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H. G. WELLS.


EASTON GLEBE,


DUNMOW, 1921.


CONTENTS


PRELUDE


THE SUN SNARERS


CHAPTER THE FIRST


THE NEW SOURCE OF ENERGY


CHAPTER THE SECOND


THE LAST WAR


CHAPTER THE THIRD


THE ENDING OF WAR


CHAPTER THE FOURTH


THE NEW PHASE


CHAPTER THE FIFTH


THE LAST DAYS OF MARCUS KARENIN


PRELUDE


THE SUN SNARERS

Section I

THE history of mankind is the history of the attainment of

external power. Man is the tool-using, fire-making animal. From

the outset of his terrestrial career we find him supplementing

the natural strength and bodily weapons of a beast by the heat of

burning and the rough implement of stone. So he passed beyond

the ape. From that he expands. Presently he added to himself the

power of the horse and the ox, he borrowed the carrying strength

of water and the driving force of the wind, he quickened his fire

by blowing, and his simple tools, pointed first with copper and

then with iron, increased and varied and became more elaborate

and efficient. He sheltered his heat in houses and made his way

easier by paths and roads. He complicated his social

relationships and increased his efficiency by the division of

labour. He began to store up knowledge. Contrivance followed

contrivance, each making it possible for a man to do more.

Always down the lengthening record, save for a set-back ever and

again, he is doing more A quarter of a million years ago the

utmost man was a savage, a being scarcely articulate, sheltering

in holes in the rocks, armed with a rough-hewn flint or a

fire-pointed stick, naked, living in small family groups, killed

by some younger man so soon as his first virile activity

declined. Over most of the great wildernesses of earth you would

have sought him in vain; only in a few temperate and sub-tropical

river valleys would you have found the squatting lairs of his

little herds, a male, a few females, a child or so.

He knew no future then, no kind of life except the life he led.

He fled the cave-bear over the rocks full of iron ore and the

promise of sword and spear; he froze to death upon a ledge of

coal; he drank water muddy with the clay that would one day make

cups of porcelain; he chewed the ear of wild wheat he had plucked

and gazed with a dim speculation in his eyes at the birds that

soared beyond his reach. Or suddenly he became aware of the scent

of another male and rose up roaring, his roars the formless

precursors of moral admonitions. For he was a great

individualist, that original, he suffered none other than

himself.

So through the long generations, this heavy precursor, this

ancestor of all of us, fought and bred and perished, changing

almost imperceptibly.

Yet he changed. That keen chisel of necessity which sharpened

the tiger's claw age by age and fined down the clumsy Orchippus

to the swift grace of the horse, was at work upon him-is at work

upon him still. The clumsier and more stupidly fierce among him

were killed soonest and oftenest; the finer hand, the quicker

eye, the bigger brain, the better balanced body prevailed; age by

age, the implements were a little better made, the man a little

more delicately adjusted to his possibilities. He became more

social; his herd grew larger; no longer did each man kill or

drive out his growing sons; a system of taboos made them

tolerable to him, and they revered him alive and soon even after

he was dead, and were his allies against the beasts and the rest

of mankind. (But they were forbidden to touch the women of the

tribe, they had to go out and capture women for themselves, and

each son fled from his stepmother and hid from her lest the anger

of the Old Man should be roused. All the world over, even to this

day, these ancient inevitable taboos can be traced.) And now

instead of caves came huts and hovels, and the fire was better

tended and there were wrappings and garments; and so aided, the

creature spread into colder climates, carrying food with him,

storing food-until sometimes the neglected grass-seed sprouted

again and gave a first hint of agriculture.

And already there were the beginnings of leisure and thought.

Man began to think. There were times when he was fed, when his

lusts and his fears were all appeased, when the sun shone upon

the squatting-place and dim stirrings of speculation lit his

eyes. He scratched upon a bone and found resemblance and pursued

it and began pictorial art, moulded the soft, warm clay of the

river brink between his fingers, and found a pleasure in its

patternings and repetitions, shaped it into the form of vessels,

and found that it would hold water. He watched the streaming

river, and wondered from what bountiful breast this incessant

water came; he blinked at the sun and dreamt that perhaps he

might snare it and spear it as it went down to its resting-place

amidst the distant hills. Then he was roused to convey to his

brother that once indeed he had done so-at least that some one

had done so-he mixed that perhaps with another dream almost as

daring, that one day a mammoth had been beset; and therewith

began fiction-pointing a way to achievement-and the august

prophetic procession of tales.

For scores and hundreds of centuries, for myriads of generations

that life of our fathers went on. From the beginning to the

ripening of that phase of human life, from the first clumsy

eolith of rudely chipped flint to the first implements of

polished stone, was two or three thousand centuries, ten or

fifteen thousand generations. So slowly, by human standards, did

humanity gather itself together out of the dim intimations of the

beast. And that first glimmering of speculation, that first

story of achievement, that story-teller bright-eyed and flushed

under his matted hair, gesticulating to his gaping, incredulous

listener, gripping his wrist to keep him attentive, was the most

marvellous beginning this world has ever seen. It doomed the

mammoths, and it began the setting of that snare that shall catch

the sun.

Section 2

That dream was but a moment in a man's life, whose proper

business it seemed was to get food and kill his fellows and beget

after the manner of all that belongs to the fellowship of the

beasts. About him, hidden from him by the thinnest of veils, were

the untouched sources of Power, whose magnitude we scarcely do

more than suspect even to-day, Power that could make his every

conceivable dream come real. But the feet of the race were in

the way of it, though he died blindly unknowing.

At last, in the generous levels of warm river valleys, where food

is abundant and life very easy, the emerging human overcoming his

earlier jealousies, becoming, as necessity persecuted him less

urgently, more social and tolerant and amenable, achieved a

larger community. There began a division of labour, certain of

the older men specialised in knowledge and direction, a strong

man took the fatherly leadership in war, and priest and king

began to develop their roles in the opening drama of man's

history. The priest's solicitude was seed-time and harvest and

fertility, and the king ruled peace and war. In a hundred river

valleys about the warm, temperate zone of the earth there were

already towns and temples, a score of thousand years ago. They

flourished unrecorded, ignoring the past and unsuspicious of the

future, for as yet writing had still to begin.

Very slowly did man increase his demand upon the illimitable

wealth of Power that offered itself on every hand to him. He

tamed certain animals, he developed his primordially haphazard

agriculture into a ritual, he added first one metal to his

resources and then another, until he had copper and tin and iron

and lead and gold and silver to supplement his stone, he hewed

and carved wood, made pottery, paddled down his river until he

came to the sea, discovered the wheel and made the first roads.

But his chief activity for a hundred centuries and more, was the

subjugation of himself and others to larger and larger societies.

The history of man is not simply the conquest of external power;

it is first the conquest of those distrusts and fiercenesses,

that self-concentration and intensity of animalism, that tie his

hands from taking his inheritance. The ape in us still resents

association. From the dawn of the age of polished stone to the

achievement of the Peace of the World, man's dealings were

chiefly with himself and his fellow man, trading, bargaining,

law-making, propitiating, enslaving, conquering, exterminating,

and every little increment in Power, he turned at once and always

turns to the purposes of this confused elaborate struggle to

socialise. To incorporate and comprehend his fellow men into a

community of purpose became the last and greatest of his

instincts. Already before the last polished phase of the stone

age was over he had become a political animal. He made

astonishingly far-reaching discoveries within himself, first of

counting and then of writing and making records, and with that

his town communities began to stretch out to dominion; in the

valleys of the Nile, the Euphrates, and the great Chinese rivers,

the first empires and the first written laws had their

beginnings. Men specialised for fighting and rule as soldiers and

knights. Later, as ships grew seaworthy, the Mediterranean which

had been a barrier became a highway, and at last out of a tangle

of pirate polities came the great struggle of Carthage and Rome.

The history of Europe is the history of the victory and breaking

up of the Roman Empire. Every ascendant monarch in Europe up to

the last, aped Caesar and called himself Kaiser or Tsar or

Imperator or Kasir-i-Hind. Measured by the duration of human life

it is a vast space of time between that first dynasty in Egypt

and the coming of the aeroplane, but by the scale that looks back

to the makers of the eoliths, it is all of it a story of

yesterday.

Now during this period of two hundred centuries or more, this

period of the warring states, while men's minds were chiefly

preoccupied by politics and mutual aggression, their progress in

the acquirement of external Power was slow-rapid in comparison

with the progress of the old stone age, but slow in comparison

with this new age of systematic discovery in which we live. They

did not very greatly alter the weapons and tactics of warfare,

the methods of agriculture, seamanship, their knowledge of the

habitable globe, or the devices and utensils of domestic life

between the days of the early Egyptians and the days when

Christopher Columbus was a child. Of course, there were

inventions and changes, but there were also retrogressions;

things were found out and then forgotten again; it was, on the

whole, a progress, but it contained no steps; the peasant life

was the same, there were already priests and lawyers and town

craftsmen and territorial lords and rulers doctors, wise women,

soldiers and sailors in Egypt and China and Assyria and

south-eastern Europe at the beginning of that period, and they

were doing much the same things and living much the same life as

they were in Europe in A.D. 1500. The English excavators of the

year A.D. 1900 could delve into the remains of Babylon and Egypt

and disinter legal documents, domestic accounts, and family

correspondence that they could read with the completest sympathy.

There were great religious and moral changes throughout the

period, empires and republics replaced one another, Italy tried a

vast experiment in slavery, and indeed slavery was tried again

and again and failed and failed and was still to be tested again

and rejected again in the New World; Christianity and

Mohammedanism swept away a thousand more specialised cults, but

essentially these were progressive adaptations of mankind to

material conditions that must have seemed fixed for ever. The

idea of revolutionary changes in the material conditions of life

would have been entirely strange to human thought through all

that time.

Yet the dreamer, the story-teller, was there still, waiting for

his opportunity amidst the busy preoccupations, the comings and

goings, the wars and processions, the castle building and

cathedral building, the arts and loves, the small diplomacies and

incurable feuds, the crusades and trading journeys of the middle

ages. He no longer speculated with the untrammelled freedom of

the stone-age savage; authoritative explanations of everything

barred his path; but he speculated with a better brain, sat idle

and gazed at circling stars in the sky and mused upon the coin

and crystal in his hand. Whenever there was a certain leisure for

thought throughout these times, then men were to be found

dissatisfied with the appearances of things, dissatisfied with

the assurances of orthodox belief, uneasy with a sense of unread

symbols in the world about them, questioning the finality of

scholastic wisdom. Through all the ages of history there were

men to whom this whisper had come of hidden things about them.

They could no longer lead ordinary lives nor content themselves

with the common things of this world once they had heard this

voice. And mostly they believed not only that all this world was

as it were a painted curtain before things unguessed at, but that

these secrets were Power. Hitherto Power had come to men by

chance, but now there were these seekers seeking, seeking among

rare and curious and perplexing objects, sometimes finding some

odd utilisable thing, sometimes deceivingthemselves with fancied

discovery, sometimes pretending to find. The world of every day

laughed at these eccentric beings, or found them annoying and

ill-treated them, or was seized with fear and made saints and

sorcerers and warlocks of them, or with covetousness and

entertained them hopefully; but for the greater part heeded them

not at all. Yet they were of the blood of him who had first

dreamt of attacking the mammoth; every one of them was of his

blood and descent; and the thing they sought, all unwittingly,

was the snare that will some day catch the sun.

Section 3

Such a man was that Leonardo da Vinci, who went about the court

of Sforza in Milan in a state of dignified abstraction. His

common-place books are full of prophetic subtlety and ingenious

anticipations of the methods of the early aviators. Durer was his

parallel and Roger Bacon-whom the Franciscans silenced-of his

kindred. Such a man again in an earlier city was Hero of

Alexandria, who knew of the power of steam nineteen hundred years

before it was first brought into use. And earlier still was

Archimedes of Syracuse, and still earlier the legendary Daedalus

of Cnossos. All up and down the record of history whenever there

was a little leisure from war and brutality the seekers appeared.

And half the alchemists were of their tribe.

When Roger Bacon blew up his first batch of gunpowder one might

have supposed that men would have gone at once to the explosive

engine. But they could see nothing of the sort. They were not

yet beginning to think of seeing things; their metallurgy was all

too poor to make such engines even had they thought of them. For

a time they could not make instruments sound enough to stand this

new force even for so rough a purpose as hurling a missile. Their

first guns had barrels of coopered timber, and the world waited

for more than five hundred years before the explosive engine

came.

Even when the seekers found, it was at first a long journey

before the world could use their findings for any but the

roughest, most obvious purposes. If man in general was not still

as absolutely blind to the unconquered energies about him as his

paleolithic precursor, he was at best purblind.

Section 4

The latent energy of coal and the power of steam waited long on

the verge of discovery, before they began to influence human

lives.

There were no doubt many such devices as Hero's toys devised and

forgotten, time after time, in courts and palaces, but it needed

that coal should be mined and burning with plenty of iron at hand

before it dawned upon men that here was something more than a

curiosity. And it is to be remarked that the first recorded

suggestion for the use of steam was in war; there is an

Elizabethan pamphlet in which it is proposed to fire shot out of

corked iron bottles full of heated water. The mining of coal for

fuel, the smelting of iron upon a larger scale than men had ever

done before, the steam pumping engine, the steam-engine and the

steam-boat, followed one another in an order that had a kind of

logical necessity. It is the most interesting and instructive

chapter in the history of the human intelligence, the history of

steam from its beginning as a fact in human consciousness to the

perfection of the great turbine engines that preceded the

utilisation of intra-molecular power. Nearly every human being

must have seen steam, seen it incuriously for many thousands of

years; the women in particular were always heating water, boiling

it, seeing it boil away, seeing the lids of vessels dance with

its fury; millions of people at different times must have watched

steam pitching rocks out of volcanoes like cricket balls and

blowing pumice into foam, and yet you may search the whole human

record through, letters, books, inscriptions, pictures, for any

glimmer of a realisation that here was force, here was strength

to borrow and use Then suddenly man woke up to it, the

railways spread like a network over the globe, the ever enlarging

iron steamships began their staggering fight against wind and

wave.

Steam was the first-comer in the new powers, it was the beginning

of the Age of Energy that was to close the long history of the

Warring States.

But for a long time men did not realise the importance of this

novelty. They would not recognise, they were not able to

recognise that anything fundamental had happened to their

immemorial necessities. They called the steam-engine the 'iron

horse' and pretended that they had made the most partial of

substitutions. Steam machinery and factory production were

visibly revolutionising the conditions of industrial production,

population was streaming steadily in from the country-side and

concentrating in hitherto unthought-of masses about a few city

centres, food was coming to them over enormous distances upon a

scale that made the one sole precedent, the corn ships of

imperial Rome, a petty incident; and a huge migration of peoples

between Europe and Western Asia and America was in Progress,

and-nobody seems to have realised that something new had come

into human life, a strange swirl different altogether from any

previous circling and mutation, a swirl like the swirl when at

last the lock gates begin to open after a long phase of

accumulating water and eddying inactivity

The sober Englishman at the close of the nineteenth century could

sit at his breakfast-table, decide between tea from Ceylon or

coffee from Brazil, devour an egg from France with some Danish

ham, or eat a New Zealand chop, wind up his breakfast with a West

Indian banana, glance at the latest telegrams from all the world,

scrutinise the prices current of his geographically distributed

investments in South Africa, Japan, and Egypt, and tell the two

children he had begotten (in the place of his father's eight)

that he thought the world changed very little. They must play

cricket, keep their hair cut, go to the old school he had gone

to, shirk the lessons he had shirked, learn a few scraps of

Horace and Virgil and Homer for the confusion of cads, and all

would be well with them

Section 5

Electricity, though it was perhaps the earlier of the two to be

studied, invaded the common life of men a few decades after the

exploitation of steam. To electricity also, in spite of its

provocative nearness all about him, mankind had been utterly

blind for incalculable ages. Could anything be more emphatic than

the appeal of electricity for attention? It thundered at man's

ears, it signalled to him in blinding flashes, occasionally it

killed him, and he could not see it as a thing that concerned him

enough to merit study. It came into the house with the cat on any

dry day and crackled insinuatingly whenever he stroked her fur.

It rotted his metals when he put them together There is no

single record that any one questioned why the cat's fur crackles

or why hair is so unruly to brush on a frosty day, before the

sixteenth century. For endless years man seems to have done his

very successful best not to think about it at all; until this new

spirit of the Seeker turned itself to these things.

How often things must have been seen and dismissed as

unimportant, before the speculative eye and the moment of vision

came! It was Gilbert, Queen Elizabeth's court physician, who

first puzzled his brains with rubbed amber and bits of glass and

silk and shellac, and so began the quickening of the human mind

to the existence of this universal presence. And even then the

science of electricity remained a mere little group of curious

facts for nearly two hundred years, connected perhaps with

magnetism-a mere guess that-perhaps with the lightning. Frogs'

legs must have hung by copper hooks from iron railings and

twitched upon countless occasions before Galvani saw them.

