Last Men in London, by Olaf Stapledon

3 The Child Paul

i. Paul and His Neptunian Parasite

WHY do I choose Paul for study? Why do I propose to tell you more of him than of anyone else in my collection? I have examined in detail at one time and another an immense number of specimens of your kind, not only your contemporaries but many others whose date is earlier than yours, and many who in your day are still to live. I have made myself familiar with every trait and whim, every minute episode in the minds of selected individuals from among the Greeks, the Indians, the early Teutons, the ancient Egyptians, the Chinese of all China’s phases, and also the still unborn Americans and Patagonians. In fact, there is no race of the First Men that has not yielded me samples; which, as I have grown intimate with them, have so captivated me with their fantastic personalities that I have come to regard them not merely as specimens but, in a manner, as friends. For these beings have yielded me the secrets of their nature to an extent impossible in normal intercourse; and yet they have never communicated with me, and for the most part have never suspected my existence.

If I chose, I could tell you many strange secrets about your famous characters, for instance about your Queen Elizabeth, who is among my collection. Through her eyes I have looked not only on the fair face of Essex, but also on that abnormal formation of her own body which caused her to be so lonely, so insistent on her womanhood, and withal so kingly. And I have tasted her bitter rage against fate, her greedy self-love, her love of England. Leonardo da Vinci also I have inhabited. It was I that tormented him with a thousand ideas in advance of his age. It was the enigma of my influence in him that he embodied in pigment as a smile. Aknahton also I swayed, and in his wife’s face my influence conjured another smile. There are moments in my life on Neptune when my beloved specimens crowd in upon my memory and overwhelm me with the infinity of their uniquenesses; when, forgetful of my own Neptunian personality, I seem to be nothing but the theatre in which these many play their parts.

If it is incredible to you that I should have millions of these intimates, remember, not only that the minds of the Last Men are far more agile and far more capacious than your minds, but also that I have spent many thousands of years upon the work, and that in most cases a whole terrestrial lifetime occupies me for no more than a day of my life on Neptune. Of course even my millions of specimens can afford only partial knowledge of your kind. But those of my colleagues who have been working in the same field have worked with no less industry. No doubt all of us together have studied only a minute fraction of your species; but at least we have by now sampled every culture, every local strain, every generation. And your own age, since it is the turning-point of your history, we have sifted again and again with special care.

Why then out of all this collection do I choose Paul as the text and the epitome of what I have to say to you? I choose him because he does epitomize in his character, his circumstances, and his reaction to my influence, the spiritual crisis of your age, and indeed the doom of your species. It would not be true to say that he was an exceptionally average member of his race. Far from it. Though in a sense typical and significant, Paul was not average. Indeed both in character and in circumstance, he was rather unusual. Yet he is typical in that he illustrates very clearly the confused nature of his species, and the disorder of its world. In Paul’s life there appear with an almost naive simplicity of outline certain phases of spiritual growth, distorted by the all-pervading blight of his age, nay of his species. In all of you, from the earliest flint-worker, even to the last survivors of Patagonia, the conflict between the primitive simian nature and the genuinely human (or from your point of view the super-human) is present as a fundamental condition of life. In Paul the old simian nature was undisguised and insistent, while the new human nature had defined itself with precision and emphasis. The conflict therefore was clear.

I pride myself somewhat on the discovery of Paul. My crowning research upon the mentality of the First Men and on the crisis of their career demanded a specimen such as I knew would be hard to find. I cannot tell you at all clearly what was necessary, since you are ignorant of the principles of my work. But, to repeat, I had to select an individual both typical and unique, a being of average intelligence, average abilities, average strength of will, but one in whom the simian and the distinctively human were both well developed and delicately balanced. Further, he must be one capable of a degree of self-consciousness abnormal in your species. Many other more subtle requirements I must leave unmentioned. In order to discover this unique creature I had to explore not only your own age but many earlier generations in search of genetic strains favourable to my requirements.

In the Seventeenth Century there was a German family which promised what I wanted; but in them the desirable features were complicated by a musical sensitivity which in many individuals afforded escape from the conflict. I noticed, however, that those members of the clan who most nearly fulfilled my requirements had a subtly characteristic laugh; or rather that, though they laughed in many different styles, the laughter of each had a curious fleeting tremor of bewilderment. Armed with this clue, and certain others more introspective, I continued my search, until in the England of King Alfred I found a similar and even more promising strain. This I followed through the generations hither and thither. One branch of it, the most promising, was exterminated by the Black Death, another became hopelessly contaminated by interbreeding with a strain of defectives, a third produced witches in the Sixteenth Century and mystics in the Seventeenth. Early in the Eighteenth Century a member of this line married into another stock which I had already marked out, and produced a number of more scientifically-minded folk. Throughout the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries this line suffered social decline, and proliferated in a swarm of poverty-stricken households scattered over the industrial north of England. From one of these sprang Paul’s grandmother, who by good fortune married into yet another of my chosen lines. Paul’s father also was of a stock that had already interested me.

