Last Men in London, by Olaf Stapledon

4 Paul Comes of Age

i. Paul and Sex

I HAVE now to describe Paul’s advance from boyhood to early manhood, which he reached just before the outbreak of the European War. In order to do this I must tell chiefly of his changing reactions to three facts in his experience, namely to sex, to personality, and to the immense impersonal.

As I have already said, Paul discovered early in his childhood that a very special and delectable experience could be obtained from that part of his body on which his elders had conferred a most intriguing mystery. Their dropped voices, their hesitations, their veiled suggestions and warnings, had long ago roused his curiosity and prepared him to feel guilt in his new pleasure. Later, during adolescence, the natural development of his body, combined with the influence of stories and drawings circulated at school, increased his itch of experimentation in this field. His own sensitivity, which had been exaggerated by my influence, made him peculiarly susceptible.

In this new experience Paul found something unique, arresting, mysteriously significant, yet significant of he knew not what. I myself, the observer of these disturbing events, can only describe the character which he seemed to himself to find in them, by calling it an impression of almost mystical fulfilment, or of communion with some presence, or being, or power, wholly beyond the grasp of this intellect. It was as though he had unexpectedly discovered how to reach down and touch the deep, living heart of reality, and as though this contact were to quicken him through and through with an exquisite, though deadly thrill. The experience was all too brief, and after it came a vague fear. In the very act it seemed to be promising more than it could ever give. That fleeting contact with the heart of things was but an earnest, seemingly, of some more profound and lasting penetration, not yet to be achieved.

Now this attainment and this promise were not wholly illusory. To minds that have passed far beyond your stage of growth, every sensory experience whatever may afford this exquisite, inebriating sense of contact with objective reality. More primitive minds, however, seldom attain this insight. For them it is only when the sensuous has the added glamour of rarity, or of sin and sanctity, that it can deliver its full content. And so the amazed spirit falsely assumes that only through this one particular sensory window can it reach out and touch reality. Among you the sexual experience alone has universally this unique significance and power. For in you, as in the apes, almost alone among mammals, reproductive potency is constant and excessive. And in nearly all your cultures the consequent excessive interest in sex has been thwarted, in most cases very clumsily.

In Paul’s case it soon became clear that, unless I intervened, the mystery and horror with which sex was treated would cause in him an obsessive fascination. His plight is well enough expressed in a poem which he wrote at this time, but showed to no one. I should explain that henceforth he was frequently to indulge in what he regarded as poetical expression. I shall occasionally quote from his writings to illustrate his spiritual progress. Note that even at this early stage he was deserting the forms of verse that were still orthodox. Here is the poem.


I have touched filth.
Only with the finger tip I touched it.
inquisitive of the taste of it.
But it creeps.
It has spread over my body a slime.
and into my soul a stupor.
It is a film over the eyes.
blurring the delicate figuring and ethereal hue of things.
It clogs the ears.
The finer tones of truth are muffled from me.
Beauty has turned her back on me.
I have shamed her, I am desolate.
There is no escape from myself.
And in my loneliness,
It was because of my mad loneliness,
I touched again.
I dabbled for a moment in the sweet filth.
and fled back shuddering in the silence.
Presently I shall slink down again and wallow.
for solace in my mad loneliness.

One of the most difficult facts for the Neptunian explorer to grasp about primitive minds is their obsession and their abject guilt and disgust in respect of bodily appetites. In the constitution of the last human species the excess energy of these appetites is very largely sublimated, innately, into the spiritual and intellectual life. On the other hand, whenever they do demand direct satisfaction, they are frankly and zestfully gratified. In Paul’s species it was the sexual appetite that caused trouble. Now it did not suit me that Paul should become tangled inextricably in sex. His whole generation, I knew, was going to develop along the lines of sex mania, in revulsion from the prudery of its predecessors. But it was necessary that Paul should maintain a true balance, so that his spirit’s energies should be free to direct themselves elsewhere.

The method by which I brought peace to Paul’s troubled mind was easy to me, though disturbing to him. Whenever he began to worry himself with guilty fears, I would force upon his imagination scenes from another world, in which not sex but nutrition was the deed of supreme uncleanness and sanctity. Little by little I pieced together in his mind a considerable knowledge of an early Neptunian species whose fantastic culture has many points in common with your own. Let me here tell you briefly of that culture.

On Neptune, then, there once lived, or from your point of view, there will live, a race of human beings which attained a certain affluence and social complexity, but was ever hampered by its morbid interest in nutrition. By what freakish turns of fortune this state of affairs was brought about, I need not pause to describe. Suffice it that physiological changes had produced in this human species an exaggerated mechanism of hunger. This abnormality saddled all its members with a craving for food much in excess of biological need; and from the blundering social repression of this craving there arose a number of strange taboos and perversions. By the time this Neptunian species had attained civil life, the function of nutrition had become as perverse and malignant as the function of reproduction in your own society. No reference might be made to it in public, save to its excretory side, which was regarded as a rite of purification. Eating became a private and vaguely obscene act. While in many social situations sexual intercourse was a recognized means of expression and diversion, and even drinking was permitted in the less puritanical circles so long as it was performed through the nose, eating in the presence of another person was not tolerated. In every home a special privy was set aside for eating. This was stocked during the night by the public food carriers, who constituted the lowest caste of society. In place of your chastity ideal there arose a fiction that to refrain from eating was virtuous, and that the most holy persons could live without eating at all. Even ordinary folk, though pardoned for occasional indulgence, were supposed to refrain from the filthy act as far as possible. Repressed nutrition had by now coloured the whole life of the race. The mouth occupied in its culture much the same position as the phallus with you. A vast and subtle symbolism, like that which in your culture is associated with the sacred and obscene reproductive act, was generated in this case by the sacred and obscene nutritive act. Eating became at once a sin and an epitome of the divine power; for in eating does not the living body gather into itself lifeless matter to organize it, vitalize it? The mouth was, of course, never exposed to view. The awful member was concealed behind a little modesty apron, which was worn below the nose. In prehistoric times the lips had formed the chief visual stimulus to sexual interest, and like the rump of the baboon had developed lavish coloration and turgescence. But very early in the cultural development of the species the modesty apron became universal. Even when the rest of the body was unclad, this garment was retained. And just as in your culture the notorious fig-leaf is vaguely suggestive of that which it conceals, so, in this Neptunian culture, the conventionally decorated covering of the mouth came to mimic furtively the dread orifice itself. Owing to the fact that in polite society no sound might be made which betrayed movement of the lips, speech became distorted and debased. One curious consequence of this obscenity of the mouth was the peculiar status of kissing. Though sexual promiscuity was almost universal, kissing was a deadly sin, except between man and wife. A kiss, bestowed in privacy and darkness, was the true consummation of marriage, and was something infinitely more desirable and more disturbing than the procreative act itself. All lovers longed to be united in a kiss; or, if they were innocents, they looked for some unknown fulfilment, which they vaguely and guiltily felt must be somehow connected with the mouth. Coitus they regarded merely as an innocent and peculiarly delightful caress; but the kiss was the dark, exquisite, sacred, mystically significant, forbidden fruit of all their loving. It was a mutual devouring, the act in which, symbolically, the lover took the substance of the other within his or her own system. Through this connexion with romantic love the kiss gathered to itself all that obscure significance of tender personal relations, of spiritual communion between highly developed personalities, which in your world the same romantic love may confer on coitus. Further, since, like your Trobriand Islanders, the less sophisticated races of this species were often ignorant of the connexion between the sexual act and conception, and since, as with those islanders, sexual intercourse outside the marriage bond often failed to produce offspring, it was commonly believed in the more primitive of these Neptunian societies that the true reproductive act was the kiss. Consequently conception and child-birth came to be endowed with the same mystery, sanctity, and obscenity as nutrition. Sex, on the other hand, remained delightfully uncontaminated. These traditions maintained their power even in civilized societies, which had long ago realized the truth about parenthood. Children were carefully instructed in the hygiene of sex, and encouraged to have blithe sexual relations as soon as they needed that form of expression. But in respect of nutrition they were left in disastrous ignorance. As infants they were suckled, but in strict seclusion. Later they were taken to the food-privy and fed; but they were trained never to mention food in public and of course never to expose their mouths. Obscure and terrifying hints were let fall about the disastrous effects of gustatory self-indulgence. They were told not to go to the privy more than once a day, and not to stay longer than necessary. From their companions they gathered much distorted information about eating; and they were likely to contract diverse kinds of nutritive perversion, such as chewing stones and earth, biting one another or themselves for the taste of blood. Often they contracted such a prurient mania of thumb-sucking, that mouth and thumb would fester. If they escaped these perversions, it was by means of ignorant licentiousness in the food-privy. In consequence of this they were prone to contract serious digestive disorders, which moreover, if discovered, inevitably brought them into contempt. In either case they incurred a shattering sense of guilt, and contracted by auto-suggestion many of the symptoms which rumour attributed to their vice. In maturity they were likely to become either secret gourmets or puritans.

