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Edmond François Valentin About (14 February 1828 – 16 January 1885) was a French novelist, publicist and journalist.
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Wherein They Kill the Fatted Calf to Celebrate the Return of a Frugal Son.
Unpacking by Candle-light.
The Crime of the Learned Professor Meiser.
Dreams of Love, and Other Dreams.
A Young Girl’s Caprice.
Professor Meiser’s Will in Favor of the Desiccated Colonel.
How Nicholas Meiser, Nephew of John Meiser, Executed His Uncle’s Will.
Considerable of a Disturbance in Fontainebleau.
Wherein Colonel Fougas Learns Some News which Will Appear Old to My Readers.
The Convalescent’s First Meal.
History of Colonel Fougas, Related by Himself.
The Game of Love and War.
In which the Reader Will See that it is Not Far from the Capital to the Tarpeian Rock.
The Memorable Interview Between Colonel Fougas and His Majesty the Emperor of the French.
Wherein Herr Nicholas Meiser, One of the Solid Men of Dantzic, Receives an Unwelcome Visit.
The Colonel Tries to Relieve Himself of a Million which Incumbers Him.
He Seeks and Bestows the Hand of Clementine.
A Thunderbolt from a Clear Sky.
On the 18th of May, 1859, M. Renault, formerly professor of physics and chemistry, now a landed proprietor at Fontainebleau, and member of the Municipal Council of that charming little city, himself carried to the post-office the following letter:—
“To Monsieur Leon Renault, Civil Engineer, Berlin, Prussia. (To be kept at the Post-Office till called for.) “My dear child:
“The good news you sent us from St. Petersburg caused us the greatest joy. Your poor mother had been ailing since winter, but I had not spoken to you about it from fear of making you uneasy while so far from home. As for myself, I had not been very well; and there was yet a third person (guess the name if you can!) who was languishing from not seeing you. But content yourself, my dear Leon: we have been recuperating more and more since the time of your return is almost fixed. We begin to believe that the mines of the Ural will not swallow up that which is dearer to us than all the world. Thank God! that fortune which you have so honorably and so quickly made will not have cost your life, nor even your health, since you tell us you have been growing fat off there in the desert. If you have not finished up all your business out there, so much the worse for you: there are three of us who have sworn that you shall never go back again. You will not find it hard to accede, for you will be happy among us. Such, at least, is the opinion of Clementine. . . . I forget that I was pledged not to name her. Master Bonnivet, our excellent neighbor, has not rested content with investing your funds in a good mortgage, but has also drawn up, in his leisure moments, a most edifying little indenture, which now lacks nothing but your signature. Our worthy mayor has ordered, on your account, a new official scarf, which is on the way from Paris. You will have the first benefit of it. Your apartment (which will soon belong to a plural ‘you’) is elegant, in proportion to your present fortune. You are to occupy. . . .; but the house has changed so in three years, that my description would be incomprehensible to you. M. Audret, the architect of the imperial chateau, directed the work. He actually wanted to construct me a laboratory worthy of Thénard or Duprez. I earnestly protested against it, and said that I was not yet worthy of one, as my celebrated work on the Condensation of Gases had only reached the fourth chapter. But as your mother was in collusion with the old scamp of a friend, it has turned out that science has henceforth a temple in our house — a regular sorcerer’s den, according to the picturesque expression of your old Gothon: it lacks nothing, not even a four-horse-power steam engine. Alas! what can I do with it? I am confident, nevertheless, that the expenditure will not be altogether lost to the world. You are not going to sleep upon your laurels. Oh, if I had only had your fortune when I had your youth! I would have dedicated my days to pure science, instead of losing the best part of them among those poor young men who got nothing from my lectures but an opportunity to read Paul de Kock. I would have been ambitious! — I would have striven to connect my name with the discovery of some great general law, or at least with the invention of some very useful apparatus. It is too late now; my eyes are worn out, and the brain itself refuses to work. Take your turn, my boy! You are not yet twenty-six, the Ural mines have given you the wherewithal to live at ease, and, for yourself alone, you have no further wants to satisfy; the time has come to work for humanity. That you will do so, is the strongest wish and dearest hope of your doting old father, who loves you and who waits for you with open arms.
