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Section 11. Concerning our Priests

Edwin A. Abbott (1838-1926)

Section 11.  Concerning our Priests







It is high time that I should pass from these brief and discursive

notes about things in Flatland to the central event of this book,

my initiation into the mysteries of Space.  THAT is my subject;

all that has gone before is merely preface.



For this reason I must omit many matters of which the explanation

would not, I flatter myself, be without interest for my Readers:

as for example, our method of propelling and stopping ourselves,

although destitute of feet; the means by which we give fixity

to structures of wood, stone, or brick, although of course

we have no hands, nor can we lay foundations as you can,

nor avail ourselves of the lateral pressure of the earth;

the manner in which the rain originates in the intervals between

our various zones, so that the northern regions do not intercept

the moisture from falling on the southern; the nature of our

hills and mines, our trees and vegetables, our seasons and harvests;

our Alphabet and method of writing, adapted to our linear tablets;

these and a hundred other details of our physical existence I must

pass over, nor do I mention them now except to indicate to my readers

that their omission proceeds not from forgetfulness on the part of

the author, but from his regard for the time of the Reader.



Yet before I proceed to my legitimate subject some few

final remarks will no doubt be expected by my Readers upon those

pillars and mainstays of the Constitution of Flatland,

the controllers of our conduct and shapers of our destiny,

the objects of universal homage and almost of adoration:

need I say that I mean our Circles or Priests?



When I call them Priests, let me not be understood as meaning

no more than the term denotes with you.  With us, our Priests

are Administrators of all Business, Art, and Science;

Directors of Trade, Commerce, Generalship, Architecture, Engineering,

Education, Statesmanship, Legislature, Morality, Theology;

doing nothing themselves, they are the Causes of everything

worth doing, that is done by others.



Although popularly everyone called a Circle is deemed a Circle,

yet among the better educated Classes it is known that no Circle

is really a Circle, but only a Polygon with a very large number

of very small sides.  As the number of the sides increases,

a Polygon approximates to a Circle; and, when the number

is very great indeed, say for example three or four hundred,

it is extremely difficult for the most delicate touch to feel

any polygonal angles.  Let me say rather, it WOULD be difficult:

for, as I have shown above, Recognition by Feeling is unknown

among the highest society, and to FEEL a Circle would be considered

a most audacious insult.  This habit of abstention from Feeling

in the best society enables a Circle the more easily to sustain

the veil of mystery in which, from his earliest years, he is wont

to enwrap the exact nature of his Perimeter or Circumference.

Three feet being the average Perimeter it follows that,

in a Polygon of three hundred sides each side will be no more than

the hundredth part of a foot in length, or little more than the tenth

part of an inch; and in a Polygon of six or seven hundred sides

the sides are little larger than the diameter of a Spaceland pin-head.

It is always assumed, by courtesy, that the Chief Circle

for the time being has ten thousand sides.



The ascent of the posterity of the Circles in the social scale

is not restricted, as it is among the lower Regular classes,

by the Law of Nature which limits the increase of sides to one

in each generation.  If it were so, the number of sides in a Circle

would be a mere question of pedigree and arithmetic,

and the four hundred and ninety-seventh descendant of

an Equilateral Triangle would necessarily be a Polygon with

five hundred sides.  But this is not the case.  Nature's Law

prescribes two antagonistic decrees affecting Circular propagation;

first, that as the race climbs higher in the scale of development,

so development shall proceed at an accelerated pace; second,

that in the same proportion, the race shall become less fertile.

Consequently in the home of a Polygon of four or five hundred sides

it is rare to find a son; more than one is never seen.

On the other hand the son of a five-hundred-sided Polygon has been

known to possess five hundred and fifty, or even six hundred sides.



Art also steps in to help the process of the higher Evolution.

Our physicians have discovered that the small and tender sides

of an infant Polygon of the higher class can be fractured,

and his whole frame re-set, with such exactness that a Polygon

of two or three hundred sides sometimes -- by no means always,

for the process is attended with serious risk -- but sometimes

overleaps two or three hundred generations, and as it were doubles

at a stroke, the number of his progenitors and the nobility

of his descent.



Many a promising child is sacrificed in this way.  Scarcely one

out of ten survives.  Yet so strong is the parental ambition

among those Polygons who are, as it were, on the fringe of

the Circular class, that it is very rare to find a Nobleman

of that position in society, who has neglected to place his first-born

in the Circular Neo-Therapeutic Gymnasium before he has attained

the age of a month.



One year determines success or failure.  At the end of that time

the child has, in all probability, added one more to the tombstones

that crowd the Neo-Therapeutic Cemetery; but on rare occasions

a glad procession bears back the little one to his exultant parents,

no longer a Polygon, but a Circle, at least by courtesy:

and a single instance of so blessed a result induces multitudes

of Polygonal parents to submit to similar domestic sacrifices,

which have a dissimilar issue.

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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)


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