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How I Had A Vision Of Lineland






Part of: OTHER WORLDS
From: Flatland

It was the last day but one of the 1999th year of our era, and the
first day of the Long Vacation. Having amused myself till a late hour
with my favourite recreation of Geometry, I had retired to rest with an
unsolved problem in my mind. In the night I had a dream.

I saw before me a vast multitude of small Straight Lines (which I
naturally assumed to be Women) interspersed with other Beings still
smaller and of the nature of lustrous points--all moving to and fro in
one and the same Straight Line, and, as nearly as I could judge, with
the same velocity.

A noise of confused, multitudinous chirping or twittering issued from
them at intervals as long as they were moving; but sometimes they
ceased from motion, and then all was silence.

Approaching one of the largest of what I thought to be Women, I
accosted her, but received no answer. A second and third appeal on my
part were equally ineffectual. Losing patience at what appeared to me
intolerable rudeness, I brought my mouth to a position full in front of
her mouth so as to intercept her motion, and loudly repeated my
question, "Woman, what signifies this concourse, and this strange and
confused chirping, and this monotonous motion to and fro in one and the
same Straight Line?"

"I am no Woman," replied the small Line: "I am the Monarch of the
world. But thou, whence intrudest thou into my realm of Lineland?"
Receiving this abrupt reply, I begged pardon if I had in any way
startled or molested his Royal Highness; and describing myself as a
stranger I besought the King to give me some account of his dominions.
But I had the greatest possible difficulty in obtaining any information
on points that really interested me; for the Monarch could not refrain
from constantly assuming that whatever was familiar to him must also be
known to me and that I was simulating ignorance in jest. However, by
preserving questions I elicited the following facts:

It seemed that this poor ignorant Monarch--as he called himself--was
persuaded that the Straight Line which he called his Kingdom, and in
which he passed his existence, constituted the whole of the world, and
indeed the whole of Space. Not being able either to move or to see,
save in his Straight Line, he had no conception of anything out of it.
Though he had heard my voice when I first addressed him, the sounds had
come to him in a manner so contrary to his experience that he had made
no answer, "seeing no man," as he expressed it, "and hearing a voice as
it were from my own intestines." Until the moment when I placed my
mouth in his World, he had neither seen me, nor heard anything except
confused sounds beating against, what I called his side, but what he
called his INSIDE or STOMACH; nor had he even now the least conception
of the region from which I had come. Outside his World, or Line, all
was a blank to him; nay, not even a blank, for a blank implies Space;
say, rather, all was non-existent.

His subjects--of whom the small Lines were men and the Points
Women--were all alike confined in motion and eyesight to that single
Straight Line, which was their World. It need scarcely be added that
the whole of their horizon was limited to a Point; nor could any one
ever see anything but a Point. Man, woman, child, thing--each as a
Point to the eye of a Linelander. Only by the sound of the voice could
sex or age be distinguished. Moreover, as each individual occupied the
whole of the narrow path, so to speak, which constituted his Universe,
and no one could move to the right or left to make way for passers by,
it followed that no Linelander could ever pass another. Once
neighbours, always neighbours. Neighbourhood with them was like
marriage with us. Neighbours remained neighbours till death did them
part.

Such a life, with all vision limited to a Point, and all motion to a
Straight Line, seemed to me inexpressibly dreary; and I was surprised
to note that vivacity and cheerfulness of the King. Wondering whether
it was possible, amid circumstances so unfavourable to domestic
relations, to enjoy the pleasures of conjugal union, I hesitated for
some time to question his Royal Highness on so delicate a subject; but
at last I plunged into it by abruptly inquiring as to the health of his
family. "My wives and children," he replied, "are well and happy."

Staggered at this answer--for in the immediate proximity of the Monarch
(as I had noted in my dream before I entered Lineland) there were none
but Men--I ventured to reply, "Pardon me, but I cannot imagine how your
Royal Highness can at any time either see or approach their Majesties,
when there at least half a dozen intervening individuals, whom you can
neither see through, nor pass by? Is it possible that in Lineland
proximity is not necessary for marriage and for the generation of
children?"