“P. S. According to my calculations, this letter ought to reach Berlin two or three days before you. You have been already informed by the papers of the 7th inst. of the death of the illustrious Humboldt. It is a cause of mourning to science and to humanity. I have had the honor of writing to that great man several times in my life, and he once deigned to reply, in a letter which I piously cherish. If you happen to have an opportunity to buy some personal souvenir of him, a bit of his handwriting or some fragment of his collections, you will bring me a real pleasure.”
A month after the departure of this letter, the son so eagerly looked for returned to the paternal mansion. M. and Mme. Renault, who went to meet him at the depot, found him taller, stouter, and better-looking in every way. In fact, he was no longer merely a remarkable boy, but a man of good and pleasing proportions. Leon Renault was of medium height, light hair and complexion, plump and well made. His large blue eyes, sweet voice, and silken beard indicated a nature sensitive rather than powerful. A very white, round, and almost feminine neck contrasted singularly with a face bronzed by exposure. His teeth were beautiful, very delicate, a little inclined backward, and very evenly shaped. When he pulled off his gloves, he displayed two small and rather pudgey hands, quite firm and yet pleasantly soft, neither hot nor cold, nor dry nor damp, but agreeable to the touch and cared-for to perfection.
As he was, his father and mother would not have exchanged him for the Apollo Belvedere. They embraced him rapturously, overwhelming him with a thousand questions, most of which he, of course, failed to answer. Some old friends of the family, a doctor, an architect, and a notary, had run to the depot with the good old people; each one of them in turn gave him a hug, and asked him if he was well, and if he had had a pleasant journey. He listened patiently and even joyfully to this common-place music whose words did not signify much, but whose melody went to the heart because it came from the heart.
They had been there a good quarter of an hour, the train had gone puffing on its way, the omnibuses of the various hotels had started one after another at a good trot up the street leading to the city, and the June sun seemed to enjoy lighting up this happy group of excellent people. But Madame Renault cried out all at once that the poor child must be dying of hunger, and that it was barbarous to keep him waiting for his dinner any longer. There was no use in his protesting that he had breakfasted at Paris, and that the voice of hunger appealed to him less strongly than that of joy. They all got into two carriages, the son beside his mother, the father opposite, as if he could not keep his eyes off his boy. A wagon came behind with the trunks, long boxes, chests, and the rest of the traveller’s baggage. At the entrance of the town, the hackmen cracked their whips, the baggage-men followed the example, and this cheerful clatter drew the people to their doors and woke up for an instant the quietude of the streets. Madame Renault threw her glances right and left, searching out the spectators of her triumph, and saluting with most cordial affability people she hardly knew at all. And more than one mother saluted her, too, without knowing her; for there is no mother indifferent to such kinds of happiness, and, moreover, Leon’s family was liked by everybody. And the neighbors, meeting each other, said with a satisfaction free from jealousy:
“That is Renault’s son, who has been at work three years in the Russian mines, and now has come to share his fortune with his old parents.”
Leon also noticed several familiar faces, but not all that he wished to see. For he bent over an instant to his mother’s ear, saying: “And Clementine?” This word was pronounced so low and so close that M. Renault himself could not tell whether it was a word or a kiss. The good lady smiled tenderly, and answered but a single word: “Patience!” As if patience were a virtue very common among lovers!
The door of the house was wide open, and old Gothon was standing on the threshold. She raised her arms toward heaven and cried like a booby, for she had known Leon since he was not much higher than her wash-tub. There was now another formidable hugging on the upper step, between the good old servant and her young master. After a reasonable interval, the friends of M. Renault prepared to leave, but it was wasted pains; for they were assured that their places at table had already been prepared. And when all save the invisible Clementine were reassembled in the parlor, the great round-backed chairs held out their arms to the scion of the house of Renault; the old mirror on the mantle delighted to reflect his image; the great chandelier chimed a little song of welcome with its crystal pendants, and the mandarins on the etagére shook their heads in sign of welcome, as if they were orthodox penates instead of strangers and pagans. No one can tell why kisses and tears began to rain down again, but it certainly did seem as if he had once more just returned.
