A Celebration of Women Writers

"A Glance into the Future; or, The World in the Twenty-Ninth Century".
by Elizabeth T. Corbett.
In Godey's Lady's Book, March 1879, Vol 98, No. 585, pp. 262-.




(SCENE. – A drawing room in a handsome house in New York. The room is elegantly furnished, but is chiefly remarkable for the absence of furnace, register, fireplace, or any other visible source of warmth. The gas fixtures are also lacking. On one side is a sort of clock-face or dial-plate (though without hands or figures) let into the wall, and just beneath it stands an elegant card receiver. The only occupant of the room is a lady, who sits before a piece of furniture resembling an escritoire, but she is not writing, although her fingers move busily. Presently a young girl enters and addresses her with:)
Miss Trevor. Well, Edith, what does Georgiana say? Where is she now?
Mrs. Trevor. She hasn't said much. I have been doing all the talking, and my fingers are fairly stiff with fatigue. She is still in Germany, and she proposes that we should join her there on Saturday; at the baths, you know.
Miss T. On Saturday? Why, do you recollect that this is Tuesday, and we should have only to-morrow in which to get ready? I don't think we can do it, Edith.
Mrs. T. Nor I; but we might take Saturday's balloon, and so reach her on Monday evening. What do you say? Shall I tell her that we will go?
Miss T. Yes, by all means.
(Mrs. Trevor resumes the movement of her fingers for a few moments, then pushes her chair back wearily.)
Mrs. T. There! I am too tired for any more correspondence. I wish some one would come in and talk to us.
Miss T. Your wish, is granted, for see – Dr. Renington and the Professor are at the door.
(Already the dial plate before mentioned has opened, and discloses the likeness of a gentleman, while a visiting-card drops into the receiver. The next moment a second picture replaces the first, and a second card drops into the receiver.)
Mrs. T. Yes, there they are – I am so glad.
(She touches a small silver knob. Immediately the large doors at the further end of the room slide open, and two arm chairs are seen rising through the floor of the hall beyond. Two gentlemen advance, greetings are interchanged, and conversation begins.)
Professor. Excuse me, Mrs. Trevor, but is not your house oppressively warm? The temperature is certainly too high for health.
Mrs. T. So it seems to me, but I cannot account for it. We have, opened, but one jar of caloric since yesterday, and that is our usual allowance at this time of year. It must be stronger than common.
Miss T. (Laughing.) I shall be obliged to confess my misdeed! The truth is, Clara, that I upset a whole jar some hours ago in the library, and so you have been suffering the consequences ever since.
Dr. Renington. Never mind, Miss Clara, you have not done half the mischief that the Professor did when he went with me to the North Pole last month.
Miss T. Oh, do tell me what he did; won't you, Doctor?
Dr. R. Of course I will. You must know that he began by capturing a white bear and bringing it on board the yacht.
Mrs. T. Alive?
Dr. R. Very much alive, my dear madam, as you will see when I tell you what happened. The beast got loose, rushed into our store-room, and contrived to break nearly every jar of caloric we had on board, before we could secure him.
Miss T. And what did you do to the bear?
Dr. R. Well, we hadn't an opportunity of punishing him as he deserved, because he came to a speedy end. The immense quantity of caloric so suddenly liberated, quite overcame his bear-ship; in fact, he was partially roasted on the spot.
Miss T. Oh, how horrid! poor thing.
Dr. R. You might better expend your compassion on the real sufferers, Miss Clara. We were in a terrible plight, for we had so little caloric left that we were obliged to use it nearly all for melting the ice through which we passed on our return; consequently we did not dare to warm the cabin at all. For my part, I was nearly frozen, and I have never quite thawed since.
Mrs. T. Why that was really dreadful. Where did the accident occur, doctor?
Dr. R. In the north-west passage.
Prof. But as I told you at the time, Renington, you were enabled to realize some of the sufferings of the ancient navigators, before our present method of carrying heat into frigid latitudes was ever dreamed of.
Mrs. T. Professor, you astonish me. Did people ever venture into those frozen regions without protection from the intense cold?
Prof. They did indeed, and endured incredible hardships in so doing.
Dr. R. And now we provide ourselves with a few dozen jars of condensed heat, and suffer no inconvenience from the lowest possible temperatures.
Miss T. Unless you take a bear on board.
Prof. Come, Miss Clara, that is hardly fair.
Mrs. T. Tell me, when was it that people first began to use caloric, or condensed heat, as we use it?
