The War with the Newts, by Karel Čapek

Chapter 2

The Rise of Civilisation (History of the Newts) 1

In the history of the epoch announced by G.H. Bondy at the memorable general meeting of the Pacific Export Company with his prophetic words about the coming utopia, 2 it is not possible to measure events in centuries or even decades, as has been possible in previous ages of world history. Instead we must measure history in units of three months, which is how often the quarterly economic statistics appear. 3 In this present period, history, so to speak, is manufactured by mass production; this is why the speed of history is so much greater (estimated to be approximately five-fold). It is simply not possible nowadays to wait centuries for the world to turn into something good or bad. The migrations of nations, for instance, which at one time was drawn out over several generations, could be completed within three years using modern transport methods; otherwise there would be no way of making a profit from it. The same applies to the decline of the Roman Empire, the colonisation of continents, the massacre of the Indians and so on. All this could be completed incomparably faster if put into the hands of well funded business. In this way, the enormous success of the Newt Syndicate and its powerful influence on the history of the world is certainly a sign of things to come.

The history of the newts was characterised from the first by good and rational organisation and that is primarily, although not solely, thanks to the Newt Syndicate; it should be acknowledged that science, philanthropy, education, the press and other factors played a substantial part in the astonishing expansion and progress of the newts, but it’s still true to say that it was the Newt Syndicate that conquered new continents and coastlines for them, virtually day by day, even when they had to overcome many obstacles to their expansion. 4 The syndicate’s quarterly statements show that the newts were gradually settled in the ports of India and China; how colonies of newts overwhelmed the coasts of Africa and jumped over to America where a new and modern hatchery soon appeared on the Gulf of Mexico; how, as well as the broad waves of colonisations, smaller, pioneering groups of newts were sent out to establish new places for migration. The Newt Syndicate sent, for instance, a thousand top quality newts as a present to Waterstaat in Holland, six hundred were given to the city of Marseilles to clean out the old harbour, and similar presents were made elsewhere. The dispersion and settlement of the newts around the world was, unlike the expansion of mankind, simply well planned and enormous; left to Nature it would certainly have taken thousands of years; but that is merely hypothetical. Nature has never been so enterprising and targeted as man’s industry and commerce. It seemed that the lively demand for them had its influence on the newts’ own reproductive abilities; the number of tadpoles produced by any one female rose to as much as a hundred and fifty per year. Loses to sharks and other predatory fish were reduced almost to zero after the newts had been equipped with underwater pistols and dumdum bullets to protect themselves. 5

The expansion of the newt population did not run smoothly everywhere, of course; in some places conservative groups took severe protective measures against the introduction of new workforces, seeing the newts as competition with human workers; 6 Others expressed the fear that the newts, living on small marine animals, posed a threat to fishing, there were those who argued that the newts would undermine coastlines and islands with their underwater tunnels and passageways. There were certainly many people who warned against the introduction of the newts; but whenever any innovation or any progress has been made it has always met with resistance and mistrust; that was the case with industrial machinery and it was the case with the newts. In other places misunderstandings of other sorts appeared, 7 but the news media all round the world, who understood the enormous commercial possibilities offered by the newts, provided a great deal of help in these matters and with the help of effective and large scale advertising campaigns the salamanders became established all around the globe and were welcomed with lively interest and even enthusiasm. 8 Trading in newts was mostly in the hands of the Newt Syndicate, which carried it out with its own specially made tanker ships; the centre of trading was the Salamander Building in Singapore which functioned as a kind of newt stock exchange. 9 As the turnover in newts rose, trading, of course, became very wild; the Newt Syndicate was no longer able to observe and control all the hatcheries established by the late Captain van Toch in many places and especially around the small and remote islands of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia; many of the bays inhabited by newts were left to their own devices. As a result, while the cultivation of salamanders was well organised and controlled in some areas, in others there was extensive hunting of wild newts, similar in many ways to the seal hunting expeditions that used to take place; the hunting expeditions were to some extent illegal, but as there were no laws protecting the newts no-one was ever brought to account for anything more serious than setting foot on the territory of a sovereign state without permission; as the newts on these islands multiplied at an astonishing rate and now and then caused damage to the local people’s fields and orchards, these uncontrolled newt hunts were tacitly regarded as a natural way of regulating the newt population. 10

Trading in newts was well organised, and there was an extensive advertising campaign in the press, but the biggest influence in the expansion of the newt population was the enormous wave of technological idealism which inundated the entire world at that time. G.H. Bondy rightly foresaw that from then on the human spirit would be working with whole new continents and new Atlantisses. The whole of the Newt Age was dominated by a lively and fertile dispute among the technically minded as to whether firm land should be constructed with shores of reinforced concrete or merely light land laid down as deposits of marine sand. New and gigantic projects appeared almost every day: there were some Italian engineers who suggested the construction of a Great Italy taking in most of the Mediterranean Sea as far as Tripoli, the Balearic Islands and the Dodecanese, and others who wanted to establish a new continent to be called ‘Lemuria’ to the east of Italian Somalia which would take in the entire Indian Ocean in one move. With the help of armies of newts, new islands covering thirteen and a half acres were indeed laid down near the Somalian port of Mogadishu. Japan planned and partly realised a new great island to cover the former Marian Archipelago and made preparations to combine the Caroline and Marshall Islands into two big islands, provisionally named ‘New Nippon’; each of the two islands was to be created by means of an artificial volcano which would remind their prospective inhabitants of the famous Mount Fuji. It was also rumoured that German engineers were secretly building a durable, concrete landmass in the Sargasso Sea which was to be the new Atlantis and, it was said, would be a threat to French East Africa; but it seems that this went no further than laying the foundations. In Holland, Zeeland was reclaimed; France combined Guadeloupe, Grande Terre, Basse Terre and La Désirade into one big island; the United States began to build the first airfield-island on the 37th. meridian (two storeys high with an enormous hotel, sport stadium, funfair and a cinema for five thousand people). It simply seemed that the last limits imposed on human expansion imposed by the sea had now fallen; a new and radiant age of amazing technical plans began; man realised that now, at last, he was becoming the Lord of the World, and that was thanks to the newts who had stepped onto the world stage at the right moment and, as it were, with the force of history. There is no doubt that the newts would never have burgeoned the way they did if our own technical age had not prepared so many jobs for them and so many places of long-term employment. The future of the Workers of the Sea now seemed to be guaranteed for centuries to come.

Science, too, played an important part in the development of newt commerce, and quickly turned its attention to investigating both the newts’ physiology and their psychology. 11 Because of this scientific research people stopped regarding the newts as some kind of miracle; in the cold light of science the salamanders lost much of their aura of primordial strangeness and uniqueness; once they had become the subject of psychological tests they began to seem very average and uninteresting; their enormous talents were dismissed by the scientists to the realm of myth. The common or garden salamander was identified, and it turned out to be something entirely dull and quite limited in its abilities; only the newspapers would now and then display a Miracle Newt that could multiply five figure numbers in its head, but people soon got tired of that, especially when it had been shown that even a mere human could perform the same trick given the right training. People simply began to consider the newts as much a matter of course as an adding machine or other device; they now no longer saw anything mysterious about them, the newts no longer seemed to have emerged from the unknown depths of the sea with who knows what purpose. And people never do regard something as mysterious if it serves and benefits them, only if it’s something harmful or threatening; and as the newts, as has been shown, were highly versatile and useful, 12 they were simply accepted as a basic part of a rational and ordinary life.

In short, it was entirely natural that the newts stopped being a sensation, even though there were now as many as a hundred million of them; the public interest they had excited had been the interest of a novelty. They still appeared now and then in films (Sally and Andy, the Two Good Salamanders) and on the cabaret stage where singers endowed with an especially bad voice came on in the role of newts with rasping voices and atrocious grammar, but as soon as the newts had become a familiar and large-scale phenomenon the problems they presented, so to speak, were of a different character. 13 Although the great newt sensation quickly evaporated it was replaced with something that was somewhat more solid - the Newt Question. Not for the first time in the history of mankind, the most vigorous activist in the Newt Question was of course a woman. This was Mme. Louise Zimmermann, the manager of a guest house for girls in Lausanne, who, with exceptional and boundless energy, propagated this noble maxim around the world: Give the newts a proper education! She would tirelessly draw attention both to the newts’ natural abilities and to the danger that might arise for human civilisation if the salamanders weren’t carefully taught to reason and to understand morals, but it was long before she met with anything but incomprehension from the public. 14 “Just as the Roman culture disappeared under the onslaught of the barbarians our own educated civilisation will disappear if it is allowed to become no more than an island in a sea of beings that are spiritually enslaved, our noble ideals cannot be allowed to become dependent on them,” she prophesied at six thousand three hundred and fifty seven lectures that she delivered at women’s institutes all over Europe, America, Japan, China, Turkey and elsewhere. “If our culture is to survive there must be education for all. We cannot have any peace to enjoy the gifts of our civilisation nor the fruits of our culture while all around us there are millions and millions of wretched and inferior beings artificially held down in the state of animals. Just as the slogan of the nineteenth century was ‘Freedom for Women’, so the slogan of our own age must be ‘GIVE THE NEWTS A PROPER EDUCATION!’” And on she went. Thanks to her eloquence and her incredible persistence, Mme. Louise Zimmermann mobilised women all round the world and gathered sufficient funds to enable her to found the First Newt Lyceum at Beaulieu (near Nice), where the tadpoles of salamanders working in Marseilles and Toulon were instructed in French language and literature, rhetoric, public behaviour, mathematics and cultural history. 15 The Girls’ School for Newts in Menton was slightly less successful, as the staple courses in music, diet and cookery and fine handwork (which Mme. Zimmermann insisted on for primarily pedagogical reasons) met with a remarkable lack of enthusiasm, if not with a stubborn hostility among its young students. In contrast with this, though, the first public examinations for young newts was such an instant and startling success that they were quickly followed by the establishment of the Marine Polytechnic for Newts at Cannes and the Newts’ University at Marseilles with the support of the society for the care and protection of animals; it was at this university that the first newt was awarded a doctorate of law.

The matter of newt education now began to develop quickly and along its normal path. Exemplary though the Écoles Zimmermann were, the most progressive teachers raised a number of serious objections to them; in particular they insisted that the established humanistic schooling for young humans was not suitable for young newts; they certainly recommended the teaching of literature and history but they also recommended that as much time and facilities as possible should be devoted to modern practical subjects such as the natural sciences, craftwork, technical understanding, physical education and so on. These Reform Schools, or Schools for Practical Life, as they were known were, in their turn, passionately opposed by those who supported a classical education and declared that newts could only come to approach the lofty cultural level of human beings on the basis of Latin, and that there was no point in teaching them to speak if they weren’t also taught to recite poetry and perform oratory with the eloquence of Cicero. There was a long and rather heated debate which was finally settled when the schools for salamanders were taken over by the state and schools for human children were reformed so that they came as close as possible to the ideals of the Reform Schools for newts.

It was now a matter of course that other countries would also declare their belief in making the newts have a proper, state supervised education. One by one, all the seafaring nations declared themselves for it (with the exception of Great Britain, of course); and because these schools for newts were not burdened with the classical traditions of schools for human children, and were able to make use of all the latest methods in psychotechnology, technical education, pre-military exercises and other educational innovations, these schools quickly evolved into the most modern and scientifically advanced educational system in the world, envied by teachers and students everywhere.

