The Ablest Man in the World

"The Ablest Man in the World" is a short story by Edward Page Mitchell. It was written in 1879.

Plot summary

Dr. Fisher is spending his July holiday in Baden. While he is there, Baron Savitch, a rising Russian politician, is said to be ill by one of the hotel staff. Fisher is led into the baron’s room where he finds the baron ill and shaking. Fisher notices that the baron’s head is somewhat peculiar. The baron’s head has a black silk skullcap which Fisher removes and finds the top of the baron’s head to be a silver dome. The baron tells him to unscrew it but before he can, Dr. Rapperschwyll, the baron's doctor, comes in and tells Fisher to get out.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding Savitch, mostly concerning his humble beginnings to his rise in the Tsar's court after graduating from the University of Dorpat. Wanting to know more, Fisher confronts Rapperschwyll at an old observation tower when the ladder falls and they find themselves trapped up there for hours. Rapperschwyll, after swearing Fisher to secrecy, tells him the story of Baron Savitch.

Baron Savitch grew up in a mental asylum and was mute and retarded. Rapperschwyll found him there one day and with his skill in medicine and watch making he made a clockwork brain for Savitch similar to Charles Babbage's difference engine. With this mechanical brain, Baron Savitch cannot make a mistake and with time will rise to become the next Napoleon.

Later in Paris, Fisher finds Baron Savitch on a diplomatic mission. He learns Savitch will soon marry and is disgusted by the idea of a women being married to a machine. He finds that Rapperschwyll has returned to his native Switzerland, visiting his dying mother. With this knowledge, Fisher waits for the baron to feel ill again. Once that has happened Fisher comes to his aid as a doctor. With the baron's guard down, Fisher takes his brain, runs off with it and later throws it into the Atlantic ocean on his return trip to America.

Originally published unattributed in the NY Sun May 4 1879. Reprinted in The Crystal Man: Stories by Edward Page Mitchell, Sam Moskowitz, ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973.

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