The 1926 satirical sf novel King Goshawk and the Birds, by Irish playwright and novelist Eimar O’Duffy, is set in a future world devastated by progress. When King Goshawk, the supreme ruler among a caste of “king capitalists,” buys up all the wildflowers and songbirds, an aghast Dublin philosopher travels via the astral plane to Tír na nÓg. First the mythical Irish hero Cúchulainn, then his son Cuanduine, travel to Earth in order to combat the king capitalists. Thirty-five years before the hero of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, these well-meaning aliens discover that cultural forms and norms are the most effective barrier to social or economic revolution.
HiLobrow is pleased to serialize King Goshawk and the Birds, which has long been out of print, in its entirety. A new installment will appear each week.
Chapter 5: The Legend of Saint Progressa
Progressa was a holy woman in her time, by whose intercession the world was redeemed from the greatest plague that ever threatened it: namely, a plague of babies. In those days all who came together in love (unless man or maid were blessed with the precious gift of sterility) would commonly reproduce their kind: which was a grave inconvenience both in marriage and out of it. Progressa held this to be a most unjust accompaniment to the joys of love; for, as the maiden said in Theocritus:
ἀλλὰ τεχεῑν τρεμέω, μὴ χαὶ χρόα χαλὸν ὀλέσσω,
nor was it any consolation to her to be told, as ibidem:
ἢν δὲ τέχῃς φίλα τέχνα, νέον φάος ὄψεαι υἶας.
Besides, child-bearing interferes with the Higher Development of Woman, especially in the provinces of dancing, hunting, and voting at elections. And why should mules and jennets have privileges denied to the Lords (and Ladies) of Creation? Moreover, as she was a serious-minded young person and addicted to the study of social problems, walking once through a city slum in a time of stress, she noticed that those workers who had large families suffered more than those with small ones; for which evil she saw that there could be but one remedy: to increase their incomes? No, by Procrustes (whom she would as soon have asked to enlarge his bedsteads): to cut down their families, of course.
Now you must know that before this time there were many enlightened persons who had learnt how to be provident in this respect, but, alas, the world was for the most part inhabited with ignorant, unfit, narrow-minded, old-fashioned, out-of-date, prejudiced, and unprogressive people who held all such practices in superstitious abhorrence, calling them evil-sounding names, such as race-suicide, and in other ways retarding the march of emancipation. The good Progressa in her hermit cell wept many tears, and fasted and prayed in atonement for this perversity, and vowed that she would not wear flannelette nor eat strawberries without cream until they were gathered to the fold. Thereafter the Lord appeared to her in a vision, saying: “Progressa, Progressa.” Progressa answered: “Here I am.” “Tell mankind,” said the Lord, “that I did not really mean what I said when I bade them increase and multiply. I was young and unpractised in those days, and had not made a study of political economy. This is the new Gospel: ‘Dwindle and Diminish. Henceforward my blessing shall be upon the barren, and the fruitful shall have no part in me.’” Heartened by this vision, Progressa contested a seat in Parliament as an Anticonceptionist, haranguing the constituency in speeches that have ever since been the Testament of the new religion. That you may appreciate its nature, and the beautiful and logical mind of its prophet, I will quote you bits of them.
“The natural desire of the sexes, formerly regarded as a survival of the animal in man, is now known to be a purely spiritual attraction. When love looks into the eyes of love, soul rushes to soul, and both are interblent in spiritual ecstasy so intense as to transcend the mere bodily union which accompanies it. It is in that moment that each soul achieves its highest spiritual potentiality, and in the repetition of such moments it grows in power and nobility.…
“Conjugation is no longer regarded as a mere episode in the phenomenon of procreation. Modern reasoning, in fact, tends to show that its connection with procreation is purely incidental. Doubtless with the broadening of up-to-date thought even this connection will be found to be fallacious.…
“Let us face facts. On the one hand, the most elementary knowledge of Nature makes it clear that the male’s powers of self-restraint are limited. A superficial observation of the habits of cats, dogs, and barn-door fowl will make that plain to the most ignorant. It is therefore unreasonable to expect prolonged continence from the average man. On the other hand, it is equally unreasonable to expect a modern woman to be a mere breeding animal like a cow. Woman has a higher destiny.…
“Besides, Contraception does not really prevent conception at all.…”
Mindful of the old proverb, “Give a dog a bad name and hang him,” which being reversed might read: “Give a viper a good name and he will be fed on butter,” she called the new gospel “Babylove.”
A Limited Company was formed forthwith to acquire a monopoly of the necessary appliances. Yet in spite of millions spent on advertising there were few purchasers. Those who were already of the faith were too few to be profitable; those who were not were still deterred by superstitious objections, or even, incredible though it may seem, by a depraved taste for offspring. This was specially true of the poor, whose pleasures were not so plentiful that they were ready to sacrifice any of them. Here was a cause of deep searching of heart among Progressa’s disciples, since it must lead to the multiplication of the least desirable elements of the community — of the idle, the thriftless, the vicious, and the unfit — at the expense of the hard-working, provident, and virtuous rich. What a prospect was this for the future of the race: an infamous thing, not to be endured, said the Directors of the Company. These were no puling sentimentalists nor wicked subversives to think that the race could be saved by tampering with the laws of economics, which are as old as the laws of the Medes and Persians, and like them do not change. The rights of property are sacrosanct; but the babe unborn has no rights: therefore a decree went out from the new Conclave that there should be no more babies — or at any rate as few as possible.
