HiLobrow is pleased to present the twenty-fifth and final installment of our serialization of Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage (also known as Lest Ye Die).
When war breaks out in Europe — war which aims successfully to displace entire populations — British civilization collapses utterly and overnight. The ironically named Theodore Savage, an educated and dissatisfied idler, must learn to survive by his wits in the new England, where 20th-century science, technology, and culture are regarded with superstitious awe and terror.
The book — by a writer best known today for her suffragist plays, treatises, and activism — was published in 1922. In September 2013, HiLoBooks will publish it in a gorgeous paperback edition, with an Introduction by Gary Panter.
Sometimes the two lives clashed suddenly and oddly — to the wonder of those who saw him. As on the day when his wife had burned the evening mess and, raising his hand to chastise her carelessness, there flashed before his eyes, without warning, a vision of Phillida bent delicately over her piano…. Not only Phillida, but the room, her surroundings; every detail clear to him and the loveliness of Chopin in his ears…. Furniture, hangings, a Louis Seize clock and a Hogarth print — and swiftly-seen objects whose very names he had forgotten, so long was it since he had made use of the household words that once described them. The dead world caught him back to itself and claimed him; in the face of its reality the present faded, the burned stew mattered not and his hand dropped slack to his side; while his wife’s mouth, open for a wailing protest, hung open in gratified astonishment. He stared through the open door of the hut, not seeing the tufted trees beyond it or the curving skyline of the hills; then, taking mechanically his stout wooden spoon, he shovelled down his portion without tasting it. In his ears, like a song, was the varied speech of other days; of art, of daily mechanics, of books, of daily politics, of learning…. Phillida, her curved hands touching the keys, gave place to the eager, bespectacled face of a scholar who had tried to make clear to him the rhythm and beauty of French verse. He had forgotten the man’s name — long forgotten it — but from some odd crevice in his brain a voice came echoing down the years, caressing the lines as it quoted them:—
O Corse a cheveux plats, que la France etait belle
Au soleil de Messidor!
His own lips framed the words involuntarily, attempting the accent long unheard. “Au soleil de Messidor, au soleil de Messidor”… and his wife and children stared after him as, thrusting the half-eaten bowl aside, he rose and went out, muttering gibberish. They were not unused to these fits in the house-father, to the change in his eyes, the sudden forgetting of their presence; but never lost their fear of them as something uncanny and inexplicable.
With these masterful rushes of the past came often an infinite melancholy; which was not so much a regret for what had been as a sense of the pity of oblivion. So that he would lie outstretched with his face to the earth, rebellious at the thought that with him and a few of his own generation must pass all knowledge of human achievement, the very memory of that which had once been glorious…. Not only the memory of actual men whose fame had once been blown about the world; but the memory of sound, of music, and of marvels in stone, uplifted by the skill of generations; the memory of systems, customs, laws, wrought wisely by the hand of experience; and of fanciful people, more real than living men and women. With him and his like would pass not only Leonardo, Caesar and the sun of Messidor, but Rosalind, d’Artagnan and Faust; the heroes, the merrymen, the women loved and loving who, created of dreams, had shared the dead world with their fellows created of dust…. Once deemed immortal, they had been slain by science as surely as their fellows of dust.
At times he pondered vaguely whether he might not save the memory of some of them alive by teaching his children to love them; but in the end he realized that, as we grasp nothing save through ourselves and our own relation to it, the embodied desires and beauty of an inconceivable age would be meaningless to his young barbarians.
If he ceased to believe in the survival of life as he had known it and a civilization that would reach out and claim him, there were times when he believed, or almost believed, that somewhere in the vastness of the great round world a remnant must hold fast to its inheritance; when it was inconceivable that all men living could be sunk in brutishness or vowed to the creed of utter ignorance. Hunger and blind terror — (he knew, for he had seen it) — could reduce the highest to the level of the beast; but with the passing of terror and the satisfaction of the actual needs of the body, there awakens the hunger of the mind. Somewhere in the vastness of the great, round world must be those who, because they craved for more than full stomachs and daily security, still clung to the power which is knowledge. Little groups and companies that chance had brought together or good fortune saved from destruction; resourceful men who had striven with surrounding anarchy and worsted it, and, having worsted it, were building their civilization…. And in the very completeness of surrounding anarchy, the very depth of surrounding brutishness, would lie their opportunity and chance of supremacy, their power of enforcing their will.
If such groups, such future nations, existed, he asked himself how they would build? What manner of world they would strive for — knowing what they knew?… This, at least, was certain: it would not be the world of their fathers, of their own youth. They had seen their civilization laid waste by the agency of science combined with human passion; hence, if they rejected the alternative of ignorance and held to their perilous treasure of science, their problem was the mastery of passion.
