THE WORLD SET FREE was written in 1913 and published early in 1914, and
it is the latest of a series of three fantasias of possibility, stories
which all turn on the possible developments in the future of some
contemporary force or group of forces. The World Set Free was written
under the immediate shadow of the Great War. Every intelligent person in
the world felt that disaster was impending and knew no way of averting
it, but few of us realised in the earlier half of 1914 how near the
crash was to us. The reader will be amused to find that here it is put
off until the year 1956. He may naturally want to know the reason for
what will seem now a quite extraordinary delay. As a prophet, the author
must confess he has always been inclined to be rather a slow prophet.
The war aeroplane in the world of reality, for example, beat the
forecast in Anticipations by about twenty years or so. I suppose a
desire not to shock the sceptical reader's sense of use and wont and
perhaps a less creditable disposition to hedge, have something to do
with this dating forward of one's main events, but in the particular
case of The World Set Free there was, I think, another motive in holding
the Great War back, and that was to allow the chemist to get well
forward with his discovery of the release of atomic energy. 1956--or for
that matter 2056--may be none too late for that crowning revolution in
human potentialities. And apart from this procrastination of over forty
years, the guess at the opening phase of the war was fairly lucky; the
forecast of an alliance of the Central Empires, the opening campaign
through the Netherlands, and the despatch of the British Expeditionary
Force were all justified before the book had been published six months.
And the opening section of Chapter the Second remains now, after the
reality has happened, a fairly adequate diagnosis of the essentials of
the matter. One happy hit (in Chapter the Second, Section 2), on which
the writer may congratulate himself, is the forecast that under modern
conditions it would be quite impossible for any great general to emerge
to supremacy and concentrate the enthusiasm of the armies of either
side. There could be no Alexanders or Napoleons. And we soon heard the
scientific corps muttering, 'These old fools,' exactly as it is here
These, however, are small details, and the misses in the story far
outnumber the hits. It is the main thesis which is still of interest
now; the thesis that because of the development of scientific knowledge,
separate sovereign states and separate sovereign empires are no longer
possible in the world, that to attempt to keep on with the old system
is to heap disaster upon disaster for mankind and perhaps to destroy
our race altogether. The remaining interest of this book now is the
sustained validity of this thesis and the discussion of the possible
ending of war on the earth. I have supposed a sort of epidemic of sanity
to break out among the rulers of states and the leaders of mankind. I
have represented the native common sense of the French mind and of
the English mind--for manifestly King Egbert is meant to be 'God's
Englishman'--leading mankind towards a bold and resolute effort of
salvage and reconstruction. Instead of which, as the school book
footnotes say, compare to-day's newspaper. Instead of a frank and
honourable gathering of leading men, Englishman meeting German and
Frenchman Russian, brothers in their offences and in their disaster,
upon the hills of Brissago, beheld in Geneva at the other end of
Switzerland a poor little League of (Allied) Nations (excluding the
United States, Russia, and most of the 'subject peoples' of the world),
meeting obscurely amidst a world-wide disregard to make impotent
gestures at the leading problems of the debacle. Either the disaster has
not been vast enough yet or it has not been swift enough to inflict the
necessary moral shock and achieve the necessary moral revulsion. Just as
the world of 1913 was used to an increasing prosperity and thought that
increase would go on for ever, so now it would seem the world is growing
accustomed to a steady glide towards social disintegration, and thinks
that that too can go on continually and never come to a final bump.
So soon do use and wont establish themselves, and the most flaming and
thunderous of lessons pale into disregard.
The question whether a Leblanc is still possible, the question whether
it is still possible to bring about an outbreak of creative sanity in
mankind, to avert this steady glide to destruction, is now one of the
most urgent in the world. It is clear that the writer is temperamentally
disposed to hope that there is such a possibility. But he has to
confess that he sees few signs of any such breadth of understanding and
steadfastness of will as an effectual effort to turn the rush of human
affairs demands. The inertia of dead ideas and old institutions carries
us on towards the rapids. Only in one direction is there any plain
recognition of the idea of a human commonweal as something overriding
any national and patriotic consideration, and that is in the working
class movement throughout the world. And labour internationalism is
closely bound up with conceptions of a profound social revolution. If
world peace is to be attained through labour internationalism, it will
have to be attained at the price of the completest social and economic
reconstruction and by passing through a phase of revolution that will
certainly be violent, that may be very bloody, which may be prolonged
through a long period, and may in the end fail to achieve anything but
social destruction. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it is in the
labour class, and the labour class alone, that any conception of a world
rule and a world peace has so far appeared. The dream of The World Set
Free, a dream of highly educated and highly favoured leading and ruling
men, voluntarily setting themselves to the task of reshaping the world,
has thus far remained a dream.
H. G. WELLS.
EASTON GLEBE, DUNMOW, 1921.
PRELUDE THE SUN SNARERS
CHAPTER THE FIRST THE NEW SOURCE OF ENERGY
CHAPTER THE SECOND THE LAST WAR
CHAPTER THE THIRD THE ENDING OF WAR
CHAPTER THE FOURTH THE NEW PHASE
CHAPTER THE FIFTH THE LAST DAYS OF MARCUS KARENIN
THE SUN SNARERS
THE history of mankind is the history of the attainment of external
power. Man is the tool-using, fire-making animal. From the outset of his
terrestrial career we find him supplementing the natural strength and
bodily weapons of a beast by the heat of burning and the rough implement
of stone. So he passed beyond the ape. From that he expands. Presently
he added to himself the power of the horse and the ox, he borrowed
the carrying strength of water and the driving force of the wind, he
quickened his fire by blowing, and his simple tools, pointed first
with copper and then with iron, increased and varied and became more
elaborate and efficient. He sheltered his heat in houses and made his
way easier by paths and roads. He complicated his social relationships
and increased his efficiency by the division of labour. He began to
store up knowledge. Contrivance followed contrivance, each making it
possible for a man to do more. Always down the lengthening record,
save for a set-back ever and again, he is doing more.... A quarter of
a million years ago the utmost man was a savage, a being scarcely
articulate, sheltering in holes in the rocks, armed with a rough-hewn
flint or a fire-pointed stick, naked, living in small family groups,
killed by some younger man so soon as his first virile activity
declined. Over most of the great wildernesses of earth you would have
sought him in vain; only in a few temperate and sub-tropical river
valleys would you have found the squatting lairs of his little herds, a
male, a few females, a child or so.
He knew no future then, no kind of life except the life he led. He fled
the cave-bear over the rocks full of iron ore and the promise of sword
and spear; he froze to death upon a ledge of coal; he drank water muddy
with the clay that would one day make cups of porcelain; he chewed the
ear of wild wheat he had plucked and gazed with a dim speculation in his
eyes at the birds that soared beyond his reach. Or suddenly he became
aware of the scent of another male and rose up roaring, his roars
the formless precursors of moral admonitions. For he was a great
individualist, that original, he suffered none other than himself.
So through the long generations, this heavy precursor, this ancestor
all of us, fought and bred and perished, changing almost imperceptibly.
Yet he changed. That keen chisel of necessity which sharpened the
tiger's claw age by age and fined down the clumsy Orchippus to the swift
grace of the horse, was at work upon him--is at work upon him still.
The clumsier and more stupidly fierce among him were killed soonest and
oftenest; the finer hand, the quicker eye, the bigger brain, the better
balanced body prevailed; age by age, the implements were a little better
made, the man a little more delicately adjusted to his possibilities. He
became more social; his herd grew larger; no longer did each man kill
or drive out his growing sons; a system of taboos made them tolerable
to him, and they revered him alive and soon even after he was dead, and
were his allies against the beasts and the rest of mankind. (But they
were forbidden to touch the women of the tribe, they had to go out and
capture women for themselves, and each son fled from his stepmother and
hid from her lest the anger of the Old Man should be roused. All the
world over, even to this day, these ancient inevitable taboos can be
traced.) And now instead of caves came huts and hovels, and the fire was
better tended and there were wrappings and garments; and so aided, the
creature spread into colder climates, carrying food with him, storing
food--until sometimes the neglected grass-seed sprouted again and gave a
first hint of agriculture.
And already there were the beginnings of leisure and thought.
Man began to think. There were times when he was fed, when his lusts
his fears were all appeased, when the sun shone upon the squatting-place
and dim stirrings of speculation lit his eyes. He scratched upon a bone
and found resemblance and pursued it and began pictorial art, moulded
the soft, warm clay of the river brink between his fingers, and found a
pleasure in its patternings and repetitions, shaped it into the form of
vessels, and found that it would hold water. He watched the streaming
river, and wondered from what bountiful breast this incessant water
came; he blinked at the sun and dreamt that perhaps he might snare it
and spear it as it went down to its resting-place amidst the distant
hills. Then he was roused to convey to his brother that once indeed he
had done so--at least that some one had done so--he mixed that perhaps
with another dream almost as daring, that one day a mammoth had been
beset; and therewith began fiction--pointing a way to achievement--and
the august prophetic procession of tales.
For scores and hundreds of centuries, for myriads of generations that
life of our fathers went on. From the beginning to the ripening of that
phase of human life, from the first clumsy eolith of rudely chipped
flint to the first implements of polished stone, was two or three
thousand centuries, ten or fifteen thousand generations. So slowly,
by human standards, did humanity gather itself together out of the dim
intimations of the beast. And that first glimmering of speculation, that
first story of achievement, that story-teller bright-eyed and flushed
under his matted hair, gesticulating to his gaping, incredulous
listener, gripping his wrist to keep him attentive, was the most
marvellous beginning this world has ever seen. It doomed the mammoths,
and it began the setting of that snare that shall catch the sun.
That dream was but a moment in a man's life, whose proper business it
seemed was to get food and kill his fellows and beget after the manner
of all that belongs to the fellowship of the beasts. About him, hidden
from him by the thinnest of veils, were the untouched sources of Power,
whose magnitude we scarcely do more than suspect even to-day, Power that
could make his every conceivable dream come real. But the feet of the
race were in the way of it, though he died blindly unknowing.
At last, in the generous levels of warm river valleys, where food is
abundant and life very easy, the emerging human overcoming his earlier
jealousies, becoming, as necessity persecuted him less urgently, more
social and tolerant and amenable, achieved a larger community. There
began a division of labour, certain of the older men specialised in
knowledge and direction, a strong man took the fatherly leadership in
war, and priest and king began to develop their roles in the opening
drama of man's history. The priest's solicitude was seed-time and
harvest and fertility, and the king ruled peace and war. In a hundred
river valleys about the warm, temperate zone of the earth there
were already towns and temples, a score of thousand years ago. They
flourished unrecorded, ignoring the past and unsuspicious of the future,
for as yet writing had still to begin.
Very slowly did man increase his demand upon the illimitable wealth
of Power that offered itself on every hand to him. He tamed certain
animals, he developed his primordially haphazard agriculture into a
ritual, he added first one metal to his resources and then another,
until he had copper and tin and iron and lead and gold and silver to
supplement his stone, he hewed and carved wood, made pottery, paddled
down his river until he came to the sea, discovered the wheel and made
the first roads. But his chief activity for a hundred centuries and
more, was the subjugation of himself and others to larger and larger
societies. The history of man is not simply the conquest of external
power; it is first the conquest of those distrusts and fiercenesses,
that self-concentration and intensity of animalism, that tie his hands
from taking his inheritance. The ape in us still resents association.
From the dawn of the age of polished stone to the achievement of the
Peace of the World, man's dealings were chiefly with himself and his
fellow man, trading, bargaining, law-making, propitiating, enslaving,
conquering, exterminating, and every little increment in Power, he
turned at once and always turns to the purposes of this confused
elaborate struggle to socialise. To incorporate and comprehend his
fellow men into a community of purpose became the last and greatest of
his instincts. Already before the last polished phase of the stone
age was over he had become a political animal. He made astonishingly
far-reaching discoveries within himself, first of counting and then of
writing and making records, and with that his town communities began to
stretch out to dominion; in the valleys of the Nile, the Euphrates, and
the great Chinese rivers, the first empires and the first written laws
had their beginnings. Men specialised for fighting and rule as soldiers
and knights. Later, as ships grew seaworthy, the Mediterranean which had
been a barrier became a highway, and at last out of a tangle of pirate
polities came the great struggle of Carthage and Rome. The history
of Europe is the history of the victory and breaking up of the Roman
Empire. Every ascendant monarch in Europe up to the last, aped Caesar
and called himself Kaiser or Tsar or Imperator or Kasir-i-Hind. Measured
by the duration of human life it is a vast space of time between that
first dynasty in Egypt and the coming of the aeroplane, but by the scale
that looks back to the makers of the eoliths, it is all of it a story of
Now during this period of two hundred centuries or more, this period
of the warring states, while men's minds were chiefly preoccupied by
politics and mutual aggression, their progress in the acquirement of
external Power was slow--rapid in comparison with the progress of the
old stone age, but slow in comparison with this new age of systematic
discovery in which we live. They did not very greatly alter the weapons
and tactics of warfare, the methods of agriculture, seamanship, their
knowledge of the habitable globe, or the devices and utensils of
domestic life between the days of the early Egyptians and the days when
Christopher Columbus was a child. Of course, there were inventions and
changes, but there were also retrogressions; things were found out and
then forgotten again; it was, on the whole, a progress, but it contained
no steps; the peasant life was the same, there were already priests and
lawyers and town craftsmen and territorial lords and rulers doctors,
wise women, soldiers and sailors in Egypt and China and Assyria and
south-eastern Europe at the beginning of that period, and they were
doing much the same things and living much the same life as they were in
Europe in A.D. 1500. The English excavators of the year A.D. 1900
could delve into the remains of Babylon and Egypt and disinter legal
documents, domestic accounts, and family correspondence that they could
read with the completest sympathy. There were great religious and
moral changes throughout the period, empires and republics replaced one
another, Italy tried a vast experiment in slavery, and indeed slavery
was tried again and again and failed and failed and was still to be
tested again and rejected again in the New World; Christianity and
Mohammedanism swept away a thousand more specialised cults, but
essentially these were progressive adaptations of mankind to
material conditions that must have seemed fixed for ever. The idea of
revolutionary changes in the material conditions of life would have been
entirely strange to human thought through all that time.
Yet the dreamer, the story-teller, was there still, waiting for his
opportunity amidst the busy preoccupations, the comings and goings, the
wars and processions, the castle building and cathedral building, the
arts and loves, the small diplomacies and incurable feuds, the crusades
and trading journeys of the middle ages. He no longer speculated
with the untrammelled freedom of the stone-age savage; authoritative
explanations of everything barred his path; but he speculated with a
better brain, sat idle and gazed at circling stars in the sky and mused
upon the coin and crystal in his hand. Whenever there was a certain
leisure for thought throughout these times, then men were to be found
dissatisfied with the appearances of things, dissatisfied with the
assurances of orthodox belief, uneasy with a sense of unread symbols
in the world about them, questioning the finality of scholastic wisdom.
Through all the ages of history there were men to whom this whisper had
come of hidden things about them. They could no longer lead ordinary
lives nor content themselves with the common things of this world once
they had heard this voice. And mostly they believed not only that all
this world was as it were a painted curtain before things unguessed at,
but that these secrets were Power. Hitherto Power had come to men by
chance, but now there were these seekers seeking, seeking among rare and
curious and perplexing objects, sometimes finding some odd utilisable
thing, sometimes deceiving themselves with fancied discovery, sometimes
pretending to find. The world of every day laughed at these eccentric
beings, or found them annoying and ill-treated them, or was seized
with fear and made saints and sorcerers and warlocks of them, or with
covetousness and entertained them hopefully; but for the greater part
heeded them not at all. Yet they were of the blood of him who had first
dreamt of attacking the mammoth; every one of them was of his blood and
descent; and the thing they sought, all unwittingly, was the snare that
will some day catch the sun.
Such a man was that Leonardo da Vinci, who went about the court of
Sforza in Milan in a state of dignified abstraction. His common-place
books are full of prophetic subtlety and ingenious anticipations of
the methods of the early aviators. Durer was his parallel and Roger
Bacon--whom the Franciscans silenced--of his kindred. Such a man again
in an earlier city was Hero of Alexandria, who knew of the power of
steam nineteen hundred years before it was first brought into use.
And earlier still was Archimedes of Syracuse, and still earlier the
legendary Daedalus of Cnossos. All up and down the record of history
whenever there was a little leisure from war and brutality the seekers
appeared. And half the alchemists were of their tribe.
When Roger Bacon blew up his first batch of gunpowder one might have
supposed that men would have gone at once to the explosive engine. But
they could see nothing of the sort. They were not yet beginning to think
of seeing things; their metallurgy was all too poor to make such
engines even had they thought of them. For a time they could not make
instruments sound enough to stand this new force even for so rough a
purpose as hurling a missile. Their first guns had barrels of coopered
timber, and the world waited for more than five hundred years before the
explosive engine came.
Even when the seekers found, it was at first a long journey before the
world could use their findings for any but the roughest, most obvious
purposes. If man in general was not still as absolutely blind to the
unconquered energies about him as his paleolithic precursor, he was at
The latent energy of coal and the power of steam waited long on the
verge of discovery, before they began to influence human lives.
There were no doubt many such devices as Hero's toys devised and
forgotten, time after time, in courts and palaces, but it needed that
coal should be mined and burning with plenty of iron at hand before it
dawned upon men that here was something more than a curiosity. And it is
to be remarked that the first recorded suggestion for the use of steam
was in war; there is an Elizabethan pamphlet in which it is proposed to
fire shot out of corked iron bottles full of heated water. The mining
of coal for fuel, the smelting of iron upon a larger scale than men had
ever done before, the steam pumping engine, the steam-engine and the
steam-boat, followed one another in an order that had a kind of logical
necessity. It is the most interesting and instructive chapter in
the history of the human intelligence, the history of steam from its
beginning as a fact in human consciousness to the perfection of the
great turbine engines that preceded the utilisation of intra-molecular
power. Nearly every human being must have seen steam, seen it
incuriously for many thousands of years; the women in particular were
always heating water, boiling it, seeing it boil away, seeing the lids
of vessels dance with its fury; millions of people at different times
must have watched steam pitching rocks out of volcanoes like cricket
balls and blowing pumice into foam, and yet you may search the whole
human record through, letters, books, inscriptions, pictures, for any
glimmer of a realisation that here was force, here was strength to
borrow and use.... Then suddenly man woke up to it, the railways spread
like a network over the globe, the ever enlarging iron steamships began
their staggering fight against wind and wave.
Steam was the first-comer in the new powers, it was the beginning of
Age of Energy that was to close the long history of the Warring States.
But for a long time men did not realise the importance of this novelty.
They would not recognise, they were not able to recognise that anything
fundamental had happened to their immemorial necessities. They called
the steam-engine the 'iron horse' and pretended that they had made the
most partial of substitutions. Steam machinery and factory production
were visibly revolutionising the conditions of industrial production,
population was streaming steadily in from the country-side and
concentrating in hitherto unthought-of masses about a few city centres,
food was coming to them over enormous distances upon a scale that
made the one sole precedent, the corn ships of imperial Rome, a petty
incident; and a huge migration of peoples between Europe and Western
Asia and America was in Progress, and--nobody seems to have realised
that something new had come into human life, a strange swirl different
altogether from any previous circling and mutation, a swirl like the
swirl when at last the lock gates begin to open after a long phase of
accumulating water and eddying inactivity....
The sober Englishman at the close of the nineteenth century could sit
at his breakfast-table, decide between tea from Ceylon or coffee from
Brazil, devour an egg from France with some Danish ham, or eat a New
Zealand chop, wind up his breakfast with a West Indian banana, glance at
the latest telegrams from all the world, scrutinise the prices current
of his geographically distributed investments in South Africa, Japan,
and Egypt, and tell the two children he had begotten (in the place of
his father's eight) that he thought the world changed very little. They
must play cricket, keep their hair cut, go to the old school he had gone
to, shirk the lessons he had shirked, learn a few scraps of Horace and
Virgil and Homer for the confusion of cads, and all would be well with
Electricity, though it was perhaps the earlier of the two to be studied,
invaded the common life of men a few decades after the exploitation of
steam. To electricity also, in spite of its provocative nearness all
about him, mankind had been utterly blind for incalculable ages. Could
anything be more emphatic than the appeal of electricity for attention?
It thundered at man's ears, it signalled to him in blinding flashes,
occasionally it killed him, and he could not see it as a thing that
concerned him enough to merit study. It came into the house with the cat
on any dry day and crackled insinuatingly whenever he stroked her fur.
It rotted his metals when he put them together.... There is no single
record that any one questioned why the cat's fur crackles or why hair
is so unruly to brush on a frosty day, before the sixteenth century.
For endless years man seems to have done his very successful best not to
think about it at all; until this new spirit of the Seeker turned itself
to these things.
How often things must have been seen and dismissed as unimportant,
before the speculative eye and the moment of vision came! It was
Gilbert, Queen Elizabeth's court physician, who first puzzled his brains
with rubbed amber and bits of glass and silk and shellac, and so began
the quickening of the human mind to the existence of this universal
presence. And even then the science of electricity remained a mere
little group of curious facts for nearly two hundred years, connected
perhaps with magnetism--a mere guess that--perhaps with the lightning.
Frogs' legs must have hung by copper hooks from iron railings and
twitched upon countless occasions before Galvani saw them. Except
for the lightning conductor, it was 250 years after Gilbert before
electricity stepped out of the cabinet of scientific curiosities into
the life of the common man.... Then suddenly, in the half-century
between 1880 and 1930, it ousted the steam-engine and took over
traction, it ousted every other form of household heating,
abolished distance with the perfected wireless telephone and the
And there was an extraordinary mental resistance to discovery and
invention for at least a hundred years after the scientific revolution
had begun. Each new thing made its way into practice against a
scepticism that amounted at times to hostility. One writer upon these
subjects gives a funny little domestic conversation that happened, he
says, in the year 1898, within ten years, that is to say, of the time
when the first aviators were fairly on the wing. He tells us how he sat
at his desk in his study and conversed with his little boy.
His little boy was in profound trouble. He felt he had to speak very
seriously to his father, and as he was a kindly little boy he did not
want to do it too harshly.
This is what happened.
'I wish, Daddy,' he said, coming to his point, 'that you wouldn't write
all this stuff about flying. The chaps rot me.'
'Yes!' said his father.
'And old Broomie, the Head I mean, he rots me. Everybody rots me.'
'But there is going to be flying--quite soon.'
The little boy was too well bred to say what he thought of that.
'Anyhow,' he said, 'I wish you wouldn't write about it.'
'You'll fly--lots of times--before you die,' the father assured him.
The little boy looked unhappy.
The father hesitated. Then he opened a drawer and took out a blurred
under-developed photograph. 'Come and look at this,' he said.
The little boy came round to him. The photograph showed a stream and
a meadow beyond, and some trees, and in the air a black, pencil-like
object with flat wings on either side of it. It was the first record of
the first apparatus heavier than air that ever maintained itself in the
air by mechanical force. Across the margin was written: 'Here we go up,
up, up--from S. P. Langley, Smithsonian Institution, Washington.'
The father watched the effect of this reassuring document upon his son.
'Well?' he said.
'That,' said the schoolboy, after reflection, 'is only a model.'
'Model to-day, man to-morrow.'
The boy seemed divided in his allegiance. Then he decided for what he
believed quite firmly to be omniscience. 'But old Broomie,' he said, 'he
told all the boys in his class only yesterday, "no man will ever fly."
No one, he says, who has ever shot grouse or pheasants on the wing would
ever believe anything of the sort....'
Yet that boy lived to fly across the Atlantic and edit his father's
At the close of the nineteenth century as a multitude of passages in
literature of that time witness, it was thought that the fact that man
had at last had successful and profitable dealings with the steam that
scalded him and the electricity that flashed and banged about the sky
at him, was an amazing and perhaps a culminating exercise of his
intelligence and his intellectual courage. The air of 'Nunc Dimittis'
sounds in same of these writings. 'The great things are discovered,'
wrote Gerald Brown in his summary of the nineteenth century. 'For us
there remains little but the working out of detail.' The spirit of
the seeker was still rare in the world; education was unskilled,
unstimulating, scholarly, and but little valued, and few people even
then could have realised that Science was still but the flimsiest of
trial sketches and discovery scarcely beginning. No one seems to have
been afraid of science and its possibilities. Yet now where there had
been but a score or so of seekers, there were many thousands, and
for one needle of speculation that had been probing the curtain of
appearances in 1800, there were now hundreds. And already Chemistry,
which had been content with her atoms and molecules for the better part
of a century, was preparing herself for that vast next stride that was
to revolutionise the whole life of man from top to bottom.
One realises how crude was the science of that time when one considers
the case of the composition of air. This was determined by that
strange genius and recluse, that man of mystery, that disembowelled
intelligence, Henry Cavendish, towards the end of the eighteenth
century. So far as he was concerned the work was admirably done.
He separated all the known ingredients of the air with a precision
altogether remarkable; he even put it upon record that he had some doubt
about the purity of the nitrogen. For more than a hundred years his
determination was repeated by chemists all the world over, his apparatus
was treasured in London, he became, as they used to say, 'classic,' and
always, at every one of the innumerable repetitions of his experiment,
that sly element argon was hiding among the nitrogen (and with a little
helium and traces of other substances, and indeed all the hints
that might have led to the new departures of the twentieth-century
chemistry), and every time it slipped unobserved through the
professorial fingers that repeated his procedure.
Is it any wonder then with this margin of inaccuracy, that up to the
very dawn of the twentieth-century scientific discovery was still rather
a procession of happy accidents than an orderly conquest of nature?
Yet the spirit of seeking was spreading steadily through the world. Even
the schoolmaster could not check it. For the mere handful who grew up to
feel wonder and curiosity about the secrets of nature in the nineteenth
century, there were now, at the beginning of the twentieth, myriads
escaping from the limitations of intellectual routine and the habitual
life, in Europe, in America, North and South, in Japan, in China, and
all about the world.
It was in 1910 that the parents of young Holsten, who was to be called
by a whole generation of scientific men, 'the greatest of European
chemists,' were staying in a villa near Santo Domenico, between Fiesole
and Florence. He was then only fifteen, but he was already distinguished
as a mathematician and possessed by a savage appetite to understand. He
had been particularly attracted by the mystery of phosphorescence and
its apparent unrelatedness to every other source of light. He was
to tell afterwards in his reminiscences how he watched the fireflies
drifting and glowing among the dark trees in the garden of the villa
under the warm blue night sky of Italy; how he caught and kept them in
cages, dissected them, first studying the general anatomy of insects
very elaborately, and how he began to experiment with the effect of
various gases and varying temperature upon their light. Then the chance
present of a little scientific toy invented by Sir William Crookes, a
toy called the spinthariscope, on which radium particles impinge upon
sulphide of zinc and make it luminous, induced him to associate the two
sets of phenomena. It was a happy association for his inquiries. It was
a rare and fortunate thing, too, that any one with the mathematical gift
should have been taken by these curiosities.
And while the boy Holsten was mooning over his fireflies at Fiesole,
a certain professor of physics named Rufus was giving a course of
afternoon lectures upon Radium and Radio-Activity in Edinburgh.
They were lectures that had attracted a very considerable amount of
attention. He gave them in a small lecture-theatre that had become more
and more congested as his course proceeded. At his concluding discussion
it was crowded right up to the ceiling at the back, and there people
were standing, standing without any sense of fatigue, so fascinating
did they find his suggestions. One youngster in particular, a
chuckle-headed, scrub-haired lad from the Highlands, sat hugging his
knee with great sand-red hands and drinking in every word, eyes aglow,
cheeks flushed, and ears burning.
'And so,' said the professor, 'we see that this Radium, which seemed
at first a fantastic exception, a mad inversion of all that was most
established and fundamental in the constitution of matter, is really at
one with the rest of the elements. It does noticeably and forcibly
what probably all the other elements are doing with an imperceptible
slowness. It is like the single voice crying aloud that betrays the
silent breathing multitude in the darkness. Radium is an element that
is breaking up and flying to pieces. But perhaps all elements are doing
that at less perceptible rates. Uranium certainly is; thorium--the stuff
of this incandescent gas mantle--certainly is; actinium. I feel that we
are but beginning the list. And we know now that the atom, that once
we thought hard and impenetrable, and indivisible and final
and--lifeless--lifeless, is really a reservoir of immense energy. That
is the most wonderful thing about all this work. A little while ago
we thought of the atoms as we thought of bricks, as solid building
material, as substantial matter, as unit masses of lifeless stuff,
and behold! these bricks are boxes, treasure boxes, boxes full of the
intensest force. This little bottle contains about a pint of uranium
oxide; that is to say, about fourteen ounces of the element uranium. It
is worth about a pound. And in this bottle, ladies and gentlemen, in the
atoms in this bottle there slumbers at least as much energy as we could
get by burning a hundred and sixty tons of coal. If at a word, in one
instant I could suddenly release that energy here and now it would blow
us and everything about us to fragments; if I could turn it into the
machinery that lights this city, it could keep Edinburgh brightly lit
for a week. But at present no man knows, no man has an inkling of how
this little lump of stuff can be made to hasten the release of its
store. It does release it, as a burn trickles. Slowly the uranium
changes into radium, the radium changes into a gas called the radium
emanation, and that again to what we call radium A, and so the process
goes on, giving out energy at every stage, until at last we reach the
last stage of all, which is, so far as we can tell at present, lead. But
we cannot hasten it.'
'I take ye, man,' whispered the chuckle-headed lad, with his red hands
tightening like a vice upon his knee. 'I take ye, man. Go on! Oh, go
The professor went on after a little pause. 'Why is the change gradual?'
he asked. 'Why does only a minute fraction of the radium disintegrate
in any particular second? Why does it dole itself out so slowly and
so exactly? Why does not all the uranium change to radium and all
the radium change to the next lowest thing at once? Why this decay by
driblets; why not a decay en masse? . . . Suppose presently we find it
is possible to quicken that decay?'
The chuckle-headed lad nodded rapidly. The wonderful inevitable idea
coming. He drew his knee up towards his chin and swayed in his seat with
excitement. 'Why not?' he echoed, 'why not?'
The professor lifted his forefinger.
'Given that knowledge,' he said, 'mark what we should be able to do!
should not only be able to use this uranium and thorium; not only should
we have a source of power so potent that a man might carry in his hand
the energy to light a city for a year, fight a fleet of battleships, or
drive one of our giant liners across the Atlantic; but we should also
have a clue that would enable us at last to quicken the process of
disintegration in all the other elements, where decay is still so slow
as to escape our finest measurements. Every scrap of solid matter in the
world would become an available reservoir of concentrated force. Do you
realise, ladies and gentlemen, what these things would mean for us?'
The scrub head nodded. 'Oh! go on. Go on.'
'It would mean a change in human conditions that I can only compare to
the discovery of fire, that first discovery that lifted man above the
brute. We stand to-day towards radio-activity as our ancestor stood
towards fire before he had learnt to make it. He knew it then only as
a strange thing utterly beyond his control, a flare on the crest of the
volcano, a red destruction that poured through the forest. So it is that
we know radio-activity to-day. This--this is the dawn of a new day in
human living. At the climax of that civilisation which had its beginning
in the hammered flint and the fire-stick of the savage, just when it
is becoming apparent that our ever-increasing needs cannot be borne
indefinitely by our present sources of energy, we discover suddenly the
possibility of an entirely new civilisation. The energy we need for our
very existence, and with which Nature supplies us still so grudgingly,
is in reality locked up in inconceivable quantities all about us. We
cannot pick that lock at present, but----'
He paused. His voice sank so that everybody strained a little to hear
He put up that lean finger again, his solitary gesture.
'And then,' he said. . . .
'Then that perpetual struggle for existence, that perpetual struggle
live on the bare surplus of Nature's energies will cease to be the lot
of Man. Man will step from the pinnacle of this civilisation to the
beginning of the next. I have no eloquence, ladies and gentlemen, to
express the vision of man's material destiny that opens out before me. I
see the desert continents transformed, the poles no longer wildernesses
of ice, the whole world once more Eden. I see the power of man reach out
among the stars....'
He stopped abruptly with a catching of the breath that many an actor
orator might have envied.
The lecture was over, the audience hung silent for a few seconds,
sighed, became audible, stirred, fluttered, prepared for dispersal. More
light was turned on and what had been a dim mass of figures became a
bright confusion of movement. Some of the people signalled to friends,
some crowded down towards the platform to examine the lecturer's
apparatus and make notes of his diagrams. But the chuckle-headed lad
with the scrub hair wanted no such detailed frittering away of the
thoughts that had inspired him. He wanted to be alone with them; he
elbowed his way out almost fiercely, he made himself as angular and
bony as a cow, fearing lest some one should speak to him, lest some one
should invade his glowing sphere of enthusiasm.
He went through the streets with a rapt face, like a saint who sees
visions. He had arms disproportionately long, and ridiculous big feet.
He must get alone, get somewhere high out of all this crowding of
commonness, of everyday life.
He made his way to the top of Arthur's Seat, and there he sat for a long
time in the golden evening sunshine, still, except that ever and again
he whispered to himself some precious phrase that had stuck in his mind.
'If,' he whispered, 'if only we could pick that lock. . . .'
The sun was sinking over the distant hills. Already it was shorn of its
beams, a globe of ruddy gold, hanging over the great banks of cloud that
would presently engulf it.
'Eh!' said the youngster. 'Eh!'
He seemed to wake up at last out of his entrancement, and the red
sun was there before his eyes. He stared at it, at first without
intelligence, and then with a gathering recognition. Into his mind
came a strange echo of that ancestral fancy, that fancy of a Stone Age
savage, dead and scattered bones among the drift two hundred thousand
'Ye auld thing,' he said--and his eyes were shining, and he made a kind
of grabbing gesture with his hand; 'ye auld red thing.... We'll have ye
CHAPTER THE FIRST
THE NEW SOURCE OF ENERGY
The problem which was already being mooted by such scientific men as
Ramsay, Rutherford, and Soddy, in the very beginning of the twentieth
century, the problem of inducing radio-activity in the heavier elements
and so tapping the internal energy of atoms, was solved by a wonderful
combination of induction, intuition, and luck by Holsten so soon as
the year 1933. From the first detection of radio-activity to its first
subjugation to human purpose measured little more than a quarter of
a century. For twenty years after that, indeed, minor difficulties
prevented any striking practical application of his success, but the
essential thing was done, this new boundary in the march of human
progress was crossed, in that year. He set up atomic disintegration in a
minute particle of bismuth; it exploded with great violence into a heavy
gas of extreme radio-activity, which disintegrated in its turn in the
course of seven days, and it was only after another year's work that he
was able to show practically that the last result of this rapid release
of energy was gold. But the thing was done--at the cost of a blistered
chest and an injured finger, and from the moment when the invisible
speck of bismuth flashed into riving and rending energy, Holsten knew
that he had opened a way for mankind, however narrow and dark it might
still be, to worlds of limitless power. He recorded as much in the
strange diary biography he left the world, a diary that was up to that
particular moment a mass of speculations and calculations, and which
suddenly became for a space an amazingly minute and human record of
sensations and emotions that all humanity might understand.
He gives, in broken phrases and often single words, it is true, but none
the less vividly for that, a record of the twenty-four hours following
the demonstration of the correctness of his intricate tracery of
computations and guesses. 'I thought I should not sleep,' he writes--the
words he omitted are supplied in brackets--(on account of) 'pain in
(the) hand and chest and (the) wonder of what I had done.... Slept like
He felt strange and disconcerted the next morning; he had nothing to
he was living alone in apartments in Bloomsbury, and he decided to go
up to Hampstead Heath, which he had known when he was a little boy as a
breezy playground. He went up by the underground tube that was then
the recognised means of travel from one part of London to another, and
walked up Heath Street from the tube station to the open heath. He
found it a gully of planks and scaffoldings between the hoardings of
house-wreckers. The spirit of the times had seized upon that narrow,
steep, and winding thoroughfare, and was in the act of making it
commodious and interesting, according to the remarkable ideals of
Neo-Georgian aestheticism. Such is the illogical quality of humanity
that Holsten, fresh from work that was like a petard under the seat
of current civilisation, saw these changes with regret. He had come up
Heath Street perhaps a thousand times, had known the windows of all the
little shops, spent hours in the vanished cinematograph theatre, and
marvelled at the high-flung early Georgian houses upon the westward
bank of that old gully of a thoroughfare; he felt strange with all these
familiar things gone. He escaped at last with a feeling of relief from
this choked alley of trenches and holes and cranes, and emerged upon the
old familiar scene about the White Stone Pond. That, at least, was very
much as it used to be.