Prof. About two hundred years ago. By the way, that twenty-seventh century was a remarkable one in the world's history. It was crowded with discoveries and inventions, all more or less important, though not equally conspicuous. Our present mode of communicating with our absent friends was then perfected: before that period, men had tried in turn telegraphs, and telephones, as they were called – both cumbersome, intricate contrivances, full of defects and liable to accidents. They learned by slow degrees the true uses and powers of electricity – in fact, the most advanced minds of the nineteenth century would have flouted as incredible some of the commonest appliances of the twenty-ninth. But the inventor always has been, and always will be, in advance of his generation.
Miss T. Oh, Professor, tell us more about these discoveries, won't you? Give us a little lecture.
Mrs. T. No, don't begin there. Tell us something about the nineteenth century, for that is what we have been studying lately. How little the people of that epoch knew!
Prof. And how much they thought they knew!
Miss T. Yes, that is so comical. One would imagine, to read the literature of the time, that they had attained the pinnacle of greatness and wisdom.
Prof. Yet they crossed the ocean in steamships – great, slow, clumsy things, which consumed eight or ten days in the voyage.
Dr. R. And considered forty miles an hour by rail fast traveling.
Prof. And employed the poorer classes for their household servants.
Miss T. Yes, I was so amused with that – wasn't it odd? Didn't they know enough to have mechanical servants?
Prof. No, Miss Clara, neither they nor their children were able to solve that difficult domestic problem. It was not until the twenty-sixth century that mechanical servants were first constructed; and even then they were so poorly made, and so inadequate, that they were seldom used. It took nearly a hundred years to perfect the invention, and make them what they are now.
Miss T. Apropos of that, we had a droll experience here last week. Tell them about your new cook, Edith.
Mrs. T. Oh, a most absurd thing; but since Clara has spoken of it, I may as well tell you. I was over-persuaded last week to buy a new patent cook, with so many improvements that I was completely won over. So I purchased the thing, and told Dawson, my housekeeper, to set it going at once. Unfortunately, we had a dinner-party that evening, and you can imagine how I felt when I found that everything was completely spoiled – literally burned to cinders! To cap the climax of my miseries, just as it was time to make the coffee the horrid thing stopped entirely, stood stock still, and all the screwing and oiling only made it worse!
Prof. But why not have sent for the inventor or the merchant?
Mrs. T. We did; but when the man who made it came next morning, he insisted that Dawson had put it out of order. Of course that was absurd, for Dawson has been with me for five years, and he manages all the servants beautifully, though I have some very complicated ones. There is my new waiter with the double suspension attachment, which is such an intricate thing; and Dawson understood it from the very first, although I don't even yet, and I never dare to put a finger on it.
Miss T. But I did put a finger on it one day, and the consequence was that he poured a whole bottle of wine into my glass, or rather over it.
Dr. R. It is scarcely to be wondered at that these mishaps occur sometimes; the greater wonder is that they don't occur oftener. I set my letter-writer at work not long ago to write a letter of sympathy and condolence to a friend who had lost his wife, but instead he sent a letter of congratulation.
Mrs. T. Now that was really dreadful.
Dr. R. So I thought, Mrs. Trevor, for it nearly ended our friendship.
Mrs. T. But then, what are such annoyances compared with the unpleasantness of having servants with eyes, ears and tongues forever about one? Why, domestic privacy must have been impossible under such conditions.
Prof. Doubtless it was, but people were forced to endure an evil for which they could find no cure. These civilized barbarians prided themselves, too, on having subjugated the horse to their uses. You know they employed those animals, to draw vehicles, and they even rode upon their backs.
Mrs. T. Yes, I have read about that. At what time did they get an idea of using electric propellers like ours?
Prof. About A.D. 2450. You have, of course, seen the models and drawings at the Antiquarian Rooms, illustrating the ancient horse?
Miss T. Yes, we were there last week. It seems almost incredible, but I suppose that they actually went about in those queer vehicles, with the horses attached.
Dr. R. Beyond a doubt, Miss Clara. What ancient history have you been reading lately, may I ask?
Miss T. Oh, it isn't a history, not even a treatise on history, Dr. Renington. But one day when I was looking over the books at the Antiquarian Rooms, I got hold of the queerest volume! It was poked away in a dusty corner, as if no one cared for it, and it was called the "Centennial Record." I brought it home, and Edith and I have been dipping into it ever since. It gives an account of a great festival, held in the year 1876 in this country, at which all the inhabitants of the country came together to pay their devotions to that great bird they worshiped – the American eagle, I think.
Dr. R. Oh, no, Miss Clara, you are wrong there – the ancient Americans were not idolaters, and they never worshiped the eagle. Doubtless the barbarous spelling of your old book has led you astray; but the Professor can tell you the object of that great gathering better than I can. What was it, Professor?