“Soup!” cried Gothon.
Madame Renault took the arm of her son, contrary to all the laws of etiquette, and without even apologizing to the honored guests present. She scarcely excused herself, even, for helping the son before the company. Leon let her have her own way, and took it all smilingly: there was not a guest there who was not ready to upset his soup over his waistcoat rather than taste it before Leon.
“Mother!” cried Leon, spoon in hand, “this is the first time for three years that I’ve tasted good soup.” Madame Renault felt herself blush with satisfaction, and Gothon was so overcome that she dropped a plate. Both fancied that possibly he had spoken to please their self-conceit; but nevertheless he spoke truly. There are two things in this world which a man does not often find away from home: the first is good soup; the second is disinterested love.
If I should attempt here an accurate enumeration of all the dishes that appeared on the table, there would not be one of my readers whose mouth would not water. I believe, indeed, that more than one delicate lady would be in danger of an attack of indigestion. Suppose, if you please, that such a list would reach nearly to the end of the volume, leaving me but a single page on which to write the marvellous history of Fougas. Therefore I forthwith return to the parlor, where coffee is already served.
Leon took scarcely half of his cup: but do not let that lead you to infer that the coffee was too hot, or too cold, or too sweet. Nothing in the world would have prevented his drinking it to the last drop, if a knock at the street-door had not stopped it just opposite his heart.
The minute which followed appeared to him interminable. Never in his travels had he encountered such a long minute. But at length Clementine appeared, preceded by the worthy Mlle. Virginie Sambucco, her aunt; and the mandarins who smiled on the etagére heard the sound of three kisses. Wherefore three? The superficial reader, who pretends to foresee things before they are written, has already found a very probable explanation. “Of course,” says he, “Leon was too respectful to embrace the dignified Mlle. Sambucco more than once, but when he came to Clementine, who was soon to become his wife, he very properly doubled the dose.” Now sir, that is what I call a premature judgment! The first kiss fell from the mouth of Leon upon the cheek of Mlle. Sambucco; the second was applied by the lips of Mlle. Sambucco to the right cheek of Leon; the third was, in fact, an accident that plunged two young hearts into profound consternation.
Leon, who was very much in love with his betrothed, rushed to her blindly, uncertain whether he would kiss her right cheek or her left, but determined not to put off too long a pleasure which he had been promising himself ever since the spring of 1856. Clementine did not dream of defending herself, but was fully prepared to apply her pretty rosy lips to Leon’s right cheek or his left, indifferently. The precipitation of the two young people brought it about that neither Clementine’s cheeks nor Leon’s received the offering intended for them. And the mandarins on the etagére, who fully expected to hear two kisses, heard but one. And Leon was confounded, and Clementine blushed up to her ears, and the two lovers retreated a step, intently regarding the roses of the carpet which will remain eternally graven upon their memories.
In the eyes of Leon Renault, Clementine was the most beautiful creature in the world. He had loved her for little more than three years, and it was somewhat on her account that he had taken the journey to Russia. In 1856 she was too young to marry, and too rich for an engineer with a salary of 2,400 francs to properly make pretentions to her hand. Leon, who was a good mathematician, proposed to himself the following problem: “Given — one young girl, fifteen and a half years old, with an income of 8,000 francs, and threatened with the inheritance from Mlle. Sambucco of, say 200,000 more:— to obtain a fortune at least equal to hers within such a period as will give her time enough to grow up, without leaving her time enough to become an old maid.” He had found the solution in the Ural mines.
During three long years, he had indirectly corresponded with the beloved of his heart. All the letters which he wrote to his father or mother, passed into the hands of Mlle. Sambucco, who did not keep them from Clementine. Sometimes, indeed, they were read aloud in the family, and M. Renault was never obliged to omit a phrase, for Leon never wrote anything which a young girl should not hear. The aunt and the niece had no other distractions; they lived retired in a little house at the end of a pretty garden, and received no one but old friends. Clementine, therefore, deserved but little credit for keeping her heart for Leon. With the exception of a big colonel of cuirassiers, who sometimes followed her in her walks, no man had ever made any demonstrations toward her.
She was very pretty withal, and not so merely to the eyes of her lover, or of the Renault family, or of the little city where she lived. Provincial towns are apt to be easily satisfied. They give the reputation of being a pretty woman or a great man, cheaply; especially when they are not rich enough in such commodities to show themselves over particular. In capitals, however, people claim to admire nothing but absolute merit. I have heard the mayor of a village say, with a certain pride: “Admit now, that my servant Catherine is right pretty, for a village of six hundred people!” Clementine was pretty enough to be admired in a city of eight hundred thousand. Fancy to yourself a little blonde creole, with black eyes, creamy complexion and dazzling teeth. Her figure was round and supple as a twig, and was finished off with dainty hands and pretty Andalusian feet, arched and beautifully rounded. All her glances were smiles, and all her movements caresses. Add to this, that she was neither a fool nor a prude, nor even an ignoramus like girls brought up in convents. Her education, which was begun by her mother, had been completed by two or three respectable old professors selected by M. Renault, who was her guardian. She had a sound heart, and a quick mind. But I may reasonably ask myself why I have so much to say about her, for she is still living; and, thank God! not one of her perfections has departed.
About ten o’clock in the evening, Mlle. Virginie Sambucco said it was time to think of going home: the ladies lived with monastic regularity. Leon protested; but Clementine obeyed, though not without pouting a little. Already the parlor door was open, and the old lady had taken her hood in the hall, when the engineer, suddenly struck with an idea, exclaimed:
“You surely won’t go without helping me to open my trunks! I demand it of you as a favor, my good Mademoiselle Sambucco!”
The respectable lady paused: custom urged her to go; kindness inclined her to stay; an atom of curiosity swayed the balance.
“I’m so glad!” cried Clementine, replacing her aunt’s hood on the rack.
Mme. Renault did not yet know where they had put Leon’s baggage. Gothon came to say that everything had been thrown pell-mell into the sorcerer’s den, to remain there until Monsieur should point out what he wanted taken to his own room. The whole company, armed with lamps and candles, betook themselves to a vast room on the ground floor, where furnaces, retorts, philosophical instruments, boxes, trunks, clothes bags, hat boxes and the famous steam-engine, formed a confused and entertaining spectacle. The light played about this interior, as it appears to in certain pictures of the Dutch school. It glanced upon the great yellow cylinders of the electric machine, struck upon the long glass bottles, rebounded from two silver reflectors, and rested, in passing, upon a magnificent Fortin barometer. The Renaults and their friends, grouped in the midst of the boxes — some sitting, some standing, one holding a lamp, another a candle — detracted nothing from the picturesqueness of the scene.
Leon, with a bunch of little keys, opened the boxes one after another. Clementine was seated opposite him on a great oblong box, and watched him with all her eyes, more from affection than curiosity. They began by setting to one side two enormous square boxes which contained nothing but mineralogical specimens. After this they passed in review the riches of all kinds which the engineer had crowded among his linen and clothing.
A pleasant odor of Russia leather, tea from the caravans, Levant tobacco, and attar of roses soon permeated the laboratory. Leon brought forth a little at a time, as is the custom of all rich travellers who, on leaving home, left a family and good stock of friends behind. He exhibited, in turn, fabrics of the Asiatic looms, narghiles of embossed silver from Persia, boxes of tea, sherbets flavored with rose, precious extracts, golden webs from Tarjok, antique armor, a service of frosted silver of Toula make, jewelry mounted in the Russian style, Caucasian bracelets, necklaces of milky amber, and a leather sack full of turquoises such as they sell at the fair of Nijni Novgorod. Each object passed from hand to hand amid questions, explanations, and interjections of all kinds. All the friends present received the gifts intended for them. There was a concert of polite refusals, friendly urgings, and ‘thank-yous’ in all sorts of voices. It is unnecessary to say that much the greater share fell to the lot of Clementine; but she did not wait to be urged to accept them, for, in the existing state of affairs, all these pretty things would be but as a part of the wedding gifts — not going out of the family.
Leon had brought his father an exceedingly handsome dressing gown of a cloth embroidered with gold, some antiquarian books found in Moscow, a pretty picture by Greuze, which had been stuck out of the way, by the luckiest of accidents, in a mean shop at Gastinitvor; two magnificent specimens of rock-crystal, and a cane that had belonged to Humboldt. “You see,” said he to M. Renault, on handing him this historic staff, “that the postscript of your last letter did not fall overboard.” The old professor received the present with visible emotion.
“I will never use it,” said he to his son. “The Napoleon of science has held it in his hand: what would one think if an old sergeant like me should permit himself to carry it in his walks in the woods? And the collections? Were you not able to buy anything from them? Did they sell very high?”
“They were not sold,” answered Leon. “All were placed in the National Museum at Berlin. But in my eagerness to satisfy you, I made a thief of myself in a strange way. The very day of my arrival, I told your wish to a guide who was showing me the place. He told me that a friend of his, a little Jew broker by the name of Ritter, wanted to sell a very fine anatomical specimen that had belonged to the estate. I ran to the Jew’s, examined the mummy, for such it was, and, without any haggling, paid the price he asked. But the next day, a friend of Humboldt, Professor Hirtz, told me the history of this shred of a man, which had been lying around the shop for more than ten years, and never belonged to Humboldt at all. Where the deuce has Gothon stowed it? Ah! Mlle. Clementine is sitting on it.”
Clementine attempted to rise, but Leon made her keep seated.
“We have plenty of time,” said he, “to take a look at the old baggage; meanwhile you can well imagine that it is not a very cheerful sight. This is the history that good old Hirtz told me; he promised to send me, in addition, a copy of a very curious memoir on the same subject. Don’t go yet, my dear Mademoiselle Sambucco; I have a little military and scientific romance for you. We will look at the mummy as soon as I have acquainted you with his misfortunes.”
“Aha!” cried M. Audret, the architect of the chateau, “it’s the romance of the mummy, is it, that you’re going to tell us? Too late my poor Leon! Theophile Gautier has gotten ahead of you, in the supplement to the Moniteur, and all the world knows your Egyptian history.”
“My history,” said Leon, “is no more Egyptian than Manon Lescault. Our excellent doctor Martout, here, ought to know the name of professor John Meiser, of Dantzic; he lived at the beginning of this century, and I think that his last work appeared in 1824 or 1825.”
“In 1823,” replied M. Martout. “Meiser is one of the scientific men who have done Germany most honor. In the midst of terrible wars which drenched his country in blood, he followed up the researches of Leeuwenkoeck, Baker, Needham, Fontana, and Spallanzani, on the revivification of animals. Our profession honors in him, one of the fathers of modern biology.”
“Heavens! What ugly big words!” cried Mlle. Sambucco. “Is it decent to keep people till this time of night, to make them listen to Dutch.”
“Don’t listen to the big words, dear little auntey. Save yourself for the romance, since there is one.”
“A terrible one!” said Leon. “Mlle. Clementine is seated over a human victim, sacrificed to science by professor Meiser.”
Clementine instantly got up. Her fiancé handed her a chair, and seated himself in the place she had just left. The listeners, fearing that Leon’s romance might be in several volumes, took their places around him, some on boxes, some on chairs.
“Ladies,” said Leon, “Professor Meiser was no vulgar malefactor, but a man devoted to science and humanity. If he killed the French colonel who at this moment reposes beneath my coat tails, it was for the sake of saving his life, as well as of throwing light on a question of the deepest interest, even to each one of you.
“The duration of our existence is very much too brief. That is a fact which no man can contradict. We know that in a hundred years, not one of the nine or ten persons assembled in this house will be living on the face of the earth. Is not this a deplorable fact?”
Mlle. Sambucco heaved a heavy sigh, and Leon continued:
“Alas! Mademoiselle, like you I have sighed many a time at the contemplation of this dire necessity. You have a niece, the most beautiful and the most adorable of all nieces, and the sight of her charming face gladdens your heart. But you yearn for something more; you will not be satisfied until you have seen your little grand nephews trotting around. You will see them I earnestly believe. But will you see their children? It is doubtful. Their grandchildren? Impossible! In regard to the tenth, twentieth, thirtieth generation, it is useless even to dream.
