain more lucidly the peculiar social life of Mizora, I will ask you to remember some Charity Fair you have attended, perhaps participated in, and which had been gotten up and managed by women of the highest social rank. If in a country where titles and social positions were hereditary, it then represented the highest aristocracy of blood. Grand dames there departed from the routine of their daily lives and assumed the lowlier occupations of others. They stood behind counters, in booths, and sold fancy articles, or dispensed ices and lemonade, or waited upon customers at the refreshment tables; bringing in trays of eatables, gathering up and removing empty dishes; performing labor that, under the ordinary circumstances of life, they would not perform in their own homes, and for their own kindred. It was all done with the same conscious dignity and ease that characterized the statelier duties of their every day life. One fact was apparent to all: they were gentlewomen still. The refinement of their home education, and the charm of nourished beauty were, perhaps, more prominent in contrast with their assumed avocation.

The Charity Fair, with its clerks and waiter girls and flower sellers called from the highest society, was a miniature picture of the actual every-day social life of Mizora. The one who ordered a dinner at their finest hotel, had it served to her by one who occupied the same social standing. Yet there was a difference; but it was the difference of mind.

The student in Sociology discovers that in all grades of society, congenial natures gravitate to a center. A differentiation of the highest mental quality was the result of this law in Mizora, and its co-ordinate part, their aristocracy.

The social organism did not need legislation to increase its benefits; it turned to Science, and, through Science, to Nature. The Laboratory of the Chemist was the focus that drew the attention of all minds. Mizora might be called a great school of Nature, whose pupils studied her every phase, and pried into her secrets with persistent activity, and obeyed her instructions as an imperative duty. They observed Nature to be an economist, and practiced economy with scrupulous exactness.

They had observed that in all grades of animal life, from the lowest form to the highest, wherever sociality had produced unity a leader was evolved, a superiority that differed in power according to the grade of development. In the earlier histories, the leaders were chosen for their prowess in arms. Great warriors became rulers, and soldiers were the aristocracy of the land. As civilization progressed and learning became more widely disseminated, the military retired before the more intellectual aristocracy of statemanship. Politics was the grand entrance to social eminence.

“But,” said my friend, “we have arrived at a higher, nobler, grander age. The military and political supremacies lived out their usefulness and decayed. A new era arrived. The differentia of mind evolved an aristocracy.”

Science has long been recognized as the greatest benefactor of our race. Its investigators and teachers are our only acknowledged superiors and leaders.

Generally the grandest intellects and those which retain their creative power the longest, are of exceptionally slow development. Precocity is short lived, and brilliant rather than strong. This I knew to be true of my own race.

In Mizora, a mind that developed late lost none of the opportunities that belong exclusively to the young of my own and other countries of the outer world. Their free schools and colleges were always open: always free. For this reason, it was no unusual thing for a person in Mizora to begin life at the very lowest grade and rise to its supreme height. Whenever the desire awakened, there was a helping hand extended on every side.

The distinction between the aristocracy and the lower class, or the great intellects and the less, was similar to the relative positions of teacher and pupil. I recognized in this social condition the great media of their marvelous approach to perfection. This aristocracy was never arrogant, never supercilious, never aggressive. It was what the philosophers of our world are: tolerant, humane, sublime.

In all communities of civilized nations marked musical talent will form social relations distinct from, but not superior to, other social relations. The leader of a musical club might also be the leader of another club devoted to exclusive literary pursuits; and both clubs possess equal social respect. Those who possess musical predilections, seek musical associations; those who are purely literary, seek their congenials. This is true of all other mental endowments or tastes; that which predominates will seek its affinity; be it in science, literature, politics, music, painting, or sculpture. Social organizations naturally grow out of other business pursuits and vocations of all grades and kinds. The society of Mizora was divided only by such distinctions. The scientific mind had precedence of all others. In the social world, they found more congenial pleasure in one another, and they mingled more frequently among themselves. Other professions and vocations followed their example for the same reason. Yet neither was barred by social caste from seeking society where she would. If the artisan sought social intercourse with a philosopher, she was expected to have prepared herself by mental training to be congenial. When a citizen of Mizora became ambitious to rise, she did not have to struggle with every species of opposition, and contend against rebuff and repulse. Correct language, refined tastes, dignified and graceful manners were the common acquirements of all. Mental culture of so high an order — I marveled that a lifetime should be long enough to acquire it in — was universal.

Under such conditions social barriers could not be impregnable. In a world divided by poverty and opulence into all their intermediate grades, wealth must inevitably be pre-eminent. It represents refined and luxurious environments, and, if mind be there, intellectual pre-eminence also. Where wealth alone governs society it has its prerogatives.