As soon as there are schools there needs to be a language, and that raised the question of which of the world’s languages would be the best for the salamanders to learn. The first newts in the Pacific islands spoke, of course, in the Pidgin English they had picked up from natives and sailors; many of them spoke Malay or other local dialects. Newts bred for the market in Singapore were taught to speak Basic English, the scientifically simplified English that gets by with a few hundred expressions without the encumbrance of outdated grammar; and as a result this modified version of standard English began to be called Salamander English. In the exemplary Écoles Zimmermann the newts expressed themselves in the language of Corneille; not, of course, for any chauvinistic reason but because that is simply part of any good education; at the reform schools, on the other hand, Esperanto was learned so that it would serve as a lingua franca. There were five or six other new Universal Languages which emerged around this time with the intention of replacing the Babylonian confusion of human languages with a single, common mother-tongue for the whole world of newts and men; needless to say that there were countless disputes about which of these international languages is the most useful, most euphonious and the most universal. The final result, of course, was that there was a different universal language propagated in every nation. 16

All this became simpler when the education of newts was nationalised: the newts in every state were to be brought up in the appropriate local language. Although the salamanders found it relatively easy to learn foreign languages and were keen to do so there were found to be some peculiar difficulties, partly to do with adapting their speech organs to human language and partly to do with mainly psychological reasons; they had difficulty, for instance, in pronouncing long words with many syllables and would try to reduce them to a single syllable which they would bark out in a rather nasal voice; they would say L instead of R and lisp on their sibilants; they would leave off grammatical endings, they never did learn to distinguish between ‘I’ and ‘we’ and the question of whether a noun was masculine or feminine was matter of complete indifference for them (this may have been manifestation of their indifference to sex outside the breeding season). In short, every language they learned took on new and characteristic forms in their mouths, reorganising it into something simpler and more rudimentary. It is worth nothing that their neologisms, pronounciations and simplified grammar was quickly adopted by both the simplest people in the ports and by the so-called best people; and from the ports this way of speaking spread out into the newspapers and was soon in general use. Even many humans stopped attending to grammatical gender, word endings were dropped, declinations disappeared; our golden youth neglected to say r properly and learned to lisp; few educated people were any longer certain what was meant by ‘indeterminism’ or ‘transcendent’, simply because these words, even for human beings, were too long and too hard to pronounce.

In short, for good or for ill, the newts became able to speak almost every language of the world according to what coast they lived on. About this time, some of the Czech national newspapers began to complain bitterly, no doubt with good reason, that none of the newts could speak their language. If there were salamanders who could speak Portuguese, Dutch and the languages of other small nations why were there none that could speak Czech? It was true, they conceded in regretful and learned terms, that Czechoslovakia had no sea coasts, and that means there will be no marine newts here, but that does not mean that Czechs should not play the same part in the culture of the world as many of the other nations whose language was being taught to thousands of newts, or perhaps even a greater part. It was only right and proper that the newts should also have some knowledge of Czech culture; but how were they to be informed about it if none of them knew the Czech language? It was not likely that someone somewhere in the world would acknowledge this cultural debt and found a chair in Czech and Czechoslovak literature at one of the newt universities. As the poet puts it, ‘Trust no-one in the whole wide world, we have no friends out there’. And so one of the newspaper articles declared that Czechs themselves would have to do something to rectify the matter. Whatever we’ve done in the world, it asserted, we’ve done by our own efforts! We have a duty and the right to try to recruit friends even among newts; but it seems that the foreign ministry does not have much interest in spreading the good name of our country and our products among newts, even though other, smaller nations devote millions to opening their cultural treasures to them as well as generating interest in their industrial products. - This article attracted a great deal of interest from the confederation of industry, and one result was that a brief handbook of Czech for newts was published, complete with illustrations of Czechoslovak handwriting styles. It may seem hard to believe, but this little book was remarkably successful and sold more than seven hundred copies. 17

Matters of education and language were, of course, only one aspect of the great newt problem which grew up, as it were, under people’s feet. The question quickly arose, for instance, of how people were to behave towards the newts in, so to speak, the social sphere. At first, in the almost prehistoric period of the Newt Age, there were, of course, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals which passionately ensured that the newts were not treated in ways that were cruel or inhumane; and it was thanks to their continuous efforts that government offices almost everywhere saw to it that the regulations set out by police and veterinary inspectors for the conditions of other livestock applied also to newts. Opponents of vivisection signed many protests and petitions calling for a ban on scientific experiments on live newts; and many countries did indeed pass laws to that effect. 18 But as the newts became more educated it became less clear whether newts should simply be included under animal protection legislation; for some reason, not entirely clear, it seemed rather inappropriate. And so the Salamander Protection League was founded under the patronage of the Duchess of Huddersfield. This league, numbering more than two hundred members, mostly in England, achieved many effective and praiseworthy improvements for the newts; in particular, they succeeded in establishing special newt playgrounds on the coast where, undisturbed by inquisitive human eyes, their meetings and sporting celebrations took place (by which they probably meant their secret dances once a month); they ensured that all places of education (even including the University of Oxford) persuaded their students not to throw stones at newts; to some extent they ensured that young tadpoles at school weren’t over-burdened with work; and they even saw to it that places where newts lived or worked were surrounded by a high wooden fence that would protect them from various intrusions and, most importantly, would form an adequate barrier between the world of men and the world of newts. 19

However it was not long before these commendable private initiatives, intended to establish a fair and humane relationship between human society and that of newts, were found not to be enough. It was relatively easy to include salamanders into industrial processes, but it was much harder and more complicated to include them in any way into the existing precepts of society. People who were more conservative asserted that there was no question to be solved, there were no legal or social problems; the newts, they said, were simply the property of their employers and the employers were responsible for them and any damage they might cause; despite their undoubted intelligence the salamanders were legally no more than property, an object or an estate, and any legal measure concerning the newts would, they said, be a violation of the holy rights of private property. In response, others objected that as the newts were a kind of intelligent being and to a large extent responsible for their actions they might freely find various ways of violating existing laws. How could a newt owner be expected to bear the responsibility for any offences committed by his salamanders? A risk of that sort would certainly destroy any private initiative where the employment of newts was concerned. There are no fences in the sea, they said, newts cannot be closed in and kept under supervision. For this reason, it would be necessary to pass laws directed at the newts themselves; in this way they would respect the human legal order and conduct themselves in accordance with the regulations laid down for them. 20

As far as is known, the first laws governing salamanders were passed in France. The first paragraph set out the newts’ obligations in the event of mobilisation for war; the second (known as the Lex Deval) instructed the newts that they were allowed to settle only on those parts of the coast indicated by their owners or an appropriate office of local government; the third stipulated that newts were required, under any circumstances, to obey any order given them by a member of the police; any failure to obey a police order would entitle police authorities to punish them by means of incarceration in a place that was dry and brightly lit, or even to deny them the right to work for long periods of time. The left-wing parties responded by putting a motion to parliament that a legal social system for newts should be worked out. These social measures would limit the amount of work required from them and place certain obligations on anyone employing newts (eg. fourteen days leave at mating time in the spring); the extreme left objected that the newts should be designated as enemies of the working class because they work too hard in the service of capitalism, work for almost nothing, and thus they endanger the working man’s standard of living; this demand was followed up with a strike by harbour workers in Brest and large demonstrations in Paris; many people were injured and Deval was forced to resign his job as minister. In Italy the salamanders were placed under the authority of a special Newt Corporation made up of employers and public officials, in Holland they were governed by the ministry supervising coastal constructions, in short every state solved the newt problem in its own different way; but most of the public decisions governing public responsibility, and largely limiting the animal freedom enjoyed by the newts, were roughly the same anywhere you looked.

It should be understood that as soon as the first laws for newts were passed there were people who, in the name of jurisdicial logic, reasoned that if human society places certain obligations on the salamanders it would have to grant them certain rights. Any state that lays down laws for newts acknowledges, ipso facto, that they are beings capable of acting freely and responsibly, as legal subjects, or even as members of the state in which case their status as citizens would need to be adjusted in whatever legislation they lived under. It would, of course, have been possible to designate the newts as foreign immigrants; but in that case the state would be unable to exact certain services and duties from them in the event of mobilisation for war, which every country in the civilised world did do (with the exception of England). In the event of armed conflict we would certainly want the newts to protect our shorelines; but in that case we could not deny them certain civil rights such as the right to vote, the right of assembly, the right to participate in various public offices and so on. 21 It was even suggested that the newts had a kind of independent state of their own under the water; but these considerations and others like them remained purely academic; they never resulted in any practical solution, mainly because the newts themselves never asked for any civil rights from anyone.

There was another lively debate about the newts which took place without their direct interest or participation, and that was around the question of whether they could be baptised. The Catholic church took a firm stand from the start and said they certainly could not; as the newts were not the descendants of Adam they were not affected by Original Sin, the sacrament of baptism could not be used to cleanse them of it. The Holy Church had no wish to decide the question as to whether the newts had an immortal soul or any other share of God’s love and salvation; their good wishes towards the newts could only be shown by a special prayer for them, to be read on certain days at the same time as prayers for souls in Purgatory and intercessions for unbelievers. 22 For the Protestant church it was not so simple; they acknowledged that the newts had reason and could therefore understand Christian teaching, but they hesitated to make them members of the church and therefore brothers in Christ. So they restricted themselves to issuing an abridged form of the Holy Gospel for Newts on waterproof paper and distributed many million copies of it; they also considered whether they should work out some kind of Basic Christian for them, a rudimentary and simplified version of Christianity analogous to Basic English; but all attempts in this direction created so many theological disputes that in the end they had to give up on the idea. 23 Some of the religious sects, especially those from America, had fewer scruples in the matter; they sent their missionaries out to the newts to teach them the True Faith and baptised them according to the words of Scripture: Go out into the world and teach all nations. But very few missionaries succeeded in getting past the wooden fences that divided the newts from people; employers would not let them have access to the newts because their preaching might keep them away from work. So every so often you would see a preacher standing beside a tarred fence, zealously propounding the word of God, while the dogs fiercely barked at their enemy from the other side.

As far as is known, monism was spread quite widely among the newts, with some of the newts believing in materialism and some of them in the gold standard or some other scientific doctrine. One popular philosopher called Georg Sequenz even compiled a special set of religious teachings for the newts centred around a belief in something called the Great Salamander. This system of faith met with no success whatsoever among the newts but found many converts among human beings, especially in the major cities where almost overnight a large number of secret temples for the salamander cult appeared. 24 Most of the newts themselves, somewhat later on, adopted a different faith, although it is not known how they came to it; this was the worship of Moloch, whom they imagined as an enormous newt with a human head; it was said they had gigantic metal idols of this god under the water which they had had made by Armstrong or Krupp. However, no more details about this cult or its rituals were ever learned - despite their reputation for exceptional cruelty and secrecy - because they took place under water. It seems that this faith spread among them because the name ‘Moloch’ reminded them of the Latin and German words for newts (‘Molche’).

It is clear from the preceding paragraphs that the Newt Question started out, and for a long time remained, centred around whether and to what extent the newts had reason and whether, as clearly civilised beings, they would be capable of making use of certain human rights, even though only on the edge of the ordered society in which human beings lived; in other words it was an internal question for individual states and it was settled in the context of citizen’s rights. It was many years before it occurred to anyone that the Newt Question could have wide ranging international importance, or that it might become necessary to deal with the salamanders not only as intelligent beings but also as a newt collective or nation of newts. In truth, it should be said that the first step towards this conception of the Newt Problem was taken by some of the more eccentric Christian sects who tried to baptise the newts as instructed by Holy Scripture: Go out into the entire world and teach every nation. In this way it was made explicit that the newts were a sort of nation. 25 But the first international and significant acknowledgement of the newts as a nation was in the famous speech given at the Communist Internationals, signed by Comrade Molokov and addressed to “all the repressed and revolutionary newts throughout the world”. 26 This call seems to have had no direct effect on the newts themselves, but it was widely discussed in the press around the world and had great influence, at least, in that a rain of fervent invitations from every side began to fall on the newts, exhorting them, as the nation of greater newtdom, they should align themselves with this or that idealist, political or social program of human society. 27

Now the International Bureau of Employment in Geneva began to concern itself with the Newt Problem. Here there were two views in opposition to each other; one side acknowledged the newts as a new working class and strove to have all social legislation extended to them, regulating length of working day, paid holidays, insurance for invalidity and old age and so on; the other view, in contrast, declared that the newts were a growing danger as competition for human manpower and working newts were anti-social and should simply be banned. Not only employers’ representatives objected to this idea but also delegates from the working people, pointing out that the newts were not just a new army of workers but also a major and growing market. As has been said, in recent times the numbers employed in metal working (working tools, equipment, metal idols for the newts), weapon manufacture, chemical industry (underwater explosives), paper industry (schoolbooks for the newts), cement manufacture, forestry, artificial foodstuffs (Salamander food) and many other areas had all risen at a rate unprecedented in peace time; there was a rise of 27% in shipping tonnage compared with the period before the newts, coal production increased by 18.6%. The rise in employment and prosperity for people indirectly caused a rise in turnover in other branches of industry too. Most recently, the newts had been ordering more engineering parts according to their own designs, using them to assemble pneumatic drills, hammers, underwater motors, printing machinery, underwater radio equipment and other machinery, all to their own plans and all done underwater. These machine parts were paid for by higher productivity; by now a fifth of all world production in heavy industry and in fine mechanics were dependent on orders from the newts. If you put an end to the newts you can put an end to one factory in five; instead of modern prosperity there would be millions unemployed. The International Bureau of Employment could not, of course, simply ignore this objection, and in the end, and after long discussion, it arrived at this compromise solution, that “the above named group of employees, S (amphibians), may be employed only on water or underwater, and on the shore only as far as ten meters above the high water line; they may not extract coal or oil from beneath the seabed; they may not produce paper, textiles, or artificial leather made from seaweed to be marketed on land” and so on; these restrictions on newt manufacturing were set out in nineteen legal paragraphs which we will not cite in more detail, mainly because, needless to say, nobody paid them any attention; but as a magnanimous and truly international solution to the Newt Problem in the fields of commerce and society it was held up as a useful and imposing achievement.