Having now discovered my unique specimen, I first took a hasty glance at his career, and found to my delight that circumstance was destined to intensify and clarify in him the characteristics which I proposed to study. In that first hasty glance I saw also the quite unmistakable effects of a Neptunian influence, doubtless my own influence which I had not yet exerted. I then proceeded to make a thorough investigation of every line of Paul’s ancestry, in order that I might know his nature through and through. Many volumes could be filled with the results of this inquiry, but here I need not elaborate. Incidentally I traced the evolution of Paul’s physical appearance, of his nose, eyebrows, hands, and so on. A curious twist of the hair of his left eyebrow, which was a recessive character, and had not appeared in any of his more recent ancestors, came in with a French strain in the Fourteenth Century. A certain scarcely noticeable prominence of the cheek-bones I traced to a Danish invader of the Eighth Century, and beyond him through Swedes and Finns into Central Asia. Another remarkable line of his ancestry, in part responsible for his intellectual curiosity and certain features of his thumb-print, took me via a Dutch merchant of the Seventeenth Century, a Rhenish baron of the Thirteenth, various Swiss herdsmen and Italian farmers to Syracuse, and so to ancient Greece, where one of Paul’s ancestors once handed a cup to Socrates. But apart from a dozen or so curious threads of this type, which of course occur in many family trees, Paul’s ancestry was the usual tangle of intercrossing lines; stretching back in manifold complexity among the Norse, the Low Germans, the Ancient British, and the Neolithic, and beyond these to the common forefathers of all your races. It would have been useless to trace Paul’s ancestry any further in detail, since nothing more that was distinctive of Paul himself remained to be discovered. In the more remote past the genes that were to produce Paul were ancestral also to the mass of his contemporaries. This story was already known to me.

I must now tell you what it was that I intended to do with Paul, and how I carried out my plan. I wished to perform certain delicate experiments on him and observe his reactions. To some of the readers of this book the mental vivisection which I had to practise upon Paul may seem merely brutal. I would remind them first that it was a necessary part of a very lofty task; second, that Paul himself in his best moments would have gladly accepted all and more of my torturing manipulation for the sake of that high enterprise; and lastly that the final result upon Paul, the individual human being, was a very great spiritual enrichment.

It is difficult to give you any clear idea of my aim beyond saying that, having found this uniquely typical yet also exceptionally self-conscious being, I intended to influence him periodically in such a manner that he should see his world as far as possible from the Neptunian point of view. I should then be able to observe in detail the effect of this vision on his primitive nature. Had he been of the heroic type, this policy would have turned him into some kind of prophet or crank. But he was made of milder stuff, and would never spoil my experiment in that style. Indeed, one effect of my intermittent manipulation of his experience was to inspire him with a dread of showing himself to be different from others. Just because he possessed a whole secret world of his own, and was prone to see the actual world turn farcical or hideous in the light cast by that other world, he became increasingly anxious to maintain a secure footing in the actual world and conform to all the customary modes of behaviour. For in spite of his Neptunian vision, he remained essentially a product of his own world. But as my influence extended, he was forced to admit that there was something in him profoundly alien to his environment, something alien even to himself. At times he feared he was going mad; at other times he would persuade himself with immense complacency that he was ‘inspired’, and that he must indeed be a prophet; but as he was incapable of any such heroism, this delusion was soon shattered. There were moments when he threatened to break into two personalities, one the natural Paul, the other a violent and spasmodic idealist. But I had chosen him carefully; he was too well integrated actually to succumb to this easy solution of his conflict. Instead of disintegrating, he remained one mind, though torn and perplexed.

But as time passed a change came over him. At first he had regarded his native Terrestrial mentality as himself, and the Neptunian influence as alien, disturbing, irrational, insane. He was fascinated by it, but he wished to keep it thoroughly suppressed and ineffective. Later, however, it came to seem a divine enlightenment, sane and joyous, still alien to himself but most precious. Then at last he began to try to live according to my influence, and incurred at once the ridicule and hostility of his own world. With horror he now foreswore his ‘inner light’ which had so misled him. He earnestly tried to become blind to it, and to be like his fellows. But my influence left him no peace. It found something responsive in him, which, as he matured, was emboldened to identify itself wholly with the Neptunian point of view. Little by little he came to think of this Neptunian factor in his mind as truly ‘himself’, and the normal Terrestrial as ‘other’, something like an unruly horse which his true self must somehow break in and ride. There followed a period of struggle, which ended in despair; for it became clear that he could not master his Terrestrial nature. Indeed, it seemed to him that he himself was bound and helpless upon the back of this uncontrolled animal; or that while his body and his mundane intelligence went about the world performing all manner of aimless antics, his essential spirit was imprisoned somewhere in his head watching all, but almost wholly impotent. This essential spirit which he regarded as ‘himself’ was not, of course, merely my influence in him; it was his own best and most human nature, on which my influence was able to work. But this best of his was only the rudimentary best which was characteristic of his species; and though my influence had endowed it with an immense treasure of imagination, it remained almost wholly ineffective, as is usual with your kind. Yet there were times in his life when Paul did succeed in acting in a manner that was really human, and on these occasions my influence played a part. Of these crises I shall presently tell.

ii. The Child Paul

I know Paul perhaps better than I know myself. I have been Paul. I have been Paul throughout his life, and watched him to the very moment of his death. The more important passages of his life I have experienced again and again. I know little intimate facts about him, like the feel of the inside of his mouth. I know the feel of Paul slightly drunk, Paul sexually excited, and Paul with one of his bad colds. I know, far better than Paul himself knew it, the obscure tone of his whole body, when through eating too many muffins, he seemed to see the world itself turn foul. I know also, and can hold together for comparison, the feel of Paul the child, Paul the boy, Paul the young man, stiffening into middle age, and Paul awaiting death in helpless senility.