The effect of introducing Paul to this remote world was beneficial in more ways than one. Not only did it lead him gradually to regard his own sexual nature with a new tolerance and a new detachment, so that his mind was no longer tethered to the stake of sex; it also gave him a considerable insight into the mentality of his elders, and opened his eyes precociously to the farcical aspect of his species. Of course, he did not seriously believe his visions. Or rather, as the alien world embodied itself with increasing detail in his mind, he could not entirely disbelieve it, but came to regard it as ‘over there’, instead of ‘here’ like his own world. I had, of course, made him picture the Neptunian species. He glimpsed its squat stone cities, thronged with nude and bulky caricatures of his own race. He saw their mouth-aprons, and their secret vices of nutrition. He saw also their frank sexual behaviour, and actually from the study of sex in that remote age and world he learned much about sex in his own race. Not only so, but he learned his first lesson in that general detachment from the purely Terrestrial values, which I needed to produce in him. He learned, too, to scrutinize all prized and all condemned things to discover whether they were prized or condemned for their own sakes or for some other reason. For instance, comparing his fantasy world with the normal world, he saw that sexual activity and nutritive activity were both valued in both worlds, but that in each world one of these activities had gathered a purely accidental and farcical significance. On the other hand, in both worlds, love, the passionate admiration of spirit for spirit, was a genuine experience which lent something of its glory here to sex, there to nutrition.

Paul’s mysterious life of imagination gave him an understanding of human nature far beyond his years. Combining with his enhanced self-consciousness, it made him strangely sympathetic yet strangely cynical. His companions regarded him as ‘queer’. At most times he behaved as a rather selfish and rather cowardly boy, and he was not incapable of spite. Yet at any moment, it seemed, he might blaze up with what to his companions seemed an almost insane generosity and an entirely self-oblivious courage. At other times he displayed a disconcerting indifference and remoteness. In the middle of some wild game he would suddenly ‘fade out’, play his part perfunctorily or not at all, and presently be seen watching the action with an interest that was somehow not the interest of a boy.

During his schooldays Paul was generally in love with some other boy or with a girl. His erratic temperament prevented the course of true love from running even as smoothly as it does with normal young human animals. One day he would be terrifyingly earnest, next day entirely uninterested, or, worse, interested in the manner of a scientific observer. One day he would be possessive, touchy, spiteful, the next day devoted and self-oblivious. Consequently his loves were uneasy, brief, and in retrospect bitter. The more he was defeated, the more he longed for a lasting intimacy. The more he longed, the more’ impossible’ he became. During the latter part of his school career he grew increasingly aware of and absorbed in human personality. It came to seem to him that the only thing of any account in life was the intimacy of one person with another, in fact with a perfect mate. His whole attention was given to the task of finding for himself the perfect mate. Gradually he began to realize that he would never succeed, and indeed that success was almost impossible. It seemed to him that human beings were doomed to miss for ever the only goal worth seeking, and that in their fated striving for it they must ever lacerate one another.

It was with this conviction that Paul ended his much-prolonged school career and embarked upon an arts course at the University of London. He was very unlike the ordinary ‘freshman’. Some years older than the average, cripplingly self-conscious, scholastically backward and erratic, but equipped with a very unusual stock of random knowledge, and of insight into human nature, he seemed to his fellows an amiable but rather tiresome freak.

While he was still at the university Paul met a young woman some years older than himself, whose image was destined to be a permanent influence in his mind. From the Terrestrial point of view she was no doubt a delightful creature, though not a paragon of classical or any other recognized kind of beauty. Even to the Neptunian eye, sufficiently fortified by long Terrestrial experience, she was not without charm. Of course, very little of her was visible. Save for the face and hands, her whole body was covered and insulted by the peculiarly grotesque clothing of her period. But in her face there was something more than the prettiness which attracted the males of her own species and was a source of a certain winsome complacency in herself. There was a vitality in it which to me was elusively reminiscent of the full-blown and fully conscious beauty of women of my own species. In fact, there was a hint of the more fully human and more frankly animal spirit, which the Last Men look for in woman and the Last Woman in man. But in the eyes of her contemporaries, and in her own eyes too, this pervading characteristic of her face, of her slow free gait, and, as I was later to discover, of her body also (about which there was something of the young cart-horse), was but an oddity, a blemish. Now Paul believed that he was attracted only by her conventional prettiness. He did not know that my influence had inadvertently brought him under the spell of a beauty beyond his usual ken. He prided himself on being able, in spite of his adoration, to point out and ridicule her imperfections, and even delight in them. He did not know that these very ‘imperfections’ of body and mind were the source of her strange spell over him. He recognized, almost apologetically, that they made her for him lovelier, more individual, more real, more peculiarly herself, He did not recognize, though in fact he obscurely felt, that her peculiarity was not a falling short from, but a transcending of, Terrestrial beauty. Mentally she was, he felt, exquisitely complementary to himself, yet basically at one with him. She was able to appreciate and enrich his inner life of fantasy, which hitherto he had never revealed to anyone. She flattered him by regarding him as a’ genius’. He was well content that she should treat him also as a dear simpleton whose dreams were impracticable. Above all, he was strengthened by the knowledge that each had become to the other a most necessary playmate and helpmeet, and that each had already been spiritually enriched by the other for ever after.

This girl, whom I will call Katherine, took delight in ‘bringing Paul out of his shell,’ in helping him to hold his own in social intercourse. She taught him to dance; and, though the physical contact made his head swim, he did her credit. They went to many dances, but the custom of the period forbade them to dance together more than two or three times in an evening. Dancing was at first their only opportunity of close contact; for a strange reason. This fundamentally downright and generous creature had unfortunately been educated in a puritanical tradition. Through loyalty to her father, for whom, as I later discovered, she felt a deep affection, she corseted her nature within the limits of a strict social and moral etiquette. By native constitution strong both in animal zest and in maternal tenderness, by upbringing severely conscientious, she had tried to solve the inevitable conflict between her generous vitality and her moral severity by kindliness toward others and strictness toward herself. Maintaining her own puritan conduct, she took vicarious delight in the peccadilloes of others. It was partly her combination of romantically puritanical idealism with imaginative sympathy that won Paul’s respect. Her relation with Paul was at first extremely correct. It had to compensate for the restriction of its physical side by a romantic efflorescence on the mental side. They found many intellectual and aesthetic enthusiasms in common. They also inculcated in one another a common zeal for social service. He swore that in the great cause of making a better world he would ‘wear always the armour of her love’ so that nothing should strike him down. His own love for her would be his lance. Her beauty would be his inspiration, her sense of beauty his guiding star. Theirs was a union, they told one another, primarily of spirit and spirit. The body should fulfil its minor function, in due season.