In other respects, international recognition of the newts was somewhat slower, especially where cultural contact was concerned. When the much quoted article, “The Geological Structure of the Seabed around the Islands of the Bahamas”, was published in the specialist press and the name ‘John Seaman’ given as the author, then of course nobody realised that this was the scientific work of an educated salamander; but when newt-researchers appeared at scientific congresses or addressed various academic or learned societies to report on their studies in oceanography, geography, hydrobiology, higher mathematics or other precise sciences in it caused much consternation and indignation, expressed by the great Dr. Martel in the following words: “Do these vermin think they’ve got something to teach us?” The learned Dr. Onoshita from Japan, who dared to quite from a report by a newt (something to do with the development of the yoke sac of the fry of the deep sea fish, Argyropelecus Hemigymnus Cocco), he was ostracised by the scientific community and committed harakiri; it was a matter of honour and professional pride among university scientists that they don’t take into account any of the scientific work done by a newt. This increased the attention (if not outrage) given to the Centre Universitaire de Nice when it invited Dr. Charles Mercier, a highly learned newt from the harbour at Toulon, to give a celebratory lecture on the theme of conic sections in non-Euclidean geometry which was met with remarkable success. 28 Those attending the event included a delegate from Geneva, Mme. Maria Dimineanu; this outstanding and generous lady was so impressed by Dr. Mercier’s modesty and erudition (“Pauvre petit,” she is said to have sighed, “il est tellement laid!”) that she made it a part of her tirelessly active life to have the newts accepted as a member of the United Nations. Politicians tried in vain to explain to this eloquent and energetic lady that the salamanders could not be a member of the United Nations because they were not a sovereign state and did not have any territory. Mme. Dimineanu began to propagate the idea that the newts should have their own free territory somewhere on the planet and their own underwater state. This idea was of course rather unwelcome if not directly dangerous; eventually a happy solution was found in that the United Nations would set up a special Commission for the Study of the Newt Question, which was to include two delegates from the newt world; the first to be called on, under pressure from Mme. Dimineanu, was Dr. Charles Mercier of Toulon, and the second was a certain Don Mario, a fat and learned newt from Cuba carrying out scientific work in the field of plankton and neritic pelagial. In this way the newts reached the highest ever international acknowledgement of their existence. 29

So we see the salamanders achieving a steep and continuous rise. Their population is now estimated at seven thousand million, although with increasing civilisation their fertility shows a marked decline (to twenty or thirty tadpoles per female per year). They have occupied more than sixty percent of the world’s coastlines; coasts around the polar regions are still not habitable, but newts from Canada have begun to colonise the coast of Greenland, even succeeding in pushing the Eskimos back inland and taking the fishing industry and the trade in fish oils into their own hands. The upsurge in their material well-being went hand in hand with their progress in civilisation; they join the ranks of educated nations with compulsory schooling and can boast of many hundred of their own underwater newspapers distributed in millions of copies, scientific institutions whose buildings were an example to all, and so on. It should be understood that this cultural ascent was not always smooth and without internal disagreements; we know remarkably little about the internal affairs of the newts, but there are some indications (such as newts found dead with cuts to their noses and heads) that, under the ocean, there was a long, protracted and passionate dispute under the ocean between the young newts and the old. The young newts seem clearly to have been in favour of progress without exception or reserve, and declared that even under the water they should pursue all the educations known on the dry land with all their efforts, even including football, flirting, fascism and sexual perversions; whereas the old newts, it seemed, were more conservative to the nature of newtdom, were unwilling to give up the good old animal habits and instincts; they left no doubt about their condemnation of the young newts’ lust for novelty and saw therein a decline and a betrayal of traditional newt ideals; they were certainly also opposed to the foreign influences so blindly followed by the corrupted youth of today, and they asked whether it was worthy of the dignity of proud and self-conscious newts to ape everything done by humans. 30 We can imagine that slogans such as ‘Back to the Miocene!’, ‘Down with all Humanising Influences!’, ‘Fight for the Right for Newts to be Undisturbed!’ and so on were coined. Without a doubt, there were all the preconditions for a lively generational conflict of views, and for a profound revolution in the newts’ spiritual development; unfortunately, we are not able to give any more precise details, but we hope that the newts made what they could out of this conflict.

So now we see the newts on the way to their greatest flowering; but the world of human beings, too, was enjoying unprecedented prosperity. New continents were planned out with great enthusiasm, shallow waters were converted to dry land, and artificial islands for aeroplanes appeared in the middle of the oceans; but compared with the enormous technical projects which would entirely reconstruct the globe these were as nothing, and the projects awaited nothing but someone to finance them. The newts worked tirelessly in all the seas and on the edge of all the continents for as long as the night lasted; they seemed contented and asked for nothing for themselves but something to do and a piece of coastline where they could drill their holes and build the paths to their dark homes. They had their cities under the water and under the land, their subterranean metropoles, their Essens and their Birminghams twenty to fifty meters down at the bottom of the sea; they have their overcrowded industrial zones, ports, transport lines and cities of a million inhabitants; in short, they had their more or less 31 unknown but, it seems, highly technically developed world. Although they did not have their own kilns and foundries they were given metals by human beings in exchange for work. They did not have their own explosives but they bought them from human beings. Their fuel for transport was the sea with its tides and its currents, with its undertows and differences in temperature; they had to obtain their turbines from human beings but they were well able to make use of them; and what is civilisation if not the ability to make use of things invented by others? Even if the newts, let us say, had no thoughts of their own they were well able to have their own science. They had no music or literature but got by perfectly well without them; and people began to see that thanks to the newts everything was fantastically modern.  People could even learn something from the newts - and no wonder: were the newts not amazingly successful and what should people take their example from if not from success? Never in the history of mankind had so much been manufactured, constructed and earned as in this great age. With the newts came enormous progress and the ideal known as Quantity. The phrase, “We people of the Newt Age”, became widely used, and used with justified pride; where could we have got in the old-fashioned Human Age with the slow, petty and useless fiddling known as culture, art, pure science or suchlike. The self aware people of the Newt Age declared that they would no longer waste their time delving into the Questions of the Universe; they would have enough to do just with the quantity of things being manufactured. the whole future of the world would consist in constantly raising production and consumption; and for that there would need to be still more newts so that they could produce even more and consume even more. The newts were a simply a matter of quantity; they had achieved their epoch-making changes because there were so many of them. Only now could man’s ingenuity work at full effectiveness, because it was working on a huge scale with extremely high manufacturing capacity and a record financial turnover; in short, this was a great age. And what was now still missing for universal prosperity and contentment to make this a true Happy New Age? What was preventing the creation of the Utopia we all longed for, where all these technical triumphs and magnificent possibilities would be harvested, where human happiness would combine with newts’ industry to open new horizons further and further to beyond what anyone could imagine?

Actually, there was nothing to prevent it; as now trade with the newts would be crowned with the wisdom of the world’s most competent administrators, who would also ensure in advance that the machinery of the New Age would run smoothly. In London a conference took place, attended by seafaring nations, where the International Convention on Salamanders was worked out and approved. The high officials who signed the convention agreed to bind themselves not to send their newts into the sovereign waters of other states; not to allow their newts, in any way, to violate the territorial integrity or acknowledged sphere of interest of any other state; that they would not, in any way, interfere in matters affecting the newts belonging to any other seafaring power; that any dispute between its salamanders and those of another state would be settled by the Court of Arbitration at The Hague; that newts would not be armed with any weapons of a calibre exceeding that which is normal for underwater shark guns; that they would not allow their newts to establish close contact with the salamanders of other sovereign states; that they would not assist their newts in the construction of new land or extending their territory without previous permission from the Standing Marine Commission in Geneva, and so on. (There were thirty-seven paragraphs in all) On the other hand, the British suggestion that marine powers should bind themselves not to oblige their newts to carry out any military exercises was rejected; the French suggestion that the salamanders should be internationalised and subjected to the authority of an international newt commission for regulating world waters was rejected; the German suggestion that every newt should have the symbol of the state to which it belonged branded into its skin was rejected; another German suggestion that every marine state be allowed only a certain number of newts so that the numbers in each state would be in proportion to each other was rejected; the Italian suggestion that states with an excess of salamanders be allocated new shores or areas of the sea bed for colonisation was rejected; the Japanese suggestion that they be given an international mandate to govern the newts as representatives of the coloured races (the newts were by nature black) was rejected. 32 Most of these suggestions were deferred for the next conference of marine powers which, for various reasons, did not take place.

“By this international action,” wrote Monsieur Jules Sauerstoff in ‘Le Temps’, “the future of the newts is assured, along with peaceful development for people for many decades to come. We congratulate the London conference for its successful conclusions on some difficult questions; and we also congratulate the newts that by this statute they come under the protection of the court at The Hague; they will henceforth be able to devote themselves to their work and their underwater progress with a sense of peace and trust. It should be emphasised that the removal of the Newt Problem from the field of politics, which is what the London conference has achieved, is one of the most important assurances we have of world peace; the disarming of the salamanders, in particular, will do a great deal to reduce the likelihood of underwater conflicts between individual states. The fact is that - even though many border disputes and power struggles continue between states on almost every continent - there is no current threat to world peace, at least not from the direction of the sea. But on dry land, too, we seem to have a better assurance of peace than ever before; the seafaring nations are fully occupied with the construction of new shores and will be able to increase their territory by reclaiming land from the sea instead of trying to extend their frontiers on dry land. There will no longer be any need to fight with iron and gas for every tiny piece of land; all that is needed will be the picks and shovels wielded by the newts for every state to build as much territory as it needs; and it is the London Convention which ensures that the peaceful labour of the newts will bring peace and prosperity for all the nations of the world. The world has never before been so close to a lasting peace and a quiet but glorious efflorescence than now. Instead of the Newt Problem about which so much has been written and said, we will now have good reason to talk of The Golden Age of the Newt’.”

1. Cf. G. Kreuzmann, Geschichte der Molche. Hans Tietze, Der Molch des XX Jahrhunderts.  Kurt Wolff, Der Molch and das deutsche Volk.  Sir Herbert Owen, Salamanders and the British Empire.  Giovanni Focaja, L’evoluzione degli anfibii durante il Fascismo. Léon Bonnet, Les Urodéles et la Société des Nations. S Madariaga, Las Salamandras y la Civilización and others.

2. Cf.  The War with the Newts, book I, chapter 12.

3. This can be seen straight away from the first cutting in Mr. Povondra’s collection:


(Czechoslovak Press Agency) Reports issued by the Salamander Syndicate for the end of the quarter show a thirty percent rise in newt trading. Nearly seventy million newts were supplied over this period, especially to south and central America, Indochina and Italian Somalia. Plans are in progress for deepening and widening the Panama Canal, dredging Guayaquil harbour and the deepening of shallow waters in the Torres Straits, which, according to the latest estimates will involve moving nine thousand million cubic metres of firm land. Construction of islands for major airports between Madeira and Bermuda is not due to start until next spring. Creation of the Marian Islands, under Japanese authority, is still in progress; eight hundred and forty acres of new land - light land as it is called - has been created so far between the islands of Tinian and Saipan. Newt prices are very strong, due the increasing demand, at Leading 61 and Team 620. Supplies are adequate.

