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    Chapter 1
    _Romances of the future, however fantastic they may be, have for most
    of us a perennial if mild interest, since they are born of a very common
    feeling--a sense of dissatisfaction with the existing order of things,
    combined with a vague faith in or hope of a better one to come. The
    picture put before us is false; we knew it would be false before looking
    at it, since we cannot imagine what is unknown any more than we can
    build without materials. Our mental atmosphere surrounds and shuts us in
    like our own skins; no one can boast that he has broken out of that
    prison. The vast, unbounded prospect lies before us, but, as the poet
    mournfully adds, "clouds and darkness rest upon it." Nevertheless we
    cannot suppress all curiosity, or help asking one another, What is your
    dream--your ideal? What is your News from Nowhere, or, rather, what is
    the result of the little shake your hand has given to the old pasteboard
    toy with a dozen bits of colored glass for contents? And, most important
    of all, can you present it in a narrative or romance which will enable
    me to pass an idle hour not disagreeably? How, for instance, does it
    compare in this respect with other prophetic books on the shelf?_

    _I am not referring to living authors; least of all to that flamingo of
    letters who for the last decade or so has been a wonder to our island
    birds. For what could I say of him that is not known to every one--that
    he is the tallest of fowls, land or water, of a most singular shape, and
    has black-tipped crimson wings folded under his delicate rose-colored
    plumage? These other books referred to, written, let us say, from thirty
    or forty years to a century or two ago, amuse us in a way their poor
    dead authors never intended. Most amusing are the dead ones who take
    themselves seriously, whose books are pulpits quaintly carved and
    decorated with precious stones and silken canopies in which they stand
    and preach to or at their contemporaries._

    _In like manner, in going through this book of mine after so many years I
    am amused at the way it is colored by the little cults and crazes, and
    modes of thought of the 'eighties of the last century. They were so
    important then, and now, if remembered at all, they appear so trivial!
    It pleases me to be diverted in this way at "A Crystal Age"--to find, in
    fact, that I have not stood still while the world has been moving._

    _This criticism refers to the case, the habit, of the book rather than
    to its spirit, since when we write we do, as the red man thought, impart
    something of our souls to the paper, and it is probable that if I were
    to write a new dream of the future it would, though in some respects
    very different from this, still be a dream and picture of the human race
    in its forest period._

    _Alas that in this case the wish cannot induce belief! For now I remember
    another thing which Nature said--that earthly excellence can come in no
    way but one, and the ending of passion and strife is the beginning of
    decay. It is indeed a hard saying, and the hardest lesson we can learn
    of her without losing love and bidding good-by forever to hope._

    W. H. H.
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