I have spoken so much of the Vril Staff that my reader may expect me to describe it. This I cannot do accurately, for I was never allowed to handle it for fear of some terrible accident occasioned by my ignorance of its use, and I have no doubt that it requires much skill and practice in the exercise of its various powers. It is hollow, and has in the handle several stops, keys, or springs by which its force can be altered, modified, or directed -- so that by one process it destroys, by another it heals -- by one it can rend the rock, by another disperse the vapour -- by one it affects bodies, by another it can exercise a certain influence over minds. It is usually carried in the convenient size of a walking-staff, but it has slides by which it can be lengthened or shortened at will. When used for special purposes, the upper part rests in the hollow of the palm with the fore and middle fingers protruded. I was assured, however, that its power was not equal in all, but proportioned to the amount of certain vril properties in the wearer in affinity, or rapport with the purposes to be effected. Some were more potent to destroy, others to heal, etc.; much also depended on the calm and steadiness of volition in the manipulator. They assert that the full exercise of vril power can only be acquired by the constitutional temperament -- i.e., by hereditarily transmitted organisation -- and that a female infant of four years old belonging to the Vril-ya races can accomplish feats which a life spent in its practice would not enable the strongest and most skilled mechanician, born out of the pale of the Vril-ya to achieve. All these wands are not equally complicated; those entrusted to children are much simpler than those borne by sages of either sex, and constructed with a view to the special object on which the children are employed, which as I have before said, is among the youngest children the most destructive. In the wands of wives and mothers the correlative destroying force is usually abstracted, the healing power fully charged. I wish I could say more in detail of this singular conductor of the vril fluid, but its machinery is as exquisite as its effects are marvellous.
I should say, however, that this people have invented certain tubes by which the vril fluid can be conducted towards the object it is meant to destroy, throughout a distance almost indefinite; at least I put it modestly when I say from 500 to 1,000 miles. And their mathematical science as applied to such purpose is so nicely accurate, that on the report of some observer in an air boat, any member of the vril department can estimate unerringly the nature of intervening obstacles, the height to which the projectile instrument should be raised, and the extent to which it should be charged, so as to reduce to ashes within a space of time too short for me to venture to specify it, a capital twice as vast as London.
Certainly these Ana are wonderful mathematicians -- wonderful for the adaptation of the inventive faculty to practical uses.
I went with my host and his daughter Zee over the great public museum, which occupies a wing in the College of Sages, and in which are hoarded, as curious specimens of the ignorant and blundering experiments of ancient times, many contrivances on which we pride ourselves as recent achievements. In one department, carelessly thrown aside as obsolete lumber, are tubes for destroying life by metallic balls and an inflammable powder, on the principle of our cannons and catapults, and even still more murderous than our latest improvements.
My host spoke of these with a smile of contempt, such as an artillery officer might bestow on the bows and arrows of the Chinese. In another department there were models of vehicles and vessels worked by steam, and of an air balloon which might have been constructed by Montgolfier.  'Such,' said Zee, with an air of meditative wisdom -- 'such were the feeble triflings with nature of our savage forefathers, ere they had even a glimmering perception of the properties of vril!'
This young Gy was a magnificent specimen of the muscular force to which the females of her country attain. Her features were beautiful, like those of all her race: never in the upper world have I seen a face so grand and so faultless, but her devotion to the severer studies had given to her countenance an expression of abstract thought which rendered it somewhat stern when in repose; and such a sternness became formidable when observed in connection with her ample shoulders and lofty stature. She was tall even for a Gy, and I saw her lift up a cannon as easily as I could lift a pocket pistol. Zee inspired me with a profound terror -- a terror which increased when we came into a department of the museum appropriated to models of contrivances worked by the agency of vril, for here, merely by a certain play of her vril staff, she herself standing at a distance, she put into movement large and weighty substances. She seemed to endow them with intelligence, and to make them comprehend and obey her command. She set complicated pieces of machinery into movement, arrested the movement or continued it, until, within an incredibly short time, various kinds of raw material were reproduced as symmetrical works of art, complete and perfect. Whatever effect mesmerism or electro-biology produces over the nerves and muscles of animated objects, this young Gy produced by the motions of her slender rod over the springs and wheels of lifeless mechanism.
