19.The World Of The Unborn
The Erewhonians say that we are drawn through life backwards; or again, that we go
onwards into the future as into a dark corridor. Time walks beside us and flings back
shutters as we advance; but the light thus given often dazzles us, and deepens the
darkness which is in front. We can see but little at a time, and heed that little far less than
our apprehension of what we shall see next; ever peering curiously through the glare of
the present into the gloom of the future, we presage the leading lines of that which is
before us, by faintly reflected lights from dull mirrors that are behind, and stumble on as
we may till the trap-door opens beneath us and we are gone.
They say at other times that the future and the past are as a panorama upon two rollers;
that which is on the roller of the future unwraps itself on to the roller of the past; we
cannot hasten it, and we may not stay it; we must see all that is unfolded to us whether it
be good or ill; and what we have seen once we may see again no more. It is ever
unwinding and being wound; we catch it in transition for a moment, and call it present;
our flustered senses gather what impression they can, and we guess at what is coming by
the tenor of that which we have seen. The same hand has painted the whole picture, and
the incidents vary little--rivers, woods, plains, mountains, towns and peoples, love,
sorrow, and death: yet the interest never flags, and we look hopefully for some good
fortune, or fearfully lest our own faces be shown us as figuring in something terrible.
When the scene is past we think we know it, though there is so much to see, and so little
time to see it, that our conceit of knowledge as regards the past is for the most part poorly
founded; neither do we care about it greatly, save in so far as it may affect the future,
wherein our interest mainly lies.
The Erewhonians say it was by chance only that the earth and stars and all the heavenly
worlds began to roll from east to west, and not from west to east, and in like manner they
say it is by chance that man is drawn through life with his face to the past instead of to
the future. For the future is there as much as the past, only that we may not see it. Is it not
in the loins of the past, and must not the past alter before the future can do so?
Sometimes, again, they say that there was a race of men tried upon the earth once, who
knew the future better than the past, but that they died in a twelvemonth from the misery
which their knowledge caused them; and if any were to be born too prescient now, he
would be culled out by natural selection, before he had time to transmit so peace-
destroying a faculty to his descendants.
Strange fate for man! He must perish if he get that, which he must perish if he strive not
after. If he strive not after it he is no better than the brutes, if he get it he is more
miserable than the devils.
Having waded through many chapters like the above, I came at last to the unborn
themselves, and found that they were held to be souls pure and simple, having no actual
bodies, but living in a sort of gaseous yet more or less anthropomorphic existence, like