Last Men in London, by Olaf Stapledon

9 On Earth and on Neptune

i. Submerged Supermen

I HAVE been describing a situation in which, had the intelligence and the integrity of average men and women been slightly more robust, your world might have passed almost at a leap from chaos to organization, from incipient dissolution to a new order of vitality. Many minds were clearly aware that they were puppets in a huge and tragic farce, though none were able to put an end to it. I have now to tell of a different and much less imposing pattern of events, which was enacted in your midst without revealing its significance to any man. In this case disaster was brought about, not by any lack of native intelligence or of native integrity, but by the action of a savage environment on minds too gifted for your world.

While our observers were watching the forlorn efforts of your species to cope with problems beyond its powers, they detected also in many regions of your planet the promise of a new and more human species. The tragic fate of these more brilliant beings is amongst the most remarkable incidents in the whole history of Man. Here it is impossible to do more than outline this amazing story.

Throughout the career of your species, biological forces have now and then thrown up individuals in whom there was some promise of a higher type. Nearly always this promise was frustrated simply by the physiological instability of the new mutation. The new brain forms were associated either with actual distortions of body, or at best with normal structures which were inadequate to bear the novel strain. During the great ferment of industrial revolution in Europe and America, these biological mutations became much more numerous. Thus was afforded a serious possibility of the emergence somewhere or other of a type which should combine superior mentality with a physique capable of supporting the new cerebral organs.

When the earliest phase of industrialism was passed and conditions had improved somewhat, it became less difficult for abnormal beings to preserve themselves. The growth of humanitarianism, moreover, tended to foster these crippled supernormals along with the subnormals for whom they were invariably mistaken. Toward the end of the Nineteenth and the beginning of the Twentieth Centuries, we found here and there in the cities and industrial areas of the Western World, and later in industrial Asia, many hundreds of these individuals. They were of diverse biological constitution, but similar in respect of the factors which, with good fortune, should produce supernormal intelligence and supernormal integrity. Many of them, however, were tormented by gross bodily malformation; some, though more or less like their fellows in general anatomy, were no less hampered by biochemical maladjustments; some, though otherwise normal, were crippled by excessive weight of brain. But a few, sprung from stock of exceptionally tough fibre and ample proportions, were able to support and nourish their not excessively large heads without undue strain, at least in favourable conditions.

Now it might have been expected that these individuals, potentially far more brilliant than the most gifted of the normal kind, would have risen very rapidly to positions of power; and that, at the same time, they would have successfully established their type by propagation. Within a few generations, surely, they would have completely dominated the earlier and inferior species. But this was not to be. Even among the very small minority who combined mental superiority with bodily health, circumstance was fatally and ironically hostile. With regard to propagation, to take the simpler matter first, most of these superior beings, even those who were healthy and sexually potent, were strongly repellent to normal members of the opposite sex. They did not conform to any recognized pattern of sexual beauty. They were neither of the classical nor of the negroid nor of the mongolian styles, which alone were favoured by the ‘cinema’. Indeed they were definitely grotesque. Their heads, in most cases, looked too big for their bodies, and they were apt to have bull necks. In many of them, moreover, there was a disturbing uncouthness of facial expression, which to the normal eye seemed sometimes insane, sometimes infantile, sometimes diabolic. Consequently it was almost impossible for them to find mates.

More interesting to our observers was the failure of these potentially superior beings to assert themselves in a world of inferiors. Though they were biologically very diverse, springing in fact from entirely independent mutations, these beings were alike in one respect, namely their very prolonged childhood and adolescence. The new and more complex brain organization could not develop successfully unless it was associated with an abnormally slow rate of growth. Therefore such of these beings as were able to survive were always ‘backward’ not only in appearance, but in some respects, mentally also. Thus a boy of ten years would look like a child of six; and mentally, though in some respects already more developed than his parents, he would seem to them to be hopelessly incompetent. Judged by similar standards, the normal human child would appear hopelessly backward in comparison with the baby ape, although in reality he would be far more intelligent and promising. Similarly, these superior children were invariably considered by their parents and guardians as distressingly inferior.

This backwardness of the new individual was due, not solely to the slowness of physiological growth, but also to the fact that with more delicate percipience he found in the experiences of childhood far more to delight and intrigue him than the normal child could gather. These beings remained so long in the phase of perceptual and motor experimentation, and later so long in the phase of play, partly because for them these fields were so crowded with interest. Similarly, when at length they attained adolescence, the dawn of self-consciousness and other-consciousness was for them so brilliant and overwhelming that they had inevitably to take many years to adjust themselves to it.

So great was this seeming backwardness that they were often regarded by their elders, and by their own generation also, not merely as inferior, but as seriously deficient. Often they were actually treated as insane. Thus in spite of their superiority they grew up with a devastating sense of their own incapacity, which increased as they became increasingly aware of the difference between themselves and others. This illusion of inferiority was aggravated by their slow sexual development; for at twenty they were sexually equivalent to a normal child of thirteen. But, it may be asked, if these beings were really so brilliant, how could they be so deceived about themselves? The answer is given partly by their serious physiological backwardness, but partly also by the overwhelming prestige of the inferior culture into which they were born. At thirty they had still the immaturity of the normal youth of eighteen; and finding a fundamental discrepancy between their own way of thinking and the thought of the whole world, they were forced to conclude that the world was right. It must be remembered, moreover, that they were isolated individuals, that no one of them would be likely ever to come across another of his kind. Further, owing to the precarious balance of their vital economy, they were all short-lived. Hardly any survived beyond forty-five, the age at which they should have been upon the brink of mental maturity.