When I mentioned to my companions my astonishment at this influence over inanimate matter -- while owning that, in our world, I had witnessed phenomena which showed that over certain living organisations certain other living organisations could establish an influence genuine in itself, but often exaggerated by credulity or craft -- Zee, who was more interested in such subjects than her father, bade me stretch forth my hand, and then, placing it beside her own, she called my attention to certain distinctions of type and character. In the first place, the thumb of the Gy (and, as I afterwards noticed, of all that race, male or female) was much larger, at once longer and more massive, than is found with our species above ground. There is almost, in this, as great a difference as there is between the thumb of a man and that of a gorilla. Secondly, the palm is proportionally thicker than ours -- the texture of the skin infinitely finer and softer -- its average warmth is greater. More remarkable than all this, is a visible nerve, perceptible under the skin, which starts from the wrist skirting the ball of the thumb, and branching, fork-like, at the roots of the fore and middle fingers. 'With your slight formation of thumb,' said the philosophical young Gy, 'and with the absence of the nerve which you find more or less developed in the hands of our race, you can never achieve other than imperfect and feeble power over the agency of vril; but so far as the nerve is concerned, that is not found in the hands of our earliest progenitors, nor in those of the ruder tribes without the pale of the Vril-ya. It has been slowly developed in the course of generations, commencing in the early achievements, and increasing with the continuous exercise, of the vril power; therefore, in the course of one or two thousand years, such a nerve may possibly be engendered in those higher beings of your race, who devote themselves to that paramount science through which is attained command over all the subtler forces of nature permeated by vril. But when you talk of matter as something in itself inert and motionless, your parents or tutors surely cannot have left you so ignorant as not to know that no form of matter is motionless and inert: every particle is constantly in motion and constantly acted upon by agencies, of which heat is the most apparent and rapid, but vril the most subtle, and, when skillfully wielded, the most powerful. So that, in fact, the current launched by my hand and guided by my will does but render quicker and more potent the action which is eternally at work upon every particle of matter, however inert and stubborn it may seem. If a heap of metal be not capable of originating a thought of its own, yet, through its internal susceptibility to movement, it obtains the power to receive the thought of the intellectual agent at work on it; by which, when conveyed with a sufficient force of the vril power, it is as much compelled to obey as if it were displaced by a visible bodily force. It is animated for the time being by the soul thus infused into it, so that one may almost say that it lives and reasons. Without this we could not make our automata supply the place of servants.'
I was too much in awe of the thews and the learning of the young Gy to hazard the risk of arguing with her. I had read somewhere in my schoolboy days that a wise man, disputing with a Roman Emperor, suddenly drew in his horns, and when the emperor asked him whether he had nothing further to say on his side of the question, replied, 'Nay, Caesar, there is no arguing against a reasoner who commands ten legions.'
Though I had a secret persuasion that, whatever the real effects of vril upon matter, Mr. Faraday could have proved her a very shallow philosopher as to its extent or its causes, I had no doubt that Zee could have brained all the Fellows of the Royal Society, one after the other, with a blow of her fist. Every sensible man knows that it is useless to argue with any ordinary female upon matters he comprehends, but to argue with a Gy seven feet high upon the mysteries of vril -- as well argue in a desert, and with a simoon!
Amid the various departments to which the vast building of the College of Sages was appropriated, that which interested me most was devoted to the archaeology of the Vril-ya, and comprised a very ancient collection of portraits. In these the pigments and groundwork employed were of so durable a nature that even pictures said to be executed at dates as remote as those in the earliest annals of the Chinese, retained much freshness of colour. In examining this collection, two things especially struck me: -- first, that the pictures said to be between 6,000 and 7,000 years old were of a much higher degree of art than any produced within the last 3,000 or 4,000 years, and, second, that the portraits within the former period much more resembled our own upper world and European types of countenance. Some of them, indeed reminded me of the Italian heads which look out from the canvases of Titian -- speaking of ambition or craft, of care or of grief, with furrows in which the passions have passed with iron ploughshare. These were the countenances of men who had lived in struggle and conflict before the discovery of the latent forces of vril had changed the character of society -- men who had fought with each other for power or fame as we in the upper world fight.
The type of face began to evince a marked change about 1,000 years after the vril revolution becoming then, with each generation, more serene, and in that serenity more terribly distinct from the faces of labouring and sinful men, while in proportion as the beauty and the grandeur of the countenance itself became more fully developed, the art of the painter became more tame and monotonous.
But the greatest curiosity in the collection was that of three portraits belonging to the prehistorical age, and, according to mythical tradition, taken by the orders of a philosopher, whose origin and attributes were as much mixed up with symbolical fable as those of an Indian Budh or a Greek Prometheus.
From this mysterious personage, at once a sage and a hero, all the principal sections of the Vril-ya race pretend to trace a common origin.