Fortunately there is no need for me to tell you all the details that I know about Paul. I have only to make you realize the main mental themes or motifs of his life. I need not, for instance, tell you much about his birth. It was a normal birth. Several times I have examined the obscure experiences which harassed him during that earliest of his adventures. For it seemed possible that even then something might have occurred to contribute to his idiosyncrasies. But neither in his passage into the outer world nor in his fungoid prenatal experience (so difficult for the explorer to penetrate) did I find anything significant, save what is common to all his kind. In Paul, whose nature was more sensitive than the average, the shock of exchanging the elysium of the womb for an alien world was serious, and was accentuated somewhat by the clumsiness of the physician. But it caused no unusual damage to his mind, nothing but the common yearning toward a warmer, cosier, less noxious world, which, in so many of you, favours legends of a golden age in the past, or of a golden heaven in the future.

One feature of Paul’s experience of birth was indeed significant, and served to confirm my choice of him as a subject of experiment. Like many others, he did not breathe till a smack made him take breath to bellow. I experienced, of course, his bewildered fury at the chastisement. I also experienced his awareness of the cold air that flooded his lungs, and the shock of glee that came with it. In that instant a connexion was registered in Paul’s mind for ever after, a connexion between what I may call fate’s smiting and the breath of life. In after years Paul was to know himself a coward, yet in spite of his cowardice, he was ever to seek in the harshness of fate for the breath of a new life. Even though, in all his ages, he yearned to creep back into the warm close peace of the womb, he craved also to absorb into his blood the atmosphere of a wider world.

I need not describe Paul’s arduous self-education in the cot, the nursery and the garden. Like all organisms he had to learn to cope with his world. Like all animals he had to grapple with the problems of perceiving and acting in a world of space and time. Little by little he learned to observe and to respond to all manner of objects, such as the rotund and fragrant dairy of his mother’s breast, and the less delectable bottle. He learned the geography of his own body, mapping it out patiently, unwittingly, day by day, in a surprisingly intricate system of explorations, discovering that all these complex findings fell together beautifully in a three-dimensional system of touch and sight. Many great arts he acquired, first the art of sucking, and of shifting about in bed, then the art of the rattle. Presently he learned how to use his whole body as a vehicle to transport him to and fro in a wider sphere. He mastered the more dangerous arts of crawling and walking, the art of the bouncing ball, and so on. Meanwhile he had distinguished the soothing and indignant tones of the human voice. Also, the intermittent human breasts and arms and laps and voices had fallen into order to make more or less constant systems, each of which might be expected to behave in a distinctive manner. Then at last he discovered that human voices had meanings, and that he himself could use these noises so as to make the great grown-up creatures do his bidding.

This power of controlling the movements of adults was one of Paul’s most exciting early triumphs. It was a limited and erratic power. All too often the great creature refused to obey, or actually turned the tables and compelled him to do what he did not want to do. Altogether these adults were a very perplexing fact in Paul’s early life. In some ways they were so necessary and reliable, in others so inconsequent and even noxious. Of course, Paul did not consciously make these generalizations, but they were implied in his behaviour. Thus in certain respects, such as physical care and protection, he trusted the adult absolutely, but in others he learned to expect nothing but misunderstanding and ridicule. In yet other respects he himself was so influenced by the prestige suggestion which these mighty beings brought to bear on him, that many of their unintelligible admirations and taboos gradually took root in his own nature. For instance, he slavishly accepted their views about sex. Very early in his childhood he had begun to take an interest in those parts of his body which adults pointedly ignored. He had discovered that a vague pleasure occurred when these organs were touched. But long before he was told that it was wicked and dangerous to take any notice of them, he already profoundly felt that it was so, merely through the awkwardness that beset adults whenever he referred to them. Had Paul been born a young baboon or chimpanzee he would at least have escaped the agony of mind and waste of energy which, as I shall tell later, he, like so many of his kind, incurred through this too ready acceptance of adult standards. Meanwhile it was inevitable that, before sex became an imperious need, Paul should adjust himself to adult standards in this as in so many other respects. Adults were objects which one had to learn to cope with, just as one had to learn to cope with dogs and chairs and fire. Sometimes one failed and suffered for it, but on the whole one succeeded.

I must not, however, dwell on the process by which Paul gradually mastered these earliest problems. In all his adventures, I, his parasite, tasted his success and failure. I suffered all his bumps, scratches and scaldings. I saw beforehand what was impending. I saw both that it was inevitable and that with a little more skill it might have been avoided. Had I chosen, I might have played the mother to him and saved him from many a disaster, but it was better to let him learn. During his earliest years I refrained from any kind of influence, since it was important that he should develop normally up to a certain stage.

Little by little Paul’s world crystallized into extensive patterns. No longer a meagre and obscure flux of dream-like forms, it became a more or less reliable world of ‘common sense’, a house and garden, with surrounding continents made up of other houses and gardens, streets and fields. Gradually also he was able to look backwards not merely into a confused cloud of pastness but along a brief but orderly vista of nights and days.