One characteristic of their childhood was, as I said, a seeming backwardness of interest, which was taken to be a symptom of mental limitation. Now with the passage of years this limitation seemed to become more pronounced. At an age when the normal young man would be dominated by the will to make his mark in the world by eclipsing his fellows, these strange beings seemed quite incapable of ‘taking themselves seriously’. At school and college they could never be induced to apply themselves resolutely to matters which concerned only private advancement. While admitting that for the community’s sake it was necessary that individuals should’ look after themselves’, so as not to be a burden, they could never be made to see the importance of personal triumph over others in the great game of life, the great gladiatorial display of personal prowess, which was ever the main preoccupation of the First Men. Consequently they could never conjure up the necessary forcefulness, the relentlessness, the singleminded pushfulness which alone can advance a man. Their minds, it seemed, were so limited that they could not form a really effective sentiment of self-regard.

There were other respects in which the interest of these beings seemed to be pitiably limited. Even those few who enjoyed physical health and delighted in bodily activity, could never be persuaded to concentrate their attention earnestly upon athletics, still less to give up all their leisure to the pursuit of the ball. To the football-playing and football-watching population these lonely beings seemed almost criminally lax. Further, while enjoying occasionally the spectacle of a horse race, they could raise no interest whatever in betting. Blood sports they heartily loathed, yet without hate of those who practised them; for they had no blood lust secretly at work within themselves. They seemed also to be incapable of appreciating military glory and national prestige. Though in some ways extremely social, they could not pin their loyalty to one particular group rather than another. Moral sensitivity, too, seemed either absent or so distorted as to be unrecognizable. Not only did they break the sabbath without shame, even in districts where sabbatarianism was unquestioned, but also in respect of sex they were a source of grave offence; for they seemed wholly incapable of feeling that sex was unclean. Both in word and act they were shameless. Nothing but their sexual unattractiveness restricted their licentious tendencies. Persuasion was entirely ineffective, calling from them only a spate of arguments which, though of course fantastic, were very difficult to refute. Compulsion alone could restrain them; but unfortunately, though these beings were so lacking in self-pride and personal rivalry, any attempt to prevent them from behaving as seemed good to them was apt to call forth a fanatical resistance, in pursuance of which they would readily suffer even the extremes of agony without flinching. This capacity for diabolic heroism was almost the only character that earned them any respect from their fellows; but since it was generally used in service of ends which their neighbours could not appreciate, respect was outweighed by ridicule or indignation. Only when this heroism was exercised to succour some suffering fellow-mortal could the normal mind fully appreciate it. Sometimes they would perform acts of superb gallantry to rescue people from fire, from drowning, from maltreatment. But on another occasion the very individual who had formerly gone to almost certain death to rescue a fellow-citizen or a child, might refuse even a slight risk when some popular or important personage was in danger. The former hero would scoff at all appeals, merely remarking that he was worth more than the other, and must not risk his life for an inferior being.

Though capable of earnest devotion, these god-forsaken creatures were thought to be too deficient to appreciate religion. In church they showed no more percipience than a cat or dog. Attempts by parents and guardians to make them feel the fundamental religious truths merely puzzled or bored them. Yet Neptunian observers, stationed in these sorely perplexed but sensitive young minds, found them often violently disturbed and exalted by the two fundamental religious experiences, namely by militant love of all living things and by the calm fervour of resignation. Far more than the normal species, and in spite of their own racked bodies, they were able to relish the spectacle of human existence.

Most of them, both male and female, showed a very lively curiosity, which in one or two cases was successfully directed towards a scientific training. Generally, however, they made no headway at all in science, because at the outset of their studies they could not see the validity of the assumptions and method of the sciences. One or two of them did, indeed, have the enterprise to go through with their training, acquiring with remarkable ease an immense mass of facts, arguments and theories. But they proved incapable of making use of their knowledge. They seemed to regard all their scientific work as a game that had little to do with reality, a rather childish game of skill in which the arbitrary rules failed to develop the true spirit of the game with rigorous consistency. Moreover, the further they explored the corpus of any science, the more frivolously they regarded it, being apparently unable to appreciate the subtleties of specialized technique and theory. Not only in science, but in all intellectual spheres, they were, in fact, constantly hampered by a lucidity of insight which seemed to the normal mind merely obtuseness. In philosophy, for instance, whither their natural curiosity often led them, they could not make head or tail even of principles agreed upon or unconsciously assumed by all schools alike. Their teachers were invariably forced to condemn them as entirely without metaphysical sense; save in one respect, for it was often noticed that they were capable of remarkable insight into the errors of theories with which their teachers themselves disagreed. The truth was that at the base of every intellectual edifice these beings found assumptions which they could not accept, or in which they could find no clear meaning; while throughout the structure they encountered arguments in which they could not see a logical connexion.

There was one sphere in which several of these beings did earnestly try to make themselves felt, namely in politics and social improvement. But here they were even more ineffective than elsewhere. They could never see the importance of the accepted political aims or the validity of the recognized party maxims. When politicians demonstrated the inevitable results of this policy or that, these unhappy misfits could only deplore their own stupidity in not being able to follow the argument. When they themselves confessed how they would deal with some problem or other, they were either cursed for their lack of true feeling or derided for their childish idealism. In either case they were charged with being ignorant of human nature; and this charge was, in a manner, just, for they had seldom any conception of the gulf between themselves and the members of the older species.

I have been speaking of those few who were educated so far as to be able to take thought for matters of theoretical interest or public concern. But the great majority never attained this level. Those who were born into comfortable circumstances generally came into conflict with the taboos of their society, and were ostracized; so that they sank into the underworld. Those also who were born into poor families were frequently outlawed by their fellows; and being entirely unfit to make their way in the huge dog-fight of industrialism, they nearly always subsided into the humblest occupations. They became dock-labourers, charwomen, agricultural labourers, clerks of the lowest order, very small shop-keepers, and especially vagrants. It was remarkable that they received on the whole more sympathy and understanding in the lower than in the higher reaches of society. This was because in the simpler, less sophisticated, manner of life their native intelligence and integrity did not come into obvious conflict with the proud but crude culture of more ‘educated’ folk. Indeed, those whose lot fell among the ‘lower’ classes of society were generally treated by their peers with a strange blend of contempt and respect. Though they were regarded as ineffective cranks or freaks, as children whose development had somehow been arrested, as ‘daft’, ‘fey’, ‘mental’, they were also credited with an odd kind of impracticable wisdom that was too good for this world. Not only so, but even in practical matters their advice was often sought; for they seemed to combine a divine innocence and self-disregard with a shrewdness, a cunning, which, though it was never used for self-advancement, struck the normal mind as diabolic.

