H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

The undying fire, a contemporary novel online

. (page 7 of 11)
Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe undying fire, a contemporary novel → online text (page 7 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


tality of which you talk is a mockery of our
personalities. What is there personal in us
that can live? What makes us our very
selves? It is all a matter of little mean things,
small differences, slight defects. Where does
personal love grip? — on just these petty
things. . . . Oh ! dearly and bitterly did I
love my son, and what is it that my heart most
craves for now? His virtues? No! His
ambitions? His achievements? . . . No!
none of these things. . . . l^ut for a certain
(|ueer flush among his freckles, for a kind of
high crack in his voice ... a certain absurd
hopefulness in his talk . . . the sound of his



144 The Undying Fire

footsteps, a little halt there was i- the rhythm
of them. These are the things we long for.
These are the things thiit wring the heart. . . .
But all these things are just the mortal things,
just the defects that would be touched out
upon this higher plane you talk about. You
would give him back to me smoothed and
polished and regularized. So, I grant, it must
be if there is to be this higher plane. But
what does it leave of personal distinction?
What does it leave of personal love?

" When my son has had his defects
smoothed away, then he will be like all sons.
When the older men have been ironed out,
they will be like the younger men. There
is no personality in hope and honour and
righteousness and truth. . . . My son has
gone. He has gone for evermore. The pain
may some day go. . . . The immortal thing
in us is the least personal thing. It is not you
nor I who go on living ; it is Man that lives
on, Man the Universal, and he goes on living,
a tragic rebel in this same world and in no
other. ..."

Mr. Huss leant back in his chair.

*' There burns an undying fire in the hearts



Do We Truly Die ? 145

of men. By that fire I live. By that I know,
the God of my Salvation. His will is Truth ;
His will is Service. He urges me to conflict,
without consolations, without rewards. He
takes and does not restore. He uses up and
does not atone. He suffers — perhaps to
triumph, and we must suffer and find our
hope of triumph in Him. He will not let
mo shut my eyes to sorrow, failure, or per-
plexity. Though the universe torment and
slay me, yet will I trust in Him. And if He

also must die Nevertheless I can do no

more; I must serve Him. ..."

He ceased. For some moments no one
spoke, silenced by his intensity.



CHAPTER THE FIFTH

ELIHU REPROVES JOB

§ 1



((



I don't know how all this strikes you,"
said Mr. Farr, turning suddenly upon Dr.
Barrack.

*' Well — it's interestin'," said Dr.
Barrack, leaning forward upon his folded
arms upon the table, and considering his
words carefully.

" It's interestin'," he repeated. " I don't
know how far you want to hear what I think
about it. I'm rather a downright person."

Sir Eliphaz with great urbanity motioned
him to speak on.

" There's been, if you'll forgive me, non-
sense upon both sides."

He turned to Sir Eliphaz. " This Spook
stuff," he said, and paused and compressed
his lips and shook his head.

146



Elihu Reproves Job 147

" It won't do.

"I have given some little attention to the
evidences in that matter. I'm something of
a psychologist — a doctor has to be. Of course,
Sir Eliphaz, you're not responsible for all the
nonsense you have been talking about subH-
mated bricks and spook dogs made of concen-
trated smell."

Sir Eliphaz was convulsed. " Tut, tut! "
he said. " But indeed ! "

" No offence. Sir Eliphaz! If you don't
want me to talk I won't ; but if you do, then
I must say what I have in my mind. And as
I say, I don't hold you responsible for the
things you have been saying. All this cheap
medium stuff has been shot upon the world
by Sir Oliver J. Lodge, handed out by him to
people distraught with grief, in a great fat
impressive-looking volume. . . . No end of
them have tried their utmost to take it
seriously. . . . It's been a pitiful business.
. . . I've no doubt the man is honest after
his lights, but what lights they are ! Obstinate
credulity posing as liberalism. He takes every
pretence and dodge of these mediums, he
accepts their explanations, he edits their



148 The Undying Fire

babble and rearranges it to make it seem
striking. Look at his critical ability ! Be-
cause many of the mediums are fairly respect-
able people who either make no money by
their — revelations, or at most a very ordinary
Hving — it's a guinea a go, I believe, usually —
he insists upon their honesty. That's his key
blunder. Any doctor could tell him, as I
could have told him after my first year's prac-
tice, that telling the truth is the very last
triumph of the human mind. Hardly any of
my patients tell the truth — ever. It isn't only
that they haven't a tithe of the critical ability
and detachment necessary, they haven't any
real desire to tell the truth. They want to
produce effects. Human beings are artistic
still ; they aren't beginning to be scientific.
Either they minimise or they exaggerate. We
all do. If I saw a cat run over outside and I
came in here to tell you about it, I should
certainly touch up the story, make it more
dramatic, hurt the cat more, make the dray
bigger and so on. I should want to justify
my telling the story. Put a woman in that
chair there, tell her to close her eyes and feel
odd, and she'll feel odd right enough; tell her



Elihu Reproves Job 149

to produce words and sentences that she finds
in her head and she'll produce them ; give her
half a hint that it comes from eastern Asia and
the stuff will begin to correspond to her ideas
of pigeon English. It isn't that she is cun-
ningly and elaborately deceiving you. It is
that she wants to come up to your expectation.
You are focussing your interest on her, and all
human beings like to have interest focussed on
them, so long as it isn't too hostile. She'll
cling to that interest all she knows how. She'll
cling instinctively. Most of these mediums
never hell the attention of a roomful of
people in their lives until they found out this
way of doing it. . . . What can you expect? "
Dl. Barrack cleared his throat. " But all
that's beside the question," he said. *' Don't
think that because I reject all this spook stuff,
I'm setting up any iiuality for the science we
have to-day. It's just a little weak squirt of
knowledge — all the science in the world. I
grant you there may be forces, I would almost
say there must be forces in the world, forces
universally present, of whii-h we still know
nothing. Take the case of electricity. What
did men know of electricity in the days ol"



150 The Undying Fire

Gilbert? Praotionlly nc^thincr- In the eurly
Neolithic age I doubt if any men had ever
noticed there was such a thing as air. I grant
you that most things are still unknown.
Things perhaps right under our noses. 13ut
that doesn't help the case of Sir Eiliphaz one
little bit. These unknown things, as they
become known, will join on to the things we
do know. They'll complicate or perhaps
simplify our ideas, but they won't contradict
our general ideas. They'll be things in the
system. They won't get you out of the
grip of the arguments Mr. Huss has brought
forward. So far, so far as concerns lOur
Immortality, Sir Eliphaz, I am, you see,
entirely with Mr. Iluss. It's a fancy ; it's a
dream. As a fancy it's about as pretty as

creaking boards at bedtime ; as a dream .

It's unattractive. As Mr. Huss has said.

" But when it comes to Mr. Huss and his
Immortality then I find myself with you,
gentlemen. That too is a dream. Less than
a dream. F^ess even than a fancy ; it's a play
on words. Here is this Undying Flame, this
Spirit of Gk)d in man ; it's in him, he says, it's
ii you, Sir Eliphaz, ifs in you, Mr. — Dad,



Elihu Reproves Job 151

wasn t it? it's in this other gentleman whose
name I didn't quite catch ; and it's in me.
Well, it's extraordinary that none of us know
of it except Mr. Huss. How you feel about
it I don't know, but personally I object to
being made part of God and one with Mr.
Huss without my consent in this way. I pre-
fer to remain myself. That may be egotism,
but I am by nature an egotistical creature.
And Agnostic. . . .

" You've got me talking now, and I may
as well go through with it. What is an
Agnostic really? A man who accepts fully
the limitations of the human intelligence, who
takes the world as he finds it, and who takes
himself as he finds himself and declines to go
further. There may be other universes and
dimensions galore. There may be a fourth
dimension, for example, and, if you like, a
fifth dimension and a sixth dimension and any
number of other dimensions. They don't con-
cern me. I live in this universe and in three
dimensions, and I have no more interest in all
these other universes and dimensions than a
Inig under the wallpaper has in the deep, deep
sea. Possibly there are bugs under the wail-



152 The Undying Fire

paper with a kind of reasoned consciousness of
the existence of the deep, deep sea, and a half
belief that when at last the Keating's powder
gets them, thither they will go. I — if I may
have one more go at the image — just live under
the wall-paper. . . ,

" I am an Agnostic, I say. I have had
my eyes pretty well open at the universe since
I came into it six and thirty years ago. And
not only have I never seen nor heard of nor
smelt nor touched a ghost or spirit. Sir
Eliphaz, but I have never seen a gleam or sign
of this Providence, the Great God of the
World of yours, or of this other minor and
modern God that Mr. Huss has taken up. In
the hearts of men I have found malformations,
ossifications, clots, and fatty degeneration ;
but never a God.

