Theodore Savage (2)
March 18, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the second installment of our serialization of Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage (also known as Lest Ye Die). New installments will appear each Monday for 25 weeks.
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.
She tried to blow a smoke-ring with conspicuous ill-success, and Theodore, watching her from his corner of the sofa — intent on her profile against the light — heard Rathbone explaining that “against everybody else” was hardly the way to put it, since the Federal Council was not a happy family at present. There was very little doubt that Karthania was being encouraged to make trouble–and none at all that there would be difference of opinion on the subject of punitive action…. Phillida, with an arm round her father’s neck, was divided between international politics and an endeavour to make the perfect ring–now throwing in a question anent the constitution and dissensions of the League, now rounding her mouth for a failure–while Theodore, on the sofa, leaned his head upon his hand that he might shade his eyes and watch her without seeming to watch…. He listened to Rathbone — and did not listen; and that, as he realized later, had been so far his attitude to interests in the mass. The realities of his life were immediate and personal — with, in the background, dim interests in the mass that were vaguely distasteful as politics. A collective game played with noisy idealism and flaring, abuse, which served as copy to the makers of newspapers and gave rise at intervals to excited conversation and argument.
What was real, and only real while Rathbone talked, was the delicate poise of Phillida’s head, the decorative line of Phillida’s body, his pleasure in the sight of her, his comfort in a well-ordered room; these things were realities, tangible or aesthetic, in whose company a man, if he were so inclined, might discuss academically an Eastern imbroglio and the growing tendency to revolt against the centralized authority of the League. Between life, as he grasped it, and public affairs there was no visible, essential connection. The Karthanian imbroglio, as he strolled to his chambers, was an item in the make-up of a newspaper, the subject of a recent conversation; it was the rhythm of Phillida’s music that danced in his brain as a living and insistent reality. That, and not the stirrings of uneasy nations, kept him wakeful till long after midnight.
While Theodore Savage paid his court to Phillida Rathbone, the Karthanian decision was the subject of more than conversation; diplomatists and statesmen were busy while he drifted into love and dreamed through the sudden rumours that excited his fellows at the office. In London, for the most part, journalism was guarded and reticent, the threat of secession at first hardly mentioned; but in nations and languages that favoured secession the press was voicing the popular cry with enthusiasm that grew daily more heated. Through conflicting rumour this at least was clear: at the next meeting of the Council of the League its authority would be tested to the uttermost, since the measure of independent action demanded by the malcontent members would amount to a denial of the federal principle, to secession in fact if not in name…. Reaction against central and unified authority was not a phenomenon of yesterday; it had been gathering its strength through years of racial friction, finding an adherent in every community that considered itself aggrieved by a decision of the Council or award of the Court of Arbitration, and for years it had taxed the ingenuity of the majority of the Council to avoid open breach and defiance.
Before open breach and its consequences, both sides had so far manoeuvred, hesitated, compromised; it had been left to a minor, a very minor, state, to rush in where others feared to tread. The flat refusal of a heady, half-civilized little democracy to accept the unfavourable verdict of the Court of Arbitration was the spark that might fire a powder-barrel; its frothy demonstrations, ridiculous in themselves, appealed to the combative instinct in others, to race-hatreds, old herding feuds and jealousies. These found vent in answering demonstrations, outbursts of popular sympathy in states not immediately affected; the noisy rebel was hailed as a martyr and pioneer of freedom, and became the pretext for resistance to the Council’s oppression. There was no doubt of the extent of the re-grouping movement of the nations, of the stirrings of a widespread combativeness which denounced Federation as a system whereby dominant interests and races exploited their weaker rivals. With the meeting of the Council would come the inevitable clash of interests; the summons to the offending member of the League to retreat from its impossible position, and–in case of continued defiance–the proposal to take punitive action. That proposal, to all seeming, must bring about a crisis; those members of the League who had encouraged the rebel in defiance would hardly consent to co-operate in punitive measures; and refusal–withdrawal of their military contingents–would mean virtual secession and denial of majority rule. If collective excitement and anger ran high, it might mean even more than secession; there were possibilities–first hinted at, later discussed without subterfuge–of actual and armed opposition should the Council attempt to enforce its decree and authority…. Humanity, once more, was gathering into herds and growing sharply conscious alike of division and comradeship.