It was extremely interesting to see how Paul acted his part during the first weeks of this intimacy. The detachment from Terrestrial values which I had been teaching him, at first enabled him to ridicule and damp down his cravings for a more sexual relationship. Neptunian fantasies helped him here. But soon they began to work on the other side also. He came to see the folly and futility of his romance. Externally he remained for long the tame squire of his beloved; but inwardly, though often he was a selfless admirer of this lovely human animal that had confided in him, sometimes he was sheer greedy sex, chafing within the bonds of decency. At other times, behind his caresses he was ice-cold, or even disgusted, or just an ironical observer, correlating events Terrestrial with events Neptunian. But for long these great inner fluctuations appeared to the beloved only as slight whimsical changes of mood, to which with maternal tact she gladly adjusted herself.

As time passed, however, Paul became more difficult. Hitherto, in spite of his moods, he had seemed to the young woman absolutely safe, absolutely devoted to their common code of decency. His occasional respectful importunity flattered her without seriously disturbing her. But now his normal mood began to be penetrated with rather terrifying moments in which his personality seemed to change to something at once more cynical and more violent, more remote and more animal. Most terrifying was the fact that, to her own amazement, she could not feel disgusted, but only conscientious.

The crisis occurred on a summer evening after a dance. Paul and his beloved, flushed with exertion and mutual delight and exalted by a sense of their own daring unconventionality, escaped through the garden to the bare down that fringed their suburb. Arm in arm they walked, then seated themselves on the grass to watch the rising moon. After the usual discreet caresses, Paul extended a reverent hand and stroked her throat. His finger-tips ventured down to the white expanse of bosom, revealed by her low-cut evening dress. Surprised less by his boldness than by her own sudden delight, she caressed the caressing fingers. He ventured further, feeling his way toward her breasts. Paralysed between desire and anxiety, she allowed him to explore those warm, secret, holy excrescences.

This little tactual event, this marvellous, ecstatic new experience, affected both somewhat violently. For Paul it seemed to constitute an important new stage in that quest which had so long tormented him, the quest for reality. It seemed to fulfil, or almost fulfil, at once his hunger for sexual contact and his yearning for spiritual intimacy. It had about it a quality of home-coming after long absence, as though he had been there before in some forgotten existence. It was indeed as though the starved exile, who had for so long been nourished only on phantoms, and had lost even the memory of his motherland, were to find himself back once more in the bosom of reality, bewildered yet fundamentally at home. In her it roused both sexual warmth and also a poignant tenderness almost as of mother for babe. She was torn between a sudden longing to give herself wholly and a sudden alarm at this unprecedented invasion.

How distressed these two innocents would have been had they known that a third person was witness of this shocking deed, that another human being, a man older than Paul by some thousands of years (though not to be born till long after the earth’s destruction) was noting through Paul’s eyes the moonlit eyes and features of the girl, was himself caressing, though through Paul’s hand, the thrilled Terrestrial breasts, and comparing them with corresponding objects upon Neptune! All these data, and also Paul’s own guilty swooning ecstasy, I observed with sympathy born of the most intimate acquaintance, but also with amusement and some impatience, in spite of the detachment and remoteness of two thousand million years.

Even Paul himself was in a manner a detached spectator of his own behaviour. He himself was in a manner standing outside himself and observing these two young courting mammals. This detachment I myself had induced in him. For already at this time of his life I had trained him to be the calm spectator of his own reactions in every fervent experience. In the present case it seemed good to emphasize certain aspects of the matter for him. I therefore began to influence the course of his thoughts. As he savoured the experience, he became increasingly aware of a disturbing and fantastic under-current to his delicious perceptions. He saw with the mind’s eye an early Neptunian couple engaged upon an act which to them was one of shocking licentiousness and excruciating delight, but to the Terrestrial eye was merely ridiculous. This guilty pair stood facing one another, their mouth-aprons removed. From mouth to crimson mouth there stretched a curious fruit, not unlike a much-elongated banana. With mobile lips both he and she were drawing this object into the mouth, and eating it progressively. They gazed into one another’s kindled eyes, their cheeks aflame. Clearly they were both enrapt in that exquisite sweet horror which is afforded only by the fruit that is forbidden. Paul watched the banana shrinking, the faces approaching one another. His own hand, feeling the responsive breasts, paused, lay inert. The fruit had vanished. The faces made contact in a long mumbling kiss. The vision faded. Paul was left with an agonized conflict of the sublime and the ridiculous, for it was evident to him that in this farcical scene he had witnessed the exquisite union of two impassioned spirits.

For a moment Paul stayed motionless, wondering whether to an alien eye he and Katherine would seem any less comic. Almost he decided to withdraw his hand. But now that I had forced him in the very act of single-minded zest to take an unsympathetic view, I was able to give him an exaltation which was secure against ridicule because it included ridicule. First I let him suffer in a single flash of insight the stabbing pleasure of those two Neptunians. I then flooded his mind with a spate of visions, such that he seemed to himself to be witnessing in a few seconds the whole pageant of amorous adventure. He seemed to see the earliest mutual devourings of microscopic jellies in the sea, the far-flung pollination of great trees, slow reptilian embraces, the aerial copulations of swallows, the rutting of stags, the apes’ more conscious amorousness. He saw human forms, brown, yellow, black or white, in their first adventurous fondlings, or clipped together. He saw them now in caves, now in jungle lairs, now in snow huts, blubber-lit, now in lake dwellings, the water lapping the piles, now in curtained Tudor four-posters, now in jangling iron bedsteads in slums, now between fine linen sheets, now among the bushes of public gardens, furtive, struggling with clothes, now beside moorland tarns, the untrammelled limbs sun-darkened, glossy. Throughout this experience Paul retained a flavour of the earlier ludicrous scene over the forbidden fruit; but he gathered also a new sense of the deep, groping earnestness of sex. And this jerked him into one of his rare moods of heightened consciousness. The little breast and nipple beneath his hand suddenly revealed itself to him in a most poignant vision, and at the same time the individual spirit of the girl (so it seemed) was laid bare dazzlingly to his own spirit’s gaze. He saw, moreover, that she wanted what he also wanted.

But now the girl, sensing a change in his mood, and feeling that something ought to be done, first pressed his hand upon her yielding breast, and then tried to extricate it. Paul felt the soft flesh crushed between his fingers. Exulting, he gripped, so vigorously that she gave a little scream. Then suddenly she found herself caught in an embrace that was altogether too frankly sexual to be tolerated. Yet, to her own surprise, she yielded to it for a moment, savouring the new experience. Then it became clear that if she was to preserve any longer that which a virtuous young lady is supposed to cherish more than life itself, she must take immediate action. She struggled, expostulated, then suddenly, greedily, seized Paul’s lip between her teeth. The pain shot through him like lightning. His grip relaxed. They separated. While he mopped his bleeding mouth, she arranged her clothing, swore she would never see him again, and then retreated toward the house with all the dignity she could muster.

But they continued to meet, for each had by now become necessary to the other. The intimacy deepened. They became ‘engaged,’ though for financial reasons they had no prospect of marriage. They saw one another every day. The solid basis of their friendship, their mental insight into one another and joy in each other’s natures, compelled them to seek one another. But their love was becoming warped by the longing for that final bodily intimacy which both craved, but she dared not permit. To the Neptunian observer it was obvious that for both their sakes she ought to have cut herself away from him once and for all, or else to have yielded fully to her own desire and his. For the former course she had no will The initial feminine reluctance, the desire to preserve herself intact, had long since given place to the no less feminine hunger to give herself and be merged with her chosen male. But an irregular union would have been intolerable to her self-respect. She was a child of her age, and her age was still in spirit, though not in date, ‘nineteenth century’. Though under Paul’s influence she had recently begun to modify her puritanism, and now liked to think of herself as ‘modern’ and unconventional, there was a point beyond which she dared not go.