There were still the fine old red-brick houses to left and right of
him; the reservoir had been improved by a portico of marble, the
white-fronted inn with the clustering flowers above its portico still
stood out at the angle of the ways, and the blue view to Harrow Hill
and Harrow spire, a view of hills and trees and shining waters and
wind-driven cloud shadows, was like the opening of a great window to
the ascending Londoner. All that was very reassuring. There was the same
strolling crowd, the same perpetual miracle of motors dodging through
it harmlessly, escaping headlong into the country from the Sabbatical
stuffiness behind and below them. There was a band still, a women's
suffrage meeting--for the suffrage women had won their way back to the
tolerance, a trifle derisive, of the populace again--socialist orators,
politicians, a band, and the same wild uproar of dogs, frantic with the
gladness of their one blessed weekly release from the back yard and
the chain. And away along the road to the Spaniards strolled a vast
multitude, saying, as ever, that the view of London was exceptionally
clear that day.
Young Holsten's face was white. He walked with that uneasy affectation
of ease that marks an overstrained nervous system and an under-exercised
body. He hesitated at the White Stone Pond whether to go to the left of
it or the right, and again at the fork of the roads. He kept shifting
his stick in his hand, and every now and then he would get in the way of
people on the footpath or be jostled by them because of the uncertainty
of his movements. He felt, he confesses, 'inadequate to ordinary
existence.' He seemed to himself to be something inhuman and
mischievous. All the people about him looked fairly prosperous, fairly
happy, fairly well adapted to the lives they had to lead--a week of work
and a Sunday of best clothes and mild promenading--and he had launched
something that would disorganise the entire fabric that held their
contentments and ambitions and satisfactions together. 'Felt like an
imbecile who has presented a box full of loaded revolvers to a Creche,'
He met a man named Lawson, an old school-fellow, of whom history now
knows only that he was red-faced and had a terrier. He and Holsten
walked together and Holsten was sufficiently pale and jumpy for Lawson
to tell him he overworked and needed a holiday. They sat down at a
little table outside the County Council house of Golders Hill Park and
sent one of the waiters to the Bull and Bush for a couple of bottles of
beer, no doubt at Lawson's suggestion. The beer warmed Holsten's rather
dehumanised system. He began to tell Lawson as clearly as he could to
what his great discovery amounted. Lawson feigned attention, but indeed
he had neither the knowledge nor the imagination to understand. 'In
the end, before many years are out, this must eventually change war,
transit, lighting, building, and every sort of manufacture, even
agriculture, every material human concern----'
Then Holsten stopped short. Lawson had leapt to his feet. 'Damn that
dog!' cried Lawson. 'Look at it now. Hi! Here! Phewoo--phewoo phewoo!
Come HERE, Bobs! Come HERE!'
The young scientific man, with his bandaged hand, sat at the green
table, too tired to convey the wonder of the thing he had sought so
long, his friend whistled and bawled for his dog, and the Sunday people
drifted about them through the spring sunshine. For a moment or so
Holsten stared at Lawson in astonishment, for he had been too intent
upon what he had been saying to realise how little Lawson had attended.
Then he remarked, 'WELL!' and smiled faintly, and--finished the tankard
of beer before him.
Lawson sat down again. 'One must look after one's dog,' he said, with
note of apology. 'What was it you were telling me?'
In the evening Holsten went out again. He walked to Saint Paul's
Cathedral, and stood for a time near the door listening to the evening
service. The candles upon the altar reminded him in some odd way of the
fireflies at Fiesole. Then he walked back through the evening lights to
Westminster. He was oppressed, he was indeed scared, by his sense of the
immense consequences of his discovery. He had a vague idea that night
that he ought not to publish his results, that they were premature, that
some secret association of wise men should take care of his work and
hand it on from generation to generation until the world was riper for
its practical application. He felt that nobody in all the thousands of
people he passed had really awakened to the fact of change, they trusted
the world for what it was, not to alter too rapidly, to respect their
trusts, their assurances, their habits, their little accustomed traffics
and hard-won positions.
He went into those little gardens beneath the over-hanging, brightly-lit
masses of the Savoy Hotel and the Hotel Cecil. He sat down on a seat and
became aware of the talk of the two people next to him. It was the
talk of a young couple evidently on the eve of marriage. The man was
congratulating himself on having regular employment at last; 'they like
me,' he said, 'and I like the job. If I work up--in'r dozen years or
so I ought to be gettin' somethin' pretty comfortable. That's the plain
sense of it, Hetty. There ain't no reason whatsoever why we shouldn't
get along very decently--very decently indeed.'
The desire for little successes amidst conditions securely fixed! So
struck upon Holsten's mind. He added in his diary, 'I had a sense of all
this globe as that....'
By that phrase he meant a kind of clairvoyant vision of this populated
world as a whole, of all its cities and towns and villages, its high
roads and the inns beside them, its gardens and farms and upland
pastures, its boatmen and sailors, its ships coming along the great
circles of the ocean, its time-tables and appointments and payments and
dues as it were one unified and progressive spectacle. Sometimes such
visions came to him; his mind, accustomed to great generalisations and
yet acutely sensitive to detail, saw things far more comprehensively
than the minds of most of his contemporaries. Usually the teeming sphere
moved on to its predestined ends and circled with a stately swiftness
on its path about the sun. Usually it was all a living progress that
altered under his regard. But now fatigue a little deadened him to that
incessancy of life, it seemed now just an eternal circling. He lapsed
to the commoner persuasion of the great fixities and recurrencies of the
human routine. The remoter past of wandering savagery, the inevitable
changes of to-morrow were veiled, and he saw only day and night,
seed-time and harvest, loving and begetting, births and deaths, walks
in the summer sunlight and tales by the winter fireside, the ancient
sequence of hope and acts and age perennially renewed, eddying on for
ever and ever, save that now the impious hand of research was raised to
overthrow this drowsy, gently humming, habitual, sunlit spinning-top of
For a time he forgot wars and crimes and hates and persecutions, famine
and pestilence, the cruelties of beasts, weariness and the bitter wind,
failure and insufficiency and retrocession. He saw all mankind in terms
of the humble Sunday couple upon the seat beside him, who schemed their
inglorious outlook and improbable contentments. 'I had a sense of all
this globe as that.'
His intelligence struggled against this mood and struggled for a time
in vain. He reassured himself against the invasion of this disconcerting
idea that he was something strange and inhuman, a loose wanderer
from the flock returning with evil gifts from his sustained unnatural
excursions amidst the darknesses and phosphorescences beneath the
fair surfaces of life. Man had not been always thus; the instincts and
desires of the little home, the little plot, was not all his nature;
also he was an adventurer, an experimenter, an unresting curiosity, an
insatiable desire. For a few thousand generations indeed he had tilled
the earth and followed the seasons, saying his prayers, grinding his
corn and trampling the October winepress, yet not for so long but that
he was still full of restless stirrings.
'If there have been home and routine and the field,' thought Holsten,
'there have also been wonder and the sea.'
He turned his head and looked up over the back of the seat at the great
hotels above him, full of softly shaded lights and the glow and colour
and stir of feasting. Might his gift to mankind mean simply more of
that? . . .
He got up and walked out of the garden, surveyed a passing tram-car,
laden with warm light, against the deep blues of evening, dripping and
trailing long skirts of shining reflection; he crossed the Embankment
and stood for a time watching the dark river and turning ever and again
to the lit buildings and bridges. His mind began to scheme conceivable
replacements of all those clustering arrangements. . . .
'It has begun,' he writes in the diary in which these things are
recorded. 'It is not for me to reach out to consequences I cannot
foresee. I am a part, not a whole; I am a little instrument in the
armoury of Change. If I were to burn all these papers, before a score of
years had passed, some other man would be doing this. . .
Holsten, before he died, was destined to see atomic energy dominating
every other source of power, but for some years yet a vast network of
difficulties in detail and application kept the new discovery from any
effective invasion of ordinary life. The path from the laboratory to the
workshop is sometimes a tortuous one; electro-magnetic radiations
were known and demonstrated for twenty years before Marconi made them
practically available, and in the same way it was twenty years before
induced radio-activity could be brought to practical utilisation. The
thing, of course, was discussed very much, more perhaps at the time of
its discovery than during the interval of technical adaptation, but with
very little realisation of the huge economic revolution that impended.
What chiefly impressed the journalists of 1933 was the production of
gold from bismuth and the realisation albeit upon unprofitable lines of
the alchemist's dreams; there was a considerable amount of discussion
and expectation in that more intelligent section of the educated
publics of the various civilised countries which followed scientific
development; but for the most part the world went about its business--as
the inhabitants of those Swiss villages which live under the perpetual
threat of overhanging rocks and mountains go about their business--just
as though the possible was impossible, as though the inevitable was
postponed for ever because it was delayed.
It was in 1953 that the first Holsten-Roberts engine brought induced
radio-activity into the sphere of industrial production, and its first
general use was to replace the steam-engine in electrical generating
stations. Hard upon the appearance of this came the Dass-Tata
engine--the invention of two among the brilliant galaxy of Bengali
inventors the modernisation of Indian thought was producing at this
time--which was used chiefly for automobiles, aeroplanes, waterplanes,
and such-like, mobile purposes. The American Kemp engine, differing
widely in principle but equally practicable, and the Krupp-Erlanger
came hard upon the heels of this, and by the autumn of 1954 a gigantic
replacement of industrial methods and machinery was in progress all
about the habitable globe. Small wonder was this when the cost, even of
these earliest and clumsiest of atomic engines, is compared with that
of the power they superseded. Allowing for lubrication the Dass-Tata
engine, once it was started cost a penny to run thirty-seven miles,
and added only nine and quarter pounds to the weight of the carriage
it drove. It made the heavy alcohol-driven automobile of the time
ridiculous in appearance as well as preposterously costly. For
many years the price of coal and every form of liquid fuel had been
clambering to levels that made even the revival of the draft horse seem
a practicable possibility, and now with the abrupt relaxation of this
stringency, the change in appearance of the traffic upon the world's
roads was instantaneous. In three years the frightful armoured monsters
that had hooted and smoked and thundered about the world for four awful
decades were swept away to the dealers in old metal, and the highways
thronged with light and clean and shimmering shapes of silvered steel.
At the same time a new impetus was given to aviation by the relatively
enormous power for weight of the atomic engine, it was at last possible
to add Redmayne's ingenious helicopter ascent and descent engine to the
vertical propeller that had hitherto been the sole driving force of the
aeroplane without overweighting the machine, and men found themselves
possessed of an instrument of flight that could hover or ascend or
descend vertically and gently as well as rush wildly through the air.
The last dread of flying vanished. As the journalists of the time
phrased it, this was the epoch of the Leap into the Air. The new atomic
aeroplane became indeed a mania; every one of means was frantic to
possess a thing so controllable, so secure and so free from the dust and
danger of the road, and in France alone in the year 1943 thirty thousand
of these new aeroplanes were manufactured and licensed, and soared
humming softly into the sky.
And with an equal speed atomic engines of various types invaded
industrialism. The railways paid enormous premiums for priority in the
delivery of atomic traction engines, atomic smelting was embarked
upon so eagerly as to lead to a number of disastrous explosions due
to inexperienced handling of the new power, and the revolutionary
cheapening of both materials and electricity made the entire
reconstruction of domestic buildings a matter merely dependent upon a
reorganisation of the methods of the builder and the house-furnisher.
Viewed from the side of the new power and from the point of view of
those who financed and manufactured the new engines and material
it required the age of the Leap into the Air was one of astonishing
prosperity. Patent-holding companies were presently paying dividends
of five or six hundred per cent. and enormous fortunes were made
and fantastic wages earned by all who were concerned in the new
developments. This prosperity was not a little enhanced by the fact that
in both the Dass-Tata and Holsten-Roberts engines one of the recoverable
waste products was gold--the former disintegrated dust of bismuth and
the latter dust of lead--and that this new supply of gold led quite
naturally to a rise in prices throughout the world.
This spectacle of feverish enterprise was productivity, this crowding
flight of happy and fortunate rich people--every great city was as if
a crawling ant-hill had suddenly taken wing--was the bright side of the
opening phase of the new epoch in human history. Beneath that brightness
was a gathering darkness, a deepening dismay. If there was a vast
development of production there was also a huge destruction of values.
These glaring factories working night and day, these glittering
new vehicles swinging noiselessly along the roads, these flights of
dragon-flies that swooped and soared and circled in the air, were indeed
no more than the brightnesses of lamps and fires that gleam out when the
world sinks towards twilight and the night. Between these high lights
accumulated disaster, social catastrophe. The coal mines were manifestly
doomed to closure at no very distant date, the vast amount of capital
invested in oil was becoming unsaleable, millions of coal miners, steel
workers upon the old lines, vast swarms of unskilled or under-skilled
labourers in innumerable occupations, were being flung out of employment
by the superior efficiency of the new machinery, the rapid fall in
the cost of transit was destroying high land values at every centre
of population, the value of existing house property had become
problematical, gold was undergoing headlong depreciation, all the
securities upon which the credit of the world rested were slipping
and sliding, banks were tottering, the stock exchanges were scenes of
feverish panic;--this was the reverse of the spectacle, these were the
black and monstrous under-consequences of the Leap into the Air.
There is a story of a demented London stockbroker running out into
Threadneedle Street and tearing off his clothes as he ran. 'The Steel
Trust is scrapping the whole of its plant,' he shouted. 'The State
Railways are going to scrap all their engines. Everything's going to
be scrapped--everything. Come and scrap the mint, you fellows, come and
scrap the mint!'
In the year 1955 the suicide rate for the United States of America
quadrupled any previous record. There was an enormous increase also
in violent crime throughout the world. The thing had come upon an
unprepared humanity; it seemed as though human society was to be smashed
by its own magnificent gains.
For there had been no foresight of these things. There had been no
attempt anywhere even to compute the probable dislocations this flood
of inexpensive energy would produce in human affairs. The world in these
days was not really governed at all, in the sense in which government
came to be understood in subsequent years. Government was a treaty,
not a design; it was forensic, conservative, disputatious, unseeing,
unthinking, uncreative; throughout the world, except where the vestiges
of absolutism still sheltered the court favourite and the trusted
servant, it was in the hands of the predominant caste of lawyers,
who had an enormous advantage in being the only trained caste. Their
professional education and every circumstance in the manipulation of the
fantastically naive electoral methods by which they clambered to
power, conspired to keep them contemptuous of facts, conscientiously
unimaginative, alert to claim and seize advantages and suspicious of
every generosity. Government was an obstructive business of energetic
fractions, progress went on outside of and in spite of public
activities, and legislation was the last crippling recognition of needs
so clamorous and imperative and facts so aggressively established as
to invade even the dingy seclusions of the judges and threaten the very
existence of the otherwise inattentive political machine.
The world was so little governed that with the very coming of plenty,
the full tide of an incalculable abundance, when everything necessary
to satisfy human needs and everything necessary to realise such will
and purpose as existed then in human hearts was already at hand, one
has still to tell of hardship, famine, anger, confusion, conflict, and
incoherent suffering. There was no scheme for the distribution of this
vast new wealth that had come at last within the reach of men; there
was no clear conception that any such distribution was possible. As one
attempts a comprehensive view of those opening years of the new age,
as one measures it against the latent achievement that later years have
demonstrated, one begins to measure the blindness, the narrowness, the
insensate unimaginative individualism of the pre-atomic time. Under this
tremendous dawn of power and freedom, under a sky ablaze with promise,
in the very presence of science standing like some bountiful goddess
over all the squat darknesses of human life, holding patiently in
her strong arms, until men chose to take them, security, plenty, the
solution of riddles, the key of the bravest adventures, in her very
presence, and with the earnest of her gifts in court, the world was to
witness such things as the squalid spectacle of the Dass-Tata patent
There in a stuffy court in London, a grimy oblong box of a room, during
the exceptional heat of the May of 1956, the leading counsel of the day
argued and shouted over a miserable little matter of more royalties
or less and whether the Dass-Tata company might not bar the
Holsten-Roberts' methods of utilising the new power. The Dass-Tata
people were indeed making a strenuous attempt to secure a world monopoly
in atomic engineering. The judge, after the manner of those times, sat
raised above the court, wearing a preposterous gown and a foolish huge
wig, the counsel also wore dirty-looking little wigs and queer black
gowns over their usual costume, wigs and gowns that were held to be
necessary to their pleading, and upon unclean wooden benches stirred and
whispered artful-looking solicitors, busily scribbling reporters, the
parties to the case, expert witnesses, interested people, and a jostling
confusion of subpoenaed persons, briefless young barristers (forming a
style on the most esteemed and truculent examples) and casual eccentric
spectators who preferred this pit of iniquity to the free sunlight
outside. Every one was damply hot, the examining King's Counsel wiped
the perspiration from his huge, clean-shaven upper lip; and into this
atmosphere of grasping contention and human exhalations the daylight
filtered through a window that was manifestly dirty. The jury sat in a
double pew to the left of the judge, looking as uncomfortable as frogs
that have fallen into an ash-pit, and in the witness-box lied the
would-be omnivorous Dass, under cross-examination....
Holsten had always been accustomed to publish his results so soon as
they appeared to him to be sufficiently advanced to furnish a basis for
further work, and to that confiding disposition and one happy flash of
adaptive invention the alert Dass owed his claim....
But indeed a vast multitude of such sharp people were clutching,
patenting, pre-empting, monopolising this or that feature of the
new development, seeking to subdue this gigantic winged power to the
purposes of their little lusts and avarice. That trial is just one of
innumerable disputes of the same kind. For a time the face of the world
festered with patent legislation. It chanced, however, to have one oddly
dramatic feature in the fact that Holsten, after being kept waiting
about the court for two days as a beggar might have waited at a rich
man's door, after being bullied by ushers and watched by policemen, was
called as a witness, rather severely handled by counsel, and told not to
'quibble' by the judge when he was trying to be absolutely explicit.
The judge scratched his nose with a quill pen, and sneered at Holsten's
astonishment round the corner of his monstrous wig. Holsten was a great
man, was he? Well, in a law-court great men were put in their places.
'We want to know has the plaintiff added anything to this or hasn't he?'
said the judge, 'we don't want to have your views whether Sir Philip
Dass's improvements were merely superficial adaptations or whether
they were implicit in your paper. No doubt--after the manner of
inventors--you think most things that were ever likely to be discovered
are implicit in your papers. No doubt also you think too that most
subsequent additions and modifications are merely superficial. Inventors
have a way of thinking that. The law isn't concerned with that sort of
thing. The law has nothing to do with the vanity of inventors. The law
is concerned with the question whether these patent rights have the
novelty the plantiff claims for them. What that admission may or may not
stop, and all these other things you are saying in your overflowing zeal
to answer more than the questions addressed to you--none of these things
have anything whatever to do with the case in hand. It is a matter of
constant astonishment to me in this court to see how you scientific men,
with all your extraordinary claims to precision and veracity, wander
and wander so soon as you get into the witness-box. I know no more
unsatisfactory class of witness. The plain and simple question is, has
Sir Philip Dass made any real addition to existing knowledge and methods
in this matter or has he not? We don't want to know whether they were
large or small additions nor what the consequences of your admission may
be. That you will leave to us.'
Holsten was silent.
'Surely?' said the judge, almost pityingly.
'No, he hasn't,' said Holsten, perceiving that for once in his life he
must disregard infinitesimals.
'Ah!' said the judge, 'now why couldn't you say that when counsel put
the question? . . .'
An entry in Holsten's diary-autobiography, dated five days later, runs:
'Still amazed. The law is the most dangerous thing in this country. It
is hundreds of years old. It hasn't an idea. The oldest of old bottles
and this new wine, the most explosive wine. Something will overtake
There was a certain truth in Holsten's assertion that the law was
'hundreds of years old.' It was, in relation to current thought and
widely accepted ideas, an archaic thing. While almost all the material
and methods of life had been changing rapidly and were now changing
still more rapidly, the law-courts and the legislatures of the world
were struggling desperately to meet modern demands with devices and
procedures, conceptions of rights and property and authority and
obligation that dated from the rude compromises of relatively barbaric
times. The horse-hair wigs and antic dresses of the British judges,
their musty courts and overbearing manners, were indeed only the outward
and visible intimations of profounder anachronisms. The legal and
political organisation of the earth in the middle twentieth century was
indeed everywhere like a complicated garment, outworn yet strong, that
now fettered the governing body that once it had protected.
Yet that same spirit of free-thinking and outspoken publication that
the field of natural science had been the beginning of the conquest
of nature, was at work throughout all the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries preparing the spirit of the new world within the degenerating
body of the old. The idea of a greater subordination of individual
interests and established institutions to the collective future, is
traceable more and more clearly in the literature of those times,
and movement after movement fretted itself away in criticism of and
opposition to first this aspect and then that of the legal, social, and
political order. Already in the early nineteenth century Shelley, with
no scrap of alternative, is denouncing the established rulers of the
world as Anarchs, and the entire system of ideas and suggestions that
was known as Socialism, and more particularly its international side,
feeble as it was in creative proposals or any method of transition,
still witnesses to the growth of a conception of a modernised system
of inter-relationships that should supplant the existing tangle of
proprietary legal ideas.
The word 'Sociology' was invented by Herbert Spencer, a popular writer
upon philosophical subjects, who flourished about the middle of
the nineteenth century, but the idea of a state, planned as an
electric-traction system is planned, without reference to pre-existing
apparatus, upon scientific lines, did not take a very strong hold upon
the popular imagination of the world until the twentieth century. Then,
the growing impatience of the American people with the monstrous and
socially paralysing party systems that had sprung out of their absurd
electoral arrangements, led to the appearance of what came to be called
the 'Modern State' movement, and a galaxy of brilliant writers, in
America, Europe, and the East, stirred up the world to the thought
of bolder rearrangements of social interaction, property, employment,
education, and government, than had ever been contemplated before. No
doubt these Modern State ideas were very largely the reflection upon
social and political thought of the vast revolution in material things
that had been in progress for two hundred years, but for a long time
they seemed to be having no more influence upon existing institutions
than the writings of Rousseau and Voltaire seemed to have had at the
time of the death of the latter. They were fermenting in men's minds,
and it needed only just such social and political stresses as the coming
of the atomic mechanisms brought about, to thrust them forward abruptly
into crude and startling realisation.
Frederick Barnet's Wander Jahre is one of those autobiographical
novels that were popular throughout the third and fourth decades of the
twentieth century. It was published in 1970, and one must understand
Wander Jahre rather in a spiritual and intellectual than in a literal
sense. It is indeed an allusive title, carrying the world back to the
Wilhelm Meister of Goethe, a century and a half earlier.
Its author, Frederick Barnet, gives a minute and curious history of his
life and ideas between his nineteenth and his twenty-third birthdays. He
was neither a very original nor a very brilliant man, but he had a
trick of circumstantial writing; and though no authentic portrait was
to survive for the information of posterity, he betrays by a score of
casual phrases that he was short, sturdy, inclined to be plump, with a
'rather blobby' face, and full, rather projecting blue eyes. He belonged
until the financial debacle of 1956 to the class of fairly prosperous
people, he was a student in London, he aeroplaned to Italy and then had
a pedestrian tour from Genoa to Rome, crossed in the air to Greece and
Egypt, and came back over the Balkans and Germany. His family fortunes,
which were largely invested in bank shares, coal mines, and house
property, were destroyed. Reduced to penury, he sought to earn a living.
He suffered great hardship, and was then caught up by the war and had a
year of soldiering, first as an officer in the English infantry and then
in the army of pacification. His book tells all these things so simply
and at the same time so explicitly, that it remains, as it were, an eye
by which future generations may have at least one man's vision of the
years of the Great Change.
And he was, he tells us, a 'Modern State' man 'by instinct' from
the beginning. He breathed in these ideas in the class rooms and
laboratories of the Carnegie Foundation school that rose, a long and
delicately beautiful facade, along the South Bank of the Thames opposite
the ancient dignity of Somerset House. Such thought was interwoven with
the very fabric of that pioneer school in the educational renascence in
England. After the customary exchange years in Heidelberg and Paris, he
went into the classical school of London University. The older so-called
'classical' education of the British pedagogues, probably the most
paralysing, ineffective, and foolish routine that ever wasted human
life, had already been swept out of this great institution in favour of
modern methods; and he learnt Greek and Latin as well as he had learnt
German, Spanish, and French, so that he wrote and spoke them freely,
and used them with an unconscious ease in his study of the foundation
civilisations of the European system to which they were the key. (This
change was still so recent that he mentions an encounter in Rome with
an 'Oxford don' who 'spoke Latin with a Wiltshire accent and manifest
discomfort, wrote Greek letters with his tongue out, and seemed to think
a Greek sentence a charm when it was a quotation and an impropriety when
Barnet saw the last days of the coal-steam engines upon the English
railways and the gradual cleansing of the London atmosphere as the
smoke-creating sea-coal fires gave place to electric heating. The
building of laboratories at Kensington was still in progress, and he
took part in the students' riots that delayed the removal of the Albert
Memorial. He carried a banner with 'We like Funny Statuary' on one side,
and on the other 'Seats and Canopies for Statues, Why should our Great
Departed Stand in the Rain?' He learnt the rather athletic aviation of
those days at the University grounds at Sydenham, and he was fined for
flying over the new prison for political libellers at Wormwood Scrubs,
'in a manner calculated to exhilarate the prisoners while at exercise.'
That was the time of the attempted suppression of any criticism of the
public judicature and the place was crowded with journalists who had
ventured to call attention to the dementia of Chief Justice Abrahams.
Barnet was not a very good aviator, he confesses he was always a little
afraid of his machine--there was excellent reason for every one to
be afraid of those clumsy early types--and he never attempted steep
descents or very high flying. He also, he records, owned one of those
oil-driven motor-bicycles whose clumsy complexity and extravagant
filthiness still astonish the visitors to the museum of machinery at
South Kensington. He mentions running over a dog and complains of the
ruinous price of 'spatchcocks' in Surrey. 'Spatchcocks,' it seems, was a
slang term for crushed hens.
He passed the examinations necessary to reduce his military service to
a minimum, and his want of any special scientific or technical
qualification and a certain precocious corpulence that handicapped his
aviation indicated the infantry of the line as his sphere of training.
That was the most generalised form of soldiering. The development of
the theory of war had been for some decades but little assisted by any
practical experience. What fighting had occurred in recent years, had
been fighting in minor or uncivilised states, with peasant or barbaric
soldiers and with but a small equipment of modern contrivances, and the
great powers of the world were content for the most part to maintain
armies that sustained in their broader organisation the traditions
of the European wars of thirty and forty years before. There was the
infantry arm to which Barnet belonged and which was supposed to fight
on foot with a rifle and be the main portion of the army. There were
cavalry forces (horse soldiers), having a ratio to the infantry that
had been determined by the experiences of the Franco-German war in 1871.
There was also artillery, and for some unexplained reason much of this
was still drawn by horses; though there were also in all the European
armies a small number of motor-guns with wheels so constructed that they
could go over broken ground. In addition there were large developments
of the engineering arm, concerned with motor transport, motor-bicycle
scouting, aviation, and the like.
No first-class intelligence had been sought to specialise in and work
out the problem of warfare with the new appliances and under modern
conditions, but a succession of able jurists, Lord Haldane, Chief
Justice Briggs, and that very able King's Counsel, Philbrick, had
reconstructed the army frequently and thoroughly and placed it at last,
with the adoption of national service, upon a footing that would have
seemed very imposing to the public of 1900. At any moment the British
Empire could now put a million and a quarter of arguable soldiers upon
the board of Welt-Politik. The traditions of Japan and the Central
European armies were more princely and less forensic; the Chinese still
refused resolutely to become a military power, and maintained a small
standing army upon the American model that was said, so far as it
went, to be highly efficient, and Russia, secured by a stringent
administration against internal criticism, had scarcely altered the
design of a uniform or the organisation of a battery since the opening
decades of the century. Barnet's opinion of his military training was
manifestly a poor one, his Modern State ideas disposed him to regard it
as a bore, and his common sense condemned it as useless. Moreover,
his habit of body made him peculiarly sensitive to the fatigues and
hardships of service.
'For three days in succession we turned out before dawn and--for no
earthly reason--without breakfast,' he relates. 'I suppose that is
to show us that when the Day comes the first thing will be to get us
thoroughly uncomfortable and rotten. We then proceeded to Kriegspiel,
according to the mysterious ideas of those in authority over us. On
the last day we spent three hours under a hot if early sun getting
over eight miles of country to a point we could have reached in a motor
omnibus in nine minutes and a half--I did it the next day in that--and
then we made a massed attack upon entrenchments that could have shot us
all about three times over if only the umpires had let them. Then came a
little bayonet exercise, but I doubt if I am sufficiently a barbarian
to stick this long knife into anything living. Anyhow in this battle I
shouldn't have had a chance. Assuming that by some miracle I hadn't been
shot three times over, I was far too hot and blown when I got up to the
entrenchments even to lift my beastly rifle. It was those others would
have begun the sticking....
'For a time we were watched by two hostile aeroplanes; then our own
came up and asked them not to, and--the practice of aerial warfare still
being unknown--they very politely desisted and went away and did dives
and circles of the most charming description over the Fox Hills.'
All Barnet's accounts of his military training were written in the same
half-contemptuous, half-protesting tone. He was of opinion that his
chances of participating in any real warfare were very slight, and
that, if after all he should participate, it was bound to be so entirely
different from these peace manoeuvres that his only course as a rational
man would be to keep as observantly out of danger as he could until he
had learnt the tricks and possibilities of the new conditions. He states
this quite frankly. Never was a man more free from sham heroics.
Barnet welcomed the appearance of the atomic engine with the zest of
masculine youth in all fresh machinery, and it is evident that for some
time he failed to connect the rush of wonderful new possibilities with
the financial troubles of his family. 'I knew my father was worried,' he
admits. That cast the smallest of shadows upon his delighted departure
for Italy and Greece and Egypt with three congenial companions in one of
the new atomic models. They flew over the Channel Isles and Touraine,
he mentions, and circled about Mont Blanc--'These new helicopters, we
found,' he notes, 'had abolished all the danger and strain of sudden
drops to which the old-time aeroplanes were liable'--and then he went on
by way of Pisa, Paestum, Ghirgenti, and Athens, to visit the pyramids
by moonlight, flying thither from Cairo, and to follow the Nile up
to Khartum. Even by later standards, it must have been a very gleeful
holiday for a young man, and it made the tragedy of his next experiences
all the darker. A week after his return his father, who was a widower,
announced himself ruined, and committed suicide by means of an
At one blow Barnet found himself flung out of the possessing, spending,
enjoying class to which he belonged, penniless and with no calling by
which he could earn a living. He tried teaching and some journalism, but
in a little while he found himself on the underside of a world in which
he had always reckoned to live in the sunshine. For innumerable men such
an experience has meant mental and spiritual destruction, but Barnet, in
spite of his bodily gravitation towards comfort, showed himself when put
to the test, of the more valiant modern quality. He was saturated with
the creative stoicism of the heroic times that were already dawning,
and he took his difficulties and discomforts stoutly as his appointed
material, and turned them to expression.
Indeed, in his book, he thanks fortune for them. 'I might have lived
died,' he says, 'in that neat fool's paradise of secure lavishness above
there. I might never have realised the gathering wrath and sorrow of the
ousted and exasperated masses. In the days of my own prosperity things
had seemed to me to be very well arranged.' Now from his new point of
view he was to find they were not arranged at all; that government was
a compromise of aggressions and powers and lassitudes, and law a
convention between interests, and that the poor and the weak, though
they had many negligent masters, had few friends.
'I had thought things were looked after,' he wrote. 'It was with a kind
of amazement that I tramped the roads and starved--and found that no one
in particular cared.'
He was turned out of his lodging in a backward part of London.
'It was with difficulty I persuaded my landlady--she was a needy widow,
poor soul, and I was already in her debt--to keep an old box for me in
which I had locked a few letters, keepsakes, and the like. She lived in
great fear of the Public Health and Morality Inspectors, because she
was sometimes too poor to pay the customary tip to them, but at last she
consented to put it in a dark tiled place under the stairs, and then
I went forth into the world--to seek first the luck of a meal and then
He wandered down into the thronging gayer parts of London, in which a
year or so ago he had been numbered among the spenders.
London, under the Visible Smoke Law, by which any production of visible
smoke with or without excuse was punishable by a fine, had already
ceased to be the sombre smoke-darkened city of the Victorian time; it
had been, and indeed was, constantly being rebuilt, and its main
streets were already beginning to take on those characteristics that
distinguished them throughout the latter half of the twentieth century.
The insanitary horse and the plebeian bicycle had been banished from the
roadway, which was now of a resilient, glass-like surface, spotlessly
clean; and the foot passenger was restricted to a narrow vestige of the
ancient footpath on either side of the track and forbidden at the risk
of a fine, if he survived, to cross the roadway. People descended from
their automobiles upon this pavement and went through the lower shops to
the lifts and stairs to the new ways for pedestrians, the Rows, that
ran along the front of the houses at the level of the first story,
and, being joined by frequent bridges, gave the newer parts of London a
curiously Venetian appearance. In some streets there were upper and even
third-story Rows. For most of the day and all night the shop windows
were lit by electric light, and many establishments had made, as it
were, canals of public footpaths through their premises in order to
increase their window space.
Barnet made his way along this night-scene rather apprehensively since
the police had power to challenge and demand the Labour Card of any
indigent-looking person, and if the record failed to show he was in
employment, dismiss him to the traffic pavement below.
But there was still enough of his former gentility about Barnet's
appearance and bearing to protect him from this; the police, too, had
other things to think of that night, and he was permitted to reach the
galleries about Leicester Square--that great focus of London life and
He gives a vivid description of the scene that evening. In the centre
was a garden raised on arches lit by festoons of lights and connected
with the Rows by eight graceful bridges, beneath which hummed the
interlacing streams of motor traffic, pulsating as the current
alternated between east and west and north and south. Above rose great
frontages of intricate rather than beautiful reinforced porcelain,
studded with lights, barred by bold illuminated advertisements, and
glowing with reflections. There were the two historical music halls of
this place, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, in which the municipal
players revolved perpetually through the cycle of Shakespeare's plays,
and four other great houses of refreshment and entertainment whose
pinnacles streamed up into the blue obscurity of the night. The south
side of the square was in dark contrast to the others; it was still
being rebuilt, and a lattice of steel bars surmounted by the frozen
gestures of monstrous cranes rose over the excavated sites of vanished
This framework attracted Barnet's attention for a time to the exclusion
of other interests. It was absolutely still, it had a dead rigidity, a
stricken inaction, no one was at work upon it and all its machinery was
quiet; but the constructor's globes of vacuum light filled its every
interstice with a quivering green moonshine and showed alert but
He asked a passing stroller, and was told that the men had struck that
day against the use of an atomic riveter that would have doubled the
individual efficiency and halved the number of steel workers.
'Shouldn't wonder if they didn't get chucking bombs,' said Barnet's
informant, hovered for a moment, and then went on his way to the
Alhambra music hall.
Barnet became aware of an excitement in the newspaper kiosks at the
corners of the square. Something very sensational had been flashed upon
the transparencies. Forgetting for a moment his penniless condition, he
made his way over a bridge to buy a paper, for in those days the papers,
which were printed upon thin sheets of metallic foil, were sold at
determinate points by specially licensed purveyors. Half over, he
stopped short at a change in the traffic below; and was astonished
to see that the police signals were restricting vehicles to the half
roadway. When presently he got within sight of the transparencies that
had replaced the placards of Victorian times, he read of the Great March
of the Unemployed that was already in progress through the West End, and
so without expenditure he was able to understand what was coming.
He watched, and his book describes this procession which the police
had considered it unwise to prevent and which had been spontaneously
organised in imitation of the Unemployed Processions of earlier times.
He had expected a mob but there was a kind of sullen discipline about
the procession when at last it arrived. What seemed for a time
an unending column of men marched wearily, marched with a kind of
implacable futility, along the roadway underneath him. He was, he says,
moved to join them, but instead he remained watching. They were a dingy,
shabby, ineffective-looking multitude, for the most part incapable of
any but obsolete and superseded types of labour. They bore a few banners
with the time-honoured inscription: 'Work, not Charity,' but otherwise
their ranks were unadorned.
They were not singing, they were not even talking, there was nothing
truculent nor aggressive in their bearing, they had no definite
objective they were just marching and showing themselves in the more
prosperous parts of London. They were a sample of that great mass of
unskilled cheap labour which the now still cheaper mechanical powers had
superseded for evermore. They were being 'scrapped'--as horses had been
Barnet leant over the parapet watching them, his mind quickened by
his own precarious condition. For a time, he says, he felt nothing but
despair at the sight; what should be done, what could be done for this
gathering surplus of humanity? They were so manifestly useless--and
What were they asking for?
They had been overtaken by unexpected things. Nobody had foreseen----
It flashed suddenly into his mind just what the multitudinous shambling
enigma below meant. It was an appeal against the unexpected, an appeal
to those others who, more fortunate, seemed wiser and more powerful,
for something--for INTELLIGENCE. This mute mass, weary footed, rank
following rank, protested its persuasion that some of these others
must have foreseen these dislocations--that anyhow they ought to have
That was what this crowd of wreckage was feeling and seeking so dumbly
'Things came to me like the turning on of a light in a darkened room,'
he says. 'These men were praying to their fellow creatures as once they
prayed to God! The last thing that men will realise about anything is
that it is inanimate. They had transferred their animation to mankind.