But with this gradual increase of order in his daylight world, Paul became more and more distressed by that other chaotic world which swallowed him at night. When the light was put out and he was left alone in bed, the whole reliable order vanished. Even if he kept his eyes shut, terrifying shades confronted him with their vague and shifty forms. He saw animal heads and shoulders, and stealthily moving gorilla arms. They kept changing from one thing into another thing. They were unintelligible and therefore terrible.

Still worse, sometimes the seething confusion of shadows would be dominated by a single staring eye. Paul could not escape it. Wherever he looked, there it was, watching him. Perhaps it was God’s eye, seeing right through him, coldly noting all his most secret wickedness. Perhaps God had done away with the world of day because Paul had been so naughty in it. Perhaps there was nothing now but Paul and God and the close dark, with one streak of light pretending to be under the door, to keep up appearances. Somehow the Eye seemed to him both very wise and very stupid, a vindictive clever thing, that intended to kill him just by gazing at him, for no reason but that he did not please the Eye. Sometimes Paul was so terrified that he screamed. Then an exasperated grown-up would appear and ask what on earth was the matter. He could never tell, for grown-ups were somehow blind to the night world, and would think him silly. But to me, Paul’s trouble was very real, and also intelligible. To Paul, though he knew it not, the night was the womb. When he was very sleepy, it promised rest and peace; but when he was not sleepy, he regarded it as a well of blackness, stuffiness, formlessness, negation. It threatened to swallow him back from the bright orderly extra-uterine world of day, with its complicated geography, its reliable persons, and its winds that came with obscure messages from still wider spheres.

Throughout Paul’s life this contrast of the day world and the night world lay at the back of his thinking and feeling, influencing it, perplexing it. As he grew older, however, the two worlds seemed to interpenetrate more and more, until at last he found that there was a day view of everything and a night view also. But which was the true view? Perhaps the night view of things was in fact just nightmare, a bad dream. But then perhaps it was the other way round. Perhaps the whole day universe was just a foolish dream of the eternal foetus imprisoned in the eternal womb. In early days, of course, Paul never thought of the problem in this way, but I myself could see how the obscure movements of his mind were related to the forgotten experience of birth.

There was one aspect of the night which seemed even to the child Paul very different from the night which imprisoned him in bed, namely the starry sky. He seldom saw it, but even a brief glimpse of it would have lasting effect on him. It gave him a sort of calm elation which fortified him against the terrors of darkness, and would sometimes even last into the next day, soothing his troubles and tempering his joys. This experience, which played an important part in Paul’s life, was not simply a spontaneous outcome of his own nature. It was in part due to my presence in his mind, though in part also to his native disposition. Throughout his life, these occasions on which he was able to regard the night sky had a very considerable effect on me, the imprisoned and often fatigued observer of all his experience. They afforded me refreshing glimpses of something common to his world and my own. When I had become too deeply immersed in the minutiae of Paul’s behaviour, and was beginning to feel your world more real than mine, the sight of the stars, even through the inefficient eyes of a member of your species, would recall to me with great vividness the Neptunian plains and dwarf jungles, the sky-piercing towers and bland inhabitants of my own far-future world. This vivid recollection would rekindle in me the still, flame-like ardour which is the spirit of our doomed but unperturbed community. And the serene emotion which then surged through me would infect Paul also, lending a tone to his experience, which, though he could never properly account for it, he came in time to recognize as in some manner a gift from a source beyond his mundane nature. I well remember the hush of surprise and gurgle of delight with which the child Paul first greeted the stars. He was in his mother’s arms. He stretched out his own fat arms and turned his head slowly from side to side, surveying the heaven. On another occasion, much later, when he was being brought home from a Christmas party, so tired that he could hardly walk, a brilliant night sky overpowered him so that he burst into tears of uncomprehending joy.

As the years advanced, Paul’s sense that the starry night was present even by day became an increasing influence in his life. This was partly my doing; for I soon found that by giving him visual images of the night sky in the midst of mundane situations I could help him to regard the affairs of himself and his companions with Uranian detachment. There was an early stage in his development when, through this action of mine, he came to think of the universe as a sandwich made of the upper and nether night, with, between them, the meat of day. Below was the horrible darkness and confusion and closeness which he encountered in his stuffy bedroom. Above was the high mystery of the stars. Between was the world of familiar things.

This middle world had already spread outwards to become a vague expanse of countries, embracing somewhere beyond the familiar streets all kinds of wonders, which were nevertheless definitely day-time wonders. Somewhere there was India, full of tigers, elephants, jewelled princes, and jugglers. Elsewhere lay Iceland, all solid ice, with rivers of fire running down the crystal volcanoes. Then there was France, where they ate frogs and snails and were terribly polite; Germany, where they made cheap copies of English toys, and fought duels; Greece, where they wore no clothes except helmets with clothes-brushes on them; Egypt, all mummies and crocodiles; Fairyland, where magic happened more easily than in England. Yet even in England, magic was not unknown. There was Santa Claus, and dozens of lucky and unlucky things to be sought and avoided.

Over the whole world of countries hung the sky, a blue or cloudy ceiling. Here a discrepancy entered into Paul’s universe. If you thought about it from the day-time point of view, you believed that beyond the sky and the stars there was heaven, full of winged angels in nightgowns, their eyes always turned upwards. And above them again was God, whom Paul had somehow come to think of as a huge grown-up, sprawling from horizon to horizon, and looking down precisely at Paul, with eyes that saw even his thoughts. Somehow those eyes were the same as the Eye that stared at him in the nether darkness of his bedroom. When Paul remembered the Eye by day, he would repeat rapidly, ‘Oh God, I love you, I love you, I love you.’