He came to believe that the problem — like all others — had been faced in forgotten generations; that old centuries had learned the forgotten lesson that the Ruin was teaching anew. To a race that had realized the peril of knowledge there would be two alternatives only; renunciation — the creed of blind ignorance and savagery — or the guarding of science as a secret treasure, removed from all contact with the flame that is human emotion. There had been elder and long-past civilizations in which knowledge was a mystery, the possession and the privilege of a caste; tradition had come down to us of ancient wisdom which might only be revealed to the initiate…. A blind fear massacred its scientific men, a wiser fear exalted them and set them apart as initiates. When science and human emotion between them had wrought the extreme of destruction and agony, there passed the reckless and idealistic dream of a world where all might be enlightened; the aim and tradition of a social system arising out of ruin would be the setting of an iron barrier between science and human emotion. That, and not enlightenment of all and sundry — the admission of the foolish, the impulsive and the selfish to a share in the power of destruction. The same need and instinct of self-preservation which had inspired the taking of the Vow of Ignorance would work, in higher and saner minds, for the training of a caste — an Egyptian priesthood — exempt from blind passion and the common impulse of the herd; a caste trained in silence and rigid self-control, its way of attainment made hard to the student, the initiate. The deadly formulae of mechanics, electricity and chemistry would be entrusted only to those who had been purged of the daily common passions of the multitude; to those who, by trial after trial, had fettered their natural impulses and stripped themselves of instinct and desire.
So, in times past, had arisen — and might again arise — a scientific priesthood whose initiates, to the vulgar, were magicians; a caste that guarded science as a mystery and confined the knowledge which is power of destruction to those who had been trained not to use it. The old lost learning of dead and gone kingdoms was a science shielded by its devotees from defilement by human emotion; a pure, cold knowledge, set apart and worshipped for itself…. And somewhere in the vastness of the great round world the beginnings of a priesthood, a scientific caste, might be building unconsciously on the lines of ancient wisdom, and laying the foundations of yet another Egypt or Chaldaea. A State whose growth would be rooted in the mystery of knowledge and fear of human passion; whose culture and civilization would be moulded by a living and terrible tradition of catastrophe through science uncontrolled… And, so long as the tradition was living and terrible, the initiate would stand guard before his mysteries, that the world might be saved from itself; only when humanity had forgotten its downfall and ruin had ceased to be even a legend, would the barrier between science and emotion be withdrawn and knowledge be claimed as the right of the uncontrolled, the multitude.
Till his brain began to fail him he watched, in dumb interest, the life and development of the tribe; learning from it more than he had ever known in the world of his youth of the eternal foundations on which life in community is built. The unending struggle between the desire for freedom, which makes of man a rebel, and the need for security, which makes of him a citizen, was played before his understanding eyes; he watched parties, castes and priesthoods in the making and, before he died, could forecast the beginning of an aristocracy, a slave class and a tribal hereditary monarchy. In all things man untraditioned held blindly to the ways he had forgotten; instinctively, not knowing whither they led, he trod the paths that his fathers had trodden before him. Most of all he was stirred in his interest and pity by the life religious of the world around him; watching it adapt itself, steadily and naturally, to the needs of a race in its childhood. As a new generation grew up to its heritage of ignorance, the foundations of faith were shifted; as tribal life crystallized, gods multiplied inevitably and the Heaven ruled by a Supreme Being gave place to a crude Valhalla of minor deities. Man, who makes God in his own image, can only make that image in the likeness of his own highest type; which, in a world divided, insecure and predatory, is the type of the successful warrior; the Saviour, in a world divided and predatory, takes the form of a tribal deity who secures to his people the enjoyment of their fields by strengthening their hands against the assaults and the malice of their enemies. As always with those who live in constant fear and in hate of one another, the Lord was a Man of War; and when Theodore’s first grandson was received into the tribe, the deity to whom vows were made in the name of the child was already a local Jehovah. Faith saw him as a tribal Lord of Hosts, the celestial captain of his worshippers; if his worshippers walked humbly and paid due honour to his name he would stand before them in the day of battle and protect them with his shield invisible — would draw the sword of the Lord and of Gideon, show himself mightier than the priests of Baal and overthrow the altars of the Philistines.
A god whose attributes are those of a warrior, of necessity is not omnipotent; since he fights, his authority is partial — assailed and disputed by those against whom he draws the sword. A race in its childhood evolved the deity it needed, a champion and upholder of his own people; to the tribal warrior the god to whom an enemy prayed for success was a rival of his own protector…. So the mind primitive argued, more or less directly and consciously, making God in its image, for its own needs and purposes; and even in Theodore’s lifetime the deities worshipped by men from a distance were not those of his own country. The jurisdiction of the gods was limited and the stranger, of necessity, paid homage to an alien spirit who took pleasure in an unfamiliar ritual.
