H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

The undying fire, a contemporary novel online

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relationships have been strained ; roads, ships,
harvests destroyed ; and behind the red swift
tragedy of this warfare comes the gaunt and
desolating face of universal famine now, and
behind famine that inevitable follower of
famine, pestilence. Vou gentlemen who have
played so useful a part in supplying munitions
of war, who have every reason in days well
spent and energies well used to see a transi-
tory brightness upon these sombre things, you
may tell me that I lack faith when I say that
I can see nothing to redeem the waste and
destruction of the last four years and the still
greater waste and spiritless disorder and

Elihu Reproves Job 167

poverty and disease ahead of us. You will tell
me that the world has learnt a lesson it could
learn in no other way, that we shall set up a
World League of Nations now and put an end
to war. But on what will you set up your
World League of Nations ? What foundations
have you made in the last four years but ruins ?
Is there any common idea, any common under-
standing yet in the minds of men? They are
still taking the world as they find it, they are
being their unmitigated selves more than ever,
and below the few who scramble for profits
now is a more and more wolfish multitude
scrambling for bread. There are no common
ideas in men's minds upon which we can build.
How can men be united except by common
ideas? The schools have failed the world.
What conunon thought is there in the world?
A loud bawling of base newspapers, a postur-
ing of politicians. You can see chaos coming
again over all the east of Europe now, and bit
by bit western Europe crumbles and drops
into the confusion. Art, science, reasoned
thought, creative effort, such things have
ceased altogether in Russia ; they may have
ceased there perhaps for centuries ; they die

i68 The Undying Fire

now in Germany ; the universities of the west
are bloodless and drained of their youth. That
war that seemed at first so like the dawn of a
greater age has ceased to matter in the face
of this greater disaster. The French and
British and Americans are beating back the
Germans from Paris. Can they beat them back
to any distance? Will not this present
counter-thrust diminish and fail as the others
have done? Which side may first drop ex-
hausted now, will hardly change the supreme
fact. The supreme fact is exhaustion —
exhaustion, mental as well as material, failure
to grasp and comprehend, cessation even of
attempts to grasp and comprehend, slackening
of every sort of effort. ..."

'• What's the good of such despair? " said
Mr. Dad.

" I do not despair. No. But what is the
good of lying about hope and success in the
midst of failure and gathering disaster? What
is the good of saying that mankind wins —
automatically — against the spirit of evil, when
mankind is visibly losing point after point, is
visibly losing heart? What is the good of pre-
tending that there is order and benevolence or

Elihu Reproves Job 169

some sort of splendid and incomprehensible
process in this festering waste, this windy
desolation of reasonless things? There is no
reason anywhere, there is no creation any-
where, except the undying fire, the spirit of
God in the hearts of men . . . which may fail
. . . which may fail . . . which seems to me
to fail."

§ 8

He paused. Dr. Barrack cleared his

" I don't want to seem obdurate," said
Dr. Barrack. "I want to respect deep feel-
ing. One must respect deep feeling. . . . But
for the life of me I can't put much meaning
into this phrase, the spirit of God in the hearts
of men. It's rather against my habits to
worry a patient, but this is so interesting —
this is an exceptional occasion. I would hke
to ask you, Mr. Huss — frankly — is there any-
thing very much more to it, than a phrase ? ' '

There was no answer.

"Words," said Mr. Dad; " joost words.
If Mr. Huss had ever spent three months of
war time running a big engineering fac-
tory "

" My mind is a sceptical mind," Dr. Bar-
rack went on, after staring a moment to see if
Mr. Dad meant to finish his sentence. " I
want things I can feel and handle. I am an


Elihu Reproves Job 171

Agnostic by nature and habit and profession.
A Doubting Thomas, born and bred. Well,
I take it that about the universe Mr. Huss is
very much of an Agnostic too. More so. He
doubts more than I do. He doubts whether
there is any trace of plan or purpose in it.
What I call a Process, he calls a windy desola-
tion. He sees Chaos still waiting for a creator.
But then he sets up against that this imdying
fire of his, this spirit of God, which is ht in him
and only waiting to be lighted in us, a sort of
insurgent apprentice creator. Well "

The doctor frowned and meditated on his

" I want more of the practical outcome of
this fire. I admit a certain poetry in the idea,
but I am a plain and practical man. Give me
something to know this fire by and to recog-
nize it again when I see it. I won't ask why
' undying.' T won't quibble about that. But
what does this undying fire mean in actual
things and our daily life? In some way it is
mixed up with teaching history in schools."
A faint note of derision made him glance at
the face to his right. " That doesn't strike
me as being so queer as it seems to strike Mr.