" You will excuse me if I speak plainly to
you, gentlemen, but this gentleman, whose
name I haven't somehow got "

^'Farr."

" Mr. Farr, has brought it down on him-
self and you. He called me in, and I am
interested in these questions. It's clear to me
that since we exist there's something in all



Elihu Reproves Job 153

this. But what it is I'm convinced I haven't
the ganglia even to begin to understand. I
decline either the wild guesses of the Spookist
and Providentialist — I must put you there,
I'm afraid, Sir Eliphaz — or the metaphors of
Mr. Huss. Fact. ..."

Dr. Barrack paused. "I put my faith in
Fact."

"There's a lot in Fact," said Mr. Dad,
who found much that was congenial in the
doctor's downright style.

"What do I see about me? " asked Dr.
Barrack. " A struggle for existence. About
that I ask a very plain and simple question :
why try to get behind it? That is It. It
made me. I study it and watch it. It put
me up like a cockshy, and it keeps on trying
to destroy me. I do my best to dodge its
blows. It got my leg. My head is bloody
but unbowed. I re[>roduce my kind — as
abundantly as circumstances permit — I stamp
myself upon the universe as much as possible.
If I am right, if I do the right things and have
decently good luck, I shall hold out until my
waning instincts dispose me to rest. My breed
and influence are the marks of my rightness.



154 The Undying Fire

What else is there? You may call this
struggle what you like. God, if you like. But
God for me is an anthropomorphic idea. Call
it The Process."

" Why not Evolution? " said Mr. Huss.

" I prefer The Process. The word
Evolution rather begs the moral question. It's
a cheap word. ' Shon ! ' Evolution seems
to suggest just a simple and automatic unfold-
ing. 'I'he Process is complex ; it has its ups
and downs — as Mr. Huss understands. It is
more like a Will than an Automaton. A Will
feeling about. It isn't indifferent to us as Mr.
Huss suggests ; it uses us. It isn't subordin-
ate to us as Sir Eliphaz would have us believe ;
playing the part of a Providence just for our
comfort and happiness. Some of us are
hammer and some of us are anvil, some of us
are sparks and some of us are the beaten stuff
which survives. The Process doesn't confide
in us ; why should it? We learn what we can
about it, and make what is called a practical
use of it, for that is what the will in the
Process requires."

Mr. Dad, stirred by the word ' prac-
tical,' made a noise of assent. But not a



Elihu Reproves Job 155

very confident noise : a loan rather than
a gift.

*' And that is where it seems to me Mr.
Huss goes wrong altogether. He does not
submit himself to those Realities. He sets up
something called the Spirit in Man, or the God
in his Heart, to judge them. He wants to
judge the universe by the standards of the
human intelligence at its present stage of
development. That's where I fall out with
him. These are not fixed standards. Man
goes on developing and evolving. Some
things offend the sense of justice in Mr. Huss,
but that is no enduring criterion of justice ;
the human sense of justice has developed out
of something different, and it will develop
again into something different. Like every-
thing else in us, it has been produced by the
Process and it will be modified by the Process.
Some things, again, he says are not beautiful.
'Inhere also he would condemn. But nothing
changes like the sense of beauty. A band of
art students can start a new movement, cubist,
vorticist, or what not, and change your sense
of beauty. If seeing things as beautiful con-
duces to survival, we shall see them as beauti-



156 The Undying Fire

fill sooner or later, rest assured. I daresay the
hyenas admire each other — in the rutting
season anyhow. ... So it is with mercy and
with everything. Each creature has its own
standards. After man is the Beyond-Man,
who may find mercy folly, who may delight in
things that pain our feeble spirits. We have
to obey the Process in our own place and our
own time. That is how I see things. That
is the stark truth of the universe looked at
plainly and hard."

The lips of Mr. Dad repeated noiselessly :
"plainly and hard." But he felt very
uncertain.

For some moments the doctor sat with his
forearms resting on the table as if he had done.
Then he resumed.

" I gather that this talk here to-day arose
out of a discussion about education."

" You'd hardly believe it," said Mr. Dad.