4. Difficulties of this sort are illustrated in this undated cutting:


(Reuter) In reply to a question in the House of Commons from Mr. J. Leeds, Sir Samuel Mandeville stated today that His Majesty’s Government had closed the Suez Canal to newt transports of any kind; he added that no newt would be permitted to be employed on any shoreline or any sovereign waters of the British Isles. The reason for this measure, Sir Samuel declared, was partly to do with the security of the British Isles and partly to do with old statutes still in force concerning the elimination of slave trading.

In reply to a question from Mr. B. Russel, M.P., Sir Samuel stated that this position would, of course, not apply to British colonies and dominions.

5. Almost the only pistol used for this purpose was the one invented by Inž. Mirko Šafránek and manufactured in the city of Brno.

6. Cf. the following newpaper report”

(Havas) The Australian trade union leader, Harry MacNamara, declared a general strike for all workers in the shipping, transport, electronics and related trades because of the belief by members of these trades that the import of working newts into Australia should come under strict control in accordance with immigration laws. In contrast, Australian farmers have been agitating to have restrictions on the import of newts eased because demand for domestically grown maize and animal fats, especially sheep fat, has substantially increased in order to feed them. The government wants to have a compromise; the Newt Syndicate offers to make a payment of six shillings to the trades unions for each newt imported and the government is willing to guarantee that the newts will be employed only in the water, which, for reasons of public decency, they will remain immersed in up to the chest. The trade unions, though, insist the newts show no more than their heads and ask for a payment of ten shillings per newt in accordance with registration taxes. It seems most likely that an agreement will be reached that involves contributions from the public purse.

7. Cf. a remarkable document from Mr. Povondra’s collection:


(From our own correspondent)

Madras, 3rd April

The steamer, Indian Star, collided with a boat carrying around 40 natives in Madras harbour, putting them all in danger of drowning. Before a police boat could be sent out, a number of newts working on the removal of mud from the dock area rushed to their assistance and carried thirty-six drowning people back to dry land. One of the salamanders was seen personally to pull three women and two children from the water. As a reward for their noble actions the local authorities wrote them a letter of thanks which was presented to them in a waterproof case. On the other hand, many of the local residents were appalled at the newts having been allowed to touch drowning people who belonged to a higher caste. This was because the newts are regarded as unclean and therefore as untouchable. Several thousand natives gathered at the dockside insisting that the newts be removed from the harbour area. Police however succeeded in maintaining order; there were three deaths and one hundred and twenty arrests.

Peace was restored by ten o’clock in the evening and the salamanders have returned to work.

8. Cf. the following, highly interesting, cutting which, unfortunately, is in an unknown language and cannot therefore be translated:


Saghtgwan tlap ne Salaam Ander bwtati og theni berchi ne Simbwana mbengwe ogandi sukh na moimol opwana Salaam Ander sri moana gwens. Og di limbw, og di bwtat na Salaam Ander kchri pche ogandi pwe ogwandi te ur maswali sukh? Na, ne ur lingo tIslamli kcher oganda Salaam Andrias sahti. Bend optonga kchri Simbwana médh, salaam!

9. Cf. the following extensive and objective description, signed as e.w., 5th October:


“Singapore, 4th October. Leading 63. Heavy 317. Team 648. Odd Jobs 26.35. Trash 0.08. Spawn 80 - 132.”

Readers can find reports of this sort every day in the financial sections of the papers between reports on the price of cotton, tin or wheat.

But do you know what is meant by these mysterious words and figures? Yes, they refer to the trade in salamanders, or S-Trade; but most readers idea of what these figures actually mean is less precise. Perhaps they imagine a big market place swarming with thousands and thousands of newts, where buyers come in their sun helmets and turbans, inspect the goods on offer and finally point to a healthy, well developed, young newt saying, “I’d like to buy this piece, what is its cost?”

In reality, the newt market looks somewhat different. In the marble-clad S-Trade building in Singapore you will not see a single newt, only lively and elegant officials in white suits taking telephone orders. “Yes sir. Leading cost 63. How many? Two hundred? That will be alright. Twenty Heavy and a hundred and eighty Team. Okay, that’s quite clear. The ship sets sail in five weeks time. Right? Thank you, sir.” The whole of the S-Trade palace is abuzz with telephone calls; it seems more like an office or a bank than a market; but this white and grand-looking building with the Ionian columns at the front is a market place more famous than the Harun ar Rashid bazaar in Baghdad.

But let us return to the market report mentioned above with all its commercial jargon. Leading means simply the specially selected, most intelligent newts, usually about three years old and carefully trained to become supervisors and managers in the newts work colonies. They are sold individually and without regard to their body weight; they are valued solely for their intelligence. Singapore Leading, all of whom speak good English, are considered best of all and the most reliable; there are also various other kinds of newts given positions of responsibility, such as the Capitanos, Engineers, Malayan Chiefs, Foremanders and so on, but it is the Leading Newts that are thought the most valuable. Their present value is about sixty dollars.

The Heavies are muscular newts, usually about two years old and weighing between a hundred and a hundred and twenty pounds. They are sold only in squads known as bodies, consisting of six individuals each. They have been trained to perform the heaviest physical work such as rock breaking, removing boulders and so on. If a report states that Heavies are at 317, that means that the cost if each body is $317. Each squad of Heavies is usually assigned to one Leading which will act as supervisor.

Team are the ordinary working newts, weighing between 80 and 100 pounds each; they are sold only in working groups (teams) of twenty; they are intended for use together on major tasks and are often used for dredging, construction of dykes and dams and so on. Each team of twenty will have a Leading to supervise it.

The Odd Jobs constitute a class of their own. These are newts that, for one reason or another, were never trained for collective or specialised work. This could be because they grew up outside the large specialist newt farms run by specialists. They are, in fact, half wild, but can often be very talented. They can be bought individually or by the dozen and can be used for various kinds of supplementary or minor jobs for which a whole squad of newts would not be needed. If the Leadings can be seen as the élite of the newt world, the Odd Jobs can be seen as something like the proletariat. Recently, they have commonly been bought as the raw material for newts which can be trained further into Leading, Heavy, Team or Trash.

The Trash are the less valuable newts which are weak or physically defective. They are not sold as individuals or in squads but in bulk by weight, typically several dozen tons at a time; the price of a kilogram of live weight is currently between seven and ten cents. It is not actually known what they are used for or why they are bought - maybe they are put to some kind of light work in water; to avoid misunderstanding, you should remember that newts are not edible for man. They are bought almost exclusively by Chinese middle-men; where they take them has never been ascertained.

Spawn consists of tadpoles up the age of twelve months. They are bought and sold by hundreds and enjoy a lively trade, mainly because they are cheap to buy and cheap to transport; they grow into adult newts, capable of work, at the place where they are to be employed. The Spawn are transported in barrels, as although adult newts need to leave the water every day the tadpoles never do. It is not unusual for individuals of exceptional talent to emerge from among the Spawn, even more capable than the typical Leading; this adds a peculiar interest to dealing in tadpoles. These highly talented newts can then be sold for several hundred dollars each; the American millionaire, Denicker, paid as much as two thousand dollars for a newt that spoke nine languages fluently and had it transported on a special ship all the way to Miami; the transport alone cost nearly twenty thousand dollars. It has recently become popular to buy tadpoles for the newt stables, where fast sporting newts are selected and trained; they are then harnessed in groups of three onto flat boats in the form of a shell. These shell races of boats pulled by newts are now the height of fashion and the favourite pastime of young American girls in Palm Beach, Honolulu and Cuba; they are known as Triton Races or Venus Regattas. The young women competing will stand in the light shell-shaped boat and scud across the water dressed in the shortest and most alluring swimsuits, controlling the team of three newts through silken reins; the prize is merely the title, Venus. Mr. J.S Tincker, known as the tin-can king, bought a trio of racing newts for his little daughter, Poseidon, Hengist and King Edward, for at least thirty-six thousand dollars. But all this is not part of the S-Trade proper, which limits itself to the provision, round the world, of reliable, working Leadings, Heavies and Teams.

. . .

We have already mentioned the newt farms. The reader ought not to imagine fields and enormous breeding pens; the farms consist of no more than a few miles of bare coastline with a few scatted huts of corrugated iron. One hut is for the vet, one for the manager, and the others are for the supervising personnel. It is only when the tide goes out that it is possible to see the long fences running out into the sea and dividing the beach into a number of basins. One is for the tadpoles, the second for the Leading class, and so on; each class is fed and exercised separately but always at night. At sunset, the newts come out of their holes in the shore and gather around their teachers, who are ordinary old soldiers. First comes the talking lesson; the teacher will say a word such as dig out loud to the newts, and mime its meaning. Then they form into ranks of four and they are taught to march; this is followed by a half hour of physical exercises and a period of rest in the water. After the break, they are how to handle various tools and weapons and then, under the supervision of their teachers, they do practical work on underwater constructions for about three hours. After this work they go back into the water where they are fed on dried food for newts, consisting mainly of corn flour and fat; Leadings and Heavies are also given meat. Laziness and disobedience are punished by withholding food, there are no other physical punishments, mainly because salamanders have virtually no sense of pain. As soon as the Sun rises on the newt farms there is a deathly silence; the humans go to bed and the newts disappear under the sea.

There are only two times in the year when this procedure is not followed. Once in the mating season when the newts are left to their own devices for two weeks, and secondly when the tanker from the Newt Syndicate steams into the farm with orders to the farmer about how many newts of what classes are to be taken away. This takes place at night; the ships captain, the farm manager and a vet sit at a table under the lamplight while the supervisors and ships ratings close off the newts access to the sea. Then the newts come one at a time to the table to be judged whether they are suitable or not. The newts chosen are put into the dinghy and taken on board the tanker. Mostly, they are quite willing to collaborate in this affair, with little more ever needed than a sharp word of command; there are rare occasions when mild force is needed in form of handcuffs. The tadpoles, of course, are caught in nets.

Once on board the newt tankers, the salamanders are transported under conditions just as humane and hygienic; they receive highly nutritious food and the water in their tanks is changed every day. The death rate on the voyage hardly reaches ten percent.  At the request of animal protection societies, every newt tanker has a chaplain on board who watches over how the crew behave towards the newts and is required to preach to them every night that they should always show respect for humans, always do as they are told and always feel love for their prospective employers, who would never show anything but fatherly concern for their well-being. Fatherly concern must certainly be a difficult concept to explain to newts, as fatherhood is something unknown to them. The better educated salamanders adopted the name Papa Newt for the ships chaplains. The newts were also shown educational films during the voyage which displayed not only the wonders of human technology but also what work and duties would be expected of the newts. These films were found to be very effective.

There are those who say that S-Trade stands for Slave Trade. Well, as disinterested observers we can say that if the former slave trade had been as well organised and hygienic and as perfectly operated as the current trade in newts, then we could only offer the slaves our congratulations.  The more expensive salamanders in particular are treated very well, if only because the captain and crew of the newt tankers are depend on the lives of the newts entrusted to them for their own wages. The author of this article has seen personally how the toughest of seamen on tanker SS 14 were deeply touched when two hundred and forty top class newts in one of the tanks became ill and suffered serious diarrhoea. They went to see them almost with tears in their eyes and gave expression to their humane feelings with the rough words, “These bastards owe us too much to die on us now!”

