Is The World Growing Better?
From: Doctor Jones' Picnic
Before daylight on the following morning they descended to breakfast.
Mrs. Barton had enjoyed a comfortable night, and Dr. Jones expressed
himself as delighted with her condition.
"You have everything to hope for," he said to the family. "I leave you
this medicine, with written directions for its use. Do not repeat the
dose I have given her so long as improvement continues. When it ceases
you will do as directed in my written instructions."
The hour of departure had arrived. Farewells had all been said, and the
company had ascended except the Doctor and his wife.
"I cannot say what I wish to you," said Barton, taking each of them by
the hand. "I simply look upon you as messengers from God, and I want to
give you something more substantial than thanks." He placed a buckskin
sack of gold in the hand of Dr. Jones.
"Oh! no, Mr. Barton, my good friend," said the Doctor, handing it back;
"I won't take a cent. You are ten thousand times welcome to anything I
have done. I feel myself richly remunerated in the satisfaction of
leaving you all happy."
"Take it, Mrs. Jones, as a present from me," said Barton, and he pressed
it into her hand. "You will really hurt me if you do not accept it."
"Then I will do so, Mr. Barton. Good-bye," and away they shot up to the
cabin. At a given signal Joe and Sam cast the anchors off, they whizzed
up to the engine-room, and the mighty ball bounded skyward like a bird
in the clear, frosty morning air. A very brisk wind was blowing from
nearly due south, and the voyagers were delighted with the progress they
made that day toward their destination.
All day they sped at more than forty miles an hour over the vast
elevated plains that were but barren wastes, growing every hour drearier
and more desolate.
"Of all the misnomers on earth, the name given this country ranks
first," said Professor Gray.
"What is the meaning of the word 'Labrador,' Professor?" asked Denison.
"The literal meaning of the word is 'cultivable land.' As to its
appropriateness, you can judge for yourselves. I do not know who
bestowed upon it this misfit of a name, but it must have been a hardy
explorer, who did it in a fit of spleen and wretchedness."
"The Barton family seems to be comfortable and happy in poor old
Labrador," said Mrs. Jones.
"Yes, but my dear madame, they do not live by cultivating the land,"
returned the Professor. "The seasons are too variable, and the changes
of temperature are far too sudden to permit raising of crops of any
"Mr. Barton told me that they did raise a little garden stuff, such as
onions, lettuce, and radishes; but potatoes, corn, etc., invariably are
nipped by frost, and never mature," said Denison.
The Professor, a few moments before noon, ascended to the observatory
with sextant and chronometer, and determined the latitude and longitude
of "Silver Cloud," as Mrs. Jones had named the aluminum ship. He made
the entry in his logbook.
"There is our exact position now, Doctor," and he placed the point of a
pencil on the map of Labrador.
"In forty-eight hours we will be within the Arctics at this rate of
speed," cried Dr. Jones, rubbing his hands with delight.
The face of the country was so uninteresting and monotonous, covered
more or less with snow, that the voyagers became tired of looking at it,
and turned their attention to various pursuits within the cabin.
Becoming tired of music, they read, played games, conversed, etc.
The Doctor and Professor were each expert chess players, and their games
were long and closely contested. Victory perched about as often upon the
banner of one as the other.
Fred worked daily upon a composition which he entitled "The North Pole
March," and declared that the music should be played by himself, while
the rest of the company marched around the aluminum flagstaff, after its
erection at the summit of the earth, the North Pole. The two ladies were
greatly interested in Fred's composition, and hummed and sang it with
him, offering suggestions here and there that were of more or less
benefit to him.
Denison and Will spent their time attending to the springs, watching the
thermometers and barometer. This, however, occupied but little of their
leisure, and they played many games of checkers and backgammon. Will
took an occasional snapshot with his camera when he saw anything of
interest. He had taken some excellent photographs of Silver Cloud and
company, which he had left with the Barton family. Who can doubt that
they were an unfailing source of delight and tender remembrance to this
intelligent and interesting family, as they sat about their great
fireplace during the long winter nights. And the artist had taken some
sketches of Constance House and inhabitants, which he had brought with
him. He had converted one of the spare bedrooms into a studio, and spent
an hour or two daily upon a portrait in oil of Jennie Barton. The fact
of the matter is, the unadorned beauty and grace of the lovely Jennie
had touched his artistic taste beyond anything that he had ever
experienced in his life. And away deep in his heart, almost unknown to
himself, was a determination to spend a summer season at Constance
House, as soon after their return from the Pole as possible.
Silver Cloud all this time was hastening with the speed of a carrier
pigeon, nearly due north. Dr. Jones and Professor Gray could not repress
their satisfaction each day as their observations showed them to be
moving straight as an arrow toward the object of their journey. The
altitude they maintained was very little more or less than three
thousand feet, and the wind continued from the south at the rate of
twenty or thirty miles per hour. The outside temperature was balmy and
bracing during the day, so that the balcony afforded them a splendid
promenade, where they spent hours daily, exercising in walking round and
round the spacious cabin, and studying the topography of the country.
