Mizora, by Mary E. Bradley Lane

Chapter 4

As to Physical causes, I am inclined to doubt altogether of their operation in this particular; nor do I think that men owe anything of their temper or genius to the air, food, or climate. — Bacon.

I listened with the keenest interest to this curious and instructive history; and when the Preceptress had ceased speaking. I expressed my gratitude for her kindness. There were many things about which I desired information, but particularly their method of eradicating disease and crime. These two evils were the prominent afflictions of all the civilized nations I knew. I believed that I could comprehend enough of their method of extirpation to benefit my own country. Would she kindly give it?

“I shall take Disease first,” she said, “as it is a near relative of Crime. You look surprised. You have known life-long and incurable invalids who were not criminals. But go to the squalid portion of any of your large cities, where Poverty and Disease go hand in hand, where the child receives its life and its first nourishment from a haggard and discontented mother. Starvation is her daily dread. The little tendernesses that make home the haven of the heart, are never known to her. Ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-cherished, all that might be refined and elevated in her nature, if properly cultivated, is choked into starveling shapes by her enemy — Want.

“If you have any knowledge of nature, ask yourself if such a condition of birth and infancy is likely to produce a noble, healthy human being? Do your agriculturists expect a stunted, neglected tree to produce rare and luscious fruit?”

I was surprised at the Preceptress’ graphic description of wretchedness, so familiar to all the civilized nations that I knew, and asked:

“Did such a state of society ever exist in this country?”

“Ages ago it was as marked a social condition of this land as it is of your own to-day. The first great move toward eradicating disease was in providing clean and wholesome food for the masses. It required the utmost rigor of the law to destroy the pernicious practice of adulteration. The next endeavor was to crowd poverty out of the land. In order to do this the Labor question came first under discussion, and resulted in the establishment in every state of a Board of Arbitration that fixed the price of labor on a per cent, of the profits of the business. Public and private charities were forbidden by law as having an immoral influence upon society. Charitable institutions had long been numerous and fashionable, and many persons engaged in them as much for their own benefit as that of the poor. It was not always the honest and benevolent ones who became treasurers, nor were the funds always distributed among the needy and destitute, or those whom they were collected for. The law put a stop to the possibility of such frauds, and of professional impostors seeking alms. Those who needed assistance were supplied with work — respectable, independent work — furnished by the city or town in which they resided. A love of industry, its dignity and independence, was carefully instilled into every young mind. There is no country but what ought to provide for everyone of its citizens a comfortable, if not luxurious, home by humane legislation on the labor question.

“The penitentiaries were reconstructed by the female government. One half the time formerly allotted to labor was employed in compulsory education. Industrial schools were established in every State, where all the mechanical employments were taught free. Objects of charity were sent there and compelled to become self supporting. These industrial schools finally became State Colleges, where are taught, free, all the known branches of knowledge, intellectual and mechanical.

“Pauperism disappeared before the wide reaching influence of these industrial schools, but universal affluence had not come. It could not exist until education had become universal.

“With this object in view, the Government forbade the employment of any citizen under the age of twenty-one, and compelled their attendance at school up to that time. At the same time a law was passed that authorized the furnishing of all school-room necessaries out of the public funds. If a higher education were desired the State Colleges furnished it free of all expenses contingent.

“All of these measures had a marked influence in improving the condition of society, but not all that was required. The necessity for strict sanitary laws became obvious. Cities and towns and even farms were visited, and everything that could breed malaria, or produce impure air, was compelled to be removed. Personal and household cleanliness at last became an object of public interest, and inspectors were appointed who visited families and reported the condition of their homes. All kinds of out-door sports and athletic exercises were encouraged and became fashionable.

“All of these things combined, made a great improvement in the health and vigor of our race, but still hereditary diseases lingered.

“There were many so enfeebled by hereditary disease they had not enough energy to seek recuperation, and died, leaving offspring as wretched, who in turn followed their parents’ example.

“Statistics were compiled, and physician’s reports circulated, until a law was passed prohibiting the perpetuity of diseased offspring. But, although disease became less prevalent, it did not entirely disappear. The law could only reach the most deplorable afflictions, and was eventually repealed.

“As the science of therapeutics advanced, all diseases — whether hereditary or acquired — were found to be associated with abnormal conditions of the blood. A microscopic examination of a drop of blood enabled the scientist to determine the character and intensity of any disease, and at last to effect its elimination from the system.

“The blood is the primal element of the body. It feeds the flesh, the nerves, the muscles, the brain. Disease cannot exist when it is in a natural condition. Countless experiments have determined the exact properties of healthy blood and how to produce it. By the use of this knowledge we have eliminated hereditary diseases, and developed into a healthy and moral people. For people universally healthy is sure of being moral. Necessity begets crime. It is the wants of the ignorant and debased that suggests theft. It is a diseased fancy, or a mind ignorant of the laws that govern the development of human nature, that could attribute to offspring hated before birth: infancy and childhood neglected; starved, ill-used in every way, a disposition and character, amiable and humane and likely to become worthy members of society. The reverse is almost inevitable. Human nature relapses into the lower and baser instincts of its earlier existence, when neglected, ill-used and ignorant. All of those lovely traits of character which excite the enthusiast, such as gratitude, honor, charity are the results of education only. They are not the natural instincts of the human mind, but the cultivated ones.