But if you thought of things from the point of view of the starry night, God and the angels did not seem to fit in very well. Paul half believed that they were pictures painted on the ceiling of the day world.

In time, of course, Paul’s day world ceased to be flat, and became a huge ball. At this stage the universe was more like a dumpling than a sandwich. Vaguely Paul still conceived the three levels of existence. The nether night was deep down within the ball of the day world. The starry night was all around it. On the ball were all the countries except Fairyland, which was nowhere. Many of the countries were British Possessions, and red. At school he learned much about England and the Empire, and became a patriot. The English were — well, English. They had the greatest empire in the world. They were the only people who played fair in games, and were kind to animals, and could govern black people, and fight a losing battle to the end, and rule the seas. And because they were such fine people, God had hidden a lot of coal and iron under their country, so that they could use it for ships and engines and for making thousands of things that other countries were not clever enough to make for themselves. God had also written the Bible in English, because it was the best language, and the angels talked it.

Paul’s patriotism was largely an affectation. At this time he had a great longing to be like his fellows, and his fellows made it very obvious that they were patriotic. Also he found in patriotism a source of self-gratulation. Somehow or other, through patriotism, the worm that was the ordinary Paul became one of the lords of the earth. But there was also another factor at work. He had already begun to feel an obscure impulse to devote himself to ends beyond private gratification. Much of this sadly misconceived yearning for lofty ends was expressed in bragging about his school and vilifying other schools; but the Empire afforded it a more imposing object.

iii. Early Experiments on Paul

Not until Paul was already at school did I begin to exercise a deliberate influence over him. My aim was to prepare him to attain in early maturity as complete an insight as possible into the Neptunian view of Terrestrial affairs. In his early years I seldom influenced him, but the rare occasions on which I did so had a deep effect on him. They were designed to intensify his consciousness beyond the normal limitations of his species. By goading and delicately controlling his attention I contrived to make him startlingly aware, now and again, of data which commonly lie beyond the apprehension of the First Men. The scope of my early work upon him might be described by saying that I forced him to a more vivid sense of the reality and uniqueness of perceptual objects, of himself, of others as selves, and also of his own underlying unity with others, and of his own participation in the cosmos.

For instance, to deal with the simplest matter first, Paul once found a curious green pebble. He picked it up and examined it intently, noting with delight its veining, its smooth curvature, its rigidity. He turned it about, fingered it, tapped it. Then suddenly I flooded him with a spate of relevant imagery, visual and tactual, so that he seemed to encounter in this one pebble the whole splendour of sight, the whole poignancy of touch. The thing suddenly leapt at him with its unveiled reality. The change in his experience was as impressive as the change from imagery to actual perception, from picturing a friend’s face to actually seeing it. It was as though the earlier experience, which at the time seemed normally vivid, had been after all but a shadowy imagination of a pebble, compared with the later experience, which was an actual apprehension of an objective reality. It was over in a moment. Paul dropped the pebble and collapsed on the grass, holding his head in his hands. For a moment he thought someone had thrown a pebble at him and that it had gone right through his head. He opened his eyes. Everything seemed ordinary again. Then he caught sight of the pebble, half-hidden under a dandelion leaf. It was just a little round green thing, but it seemed to look at him meaningly. As they regarded one another, Paul and the pebble, Paul felt the pebble rushing at him again. He covered his eyes and sat for a long while thinking of nothing but his splitting head. He had been rather badly hurt, but also he was intrigued. The effect was something like his forgotten experience of birth, a confusion of shock, pain, brilliant novelty, fear of the unknown, and exhilaration.

Paul spent the next two days in bed with a ‘bilious headache’. When he was recovered, he went in search of his pebble. He picked it up almost as though it were a live bomb, but though it raised a vivid memory of the adventure, it gave him no fresh experience.

I repeated this experiment on Paul at rare intervals and in relation to very diverse objects, such as his precious knife, the tolling of a bell, a flying hawk, and his own hand. The last entailed a whole week in bed, for not only had he perceived his hand externally as he had perceived the pebble, he had also perceived it from within; and moreover he had been fascinated by his volitional control of it. It was a little grubby brown hand with black-rimmed nails and many scratches. He turned it about, bending and straightening the fingers, confidently willing it to perform various antics, intensely aware of his own fiat, yet not at all self-conscious in any deeper sense.

Through my influence Paul continued to suffer these experiences throughout his childhood. He became accustomed to them, and to look forward to them with mingled dread and zest. At length I judged him ripe for a different kind of experiment. He had been coveting a minute bronze dog which belonged to one of his companions. He tried to persuade the owner to ‘swop’ it, but in vain. Paul became more and more obsessed, and finally stole the dog. While he was guiltily playing with it in his own house I played a trick on him. I gave him an intense and detailed visual image of his friend rummaging frantically among his toys for the lost dog. So aggressive did this image become that it blotted out Paul’s actual environment. It had, moreover, the intensified reality that he had first encountered in the pebble. Paul’s reaction was strange. For a moment he stared at the hallucination, while hatred welled within him. Then, as soon as the vision had faded, he rushed into the street and dropped the little bronze figure down a grid. Henceforth he treated his former friend with shocking spite, mingled with terror.

