Previous Section. Link to Book Room 
Next Section.

Section 10. Of the Suppression of the Chromatic Sedition

Edwin A. Abbott (1838-1926)

Section 10.  Of the Suppression of the Chromatic Sedition

The agitation for the Universal Colour Bill continued for three years;

and up to the last moment of that period it seemed as though Anarchy

were destined to triumph.

A whole army of Polygons, who turned out to fight as private soldiers,

was utterly annihilated by a superior force of Isosceles Triangles --

the Squares and Pentagons meanwhile remaining neutral.

Worse than all, some of the ablest Circles fell a prey to

conjugal fury.  Infuriated by political animosity, the wives

in many a noble household wearied their lords with prayers

to give up their opposition to the Colour Bill; and some,

finding their entreaties fruitless, fell on and slaughtered

their innocent children and husband, perishing themselves in the act

of carnage.  It is recorded that during that triennial agitation

no less than twenty-three Circles perished in domestic discord.

Great indeed was the peril.  It seemed as though the Priests

had no choice between submission and extermination; when suddenly

the course of events was completely changed by one of those

picturesque incidents which Statesmen ought never to neglect,

often to anticipate, and sometimes perhaps to originate,

because of the absurdly disproportionate power with which they appeal

to the sympathies of the populace.

It happened that an Isosceles of a low type, with a brain little

if at all above four degrees -- accidentally dabbling in the colours

of some Tradesman whose shop he had plundered -- painted himself,

or caused himself to be painted (for the story varies)

with the twelve colours of a Dodecagon.  Going into the Market Place

he accosted in a feigned voice a maiden, the orphan daughter

of a noble Polygon, whose affection in former days he had sought

in vain; and by a series of deceptions -- aided, on the one side,

by a string of lucky accidents too long to relate, and on the other,

by an almost inconceivable fatuity and neglect of ordinary precautions

on the part of the relations of the bride -- he succeeded in

consummating the marriage.  The unhappy girl committed suicide

on discovering the fraud to which she had been subjected.

When the news of this catastrophe spread from State to State

the minds of the Women were violently agitated.  Sympathy with

the miserable victim and anticipations of similar deceptions

for themselves, their sisters, and their daughters, made them

now regard the Colour Bill in an entirely new aspect.

Not a few openly avowed themselves converted to antagonism;

the rest needed only a slight stimulus to make a similar avowal.

Seizing this favourable opportunity, the Circles hastily convened

an extraordinary Assembly of the States; and besides the usual

guard of Convicts, they secured the attendance of a large number

of reactionary Women.

Amidst an unprecedented concourse, the Chief Circle of those days

-- by name Pantocyclus -- arose to find himself hissed and hooted

by a hundred and twenty thousand Isosceles.  But he secured silence

by declaring that henceforth the Circles would enter on a policy

of Concession; yielding to the wishes of the majority,

they would accept the Colour Bill.  The uproar being at once converted

to applause, he invited Chromatistes, the leader of the Sedition,

into the centre of the hall, to receive in the name of his followers

the submission of the Hierarchy.  Then followed a speech,

a masterpiece of rhetoric, which occupied nearly a day

in the delivery, and to which no summary can do justice.

With a grave appearance of impartiality he declared that as

they were now finally committing themselves to Reform or Innovation,

it was desirable that they should take one last view of the perimeter

of the whole subject, its defects as well as its advantages.

Gradually introducing the mention of the dangers to the Tradesmen,

the Professional Classes and the Gentlemen, he silenced

the rising murmurs of the Isosceles by reminding them that,

in spite of all these defects, he was willing to accept the Bill

if it was approved by the majority.  But it was manifest that all,

except the Isosceles, were moved by his words and were either

neutral or averse to the Bill.

Turning now to the Workmen he asserted that their interests must not

be neglected, and that, if they intended to accept the Colour Bill,

they ought at least to do so with full view of the consequences.

Many of them, he said, were on the point of being admitted to

the class of the Regular Triangles; others anticipated

for their children a distinction they could not hope for themselves.

That honourable ambition would now have to be sacrificed.