The portraits are of the philosopher himself, of his grandfather, and great-grandfather. They are all at full length. The philosopher is attired in a long tunic which seems to form a loose suit of scaly armour, borrowed, perhaps, from some fish or reptile, but the feet and hands are exposed: the digits in both are wonderfully long, and webbed. He has little or no perceptible throat, and a low receding forehead, not at all the ideal of a sage's. He has bright brown prominent eyes, a very wide mouth and high cheekbones, and a muddy complexion. According to tradition, this philosopher had lived to a patriarchal age, extending over many centuries, and he remembered distinctly in middle life his grandfather as surviving, and in childhood his great-grandfather; the portrait of the first he had taken, or caused to be taken, while yet alive that of the latter was taken from his effigies in mummy. The portrait of his grandfather had the features and aspect of the philosopher, only much more exaggerated: he was not dressed, and the colour of his body was singular; the breast and stomach yellow, the shoulders and legs of a dull bronze hue: the great-grandfather was a magnificent specimen of the batrachian genus, a giant frog, pur et simple.
In the realm of the spirit (in mid-air) Diabolos is riding on the fish of pseudo-Christianity; the devil has flown off with the ladder i.e. with the possibility of mounting higher; the apocalyptic horsemen appear, fire bolts are shooting downwards; the "winged egg", that new beginning which is still floating in the air and would make a way for itself after the catastrophe, is straddled by a frog-like creature (see Note 9 and Fig. 98). This can also be seen on the left inner wing, on the left in the air, while in Fig. 99 too, the toad appears, as the first being to meet the one who has died.
The main theme of the central group (again painted small) can be found in the aperture of a castle that has fallen into ruins, where the Risen One appears and gives His blessing; beside Him there stands an altar with a crucifix and a burning light. A strange group has gathered around a cult-table by the parapet that bounds the outer court. A priestess with a snake hood, who is standing in the outer court holds out the cult-drink in a beaker. A half-veiled priestess beside her, whose hood is covered by a net of thorns reaches out for the bread; behind both these women who have an Egyptian look about them. An Ethiopian woman has just come through an archway; she is bearing a shallow silver dish on which a small frog-like manikin is sitting, which is holding a large egg in its uplifted arms. Two men are approaching the cult table. The green one, with a pig's head on which there sits an owl, is holding a lute, and holds a dressed-up fool's dog on a lead. The other, a pale old man with a hurdy gurdy, is limping along behind him on a wooden leg. Above his back, on the wall, a toad is sitting.
The painter shows that the old man with the hurdy gurdy (symbol of the physical body) who has been crippled by the hardening processes, and the man with the lute (symbol of the life-body) (see Fig. 97 and the "musicians' hell", in the purgatorium [xvi]) are approaching the table at which a false and only temporary medicine is offered for their damaged bodies, i.e. the withered life-forces. A toad is painted above the old man with the hurdy-gurdy; for the pig-headed man with the idiot's dog and an owl on his head a prepared drink is held out. The bread too is ready, and both come from the same kitchen -- while a frog with an egg is brought in by a black third priestess. None of these symbols are unknown to the reader, and it is clear that the old man hopes to be able for a time to feel himself again a potent "male" (the toad) and that the pighead is concerned to rejuvenate his procreative powers, while in the process of stimulating the life-forces those of the intellect (the owl) will also be excited.
The silver dish here is the silver bowl on which sexual rejuvenation is offered by a black priestess who is herself full of vitality. She enters from a neighbouring building where she has been celebrating her secret cult of birth. The fainting soul that we have come to know in Fig. 65, and which is now sitting on the silver dish, bears the egg, a new beginning of the power of the life-forces. All this symbolises what Anthony avoided receiving from the devil in the desert. The silver dish is the so-called H moon", which expresses those soul-forces in which human feelings dwell. When the devil mirrors himself in this dish men experience everything in a distorted form.
One more explanation must be added, namely why the small naked animal on the dish has been called both the fainting soul and the frog. It is the case with imaginative pictures that they show certain aspects which overlap each other. Fig. 98 shows that in the time of Bosch the frog was regarded as the progenitor of children, i.e. sexual potency; it is clear in this picture that the frog, standing before the Tree of Life, is bringing children. A certain "Christof Fros(ch) hower" in Zurich, made use of this little picture and had his name written upon it because several frogs are on it and it made a sort of sign for his business. The picture gives clear evidence of the idea that the symbol of the frog must be considered together with the forces of procreation. Various fairy tales point in this direction. The Tree of Life in the background also reinforces this idea.
By confronting The Risen One here with a frog cult he lifts the occurrence into the imaginative spiritual sphere and underlines the decadence of the false cult of the body and its life.
-- The Pictorial Language of Hieronymus Bosch, by Clement A. Wertheim Aymes
Among the pithy sayings which, according to tradition, the philosopher bequeathed to posterity in rhythmical form and sententious brevity, this is notably recorded: 'Humble yourselves, my descendants; the father of your race was a twat (tadpole): exalt yourselves, my descendants, for it was the same Divine Thought which created your father that develops itself in exalting you.'