They still believed there was intelligence somewhere, even if it
was careless or malignant.... It had only to be aroused to be
conscience-stricken, to be moved to exertion.... And I saw, too, that
as yet THERE WAS NO SUCH INTELLIGENCE. The world waits for intelligence.
That intelligence has still to be made, that will for good and order has
still to be gathered together, out of scraps of impulse and wandering
seeds of benevolence and whatever is fine and creative in our souls,
into a common purpose. It's something still to come....'
It is characteristic of the widening thought of the time that this not
very heroical young man who, in any previous age, might well have been
altogether occupied with the problem of his own individual necessities,
should be able to stand there and generalise about the needs of the
But upon all the stresses and conflicts of that chaotic time there
was already dawning the light of a new era. The spirit of humanity was
escaping, even then it was escaping, from its extreme imprisonment in
individuals. Salvation from the bitter intensities of self, which had
been a conscious religious end for thousands of years, which men had
sought in mortifications, in the wilderness, in meditation, and by
innumerable strange paths, was coming at last with the effect of
naturalness into the talk of men, into the books they read, into their
unconscious gestures, into their newspapers and daily purposes and
everyday acts. The broad horizons, the magic possibilities that the
spirit of the seeker had revealed to them, were charming them out of
those ancient and instinctive preoccupations from which the very threat
of hell and torment had failed to drive them. And this young man,
homeless and without provision even for the immediate hours, in the
presence of social disorganisation, distress, and perplexity, in a
blazing wilderness of thoughtless pleasure that blotted out the stars,
could think as he tells us he thought.
'I saw life plain,' he wrote. 'I saw the gigantic task before us, and
the very splendour of its intricate and immeasurable difficulty filled
me with exaltation. I saw that we have still to discover government,
that we have still to discover education, which is the necessary
reciprocal of government, and that all this--in which my own little
speck of a life was so manifestly overwhelmed--this and its yesterday
in Greece and Rome and Egypt were nothing, the mere first dust swirls
of the beginning, the movements and dim murmurings of a sleeper who will
presently be awake....'
And then the story tells, with an engaging simplicity, of his descent
from this ecstatic vision of reality.
'Presently I found myself again, and I was beginning to feel cold and
He bethought himself of the John Burns Relief Offices which stood upon
the Thames Embankment. He made his way through the galleries of the
booksellers and the National Gallery, which had been open continuously
day and night to all decently dressed people now for more than twelve
years, and across the rose-gardens of Trafalgar Square, and so by the
hotel colonnade to the Embankment. He had long known of these admirable
offices, which had swept the last beggars and matchsellers and all the
casual indigent from the London streets, and he believed that he would,
as a matter of course, be able to procure a ticket for food and a
night's lodgings and some indication of possible employment.
But he had not reckoned upon the new labour troubles, and when he got
the Embankment he found the offices hopelessly congested and besieged by
a large and rather unruly crowd. He hovered for a time on the outskirts
of the waiting multitude, perplexed and dismayed, and then he became
aware of a movement, a purposive trickling away of people, up through
the arches of the great buildings that had arisen when all the railway
stations were removed to the south side of the river, and so to the
covered ways of the Strand. And here, in the open glare of midnight,
he found unemployed men begging, and not only begging, but begging with
astonishing assurance, from the people who were emerging from the small
theatres and other such places of entertainment which abounded in that
This was an altogether unexampled thing. There had been no begging in
London streets for a quarter of a century. But that night the police
were evidently unwilling or unable to cope with the destitute who were
invading those well-kept quarters of the town. They had become stonily
blind to anything but manifest disorder.
Barnet walked through the crowd, unable to bring himself to ask; indeed
his bearing must have been more valiant than his circumstances, for
twice he says that he was begged from. Near the Trafalgar Square
gardens, a girl with reddened cheeks and blackened eyebrows, who was
walking alone, spoke to him with a peculiar friendliness.
'I'm starving,' he said to her abruptly.
'Oh! poor dear!' she said; and with the impulsive generosity of her
kind, glanced round and slipped a silver piece into his hand....
It was a gift that, in spite of the precedent of De Quincey, might under
the repressive social legislation of those times, have brought Barnet
within reach of the prison lash. But he took it, he confesses, and
thanked her as well as he was able, and went off very gladly to get
A day or so later--and again his freedom to go as he pleased upon the
roads may be taken as a mark of increasing social disorganisation and
police embarrassment--he wandered out into the open country. He speaks
of the roads of that plutocratic age as being 'fenced with barbed wire
against unpropertied people,' of the high-walled gardens and trespass
warnings that kept him to the dusty narrowness of the public ways. In
the air, happy rich people were flying, heedless of the misfortunes
about them, as he himself had been flying two years ago, and along
the road swept the new traffic, light and swift and wonderful. One was
rarely out of earshot of its whistles and gongs and siren cries even
in the field paths or over the open downs. The officials of the labour
exchanges were everywhere overworked and infuriated, the casual wards
were so crowded that the surplus wanderers slept in ranks under sheds
or in the open air, and since giving to wayfarers had been made a
punishable offence there was no longer friendship or help for a man from
the rare foot passenger or the wayside cottage....
'I wasn't angry,' said Barnet. 'I saw an immense selfishness, a
monstrous disregard for anything but pleasure and possession in all
those people above us, but I saw how inevitable that was, how certainly
if the richest had changed places with the poorest, that things would
have been the same. What else can happen when men use science and every
new thing that science gives, and all their available intelligence and
energy to manufacture wealth and appliances, and leave government and
education to the rustling traditions of hundreds of years ago? Those
traditions come from the dark ages when there was really not enough
for every one, when life was a fierce struggle that might be masked
but could not be escaped. Of course this famine grabbing, this fierce
dispossession of others, must follow from such a disharmony between
material and training. Of course the rich were vulgar and the poor grew
savage and every added power that came to men made the rich richer and
the poor less necessary and less free. The men I met in the casual
wards and the relief offices were all smouldering for revolt, talking
of justice and injustice and revenge. I saw no hope in that talk, nor in
anything but patience....'
But he did not mean a passive patience. He meant that the method
of social reconstruction was still a riddle, that no effectual
rearrangement was possible until this riddle in all its tangled aspects
was solved. 'I tried to talk to those discontented men,' he wrote,
'but it was hard for them to see things as I saw them. When I talked of
patience and the larger scheme, they answered, "But then we shall all
dead"--and I could not make them see, what is so simple to my own mind,
that that did not affect the question. Men who think in lifetimes are of
no use to statesmanship.'
He does not seem to have seen a newspaper during those wanderings, and
a chance sight of the transparency of a kiosk in the market-place at
Bishop's Stortford announcing a 'Grave International Situation' did
not excite him very much. There had been so many grave international
situations in recent years.
This time it was talk of the Central European powers suddenly attacking
the Slav Confederacy, with France and England going to the help of the
But the next night he found a tolerable meal awaiting the vagrants
in the casual ward, and learnt from the workhouse master that all
serviceable trained men were to be sent back on the morrow to their
mobilisation centres. The country was on the eve of war. He was to go
back through London to Surrey. His first feeling, he records, was one of
extreme relief that his days of 'hopeless battering at the underside
of civilisation' were at an end. Here was something definite to do,
something definitely provided for. But his relief was greatly modified
when he found that the mobilisation arrangements had been made
so hastily and carelessly that for nearly thirty-six hours at the
improvised depot at Epsom he got nothing either to eat or to drink but
a cup of cold water. The depot was absolutely unprovisioned, and no one
was free to leave it.
CHAPTER THE SECOND
THE LAST WAR
Viewed from the standpoint of a sane and ambitious social order, it is
difficult to understand, and it would be tedious to follow, the motives
that plunged mankind into the war that fills the histories of the middle
decades of the twentieth century.
It must always be remembered that the political structure of the world
at that time was everywhere extraordinarily behind the collective
intelligence. That is the central fact of that history. For two hundred
years there had been no great changes in political or legal methods and
pretensions, the utmost change had been a certain shifting of boundaries
and slight readjustment of procedure, while in nearly every other aspect
of life there had been fundamental revolutions, gigantic releases, and
an enormous enlargement of scope and outlook. The absurdities of courts
and the indignities of representative parliamentary government, coupled
with the opening of vast fields of opportunity in other directions, had
withdrawn the best intelligences more and more from public affairs.
The ostensible governments of the world in the twentieth century were
following in the wake of the ostensible religions. They were ceasing to
command the services of any but second-rate men. After the middle of
the eighteenth century there are no more great ecclesiastics upon the
world's memory, after the opening of the twentieth no more statesmen.
Everywhere one finds an energetic, ambitious, short-sighted,
common-place type in the seats of authority, blind to the new
possibilities and litigiously reliant upon the traditions of the past.
Perhaps the most dangerous of those outworn traditions were the
boundaries of the various 'sovereign states,' and the conception of a
general predominance in human affairs on the part of some one particular
state. The memory of the empires of Rome and Alexander squatted, an
unlaid carnivorous ghost, in the human imagination--it bored into the
human brain like some grisly parasite and filled it with disordered
thoughts and violent impulses. For more than a century the French
system exhausted its vitality in belligerent convulsions, and then the
infection passed to the German-speaking peoples who were the heart and
centre of Europe, and from them onward to the Slavs. Later ages were
to store and neglect the vast insane literature of this obsession, the
intricate treaties, the secret agreements, the infinite knowingness of
the political writer, the cunning refusals to accept plain facts, the
strategic devices, the tactical manoeuvres, the records of mobilisations
and counter-mobilisations. It ceased to be credible almost as soon as
it ceased to happen, but in the very dawn of the new age their state
craftsmen sat with their historical candles burning, and, in spite
of strange, new reflections and unfamiliar lights and shadows, still
wrangling and planning to rearrange the maps of Europe and the world.
It was to become a matter for subtle inquiry how far the millions of
and women outside the world of these specialists sympathised and agreed
with their portentous activities. One school of psychologists inclined
to minimise this participation, but the balance of evidence goes to
show that there were massive responses to these suggestions of the
belligerent schemer. Primitive man had been a fiercely combative animal;
innumerable generations had passed their lives in tribal warfare, and
the weight of tradition, the example of history, the ideals of
loyalty and devotion fell in easily enough with the incitements of the
international mischief-maker. The political ideas of the common man were
picked up haphazard, there was practically nothing in such education as
he was given that was ever intended to fit him for citizenship as such
(that conception only appeared, indeed, with the development of Modern
State ideas), and it was therefore a comparatively easy matter to fill
his vacant mind with the sounds and fury of exasperated suspicion and
For example, Barnet describes the London crowd as noisily patriotic when
presently his battalion came up from the depot to London, to entrain for
the French frontier. He tells of children and women and lads and old men
cheering and shouting, of the streets and rows hung with the flags of
the Allied Powers, of a real enthusiasm even among the destitute and
unemployed. The Labour Bureaux were now partially transformed into
enrolment offices, and were centres of hotly patriotic excitement.
At every convenient place upon the line on either side of the Channel
Tunnel there were enthusiastic spectators, and the feeling in the
regiment, if a little stiffened and darkened by grim anticipations, was
none the less warlike.
But all this emotion was the fickle emotion of minds without established
ideas; it was with most of them, Barnet says, as it was with himself,
a natural response to collective movement, and to martial sounds and
colours, and the exhilarating challenge of vague dangers. And people had
been so long oppressed by the threat of and preparation for war that its
arrival came with an effect of positive relief.
The plan of campaign of the Allies assigned the defence of the lower
Meuse to the English, and the troop-trains were run direct from the
various British depots to the points in the Ardennes where they were
intended to entrench themselves.
Most of the documents bearing upon the campaign were destroyed during
the war, from the first the scheme of the Allies seems to have been
confused, but it is highly probable that the formation of an aerial
park in this region, from which attacks could be made upon the vast
industrial plant of the lower Rhine, and a flanking raid through Holland
upon the German naval establishments at the mouth of the Elbe, were
integral parts of the original project. Nothing of this was known to
such pawns in the game as Barnet and his company, whose business it
was to do what they were told by the mysterious intelligences at the
direction of things in Paris, to which city the Whitehall staff had
also been transferred. From first to last these directing intelligences
remained mysterious to the body of the army, veiled under the name of
'Orders.' There was no Napoleon, no Caesar to embody enthusiasm. Barnet
says, 'We talked of Them. THEY are sending us up into Luxembourg. THEY
are going to turn the Central European right.'
Behind the veil of this vagueness the little group of more or less
worthy men which constituted Headquarters was beginning to realise the
enormity of the thing it was supposed to control....
In the great hall of the War Control, whose windows looked out across
the Seine to the Trocadero and the palaces of the western quarter, a
series of big-scale relief maps were laid out upon tables to display
the whole seat of war, and the staff-officers of the control were
continually busy shifting the little blocks which represented the
contending troops, as the reports and intelligence came drifting in to
the various telegraphic bureaux in the adjacent rooms. In other smaller
apartments there were maps of a less detailed sort, upon which, for
example, the reports of the British Admiralty and of the Slav commanders
were recorded as they kept coming to hand. Upon these maps, as upon
chessboards, Marshal Dubois, in consultation with General Viard and the
Earl of Delhi, was to play the great game for world supremacy against
the Central European powers. Very probably he had a definite idea of his
game; very probably he had a coherent and admirable plan.
But he had reckoned without a proper estimate either of the new strategy
of aviation or of the possibilities of atomic energy that Holsten had
opened for mankind. While he planned entrenchments and invasions and a
frontier war, the Central European generalship was striking at the
eyes and the brain. And while, with a certain diffident hesitation, he
developed his gambit that night upon the lines laid down by Napoleon
and Moltke, his own scientific corps in a state of mutinous activity was
preparing a blow for Berlin. 'These old fools!' was the key in which the
scientific corps was thinking.
The War Control in Paris, on the night of July the second, was
an impressive display of the paraphernalia of scientific military
organisation, as the first half of the twentieth century understood it.
To one human being at least the consulting commanders had the likeness
of world-wielding gods.
She was a skilled typist, capable of nearly sixty words a minute, and
she had been engaged in relay with other similar women to take down
orders in duplicate and hand them over to the junior officers in
attendance, to be forwarded and filed. There had come a lull, and she
had been sent out from the dictating room to take the air upon the
terrace before the great hall and to eat such scanty refreshment as she
had brought with her until her services were required again.
From her position upon the terrace this young woman had a view not only
of the wide sweep of the river below her, and all the eastward side of
Paris from the Arc de Triomphe to Saint Cloud, great blocks and masses
of black or pale darkness with pink and golden flashes of illumination
and endless interlacing bands of dotted lights under a still and
starless sky, but also the whole spacious interior of the great hall
with its slender pillars and gracious arching and clustering lamps was
visible to her. There, over a wilderness of tables, lay the huge maps,
done on so large a scale that one might fancy them small countries; the
messengers and attendants went and came perpetually, altering, moving
the little pieces that signified hundreds and thousands of men, and the
great commander and his two consultants stood amidst all these things
and near where the fighting was nearest, scheming, directing. They had
but to breathe a word and presently away there, in the world of reality,
the punctual myriads moved. Men rose up and went forward and died. The
fate of nations lay behind the eyes of these three men. Indeed they were
Most godlike of the three was Dubois. It was for him to decide; the
others at most might suggest. Her woman's soul went out to this grave,
handsome, still, old man, in a passion of instinctive worship.
Once she had taken words of instruction from him direct. She had awaited
them in an ecstasy of happiness--and fear. For her exaltation was made
terrible by the dread that some error might dishonour her....
She watched him now through the glass with all the unpenetrating
minuteness of an impassioned woman's observation.
He said little, she remarked. He looked but little at the maps. The
tall Englishman beside him was manifestly troubled by a swarm of ideas,
conflicting ideas; he craned his neck at every shifting of the little
red, blue, black, and yellow pieces on the board, and wanted to draw the
commander's attention to this and that. Dubois listened, nodded, emitted
a word and became still again, brooding like the national eagle.
His eyes were so deeply sunken under his white eyebrows that she could
not see his eyes; his moustache overhung the mouth from which those
words of decision came. Viard, too, said little; he was a dark man with
a drooping head and melancholy, watchful eyes. He was more intent upon
the French right, which was feeling its way now through Alsace to the
Rhine. He was, she knew, an old colleague of Dubois; he knew him better,
she decided, he trusted him more than this unfamiliar Englishman....
Not to talk, to remain impassive and as far as possible in profile;
these were the lessons that old Dubois had mastered years ago. To
seem to know all, to betray no surprise, to refuse to hurry--itself a
confession of miscalculation; by attention to these simple rules,
Dubois had built up a steady reputation from the days when he had been
a promising junior officer, a still, almost abstracted young man,
deliberate but ready. Even then men had looked at him and said: 'He
will go far.' Through fifty years of peace he had never once been found
wanting, and at manoeuvres his impassive persistence had perplexed and
hypnotised and defeated many a more actively intelligent man. Deep in
his soul Dubois had hidden his one profound discovery about the modern
art of warfare, the key to his career. And this discovery was that
NOBODY KNEW, that to act therefore was to blunder, that to talk was to
confess; and that the man who acted slowly and steadfastly and above all
silently, had the best chance of winning through. Meanwhile one fed
the men. Now by this same strategy he hoped to shatter those mysterious
unknowns of the Central European command. Delhi might talk of a great
flank march through Holland, with all the British submarines and
hydroplanes and torpedo craft pouring up the Rhine in support of it;
Viard might crave for brilliance with the motor bicycles, aeroplanes,
and ski-men among the Swiss mountains, and a sudden swoop upon
Vienna; the thing was to listen--and wait for the other side to begin
experimenting. It was all experimenting. And meanwhile he remained in
profile, with an air of assurance--like a man who sits in an automobile
after the chauffeur has had his directions.
And every one about him was the stronger and surer for that quiet face,
that air of knowledge and unruffled confidence. The clustering lights
threw a score of shadows of him upon the maps, great bunches of him,
versions of a commanding presence, lighter or darker, dominated the
field, and pointed in every direction. Those shadows symbolised his
control. When a messenger came from the wireless room to shift this or
that piece in the game, to replace under amended reports one Central
European regiment by a score, to draw back or thrust out or distribute
this or that force of the Allies, the Marshal would turn his head and
seem not to see, or look and nod slightly, as a master nods who approves
a pupil's self-correction. 'Yes, that's better.'
How wonderful he was, thought the woman at the window, how wonderful
all was. This was the brain of the western world, this was Olympus with
the warring earth at its feet. And he was guiding France, France so long
a resentful exile from imperialism, back to her old predominance.
It seemed to her beyond the desert of a woman that she should be
privileged to participate....
It is hard to be a woman, full of the stormy impulse to personal
devotion, and to have to be impersonal, abstract, exact, punctual. She
must control herself....
She gave herself up to fantastic dreams, dreams of the days when the
would be over and victory enthroned. Then perhaps this harshness,
this armour would be put aside and the gods might unbend. Her eyelids
She roused herself with a start. She became aware that the night outside
was no longer still. That there was an excitement down below on the
bridge and a running in the street and a flickering of searchlights
among the clouds from some high place away beyond the Trocadero. And
then the excitement came surging up past her and invaded the hall
One of the sentinels from the terrace stood at the upper end of the
room, gesticulating and shouting something.
And all the world had changed. A kind of throbbing. She couldn't
understand. It was as if all the water-pipes and concealed machinery and
cables of the ways beneath, were beating--as pulses beat. And about her
blew something like a wind--a wind that was dismay.
Her eyes went to the face of the Marshal as a frightened child might
look towards its mother.
He was still serene. He was frowning slightly, she thought, but that
was natural enough, for the Earl of Delhi, with one hand gauntly
gesticulating, had taken him by the arm and was all too manifestly
disposed to drag him towards the great door that opened on the terrace.
And Viard was hurrying towards the huge windows and doing so in the
strangest of attitudes, bent forward and with eyes upturned.
Something up there?
And then it was as if thunder broke overhead.
The sound struck her like a blow. She crouched together against the
masonry and looked up. She saw three black shapes swooping down through
the torn clouds, and from a point a little below two of them, there had
already started curling trails of red....
Everything else in her being was paralysed, she hung through moments
that seemed infinities, watching those red missiles whirl down towards
She felt torn out of the world. There was nothing else in the world but
a crimson-purple glare and sound, deafening, all-embracing, continuing
sound. Every other light had gone out about her and against this glare
hung slanting walls, pirouetting pillars, projecting fragments of
cornices, and a disorderly flight of huge angular sheets of glass. She
had an impression of a great ball of crimson-purple fire like a maddened
living thing that seemed to be whirling about very rapidly amidst
a chaos of falling masonry, that seemed to be attacking the earth
furiously, that seemed to be burrowing into it like a blazing rabbit....
She had all the sensations of waking up out of a dream.
She found she was lying face downward on a bank of mould and that a
little rivulet of hot water was running over one foot. She tried to
raise herself and found her leg was very painful. She was not clear
whether it was night or day nor where she was; she made a second effort,
wincing and groaning, and turned over and got into a sitting position
and looked about her.
Everything seemed very silent. She was, in fact, in the midst of a
vast uproar, but she did not realise this because her hearing had been
At first she could not join on what she saw to any previous experience.
She seemed to be in a strange world, a soundless, ruinous world, a
world of heaped broken things. And it was lit--and somehow this was more
familiar to her mind than any other fact about her--by a flickering,
purplish-crimson light. Then close to her, rising above a confusion of
debris, she recognised the Trocadero; it was changed, something had
gone from it, but its outline was unmistakable. It stood out against a
streaming, whirling uprush of red-lit steam. And with that she recalled
Paris and the Seine and the warm, overcast evening and the beautiful,
luminous organisation of the War Control....
She drew herself a little way up the slope of earth on which she lay,
and examined her surroundings with an increasing understanding....
The earth on which she was lying projected like a cape into the river.
Quite close to her was a brimming lake of dammed-up water, from which
these warm rivulets and torrents were trickling. Wisps of vapour came
into circling existence a foot or so from its mirror-surface. Near
at hand and reflected exactly in the water was the upper part of a
familiar-looking stone pillar. On the side of her away from the water
the heaped ruins rose steeply in a confused slope up to a glaring crest.
Above and reflecting this glare towered pillowed masses of steam rolling
swiftly upward to the zenith. It was from this crest that the livid glow
that lit the world about her proceeded, and slowly her mind connected
this mound with the vanished buildings of the War Control.
'Mais!' she whispered, and remained with staring eyes quite motionless
for a time, crouching close to the warm earth.
Then presently this dim, broken human thing began to look about it
again. She began to feel the need of fellowship. She wanted to question,
wanted to speak, wanted to relate her experience. And her foot hurt her
atrociously. There ought to be an ambulance. A little gust of querulous
criticisms blew across her mind. This surely was a disaster! Always
after a disaster there should be ambulances and helpers moving about....
She craned her head. There was something there. But everything was so
'Monsieur!' she cried. Her ears, she noted, felt queer, and she began
suspect that all was not well with them.
It was terribly lonely in this chaotic strangeness, and perhaps this
man--if it was a man, for it was difficult to see--might for all his
stillness be merely insensible. He might have been stunned....
The leaping glare beyond sent a ray into his corner and for a moment
every little detail was distinct. It was Marshal Dubois. He was lying
against a huge slab of the war map. To it there stuck and from it there
dangled little wooden objects, the symbols of infantry and cavalry and
guns, as they were disposed upon the frontier. He did not seem to
be aware of this at his back, he had an effect of inattention, not
indifferent attention, but as if he were thinking....
She could not see the eyes beneath his shaggy brows, but it was evident
he frowned. He frowned slightly, he had an air of not wanting to be
disturbed. His face still bore that expression of assured confidence,
that conviction that if things were left to him France might obey in
She did not cry out to him again, but she crept a little nearer. A
strange surmise made her eyes dilate. With a painful wrench she pulled
herself up so that she could see completely over the intervening lumps
of smashed-up masonry. Her hand touched something wet, and after one
convulsive movement she became rigid.
It was not a whole man there; it was a piece of a man, the head and
shoulders of a man that trailed down into a ragged darkness and a pool
of shining black....
And even as she stared the mound above her swayed and crumbled, and a
rush of hot water came pouring over her. Then it seemed to her that she
was dragged downward....
When the rather brutish young aviator with the bullet head and the black
hair close-cropped en brosse, who was in charge of the French special
scientific corps, heard presently of this disaster to the War Control,
he was so wanting in imagination in any sphere but his own, that he
laughed. Small matter to him that Paris was burning. His mother and
father and sister lived at Caudebec; and the only sweetheart he had ever
had, and it was poor love-making then, was a girl in Rouen. He slapped
his second-in-command on the shoulder. 'Now,' he said, 'there's nothing
on earth to stop us going to Berlin and giving them tit-for-tat....
Strategy and reasons of state--they're over.... Come along, my boy, and
we'll just show these old women what we can do when they let us have our
He spent five minutes telephoning and then he went out into the
courtyard of the chateau in which he had been installed and shouted
for his automobile. Things would have to move quickly because there was
scarcely an hour and a half before dawn. He looked at the sky and noted
with satisfaction a heavy bank of clouds athwart the pallid east.
He was a young man of infinite shrewdness, and his material and
aeroplanes were scattered all over the country-side, stuck away
in barns, covered with hay, hidden in woods. A hawk could not have
discovered any of them without coming within reach of a gun. But that
night he only wanted one of the machines, and it was handy and quite
prepared under a tarpaulin between two ricks not a couple of miles away;
he was going to Berlin with that and just one other man. Two men would
be enough for what he meant to do....
He had in his hands the black complement to all those other gifts
science was urging upon unregenerate mankind, the gift of destruction,
and he was an adventurous rather than a sympathetic type....
He was a dark young man with something negroid about his gleaming face.
He smiled like one who is favoured and anticipates great pleasures.
There was an exotic richness, a chuckling flavour, about the voice
in which he gave his orders, and he pointed his remarks with the long
finger of a hand that was hairy and exceptionally big.
'We'll give them tit-for-tat,' he said. 'We'll give them tit-for-tat.
time to lose, boys....'
And presently over the cloud-banks that lay above Westphalia and Saxony
the swift aeroplane, with its atomic engine as noiseless as a dancing
sunbeam and its phosphorescent gyroscopic compass, flew like an arrow to
the heart of the Central European hosts.
It did not soar very high; it skimmed a few hundred feet above the
banked darknesses of cumulus that hid the world, ready to plunge at once
into their wet obscurities should some hostile flier range into vision.
The tense young steersman divided his attention between the guiding
stars above and the level, tumbled surfaces of the vapour strata that
hid the world below. Over great spaces those banks lay as even as a
frozen lava-flow and almost as still, and then they were rent by ragged
areas of translucency, pierced by clear chasms, so that dim patches
of the land below gleamed remotely through abysses. Once he saw quite
distinctly the plan of a big railway station outlined in lamps and
signals, and once the flames of a burning rick showing livid through a
boiling drift of smoke on the side of some great hill. But if the world
was masked it was alive with sounds. Up through that vapour floor came
the deep roar of trains, the whistles of horns of motor-cars, a sound
of rifle fire away to the south, and as he drew near his destination the
crowing of cocks....
The sky above the indistinct horizons of this cloud sea was at first
starry and then paler with a light that crept from north to east as the
dawn came on. The Milky Way was invisible in the blue, and the lesser
stars vanished. The face of the adventurer at the steering-wheel, darkly
visible ever and again by the oval greenish glow of the compass face,
had something of that firm beauty which all concentrated purpose gives,
and something of the happiness of an idiot child that has at last got
hold of the matches. His companion, a less imaginative type, sat with
his legs spread wide over the long, coffin-shaped box which contained
in its compartments the three atomic bombs, the new bombs that would
continue to explode indefinitely and which no one so far had ever seen
in action. Hitherto Carolinum, their essential substance, had been
tested only in almost infinitesimal quantities within steel chambers
embedded in lead. Beyond the thought of great destruction slumbering
in the black spheres between his legs, and a keen resolve to follow out
very exactly the instructions that had been given him, the man's mind
was a blank. His aquiline profile against the starlight expressed
nothing but a profound gloom.
The sky below grew clearer as the Central European capital was
So far they had been singularly lucky and had been challenged by no
aeroplanes at all. The frontier scouts they must have passed in the
night; probably these were mostly under the clouds; the world was wide
and they had had luck in not coming close to any soaring sentinel. Their
machine was painted a pale gray, that lay almost invisibly over the
cloud levels below. But now the east was flushing with the near ascent
of the sun, Berlin was but a score of miles ahead, and the luck of the
Frenchmen held. By imperceptible degrees the clouds below dissolved....
Away to the north-eastward, in a cloudless pool of gathering light and
with all its nocturnal illuminations still blazing, was Berlin. The left
finger of the steersman verified roads and open spaces below upon the
mica-covered square of map that was fastened by his wheel. There in a
series of lake-like expansions was the Havel away to the right; over by
those forests must be Spandau; there the river split about the Potsdam
island; and right ahead was Charlottenburg cleft by a great thoroughfare
that fell like an indicating beam of light straight to the imperial
headquarters. There, plain enough, was the Thiergarten; beyond rose
the imperial palace, and to the right those tall buildings, those
clustering, beflagged, bemasted roofs, must be the offices in which
the Central European staff was housed. It was all coldly clear and
colourless in the dawn.
He looked up suddenly as a humming sound grew out of nothing and became
swiftly louder. Nearly overhead a German aeroplane was circling down
from an immense height to challenge him. He made a gesture with his left
arm to the gloomy man behind and then gripped his little wheel with both
hands, crouched over it, and twisted his neck to look upward. He was
attentive, tightly strung, but quite contemptuous of their ability to
hurt him. No German alive, he was assured, could outfly him, or indeed
any one of the best Frenchmen. He imagined they might strike at him as
a hawk strikes, but they were men coming down out of the bitter cold up
there, in a hungry, spiritless, morning mood; they came slanting down
like a sword swung by a lazy man, and not so rapidly but that he was
able to slip away from under them and get between them and Berlin. They
began challenging him in German with a megaphone when they were still
perhaps a mile away. The words came to him, rolled up into a mere blob
of hoarse sound. Then, gathering alarm from his grim silence, they gave
chase and swept down, a hundred yards above him perhaps, and a couple of
hundred behind. They were beginning to understand what he was. He ceased
to watch them and concentrated himself on the city ahead, and for a time
the two aeroplanes raced....
A bullet came tearing through the air by him, as though some one was
tearing paper. A second followed. Something tapped the machine.
It was time to act. The broad avenues, the park, the palaces below
rushed widening out nearer and nearer to them. 'Ready!' said the
The gaunt face hardened to grimness, and with both hands the
bomb-thrower lifted the big atomic bomb from the box and steadied it
against the side. It was a black sphere two feet in diameter. Between
its handles was a little celluloid stud, and to this he bent his head
until his lips touched it. Then he had to bite in order to let the air
in upon the inducive. Sure of its accessibility, he craned his neck over
the side of the aeroplane and judged his pace and distance. Then very
quickly he bent forward, bit the stud, and hoisted the bomb over the
'Round,' he whispered inaudibly.
The bomb flashed blinding scarlet in mid-air, and fell, a descending
column of blaze eddying spirally in the midst of a whirlwind. Both the
aeroplanes were tossed like shuttlecocks, hurled high and sideways and
the steersman, with gleaming eyes and set teeth, fought in great banking
curves for a balance. The gaunt man clung tight with hand and knees; his
nostrils dilated, his teeth biting his lips. He was firmly strapped....
When he could look down again it was like looking down upon the crater
of a small volcano. In the open garden before the Imperial castle a
shuddering star of evil splendour spurted and poured up smoke and flame
towards them like an accusation. They were too high to distinguish
people clearly, or mark the bomb's effect upon the building until
suddenly the facade tottered and crumbled before the flare as sugar
dissolves in water. The man stared for a moment, showed all his long
teeth, and then staggered into the cramped standing position his straps
permitted, hoisted out and bit another bomb, and sent it down after its
The explosion came this time more directly underneath the aeroplane
and shot it upward edgeways. The bomb box tipped to the point of
disgorgement, and the bomb-thrower was pitched forward upon the third
bomb with his face close to its celluloid stud. He clutched its handles,
and with a sudden gust of determination that the thing should not escape
him, bit its stud. Before he could hurl it over, the monoplane was
slipping sideways. Everything was falling sideways. Instinctively he
gave himself up to gripping, his body holding the bomb in its place.
Then that bomb had exploded also, and steersman, thrower, and aeroplane
were just flying rags and splinters of metal and drops of moisture in
the air, and a third column of fire rushed eddying down upon the doomed
Never before in the history of warfare had there been a continuing
explosive; indeed, up to the middle of the twentieth century the only
explosives known were combustibles whose explosiveness was due entirely
to their instantaneousness; and these atomic bombs which science burst
upon the world that night were strange even to the men who used them.
Those used by the Allies were lumps of pure Carolinum, painted on the
outside with unoxidised cydonator inducive enclosed hermetically in a
case of membranium. A little celluloid stud between the handles by which
the bomb was lifted was arranged so as to be easily torn off and
admit air to the inducive, which at once became active and set up
radio-activity in the outer layer of the Carolinum sphere. This
liberated fresh inducive, and so in a few minutes the whole bomb was a
blazing continual explosion. The Central European bombs were the same,
except that they were larger and had a more complicated arrangement for
animating the inducive.
Always before in the development of warfare the shells and rockets fired
had been but momentarily explosive, they had gone off in an instant once
for all, and if there was nothing living or valuable within reach of the
concussion and the flying fragments then they were spent and over.
But Carolinum, which belonged to the beta group of Hyslop's so-called
'suspended degenerator' elements, once its degenerative process had
been induced, continued a furious radiation of energy and nothing could
arrest it. Of all Hyslop's artificial elements, Carolinum was the most
heavily stored with energy and the most dangerous to make and handle. To
this day it remains the most potent degenerator known. What the earlier
twentieth-century chemists called its half period was seventeen days;
that is to say, it poured out half of the huge store of energy in its
great molecules in the space of seventeen days, the next seventeen days'
emission was a half of that first period's outpouring, and so on. As
with all radio-active substances this Carolinum, though every seventeen
days its power is halved, though constantly it diminishes towards
the imperceptible, is never entirely exhausted, and to this day the
battle-fields and bomb fields of that frantic time in human history are
sprinkled with radiant matter, and so centres of inconvenient rays.
What happened when the celluloid stud was opened was that the inducive
oxidised and became active. Then the surface of the Carolinum began to
degenerate. This degeneration passed only slowly into the substance of
the bomb. A moment or so after its explosion began it was still mainly
an inert sphere exploding superficially, a big, inanimate nucleus
wrapped in flame and thunder. Those that were thrown from aeroplanes
fell in this state, they reached the ground still mainly solid, and,
melting soil and rock in their progress, bored into the earth. There, as
more and more of the Carolinum became active, the bomb spread itself out
into a monstrous cavern of fiery energy at the base of what became very
speedily a miniature active volcano. The Carolinum, unable to disperse,
freely drove into and mixed up with a boiling confusion of molten
soil and superheated steam, and so remained spinning furiously and
maintaining an eruption that lasted for years or months or weeks
according to the size of the bomb employed and the chances of its
dispersal. Once launched, the bomb was absolutely unapproachable and
uncontrollable until its forces were nearly exhausted, and from the
crater that burst open above it, puffs of heavy incandescent vapour and
fragments of viciously punitive rock and mud, saturated with Carolinum,
and each a centre of scorching and blistering energy, were flung high
Such was the crowning triumph of military science, the ultimate
explosive that was to give the 'decisive touch' to war....
A recent historical writer has described the world of that time as one
that 'believed in established words and was invincibly blind to the
obvious in things.' Certainly it seems now that nothing could have been
more obvious to the people of the earlier twentieth century than the
rapidity with which war was becoming impossible. And as certainly they
did not see it. They did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in
their fumbling hands. Yet the broad facts must have glared upon any
intelligent mind. All through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
the amount of energy that men were able to command was continually
increasing. Applied to warfare that meant that the power to inflict a
blow, the power to destroy, was continually increasing. There was
no increase whatever in the ability to escape. Every sort of passive
defence, armour, fortifications, and so forth, was being outmastered
by this tremendous increase on the destructive side. Destruction was
becoming so facile that any little body of malcontents could use it; it
was revolutionising the problems of police and internal rule. Before
the last war began it was a matter of common knowledge that a man could
carry about in a handbag an amount of latent energy sufficient to
wreck half a city. These facts were before the minds of everybody;
the children in the streets knew them. And yet the world still, as the
Americans used to phrase it, 'fooled around' with the paraphernalia and
pretensions of war.
