Last and First Men

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3. epilogue

I am speaking to you now from a period about twenty thousand terrestrial years after the date at which the whole preceding part of this book was communicated. It has become very difficult to reach you, and still more difficult to speak to you; for already the Last Men are not the men they were.

Our two great undertakings are still unfinished. Much of the human past remains imperfectly explored, and the projection of the seed is scarcely begun. That enterprise has proved far more difficult than was expected. Only within the last few years have we succeeded in designing an artificial human dust capable of being carried forward on the sun's radiation, hardy enough to endure the conditions of a transgalactic voyage of many millions of years, and yet intricate enough to bear the potentiality of life and of spiritual development. We are now preparing to manufacture this seminal matter in great quantities, and to cast it into space at suitable points on the planet's orbit.

Some centuries have now passed since the sun began to show the first symptoms of disintegration, namely a slight change of colour toward the blue, followed by a definite increase of brightness and heat. Today, when he pierces the ever-thickening cloud, he smites us with an intolerable steely brilliance which destroys the sight of anyone foolish enough to face it. Even in the cloudy weather which is now normal, the eye is wounded by the fierce violet glare. Eye-troubles afflict us all, in spite of the special glasses which have been designed to protect us. The mere heat, too, is already destructive. We are forcing our planet outward from its old orbit in an everwidening spiral; but, do what we will, we cannot prevent the climate from becoming more and more deadly, even at the poles. The intervening regions have already been deserted. Evaporation of the equatorial oceans has thrown the whole atmosphere into tumult, so that even at the poles we are tormented by hot wet hurricanes and incredible electric storms. These have already shattered most of our great buildings, sometimes burying a whole teeming province under an avalanche of tumbled vitreous crags.

Our two polar communities at first managed to maintain radio communication; but it is now some time since we of the south received news of the more distressed north. Even with us the situation is already desperate. We had recently established some hundreds of stations for the dissemination, but less than a score have been able to operate. This failure is due mainly to an increasing lack of personnel. The deluge of fantastic solar radiation has had disastrous effect on the human organism. Epidemics of a malignant tumour, which medical science has failed to conquer, have reduced the southern people to a mere remnant, and this in spite of the mi gration of the tropical races into the Antarctic. Each of us, moreover, is but the wreckage of his former self. The higher mental functions, attained only in the most developed human species, are already lost or disordered, through the breakdown of their special tissues. Not only has the racial mind vanished, but the sexual groups have lost their mental unity. Three of the sub-sexes have already been exterminated by derangement of their chemical nature. Glandular troubles, indeed, have unhinged many of us with anxieties and loathings which we cannot conquer, though we know them to be unreasonable. Even the normal power of "telepathic" communication has become so unreliable that we have been compelled to fall back upon the archaic practice of vocal symbolism. Exploration of the past is now confined to specialists, and is a dangerous profession, which may lead to disorders of temporal experience.

Degeneration of the higher neural centres has also brought about in us a far more serious and deep-seated trouble, namely a general spiritual degradation which would formerly have seemed impossible, so confident were we of our integrity. The perfectly dispassionate will had been for many millions of years universal among us, and the corner-stone of our whole society and culture. We had almost forgotten that it has a physiological basis, and that if that basis were undermined, we might no longer be capable of rational conduct. But, drenched for some thousands of years by the unique stellar radiation, we have gradually lost not only the ecstasy of dispassionate worship, but even the capacity for normal disinterested behaviour. Every one is now liable to an irrational bias in favour of himself as a private person, as against his fellows. Personal envy, uncharitableness, even murder and gratuitous cruelty, formerly unknown amongst us, are now becoming common. At first when men began to notice in themselves these archaic impulses, they crushed then's svith amused contempt. But as the highest nerve centres fell further into decay, the brute in us began to be ever more unruly, and the human more uncertain. Rational conduct was henceforth to be achieved only after an exhausting and degrading "moral struggle," instead of spontaneously and fluently. Nay, worse, increasingly often the struggle ended not in victory but defeat. Imagine then, the terror and disgust that gripped us when we found ourselves one and all condemned to a desperate struggle against impulses which we had been accustomed to regard as insane. It is distressing enough to know that each one of us might at any momnent, merely to help some dear individual or other, betray his supreme duty toward the dissemination; but it is harrowing to discover ourselves sometimes so far sunk as to be incapable even of common loving-kindness toward our neighbours. For a man to favour himself against his friend or beloved, even in the slightest respect, was formerly unknown. But today many of us are haunted by the look of amazed horror and pity in the eyes of an injured friend.

In the early stages of our trouble lunatic asylums were founded, but they soon became over-crowded and a burden on a stricken community. The insane were then killed. But it became clear that by former standards we were all insane. No man now can trust himself to behave reasonably.

And, of course, we cannot trust each other. Partly through the prevalent irrationality of desire, and partly through the misunderstandings which have come with the loss of "telepathic" communication, we have been plunged into all manner of discords. A political constitution and system of laws had to be devised, but they seem to have increased our troubles. Order of a kind is maintained by an over-worked police force. But this is in the hands of the professional organizers, who have now all the vices of bureaucracy. It was largely through their folly that two of the antarctic nations broke into social revolution, and are now preparing to meet the armament which an insane world-government is devising for their destruction. Meanwhile, through the break-down of the economic order, and the impossibility of reaching the food-factories on Jupiter, starvation is added to our troubles, and has afforded to certain ingenious lunatics the opportunity of trading at the expense of others.

All this folly in a doomed world, and in a community that was yesterday the very flower of a galaxy! Those of us who still care for the life of the spirit are tempted to regret that mankind did not choose decent suicide before ever the putrescence began. But indeed this could not be. The task that was undertaken had to be completed. For the Scattering of the Seed has come to be for every one of us the supreme religious duty. Even those who continually sin against it recognize this as the last office of man. It was for this that we outstayed our time, and must watch ourselves decline from spiritual estate into that brutishness from which man has so seldom freed himself.

Yet why do we persist in the forlorn effort? Even if by good luck the seed should take root somewhere and thrive, there will surely come an end to its adventure, if not swiftly in fire, then in the ultimate battle of life against encroaching frost. Our labour will at best sow for death an ampler harvest. There seems no rational defence of it, unless it be rational to carry out blindly a purpose conceived in a former and more enlightened state.

But we cannot feel sure that we really were more enlightened. We look back now at our former selves, with wonder, but also with incomprehension and misgiving. We try to recall the glory that seemed to be revealed to each of us in the racial mind, but we remember almost nothing of it. We cannot rise even to that more homely beatitude which was once within the reach of the unaided individual, that serenity which, it seemed, should be the spirit's answer to every tragic event. It is gone from us. It is not only impossible but inconceivable. We now see our private distresses and the public calamity as merely hideous. That after so long a struggle into maturity man should be roasted alive like a trapped mouse, for the entertainment of a lunatic! How can any beauty lie in that?

But this is not our last word to you. For though we have fallen, there is still something in us left over from the time that is passed. We have become blind and weak; but the knowledge that we are so has forced us to a great effort. Those of us who have not already sunk too far have formed themselves into a brotherhood for mutual strengthening, so that the true human spirit may be maintained a little longer, until the seed has been well sown, and death be permissible. We call ourselves the Brotherhood of the Condemned. We seek to be faithful to one another, and to our common undertaking, and to the vision which is no longer revealed. We are vowed to the comforting of all distressed persons who are not yet permitted death. We are vowed also to the dissemination. And we are vowed to keep the spirit bright until the end.

Now and again we meet together in little groups or great companies to hearten ourselves with one another's presence. Sometimes on these occasions we can but sit in silence, groping for consolation and for strength. Sometimes the spoken word flickers hither and thither amongst us, shedding a brief light but little warmth to the soul that lies freezing in a torrid world.

But there is among us one, moving from place to place and company to company, whose voice all long to hear. He is young, the last born of the Last Men; for he was the latest to be conceived before we learned man's doom, and put an end to all conceiving. Being the latest, he is also the noblest. Not him alone, but all his generation, we salute, and look to for strength; but he, the youngest, is different from the rest. In him the spirit, which is but the flesh awakened into spirituality, has power to withstand the tempest of solar energy longer than the rest of us. It is as though the sun itself were eclipsed by this spirit's brightness. It is as though in him at last, and for a day only, man's promise were fulfilled. For though, like others, he suffers in the flesh, he is above his suffering. And though more than the rest of us he feels the suffering of others, he is above his pity. In his comforting there is a strange sweet raillery which can persuade the sufferer to smile at his own pain. When this youngest brother of ours contemplates with us our dying world and the frustration of all man's striving, he is not, like us, dismayed, but quiet. In the presence of such quietness despair wakens into peace. By his reasonable speech, almost by the mere sound of his voice, our eyes are opened, and our hearts mysteriously filled with exultation. Yet often his words are grave.

Let his words, not mine, close this story:

Great are the stars, and man is of no account to them. But man is a fair spirit, whom a star conceived and a star kills. He is greater than those bright blind companies. For though in them there is incalculable potentiality, in him there is achievement, small, but actual. Too soon, seemingly, he comes to his end. But when he is done he will not be nothing, not as though he had never been; for he is eternally a beauty in the eternal form of things.

Man was winged hopefully. He had in him to go further than this short flight, now ending. He proposed even that he should become the Flower of All Things, and that he should learn to be the All-Knowing, the All-Admiring. Instead, he is to be destroyed. He is only a fledgling caught in a bush-fire. He is very small, very simple, very little capable of insight. His knowledge of the great orb of things is but a fledgling's knowledge. His admiration is a nestling's admiration for the things kindly to his own small nature. He delights only in food and the food-announcing call. The music of the spheres passes over him, through him, and is not heard.

Yet it has used him. And now it uses his destruction. Great, and terrible, and very beautiful is the Whole; and for man the best is that the Whole should use him.

But does it really use him? Is the beauty of the Whole really enhanced by our agony? And is the Whole really beautiful? And what is beauty? Throughout all his existence man has been striving to hear the music of the spheres, and has seemed to himself once and again to catch some phrase of it, or even a hint of the whole form of it. Yet he can never be sure that he has truly heard it, nor even that there is any such perfect music at all to be heard. Inevitably so, for if it exists, it is not for him in his littleness.

But one thing is certain. Man himself, at the very least, is music, a brave theme that makes music also of its vast accompaniment, its matrix of storms and stars. Man himself in his degree is eternally a beauty in the eternal form of things. It is very good to have been man. And so we may go forward together with laughter in our hearts, and peace, thankful for the past, and for our own courage. For we shall niake after all a fair conclusion to this brief music that is man.

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