O Spirit of Liberty, thou art mighty yet. Now were the most comfortable in the land intoxicated with thy breath, and came pouring in well-dressed multitudes to hear the per fervid oratory of the Revolutionists. What warlike banners of emancipation now floated on the breeze, defying the tyranny of ages with such daring mottoes as, “No More Babies!” “Extirpate the Embryo!” “Abolish the Brats,” and “Down with Babies! Up with the Race!” Now did many of the most brilliant of the subversive writers of the day see the error of their ways and turn from the preaching of licence to the preaching of true liberty. But alas! Revolutions were ever the work not of the many, but of the few with clear vision; nor was this Revolution an exception. Dissident voices were occasionally heard at meetings. Once, for instance, when an orator declared that during the Great War if the population of England had been any larger they would have been starved into surrender, an aged General interrupted to point out that if their army had been any smaller it would have been beaten in the field. He was very properly thrown out, and only his grey hairs, great reputation, and obviously failing intelligence saved him from a well-deserved lynching. On another occasion an interrupter asked: “Why not legalise abortion, or revive the old Roman custom of exposure?” The fellow was expelled from all the best clubs for this display of bad taste. The general multitude, besides, living in hovels unfit for pigs, remained indifferent to the new gospel and went on producing babies as mischievously as ever.
Then arose one of the Progressives, an ecclesiastic of austere countenance, and said: “The balance can be righted in this way. Let the Government decide that not more than three children in each family of the lower orders shall be educated at the public expense, and that a stiff fee be charged for any beyond that number; and let the more desirable classes be encouraged to breed by exempting from income tax all that a man expends on education.”
A Bill to this effect was presently promoted in Parliament by the interests concerned, and rapidly found its way to the Statute Book. This measure did for Babylove what the Edict of Constantine did for Christianity. It was the Charter of the New Liberty. True, it had to be repealed twenty years later, when it was found that the growing numbers of illiterates were a menace to industrial efficiency. But it was immediately followed by the Limitation of Families Act, under which the number of children permitted to a couple was graded as in schedule:
Millionaires … ad lib.
Income £100,000 and over … 10 children
” 50,000 ” … 9 ”
” 20,000 ” … 8 ”
” 10,000 ” … 6 ”
” 5,000 ” … 5 ”
” 1,000 ” … 4 ”
” 500 ” … 3 ”
” 250 ” … 2 ”
” 100 ” … 1 child
” under £100 ” … nil
The penalties for breach of these regulations were extremely severe, ranging from one year’s imprisonment for a first offence to penal servitude for life in flagrant cases. A stringent social code reinforced the law most efficaciously; a woman who “exceeded” — as the polite phrase went — being treated with the some opprobrium meted out in a less enlightened age to the mother of a bastard. ’Sdeath, you should have seen with what virtuous disdain a sterile dame would pluck her petticoats out of contact with one of these fallen sisters.
The pious Progressa, now in a green old age, thus saw her life’s work brought to the threshold of triumph. Had she lived a little longer she would have seen all her girlhood’s dreams come true. She would have seen the whole face of England swarming with ancient spinsters busily instructing children of ten in sex knowledge and contraception. She would have seen the passage of an Act of Parliament forbidding the publication of anti-contraceptive literature, and of another disfranchising all persons convicted of infringements of the Limitation of Families Act. She would have seen priests imprisoned under the Blasphemy laws for preaching against contraception. She would have seen Trade Unionists striking in protest against being asked to work alongside parents of more than the statutory number of children. Finally — triumph of triumphs — she would have seen the commencement of a steady decline in the population of England which soon reached the satisfactory quota of one million per decade. But Providence seldom permits the pioneers to enter the Promised Land. Before this happy consummation Progressa had passed away in the odour of success, while monopolists and financial magnates crowded round her bedside to hear the last words of the dying saint. Her final moments were rejoiced by the news that Contraception had been defined as a dogma by the Sacred Congregation of Advanced Thinkers, which is infallible. Ten years later the case for her Beatification was laid before the General Consensus of Modern Thought, which is more infallible still. So obviously heroic were her virtues, and so astounding her miracles (for, if it be a miracle to raise the dead, is it not a greater miracle to erase the embryonic?) that it was decided to waive all preliminary formalities and enrol her at once among the Saints.
* ἀλλὰ τεχεῑν τρεμέω, μὴ χαὶ χρόα χαλὸν ὀλέσσω, nor was it any consolation to her to be told, as ibidem: ἢν δὲ τέχῃς φίλα τέχνα, νέον φάος ὄψεαι υἶας. — I can’t read Greek, but I’m guessing these lines are from Theocritus’s “A Countryman’s Wooing,” as follows:
THE MAIDEN: And bearing children all our grace destroys.
DAPHNIS: Bear them and shine more lustrous in your boys.
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.
REDISCOVERED BY HILOBOOKS: 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” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | John Buchan’s Huntingtower
ORIGINAL FICTION: HiLobrow has serialized three novels: James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox (“a proof-of-concept that serialization can work on the Internet” — The Atlantic); Karinne Keithley Syers’s Linda Linda Linda (which includes original music); and Robert Waldron’s roman à clef The School on the Fens. We also publish original stories and comics. These include: Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”