It is only by realising this profound, this fantastic divorce between
the scientific and intellectual movement on the one hand, and the world
of the lawyer-politician on the other, that the men of a later time
can hope to understand this preposterous state of affairs. Social
organisation was still in the barbaric stage. There were already great
numbers of actively intelligent men and much private and commercial
civilisation, but the community, as a whole, was aimless, untrained and
unorganised to the pitch of imbecility. Collective civilisation, the
'Modern State,' was still in the womb of the future....
But let us return to Frederick Barnet's Wander Jahre and its account
of the experiences of a common man during the war time. While these
terrific disclosures of scientific possibility were happening in Paris
and Berlin, Barnet and his company were industriously entrenching
themselves in Belgian Luxembourg.
He tells of the mobilisation and of his summer day's journey through
north of France and the Ardennes in a few vivid phrases. The country
was browned by a warm summer, the trees a little touched with autumnal
colour, and the wheat already golden. When they stopped for an hour
at Hirson, men and women with tricolour badges upon the platform
distributed cakes and glasses of beer to the thirsty soldiers, and there
was much cheerfulness. 'Such good, cool beer it was,' he wrote. 'I had
had nothing to eat nor drink since Epsom.'
A number of monoplanes, 'like giant swallows,' he notes, were scouting
in the pink evening sky.
Barnet's battalion was sent through the Sedan country to a place called
Virton, and thence to a point in the woods on the line to Jemelle. Here
they detrained, bivouacked uneasily by the railway--trains and stores
were passing along it all night--and next morning he: marched eastward
through a cold, overcast dawn, and a morning, first cloudy and then
blazing, over a large spacious country-side interspersed by forest
There the infantry were set to work upon a line of masked entrenchments
and hidden rifle pits between St Hubert and Virton that were designed to
check and delay any advance from the east upon the fortified line of
the Meuse. They had their orders, and for two days they worked without
either a sight of the enemy or any suspicion of the disaster that had
abruptly decapitated the armies of Europe, and turned the west of Paris
and the centre of Berlin into blazing miniatures of the destruction of
And the news, when it did come, came attenuated. 'We heard there had
been mischief with aeroplanes and bombs in Paris,' Barnet relates; 'but
it didn't seem to follow that "They" weren't still somewhere elaborating
their plans and issuing orders. When the enemy began to emerge from the
woods in front of us, we cheered and blazed away, and didn't trouble
much more about anything but the battle in hand. If now and then one
cocked up an eye into the sky to see what was happening there, the rip
of a bullet soon brought one down to the horizontal again....
That battle went on for three days all over a great stretch of country
between Louvain on the north and Longwy to the south. It was essentially
a rifle and infantry struggle. The aeroplanes do not seem to have taken
any decisive share in the actual fighting for some days, though no
doubt they effected the strategy from the first by preventing surprise
movements. They were aeroplanes with atomic engines, but they were not
provided with atomic bombs, which were manifestly unsuitable for field
use, nor indeed had they any very effective kind of bomb. And though
they manoeuvred against each other, and there was rifle shooting at them
and between them, there was little actual aerial fighting. Either
the airmen were indisposed to fight or the commanders on both sides
preferred to reserve these machines for scouting....
After a day or so of digging and scheming, Barnet found himself in the
forefront of a battle. He had made his section of rifle pits chiefly
along a line of deep dry ditch that gave a means of inter-communication,
he had had the earth scattered over the adjacent field, and he had
masked his preparations with tussocks of corn and poppy. The hostile
advance came blindly and unsuspiciously across the fields below and
would have been very cruelly handled indeed, if some one away to the
right had not opened fire too soon.
'It was a queer thrill when these fellows came into sight,' he
confesses; 'and not a bit like manoeuvres. They halted for a time on
the edge of the wood and then came forward in an open line. They kept
walking nearer to us and not looking at us, but away to the right of us.
Even when they began to be hit, and their officers' whistles woke them
up, they didn't seem to see us. One or two halted to fire, and then they
all went back towards the wood again. They went slowly at first, looking
round at us, then the shelter of the wood seemed to draw them, and they
trotted. I fired rather mechanically and missed, then I fired again, and
then I became earnest to hit something, made sure of my sighting, and
aimed very carefully at a blue back that was dodging about in the corn.
At first I couldn't satisfy myself and didn't shoot, his movements were
so spasmodic and uncertain; then I think he came to a ditch or some such
obstacle and halted for a moment. "GOT you," I whispered, and
'I had the strangest sensations about that man. In the first instance,
when I felt that I had hit him I was irradiated with joy and pride....
'I sent him spinning. He jumped and threw up his arms....
'Then I saw the corn tops waving and had glimpses of him flapping about.
Suddenly I felt sick. I hadn't killed him....
'In some way he was disabled and smashed up and yet able to struggle
about. I began to think....
'For nearly two hours that Prussian was agonising in the corn. Either
was calling out or some one was shouting to him....
'Then he jumped up--he seemed to try to get up upon his feet with one
last effort; and then he fell like a sack and lay quite still and never
'He had been unendurable, and I believe some one had shot him dead. I
had been wanting to do so for some time....'
The enemy began sniping the rifle pits from shelters they made for
themselves in the woods below. A man was hit in the pit next to Barnet,
and began cursing and crying out in a violent rage. Barnet crawled
along the ditch to him and found him in great pain, covered with blood,
frantic with indignation, and with the half of his right hand smashed to
a pulp. 'Look at this,' he kept repeating, hugging it and then extending
it. 'Damned foolery! Damned foolery! My right hand, sir! My right hand!'
For some time Barnet could do nothing with him. The man was consumed
his tortured realisation of the evil silliness of war, the realisation
which had come upon him in a flash with the bullet that had destroyed
his skill and use as an artificer for ever. He was looking at the
vestiges with a horror that made him impenetrable to any other idea. At
last the poor wretch let Barnet tie up his bleeding stump and help him
along the ditch that conducted him deviously out of range....
When Barnet returned his men were already calling out for water, and
day long the line of pits suffered greatly from thirst. For food they
had chocolate and bread.
'At first,' he says, 'I was extraordinarily excited by my baptism of
fire. Then as the heat of the day came on I experienced an enormous
tedium and discomfort. The flies became extremely troublesome, and my
little grave of a rifle pit was invaded by ants. I could not get up
or move about, for some one in the trees had got a mark on me. I kept
thinking of the dead Prussian down among the corn, and of the bitter
outcries of my own man. Damned foolery! It WAS damned foolery. But who
was to blame? How had we got to this? . . .
'Early in the afternoon an aeroplane tried to dislodge us with dynamite
bombs, but she was hit by bullets once or twice, and suddenly dived down
over beyond the trees.
'"From Holland to the Alps this day," I thought, "there
crouching and lying between half and a million of men, trying to inflict
irreparable damage upon one another. The thing is idiotic to the pitch
of impossibility. It is a dream. Presently I shall wake up." . . .
'Then the phrase changed itself in my mind. "Presently mankind will
'I lay speculating just how many thousands of men there were among these
hundreds of thousands, whose spirits were in rebellion against all these
ancient traditions of flag and empire. Weren't we, perhaps, already in
the throes of the last crisis, in that darkest moment of a nightmare's
horror before the sleeper will endure no more of it--and wakes?
'I don't know how my speculations ended. I think they were not so
much ended as distracted by the distant thudding of the guns that were
opening fire at long range upon Namur.'
But as yet Barnet had seen no more than the mildest beginnings of modern
warfare. So far he had taken part only in a little shooting. The bayonet
attack by which the advanced line was broken was made at a place called
Croix Rouge, more than twenty miles away, and that night under cover of
the darkness the rifle pits were abandoned and he got his company away
without further loss.
His regiment fell back unpressed behind the fortified lines between
Namur and Sedan, entrained at a station called Mettet, and was sent
northward by Antwerp and Rotterdam to Haarlem. Hence they marched into
North Holland. It was only after the march into Holland that he began to
realise the monstrous and catastrophic nature of the struggle in which
he was playing his undistinguished part.
He describes very pleasantly the journey through the hills and open land
of Brabant, the repeated crossing of arms of the Rhine, and the change
from the undulating scenery of Belgium to the flat, rich meadows, the
sunlit dyke roads, and the countless windmills of the Dutch levels.
In those days there was unbroken land from Alkmaar and Leiden to the
Dollart. Three great provinces, South Holland, North Holland, and
Zuiderzeeland, reclaimed at various times between the early tenth
century and 1945 and all many feet below the level of the waves outside
the dykes, spread out their lush polders to the northern sun and
sustained a dense industrious population. An intricate web of laws
and custom and tradition ensured a perpetual vigilance and a perpetual
defence against the beleaguering sea. For more than two hundred and
fifty miles from Walcheren to Friesland stretched a line of embankments
and pumping stations that was the admiration of the world.
If some curious god had chosen to watch the course of events in those
northern provinces while that flanking march of the British was in
progress, he would have found a convenient and appropriate seat for
his observation upon one of the great cumulus clouds that were drifting
slowly across the blue sky during all these eventful days before the
great catastrophe. For that was the quality of the weather, hot and
clear, with something of a breeze, and underfoot dry and a little
inclined to be dusty. This watching god would have looked down upon
broad stretches of sunlit green, sunlit save for the creeping patches
of shadow cast by the clouds, upon sky-reflecting meres, fringed and
divided up by masses of willow and large areas of silvery weeds, upon
white roads lying bare to the sun and upon a tracery of blue canals. The
pastures were alive with cattle, the roads had a busy traffic, of beasts
and bicycles and gaily coloured peasants' automobiles, the hues of the
innumerable motor barges in the canal vied with the eventfulness of the
roadways; and everywhere in solitary steadings, amidst ricks and barns,
in groups by the wayside, in straggling villages, each with its fine old
church, or in compact towns laced with canals and abounding in bridges
and clipped trees, were human habitations.
The people of this country-side were not belligerents. The interests
and sympathies alike of Holland had been so divided that to the end she
remained undecided and passive in the struggle of the world powers. And
everywhere along the roads taken by the marching armies clustered groups
and crowds of impartially observant spectators, women and children in
peculiar white caps and old-fashioned sabots, and elderly, clean-shaven
men quietly thoughtful over their long pipes. They had no fear of their
invaders; the days when 'soldiering' meant bands of licentious looters
had long since passed away....
That watcher among the clouds would have seen a great distribution of
khaki-uniformed men and khaki-painted material over the whole of the
sunken area of Holland. He would have marked the long trains, packed
with men or piled with great guns and war material, creeping slowly,
alert for train-wreckers, along the north-going lines; he would have
seen the Scheldt and Rhine choked with shipping, and pouring out still
more men and still more material; he would have noticed halts and
provisionings and detrainments, and the long, bustling caterpillars of
cavalry and infantry, the maggot-like wagons, the huge beetles of great
guns, crawling under the poplars along the dykes and roads northward,
along ways lined by the neutral, unmolested, ambiguously observant
Dutch. All the barges and shipping upon the canals had been
requisitioned for transport. In that clear, bright, warm weather, it
would all have looked from above like some extravagant festival of
As the sun sank westward the spectacle must have become a little
indistinct because of a golden haze; everything must have become warmer
and more glowing, and because of the lengthening of the shadows more
manifestly in relief. The shadows of the tall churches grew longer and
longer, until they touched the horizon and mingled in the universal
shadow; and then, slow, and soft, and wrapping the world in fold after
fold of deepening blue, came the night--the night at first obscurely
simple, and then with faint points here and there, and then jewelled in
darkling splendour with a hundred thousand lights. Out of that mingling
of darkness and ambiguous glares the noise of an unceasing activity
would have arisen, the louder and plainer now because there was no
longer any distraction of sight.
It may be that watcher drifting in the pellucid gulf beneath the stars
watched all through the night; it may be that he dozed. But if he gave
way to so natural a proclivity, assuredly on the fourth night of the
great flank march he was aroused, for that was the night of the battle
in the air that decided the fate of Holland. The aeroplanes were
fighting at last, and suddenly about him, above and below, with cries
and uproar rushing out of the four quarters of heaven, striking,
plunging, oversetting, soaring to the zenith and dropping to the ground,
they came to assail or defend the myriads below.
Secretly the Central European power had gathered his flying machines
together, and now he threw them as a giant might fling a handful of ten
thousand knives over the low country. And amidst that swarming flight
were five that drove headlong for the sea walls of Holland, carrying
atomic bombs. From north and west and south, the allied aeroplanes rose
in response and swept down upon this sudden attack. So it was that war
in the air began. Men rode upon the whirlwind that night and slew and
fell like archangels. The sky rained heroes upon the astonished earth.
Surely the last fights of mankind were the best. What was the heavy
pounding of your Homeric swordsmen, what was the creaking charge of
chariots, beside this swift rush, this crash, this giddy triumph, this
headlong swoop to death?
And then athwart this whirling rush of aerial duels that swooped and
locked and dropped in the void between the lamp-lights and the stars,
came a great wind and a crash louder than thunder, and first one and
then a score of lengthening fiery serpents plunged hungrily down upon
the Dutchmen's dykes and struck between land and sea and flared up again
in enormous columns of glare and crimsoned smoke and steam.
And out of the darkness leapt the little land, with its spires and
trees, aghast with terror, still and distinct, and the sea, tumbled with
anger, red-foaming like a sea of blood....
Over the populous country below went a strange multitudinous crying and
a flurry of alarm bells... .
The surviving aeroplanes turned about and fled out of the sky, like
things that suddenly know themselves to be wicked....
Through a dozen thunderously flaming gaps that no water might quench,
the waves came roaring in upon the land....
'We had cursed our luck,' says Barnet, 'that we could not get to our
quarters at Alkmaar that night. There, we were told, were provisions,
tobacco, and everything for which we craved. But the main canal from
Zaandam and Amsterdam was hopelessly jammed with craft, and we were glad
of a chance opening that enabled us to get out of the main column and
lie up in a kind of little harbour very much neglected and weedgrown
before a deserted house. We broke into this and found some herrings in
a barrel, a heap of cheeses, and stone bottles of gin in the cellar;
and with this I cheered my starving men. We made fires and toasted the
cheese and grilled our herrings. None of us had slept for nearly forty
hours, and I determined to stay in this refuge until dawn and then if
the traffic was still choked leave the barge and march the rest of the
way into Alkmaar.
'This place we had got into was perhaps a hundred yards from the canal
and underneath a little brick bridge we could see the flotilla still,
and hear the voices of the soldiers. Presently five or six other barges
came through and lay up in the meer near by us, and with two of these,
full of men of the Antrim regiment, I shared my find of provisions. In
return we got tobacco. A large expanse of water spread to the westward
of us and beyond were a cluster of roofs and one or two church towers.
The barge was rather cramped for so many men, and I let several squads,
thirty or forty perhaps altogether, bivouac on the bank. I did not let
them go into the house on account of the furniture, and I left a note of
indebtedness for the food we had taken. We were particularly glad of our
tobacco and fires, because of the numerous mosquitoes that rose about
'The gate of the house from which we had provisioned ourselves was
adorned with the legend, Vreugde bij Vrede, "Joy with Peace,"
bore every mark of the busy retirement of a comfort-loving proprietor.
I went along his garden, which was gay and delightful with big bushes of
rose and sweet brier, to a quaint little summer-house, and there I sat
and watched the men in groups cooking and squatting along the bank. The
sun was setting in a nearly cloudless sky.
'For the last two weeks I had been a wholly occupied man, intent only
upon obeying the orders that came down to me. All through this time I
had been working to the very limit of my mental and physical faculties,
and my only moments of rest had been devoted to snatches of sleep. Now
came this rare, unexpected interlude, and I could look detachedly upon
what I was doing and feel something of its infinite wonderfulness. I was
irradiated with affection for the men of my company and with admiration
at their cheerful acquiescence in the subordination and needs of our
positions. I watched their proceedings and heard their pleasant voices.
How willing those men were! How ready to accept leadership and forget
themselves in collective ends! I thought how manfully they had gone
through all the strains and toil of the last two weeks, how they
had toughened and shaken down to comradeship together, and how much
sweetness there is after all in our foolish human blood. For they were
just one casual sample of the species--their patience and readiness
lay, as the energy of the atom had lain, still waiting to be properly
utilised. Again it came to me with overpowering force that the supreme
need of our race is leading, that the supreme task is to discover
leading, to forget oneself in realising the collective purpose of the
race. Once more I saw life plain....'
Very characteristic is that of the 'rather too corpulent' young
officer, who was afterwards to set it all down in the Wander Jahre. Very
characteristic, too, it is of the change in men's hearts that was even
then preparing a new phase of human history.
He goes on to write of the escape from individuality in science and
service, and of his discovery of this 'salvation.' All that was then,
no doubt, very moving and original; now it seems only the most obvious
commonplace of human life.
The glow of the sunset faded, the twilight deepened into night. The
fires burnt the brighter, and some Irishmen away across the meer started
singing. But Barnet's men were too weary for that sort of thing, and
soon the bank and the barge were heaped with sleeping forms.
'I alone seemed unable to sleep. I suppose I was over-weary, and after
a little feverish slumber by the tiller of the barge I sat up, awake and
'That night Holland seemed all sky. There was just a little black lower
rim to things, a steeple, perhaps, or a line of poplars, and then the
great hemisphere swept over us. As at first the sky was empty. Yet my
uneasiness referred itself in some vague way to the sky.
'And now I was melancholy. I found something strangely sorrowful and
submissive in the sleepers all about me, those men who had marched so
far, who had left all the established texture of their lives behind them
to come upon this mad campaign, this campaign that signified nothing and
consumed everything, this mere fever of fighting. I saw how little and
feeble is the life of man, a thing of chances, preposterously unable
to find the will to realise even the most timid of its dreams. And I
wondered if always it would be so, if man was a doomed animal who would
never to the last days of his time take hold of fate and change it to
his will. Always, it may be, he will remain kindly but jealous, desirous
but discursive, able and unwisely impulsive, until Saturn who begot him
shall devour him in his turn....
'I was roused from these thoughts by the sudden realisation of the
presence of a squadron of aeroplanes far away to the north-east and very
high. They looked like little black dashes against the midnight blue.
I remember that I looked up at them at first rather idly--as one might
notice a flight of birds. Then I perceived that they were only the
extreme wing of a great fleet that was advancing in a long line very
swiftly from the direction of the frontier and my attention tightened.
'Directly I saw that fleet I was astonished not to have seen it before.
'I stood up softly, undesirous of disturbing my companions, but with
heart beating now rather more rapidly with surprise and excitement.
I strained my ears for any sound of guns along our front. Almost
instinctively I turned about for protection to the south and west, and
peered; and then I saw coming as fast and much nearer to me, as if they
had sprung out of the darkness, three banks of aeroplanes; a group
of squadrons very high, a main body at a height perhaps of one or two
thousand feet, and a doubtful number flying low and very indistinct. The
middle ones were so thick they kept putting out groups of stars. And I
realised that after all there was to be fighting in the air.
'There was something extraordinarily strange in this swift, noiseless
convergence of nearly invisible combatants above the sleeping hosts.
Every one about me was still unconscious; there was no sign as yet of
any agitation among the shipping on the main canal, whose whole course,
dotted with unsuspicious lights and fringed with fires, must have been
clearly perceptible from above. Then a long way off towards Alkmaar I
heard bugles, and after that shots, and then a wild clamour of bells. I
determined to let my men sleep on for as long as they could....
'The battle was joined with the swiftness of dreaming. I do not think
can have been five minutes from the moment when I first became aware of
the Central European air fleet to the contact of the two forces. I saw
it quite plainly in silhouette against the luminous blue of the northern
sky. The allied aeroplanes--they were mostly French--came pouring down
like a fierce shower upon the middle of the Central European fleet.
They looked exactly like a coarser sort of rain. There was a crackling
sound--the first sound I heard--it reminded one of the Aurora Borealis,
and I supposed it was an interchange of rifle shots. There were flashes
like summer lightning; and then all the sky became a whirling confusion
of battle that was still largely noiseless. Some of the Central European
aeroplanes were certainly charged and overset; others seemed to collapse
and fall and then flare out with so bright a light that it took the edge
off one's vision and made the rest of the battle disappear as though it
had been snatched back out of sight.
'And then, while I still peered and tried to shade these flames from
eyes with my hand, and while the men about me were beginning to stir,
the atomic bombs were thrown at the dykes. They made a mighty thunder in
the air, and fell like Lucifer in the picture, leaving a flaring
trail in the sky. The night, which had been pellucid and detailed
and eventful, seemed to vanish, to be replaced abruptly by a black
background to these tremendous pillars of fire....
'Hard upon the sound of them came a roaring wind, and the sky was filled
with flickering lightnings and rushing clouds....
'There was something discontinuous in this impact. At one moment I was
a lonely watcher in a sleeping world; the next saw every one about me
afoot, the whole world awake and amazed....
'And then the wind had struck me a buffet, taken my helmet and swept
aside the summerhouse of Vreugde bij Vrede, as a scythe sweeps away
grass. I saw the bombs fall, and then watched a great crimson flare leap
responsive to each impact, and mountainous masses of red-lit steam and
flying fragments clamber up towards the zenith. Against the glare I saw
the country-side for miles standing black and clear, churches, trees,
chimneys. And suddenly I understood. The Central Europeans had burst
the dykes. Those flares meant the bursting of the dykes, and in a little
while the sea-water would be upon us....'
He goes on to tell with a certain prolixity of the steps he took--and
all things considered they were very intelligent steps--to meet this
amazing crisis. He got his men aboard and hailed the adjacent barges;
he got the man who acted as barge engineer at his post and the engines
working, he cast loose from his moorings. Then he bethought himself of
food, and contrived to land five men, get in a few dozen cheeses, and
ship his men again before the inundation reached them.
He is reasonably proud of this piece of coolness. His idea was to take
the wave head-on and with his engines full speed ahead. And all the
while he was thanking heaven he was not in the jam of traffic in the
main canal. He rather, I think, overestimated the probable rush of
waters; he dreaded being swept away, he explains, and smashed against
houses and trees.
He does not give any estimate of the time it took between the bursting
of the dykes and the arrival of the waters, but it was probably an
interval of about twenty minutes or half an hour. He was working now
in darkness--save for the light of his lantern--and in a great wind. He
hung out head and stern lights....
Whirling torrents of steam were pouring up from the advancing waters,
which had rushed, it must be remembered, through nearly incandescent
gaps in the sea defences, and this vast uprush of vapour soon veiled the
flaring centres of explosion altogether.
'The waters came at last, an advancing cascade. It was like a broad
roller sweeping across the country. They came with a deep, roaring
sound. I had expected a Niagara, but the total fall of the front could
not have been much more than twelve feet. Our barge hesitated for a
moment, took a dose over her bows, and then lifted. I signalled for full
speed ahead and brought her head upstream, and held on like grim death
to keep her there.
'There was a wind about as strong as the flood, and I found we were
pounding against every conceivable buoyant object that had been between
us and the sea. The only light in the world now came from our lamps,
the steam became impenetrable at a score of yards from the boat, and
the roar of the wind and water cut us off from all remoter sounds. The
black, shining waters swirled by, coming into the light of our lamps out
of an ebony blackness and vanishing again into impenetrable black.
And on the waters came shapes, came things that flashed upon us for a
moment, now a half-submerged boat, now a cow, now a huge fragment of a
house's timberings, now a muddle of packing-cases and scaffolding.
The things clapped into sight like something shown by the opening of a
shutter, and then bumped shatteringly against us or rushed by us. Once I
saw very clearly a man's white face....
'All the while a group of labouring, half-submerged trees remained ahead
of us, drawing very slowly nearer. I steered a course to avoid them.
They seemed to gesticulate a frantic despair against the black steam
clouds behind. Once a great branch detached itself and tore shuddering
by me. We did, on the whole, make headway. The last I saw of Vreugde bij
Vrede before the night swallowed it, was almost dead astern of us....'
Morning found Barnet still afloat. The bows of his barge had been badly
strained, and his men were pumping or baling in relays. He had got about
a dozen half-drowned people aboard whose boat had capsized near him, and
he had three other boats in tow. He was afloat, and somewhere between
Amsterdam and Alkmaar, but he could not tell where. It was a day that
was still half night. Gray waters stretched in every direction under a
dark gray sky, and out of the waves rose the upper parts of houses, in
many cases ruined, the tops of trees, windmills, in fact the upper third
of all the familiar Dutch scenery; and on it there drifted a dimly seen
flotilla of barges, small boats, many overturned, furniture, rafts,
timbering, and miscellaneous objects.
The drowned were under water that morning. Only here and there did a
dead cow or a stiff figure still clinging stoutly to a box or chair or
such-like buoy hint at the hidden massacre. It was not till the Thursday
that the dead came to the surface in any quantity. The view was bounded
on every side by a gray mist that closed overhead in a gray canopy. The
air cleared in the afternoon, and then, far away to the west under great
banks of steam and dust, the flaming red eruption of the atomic bombs
came visible across the waste of water.
They showed flat and sullen through the mist, like London sunsets. 'They
sat upon the sea,' says Barnet, 'like frayed-out waterlilies of flame.'
Barnet seems to have spent the morning in rescue work along the track
of the canal, in helping people who were adrift, in picking up derelict
boats, and in taking people out of imperilled houses. He found other
military barges similarly employed, and it was only as the day wore on
and the immediate appeals for aid were satisfied that he thought of food
and drink for his men, and what course he had better pursue. They had a
little cheese, but no water. 'Orders,' that mysterious direction, had at
last altogether disappeared. He perceived he had now to act upon his own
'One's sense was of a destruction so far-reaching and of a world so
altered that it seemed foolish to go in any direction and expect to find
things as they had been before the war began. I sat on the quarter-deck
with Mylius my engineer and Kemp and two others of the non-commissioned
officers, and we consulted upon our line of action. We were foodless and
aimless. We agreed that our fighting value was extremely small, and that
our first duty was to get ourselves in touch with food and instructions
again. Whatever plan of campaign had directed our movements was
manifestly smashed to bits. Mylius was of opinion that we could take
a line westward and get back to England across the North Sea. He
calculated that with such a motor barge as ours it would be possible to
reach the Yorkshire coast within four-and-twenty hours. But this idea
I overruled because of the shortness of our provisions, and more
particularly because of our urgent need of water.
'Every boat we drew near now hailed us for water, and their demands did
much to exasperate our thirst. I decided that if we went away to the
south we should reach hilly country, or at least country that was not
submerged, and then we should be able to land, find some stream, drink,
and get supplies and news. Many of the barges adrift in the haze about
us were filled with British soldiers and had floated up from the Nord
See Canal, but none of them were any better informed than ourselves of
the course of events. "Orders" had, in fact, vanished out of the
'"Orders" made a temporary reappearance late that evening in
of a megaphone hail from a British torpedo boat, announcing a truce, and
giving the welcome information that food and water were being hurried
down the Rhine and were to be found on the barge flotilla lying over the
old Rhine above Leiden.' . . .
We will not follow Barnet, however, in the description of his strange
overland voyage among trees and houses and churches by Zaandam and
between Haarlem and Amsterdam, to Leiden. It was a voyage in a red-lit
mist, in a world of steamy silhouette, full of strange voices and
perplexity, and with every other sensation dominated by a feverish
thirst. 'We sat,' he says, 'in a little huddled group, saying very
little, and the men forward were mere knots of silent endurance. Our
only continuing sound was the persistent mewing of a cat one of the men
had rescued from a floating hayrick near Zaandam. We kept a southward
course by a watch-chain compass Mylius had produced....
'I do not think any of us felt we belonged to a defeated army, nor had
we any strong sense of the war as the dominating fact about us. Our
mental setting had far more of the effect of a huge natural catastrophe.
The atomic bombs had dwarfed the international issues to complete
insignificance. When our minds wandered from the preoccupations of our
immediate needs, we speculated upon the possibility of stopping the use
of these frightful explosives before the world was utterly destroyed.
For to us it seemed quite plain that these bombs and the still greater
power of destruction of which they were the precursors might quite
easily shatter every relationship and institution of mankind.
'"What will they be doing," asked Mylius, "what will they
It's plain we've got to put an end to war. It's plain things have to be
run some way. THIS--all this--is impossible."
'I made no immediate answer. Something--I cannot think what--had brought
back to me the figure of that man I had seen wounded on the very first
day of actual fighting. I saw again his angry, tearful eyes, and that
poor, dripping, bloody mess that had been a skilful human hand five
minutes before, thrust out in indignant protest. "Damned foolery,"
had stormed and sobbed, "damned foolery. My right hand, sir! My RIGHT
hand. . . ."
'My faith had for a time gone altogether out of me. "I think we
too--too silly," I said to Mylius, "ever to stop war. If we'd
sense to do it, we should have done it before this. I think this----"
pointed to the gaunt black outline of a smashed windmill that stuck up,
ridiculous and ugly, above the blood-lit waters--"this is the end."'
But now our history must part company with Frederick Barnet and his
barge-load of hungry and starving men.
For a time in western Europe at least it was indeed as if civilisation
had come to a final collapse. These crowning buds upon the tradition
that Napoleon planted and Bismarck watered, opened and flared 'like
waterlilies of flame' over nations destroyed, over churches smashed or
submerged, towns ruined, fields lost to mankind for ever, and a million
weltering bodies. Was this lesson enough for mankind, or would the
flames of war still burn amidst the ruins?
Neither Barnet nor his companions, it is clear, had any assurance in
their answers to that question. Already once in the history of
mankind, in America, before its discovery by the whites, an organised
civilisation had given way to a mere cult of warfare, specialised and
cruel, and it seemed for a time to many a thoughtful man as if the
whole world was but to repeat on a larger scale this ascendancy of the
warrior, this triumph of the destructive instincts of the race.
The subsequent chapters of Barnet's narrative do but supply body to
this tragic possibility. He gives a series of vignettes of civilisation,
shattered, it seemed, almost irreparably. He found the Belgian hills
swarming with refugees and desolated by cholera; the vestiges of the
contending armies keeping order under a truce, without actual battles,
but with the cautious hostility of habit, and a great absence of plan
Overhead aeroplanes went on mysterious errands, and there were rumours
of cannibalism and hysterical fanaticisms in the valleys of the Semoy
and the forest region of the eastern Ardennes. There was the report
of an attack upon Russia by the Chinese and Japanese, and of some huge
revolutionary outbreak in America. The weather was stormier than men had
ever known it in those regions, with much thunder and lightning and wild
cloud-bursts of rain....
CHAPTER THE THIRD
THE ENDING OF WAR
On the mountain-side above the town of Brissago and commanding two
long stretches of Lake Maggiore, looking eastward to Bellinzona, and
southward to Luino, there is a shelf of grass meadows which is very
beautiful in springtime with a great multitude of wild flowers. More
particularly is this so in early June, when the slender asphodel Saint
Bruno's lily, with its spike of white blossom, is in flower. To the
westward of this delightful shelf there is a deep and densely wooded
trench, a great gulf of blue some mile or so in width out of which
arise great precipices very high and wild. Above the asphodel fields the
mountains climb in rocky slopes to solitudes of stone and sunlight that
curve round and join that wall of cliffs in one common skyline. This
desolate and austere background contrasts very vividly with the glowing
serenity of the great lake below, with the spacious view of fertile
hills and roads and villages and islands to south and east, and with the
hotly golden rice flats of the Val Maggia to the north. And because
it was a remote and insignificant place, far away out of the crowding
tragedies of that year of disaster, away from burning cities and
starving multitudes, bracing and tranquillising and hidden, it was here
that there gathered the conference of rulers that was to arrest, if
possible, before it was too late, the debacle of civilisation. Here,
brought together by the indefatigable energy of that impassioned
humanitarian, Leblanc, the French ambassador at Washington, the chief
Powers of the world were to meet in a last desperate conference to 'save
Leblanc was one of those ingenuous men whose lot would have been
insignificant in any period of security, but who have been caught up
to an immortal role in history by the sudden simplification of
human affairs through some tragical crisis, to the measure of their
simplicity. Such a man was Abraham Lincoln, and such was Garibaldi.
And Leblanc, with his transparent childish innocence, his entire
self-forgetfulness, came into this confusion of distrust and intricate
disaster with an invincible appeal for the manifest sanities of the
situation. His voice, when he spoke, was 'full of remonstrance.' He was
a little bald, spectacled man, inspired by that intellectual idealism
which has been one of the peculiar gifts of France to humanity. He was
possessed of one clear persuasion, that war must end, and that the only
way to end war was to have but one government for mankind. He brushed
aside all other considerations. At the very outbreak of the war, so soon
as the two capitals of the belligerents had been wrecked, he went to the
president in the White House with this proposal. He made it as if it was
a matter of course. He was fortunate to be in Washington and in touch
with that gigantic childishness which was the characteristic of the
American imagination. For the Americans also were among the simple
peoples by whom the world was saved. He won over the American president
and the American government to his general ideas; at any rate they
supported him sufficiently to give him a standing with the more
sceptical European governments, and with this backing he set to work--it
seemed the most fantastic of enterprises--to bring together all the
rulers of the world and unify them. He wrote innumerable letters, he
sent messages, he went desperate journeys, he enlisted whatever support
he could find; no one was too humble for an ally or too obstinate
for his advances; through the terrible autumn of the last wars this
persistent little visionary in spectacles must have seemed rather like a
hopeful canary twittering during a thunderstorm. And no accumulation of
disasters daunted his conviction that they could be ended.
For the whole world was flaring then into a monstrous phase of
destruction. Power after Power about the armed globe sought to
anticipate attack by aggression. They went to war in a delirium of
panic, in order to use their bombs first. China and Japan had assailed
Russia and destroyed Moscow, the United States had attacked Japan, India
was in anarchistic revolt with Delhi a pit of fire spouting death and
flame; the redoubtable King of the Balkans was mobilising. It must
have seemed plain at last to every one in those days that the world
was slipping headlong to anarchy. By the spring of 1959 from nearly
two hundred centres, and every week added to their number, roared the
unquenchable crimson conflagrations of the atomic bombs, the flimsy
fabric of the world's credit had vanished, industry was completely
disorganised and every city, every thickly populated area was starving
or trembled on the verge of starvation. Most of the capital cities of
the world were burning; millions of people had already perished, and
over great areas government was at an end. Humanity has been compared
by one contemporary writer to a sleeper who handles matches in his sleep
and wakes to find himself in flames.
For many months it was an open question whether there was to be found
throughout all the race the will and intelligence to face these new
conditions and make even an attempt to arrest the downfall of the social
order. For a time the war spirit defeated every effort to rally the
forces of preservation and construction. Leblanc seemed to be protesting
against earthquakes, and as likely to find a spirit of reason in the
crater of Etna. Even though the shattered official governments now
clamoured for peace, bands of irreconcilables and invincible patriots,
usurpers, adventurers, and political desperadoes, were everywhere in
possession of the simple apparatus for the disengagement of atomic
energy and the initiation of new centres of destruction. The stuff
exercised an irresistible fascination upon a certain type of mind.
Why should any one give in while he can still destroy his enemies?
Surrender? While there is still a chance of blowing them to dust? The
power of destruction which had once been the ultimate privilege
of government was now the only power left in the world--and it was
everywhere. There were few thoughtful men during that phase of
blazing waste who did not pass through such moods of despair as Barnet
describes, and declare with him: 'This is the end....'
And all the while Leblanc was going to and fro with glittering glasses
and an inexhaustible persuasiveness, urging the manifest reasonableness
of his view upon ears that ceased presently to be inattentive. Never at
any time did he betray a doubt that all this chaotic conflict would end.
No nurse during a nursery uproar was ever so certain of the inevitable
ultimate peace. From being treated as an amiable dreamer he came by
insensible degrees to be regarded as an extravagant possibility. Then he
began to seem even practicable. The people who listened to him in 1958
with a smiling impatience, were eager before 1959 was four months old
to know just exactly what he thought might be done. He answered with the
patience of a philosopher and the lucidity of a Frenchman. He began to
receive responses of a more and more hopeful type. He came across
the Atlantic to Italy, and there he gathered in the promises for this
congress. He chose those high meadows above Brissago for the reasons we
have stated. 'We must get away,' he said, 'from old associations.' He
set to work requisitioning material for his conference with an assurance
that was justified by the replies. With a slight incredulity the
conference which was to begin a new order in the world, gathered itself
together. Leblanc summoned it without arrogance, he controlled it by
virtue of an infinite humility. Men appeared upon those upland slopes
with the apparatus for wireless telegraphy; others followed with tents
and provisions; a little cable was flung down to a convenient point
upon the Locarno road below. Leblanc arrived, sedulously directing every
detail that would affect the tone of the assembly. He might have been a
courier in advance rather than the originator of the gathering. And
then there arrived, some by the cable, most by aeroplane, a few in other
fashions, the men who had been called together to confer upon the state
of the world. It was to be a conference without a name. Nine monarchs,
the presidents of four republics, a number of ministers and ambassadors,
powerful journalists, and such-like prominent and influential men, took
part in it. There were even scientific men; and that world-famous old
man, Holsten, came with the others to contribute his amateur statecraft
to the desperate problem of the age. Only Leblanc would have dared so to
summon figure heads and powers and intelligence, or have had the courage
to hope for their agreement....
