A Poetic Realm of Possibilities for 1990

Prof. Joseph Rodes Buchanan, “The Marvels of Science—A Telescopic Glance at the Future,” Religio-Philosophical Journal, December 31, 1887  [Note that Edward Bellamy’s explicitly acknowledged fiction Looking Backward had just been published.  Although fiction, Bellamy’s novel about the change in society over the next hundred years inspired many activists’ real world efforts to turn society into something like the one he described.  Not so oddly, Bellamy’s method for projecting his hero into the Future was through having him enter a mesmeric trance.]

In the common course of human events, the actualities are prosaic and monotonous; but there hovers over the chill tide of the actual a poetic realm of possibilities, as the rainbow may overhang the meanest landscape.  Now and then a glorious possibility descends to earth and becomes a reality; and if we look along the line of future progress, we may see these bright possibilities incarnated, illumining the whole landscape.  Let us, then, look along the coming century.  What do we see in 1990?  Bring in the prophetic clairvoyant, and let us have his revelations.  We listen:

telescopeProphetic Clairvoyant—“I see a magnificent republic of 500,000,000, to which all the nations of the earth look as the one great power, the centre of wealth and enlightenment.  From its Atlantic and Pacific ports its wealth and its commerce are often borne on marine chariots that fly over the waters fifty miles an hour, by the same method that now enables a single individual to traverse the waves with his marine bicycle.

“Through the atmosphere flying balloons, taking advantage of prevailing winds, advance with still greater speed, exploring every quarter of the globe, from the North to the South pole.  Every mile of the surface of the earth is known and described.  The condors and the wild geese are hitched in teams to strange vehicles bearing single passengers, regulated by wing sails, upheld by small balloons, and guided by delicate reins.  Pneumatic tubes everywhere deliver intelligence and precious parcels in every village, at the rate of a hundred miles an hour they carry a strange freight of concrete eloquence.

“On Saturday evenings the great master of eloquence whose inspired utterance makes men forget all orators of the 19th century, speaks to the entire nation; he speaks in his own home, but his voice is recorded by a thousand phonograms, which are immediately despatched by pneumatic post to every city, and Sunday morning, afternoon or evening, his silvery voice is heard in a thousand churches by vast audiences, to whom it comes with unabated charm and power, while his own counterfeit presentment in a colored life-like statue, enables them to realize his presence.

“On great occasions the President speaks to the people in like manner, and a million at once listen to his phonogramic eloquence.  Even his official message is thus delivered to the people as well as to Congress, and the entranced brain power of the statesmen of the 20th century enables him to get rid of verbosity and deliver a half-hour message that gives a masterly periscope of national affairs.

“There is a wonderful charm in the cultivated scenery of 1990.  I despair of describing its countless charms.  Look yonder!  Five thousand feet above the sea in the Rocky Mountains, what a little paradise!  The fragrant shrubs and lofty trees of all lands have been gathered to enrich the grounds.  What a balmy and reviving atmosphere they diffuse.  Let us enter.  Passing through an evergreen arcade, we reach a door, and as we approach, it opens, and smiling faces greet us, as if they knew of our coming.  A lady of benignant aspect, with an ineffable smile, takes our hand, and with a sweetness of manner which makes her words sound like a blessing, exclaims, “Welcome! doubly welcome to our home of health.  You shall see how we live, and carry back to the barbarians to the 19th century the sublime truths of the healing art, of which the college and church have kept them in ignorance.  Our patients are chiefly from distant countries, for our own citizens understand the laws of health, and have their own sanitariums in every village.  I will give you an illustration of our methods, and ask you to report to your own century all that you do not think too incredible to your own very peculiar people.  There are some things that for your own good I would not ask you to tell your incredulous people.’

“We enter from a sky-lit rotunda, from which fifteen or twenty doors lead out to different apartments.  At a signal from her, a door opens and a couch glides in almost inaudibly, bearing a darkeyed woman, with emaciated features.  Her medical attendants follow and surround the couch.  The senior among them introduces the other four, for she had just arrived and looked with wondering eyes upon everything.  The white bearded senior took her hand; the others gathered round with that benignant smile which seemed the characteristic of all in the happy home.  The smile was returned; her countenance seemed illuminated.  They all place their hands upon her in the manner dictated by the science which is illustrated in charts upon the walls: Filled with a new life she rises from her pillow, then gracefully rises from her couch, and clasping her hands before the benignant lady superior, she pours forth her gratitude in a Persian song in her own tongue.  It seems that she is really healed, and she walks lightly to her apartment.

“‘Let us now go,” says the lady, ‘to the chamber of wonders.  We call it this, because the strangers from Asia have given it that name.”  We enter an apartment of about thirty by fifty feet, where we see eight invalids of different nationalities, recently arrived, who bear the traces of suffering.  Immediately on our entry a soft violet light was diffused, and a sweet, exhilarating fragrances rises, followed by an aeolian melody that strangely resembled the sounds of the human voice.  After about ten minutes enjoyment of this soul-soothing and animating luxury, we are led to the couch of each invalid in succession.

“The first was a Japanese sea-captain, rescued from a burning ship, covered with burns.  He rises with a smile to greet us, but suddenly falls back as his pain is revived.  Instantly the lady seizes his hand and places it on some part of the couch, which has a golden surface, and then places his feet in a corresponding position.  His smile expresses his immediate relief, and while he is yet smiling, his eyelids gradually close and he passes into the oblivion of sleep, while the lady explains the interior structure by which he has been so pleasantly relieved.

“The next patient was lying on the couch of restoration; a light frame resting on scales by which his weight was accurately ascertained every day.  He was recovering from a nearly fatal attack of yellow fever, in a state of skeleton-like emaciation.  His food was selected with unusual skill and adaptation, but the couch of restoration of which seemed about half complete.  There is a mysterious arrangement of gold, aluminum and carbon bars and tubes, on some of which his hands and feet lazily rested, while his countenance wore an expression of happy indolence.  He is gaining two pounds a day (said his attendant), and the lady kindly explains the mysterious arrangement of gold, aluminum and carbon.

“The next patient, an intellectual American of high official position, shows nothing of the invalid in his countenance.  He is a victim of hydrophobia.  He was brought to the home in a spasm, placed in an anodyne atmosphere, and then placed on a couch with the three metals more conspicuously displayed than elsewhere.  His feet were bound on the footbar, his arms enclosed in bracelets and connected with the couch.  He had been thus located two days, and believed himself cured, but was detained to perfect the cure.

“Again the lady explains the mysteries of the couch and charges me to tell the mysteries of its construction to those who are enlightened enough to accept the results of science.  ‘Tell them’ (says she) ‘that there are fragrant airs, musical tones and currents of many diversified powers, that change the nature and control the life of man—currents that may heal all diseases, and change his moral nature; also, currents that expel evil inclinations as well as morbid conditions; but I need not tell you more, for there is more here than your friends of the nineteenth century can believe.

“Now I visit and understand the treatment of the five other patients, but she forbids me to tell the methods of the Home to the 19th century people, and she is wise.”

There have always been more things in heaven and earth than wise men would relate to the multitude.  In the communication I have not exceeded the bounds of demonstrable science.  The laws of mechanics will vindicate the physical proposition and the College of Therapeutics is steadily demonstrating the healing powers that are alluded to.  The next thirty or forty years will witness a greater revolution in medical science, practice and philosophy than all the revolutions of the past.


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