Of Our Methods Of Recognizing One Another

: Flatland

You, who are blessed with shade as well as light, you, who are gifted

with two eyes, endowed with a knowledge of perspective, and charmed

with the enjoyment of various colours, you, who can actually SEE an

angle, and contemplate the complete circumference of a Circle in the

happy region of the Three Dimensions--how shall I make it clear to you

the extreme difficulty which we in Flatland experience in recognizing

one an
ther's configuration?

Recall what I told you above. All beings in Flatland, animate and

inanimate, no matter what their form, present TO OUR VIEW the same, or

nearly the same, appearance, viz. that of a straight Line. How then

can one be distinguished from another, where all appear the same?

The answer is threefold. The first means of recognition is the sense

of hearing; which with us is far more highly developed than with you,

and which enables us not only to distinguish by the voice of our

personal friends, but even to discriminate between different classes,

at least so far as concerns the three lowest orders, the Equilateral,

the Square, and the Pentagon--for the Isosceles I take no account. But

as we ascend the social scale, the process of discriminating and being

discriminated by hearing increases in difficulty, partly because voices

are assimilated, partly because the faculty of voice-discrimination is

a plebeian virtue not much developed among the Aristocracy. And

wherever there is any danger of imposture we cannot trust to this

method. Amongst our lowest orders, the vocal organs are developed to a

degree more than correspondent with those of hearing, so that an

Isosceles can easily feign the voice of a Polygon, and, with some

training, that of a Circle himself. A second method is therefore more

commonly resorted to.

FEELING is, among our Women and lower classes--about our upper classes

I shall speak presently--the principal test of recognition, at all

events between strangers, and when the question is, not as to the

individual, but as to the class. What therefore "introduction" is

among the higher classes in Spaceland, that the process of "feeling" is

with us. "Permit me to ask you to feel and be felt by my friend Mr.

So-and-so"--is still, among the more old-fashioned of our country

gentlemen in districts remote from towns, the customary formula for a

Flatland introduction. But in the towns, and among men of business,

the words "be felt by" are omitted and the sentence is abbreviated to,

"Let me ask you to feel Mr. So-and-so"; although it is assumed, of

course, that the "feeling" is to be reciprocal. Among our still more

modern and dashing young gentlemen--who are extremely averse to

superfluous effort and supremely indifferent to the purity of their

native language--the formula is still further curtailed by the use of

"to feel" in a technical sense, meaning, "to

recommend-for-the-purposes-of-feeling-and-being-felt"; and at this

moment the "slang" of polite or fast society in the upper classes

sanctions such a barbarism as "Mr. Smith, permit me to feel Mr. Jones."

Let not my Reader however suppose that "feeling" is with us the tedious

process that it would be with you, or that we find it necessary to feel

right round all the sides of every individual before we determine the

class to which he belongs. Long practice and training, begun in the

schools and continued in the experience of daily life, enable us to

discriminate at once by the sense of touch, between the angles of an

equal-sided Triangle, Square, and Pentagon; and I need not say that the

brainless vertex of an acute-angled Isosceles is obvious to the dullest

touch. It is therefore not necessary, as a rule, to do more than feel

a single angle of an individual; and this, once ascertained, tells us

the class of the person whom we are addressing, unless indeed he

belongs to the higher sections of the nobility. There the difficulty

is much greater. Even a Master of Arts in our University of Wentbridge

has been known to confuse a ten-sided with a twelve-sided Polygon; and

there is hardly a Doctor of Science in or out of that famous University

who could pretend to decide promptly and unhesitatingly between a

twenty-sided and a twenty-four sided member of the Aristocracy.

Those of my readers who recall the extracts I gave above from the

Legislative code concerning Women, will readily perceive that the

process of introduction by contact requires some care and discretion.

Otherwise the angles might inflict on the unwary Feeling irreparable

injury. It is essential for the safety of the Feeler that the Felt

should stand perfectly still. A start, a fidgety shifting of the

position, yes, even a violent sneeze, has been known before now to

prove fatal to the incautious, and to nip in the bud many a promising

friendship. Especially is this true among the lower classes of the

Triangles. With them, the eye is situated so far from their vertex

that they can scarcely take cognizance of what goes on at that

extremity of their frame. They are, moreover, of a rough coarse

nature, not sensitive to the delicate touch of the highly organized

Polygon. What wonder then if an involuntary toss of the head has ere

now deprived the State of a valuable life!

I have heard that my excellent Grandfather--one of the least irregular

of his unhappy Isosceles class, who indeed obtained, shortly before his

decease, four out of seven votes from the Sanitary and Social Board for

passing him into the class of the Equal-sided--often deplored, with a

tear in his venerable eye, a miscarriage of this kind, which had

occurred to his great-great-great-Grandfather, a respectable Working

Man with an angle or brain of 59 degrees 30 minutes. According to his

account, my unfortunately Ancestor, being afflicted with rheumatism,

and in the act of being felt by a Polygon, by one sudden start

accidentally transfixed the Great Man through the diagonal and thereby,

partly in consequence of his long imprisonment and degradation, and

partly because of the moral shock which pervaded the whole of my

Ancestor's relations, threw back our family a degree and a half in

their ascent towards better things. The result was that in the next

generation the family brain was registered at only 58 degrees, and not

till the lapse of five generations was the lost ground recovered, the

full 60 degrees attained, and the Ascent from the Isosceles finally

achieved. And all this series of calamities from one little accident

in the process of Feeling.

As this point I think I hear some of my better educated readers

exclaim, "How could you in Flatland know anything about angles and

degrees, or minutes? We SEE an angle, because we, in the region of

Space, can see two straight lines inclined to one another; but you, who

can see nothing but on straight line at a time, or at all events only a

number of bits of straight lines all in one straight line,--how can you

ever discern an angle, and much less register angles of different


I answer that though we cannot SEE angles, we can INFER them, and this

with great precision. Our sense of touch, stimulated by necessity, and

developed by long training, enables us to distinguish angles far more

accurately than your sense of sight, when unaided by a rule or measure

of angles. Nor must I omit to explain that we have great natural

helps. It is with us a Law of Nature that the brain of the Isosceles

class shall begin at half a degree, or thirty minutes, and shall

increase (if it increases at all) by half a degree in every generation

until the goal of 60 degrees is reached, when the condition of serfdom

is quitted, and the freeman enters the class of Regulars.

Consequently, Nature herself supplies us with an ascending scale or

Alphabet of angles for half a degree up to 60 degrees, Specimen of

which are placed in every Elementary School throughout the land. Owing

to occasional retrogressions, to still more frequent moral and

intellectual stagnation, and to the extraordinary fecundity of the

Criminal and Vagabond classes, there is always a vast superfluity of

individuals of the half degree and single degree class, and a fair

abundance of Specimens up to 10 degrees. These are absolutely

destitute of civil rights; and a great number of them, not having even

intelligence enough for the purposes of warfare, are devoted by the

States to the service of education. Fettered immovably so as to remove

all possibility of danger, they are placed in the classrooms of our

Infant Schools, and there they are utilized by the Board of Education

for the purpose of imparting to the offspring of the Middle Classes the

tact and intelligence which these wretched creatures themselves are

utterly devoid.

In some States the Specimens are occasionally fed and suffered to exist

for several years; but in the more temperate and better regulated

regions, it is found in the long run more advantageous for the

educational interests of the young, to dispense with food, and to renew

the Specimens every month--which is about the average duration of the

foodless existence of the Criminal class. In the cheaper schools, what

is gained by the longer existence of the Specimen is lost, partly in

the expenditure for food, and partly in the diminished accuracy of the

angles, which are impaired after a few weeks of constant "feeling." Nor

must we forget to add, in enumerating the advantages of the more

expensive system, that it tends, though slightly yet perceptibly, to

the diminution of the redundant Isosceles population--an object which

every statesman in Flatland constantly keeps in view. On the whole

therefore--although I am not ignorant that, in many popularly elected

School Boards, there is a reaction in favour of "the cheap system" as

it is called--I am myself disposed to think that this is one of the

many cases in which expense is the truest economy.

But I must not allow questions of School Board politics to divert me

from my subject. Enough has been said, I trust, to shew that

Recognition by Feeling is not so tedious or indecisive a process as

might have been supposed; and it is obviously more trustworthy than

Recognition by hearing. Still there remains, as has been pointed out

above, the objection that this method is not without danger. For this

reason many in the Middle and Lower classes, and all without exception

in the Polygonal and Circular orders, prefer a third method, the

description of which shall be reserved for the next section.