I did not attempt to influence Paul’s slowly dawning awareness of self till he was already well advanced in boyhood. One day, after he had been bathing with his favourite schoolfellow, the two boys, naked, wet, gleaming in the sunlight, had a friendly wrangle over a towel. They tugged in opposite directions, shouting and panting. For a moment they stood still, staring into one another’s eyes. Suddenly I re-kindled in Paul all his past groping realizations of the difference between himself and the other, all his past obscure awareness of ‘me’ and ‘you’. I focused, so to speak, the whole vague illumination of this mass of experience upon the present moment. As formerly the pebble and his hand, so now his friend and his own being, impinged upon him with overwhelming reality. It was a reality not alone of visual and tactual form but also of experiencing. Through my manipulation of his imagery he seemed to enter imaginatively into the mind of the other, to have the feel of a different being, in a different body. A fly settled on the other’s neck. Paul felt it tickle, and felt the quick contortion that sent it away. Through the other’s eyes he seemed to see his own intent face, and his own arms lightly pulling at the towel. He began murmuring to himself, ‘I, Paul; you, Dick; I, Dick; you, Paul.’ And through Dick’s eyes he seemed to see his own lips moving. Through Dick’s ears and through his own ears also he heard his own voice. Dick, meanwhile, had seen the sudden intensity of Paul’s expression, and was alarmed. Paul saw, and vividly experienced, Dick’s alarm. They dropped the towel. Paul reached out a hand and felt Dick’s shoulder, as formerly he had felt the pebble. ‘Odd!’ he said, ‘I’ve waked up. I do sometimes. But never quite this way before.’ Dick began to question, but Paul went on, ‘I sort-of woke to be really me. Then I was you. And both of us at once. Did it happen to you too?’ Dick shook his head, very perplexed. Then came the headache. Paul dropped, and lay whimpering, with his hands over his eyes.

My next experiment was performed during a violent quarrel between Paul and Dick. Paul had spent a free afternoon making a boat. He was hollowing it with a gouge borrowed from Dick. Dick arrived to demand the gouge, which was long overdue, and was needed for hollowing his own boat. Paul, intent on his work and eager to finish it before tea, refused to surrender the tool. They wrangled, while Paul carried on his work. Dick tried to stop him. At this moment I forced on Paul a vivid apprehension of the other boy, and of his craving to have his tool, and of his rage against Paul. Paul stopped working. Once more he seemed for a moment to be Dick, and to see his own ugly scowl through Dick’s eyes. For a moment Paul hung paralysed in a mental conflict. Then suddenly he jabbed Dick’s hand with the gouge. Both boys screamed with Dick’s pain. Paul rushed toward the door, crying, ‘Beast, get out of me, you taste horrid.’ Before he reached the door he vomited. Then he fled, yelling. He carried off the gouge.

This reaction of Paul’s was very typical of his species. His brief insight into the other’s point of view merely filled him with resentment. Typical also was his subsequent remorse, which tortured him during his period of illness after this experiment. Dick had been thoroughly frightened. It seemed to him that Paul had gone mad.

In time, however, the friendship was restored, and even deepened; for Paul now treated Dick with a gentleness and understanding beyond his years. Occasionally I induced in him the more vivid apprehension of his friend and himself, but I carefully refrained from doing so when their interests were violently opposed.

In this way I produced in Paul a self-insight and insight into others which is very unusual in your species. His rare abnormal experiences now coloured his whole life, and sowed in him the seed of a lifelong conflict between the behaviour natural to his kind and the behaviour which his enhanced insight demanded. When he found himself forced to choose between the two, he almost always acted in the baser way, though afterwards he was bitterly remorseful. Once or twice, however, things turned out differently. I will give one example.

Paul was one of those timid boys who is a constant temptation to the bully. When any bullying was afoot in which Paul himself was not involved, he always took care not to interfere. Sometimes he would actually try to ingratiate himself with the stronger party. One winter day at school, when Paul and a few others of his form were supposed to be doing their ‘preparation’, the arch bully of the form began tormenting a little Jew whom Paul intensely disliked. The smaller boys, with Paul among them, looked on, applauding now and then with anxious giggles. I chose this moment for an experiment. With dismay Paul felt his cursed imagination beginning to work. He tried to bury himself in his French exercise, but vainly. Do what he would, he could not help entering imaginatively into ‘that beastly little Jew’. Then he started being not only the Jew but the bully also. He imagined the big lout feeling the helpless self-disgust which he himself had felt in his one experiment in the art of bullying. I worked up this imagination till he really apprehended the mind of the bully far better than the bully himself. He realized vividly the drowsy, fumbling, vaguely distressed and frightened life that was going on in that hulk of flesh, and was disguised even from itself by the pose of braggartism. Suddenly Paul said aloud in a clear but dreamy voice, ‘Chuck it, Williams, you’re hurting yourself.’ There was a sudden silence of amazement. Paul, terrified at his own voice, bowed over his French book. The bully remarked, ‘Your turn next’, and then applied himself once more to his victim, who squealed. Paul rose, crossed the floor, laid a hand on the bully’s shoulder, and was sent crashing into the hearth. He sat for a moment among the cinders listening to the general laugh. Then slowly he rose, and slowly surveyed his grinning fellow-mortals. Williams gave an extra twist to the Jew’s arm, and there followed a yell, Paul, saying quietly, ‘Williams, you’ve got to stop’, put his own left hand into the fire and picked out a large completely red-hot coal. Ignoring the pain and the smell of his burning flesh, he went over to Williams and said, ‘Now, clear out or I’ll brand you,’ Someone tried to seize Paul’s arm, He used his coal with effect, so that the other retired, Then he rushed at Williams, The bully fled. I felt Paul’s eyebrows rise and his lips twist in a whimsical smile. He stood dreaming for a moment, then restored the still faintly glowing coal to its place in the fire, Suddenly he caught sight of the charred and smoking mess that was his hand. All along he had been aware of the pain, but he had calmly ignored it. But now that the incident was completed, ignoring was impossible. His strange exaltation vanished. He gave one sharp scream, half for pain, half for surprise, and then fainted. Paul’s hand recovered within a few weeks, though of course it remained scarred for ever. Paul’s mind was more deeply affected. He was terrified about himself. He felt that he had been possessed, and he dreaded being let in for even worse scrapes in the future. All the same, he was rather proud of himself, and half-wished he could be like that always.