In his lifetime the darkness of Heaven was unbroken and there emerged no god whose attribute was mercy and long-suffering; the Day of Judgment was still too recent, its memory too clear and overwhelming, to admit of the idea of a Divine Love or a Father who had pity on his children. Fear, and fear only, led his people to the feet of the Lord. The God of Vengeance of the first generation and the tribal superman who gradually ousted him from his pride of place were alike wrathful, jealous of their despotism and greedily expectant of mouth-honour. Hence, propitiation and ignorance were the whole religious duty of man, and the rites wherewith deity was duly worshipped were rites of crawling flattery and sacrifice…. The blood of sinners was acceptable in the sight of Heaven; the Lord Almighty had destroyed a world that he might slake his vengeance, and his lineal descendants, the celestial warriors, rejoiced in the slaughter of those who had borne arms against their worshippers — in the end, rejoiced in blood for itself and the savour of the burnt sacrifice. And a race cowed spiritually (lest worse befall it) evolved its rites of sacrificial cruelty, paying tribute to a god who took ceaseless pleasure in the humbling of his people and could only be appeased by their suffering.
There were seasons and regions where abasement produced its own reaction; when, for all the savour of sacrificial cruelty, the gods remained deaf to the prayers of their worshippers, delivered them into the hands of their enemies or chastened them with famine and pestilence. Hope of salvation beaten out of them, the worshippers, like rats driven into a corner, ceased to grovel and turned on the tyrants who had failed them; and the Lord Almighty Who made the heavens, shrunk to the dimensions of a local fetish, was upbraided and beaten in effigy.
Since it seemed that the new world must in all things follow in the ways of the old, the gentler deities who delighted not in blood would in due time reveal themselves to man grown capable of mercy. As the memory of judgment faded with the centuries — as the earth waxed fruitful and life was kindlier — humanity would dare to lift its head from the dust and the life religious would be more than blind cringing to a despot. The Heaven of the future would find room for gods who were gracious and friendly; for white Baldurs and Olympians who walk with men and instruct them; and there would arise prophets whose message was not vengeance, but a call to “rejoice in the Lord.”… And in further time, it might be, the God who is a Spirit… and a Christ…. The rise, the long, slow upward struggle of the soul of man was as destined and inevitable as its fall; all human achievement, material or spiritual, was founded in the baseness of mire and clay — and rose towering above its foundations. As the State, which had its origin in no more than common fear and hatred, in the end would be honoured without thought of gain and its flag held sacred by its sons; so Deity, beginning as vengeance personified, would advance to a spiritual Law and a spiritual Love. When the power of loving returned to the race, it would cease to abase itself and lift up its eyes to a Father — endowing its Deity with that which was best in itself; when it achieved and took pleasure in its own thoughts and the works of its hands, it would see in the Highest not the Vengeance that destroys but the Spirit that heals and creates.
Meanwhile the foundation of the life religious was, and must be, the timorous virtue of ignorance, of humble avoidance of inquiry into the dreadful secrets of God. In Theodore’s youth he had turned from the orthodox religions, which repelled by what seemed to him a fear of knowledge and inquiry; now he understood that man, being by nature destructive, can survive only when his powers of destruction are limited; and that the ignorance enjoined by priest and bigot had been — and would be again — an essential need of the race, an expression of the will to live…. The jealous God who guards his secrets is the god of the race that survives.
How many times — (he would wonder) — how many times since the world began to spin has man, in his eager search for truth, rushed blindly through knowledge to the ruin that means chaos and savagery? How many times, in his devout, instinctive longing to know his own nature and the workings of the Infinite Mind that created him has he wrought himself weapons that turned to his own destruction?… Ignorance of the powers and forces of nature is a condition of human existence; as necessary to the continued life of the race as the breathing of air or the taking of food into the body. Behind the bench of zealots who judged Galileo lay the dumb race-memory of ruin — ruin, perhaps, many times repeated. They stood, the zealots, for that ignorance which, being interpreted, is life; and Galileo for that knowledge which, being interpreted, is death….
Many times, it might be, since the world began to spin, had men called upon the rocks to cover them from the devils their own hands had fashioned; many times, it might be, a remnant had put from it the knowledge it dared not trust itself to wield — that it might not fall upon its own weapons, but live, just live, like the beasts! Behind the injunction to devout ignorance, behind the ecclesiastical hatred of science and distrust of brain, lay more than prejudice and bigotry; the prejudice and bigotry were but superficial and outward workings of instinct and the first law of all, the Law of Self-Preservation.