"How can you ask so absurd a question?" replied the Monarch. "If it
were indeed as you suggest, the Universe would soon be depopulated.
No, no; neighbourhood is needless for the union of hearts; and the
birth of children is too important a matter to have been allowed to
depend upon such an accident as proximity. You cannot be ignorant of
this. Yet since you are pleased to affect ignorance, I will instruct
you as if you were the veriest baby in Lineland. Know, then, that
marriages are consummated by means of the faculty of sound and the
sense of hearing.

"You are of course aware that every Man has two mouths or voices--as
well as two eyes--a bass at one and a tenor at the other of his
extremities. I should not mention this, but that I have been unable to
distinguish your tenor in the course of our conversation." I replied
that I had but one voice, and that I had not been aware that his Royal
Highness had two. "That confirms my impression," said the King, "that
you are not a Man, but a feminine Monstrosity with a bass voice, and an
utterly uneducated ear. But to continue.

"Nature having herself ordained that every Man should wed two wives--"
"Why two?" asked I. "You carry your affected simplicity too far," he
cried. "How can there be a completely harmonious union without the
combination of the Four in One, viz. the Bass and Tenor of the Man and
the Soprano and Contralto of the two Women?" "But supposing," said I,
"that a man should prefer one wife or three?" "It is impossible," he
said; "it is as inconceivable as that two and one should make five, or
that the human eye should see a Straight Line." I would have
interrupted him; but he proceeded as follows:

"Once in the middle of each week a Law of Nature compels us to move to
and fro with a rhythmic motion of more than usual violence, which
continues for the time you would take to count a hundred and one. In
the midst of this choral dance, at the fifty-first pulsation, the
inhabitants of the Universe pause in full career, and each individual
sends forth his richest, fullest, sweetest strain. It is in this
decisive moment that all our marriages are made. So exquisite is the
adaptation of Bass and Treble, of Tenor to Contralto, that oftentimes
the Loved Ones, though twenty thousand leagues away, recognize at once
the responsive note of their destined Lover; and, penetrating the
paltry obstacles of distance, Love unites the three. The marriage in
that instance consummated results in a threefold Male and Female
offspring which takes its place in Lineland."

"What! Always threefold?" said I. "Must one wife then always have
twins?"

"Bass-voice Monstrosity! yes," replied the King. "How else could the
balance of the Sexes be maintained, if two girls were not born for
every boy? Would you ignore the very Alphabet of Nature?" He ceased,
speechless for fury; and some time elapsed before I could induce him to
resume his narrative.

"You will not, of course, suppose that every bachelor among us finds
his mates at the first wooing in this universal Marriage Chorus. On
the contrary, the process is by most of us many times repeated. Few
are the hearts whose happy lot is at once to recognize in each other's
voice the partner intended for them by Providence, and to fly into a
reciprocal and perfectly harmonious embrace. With most of us the
courtship is of long duration. The Wooer's voices may perhaps accord
with one of the future wives, but not with both; or not, at first, with
either; or the Soprano and Contralto may not quite harmonize. In such
cases Nature has provided that every weekly Chorus shall bring the
three Lovers into closer harmony. Each trial of voice, each fresh
discovery of discord, almost imperceptibly induces the less perfect to
modify his or her vocal utterance so as to approximate to the more
perfect. And after many trials and many approximations, the result is
at last achieved. There comes a day at last when, while the wonted
Marriage Chorus goes forth from universal Lineland, the three far-off
Lovers suddenly find themselves in exact harmony, and, before they are
aware, the wedded Triplet is rapt vocally into a duplicate embrace; and
Nature rejoices over one more marriage and over three more births."





Next: How I Vainly Tried To Explain The Nature Of Flatland

Previous: Of The Doctrine Of Our Priests



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