A Crystal Age by W. H. Hudson
_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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