172 The Undying Fire

Farr. It interests me. There is a case for
it. But I think there are several links Mr.
Huss hasn't shown and several vital points he
still has to explain. This undying fire is some-
thing that is burning in Mr. Huss, and I
gather from his pretty broad hints it ought, he
thinks, to be burning in me — and you, gentle-
men. It is something that makes us forget
our little personal differences, makes us forget
ourselves, and brings us all into line against —
what. That's my first point; — against what?
I don't see the force and value of this line-up.
7 think we struggle against one another by
nature and necessity ; that we polish one
another in the struggle and sharpen our edges.
I think that out of this struggle for existence
come better things and better. They may
not be better things by our standards now, but
by the standards of the Process, they are.
Sometimes the mills of the Process may seem
overpoweringly grim and high and pitiless;
that is a question of scale. But Mr. Huss
does not believe in the struggle. He wants to
take men's minds and teach them so that they
will not struggle against each other but live
and work all together. For what ? That is my

Elihu Reproves Job 173

second point ; — for what ? There is a ration-
ality in my idea of an everlasting struggle
making incessantly for betterment, such an
idea does at any rate give a direction and take
us somewhere ; but there is no rationality in
declaring we are still fighting and fighting
more than ever, while in effect we are arranging
to stop that struggle which carries life on — if
we can — if we can. That is the paradox of
Mr. Huss. When there is neither competi-
tion at h(^me nor war abroad, when the cat and
the bird have come to a satisfactory under-
standing, when the spirit of his human God
rules even in the jungle and the sea, then
where shall we be heading? Time will be still
unfolding. But man will have halted. If he has
ceased to compete individually he will have
halted. Mr. Huss looks at me as if he thought
I wronged him in saying that. Well, then he
must answer my questions ; what will the
Human (iod be leading us against, and what
shall we be living jor^<^^^

§ 4

" Let me tell you first what the spirit of
God struggles against," said Mr. Huss.

" I will not dispute that this Process of
yours has made good things ; all the good
things in man it has made as well as all the
evil. It has made them indifferently. In us
— in some of us — it has made the will to seize
upon that chance-born good and separate it
from the chance-born evil. The spirit of God
rises out of your process as if he were a part of
your process. . . . Except for him, the good
and evil are inextricably mixed ; good things
flower into evil things and evil things wholly
or partially redeem themselves by good conse-
quences. ' Good ' and ' evil ' have meaning
only for us. The Process is indifferent ; it
makes, it destroys, it favours, it torments.
On its own account it preserves nothing and
continues nothing. It is just careless. But
for us it has made opportunity. Life is
opportunity. Unless we do now ourselves


Elihu Reproves Job 175

seize hold upon life and the Process while
we are in it, the Process, becoming un-
controllable again, will presently sweep us
altogether away. In the back of your mind,
doctor, is the belief in a happy ending just as
much as in the mind of Sir Eliphaz. I see
deeper because I am not blinded by health.
You think that beyond man comes some sort
of splendid super-man. A healthy delusion !
There is nothing beyond man unless men will
that something shall be. We shall be wiped
out as carelessly as we have been made, and
something else will come, as disconnected and
aimless, something neither necessarily better
nor necessarily worse but something different,
to be wiped out in its turn. Unless the spirit
of God that moves in us can rouse us to seize
this universe for Him and ourselves, that is the
nature of your Process. Your Process is just
Chaos ; man is the opportunity, the passing
opportunity for order in the waste.

" People write and tulk as if this great war
which is now wrecking the world, was a
dramatic and consecutive thing. They talk of
it as a purge, as a great lesson, as a phase in
history that marks the end of wars and

176 The Undying Fire

divisions. So it might be ; but is it so and will
it be so ? I asked you a little time ago to look
straightly at the realities of animal life, of life
in general as we know it. I think I did a little
persuade you to my own sense of shallowness
of our assumption that there is any natural
happiness. The poor beasts and creatures
have to suffer. I ask you now to look as
straightly at the things that men have done
and endured in this war. It is plain that they
have shown extraordinary fertility and inge-
nuity in the inventions they have used and an
amazing capacity for sacrifice and courage ;
but it is, I argue, equally plain that the pains
and agonies they have undergone have taught
the race little or nothing, and that their
devices have been mainly for their own de-
struction. The only lesson and the only
betterment that can come out of this war will
come if men, inspired by the Divine courage,
say ' This and all such things must end.' . . .
But I do not perceive them saying that. On
the other hand I do perceive a great amount
of human energy and ability that has been
devoted and is still being devoted to things that
lead straight to futility and extinction.

Elihu Reproves Job 177

" The most desolating thing about this war
is neither the stupidity nor the cruelty of it,
but the streak of perversion that has run
through it. Against the meagreness of the
intelligence that made the war, against the
absolute inability of the good forces in hfe to
arrest it and end it, I ask you to balance the
intelligence and devotion that has gone to such
an enterprise as the offensive use of poison gas.
Consider the ingenuity and the elaboration of
that ; the different sorts of shell used, the
beautifully finished devices to delay the release
ot the poison so as to catch men unawares after
their gas masks are removed. One method
much in favour with the Germans now involves
the use of two sorts of gas. They have a gas
now not very deadly but so subtle that it pene-
trates the gas mask and produces nausea and
retching. The man is overcome by the dread
of being sick so that he will clog his mask and
suffocate, and he snatches off his protection in
an ungovernable physical panic. Then the
second gas, of the coarser, more deadly type,
comes into play. That he breathes in fully.
His breath catches ; he realizes what he has
done but it is too late ; death has him by the


178 The Undying Fire

throat ; he passes through horrible discomfort
and torment to the end. You cough, you
stagger, you writhe upon the ground and are
deadly sick. . . . You die heaving and pant-
ing, with staring eyes. . . . So it is men are
being killed now ; it is but one of a multitude
of methods, disgusting, undignified, and mon-
strous, but intelligent, technically admirable.
. . . You cannot deny. Doctor Barrack, that
this ingenious mixture is one of the last fruits
of your Process. To that your Process has at
last brought men from the hoeing and herding
of Neolithic days.

" Now tell me how is the onward progress
of mankind to anything, anywhere, secured
by this fine flower of the Process ? Intellectual
energy, industrial energy, are used up without
stint to make this horror possible ; multitudes
of brave young men are spoilt or killed. Is
there any selection in it? Along such lines
can you imagine men or life or the universe
getting anywhere at all?

' ' Why do they do such things ?

*' They do not do it out of a complete and
organized impulse to evil. If you took the
series of researches and inventions that led at

Elihu Reproves Job 179

last to this use of poison gas, you would find
they were the work of a multitude of mainly
amiable, fairly virtuous, and kindly-meaning
men. Each one was doing his hit, as Mr. Dad
would say ; each one, to use your phrase,
doctor, was being himself and utilizing the
gift that was in him in accordance with the
drift of the world about him ; each one. Sir
Eliphaz, was modestly taking the world as he
found it. They were living in an uninformed
world with no common understanding and no
collective plan, a world ignorant of its true
history and with no conception of its future.
Into these horrors they drifted for the want
of a world education. Out of these horrors
no lesson will be learnt, no will can arise, for
the same reason. Every man lives ignorantly
in his own circumstances, from hand to mouth,
from day to day, swayed first of all by this
catchword and then by that.

" Let me take another instance of the way
in which human al)ility and energy if they are
left to themselves, without co-ordination, with-
out a conmion basis of purpose, without a God,
will run into cul-de-sacs of mere horribleness ;
let me remind you a little of what the sub-

i8o The Undying Fire

marine is and what it signifies. In this country
we think of the submarine as an instrument
of murder; but we think of it as something
ingeniously contrived and at any rate not
tormenting and destroying the hands that
guide it. I will not recall to you the stories
that fill our newspapers of men drowning in
the night, of crowded boatloads of sailors and
passengers shelled and sunken, of men forced
to clamber out of the sea upon the destroying
U-boat and robbed of their lifebelts in order
that when it submerged they should be more
surely drowned. I want you to think of the
submarine in itself. There is a kind of crazy
belief that killing, however cruel, has a kind
of justification in the survival of the killer;
we make that our excuse for instance for the
destruction of the native Tasmanians who were
shot whenever they were seen, and killed by
poisoned meat left in their paths. But the
marvel of these submarines is that they also
torture and kill their own crews. They are
miracles of short-sighted ingenuity for the
common unprofitable reasonless destruction
of Germans and their enemies. They are
almost quintessential examples of the elaborate

Elihu Reproves Job i8i

futility and horror into which partial ideas
about life, combative and competitive ideas of
life, thrust mankind.

" Take some poor German boy with an
ordinary sort of intelligence, an ordinary
human disposition to kindliness, and some
gallantry, who becomes finally a sailor in one
of these craft. Consider his case and what we
do to him. You will find in him a sample of
what we are doing for mankind. As a child
he is ingenuous, teachable, plastic. He is also
egotistical, greedy, and suspicious. He is
easily led and easily frightened. He likes
making things if he knows how to make them ;
he is capable of affection and capable of re-
sentment. He is a sheet of white paper upon
which anything may be written. His parents
teach him, his companions, his school. Do
they teach him anything of the great history
of mankind? Do they teach him of his blood
brotherhood with all men? Do they tell
him anything of discovery, of exploration, of
human effort and achievement? No. They
teach him that he belongs to a blonde and
wonderful race, the only race that matters
on this planet. (No such distinct race ever

i82 The Undying Fire

existed ; it is a lie for the damning of men.)
And these teachers incite him to suspicion and
hatred and contempt of all other races. They
fill his mind with fears and hostilities. Every-
thing German they tell him is good and
splendid. Everything not German is danger-
ous and wicked. They take that poor actor
of an emperor at Potsdam and glorify him
until he shines upon this lad's mind like a
sxar. ...

*' The boy grows up a mental cripple; his
capacity for devotion and self-sacrifice is run
into a mould of fanatical loyalty for the
Kaiser and hatred for foreign things. Comes
this war, and the youngster is only too eager
to give himself where he is most needed. He
is told that the submarine war is the sure way
of striking the enemies of his country a con-
clusive blow. To be in a submarine is to be
at the spear point. He dare scarcely hope
that he will be accepted for this vital service ;
to which princes might aspire. But he is
fortunate ; he is. He trains for a sub-
marine. . . .

** I do not know how far you gentlemen
rememb'^j- your youth. A schoolmaster per-

Elihu Reproves Job 183

haps remembers more of his early adolescence
than other men because he is being continu-
ally reminded of it. But it is a time of very
fine emotions, boundless ambitions, a newly
awakened and eager sense of beauty. This
youngster sees himself as a hero, fighting for
his half-divine Kaiser, for dear Germany,
against the cold and evil barbarians who resist
and would destroy her. He passes through
his drill and training. He goes down into a
submarine for the first time, clambers down
the narrow hatchway. It is a little cold, but
wonderful ; a marvellous machine. How can
such a nest of inventions, ingenuities, beauti-
ful metal- work, wonderful craftsmanship, be
anything but right? His mind is full of
dreams of proud enemy battleships smitten
and heeling over into the waters, while he
watches his handiwork with a stern pride, a
restrained exultation, a sense of Germany
vindicated. . . .

" ']'hat is how his mind has been made for
him. That is the sort of mind that has been
made and is being made in boys all over the
world. . . . Because there is no common
plan in the world, because each person in the

1^4 The Undying Fire

making of this boy, just as each person in
the making of the submarine, had ' been him-
self and 'done his bit,' followed his own
impulses and interests without regard to the
whole, regardless of any plan or purpose in
human affairs, ignorant of the spirit of God
who would unify us and lead us to a common
use for all our gifts and energies.

" Let me go on with the story of this
youngster. . . .