It was some time before Theodore was even touched by the herding instinct and spirit; apart, in a delicate world of his own, he concerned himself even less than usual with the wider interests of politics. By his fellows in the Distribution Office he was known as an incurable optimist; even when the cloud had spread rapidly and darkened he saw “strained relations” through the eyes of a lover, and his mind, busied elsewhere, refused to dwell anxiously on “incidents” and “disquieting possibilities.” They intruded clumsily on his delicate world and, so soon as might be, he thrust them behind him and slipped back to the seclusion that belonged to himself and a woman. All his life, thought and impulse, for the time being, was a negation, a refusal of the idea of strife and destruction; in his happy egoism he planned to make and build–a home and a lifetime of content.
Now and again, and in spite of his reluctance, his veil of happy egoism was brushed aside — some chance word or incident forcing him to look upon the menace. There was the evening in Vallance’s rooms, for instance — where the talk settled down to the political crisis, and Holt, the long journalist, turned sharply on Vallance, who supposed we were drifting into war.
“That’s nonsense, Vallance! Nonsense! It’s impossible — unthinkable!”
“Unpleasant, if you like,” said Vallance, “but not impossible. At least — it never has been.”
“That’s no reason,” Holt retorted; “we’re not living yesterday. There’ll be no war, and I’ll tell you why: because the men who will have to start it — daren’t!” He had a penetrating voice which he raised when excited, so that other talk died down and the room was filled with his argument. Politicians, he insisted, might bluff and use threats — menace with a bogy, shake a weapon they dared not use — but they would stop short at threats, manoeuvre for position and retreat. Let loose modern science, mechanics and chemistry, they could not — there was a limit to human insanity, if only because there was a limit to the endurance of the soldier. Unless you supposed that all politicians were congenital idiots or criminal lunatics out to make holocausts. What was happening at present was manoeuvring pure and simple; neither side caring to prejudice its case by open admission that appeal to force was unthinkable, each side hoping that the other would be the first to make the admission, each side trotting out the dummy soldiers that were only for show, and would soon be put back in their boxes…. War, he repeated, was unthinkable….”
“Man,” said a voice behind Theodore, “does much that is unthinkable!”
Theodore turned that he might look at the speaker —Markham, something in the scientific line, who had sat in silence, with a pipe between his lips, till he dropped out his slow remark.
“Your mistake,” he went on,” lies in taking these people — statesmen, politicians — for free agents, and in thinking they have only one fear. Look at Meyer’s speech this morning — that’s significant. He has been moderate so far, a restraining influence; now he breathes fire and throws in his lot with the extremists. What do you make of that?”
“Merely,” said Holt, “that Meyer has lost his head.”
“In which happy state,” suggested Vallance, “the impossible and unthinkable mayn’t frighten him.”
“That’s one explanation,” said Markham. “The other is that he is divided between his two fears — the fear of war and the fear of his democracy, which, being in a quarrelsome and restless mood, would break him if he flinched and applauds him to the echo when he blusters. And, maybe, at the moment, his fear of being broken is greater than his fear of the impossible — at any rate the threat is closer…. The man himself may be reasonable — even now — but he is the instrument of instinctive emotion. Almost any man, taken by himself, is reasonable — and, being reasonable, cautious. Meyer can think, just as well as you and I, so long as he stands outside a crowd; but neither you nor I, nor Meyer, can think when we are one with thousands and our minds are absorbed into a jelly of impulse and emotion.”
“I like your phrase about jelly,” said Vallance. “It has an odd picturesqueness. Your argument itself — or, rather, your assertion — strikes me as a bit sweeping.”
“All the same,” Markham nodded, “it’s worth thinking over…. Man in the mass, as a crowd, can only feel; there is no such thing as a mass-mind or intellect — only mass desires and emotions. That is what I mean by saying that Meyer — whatever his intelligence or sanity — is the instrument of instinctive emotion…. And instinctive emotion, Holt — until it has been hurt — is damnably and owlishly courageous. It isn’t clever enough to be afraid; not even of red murder — or starvation by the million — or the latest thing in gas or high explosive. Stir it up enough and it’ll run on ’em — as the lemmings run to the sea.”