The wealth that affords the most luxurious entertainments must be the wealth that rules. Its privilege — its duty rather — is to ignore all applicants to fraternization that cannot return what it receives. Where mind is the sole aristocracy it makes demands as rigid, though different, and mind was the aristocracy of Mizora. With them education is never at an end. I spoke of having graduated at a renowned school for young ladies, and when I explained that to graduate meant to finish one’s education, it elicited a peal of silvery mirth.

We never graduate,” said Wauna. “There is my mamma’s mother, two centuries old, and still studying. I paid her a visit the other day and she took me into her laboratory. She is a manufacturer of lenses, and has been experimenting on microscopes. She has one now that possesses a truly wonderful power. The leaf of a pear tree, that she had allowed to become mouldy, was under the lens, and she told me to look.

“A panorama of life and activity spread out before me in such magnitude that I can only compare it to the feeling one must possess who could be suspended in air and look down upon our world for a cycle of time.

“Immense plains were visible with animals grazing upon them, that fought with and devoured one another. They perished and sank away and immense forests sprang up like magic. They were inhabited by insects and tiny creatures resembling birds. A sigh of air moved the leaf and a tiny drop of water, scarcely discernible to the naked eye rolled over the forests and plains, and before it passed to the other side of the leaf a great lake covered the spot. My great-great-grandmother has an acute conductor of sound that she has invented, so exquisite in mechanism as to reveal the voice of the tiniest insect. She put it to my ear, and the bellowing of the animals in battle, the chirp of the insects and the voices of the feathered mites could be clearly heard, but attenuated like the delicate note of two threads of spun glass clashed together.”

“And what good,” I asked, “can all this knowledge do you? Your great-great-grandmother has condensed the learning of two centuries to evolve this one discovery. Is it not so?”

“Yes,” replied Wauna, and her look and tone were both solemn. “You ask me what good it can do? Reflect! If the history of a single leaf is so vast and yet ephemeral, what may not be the history of a single world? What, after all, are we when such an infinitesimal space can contain such wonderful transactions in a second of time.”

I shuddered at the thought she raised in my mind. But inherited beliefs are not easily dissipated, so I only sought to change the subject.

“But what is the use of studying all the time. There should be some period in your lives when you should be permitted to rest from your labors. It is truly irksome to me to see everybody still eager to learn more. The artist of the kitchen was up to the National College yesterday attending a lecture on chemistry. The artist who arranges my rooms is up there to-day listening to one on air. I can not understand why, having learned to make beds and cook to perfection, they should not be content with their knowledge and their work.”

“If you were one of us you would know,” said Wauna. “It is a duty with us to constantly seek improvement. The culinary artist at the house where you are visiting, is a very fine chemist. She has a predilection for analyzing the construction of food. She may some day discover how to produce vegetables from the elements.

“The artist who arranges your room is attending a lecture on air because her vocation calls for an accurate knowledge of it. She attends to the atmosphere in the whole house, and sees that it is in perfect health sustaining condition. Your hostess has a particular fondness for flowers and decorates all her rooms with them. All plants are not harmless occupants of livingrooms. Some give forth exhalations that are really noxious. That artist has so accurate a knowledge of air that she can keep the atmosphere of your home in a condition of perfect purity; yet she knows that her education is not finished. She is constantly studying and advancing. The time may come when she, too, will add a grand discovery to science.

“Had my ancestors thought as you do, and rested on an inferior education, I should not represent the advanced stage of development that I do. As it is, when my mind reaches the age of my mother’s, it will have a larger comprehensiveness than hers. She already discerns it. My children will have intellects of a finer grade than mine. This is our system of mind culture. The intellect is of slower development than the body, and takes longer to decay. The gradations of advancement from one intellectual basis to another, in a social body, requires centuries to mark a distinct change in the earlier ages of civilization, but we have now arrived at a stage when advancement is clearly perceptible between one generation and the next.”

Wauna’s mother added:

“Universal education is the great destroyer of castes. It is the conqueror of poverty and the foundation of patriotism. It purifies and strengthens national, as well as individual character. In the earlier history of our race, there were social conditions that rendered many lives wretched, and that the law would not and, in the then state of civilization, could not reach. They were termed “domestic miseries,” and disappeared only under the influence of our higher intellectual development. The nation that is wise will educate its children.”

“Alas! alas!” was my own silent thought. “When will my country rise to so grand an idea. When will wealth open the doors of colleges, academies, and schools, and make the Fountain of Knowledge as free as the God-given water we drink.”

And there rose a vision in my mind — one of those day dreams when fancy upon the wing takes some definite course — and I saw in my own land a Temple of Learning rise, grand in proportion, complete in detail, with a broad gateway, over whose wide-open majestic portal was the significant inscription: “ENTER WHO WILL: NO WARDER STANDS WATCH AT THE GATE.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:36