“Plato’s Dream” — Voltaire

Books, Literature, Writers

“Plato’s Dream” by Voltaire

In ancient times, dreams were much revered, and Plato was one of the greatest dreamers. His dream The Republic is deservedly famous, but the following little-known tale is perhaps his most amazing dream–or nightmare:

The great Demiurgos, the eternal geometer, having scattered throughout the immensity of space innumerable worlds, decided to test the knowledge of those lesser superbeings who were also his creations, and who had witnessed his works. He gave them each a small portion of matter to arrange, just as our own art teachers give their students a statue to carve, or a picture to paint, if we may compare small things to great.

Demogorgon received the lump of mold we call Earth, and having formed it as it now appears, thought he had created a masterpiece. He imagined he had silenced Envy herself, and expected to receive the highest praise, even from his brethren. How great was his surprise, when, at the presentation of his work, they hissed in disappoval!

One among them, more sarcastic than the rest, spoke:

“Truly you have performed mighty feats! You have divided your world into two parts; and, to prevent them from communicating with each other, placed a vast collection of waters between the two hemispheres. The inhabitants must perish with cold under both your poles, and be scorched to death under the equator. You have, in your great prudence, formed immense deserts of sand, so all who travel over them may die with hunger and thirst. I have no fault to find with your cows, sheep, cocks, and hens; but can never be reconciled to your serpents and spiders. Your onions and artichokes are very good things, but I cannot conceive what induced you to scatter such a heap of poisonous plants over the face of the planet, unless it was to poison its inhabitants. Moreover, if I am not mistaken, you have created about 30 different kinds of monkeys, a still greater number of dogs, yet only four or five races of humans. It is true, indeed, you have bestowed on the latter of these animals a faculty you call Reason, but it is so poorly executed that you might better call it Folly. Besides, you do not seem to have shown any very great regard for this two-legged creature, seeing you have left him with so few means of defense; subjected him to so many disorders, and provided him with so few remedies; and formed him with such a multitude of passions, and so little wisdom and prudence to resist them. You certainly were not willing that there should remain any great number of these animals on Earth at once; for, over the course of a given year, smallpox will regularly carry off a tenth of the species, and sister maladies will taint the springs of life in the remainder; and then, as if this was not enough, you have so disposed things that half of those who survive are occupied in lawsuits, or cutting each other’s throats. Yes, they must be infinitely grateful to you, and I must admit that you have executed a masterpiece.”

Demogorgon blushed. He now realized there was much moral and physical evil in his work, but still believed it contained more good than ill.

“It is easy to find fault,” he said; “but do you imagine it is so easy to form an animal, who, having the gift of reason and free will, shall not sometimes abuse his liberty? Do you think that, in rearing 10,000 plants, it is so easy to prevent some few from having noxious qualities? Do you suppose that, with a certain quantity of water, sand, and mud, you could make a globe without sea or desert?

“As for you, my sneering friend, I think you have just finished the planet Jupiter. Let us see now what figure you make with your great belts, and your long nights, with four moons to enlighten them. Let us examine your worlds, and see whether the inhabitants you have made are exempt from folly and disease.”

Accordingly, his fellow entities examined the planet Jupiter, and were soon laughing at the laugher. He who had made Saturn did not escape without his share of censure, and his fellows, the makers of Mars, Mercury, and Venus, was each in his turn reproached.

They were in the midst of railing against and ridiculing each other, when the eternal Demiurgos thus imposed silence on them all:

“In your performances there is both good and bad, because you have a great share of understanding, but at the same time fall short of perfection. Your works will endure for only a few billion years, after which you will acquire more knowledge and perform much better. It belongs to me alone to create things perfect and immortal.”

“Us, for example?” asked Demogorgon.

Demiurgos scowled, and with that Plato awoke.

Or did he?

