Cyrus Smith lays a sick burn on Captain Nemo in Jules Verne’s “The Mysterious Island”


I’ve been reading Jules Verne’s L’île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island.) It’s about a bunch of Civil War prisoners who escape in a balloon, find themselves marooned on a desert island, and by a slow application of engineering principles build up food, shelter, defense, and eventually a working telegraph system.
Oh, and it has Captain Nemo.
Near the end, the engineer Cyrus Smith and Captain Nemo have a face-to-face where Nemo spills his guts about why he removed himself from society. Cyrus then lays a pretty sick burn on him, which I think cuts to the heart of engineering philosophy, so I’m quoting it here.
The original French, from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14287
Quelques instants de silence suivirent cette réponse, et le capitaine Nemo prononça de nouveau cette phrase:
«Que pensez-vous de moi, messieurs?»
Cyrus Smith tendit la main au capitaine, et, à sa demande, il répondit d’une voix grave:
«Capitaine, votre tort est d’avoir cru qu’on pouvait ressusciter le passé, et vous avez lutté contre le progrès nécessaire. Ce fut une de ces erreurs que les uns admirent, que les autres blâment, dont Dieu seul est juge et que la raison humaine doit absoudre. Celui qui se trompe dans une intention qu’il croit bonne, on peut le combattre, on ne cesse pas de l’estimer. Votre erreur est de celles qui n’excluent pas l’admiration, et votre nom n’a rien à redouter des jugements de l’histoire. Elle aime les héroïques folies, tout en condamnant les résultats qu’elles entraînent.»
La poitrine du capitaine Nemo se souleva, et sa main se tendit vers le ciel.
«Ai-je eu tort, ai-je eu raison?» murmura-t-il.
And an English translation, by Jordan Stump:
These words met only with silence, and again Captain Nemo spoke:
“What do you think of me, gentlemen?”
Cyrus Smith stretched out his hand and answered gravely:
“Captain, your mistake was to believe you could bring back the past. You struggled against progress, which is a good and necessary thing. This is an error that some admire and others condemn, but God alone can judge of its virtue, and human reason can only pardon it. A man who errs through what he believes to be good intentions may well be denounced, but he will always be esteemed. Some may find much to praise in your error, and your name has nothing to fear from the judgment of history. History loves heroic follies, even as it condemns their consequences.”
Captain Nemo’s breast heaved, and he raised his hand heavenward.
“Was I right, was I wrong?” he murmured.
Compare and contrast: Luddites, John Henry, Kasparov vs. Deep Thought/Deep Blue, et al.
Comments (1)

  1. DataSec says:

    Sounds like Swiss family Robinson with out the sexual tension.

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