Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

A Pilgrimage To Perdition
by [?]

Sir Edwin Arnold is a profound optimist, and apparently not a little proud of it. He recently said to a reporter:

“The course of mankind is constantly towards perfection. I believe in humanity. I believe in the world’s great future. The trend of human events emphasizes the truth of this statement; though we may be horrified to-day by reading of a brute who butchers his wife, these events should not shake our faith. If we look at the matter philosophically we will see that they are a diminishing series, and that the world is growing grander and nobler,”

Optimism is a delightful thing, but is too frequently the result of ignorance. Sir Edwin is a learned and talented man, but he is evidently a stranger to the great world which he discusses so complacently and approvingly. The savant reposing in a palace-car, which is rushing through the midnight storm at a rate of fifty miles an hour, regards his situation with composure; but the unlettered engineer, whose eye is on the track,–who notes every slippery curve, swollen stream and overhanging bowlder,–who feels the motive power of that proud train swaying and plunging like a restless demon beneath his feet, is apt to be anxious enough.

Sir Edwin is a palace-car passenger on the great world- train, and knows little of the perils of the track. His coach rolls smooth, he takes his ease and indulges in optimistic moralizing, while those who serve him look death in the face so frequently that they learn to mock him,–to take desperate chances that may plunge them down to destruction and drag all else after. It has been my lot to look at life from the cab-windows, from the point of view of the man with the grimy hand and the soiled jacket. While Sir Edwin has been contemplating with dreamy interest the faraway purple hills, I have been compelled to scrutinize less giant objects closer at hand; hence it is not strange that my opinion of the world should differ somewhat from that entertained by the speculative author of “The Light of Asia.” In brief Sir Edwin knows all about the beauty, wealth and success which make earth a Paradise for the few; I something of that hideousness, poverty and despair that make it a Purgatory for the many. That world to which Sir Edwin belongs, and which he contemplates so approvingly, is but the gold-leaf on the graven image, the bright foam on the bosom of a bottomless sea, a verdant crust cast over a chaos of fierce despair,–which will some day rip it into a million ribbons, enact an all-embracing French Revolution that will sweep our boasted “Car of Progress” back a thousand years on the crimson crest of a wave of blood and fire! If Sir Edwin had explored the infernal vortex beneath his feet he would not talk so complacently of the “trend of human events.” For the benefit of Sir Edwin and many other wealthy and cultured palace-car passengers who amuse themselves with theories; who infer that because human slavery is abolished in the Occident and the thrones of the Orient are beginning to totter before the might of democracy; because science is marching on to triumph after triumph, and no Spanish Inquisition or English Court of High Commission longer casts its upas-shadow athwart the hearts of men, the great world is “growing nobler and better,” I hereby tender my services to pilot them through that Perdition which does not hover indeterminate in the inane limboes of dogmatic theology, but hath a well-defined latitude and longitude; is visual, tactual,–in which untold millions of mankind writhe and shriek from the cradle to the grave!

. . .

It is no long journey to the portals of the nether world. In many a costly church the worshipers may hear during the rests in the doxology the shrieks of the damned. A walk of a few blocks at most in any of our great, and many of our smaller American cities will enable us to enter that earthly Gehenna whose horrors the pen of Dante could scarce picture, which threatens to engulf the world. Even in Texas, a land so favored by the gods, so blest with brave men and noble women, we may enter the purlieus of the place of pain, across whose portal is inscribed the legend o’ dark despair; may commune with all Gehenna’s grisly gorgons and witness the writhings of thousands of wretched creatures beneath the fierce fire-whips of the infernal furies.