 

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“Bed-Books and Night-Lights” — H.M. Tomlinson

Books, Literature, Writers

“Bed-Books and Night-Lights” — H.M. Tomlinson

The rain flashed across the midnight window with a myriad feet. There was a groan in outer darkness, the voice of all nameless dreads. The nervous candle-flame shuddered by my bedside. The groaning rose to a shriek, and the little flame jumped in a panic, and nearly left its white column. Out of the corners of the room swarmed the released shadows. Black specters danced in ecstasy over my bed. I love fresh air, but I cannot allow it to slay the shining and delicate body of my little friend the candle-flame, the comrade who ventures with me into the solitudes beyond midnight. I shut the window.

They talk of the candle-power of an electric bulb. What do they mean? It cannot have the faintest glimmer of the real power of my candle. It would be as right to express, in the same inverted and foolish comparison, the worth of “those delicate sisters, the Pleiades.” That pinch of star dust, the Pleiades, exquisitely remote in deepest night, in the profound where light all but fails, has not the power of a sulphur match; yet, still apprehensive to the mind though tremulous on the limit of vision, and sometimes even vanishing, it brings into distinction those distant and difficult hints—hidden far behind all our verified thoughts—which we rarely properly view. I should like to know of any great arc-lamp which could do that. So the star-like candle for me. No other light follows so intimately an author’s most ghostly suggestion. We sit, the candle and I, in the midst of the shades we are conquering, and sometimes look up from the lucent page to contemplate the dark hosts of the enemy with a smile before they overwhelm us; as they will, of course. Like me, the candle is mortal; it will burn out.

As the bed-book itself should be a sort of night-light, to assist its illumination, coarse lamps are useless. They would douse the book. The light for such a book must accord with it. It must be, like the book, a limited, personal, mellow, and companionable glow; the solitary taper beside the only worshiper in a sanctuary. That is why nothing can compare with the intimacy of candle-light for a bed-book. It is a living heart, bright and warm in central night, burning for us alone, holding the gaunt and towering shadows at bay. There the monstrous specters stand in our midnight room, the advance guard of the darkness of the world, held off by our valiant little glim, but ready to flood instantly and founder us in original gloom.

The wind moans without; ancient evils are at large and wandering in torment. The rain shrieks across the window. For a moment, for just a moment, the sentinel candle is shaken, and burns blue with terror. The shadows leap out instantly. The little flame recovers, and merely looks at its foe the darkness, and back to its own place goes the old enemy of light and man. The candle for me, tiny, mortal, warm, and brave, a golden lily on a silver stem!

“Almost any book does for a bed-book,” a woman once said to me. I nearly replied in a hurry that almost any woman would do for a wife; but that is not the way to bring people to conviction of sin. Her idea was that the bed-book is soporific, and for that reason she even advocated the reading of political speeches. That would be a dissolute act. Certainly you would go to sleep; but in what a frame of mind! You would enter into sleep with your eyes shut. It would be like dying, not only unshriven, but in the act of guilt.

Diddling Edgar Allan Poe

Books, Literature, Writers

Edgar Allan Poe ponders diddling in his essay “Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences“:

Diddling — or the abstract idea conveyed by the verb to diddle — is sufficiently well understood. Yet the fact, the deed, the thing diddling, is somewhat difficult to define. We may get, however, at a tolerably distinct conception of the matter in hand, by defining — not the thing, diddling, in itself — but man, as an animal that diddles. Had Plato but hit upon this, he would have been spared the affront of the picked chicken.

Very pertinently it was demanded of Plato, why a picked chicken, which was clearly “a biped without feathers,” was not, according to his own definition, a man? But I am not to be bothered by any similar query. Man is an animal that diddles, and there is no animal that diddles but man. It will take an entire hen-coop of picked chickeus [[chickens]] to get over that.

What constitutes the essence, the ware, the principle of diddling is, in fact, peculiar to the class of creatures that wear coats and pantaloons. A crow thieves; a fox cheats; a weasel outwits; a man diddles. To diddle is his destiny. “Man was made to mourn,” says the poet. But not so: — he was made to diddle. This is his aim — his object — his end. And for this reason when a man’s diddled we say he’s “done.”