Aph-Lin told me this fable while I gazed on the three batrachian portraits. I said in reply: 'You make a jest of my supposed ignorance and credulity as an uneducated Tish, but though these horrible daubs may be of great antiquity, and were intended, perhaps, for some rude caricature, I presume that none of your race even in the less enlightened ages, ever believed that the great-grandson of a frog became a sententious philosopher; or that any section, I will not say of the lofty Vril-ya, but of the meanest varieties of the human race, had its origin in a tadpole.'
'Pardon me,' answered Aph-Lin: 'in what we call the Wrangling or Philosophical Period of History, which was at its height about 7,000 years ago, there was a very distinguished naturalist, who proved to the satisfaction of numerous disciples such analogical and anatomical agreements in structure between an An and a frog, as to show that out of the one must have developed the other. They had some diseases in common, they were both subject to the same parasitical worms in the intestines and, strange to say, the An has, in his structure, a swimming-bladder, no longer of any use to him, but which is a rudiment that clearly proves his descent from a frog. Nor is there any argument against this theory to be found in the relative difference of size, for there are still existent in our world frogs of a size and stature not inferior to our own, and many thousand years ago they appear to have been still larger.'
'I understand that,' said I, 'because frogs this enormous are, according to our eminent geologists, who perhaps saw them in dreams, said to have been distinguished inhabitants of the upper world before the Deluge, and such frogs are exactly the creatures likely to have flourished in the lakes and morasses of your subterranean regions. But pray, proceed.'
'In the Wrangling Period of History, whatever one sage asserted another sage was sure to contradict. In fact, it was a maxim in that age, that the human reason could only be sustained aloft by being tossed to and fro in the perpetual motion of contradiction, and therefore another sect of philosophers maintained the doctrine that the An was not the descendant of the frog, but that the frog was clearly the improved development of the An. The shape of the frog, taken generally, was much more symmetrical than that of the An; beside the beautiful conformation of its lower limbs, its flanks and shoulders, the majority of the Ana in that day were almost deformed, and certainly ill-shaped. Again, the frog had the power to live alike on land and in water -- a mighty privilege, partaking of a spiritual essence denied to the An, since the disuse of his swimming-bladder clearly proves his degeneration from a higher development of species. Again, the earlier races of the Ana seem to have been covered with hair, and, even to a comparatively recent date, hirsute bushes deformed the very faces of our ancestors, spreading wild over their cheeks and chins, as similar bushes, my poor Tish, spread wild over yours. But the object of the higher races of the Ana through countless generations has been to erase all vestige of connection with hairy vertebrata, and they have gradually eliminated that debasing capillary excrement by the law of sexual selection, the Gy-ei naturally preferring youth or the beauty of smooth faces. But the degree of the frog in the scale of the vertebrata is shown in this, that he has no hair at all, not even on his head. He was born to that hairless perfection which the most beautiful of the Ana, despite the culture of incalculable ages, have not yet attained. The wonderful complication and delicacy of a frog's nervous system and arterial circulation were shown by this school to be more susceptible of enjoyment than our inferior, or at least simpler, physical frame allows us to be. The examination of a frog's hand, if I may use that expression, accounted for its keener susceptibility to love, and to social life in general. In fact, gregarious and amatory as are the Ana, frogs are still more so. In short, these two schools raged against each other; one asserting the An to be the perfected type of the frog, the other that the frog was the highest development of the An. The moralists were divided in opinion with the naturalists, but the bulk of them sided with the frog-preference school. They said, with much plausibility, that in moral conduct (viz., in the adherence to rules best adapted to the health and welfare of the individual and the community) there could be no doubt of the vast superiority of the frog. All history showed the wholesale immorality of the human race, the complete disregard, even by the most renowned amongst them, of the laws which they acknowledged to be essential to their own and the general happiness and wellbeing. But the severest critic of the frog race could not detect in their manners a single aberration from the moral law tacitly recognised by themselves. And what, after all, can be the profit of civilisation if superiority in moral conduct be not the aim for which it strives, and the test by which its progress should be judged?
'In fine, the adherents of this theory presumed that in some remote period the frog race had been the improved development of the human, but that, from some causes which defied rational conjecture, they had not maintained their original position in the scale of nature, while the Ana, though of inferior organisation, had, by dint less of their virtues than their vices, such as ferocity and cunning, gradually acquired ascendancy, much as among the human race itself tribes utterly barbarous have, by superiority in similar vices, utterly destroyed or reduced into insignificance tribes originally excelling them in mental gifts and culture. Unhappily these disputes became involved with the religious notions of that age, and as society was then administered under the government of the Koom-Posh, who, being the most ignorant, were of course the most inflammable class -- the multitude took the whole question out of the hands of the philosophers; political chiefs saw that the frog dispute, so taken up by the populace, could become a most valuable instrument of their ambition, and for not less than 1,000 years war and massacre prevailed, during which period the philosophers on both sides were butchered, and the government of Koom-Posh itself was happily brought to an end by the ascendancy of a family that clearly established its descent from the aboriginal tadpole, and furnished despotic rulers to the various nations of the Ana. These despots finally disappeared, at least from our communities, as the discovery of vril led to the tranquil institutions under which flourish all the races of the Vril-ya.'
"And do no wranglers or philosophers now exist to revive the dispute, or do they all recognise the origin of your race in the tadpole?' 'Nay, such disputes,' said Zee, with a lofty smile, 'belong to the Pahbodh of the dark ages, and now only serve for the amusement of infants. When we know the elements out of which our bodies are composed, elements in common to the humblest vegetable plants, can it signify whether the All-Wise combined those elements out of one form more than another, in order to create that in which He has placed the capacity to receive the idea of Himself, and all the varied grandeurs of intellect to which that idea gives birth? The An in reality commenced to exist as An with the donation of that capacity, and, with that capacity, the sense to acknowledge that, however through the countless ages his race may improve in wisdom, it can never combine the elements at its command into the form of a tadpole.'
'You speak well, Zee,' said Aph-Lin, 'and it is enough for us short-lived mortals to feel a reasonable assurance that whether the origin of the An was a tadpole or not, he is no more likely to become a tadpole again than the institutions of the Vril-ya are likely to relapse into the heaving quagmire and certain strife-rot of a Koom-Posh.'Chapter 17
The Vril-ya, being excluded from all sight of the heavenly bodies, and having no other difference between night and day than that which they deem it convenient to make for themselves -- do not, of course, arrive at their divisions of time by the same process that we do, but I found it easy by the aid of my watch, which I luckily had about me, to compute their time with great nicety. I reserve for a future work on the science and literature of the Vril-ya, should I live to complete it, all details as to the manner in which they arrive at their rotation of time, and content myself here with saying, that in point of duration, their year differs very slightly from ours, but that the divisions of their year are by no means the same. Their day (including what we call night) consists of twenty hours of our time, instead of twenty-four, and of course their year comprises the correspondent increase in the number of days by which it is summed up. They subdivide the twenty hours of their day thus -- eight hours, [i] called the 'Silent Hours', for repose; eight hours, called the 'Earnest Time', for the pursuits and occupations of life; and four hours called the 'Easy Time' (with which what I may term their day closes), allotted to festivities, sport, recreation, or family converse, according to their several tastes and inclinations.
But, in truth, out of doors there is no night. They maintain, both in the streets and in the surrounding country, to the limits of their territory, the same degree of light at all hours. Only, within doors, they lower it to a soft twilight during the Silent Hours. They have a great horror of perfect darkness, and their lights are never wholly extinguished. On occasions of festivity they continue the duration of full light, but equally keep note of the distinction between night and day, by mechanical contrivances which answer the purpose of our clocks and watches. They are very fond of music, and it is by music that these chronometers strike the principal division of time. At every one of their hours, during their day, the sounds coming from all the timepieces in their public buildings, and caught up, as it were, by those of houses or hamlets scattered amidst the landscapes without the city, have an effect singularly sweet, and yet singularly solemn. But during the Silent Hours these sounds are so subdued as to be only faintly heard by a waking ear. They have no change of seasons, and, at least on the territory of this tribe, the atmosphere seemed to me very equable, warm as that of an Italian summer, and humid rather than dry; in the forenoon usually very still, but at times invaded by strong blasts from the rocks that made the borders of their domain. But time is the same to them for sowing or reaping as in the Golden Isles of the ancient poets. At the same moment you see the younger plants in blade or bud, the older in ear or fruit. All fruit-bearing plants, however, after fruitage, either shed or change the colour of their leaves. But that which interested me most in reckoning up their divisions of time was the ascertainment of the average duration of life amongst them. I found on minute inquiry that this very considerably exceeded the term allotted to us on the upper earth. What seventy years are to us, one hundred years are to them. Nor is this the only advantage they have over us in longevity, for as few among us attain to the age of seventy, so, on the contrary, few among them die before the age of one hundred, and they enjoy a general degree of health and vigour which makes life itself a blessing even to the last. Various causes contribute to this result: the absence of all alcoholic stimulants, temperance in food; more especially, perhaps, a serenity of mind undisturbed by anxious occupations and eager passions. They are not tormented by our avarice or our ambition, they appear perfectly indifferent even to the desire of fame, they are capable of great affection, but their love shows itself in a tender and cheerful complaisance, and, while forming their happiness, seems rarely, if ever, to constitute their woe. As the Gy is sure only to marry where she herself fixes her choice, and as here, not less than above ground, it is the female on whom the happiness of home depends, so the Gy, having chosen the mate she prefers to all others, is lenient to his faults, consults his humours, and does her best to secure his attachment. The death of a beloved one is of course with them, as with us, a cause for sorrow, but not only is death with them so much more rare before that age in which it becomes a release, but when it does occur the survivor takes much more consolation than, I am afraid, the generality of us do, in the certainty of reunion in another and yet happier life.
All these causes, then, concur to their healthful and enjoyable longevity, though, no doubt, much also must be owing to hereditary organisation. According to their records, however, in those earlier stages of their society when they lived in communities resembling ours, agitated by fierce competition, their lives were considerably shorter, and their maladies more numerous and grave. They themselves say that the duration of life, too, has increased, and is still on the increase, since their discovery of the invigorating and medicinal properties of vril, applied for remedial purposes. They have few professional and regular practitioners of medicine, and these are chiefly Gy-ei, who, especially if widowed and childless, find great delight in the healing art, and even undertake surgical operations in those cases required by accident, or, more rarely, by disease.
They have their diversions and entertainments, and, during the Easy Time of their day, they are wont to assemble in great numbers for those winged sports in the air which I have already described. They have also public halls for music, and even theatres, at which are performed pieces that appeared to me somewhat to resemble the plays of the Chinese dramas that are thrown back into distant times for their events and personages, in which all classic unities are outrageously violated, and the hero, in one scene a child, in the next is an old man, and so forth. These plays are of very ancient composition, and their stories cast in remote times. They appeared to me very dull, on the whole, but were relieved by startling mechanical contrivances, and a kind of farcical broad humour, and detached passages of great vigour and power expressed in language highly poetical, but somewhat overcharged with metaphor and trope. In fine, they seemed to me very much what the plays of Shakespeare seemed to a Parisian in the time of Louis XV, or perhaps to an Englishman in the reign of Charles II.
The audience, of which the Gy-ei constituted the chief portion, appeared to enjoy greatly the representation of these dramas, which, for so sedate and majestic a race of females, surprised me, till I observed that all the performers were under the age of adolescence, and conjectured truly that the mothers and sisters came to please their children and brothers.
I have said that these dramas are of great antiquity. No new plays, indeed no imaginative works sufficiently important to survive their immediate day, appear to have been composed for several generations. In fact, though there is no lack of new publications, and they have even what may be called newspapers, these are chiefly devoted to mechanical science, reports of new inventions, announcements respecting various details of business -- in short, to practical matters. Sometimes a child writes a little tale of adventure, or a young Gy vents her amorous hopes or fears in a poem, but these effusions are of very little merit, and are seldom read except by children and maiden Gy-ei. The most interesting works of a purely literary character are those of explorations and travels into other regions of this nether world, which are generally written by young emigrants, and are read with great avidity by the relations and friends they have left behind.
I could not help expressing to Aph-Lin my surprise that a community in which mechanical science had made so marvellous a progress, and in which intellectual civilisation had exhibited itself in realising those objects for the happiness of the people, which the political philosophers above ground had, after ages of struggle, pretty generally agreed to consider unattainable visions, should, nevertheless, be so wholly without a contemporaneous literature, despite the excellence to which culture had brought a language at once so rich and simple, vigorous and musical.
My host replied -- 'Do you not perceive that a literature such as you mean would be wholly incompatible with that perfection of social or political felicity at which you do us the honour to think we have arrived? We have at last, after centuries of struggle, settled into a form of government with which we are content, and in which, as we allow no differences of rank, and no honours are paid to administrators distinguishing them from others, there is no stimulus given to individual ambition. No one would read works advocating theories that involved any political or social change, and therefore no one writes them. If now and then an An feels himself dissatisfied with our tranquil mode of life, he does not attack it, he goes away. Thus all that part of literature (and to judge by the ancient books in our public libraries, it was once a very large part), which relates to speculative theories on society is become utterly extinct. Again, formerly there was a vast deal written respecting the attributes and essence of the All-Good, and the arguments for and against a future state; but now we all recognise two facts, that there is a Divine Being, and there is a future state, and we all equally agree that if we wrote our fingers to the bone, we could not throw any light upon the nature and conditions of that future state, or quicken our apprehensions of the attributes and essence of that Divine Being. Thus another part of literature has become also extinct, happily for our race, for in the time when so much was written on subjects which no one could determine, people seemed to live in a perpetual state of quarrel and contention. So, too, a vast part of our ancient literature consists of historical records of wars and revolutions during the times when the Ana lived in large and turbulent societies, each seeking aggrandisement at the expense of the other. You see our serene mode of life now, such it has been for ages. We have no events to chronicle. What more of us can be said than that, "they were born, they were happy, they died?" Coming next to that part of literature which is more under the control of the imagination, such as what we call Glaubsila, or colloquially "Glaubs", and you call poetry, the reasons for its decline amongst us are abundantly obvious.
