About the one hundredth century of the Christian era all resemblance between the human race and monkeys had disappeared.
The nervous sensibility of man had become intensified to a marvellous degree. The sense of sight, of hearing, of smell, of touch, and of taste, had gradually acquired a delicacy far exceeding that of their earlier and grosser manifestations. Through the study of the electrical properties of living organisms, a seventh sense, the electric sense, was created outright, so to speak; and everyone possessed the power of attracting and repelling both living and inert matter, to a degree depending upon the temperament of the individual. But by far the most important of all the senses, the one which played the greatest role in men’s relation to each other, was the eighth, the psychic sense, by which communication at a distance became possible.
A glimpse has been had of two other senses also, but their development had been arrested from the very outset. The first had to do with the visibility of the ultra violet rays, so sensitive to chemical tests, but wholly invisible to the human eye. Experiments made in this direction has resulted in the acquisition of no new power, and had considerably impaired those previously enjoyed. The second was the sense of orientation; but every effort made to develop it had proved a failure, notwithstanding the attempt to make use of the results of researches in terrestrial magnetism.
For some time past, the offspring of the once titled and aristocratic classes of society had formed a sickly and feeble race, and the governing body was recruited from among the more virile members of the lower class, who, however, were in their turn soon enervated by a worldly life. Subsequently, marriages were regulated on established principles of selection and heredity.
The development of man’s intellectual faculties, and the cultivation of psychical science, had wrought great changes in humanity. Latent faculties of the soul had been discovered, faculties which had remained dormant for perhaps a million years, during the earlier reign of the grosser instincts, and, in proportion as food based upon chemical principles was substituted for the coarse nourishment which had prevailed for so long a time, these faculties came to light and underwent a brilliant development. As a mental operation, thought became a different thing from what it now is. Mind acted readily upon mind at a distance, by virtue of a transcendental magnetism, of which even children knew how to avail themselves.
The first interastral communication was with the planet Mars, and the second with Venus, the latter being maintained to the end of the world; the former was interrupted by the death of the inhabitants of Mars; whereas intercourse with Jupiter was only just beginning as the human race neared its own end. A rigid application of the principles of selection in the formation of marriages had resulted in a really new race, resembling ours in organic form, but possessing wholly different intellectual powers. For the once barbarous and often blind methods of medicine, and even of surgery, had been substituted by those derived from a knowledge of hypnotic, magnetic and psychic forces, and telepathy had become a great and fruitful science.
Simultaneously with man the planet also had been transformed. Industry had produced mighty but ephemeral results. In the twenty-fifth century, whose events we have just described, Paris had been for a long time a seaport, and electric ships from the Atlantic, and from the Pacific by the Isthmus of Panama, arrived at the quays of the abbey of Saint Denis, beyond which the great capital extended far to the north. The passage from the abbey of Saint Denis to the port of London was made in a few hours, and many travellers availed themselves of this route, in preference to the regular air route, the tunnel, and the viaduct over the channel. Outside of Paris the same activity reigned; for, in the twenty-fifth century also, the canal uniting the Mediterranean with the Atlantic had been completed, and the long detour by way of the Straits of Gibraltar had been abandoned; and on the other hand a metallic tube, for carriages driven by compressed air, united the Iberian republic, formerly Spain and Portugal, with western Algeria, formerly Morocco. Paris and Chicago then had nine million inhabitants, London, ten; New York, twelve. Paris, continuing its growth toward the west from century to century, now extended from the confluence of the Marne beyond St. Germain. All great cities had grown at the expense of the country. Agricultural products were manufactured by electricity; hydrogen was extracted from sea-water; the energy of waterfalls and tides were utilized for lighting purposes at a distance; the solar rays, stored in summer, were distributed in winter, and the seasons had almost disappeared, especially since the introduction of heat wells, which brought to the surface of the soil the seemingly inexhaustible heat of the earth’s interior.
But what is the twenty-fifth century in comparison with the thirtieth, the fortieth, the hundredth!
Everyone knows the legend of the Arab of Kazwani, as related by a traveller of the thirteenth century, who at that time, moreover, had no idea of the duration of the epochs of nature. “Passing one day,” he said, “by a very ancient and very populous city, I asked one of its inhabitants how long a time it had been founded. ‘Truly,’ he replied, ‘it is a powerful city, but we do not know how long it has existed, and our ancestors are as ignorant upon this subject as we.’
“Five centuries later I passed by the same spot, and could perceive no trace of the city. I asked a peasant who was gathering herbs on its former site, how long it had been destroyed. ‘Of a truth,’ he replied, ‘that is a strange question. This field has always been what it now is.’ ‘But was there not formerly a splendid city here?’ I asked. ‘Never,’ he answered, ‘at least so far as we can judge from what we have seen, and our fathers have never told us of any such thing.’