With the universal adoption of Colour, all distinctions would cease;

Regularity would be confused with Irregularity; development would

give place to retrogression; the Workman would in a few generations

be degraded to the level of the Military, or even the Convict Class;

political power would be in the hands of the greatest number,

that is to say the Criminal Classes, who were already more numerous

than the Workmen, and would soon out-number all the other Classes

put together when the usual Compensative Laws of Nature were violated.

A subdued murmur of assent ran through the ranks of the Artisans,

and Chromatistes, in alarm, attempted to step forward

and address them.  But he found himself encompassed with guards

and forced to remain silent while the Chief Circle in a few

impassioned words made a final appeal to the Women, exclaiming that,

if the Colour Bill passed, no marriage would henceforth be safe,

no woman's honour secure; fraud, deception, hypocrisy would pervade

every household; domestic bliss would share the fate

of the Constitution and pass to speedy perdition.  "Sooner than this,"

he cried, "Come death."

At these words, which were the preconcerted signal for action,

the Isosceles Convicts fell on and transfixed the wretched

Chromatistes; the Regular Classes, opening their ranks,

made way for a band of Women who, under direction of the Circles,

moved, back foremost, invisibly and unerringly upon

the unconscious soldiers; the Artisans, imitating the example

of their betters, also opened their ranks.  Meantime bands of Convicts

occupied every entrance with an impenetrable phalanx.

The battle, or rather carnage, was of short duration.

Under the skillful generalship of the Circles almost every Woman's

charge was fatal and very many extracted their sting uninjured,

ready for a second slaughter.  But no second blow was needed;

the rabble of the Isosceles did the rest of the business

for themselves.  Surprised, leader-less, attacked in front

by invisible foes, and finding egress cut off by the Convicts

behind them, they at once -- after their manner -- lost all presence

of mind, and raised the cry of "treachery".  This sealed their fate.

Every Isosceles now saw and felt a foe in every other.

In half an hour not one of that vast multitude was living;

and the fragments of seven score thousand of the Criminal Class

slain by one another's angles attested the triumph of Order.

The Circles delayed not to push their victory to the uttermost.

The Working Men they spared but decimated.  The Militia of

the Equilaterals was at once called out; and every Triangle

suspected of Irregularity on reasonable grounds, was destroyed

by Court Martial, without the formality of exact measurement

by the Social Board.  The homes of the Military and Artisan classes

were inspected in a course of visitations extending through

upwards of a year; and during that period every town, village,

and hamlet was systematically purged of that excess of

the lower orders which had been brought about by the neglect to pay

the tribute of Criminals to the Schools and University,

and by the violation of the other natural Laws of the Constitution

of Flatland.  Thus the balance of classes was again restored.

Needless to say that henceforth the use of Colour was abolished,

and its possession prohibited.  Even the utterance of any word

denoting Colour, except by the Circles or by qualified

scientific teachers, was punished by a severe penalty.  Only at

our University in some of the very highest and most esoteric classes

-- which I myself have never been privileged to attend --

it is understood that the sparing use of Colour is still sanctioned

for the purpose of illustrating some of the deeper problems

of mathematics.  But of this I can only speak from hearsay.

Elsewhere in Flatland, Colour is now non-existent.  The art

of making it is known to only one living person, the Chief Circle

for the time being; and by him it is handed down on his death-bed

to none but his Successor.  One manufactory alone produces it; and,

lest the secret should be betrayed, the Workmen are annually consumed,

and fresh ones introduced.  So great is the terror with which even now

our Aristocracy looks back to the far-distant days of the agitation

for the Universal Colour Bill.

Previous Section. Link to Book Room 
Next Section.


This World Wide Web document is a personal research project motivated by the following claim: "Truth is the object of Knowledge of whatever kind; and when we inquire what is meant by Truth, I suppose it is right to answer that Truth means facts and their relations, which stand towards each other pretty much as subjects and predicates in logic. All that exists, as contemplated by the human mind, forms one large system or complex fact, and this of course resolves itself into an indefinite number of particular facts, which, as being portions of a whole, have countless relations of every kind, one towards another." (The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman, 1801-1890)

Top of Page