Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.


H.G. WELLS

A VISION OF THE PAST

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on an image created with Microsoft Bing software


Ex Libris

First published in The Science Schools Journal,
The Royal College of Science, June 1887,
as by "Sosthenes Smith"

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2024
Version Date: 2024-02-13

Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author


IT was a sultry afternoon in July. For three hours had I been toiling along a straight and exceedingly dusty road—Roman in origin, rectitude, and grit—and having reached the foot of a steep hill, and feeling exceedingly weary, I sought some shade where I might rest. Hard by the road I observed a narrow foot-path, and following this I came to a tenebrous pine-forest, and there, lying down to meditate, I presently fell asleep, and lo! I dreamed a dream.

It seemed to me that I was being borne rapidly through a swiftly changing scene, and I heard a voice like the rushing of wind through a forest say, "Come into the past—into the past." And then my flight ceased, and I was let to the ground with some force.

Although still reposing at the foot of a tree, I was no longer in a pine-wood. A vast plain stretched around me to the horizon in all directions save one, where in the distance a volcanic peak rose high into the liquid atmosphere. Between where I lay and this peak was a wide calm lake, across which faint ripples were sweeping before a gentle breeze. The shore nearest me was low and marshy, but on the opposite side there arose steep cliffs from the waterís edge. Behind these came a series of low hills, and finally the peak behind all. The plain appeared covered by some kind of moss unknown to me, and clumps of unfamiliar trees were frequent. To the vegetation around me, however, I paid but little heed, as my attention was almost immediately attracted, and powerful emotions awakened, by the sight of a strange living form.

On the marshy border of the lake a reptile-like creature, heavy and ungainly, was slowly moving along. Its head was turned from me; its knees nearly touched the ground; and hence its progressive movements were clumsy in the extreme. In particular I noticed that as it raised its foot preparatory to making a step it turned the sole backwards in a manner ludicrous to behold. After watching its movements for some time without being at all able to comprehend what the object of these movements might be, I began to imagine that its only object must be the making of footmarks in the mud. This appeared to me a strange and useless proceeding.

With the intent to benefit science, I attempted to identify the nature of this creature; but, being only accustomed to identify by means of bones and of teeth, I could not do so in this case, because its bones were hidden by its flesh, and because a certain diffidence, that I now feel inclined to regret, prevented any examination of its teeth.

After a time this uncouth beast began slowly to turn round towards me, and then, indeed, I beheld what appeared to me more surprising than all the other grotesque features I had observed; for this strange beast had three eyes, one being in the centre of its forehead; and it looked at me with all three in such a manner that the strangest feelings of fear and trembling were aroused within me, and I made a vain effort to shift myself back a century or so. I was right glad when at length it turned its weird gaze once more towards the lake. At the same time that it did this it made a noise such as I had never before heard, and I live in the faith and the hope that I never shall hear it again. The auditory impression is ineffaceably impressed upon my memory, but I lack words, and hesitate even to attempt, to convey its horrors to the minds of my readers.

Immediately after this sound the calm waters of the lake were disturbed, and there soon appeared above the surface the heads of numerous creatures like unto the first. These all swam rapidly towards the spot where this one stood, and dragged themselves on to the shore; and then I plainly observed what seemed the very strangest thing of all in these creatures—to wit, that they were able to converse together by means of sounds.

And here, alas! I must tell of the greatest loss to science that there has been for many a year; for when I had recovered from my surprise at hearing these strange creatures converse with one another, there flashed upon my mind a process of reasoning by which one could deduce the possession of speaking powers by these beasts from the characters of their lumbar vertebrae. But, sad to relate! I have tried in vain to recall this train of reasoning, which might have proved so valuable in the investigation of many fossil creatures. Many a sleepless night have I spent in trying to recall it, but in vain. I believe the method was to find something about the spinal cord from the vertebrae, about the brain from the spinal cord, and about language from the brain.

But to return to my dream. I was by this time too accustomed to strange things to be in any degree astonished on finding that I could understand what these creatures said, though whether by telepathy or other means it was that I understood them I know not.

They were plainly engaged in listening to a philosophic discourse by the one I had first seen. They stood (or kneeled, for there was little difference between these two postures) around this one in a semi-circle. He gravely closed his median eye (which I took to be his manner of expressing the feeling of solemnity), and then began thuswise: "O NÍm" (which I took to be the name of these creatures), "happy in being NÍm, thrice happy in being NÍm of Dnalgne" (which I took to be the name of that tribe of NÍm to which these belonged), "look at the wondrous world around, and think that it is for our use that this world has been formed. Look at the strata displayed in yon scarped cliff, and the facts which they record of the past history of this earth during the many ages in which it has slowly been preparing itself for the reception of us, the culminating point of all existence, the noblest of all beings who have ever existed or ever will exist."

Here all the listeners violently winked their median eye, which I took to be a sign of applause and commendation.

"Observe our structure, and see how far removed we are from all other living creatures. Think of the wondrous and complicated structure of our teeth; recollect that we alone of living creatures possess the two methods of breathing at different stages in our life, that our median eye is developed to an extent unknown among all the lower animals. Think of all these things, and be proud" (violent winking of the median eye). "And if such we are at present, what may we not expect the future to have in store for us? During all the vast ages to come we shall continue upon this earth, while lower beings pass away and are replaced. This world is ours for ever, and we must progress for ever unto infinite perfection." (Convulsive working of the median eye, accompanied by strange snorting sounds.)

Hitherto I had listened with great amusement at the absurd claims to such a lofty position, made by a creature so inferior to myself in all respects as this philosophic amphibian; but at this point I could no longer restrain myself, and rushing forward I addressed him thuswise:

"O, foolish creature! Think you yourself the great end of all creation? Know, then, that you are but a poor amphibian; that, far from lasting for ever, your race will in a few million years—a trifle in comparison with the enormous lapses of geological chronology—be wholly extinct; that higher forms than you will, by insensible gradations, spring from you and succeed you; that you are here only for the purpose of preparing the earth for the reception of those higher forms, which in turn will but prepare it for the advent of that glorious race of reasoning and soul-possessing beings, who, through the endless aeons of the future, will never cease their onward march towards infinite perfection—a race of which I—" But at this point I began to perceive that my eloquence was not pleasing to my audience, and that they all began to move slowly but surely in directions converging on myself. No one who has not known (and which of my readers has?) the feelings aroused by the consciousness of being gazed at by three eyes appertaining to the same individual can form any conception of my feelings when I found myself so glared at by at least a score of three-eyed creatures, as they slowly crept nearer and nearer. Terror completely paralysed me; I could not move a step nor utter a sound. Slowly—so slowly that they scarcely seemed to move—did these creatures approach me, never for a moment ceasing that intense, awful gaze. Nearer and nearer they came, their huge mouths opened; they seemed ready to crush me between their powerful jaws—until at the moment when they seemed to touch me I made one despairing effort, and—I awoke, and behold! it was a dream.

I rose from my resting-place beneath the trees at once, for the evening was come and the grove had grown cold, and quickly made my way over the hill to the nearest railway station, glad to have safely returned into the more congenial atmosphere of the recent epoch.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.