“On my return five hundred years later to the same place I found it occupied by the sea; on the shore stood a group of fishermen, of whom I asked at what period the land had been covered by the ocean. ‘Is that question worthy of a man like you?’ they replied; ‘this spot has always been such as you see it today.’
“At the end of five hundred years I returned again, and the sea had disappeared. I inquired of a solitary man whom I encountered, when this change had taken place; and he gave me the same reply.
“Finally, after an equal lapse of time, I returned once more, to find a flourishing city, more populous and richer in monuments than that which I had at first visited; and when I sought information as to its origin, its inhabitants replied: ‘The date of its foundation is lost in antiquity. We do not know how long it has existed, and our fathers knew no more of this than we do.’”
How this fable illustrates the brevity of human memory and the narrowness of our horizons in time as well as in space! We think that the earth has always been what it now is; we conceive with difficulty of the secular changes through which it has passed; the vastness of these periods overwhelms us, as in astronomy we are overwhelmed by the vast distances of space.
The time had come when Paris had ceased to be the capital of the world.
After the fusion of the United States of Europe into a single confederation, the Russian republic from St. Petersburg to Constantinople had formed a sort of barrier against the invasion of the Chinese, who had already established populous cities on the shores of the Caspian sea. The nations of the past having disappeared before the march of progress, and the nationalities of France, England, Germany, Italy and Spain having for the same reason passed away, communication between the east and west, between Europe and America, had become more and more easy; and the sea being no longer an obstacle to the march of humanity, free now as the sun, the new territory of the vast continent of America had been preferred by industrial enterprise to the exhausted lands of western Europe, and already in the twenty-fifth century the center of civilization was located on the shores of Lake Michigan in a new Athens of nine million inhabitants, rivalling Paris. Thereafter the elegant French capital had followed the example of its predecessors, Rome, Athens, Memphis, Thebes, Nineveh and Babylon. The wealth, the resources of every kind, the great attractions, were elsewhere.
In Spain, Italy and France, gradually abandoned by their inhabitants, solitude spread slowly over the ruins of former cities. Lisbon had disappeared, destroyed by the sea; Madrid, Rome, Naples and Florence were in ruins. A little later, Paris, Lyons and Marseilles were overtaken by the same fate.
Human types and languages had undergone such transformations that it would have been impossible for an ethnologist or a linguist to discover anything belonging to the past. For a long time neither Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, English nor German had been spoken. Europe had migrated beyond the Atlantic, and Asia had invaded Europe. The Chinese to the number of a thousand million had spread over western Europe. Mingling with the Anglo-Saxon race, they formed in some measure a new one. Their principal capital stretched like an endless street along each side of the canal from Bordeaux to Toulouse and Narbonne.
The causes which led to the foundation of Lutetia on an island in the Seine, which had raised this city of the Parisians to the zenith of its power in the twenty-fourth century, were no longer operative, and Paris had disappeared simultaneously with the causes to which it owed its origin and splendor. Commerce had taken possession of the Mediterranean and the great oceanic highways, and the Iberian canal had become the emporium of the world.
The littoral of the south and west of ancient France had been protected by dikes against the invasion of the sea, but, owing to the increase of population in the south and southwest, the north and northwest had been neglected, and the slow and continual subsidence of this region, observed ever since the time of Cæsar, had reduced its level below that of the sea; and as the channel was ever widening, and the cliffs between Cape Helder and Havre were being worn away by the action of the sea, the Dutch dikes had been abandoned to the ocean, which had invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Versailles, Lille, Amiens and Rouen had sunk below the water, and ships floated above their sea-covered ruins.
Paris itself, finally abandoned in the sixtieth century, when the sea had surrounded it as it now does Havre, was, in the eighty-fifth century, covered with water to the height of the towers of Notre Dame, and all that memorable plain, where were wrought out, during so many years, the most brilliant of the world’s civilizations, was swept by angry waves.
3. In the nineteenth century, researches in natural history had revealed the fact that secular vertical oscillations, vary with the locality, were taking place in the earth’s crust, and had proved that, from prehistoric times, the soil of western and southern France had been slowly sinking and the sea slowly gaining upon the land. One after another, the islands of Jersey, of Minquiers, of Chaussey, of Écrehou, of Cezembre, of Mont-Saint-Michel, had been detached from the continent by the sea; the cities of Is, Helion, Tommen, Portzmeûr, Harbour, Saint Louis, Monny, Bourgneuf, La Feillette, Paluel and Nazado had been buried beneath its waves, and the Armorican peninsula had slowly retreated before the advancing waters. The hour of this invasion by the sea had struck, from century to century, also for Herbavilla; to the west of Nantes; for Saint-Denis-Chef-de-Caux, to the north of Havre; for Saint-Etienne-de-Paluel and for Gardoine, to the north of Dol; for Tolente, to the west of Brest; more than eighty habitable cities of Holland had been submerged in the eleventh century, etc., etc. In other regions the reverse had taken place, and the sea had retired; but to the north and west of Paris this double action of the subsidence of the land and the wearing away of the shores had, in less than seven thousand years, made Paris accessible to ships of the greatest tonnage.