And one at least of those who were called to this conference of
governments came to it on foot. This was King Egbert, the young king
of the most venerable kingdom in Europe. He was a rebel, and had always
been of deliberate choice a rebel against the magnificence of his
position. He affected long pedestrian tours and a disposition to sleep
in the open air. He came now over the Pass of Sta Maria Maggiore and
by boat up the lake to Brissago; thence he walked up the mountain, a
pleasant path set with oaks and sweet chestnut. For provision on the
walk, for he did not want to hurry, he carried with him a pocketful
of bread and cheese. A certain small retinue that was necessary to his
comfort and dignity upon occasions of state he sent on by the cable car,
and with him walked his private secretary, Firmin, a man who had
thrown up the Professorship of World Politics in the London School of
Sociology, Economics, and Political Science, to take up these duties.
Firmin was a man of strong rather than rapid thought, he had anticipated
great influence in this new position, and after some years he was still
only beginning to apprehend how largely his function was to listen.
Originally he had been something of a thinker upon international
politics, an authority upon tariffs and strategy, and a valued
contributor to various of the higher organs of public opinion, but the
atomic bombs had taken him by surprise, and he had still to recover
completely from his pre-atomic opinions and the silencing effect of
those sustained explosives.
The king's freedom from the trammels of etiquette was very complete.
theory--and he abounded in theory--his manners were purely democratic.
It was by sheer habit and inadvertency that he permitted Firmin, who had
discovered a rucksack in a small shop in the town below, to carry
both bottles of beer. The king had never, as a matter of fact, carried
anything for himself in his life, and he had never noted that he did not
'We will have nobody with us,' he said, 'at all. We will be perfectly
So Firmin carried the beer.
As they walked up--it was the king made the pace rather than
Firmin--they talked of the conference before them, and Firmin, with a
certain want of assurance that would have surprised him in himself
in the days of his Professorship, sought to define the policy of his
companion. 'In its broader form, sir,' said Firmin; 'I admit a certain
plausibility in this project of Leblanc's, but I feel that although
it may be advisable to set up some sort of general control for
International affairs--a sort of Hague Court with extended powers--that
is no reason whatever for losing sight of the principles of national and
'Firmin,' said the king, 'I am going to set my brother kings a good
Firmin intimated a curiosity that veiled a dread.
'By chucking all that nonsense,' said the king.
He quickened his pace as Firmin, who was already a little out of breath,
betrayed a disposition to reply.
'I am going to chuck all that nonsense,' said the king, as Firmin
prepared to speak. 'I am going to fling my royalty and empire on the
table--and declare at once I don't mean to haggle. It's haggling--about
rights--has been the devil in human affairs, for--always. I am going to
stop this nonsense.'
Firmin halted abruptly. 'But, sir!' he cried.
The king stopped six yards ahead of him and looked back at his adviser's
'Do you really think, Firmin, that I am here as--as an infernal
politician to put my crown and my flag and my claims and so forth in the
way of peace? That little Frenchman is right. You know he is right
as well as I do. Those things are over. We--we kings and rulers and
representatives have been at the very heart of the mischief. Of course
we imply separation, and of course separation means the threat of war,
and of course the threat of war means the accumulation of more and more
atomic bombs. The old game's up. But, I say, we mustn't stand here, you
know. The world waits. Don't you think the old game's up, Firmin?'
Firmin adjusted a strap, passed a hand over his wet forehead, and
followed earnestly. 'I admit, sir,' he said to a receding back, 'that
there has to be some sort of hegemony, some sort of Amphictyonic
'There's got to be one simple government for all the world,' said the
king over his shoulder.
'But as for a reckless, unqualified abandonment, sir----'
'BANG!' cried the king.
Firmin made no answer to this interruption. But a faint shadow of
annoyance passed across his heated features.
'Yesterday,' said the king, by way of explanation, 'the Japanese very
nearly got San Francisco.'
'I hadn't heard, sir.'
'The Americans ran the Japanese aeroplane down into the sea and there
the bomb got busted.'
'Under the sea, sir?'
'Yes. Submarine volcano. The steam is in sight of the Californian coast.
It was as near as that. And with things like this happening, you want
me to go up this hill and haggle. Consider the effect of that upon my
imperial cousin--and all the others!'
'HE will haggle, sir.'
'Not a bit of it,' said the king.
'Leblanc won't let him.'
Firmin halted abruptly and gave a vicious pull at the offending strap.
'Sir, he will listen to his advisers,' he said, in a tone that in
some subtle way seemed to implicate his master with the trouble of the
The king considered him.
'We will go just a little higher,' he said. 'I want to find this
unoccupied village they spoke of, and then we will drink that beer. It
can't be far. We will drink the beer and throw away the bottles. And
then, Firmin, I shall ask you to look at things in a more generous
light.... Because, you know, you must....'
He turned about and for some time the only sound they made was the
noise of their boots upon the loose stones of the way and the irregular
breathing of Firmin.
At length, as it seemed to Firmin, or quite soon, as it seemed to the
king, the gradient of the path diminished, the way widened out, and they
found themselves in a very beautiful place indeed. It was one of those
upland clusters of sheds and houses that are still to be found in the
mountains of North Italy, buildings that were used only in the high
summer, and which it was the custom to leave locked up and deserted
through all the winter and spring, and up to the middle of June. The
buildings were of a soft-toned gray stone, buried in rich green grass,
shadowed by chestnut trees and lit by an extraordinary blaze of yellow
broom. Never had the king seen broom so glorious; he shouted at the
light of it, for it seemed to give out more sunlight even than it
received; he sat down impulsively on a lichenous stone, tugged out his
bread and cheese, and bade Firmin thrust the beer into the shaded weeds
'The things people miss, Firmin,' he said, 'who go up into the air in
Firmin looked around him with an ungenial eye. 'You see it at its best,
sir,' he said, 'before the peasants come here again and make it filthy.'
'It would be beautiful anyhow,' said the king.
'Superficially, sir,' said Firmin. 'But it stands for a social order
that is fast vanishing away. Indeed, judging by the grass between the
stones and in the huts, I am inclined to doubt if it is in use even
'I suppose,' said the king, 'they would come up immediately the hay
on this flower meadow is cut. It would be those slow, creamy-coloured
beasts, I expect, one sees on the roads below, and swarthy girls with
red handkerchiefs over their black hair.... It is wonderful to think how
long that beautiful old life lasted. In the Roman times and long ages
before ever the rumour of the Romans had come into these parts, men
drove their cattle up into these places as the summer came on.... How
haunted is this place! There have been quarrels here, hopes, children
have played here and lived to be old crones and old gaffers, and died,
and so it has gone on for thousands of lives. Lovers, innumerable
lovers, have caressed amidst this golden broom....'
He meditated over a busy mouthful of bread and cheese.
'We ought to have brought a tankard for that beer,' he said.
Firmin produced a folding aluminium cup, and the king was pleased to
'I wish, sir,' said Firmin suddenly, 'I could induce you at least to
delay your decision----'
'It's no good talking, Firmin,' said the king. 'My mind's as clear as
'Sire,' protested Firmin, with his voice full of bread and cheese and
genuine emotion, 'have you no respect for your kingship?'
The king paused before he answered with unwonted gravity. 'It's just
because I have, Firmin, that I won't be a puppet in this game of
international politics.' He regarded his companion for a moment and then
remarked: 'Kingship!--what do YOU know of kingship, Firmin?
'Yes,' cried the king to his astonished counsellor. 'For the first time
in my life I am going to be a king. I am going to lead, and lead by
my own authority. For a dozen generations my family has been a set of
dummies in the hands of their advisers. Advisers! Now I am going to be a
real king--and I am going to--to abolish, dispose of, finish, the crown
to which I have been a slave. But what a world of paralysing shams
this roaring stuff has ended! The rigid old world is in the melting-pot
again, and I, who seemed to be no more than the stuffing inside a regal
robe, I am a king among kings. I have to play my part at the head of
things and put an end to blood and fire and idiot disorder.'
'But, sir,' protested Firmin.
'This man Leblanc is right. The whole world has got to be a Republic,
one and indivisible. You know that, and my duty is to make that easy.
A king should lead his people; you want me to stick on their backs like
some Old Man of the Sea. To-day must be a sacrament of kings. Our trust
for mankind is done with and ended. We must part our robes among them,
we must part our kingship among them, and say to them all, now the
king in every one must rule the world.... Have you no sense of the
magnificence of this occasion? You want me, Firmin, you want me to go
up there and haggle like a damned little solicitor for some price, some
compensation, some qualification....'
Firmin shrugged his shoulders and assumed an expression of despair.
Meanwhile, he conveyed, one must eat.
For a time neither spoke, and the king ate and turned over in his mind
the phrases of the speech he intended to make to the conference. By
virtue of the antiquity of his crown he was to preside, and he intended
to make his presidency memorable. Reassured of his eloquence, he
considered the despondent and sulky Firmin for a space.
'Firmin,' he said, 'you have idealised kingship.' 'It has been my dream,
sir,' said Firmin sorrowfully, 'to serve.'
'At the levers, Firmin,' said the king.
'You are pleased to be unjust,' said Firmin, deeply hurt.
'I am pleased to be getting out of it,' said the king.
'Oh, Firmin,' he went on, 'have you no thought for me? Will you never
realise that I am not only flesh and blood but an imagination--with its
rights. I am a king in revolt against that fetter they put upon my head.
I am a king awake. My reverend grandparents never in all their august
lives had a waking moment. They loved the job that you, you advisers,
gave them; they never had a doubt of it. It was like giving a doll to
a woman who ought to have a child. They delighted in processions and
opening things and being read addresses to, and visiting triplets and
nonagenarians and all that sort of thing. Incredibly. They used to keep
albums of cuttings from all the illustrated papers showing them at it,
and if the press-cutting parcels grew thin they were worried. It was all
that ever worried them. But there is something atavistic in me; I
hark back to unconstitutional monarchs. They christened me too
retrogressively, I think. I wanted to get things done. I was bored. I
might have fallen into vice, most intelligent and energetic princes do,
but the palace precautions were unusually thorough. I was brought up in
the purest court the world has ever seen. . . . Alertly pure.... So I
read books, Firmin, and went about asking questions. The thing was bound
to happen to one of us sooner or later. Perhaps, too, very likely I'm
not vicious. I don't think I am.'
He reflected. 'No,' he said.
Firmin cleared his throat. 'I don't think you are, sir,' he said. 'You
He stopped short. He had been going to say 'talking.' He substituted
'That world of royalty!' the king went on. 'In a little while no one
will understand it any more. It will become a riddle....
'Among other things, it was a world of perpetual best clothes.
Everything was in its best clothes for us, and usually wearing bunting.
With a cinema watching to see we took it properly. If you are a king,
Firmin, and you go and look at a regiment, it instantly stops whatever
it is doing, changes into full uniform and presents arms. When my august
parents went in a train the coal in the tender used to be whitened. It
did, Firmin, and if coal had been white instead of black I have no doubt
the authorities would have blackened it. That was the spirit of our
treatment. People were always walking about with their faces to us. One
never saw anything in profile. One got an impression of a world that
was insanely focused on ourselves. And when I began to poke my little
questions into the Lord Chancellor and the archbishop and all the rest
of them, about what I should see if people turned round, the general
effect I produced was that I wasn't by any means displaying the Royal
Tact they had expected of me....'
He meditated for a time.
'And yet, you know, there is something in the kingship, Firmin. It
stiffened up my august little grandfather. It gave my grandmother a
kind of awkward dignity even when she was cross--and she was very
often cross. They both had a profound sense of responsibility. My poor
father's health was wretched during his brief career; nobody outside the
circle knows just how he screwed himself up to things. "My people expect
it," he used to say of this tiresome duty or that. Most of the things
they made him do were silly--it was part of a bad tradition, but
there was nothing silly in the way he set about them.... The spirit of
kingship is a fine thing, Firmin; I feel it in my bones; I do not know
what I might not be if I were not a king. I could die for my people,
Firmin, and you couldn't. No, don't say you could die for me, because
I know better. Don't think I forget my kingship, Firmin, don't imagine
that. I am a king, a kingly king, by right divine. The fact that I am
also a chattering young man makes not the slightest difference to that.
But the proper text-book for kings, Firmin, is none of the court memoirs
and Welt-Politik books you would have me read; it is old Fraser's Golden
Bough. Have you read that, Firmin?'
Firmin had. 'Those were the authentic kings. In the end they were cut
up and a bit given to everybody. They sprinkled the nations--with
Firmin turned himself round and faced his royal master.
'What do you intend to do, sir?' he asked. 'If you will not listen to
me, what do you propose to do this afternoon?'
The king flicked crumbs from his coat.
'Manifestly war has to stop for ever, Firmin. Manifestly this can only
be done by putting all the world under one government. Our crowns and
flags are in the way. Manifestly they must go.'
'Yes, sir,' interrupted Firmin, 'but WHAT government? I don't see what
government you get by a universal abdication!'
'Well,' said the king, with his hands about his knees, 'WE shall be the
'The conference?' exclaimed Firmin.
'Who else?' asked the king simply.
'It's perfectly simple,' he added to Firmin's tremendous silence.
'But,' cried Firmin, 'you must have sanctions! Will there be no form
election, for example?'
'Why should there be?' asked the king, with intelligent curiosity.
'The consent of the governed.'
'Firmin, we are just going to lay down our differences and take over
government. Without any election at all. Without any sanction. The
governed will show their consent by silence. If any effective opposition
arises we shall ask it to come in and help. The true sanction of
kingship is the grip upon the sceptre. We aren't going to worry people
to vote for us. I'm certain the mass of men does not want to be bothered
with such things.... We'll contrive a way for any one interested to join
in. That's quite enough in the way of democracy. Perhaps later--when
things don't matter.... We shall govern all right, Firmin. Government
only becomes difficult when the lawyers get hold of it, and since these
troubles began the lawyers are shy. Indeed, come to think of it, I
wonder where all the lawyers are.... Where are they? A lot, of course,
were bagged, some of the worst ones, when they blew up my legislature.
You never knew the late Lord Chancellor. . . .
'Necessities bury rights. And create them. Lawyers live on dead rights
disinterred.... We've done with that way of living. We won't have more
law than a code can cover and beyond that government will be free....
'Before the sun sets to-day, Firmin, trust me, we shall have made our
abdications, all of us, and declared the World Republic, supreme and
indivisible. I wonder what my august grandmother would have made of it!
All my rights! . . . And then we shall go on governing. What else is
there to do? All over the world we shall declare that there is no longer
mine or thine, but ours. China, the United States, two-thirds of Europe,
will certainly fall in and obey. They will have to do so. What else can
they do? Their official rulers are here with us. They won't be able
to get together any sort of idea of not obeying us.... Then we
shall declare that every sort of property is held in trust for the
'But, sir!' cried Firmin, suddenly enlightened. 'Has this been arranged
'My dear Firmin, do you think we have come here, all of us, to talk
at large? The talking has been done for half a century. Talking
and writing. We are here to set the new thing, the simple, obvious,
necessary thing, going.'
He stood up.
Firmin, forgetting the habits of a score of years, remained seated.
'WELL,' he said at last. 'And I have known nothing!'
The king smiled very cheerfully. He liked these talks with Firmin.
That conference upon the Brissago meadows was one of the most
heterogeneous collections of prominent people that has ever met
together. Principalities and powers, stripped and shattered until all
their pride and mystery were gone, met in a marvellous new humility.
Here were kings and emperors whose capitals were lakes of flaming
destruction, statesmen whose countries had become chaos, scared
politicians and financial potentates. Here were leaders of thought and
learned investigators dragged reluctantly to the control of affairs.
Altogether there were ninety-three of them, Leblanc's conception of
the head men of the world. They had all come to the realisation of the
simple truths that the indefatigable Leblanc had hammered into them;
and, drawing his resources from the King of Italy, he had provisioned
his conference with a generous simplicity quite in accordance with the
rest of his character, and so at last was able to make his astonishing
and entirely rational appeal. He had appointed King Egbert the
president, he believed in this young man so firmly that he completely
dominated him, and he spoke himself as a secretary might speak from the
president's left hand, and evidently did not realise himself that he was
telling them all exactly what they had to do. He imagined he was
merely recapitulating the obvious features of the situation for their
convenience. He was dressed in ill-fitting white silk clothes, and he
consulted a dingy little packet of notes as he spoke. They put him out.
He explained that he had never spoken from notes before, but that this
occasion was exceptional.
And then King Egbert spoke as he was expected to speak, and Leblanc's
spectacles moistened at that flow of generous sentiment, most amiably
and lightly expressed. 'We haven't to stand on ceremony,' said the king,
'we have to govern the world. We have always pretended to govern the
world and here is our opportunity.'
'Of course,' whispered Leblanc, nodding his head rapidly, 'of course.'
'The world has been smashed up, and we have to put it on its wheels
again,' said King Egbert. 'And it is the simple common sense of this
crisis for all to help and none to seek advantage. Is that our tone or
The gathering was too old and seasoned and miscellaneous for any great
displays of enthusiasm, but that was its tone, and with an astonishment
that somehow became exhilarating it began to resign, repudiate, and
declare its intentions. Firmin, taking notes behind his master, heard
everything that had been foretold among the yellow broom, come
true. With a queer feeling that he was dreaming, he assisted at the
proclamation of the World State, and saw the message taken out to the
wireless operators to be throbbed all round the habitable globe. 'And
next,' said King Egbert, with a cheerful excitement in his voice, 'we
have to get every atom of Carolinum and all the plant for making it,
into our control....'
Firman was not alone in his incredulity. Not a man there who was not
very amiable, reasonable, benevolent creature at bottom; some had been
born to power and some had happened upon it, some had struggled to get
it, not clearly knowing what it was and what it implied, but none was
irreconcilably set upon its retention at the price of cosmic disaster.
Their minds had been prepared by circumstances and sedulously cultivated
by Leblanc; and now they took the broad obvious road along which King
Egbert was leading them, with a mingled conviction of strangeness and
necessity. Things went very smoothly; the King of Italy explained the
arrangements that had been made for the protection of the camp from any
fantastic attack; a couple of thousand of aeroplanes, each carrying a
sharpshooter, guarded them, and there was an excellent system of relays,
and at night all the sky would be searched by scores of lights, and the
admirable Leblanc gave luminous reasons for their camping just where
they were and going on with their administrative duties forthwith. He
knew of this place, because he had happened upon it when holiday-making
with Madame Leblanc twenty years and more ago. 'There is very simple
fare at present,' he explained, 'on account of the disturbed state of
the countries about us. But we have excellent fresh milk, good red wine,
beef, bread, salad, and lemons. . . . In a few days I hope to place
things in the hands of a more efficient caterer....'
The members of the new world government dined at three long tables on
trestles, and down the middle of these tables Leblanc, in spite of
the barrenness of his menu, had contrived to have a great multitude of
beautiful roses. There was similar accommodation for the secretaries and
attendants at a lower level down the mountain. The assembly dined as it
had debated, in the open air, and over the dark crags to the west the
glowing June sunset shone upon the banquet. There was no precedency now
among the ninety-three, and King Egbert found himself between a pleasant
little Japanese stranger in spectacles and his cousin of Central Europe,
and opposite a great Bengali leader and the President of the United
States of America. Beyond the Japanese was Holsten, the old chemist, and
Leblanc was a little way down the other side.
The king was still cheerfully talkative and abounded in ideas. He fell
presently into an amiable controversy with the American, who seemed to
feel a lack of impressiveness in the occasion.
It was ever the Transatlantic tendency, due, no doubt, to the necessity
of handling public questions in a bulky and striking manner, to
over-emphasise and over-accentuate, and the president was touched by
his national failing. He suggested now that there should be a new era,
starting from that day as the first day of the first year.
The king demurred.
'From this day forth, sir, man enters upon his heritage,' said the
'Man,' said the king, 'is always entering upon his heritage. You
Americans have a peculiar weakness for anniversaries--if you will
forgive me saying so. Yes--I accuse you of a lust for dramatic effect.
Everything is happening always, but you want to say this or this is the
real instant in time and subordinate all the others to it.'
The American said something about an epoch-making day.
'But surely,' said the king, 'you don't want us to condemn all humanity
to a world-wide annual Fourth of July for ever and ever more. On account
of this harmless necessary day of declarations. No conceivable day could
ever deserve that. Ah! you do not know, as I do, the devastations of
the memorable. My poor grandparents were--RUBRICATED. The worst of these
huge celebrations is that they break up the dignified succession of
one's contemporary emotions. They interrupt. They set back. Suddenly
out come the flags and fireworks, and the old enthusiasms are furbished
up--and it's sheer destruction of the proper thing that ought to be
going on. Sufficient unto the day is the celebration thereof. Let the
dead past bury its dead. You see, in regard to the calendar, I am for
democracy and you are for aristocracy. All things I hold, are august,
and have a right to be lived through on their merits. No day should be
sacrificed on the grave of departed events. What do you think of it,
'For the noble, yes, all days should be noble.'
'Exactly my position,' said the king, and felt pleased at what he had
And then, since the American pressed his idea, the king contrived to
shift the talk from the question of celebrating the epoch they were
making to the question of the probabilities that lay ahead. Here every
one became diffident. They could see the world unified and at peace, but
what detail was to follow from that unification they seemed indisposed
to discuss. This diffidence struck the king as remarkable. He plunged
upon the possibilities of science. All the huge expenditure that had
hitherto gone into unproductive naval and military preparations, must
now, he declared, place research upon a new footing. 'Where one man
worked we will have a thousand.' He appealed to Holsten. 'We have only
begun to peep into these possibilities,' he said. 'You at any rate have
sounded the vaults of the treasure house.'
'They are unfathomable,' smiled Holsten.
'Man,' said the American, with a manifest resolve to justify and
reinstate himself after the flickering contradictions of the king, 'Man,
I say, is only beginning to enter upon his heritage.'
'Tell us some of the things you believe we shall presently learn, give
us an idea of the things we may presently do,' said the king to Holsten.
Holsten opened out the vistas....
'Science,' the king cried presently, 'is the new king of the world.'
'OUR view,' said the president, 'is that sovereignty resides with the
'No!' said the king, 'the sovereign is a being more subtle than that.
And less arithmetical. Neither my family nor your emancipated people. It
is something that floats about us, and above us, and through us. It is
that common impersonal will and sense of necessity of which Science is
the best understood and most typical aspect. It is the mind of the race.
It is that which has brought us here, which has bowed us all to its
He paused and glanced down the table at Leblanc, and then re-opened at
his former antagonist.
'There is a disposition,' said the king, 'to regard this gathering as
it were actually doing what it appears to be doing, as if we ninety-odd
men of our own free will and wisdom were unifying the world. There is
a temptation to consider ourselves exceptionally fine fellows, and
masterful men, and all the rest of it. We are not. I doubt if we should
average out as anything abler than any other casually selected body
of ninety-odd men. We are no creators, we are consequences, we are
salvagers--or salvagees. The thing to-day is not ourselves but the wind
of conviction that has blown us hither....'
The American had to confess he could hardly agree with the king's
estimate of their average.
'Holster, perhaps, and one or two others, might lift us a little,' the
king conceded. 'But the rest of us?'
His eyes flitted once more towards Leblanc.
'Look at Leblanc,' he said. 'He's just a simple soul. There are
hundreds and thousands like him. I admit, a certain dexterity, a certain
lucidity, but there is not a country town in France where there is not a
Leblanc or so to be found about two o'clock in its principal cafe. It's
just that he isn't complicated or Super-Mannish, or any of those things
that has made all he has done possible. But in happier times, don't
you think, Wilhelm, he would have remained just what his father was,
a successful epicier, very clean, very accurate, very honest. And on
holidays he would have gone out with Madame Leblanc and her knitting
in a punt with a jar of something gentle and have sat under a large
reasonable green-lined umbrella and fished very neatly and successfully
The president and the Japanese prince in spectacles protested together.
'If I do him an injustice,' said the king, 'it is only because I want
to elucidate my argument. I want to make it clear how small are men and
days, and how great is man in comparison....'
So it was King Egbert talked at Brissago after they had proclaimed the
unity of the world. Every evening after that the assembly dined together
and talked at their ease and grew accustomed to each other and sharpened
each other's ideas, and every day they worked together, and really for
a time believed that they were inventing a new government for the world.
They discussed a constitution. But there were matters needing attention
too urgently to wait for any constitution. They attended to these
incidentally. The constitution it was that waited. It was presently
found convenient to keep the constitution waiting indefinitely as King
Egbert had foreseen, and meanwhile, with an increasing self-confidence,
that council went on governing....
On this first evening of all the council's gatherings, after King Egbert
had talked for a long time and drunken and praised very abundantly the
simple red wine of the country that Leblanc had procured for them,
he fathered about him a group of congenial spirits and fell into a
discourse upon simplicity, praising it above all things and declaring
that the ultimate aim of art, religion, philosophy, and science alike
was to simplify. He instanced himself as a devotee to simplicity. And
Leblanc he instanced as a crowning instance of the splendour of this
quality. Upon that they all agreed.
When at last the company about the tables broke up, the king found
himself brimming over with a peculiar affection and admiration for
Leblanc, he made his way to him and drew him aside and broached what he
declared was a small matter. There was, he said, a certain order in his
gift that, unlike all other orders and decorations in the world,
had never been corrupted. It was reserved for elderly men of supreme
distinction, the acuteness of whose gifts was already touched to
mellowness, and it had included the greatest names of every age so
far as the advisers of his family had been able to ascertain them.
At present, the king admitted, these matters of stars and badges were
rather obscured by more urgent affairs, for his own part he had never
set any value upon them at all, but a time might come when they would
be at least interesting, and in short he wished to confer the Order
of Merit upon Leblanc. His sole motive in doing so, he added, was his
strong desire to signalise his personal esteem. He laid his hand
upon the Frenchman's shoulder as he said these things, with an almost
brotherly affection. Leblanc received this proposal with a modest
confusion that greatly enhanced the king's opinion of his admirable
simplicity. He pointed out that eager as he was to snatch at the
proffered distinction, it might at the present stage appear invidious,
and he therefore suggested that the conferring of it should be postponed
until it could be made the crown and conclusion of his services. The
king was unable to shake this resolution, and the two men parted with
expressions of mutual esteem.
The king then summoned Firmin in order to make a short note of a number
of things that he had said during the day. But after about twenty
minutes' work the sweet sleepiness of the mountain air overcame him, and
he dismissed Firmin and went to bed and fell asleep at once, and slept
with extreme satisfaction. He had had an active, agreeable day.
The establishment of the new order that was thus so humanly begun,
was, if one measures it by the standard of any preceding age, a rapid
progress. The fighting spirit of the world was exhausted. Only here
or there did fierceness linger. For long decades the combative side
in human affairs had been monstrously exaggerated by the accidents of
political separation. This now became luminously plain. An enormous
proportion of the force that sustained armaments had been nothing more
aggressive than the fear of war and warlike neighbours. It is doubtful
if any large section of the men actually enlisted for fighting ever at
any time really hungered and thirsted for bloodshed and danger. That
kind of appetite was probably never very strong in the species after the
savage stage was past. The army was a profession, in which killing had
become a disagreeable possibility rather than an eventful certainty. If
one reads the old newspapers and periodicals of that time, which did
so much to keep militarism alive, one finds very little about glory and
adventure and a constant harping on the disagreeableness of invasion
and subjugation. In one word, militarism was funk. The belligerent
resolution of the armed Europe of the twentieth century was the
resolution of a fiercely frightened sheep to plunge. And now that its
weapons were exploding in its hands, Europe was only too eager to drop
them, and abandon this fancied refuge of violence.
For a time the whole world had been shocked into frankness; nearly all
the clever people who had hitherto sustained the ancient belligerent
separations had now been brought to realise the need for simplicity
of attitude and openness of mind; and in this atmosphere of moral
renascence, there was little attempt to get negotiable advantages out of
resistance to the new order. Human beings are foolish enough no doubt,
but few have stopped to haggle in a fire-escape. The council had its
way with them. The band of 'patriots' who seized the laboratories and
arsenal just outside Osaka and tried to rouse Japan to revolt against
inclusion in the Republic of Mankind, found they had miscalculated the
national pride and met the swift vengeance of their own countrymen. That
fight in the arsenal was a vivid incident in this closing chapter of the
history of war. To the last the 'patriots' were undecided whether, in
the event of a defeat, they would explode their supply of atomic bombs
or not. They were fighting with swords outside the iridium doors,
and the moderates of their number were at bay and on the verge of
destruction, only ten, indeed, remained unwounded, when the republicans
burst in to the rescue....
One single monarch held out against the general acquiescence in the new
rule, and that was that strange survival of mediaevalism, the 'Slavic
Fox,' the King of the Balkans. He debated and delayed his submissions.
He showed an extraordinary combination of cunning and temerity in his
evasion of the repeated summonses from Brissago. He affected ill-health
and a great preoccupation with his new official mistress, for his
semi-barbaric court was arranged on the best romantic models. His
tactics were ably seconded by Doctor Pestovitch, his chief minister.
Failing to establish his claims to complete independence, King Ferdinand
Charles annoyed the conference by a proposal to be treated as a
protected state. Finally he professed an unconvincing submission, and
put a mass of obstacles in the way of the transfer of his national
officials to the new government. In these things he was enthusiastically
supported by his subjects, still for the most part an illiterate
peasantry, passionately if confusedly patriotic, and so far with no
practical knowledge of the effect of atomic bombs. More particularly he
retained control of all the Balkan aeroplanes.
For once the extreme naivete of Leblanc seems to have been mitigated
duplicity. He went on with the general pacification of the world as if
the Balkan submission was made in absolute good faith, and he announced
the disbandment of the force of aeroplanes that hitherto guarded the
council at Brissago upon the approaching fifteenth of July. But instead
he doubled the number upon duty on that eventful day, and made various
arrangements for their disposition. He consulted certain experts, and
when he took King Egbert into his confidence there was something in his
neat and explicit foresight that brought back to that ex-monarch's
mind his half-forgotten fantasy of Leblanc as a fisherman under a green
About five o'clock in the morning of the seventeenth of July one of the
outer sentinels of the Brissago fleet, which was soaring unobtrusively
over the lower end of the lake of Garda, sighted and hailed a strange
aeroplane that was flying westward, and, failing to get a satisfactory
reply, set its wireless apparatus talking and gave chase. A swarm of
consorts appeared very promptly over the westward mountains, and before
the unknown aeroplane had sighted Como, it had a dozen eager attendants
closing in upon it. Its driver seems to have hesitated, dropped down
among the mountains, and then turned southward in flight, only to find
an intercepting biplane sweeping across his bows. He then went round
into the eye of the rising sun, and passed within a hundred yards of his
The sharpshooter therein opened fire at once, and showed an intelligent
grasp of the situation by disabling the passenger first. The man at the
wheel must have heard his companion cry out behind him, but he was too
intent on getting away to waste even a glance behind. Twice after that
he must have heard shots. He let his engine go, he crouched down, and
for twenty minutes he must have steered in the continual expectation of
a bullet. It never came, and when at last he glanced round, three great
planes were close upon him, and his companion, thrice hit, lay dead
across his bombs. His followers manifestly did not mean either to upset
or shoot him, but inexorably they drove him down, down. At last he was
curving and flying a hundred yards or less over the level fields of
rice and maize. Ahead of him and dark against the morning sunrise was
a village with a very tall and slender campanile and a line of cable
bearing metal standards that he could not clear. He stopped his engine
abruptly and dropped flat. He may have hoped to get at the bombs when he
came down, but his pitiless pursuers drove right over him and shot him
as he fell.
Three other aeroplanes curved down and came to rest amidst grass close
by the smashed machine. Their passengers descended, and ran, holding
their light rifles in their hands towards the debris and the two dead
men. The coffin-shaped box that had occupied the centre of the machine
had broken, and three black objects, each with two handles like the ears
of a pitcher, lay peacefully amidst the litter.
These objects were so tremendously important in the eyes of their
captors that they disregarded the two dead men who lay bloody and broken
amidst the wreckage as they might have disregarded dead frogs by a
'By God,' cried the first. 'Here they are!'
'And unbroken!' said the second.
'I've never seen the things before,' said the first.
'Bigger than I thought,' said the second.
The third comer arrived. He stared for a moment at the bombs and then
turned his eyes to the dead man with a crushed chest who lay in a muddy
place among the green stems under the centre of the machine.
'One can take no risks,' he said, with a faint suggestion of apology.
The other two now also turned to the victims. 'We must signal,' said
first man. A shadow passed between them and the sun, and they looked up
to see the aeroplane that had fired the last shot. 'Shall we signal?'
came a megaphone hail.
'Three bombs,' they answered together.
'Where do they come from?' asked the megaphone.
The three sharpshooters looked at each other and then moved towards the
dead men. One of them had an idea. 'Signal that first,' he said, 'while
we look.' They were joined by their aviators for the search, and all
six men began a hunt that was necessarily brutal in its haste, for
some indication of identity. They examined the men's pockets, their
bloodstained clothes, the machine, the framework. They turned the bodies
over and flung them aside. There was not a tattoo mark. . . . Everything
was elaborately free of any indication of its origin.
'We can't find out!' they called at last.
'Not a sign?'
'Not a sign.'
'I'm coming down,' said the man overhead....
The Slavic fox stood upon a metal balcony in his picturesque Art Nouveau
palace that gave upon the precipice that overhung his bright little
capital, and beside him stood Pestovitch, grizzled and cunning, and now
full of an ill-suppressed excitement. Behind them the window opened into
a large room, richly decorated in aluminium and crimson enamel, across
which the king, as he glanced ever and again over his shoulder with a
gesture of inquiry, could see through the two open doors of a little
azure walled antechamber the wireless operator in the turret working at
his incessant transcription. Two pompously uniformed messengers waited
listlessly in this apartment. The room was furnished with a stately
dignity, and had in the middle of it a big green baize-covered table
with the massive white metal inkpots and antiquated sandboxes natural to
a new but romantic monarchy. It was the king's council chamber and
about it now, in attitudes of suspended intrigue, stood the half-dozen
ministers who constituted his cabinet. They had been summoned for twelve
o'clock, but still at half-past twelve the king loitered in the balcony
and seemed to be waiting for some news that did not come.
The king and his minister had talked at first in whispers; they had
fallen silent, for they found little now to express except a vague
anxiety. Away there on the mountain side were the white metal roofs of
the long farm buildings beneath which the bomb factory and the bombs
were hidden. (The chemist who had made all these for the king had died
suddenly after the declaration of Brissago.) Nobody knew of that store
of mischief now but the king and his adviser and three heavily faithful
attendants; the aviators who waited now in the midday blaze with
their bomb-carrying machines and their passenger bomb-throwers in the
exercising grounds of the motor-cyclist barracks below were still in
ignorance of the position of the ammunition they were presently to take
up. It was time they started if the scheme was to work as Pestovitch
had planned it. It was a magnificent plan. It aimed at no less than the
Empire of the World. The government of idealists and professors away
there at Brissago was to be blown to fragments, and then east, west,
north, and south those aeroplanes would go swarming over a world that
had disarmed itself, to proclaim Ferdinand Charles, the new Caesar, the
Master, Lord of the Earth. It was a magnificent plan. But the tension
of this waiting for news of the success of the first blow
The Slavic fox was of a pallid fairness, he had a remarkably long nose,
a thick, short moustache, and small blue eyes that were a little too
near together to be pleasant. It was his habit to worry his moustache
with short, nervous tugs whenever his restless mind troubled him, and
now this motion was becoming so incessant that it irked Pestovitch
beyond the limits of endurance.
'I will go,' said the minister, 'and see what the trouble is with the
wireless. They give us nothing, good or bad.'
Left to himself, the king could worry his moustache without stint; he
leant his elbows forward on the balcony and gave both of his long white
hands to the work, so that he looked like a pale dog gnawing a bone.
Suppose they caught his men, what should he do? Suppose they caught his
The clocks in the light gold-capped belfries of the town below presently
intimated the half-hour after midday.
Of course, he and Pestovitch had thought it out. Even if they had caught
those men, they were pledged to secrecy.... Probably they would be
killed in the catching.... One could deny anyhow, deny and deny.
And then he became aware of half a dozen little shining specks very high
in the blue.... Pestovitch came out to him presently. 'The government
messages, sire, have all dropped into cipher,' he said. 'I have set a
'LOOK!' interrupted the king, and pointed upward with a long, lean
Pestovitch followed that indication and then glanced for one questioning
moment at the white face before him.
'We have to face it out, sire,' he said.
For some moments they watched the steep spirals of the descending
messengers, and then they began a hasty consultation....
They decided that to be holding a council upon the details of an
ultimate surrender to Brissago was as innocent-looking a thing as the
king could well be doing, and so, when at last the ex-king Egbert, whom
the council had sent as its envoy, arrived upon the scene, he discovered
the king almost theatrically posed at the head of his councillors in the
midst of his court. The door upon the wireless operators was shut.