The kind of life into which these abortive supermen gravitated most frequently was a life of wandering and contemplation. Often they became tramps, drifting from one big town to another, trekking through agricultural districts, tinkering, sharpening scissors, mending crockery, poaching, stealing, breaking stones, harvesting. A few became postmen, others drivers of motor vans or buses; but though, whatever their occupations, they worked with incredible efficiency, seldom could they remain for long in posts which entailed subordination to members of the normal species. The women were more unfortunate than the men, for vagrancy was less easily practised by women. Some became seamstresses. A few, protected by sexual unattractiveness, faced the difficulties and dangers of the road. Others, blessed with more or less normal looks, chose prostitution as the least repugnant way of earning a livelihood.

Our observers, whenever they studied these unfulfilled approximations to a new species, found invariably a mental pattern definitely far superior to the normal, but also one which was much less developed than that of the Second Men, whose career was destined to begin some ten million years after your day. These superior contemporaries of yours had indeed, for beings whose heads were not much larger than your own, remarkable intelligence. They were remarkable also in respect of the organization and unity of their minds. Where the normal personality, torn by conflicts of desire and loyalty, would split into two or more incomplete systems imperfectly related to one another, these preserved their integrity, and chose that action which did in fact offer the greatest good possible in the circumstances. They were almost entirely without selfishness, for they had a capacity for self-insight definitely more penetrating than that of the normal species. Like the Second Men, they had also an innate interest in the higher mental activities, a craving for intellectual exercise and aesthetic delight no less imperious than the simple needs for food and drink. But unfortunately, since they were isolated individuals overwhelmed in childhood by a world of inferior calibre, they were unable to satisfy these cravings wholesomely. They were like potential athletes trained from birth to use certain muscles in grotesque and cramping actions, and the rest of their bodies not at all. Thus they never developed their powers, and were haunted by a sense of falsity and futility in all their mental life. They were beings, moreover, in whom we found a vigorous and lucid innate loyalty toward the supreme adventure of the awakening spirit in man, and in the cosmos. They were very ready to regard themselves and others as vessels, instruments of a great corporate endeavour. But, unfortunately, in their terrible spiritual isolation from their neighbours, they could never whole-heartedly give themselves to the communal life. In spite of the contempt with which they were treated, in spite of their own confusion of mind, those of them who survived beyond the age of twenty-five or thirty could not but observe that the minds of their fellow-men were woven upon a different pattern from their own, a pattern at once cruder and more confused, less intricate yet more discrepant. Moreover, they soon found reason to suspect that they themselves alone had the cause of the spirit at heart, and that the rest of the world was frivolous. Each of them was like an isolated human child brought up by apes in the jungle. When at last he had begun to realize the gulf between himself and others, he realized also that he had been damaged past repair by his simian upbringing. In these circumstances he would, as a rule, content himself with a life of personal kindliness and humour, which was ever rooted in the strength of his own unshakable ecstasy of contemplation.

ii. Paul and Humpty

It so happened that one of these rare beings was sent by his parents to the school where Paul was head master. In appearance he was a great lout rather like a grotesque child of eight seen through a magnifying-glass. His thick neck and immense, almost bald head, was very repulsive to the normal eye. Only the hinder part of his head bore hair, which was sparse, wiry, and in colour like grey sand. The bare and lumpy dome of his cranium overhung two pale brown eyes, so large that they seemed to occupy the whole middle region of his face. Beneath an inconspicuous nose was a huge and clear-cut mouth. So small was the lower jaw that the chin, though well moulded, seemed but another nose under the great lips. The head was held erect in the attitude of one supporting a pitcher on his crown. This carriage gave to the face a farcical dignity which the alert and cautious eyes rendered at times malignant. The thick-set body and great restless hands made women shudder.

No wonder that this unfortunate child, who received the nickname Humpty, was persecuted by his schoolfellows. In class his laziness was relieved now and then by fits of activity, and by uncouth remarks which roused derision among the boys, but which to Paul were sometimes very disturbing. The form master at first reported that Humpty was stupid and incorrigibly indolent; but later it appeared that he was perpetually active either in remote meditations or in observing and criticizing everything save the work in hand. Puzzled by the lad’s seeming alternation between stupidity and brilliance, Paul contrived to give the whole class a series of intelligence tests. Humpty’s performance defeated analysis. Some of the simplest tests floored him, yet some of those’ intended for ‘superior adults’ he solved without hesitation. Inquiring into the failures in the low-grade tests, Paul found that they were always due to some subtle ambiguity in the problem. The psychologists were not intelligent enough to test this unique boy.

Paul tried to win Humpty’s confidence. He took him out to tea, and walked with him occasionally at week-ends. Paul had long been in the habit of taking parties of boys into the country and on the river, and in the summer he organized camping holidays and trips on the Continent. At first he had hoped to fit Humpty into this communal activity, but very soon he realized that nothing could be done with the strange creature in the presence of his contemporaries. He therefore devoted some time to treating the boy separately. Humpty was at first hostile, then politely reticent. When he found that Paul (with my aid) realized the gulf that lay between him and his fellows, he became cautiously well-disposed.