The months passed. Paul became more and more obsessed. He thought of nothing but love-making and his own unhappy situation. It became necessary that he should stagnate no longer; for the year 1914 was approaching, in which he must be fully recovered from all the fevers of adolescence. I therefore decided to interfere. Two courses were open to me. Either I could make the girl give herself, or I could remove her. From the Neptunian point of view the obvious course was to let Paul have his way, and gain the little treasure of experience that would thus be added to him. In many ways they would both have benefited. They would have found new health and vigour of body, and for a while new peace and vitality of mind. But I knew that, harmless and invigorating as this culmination would have been for other individuals and in another society, for these two young Terrestrials it would have brought disaster. In the first place, they might have inadvertently produced a new individual of their species; and then both mother and child, and the young father also, would have been persecuted by the barbarian society in which they lived. I judged that such an experience would render Paul unfit for my experiment. It would have tethered his attention for too long to the personal. Secondly, they would have suffered a spiritual disaster, for they themselves both accepted the code which they would have infringed. Had I driven them on to taste their innocuous, pretty, forbidden fruit, they would soon have become a burden to one another. With the inevitable cooling of ardour they would have assumed a false obligation each to the other, and at the same time they would have lapsed into guilty disgust, recriminations and moral degradation. This would have side-tracked Paul’s attention for too long a period.

I therefore decided to remove the girl. To do this I had first to enter her mind and discover how I might conveniently effect my purpose. Poor child, she would indeed have been overwhelmed with shame and horror had she known that for several weeks all her most private acts and secret thoughts were observed by a hidden, an indwelling and a male spectator. I was, for instance, present one Saturday night while she lowered her still coltish body into a hot bath, tingling and gasping as the heat devoured her. I detected her mind’s quick backward glance at Paul’s devouring but unfulfilled embraces. I noted also that she let the hot water flow and the temperature of the bath rise till she was on the verge of agony, before she finally sat up and turned off the tap. I was present also at her dreams, in which so often she let Paul have his way, before she woke and was regretfully thankful it had only been a dream.

A brief study of her personality sufficed to show just which of the young men in her environment would best suit her nature. I turned her attention in his direction; rather roughly, I fear, for I noticed that she began to have doubts of her sanity. In self-pride and in compassion for Paul she clung for a while to the old love, but in vain. She struggled desperately against her fate, bitterly ashamed of her impotence and fickleness. But by a kind of inner hypnotism I forced her to receive into her heart the image of the new love that I had chosen for her. I made her dwell on his admirable and charming qualities, and I blinded her to his somewhat grotesque appearance. Very soon I had made her undertake a vigorous, almost shameless campaign upon him. Much to his surprise and delight, much to the bewilderment of their mutual friends, this unassuming but prosperous young merchant found himself the adored adorer of one who hitherto had treated him merely with calm kindness. I now filled the bemused young woman with immodest haste for the wedding. Within a few weeks the pair did actually enter into a union which, owing to my careful selection, was quite the most successful marriage of their generation. I bore in mind, however, that it would later become desirable to bring her once more into relation with Paul.

While these events were proceeding I was in a sense resident in two minds at once; for when I had done my work upon the girl, I returned to Paul at the very instant in which I had left him. Thus I was able to watch his reactions to the whole drama, and to help him triumph in his defeat.

When first he had begun to suspect that she was turning away from him, he plunged into a more determined suit. But I was now very constantly treating him with visions and meditations of an impersonal kind, which so drenched his wooing that it became less persuasive than disturbing. In fact, by philosophical and poetical extravagances he frightened Katherine into the arms of his rival. When at last he learned of the marriage, he passed, of course, through a phase of self-pitying despair; but within a fortnight he was already, through my influence, no less than through native resilience, beginning to explore a very different field of experience.

ii. Paul Devout

When Paul had recovered from the first shock of his misfortune, he emerged to find himself painfully oscillating between two moods. In the one he strove to protect his wounded soul under a bright new armour of cynicism. She was just an animal, and her behaviour was the expression of obscure physiological events. And so, after all, was his own. The love that he so prized had no intrinsic virtue whatever. In the other mood, however, he clung to the faith that though this love of his had foundered, nevertheless love, the mutual insight and worship of one human person for another, was good in itself, and indeed the supreme good of life. All other goods, it seemed, were either negligible, or instrumental to this greatest good. He had recently lived for many weeks on a plane that was formerly beyond him. Now in his loneliness he began to go over again and again the treasure that he had acquired, namely his new and overwhelmingly vivid and delightful apprehension of a particular human being, called Katherine. Bitter as was his loneliness, this treasure could never be taken from him. And the more he pored over it, the more he asked himself whether it was exceptional, or whether it was a fair sample of existence. Hitherto he had increasingly thought of the universe in terms of mechanical intricacies and the huge star-sprinkled darkness, or at best in terms of a vital but impersonal trend of all things toward some goal inconceivable to man. But now he began to regard all this as mere aridity in which there was no abiding place for the one superlative excellence, human personality, love-inspired. It was borne in upon him at last with new significance that love was‘divine’. He began to find a new and lucid meaning for the brave statement, ‘God is Love’. It meant, surely, that this best of all things known to man was also present in spheres beyond man’s sphere; that human personality and love were not the only nor the highest forms of personality and love; that Love, with a capital L, Love which was not merely a relation between persons but somehow itself a Person, an all-pervading and divine Person, was after all the governing power of the universe. If this were indeed so, as many professed to believe, then all human loves must, in spite of temporary frustration, be secure of eternal fulfilment. Even his love for Katherine and her no less divine, though now distracted, love for him must somehow, ‘in eternity’, have its fruition.

I must not here describe the struggle that took place in Paul’s mind between his cynical and his devotional impulses. It was a fluctuating battle. Wandering along Gower Street, with his hands in the pockets of his grey flannel trousers, and half a dozen books under his arm, he would breathe in cheerfulness with the dilute spring air of London, till, as he pursued his course round Bedford Square, God was once more in his heaven. In Charing Cross Road he would stray into the ‘Bomb Shop’, and be confronted with new doubts. Walking over the spot where subsequently Nurse Cavell’s monument was to proclaim her courage and her countrymen’s vulgarity, the poor boy would sometimes be infected by a momentary and unintelligible horror, derived from my own foreseeing mind. Soon the placid bustle of the great railway station would bring comfort once more; but on the journey to his southern suburb he would be flung again into despair by the faces of sheep, cattle, pigs and monkeys that masked the spirits of his fellow-travellers. Then at last, walking bare-headed on the suburban down that overhung his home, Paul might once more, though rather wearily, believe in God.

It seemed to Paul that in his cynical mood he was definitely smaller, meaner and more abject than when he was once more unfurling on the battlements of his own heart the banner of his faith in the God of Love. In many of his contemporaries also much the same fluctuation of mood was occurring, and to them as to Paul it seemed that the issue lay between the old faith, however modernized, and the complete abnegation of human dignity. Yet Paul and his contemporaries were mistaken. It was not in faith but in utter disillusionment and disgust that the human spirit had to triumph, if ever it was to triumph at all.