The ex-king from Brissago came like a draught through the curtains and
attendants that gave a wide margin to King Ferdinand's state, and the
familiar confidence of his manner belied a certain hardness in his
eye. Firmin trotted behind him, and no one else was with him. And as
Ferdinand Charles rose to greet him, there came into the heart of the
Balkan king again that same chilly feeling that he had felt upon the
balcony--and it passed at the careless gestures of his guest. For surely
any one might outwit this foolish talker who, for a mere idea and at the
command of a little French rationalist in spectacles, had thrown away
the most ancient crown in all the world.
One must deny, deny....
And then slowly and quite tiresomely he realised that there was nothing
to deny. His visitor, with an amiable ease, went on talking about
everything in debate between himself and Brissago except----.
Could it be that they had been delayed? Could it be that they had had
to drop for repairs and were still uncaptured? Could it be that even
now while this fool babbled, they were over there among the mountains
heaving their deadly charge over the side of the aeroplane?
Strange hopes began to lift the tail of the Slavic fox again.
What was the man saying? One must talk to him anyhow until one knew.
any moment the little brass door behind him might open with the news
of Brissago blown to atoms. Then it would be a delightful relief to the
present tension to arrest this chatterer forthwith. He might be killed
The king was repeating his observation. 'They have a ridiculous fancy
that your confidence is based on the possession of atomic bombs.'
King Ferdinand Charles pulled himself together. He protested.
'Oh, quite so,' said the ex-king, 'quite so.'
'What grounds?' The ex-king permitted himself a gesture and the ghost
a chuckle--why the devil should he chuckle? 'Practically none,' he said.
'But of course with these things one has to be so careful.'
And then again for an instant something--like the faintest shadow of
derision--gleamed out of the envoy's eyes and recalled that chilly
feeling to King Ferdinand's spine.
Some kindred depression had come to Pestovitch, who had been watching
the drawn intensity of Firmin's face. He came to the help of his master,
who, he feared, might protest too much.
'A search!' cried the king. 'An embargo on our aeroplanes.'
'Only a temporary expedient,' said the ex-king Egbert, 'while the search
is going on.'
The king appealed to his council.
'The people will never permit it, sire,' said a bustling little man in
'You'll have to make 'em,' said the ex-king, genially addressing all
King Ferdinand glanced at the closed brass door through which no news
'When would you want to have this search?'
The ex-king was radiant. 'We couldn't possibly do it until the day after
to-morrow,' he said.
'Just the capital?'
'Where else?' asked the ex-king, still more cheerfully.
'For my own part,' said the ex-king confidentially, 'I think the whole
business ridiculous. Who would be such a fool as to hide atomic bombs?
Nobody. Certain hanging if he's caught--certain, and almost certain
blowing up if he isn't. But nowadays I have to take orders like the rest
of the world. And here I am.'
The king thought he had never met such detestable geniality. He glanced
at Pestovitch, who nodded almost imperceptibly. It was well, anyhow,
to have a fool to deal with. They might have sent a diplomatist. 'Of
course,' said the king, 'I recognise the overpowering force--and a kind
of logic--in these orders from Brissago.'
'I knew you would,' said the ex-king, with an air of relief, 'and so
They arranged with a certain informality. No Balkan aeroplane was to
adventure into the air until the search was concluded, and meanwhile
the fleets of the world government would soar and circle in the sky. The
towns were to be placarded with offers of reward to any one who would
help in the discovery of atomic bombs....
'You will sign that,' said the ex-king.
'To show that we aren't in any way hostile to you.'
Pestovitch nodded 'yes' to his master.
'And then, you see,' said the ex-king in that easy way of his, 'we'll
have a lot of men here, borrow help from your police, and run through
all your things. And then everything will be over. Meanwhile, if I may
be your guest....' When presently Pestovitch was alone with the king
again, he found him in a state of jangling emotions. His spirit was
tossing like a wind-whipped sea. One moment he was exalted and full of
contempt for 'that ass' and his search; the next he was down in a pit of
dread. 'They will find them, Pestovitch, and then he'll hang us.'
The king put his long nose into his councillor's face. 'That grinning
brute WANTS to hang us,' he said. 'And hang us he will, if we give him a
shadow of a chance.'
'But all their Modern State Civilisation!'
'Do you think there's any pity in that crew of Godless, Vivisecting
Prigs?' cried this last king of romance. 'Do you think, Pestovitch, they
understand anything of a high ambition or a splendid dream? Do you think
that our gallant and sublime adventure has any appeal to them? Here am
I, the last and greatest and most romantic of the Caesars, and do you
think they will miss the chance of hanging me like a dog if they can,
killing me like a rat in a hole? And that renegade! He who was once an
anointed king! . . .
'I hate that sort of eye that laughs and keeps hard,' said the king.
'I won't sit still here and be caught like a fascinated rabbit,' said
the king in conclusion. 'We must shift those bombs.'
'Risk it,' said Pestovitch. 'Leave them alone.'
'No,' said the king. 'Shift them near the frontier. Then while they
watch us here--they will always watch us here now--we can buy an
aeroplane abroad, and pick them up....'
The king was in a feverish, irritable mood all that evening, but he made
his plans nevertheless with infinite cunning. They must get the bombs
away; there must be a couple of atomic hay lorries, the bombs could be
hidden under the hay.... Pestovitch went and came, instructing trusty
servants, planning and replanning.... The king and the ex-king talked
very pleasantly of a number of subjects. All the while at the back
of King Ferdinand Charles's mind fretted the mystery of his vanished
aeroplane. There came no news of its capture, and no news of its
success. At any moment all that power at the back of his visitor might
crumble away and vanish....
It was past midnight, when the king, in a cloak and slouch hat
that might equally have served a small farmer, or any respectable
middle-class man, slipped out from an inconspicuous service gate on the
eastward side of his palace into the thickly wooded gardens that sloped
in a series of terraces down to the town. Pestovitch and his guard-valet
Peter, both wrapped about in a similar disguise, came out among the
laurels that bordered the pathway and joined him. It was a clear, warm
night, but the stars seemed unusually little and remote because of the
aeroplanes, each trailing a searchlight, that drove hither and thither
across the blue. One great beam seemed to rest on the king for a moment
as he came out of the palace; then instantly and reassuringly it had
swept away. But while they were still in the palace gardens another
found them and looked at them.
'They see us,' cried the king.
'They make nothing of us,' said Pestovitch.
The king glanced up and met a calm, round eye of light, that seemed to
wink at him and vanish, leaving him blinded....
The three men went on their way. Near the little gate in the garden
railings that Pestovitch had caused to be unlocked, the king paused
under the shadow of an flex and looked back at the place. It was
very high and narrow, a twentieth-century rendering of mediaevalism,
mediaevalism in steel and bronze and sham stone and opaque glass.
Against the sky it splashed a confusion of pinnacles. High up in the
eastward wing were the windows of the apartments of the ex-king Egbert.
One of them was brightly lit now, and against the light a little black
figure stood very still and looked out upon the night.
The king snarled.
'He little knows how we slip through his fingers,' said Pestovitch.
And as he spoke they saw the ex-king stretch out his arms slowly, like
one who yawns, knuckle his eyes and turn inward--no doubt to his bed.
Down through the ancient winding back streets of his capital hurried
king, and at an appointed corner a shabby atomic-automobile waited for
the three. It was a hackney carriage of the lowest grade, with dinted
metal panels and deflated cushions. The driver was one of the ordinary
drivers of the capital, but beside him sat the young secretary of
Pestovitch, who knew the way to the farm where the bombs were hidden.
The automobile made its way through the narrow streets of the old town,
which were still lit and uneasy--for the fleet of airships overhead had
kept the cafes open and people abroad--over the great new bridge, and so
by straggling outskirts to the country. And all through his capital the
king who hoped to outdo Caesar, sat back and was very still, and no one
spoke. And as they got out into the dark country they became aware of
the searchlights wandering over the country-side like the uneasy
ghosts of giants. The king sat forward and looked at these flitting
whitenesses, and every now and then peered up to see the flying ships
'I don't like them,' said the king.
Presently one of these patches of moonlight came to rest about them and
seemed to be following their automobile. The king drew back.
'The things are confoundedly noiseless,' said the king. 'It's like being
stalked by lean white cats.'
He peered again. 'That fellow is watching us,' he said.
And then suddenly he gave way to panic. 'Pestovitch,' he said, clutching
his minister's arm, 'they are watching us. I'm not going through with
this. They are watching us. I'm going back.'
Pestovitch remonstrated. 'Tell him to go back,' said the king, and tried
to open the window. For a few moments there was a grim struggle in the
automobile; a gripping of wrists and a blow. 'I can't go through with
it,' repeated the king, 'I can't go through with it.'
'But they'll hang us,' said Pestovitch.
'Not if we were to give up now. Not if we were to surrender the bombs.
It is you who brought me into this....'
At last Pestovitch compromised. There was an inn perhaps half a mile
from the farm. They could alight there and the king could get brandy,
and rest his nerves for a time. And if he still thought fit to go back
he could go back.
'See,' said Pestovitch, 'the light has gone again.'
The king peered up. 'I believe he's following us without a light,' said
In the little old dirty inn the king hung doubtful for a time, and was
for going back and throwing himself on the mercy of the council. 'If
there is a council,' said Pestovitch. 'By this time your bombs may have
'But if so, these infernal aeroplanes would go.'
'They may not know yet.'
'But, Pestovitch, why couldn't you do all this without me?'
Pestovitch made no answer for a moment. 'I was for leaving the bombs
in their place,' he said at last, and went to the window. About their
conveyance shone a circle of bright light. Pestovitch had a brilliant
idea. 'I will send my secretary out to make a kind of dispute with the
driver. Something that will make them watch up above there. Meanwhile
you and I and Peter will go out by the back way and up by the hedges to
It was worthy of his subtle reputation and it answered passing well.
In ten minutes they were tumbling over the wall of the farm-yard, wet,
muddy, and breathless, but unobserved. But as they ran towards the barns
the king gave vent to something between a groan and a curse, and all
about them shone the light--and passed.
But had it passed at once or lingered for just a second?
'They didn't see us,' said Peter.
'I don't think they saw us,' said the king, and stared as the light went
swooping up the mountain side, hung for a second about a hayrick, and
then came pouring back.
'In the barn!' cried the king.
He bruised his shin against something, and then all three men were
inside the huge steel-girdered barn in which stood the two motor
hay lorries that were to take the bombs away. Kurt and Abel, the two
brothers of Peter, had brought the lorries thither in daylight. They had
the upper half of the loads of hay thrown off, ready to cover the bombs,
so soon as the king should show the hiding-place. 'There's a sort of
pit here,' said the king. 'Don't light another lantern. This key of mine
releases a ring....'
For a time scarcely a word was spoken in the darkness of the barn.
There was the sound of a slab being lifted and then of feet descending a
ladder into a pit. Then whispering and then heavy breathing as Kurt came
struggling up with the first of the hidden bombs.
'We shall do it yet,' said the king. And then he gasped. 'Curse that
light. Why in the name of Heaven didn't we shut the barn door?' For the
great door stood wide open and all the empty, lifeless yard outside and
the door and six feet of the floor of the barn were in the blue glare of
an inquiring searchlight.
'Shut the door, Peter,' said Pestovitch.
'No,' cried the king, too late, as Peter went forward into the light.
'Don't show yourself!' cried the king. Kurt made a step forward and
plucked his brother back. For a time all five men stood still. It seemed
that light would never go and then abruptly it was turned off, leaving
them blinded. 'Now,' said the king uneasily, 'now shut the door.'
'Not completely,' cried Pestovitch. 'Leave a chink for us to go out
It was hot work shifting those bombs, and the king worked for a time
like a common man. Kurt and Abel carried the great things up and Peter
brought them to the carts, and the king and Pestovitch helped him to
place them among the hay. They made as little noise as they could....
'Ssh!' cried the king. 'What's that?'
But Kurt and Abel did not hear, and came blundering up the ladder with
the last of the load.
'Ssh!' Peter ran forward to them with a whispered remonstrance. Now they
The barn door opened a little wider, and against the dim blue light
outside they saw the black shape of a man.
'Any one here?' he asked, speaking with an Italian accent.
The king broke into a cold perspiration. Then Pestovitch answered: 'Only
a poor farmer loading hay,' he said, and picked up a huge hay fork and
went forward softly.
'You load your hay at a very bad time and in a very bad light,' said
man at the door, peering in. 'Have you no electric light here?'
Then suddenly he turned on an electric torch, and as he did so
Pestovitch sprang forward. 'Get out of my barn!' he cried, and drove the
fork full at the intruder's chest. He had a vague idea that so he
might stab the man to silence. But the man shouted loudly as the prongs
pierced him and drove him backward, and instantly there was a sound of
feet running across the yard.
'Bombs,' cried the man upon the ground, struggling with the prongs in
his hand, and as Pestovitch staggered forward into view with the force
of his own thrust, he was shot through the body by one of the two
The man on the ground was badly hurt but plucky. 'Bombs,' he repeated,
and struggled up into a kneeling position and held his electric torch
full upon the face of the king. 'Shoot them,' he cried, coughing and
spitting blood, so that the halo of light round the king's head danced
For a moment in that shivering circle of light the two men saw the king
kneeling up in the cart and Peter on the barn floor beside him. The old
fox looked at them sideways--snared, a white-faced evil thing. And then,
as with a faltering suicidal heroism, he leant forward over the bomb
before him, they fired together and shot him through the head.
The upper part of his face seemed to vanish.
'Shoot them,' cried the man who had been stabbed. 'Shoot them all!'
And then his light went out, and he rolled over with a groan at the feet
of his comrades.
But each carried a light of his own, and in another moment everything
the barn was visible again. They shot Peter even as he held up his hands
in sign of surrender.
Kurt and Abel at the head of the ladder hesitated for a moment, and then
plunged backward into the pit. 'If we don't kill them,' said one of
the sharpshooters, 'they'll blow us to rags. They've gone down that
hatchway. Come! . . .
'Here they are. Hands up! I say. Hold your light while I shoot....'
It was still quite dark when his valet and Firmin came together and told
the ex-king Egbert that the business was settled.
He started up into a sitting position on the side of his bed.
'Did he go out?' asked the ex-king.
'He is dead,' said Firmin. 'He was shot.'
The ex-king reflected. 'That's about the best thing that could have
happened,' he said. 'Where are the bombs? In that farm-house on the
opposite hill-side! Why! the place is in sight! Let us go. I'll dress.
Is there any one in the place, Firmin, to get us a cup of coffee?'
Through the hungry twilight of the dawn the ex-king's automobile carried
him to the farm-house where the last rebel king was lying among his
bombs. The rim of the sky flashed, the east grew bright, and the sun was
just rising over the hills when King Egbert reached the farm-yard. There
he found the hay lorries drawn out from the barn with the dreadful bombs
still packed upon them. A couple of score of aviators held the yard, and
outside a few peasants stood in a little group and stared, ignorant as
yet of what had happened. Against the stone wall of the farm-yard five
bodies were lying neatly side by side, and Pestovitch had an expression
of surprise on his face and the king was chiefly identifiable by his
long white hands and his blonde moustache. The wounded aeronaut had been
carried down to the inn. And after the ex-king had given directions in
what manner the bombs were to be taken to the new special laboratories
above Zurich, where they could be unpacked in an atmosphere of chlorine,
he turned to these five still shapes.
Their five pairs of feet stuck out with a curious stiff unanimity....
'What else was there to do?' he said in answer to some internal protest.
'I wonder, Firmin, if there are any more of them?'
'Bombs, sir?' asked Firmin.
'No, such kings....
'The pitiful folly of it!' said the ex-king, following his thoughts.
'Firmin,' as an ex-professor of International Politics, I think it falls
to you to bury them. There? . . . No, don't put them near the well.
People will have to drink from that well. Bury them over there, some way
off in the field.'
CHAPTER THE FOURTH
THE NEW PHASE
The task that lay before the Assembly of Brissago, viewed as we may view
it now from the clarifying standpoint of things accomplished, was in
its broad issues a simple one. Essentially it was to place social
organisation upon the new footing that the swift, accelerated advance
of human knowledge had rendered necessary. The council was gathered
together with the haste of a salvage expedition, and it was confronted
with wreckage; but the wreckage was irreparable wreckage, and the only
possibilities of the case were either the relapse of mankind to the
agricultural barbarism from which it had emerged so painfully or the
acceptance of achieved science as the basis of a new social order. The
old tendencies of human nature, suspicion, jealousy, particularism, and
belligerency, were incompatible with the monstrous destructive power
of the new appliances the inhuman logic of science had produced. The
equilibrium could be restored only by civilisation destroying itself
down to a level at which modern apparatus could no longer be produced,
or by human nature adapting itself in its institutions to the new
conditions. It was for the latter alternative that the assembly existed.
Sooner or later this choice would have confronted mankind. The sudden
development of atomic science did but precipitate and render rapid
and dramatic a clash between the new and the customary that had been
gathering since ever the first flint was chipped or the first fire built
together. From the day when man contrived himself a tool and suffered
another male to draw near him, he ceased to be altogether a thing of
instinct and untroubled convictions. From that day forth a widening
breach can be traced between his egotistical passions and the social
need. Slowly he adapted himself to the life of the homestead, and his
passionate impulses widened out to the demands of the clan and the
tribe. But widen though his impulses might, the latent hunter and
wanderer and wonderer in his imagination outstripped their development.
He was never quite subdued to the soil nor quite tamed to the home.
Everywhere it needed teaching and the priest to keep him within the
bounds of the plough-life and the beast-tending. Slowly a vast system
of traditional imperatives superposed itself upon his instincts,
imperatives that were admirably fitted to make him that cultivator, that
cattle-mincer, who was for twice ten thousand years the normal man.
And, unpremeditated, undesired, out of the accumulations of his tilling
came civilisation. Civilisation was the agricultural surplus. It
appeared as trade and tracks and roads, it pushed boats out upon the
rivers and presently invaded the seas, and within its primitive courts,
within temples grown rich and leisurely and amidst the gathering medley
of the seaport towns rose speculation and philosophy and science, and
the beginning of the new order that has at last established itself
as human life. Slowly at first, as we traced it, and then with an
accumulating velocity, the new powers were fabricated. Man as a whole
did not seek them nor desire them; they were thrust into his hand. For
a time men took up and used these new things and the new powers
inadvertently as they came to him, recking nothing of the consequences.
For endless generations change led him very gently. But when he had
been led far enough, change quickened the pace. It was with a series of
shocks that he realised at last that he was living the old life less and
less and a new life more and more.
Already before the release of atomic energy the tensions between the
way of living and the new were intense. They were far intenser than they
had been even at the collapse of the Roman imperial system. On the one
hand was the ancient life of the family and the small community and
the petty industry, on the other was a new life on a larger scale, with
remoter horizons and a strange sense of purpose. Already it was growing
clear that men must live on one side or the other. One could not have
little tradespeople and syndicated businesses in the same market,
sleeping carters and motor trolleys on the same road, bows and arrows
and aeroplane sharpshooters in the same army, or illiterate peasant
industries and power-driven factories in the same world. And still less
it was possible that one could have the ideas and ambitions and greed
and jealousy of peasants equipped with the vast appliances of the new
age. If there had been no atomic bombs to bring together most of
the directing intelligence of the world to that hasty conference at
Brissago, there would still have been, extended over great areas and
a considerable space of time perhaps, a less formal conference of
responsible and understanding people upon the perplexities of this
world-wide opposition. If the work of Holsten had been spread over
centuries and imparted to the world by imperceptible degrees, it would
nevertheless have made it necessary for men to take counsel upon and set
a plan for the future. Indeed already there had been accumulating for a
hundred years before the crisis a literature of foresight; there was a
whole mass of 'Modern State' scheming available for the conference to go
upon. These bombs did but accentuate and dramatise an already developing
This assembly was no leap of exceptional minds and super-intelligences
into the control of affairs. It was teachable, its members trailed
ideas with them to the gathering, but these were the consequences of the
'moral shock' the bombs had given humanity, and there is no reason for
supposing its individual personalities were greatly above the average.
It would be possible to cite a thousand instances of error and
inefficiency in its proceedings due to the forgetfulness, irritability,
or fatigue of its members. It experimented considerably and blundered
often. Excepting Holsten, whose gift was highly specialised, it is
questionable whether there was a single man of the first order of human
quality in the gathering. But it had a modest fear of itself, and a
consequent directness that gave it a general distinction. There was,
of course, a noble simplicity about Leblanc, but even of him it may
be asked whether he was not rather good and honest-minded than in the
fuller sense great.
The ex-king had wisdom and a certain romantic dash, he was a man among
thousands, even if he was not a man among millions, but his memoirs, and
indeed his decision to write memoirs, give the quality of himself
and his associates. The book makes admirable but astonishing reading.
Therein he takes the great work the council was doing for granted as
a little child takes God. It is as if he had no sense of it at all. He
tells amusing trivialities about his cousin Wilhelm and his secretary
Firmin, he pokes fun at the American president, who was, indeed,
rather a little accident of the political machine than a representative
American, and he gives a long description of how he was lost for three
days in the mountains in the company of the only Japanese member, a loss
that seems to have caused no serious interruption of the work of the
The Brissago conference has been written about time after time, as
though it were a gathering of the very flower of humanity. Perched
up there by the freak or wisdom of Leblanc, it had a certain Olympian
quality, and the natural tendency of the human mind to elaborate such
a resemblance would have us give its members the likenesses of gods.
It would be equally reasonable to compare it to one of those enforced
meetings upon the mountain-tops that must have occurred in the opening
phases of the Deluge. The strength of the council lay not in itself but
in the circumstances that had quickened its intelligence, dispelled its
vanities, and emancipated it from traditional ambitions and antagonisms.
It was stripped of the accumulation of centuries, a naked government
with all that freedom of action that nakedness affords. And its problems
were set before it with a plainness that was out of all comparison with
the complicated and perplexing intimations of the former time.
The world on which the council looked did indeed present a task quite
sufficiently immense and altogether too urgent for any wanton indulgence
in internal dissension. It may be interesting to sketch in a few phrases
the condition of mankind at the close of the period of warring states,
in the year of crisis that followed the release of atomic power. It was
a world extraordinarily limited when one measures it by later standards,
and it was now in a state of the direst confusion and distress.
It must be remembered that at this time men had still to spread into
enormous areas of the land surface of the globe. There were vast
mountain wildernesses, forest wildernesses, sandy deserts, and frozen
lands. Men still clung closely to water and arable soil in temperate or
sub-tropical climates, they lived abundantly only in river valleys, and
all their great cities had grown upon large navigable rivers or close
to ports upon the sea. Over great areas even of this suitable land
flies and mosquitoes, armed with infection, had so far defeated human
invasion, and under their protection the virgin forests remained
untouched. Indeed, the whole world even in its most crowded districts
was filthy with flies and swarming with needless insect life to an
extent which is now almost incredible. A population map of the world
in 1950 would have followed seashore and river course so closely in
its darker shading as to give an impression that homo sapiens was an
amphibious animal. His roads and railways lay also along the lower
contours, only here and there to pierce some mountain barrier or reach
some holiday resort did they clamber above 3000 feet. And across the
ocean his traffic passed in definite lines; there were hundreds of
thousands of square miles of ocean no ship ever traversed except by
Into the mysteries of the solid globe under his feet he had not yet
pierced for five miles, and it was still not forty years since, with
a tragic pertinacity, he had clambered to the poles of the earth. The
limitless mineral wealth of the Arctic and Antarctic circles was still
buried beneath vast accumulations of immemorial ice, and the secret
riches of the inner zones of the crust were untapped and indeed
unsuspected. The higher mountain regions were known only to a sprinkling
of guide-led climbers and the frequenters of a few gaunt hotels, and the
vast rainless belts of land that lay across the continental masses, from
Gobi to Sahara and along the backbone of America, with their perfect
air, their daily baths of blazing sunshine, their nights of cool
serenity and glowing stars, and their reservoirs of deep-lying
water, were as yet only desolations of fear and death to the common
And now under the shock of the atomic bombs, the great masses of
population which had gathered into the enormous dingy town centres
of that period were dispossessed and scattered disastrously over the
surrounding rural areas. It was as if some brutal force, grown impatient
at last at man's blindness, had with the deliberate intention of a
rearrangement of population upon more wholesome lines, shaken the world.
The great industrial regions and the large cities that had escaped the
bombs were, because of their complete economic collapse, in almost as
tragic plight as those that blazed, and the country-side was disordered
by a multitude of wandering and lawless strangers. In some parts of the
world famine raged, and in many regions there was plague.... The plains
of north India, which had become more and more dependent for the general
welfare on the railways and that great system of irrigation canals which
the malignant section of the patriots had destroyed, were in a state of
peculiar distress, whole villages lay dead together, no man heeding, and
the very tigers and panthers that preyed upon the emaciated survivors
crawled back infected into the jungle to perish. Large areas of China
were a prey to brigand bands....
It is a remarkable thing that no complete contemporary account of
the explosion of the atomic bombs survives. There are, of course,
innumerable allusions and partial records, and it is from these that
subsequent ages must piece together the image of these devastations.
The phenomena, it must be remembered, changed greatly from day to day,
and even from hour to hour, as the exploding bomb shifted its position,
threw off fragments or came into contact with water or a fresh texture
of soil. Barnet, who came within forty miles of Paris early in October,
is concerned chiefly with his account of the social confusion of the
country-side and the problems of his command, but he speaks of heaped
cloud masses of steam. 'All along the sky to the south-west' and of a
red glare beneath these at night. Parts of Paris were still burning,
and numbers of people were camped in the fields even at this distance
watching over treasured heaps of salvaged loot. He speaks too of
the distant rumbling of the explosion--'like trains going over iron
Other descriptions agree with this; they all speak of the 'continuous
reverberations,' or of the 'thudding and hammering,' or some such
phrase; and they all testify to a huge pall of steam, from which rain
would fall suddenly in torrents and amidst which lightning played.
Drawing nearer to Paris an observer would have found the salvage camps
increasing in number and blocking up the villages, and large numbers
of people, often starving and ailing, camping under improvised tents
because there was no place for them to go. The sky became more and more
densely overcast until at last it blotted out the light of day and left
nothing but a dull red glare 'extraordinarily depressing to the spirit.'
In this dull glare, great numbers of people were still living, clinging
to their houses and in many cases subsisting in a state of partial
famine upon the produce in their gardens and the stores in the shops of
the provision dealers.
Coming in still closer, the investigator would have reached the police
cordon, which was trying to check the desperate enterprise of those who
would return to their homes or rescue their more valuable possessions
within the 'zone of imminent danger.'
That zone was rather arbitrarily defined. If our spectator could have
got permission to enter it, he would have entered also a zone of uproar,
a zone of perpetual thunderings, lit by a strange purplish-red
light, and quivering and swaying with the incessant explosion of the
radio-active substance. Whole blocks of buildings were alight and
burning fiercely, the trembling, ragged flames looking pale and ghastly
and attenuated in comparison with the full-bodied crimson glare beyond.
The shells of other edifices already burnt rose, pierced by rows of
window sockets against the red-lit mist.
Every step farther would have been as dangerous as a descent within the
crater of an active volcano. These spinning, boiling bomb centres would
shift or break unexpectedly into new regions, great fragments of earth
or drain or masonry suddenly caught by a jet of disruptive force might
come flying by the explorer's head, or the ground yawn a fiery grave
beneath his feet. Few who adventured into these areas of destruction
and survived attempted any repetition of their experiences. There are
stories of puffs of luminous, radio-active vapour drifting sometimes
scores of miles from the bomb centre and killing and scorching all they
overtook. And the first conflagrations from the Paris centre spread
westward half-way to the sea.
Moreover, the air in this infernal inner circle of red-lit ruins had
peculiar dryness and a blistering quality, so that it set up a soreness
of the skin and lungs that was very difficult to heal....
Such was the last state of Paris, and such on a larger scale was the
condition of affairs in Chicago, and the same fate had overtaken Berlin,
Moscow, Tokio, the eastern half of London, Toulon, Kiel, and two hundred
and eighteen other centres of population or armament. Each was a flaming
centre of radiant destruction that only time could quench, that indeed
in many instances time has still to quench. To this day, though indeed
with a constantly diminishing uproar and vigour, these explosions
continue. In the map of nearly every country of the world three or four
or more red circles, a score of miles in diameter, mark the position of
the dying atomic bombs and the death areas that men have been forced to
abandon around them. Within these areas perished museums, cathedrals,
palaces, libraries, galleries of masterpieces, and a vast accumulation
of human achievement, whose charred remains lie buried, a legacy of
curious material that only future generations may hope to examine....
The state of mind of the dispossessed urban population which swarmed
perished so abundantly over the country-side during the dark days of the
autumnal months that followed the Last War, was one of blank despair.
Barnet gives sketch after sketch of groups of these people, camped among
the vineyards of Champagne, as he saw them during his period of service
with the army of pacification.
There was, for example, that 'man-milliner' who came out from a field
beside the road that rises up eastward out of Epernay, and asked how
things were going in Paris. He was, says Barnet, a round-faced man,
dressed very neatly in black--so neatly that it was amazing to discover
he was living close at hand in a tent made of carpets--and he had 'an
urbane but insistent manner,' a carefully trimmed moustache and beard,
expressive eyebrows, and hair very neatly brushed.
'No one goes into Paris,' said Barnet.
'But, Monsieur, that is very unenterprising,' the man by the wayside
'The danger is too great. The radiations eat into people's skins.'
The eyebrows protested. 'But is nothing to be done?'
'Nothing can be done.'
'But, Monsieur, it is extraordinarily inconvenient, this living in exile
and waiting. My wife and my little boy suffer extremely. There is a lack
of amenity. And the season advances. I say nothing of the expense and
difficulty in obtaining provisions. . . . When does Monsieur think that
something will be done to render Paris--possible?'
Barnet considered his interlocutor.
'I'm told,' said Barnet, 'that Paris is not likely to be possible again
for several generations.'
'Oh! but this is preposterous! Consider, Monsieur! What are people like
ourselves to do in the meanwhile? I am a costumier. All my connections
and interests, above all my style, demand Paris. . . .'
Barnet considered the sky, from which a light rain was beginning to
fall, the wide fields about them from which the harvest had been taken,
the trimmed poplars by the wayside.
'Naturally,' he agreed, 'you want to go to Paris. But Paris is over.'
'But then, Monsieur--what is to become--of ME?'
Barnet turned his face westward, whither the white road led.
'Where else, for example, may I hope to find--opportunity?'
Barnet made no reply.
'Perhaps on the Riviera. Or at some such place as Homburg. Or some
'All that,' said Barnet, accepting for the first time facts that had
lain evident in his mind for weeks; 'all that must be over, too.'
There was a pause. Then the voice beside him broke out. 'But, Monsieur,
it is impossible! It leaves--nothing.'
'No. Not very much.'
'One cannot suddenly begin to grow potatoes!'
'It would be good if Monsieur could bring himself----'
'To the life of a peasant! And my wife----You do not know the
distinguished delicacy of my wife, a refined helplessness, a peculiar
dependent charm. Like some slender tropical creeper--with great white
flowers.... But all this is foolish talk. It is impossible that Paris,
which has survived so many misfortunes, should not presently revive.'
'I do not think it will ever revive. Paris is finished. London, too,
am told--Berlin. All the great capitals were stricken....'
'But----! Monsieur must permit me to differ.'
'It is so.'
'It is impossible. Civilisations do not end in this manner. Mankind will
'Monsieur, you might as well hope to go down the Maelstrom and resume
'I am content, Monsieur, with my own faith.'
'The winter comes on. Would not Monsieur be wiser to seek a house?'
'Farther from Paris? No, Monsieur. But it is not possible, Monsieur,
what you say, and you are under a tremendous mistake.... Indeed you are
in error.... I asked merely for information....'
'When last I saw him,' said Barnet, 'he was standing under the signpost
at the crest of the hill, gazing wistfully, yet it seemed to me a little
doubtfully, now towards Paris, and altogether heedless of a drizzling
rain that was wetting him through and through....'
This effect of chill dismay, of a doom as yet imperfectly apprehended
deepens as Barnet's record passes on to tell of the approach of winter.
It was too much for the great mass of those unwilling and incompetent
nomads to realise that an age had ended, that the old help and guidance
existed no longer, that times would not mend again, however patiently
they held out. They were still in many cases looking to Paris when the
first snowflakes of that pitiless January came swirling about them. The
story grows grimmer....
If it is less monstrously tragic after Barnet's return to England, it
is, if anything, harder. England was a spectacle of fear-embittered
householders, hiding food, crushing out robbery, driving the starving
wanderers from every faltering place upon the roads lest they should
die inconveniently and reproachfully on the doorsteps of those who had
failed to urge them onward....
The remnants of the British troops left France finally in March, after
urgent representations from the provisional government at Orleans that
they could be supported no longer. They seem to have been a fairly
well-behaved, but highly parasitic force throughout, though Barnet is
clearly of opinion that they did much to suppress sporadic brigandage
and maintain social order. He came home to a famine-stricken country,
and his picture of the England of that spring is one of miserable
patience and desperate expedients. The country was suffering much more
than France, because of the cessation of the overseas supplies on which
it had hitherto relied. His troops were given bread, dried fish, and
boiled nettles at Dover, and marched inland to Ashford and paid off. On
the way thither they saw four men hanging from the telegraph posts by
the roadside, who had been hung for stealing swedes. The labour refuges
of Kent, he discovered, were feeding their crowds of casual wanderers on
bread into which clay and sawdust had been mixed. In Surrey there was a
shortage of even such fare as that. He himself struck across country to
Winchester, fearing to approach the bomb-poisoned district round London,
and at Winchester he had the luck to be taken on as one of the wireless
assistants at the central station and given regular rations. The station
stood in a commanding position on the chalk hill that overlooks the town
from the east....
Thence he must have assisted in the transmission of the endless cipher
messages that preceded the gathering at Brissago, and there it was that
the Brissago proclamation of the end of the war and the establishment of
a world government came under his hands.
He was feeling ill and apathetic that day, and he did not realise what
it was he was transcribing. He did it mechanically, as a part of his
Afterwards there came a rush of messages arising out of the declaration
that strained him very much, and in the evening when he was relieved, he
ate his scanty supper and then went out upon the little balcony before
the station, to smoke and rest his brains after this sudden and as yet
inexplicable press of duty. It was a very beautiful, still evening. He
fell talking to a fellow operator, and for the first time, he declares,
'I began to understand what it was all about. I began to see just what
enormous issues had been under my hands for the past four hours. But
I became incredulous after my first stimulation. "This is some sort
Bunkum," I said very sagely.
'My colleague was more hopeful. "It means an end to bomb-throwing
destruction," he said. "It means that presently corn will come
'"Who is going to send corn when there is no more value in money?"
'Suddenly we were startled by a clashing from the town below. The
cathedral bells, which had been silent ever since I had come into the
district, were beginning, with a sort of rheumatic difficulty, to ring.
Presently they warmed a little to the work, and we realised what was
going on. They were ringing a peal. We listened with an unbelieving
astonishment and looking into each other's yellow faces.
'"They mean it," said my colleague.
'"But what can they do now?" I asked. "Everything is broken
And on that sentence, with an unexpected artistry, Barnet abruptly ends
From the first the new government handled affairs with a certain
greatness of spirit. Indeed, it was inevitable that they should act
greatly. From the first they had to see the round globe as one problem;
it was impossible any longer to deal with it piece by piece. They had to
secure it universally from any fresh outbreak of atomic destruction,
and they had to ensure a permanent and universal pacification. On
this capacity to grasp and wield the whole round globe their existence
depended. There was no scope for any further performance.
So soon as the seizure of the existing supplies of atomic ammunition
the apparatus for synthesising Carolinum was assured, the disbanding or
social utilisation of the various masses of troops still under arms had
to be arranged, the salvation of the year's harvests, and the feeding,
housing, and employment of the drifting millions of homeless people.
In Canada, in South America, and Asiatic Russia there were vast
accumulations of provision that was immovable only because of the
breakdown of the monetary and credit systems. These had to be brought
into the famine districts very speedily if entire depopulation was to
be avoided, and their transportation and the revival of communications
generally absorbed a certain proportion of the soldiery and more able
unemployed. The task of housing assumed gigantic dimensions, and from
building camps the housing committee of the council speedily passed to
constructions of a more permanent type. They found far less friction
than might have been expected in turning the loose population on their
hands to these things. People were extraordinarily tamed by that year of
suffering and death; they were disillusioned of their traditions, bereft
of once obstinate prejudices; they felt foreign in a strange world,
and ready to follow any confident leadership. The orders of the new
government came with the best of all credentials, rations. The people
everywhere were as easy to control, one of the old labour experts who
had survived until the new time witnesses, 'as gangs of emigrant workers
in a new land.' And now it was that the social possibilities of the
atomic energy began to appear. The new machinery that had come into
existence before the last wars increased and multiplied, and the council
found itself not only with millions of hands at its disposal but with
power and apparatus that made its first conceptions of the work it had
to do seem pitifully timid. The camps that were planned in iron and deal
were built in stone and brass; the roads that were to have been mere
iron tracks became spacious ways that insisted upon architecture; the
cultivations of foodstuffs that were to have supplied emergency rations,
were presently, with synthesisers, fertilisers, actinic light, and
scientific direction, in excess of every human need.