10. We cite the following contemporary description:


It was eleven at night when the captain ordered the national flag to be taken down and put out the dinghy. It was a bright, moonlit night; I think it was Gardner Island we rowed out to, in the Phoenix Archipelago. On moonlit nights like that the newts come out onto the shore and dance; you can go up close to them and they won’t hear you, they’re so obsessed with this dance of theirs, all there together and saying nothing. There were twenty of us who went onshore carrying oars, we spread out all around the swarm of newts on the beach and surrounded them in the darkness, apart from the milky light of the moon.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to see those newts dancing. About three hundred of them sit on their back legs in a perfect circle, facing inwards; the middle of the circle is empty. The newts keep perfectly still as if they’d gone rigid; it looks like a circular palisade around some secret altar; only there’s no altar there and no god. All of a sudden one of them starts hissing “ts-ts-ts” and swinging the upper half of its body round and round; then the next one starts doing the same and so on and on and after a few seconds all the newts are whirling the upper half of their bodies round like a frenzy, but staying on the same spot, quicker and quicker, not saying a word but getting faster and faster, like they were drunk or possessed. After about a quarter of an hour one of the newts will start to get tired, then another, then a third, they’ll lose their strength as they swing round and then go stiff; then they all sit still again like statues, then after a while another one of them will start going “ts-ts-ts”, another one will start swinging round and then they’re all suddenly dancing again, the whole circle. I know the way I’m describing it makes it sound very mechanical, but imagine it with the moonlight making everything white and the waves on the shore make their long slow sounds; there was something made it seem infinitely magical, and something made it seem evil. I stood there, hardly breathing, I wasn’t sure whether I was amazed or horrified. “Here, you’d better move your feet, mate,” called the man nearest to me, “else you’ll start growing roots!”

We closed in around the circle of animals as they danced. The men held their oars out in front of them and whispered, not so much because the newts might hear them as that it was night. “Into the middle, quick,” called out the commanding officer. We all ran into that circle of newts as they whirled about, and you could hear the oars as they thudded down on the newts backs. It was only then that the newts were startled and cowered down into the centre or tried to slide away into the sea between the oars, but those ones got hit with an oar that threw them back into the circle and they’d scream with the pain of it, and because they were so scared. Wed use a flagpole to push them back into the middle, squeeze them into a tight group, all lying on top of each other; ten men would round them up into a pen made of oars and another ten would use their oars to hit and shove the ones that tried to climb out under them and run away. It was just one mass of black, writhing meat, panicked and screaming as the oar blows landed on them in the darkness. Then they’d open up a gap between two of the oars; a newt would creep out of it and it’d be knocked down with a blow on the back of the head with a big stick; then there’d be another one and a third one until there were about twenty of them lying there. “Close it,” the officer ordered, and the gap between the two oars would shut. Bully Beach and Dingo, the half-cast, they’d take one of the stunned newts in each hand and drag them along the beach to the dinghy, just like sacks, not like living beings. If the newt that was being dragged along got caught between some stones the seaman dragging him would just pull harder and give a vicious tug so that a leg might be pulled off. “Don’t you worry about that,” grumbled old Mike who was standing next to me. “It’ll grow back again.” Once all the stunned newts had been thrown into the dinghy, the officer would just say, “Get the next lot ready.” And then it would start all over again, with the newts being clubbed on the back of the head. This officer, Bellamy, his name was, he was a quiet and educated man, an excellent chess player; but this was a hunt, or rather a business just like any other. There were more then two hundred newts knocked out like this; about seventy of them were left because they were probably dead an not worth the effort of dragging away.

Back on board, the captured newts were thrown into a tank. Our ship was an old oil tanker and the tanks stank of oil because they hadn’t been cleaned out properly, and the water had an obvious oily film over it. All that had been done was that the cover had been taken off so that the air could get to it. When the newts were thrown in it looked thick and repulsive, like some kind of noodle soup. In some places where they moved about they looked weak and pitiful. Over the next day they were left alone while they came to, then the day after, four men would come along and jab long poles into the soup, as everyone called it, they’d mix all the bodies together and watch to see if there were any that weren’t moving or where the flesh was falling off; they’d hook them on long poles and pull them out of the tank. Then the captain would ask Is the soup clean? - Yes sir. - Pour the water in - yes sir. That soup had to be cleaned like this every day, and each time they’d throw six to ten pieces of damaged goods, as they called them, into the sea; there was always a lot of big and well fed sharks closely following our ship. The stink from the tanks was awful; despite being changed now and then the water in them was yellow, full of excrement and bits of wet food; there’d be these black bodies lying about in it, splashing wearily or just doing nothing, hardly able to breathe. Well they’ve got it good, old Mike insisted. I saw a ship once used to transport them in metal benzine barrels; they all died.

Six days later we picked up new goods off the island of Nanomea.

. . .

This then, is how the trade in newts is operated; an illegal business, modern piracy to be more exact, which burgeoned overnight, as it were. It is said that nearly a quarter of all the newts bought and sold have been hunted and captured in this way. Newts multiplied in the hatcheries which the Newt Syndicate no longer wished to maintain as farms and overran some of the smaller islands in the Pacific so much that they became a serious pest; the local people disliked them and insisted they put entire islands in danger of collapse because of the tunnels and passageways; so the colonial authorities and the Newt Syndicate itself turned a blind eye to the pirate raids where the newts lived. It was reckoned that there were as many as four hundred pirate ships occupied solely with hunting newts. As well as the small traders there were entire shipping companies acting as latter day buccaneers in this way, and the biggest of them was the Pacific Trade Company, based in Dublin with Charles B. Harriman as its managing director.  A year earlier it had been even worse, with Teng, a bandit from China, would use his three ships to directly attack the farms of the syndicate itself and had no hesitation in killing the staff if they tried to stand in their way. The previous November, Teng and the whole of his fleet had been sunk by the American gunboat, Minnetonka, off Midway Island. Since then, the trade in newts had kept to less wild forms of piracy and enjoyed steady growth after certain procedures had been agreed on such as the ships national flag being hoisted when it attacks the shore of a foreign land, that no other goods would be traded in under the pretext of piracy, that the newts acquired would not be disposed of at dumping prices but would be designated inferior quality when put on the market. Newts in the illegal trade would be sold at between twenty and twenty-two dollars each; they are seen as inferior quality but very robust considering that they survived the terrible treatment on the pirate ships. It was estimated that, on average, twenty-five to thirty percent of newts captured went through this experience; and that they would be capable of going through more. In the trade jargon they were known as Maccaroni, and recently had begun to be listed in regular business reports.

. . .

Two months later I was playing chess with Mr. Bellamy in the lounge of the Hotel France in Saigon; I wasn’t contracted to a ship at that time, of course.

“Bellamy,” I said to him, “you’re a decent person, a gentleman, you might say. Doesn’t it ever feel strange for you that you’re doing something that, basically, is the lowest kind of slave trade?”

Bellamy shrugged his shoulders. “Newts are newts,” he grumbled evasively.

“Two hundred years ago they said niggers are niggers.”

“And weren’t they right?” said Bellamy. “Check!”

I lost that game. It suddenly occurred to me that every move on the chessboard is old and has been played by somebody at some time. Maybe our own history has been played out by somebody at some time, and we just move our pieces about in the same moves to strike in the same way as people have always done. Maybe it was the same sort of quiet and decent Bellamy that used to hunt negroes on the Ivory Coast and transported them to Haďti and Louisiana, letting them die on the lower decks. That Bellamy, back in those days thought nothing of it. This Bellamy never thinks anything of it. That’s why he’s incorrigible.

“Black loses,” declared Bellamy cheerfully, and got up to go for a walk.

11. We cite a report on the scientific congress in Paris by an eye-witness, r.d.


Known in short as the amphibians congress, the official title of the congress was somewhat longer: The First International Congress of Zoologists for Psychological Research into Caudate Amphibians. No true Parisian, though, likes long names such as this, so they referred to the learned professors who sat in the halls of the Sorbonne simply as Messieurs les Urodčles, the newt men. Or else, even shorter and less respectful, those zoo men. 

So we went to have a look at those zoo men, not so much out of journalistic duty as out of simple curiosity. The curiosity, you understand, was not so much for the mostly aged and bespectacled scientists but for the . . . creatures (why do we feel difficulty in writing the word animal?) about whom so much has already been written both in scientific papers and in the popular press. There are some who say that what has been written is no more than journalistic humbug, but others say that these animals are in may respects more gifted than the Lord of the World and Crown of Creation himself, as man is still called - even after the World War and other incidents. I hoped that the venerable gentlemen taking part in the congress for research into the minds of caudate amphibians would provide a clear and final answer for us laymen as to Andrias Scheuchzer’s fabled intelligence, that they would say to us yes, this is an intelligent being, or at least tell us that they are as capable of civilisation as you or I. For this reason, we should consider what the future might hold for these creatures just as we should consider what the future might hold for mankind, a race once thought so wild and primitive. I tell you there was no answer given, nor any question of this sort put to the congress; modern science has become too . . . specialised to concern itself with problems of this sort. 

So let us try to learn something about what a scientist would call animal psychology. That tall gentleman with the long beard now mounting the podium, that is the famous Professor Dubosque; he seems to be criticising some perverse theory by some esteemed colleague, but it is difficult for us to follow this side of his argument. Indeed, it is only after considerable time that we realise that this man speaking with the enthusiasm of a black magician is discussing the ability of Andrias to perceive colours and his ability to distinguish various shades. I cannot be sure that I understood properly, but I left with the impression that Andrias Scheuchzeri might be largely colour-blind, but that Professor Dubosque must be terribly short sighted going by the way he lifted his papers up to his thick, glasses that sparkled wildly in the light. Professor Dubosque was succeeded on the podium by the smiling Dr. Okagawa from Japan; he explained something about reaction times and other effects that result if he cut some kind sensory channel in Andrias’s brain; then he told us how Andrias responds if part of the auditory system is crushed. Professor Rehmann, coming next, explained in detail how Andrias responds to electric shocks, at which a passionate dispute arose between him and Professor Bruckner. C’est un type, this Professor Bruckner: small, angry, and lively to an extent that verges on the tragic; amongst other things, he asserted that the sense organs of Andrias are as weak as those of man and that he has the same limited instincts; looked at from a purely biological point of view, Andrias is an animal as degenerate as man, and just like man he tries to make up for these biological deficiencies by what is known as intellect. However, the other specialists seem not to have taken Professor Bruckner seriously, probably because he had not severed any sensory nerves and had not shot any electric charges into any newts brain. He was followed by Professor van Dieten who slowly and almost reverentially described the disorders that are seen in Andrias after the right temporal lobe of the brain has been removed or the occipital lobe from the left hand side. Then there was a reading from Professor Devrient from America . . .

Forgive me, I am not quite sure what it was that Professor Devrient said in his reading as at that moment my head had begun to spin at the thought of what disorders would be seen in Professor Devrient if his right temporal lobe were removed; how the smiling Dr. Okagawa would respond if he were given electric stimulants and how professor Rehmann might behave if his auditory cavities were crushed. I also began to feel rather uncertain about my abilities to distinguish colours and my sensory-motor reactions. I started to be tortured with doubt as to whether (speaking strictly scientifically) we have any right to talk of our own (mankind’s) spiritual life considering that we have not butchered each others cerebral lobes and cut sensory nerves. Should we turn on each other, scalpel in hand, to study each others spiritual life? As far as I am concerned I would be quite happy - in the interests of science - to smash professor Dubosque’s glasses or shoot electric shocks into Professor Dieten’s bald head and publish an article about how he reacts. In fact I can imagine how he would react quite vividly, although I find it harder to imagine what goes on in the would of Andrias Scheuchzer in experiments of this sort even though I know already that he is a boundlessly patient and good-natured creature as none of the lecturing professors mentioned any time that poor Andrias Scheuchzeri ever became angry. I am in no doubt that the First Congress on Caudate Amphibians has been a remarkable scientific success; but as soon as I have a day free I will be going to the Jardin des Plantes and straight to the tank where Andrias Scheuchzeri is held so that I can quietly say to him, “You, newt, your day will come one day . . . but please never think of examining the spiritual life of people!”

12. The uses to which newts can be put was researched in particular by Wuhrmann in Hamburg, and this is just one short extract from his papers on the subject:


In the experiments carried out by myself on the great Pacific newt (Andrias Scheuchzeri Tschudi) in my laboratory in Hamburg, I was directed by one certain objective: to examine the newts ability to withstand changes to their environment and other external influences and thus to show how they can be put to practical use in various parts of the world and under varying conditions.