Holt snorted something that sounded like “Rot!” and Vallance, sprawling an arm along the mantelpiece, asked, “Another of your numerous theories?”
“If you like,” Markham assented, “but it’s a theory deduced from hard facts…. It’s a fact, isn’t it, that no politician takes a crowd into his confidence until he wants to make a fight of it? It’s a fact, isn’t it, that no movements in mass are creative or constructive — that simultaneous action, simultaneous thought, always is and must be destructive? Set what we call the People in motion and something has got to be broken. The crowd-life is still at the elementary, the animal stage; it has not yet acquired the human power of construction… and the crowd, the people, democracy — whatever you like to call it — has been stirring in the last few years; getting conscious again, getting active, looking round for something to break…which means that the politician is faced once more with the necessity of giving it something to break. Naturally he prefers that the breakage should take place in the distance — and, League or no League, the eternal and obvious resource is War… which was not too risky when fought with swords and muskets, but now — as Holt says — is impossible. Being a bit of a chemist, I’m sure Holt is right; but I’m also sure that man, as a herd, does not think. Further, I am doubtful if man, as a herd, ever finds out what is impossible except through the painful process of breaking his head against it.”
“I’m a child in politics,” said Vallance, “and I may be dense — but I’m afraid it isn’t entirely clear to me whether your views are advanced or grossly and shamelessly reactionary?”
“Neither,” said Markham, “or both — you can take your choice. I have every sympathy with the people, the multitude; it’s hard lines that it can only achieve destruction — just because there is so much of it, because it isn’t smaller. But I also sympathize with the politician in his efforts to control the destructive impulse of the multitude. And, finally — in view of that progress of science of which Holt has reminded us, and of which I know a little myself —I’m exceedingly sorry for us all.”
Someone from across the room asked: “You make it war, then?”
“I make it war. We have had peace for more than a generation, so our periodic blood-letting is already a long time overdue. The League has staved it off for a bit, but it hasn’t changed the human constitution; and the real factor in the Karthanian quarrel — or any other — is the periodic need of the human herd for something to break and for something to break itself agains…. Resistance and self-sacrifice — the need of them — the call of the lemming to the sea…. And, perhaps, it’s all the stronger in this generation because this generation has never known war, and does not fear it.”
“Education,” said Holt, addressing the air, “is general and compulsory — has been so for a good many years. The inference being that the records of previous wars — and incidentally of the devastation involved — are not inaccessible to that large proportion of our population which is known as the average man.”
“As printed pages, yes,” Markham agreed. “But what proportion even of a literate population is able to accept the statement of a printed page as if it were a personal experience?”
“As we’re not all fools,” Holt retorted, “I don’t make it war.”
“I hope you’re right, for my own sake,” said Markham good-temperedly. He knocked out his pipe as he spoke and made ready to go — while Theodore looked after him, interested, for the moment, disturbingly…. Markham’s unemotional and matter-of-fact acceptance of “periodic blood-letting ” made rumour suddenly real, and for the first time Theodore saw the Karthanian imbroglio as more than the substance of telegrams and articles, something human, actual, and alive…. Saw himself, even Phillida, concerned in it — through a medley of confused and threatening shadows…. For the moment he was roused from his self-absorption and thrust into the world that he shared with the common herd of men. He and Phillida were no longer as the gods apart, with their lives to make in Eden; they were little human beings, the sport of a common human destiny…. He remembered how eagerly he caught at Holt’s condemnation of Markham as a crank and Vallance’s next comment on the crisis.
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.
HILOBOOKS: The mission of HiLoBooks is to serialize novels on HiLobrow; and also, as of 2012, operating as an imprint of Richard Nash’s Cursor, to reissue Radium Age science fiction in beautiful new print editions. So far, we have published 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’s The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, and J.D. Beresford’s Goslings. Forthcoming: 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.
SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | 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 | serialized between March and August 2012; Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, serialized between May and September 2012; William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, serialized between June and December 2012; J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, serialized between September 2012 and May 2013; and Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, serialized between March and August 2013.