While he was absorbed in his religious perplexity, Paul was intrigued by a group of fellow-students whose aim it was to solve the troubles of the modern world by making modern men and women into sincere Christians. They introduced him to a young priest, whom the whole group regarded as their spiritual leader. At first this young man’s emphatic hand-grip and earnest gaze roused in Paul nothing but a new variant of the disgust and suspicion which, long ago, he had felt toward the ghastly heartiness of the family doctor. He was also repelled by the fact that the elect secretly referred to their master as the Archangel. But as he became better acquainted with the priest, he, like the others, began to fall under his spell. To Paul in his new phase of reverence for human personality, his new revulsion from ‘materialism’, this man appeared as a spiritual aristocrat, as one who could move about the world without being swallowed up by the world, without so much as dirtying his feet. He was ‘other-worldly’, not in the sense that he sought to escape from this world, but that he carried round with him an atmosphere which was not this world’s atmosphere. Like those water-insects which take down with them into the deep places a bubble of air for breathing, he took down with him into this world a celestial ether to maintain his spiritual life.

So it seemed to Paul. But to his Neptunian guest the matter did not appear in the same light. During Paul’s love affair I had of course to put up with much that was tedious and banal, but I had been constantly refreshed by the underlying simplicity and sincerity of the amorous couple. In the new incident, however, I had to watch Paul indulging in a very tiresome self-deception. He allowed his admiration for the person of this young priest to obscure his view of the universe. This aberration was indeed a necessary phase in his growth, a necessary process in the preparation of the experimental culture upon which I was to operate. But it was none the less a tiresome phase for the observer. Not that Paul’s new enthusiasm was wholly misguided. Far from it. Even from the Neptunian point of view, this ‘Archangel’ was indeed in a limited sense a spiritual aristocrat, for undoubtedly he was gifted with a vision and a moral heroism impossible to most of his fellows. But he was an aristocrat debased by circumstance. He had not been able to resist an environment which was spiritually plebeian. Though in his life he faithfully expressed what he called the superhuman humanity of his God, he almost wholly failed to do justice to another and more austere feature of his own vision, a feature which indeed he never dared fully to acknowledge, even to himself, since in terms of his own religious dogma it appeared starkly as a vision of superhuman inhumanity.

Paul saw the Archangel often and in many circumstances, in public meetings, at the homes of his followers, and at the boys’ club which the priest had organized for the young ‘rough diamonds’ of his dockland parish. He saw him also at his church services. These impressed Paul in a perplexing manner. He noted, at first with some misgiving, the setting in which they took place, the scant and rather smelly congregation, so uncomprehending, but so obviously devoted to the person of the priest; the debased Gothic architecture and strident coloured windows; the music, so historic, so trite, yet to Paul so moving, the surpliced urchins of the choir, furtively sucking sweets, the paraphernalia of the altar, brass and velvet; the muffled noise of traffic in the great thoroughfare outside; and the occasional interruptions by some ship’s steam-whistle as she nosed her way through the Thames fog toward China or the Argentine. In the midst of all this stood the tall, white-robed, fair-haired Archangel, intoning with that restrained yet kindling voice of his, which to Paul in his more devout mood made the hackneyed words of the service novel, urgent, significant with a piercing, blinding lucidity. In his rarer cynical mood, however, the same performance seemed no more meaningful than the ritual phrases of a parrot.

The Archangel’s influence on Paul was partly physical. The younger man was attracted by the still athletic figure, the delicate firm lips, the finely cut aquiline nose. They seemed to him to embody ages of righteousness. In the priest’s manner, too, he found a strong attraction. It soothed him, like a cool hand on the brow. Yet also it gripped him and shook him into life. But chiefly Paul was impressed by the man’s sublime confidence, almost arrogance, in his own religious faith and practice, and by his lively bantering affection for the straying sheep of his flock. Paul’s faith was weak. His love of his fellow-men was more theoretical than practical. But the Archangel, seemingly, was a real Christian. He practised what he preached. He really did love his fellows, not merely as savable souls but as unique individuals. He really did see something peculiar and beautiful in each person. He accepted others as he found them, and served them with the same spontaneity as a man serves his own needs. Through him Paul began at last to feel a real warmth toward his fellow human animals, and in doing so he felt exultantly that he was definitely rising to an ampler and more generous life. Because of this he became extremely ready to receive the metaphysical implications of the Archangel’s religion, which also had been the religion of his own childhood, seldom seriously contemplated but always absent-mindedly believed.

Paul fancied that he now saw at last, with almost the intuitive certainty of elementary mathematics, not only that the governing principle of the universe was love, but that the actual embodiment of that love was Jesus. Moreover, under the influence of the Archangel, who had been stimulated by Paul’s searching questions to make statements of doubtful orthodoxy, Paul now affirmed that the universe was celestial through and through, that all things in it, including Satan, worked together for the perfect expression of love, the perfect expression of the nature of Jesus. And the nature of Jesus, Paul learned not from the Bible but from contemplation of the Archangel. For the Archangel was very obviously sustained from morning till evening by a sense of the presence of his divine master. All who came near him were infected with something of this sense. He radiated a conviction of the ultimate rightness of all things, and at the same time he fired men with a zeal for putting the apparently wrong things right. Not that he was a mere stained-glass saint. Paul was proudly, lovingly conscious of the Archangel’s vivid humanity, even of his little weaknesses, which served greatly to endear him to his admirers. He had, for instance, a quaint passion for raisins. After a trying day he would eat them by the handful, almost defiantly. They seemed to have for him the double attraction of the grape’s sacred and profane significance.

Little by little Paul became an earnest Christian. Deep down in his breast, rather than in his mind, he argued thus, ‘Can such a perfect being as the Archangel be mistaken about God? He is too wise. Can he be deceiving me? He is too sincere, too loving. If this man says that God is Love, it is so.’ If ever his doubts returned, he would run to the Archangel to gain strength to abolish them. Once when this had happened, and the two were talking in the priest’s sitting-room, before a fire that radiated optimism, while the landlady’s cat lay asleep on the hearth-rug, Paul had what he considered a real religious experience. The Archangel had been patiently throttling Paul’s doubts. ‘Hang on to this, Paul,’ he said, ‘Love alone matters. And whatever is needed in the world for the existence of love is justified. What kind of a world is it that we actually find around us? I don’t mean your beloved stars and nebulae and your pettifogging laws of nature. No doubt they are marvellous, and all part of God’s house. But they are only the floor-boards. I mean the human world. What do you find there? You find Satan still at large. He always was, and always will be, till time is finished. And why? Because love that has not got to be for ever fighting is no more love than the unborn babe is a man. And so, Paul, we must thank God that, of his great love for us, he made Satan to torment us.’ He paused, then continued: ‘That’s heresy! You see what happens if one thinks too much about these old problems. Think of Christ only. Feel his god-head. Can’t you feel his presence in this room now?’

The Archangel raised his hand and looked at Paul as though listening to angel choirs. For some moments both remained silent. Gradually it came to seem to Paul that the room was all alive, all aglow, all a-murmur with a presence. Was it the presence of this man? Yes, but surely also it was the presence of Jesus. The room? Nay, the universe. The whole universe, it seemed, was somehow gathered into that room, and the whole of it was manifestly infused with the divine love. Everything was warm and bright, tender and true, or else heroically triumphant over an Evil that was not merely defeated but somehow shown never to have been really evil at all. To the adoring Paul it seemed that the very stars and outer universes came flocking into that little room, like lambs, to be comforted by this Shepherd, this supreme Archangel Jesus. They brought with them their little troubles, their sore feet and their stomachaches, and he, with the magic of his love, cured these little troubles so miraculously that they never had existed at all, save as occasions for his love. Paul and the universes nestled together like little white lambs in the bosom of this Love. Once more it seemed to him that he had made contact with reality, that he had penetrated this time surely to the very heart of the universe. The experience was very wonderful, very strange, yet also mysteriously familiar, with the familiarity of some forgotten existence, an existence so remote that it seemed entirely outside time. It seemed to Paul that an immense energy flooded in upon him. He felt in himself the ancient, the longed-for strength of faith. At last, after all his barren years, he was tense with a new vitality, fully charged, ready to spend himself in a new effulgent life.