The government had begun with the idea of temporarily reconstituting
social and economic system that had prevailed before the first coming
of the atomic engine, because it was to this system that the ideas and
habits of the great mass of the world's dispossessed population
was adapted. Subsequent rearrangement it had hoped to leave to its
successors--whoever they might be. But this, it became more and more
manifest, was absolutely impossible. As well might the council have
proposed a revival of slavery. The capitalist system had already been
smashed beyond repair by the onset of limitless gold and energy; it fell
to pieces at the first endeavour to stand it up again. Already before
the war half of the industrial class had been out of work, the attempt
to put them back into wages employment on the old lines was futile from
the outset--the absolute shattering of the currency system alone would
have been sufficient to prevent that, and it was necessary therefore to
take over the housing, feeding, and clothing of this worldwide multitude
without exacting any return in labour whatever. In a little while the
mere absence of occupation for so great a multitude of people everywhere
became an evident social danger, and the government was obliged to
resort to such devices as simple decorative work in wood and stone, the
manufacture of hand-woven textiles, fruit-growing, flower-growing, and
landscape gardening on a grand scale to keep the less adaptable out of
mischief, and of paying wages to the younger adults for attendance at
schools that would equip them to use the new atomic machinery.... So
quite insensibly the council drifted into a complete reorganisation of
urban and industrial life, and indeed of the entire social system.
Ideas that are unhampered by political intrigue or financial
considerations have a sweeping way with them, and before a year was
out the records of the council show clearly that it was rising to its
enormous opportunity, and partly through its own direct control and
partly through a series of specific committees, it was planning a new
common social order for the entire population of the earth. 'There can
be no real social stability or any general human happiness while
large areas of the world and large classes of people are in a phase of
civilisation different from the prevailing mass. It is impossible now to
have great blocks of population misunderstanding the generally accepted
social purpose or at an economic disadvantage to the rest.' So the
council expressed its conception of the problem it had to solve. The
peasant, the field-worker, and all barbaric cultivators were at an
'economic disadvantage' to the more mobile and educated classes, and the
logic of the situation compelled the council to take up systematically
the supersession of this stratum by a more efficient organisation of
production. It developed a scheme for the progressive establishment
throughout the world of the 'modern system' in agriculture, a system
that should give the full advantages of a civilised life to every
agricultural worker, and this replacement has been going on right up
to the present day. The central idea of the modern system is the
substitution of cultivating guilds for the individual cultivator, and
for cottage and village life altogether. These guilds are associations
of men and women who take over areas of arable or pasture land, and make
themselves responsible for a certain average produce. They are bodies
small enough as a rule to be run on a strictly democratic basis, and
large enough to supply all the labour, except for a certain assistance
from townspeople during the harvest, needed upon the land farmed. They
have watchers' bungalows or chalets on the ground cultivated, but the
ease and the costlessness of modern locomotion enables them to maintain
a group of residences in the nearest town with a common dining-room and
club house, and usually also a guild house in the national or provincial
capital. Already this system has abolished a distinctively 'rustic'
population throughout vast areas of the old world, where it has
prevailed immemorially. That shy, unstimulated life of the lonely hovel,
the narrow scandals and petty spites and persecutions of the small
village, that hoarding, half inanimate existence away from books,
thought, or social participation and in constant contact with cattle,
pigs, poultry, and their excrement, is passing away out of human
experience. In a little while it will be gone altogether. In the
nineteenth century it had already ceased to be a necessary human state,
and only the absence of any collective intelligence and an imagined need
for tough and unintelligent soldiers and for a prolific class at a low
level, prevented its systematic replacement at that time....
And while this settlement of the country was in progress, the urban
camps of the first phase of the council's activities were rapidly
developing, partly through the inherent forces of the situation and
partly through the council's direction, into a modern type of town....
It is characteristic of the manner in which large enterprises forced
themselves upon the Brissago council, that it was not until the end
of the first year of their administration and then only with extreme
reluctance that they would take up the manifest need for a lingua franca
for the world. They seem to have given little attention to the various
theoretical universal languages which were proposed to them. They wished
to give as little trouble to hasty and simple people as possible, and
the world-wide alstribution of English gave them a bias for it from the
beginning. The extreme simplicity of its grammar was also in its favour.
It was not without some sacrifices that the English-speaking
peoples were permitted the satisfaction of hearing their speech
used universally. The language was shorn of a number of grammatical
peculiarities, the distinctive forms for the subjunctive mood for
example and most of its irregular plurals were abolished; its spelling
was systematised and adapted to the vowel sounds in use upon the
continent of Europe, and a process of incorporating foreign nouns and
verbs commenced that speedily reached enormous proportions. Within
ten years from the establishment of the World Republic the New English
Dictionary had swelled to include a vocabulary of 250,000 words, and
a man of 1900 would have found considerable difficulty in reading an
ordinary newspaper. On the other hand, the men of the new time could
still appreciate the older English literature.... Certain minor acts
of uniformity accompanied this larger one. The idea of a common
understanding and a general simplification of intercourse once it was
accepted led very naturally to the universal establishment of the metric
system of weights and measures, and to the disappearance of the various
makeshift calendars that had hitherto confused chronology. The year was
divided into thirteen months of four weeks each, and New Year's Day
and Leap Year's Day were made holidays, and did not count at all in
the ordinary week. So the weeks and the months were brought into
correspondence. And moreover, as the king put it to Firmin, it was
decided to 'nail down Easter.' . . . In these matters, as in so many
matters, the new civilisation came as a simplification of ancient
complications; the history of the calendar throughout the world is a
history of inadequate adjustments, of attempts to fix seed-time and
midwinter that go back into the very beginning of human society; and
this final rectification had a symbolic value quite beyond its practical
convenience. But the council would have no rash nor harsh innovations,
no strange names for the months, and no alteration in the numbering of
The world had already been put upon one universal monetary basis. For
some months after the accession of the council, the world's affairs had
been carried on without any sound currency at all. Over great regions
money was still in use, but with the most extravagant variations in
price and the most disconcerting fluctuations of public confidence. The
ancient rarity of gold upon which the entire system rested was gone.
Gold was now a waste product in the release of atomic energy, and it
was plain that no metal could be the basis of the monetary system
again. Henceforth all coins must be token coins. Yet the whole world was
accustomed to metallic money, and a vast proportion of existing
human relationships had grown up upon a cash basis, and were almost
inconceivable without that convenient liquidating factor. It seemed
absolutely necessary to the life of the social organisation to have some
sort of currency, and the council had therefore to discover some real
value upon which to rest it. Various such apparently stable values as
land and hours of work were considered. Ultimately the government,
which was now in possession of most of the supplies of energy-releasing
material, fixed a certain number of units of energy as the value of a
gold sovereign, declared a sovereign to be worth exactly twenty marks,
twenty-five francs, five dollars, and so forth, with the other current
units of the world, and undertook, under various qualifications and
conditions, to deliver energy upon demand as payment for every sovereign
presented. On the whole, this worked satisfactorily. They saved the
face of the pound sterling. Coin was rehabilitated, and after a phase
of price fluctuations, began to settle down to definite equivalents and
uses again, with names and everyday values familiar to the common run of
As the Brissago council came to realise that what it had supposed to
temporary camps of refugees were rapidly developing into great towns of
a new type, and that it was remoulding the world in spite of itself,
it decided to place this work of redistributing the non-agricultural
population in the hands of a compactor and better qualified special
committee. That committee is now, far more than the council of any
other of its delegated committees, the active government of the world.
Developed from an almost invisible germ of 'town-planning' that came
obscurely into existence in Europe or America (the question is still in
dispute) somewhere in the closing decades of the nineteenth century,
its work, the continual active planning and replanning of the world as
a place of human habitation, is now so to speak the collective material
activity of the race. The spontaneous, disorderly spreadings and
recessions of populations, as aimless and mechanical as the trickling
of spilt water, which was the substance of history for endless years,
giving rise here to congestions, here to chronic devastating wars, and
everywhere to a discomfort and disorderliness that was at its best only
picturesque, is at an end. Men spread now, with the whole power of the
race to aid them, into every available region of the earth. Their
cities are no longer tethered to running water and the proximity
of cultivation, their plans are no longer affected by strategic
considerations or thoughts of social insecurity. The aeroplane and
the nearly costless mobile car have abolished trade routes; a common
language and a universal law have abolished a thousand restraining
inconveniences, and so an astonishing dispersal of habitations has
begun. One may live anywhere. And so it is that our cities now are true
social gatherings, each with a character of its own and distinctive
interests of its own, and most of them with a common occupation. They
lie out in the former deserts, these long wasted sun-baths of the race,
they tower amidst eternal snows, they hide in remote islands, and bask
on broad lagoons. For a time the whole tendency of mankind was to desert
the river valleys in which the race had been cradled for half a million
years, but now that the War against Flies has been waged so successfully
that this pestilential branch of life is nearly extinct, they are
returning thither with a renewed appetite for gardens laced by
watercourses, for pleasant living amidst islands and houseboats and
bridges, and for nocturnal lanterns reflected by the sea.
Man who is ceasing to be an agricultural animal becomes more and more
builder, a traveller, and a maker. How much he ceases to be a cultivator
of the soil the returns of the Redistribution Committee showed. Every
year the work of our scientific laboratories increases the productivity
and simplifies the labour of those who work upon the soil, and the food
now of the whole world is produced by less than one per cent. of its
population, a percentage which still tends to decrease. Far fewer people
are needed upon the land than training and proclivity dispose towards
it, and as a consequence of this excess of human attention, the garden
side of life, the creation of groves and lawns and vast regions of
beautiful flowers, has expanded enormously and continues to expand. For,
as agricultural method intensifies and the quota is raised, one farm
association after another, availing itself of the 1975 regulations,
elects to produce a public garden and pleasaunce in the place of its
former fields, and the area of freedom and beauty is increased. And the
chemists' triumphs of synthesis, which could now give us an entirely
artificial food, remain largely in abeyance because it is so much more
pleasant and interesting to eat natural produce and to grow such things
upon the soil. Each year adds to the variety of our fruits and the
delightfulness of our flowers.
The early years of the World Republic witnessed a certain recrudescence
of political adventure. There was, it is rather curious to note, no
revival of separatism after the face of King Ferdinand Charles had
vanished from the sight of men, but in a number of countries, as the
first urgent physical needs were met, there appeared a variety of
personalities having this in common, that they sought to revive
political trouble and clamber by its aid to positions of importance and
satisfaction. In no case did they speak in the name of kings, and it is
clear that monarchy must have been far gone in obsolescence before the
twentieth century began, but they made appeals to the large survivals
of nationalist and racial feeling that were everywhere to be found, they
alleged with considerable justice that the council was overriding racial
and national customs and disregarding religious rules. The great plain
of India was particularly prolific in such agitators. The revival of
newspapers, which had largely ceased during the terrible year because
of the dislocation of the coinage, gave a vehicle and a method of
organisation to these complaints. At first the council disregarded
this developing opposition, and then it recognised it with an entirely
Never, of course, had there been so provisional a government. It was
an extravagant illegality. It was, indeed, hardly more than a club, a
club of about a hundred persons. At the outset there were ninety-three,
and these were increased afterwards by the issue of invitations which
more than balanced its deaths, to as many at one time as one hundred
and nineteen. Always its constitution has been miscellaneous. At no time
were these invitations issued with an admission that they recognised a
right. The old institution or monarchy had come out unexpectedly well in
the light of the new regime. Nine of the original members of the
first government were crowned heads who had resigned their separate
sovereignty, and at no time afterwards did the number of its royal
members sink below six. In their case there was perhaps a kind of
attenuated claim to rule, but except for them and the still more
infinitesimal pretensions of one or two ax-presidents of republics, no
member of the council had even the shade of a right to his participation
in its power. It was natural, therefore, that its opponents should find
a common ground in a clamour for representative government, and build
high hopes upon a return, to parliamentary institutions.
The council decided to give them everything they wanted, but in a
form that suited ill with their aspirations. It became at one stroke a
representative body. It became, indeed, magnificently representative. It
became so representative that the politicians were drowned in a deluge
of votes. Every adult of either sex from pole to pole was given a vote,
and the world was divided into ten constituencies, which voted on the
same day by means of a simple modification of the world post. Membership
of the government, it was decided, must be for life, save in the
exceptional case of a recall; but the elections, which were held
quinquenially, were arranged to add fifty members on each occasion. The
method of proportional representation with one transferable vote was
adopted, and the voter might also write upon his voting paper in a
specially marked space, the name of any of his representatives that he
wished to recall. A ruler was recallable by as many votes as the quota
by which he had been elected, and the original members by as many votes
in any constituency as the returning quotas in the first election.
Upon these conditions the council submitted itself very cheerfully to
the suffrages of the world. None of its members were recalled, and its
fifty new associates, which included twenty-seven which it had seen fit
to recommend, were of an altogether too miscellaneous quality to disturb
the broad trend of its policy. Its freedom from rules or formalities
prevented any obstructive proceedings, and when one of the two newly
arrived Home Rule members for India sought for information how to bring
in a bill, they learnt simply that bills were not brought in. They asked
for the speaker, and were privileged to hear much ripe wisdom from
the ex-king Egbert, who was now consciously among the seniors of the
gathering. Thereafter they were baffled men....
But already by that time the work of the council was drawing to an end.
It was concerned not so much for the continuation of its construction
as for the preservation of its accomplished work from the dramatic
instincts of the politician.
The life of the race becomes indeed more and more independent of the
formal government. The council, in its opening phase, was heroic in
spirit; a dragon-slaying body, it slashed out of existence a vast,
knotted tangle of obsolete ideas and clumsy and jealous proprietorships;
it secured by a noble system of institutional precautions, freedom of
inquiry, freedom of criticism, free communications, a common basis of
education and understanding, and freedom from economic oppression. With
that its creative task was accomplished. It became more and more an
established security and less and less an active intervention. There is
nothing in our time to correspond with the continual petty making and
entangling of laws in an atmosphere of contention that is perhaps the
most perplexing aspect of constitutional history in the nineteenth
century. In that age they seem to have been perpetually making laws when
we should alter regulations. The work of change which we delegate to
these scientific committees of specific general direction which have
the special knowledge needed, and which are themselves dominated by
the broad intellectual process of the community, was in those days
inextricably mixed up with legislation. They fought over the details; we
should as soon think of fighting over the arrangement of the parts of
a machine. We know nowadays that such things go on best within laws, as
life goes on between earth and sky. And so it is that government gathers
now for a day or so in each year under the sunshine of Brissago when
Saint Bruno's lilies are in flower, and does little more than bless the
work of its committees. And even these committees are less originative
and more expressive of the general thought than they were at first. It
becomes difficult to mark out the particular directive personalities
of the world. Continually we are less personal. Every good thought
contributes now, and every able brain falls within that informal and
dispersed kingship which gathers together into one purpose the energies
of the race.
It is doubtful if we shall ever see again a phase of human existence
which 'politics,' that is to say a partisan interference with the ruling
sanities of the world, will be the dominant interest among serious men.
We seem to have entered upon an entirely new phase in history in which
contention as distinguished from rivalry, has almost abruptly ceased to
be the usual occupation, and has become at most a subdued and hidden
and discredited thing. Contentious professions cease to be an honourable
employment for men. The peace between nations is also a peace between
individuals. We live in a world that comes of age. Man the warrior, man
the lawyer, and all the bickering aspects of life, pass into obscurity;
the grave dreamers, man the curious learner, and man the creative
artist, come forward to replace these barbaric aspects of existence by a
less ignoble adventure.
There is no natural life of man. He is, and always has been, a sheath
of varied and even incompatible possibilities, a palimpsest of inherited
dispositions. It was the habit of many writers in the early twentieth
century to speak of competition and the narrow, private life of trade
and saving and suspicious isolation as though such things were in some
exceptional way proper to the human constitution, and as though openness
of mind and a preference for achievement over possession were abnormal
and rather unsubstantial qualities. How wrong that was the history
of the decades immediately following the establishment of the world
republic witnesses. Once the world was released from the hardening
insecurities of a needless struggle for life that was collectively
planless and individually absorbing, it became apparent that there was
in the vast mass of people a long, smothered passion to make things. The
world broke out into making, and at first mainly into aesthetic
making. This phase of history, which has been not inaptly termed the
'Efflorescence,' is still, to a large extent, with us. The majority
of our population consists of artists, and the bulk of activity in
the world lies no longer with necessities but with their elaboration,
decoration, and refinement. There has been an evident change in the
quality of this making during recent years. It becomes more purposeful
than it was, losing something of its first elegance and prettiness and
gaining in intensity; but that is a change rather of hue than of nature.
That comes with a deepening philosophy and a sounder education. For the
first joyous exercises of fancy we perceive now the deliberation of a
more constructive imagination. There is a natural order in these things,
and art comes before science as the satisfaction of more elemental needs
must come before art, and as play and pleasure come in a human life
before the development of a settled purpose....
For thousands of years this gathering impulse to creative work must have
struggled in man against the limitations imposed upon him by his social
ineptitude. It was a long smouldering fire that flamed out at last
in all these things. The evidence of a pathetic, perpetually thwarted
urgency to make something, is one of the most touching aspects of the
relics and records of our immediate ancestors. There exists still in the
death area about the London bombs, a region of deserted small homes that
furnish the most illuminating comment on the old state of affairs.
These homes are entirely horrible, uniform, square, squat, hideously
proportioned, uncomfortable, dingy, and in some respects quite filthy,
only people in complete despair of anything better could have lived
in them, but to each is attached a ridiculous little rectangle of land
called 'the garden,' containing usually a prop for drying clothes and
a loathsome box of offal, the dustbin, full of egg-shells, cinders, and
such-like refuse. Now that one may go about this region in comparitive
security--for the London radiations have dwindled to inconsiderable
proportions--it is possible to trace in nearly every one of
these gardens some effort to make. Here it is a poor little plank
summer-house, here it is a 'fountain' of bricks and oyster-shells, here
a 'rockery,' here a 'workshop.' And in the houses everywhere there
are pitiful little decorations, clumsy models, feeble drawings. These
efforts are almost incredibly inept, like the drawings of blindfolded
men, they are only one shade less harrowing to a sympathetic observer
than the scratchings one finds upon the walls of the old prisons, but
there they are, witnessing to the poor buried instincts that struggled
up towards the light. That god of joyous expression our poor fathers
ignorantly sought, our freedom has declared to us....
In the old days the common ambition of every simple soul was to possess
a little property, a patch of land, a house uncontrolled by others, an
'independence' as the English used to put it. And what made this desire
for freedom and prosperity so strong, was very evidently the dream of
self-expression, of doing something with it, of playing with it, of
making a personal delightfulness, a distinctiveness. Property was never
more than a means to an end, nor avarice more than a perversion. Men
owned in order to do freely. Now that every one has his own apartments
and his own privacy secure, this disposition to own has found its
release in a new direction. Men study and save and strive that they may
leave behind them a series of panels in some public arcade, a row
of carven figures along a terrace, a grove, a pavilion. Or they give
themselves to the penetration of some still opaque riddle in phenomena
as once men gave themselves to the accumulation of riches. The work that
was once the whole substance of social existence--for most men spent all
their lives in earning a living--is now no more than was the burden upon
one of those old climbers who carried knapsacks of provisions on their
backs in order that they might ascend mountains. It matters little to
the easy charities of our emancipated time that most people who have
made their labour contribution produce neither new beauty nor new
wisdom, but are simply busy about those pleasant activities and
enjoyments that reassure them that they are alive. They help, it may be,
by reception and reverberation, and they hinder nothing. ...
Now all this phase of gigantic change in the contours and appearances
of human life which is going on about us, a change as rapid and as
wonderful as the swift ripening of adolescence to manhood after the
barbaric boyish years, is correlated with moral and mental changes at
least as unprecedented. It is not as if old things were going out
of life and new things coming in, it is rather that the altered
circumstances of men are making an appeal to elements in his nature
that have hitherto been suppressed, and checking tendencies that have
hitherto been over-stimulated and over-developed. He has not so much
grown and altered his essential being as turned new aspects to the
light. Such turnings round into a new attitude the world has seen on a
less extensive scale before. The Highlanders of the seventeenth century,
for example, were cruel and bloodthirsty robbers, in the nineteenth
their descendants were conspicuously trusty and honourable men. There
was not a people in Western Europe in the early twentieth century that
seemed capable of hideous massacres, and none that had not been guilty
of them within the previous two centuries. The free, frank, kindly,
gentle life of the prosperous classes in any European country before the
years of the last wars was in a different world of thought and feeling
from that of the dingy, suspicious, secretive, and uncharitable
existence of the respectable poor, or the constant personal violence,
the squalor and naive passions of the lowest stratum. Yet there were
no real differences of blood and inherent quality between these worlds;
their differences were all in circumstances, suggestion, and habits of
mind. And turning to more individual instances the constantly observed
difference between one portion of a life and another consequent upon
a religious conversion, were a standing example of the versatile
possibilities of human nature.
The catastrophe of the atomic bombs which shook men out of cities and
businesses and economic relations shook them also out of their old
established habits of thought, and out of the lightly held beliefs and
prejudices that came down to them from the past. To borrow a word from
the old-fashioned chemists, men were made nascent; they were released
from old ties; for good or evil they were ready for new associations.
The council carried them forward for good; perhaps if his bombs had
reached their destination King Ferdinand Charles might have carried them
back to an endless chain of evils. But his task would have been a harder
one than the council's. The moral shock of the atomic bombs had been a
profound one, and for a while the cunning side of the human animal
was overpowered by its sincere realisation of the vital necessity for
reconstruction. The litigious and trading spirits cowered together,
scared at their own consequences; men thought twice before they sought
mean advantages in the face of the unusual eagerness to realise new
aspirations, and when at last the weeds revived again and 'claims' began
to sprout, they sprouted upon the stony soil of law-courts reformed,
of laws that pointed to the future instead of the past, and under
the blazing sunshine of a transforming world. A new literature, a new
interpretation of history were springing into existence, a new teaching
was already in the schools, a new faith in the young. The worthy man
who forestalled the building of a research city for the English upon
the Sussex downs by buying up a series of estates, was dispossessed
and laughed out of court when he made his demand for some preposterous
compensation; the owner of the discredited Dass patents makes his last
appearance upon the scroll of history as the insolvent proprietor of
a paper called The Cry for Justice, in which he duns the world for a
hundred million pounds. That was the ingenuous Dass's idea of justice,
that he ought to be paid about five million pounds annually because he
had annexed the selvage of one of Holsten's discoveries. Dass came
at last to believe quite firmly in his right, and he died a victim of
conspiracy mania in a private hospital at Nice. Both of these men
would probably have ended their days enormously wealthy, and of course
ennobled in the England of the opening twentieth century, and it is just
this novelty of their fates that marks the quality of the new age.
The new government early discovered the need of a universal education
to fit men to the great conceptions of its universal rule. It made no
wrangling attacks on the local, racial, and sectarian forms of religious
profession that at that time divided the earth into a patchwork of
hatreds and distrusts; it left these organisations to make their peace
with God in their own time; but it proclaimed as if it were a mere
secular truth that sacrifice was expected from all, that respect had to
be shown to all; it revived schools or set them up afresh all around the
world, and everywhere these schools taught the history of war and the
consequences and moral of the Last War; everywhere it was taught not as
a sentiment but as a matter of fact that the salvation of the world from
waste and contention was the common duty and occupation of all men and
women. These things which are now the elementary commonplaces of human
intercourse seemed to the councillors of Brissago, when first they dared
to proclaim them, marvellously daring discoveries, not untouched by
doubt, that flushed the cheek and fired the eye.
The council placed all this educational reconstruction in the hands of
a committee of men and women, which did its work during the next few
decades with remarkable breadth and effectiveness. This educational
committee was, and is, the correlative upon the mental and spiritual
side of the redistribution committee. And prominent upon it, and indeed
for a time quite dominating it, was a Russian named Karenin, who was
singular in being a congenital cripple. His body was bent so that he
walked with difficulty, suffered much pain as he grew older, and had
at last to undergo two operations. The second killed him. Already
malformation, which was to be seen in every crowd during the middle ages
so that the crippled beggar was, as it were, an essential feature of
the human spectacle, was becoming a strange thing in the world. It had a
curious effect upon Karenin's colleagues; their feeling towards him was
mingled with pity and a sense of inhumanity that it needed usage rather
than reason to overcome. He had a strong face, with little bright brown
eyes rather deeply sunken and a large resolute thin-lipped mouth. His
skin was very yellow and wrinkled, and his hair iron gray. He was at all
times an impatient and sometimes an angry man, but this was forgiven him
because of the hot wire of suffering that was manifestly thrust through
his being. At the end of his life his personal prestige was very great.
To him far more than to any contemporary is it due that self-abnegation,
self-identification with the world spirit, was made the basis of
universal education. That general memorandum to the teachers which is
the key-note of the modern educational system, was probably entirely his
'Whosoever would save his soul shall lose it,' he wrote. 'That is the
device upon the seal of this document, and the starting point of all
we have to do. It is a mistake to regard it as anything but a plain
statement of fact. It is the basis for your work. You have to teach
self-forgetfulness, and everything else that you have to teach is
contributory and subordinate to that end. Education is the release
of man from self. You have to widen the horizons of your children,
encourage and intensify their curiosity and their creative impulses, and
cultivate and enlarge their sympathies. That is what you are for. Under
your guidance and the suggestions you will bring to bear on them, they
have to shed the old Adam of instinctive suspicions, hostilities,
and passions, and to find themselves again in the great being of the
universe. The little circles of their egotisms have to be opened out
until they become arcs in the sweep of the racial purpose. And this
that you teach to others you must learn also sedulously yourselves.
Philosophy, discovery, art, every sort of skill, every sort of service,
love: these are the means of salvation from that narrow loneliness
of desire, that brooding preoccupation with self and egotistical
relationships, which is hell for the individual, treason to the race,
and exile from God....'
As things round themselves off and accomplish themselves, one begins
the first time to see them clearly. From the perspectives of a new age
one can look back upon the great and widening stream of literature with
a complete understanding. Things link up that seemed disconnected, and
things that were once condemned as harsh and aimless are seen to be but
factors in the statement of a gigantic problem. An enormous bulk of the
sincerer writing of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries
falls together now into an unanticipated unanimity; one sees it as a
huge tissue of variations upon one theme, the conflict of human egotism
and personal passion and narrow imaginations on the one hand, against
the growing sense of wider necessities and a possible, more spacious
That conflict is in evidence in so early a work as Voltaire's Candide,
for example, in which the desire for justice as well as happiness beats
against human contrariety and takes refuge at last in a forced and
inconclusive contentment with little things. Candide was but one of
the pioneers of a literature of uneasy complaint that was presently
an innumerable multitude of books. The novels more particularly of the
nineteenth century, if one excludes the mere story-tellers from our
consideration, witness to this uneasy realisation of changes that call
for effort and of the lack of that effort. In a thousand aspects,
now tragically, now comically, now with a funny affectation of divine
detachment, a countless host of witnesses tell their story of lives
fretting between dreams and limitations. Now one laughs, now one
weeps, now one reads with a blank astonishment at this huge and almost
unpremeditated record of how the growing human spirit, now warily, now
eagerly, now furiously, and always, as it seems, unsuccessfully, tried
to adapt itself to the maddening misfit of its patched and ancient
garments. And always in these books as one draws nearer to the heart
of the matter there comes a disconcerting evasion. It was the fantastic
convention of the time that a writer should not touch upon religion.
To do so was to rouse the jealous fury of the great multitude of
professional religious teachers. It was permitted to state the discord,
but it was forbidden to glance at any possible reconciliation. Religion
was the privilege of the pulpit....
It was not only from the novels that religion was omitted. It was
ignored by the newspapers; it was pedantically disregarded in the
discussion of business questions, it played a trivial and apologetic
part in public affairs. And this was done not out of contempt but
respect. The hold of the old religious organisations upon men's respect
was still enormous, so enormous that there seemed to be a quality of
irreverence in applying religion to the developments of every day. This
strange suspension of religion lasted over into the beginnings of the
new age. It was the clear vision of Marcus Karenin much more than any
other contemporary influence which brought it back into the texture
of human life. He saw religion without hallucinations, without
superstitious reverence, as a common thing as necessary as food and
air, as land and energy to the life of man and the well-being of the
Republic. He saw that indeed it had already percolated away from the
temples and hierarchies and symbols in which men had sought to imprison
it, that it was already at work anonymously and obscurely in the
universal acceptance of the greater state. He gave it clearer
expression, rephrased it to the lights and perspectives of the new
But if we return to our novels for our evidence of the spirit of the
times it becomes evident as one reads them in their chronological order,
so far as that is now ascertainable, that as one comes to the latter
nineteenth and the earlier twentieth century the writers are much
more acutely aware of secular change than their predecessors were. The
earlier novelists tried to show 'life as it is,' the latter showed
life as it changes. More and more of their characters are engaged in
adaptation to change or suffering from the effects of world changes. And
as we come up to the time of the Last Wars, this newer conception of the
everyday life as a reaction to an accelerated development is continually
more manifest. Barnet's book, which has served us so well, is frankly a
picture of the world coming about like a ship that sails into the wind.
Our later novelists give a vast gallery of individual conflicts in which
old habits and customs, limited ideas, ungenerous temperaments, and
innate obsessions are pitted against this great opening out of life that
has happened to us. They tell us of the feelings of old people who have
been wrenched away from familiar surroundings, and how they have had to
make peace with uncomfortable comforts and conveniences that are still
strange to them. They give us the discord between the opening egotisms
of youths and the ill-defined limitations of a changing social life.
They tell of the universal struggle of jealousy to capture and cripple
our souls, of romantic failures and tragical misconceptions of the trend
of the world, of the spirit of adventure, and the urgency of curiosity,
and how these serve the universal drift. And all their stories lead
in the end either to happiness missed or happiness won, to disaster or
salvation. The clearer their vision and the subtler their art, the more
certainly do these novels tell of the possibility of salvation for all
the world. For any road in life leads to religion for those upon it who
will follow it far enough....
It would have seemed a strange thing to the men of the former time
that it should be an open question as it is to-day whether the world
is wholly Christian or not Christian at all. But assuredly we have
the spirit, and as surely have we left many temporary forms behind.
Christianity was the first expression of world religion, the first
complete repudiation of tribalism and war and disputation. That it fell
presently into the ways of more ancient rituals cannot alter that.
The common sense of mankind has toiled through two thousand years of
chastening experience to find at last how sound a meaning attaches to
the familiar phrases of the Christian faith. The scientific thinker
as he widens out to the moral problems of the collective life, comes
inevitably upon the words of Christ, and as inevitably does the
Christian, as his thought grows clearer, arrive at the world
republic. As for the claims of the sects, as for the use of a name and
successions, we live in a time that has shaken itself free from such
claims and consistencies.
CHAPTER THE FIFTH
THE LAST DAYS OF MARCUS KARENIN
The second operation upon Marcus Karenin was performed at the new
station for surgical work at Paran, high in the Himalayas above the
Sutlej Gorge, where it comes down out of Thibet.
It is a place of such wildness and beauty as no other scenery in the
world affords. The granite terrace which runs round the four sides
of the low block of laboratories looks out in every direction upon
mountains. Far below in the hidden depths of a shadowy blue cleft, the
river pours down in its tumultuous passage to the swarming plains of
India. No sound of its roaring haste comes up to those serenities.
Beyond that blue gulf, in which whole forests of giant deodars seem no
more than small patches of moss, rise vast precipices of many-coloured
rock, fretted above, lined by snowfalls, and jagged into pinnacles.
These are the northward wall of a towering wilderness of ice and snow
which clambers southward higher and wilder and vaster to the culminating
summits of our globe, to Dhaulagiri and Everest. Here are cliffs of
which no other land can show the like, and deep chasms in which Mt.
Blanc might be plunged and hidden. Here are icefields as big as inland
seas on which the tumbled boulders lie so thickly that strange little
flowers can bloom among them under the untempered sunshine. To the
northward, and blocking out any vision of the uplands of Thibet, rises
that citadel of porcelain, that gothic pile, the Lio Porgyul, walls,
towers, and peaks, a clear twelve thousand feet of veined and splintered
rock above the river. And beyond it and eastward and westward rise peaks
behind peaks, against the dark blue Himalayan sky. Far away below to the
south the clouds of the Indian rains pile up abruptly and are stayed by
an invisible hand.
Hither it was that with a dreamlike swiftness Karenin flew high over
the irrigations of Rajputana and the towers and cupolas of the ultimate
Delhi; and the little group of buildings, albeit the southward wall
dropped nearly five hundred feet, seemed to him as he soared down to it
like a toy lost among these mountain wildernesses. No road came up to
this place; it was reached only by flight.
His pilot descended to the great courtyard, and Karenin assisted by his
secretary clambered down through the wing fabric and made his way to the
officials who came out to receive him.
In this place, beyond infections and noise and any distractions, surgery
had made for itself a house of research and a healing fastness. The
building itself would have seemed very wonderful to eyes accustomed to
the flimsy architecture of an age when power was precious. It was made
of granite, already a little roughened on the outside by frost, but
polished within and of a tremendous solidity. And in a honeycomb of
subtly lit apartments, were the spotless research benches, the operating
tables, the instruments of brass, and fine glass and platinum and gold.
Men and women came from all parts of the world for study or experimental
research. They wore a common uniform of white and ate at long tables
together, but the patients lived in an upper part of the buildings, and
were cared for by nurses and skilled attendants....
The first man to greet Karenin was Ciana, the scientific director of
institution. Beside him was Rachel Borken, the chief organiser. 'You are
tired?' she asked, and old Karenin shook his head.
'Cramped,' he said. 'I have wanted to visit such a place as this.'
He spoke as if he had no other business with them.
There was a little pause.
'How many scientific people have you got here now?' he asked.
'Just three hundred and ninety-two,' said Rachel Borken.
'And the patients and attendants and so on?'
'Two thousand and thirty.'
'I shall be a patient,' said Karenin. 'I shall have to be a patient.
I should like to see things first. Presently I will be a patient.'
'You will come to my rooms?' suggested Ciana.
'And then I must talk to this doctor of yours,' said Karenin. 'But I
would like to see a bit of this place and talk to some of your people
before it comes to that.'
He winced and moved forward.
'I have left most of my work in order,' he said.
'You have been working hard up to now?' asked Rachel Borken.
'Yes. And now I have nothing more to do--and it seems strange.... And
it's a bother, this illness and having to come down to oneself. This
doorway and the row of windows is well done; the gray granite and just
the line of gold, and then those mountains beyond through that arch.
It's very well done....'
Karenin lay on the bed with a soft white rug about him, and Fowler, who
was to be his surgeon sat on the edge of the bed and talked to him.
An assistant was seated quietly in the shadow behind the bed. The
examination had been made, and Karenin knew what was before him. He was
tired but serene.
'So I shall die,' he said, 'unless you operate?'
Fowler assented. 'And then,' said Karenin, smiling, 'probably I shall
'Even if I do not die; shall I be able to work?'
'There is just a chance....'
'So firstly I shall probably die, and if I do not, then perhaps I shall
be a useless invalid?'
'I think if you live, you may be able to go on--as you do now.'
'Well, then, I suppose I must take the risk of it. Yet couldn't
you, Fowler, couldn't you drug me and patch me instead of all
this--vivisection? A few days of drugged and active life--and then the
Fowler thought. 'We are not sure enough yet to do things like that,'
'But a day is coming when you will be certain.'
'You make me feel as though I was the last of deformity--Deformity is
uncertainty--inaccuracy. My body works doubtfully, it is not even sure
that it will die or live. I suppose the time is not far off when such
bodies as mine will no longer be born into the world.'
'You see,' said Fowler, after a little pause, 'it is necessary that
spirits such as yours should be born into the world.'
'I suppose,' said Karenin, 'that my spirit has had its use. But if you
think that is because my body is as it is I think you are mistaken.
There is no peculiar virtue in defect. I have always chafed against--all
this. If I could have moved more freely and lived a larger life in
health I could have done more. But some day perhaps you will be able to
put a body that is wrong altogether right again. Your science is only
beginning. It's a subtler thing than physics and chemistry, and it takes
longer to produce its miracles. And meanwhile a few more of us must die
'Fine work is being done and much of it,' said Fowler. 'I can say as
much because I have nothing to do with it. I can understand a lesson,
appreciate the discoveries of abler men and use my hands, but those
others, Pigou, Masterton, Lie, and the others, they are clearing the
ground fast for the knowledge to come. Have you had time to follow their
Karenin shook his head. 'But I can imagine the scope of it,' he said.
