Since Aug 18, 2004
An Unfinished Communication
By Charles H. Hinton
republished in Speculations on the Fourth Dimension 1980
But even in the least attentive mood an unusual word, a misspelling, an incongruity of any kind has the power to attract the eye and cause it to send a signal to the brain. There was a house opposite which, by its carefully patched and preserved paint, its unbroken railings, seemed to suggest that it had struggled painfully to preserve appearances, and only succumbed finally because after all it was in Jetson Street. On the door was the unusual notice that took my eye. A plain drab board had the words
Mr. Smith, Unlearner
Of all the misdirected efforts towards earning a livelihood this, I thought, is the most futile, and I paused to smile at the foolishness that put it up. What weary, dull-eyed failure was it who, unable to succeed in any pursuit, advertised himself as willing to impart his incapacity to others? But as I stopped there somehow came into my mind the idea, that genuine services such as this foolish creature pretended to offer might not be unacceptable to myself. How pleasant it would be to let pass away some of that verbiage I learnt at school--learnt because teachers must live, I suppose. The apeing and prolonged caw called grammar, the cackling of the human hen over the egg of language--I should like to unlearn grammar. The sense came over me, faintly at first, but gathering strength, of how much I should owe to any man who would rid me of what I learned at college--that plastering over of the face of nature, that series of tricks and devices whereby they teach a man knowing nothing of reality to talk of it as if he did. There passed before my mind that pallid series of ghosts, ghosts of what had once been some man's living, practical work, the books by which professors--because they must live, I suppose--keep younger men from life and work.
A gleam of hope came over me that I might forget my philosophy lectures and the teachings of that bespectacled Doctor of all the sciences, who always turned the handle the wrong way, while he told us the principles by which things go. The line at infinity, it would be nice to forget that; and the unconscious will--the principle of being and not being too, which, not much in itself, yet, like an active commercial traveller, makes business at both ends.
It would be pleasant too to forget the Darwinian theory, which tells me things are as they are because they are not something else; and astronomy, which kicks the globe into companionless cold space; and physics, which tells us we are but the result of multitudes of moving particles. If all these were to sink and disappear from me, then perhaps I should be face to face with something not a specter, not an instance and example of a phase, a formula, a barren set of words.
The letters stared me in the face unmistakably, for I had approached close to the house. When seen near, its apparent superiority to its surroundings vanished. But the inscription on the board was clear, emphatic, and, as paint was estimated in that street, of not such very ancient date.
Perhaps here, in this obscure corner, is some neglected philosopher, who, like Socrates, can teach a willing listener that he does not know. Perhaps at his words that hollow crust will crumble away, that is each man's idea of himself and his fellows, letting the man himself be known.
Could he really teach me not to know--to be as though I had not known--would not that be to forget? To pass out of those shades of vast and poisonous thoughts coeval with the race? Could he wipe out those foul ideas that pollute man's strength and woman's beauty--can he make the mind as though they had never been? Can he take away those thoughts that cast their withering shade over earth's fair flowers and turn the man to brute? Can he put an end to divided endeavors and self-contemptuous indifference?
If I could forget--lose consciousness of those ineptitudes which show me too plainly what I am; forget the helpless ending of all hope, the hollow emptiness that fills the place in me, of friendship, love, and truth.
Hastily I stepped up to the door and pulled the bell. But instead of a vigorous peal the wire creaked far in its bearings. I stood looking at the door--the paint had long lost all trace of its original color; it was covered with marks, chipped here and there in flakes, worn through where it had been rubbed and kicked by entering feet.
A curious gate, but it opened. In the dark passage I saw a woman, a little child was hanging to her gown; another smaller still she carried in her arms; from far beyond there came the sound of crying.
"Is Mr. Smith in?"
Behind the visions of my unfinished, ended life, I see the figure of the Unlearner, not standing as he did that day upon the sands, but receding, becoming larger, more and more remote, till he is like that space which lies beyond aught we can ever think of, and he seems to say: "Thou shalt attain at last, but so much must first be done."