The smiling, transfigured Archangel laid a hand on Paul’s knee. Paul said, ‘At last I feel Jesus.’

Now while Paul and the Archangel were yielding themselves to this glamorous experience, there was indeed a presence with them in the room, though one of a very different nature from that which these two Terrestrial animals themselves had conjured in their imaginations. It was the presence of a man who had seen human species after human species wrest for itself out of chaos some slight amenity and some precarious faith, only to collapse into misery, into despair, often into agony. It was the presence of one who himself looked forward to the impending extinction of Man; who found in this event, and in all existence, overmastering beauty indeed, but for the love-sick human individual no consolation. Strange that it was my presence in Paul’s mind, my coldly scrutinizing presence, that had lent actuality to his sense of union with the God of Love! The exhortation of the priest had made him notice in himself an obscure feeling which had already on earlier occasions fleetingly disturbed him with a sense that in some way he was ‘possessed’. I now found him peering, as it were, into the recesses of his being in search of the source of this feeling, believing that what he would see would be the love-gaze of Jesus. Had he discovered what it was that actually ‘possessed’ him, had he come, so to speak, face to face with his Neptunian parasite, his vision would have been shattered, and no doubt he would have taken me for the Devil. But I was at pains to elude detection. Mentally I held my breath, as it were, lest any slight movement of my mind should reveal more of me than that vague ‘presence’ which he had so fantastically misinterpreted.

It was not easy for me to maintain my immobility, for the spectacle of Paul’s fervour stirred me deeply, both toward pity and toward laughter. For what was it that was happening to him? Apart from the complication of my presence, which lent a spurious actuality to his vision, his experience was an epitome of the religious history of the First Human Species, a pitiable confusion of factors irrelevant to one another. In the first place Paul, partly through the wealth of cosmic imagery with which I had already drenched him, had indeed come face to face with the majesty of the universe. In the second place he had with Katherine experienced very vividly the great excellence which is called love. But the Christian tradition, working on him through his revered priest, had combined with his own desire so as to persuade him to attribute love to the pitiless universe itself. This confusion was caused partly by a trick played upon him by his own remote past. For the strange familiarity and the delicious consolation and peace which Paul had savoured in this religious moment were after all but an echo of his own obscure yearning for the tenderness of the breast and the elysium of the womb.

Henceforth Paul thought of himself as a soldier of Christ. He undertook a campaign of asceticism and general discipline. For instance, he made rules to limit his eating. When he succeeded in keeping them, the only result was that he rose from every meal with a wolfish craving, and thoughts of food haunted him throughout the day. He tried sleeping on his bedroom floor, but always before the night was over he crept guiltily into bed. His self-discipline was always half-hearted and ineffective, for he had no real faith in its spiritual efficacy. He did it, not with the earnestness of the God-hungry soul, but because earnestly religious persons were supposed to do so, and he wanted to be one of them.

Paul found great satisfaction in doing odd jobs for the Archangel. He took up work at the boys’ club. Unfortunately he soon found that he was not much good with boys, having few of the attributes which they admired. He was useless at boxing and billiards, useless at back-chat. And he had no authority, for in his heart he was frightened of the boys. But for the Archangel’s sake, and also for self-discipline, he stuck to the club. Finally he took charge of the canteen. He was cheated over halfpence, and at the end of the evening he basely made up the losses out of his own pocket. In intervals of selling coffee and buns he sat behind the counter reading. But this furtive practice caused him much heart-searching and when the Archangel was about, he put his book away and tried to be genial with the boys.

Paul succeeded in persuading himself that nearly all his actions were expressions of his master-motive, to be a soldier of Christ in the modern world. But as a matter of fact he had many quite independent interests. He lived a varied and often hilarious life with the little band of the Archangel’s student admirers. He had also several tentative amorous passages. He worked industriously and with some success. He read much contemporary literature and some popular science. But all his scientific thought he censored rigorously for religion’s sake.

Paul’s religious fervour expressed itself chiefly not in action but in writing free verse of a quasi-biblical character. He persuaded himself that he had an ‘urge’ to produce verbal formulations of his spiritual experience, that he was’ inspired’. But to his parasite it was clear that what he produced in this phase was not wrung from him by the intensity of experience. These poems were but literary exercises, imitative in technique, and seldom vitalized by any original imagination. The Archangel applauded these effusions because they were Correct in sentiment, but he regarded them as merely play, not as a man’s work for God. He could not perceive that though they failed they meant much to Paul. It is worth while to give one example for the light which it throws on Paul’s mind at this time.


Behold the sons of men.
who sin.
whose hearts are divine!
In selfishness they heap misery on one another;
yet for love they die.
They are blown about like dead leaves;
yet for love they stand firm.
For bread they trample one another.
yet for a dream they die.
Scatter gold among them, and they are beasts;
show them God, and they are sons of God.

iii. Paul Faces the Facts

Without my help it might have taken Paul some years to outgrow his phase of mental obedience and spiritual confusion. But time was pressing. I needed him to be well-advanced in his next phase at the close of his university career, so that he might be prepared to meet the crisis of 1914 in a significant manner. Therefore, when I had allowed him some months of play in his little Christian nursery, I began once more to exercise my influence upon him. I infiltrated him with images of cosmical majesty and horror, with apprehensions of human weakness and meanness and agony, with doubts and questions intolerable to his religion.

During the previous two years Paul had come across a number of distressing facts about the world, but he had contrived to see them in the rosy light of his religion. These experiences now, through my influence, began to haunt him. At all times of the day and night he was now liable to sinister visual and auditory images, either taken intact from his own past, or reconstructed in still more repugnant forms. It was as though hitherto he had been wandering in a luxuriant but volcanic land in which only now and again he had encountered the blow-holes and sulphurous jets of nether chaos; but now, it seemed, the whole terrain was heaving, cracking, belching under his feet. Over his books in his own comfortable suburban home he would be distressed by visions of the slum-tenement homes that he had visited when he was working for an ‘after-care’ committee. And somehow they seemed more sordid and overcrowded in imagination than in reality. While he was walking on the down, he would remember with abnormal distinctiveness a brawl that he had once witnessed in the East End. Bottles were thrown. A man’s face was cut. A woman was knocked over. Her head came against the kerbs tone with an audible crack, like the collision of bowls on a green. While he was reading or eating or walking, and especially while he was lying in bed and not yet asleep, faces would confront him; faces which, when he had encountered them in actuality, had seemed but opaque masks, grey, pinched, flabby, or purplish and bloated, but now in imagination revealed their underlying personalities to him with harrowing expressiveness. For I permitted him to see them as they would have appeared to a Neptunian fresh from the world of the Last Men. He had once been shown over a lunatic asylum. The faces that now haunted him were, he recognized, faces of sane men and women, yet they reminded him distressingly of those imbecile faces. Faces of all kinds they were, young and old, business men, fashionable women, unshaven labourers, clerks, young bloods, lawyers; all pushing themselves forward at him, leering, smirking, whimpering, impressing, imploring, all so intent, so self-important, so blind. Somehow they reminded him of cheap ornate lamps, rusty, shop-soiled, and never lit. The queer phrase ‘blind lamps’ reiterated itself to him on these occasions. Another image haunted him in connexion with these faces, and seemed to him to summarize them all and symbolize the condition of his species. It was an image which I constructed in his mind in detail and with verisimilitude, and endowed with a sense of familiarity, though in fact it was not derived from his past but from his future experience during the war. He seemed to see, lying in mud, a dead mare, already decaying. From its hindquarters, which were turned towards him, there projected the hideously comical face of its unborn foal. The first time he encountered this apparition Paul was at a political meeting. Before him on the platform sat a company of politicians, city worthies and their wives. A cabinet minister was perorating. Suddenly Paul saw the foal, and in a flash recognized its expression in the speaker, in the ladies and gentlemen on the platform, in the audience. His gorge rose, he thought he was going to vomit. Stumbling over his neighbour’s feet, he fled out of the hall. Henceforth he was very prone to see the foal, at lectures, at dances, in church. Even in the Archangel’s smile he sometimes recognized with horror that foetal grin.

