FictionForest

Chapter 10 – Beginnings of Civilization

Mark TwainMay 20, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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THE Round Table soon heard of the challenge, and
of course it was a good deal discussed, for such
things interested the boys. The king thought I ought
now to set forth in quest of adventures, so that I
might gain renown and be the more worthy to meet
Sir Sagramor when the several years should have rolled
away. I excused myself for the present; I said it
would take me three or four years yet to get things
well fixed up and going smoothly; then I should be
ready; all the chances were that at the end of that
time Sir Sagramor would still be out grailing, so no
valuable time would be lost by the postponement; I
should then have been in office six or seven years,
and I believed my system and machinery would be so
well developed that I could take a holiday without its
working any harm.

I was pretty well satisfied with what I had already
accomplished. In various quiet nooks and corners I
had the beginnings of all sorts of industries under way
— nuclei of future vast factories, the iron and steel
missionaries of my future civilization. In these were
gathered together the brightest young minds I could
find, and I kept agents out raking the country for
more, all the time. I was training a crowd of ignorant
folk into experts — experts in every sort of handiwork
and scientific calling. These nurseries of mine went
smoothly and privately along undisturbed in their obscure country retreats, for nobody was allowed to
come into their precincts without a special permit —
for I was afraid of the Church.

I had started a teacher-factory and a lot of Sundayschools the first thing; as a result, I now had an admirable system of graded schools in full blast in those
places, and also a complete variety of Protestant congregations all in a prosperous and growing condition.
Everybody could be any kind of a Christian he wanted
to; there was perfect freedom in that matter. But I
confined public religious teaching to the churches and
the Sunday-schools, permitting nothing of it in my
other educational buildings. I could have given my
own sect the preference and made everybody a Presbyterian without any trouble, but that would have been
to affront a law of human nature: spiritual wants and
instincts are as various in the human family as are
physical appetites, complexions, and features, and a
man is only at his best, morally, when he is equipped
with the religious garment whose color and shape and
size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexion, angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it; and, besides, I was afraid of a
united Church; it makes a mighty power, the mightiest
conceivable, and then when it by and by gets into
selfish hands, as it is always bound to do, it means
death to human liberty and paralysis to human
thought.

All mines were royal property, and there were a
good many of them. They had formerly been worked
as savages always work mines — holes grubbed in the
earth and the mineral brought up in sacks of hide by
hand, at the rate of a ton a day; but I had begun to
put the mining on a scientific basis as early as I could.

Yes, I had made pretty handsome progress when Sir
Sagramor’s challenge struck me.

Four years rolled by — and then! Well, you would
never imagine it in the world. Unlimited power is the
ideal thing when it is in safe hands. The despotism of
heaven is the one absolutely perfect government. An
earthly despotism would be the absolutely perfect earthly
government, if the conditions were the same, namely,
the despot the perfectest individual of the human race,
and his lease of life perpetual. But as a perishable
perfect man must die, and leave his despotism in the
hands of an imperfect successor, an earthly despotism
is not merely a bad form of government, it is the worst
form that is possible.

My works showed what a despot could do with the
resources of a kingdom at his command. Unsuspected
by this dark land, I had the civilization of the nineteenth century booming under its very nose! It was
fenced away from the public view, but there it was, a
gigantic and unassailable fact — and to be heard from,
yet, if I lived and had luck. There it was, as sure a
fact and as substantial a fact as any serene volcano,
standing innocent with its smokeless summit in the
blue sky and giving no sign of the rising hell in its
bowels. My schools and churches were children four
years before; they were grown-up now; my shops of
that day were vast factories now; where I had a dozen
trained men then, I had a thousand now; where I had
one brilliant expert then, I had fifty now. I stood
with my hand on the cock, so to speak, ready to turn
it on and flood the midnight world with light at any
moment. But I was not going to do the thing in that
sudden way. It was not my policy. The people
could not have stood it; and, moreover, I should have
had the Established Roman Catholic Church on my
back in a minute.

No, I had been going cautiously all the while. I
had had confidential agents trickling through the
country some time, whose office was to undermine
knighthood by imperceptible degrees, and to gnaw a
little at this and that and the other superstition, and so
prepare the way gradually for a better order of things.
I was turning on my light one-candle-power at a time,
and meant to continue to do so.

I had scattered some branch schools secretly about
the kingdom, and they were doing very well. I meant
to work this racket more and more, as time wore on, if
nothing occurred to frighten me. One of my deepest
secrets was my West Point — my military academy. I
kept that most jealously out of sight; and I did the
same with my naval academy which I had established
at a remote seaport. Both were prospering to my
satisfaction.

Clarence was twenty-two now, and was my head
executive, my right hand. He was a darling; he was
equal to anything; there wasn’t anything he couldn’t
turn his hand to. Of late I had been training him for
journalism, for the time seemed about right for a start
in the newspaper line; nothing big, but just a small
weekly for experimental circulation in my civilization
nurseries. He took to it like a duck; there was an
editor concealed in him, sure. Already he had doubled
himself in one way; he talked sixth century and wrote
nineteenth. His journalistic style was climbing, steadily; it was already up to the back settlement Alabama
mark, and couldn’t be told from the editorial output of
that region either by matter or flavor.

We had another large departure on hand, too. This
was a telegraph and a telephone; our first venture in
this line. These wires were for private service only,
as yet, and must be kept private until a riper day
should come. We had a gang of men on the road,
working mainly by night. They were stringing ground
wires; we were afraid to put up poles, for they would
attract too much inquiry. Ground wires were good
enough, in both instances, for my wires were protected
by an insulation of my own invention which was perfect. My men had orders to strike across country,
avoiding roads, and establishing connection with any
considerable towns whose lights betrayed their presence, and leaving experts in charge. Nobody could
tell you how to find any place in the kingdom, for
nobody ever went intentionally to any place, but only
struck it by accident in his wanderings, and then generally left it without thinking to inquire what its name
was. At one time and another we had sent out topographical expeditions to survey and map the kingdom,
but the priests had always interfered and raised trouble.
So we had given the thing up, for the present; it
would be poor wisdom to antagonize the Church.

As for the general condition of the country, it was
as it had been when I arrived in it, to all intents and
purposes. I had made changes, but they were necessarily slight, and they were not noticeable. Thus far,
I had not even meddled with taxation, outside of the
taxes which provided the royal revenues. I had
systematized those, and put the service on an effective
and righteous basis. As a result, these revenues were
already quadrupled, and yet the burden was so much
more equably distributed than before, that all the kingdom felt a sense of relief, and the praises of my administration were hearty and general.

Personally, I struck an interruption, now, but I did
not mind it, it could not have happened at a better
time. Earlier it could have annoyed me, but now
everything was in good hands and swimming right
along. The king had reminded me several times, of
late, that the postponement I had asked for, four years
before, had about run out now. It was a hint that I
ought to be starting out to seek adventures and get up
a reputation of a size to make me worthy of the honor
of breaking a lance with Sir Sagramor, who was still
out grailing, but was being hunted for by various relief
expeditions, and might be found any year, now. So
you see I was expecting this interruption; it did not
take me by surprise.

 

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