'We have so many men working now,' said Fowler. 'I suppose at
present there must be at least a thousand thinking hard, observing,
experimenting, for one who did so in nineteen hundred.'
'Not counting those who keep the records?'
'Not counting those. Of course, the present indexing of research is
in itself a very big work, and it is only now that we are getting it
properly done. But already we are feeling the benefit of that. Since it
ceased to be a paid employment and became a devotion we have had only
those people who obeyed the call of an aptitude at work upon these
things. Here--I must show you it to-day, because it will interest
you--we have our copy of the encyclopaedic index--every week sheets are
taken out and replaced by fresh sheets with new results that are brought
to us by the aeroplanes of the Research Department. It is an index of
knowledge that grows continually, an index that becomes continually
truer. There was never anything like it before.'
'When I came into the education committee,' said Karenin, 'that index
of human knowledge seemed an impossible thing. Research had produced
a chaotic mountain of results, in a hundred languages and a thousand
different types of publication. . . .' He smiled at his memories. 'How
we groaned at the job!'
'Already the ordering of that chaos is nearly done. You shall see.'
'I have been so busy with my own work----Yes, I shall be glad to see.'
The patient regarded the surgeon for a time with interested eyes.
'You work here always?' he asked abruptly.
'No,' said Fowler.
'But mostly you work here?'
'I have worked about seven years out of the past ten. At times I go
away--down there. One has to. At least I have to. There is a sort of
grayness comes over all this, one feels hungry for life, real, personal
passionate life, love-making, eating and drinking for the fun of
the thing, jostling crowds, having adventures, laughter--above all
'Yes,' said Karenin understandingly.
'And then one day, suddenly one thinks of these high mountains
'That is how I would have lived, if it had not been for my--defects,'
said Karenin. 'Nobody knows but those who have borne it the exasperation
of abnormality. It will be good when you have nobody alive whose body
cannot live the wholesome everyday life, whose spirit cannot come up
into these high places as it wills.'
'We shall manage that soon,' said Fowler.
'For endless generations man has struggled upward against the
indignities of his body--and the indignities of his soul. Pains,
incapacities, vile fears, black moods, despairs. How well I've known
them. They've taken more time than all your holidays. It is true, is it
not, that every man is something of a cripple and something of a beast?
I've dipped a little deeper than most; that's all. It's only now when he
has fully learnt the truth of that, that he can take hold of himself to
be neither beast nor cripple. Now that he overcomes his servitude to
his body, he can for the first time think of living the full life of his
body.... Before another generation dies you'll have the thing in hand.
You'll do as you please with the old Adam and all the vestiges from the
brutes and reptiles that lurk in his body and spirit. Isn't that so?'
'You put it boldly,' said Fowler.
Karenin laughed cheerfully at his caution.... 'When,' asked Karenin
suddenly, 'when will you operate?'
'The day after to-morrow,' said Fowler. 'For a day I want you to drink
and eat as I shall prescribe. And you may think and talk as you please.'
'I should like to see this place.'
'You shall go through it this afternoon. I will have two men carry
you in a litter. And to-morrow you shall lie out upon the terrace. Our
mountains here are the most beautiful in the world....'
The next morning Karenin got up early and watched the sun rise over
the mountains, and breakfasted lightly, and then young Gardener, his
secretary, came to consult him upon the spending of his day. Would he
care to see people? Or was this gnawing pain within him too much to
permit him to do that?
'I'd like to talk,' said Karenin. 'There must be all sorts of
lively-minded people here. Let them come and gossip with me. It will
distract me--and I can't tell you how interesting it makes everything
that is going on to have seen the dawn of one's own last day.'
'Your last day!'
'Fowler will kill me.'
'But he thinks not.'
'Fowler will kill me. If he does not he will not leave very much of me.
So that this is my last day anyhow, the days afterwards if they come at
all to me, will be refuse. I know....'
Gardener was about to speak when Karenin went on again.
'I hope he kills me, Gardener. Don't be--old-fashioned. The thing I am
most afraid of is that last rag of life. I may just go on--a scarred
salvage of suffering stuff. And then--all the things I have hidden and
kept down or discounted or set right afterwards will get the better of
me. I shall be peevish. I may lose my grip upon my own egotism. It's
never been a very firm grip. No, no, Gardener, don't say that! You know
better, you've had glimpses of it. Suppose I came through on the other
side of this affair, belittled, vain, and spiteful, using the prestige I
have got among men by my good work in the past just to serve some small
He was silent for a time, watching the mists among the distant
precipices change to clouds of light, and drift and dissolve before the
searching rays of the sunrise.
'Yes,' he said at last, 'I am afraid of these anaesthetics and these
ends of life. It's life we are all afraid of. Death!--nobody minds just
death. Fowler is clever--but some day surgery will know its duty better
and not be so anxious just to save something . . . provided only that
it quivers. I've tried to hold my end up properly and do my work. After
Fowler has done with me I am certain I shall be unfit for work--and what
else is there for me? . . . I know I shall not be fit for work....
'I do not see why life should be judged by its last trailing thread of
vitality.... I know it for the splendid thing it is--I who have been
a diseased creature from the beginning. I know it well enough not to
confuse it with its husks. Remember that, Gardener, if presently my
heart fails me and I despair, and if I go through a little phase of pain
and ingratitude and dark forgetfulness before the end.... Don't believe
what I may say at the last.... If the fabric is good enough the selvage
doesn't matter. It can't matter. So long as you are alive you are just
the moment, perhaps, but when you are dead then you are all your life
from the first moment to the last....'
Presently, in accordance with his wish, people came to talk to him, and
he could forget himself again. Rachel Borken sat for a long time with
him and talked chiefly of women in the world, and with her was a girl
named Edith Haydon who was already very well known as a cytologist. And
several of the younger men who were working in the place and a patient
named Kahn, a poet, and Edwards, a designer of plays and shows, spent
some time with him. The talk wandered from point to point and came
back upon itself, and became now earnest and now trivial as the chance
suggestions determined. But soon afterwards Gardener wrote down notes
of things he remembered, and it is possible to put together again the
outlook of Karenin upon the world and how he thought and felt about many
of the principal things in life.
'Our age,' he said, 'has been so far an age of scene-shifting. We have
been preparing a stage, clearing away the setting of a drama that was
played out and growing tiresome.... If I could but sit out the first few
scenes of the new spectacle....
'How encumbered the world had become! It was ailing as I am ailing with
a growth of unmeaning things. It was entangled, feverish, confused. It
was in sore need of release, and I suppose that nothing less than the
violence of those bombs could have released it and made it a healthy
world again. I suppose they were necessary. Just as everything turns
to evil in a fevered body so everything seemed turning to evil in those
last years of the old time. Everywhere there were obsolete organisations
seizing upon all the new fine things that science was giving to the
world, nationalities, all sorts of political bodies, the churches and
sects, proprietorship, seizing upon those treat powers and limitless
possibilities and turning them to evil uses. And they would not suffer
open speech, they would not permit of education, they would let no one
be educated to the needs of the new time.... You who are younger cannot
imagine the mixture of desperate hope and protesting despair in which we
who could believe in the possibilities of science lived in those years
before atomic energy came....
'It was not only that the mass of people would not attend, would not
understand, but that those who did understand lacked the power of real
belief. They said the things, they saw the things, and the things meant
nothing to them....
'I have been reading some old papers lately. It is wonderful how our
fathers bore themselves towards science. They hated it. They feared
it. They permitted a few scientific men to exist and work--a pitiful
handful.... "Don't find out anything about us," they said to them;
"don't inflict vision upon us, spare our little ways of life from the
fearful shaft of understanding. But do tricks for us, little limited
tricks. Give us cheap lighting. And cure us of certain disagreeable
things, cure us of cancer, cure us of consumption, cure our colds and
relieve us after repletion...." We have changed all that, Gardener.
Science is no longer our servant. We know it for something greater than
our little individual selves. It is the awakening mind of the race, and
in a little while----In a little while----I wish indeed I could watch
for that little while, now that the curtain has risen....
'While I lie here they are clearing up what is left of the bombs in
London,' he said. 'Then they are going to repair the ruins and make it
all as like as possible to its former condition before the bombs fell.
Perhaps they will dig out the old house in St John's Wood to which
my father went after his expulsion from Russia.... That London of my
memories seems to me like a place in another world. For you younger
people it must seem like a place that could never have existed.'
'Is there much left standing?' asked Edith Haydon.
'Square miles that are scarcely shaken in the south and north-west, they
say; and most of the bridges and large areas of dock. Westminster, which
held most of the government offices, suffered badly from the small bomb
that destroyed the Parliament, there are very few traces of the old
thoroughfare of Whitehall or the Government region thereabout, but there
are plentiful drawings to scale of its buildings, and the great hole in
the east of London scarcely matters. That was a poor district and very
like the north and the south. . . . It will be possible to reconstruct
most of it. . . . It is wanted. Already it becomes difficult to recall
the old time--even for us who saw it.'
'It seems very distant to me,' said the girl.
'It was an unwholesome world,' reflected Karenin. 'I seem to remember
everybody about my childhood as if they were ill. They were ill.
They were sick with confusion. Everybody was anxious about money and
everybody was doing uncongenial things. They ate a queer mixture of
foods, either too much or too little, and at odd hours. One sees how ill
they were by their advertisements. All this new region of London they
are opening up now is plastered with advertisements of pills. Everybody
must have been taking pills. In one of the hotel rooms in the Strand
they have found the luggage of a lady covered up by falling rubble and
unburnt, and she was equipped with nine different sorts of pill and
tabloid. The pill-carrying age followed the weapon-carrying age. They
are equally strange to us. People's skins must have been in a vile
state. Very few people were properly washed; they carried the filth of
months on their clothes. All the clothes they wore were old clothes; our
way of pulping our clothes again after a week or so of wear would have
seemed fantastic to them. Their clothing hardly bears thinking about.
And the congestion of them! Everybody was jostling against everybody in
those awful towns. In an uproar. People were run over and crushed by
the hundred; every year in London the cars and omnibuses alone killed or
disabled twenty thousand people, in Paris it was worse; people used to
fall dead for want of air in the crowded ways. The irritation of London,
internal and external, must have been maddening. It was a maddened
world. It is like thinking of a sick child. One has the same effect of
feverish urgencies and acute irrational disappointments.
'All history,' he said, 'is a record of a childhood....
'And yet not exactly a childhood. There is something clean and keen
about even a sick child--and something touching. But so much of the
old times makes one angry. So much they did seems grossly stupid,
obstinately, outrageously stupid, which is the very opposite to being
fresh and young.
'I was reading only the other day about Bismarck, that hero of
nineteenth-century politics, that sequel to Napoleon, that god of blood
and iron. And he was just a beery, obstinate, dull man. Indeed, that
is what he was, the commonest, coarsest man, who ever became great. I
looked at his portraits, a heavy, almost froggish face, with projecting
eyes and a thick moustache to hide a poor mouth. He aimed at nothing but
Germany, Germany emphasised, indurated, enlarged; Germany and his class
in Germany; beyond that he had no ideas, he was inaccessible to ideas;
his mind never rose for a recorded instant above a bumpkin's elaborate
cunning. And he was the most influential man in the world, in the whole
world, no man ever left so deep a mark on it, because everywhere there
were gross men to resonate to the heavy notes he emitted. He trampled on
ten thousand lovely things, and a kind of malice in these louts made
it pleasant to them to see him trample. No--he was no child; the dull,
national aggressiveness he stood for, no childishness. Childhood is
promise. He was survival.
'All Europe offered its children to him, it sacrificed education, art,
happiness and all its hopes of future welfare to follow the clatter of
his sabre. The monstrous worship of that old fool's "blood and iron"
passed all round the earth. Until the atomic bombs burnt our way to
freedom again. . . .'
'One thinks of him now as one thinks of the megatherium,' said one of
the young men.
'From first to last mankind made three million big guns and a hundred
thousand complicated great ships for no other purpose but war.'
'Were there no sane men in those days,' asked the young man, 'to stand
against that idolatry?'
'In a state of despair,' said Edith Haydon.
'He is so far off--and there are men alive still who were alive when
Bismarck died!' . . . said the young man....
'And yet it may be I am unjust to Bismarck,' said Karenin, following
his own thoughts. 'You see, men belong to their own age; we stand upon
a common stock of thought and we fancy we stand upon the ground. I met
a pleasant man the other day, a Maori, whose great-grandfather was a
cannibal. It chanced he had a daguerreotype of the old sinner, and the
two were marvellously alike. One felt that a little juggling with time
and either might have been the other. People are cruel and stupid in a
stupid age who might be gentle and splendid in a gracious one. The world
also has its moods. Think of the mental food of Bismarck's childhood;
the humiliations of Napoleon's victories, the crowded, crowning victory
of the Battle of the Nations.... Everybody in those days, wise or
foolish, believed that the division of the world under a multitude of
governments was inevitable, and that it was going on for thousands of
years more. It WAS inevitable until it was impossible. Any one who had
denied that inevitability publicly would have been counted--oh! a SILLY
fellow. Old Bismarck was only just a little--forcible, on the lines of
the accepted ideas. That is all. He thought that since there had to
be national governments he would make one that was strong at home and
invincible abroad. Because he had fed with a kind of rough appetite upon
what we can see now were very stupid ideas, that does not make him
a stupid man. We've had advantages; we've had unity and collectivism
blasted into our brains. Where should we be now but for the grace of
science? I should have been an embittered, spiteful, downtrodden member
of the Russian Intelligenza, a conspirator, a prisoner, or an assassin.
You, my dear, would have been breaking dingy windows as a suffragette.'
'NEVER,' said Edith stoutly....
For a time the talk broke into humorous personalities, and the young
people gibed at each other across the smiling old administrator, and
then presently one of the young scientific men gave things a new turn.
He spoke like one who was full to the brim.
'You know, sir, I've a fancy--it is hard to prove such things--that
civilisation was very near disaster when the atomic bombs came
banging into it, that if there had been no Holsten and no induced
radio-activity, the world would have--smashed--much as it did. Only
instead of its being a smash that opened a way to better things, it
might have been a smash without a recovery. It is part of my business
to understand economics, and from that point of view the century before
Holsten was just a hundred years' crescendo of waste. Only the extreme
individualism of that period, only its utter want of any collective
understanding or purpose can explain that waste. Mankind used up
material--insanely. They had got through three-quarters of all the coal
in the planet, they had used up most of the oil, they had swept away
their forests, and they were running short of tin and copper. Their
wheat areas were getting weary and populous, and many of the big towns
had so lowered the water level of their available hills that they
suffered a drought every summer. The whole system was rushing towards
bankruptcy. And they were spending every year vaster and vaster
amounts of power and energy upon military preparations, and continually
expanding the debt of industry to capital. The system was already
staggering when Holsten began his researches. So far as the world in
general went there was no sense of danger and no desire for inquiry.
They had no belief that science could save them, nor any idea that there
was a need to be saved. They could not, they would not, see the gulf
beneath their feet. It was pure good luck for mankind at large that
any research at all was in progress. And as I say, sir, if that line
of escape hadn't opened, before now there might have been a crash,
revolution, panic, social disintegration, famine, and--it is
conceivable--complete disorder. . . . The rails might have rusted on the
disused railways by now, the telephone poles have rotted and fallen,
the big liners dropped into sheet-iron in the ports; the burnt, deserted
cities become the ruinous hiding-places of gangs of robbers. We might
have been brigands in a shattered and attenuated world. Ah, you may
smile, but that had happened before in human history. The world is still
studded with the ruins of broken-down civilisations. Barbaric bands
made their fastness upon the Acropolis, and the tomb of Hadrian became a
fortress that warred across the ruins of Rome against the Colosseum....
Had all that possibility of reaction ended so certainly in 1940? Is it
all so very far away even now?'
'It seems far enough away now,' said Edith Haydon.
'But forty years ago?'
'No,' said Karenin with his eyes upon the mountains, 'I think you
underrate the available intelligence in those early decades of the
twentieth century. Officially, I know, politically, that intelligence
didn't tell--but it was there. And I question your hypothesis. I doubt
if that discovery could have been delayed. There is a kind of inevitable
logic now in the progress of research. For a hundred years and more
thought and science have been going their own way regardless of the
common events of life. You see--they have got loose. If there had been
no Holsten there would have been some similar man. If atomic energy had
not come in one year it would have come in another. In decadent Rome
the march of science had scarcely begun.... Nineveh, Babylon, Athens,
Syracuse, Alexandria, these were the first rough experiments in
association that made a security, a breathing-space, in which inquiry
was born. Man had to experiment before he found out the way to begin.
But already two hundred years ago he had fairly begun.... The politics
and dignities and wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were
only the last phoenix blaze of the former civilisation flaring up about
the beginnings of the new. Which we serve.... 'Man lives in the dawn for
ever,' said Karenin. 'Life is beginning and nothing else but beginning.
It begins everlastingly. Each step seems vaster than the last, and does
but gather us together for the nest. This Modern State of ours, which
would have been a Utopian marvel a hundred years ago, is already the
commonplace of life. But as I sit here and dream of the possibilities
in the mind of man that now gather to a head beneath the shelter of its
peace, these great mountains here seem but little things....'
About eleven Karenin had his midday meal, and afterwards he slept among
his artificial furs and pillows for two hours. Then he awoke and
some tea was brought to him, and he attended to a small difficulty in
connection with the Moravian schools in the Labrador country and in
Greenland that Gardener knew would interest him. He remained alone for
a little while after that, and then the two women came to him again.
Afterwards Edwards and Kahn joined the group, and the talk fell upon
love and the place of women in the renascent world. The cloudbanks of
India lay under a quivering haze, and the blaze of the sun fell full
upon the eastward precipices. Ever and again as they talked, some vast
splinter of rock would crack and come away from these, or a wild rush
of snow and ice and stone, pour down in thunder, hang like a wet thread
into the gulfs below, and cease....
For a time Karenin said very little, and Kahn, the popular poet, talked
of passionate love. He said that passionate, personal love had been the
abiding desire of humanity since ever humanity had begun, and now
only was it becoming a possible experience. It had been a dream that
generation after generation had pursued, that always men had lost on the
verge of attainment. To most of those who had sought it obstinately it
had brought tragedy. Now, lifted above sordid distresses, men and women
might hope for realised and triumphant love. This age was the Dawn of
Karenin remained downcast and thoughtful while Kahn said these things.
Against that continued silence Kahn's voice presently seemed to beat and
fail. He had begun by addressing Karenin, but presently he was including
Edith Haydon and Rachel Borken in his appeal. Rachel listened silently;
Edith watched Karenin and very deliberately avoided Kahn's eyes.
'I know,' said Karenin at last, 'that many people are saying this sort
of thing. I know that there is a vast release of love-making in the
world. This great wave of decoration and elaboration that has gone about
the world, this Efflorescence, has of course laid hold of that. I know
that when you say that the world is set free, you interpret that to
mean that the world is set free for love-making. Down there,--under
the clouds, the lovers foregather. I know your songs, Kahn, your
half-mystical songs, in which you represent this old hard world
dissolving into a luminous haze of love--sexual love.... I don't think
you are right or true in that. You are a young, imaginative man, and
you see life--ardently--with the eyes of youth. But the power that has
brought man into these high places under this blue-veiled blackness of
the sky and which beckons us on towards the immense and awful future of
our race, is riper and deeper and greater than any such emotions....
'All through my life--it has been a necessary part of my work--I have
had to think of this release of sexual love and the riddles that perfect
freedom and almost limitless power will put to the soul of our race. I
can see now, all over the world, a beautiful ecstasy of waste; "Let
sing and rejoice and be lovely and wonderful." . . . The orgy is
only beginning, Kahn.... It was inevitable--but it is not the end of
'Think what we are. It is but a yesterday in the endlessness of time
that life was a dreaming thing, dreaming so deeply that it forgot itself
as it dreamt, its lives, its individual instincts, its moments, were
born and wondered and played and desired and hungered and grew weary
and died. Incalculable successions of vision, visions of sunlit jungle,
river wilderness, wild forest, eager desire, beating hearts, soaring
wings and creeping terror flamed hotly and then were as though they
had never been. Life was an uneasiness across which lights played
and vanished. And then we came, man came, and opened eyes that were a
question and hands that were a demand and began a mind and memory that
dies not when men die, but lives and increases for ever, an over-mind,
a dominating will, a question and an aspiration that reaches to the
stars.... Hunger and fear and this that you make so much of, this sex,
are but the elementals of life out of which we have arisen. All these
elementals, I grant you, have to be provided for, dealt with, satisfied,
but all these things have to be left behind.'
'But Love,' said Kahn.
'I speak of sexual love and the love of intimate persons. And that is
what you mean, Kahn.'
Karenin shook his head. 'You cannot stay at the roots and climb the
tree,' he said....
'No,' he said after a pause, 'this sexual excitement, this love story,
is just a part of growing up and we grow out of it. So far literature
and art and sentiment and all our emotional forms have been almost
altogether adolescent, plays and stories, delights and hopes, they have
all turned on that marvellous discovery of the love interest, but life
lengthens out now and the mind of adult humanity detaches itself. Poets
who used to die at thirty live now to eighty-five. You, too, Kahn! There
are endless years yet for you--and all full of learning.... We carry an
excessive burden of sex and sexual tradition still, and we have to free
ourselves from it. We do free ourselves from it. We have learnt in a
thousand different ways to hold back death, and this sex, which in the
old barbaric days was just sufficient to balance our dying, is now like
a hammer that has lost its anvil, it plunges through human life. You
poets, you young people want to turn it to delight. Turn it to delight.
That may be one way out. In a little while, if you have any brains worth
thinking about, you will be satisfied, and then you will come up here to
the greater things. The old religions and their new offsets want still,
I see, to suppress all these things. Let them suppress. If they can
suppress. In their own people. Either road will bring you here at last
to the eternal search for knowledge and the great adventure of power.'
'But incidentally,' said Rachel Borken; 'incidentally you have half of
humanity, you have womankind, very much specialised for--for this love
and reproduction that is so much less needed than it was.'
'Both sexes are specialised for love and reproduction,' said Karenin.
'But the women carry the heavier burden.'
'Not in their imaginations,' said Edwards.
'And surely,' said Kahn, 'when you speak of love as a phase--isn't it
necessary phase? Quite apart from reproduction the love of the sexes
is necessary. Isn't it love, sexual love, which has released the
imagination? Without that stir, without that impulse to go out from
ourselves, to be reckless of ourselves and wonderful, would our lives be
anything more than the contentment of the stalled ox?'
'The key that opens the door,' said Karenin, 'is not the goal of the
'But women!' cried Rachel. 'Here we are! What is our future--as women?
Is it only that we have unlocked the doors of the imagination for you
men? Let us speak of this question now. It is a thing constantly in my
thoughts, Karenin. What do you think of us? You who must have thought so
much of these perplexities.'
Karenin seemed to weigh his words. He spoke very deliberately. 'I do
care a rap about your future--as women. I do not care a rap about the
future of men--as males. I want to destroy these peculiar futures. I
care for your future as intelligences, as parts of and contribution
to the universal mind of the race. Humanity is not only naturally
over-specialised in these matters, but all its institutions, its
customs, everything, exaggerate, intensify this difference. I want to
unspecialise women. No new idea. Plato wanted exactly that. I do not
want to go on as we go now, emphasising this natural difference; I do
not deny it, but I want to reduce it and overcome it.'
'And--we remain women,' said Rachel Borken. 'Need you remain thinking
yourselves as women?'
'It is forced upon us,' said Edith Haydon.
'I do not think a woman becomes less of a woman because she dresses and
works like a man,' said Edwards. 'You women here, I mean you scientific
women, wear white clothing like the men, twist up your hair in the
simplest fashion, go about your work as though there was only one sex in
the world. You are just as much women, even if you are not so feminine,
as the fine ladies down below there in the plains who dress for
excitement and display, whose only thoughts are of lovers, who
exaggerate every difference.... Indeed we love you more.'
'But we go about our work,' said Edith Haydon.
'So does it matter?' asked Rachel.
'If you go about your work and if the men go about their work then for
Heaven's sake be as much woman as you wish,' said Karenin. 'When I ask
you to unspecialise, I am thinking not of the abolition of sex, but the
abolition of the irksome, restricting, obstructive obsession with sex.
It may be true that sex made society, that the first society was the
sex-cemented family, the first state a confederacy of blood relations,
the first laws sexual taboos. Until a few years ago morality meant
proper sexual behaviour. Up to within a few years of us the chief
interest and motive of an ordinary man was to keep and rule a woman and
her children and the chief concern of a woman was to get a man to do
that. That was the drama, that was life. And the jealousy of these
demands was the master motive in the world. You said, Kahn, a little
while ago that sexual love was the key that let one out from the
solitude of self, but I tell you that so far it has only done so in
order to lock us all up again in a solitude of two.... All that may have
been necessary but it is necessary no longer. All that has changed
and changes still very swiftly. Your future, Rachel, AS WOMEN, is a
'Karenin?' asked Rachel, 'do you mean that women are to become men?'
'Men and women have to become human beings.'
'You would abolish women? But, Karenin, listen! There is more than
sex in this. Apart from sex we are different from you. We take up
life differently. Forget we are--females, Karenin, and still we are a
different sort of human being with a different use. In some things we
are amazingly secondary. Here am I in this place because of my trick of
management, and Edith is here because of her patient, subtle hands. That
does not alter the fact that nearly the whole body of science is man
made; that does not alter the fact that men do so predominatingly make
history, that you could nearly write a complete history of the world
without mentioning a woman's name. And on the other hand we have a
gift of devotion, of inspiration, a distinctive power for truly loving
beautiful things, a care for life and a peculiar keen close eye for
behaviour. You know men are blind beside us in these last matters. You
know they are restless--and fitful. We have a steadfastness. We may
never draw the broad outlines nor discover the new paths, but in the
future isn't there a confirming and sustaining and supplying role for
us? As important, perhaps, as yours? Equally important. We hold the
world up, Karenin, though you may have raised it.'
'You know very well, Rachel, that I believe as you believe. I am not
thinking of the abolition of woman. But I do want to abolish--the
heroine, the sexual heroine. I want to abolish the woman whose support
is jealousy and whose gift possession. I want to abolish the woman who
can be won as a prize or locked up as a delicious treasure. And away
down there the heroine flares like a divinity.'
'In America,' said Edwards, 'men are fighting duels over the praises
women and holding tournaments before Queens of Beauty.'
'I saw a beautiful girl in Lahore,' said Kahn, 'she sat under a golden
canopy like a goddess, and three fine men, armed and dressed like the
ancient paintings, sat on steps below her to show their devotion. And
they wanted only her permission to fight for her.'
'That is the men's doing,' said Edith Haydon.
'I SAID,' cried Edwards, 'that man's imagination was more specialised
for sex than the whole being of woman. What woman would do a thing like
that? Women do but submit to it or take advantage of it.'
'There is no evil between men and women that is not a common evil,' said
Karenin. 'It is you poets, Kahn, with your love songs which turn the
sweet fellowship of comrades into this woman-centred excitement. But
there is something in women, in many women, which responds to these
provocations; they succumb to a peculiarly self-cultivating egotism.
They become the subjects of their own artistry. They develop and
elaborate themselves as scarcely any man would ever do. They LOOK for
golden canopies. And even when they seem to react against that, they may
do it still. I have been reading in the old papers of the movements
to emancipate women that were going on before the discovery of atomic
force. These things which began with a desire to escape from the
limitations and servitude of sex, ended in an inflamed assertion of sex,
and women more heroines than ever. Helen of Holloway was at last as
big a nuisance in her way as Helen of Troy, and so long as you think
of yourselves as women'--he held out a finger at Rachel and smiled
gently--'instead of thinking of yourselves as intelligent beings, you
will be in danger of--Helenism. To think of yourselves as women is
to think of yourselves in relation to men. You can't escape that
consequence. You have to learn to think of yourselves--for our sakes and
your own sakes--in relation to the sun and stars. You have to cease to
be our adventure, Rachel, and come with us upon our adventures. ...' He
waved his hand towards the dark sky above the mountain crests.
'These questions are the next questions to which research will bring
answers,' said Karenin. 'While we sit here and talk idly and inexactly
of what is needed and what may be, there are hundreds of keen-witted
men and women who are working these things out, dispassionately and
certainly, for the love of knowledge. The next sciences to yield
great harvests now will be psychology and neural physiology. These
perplexities of the situation between man and woman and the trouble with
the obstinacy of egotism, these are temporary troubles, the issue of
our own times. Suddenly all these differences that seem so fixed will
dissolve, all these incompatibles will run together, and we shall go on
to mould our bodies and our bodily feelings and personal reactions as
boldly as we begin now to carve mountains and set the seas in their
places and change the currents of the wind.'
'It is the next wave,' said Fowler, who had come out upon the terrace
and seated himself silently behind Karenin's chair.
'Of course, in the old days,' said Edwards, 'men were tied to their city
or their country, tied to the homes they owned or the work they did....'
'I do not see,' said Karenin, 'that there is any final limit to man's
power of self-modification.
'There is none,' said Fowler, walking forward and sitting down upon the
parapet in front of Karenin so that he could see his face. 'There is no
absolute limit to either knowledge or power.... I hope you do not tire
'I am interested,' said Karenin. 'I suppose in a little while men will
cease to be tired. I suppose in a little time you will give us something
that will hurry away the fatigue products and restore our jaded tissues
almost at once. This old machine may be made to run without slacking or
'That is possible, Karenin. But there is much to learn.'
'And all the hours we give to digestion and half living; don't you think
there will be some way of saving these?'
Fowler nodded assent.
'And then sleep again. When man with his blazing lights made an end to
night in his towns and houses--it is only a hundred years or so ago
that that was done--then it followed he would presently resent his eight
hours of uselessness. Shan't we presently take a tabloid or lie in some
field of force that will enable us to do with an hour or so of slumber
and rise refreshed again?'
'Frobisher and Ameer Ali have done work in that direction.'
'And then the inconveniences of age and those diseases of the system
that come with years; steadily you drive them back and you lengthen and
lengthen the years that stretch between the passionate tumults of youth
and the contractions of senility. Man who used to weaken and die as
his teeth decayed now looks forward to a continually lengthening,
continually fuller term of years. And all those parts of him that once
gathered evil against him, the vestigial structures and odd, treacherous
corners of his body, you know better and better how to deal with.
You carve his body about and leave it re-modelled and unscarred. The
psychologists are learning how to mould minds, to reduce and remove bad
complexes of thought and motive, to relieve pressures and broaden ideas.
So that we are becoming more and more capable of transmitting what we
have learnt and preserving it for the race. The race, the racial wisdom,
science, gather power continually to subdue the individual man to its
own end. Is that not so?'
Fowler said that it was, and for a time he was telling Karenin of new
work that was in progress in India and Russia. 'And how is it with
heredity?' asked Karenin.
Fowler told them of the mass of inquiry accumulated and arranged by
the genius of Tchen, who was beginning to define clearly the laws of
inheritance and how the sex of children and the complexions and many of
the parental qualities could be determined.
'He can actually DO----?'
'It is still, so to speak, a mere laboratory triumph,' said Fowler, 'but
to-morrow it will be practicable.'
'You see,' cried Karenin, turning a laughing face to Rachel and Edith,
'while we have been theorising about men and women, here is science
getting the power for us to end that old dispute for ever. If woman is
too much for us, we'll reduce her to a minority, and if we do not like
any type of men and women, we'll have no more of it. These old bodies,
these old animal limitations, all this earthly inheritance of gross
inevitabilities falls from the spirit of man like the shrivelled cocoon
from an imago. And for my own part, when I hear of these things I feel
like that--like a wet, crawling new moth that still fears to spread its
wings. Because where do these things take us?'
'Beyond humanity,' said Kahn.
'No,' said Karenin. 'We can still keep our feet upon the earth that made
us. But the air no longer imprisons us, this round planet is no longer
chained to us like the ball of a galley slave....
'In a little while men who will know how to bear the strange
gravitations, the altered pressures, the attenuated, unfamiliar gases
and all the fearful strangenesses of space will be venturing out from
this earth. This ball will be no longer enough for us; our spirit will
reach out.... Cannot you see how that little argosy will go glittering
up into the sky, twinkling and glittering smaller and smaller until the
blue swallows it up. They may succeed out there; they may perish, but
other men will follow them....
'It is as if a great window opened,' said Karenin.
As the evening drew on Karenin and those who were about him went up
upon the roof of the buildings, so that they might the better watch
the sunset and the flushing of the mountains and the coming of the
afterglow. They were joined by two of the surgeons from the laboratories
below, and presently by a nurse who brought Karenin refreshment in a
thin glass cup. It was a cloudless, windless evening under the deep blue
sky, and far away to the north glittered two biplanes on the way to the
observatories on Everest, two hundred miles distant over the precipices
to the east. The little group of people watched them pass over the
mountains and vanish into the blue, and then for a time they talked of
the work that the observatory was doing. From that they passed to the
whole process of research about the world, and so Karenin's thoughts
returned again to the mind of the world and the great future that was
opening upon man's imagination. He asked the surgeons many questions
upon the detailed possibilities of their science, and he was keenly
interested and excited by the things they told him. And as they talked
the sun touched the mountains, and became very swiftly a blazing and
indented hemisphere of liquid flame and sank.
Karenin looked blinking at the last quivering rim of incandescence, and
shaded his eyes and became silent.
Presently he gave a little start.
'What?' asked Rachel Borken.
'I had forgotten,' he said.
'What had you forgotten?'
'I had forgotten about the operation to-morrow. I have been so
interested as Man to-day that I have nearly forgotten Marcus Karenin.
Marcus Karenin must go under your knife to-morrow, Fowler, and very
probably Marcus Karenin will die.' He raised his slightly shrivelled
hand. 'It does not matter, Fowler. It scarcely matters even to me. For
indeed is it Karenin who has been sitting here and talking; is it not
rather a common mind, Fowler, that has played about between us? You and
I and all of us have added thought to thought, but the thread is neither
you nor me. What is true we all have; when the individual has altogether
brought himself to the test and winnowing of expression, then the
individual is done. I feel as though I had already been emptied out of
that little vessel, that Marcus Karenin, which in my youth held me so
tightly and completely. Your beauty, dear Edith, and your broad brow,
dear Rachel, and you, Fowler, with your firm and skilful hands, are now
almost as much to me as this hand that beats the arm of my chair. And as
little me. And the spirit that desires to know, the spirit that resolves
to do, that spirit that lives and has talked in us to-day, lived in
Athens, lived in Florence, lives on, I know, for ever....
'And you, old Sun, with your sword of flame searing these poor eyes
of Marcus for the last time of all, beware of me! You think I die--and
indeed I am only taking off one more coat to get at you. I have
threatened you for ten thousand years, and soon I warn you I shall be
coming. When I am altogether stripped and my disguises thrown away. Very
soon now, old Sun, I shall launch myself at you, and I shall reach you
and I shall put my foot on your spotted face and tug you about by your
fiery locks. One step I shall take to the moon, and then I shall leap
at you. I've talked to you before, old Sun, I've talked to you a million
times, and now I am beginning to remember. Yes--long ago, long ago,
before I had stripped off a few thousand generations, dust now
and forgotten, I was a hairy savage and I pointed my hand at you
and--clearly I remember it!--I saw you in a net. Have you forgotten
that, old Sun? . . .
'Old Sun, I gather myself together out of the pools of the individual
that have held me dispersed so long. I gather my billion thoughts into
science and my million wills into a common purpose. Well may you slink
down behind the mountains from me, well may you cower....'
Karenin desired that he might dream alone for a little while before he
returned to the cell in which he was to sleep. He was given relief for a
pain that began to trouble him and wrapped warmly about with furs, for
a great coldness was creeping over all things, and so they left him, and
he sat for a long time watching the afterglow give place to the darkness
It seemed to those who had to watch over him unobtrusively lest he
should be in want of any attention, that he mused very deeply.
The white and purple peaks against the golden sky sank down into cold,
blue remoteness, glowed out again and faded again, and the burning
cressets of the Indian stars, that even the moonrise cannot altogether
quench, began their vigil. The moon rose behind the towering screen of
dark precipices to the east, and long before it emerged above these, its
slanting beams had filled the deep gorges below with luminous mist and
turned the towers and pinnacles of Lio Porgyul to a magic dreamcastle of
radiance and wonder....
Came a great uprush of ghostly light above the black rim of rocks, and
then like a bubble that is blown and detaches itself the moon floated
off clear into the unfathomable dark sky....
And then Karenin stood up. He walked a few paces along the terrace and
remained for a time gazing up at that great silver disc, that silvery
shield that must needs be man's first conquest in outer space....
Presently he turned about and stood with his hands folded behind him,
looking at the northward stars. . . .
At length he went to his own cell. He lay down there and slept
peacefully till the morning. And early in the morning they came to him
and the anaesthetic was given him and the operation performed.
It was altogether successful, but Karenin was weak and he had to lie
very still; and about seven days later a blood clot detached itself from
the healing scar and travelled to his heart, and he died in an instant
in the night.