Another type of imagery and of thought I also forced on Paul at this time. I first impelled him to read works of contemporary literature and science which were discountenanced by the Archangel. Furtively he began to return to the interests that had been roused in him before he came to the university, interests in the intricacy of the physical world, in the types of living things, in the theory of evolution, in the astronomical immensities. But whereas formerly these things delighted him, now they terrified him, even while they fascinated. I took care that they should haunt him with imagery. He had curious sensations as of sweeping with increasing speed through space, while the stars streamed past him like harbour lights. Sometimes it seemed to him that he was dropping into the tumultuous and incandescent vapours of the sun. Sometimes he glimpsed spinning worlds, parched and airless, uninhabited, meaningless.

When Paul had been subjected to this violent influence for some weeks, he began, like many of his contemporaries, to find a kind of consolation in the theory of evolution, romantically interpreted. It made worm and ant and man fellow-workers in a great cause. Exactly what they were all working for, he did not know; nor could he justify his strong conviction that, though all had achieved something, man was doing far more than the others, and might yet do infinitely better. Those thrusting imbecile faces that haunted him, and were the faces of his fellow-men and himself, those foal faces, were really not men at all, not what men should be and might be, any more than the grinning and putrefying foal was a horse. Gallantly Paul now began to convince himself that the whole universe was striving toward some supreme expression of life, though blindly in conflict with itself, torturing itself. He wrote a poem in which man appeared as ‘the germ of the cosmic egg’. Later he tore it up and wrote another in which the cosmic egg was said to consist entirely of germs, each of which was trying to devour the others and include their substance in its own expanding form. In another he declared that God was ‘the Soul of the World, striving to wake’. He put great pains into the making of these verses, and had a sense of vision and achievement such as he had never known before. One short poem I quote, as it shows clearly the rebirth of my influence in him and the quickening of his own imagination.


As a cloud changes.
so changes the earth.
Coasts and valley.
and the deep-rooted hills
They last but for a little while;
as cloud-tresses among the rocks.
they vanish.
And as a smile gleams and fades.
so for a very little while.
Life rejoices the earth.
From the beginning fire.
then frost, endless.
And between, the swift smile, Life.
From the beginning fire.
then frost, endless.
and between.

Paul ventured to show these poems to the Archangel. The young author was diffident about them, and did not expect them to be taken very seriously; but the manner in which the Archangel received them was something of a shock to him. Gently but also emphatically the priest told him that he was in danger of serious heresy. God could not be the soul of the world, since he had created the world and would survive the world. As for the cosmic egg, still more the evanescence of life in the universe, Paul ought to realize that such bizarre ideas were dangerous, since they obscured the central fact of religion, namely the direct and eternal intercourse between God and man. Surely that amazing fact was far more interesting than these grotesque fancies. Paul was so upset that he turned actually dizzy and faint. No wonder, for here was the being whom he respected above all others and even took to be in some manner divine, condemning ideas which to Paul himself seemed to have very far-reaching and very beautiful significance.

This experience was the beginning of a long period of heart-searching in which Paul became increasingly aware of being torn in two directions, namely, toward the Archangel and toward something which he could not yet at all clearly see. He began to oscillate between two moods. One was a mood of interest in personality and the personal God whom man had rightly or wrongly conceived in his own image. The other was a mood of revulsion from man and his God, and of interest in all that vastness within which man is but a tremulous candle-flame, very soon to be extinguished. He could not integrate these moods in one. Yet whichever was the mood of the day, he felt obscurely but strangely that it was incomplete, that somehow the other was just as necessary, though at the moment he could not feel it. On the one hand was the Archangel, and Jesus, and all the humbler beauties of human persons. On the other was the rippled lake, the stars, the whole vast intricacy of nature. On the one hand was Love, and on the other the more mysteriously beautiful thing, Fate. And Life, how did Life relate itself to this profound dichotomy of the spirit? When he was in what he called the Archangel mood, he could without difficulty extend his interest so as to regard the story of evolution as the story of a great crusade of myriads of spirits freely striving to achieve some glorious end in praise of God, and sacrificing themselves by the way in myriads of casualties. When he was in the mood of the stars, he regarded the same great story as one somewhat intricate system of wave-trains spreading its innumerable undulations in ever-widening, ever-fading circles on the surface of existence, presently to vanish. Strange that, so long as he remained in the mood of the stars, this thought did not outrage him. He accepted it — not with reluctance, but with joy.

It was while he was still only beginning to discover the existence of these two moods in himself that Paul had to decide once and for all what he would do in the world. The Archangel said, ‘If your faith is secure, prepare to become a priest of the one God. If it is not secure, find some solid practical work to do in the service of man.’ Paul’s faith was not secure. On the other hand, he dreaded the thought of being caught up in the mills of business or industry. And he did seriously desire to play some part in the great work of salvation. If it was not for him to turn men’s attention to Jesus, at least he might turn the attention of the young to the many lovely features of existence. After much agonized hesitation he finally decided that he must become a teacher. He therefore persuaded his family to let him take a diploma, hoping that a thorough preparation would do away with his proved incompetence with boys. At the outbreak of the European War he was about to take up his first post, in one of the large suburban secondary schools of the Metropolis.

For some months Paul was engaged on what seemed to him a life and death struggle in two entirely different spheres. While he was desperately trying to acquire the art of teaching, he was at the same time, and increasingly, concerned with an unprecedented fact in his world, namely, the European War. Presently this fact gave rise to a new and bewildering personal problem, namely, the problem of his own conduct in a war-racked world.

At the school he had set out to inspire his pupils with the love of ‘culture’. In fact he took the work very seriously. He spent many hours in preparation and correction, but was always behindhand, and therefore in class always uncertain. The boys soon found him out, and took delight in tripping him. He became more and more insecure. On the side of discipline also he came to grief, though he had excellent theories on this subject. Discipline, he argued, should be self-imposed, not imposed by others. Unfortunately such discipline is the most difficult to inculcate, especially amongst rebellious young animals who have been brought up on something different. Paul himself had none of that native and unconscious authority which alone could have ensured success in such circumstances. The boys soon found that good sport was to be had by baiting him. He changed his method, and tried to impose order, but could achieve no more than a partial suppression of disorder. The more tyrannous his control, the more gleefully did rebellion raise her hydra heads. Things came to such a pass that one afternoon when the last class was over, and the boys had stampeded away along the corridor, Paul, seated upon his dais, dropped his head forward on his chalk-dusty hands. I felt tears trickle through his fingers on to the desk. The syllables of a desperate prayer formed themselves in his throat and on his lips. ‘Oh, God, oh, God,’ he cried, ‘make me different from what I am.’ It seemed to him that he had reached the very rock-bottom of despair. For this despair was more acutely conscious, more precisely formulated than any of his earlier despairs. He was a grown man (so he imagined), and completely incompetent to deal with life. In adolescence his dread had been that he himself would miss fulfilment, that he would ‘get stuck’, stranded, and never explore the promised lands of life. But now he dreaded far more (so he persuaded himself) that he would never be able to do anything even of the humblest order ‘to the glory of God’. This was now his master motive, to pull his weight, to do a man’s work, to be able to look his fellows in the eyes and say, ‘Of course I am nothing out of the common, but you can see that I am pulling my weight.’ He longed to cut adrift and start all over again at something else. But at what? Outside his little prison there was nothing but the war. The boys were already skilfully torturing him about the war. Then why did he not go? He would make a wretched soldier, but the Government said that every one was needed. Even if he merely got himself shot, he would have ‘done his bit’. And he would be quit of all this misery.