Except for the lightning conductor, it was 250 years after

Gilbert before electricity stepped out of the cabinet of

scientific curiosities into the life of the common man Then

suddenly, in the half-century between 1880 and 1930, it ousted

the steam-engine and took over traction, it ousted every other

form of household heating, abolished distance with the perfected

wireless telephone and the telephotograph

Section 6

And there was an extraordinary mental resistance to discovery and

invention for at least a hundred years after the scientific

revolution had begun. Each new thing made its way into practice

against a scepticism that amounted at times to hostility. One

writer upon these subjects gives a funny little domestic

conversation that happened, he says, in the year 1898, within ten

years, that is to say, of the time when the first aviators were

fairly on the wing. He tells us how he sat at his desk in his

study and conversed with his little boy.

His little boy was in profound trouble. He felt he had to speak

very seriously to his father, and as he was a kindly little boy

he did not want to do it too harshly.

This is what happened.

'I wish, Daddy,' he said, coming to his point, 'that you wouldn't

write all this stuff about flying. The chaps rot me.'

'Yes!' said his father.

'And old Broomie, the Head I mean, he rots me. Everybody rots

me.'

'But there is going to be flying-quite soon.'

The little boy was too well bred to say what he thought of that.

'Anyhow,' he said, 'I wish you wouldn't write about it.'

'You'll fly-lots of times-before you die,' the father assured

him.

The little boy looked unhappy.

The father hesitated. Then he opened a drawer and took out a

blurred and under-developed photograph. 'Come and look at this,'

he said.

The little boy came round to him. The photograph showed a stream

and a meadow beyond, and some trees, and in the air a black,

pencil-like object with flat wings on either side of it. It was

the first record of the first apparatus heavier than air that

ever maintained itself in the air by mechanical force. Across the

margin was written: 'Here we go up, up, up-from S. P. Langley,

Smithsonian Institution, Washington.'

The father watched the effect of this reassuring document upon

his son. 'Well?' he said.

'That,' said the schoolboy, after reflection, 'is only a model.'

'Model to-day, man to-morrow.'

The boy seemed divided in his allegiance. Then he decided for

what he believed quite firmly to be omniscience. 'But old

Broomie,' he said, 'he told all the boys in his class only

yesterday, "no man will ever fly." No one, he says, who has ever

shot grouse or pheasants on the wing would ever believe anything

of the sort'

Yet that boy lived to fly across the Atlantic and edit his

father's reminiscences.

Section 7

At the close of the nineteenth century as a multitude of passages

in the literature of that time witness, it was thought that the

fact that man had at last had successful and profitable dealings

with the steam that scalded him and the electricity that flashed

and banged about the sky at him, was an amazing and perhaps a

culminating exercise of his intelligence and his intellectual

courage. The air of 'Nunc Dimittis' sounds in same of these

writings. 'The great things are discovered,' wrote Gerald Brown

in his summary of the nineteenth century. 'For us there remains

little but the working out of detail.' The spirit of the seeker

was still rare in the world; education was unskilled,

unstimulating, scholarly, and but little valued, and few people

even then could have realised that Science was still but the

flimsiest of trial sketches and discovery scarcely beginning. No

one seems to have been afraid of science and its possibilities.

Yet now where there had been but a score or so of seekers, there

were many thousands, and for one needle of speculation that had

been probing the curtain of appearances in 1800, there were now

hundreds. And already Chemistry, which had been content with her

atoms and molecules for the better part of a century, was

preparing herself for that vast next stride that was to

revolutionise the whole life of man from top to bottom.

One realises how crude was the science of that time when one

considers the case of the composition of air. This was

determined by that strange genius and recluse, that man of

mystery, that disembowelled intelligence, Henry Cavendish,

towards the end of the eighteenth century. So far as he was

concerned the work was admirably done. He separated all the known

ingredients of the air with a precision altogether remarkable; he

even put it upon record that he had some doubt about the purity

of the nitrogen. For more than a hundred years his determination

was repeated by chemists all the world over, his apparatus was

treasured in London, he became, as they used to say, 'classic,'

and always, at every one of the innumerable repetitions of his

experiment, that sly element argon was hiding among the nitrogen

(and with a little helium and traces of other substances, and

indeed all the hints that might have led to the new departures of

the twentieth-century chemistry), and every time it slipped

unobserved through the professorial fingers that repeated his

procedure.

Is it any wonder then with this margin of inaccuracy, that up to

the very dawn of the twentieth-century scientific discovery was

still rather a procession of happy accidents than an orderly

conquest of nature?

Yet the spirit of seeking was spreading steadily through the

world. Even the schoolmaster could not check it. For the mere

handful who grew up to feel wonder and curiosity about the

secrets of nature in the nineteenth century, there were now, at

the beginning of the twentieth, myriads escaping from the

limitations of intellectual routine and the habitual life, in

Europe, in America, North and South, in Japan, in China, and all

about the world.

It was in 1910 that the parents of young Holsten, who was to be

called by a whole generation of scientific men, 'the greatest of

European chemists,' were staying in a villa near Santo Domenico,

between Fiesole and Florence. He was then only fifteen, but he

was already distinguished as a mathematician and possessed by a

savage appetite to understand. He had been particularly attracted

by the mystery of phosphorescence and its apparent unrelatedness

to every other source of light. He was to tell afterwards in his

reminiscences how he watched the fireflies drifting and glowing

among the dark trees in the garden of the villa under the warm

blue night sky of Italy; how he caught and kept them in cages,

dissected them, first studying the general anatomy of insects

very elaborately, and how he began to experiment with the effect

of various gases and varying temperature upon their light. Then

the chance present of a little scientific toy invented by Sir

William Crookes, a toy called the spinthariscope, on which radium

particles impinge upon sulphide of zinc and make it luminous,

induced him to associate the two sets of phenomena. It was a

happy association for his inquiries. It was a rare and fortunate

thing, too, that any one with the mathematical gift should have

been taken by these curiosities.

Section 8

And while the boy Holsten was mooning over his fireflies at

Fiesole, a certain professor of physics named Rufus was giving a

course of afternoon lectures upon Radium and Radio-Activity in

Edinburgh. They were lectures that had attracted a very

considerable amount of attention. He gave them in a small

lecture-theatre that had become more and more congested as his

course proceeded. At his concluding discussion it was crowded

right up to the ceiling at the back, and there people were

standing, standing without any sense of fatigue, so fascinating

did they find his suggestions. One youngster in particular, a

chuckle-headed, scrub-haired lad from the Highlands, sat hugging

his knee with great sand-red hands and drinking in every word,

eyes aglow, cheeks flushed, and ears burning.

'And so,' said the professor, 'we see that this Radium, which

seemed at first a fantastic exception, a mad inversion of all

that was most established and fundamental in the constitution of

matter, is really at one with the rest of the elements. It does

noticeably and forcibly what probably all the other elements are

doing with an imperceptible slowness. It is like the single

voice crying aloud that betrays the silent breathing multitude in

the darkness. Radium is an element that is breaking up and flying

to pieces. But perhaps all elements are doing that at less

perceptible rates. Uranium certainly is; thorium-the stuff of

this incandescent gas mantle-certainly is; actinium. I feel

that we are but beginning the list. And we know now that the

atom, that once we thought hard and impenetrable, and indivisible

and final and-lifeless-lifeless, is really a reservoir of

immense energy. That is the most wonderful thing about all this

work. A little while ago we thought of the atoms as we thought

of bricks, as solid building material, as substantial matter, as

unit masses of lifeless stuff, and behold! these bricks are

boxes, treasure boxes, boxes full of the intensest force. This

little bottle contains about a pint of uranium oxide; that is to

say, about fourteen ounces of the element uranium. It is worth

about a pound. And in this bottle, ladies and gentlemen, in the

atoms in this bottle there slumbers at least as much energy as we

could get by burning a hundred and sixty tons of coal. If at a

word, in one instant I could suddenly release that energy here

and now it would blow us and everything about us to fragments; if

I could turn it into the machinery that lights this city, it

could keep Edinburgh brightly lit for a week. But at present no

man knows, no man has an inkling of how this little lump of stuff

can be made to hasten the release of its store. It does release

it, as a burn trickles. Slowly the uranium changes into radium,

the radium changes into a gas called the radium emanation, and

that again to what we call radium A, and so the process goes on,

giving out energy at every stage, until at last we reach the last

stage of all, which is, so far as we can tell at present, lead.

But we cannot hasten it.'

'I take ye, man,' whispered the chuckle-headed lad, with his red

hands tightening like a vice upon his knee. 'I take ye, man. Go

on! Oh, go on!'

The professor went on after a little pause. 'Why is the change

gradual?' he asked. 'Why does only a minute fraction of the

radium disintegrate in any particular second? Why does it dole

itself out so slowly and so exactly? Why does not all the

uranium change to radium and all the radium change to the next

lowest thing at once? Why this decay by driblets; why not a decay

en masse? Suppose presently we find it is possible to

quicken that decay?'

The chuckle-headed lad nodded rapidly. The wonderful inevitable

idea was coming. He drew his knee up towards his chin and swayed

in his seat with excitement. 'Why not?' he echoed, 'why not?'

The professor lifted his forefinger.

'Given that knowledge,' he said, 'mark what we should be able to

do! We should not only be able to use this uranium and thorium;

not only should we have a source of power so potent that a man

might carry in his hand the energy to light a city for a year,

fight a fleet of battleships, or drive one of our giant liners

across the Atlantic; but we should also have a clue that would

enable us at last to quicken the process of disintegration in all

the other elements, where decay is still so slow as to escape our

finest measurements. Every scrap of solid matter in the world

would become an available reservoir of concentrated force. Do

you realise, ladies and gentlemen, what these things would mean

for us?'

The scrub head nodded. 'Oh! go on. Go on.'

'It would mean a change in human conditions that I can only

compare to the discovery of fire, that first discovery that

lifted man above the brute. We stand to-day towards

radio-activity as our ancestor stood towards fire before he had

learnt to make it. He knew it then only as a strange thing

utterly beyond his control, a flare on the crest of the volcano,

a red destruction that poured through the forest. So it is that

we know radio-activity to-day. This-this is the dawn of a new

day in human living. At the climax of that civilisation which

had its beginning in the hammered flint and the fire-stick of the

savage, just when it is becoming apparent that our

ever-increasing needs cannot be borne indefinitely by our present

sources of energy, we discover suddenly the possibility of an

entirely new civilisation. The energy we need for our very

existence, and with which Nature supplies us still so grudgingly,

is in reality locked up in inconceivable quantities all about us.

We cannot pick that lock at present, but--'

He paused. His voice sank so that everybody strained a little to

hear him.

'--we will.'

He put up that lean finger again, his solitary gesture.

'And then,' he said

'Then that perpetual struggle for existence, that perpetual

struggle to live on the bare surplus of Nature's energies will

cease to be the lot of Man. Man will step from the pinnacle of

this civilisation to the beginning of the next. I have no

eloquence, ladies and gentlemen, to express the vision of man's

material destiny that opens out before me. I see the desert

continents transformed, the poles no longer wildernesses of ice,

the whole world once more Eden. I see the power of man reach out

among the stars'

He stopped abruptly with a catching of the breath that many an

actor or orator might have envied.

The lecture was over, the audience hung silent for a few seconds,

sighed, became audible, stirred, fluttered, prepared for

dispersal. More light was turned on and what had been a dim mass

of figures became a bright confusion of movement. Some of the

people signalled to friends, some crowded down towards the

platform to examine the lecturer's apparatus and make notes of

his diagrams. But the chuckle-headed lad with the scrub hair

wanted no such detailed frittering away of the thoughts that had

inspired him. He wanted to be alone with them; he elbowed his way

out almost fiercely, he made himself as angular and bony as a

cow, fearing lest some one should speak to him, lest some one

should invade his glowing sphere of enthusiasm.

He went through the streets with a rapt face, like a saint who

sees visions. He had arms disproportionately long, and

ridiculous big feet.

He must get alone, get somewhere high out of all this crowding of

commonness, of everyday life.

He made his way to the top of Arthur's Seat, and there he sat for

a long time in the golden evening sunshine, still, except that

ever and again he whispered to himself some precious phrase that

had stuck in his mind.

'If,' he whispered, 'if only we could pick that lock'

The sun was sinking over the distant hills. Already it was shorn

of its beams, a globe of ruddy gold, hanging over the great banks

of cloud that would presently engulf it.

'Eh!' said the youngster. 'Eh!'

He seemed to wake up at last out of his entrancement, and the red

sun was there before his eyes. He stared at it, at first without

intelligence, and then with a gathering recognition. Into his

mind came a strange echo of that ancestral fancy, that fancy of a

Stone Age savage, dead and scattered bones among the drift two

hundred thousand years ago.

'Ye auld thing,' he said-and his eyes were shining, and he made

a kind of grabbing gesture with his hand; 'ye auld red thing

We'll have ye YET.'


PREFACE | The World Set Free | CHAPTER THE FIRST THE NEW SOURCE OF ENERGY