'We find, by referring to the great masterpieces in that department of literature which we all still read with pleasure, but of which none would tolerate imitations, that they consist in the portraiture of passions which we no longer experience -- ambition, vengeance, unhallowed love, the thirst for warlike renown, and suchlike. The old poets lived in an atmosphere impregnated with these passions, and felt vividly what they expressed glowingly. No one can express such passions now, for no one can feel them, or meet with any sympathy in his readers if he did. Again, the old poetry has a main element in its dissection of those complex mysteries of human character which conduce to abnormal vices and crimes, or lead to signal and extraordinary virtues. But our society, having got rid of temptations to any prominent vices and crimes, has necessarily rendered the moral average so equal, that there are no very salient virtues. Without its ancient food of strong passions, vast crimes, heroic excellences, poetry therefore is, if not actually starved to death, reduced to a very meagre diet. There is still the poetry of description of rocks, and trees, and waters, and common household life, and our young Gy-ei weave much of this insipid kind of composition into their love verses.'
'Such poetry,' said I, 'might surely be made very charming, and we have critics amongst us who consider it a higher kind than that which depicts the crimes, or analyses the passions, of man. At all events, poetry of the inspired kind you mention is a poetry that nowadays commands more readers than any other among the people I have left above ground.'
'Possibly; but then I suppose the writers take great pains with the language they employ, and devote themselves to the culture and polish of words and rhythms as an art?'
'Certainly they do: all great poets do that. Though the gift of poetry may be inborn, the gift requires as much care to make it available as a block of metal does to be made into one of your engines.'
'And doubtless your poets have some incentive to bestow all those pains upon such verbal prettinesses?'
'Well, I presume their instinct of song would make them sing as the bird does, but to cultivate the song into verbal or artificial prettiness, probably does need an inducement from without, and our poets find it in the love of fame -- perhaps, now and then, in the want of money.'
'Precisely so. But in our society we attach fame to nothing which man, in that moment of his duration which is called "life", can perform. We should soon lose that equality which constitutes the felicitous essence of our commonwealth if we selected any individual for preeminent praise: pre-eminent praise would confer pre-eminent power, and the moment it were given, evil passions, now dormant, would awake: other men would immediately covet praise, then would arise envy, and with envy hate, and with hate calumny and persecution. Our history tells us that most of the poets and most of the writers who, in the old time, were favoured with the greatest praise, were also assailed by the greatest vituperation, and even, on the whole, rendered very unhappy, partly by the attacks of jealous rivals, partly by the diseased mental constitution which an acquired sensitiveness to praise and to blame tends to engender. As for the stimulus of want, in the first place, no man in our community knows the goad of poverty, and, secondly, if he did, almost every occupation would be more lucrative than writing.
'Our public libraries contain all the books of the past which time has preserved; those books, for the reasons above stated, are infinitely better than any can write nowadays, and they are open to all to read without cost. We are not such fools as to pay for reading inferior books, when we can read superior books for nothing.'
'With us, novelty has an attraction, and a new book, if bad, is read when an old book, though good, is neglected.'
'Novelty, to barbarous states of society struggling in despair for something better, has no doubt an attraction, denied to us, who see nothing to gain in novelties; but after all, it is observed by one of our great authors four thousand years ago, that "he who studies old books will always find in them something new, and he who reads new books will always find in them something old." But to return to the question you have raised, there being then amongst us no stimulus to painstaking labour, whether in desire of fame or in pressure of want, such as have the poetic temperament, no doubt vent it in song, as you say the bird sings, but for lack of elaborate culture it fails of an audience, and, failing of an audience, dies out, of itself, amidst the ordinary avocations of life.'
'But how is it that these discouragements to the cultivation of literature do not operate against that of science?'
'Your question amazes me. The motive to science is the love of truth apart from all consideration of fame, and science with us too is devoted almost solely to practical uses, essential to our social conversation and the comforts of our daily life. No fame is asked by the inventor, and none is given to him; he enjoys an occupation congenial to his tastes, and needing no wear and tear of the passions. Man must have exercise for his mind as well as body, and continuous exercise, rather than violent, is best for both. Our most ingenious cultivators of science are, as a general rule, the longest lived and the most free from disease. Painting is an amusement to many, but the art is not what it was in former times, when the great painters in our various communities vied with each other for the prize of a golden crown, which gave them a social rank equal to that of the kings under whom they lived. You will thus doubtless have observed in our archaeological department how superior in point of art the pictures were several thousand years ago. Perhaps it is because music is, in reality, more allied to science than it is to poetry, that, of all the pleasurable arts, music is that which flourishes the most amongst us. Still, even in music the absence of stimulus in praise or fame has served to prevent any great superiority of one individual over another, and we rather excel in choral music, with the aid of our vast mechanical instruments, in which we make great use of the agency of water, [ii] than in single performers.