Conversation was at first extremely difficult. Paul’s old gift of adopting a persona suited to his companions was now invaluable, but failed to produce the sudden and easy intimacy which he desired. The trouble was that Humpty did not belong to any known type. It was impossible to get in touch with him on the assumption that he was a normal adolescent; yet in spite of his infantile traits he could not be successfully treated as a child, for in some ways his interests were already those of an adult. On the other hand, Paul’s well-tried policy of speaking to his boys ‘as man to man’ was in this case unsuccessful, because Humpty seemed to be without the normal craving to be a member of the adult fraternity. With patience, however, and with a sense that he was exploring a mentality more remote than anything he had discovered in earlier adventures. Paul plotted out some of the main landmarks of Humpty’s nature. Gradually an important principle emerged in this study. In so far as Humpty was infantile, his attention was arrested by aspects of infantile experience which the normal child would miss. Sometimes, for instance, before a swim he would lie naked on the bank twiddling his toes for a solid quarter of an hour, like a baby in its cot, untouched by Paul’s bright talk, or his suggestions that it was time to take the plunge. This conduct filled Paul with despair, till he discovered that what fascinated the boy was the difference between his control of his toes and his control of his fingers. Moreover, Paul had reason to suspect that there was some other more recondite aspect of the situation, which either could not be expressed in the English language, or was too subtle for Paul’s apprehension.

When Paul first made the acquaintance of Humpty, he found the boy in a state of morbid diffidence punctuated now and then by flashes of contempt for his fellows. But under the influence of Paul’s sympathy and insight Humpty began to realize that he was not, after all, merely an inferior being. As his mind developed, and as he came to understand that he was made on a different pattern from his fellows, it was borne in on him that in many ways he was superior, that he was basically more intelligent, more capable of coherent behaviour, less beset by atavistic impulses, and above all that there were certain aspects of his experience (in some cases the most delectable) to which none but the most sensitive of his fellow human beings had any access whatever.

A year after his first contact with Humpty, Paul began to feel that the tables had been turned, that he who had formerly played the part of the superior was being forced step by step to yield precedence. The change began one day when Paul had been trying to rouse Humpty to work harder at school by appealing to his competitive self-regard. When the sermon was over, the boy looked at him with a wonder tinged with dismay. Then he gave out a single bark of laughter, and said, ‘But why on earth should I want to beat Johnson Minor and the rest?’ This was not a very remarkable question, but coming from Humpty it seemed to have a peculiar significance. And Paul felt that somehow in his error of tactics he had displayed a gross vulgarity of feeling.

Somewhat later Paul discovered with dismay that he had been quite seriously asking Humpty’s advice about certain matters of school policy. It was his custom to ask his boys for advice, so as to give them a sense of responsibility; but this time he was perturbed to find that he actually wanted the advice, and intended to use it. By now Humpty had sized up the mentality of his fellow-mortals very shrewdly; and in spheres of which he had experience, such as the school, he displayed a cold and often a cynical intelligence.

After another year had passed, the indolent. Humpty surprised Paul by settling down to work, and making up for lost ground so successfully that he soon became the school’s most brilliant, but most difficult, pupil. He gave his teachers the impression that in all his work he was but playing a game, or that he was learning the mental tricks of the human race without believing in them or approving of them. It was impossible to avoid thinking of him as a naturalist in the jungle studying the mentality of apes. After six months his fame as a prodigy of scholarship had spread over the whole country. This change in Humpty gratified Paul, but there was another change which was both incomprehensible and distressing. Hitherto he had seemed to Paul to be dangerously lacking in self-regard. Amongst the boys his generosity over toys, sweets and money had caused him to be mercilessly plundered, while in his work it was inveterate carelessness of self (so Paul thought) that had made him so ineffective. But now, along with his fever of work he developed a propensity for sacrificing the pleasure or well-being of others to his own interests. In most respects he retained his normal and unselfish nature though tinged with a contemptuousness that made him cast favours about him as one might fling refuse to the dogs; but in matters in which he felt a serious concern he was now a relentless self-seeker. It took Paul some months to discover the cause of this extraordinary change, and of the boy’s increasing reticence and frigidity. At last, however, Humpty, during a walk on Leith Hill, announced that he would take his head master into his confidence, because he must have the help of some intelligent adult. Paul was then given a lengthy account of the boy’s conclusions about himself, about the world which he had the misfortune to inhabit, and about his future. Paul had a sense that the tables had indeed been turned with a vengeance, and that the grotesque youth was treating him with the confident superiority with which normally a grown man condescends toward a child; while the head master himself involuntarily adopted the respectfulness of one of his own prefects receiving instructions. Yet according to all sane standards Humpty’s plans were preposterous.

After careful psychological and biological inquiry, so Humpty said, he had discovered that he was profoundly different from the normal human being, and indeed very superior in mental calibre. Unfortunately his nature had been seriously distorted by his barbarous upbringing, ‘Though’, he added, ‘you yourself have certainly treated me with sympathy, and with as much comprehension as can be expected of your kind. Indeed it is to you I owe it that I was not completely ruined during my adolescent phase.’ Having made this contemptuous acknowledgement, the formidable boy declared that, in spite of Paul’s care, he was probably by now too much damaged to win through in the enterprise which he must attempt. However, he would triumph or die fighting. Here Paul unwisely interrupted to say how glad he was that Humpty was at last determined to show his ability, and that undoubtedly he would make a mark in the world whatever career he chose. The boy stood still and faced his head master, gazing at him with a quizzing expression under which Paul found it hard to preserve his self-respect.