Prof. It was certainly not a religious festival – it was only one of a series of bazaars, or gigantic fairs, which were considered to advance the arts and sciences, and were held in various countries of Europe during the latter half of this same century of which we have been speaking. Nothing more than that.
Mrs. T. Well, all these things are very interesting to know, but I am really glad when I think that I was not born in such a stupid age.
Miss T. Yes indeed! we have a great deal to be thankful for when we consider how uncomfortable life must have been with such bare surroundings.
Mrs. T. I wanted to ask if they had no balloon traveling at all in those days? Surely I have read of balloons in the history of ancient America, although I am not sure of the date.
Prof. You are right; they were partially known before the year 1900, but so defective and imperfect was that knowledge that they were regarded as playthings, rather than useful and necessary conveyances. Of course, there were some adventurous spirits who made balloon voyages, and astonished all beholders with their temerity; but the balloon was not utilized until the close of the twenty-sixth century, almost the twenty-seventh.
Mrs. T. What a pity, for it is certainly a most charming mode of traveling, far superior to that gloomy tunnel, if one wishes to cross the ocean.
Dr. T. I differ from you there. I vastly prefer the tunnel, and then the time you save is quite a consideration. You know that the express trains are making the through trip now in thirty hours.
Mrs. T. Well, the balloons only take forty-eight, and that is fast enough for me. Besides, I am always so fearful while in the tunnel that the lights will be exhausted, and then imagine the darkness! I should die of fright in such a case.
Prof. No danger of that, Mrs. Trevor. The company send an extra supply of light put up in the most convenient jars you ever saw, with every train. In fact, I found the light too intense for me, and was obliged to turn it off several times to rest my eyes.
Mrs. T. Still, I think I shall travel by balloon; I feel so much safer.
Miss T. Edith, you are a real coward. What would you have done if you had been obliged to cross in a steamship, with the great waves buffeting you on every side, and threatening to swallow up vessel and passengers?
Mrs. T. Why, I should have staid at home, I suppose, rather than encounter such horrors.
Prof. Excuse me, ladies, if I remind Renington that we are engaged to dine with an old friend in Charleston this evening, and the day is already far spent. But I had something for you, Miss Clara, (taking some tiny packages from his coat pocket) which I know you will enjoy. I did not see you at the opera last evening, so I brought you a few of the gems. This aria from the second act is especially fine, and bids fair to be very popular.
Miss T. Oh, thank you, how kind you were to remember me! I was so anxious to go last night, as it was the first representation, but it was quite impossible. However, this is very consoling. Suppose we open the aria you mentioned and enjoy it now. Will you unseal it, please?
Prof. Certainly.
(Professor takes up one of the small packages and carefully breaks the seal. Immediately a charming soprano voice executes a difficult aria. All listen attentively. The voice ceases.)
Miss T. How charming! I am so much indebted to you. Now I want to ask a favor of which this music reminds me, although my request has nothing to do with operas. Won't you give me your last speech before the Historical Society? The package Edith purchased was not good – some of the sentences were quite inaudible, and we were so disappointed about it.
Prof. It will give me great pleasure to bring you a new one; but where did you get yours? I ask because I suppose the copyist must have used a defective apparatus, and I want to inquire into it.
Mrs. T. I bought it where I go for all our lecture and music packages, at the new bazaar; but I think I shall have to change – they have sold me a number of defective things lately.
Prof. Such carelessness is inexcusable, Not only every word, but every inflection of the voice can, and should be given with perfect distinctness. I should advise you to go to Trevelyan's in future. But now I must say good morning. Come, Renington.
(The gentlemen make their adieux. Mrs. Trevor touches the small silver knob again, the large doors slide open, and the arm chairs once more appear rising out of the floor. The visitors take their seats, and the chairs descend into the lower hall. There a mechanical footman hands them their hats and overcoats, and opens the door for them. They seal themselves in small elegant vehicles of peculiar style, press a button for a moment, then lean back, comfortably, and are whirled rapidly away.)
Upstairs Mrs. Trevor remarks: Suppose we have the lights now, Clara; it is getting too dark to see.
(Miss Trevor moves toward a table on which stands an exquisite vase. She raises the cover, and at once the apartment is filled with a soft sunshiny radiance. Enter mechanical footman with newspaper, which he places on the table and retires.)

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

The layout of this article differs from the original. The play has been laid out as a table, and the first appearance of each speaker's name is given in full at the start of each speech, while following occurrences are shortened.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom