Story type: Essay
We are quite in the electric way. We boast that we have made electricity our slave, but the slave whom we do not understand is our master. And before we know him we shall be transformed. Mr. Edison proposes to send us over the country at the rate of one hundred miles an hour. This pleases us, because we fancy we shall save time, and because we are taught that the chief object in life is to “get there” quickly. We really have an idea that it is a gain to annihilate distance, forgetting that as a matter of personal experience we are already too near most people. But this speed by rail will enable us to live in Philadelphia and do business in New York. It will make the city of Chicago two hundred miles square. And the bigger Chicago is, the more important this world becomes. This pleasing anticipation–that of traveling by lightning, and all being huddled together–is nothing to the promised universal illumination by a diffused light that shall make midnight as bright as noonday. We shall then save all the time there is, and at the age of thirty-five have lived the allotted seventy years, and long, if not for ‘Gotterdammerung’, at least for some world where, by touching a button, we can discharge our limbs of electricity and take a little repose. The most restless and ambitious of us can hardly conceive of Chicago as a desirable future state of existence.
This, however, is only the external or superficial view of the subject; at the best it is only symbolical. Mr. Edison is wasting his time in objective experiments, while we are in the deepest ignorance as to our electric personality or our personal electricity. We begin to apprehend that we are electric beings, that these outward manifestations of a subtile form are only hints of our internal state. Mr. Edison should turn his attention from physics to humanity electrically considered in its social condition. We have heard a great deal about affinities. We are told that one person is positive and another negative, and that representing socially opposite poles they should come together and make an electric harmony, that two positives or two negatives repel each other, and if conventionally united end in divorce, and so on. We read that such a man is magnetic, meaning that he can poll a great many votes; or that such a woman thrilled her audience, meaning probably that they were in an electric condition to be shocked by her. Now this is what we want to find out–to know if persons are really magnetic or sympathetic, and how to tell whether a person is positive or negative. In politics we are quite at sea. What is the good of sending a man to Washington at the rate of a hundred miles an hour if we are uncertain of his electric state? The ideal House of Representatives ought to be pretty nearly balanced–half positive, half negative. Some Congresses seem to be made up pretty much of negatives. The time for the electrician to test the candidate is before he is put in nomination, not dump him into Congress as we do now, utterly ignorant of whether his currents run from his heels to his head or from his head to his heels, uncertain, indeed, as to whether he has magnetism to run in at all. Nothing could be more unscientific than the process and the result.
In social life it is infinitely worse. You, an electric unmarried man, enter a room full of attractive women. How are you to know who is positive and who is negative, or who is a maiden lady in equilibrium, if it be true, as scientists affirm, that the genus old maid is one in whom the positive currents neutralize the negative currents? Your affinity is perhaps the plainest woman in the room. But beauty is a juggling sprite, entirely uncontrolled by electricity, and you are quite likely to make a mistake. It is absurd the way we blunder on in a scientific age. We touch a button, and are married. The judge touches another button, and we are divorced. If when we touched the first button it revealed us both negatives, we should start back in horror, for it is only before engagement that two negatives make an affirmative. That is the reason that some clergymen refuse to marry a divorced woman; they see that she has made one electric mistake, and fear she will make another. It is all very well for the officiating clergyman to ask the two intending to commit matrimony if they have a license from the town clerk, if they are of age or have the consent of parents, and have a million; but the vital point is omitted. Are they electric affinities? It should be the duty of the town-clerk, by a battery, or by some means to be discovered by electricians, to find out the galvanic habit of the parties, their prevailing electric condition. Temporarily they may seem to be in harmony, and may deceive themselves into the belief that they are at opposite poles equidistant from the equator, and certain to meet on that imaginary line in matrimonial bliss. Dreadful will be the awakening to an insipid life, if they find they both have the same sort of currents. It is said that women change their minds and their dispositions, that men are fickle, and that both give way after marriage to natural inclinations that were suppressed while they were on the good behavior that the supposed necessity of getting married imposes. This is so notoriously true that it ought to create a public panic. But there is hope in the new light. If we understand it, persons are born in a certain electrical condition, and substantially continue in it, however much they may apparently wobble about under the influence of infirm minds and acquired wickedness. There are, of course, variations of the compass to be reckoned with, and the magnet may occasionally be bewitched by near and powerful attracting objects. But, on the whole, the magnet remains the same, and it is probable that a person’s normal electric condition is the thing in him least liable to dangerous variation. If this be true, the best basis for matrimony is the electric, and our social life would have fewer disappointments if men and women went about labeled with their scientifically ascertained electric qualities.