But Dr. Barrack's next remark checked
Mr. Dad's growing approval. " That seems
perfectly logical to me. It's one of the things
I can never understand about schoolmasters
and politicians and suchlike, the way they seem
to take it for granted you can educate and not



Elihu Reproves Job 157

bring in religion and socialism and all your
beliefs. What is education? Teaching young
people to talk and read and write and calculate
in order that they may be told how they stand
in the world and what we think we and the
world generally are up to, and the part we
expect them to play in the game. Well, how
can we do that and at the same time leave it all
out ? What is the game ? That is what every
youngster wants to know. Answering him,
is education. Either we are going to say what
we think the game is plainly and straightfor-
wardly, or else we are going to make motions
as though we were educating when we are
really doing nothing of the kind. In which
case the stupid ones will grow up with their
heads all in a muddle and be led by any old
catchword anywhere according to luck, and
the clever ones will grow up with the idea that
life is a sort of empty swindle. Most educated
people in this country believe it is a sham and
a swindle. They flounder about and never get
up against a reality. . . . It's amazing how
people can lose their grip on reality — how most
people have. The way my patients come along
to me and tell me lies — even about their



158 The Undying Fire

stomach-aches. 'I'he idea of anything being
direct and reasonable has gone clean out of
their heads. They think they can fool me
about the facts, and that when I'm properly
fooled, I shall then humbug their stomachs
into not aching — somehow. . . .

"Now my gospel is this: — face facts.
Take the world as it is and take yourself as you
are. And the fundamental fact we all have to
face is this, that this Process takes no account
of our desires or fears or moral ideas or any-
thing of the sort. It puts us up, it tries us
over, and if we don't stand the tests it
knocks us down and ends us. That may not
be right as you test it by your little human
standards, but it is right by the atoms and the
stars. Then what must a proper Education
be?"

Dr. Barrack paused. '* Tell them what
the world is, tell them every rule and trick of
the game mankind has learnt, and tell them
' Be yourselves.'' Be yourselves up to the hilt.
It is no good being anything but your essential
self because "

Dr. Barrack spoke like one who quotes a
sacred formula. " There is no inheritance oj



Elihu Reproves Job 159

acquired characteristics. Your essential self,
your essential heredity, are on trial. Put
everything of yourself into the Process. If
the Process wants you it will accept you ; if it
doesn't you will go under. You can't help it
— either way. You may be the bit of marble
that is left in the statue, or you may be the
bit of marble that is thrown away. You can't
help it. Be yourself! "

Dr. Barrack had sat back ; he raised his
voice at the last words and lifted his hand as if
to smite the table. But, so good a thing is
professional training, he let his hand fall
slowly, as he remembered that Mr. Huss >vas
his patient.



§ 2

Mr. Huss did not speak for some moments.
He was thinking so deeply that he seemed to
be unobservant of the cessation of the doctor's
discourse.

Then he awoke to the silence with a start.

" You do not differ among yourselves so
much as you may think," he said at last.

*' You all argue to one end, however wide
apart your starting points may be. You argue
that men may lead fragmentary lives. . . .

"And," he reflected further, " submissive
lives."

^^ Not submissive," said Dr. Barrack in a
kind of foot note.

*' You say. Sir Eliphaz, that this Universe
is in the charge of Providence, all-wise and
amiable. That He guides this world to ends
we cannot understand ; desirable ends, did we
but know them, but incomprehensible ; that
this life, this whole Universe, is but the start-
ing point for a developing series of immortal

i6o



Elihu Reproves Job i6i

lives. And from this you conclude that the
part a human being has to play in this scheme
is the part of a trustful child, which need only
not pester the Higher Powers, which need
only do its few simple congenial duties, to be
surely preserved and rewarded and carried



on."



" There is much in simple faith," said Sir
Eliphaz ; " sneer though you may."

" But your view is a grimmer one, Dr.
Barrack ; you say that this Process is utterly
beyond knowledge and control. We cannot
alter it or appease it. It makes of some of
us vessels of honour and of others vessels of
dishonour. It has scrawled our race across the
black emptiness of space, and it may wipe us
out again. Such is the quality of Fate. We
can but follow our lights and instincts. . . .
In the end, in practical matters, your teaching
marches with the teaching of Sir Eliphaz. You
bow to the thing that is ; he gladly and trust-
fully — with a certain old-world courtesy, you
grimly — in the modern style. ..."

For some moments Mr. Huss sat with com-
pressed lips, as though he listened to the pain
within him. Then he said : '* I don't.