“The most rigid laws were passed in regard to the practice of medicine. No physician could become a practitioner until examined and authorized to do so by the State Medical College. In order to prevent favoritism, or the furnishing of diplomas to incompetent applicants, enormous penalties were incurred by any who would sign such. The profession long ago became extinct. Every mother is a family physician. That is, she obeys the laws of nature in regard to herself and her children, and they never need a doctor.

“Having become healthy and independent of charity, crime began to decrease naturally. The conditions that had bred and fostered petty crimes having ceased to exist, the natures that had inherited them rose above their influence in a few generations, and left honorable posterity.

“But crime in its grossest form is an ineradicable hereditary taint. Generation after generation may rise and disappear in a family once tainted with it, without displaying it, and then in a most unexpected manner it will spring up in some descendant, violent and unconquerable.

“We tried to eliminate it as we had disease, but failed. It was an inherited molecular structure of the brain. Science could not reconstruct it. The only remedy was annihilation. Criminals had no posterity.”

“I am surprised,” I interrupted, “that possessing the power to control the development of the body, you should not do so with the mind.”

“If we could we would produce genius that could discover the source of all life. We can control Cause and Effect, but we cannot create Cause. We do not even know its origin. What the perfume is to the flower, the intellect is to the body; a secret that Nature keeps to herself. For a thousand years our greatest minds have sought to discover its source, and we are as far from it to-day as we were a thousand years ago.”

“How then have you obtained your mental superiority?” I inquired.

“By securing to our offspring perfect, physical and mental health. Science has taught us how to evolve intellect by following demonstrated laws. I put a seed into the ground and it comes up a little green slip, that eventually becomes a tree. When I planted the seed in congenial soil, and watered and tended the slip, I assisted Nature. But I did not create the seed nor supply the force that made it develop into a tree, nor can I define that force.”

“What has produced the exquisite refinement of your people?”

“Like everything else, it is the result of gradual development aiming at higher improvement. By following strictly the laws that govern the evolution of life, we control the formation of the body and brain. Strong mental traits become intensified by cultivation from generation to generation and finally culminate in one glorious outburst of power, called Genius. But there is one peculiarity about mind. It resembles that wonderful century plant which, after decades of developing, flowers and dies. Genius is the long unfolding bloom of mind, and leaves no posterity. We carefully prepare for the future development of Genius. We know that our children will be neither deformed nor imbecile, but we watch the unfolding of their intellects with the interest of a new revelation. We guide them with the greatest care.

“I could take a child of your people with inherited weakness of body and mind. I should rear it on proper food and exercise — both mental and physical — and it would have, when matured, a marked superiority to its parents. It is not what Nature has done for us, it is what we have done for her, that makes us a race of superior people.”

“The qualities of mind that are the general feature of your people,” I remarked, “are so very high, higher than our estimate of Genius. How was it arrived at?”

“By the processes I have just explained. Genius is always a leader. A genius with us has a subtlety of thought and perception beyond your power of appreciation. All organized social bodies move intellectually in a mass, with their leader just ahead of them.”

“I have visited, as a guest, a number of your families, and found their homes adorned with paintings and sculpture that would excite wondering admiration in my own land as rare works of art, but here they are only the expression of family taste and culture. Is that a quality of intellect that has been evolved, or is it a natural endowment of your race?”

“It is not an endowment, but has been arrived at by the same process of careful cultivation. Do you see in those ancient portraits a variety of striking colors? There is not a suggestion of harmony in any of them. On the contrary, they all display violent contrasts of color. The originals of them trod this land thousands of years ago. Many of the colors, we know, were unknown to them. Color is a faculty of the mind that is wholly the result of culture. In the early ages of society, it was known only in the coarsest and most brilliant hues. A conception and appreciation of delicate harmonies in color is evidence of a superior and refined mentality. If you will notice it, the illiterate of your own land have no taste for or idea of the harmony of color. It is the same with sound. The higher we rise in culture, the more difficult we are to please in music. Our taste becomes critical.”

I had been revolving some things in my mind while the Preceptress was speaking, and I now ventured to express them. I said:

“You tell me that generations will come and go before a marked change can occur in a people. What good then would it do me or mine to study and labor and investigate in or to teach my people how to improve? They can not comprehend progress. They have not learned by contact, as I have in Mizora, how to appreciate it. I should only waste life and happiness in trying to persuade them to get out of the ruts they have traveled so long; they think there are no other roads. I should be reviled, and perhaps persecuted. My doctrines would be called visionary and impracticable. I think I had better use my knowledge for my own kindred, and let the rest of the world find out the best way it can.”

The Preceptress looked at me with mild severity. I never before had seen so near an approach to rebuke in her grand eyes.

“What a barbarous, barbarous idea!” she exclaimed. “Your country will never rise above its ignorance and degradation, until out of its mental agony shall be evolved a nature kindled with an ambition that burns for Humanity instead of self. It will be the nucleus round which will gather the timid but anxious, and then will be lighted that fire which no waters can quench. It burns for the liberty of thought. Let human nature once feel the warmth of its beacon fires, and it will march onward, defying all obstacles, braving all perils till it be won. Human nature is ever reaching for the unattained. It is that little spark within us that has an undying life. When we can no longer use it, it flies elsewhere.”

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