The first of the experiments was intended to ascertain how long the newt can survive away from water. The subjects were kept in a dry tank at a temperature of 40 to 50 degrees Celsius. After some hours they showed distinct signs of tiredness, but became more active if sprayed with water. After a period of twenty-four hours they lay motionless, moving nothing more than their eyelids; the pulse slowed, and all physical activities were reduced to a minimum. The animals were clearly suffering and the slightest movement cost them a great deal of effort. After three days they entered a state of cataleptic stillness (xerosis); they did not respond even if burned with an electric cauterisor. If the humidity of the air was raised, then they began to show certain signs of life (blinking if exposed to strong sources of light etc.) If a newt was thus dehydrated for seven days and then thrown into water it would it would take considerable time before it once again became active; but a large number of subjects deprived of water for a longer period perished. If left in direct sunshine they would die after only a few hours.

In another experiment, subjects were forced to turn a crank handle in the dark and in a very dry environment. After a period of three hours their activity began to decline but became rose again after spraying with copious amounts of water. If the spraying was frequently repeated the animals continued to turn the crank for up to seventeen, twenty or, in one case, even twenty-seven hours, whereas a human subject acting as control was already quite exhausted after only five hours of this mechanical activity. From these experiments we can conclude that newts are well suited to work on dry land provided that two obvious conditions are observed; they cannot be exposed to direct sunlight and they need to be sprayed with water from time to time.

The second series of experiments was intended to test the resistance of these originally tropical animals to cold. If cooled suddenly with water, the subjects would die from intestinal catarrh; however, if allowed slowly to acclimatise to a cold environment, the subjects would become used to it and after a period of eight months they even remained active in water at a temperature of 7° C, provided they were given extra fat in their diets (150 to 200 grams each). If the water temperature was reduced to below 5° C the subjects would become stiff (gelosis); in this state they could be frozen and kept in a block of ice for several months; when the ice was melted and the water temperature rose above 5° C they would begin, once again, to show signs of life and at seven to ten degrees they would become lively and seek food. It can be seen from this that there is no difficulty in acclimatising newts even to our own climate as far as northern Norway and Iceland. For polar conditions, further experiments would be needed.

In contrast with this, the subjects showed themselves remarkably sensitive to chemicals; in experiments using very dilute lye, discharge from factories, tanning fluids etc., the skin fell off their bodies in broad strips and the subjects died from some kind of inflammation of the gills. This means that, for the conditions found in our rivers, newts are practically unusable.

In another series of experiments, we were able to ascertain how long a newt is able to survive without food. They can be kept hungry for three weeks or even longer, showing no symptoms worse than a certain lethargy. I kept one of the newts hungry for a period of six months; after the first three months it slept continuously and without any kind of movement; when the newt was then thrown into a tub of chopped liver it was so weak that it showed no reaction and had to be fed by hand. After some days it began to eat normally and the newt concerned could be put to use in further experiments.

The final series of experiments examined the newts ability to recover from injury. If a subjects tail was cut off it would regrow within fourteen days; this was attempted with one newt no less than seven times, each time with the same result. the same result was observed if the subjects feet were cut off. All four limbs and the tail were amputated from one subject; and within thirty days it was once again whole. If the thigh or shoulder bone of one of the animals is broken, the entire limb will fall off and a new one will be grown to replace it. The same result was obtained if a subjects eye or tongue was cut out; although one interesting observation was that the newt whose tongue had been removed lost the ability to speak and had to learn it all over again. If a newts head is amputated, or its body bisected anywhere between the neck and the pelvis, the animal dies. On the other hand, the stomach can be removed, part of the intestine, two thirds of the liver or other organs, without any disturbance to the animals life functions, so that we can say a newt that has been all but disembowelled is still capable of life. There is no other animal so resistant to any sort of injury than the true newt. This capacity would make of it a first-class, almost indestructible, animal for use in warfare if it were not for its peaceable nature and natural failure to defend itself.

. . .

Alongside these experiments, my assistant, Herr Doktor Walter Hinkel, examined the newts to ascertain whether they could be a source of useful raw materials. We were interested in particular to ascertain whether the body of a newt contains a large quantity of iodine or phosphorus; and our positive results suggest it might be possible to extract these important elements on an industrial scale. The skin of a newt in its natural state does not have any serious use, it can however be ground to a paste and subjected to high pressure to create an artificial leather which is light and strong enough to offer a serious alternative to leather from the hides of cattle. Because of its repulsive odour, the fat in a newt’s body is of limited use, but its very low freezing temperature makes it of possible value as a lubricant for machinery. The meat of a newt was likewise considered unusable, and even as poisonous; if consumed in its raw state it causes serious pains, vomiting and sensory hallucinations. After a large number of experiments conducted on himself, however, Dr. Hinkel was able to ascertain that these harmful effects disappear if slices of the meat are steamed (in this way it resembles certain mushrooms), thoroughly rinsed, and soaked for twenty-four hours in a weak solution of hypermanganese. It can then be boiled or steamed and tastes like poor quality beef. In this way we consumed the newt whom we had come to know as Hans; Hans was an educated and intelligent animal with a special talent for scientific work; it had worked in Dr. Hinkel’s department as a laboratory assistant and could even be trusted with delicate chemical analyses. We would spend entire evenings talking with Hans who enjoyed boundless curiosity. It became unfortunately necessary to dispose of Hans after he became blind after my experiments with trepanation. Hans’s meat was dark and with a slight flavour of mushrooms, but left no unpleasant effects. There is no doubt that in the event of need arising from war it would be possible to use newt meat as a cheap substitute for beef.

13. This matter was reflected in a survey published in the Daily Star on the theme of Do Newts have a Soul? Here, we quote some of the statements by outstanding personalities from this survey (although of course with no guarantee of their truth):

Dear Sir,

A friend of mine, the Reverend H.B. Bertram, and I observed some newts over a long period while they were building a dam in Aden. We also spoke with them on two or three occasions, but we found no indications of any higher feelings such as Honour, Faith, Patriotism or interest in Sport. And what else, may I ask, is there that could be seen as an indication of a soul?

Truly yours,

Colonel John W. Britton.

14. I have never seen a newt, but I am convinced that a being without music is a being without a soul.


Leaving the question of a soul to one side, whenever I have had the opportunity to observe newts they have seemed to me to have no individuality; each one seems to be like the next, equally diligent, equally competent - and equally indistinguishable. In a word, they meet one of the ideals of modern civilisation, Mediocrity.

André d’Artois

It is quite certain that they do not have a soul. This is something they have in common with man.

Yours, G.B. Shaw

Your question left me feeling somewhat perplexed. I know, for example, that my little Chinese dog, Bibi, has a little and a charming soul; and I know that my Persian cat, Sidi Hanum has a soul, so wonderful and so cruel! But newts? Yes, they are very talented and intelligent, the poor things are able to speak, calculate and make themselves very useful; but they are so ugly!

Yours, Madeleine Roche

It’s alright for them to be newts just as long as they’re not Marxists

Kurt Huber

They have no soul. If they had, then we would have to put them on an economic par with mankind, and that would be absurd.

Henry Bond

They ain’t got no sex-appeal. And that means they ain’t got a soul.

Mae West

They do have a soul, just as every other animal and every plant and every living thing has a soul. Great indeed is the secret of any life.

Sandrabhárata Nath

They have an interesting swimming technique; there’s a lot that we could learn from these newts, especially about long distance swimming.

Johnny Weissmüller

15. Viz Mme. Louise Zimmermann, sa vie, ses idées, son eouvre (Alcan). We quote from this work the admiring memory of a newt who was one of her first pupils:

“Sitting beside our simple but clean and comfortable tank, Mme. Zimmermann would read the legends of Lafontaine to us. The dampness was unpleasant for her, but she paid no attention as she was so engrossed in her task as our teacher. She called us mes petis chinois because, just like the Chinese, we were unable to pronounce the letter r, but after some time she became so used to it that she began to pronounce her own name as Mme. Zimmelmann. We tadpoles adored her; the little ones who still had not developed lungs and therefore were not able to leave the water, cried when they could no accompany her on her walks around the school garden. She was so loving and gentle that, as far as I know, there was only one occasion when she became cross; that was on one very hot day when the young lady who taught us history put on a bathing costume and got into the tank with us and told us about the struggle for independence in the Netherlands sitting up to her neck in water. Then our dear Mme. Zimmermann became truly angry: “Get out of there immediately Mademoiselle,” she shouted with tears in her eyes, “get out and wash yourself, get out, get out”. For us newts it was a clear but gentle lesson that we do not belong among people. Later on were grateful to our spiritual mother that she had made us conscious of this in such an emphatic and tactful way.

“When we had studied hard, she would read us some modern poetry, such as François Coppéa, as a reward. It is really rather too modern, she would say, but, after all, even that is part of a good education nowadays. At the end of the school year there was an open day to which the prefect of Nice and other important persons in government and other fields of excellence were invited. The most gifted and advanced pupils who already had their lungs were dried off by the caretaker and dressed in white; and then, behind a thin curtain so that they would not alarm the ladies, they would read out the fables of Lafontaine, mathematical formulae and the history of the Capet dynasty with all the important dates. Then the prefect would give a long and beautiful speech of thanks to our dear headmistress that brought the day to an end. As much care was given to our physical development as to our spiritual development; once a month we were inspected by the local vet and every six months each of us was weighed. Our dear mentor laid especial emphasis on the need to give up the disgusting and base habit of dancing to the moon; but I am sorry to say that some of the older students did commit this bestial disgrace in secret when the moon was full. I hope our friend and, as it were, mother never learned about this; it would have broken her great, noble and loving heart.”

16. Amongst others, the famous linguist, Curtius, in the publication, Janua Linguarum aperta, suggested that the only general language to be adopted by newts should be the Latin of the golden age of Vergil. It is today within our grasp, he declared, for Latin, this most perfect of languages, the richest in grammatical rules and most developed in science, to once more be a living language in use in all parts of the world. If those educated parts of mankind do not take this opportunity then you, salamandrae, gens maritima, you should grasp it yourselves; choose for your home language eruditam linguam Latinam, the only language worthy of being spoken throughout orbis terrarum. Salamandrae, should you resurrect the eternal language of gods and heroes into new life then it will be a service that lasts forever; for, gens Tritonum, with this language we would be accepting the legacy of Rome that was the ruler of the world.

In contrast with Curtius, a certain telegraph clerk in Lithuania by the name of Wolteras, working in collaboration with Pastor Mendelius, invented and developed a language specially for newts which he called puntic language; in it, he used elements from all the languages of the world, especially African languages. This newt language, as it became known, became quite popular, especially in the countries of the north, although, unfortunately, only among humans; in Uppsala there was even a chair in newt language founded but among the newts themselves there is no record of it being spoken by a single one. The truth is that the most popular language among the newts was Basic English, which later became the newts official language. 

17. Cf. an article by Jaromir Seidel-Novoměstský, preserved in Mr. Povondra’s collection of cuttings.


After the painful loss of our dear aunt, the author Mrs. Bohumila Jandová-Střešovická, my wife, the poetess Jindřicha Seidlová-Chrudimská, and I undertook a journey around the world so that the charm of so many new and powerful impressions might go at least some way to assuage our sorrow. We arrived on the Galápagos Islands, so lonely and so swathed in legend, where we were spending two or three hours of free time in a promenade along the beach.

“See how beautiful the sunset is today, my dear,” I said to my spouse. “Is it not as if the whole of the sky were drowning in a sea of blood and gold?”

“Do I have the pleasure of speaking to a Czech gentleman?” I heard a voice say in pure and correct Czech, not far behind us.

In surprise, we looked around us in that direction but there was no-one to be seen, only a large black newt sitting on a rock and holding in its hand something that looked like a book. In the course of our travels around the world we had already come across a large number of newts but had not had the opportunity of engaging with any of them in conversation. So, dear reader, you can understand our astonishment when, on an abandoned shore such as where we found ourselves, we came across a newt that addressed us in our own language.

“Who is that speaking?” I asked, in Czech.

