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Concerning Our Priests

From: Flatland

It is high time that I should pass from these brief and discursive
notes about things in Flatland to the central event of this book, my
initiation into the mysteries of Space. THAT is my subject; all that
has gone before is merely preface.

For this reason I must omit many matters of which the explanation would
not, I flatter myself, be without interest for my Readers: as for
example, our method of propelling and stopping ourselves, although
destitute of feet; the means by which we give fixity to structures of
wood, stone, or brick, although of course we have no hands, nor can we
lay foundations as you can, nor avail ourselves of the lateral pressure
of the earth; the manner in which the rain originates in the intervals
between our various zones, so that the northern regions do not
intercept the moisture falling on the southern; the nature of our hills
and mines, our trees and vegetables, our seasons and harvests; our
Alphabet and method of writing, adapted to our linear tablets; these
and a hundred other details of our physical existence I must pass over,
nor do I mention them now except to indicate to my readers that their
omission proceeds not from forgetfulness on the part of the author, but
from his regard for the time of the Reader.

Yet before I proceed to my legitimate subject some few final remarks
will no doubt be expected by my Readers upon these pillars and
mainstays of the Constitution of Flatland, the controllers of our
conduct and shapers of our destiny, the objects of universal homage and
almost of adoration: need I say that I mean our Circles or Priests?

When I call them Priests, let me not be understood as meaning no more
than the term denotes with you. With us, our Priests are
Administrators of all Business, Art, and Science; Directors of Trade,
Commerce, Generalship, Architecture, Engineering, Education,
Statesmanship, Legislature, Morality, Theology; doing nothing
themselves, they are the Causes of everything worth doing, that is done
by others.

Although popularly everyone called a Circle is deemed a Circle, yet
among the better educated Classes it is known that no Circle is really
a Circle, but only a Polygon with a very large number of very small
sides. As the number of the sides increases, a Polygon approximates to
a Circle; and, when the number is very great indeed, say for example
three or four hundred, it is extremely difficult for the most delicate
touch to feel any polygonal angles. Let me say rather it WOULD be
difficult: for, as I have shown above, Recognition by Feeling is
unknown among the highest society, and to FEEL a Circle would be
considered a most audacious insult. This habit of abstention from
Feeling in the best society enables a Circle the more easily to sustain
the veil of mystery in which, from his earliest years, he is wont to
enwrap the exact nature of his Perimeter or Circumference. Three feet
being the average Perimeter it follows that, in a Polygon of three
hundred sides each side will be no more than the hundredth part of a
foot in length, or little more than the tenth part of an inch; and in a
Polygon of six or seven hundred sides the sides are little larger than
the diameter of a Spaceland pin-head. It is always assumed, by
courtesy, that the Chief Circle for the time being has ten thousand

The ascent of the posterity of the Circles in the social scale is not
restricted, as it is among the lower Regular classes, by the Law of
Nature which limits the increase of sides to one in each generation.
If it were so, the number of sides in the Circle would be a mere
question of pedigree and arithmetic, and the four hundred and
ninety-seventh descendant of an Equilateral Triangle would necessarily
be a polygon with five hundred sides. But this is not the case.
Nature's Law prescribes two antagonistic decrees affecting Circular
propagation; first, that as the race climbs higher in the scale of
development, so development shall proceed at an accelerated pace;
second, that in the same proportion, the race shall become less
fertile. Consequently in the home of a Polygon of four or five hundred
sides it is rare to find a son; more than one is never seen. On the
other hand the son of a five-hundred-sided Polygon has been known to
possess five hundred and fifty, or even six hundred sides.

Art also steps in to help the process of higher Evolution. Our
physicians have discovered that the small and tender sides of an infant
Polygon of the higher class can be fractured, and his whole frame
re-set, with such exactness that a Polygon of two or three hundred
sides sometimes--by no means always, for the process is attended with
serious risk--but sometimes overleaps two or three hundred generations,
and as it were double at a stroke, the number of his progenitors and
the nobility of his descent.

Many a promising child is sacrificed in this way. Scarcely one out of
ten survives. Yet so strong is the parental ambition among those
Polygons who are, as it were, on the fringe of the Circular class, that
it is very rare to find the Nobleman of that position in society, who
has neglected to place his first-born in the Circular Neo-Therapeutic
Gymnasium before he has attained the age of a month.

One year determines success or failure. At the end of that time the
child has, in all probability, added one more to the tombstones that
crowd the Neo-Therapeutic Cemetery; but on rare occasional a glad
procession bears back the little one to his exultant parents, no longer
a Polygon, but a Circle, at least by courtesy: and a single instance
of so blessed a result induces multitudes of Polygonal parents to
submit to similar domestic sacrifice, which have a dissimilar issue.

Next: Of The Doctrine Of Our Priests

Previous: Of The Suppression Of The Chromatic Sedition

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