For some while he continued to lie with his head in one hand, while the other crumpled the harsh black folds of his gown. To go and be a soldier. What did it really mean? Military discipline. Doing stupid things just because you were told to. Pushing bayonets into straw dummies, and later into live bellies. Feeling those jagged shell splinters tear through your own flesh and bones. It was all inconceivably horrible. But apparently it had to be, since Civilization was in danger. Then surely he must go. And how good to be out of all this fiasco of teaching. Anything was better than that. How good to surrender one’s conscience into the keeping of the army. That way surely lay peace of mind. Like surrendering your conscience to the Church. Give it to a general to look after. Yes, he must not stand aside any longer from the great spiritual purification and revival that the Archangel said was coming out of the war. It had begun already. The war was helping people to get out of themselves, helping them to see Jesus. The Archangel said so. Yes, he would enlist. Then there would be nothing to do but to obey, be courageous, relentless. Then all his troubles would be escaped. Just set your teeth and be a hero. So easy, compared with this work that was simply beyond him. He looked at his watch. Late! And he wanted to get his hair cut before catching the train home. Hurriedly he began to gather up his books.

Then he paused. Once more he bowed over the desk. Must he really help in their stupid war, their filthy, mad, backward-looking war, that was wrecking the civilization it was meant to save. It was like saving a man from death by an operation that was bound to be fatal. People said war was better than dishonour. But from the world point of view war was dishonour. Nothing was so base as war. Better far that the Germans should overrun Belgium, France, England. But no. The Archangel said this was all wrong. He said Jesus was definitely on our side. What was the truth about it all, what was the truth? ‘Jesus, Jesus, help me, if you ever help anyone. Why am I alive? What is it all for? Why is there this terrible world? Why are we all so horrible?’ Jesus did not answer. Paul lay still, his mind almost blank; then he yawned, raised his head, and rested his chin on his hand. He had no further thoughts. He gazed vacantly at the chalk-grains on the desk.

At this point I undertook a serious intervention in Paul’s mind. As he gazed at the minute white points of the chalk, I induced him to regard them as stars in the Milky Way. I then made him blow upon the desk. The whole galaxy shifted, spread outwards, streamed down the sloping board; thousands of stars tumbled into the abyss. Paul watched, fascinated. Then he shuddered and covered his face with his hands. I now flooded his astonished mind with images and ideas. In imagination he still saw the star-dust streaming, whirling. But I made him seize, with miraculous vision, one out of all the myriad suns, round which circled infinitesimal planets. One of these planets his piercing eye regarded minutely. He watched its surface boiling, seething, settling into oceans and continents. Then with supernaturally penetrative eyes, he saw in the tidal waters of the ever-fluctuating, drifting continents the living Scum, our ancestor. He saw it propagate, spread, assume a thousand forms, invade the oceans and the lands. He saw forests creep over the plains; and with his magically piercing vision he detected among the greenery a sparse dust of beasts. Reptiles clambered, ran, took wing, or reached up to crunch the tree-tops. In a twinkling they vanished. Then beneath his eyes a finer and more vital dust, the mammals, was blown into every land. Now the tempo of his vision slowed, slowed. Man, super-simian, sprinkled the valleys with his hovels, the lake-shallows with his huts, the hill-tops with his megaliths. He set fire to the forests, tilled the plains, built cities, temples, palaces, Nilotic pyramids, Acropolis. Along thread-like imperial roads the legionaries percolated, like blood corpuscles. Upon a minute hill, beside a city wall, a minute crowd existed and vanished. Presently there was a rash of churches, then little smoke-clouds of wars and revolutions, then a sudden tissue of steel tracks and murky blotches. And now to Paul’s straining eyes there appeared for an instant a little crooked line stretching across Europe. On either side of this line wave-trains drifted, infinitely faint, confused, but unmistakable. Wave-trains of grey, blue, khaki, were seen to advance upon the line from East and West, recoiling in feebler undulation athwart their own advancing successors. They vanished. The tempo of the vision accelerated. Aeons rushed headlong into pastness. The minute continents deformed themselves. The little sun shrank, faded to a red spark; and as it did so the little planet became snowy white, a simple chalk-grain, which presently was lost in obscurity. The sun-spark was snuffed out. Paul’s gaze seized upon another sun. This also was snuffed out. One by one, thousand by thousand, all the stars were extinguished, till the whole galaxy had vanished. There was nothing left but darkness. It seemed to Paul that the dark flooded into his mind, wave upon wave. In vain he battled against it. The spirit of night had triumphed. His mind reeled, sickened, sank into unconsciousness. He lay still, with open eyes unseeing. But though he was now profoundly tranced, I, who had worked this change in him, still perceived through all his sense organs. I felt the slight indigestion that had been aggravating his despond. I felt the constriction of his collar, which was rather too small for him. Presently I felt a fly walk across his eyeball. He took no notice. But I, fearing that his trance might break too soon, caused his hand to drive away the intruder, and soothe the irritation. Once more he lay still.

When at length Paul emerged from this swoon, he found himself recalling with strange distinctness the tarn where long ago he had first watched the intersecting waves. In imagination he watched them now, progressing, interlacing, fading, reappearing in varying patterns on every quarter of the lake. On the actual occasion, they had roused in him little more than intellectual curiosity; but now they had acquired such grave significance that every briefest flurry, every ripple, seemed to imprint its form upon his own being. At first he resisted, though vainly. But soon the insistent rhythms calmed him to acquiescence. He let them mould him, re-form him, as they willed; and in this passivity he found peace. Presently he raised his head, sat up, looked round at the desks, the maps, the grey fields of the windows, his chalky hands, the clumsy writing of some ‘exercises’ awaiting correction. All was as before, yet all was now acceptable, strangely right, even beautiful. Under his breath he whispered ‘God! What a fool I was not to see it long ago!’

He looked at his watch, gathered up his things, and hurried away. In his step I felt anew buoyancy, in the stream of his thoughts a new and bracing freshness. Soon, no doubt, he would return to his former despair, but the memory of this experience would never wholly desert him.

At this point I left Paul, and returned to my own world. My first task was to work up the material which I had gathered from Paul and others, and to make it known to my colleagues. Next I took that holiday which was described at the outset of this book. I also participated in the awakening of the Racial Mind. Then at last I came back to Paul, rediscovering him, not precisely at the date where I had left him, but a few days later. The good that I had worked in him seemed already to have disappeared. I found him, as I have already reported, in an agony of indecision, tortured by little incidents in the streets of London.

It will be necessary to tell how Paul finally tackled his war problem. But for the present we must leave him. My concern with him is incidental to my main theme. He is but an instrument through which I chose to observe your world, and through which I choose to exhibit your world to you. He is also a sample of that world. I have shown the instrument in some detail, and I have displayed the sample; warning you that, though peculiarly significant, it is not an average sample. You have seen that Paul, when he came face to face with the war, was already at grips with certain problems which are in fact the supreme problems of your age. Let me close this chapter by enumerating them. There was the problem of ‘the flesh’ and ‘the spirit’, the problem of human personality and evolving Life, the problem of the divinity of love and the austerity of fate. It was with these problems already troubling consciousness or stirring in regions deeper than consciousness, that all the more developed members of your species faced the war.

I now pass on to tell you how your war and your reactions to your war appear to the Last Men.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00