“It was I who took that liberty, sir,” the newt replied very politely as it stood up. “I’m afraid it was the first time in my life that I heard Czech being spoken and I was unable to resist.”

“But how come,” I asked in astonishment, “you speak Czech?”

“Well I was just occupied with studying the conjugations of the irregular verb, to be,” the newt replied, “as this is a verb that is irregular in all languages of the world.”

I pursued my question. “How where and why have you learned Czech?”

“It was by mere good fortune that this book came into my hands,” the newt answered as it handed the aforementioned book to me; the book was Czech for Newts, and its pages bore the marks of frequent and diligent use. “It arrived on these shores as part of a consignment of books of an educational nature. I found myself offered the choice of Geometry for the Sixth Form, The History of Military Strategy, a guide to the Dolomites and The Principles of Bimetalism. This is the book I chose, and it has since become my second favourite. I already have its contents by heart, although it is still able to be a continual source of entertainment and education for me.”

My lady wife and I expressed our unfeigned joy and wonderment at this news and the newt’s near perfect pronunciation. “It is however unfortunate,” the newt continued modestly, “that there is no-one here with whom I am able to speak Czech, and I am even uncertain as to whether the word for ‘horse’ in the instrumental case is ‘koni’ or ‘koňmi’.”

“It is ‘koňmi’,” I informed the newt. 

“But no, it is ‘koni’,” objected my lady wife.

“Would you be so kind as to tell me of the latest events in Prague, the mother of cities with its hundred towers?” asked our dear companion with great enthusiasm.

“The city is growing, my friend,” I explained, pleased at his interest, and briefly adumbrated the recent efflorescence of our golden metropolis. 

“This does indeed portend well for the future,” replied the newt with unfeigned pleasure. “And are the heads of the Czech aristocrats still to be seen impaled around the towers?”

“That was a long time ago,” I told him, somewhat (I confess) surprised by his question.

“That is indeed a pity,” opined this likeable newt. “It was a historic monument of great value. We can be thankful to the Lord God that took so many remarkable historic monuments in the Thirty Years War! If I am not mistaken, the Czech lands were at that time transformed into a desert, stained with blood and tears. We can also be grateful that the negative genitive did not perish at that time. This book explains that it is currently disappearing, and I will be indeed sorry if that is indeed so.”

“So you take an interest in our history,” I exclaimed with joy.

“I do indeed,” the newt replied. “Especially the subjugation that followed the Battle of White Hill and the Thirty Years War. I have read a great deal on the matter in this book. I’m sure you must be very proud of your three centuries of subjugation. It was a great era for the Czech people.”

“Yes, it was a difficult time,” I said, thinking to humour him. “A time of oppression and sorrow.”

“And did you suffer greatly?” asked our friend with enthusiasm.

“We suffered unspeakable and unrelenting sorrows under the yoke of the oppressor.”

“I’m very glad to hear it,” the newt said with relief. “That’s just what it says in the book. I’m glad to hear that it is true. It is an excellent book, sir, far better than Geometry for the Sixth Form. I would be very glad to stand on the memorable spot where the Czech aristocracy were executed, as well as on the other celebrated places of cruel wrongdoing.”

“You must look in on us when you are there,” I invited sincerely.

“Thank you for your kind invitation,” said the newt with a bow. “I am, however, unfortunately not at liberty to travel as far as . . . ”

“We could buy you,” I declared. “That is to say, the national collection might be willing to procure the means to . . .

“Hearty thanks,” mumbled our friend, clearly touched. “But I have heard that the water of the Vltava is not good. You see, in river water we suffer severe diarrhoea.” Then he considered the matter a little and added, “and I would also be sorry to abandon my dear little garden.”

“Oh,” exclaimed my lady wife, “I am also very fond of gardening! I should be very grateful if you would show us something of the local flora!”

“With the greatest of pleasure, dear lady,” said the newt, bowing most politely. “If, that is, it is of no concern to you that my garden is under water.”

“Under water?”

“Indeed, two hundred metres under water.”

“But how is it possible to cultivate flowers two hundred metres under water?”

“Sea anemones,” our friend informed us, “including some very rare species. There are also starfish and sea cucumbers, not to mention the bushes of coral. To cultivate one rose is to cultivate one’s homeland, as the poet tells us.” 

It was necessary for us to make our departure, for the ship had already given its signal. “And what message do you have, Mr. . . .” I asked, uncertain as to the name of our dear companion.

“My name is Boleslav Jablonský,” the newt told us shyly. “I consider it to be a very beautiful name, sir. I chose it myself from this book.”

“And what message do you have, Mr. Jablonský, for us to convey back to our people?”

The newt considered the matter for a short while. “You may tell your compatriots,” he said slowly, deeply moved, “tell them . . . that they should always maintain the ancient disagreements among the Slavonic peoples . . . that they should always retain Lipany and the defeat at White Hill in their grateful memory. Farewell, . . .” he ended suddenly, attempting to overcome his feelings.

As we departed in the dinghy back to the ship, full of thoughts and tender feelings, our friend stood on the rocks and waved to us, and as he did so he seemed to call something out to us. 

“What was that, he cried?” asked my lady wife.

“I do not know,” I answered, “but it sounded something like, ‘give my greetings to the mayor, Dr. Bax’.”

18. In Germany in particular all vivisection was strictly forbidden, albeit, of course, only for Jewish researchers.

19. This seems also to have affected certain ethical movements. Among the articles in Mr. Povondra’s collection was a declaration published in newspapers all around the world, translated into many different languages and even signed by the Duchess of Huddersfield. It read:

“Women of the world, in the interests of decency and morality the League for the Protection of Newts calls on you to contribute your handiwork to our campaign to provide newts with suitable clothing. The most suitable garment would be a skirt 40 cm. long, 60 cm. at the waist and preferably fitted with elastic. The skirt should be pleated to enable better ease of movement for the wearer. For tropical areas, a mere apron will be adequate, fitted with the means to fasten it at the waist, which could be made from very simple working materials such as some of your own discarded clothing. In this way you will remove the need for the unfortunate newts to work in public and in the presence of human beings without any sort of decent covering, which they cannot do otherwise than feel as an insult to their dignity and which could only be a cause of unease for any decent person, especially women and mothers.”

There is no indication anywhere that this call met with any success; it is not known whether any newts ever chose to wear a skirt or an apron; it would probably have got in their way underwater and been difficult to keep up. And wherever the newts were separated from human beings behind a wooden fence there would have been, of course, no reason for either humans or newts to feel any shame or emotional discomfort.

The idea that the newts needed to be protected from harassment of various sorts was mainly because of dogs, which never were able to get used to them and would chase the newts in a barking frenzy, even under water and despite the fact that if they ever bit a newt it would leave a caustic slime in their mouths. There were even times when the newts would defend themselves and more than one doughty hound was killed with a pickaxe or crowbar. Between dogs and newts there developed a permanent, deadly enmity which was intensified, rather than weakened, when a physical barrier was put between them. But that is often the case, and not only between dogs. These fences, coated with tar and stretching often along hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of coastline, were also used to teach the newts proper behaviour, and along the whole length of them they were painted with large letters urging the, for instance:

Your work - Your success

Value every second!

The day has only 86,400 seconds!

You’re only worth as much as you work

A meter of dam can be built in 57 minutes!

The worker serves us all

Who will not work, let him not eat!

And so on. Considering that these wooden fences stretched along more than three hundred thousand kilometres of coastline around the world, you can imagine how many encouraging slogans would fit onto them and how much they were of benefit to everyone.

20. The first trial of a newt, that took place in Durban, was of great interest to the press all round the world (viz Mr. Povondra’s collection of cuttings). The port authority in A. employed a working colony of newts. In the course of time they multiplied so much that the port soon did not have enough room for them all; some tadpoles began to establish new colonies out on the surrounding coastline. Part of this coastline was on the property of farmer B. and he asked the port authority to remove the newts from his private beach because he liked to bathe there. The port authority refused, saying the matter was nothing to do with them as the newts, having settled on his land, had become his private property. While these protracted negotiations continued, the newts, partly from instinct and partly because of the eagerness for work that had been inculcated in them, began, without the appropriate orders or permission, to construct a dyke and a dock on Mr. B.‘s stretch of beach. At this, Mr. B. made a complaint with the appropriate office to for damage to his property. At first the complaint was rejected on the grounds that Mr. B.‘s land, far from being damaged, had been enhanced by the newts’ activities, but this decision was overturned and verdict was passed in favour of the complainant on the grounds that no-one should have to tolerate a neighbour’s domesticated animals on his land. The port authority in A. was held responsible for all the damage caused by the newts just as a farmer would be held responsible for damage caused to a neighbour by his cattle. The port authority, of course, objected that it could not be held responsible for the newts because in the sea they could not be fenced in. The neighbour declared that in his view the damage caused by the newts should be seen in the same way as damage caused by chickens which likewise could not be fenced in because they were able to fly. Counsel for the port authority asked how his client was expected to remove the newts or force them to leave Mr. B.‘s private beach. The judge answered that that was no concern of the court. Counsel asked whether it would be acceptable to the honourable judge if the port authority had these undesirable newts shot. The judge answered that as an Englishman and a gentleman he would consider that highly inappropriate as well as a violation of Mr. B.‘s hunting rights. The port authority was therefore required to remove the newts from the complainant’s private property, to remove the damage caused by the newts’ having constructed dams and waterworks there and to restore that stretch of beach to its original state. Counsel for the defendant asked whether his client would be allowed to use salamanders for this demolition work. The judge replied that this would certainly not be allowed unless the complainant gave his permission, which was in doubt because the complainants’ wife found the newts repellent and was unable to bathe on a beach infested with newts. The port authority objected that without newts it would not be possible to remove the waterworks constructed below the waterline. At this, the judge declared that it was no matter of the court to make decisions on technical details and had no wish to do so; courts were there to protect private property, not to decide what was feasible and what not.

In this way the matter was brought to its end. It is not known how the port authority in A. got round this difficult problem; but the whole matter goes to show that the newt problem will need to be regulated with new judicial provisions that address it directly. 

21. There were some who took the matter of equal rights for newts literally, and asked that salamanders be allowed to establish government offices under water and on land (J. Courtaud); or that they should form fully armed underwater regiments with their own underwater commander (General M. S. Desfours); or even that mixed marriages between newts and humans should be allowed (Louis Pierrot, avocat). scientists objected that marriages of this sort would not be possible; but Mister Pierrot declared that it was not a matter of natural possibilities but of a legal principle and that he himself would be willing to take a newt female for his wife in order to show that this reform of the legal principle of marriage need not remain merely on paper. (Later in his career, Mister Pierrot became a highly sought after divorce lawyer.)

At this point it is worth mentioning that the press, especially in the United States, would occasionally publish reports of girls who had been raped by a newt while bathing. As a result, the number of cases in America where a newt was captured and lynched or burned alive multiplied rapidly. Scientists came forward to protest at this folk custom, insisting that it their anatomy made it physically impossible for any newt to commit a crime of this sort, but their words were in vain; too many girls had sworn that they had been assaulted by a newt and so for any regular American the matter was clear. Later on at least, the sport of burning a newt alive was only allowed to take place on a Saturday and under the supervision of the fire brigade. The Society for the Prevention of the Lynching of Newts was established under the leadership of the Reverend Robert J. Washington and counted hundreds of thousands of members, of whom almost all were mere negroes, including the Reverend Washington. The American press began to maintain that this was a political movement with the intention of overturning the government; as a result the areas inhabited by negroes came under attack and many of them were themselves burned alive, especially those who prayed for Brother Newt in their churches. The climax of indignation against negroes reached its peak when a black church in Gordonville (L.) was burned down and the fire spread to the whole of the city. (But this is only incidental to the story of the newts.)

We can at least list a few of the advantages that the newts really did receive; each salamander was listed in a registry of newts with the place where he worked; it was required to obtain an official residence permit; it had to pay income tax which, as the newts received no wages as money, was paid by its owner who would then deduct it from the newt’s food; it was likewise required to pay rent for the coastline where it lived, local tax and contribute to the erection and upkeep of the wooden fences; school taxes and other public costs; in short, we have to admit that the newts, in this respect, were treated no differently than any other citizen and in this way enjoy full equality.

