Star-Begotten, by H. G. Wells

Chapter Four

Dr. Holdman Stedding Is Infected with the Idea

1

Dr. Holdman Stedding lay awake that night thinking about the state of mind of Mr. Davis and about the queer idea of a genetic invasion of Martian qualities that he had propounded. There was something provocative about the idea; something that made his intelligence bristle defensively. ‘Pure balderdash!’ he said aloud, but as a matter of fact what made it so irritating was that it was not pure balderdash. There was an attenuated but not unbreakable thread of silly plausibility about the suggestion that prevented him from throwing it altogether out of his mind. He threw words like ‘balderdash’ at it as one might throw stones at a dog that persists in following one, and presently there was the damned thing back again.

‘If it should chance that something of the sort was going on. . . . ’

He found himself asking himself whether there was any sort of evidence that some new type or perhaps even new types of human being were appearing in the world. Can there be such things as Martianized minds? ‘Silly phrase,’ he said. ‘But somehow a contagious phrase.’

He ran his mind over its collection of facts about the subject. He knew most of what was known and he realized that, for the purpose of getting a conclusive answer, it amounted to hardly anything at all. He reviewed the question methodically. The most confident statements, he reflected, are made that man has not changed since Neolithic times, that he has degenerated since the days of Pericles, that he is larger or smaller, healthier, less healthy, than his ancestors, that he has become finer and subtler or anything else that suits the private convictions, stated or implicit, of the ‘authority’ who flings out this sort of stuff to the public. When you came to think it oyer as he was doing, it was all without exception opinionated rubbish. No one has yet devised the means of getting the confused and irregular records available into any sort of order. No one has been able to do that work. People like J. B. S. Haldane and suchlike pioneer biologists were trying to form a research society now. Even the men most in contact with the facts have nothing better than ‘impressions’ and ‘persuasions,’ and some, thought Dr. Holdman Stedding with righteous self-applause, know that that is so, and some do not let their prejudices rip. Dr. Holdman Stedding’s private and unproven ‘impression’ was just the impression most favourable to Mr. Davis’s wild surmise. His unproven belief was that a considerable change in the human mind was going on. He thought that heavy and clumsy types were not so abundant in the population as they used to be and that certain new mental types were on the increase.

‘But what has that to do with Martians and cosmic rays?’ his common sense protested, and his common sense answered: ‘Nothing.’

After which he continued to pursue the subject.

2

Such discursive nocturnal meditations as Dr. Holdman Stedding was now committed to, combine the advantage that they cover a wide ground and find the most diverse evidence in their excursions, with the disadvantage that they sometimes lose their way altogether and never return to the main issue. For a time the doctor’s train of thought was in danger of the latter fate. He wandered into a labyrinth of possibility about the peculiar scepticism of the contemporary mind and the perplexing obduracies and wilfulnesses of so many of the rising generation. He knew more about the ideas of his hospital students than most of his colleagues, and sometimes they filled him with hope and sometimes they terrified him. Like all youth since our race began, most of them were sheep and went whither they were told or led, but for all that it was quite conceivable that the proportion of independent and wilful minds was higher than it had ever been before.

The stiff, troublesome fellows were the interesting ones.

He passed to the marked increase of effctive medical research and from that to the general inventiveness of our age. Inventiveness had never been so manifest as it was today. For more than a century it had been increasing. Directly you said a thing could not possibly be done, there it was — done. Yet so far no one had suggested that this must be due to the release of new mental types. It might be.

He felt that he would like to have another talk with Davis about the whole matter. Where had Davis got his evidently very strong belief that there were new and strange types appearing in the world? Could he know of anything that a leading obstetrician of wide scientific reading was not likely to know? The trouble about talking to Davis was the doctor’s persuasion — possibly an exaggerated one — that mentally he was not too safely balanced. It would be unwise to ‘encourage’ him, if he was in fact drifting towards a delusion. And then abruptly Dr. Holdman Stedding remembered something.

‘His wife!’

Several times Davis had practically asserted that his wife was strange, odd, exceptional. Dr. Holdman Stedding tried to recall the exact words but he found he could not do so. But that manifest disturbance at the advent of a child was bound up with that.

‘If he’s beginning to think his wife is one of these Martianized people . . .! I wonder what a fellow of that sort might not do. . . . What was it he said? Something about our very children not proving to be our own?’

Dr. Holdman Stedding spent some time that night trying to recall every particular he could of both these people. She was very quiet in her manner, observant, sane. If she was exceptional mentally it was because she was exceptionally sane. She moved easily and gracefully, as one does who has no conflicting nervous impulses. She did so even in her present condition; she was being one of the calmest and most competent patients he had ever known. ‘If she’s Martianized,’ reflected the doctor, ‘then the sooner we all get Martianized the better.’

But then, he considered, he had not seen her a dozen times altogether and there might be qualities in her of which he knew nothing, to account for her husband’s attitude, for that faintly distrustful insecurity about her.

The doctor speculated about the relations of the Davis couple for a while. He liked her and he found something slightly antipathetic about her husband. The man’s quick, incalculable, and ill-adjusted mental movements made him uncomfortable. No doubt his literary gifts were considerable, but like so many of these literary people he had much more control over himself upon paper than in real life. He must be a great trial to her and she ought to be protected, now at any rate, from his possible eccentricities. The doctor felt that something ought to be done about it, and began thinking of possible things that might or might not be done, until it occurred to him that it was through this sort of breach in impartiality that unprofessional conduct may enter into the life of a practitioner.

3

In the morning he wrote a very carefully considered letter to Davis which he marked ‘Private’ and addressed to the Planetarium Club.

It was a long and repetitious letter. It beat about the bush too much to be quoted in full here, but the gist of it was a warning not to give way to a ‘fantasy-suggestion’. ‘These little imaginative ideas one takes into one’s mind are like those insidious creatures the medieval doctors used to talk about, little things that seem nothing at all, that leap into your mouth before you know where you are and grow into monsters inside your brain and devour your sanity.’ No human mind, the doctor declared, was sufficiently balanced as yet to resist the disturbance of a too persistently cherished idea. That was why nearly everyone who investigated ‘psychic phenomena’ or ‘telepathy’ or ‘astrology’ or ‘chiromancy’ or the tarot cards presently began to find there was ‘something in it’. Mr. Davis was to think no more about it, distract his mind, take up chess, play golf on new courses, before this obsession really gripped his mind. You are standing on the brink of a long mental slide at the bottom of which is delusional insanity. I write plainly to you, because you are still a perfectly sane man.’

4

He knows — he knows as well as I do,’ said Mr. Joseph Davis. ‘But he’s afraid to go on with it. . . .

‘I want to go on with it. But how I am to do that I don’t know. Watch. . . . And meanwhile these cosmic rays fly noiselessly about me — the arrows of the Martians — and by a birth here and a birth there — humanity undergoes — dehumanization.’

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30