" Comes a day when he realizes the reahty
of the work he is doing for his kind. He stands
by one of the guns of the submarine in an
attack upon some wretched ocean tramp. He
realizes that the war he wages is no heroic
attack on pride or predominance, but a mere
murdering of traffic. He sees the little ship
shelled, the wretched men killed and wounded,
no tyrants of the seas but sailor-men like him-
self ; he sees their boats smashed to pieces.
Mostly such sinkings are done at dawn oi
sundown, under a level light which displays a
world of black lines and black silhouettes
asway with the slow heaving and falling of
coldly shining water. These little black
things, he realizes incredulously, that struggle

Elihu Reproves Job 185

and disappear amidst the wreckage are the
heads of men, brothers to himself. . . .

" For hundreds of thousands of men who
have come into this war expecting bright and
romantic and tremendous experiences their
first killing must have been a hideous dis-
illusionment. For none so much as for the
men of the submarines. All that sense of
being right and fine that carries men into
battle, that carries most of us through the
world, must have vanished completely at this
first vision of reality. Our man must have
asked himself, ' What am I doing ? ' . . .

" In the night he must have lain awake
and stared at that question in horrible
doubt. . . .

*' We scold too much at the German sub-
marine crews in this country. Most of us in
their places would be impelled to go on as
they go on. The work they do has been
reached step by step, logically, inevitably,
because our world has been content to drift
along on false premises and haphazard assump-
tions about nationality and race and the order
of things. These things have happened
because the technical education of men has

i86 The Undying Fire

been better than their historical and social
education. Once men have lost touch with,
or failed to apprehend that idea of a single
human community, that idea which is the
substance of all true history and the essential
teaching of God, it is towards such organized
abominations as these that they drift — neces-
sarily. People in this country who are just
as incoherent in their minds, just as likely to
drift into some kindred cul-de-sac of conduct,
would have these U-boat men tortured — to
show the superiority of their own moral

*' But indeed these men are tortured. . . .

" Bear yet a little longer with this boy of
mine in the U-boat. I've tried to suggest
him to you with his conscience scared — at a
moment when his submarine had made a kill.
But those moments are rare. For most of its
time the U-boat is under water and a hunted
thing. The surface swarms with hostile craft ;
sea-planes and observation balloons are seek-
ing it. Every time a U-boat comes even near
to the surface it may be spotted by a sea-plane
and destruction may fall upon it. Even when
it is submerged below the limits of visibility

Elihu Reproves Job 187

in the turbid North Sea waters, the noise of
its engines will betray it to a listening
apparatus and a happy guess with a depth-
charge may end its career. I want you to
think of the daily life of this youngster under
these conditions. I want you to see exactly
where wrong ideas, not his, but wrong ideas
ruling in the world about him, are driving

" The method of detection by listening
apparatus improves steadily, and nowadays
our destroyers will follow up a U-boat some-
times for sixty or seventy hours, following her
sounds as a hound follows the scent of its
quarry. At last, if the U-boat cannot shake
off her pursuers she must come to the surface
and fight or surrender. That is the strangest
game of Blind-Man that ever human beings
played. The U-boat doubles and turns, listen-
ing also for the sounds of the pursuers at the
surface. Are they coming nearer? Are they
getting fainter? l^nless a helpful mud-bank
is available for it to lie up in silence for a
time, the U-boat must keep moving and using
up electrical force, so that ultimately it must
come to the surface to recharge its batteries.

i88 The Undying Fire

As far as possible the crew of the U-boat are
kept in ignorance of the chase in progress.
They get hints from the anxiety or irritation
of the commander, or from the haste and
variety of his orders. Something is going on
— they do not know quite what — something
that may end disagreeably. If the pur-
suer tries a depth charge, then they know
for certain from the concussion that the
hand of death is feeling for them in the
darkness. . . .

" Always the dread of a depth charge must
haunt the imagination of the U-boat sailor.
Without notice, at any hour, may come thud
and concussion to warn him that the destroy-
ing powers are on his track. The fragile
ship jumps and quivers from end to end ; the
men are thrown about. That happens to our
youngster. He curses the damned Enghsh.
And if you think it over, what else can you
expect him to curse? A little nearer and the
rivets will start and actual leakage begin,
letting in a pressure of several atmospheres.

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