Frequent trips were also made to the observatory, and sitting there with
the windows open was very inspiring, as well as comfortable. To thus
sit in so elevated a place with the windows wide open, while in a state
of perspiration, the result of climbing the long stairway, would seem to
have been the height of imprudence. But we must remember that such a
thing as a breeze or draft of air was never felt on board the Silver
Cloud while in motion. The great ship went exactly with the wind, and at
precisely the same rate of speed. So, whether the wind blew one or a
hundred miles an hour, it was always a dead calm aboard the Silver
"This is the ideal place for all catarrhal and pulmonary cases,"
declared Dr. Jones. "I shall always prescribe a trip in Silver Cloud for
this class of patients hereafter."
"I fully believe in its efficacy," said Professor Gray. "But I fear that
it will be too expensive a prescription for many of your poor patients."
"That's the trouble, that's the trouble," assented the Doctor, shaking
his head sadly. "Millions are yearly dying that might be saved by this
and other means on the same line. But the blindness and selfishness of
mankind is so absolute and infernal that but little philanthropic work
of this sort can be done. There are some noble exceptions, or we should
have suffered the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah long since."
"But, Doctor, you believe that the world is getting better, do you not?"
"In what way?"
"Well, in every way. No one can doubt that in the arts and sciences more
has been done in the past fifty years than in all the previous history
of the world."
"Granted," assented the Doctor.
"All right. Then let us look at the social, moral, and spiritual sides
of the question. Socially, certainly, no period of history can compare
with the present. We are educating our children, feeding and clothing
them better than they ever were before in the world."
"I really think we are," again assented Dr. Jones.
"Well, then," cried Will, glowing with triumph, thinking that he was
fairly smoking the little Doctor out, "what can you say for your side
of the question? Was there ever a time when life and property were so
protected as now? And were there ever so many Bibles and tracts and
other religious matter published and disseminated as at the present
time? Missionaries are going by thousands all over the earth, and the
gospel will soon have been preached to all nations."
"That's so, that's so," concurred the Doctor again.
"Come, come, Doctor; defend your side of the question," cried Fred.
"I did not know that I had committed myself to either side," returned
he. "But I will say this much: While I am not pessimistic as to the
outcome of this struggle going on between God's and Satan's forces in
the world, yet we should not overlook the fact that the devil is
fearfully active in these times. While I have admitted all that Will has
said, yet there is another side to the question. Let me call your
attention to the fact that there never was a time when there was so much
rum and tobacco used in the world as to-day. The amount consumed per
capita is increasing tremendously. Remember that with every missionary
there are sent in the same ship from seventy-five to one hundred gallons
of intoxicants, and tobacco galore. Never has this world seen so vast
preparation for war. The people of all Europe are groaning beneath the
taxation imposed upon them for the support of vast armies and navies. At
no time has money been piled up in the hands of the few as at the
present. Hundreds of millions in many instances are held by a single
individual. By no sort of philosophy can he be entitled to it, and by no
system can he come into possession of it without robbing thousands of
his fellowmen. And as to inventions: surely no man delights more in the
splendid achievements of our age in this direction than I do. But I
declare to you that I believe labor-saving machinery to be a mighty
curse to mankind, because the laborer is being driven closer and closer
to the wall by the innumerable inventions that are driving him out of
every field of labor. The great money kings are taking advantage of
every such invention, and what the end is to be I do not dare predict.
Ignatius Donnely's fearful picture in his work, Caeser's Column, I hope
and believe to be terribly overdrawn. And, as I said before, I am not
pessimistic as to the final outcome; but let us beware of crying 'Peace!
peace! when there is no peace!' The fact is, gentlemen, I cannot help
thinking that St. James referred to these very times, when he said in
the fifth chapter of his epistle: "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl
for the miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted and
your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the
rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as
it were fire. Ye have heaped up treasure together for the last days.
Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which
is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them who have
reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabbaoth." See James,
5-4. I cannot, in the light of these prophecies, see that the world is
growing essentially better rapidly, if at all."
"But, Doctor," said Will, "you cannot deny that the children of these
times are incomparably better clothed, have more and better books, live
in more comfortable homes, and are enjoying privileges never known to
children of former generations."
"While I must assent to what you have said, yet all these advantages are
not unmixed blessings. In my experience as a physician, I have seen very
many precious lives go out, simply because they could not endure the
high pressure system of our modern educators. I feel so strongly upon
this subject that I would prefer that a child of mine should live and
die absolutely illiterate, than that he should sacrifice one particle of
health for any conceivable amount of mere book-learning. I once had an
uncle who was a man of wonderful learning. He was a collegian, a master
of half a dozen or more languages, and for all this he paid the price of
his good health. All his life, he suffered the pangs of an outraged
stomach and nervous system. He could never make any use of his
splendidly cultivated brain, and was a miserable, unhappy burden to
himself and friends to the end of his life. His end was sad, tinged with
the element of ridiculousness. He was sitting in a field one day,
resting during a short walk, when a great vicious hog attacked him,
tossed him about, rooted him here and there, and would have certainly
killed him outright if his cries had not brought assistance. He never
recovered from the effects of the injuries received on that occasion.
Suppose poor old uncle could at that time have traded all his dead and
modern languages for a pair of good stout legs, would it not have been a
grand bargain for him?"
"But could not your uncle have been more judicious and systematic in the
prosecution of his studies, and have done the same amount of work
without detriment to his health?" asked Professor Gray.
"I do not doubt that he might. But our schools are run nowadays upon, as
I said before, a high-pressure system. Too many children are packed into
imperfectly ventilated schoolrooms, and the poor teachers are miserably
overtaxed. But the schools are graded, everything cut and dried, the
curriculum made by state or county board; and, like the tyrant's
bedstead, those too long must be cut off, and those too short must be
stretched. All must fit the bedstead. That great story-teller, Charles
Dickens, tells the story exactly in his picture of Dr. Blimmer's system
of teaching. That poor babe, Paul Dombey, might as well have been fed to
an insatiable ogre as to have been placed in the hands of that pompous
idiot. And our country is full of little Paul Dombeys, blossoming for
eternity. How much better to have let the poor little fellow play in the
sands upon the beach with his sister Florence and old Glubb. But the
precocious innocent must be murdered by this same senseless system,
because of the inordinate vanity of a foolish father, and the stupidity
of his teacher. In vain have I warned hundreds of parents, when I saw
their children thus being hurried to premature graves. But they are so
proud of the precocious darlings that they seldom heed until it is too
late. Faugh! the whole business makes me sick."
"Well, Doctor, admitting all you say, what do you suggest as the remedy?
I have known many statesmen who could see and point out the evils,
present or imminent, of society or state, with great sagacity and
accuracy, but when it came to prescribing the remedy, were utterly
impracticable," said Professor Gray.
"That is right, Professor Gray. It is very little benefit to a sick man
to tell him that he is sick, or even to make for him a scientific
diagnosis, if it be not supplemented by the remedy. I have remedial
measures to suggest. In the first place, I would build schoolhouses upon
strictly scientific principles; a certain number of cubic yards of pure
air should be allowed each scholar, and the most perfect system of
ventilation should always be used. Further, by way of homely
illustration, I should treat the children upon the same principles that
we do our horses. Some horses are calculated for heavy draught business,
others for light draught, roadsters, racers, etc. I need not mention the
folly of attempting to drive these animals out of their respective
classes. Now children differ as essentially in their mental capacities
and requirements as do horses physically. You can by no possible means
make a mathematician of a scholar who is deficient in the organ of
calculation. It is a manifest injustice to hitch such a one beside
another who is a perfect racer in the mathematical field. It is not fair
to either of them. I claim that each child should be treated upon his
individual merits, and in accordance with the natural gifts that God has
bestowed upon him. The graded school system is in direct opposition to
this idea, and is wholly wrong and unscientific."
"Well, as to the curriculum, Doctor," said Will, "suppose you were
called upon to abridge the list of studies in our public schools, where
would you begin and end? Isn't it a pity in this age of the world, to
shut off from the children any one of the branches of science or
"Indeed, that would be a great pity, and far be it from me to do
anything of the kind. I would not abridge the curriculum for any child;
it should simply be taught that for which it has a capacity. A teacher
who is not capable of so discriminating and anticipating the wants of
each pupil, is not a teacher in the best sense of the word, any more
than a man is a horse trainer who cannot differentiate between a heavy
draught-horse and a light roadster. I might say considerable as to
methods of teaching, but I presume that you have heard enough for once."
"Yes, but we have not settled the question as to whether the world is
getting better or not," returned Will. "I am willing to admit that our
school system is defective. But what do you say as to the safety of life
and property at this time, compared with any other age of the world?"
"Really, now, I wish an intelligent Armenian were here to answer that
"But that is not fair, Doctor. The Armenians are in the hands of the
Turks and we know that they are capable of any conceivable inhumanity.
I supposed that we were discussing the world so far as civilized. I
really think that it is a clear case of 'begging the question,' when you
introduce the Armenian case into the discussion."
"Do you, indeed! And let me inquire, my dear boy, who is responsible for
this wholesale slaughter of a people whose only crime is that of being
nominal Christians? Five or six centuries ago the combined governments
of Europe would have made common cause against the infamous Turk for
much less than the murder of a Christian nation. But to-day there is so
much less of manhood in Europe than there was in the days of chivalry,
that the civilized world is sitting calmly by and permitting this
unspeakable crime to go on at the sweet will of the bloody-handed Turk.
And do you not think that God will hold the nations of Europe to a
strict account for this villainy that marks the closing decade of the
nineteenth century as the blackest page in human history? God will
surely avenge Armenia, and woe to Europe when He treads the wine-press
of His wrath!"
As Will offered no reply, the discussion closed.
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