iv. Paul’s Changing World

During his schooldays Paul suffered more than the normal growing pains, for his mind was shooting upward in response not only to normal but to abnormal influences. He was outgrowing not only toys and childish interests; he was outgrowing the world which school life imposed upon him, Like a crab that has become too big for its shell and must struggle out of it, Paul was now too big for his world. It had cracked under the stress of his vital movement, and he was in the act of issuing from it in a soft vulnerable, but flexible and expansible covering, which some day would harden into a new and ampler dwelling-place.

Two conflicting influences dominated him at school, the impulse to assume the stereotyped ‘schoolboy’ nature and live comfortably in the schoolboy world, and in opposition to this the impulse to find himself and to find reality. He strove to live according to the schoolboy ethic, partly because he genuinely admired it, partly so as to assume the protective colouring of his surroundings. But he could never succeed. The forces at work within him were too strong for him. In his early schooldays Paul never clearly understood that he was trying to live two inconsistent lives at once. He did not know that, while he was so earnestly trying to adjust himself to the school universe, he was also trying to burst that universe apart and grow an entirely new universe to suit the expanding tissues of his mind.

This growth, or rather this profound metamorphosis, was controlled by certain experiences which had an enduring effect on him. They were, so to speak, the centres of reorganization which, little by little, changed the larval Paul into the adult imago. These seminal experiences were of two kinds, though he did not clearly distinguish between them. His attention was arrested, and he was stung into excited admiration by two widespread facts: by the intricacy and relentlessness of physical happenings, and also by biological perfection, or at least functional perfection of every sort.

Paul’s sense of the austerity of the physical universe awoke early. Even in the nursery he had conceived an uncomprehending respect for the mechanism of natural events. This spontaneous movement of piety toward ‘nature’ developed not only into a strong scientific interest, but also into strangely exultant awe, for which there seemed to be no rational justification.

It was his father who first pointed out to him the crossing wave-trains of a mountain tarn, and by eloquent description made him feel that the whole physical world was in some manner a lake rippled by myriads of such crossing waves, great and small, swift and slow. This little significant experience took place during a holiday spent on the Welsh moors. They were standing on a crag overlooking the grey ‘llyn’. They counted five distinct systems of waves, some small and sharp, some broad and faint. There were also occasional brief ‘cat’s paws’ complicating the pattern. Father and son went down to the sheltered side of the lake and contemplated its more peaceful undulations. With a sense almost of sacrilege, Paul stirred the water with his stick, and sent ripple after ripple in widening circles. The father said, ‘That is what you are yourself, a stirring up of the water, so that waves spread across the world. When the stirring stops, there will be no more ripples.’ As they walked away, they discussed light and sound and the rippled sky, and the sun, great source of ripples. Thus did an imaginative amateur anticipate in a happy guess the’ wave mechanics’ which was to prove the crowning achievement of the physics of the First Men. Paul was given to understand that even his own body, whatever else it was, was certainly a turmoil of waves, inconceivably complex but no less orderly than the waves on the tarn. His apprehension of this novel information was confused but dramatic. It gave him a sense of the extreme subtlety and inevitability of existence. That even his own body should be of this nature seemed to him very strange but also very beautiful. Almost at the outset, however, he said, ‘If my body is all waves, where do I come in? Do I make the waves, or do the waves make me?’ To this the father answered, with more confidence than lucidity, ‘You are the waves. What stirs is God.’

This experience remained with Paul for ever. It became for him the paradigm of all physical sciences, and at the same time an epitome of the mystery of life. In his maturity he would often, when he came upon still water, pause to disturb its serenity. The little act would seem to him darkly impious yet also creative. He would mutter to himself, ‘God stirs the waters.’ Sometimes he would take a handful of little stones and throw them into the pond, one after the other in different directions. Then he would stand motionless, watching the intersecting circles spread and fade and die, till at last peace was wholly restored.

