Persian University Letter No. 4

The Seething Cauldron

My dear Usbek:

In my last letter I told you about an eccentric group of Satellites here at Dravrah whose sufficient reason for embracing every new doctrine that comes along is simply "Why not?" Since that disappointing experience I have been in the midst of a mad whirl that has distracted me without giving any clue to the riddle I am trying to solve. My observation convinces me that in spite of all their pother and noisy activity, few of these young men really know what they are about. Their universal rule seems to be: "Do something. Get busy Fill the hour. Make every minute count--never mind what it counts for--and in four years the magic of hustle-bustle will transform us into educated men."

In this Universe-City I find every type of mind and character that could be herded from the remotest ends of the earth, and the supreme purpose of every man seems to be to make a noise in his own peculiar way. I have always been under the impression, my dear Usbek, that education meant preparation, taken in its broadest sense. But here it seems to mean accomplishment, such as that is understood. These Satellites all want to draw the eyes of their fellows upon themselves, and if they fall, they think their education is a failure. They crave applause, and grant it too, upon the most extraordinary conditions.

On several occasions I witnessed their great athletic carnivals. Thousands of people assembled to watch a dozen or so men chase a greased pig about the field. These who showed the greatest skill in this performance were greeted with cheers that a king might envy and on the spot were made high priests in the temple of Brukzaus.

Some there are who even seek to win applause by study. Perhaps because of physical debility or fear of the more active competitions on the pig fields, they take refuge in their books, often memorizing entire volumes for the sake of the Prophezzors' praise. If that praise rings loud enough, they are shown more special honor. A special committee of Prophezzors awards to the men chosen a huge brass slab called for some strange reason, a "key." This device is worn in a very showy position just over their stomachs and bears the legend: "Reading maketh a full man. Behold my surfeit!"


Many other Satellites who have no visible claim to distinction are not to be put down by that circumstance. The next best thing to possessing distinction is to seem to possess it. So they confer upon each other various insignia in the form of seats made of lead but plated over with shining gold, which are engraved: "Save the surface and you save all."

Wherever I went among the Satellites I found one custom universally observed. Evidently it is a survival of some ancient tribal ceremony. Upon every occasion of rejoicing or lamentation, it doesn't matter which, the Satellites gather together to perform the mysteries of the "Passingout". For this purpose they immerse themselves in an occult liquid which possesses the incompatible qualities of both water and fire, for it looks like the one but acts like the other. What I have seen of this religious ceremony of the "Passingout" gives me excellent grounds for belief in the transmigration of souls.

After witnessing such varied performances masquerading under the guise of education, I could not but recall what the great philosopher, Odlaw-Hplar, once calmly asked of these same dashing young men: "So hot, my little sirs?"

I am very discouraged, my dear Usbek, and unless I soon discover some justification for the claim they make here at Dravrah that they educate men. I shall have to conclude that they don't. Mirza.

From Kambrij.

The last of the moon

of Rhamazan 1711.