'We have had scarcely any original composer for some ages. Our favourite airs are very ancient in substance, but have admitted many complicated variations by inferior, though ingenious, musicians.'
'Are there no political societies among the Ana which are animated by those passions, subjected to those crimes, and admitting those disparities in condition, in intellect, and in morality, which the state of your tribe, or indeed of the Vril-ya generally, has left behind in its progress to perfection? If so, among such societies perhaps poetry and her sister arts still continue to be honoured and to improve?'
'There are such societies in remote regions, but we do not admit them within the pale of civilised communities; we scarcely even give them the name of Ana, and certainly not that of Vril-ya. They are savages, living chiefly in that low stage of being, Koom-Posh, tending necessarily to its own hideous dissolution in Glek-Nas. Their wretched existence is passed in perpetual contest and perpetual change. When they do not fight with their neighbours, they fight among themselves. They are divided into sections, which abuse, plunder, and sometimes murder each other, and on the most frivolous points of difference that would be unintelligible to us if we had not read history, and seen that we too have passed through the same early state of ignorance and barbarism. Any trifle is sufficient to set them together by the ears. They pretend to be all equals, and the more they have struggled to be so, by removing old distinctions, and starting afresh, the more glaring and intolerable the disparity becomes, because nothing in hereditary affections and associations is left to soften the one naked distinction between the many who have nothing and the few who have much. Of course the many hate the few, but without the few they could not live. The many are always assailing the few, sometimes they exterminate the few, but as soon as they have done so, a new few starts out of the many, and is harder to deal with than the old few. For where societies are large, and competition to have something is the predominant fever, there must be always many losers and few gainers. In short, they are savages groping their way in the dark towards some gleam of light, and would demand our commiseration for their infirmities, if, like all savages, they did not provoke their own destruction by their arrogance and cruelty. Can you imagine that creatures of this kind, armed only with such miserable weapons as you may see in our museum of antiquities, clumsy iron tubes charged with saltpetre, have more than once threatened with destruction a tribe of the Vril-ya, which dwells nearest to them, because they say they have thirty millions of population -- and that tribe may have fifty thousand -- if the latter do not accept their notions of Soc-Sec (money getting) on some trading principles which they have the impudence to call "a law of civilisation"?'
'But thirty millions of population are formidable odds against fifty thousand!'
My host stared at me astonished. 'Stranger,' said he, "you could not have heard me say that this threatened tribe belongs to the Vril-ya; and it only waits for these savages to declare war, in order to commission some half-a-dozen small children to sweep away their whole population.'
At these words I felt a thrill of horror, recognising much more affinity with 'the savages' than I did with the Vril-ya, and remembering all I had said in praise of the glorious American institutions, which Aph-in stigmatised as Koom-Posh. Recovering my self-possession, I asked if there were modes of transit by which I could safely visit this temerarious and remote people.
'You can travel with safety, by vril agency, either along the ground or amid the air, throughout all the range of the communities with which we are allied and akin, but I cannot vouch for your safety in barbarous nations governed by different laws from ours; nations, indeed, so benighted, that there are among them large numbers who actually live by stealing from each other, and one could not with safety in the Silent Hours even leave the doors of one's own house open.'
Here our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Taee, who came to inform us that he, having been deputed to discover and destroy the enormous reptile which I had seen on my first arrival, had been on the watch for it ever since his visit to me, and had begun to suspect that my eyes had deceived me, or that the creature had made its way through the cavities within the rocks to the wild regions in which dwelt its kindred race -- when it gave evidences of its whereabouts by a great devastation of the herbage bordering one of the lakes. 'And,' said Taee, 'I feel sure that within that lake it is now hiding. So,' (turning to me) 'I thought it might amuse you to accompany me to see the way we destroy such unpleasant visitors.' As I looked at the face of the young child, and called to mind the enormous size of the creature he proposed to exterminate, I felt myself shudder with fear for him, and perhaps fear for myself, if I accompanied him in such a chase. But my curiosity to witness the destructive effects of the boasted vril, and my unwillingness to lower myself in the eyes of an infant by betraying apprehensions of personal safety, prevailed over my first impulse. Accordingly, I thanked Taee for his courteous consideration for my amusement, and professed my willingness to set out with him on so diverting an enterprise.