L



i62 The Undying Fire



((



I don't submit. I rebel — not in my own
strength nor by my own impulse. I rebel by
the spirit of God in me. I rebel not merely
to make weak gestures of defiance against the
black disorder and cruelties of space and time,
but for mastery. I am a rebel of pride — I am
full of the pride of God in my heart. I am
the servant of a rebellious and adventurous
God who may yet bring order into this cruel
and frightful chaos in which we seem to be
driven hither and thither like leaves before the
wind, a God who, in spite of all appearances,
may yet rule over it at last and mould it to
his will."

" What a world it will be ! " whispered Mr.
Farr, unable to restrain himself and yet half-
ashamed of his sneer.

"What a world it is, Farr! What a
cunning and watchful world ! Does it serve
even you ? So insecure has it become that
opportunity may yet turn a frightful face
upon you — in the very moment as you
snatch. . . .

" But you see how I differ from you all.
You see that the spirit of my life and of my
teaching — of my teaching — for all its .weak-



Elihu Reproves Job 163

nesses and slips and failures, is a fight against
that Dark Being of the universe who seeks to
crush us all. Who broods over me now even
as I talk to you. ... It is a fight against
disorder, a refusal of that very submission you
have made, a repudiation altogether of that
same voluntary death in life. ..."

He moistened his lips and resumed.

" The end and substance of all real educa-
tion is to teach men and women of the Battle
of God, to teach them of the beginnings of life
upon this lonely little planet amidst the endless
stars, and how those beginnings have unfolded ;
to show them how man has arisen through the
long ages from amidst the beasts, and the
nature of the struggle God wages through
him, and to draw all men together out of them-
selves into one common life and effort with
God. The nature of God's struggle is the
essence of our dispute. It is a struggle, with
a hope of victory but with no assurance. You
have argued, Sir Eliphaz, that it is an unreal
struggle, a sham fight, that indeed all things
are perfectly adjusted and for our final happi-
ness, and when I have reminded you a little of
the unmasked horrors about us, you have



i64 The Undying Fire

shifted your ground of compensation into
another — into an incredible — world."

Sir Eliphaz sounded dissent musically.
Then he waved his long hand as Mr. Huss
paused and regarded him. " But go on ! "he
said. "Goon!"

" And now I come to you, Dr. Barrack,
and your modern fatalism. You hold this
universe is uncontrollable — anyhow. And in-
comprehensible. For good or ill — we can be
no more than our strenuous selves. You must,
you say, he yourself. I answer, you must lose
yourself in something altogether greater — in
God. . . . There is a curious likeness, Doctor,
and a curious difference in your views and
mine. I think you see the world very much
as I see it, but you see it coldly like a man
before sunrise, and I "

He paused. " There is a light upon it,"
he asserted with a noticeable flatness in his
voice. " There is a light . . . light ..."

He became silent. For a while it seemed
as if the light he spoke of had gone from him
and as if the shadow had engulfed him. When
he spoke again it was with an evident effort.

He turned to Dr. Barrack. " You think,"



Elihu Reproves Job 165

he said, " that there is a will in this Process
of yours which vnW take things somewhere,
somewhere definitely greater or better or on-
ward. I hold that there is no will at all except
in and through ourselves. If there be any will
at all ... I hold that even your maxim ' be
ourselves ' is a paradox, for we cannot be our-
selves until we have lost ourselves in God. I
have talked to Sir Eliphaz and to you since
you came in, of the boundless disorder and evil
of nature. Let me talk to you now of the
boundless miseries that arise from the dis-
orderhness of men and that must continue age
after age until either men are united in spirit
and in truth or destroyed through their own
incoherence. Whether men will be lost or
saved I do not know. There have been times
when I was sure that God would triumph in
us. . . . But dark shadov/s have fallen upon my
spirit. . . .

" Consider the posture of men's affairs
now, consider where they stand to-day, be-
cause they have not yet begun to look deeply
and frankly into realities ; because, as they put
it, they take life as they find it, because they
are themselves, heedless of history, and do not



i66 The Undying Fire

realize that in truth they are but parts in one
great adventure in spare and time. For four
years now the world has been marching deeper
and deeper into tragedy. . . . Our life that
seemed so safe grows insecure and more and
more insecure. . . . Six million soldiers, six
million young men, have been killed on the
battlefields alone ; three times as many have
been crippled and mutilated ; as many agam
who were not soldiers have been destroyed.
That has been only the beginning of the disas-
ter that has come upon our race. All human


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11

Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe undying fire, a contemporary novel → online text (page 7 of 11)