Presently Humpty remarked, with all the assurance and quietness of one who says he must buy cigarettes, or change his clothes, ‘What I must do is to make a new world. I am not sure yet whether I shall have to destroy it and produce another.’ Paul, with immense relief, burst into laughter. But the other said only, ‘I thought you had more intelligence. In fact I know you have. Think! I mean what I say.’ With dismay Paul realized that Humpty did mean what he said; and with bewilderment he realized further that something in his own mind applauded. However, he reminded himself that this would-be builder of worlds was merely an eccentric boy; and he set himself to persuade Humpty that he was making a fool of himself, that no single individual, no matter how superior, could achieve such a task. The boy replied, ‘What you say is sound common sense, the kind of sense by which your species has hitherto triumphed. But an alien mentality such as mine can see very clearly that common sense is also your undoing, and that, as a species, you have neither the intelligence nor the virtue to save yourselves in your present plight. A superior mind may perhaps be able to discipline you, or to afford you a merciful extinction. With regard to myself, you are right that I shall almost certainly fail. Your world is not easy to move, or to destroy; and I have been terribly mutilated by early contact with an insensitive, a brutish, species. But I must make the attempt. And for a few years I shall need your help. Think the matter over for a few weeks, and you will see that I am right, and that unless you would betray your own highest ideals you must henceforth subordinate everything else to my service.’

Once more Paul earnestly protested against this folly; but to humour the lad he listened during the rest of the walk to his amazing plans. First, Humpty declared he would assimilate all the cultures of the human race. He was convinced that this would not take him long; for, having discovered his own superiority, he had also gained unique insight into the weakness and the limited but solid achievement of the best human minds. Having made himself the master of all man’s wisdom, he would proceed to correct it by his own finer percipience and intelligence. Much that he would thus produce would be beyond the comprehension of his fellows, but he would publish simplified versions of all his work, based on his thorough knowledge of the inferior mentality. When this preliminary, easy, and purely theoretical, task was completed, he would set about the practical reform of the world. He was confident that by the time he had reached maturity, his superior tact and the unique power of his personality would enable him to deal with normal individuals much as a shepherd deals with his sheep; but he did not disguise from himself the fact that he would have to cope not only with sheep but with wolves, and that very grave difficulties would arise when the time came to break down the great atavistic organizations and vested interests of the world. This task, he admitted, would need all his skill, and would probably defeat him. Meanwhile, however, he would have taken steps to produce other individuals of superior type. Possibly, if his sexual development turned out normally, some of these would be his own offspring. Possibly he would have encountered other unique beings scattered up and down the world. Possibly he would be able to use his finer understanding of biology and physiology to produce superior men and women from normal ova. Anyhow, by one means or another, if the worst came to the worst, and the normal species proved incorrigible, he would found a small colony of supermen in some remote part of the world. This would become the germ of a new human species and a new world-order. Little by little it would gain control of the whole planet, and would either exterminate the inferior species, or more probably domesticate such members of the subhuman hordes as it required for its own uses.

At the close of this announcement of policy Humpty paused, then began again in a voice which betrayed an unexpected hesitation and distress. ‘This programme,’ he said, ‘sounds to you fantastic, but it should be possible to one of my powers in a world of inferiors. I am no paragon. There should some day be minds incomparably finer than mine. Yet even I, if my health can stand the strain, should prove fit for the task, but for the severe mutilation which I have already received at the hands of your species. Till now I have never told you of my most serious trouble. I must bring myself to lay bare my secret, since you must help me to make myself whole for the work which I am to do.’

Humpty now told Paul that his sufferings during childhood had filled him with a violent hate of whatever passed as morality amongst his fellows. Things had come to such a pitch that, whenever any conduct seemed likely to earn general approval, he conceived an irresistible desire to take the opposite course. In his recent burst of hard work, for instance, public commendation had almost forced him to plunge back into indolence. Only by reminding himself that the real aim of his work was to destroy the so-called morality of the inferior species could he keep himself in hand. His increasing contempt for the well-being of others, though it found its excuse in his self-dedication to a great duty, drew its vigour from the sense that he was earning the condemnation of his fellows. There was also a more serious, or at least more dramatic, way in which his revulsion from the stink of moralism threatened to undo him. He was sometimes seized with an ungovernable, an insane, impulse to violate public decency in whatever manner would seem at the time most outrageous. He himself was sexually backward, but the awe and shame with which his elders regarded sex had in early days intimidated him; and when at last he came to realize the folly and abject superstitiousness of his countrymen in this matter, he conceived a violent craving to shock them.

Having forced himself to broach the subject, Humpty was carried away by his passion. He poured out on the bewildered head master a torrent of grotesque and mostly obscene fantasies ranging, from schoolboy smut to acts of brutal sexual aggression. Of the most horrible of these gruesome titbits he said, after a hushed, almost it seemed a reverent, laugh, ‘That ought to be done on the island in Piccadilly Circus, if you could catch the right woman there, one of those who look like princesses. But could I do it before they got at me?’

Paul felt with relief that leadership had once more come into his hands. He reasoned with the unhappy boy, and promised to help him. Subsequently he took Humpty to a psycho-analyst who had often dealt successfully with difficult cases in the school. But this time the expert was defeated. It was impossible to cure Humpty by bringing to life his unconscious cravings, for in this strange mind everything was fully conscious. Humpty knew himself through and through. Suggestion and hypnotism proved equally impossible. After a few meetings the analyst began to be ill at ease, for Humpty was taking a malicious pleasure in forcing him step by step to a most unflattering self-knowledge. Not only did the unhappy man begin to realize that his skill was mostly blind guesswork, and that his wisdom left out of account far more than it embraced, but also to his horror he discovered that he was dominated by secret desires and loyalties of a religious type which he had never had the courage to recognize. When Humpty appeared for the fifteenth meeting he was told that the analyst was missing. Later it turned out that the distracted man had suffered a religious conversion, and had fled away into solitude to meditate. Like so many of his profession, he was at bottom a simple soul; and when he found in himself needs that could be satisfied by religion but not by the doctrines of Freud, he could discover nothing better to do than to leap from the frying-pan of one orthodoxy into the fire of another. Within a few weeks he had joined a monastic order, and was studying the psychological principles of St Thomas.