With his eyes open to the workings of that law, folk-tale and myth had long become real to him — since he saw them daily in the making…. The dragon that wasted a country with its breath — how else should a race that knew naught of chemistry account for the devilry of gas? And he understood now, why the legend of Icarus was a legend of disaster, and Prometheus, who stole fire from Heaven, was chained to eternity for his daring; he knew, also, why the angel with a flaming sword barred the gate of Eden to those who had tasted of knowledge…. The story of the Garden, of the Fall of Man, was no more the legend of his youth; he read it now, with his opened eyes, as a livid and absolute fact. A fact told plainly as symbol could tell it by a race that had put from it all memory of the science whereby it was driven from its ancient paradise, its garden of civilization…. How many times since the world began to spin had man mastered the knowledge that should make him like unto God, and turned, in agony of mind and body, from a power synonymous with death?
And how many times more, he wondered — how many times more?
Theodore Savage lived to be a very old man; how old in years he could not have said, since, long before his memory failed him, he had lost his count of time. But for fully a decade before he died he went humped and rheumatic, leaning on a stick, was blear-eyed, toothless and wizened; he had outlived all those who had begun the new world with him, and a son of his grandson was of those who — when the time came — dug a trench for his bones and shovelled loose earth on his head.
He had no lack of care in his extreme old age — in part perhaps because the tribe grew to hold him in awe that increased with the years; the sole survivor of the legendary age that preceded the Ruin and Downfall of Man, he was feared in spite of his helplessness. He alone of his little community could remember the Ruin with any comprehension of its causes; he alone possessed in silence a share of that hidden and forbidden knowledge which had brought flaming judgment on the world. Here and there in the countryside were grey-headed men, his juniors by years, who could remember vaguely the horrors of a distant childhood — the sky afire, the crash of falling masonry, the panic, the lurking and the starving. These things they could remember like a nightmare past… but only remember, not explain. Behind Theodore’s bald forehead and dimmed, oozing eyes lay the understanding of why and wherefore denied to those who dwelt beside him.
For this reason Theodore Savage was treated with deference in the days of his senile helplessness. As he sat, half-blind, in the sun by the door of his hut, no one ever failed to greet him with respect in passing; while in most the greeting was more than a token of respect or kindliness — the sign and result of a nervous desire to propitiate. In the end he was credited with a knowledge of unholy arts, and the children of the tribe avoided and shrank from him, frightened by the gossip of their elders; so that village mothers found him useful as a bogy, arresting the tantrums of unruly brats by threats of calling in Old Bald-Head.
Even in his lifetime legends clustered thick about him, and sickness or accident to man or beast was ascribed to the glance of his pur-blind eye or the malice of his vacant brain; while there was once — though he never knew or suspected it — an agitated and furtive discussion as to whether, for the good of the community, he should not be knocked on the head. The furtive discussion ended in discussion only — not because the advocates of mercy were numerous, but because no man was willing to lay violent hands on a wizard, for fear of what might befall him; and, the interlude over, the tribe relapsed into its customary timid respect for its patriarch, its customary practice of ensuring his goodwill by politeness and small offerings of victuals. These added to the old man’s comfort in his latter years — nor had he any suspicion of the motive that secured him both deference and dainties.
With his death the local legends increased and multiplied; the distorted, varied myths of the Ruin of Man and its causes showing an inevitable tendency to group themselves around one striking and mysterious figure, to make of that figure a cause and a personification of the Great Disaster. Theodore Savage, to those who came after, was Merlin, Frankenstein and Adam; the fool who tasted of forbidden fruit, the magician whose arts had brought ruin on a world, the devil-artisan whose unholy skill had created monsters that destroyed him. His grave was an awesome spot, apart from other graves, which the timorous avoided after dark; and, long after all trace of it had vanished, there clung to the neighbourhood a tradition of haunting and mystery…. To his children’s children his name was the symbol of a dead civilization; a civilization that had passed so completely from the ken of living man that its lost achievements, the manner of its ending, could only be expressed in symbol.
“He came to believe that the problem — like all others — had been faced in forgotten generations; that old centuries had learned the forgotten lesson that the Ruin was teaching anew.” — see the “All Myths are True” and Precursors tropes.
RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HiLobrow’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.
READ GORGEOUS PAPERBACKS: HiLoBooks has reissued the following 10 obscure but amazing Radium Age science fiction novels in beautiful print editions: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.
READ HERE AT HILOBROW: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “The Moon Men” | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss”