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Of The Ancient Practice Of Painting

From: Flatland

If my Readers have followed me with any attention up to this point,
they will not be surprised to hear that life is somewhat dull in
Flatland. I do not, of course, mean that there are not battles,
conspiracies, tumults, factions, and all those other phenomena which
are supposed to make History interesting; nor would I deny that the
strange mixture of the problems of life and the problems of
Mathematics, continually inducing conjecture and giving an opportunity
of immediate verification, imparts to our existence a zest which you in
Spaceland can hardly comprehend. I speak now from the aesthetic and
artistic point of view when I say that life with us is dull;
aesthetically and artistically, very dull indeed.

How can it be otherwise, when all one's prospect, all one's landscapes,
historical pieces, portraits, flowers, still life, are nothing but a
single line, with no varieties except degrees of brightness and

It was not always thus. Colour, if Tradition speaks the truth, once
for the space of half a dozen centuries or more, threw a transient
splendour over the lives of our ancestors in the remotest ages. Some
private individual--a Pentagon whose name is variously reported--having
casually discovered the constituents of the simpler colours and a
rudimentary method of painting, is said to have begun by decorating
first his house, then his slaves, then his Father, his Sons, and
Grandsons, lastly himself. The convenience as well as the beauty of
the results commended themselves to all. Wherever Chromatistes,--for
by that name the most trustworthy authorities concur in calling
him,--turned his variegated frame, there he at once excited attention,
and attracted respect. No one now needed to "feel" him; no one mistook
his front for his back; all his movements were readily ascertained by
his neighbours without the slightest strain on their powers of
calculation; no one jostled him, or failed to make way for him; his
voice was saved the labour of that exhausting utterance by which we
colourless Squares and Pentagons are often forced to proclaim our
individuality when we move amid a crowd of ignorant Isosceles.

The fashion spread like wildfire. Before a week was over, every Square
and Triangle in the district had copied the example of Chromatistes,
and only a few of the more conservative Pentagons still held out. A
month or two found even the Dodecagons infected with the innovation. A
year had not elapsed before the habit had spread to all but the very
highest of the Nobility. Needless to say, the custom soon made its way
from the district of Chromatistes to surrounding regions; and within
two generations no one in all Flatland was colourless except the Women
and the Priests.

Here Nature herself appeared to erect a barrier, and to plead against
extending the innovations to these two classes. Many-sidedness was
almost essential as a pretext for the Innovators. "Distinction of
sides is intended by Nature to imply distinction of colours"--such was
the sophism which in those days flew from mouth to mouth, converting
whole towns at a time to a new culture. But manifestly to our Priests
and Women this adage did not apply. The latter had only one side, and
therefore--plurally and pedantically speaking--NO SIDES. The
former--if at least they would assert their claim to be readily and
truly Circles, and not mere high-class Polygons, with an infinitely
large number of infinitesimally small sides--were in the habit of
boasting (what Women confessed and deplored) that they also had no
sides, being blessed with a perimeter of only one line, or, in other
words, a Circumference. Hence it came to pass that these two Classes
could see no force in the so-called axiom about "Distinction of Sides
implying Distinction of Colour;" and when all others had succumbed to
the fascinations of corporal decoration, the Priests and the Women
alone still remained pure from the pollution of paint.

Immoral, licentious, anarchical, unscientific--call them by what names
you will--yet, from an aesthetic point of view, those ancient days of
the Colour Revolt were the glorious childhood of Art in Flatland--a
childhood, alas, that never ripened into manhood, nor even reached the
blossom of youth. To live then in itself a delight, because living
implied seeing. Even at a small party, the company was a pleasure to
behold; the richly varied hues of the assembly in a church or theatre
are said to have more than once proved too distracting from our
greatest teachers and actors; but most ravishing of all is said to have
been the unspeakable magnificence of a military review.

The sight of a line of battle of twenty thousand Isosceles suddenly
facing about, and exchanging the sombre black of their bases for the
orange of the two sides including their acute angle; the militia of the
Equilateral Triangles tricoloured in red, white, and blue; the mauve,
ultra-marine, gamboge, and burnt umber of the Square artillerymen
rapidly rotating near their vermillion guns; the dashing and flashing
of the five-coloured and six-coloured Pentagons and Hexagons careering
across the field in their offices of surgeons, geometricians and
aides-de-camp--all these may well have been sufficient to render
credible the famous story how an illustrious Circle, overcome by the
artistic beauty of the forces under his command, threw aside his
marshal's baton and his royal crown, exclaiming that he henceforth
exchanged them for the artist's pencil. How great and glorious the
sensuous development of these days must have been is in part indicated
by the very language and vocabulary of the period. The commonest
utterances of the commonest citizens in the time of the Colour Revolt
seem to have been suffused with a richer tinge of word or thought; and
to that era we are even now indebted for our finest poetry and for
whatever rhythm still remains in the more scientific utterance of those
modern days.

Next: Of The Universal Colour Bill

Previous: Concerning Irregular Figures

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