22. Viz encyclical from the holy father, Mirabilia Dei Opera.

23. There were so many publications on this subject that simply to list them would occupy two large volumes.

24. The papers in Mr. Povondra’s collection included a highly pornographic brochure which, according to police reports, had been published in B***. It is not possible to quote the contents of this “private publication, issued in the interests of scientific knowledge” in any respectable book. Instead we will merely cite a few of its details:

The temple of the salamander cult, to be found at number *** in *** Street, has, at its centre, a large pool panelled with dark red marble. The water in the pool is perfumed with fragrant essences, warmed, and illuminated from below with continuously changing coloured lights; all else in the temple is darkness. At the chant of the newt liturgy, the entirely naked followers of the cult step into the rainbow coloured pool down marble steps, men on one side, women on the other. Many of its adherents belong to the highest society, such as Baroness M., S., the film star, D., the member of parliament, and many other outstanding personalities. Suddenly, a blue light shines on an enormous marble block that emerges from the water and on which there is an ancient black newt, lying at rest but breathing heavily. This is Master Salamander. There is a period of silence, and then Master Salamander begins to speak; he calls on the faithful to devote themselves and with all their souls to the forthcoming ceremonies of the salamander dance and to revere the Great Salamander. Then he raises himself and begins to sway and vigorously twist the upper half of his body. The male members of the faithful, immersed up to their necks in water, begin also to twist and swing in a frenzy that becomes faster and faster in order, so they say, to create the sexual medium while to salamanders utter loud ts-ts-ts and raucous croaking. Then the coloured lights under the water go out one after another and the orgy begins.

We cannot be sure that this description is entirely reliable, but it is certain that the police in al the major cities of Europe not only spent large resources on persecuting these salamander sects but also spent large resources on covering up the enormous scandals associated with them. It seems that although the cult of the salamander was very widespread its ceremonies did not always take place in the fairy tale splendour described here and that, among the lower classes, they took place on dry land.

25. The Catholic prayers mentioned above also defined the newts as a kind of Dei Creatura de gente Molche (Creatures of God in the Nation of Newts).

26. The declaration, preserved among Mr. Povondra’s papers, went as follows:


The capitalist world order has found its latest victim. When the proletariat, newly aware of class consciousness, made the putrescent tyranny of capitalism shake in fear of revolution, the exploiters had

to find a new servant to bend to its needs and took you, Workers of the Sea, to be the new slaves of bourgeois civilisation, took your spirit, subjected you to repressive laws, took away any freedom you ever had and did all in its power for you to be exploited by its friends with impunity.

(14 lines missing)

Working newts! The time is coming when you will be aware of the burden of slavery to which you are subject

(7 lines missing)

and claim your rights as a class and as a nation!

Comrades newts! The revolutionary proletariat of the world reaches out to you

(11 lines missing)

with all means available. Establish trades unions, choose shop stewards, establish a strike fund! Remember that the enlightened workers will not let you down in your rightful struggle, and hand in hand with you will mount the final assault

(9 lines missing)

Oppressed and revolutionary newts of the world, unite! The final battle has begun.

Signed: Molokov

27. We were able to find only a few declarations of this sort in Mr. Povondra’s collection; the others were probably burned over the years by Mrs. Povondra. Of the remaining material, we can at least cite a few titles:

Newts, throw down your arms! (Pacifist manifesto)

Newts, throw the Jews out! (German flysheet)

Comrades Newts! (Anarchist-Bakuninists)

Comrades Newts! (Sea scouts)

Newts, our friends! (Public address by the Union of Aquarists’ and Marine Life Cultivators’ Societies)

Our friends, the Newts! (Society for Moral Regeneration)

Citizens Newts! (Citizens’ Reform Society, Dieppe)

Newts, our colleagues, come and join our ranks! (Society for the Support of Former Seamen)

Our colleagues, Newts! (Aegir Sailing Club)


One of these declarations had been carefully glued in place by Mr. Povondra and seems therefore to have been especially important. We therefore quote it here in full:


28. In Mr. Povondra’s collection we found a lightweight, rather superficial description of this celebration, although, unfortunately, only the first half. The second half seems to have become lost.

Nice, 6th May. There’s lively activity today in the light and charming offices of the Institute for Mediterranean Studies on the Promenade des Anglais; two agents de police are holding the clear for invited guests to stride up the red carpet into the welcoming and pleasantly cool amphitheater. There’s the smiling mayor of Nice there and the local prefect in his top hat, there’s a general in his light blue uniform and gentlemen wearing the red button of the League of Honor, ladies of a certain age (terracotta seems to be the fashionable color this season), vice-admirals, journalists, professors and elderly celebrities from all round the world such as you find on the Côte d’Azur at any time of year. Suddenly something happens to disturb this honorable assembly when a strange little creature appears and tries to make its way unseen among them; it’s covered from head to foot in some kind of long black cowl or cape, its eyes are covered with enormous dark glasses, and suddenly and unsure of itself it tries to enter the crowded vestibule.  “Hé, vous,” shouts a policeman, “qu’est-ce que vous cherchez ici?” But then one of the distinguished university staff appears beside the startled figure and then it’s this way, cher docteur, as you please, cher docteur. This is Dr. Charles Mercier, an educated newt who, today, is due to give a lecture to all the best people on the Côte d’Azur! Let us hurry inside to find a seat in the excited auditorium!

On the podium sit Monsieur le Maire, Monsieur Paul Mallory the great poet, Mme. Maria Dimineanu on behalf of the International Institute for Intellectual Co-operation, the rector of the Institute for Mediterranean Studies, and other official figures; to one side of the podium there’s a lectern, and beside it . . . yes folks, that really is a tin bathtub I can see there, a perfectly ordinary tin bathtub such as you might have in your own bathroom. Two porters accompany the timid figure, concealed beneath his long cape, onto the podium, and the applause from the audience seems somewhat ill-at-ease. Dr. Charles Mercier bows shyly and looks round, uncertain as to where he is to be seated. “Voilá, Monsieur,” whispers one of the porters, pointing out the tin bathtub. “That’s for you, sir.” It’s obvious that Dr. Mercier feels highly embarrassed and is uncertain how he’s to turn down such attentiveness by his hosts; he tries his best to sit down in the tub without drawing attention to the situation but his long cape gets caught up in his feet and fall down into the tub with a loud splash that soaks all these gentlemen on the podium who, needless to say, pretend that nothing at all has happened; somebody in the audience begins to laugh hysterically, but the people in the front row look round and admonish him with a loud ‘shh!’.  Then Monsieur le Maire et Député stands up and begins to speak. Ladies and gentlemen, he says, it is my honor to welcome to the beautiful city of Nice Doctor Charles Mercier, the outstanding scientist among our near neighbors who lie in the depths of the sea. (Dr. Mercier stands up in the water and gives the audience a deep bow.) This is the first time in the history of civilization that land and sea have worked hand in hand in intellectual pursuits. Until now, there was a clear boundary that our spiritual lives were not able to cross; that was the oceans that surround us. We were able to sail across them, we were able to plough our way through the waves in our boats in any direction we wanted; but, ladies and gentlemen, it was not possible for civilization to penetrate beneath its surface. The sea that surrounds the little pieces of land occupied by mankind has always, until now, been something wild and unknown; at same time as it offered us astonishing possibilities it has always kept us away; on the one had we saw the rise of civilization and on the other we saw nature, eternal and never changing. The barriers created for us by the oceans, dear listeners, are now falling away. (Applause) It is to us, the children of this great age we live in, that comes the great fortune to be eye-witnesses to the process of our spiritual home expanding, to see it burst out from its own shores and enter the waves of the sea, to conquer the depths of the sea and combine the ancient knowledge of the oceans with the modernity of civilization. That is an inspiring prospect! (Bravo!) Ladies and gentlemen, it is now that, for the first time ever, the culture of the oceans has appeared and here with us today we have its most eminent representative whom we have the honor to welcome here among us. Our planet has become a planet that is truly and wholly civilized. (Enthusiastic applause. Dr. Mercier, in the bathtub, stands and bows.)

Monsieur le Maire and Député then turned to Dr. Mercier, who was supporting himself on the edge of the bathtub, deeply touched and sucking hard on his gills; My dear doctor, as a great scientist you will be able to convey our best wishes to your friends and compatriots on the seabed, to tell them how we admire them and sympathise with them. We send our greetings to those at the forefront of progress and knowledge, a forefront which, step by step, will colonise the endless expanses of the sea and create a new world of culture on the seabed. I can already see the rise of a new Athens, a new Rome in the depths of the oceans, the efflorescence of a new Paris with an underwater Louvre and an underwater Sorbonne with an underwater Arc de Triomphe and an underwater War Memorial, with underwater theaters and underwater boulevards. Allow me to express one of my most secret thoughts: it is my fondest hope that in the blue waves of the Mediterranean, just here off the shore of our city, there will be a new Nice, a glorious Nice that will be your Nice with her own majestic avenues under the sea, her own meadows and promenades alongside our Côte d’Azur. We welcome you, and look forward to a deeper acquaintance; I am personally convinced that closer social and scientific contacts between us, making such an auspicious beginning here today, will lead our nations to ever closer cultural and political co-operation in the interests of all of mankind, world peace, prosperity and progress. (Long applause).

Now, Dr. Charles Mercier stands up and does his best to thank the mayor and representative of Nice; but he seems to be too touched by the occasion, or else his pronounciation is rather too strange for us to understand; all that I could catch from what he said with such difficulty was a few words; if I am not mistaken they were “great honor”, “cultural contacts” and “Victor Hugo”. Then, clearly overwhelmed by the experience, he hid himself back in the bathtub.

After this it was the turn of Paul Mallory to speak, but what he said was not so much a speech as an anthem, lit with the poetry of deep philosophy. I thank my fate, he said, that I have lived to see one of mankind’s most beautiful myths fulfilled and confirmed in such a strange way. Instead of the mythical Atlantis sinking under the waves we have the astonishing sight of a new Atlantis emerging from the deep. Doctor Mercier, you are a poet of geometry, you, along with your learned colleagues, are the first ambassadors from this new world from the sea, not Aphrodite born of the foam but Pallas Anadyomene. Strangest of all though, of a mystery incomparable with . . .

(end missing)

29. Among Mr. Povondra’s papers was a rather unclear newspaper photograph showing both newt delegates going up the steps onto the Quai du Mont Blanc on Lake Geneva to take their places at the commission. Lake Leman seems to have been their official accommodation.

The Commission for the Study of the Newt Question achieved a great and useful function, mainly by settling all difficult questions in politics and economics. It was in permanent session for many years and met on more than thirty occasions, diligently concerned with unifying the international terminology for newts which, up till then, had been in hopeless chaos. Besides the scientific terms of ‘salamander’, ‘newt’, ‘batrachus’ and so on, which had begun to take on a rather disrespectful character, there were many other different names suggested. the newts could be referred to as ‘tritons’, ‘neptunids’, ‘bathyds’, ‘Abyssals’, ‘hydrions’, ‘gens de mer’, ‘soumarins’ and so on. It the task of the commission to select the most suitable name, and it was vigorously active in this affair right up to the end of the newt age; although it never did arrive at any final and unambiguous conclusion.

30. Mr. Povondra also included two or three articles to do with national politics in his collection. These were about modern youth, and were probably only by mistake that he thought they were about the civilisation of the newts.

31. One gentleman from the north of Prague told Mr. Povondra about the time he was bathing off the beach at Katwijk aan Zee. He had swum far out into the sea when the lifeguard called out to him, saying he should return to the beach. The gentleman concerned paid no attention and swam further out; then the lifeguard jumped into his boat and paddled out after him. “Swimming isn’t allowed here, you know,” he said to him.

“Why on Earth not?” the gentleman asked.

“There are newts here.”

“I’m not afraid of newts,” he objected.

“They have some kind of factory or something under the water,” the lifeguard admonished. “Nobody is allowed to bathe here.”

“But why not?”

“The newts don’t like it.”

32. This suggestion was clearly to do with large scale political propaganda, and thanks to Mr. Povondra’s collection we have it here at hand. It read:


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52