Paul’s first view of the moon through his father’s modest telescope was another memorable experience. He had already seen a ship disappearing below the horizon, and had been told that the earth and the moon were round. But actually to see the rotund moon, no longer as a flat white shilling, but as a distant world covered with mountains, was an experience whose fascination he never outgrew. Throughout his life he was ready to gaze for ten minutes at a time through telescope or field-glass at the bright summits and black valleys along the line between lunar night and day. This vision had a startling power over him which he himself could not rationally justify. It would flash mysteriously upon him with bewildering and even devastating effect in the midst of some schoolboy activity, in the midst of a Latin lesson, or morning prayers, or a game of cricket, or a smutty story. Under the influence of this experience he began to devour popular astronomy books. He looked with new eyes at the first page of the school atlas, which had hitherto meant nothing to him. Rapidly the school-boy universe ceased to be the whole real universe, and was reduced to a very faulty picture of a tiny corner of a universe which teemed with suns and inhabited worlds. For at this stage he imagined that every star was attended by a dozen or so populous planets.

He was perplexed to find that most adults, though many of them fully believed in some such universe, did nothing with the knowledge. That which to him was so significant was to them either tiresome or terrifying. Even his father, who had helped him to discover the new world, did not seem to appreciate it as it deserved. To the father it did indeed seem wonderful. He called it ‘sublime’. But for him it remained merely a sublime irrelevance. It compelled his attention, and in a manner his admiration also; but the tone of his voice, when he was talking of it, suggested a veiled reluctance, almost resentment. He seemed, in spite of all his scientific interest, to be happier and more at home in the world of the Iliad or of the ‘Faerie Queene’. The son, on the other hand, though he did his best to appreciate these dream worlds, was never moved by them. But the stars gave him an intense exhilaration, which, when he tried to justify it to his father, turned out to be, or to seem, wholly irrational.

Another overwhelming fact that gradually emerged into the child Paul’s ken, partly through the help of his father, partly through his own unaided apprehension, was what he came later to call’ the aliveness of all living things ‘. His boon companion of early days had been a terrier, with whom he used surreptitiously to share his bread and butter, bite by bite. Of course he believed that this creature had a mind much more like his own mind than was actually the case; but also, by long experience of this animal, he learned to enter into imaginative sympathy with a mind that was not human. This canine friendship drove deep into his own mind and heart both a sense of the kinship of all living things and a sense of their differences. Though Jack could enter into a romp, he could never be induced to play trains. Nor could he be persuaded that rabbits were beings like himself, whose lives should be respected. Paul himself, of course, had to make that discovery; but even in his earliest fly-tormenting and beetle-crushing phase he was already making it. Later there came a stage when this mystery of alien lives was his chief absorption and his chief perplexity. He would watch ants toiling through the grass-jungle with food for the public store, or ‘talking’ to one another as they met on one of their highways, or fighting to the death in organized battle. Always, of course, he imputed far too much of human intelligence to these strange beings. But even when at a much later date he discovered this error, he remained firm in his sense of their fundamental community with himself. Even worms, exploring the soil with their blind noses, seemed to him infinitely more like himself than the soil they devoured. And when one of them was snapped up by a thrush, Paul suffered an agony of indecision, debating whether to save the worm or let the bird have its dinner in peace. When he saw a cat with a mouse, he rushed indignantly to the rescue; yet somehow, after the event, he fell to wondering if he had merely been meddlesome.

In short, during this phase of his growth he was overwhelmed with what some would call a mystical apprehension of the inner being of all living things, and shocked by their insensitivity to one another, their essential harmfulness to one another. He was troubled by the fact that he himself ate meat and wore leather boots, and amazed that even kind-hearted persons, who doted on their own pets, did likewise without any hesitation. He was still more distressed by a streak of real sadism which survived in himself. At one time he used to catch wasps and cut them in two, so as to observe the strange behaviour of the parts. Worse still was his reaction to stag-hunting. His rare excursions into the world of sport did not occur until he was in his last year at school. They ceased while he was at the University. A well-to-do and much respected friend of his father sometimes invited Paul to spend part of the summer holidays at his house in Devon. He taught Paul to ride, and was determined to make a sportsman of him. When the lad was considered proficient, he was taken out to follow the hounds. With a sickening guiltiness, a sickening sense of his own bad horsemanship, with a sickening blend of adulation and contempt for the rest of the field, he let himself be bumped over moors and through covers, down lanes and through villages, till surprisingly he found himself in at the death. There at last was the stag, chin-deep in a river, or slithering on the roof of some outhouse in a village street, or more majestically at bay in the angle of two hedges. Then Paul exulted, even while he sickened with shame and pity. Why did he do it? he wondered. Why did he stand there watching the great weary beast mauled by the hounds, while the huntsmen tried to grab one of its antlers from behind? And when the knife went home, why did he feel, just for a fraction of a second, a sudden glee and triumph? Why was he so anxiously self-complacent as he stood at his horse’s head chewing cake and apples, while the stag was disembowelled and the hounds clamoured for their share? Why did he so desire to be taken for one of these sporting gentry, these overgrown schoolboys? These questions remained for Paul unanswered. Clearly his larval nature was making a desperate effort to reject the more developed mentality that I was forcing on him. In spite of his incompetence, he felt toward the sporting English gentleman not merely respect and envy but a deep kinship. In his revulsion against the primeval hunter and fighter, and aristocrat, he was divided against himself. Essentially the same conflict racked him a few years later when the war forced him to choose once and for all between the two allegiances. But of course in his war-perplexity, the primitive motive was reinforced by much that was by no means primitive.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30