The crippled mind of Humpty seemed now to go from bad to worse. The more clearly he realized the damage that had been inflicted on him in childhood, the more he succumbed to hatred, not of his fellow-men, but of their false righteousness.

In sane periods he told himself that his passion was fantastic; that when the mood was on him he lusted merely to violate and smash, and would harm what was precious no less than what was contemptible; that his obsession was ruining his mind, and making him unfit for his great task; that he must not let himself be dragged down to the level of the unhappy and unseeing beasts who surrounded him.

Paul, watching from day to day the desperate struggle of his protégé, was overawed by the sense of a momentous biological tragedy. For he could not but surmise that, if this lonely and potent being had not been mutilated, he might indeed have founded a new mankind. Humpty had already fallen into several minor scrapes, from which Paul had with difficulty extricated him. The head master now lived in dread of the final catastrophe which would ruin Humpty and incidentally disgrace the school. But the school was, after all, spared the extreme disaster. One morning Paul received a letter in which Humpty declared that, realizing that he was defeated, and that at any moment he might do grievous harm to some innocent person, he had decided to die. It was his last wish that his body should be given to a certain world-famous neurologist for dissection. Inquiry proved that Humpty had indeed ceased to live, though the cause of his death was never determined. Needless to say, though he had always been the black sheep of his family, his parents secured for him a decent Christian burial.

Thus ended one of Nature’s blundering attempts to improve upon her first, experimental, humanity. One other superior and much more fortunate individual was destined almost to succeed in the task that Humpty had merely imagined. Of this other, of the utopian colony which he founded, and of its destruction by a jealous world, I may tell on another occasion.

iii. Back to Neptune

My task is almost completed. My mind is stored with an immense treasure, which I have gathered, bee-like, in your world, and with which I must now return to the great and fair hive whence I came. The other side of my task also is drawing to a close. I have almost finished this my second message to my own remote ancestors, the First Men.

Very soon I shall be free to leave your world of sorrow and vain hope, of horror and of promise unfulfilled. Presently I shall return to an age long after the destruction of your planet, and not long before the more tragic destruction of my own more delectable world. Only with difficulty and danger can the explorer, after close work in the past, revert once more to his own world. With difficulty and reluctance also, I shall now begin to put off your mental pattern from my mind, as one may put off a mask. As the grown man who has been long with children, living in their games, grieving with them in their childish sorrows, is torn with regret when at last he must leave them, and half-persuades himself that their nature and their ways are better than his own, so I now with reluctance leave your world, with its childish, its so easily to be avoided yet utterly inescapable, its farcical and yet most tragic, disaster. But even as, when at last the grown man is once more at grips with the world of men, his childishness falls from him, so, when I earnestly revert in imagination to my own world, my assumed primitiveness falls from me.

It is time to recall myself to myself. I have been dwelling in your little world, not as one of you, but in order that I might bring to the racial mind of the Last Men matter for delighting cognizance; in order, also, that your world may find its crown of glory, not indeed in the way that was hoped, but in being exquisitely savoured, life by life, event by event, in the racial mind of the Last Men.

I recall myself to myself. The great world to which I am native has long ago outgrown the myths, the toys, the bogies of your infant world. There, one lives without the fear of death and pain, though there one dies and suffers. There, one knows no lust to triumph over other men, no fear of being enslaved. There one loves without craving to possess, worships without thought of salvation, contemplates without pride of spirit. There one is free as none in your world is free, yet obedient as none of you is obedient.

I recall myself to myself. The most lovely community of which I am a member, the most excellently fulfilled Spirit of Man, within which my mind is organic, must very soon be destroyed. The madness of the Sun is already hideously at work upon my world. There lies before my contemporaries an age of incalculable horror and disintegration. From that horror we must not escape by means of the racial suicide which alone could save us; for our two supreme acts of piety are not yet accomplished. We have not yet succeeded in impregnating the remote regions of this galaxy with the seed of a new mankind. We have not yet completed our devoted survey of the past. Therefore we may not yet put an end to ourselves. We must be loyal to the past and to the future.

I recall myself to myself. Presently I shall wake in my Arctic and subterranean garden. Once more I shall see with precision and with full colour through my own eyes, not through the obscuring organs of the First Men. I shall recognize the familiar forms of Neptunian leaves and flowers, swaying in the subterranean breeze. I shall feel the large easefulness of my own body. I shall yawn and stretch and rise. I shall swim luxuriously in my pool. I shall enter my apartment and ring for food. Then, before I see any of my colleagues, I shall begin to review my exploration; I shall record it, and critically edit it. For now at last I shall have recovered full Neptunian mentality. I shall see with new insight not only your world but my own self as I was during my long immersion in your world. Probably I shall smile at my recent earth-infected thoughts and feelings. I shall smile when I remember this book, this strange hybrid sprung from the intercourse of a purely Terrestrial mind and a Neptunian mind, earth-infected. I shall know that, even when I most strained the understanding of my poor collaborator, I was not really giving him the full wisdom of the Last Men, but something far less profound, something that was already earth-dimmed, already three-parts Terrestrial even at its source in my own mind.

With a great thankfulness I shall recognize my own complete reversion to lucidity. With a new awe and zest I shall lay myself open once more to the inflooding richness and subtlety of my well-loved world.

After many weeks of labour I shall have completed my report, and then I shall leave my apartment and meet many of my colleagues, to exchange findings with them.

But, since in the Catacombs telepathic intercourse may not occur, we shall soon travel south to live together for a while in a great crystal pylon where we may pursue our collaboration telepathically. And when we have made of our combined findings a single, living, apprehension of your species, we shall broadcast our great treasure telepathically over the whole world; so that all the million million minds of our fellows may be enriched by it, so that when the time comes for the next awakening of the single mind of the race, that great spirit also, which is not other than each of us fully awakened, may avail itself of our findings, for its meditation and ecstasy.

When all this is done I shall call up telepathically the ever dear companion of my holidays, with whom, before my last exploration, I played and slept, where the broken mountain lies spread out into the sea. There once more we shall meet and play, watching the populations of the rock pools, and the risings and settings of the Mad Star. There once more we shall wander over the turfy hillocks and swim, seal-like, in the bay, and make for ourselves nests in the long grass, where we may lie together in the night. There perhaps I shall tell her how, in another world, seemingly in another universe, I myself, striving in the numb, the half-human flesh of Paul, lay with the half-human Katherine. There we shall contemplate the strange beauties of the past and of the dread future. There we shall savour lingeringly the present.

When our holiday is over I shall return with her to her place of work, where they prepare for the spreading of the seed. And when she has shown me how the task is progressing, I shall go wandering about the world for a very long time, absorbing its intricate beauty, watching its many and diverse operations, having intercourse with the great population of my intimate friends, playing my part in the life of my marriage group, visiting the Land of the Young, voyaging in ether-ships among the planets, wandering alone in the wild places of the home planet, idling or meditating in my garden or working among my fruit trees, or watching the most distant universes from some great observatory, or studying with the help of astronomers the slow but fatal progress of the sun’s disease.

It may be that before it is time for me to go once more into the past, there will occur again a supreme awakening of the racial mind. It may be that after the unique day of the awakening I shall for a long time move about the world entranced like my fellows, rapt in the ineffable experiences of the single Spirit of Man, contemplating perhaps at last the supernal entities which it is man’s chief glory to strive to worship. Sooner or later, however, I shall return once more to my work in the past, either to the First Men or to some other primitive species. I shall bring back with me more treasure of living history, and deliver it into the world of the Last Men. And again I shall play, and again I shall participate in the rich life of my world, and again I shall return to the past. And so on for I know not how many times.

But each time, when I leave the present for the past, there will have been a change in my world, a slight deterioration, sometimes perhaps imperceptible. The climate will have grown hotter and more unwholesome. The inescapable rays of the mad sun will have done more harm to eyes and brains. Society will perhaps no longer be perfect, rational conduct no longer invariable, telepathy perhaps already difficult; and very probably the racial mentality will have already become impossible. But also the exploration of the past will be advancing toward completion, though with increasing difficulty; and the dissemination of the seed of life will be at last begun.

The Last Men can look forward without dismay to the inevitable deterioration of all that they cherish most, to the death of their fair community, and to the extinction of the human spirit. We have only one desire, namely that our two tasks may be accomplished; and that happily they may be accomplished before our deterioration is so far advanced as to make us incapable of choosing to put an end to ourselves when at last we are free to do so. For the thought is somewhat repugnant to us that we should slowly sink into barbarism, into the sub-human, into blind and whimpering agony, that the last of Man should be a whine.

This may well happen, but even by such a prospect we are not seriously dismayed. If it does occur, it will doubtless seem intolerable to our degraded spirits. But today, we are fully possessed of ourselves. Even as individuals, even apart from the exaltation of racial mentality, we can accept with resignation, nay with a surprising fervour of appreciation, even the moral downfall of our world. For we have gone far. We have drunk deeply of beauty. And to the spirit that has drunk deeply of the grave beauty of the cosmos, even the ultimate horror is acceptable.

iv. Epilogue by the Terrestrial Author of This Book

Readers of my earlier book, Last and First Men, may remember that it closed with an epilogue which my Neptunian controller claimed to have transmitted to me from a date in Neptunian history many thousands of years after the communication of the body of the book. The present book was obviously originated at a Neptunian date shortly after the transmission of the main part of the earlier book, but very long before its epilogue. Now I have reason to believe that at some date long after the communication of that former epilogue itself, my controller attempted to give me an epilogue to the present volume, but that owing to the serious disintegration of the most delicate brain tracts of the Last Men, and the gradual break-up of their world society, the result has been extremely confused and fragmentary.

I shall now attempt to piece together the random thoughts and passions, and occasional definite statements, which have come into my mind seemingly from my Neptunian controller. By supplementing them with a careful use of my own imagination, I shall try to construct a picture of the state of affairs on Neptune when the disaster was already far advanced.

From the vague flood of intimations that has come through to me I gather that the hope of disseminating a seed of life abroad among the stars, before the disaster should have extinguished man’s powers, was not fulfilled. The dissemination had indeed actually been begun, when it was discovered that the vital seed was all the while being destroyed in the process of scattering. This trouble, and other unexpected difficulties, which occurred seemingly at some date after the communicating of the earlier epilogue, not merely delayed the enterprise, but even led to its abandonment for some thousands of years. Then some new discovery in psychophysics raised a hope of achieving the Dissemination by an entirely new method. A vast new enterprise was therefore set on foot; but was seriously hampered by the increasingly cruel climate, the steady deterioration of mental calibre, the ceaseless national wars and civil confusion. It would seem, though the inference is by no means certain, that at the date of this final and intermittent communication, the Dissemination had already ceased for ever; whether because it had been successfully accomplished or because it was no longer physically possible, or because the will to pursue it had already been broken, I cannot ascertain. Probably the work was now beyond the powers of a degenerate and disorganized world-community.

The other great task which the doomed population had undertaken to complete before its final downfall, the Exploration of the Human Past, seems to have been in a manner finished, though in less detail than was originally planned. Several communications suggest that such workers as remained able and willing to enter into the past were trying to concentrate their failing powers on certain critical points of Man’s career, so as to reconstruct at least these moments in full minuteness. But as the racial mode of mentality had already become impossible, and as the individual explorers had evidently very seriously deteriorated, it seems clear that such data as were still being collected would never be incorporated in the single racial consciousness, in the aesthetic apprehension of the Cosmos by the fully awakened Spirit of Man. In fact the continuation of the work of exploring the past seems to have become as automatic and irrational as the aimless researches of some of our Terrestrial historians.

