[This book is a series of letters, from Gabriel Weltstein, in New York, to his brother, Heinrich Weltstein, in the State of Uganda, Africa.]
New York, Sept. 10, 1988
My Dear Brother:
Here I am, at last, in the great city. My eyes are weary with gazing, and my mouth speechless with admiration; but in my brain rings perpetually the thought: Wonderful!—wonderful!—most wonderful!
What an infinite thing is man, as revealed in the tremendous civilization he has built up! These swarming, laborious, all-capable ants seem great enough to attack heaven itself, if they could but find a resting-place for their ladders. Who can fix a limit to the intelligence or the achievements of our species?
But our admiration may be here, and our hearts elsewhere. And so from all this glory and splendor I turn back to the old homestead, amid the high mountain valleys of Africa; to the primitive, simple shepherd-life; to my beloved mother, to you and to all our dear ones. This gorgeous, gilded room fades away, and I see the leaning hills, the trickling streams, the deep gorges where our woolly thousands graze; and I hear once more the echoing Swiss horns of our herdsmen reverberating from the snow-tipped mountains. But my dream is gone. The roar of the mighty city rises around me like the bellow of many cataracts.
New York contains now ten million inhabitants; it is the largest city that is, or ever has been, in the world. It is difficult to say where it begins or ends: for the villas extend, in almost unbroken succession, clear to Philadelphia; while east, west and north noble habitations spread out mile after mile, far beyond the municipal limits.
But the wonderful city! Let me tell you of it.
As we approached it in our air-ship, coming from the east, we could see, a hundred miles before we reached the continent, the radiance of its millions of magnetic lights, reflected on the sky, like the glare of a great conflagration. These lights are not fed, as in the old time, from electric dynamos, but the magnetism of the planet itself is harnessed for the use of man. That marvelous earth-force which the Indians called “the dance of the spirits,” and civilized man designated “the aurora borealis,” is now used to illuminate this great metropolis, with a clear, soft, white light, like that of the full moon, but many times brighter. And the force is so cunningly conserved that it is returned to the earth, without any loss of magnetic power to the planet. Man has simply made a temporary loan from nature for which he pays no interest.