“One will dream of it, nevertheless, and perhaps there is no man who has not said to himself at least once in his life: ‘If I could but come to life again in a couple of centuries!’ One would wish to return to earth to seek news of his family; another, of his dynasty. A philosopher is anxious to know if the ideas that he has planted will have borne fruit; a politician, if his party will have obtained the upper hand; a miser, if his heirs will not have dissipated the fortune he has made; a mere land-holder, if the trees in his garden will have grown tall. No one is indifferent to the future destinies of this world, which we gallop through in a few years, never to return to it again. Who has not envied the lot of Epimenides, who went to sleep in a cave, and, on reopening his eyes, perceived that the world had grown old? Who has not dreamed, on his own account, of the marvellous adventure of the sleeping Beauty in the wood?
“Well, ladies, Professor Meiser, one of the least visionary men of the age, was persuaded that science could put a living being to sleep and wake him up again at the end of an infinite number of years — arrest all the functions of the system, suspend life itself, protect an individual against the action of time for a century or two, and afterwards resuscitate him.”
“He was a fool then!” cried Madame Renault.
“I wouldn’t swear it. But he had his own ideas touching the main-spring which moves a living organism. Do you remember, good mother mine, the impression you experienced as a little girl, when someone first showed you the inside of a watch in motion? You were satisfied that there was a restless little animal inside the case, who worked twenty-four hours a day at turning the hands. If the hands stopped going, you said: ‘It is because the little animal is dead.’ Yet possibly he was only asleep.
“It has since been explained to you that a watch contains an assemblage of parts well fitted to each other and kept well oiled, which, being wound, can be considered to move spontaneously in a perfect correspondence. If a spring become broken, if a bit of the wheel work be injured, or if a grain of sand insinuate itself between two of the parts, the watch stops, and the children say rightly: ‘The little animal is dead.’ But suppose a sound watch, well made, right in every particular, and stopped because the machinery would not run from lack of oil; the little animal is not dead; nothing but a little oil is needed to wake him up.
“Here is a first-rate chronometer, made in London. It runs fifteen days without being wound. I gave it a turn of the key yesterday: it has, then, thirteen days to run. If I throw it on the ground, or if I break the main-spring, all is over. I will have killed the little animal. But suppose that, without damaging anything, I find means to withdraw or dry up the fine oil which now enables the parts to slip upon one another: will the little animal be dead? No! It will be asleep. And the proof is that I can lay my watch in a drawer, keep it there twenty-five years, and if, after a quarter of a century, I put a drop of oil on it, the parts will begin to move again. All that time would have passed without waking up the little sleeping animal. It will still have thirteen days to go, after the time when it starts again.
“All living beings, according to the opinion of Professor Meiser, are watches, or organisms which move, breathe, nourish themselves, and reproduce themselves as long as their organs are intact and properly oiled. The oil of the watch is represented in the animal by an enormous quantity of water. In man, for example, water provides about four-fifths of the whole weight. Given — a colonel weighing a hundred and fifty pounds, there are thirty pounds of colonel and a hundred and twenty pounds, or about sixty quarts, of water. This is a fact proven by numerous experiments. I say a colonel just as I would say a king; all men are equal when submitted to analysis.
“Professor Meiser was satisfied, as are all physiologists, that to break a colonel’s head, or to make a hole in his heart, or to cut his spinal column in two, is to kill the little animal; because the brain, the heart, the spinal marrow are the indispensable springs, without which the machine cannot go. But he thought too, that in removing sixty quarts of water from a living person, one merely puts the little animal to sleep without killing him — that a colonel carefully dried up, can remain preserved a hundred years, and then return to life whenever anyone will replace in him the drop of oil, or rather the sixty quarts of water, without which the human machine cannot begin moving again.
“This opinion, which may appear inadmissible to you and to me too, but which is not absolutely rejected by our friend Doctor Martout, rests upon a series of reliable observations which the merest tyro can verify to-day. There are animals which can be resuscitated: nothing is more certain or better proven. Herr Meiser, like the Abbé Spallanzani and many others, collected from the gutter of his roof some little dried worms which were brittle as glass, and restored life to them by soaking them in water. The capacity of thus returning to life, is not the privilege of a single species: its existence has been satisfactorily established in numerous and various animals. The genus Volvox — the little worms or wormlets in vinegar, mud, spoiled paste, or grain-smut; the Rotifera — a kind of little shell-fish protected by a carapace, provided with a good digestive apparatus, of separate sexes, having a nervous system with a distinct brain, having either one or two eyes, according to the genus, a crystalline lens, and an optic nerve; the Tardigrades — which are little spiders with six or eight legs, separate sexes, regular digestive apparatus, a mouth, two eyes, a very well defined nervous system, and a very well developed muscular system; — all these die and revive ten or fifteen times consecutively, at the will of the naturalist. One dries up a rotifer: good night to him; somebody soaks him a little, and he wakes up to bid you good day. All depends upon taking great care while he is dry. You understand that if anyone should merely break his head, no drop of water, nor river, nor ocean could restore him.
“The marvellous thing is, that an animal which cannot live more than a year, like the minute worm in grain-smut, can lie by twenty-four years without dying, if one has taken the precaution of desiccating him.
“Needham collected a lot of them in 1743; he presented them to Martin Folkes, who gave them to Baker, and these interesting creatures revived in water in 1771. They enjoyed a rare satisfaction in elbowing their own twenty-eighth generation. Wouldn’t a man who should see his own twenty-eighth generation be a happy grandfather?
“Another no less interesting fact is that desiccated animals have vastly more tenacity of life than others. If the temperature were suddenly to fall thirty degrees in this laboratory, we should all get inflammation of the lungs. If it were to rise as much, there would be danger of congestion of the brain. Well, a desiccated animal, which is not absolutely dead, and which will revive to-morrow if I soak it, faces with impunity, variations of ninety-five degrees and six-tenths. M. Meiser and plenty of others have proved it.
“It remains to inquire, then, if a superior animal, a man for instance, can be desiccated without any more disastrous consequences than a little worm or a tardigrade. M. Meiser was convinced that it is practicable; he wrote to that effect in all his books, although he did not demonstrate it by experiment.
“Now where would be the harm in it, ladies? All men curious in regard to the future, or dissatisfied with life, or out of sorts with their contemporaries, could hold themselves in reserve for a better age, and we should have no more suicides on account of misanthropy. Valetudinarians, whom the ignorant science of the nineteenth century declares incurable, needn’t blow their brains out any more; they can have themselves dried up and wait peaceably in a box until Medicine shall have found a remedy for their disorders. Rejected lovers need no longer throw themselves into the river; they can put themselves under the receiver of an air pump, and make their appearance thirty years later, young, handsome and triumphant, satirizing the age of their cruel charmers, and paying them back scorn for scorn. Governments will give up the unnatural and barbarous custom of guillotining dangerous people. They will no longer shut them up in cramped cells at Mazas to complete their brutishness; they will not send them to the Toulon school to finish their criminal education; they will merely dry them up in batches — one for ten years, another for forty, according to the gravity of their deserts. A simple store-house will replace the prisons, police lock-ups and jails. There will be no more escapes to fear, no more prisoners to feed. An enormous quantity of dried beans and mouldy potatoes will be saved for the consumption of the country.
“You have, ladies, a feeble delineation of the benefits which Doctor Meiser hoped to pour upon Europe by introducing the desiccation of man. He made his great experiment in 1813 on a French colonel — a prisoner, I have been told, and condemned as a spy by court-martial. Unhappily he did not succeed; for I bought the colonel and his box for the price of an ordinary cavalry horse, in the dirtiest shop in Berlin.”
“My dear Leon,” said M. Renault, “you remind me of a college commencement. We have listened to your dissertation just as they listen to the Latin discourse of the professor of rhetoric; there are always in the audience a majority which learns nothing from it, and a minority which understands nothing of it. But every
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