In the epilogue to the earlier book it was reported that, as the higher and more recent brain-tracts were corroded by the fury of ultra-violet solar radiation, the surviving members of the community suffered a harrowing struggle between their nobler and their baser natures, a struggle which issued inevitably in the defeat of all that was most excellent in them. At the date of the epilogue to the present book, the race seems to have been reduced to a remnant of distraught and almost sub-human beings clustering round the South Pole, which, one may suppose, was the only region of the planet still capable of supporting human existence at all. The life of this remnant must have been completely aimless and abject. It apparently consisted of half-hearted agriculture, occasional hunting expeditions against the wild creatures that had been driven south by the heat, and frequent predatory raids of neighbouring groups to capture one another’s food and women.

The population was evidently obsessed by the terror of death, of starvation, and above all of insanity. The death-rate must have been very high, but there was also a huge birthrate. Conception was no longer controlled. Invalid children seem to have composed a large proportion of the population. Parenthood and sex evidently bulked very largely in the popular mind. There were wild sexual orgies, which apparently had acquired some religious significance; and there was a vast ritual of superstitious taboos, most of which seem to have been intended to purify the soul and prepare it for eternal life. Apparently some divinity, referred to as the God of Man, was expected to destroy the world by fire, but to snatch into eternal bliss those who had kept all the taboos. His Younger Brother, it seems, had already appeared on Neptune, but had been killed by his enemies. This legend should, perhaps, be connected in some way or other with the superior being who, in the epilogue to the previous book is referred to as ‘this younger brother of ours’.

Not every one succumbed to these superstitions. My controller himself rejected them, and retained a pathetic loyalty to the ancient wisdom, some shreds of which he now and then remembered. But I have reason to believe that very often his memory of them was but a verbal formula, without insight.

Clearly, for those who, like my controller, had kept alive in themselves something of the former purpose of the race, there was now no longer any reason to refrain from racial suicide. The two enterprises for which euthanasia had been postponed could no longer be usefully continued. But the unhappy members of what had once been the noblest of all human communities had no longer the courage or the common sense to destroy themselves. Those who accepted the popular superstitions declared that the God had forbidden men to seek death before their time. Those who rejected the doctrine of salvation persuaded themselves that they refrained from suicide because to flee was cowardly.

At this point I will report a verbal fragment of communication which is typical of most that I have received, and seems to bear out many of the foregoing inferences.

‘Vain to live. Yet Life insists. Work insists. Too many thousands of men, of women, of crawling children with eyes festering. Too little food. Blue sun piercing the deep cloud-zone, parching the fields. Child meat in the flesh pots. Eat the mad, who come to grief. The many mad. Mad men with knives. Mad women with smiles, with skull-faces. (And I remember beauty.) Too many labours and fears. Too hot. Hateful proximity of men hot. Love one another? With sweat between! Love best in the water, the cooling water, that makes the body lighter. The pools, the rains, the house-uprooting storms, the everlasting cloud, blinding purple. God will come soon, they say it. To burn the world, to take away his friends. The God-dream. Too good, too cheap. Radiation the one God, all pervading, cruel. To die quickly, to sleep and not wake! But life insists, work insists. Vain work insists. Yet why? The old far days, Godless, beautiful. The glorious world. The fair world of men and women and of the single awareness. Eye of the cosmos. Heart of the cosmos. Cunning hand. Then, we faced all things gaily. Even this corruption, when we foresaw it, we called “a fair end to the brief music that is man”. This! The strings all awry, screaming out of tune, a fair end!’

This passage is typical, though more coherent than most. There are others more striking, but so repugnant to the taste of my contemporaries that I dare not repeat them, passages describing the prevailing brutishness of sexual relations in a population that had already so far degenerated that neither sex could interest the other save in the crudest manner. This impoverishment of sexual life was due to the fact that physical health and beauty had been undermined, that apprehension of the more delicate, aesthetic and spiritual aspects of experience had become almost impossible, that the realization of other individuals as living personalities was very uncommon. Nearly all behaviour was the impulsive behaviour of beasts, though of beasts in whose nature were incorporated many tricks derived from a forgotten humanity.

Some men and women there still were who had not permanently sunk to this brutish level. Several communications make it clear that, although the culture and the actual mental capacity of the Last Men were by now so degenerate, some few, a scattered and dwindling aristocracy, were still capable, at least intermittently, of personal love, and even of perplexed loyalty to certain ideals of conduct. The evidence for this lies in such passages as the following, which with its fleeting recovery of the earlier intelligence, and its bewildered groping after a forgotten ecstasy, affords perhaps the right conclusion to this book.

‘She lies motionless in the shallow water. The waves, fingering, the hot sand, recoil steaming. Her flesh, translucent formerly, now is filmed and grey, blind like her filmed eyes. We have taken of each other very deeply. The heat tricks us sometimes into intolerance each of the other’s unyouthful body, unpliant mind; yet each is the other’s needed air for breathing. We have ranged in our work very far apart, she into the astronomical spaces, I into the prehistorical times. But now we will remain together until the end. There is nothing more for us to do but to remember, to tolerate, to find strength together, to keep the spirit clear so long as may be. The many aeons of man! The many million, million selves; ephemeridae, each to itself, the universe’s one quick point, the crux of all cosmical endeavour. And all defeated! The single, the very seldom achieved, spirit! We two, now so confused, participated once in man’s clearest elucidation. It is forgotten. It leaves only a darkness, deepened by blind recollection of past light. Soon, a greater darkness! Man, a moth sucked into a furnace, vanishes; and then the furnace also, since it is but a spark islanded in the wide, the everlasting darkness. If there is a meaning, it is no human meaning. Yet one thing in all this welter stands apart, unassailable, fair, the blind recollection of past light.’

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