(Continuing the narrative that began here.)

Part 4.

Letter the Fifth: Sir George Purvis to Miss Amelia Purvis.

My dear Sister,—

As I have promised to send you an Account of my Interview with the celebrated Doctor Albertus, I am sitting down to write this Evening while the Memory of our Conversation is still bright. A brief Talk with the celebrated Doctor is a veritable University of speculative Reasoning; and tho’ his Arguments all bear the Stamp of that Singularity which defines the Man, yet when he speaks I own myself half convinced, tho’ now I can think of a thousand Objections to his Assertions.

Certainly I must rank Punctuality among his Virtues: For he arrived and was announced at the appointed Hour, just as the Clock struck. As soon as our Greetings had been exchanged, Doctor Albertus presented me with a small Gift in a wooden Box, which he declared was owed to me for the Aid I had rendered him last night at my lady Neville’s. I opened the Lid, and beheld a small Serpent, one of the eminent Doctor’s remarkable Clockworks. I could not resist the Experiment, and winding the Mechanism, placed it on the Table, where it slithered after the Manner proper to Serpents in a most amusing Way. I gave him my profuse Thanks, but Doctor Albertus repeated that it was merely my Desert, and but the Least he could render me for my timely Aid.

As soon as the Tea was laid before us, Doctor Albertus began the Discussion with a few Compliments on my Understanding, which were more flattering than deserved. I rejoined with my own compliments on his mechanical Skill, and on the wonderfull mechanical Devices of which he was the Author. In recording our Conversation, which is still in a Manner ringing in my Ears, I shall make an attempt to record his Words exactly, but without those Interruptions incidental to common Speech.

“Indeed (quoth Doctor Albertus) I have made many Improvements in Mechanicks, for which I hope Men to come shall be in my Debt, as I am in the Debt of the Philosophers who came before me. But I may say to thee (for I feel instinctively that with thee I may speak freely), That I expect much more than a Demonstration of mechanical Principles to proceed from my Labor in building my Automaton. When I spoke to thy Friends last Night, I gave them a Hint of mine Aim, which is the Creation of a new Form of Life. I believe that my Mission is the Restoration of our Earth, and the Cleansing of it from Sin and Death. It is my Destiny, perhaps not to complete the Task, but at least to begin it, and leave the Completion of it to a later and perhaps greater Philosopher.”

“I had thought (I reply’d) that the Task had been accomplished for all Men by our Savior.”

“O but I speak of the Earth of the Present, and not of the Time to Come, of which no Man can form an accurate Impression, and which may be said to be more Rumor than Fact. Now, thou must empty thy Mind of Prejudice, for I know thee, Sir George, to be a Man of singular Understanding, and I would not have thee bound by the Authorities of a thousand Years ago, and neglect the Improvements which our present Age has made in Philosophy. Think not that the Antients were wise, because antient: For in very Truth it is we who are antient, and not they. They lived in the Youth of the World; we in its Maturity. They had but their own Wisdom to guide them; we have theirs, and our own, and the Wisdom of all the Centuries between.”

“But surely there must be an Exception made for Religion, whose Truths are eternal, and not subject to that Improvement which has marked the Progress of natural Philosophy.”

When I spoke thus, Doctor Albertus smiled, and leaned forward as if to impart some great Confidence. “Religion (he said) is but that Branch of Philosophy which investigates the Divine. Wherefore there is a Development in Religion as there is in the other Branches of Philosophy: For as we understand more of the Nature of God, the provisional Postulates of the Past must be modified or abandoned, just as the Wisdom of Aristotle, in spite of the Labor which it cost that great Philosopher, has given Way to the superior Wisdom of Newton, whose Discoveries have shewn us as it were the Mind of God himself.”

“And it is your Belief, then, that the Conquest of Sin, which has so far infected every Generation of Men, may in some Manner be effected by the Construction of a Clockwork?”

“Not merely a Clockwork (quoth Doctor Albertus) but rather a new Species of Soul.”

At this Remark I am sure I smiled, but Doctor Albertus continued.

“I call that an Old Soul, which is generated according to Nature, and therefore carries the indelible Taint of our primordial Sin. And I call that a New Soul, which is not generated according to Nature, and therefore has no part in original Sin.

“For I do not suppose that the Soul is a Kind of Object, which, tho’ immaterial, may be distinguished from the other Parts of a Man, as a Finger is distinct from an Eye. No: By Soul I mean, the harmonious Working of all the Parts together; nor do I believe that there is any other Thing that may be termed a Soul.

“Sin (quoth Doctor Albertus) is the Thing that limits the Old Soul. We may well speak of original Sin: For that Article of christian Doctrine is confirmed by the most cursory Observation of the human Race. That a Tendency toward Sin is implanted in us all at Birth, seems the only rational Means of accounting for History, which is Naught but a Record of Men’s Sins writ across the Face of the terrestrial Globe. Wars, and Tyrannies, and ruinous Famines while the Rich eat their Fill, and Murders, and Adulteries, and Persecutions, and Slaughters without Number: This is the Sum of our History, and thus is the Tale of our Race told in Epitome.

“Now, the Automaton is a New Soul, generated without Sin, and not susceptible to that Temptation, or irresistible Drive toward Evil, which is the common Lot of all Mankind. Altho’ its Operations are simple, they are entirely Rational. Anger, Lust, Envy, and what have you, do not enter into the Calculation of its Actions. I have already shewn what Misery our Sin leads us into; now consider for a Moment what a Paradise our World might be, if it were once freed from Sin. ’Twould be Eden incorrupt, Sir George. Now, the Automaton is generated without Sin, and feels no Pain; and tho’ I own it is primitive, and undeveloped, yet the Principles of its Construction are capable of infinite Refinement. But a short Time–the Blink of an Eye in our long History–and Automata may be produced whose Capabilities as far exceed those of the present Automaton as our Capabilities exceed those of a Mouse.”

“Yet Men (I objected) must build these Automata, and Men are subject to Sin; wherefore there must still be Sin in the World, as long as the Dominion of Man shall last.”

“But why (quoth Doctor Albertus) ought we to suppose that Man’s Dominion over the Earth is to be perpetual? Might we not instead be merely Stewards or Custodians for the true Masters of the Globe, holding it in Trust during the Minority of the Proprietors? Nay, perhaps the entire Purpose of our Existence is to act as Midwives, assisting at the Birth of the true Rulers of the Terrestrial Sphere.

“I have built the present Automaton with mine own Hands; the next Automaton likewise will be the Product of Man’s Labor; and so, without Doubt, the Automaton after that. But a Time will come, when Automata shall manipulate Objects with more Dexterity than Men are capable of, and then the Automata shall build the Automata. In Short, the Race of Automata shall perpetuate itself, whether we will or no; and living Machines shall be fruitfull, and multiply, and fill the Earth.”

“But surely (said I) that would make us Slaves to these Automata, if indeed they did not destroy us altogether.”

“Nay (quoth Doctor Albertus), it is not the Extinction or Enslavement of our Race that I see when I gaze into the Future of Mankind. On the contrary, I see naught but Liberty. There are some among us destined to be Monarchs, but how many are they? Each Country admits of but one Monarch, for that is the very Meaning of the Word. The Rest of us, and thou and I, Sir George, are in that Number;–the Rest of us, I say, are destined not to rule, but to be ruled; and in such Circumstances, our Happiness depends upon the Virtue of the Ruler. Now, who would not chuse rather to be guided by Reason, than to be subject to arbitrary Tyranny? Therefore I proclaim the Manumission of the Race of Man: For now we are Slaves to the Whims of Tyrants; but soon, when the Automata take their Place as Heirs of the whole Earth, we shall be guided only by Reason, and live under Rulers which cannot hate, or persecute, or lie, or sin in any Way.

“But if we shall be ruled by Automata, why should we not also be served by Automata? Machines have always served Men, tho’ in a limited and primitive Capacity; but what great Accomplishments lie within our Grasp, when we shall have Machines of greater Capability to serve us!–Machines that shall build, or dig, or plough the Earth; Machines that shall row our Ships faster than the Wind, or push our Carriages; Machines that shall fly through the Air like Birds, and carry us away with ’em on Wings like those Daedalus once dreamed of. Famine shall be unknown; the most impossible and artistic Constructions shall be put up in a week; the most distant Climes shall be brought near, and the most distant Peoples made our proximate Neighbors. In short, the Want, Misery, Ugliness, and Hatred of our current Existence shall give way to an Age of Plenty, Happiness, Beauty, and Peace.”

Here I shall leave off my Writing: For if I recorded every Word that dropped from the Mouth of the celebrated Doctor, I should weary myself with the Writing of them, if not you with the Reading. But you shall hear more: For I have asked Doctor Albertus to bring his Automaton here for the Evening Thursday next, when the Doctor and his Creation shall be introduced to a number of Friends and Acquaintances of mine. I promise you a full Account of that Evening; in the Interim,

I remain, &c.

Continue to Part 5.