As in the case of languages, ideas, customs and laws, so, also, the manner of reckoning time had changed. It was still reckoned by years and centuries, but the Christian era had been discarded, as also the holy days of the calendar and the eras of the Mussulman, Jewish, Chinese and African chronologies. There was now a single calendar for the entire race, composed of twelve months, divided into four equal trimesters of three months of thirty-one, thirty, and thirty days, each trimester containing exactly thirteen weeks. New Year’s Day was a fête day, and was not reckoned in with the year; every bisextile year there were two. The week had been retained. Every year commenced on the same day—Monday; and the same dates always corresponded to the same days of the week. The year began with the vernal equinox all over the world. The era, a purely astronomical division of time, began with the coincidence of the December solstice with perihelion, and was renewed every 25,765 years. This rational method had succeeded the fantastic divisions of time formerly in use.
The geographical features of France, of Europe and of the entire world had become modified, from century to century. Seas had replaced continents, and new deposits at the bottom of the ocean covered the vanished ages, forming new geological strata. Elsewhere, continents had taken the place of seas. At the mouth of the Rhone, for example, where the dry land had already encroached upon the sea from Arles to the littoral, the continent gained to the south; in Italy, the deposits of the Po had continued to gain upon the Adriatic, as those of the Nile, the Tiber, and other rivers of later origin, had gained upon the Mediterranean; and in other places the dunes had increased, by various amounts, the domain of the dry land. The contours of seas and continents had so changed that it would have been absolutely impossible to make out the ancient geographical maps of history.
The historian of nature does not deal with periods of five centuries, like the Arab of the thirteenth century mentioned in the legend related a moment ago. Ten times this period would scarcely suffice to modify, sensibly, the configuration of the land, for five thousand years are but a ripple on the ocean of time. It is by tens of thousands of years that one must reckon if one would see continents sink below the level of seas, and new territories emerging into the sunlight, as the result of the secular changes in the level of the earth’s crust, whose thickness and density varies from place to place, and whose weight, resting upon the still plastic and mobile interior, causes vast areas to oscillate. A slight disturbance of the equilibrium, an insignificant dip of the scales, a change of less than a hundred meters, often, in the length of the earth’s diameter of twelve thousand kilometers, is sufficient to transform the surface of the world.
And if we examine the ensemble of the history of the earth, by periods of one hundred thousand years, for example, we see, that in ten of these great epochs, that is, in a million years, the surface of the globe has been many times transformed.
If we advance into the future a period of one or two million years, we witness a vast flux and reflux of life and things. How many times in this period of ten or twenty thousand centuries, how many times have the waves of the sea covered the former dwelling-places of man! How many times the earth has emerged anew, fresh and regenerated, from the abysses of the ocean! In primitive times, when the still warm and liquid planet was covered only by a thin shell, cooling on the surface of the burning ocean within, these changes took place brusquely, by sudden breaking down of natural barriers, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the uprising of mountain ranges. Later, as this superficial crust grew thicker and became consolidated, these transformations were more gradual; the slow contraction of the earth had led to the formation of hollow spaces within the solid envelope, to the falling in of portions of this envelope upon the liquid nucleus, and finally to oscillating movements which had changed the profile of the continents. Later still, insensible modifications had been produced by external agents; on the one hand the rivers, constantly carrying to their mouths the débris of the mountains, had filled up the depths of the sea and slowly increased the area of the dry land, making in time inland cities of ancient seaports; and on the other hand, the action of the waves and of storms, constantly eating away the shores, had increased the area of the ocean at the expense of the dry land. Ceaselessly the geographical configuration of the shore had changed. For the historian our planet had become another world. Everything had changed: continents, seas, shores, races, languages, customs, body and mind, sentiments, ideas—everything. France beneath the waves, the bottom of the Atlantic in the light of the sun, a portion of the United States gone, a continent in the place of Oceanica, China submerged; death where was life, and life where was death; and everywhere sunk into eternal oblivion all which had once constituted the glory and greatness of nations. If today one of us should emigrate to Mars, he would find himself more at home than if, after the lapse of these future ages, he should return to the earth.