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    The Voice of Nature

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    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    Section 1.

    Presently we recognise the fellow of the earthly Devil's Bridge,
    still intact as a footway, spanning the gorge, and old memories turn
    us off the road down the steep ruin of an ancient mule track towards
    it. It is our first reminder that Utopia too must have a history. We
    cross it and find the Reuss, for all that it has already lit and
    warmed and ventilated and cleaned several thousands of houses in the
    dale above, and for all that it drives those easy trams in the
    gallery overhead, is yet capable of as fine a cascade as ever it
    flung on earth. So we come to a rocky path, wild as one could wish,
    and descend, discoursing how good and fair an ordered world may be,
    but with a certain unformulated qualification in our minds about
    those thumb marks we have left behind.

    "Do you recall the Zermatt valley?" says my friend, "and how on
    earth it reeks and stinks with smoke?"

    "People make that an argument for obstructing change, instead of
    helping it forward!"

    And here perforce an episode intrudes. We are invaded by a talkative

    He overtakes us and begins talking forthwith in a fluty, but not
    unamiable, tenor. He is a great talker, this man, and a fairly
    respectable gesticulator, and to him it is we make our first
    ineffectual tentatives at explaining who indeed we are; but his flow
    of talk washes that all away again. He has a face of that rubicund,
    knobby type I have heard an indignant mineralogist speak of as
    botryoidal, and about it waves a quantity of disorderly blond hair.
    He is dressed in leather doublet and knee breeches, and he wears
    over these a streaming woollen cloak of faded crimson that give him
    a fine dramatic outline as he comes down towards us over the rocks.
    His feet, which are large and handsome, but bright pink with the
    keen morning air, are bare, except for sandals of leather. (It was
    the only time that we saw anyone in Utopia with bare feet.) He
    salutes us with a scroll-like waving of his stick, and falls in with
    our slower paces.

    "Climbers, I presume?" he says, "and you scorn these trams of
    theirs? I like you. So do I! Why a man should consent to be dealt
    with as a bale of goods holding an indistinctive ticket--when God
    gave him legs and a face--passes my understanding."

    As he speaks, his staff indicates the great mechanical road that
    runs across the gorge and high overhead through a gallery in the
    rock, follows it along until it turns the corner, picks it up as a
    viaduct far below, traces it until it plunges into an arcade through
    a jutting crag, and there dismisses it with a spiral whirl. "_No_!"
    he says.

    He seems sent by Providence, for just now we had been discussing how
    we should broach our remarkable situation to these Utopians before
    our money is spent.

    Our eyes meet, and I gather from the botanist that I am to open our

    I do my best.

    "You came from the other side of space!" says the man in the crimson
    cloak, interrupting me. "Precisely! I like that--it's exactly my
    note! So do I! And you find this world strange! Exactly my case! We
    are brothers! We shall be in sympathy. I am amazed, I have been
    amazed as long as I can remember, and I shall die, most certainly,
    in a state of incredulous amazement, at this remarkable world.
    Eh? ... You found yourselves suddenly upon a mountain top! Fortunate
    men!" He chuckled. "For my part I found myself in the still stranger
    position of infant to two parents of the most intractable

    "The fact remains," I protest.

    "A position, I can assure you, demanding Tact of an altogether
    superhuman quality!"

    We desist for a space from the attempt to explain our remarkable
    selves, and for the rest of the time this picturesque and
    exceptional Utopian takes the talk entirely under his control....


    Section 2.

    An agreeable person, though a little distracting, he was, and he
    talked, we recall, of many things. He impressed us, we found
    afterwards, as a poseur beyond question, a conscious Ishmaelite in
    the world of wit, and in some subtly inexplicable way as a most
    consummate ass. He talked first of the excellent and commodious
    trams that came from over the passes, and ran down the long valley
    towards middle Switzerland, and of all the growth of pleasant homes
    and chalets amidst the heights that made the opening gorge so
    different from its earthly parallel, with a fine disrespect. "But
    they are beautiful," I protested. "They are graciously proportioned,
    they are placed in well-chosen positions; they give no offence to
    the eye."

    "What do we know of the beauty they replace? They are a mere rash.
    Why should we men play the part of bacteria upon the face of our

    "All life is that!"

    "No! not natural life, not the plants and the gentle creatures that
    live their wild shy lives in forest and jungle. That is a part of
    her. That is the natural bloom of her complexion. But these houses
    and tramways and things, all made from ore and stuff torn from her
    veins----! You can't better my image of the rash. It's a morbid
    breaking out! I'd give it all for one--what is it?--free and natural

    "You live at times in a house?" I asked.

    He ignored my question. For him, untroubled Nature was the best, he
    said, and, with a glance at his feet, the most beautiful. He
    professed himself a Nazarite, and shook back his Teutonic poet's
    shock of hair. So he came to himself, and for the rest of our walk
    he kept to himself as the thread of his discourse, and went over
    himself from top to toe, and strung thereon all topics under the sun
    by way of illustrating his splendours. But especially his foil was
    the relative folly, the unnaturalness and want of logic in his
    fellow men. He held strong views about the extreme simplicity of
    everything, only that men, in their muddle-headedness, had
    confounded it all. "Hence, for example, these trams! They are always
    running up and down as though they were looking for the lost
    simplicity of nature. 'We dropped it here!'" He earned a living, we
    gathered, "some considerable way above the minimum wage," which
    threw a chance light on the labour problem--by perforating records
    for automatic musical machines--no doubt of the Pianotist and
    Pianola kind--and he spent all the leisure he could gain in going to
    and fro in the earth lecturing on "The Need of a Return to Nature,"
    and on "Simple Foods and Simple Ways." He did it for the love of it.
    It was very clear to us he had an inordinate impulse to lecture, and
    esteemed us fair game. He had been lecturing on these topics in
    Italy, and he was now going back through the mountains to lecture in
    Saxony, lecturing on the way, to perforate a lot more records,
    lecturing the while, and so start out lecturing again. He was
    undisguisedly glad to have us to lecture to by the way.

    He called our attention to his costume at an early stage. It was the
    embodiment of his ideal of Nature-clothing, and it had been made
    especially for him at very great cost. "Simply because naturalness
    has fled the earth, and has to be sought now, and washed out from
    your crushed complexities like gold."

    "I should have thought," said I, "that any clothing whatever was
    something of a slight upon the natural man."

    "Not at all," said he, "not at all! You forget his natural

    He was particularly severe on our artificial hoofs, as he called our
    boots, and our hats or hair destructors. "Man is the real King of
    Beasts and should wear a mane. The lion only wears it by consent and
    in captivity." He tossed his head.

    Subsequently while we lunched and he waited for the specific natural
    dishes he ordered--they taxed the culinary resources of the inn to
    the utmost--he broached a comprehensive generalisation. "The animal
    kingdom and the vegetable kingdom are easily distinguished, and for
    the life of me I see no reason for confusing them. It is, I hold, a
    sin against Nature. I keep them distinct in my mind and I keep them
    distinct in my person. No animal substance inside, no vegetable
    without;--what could be simpler or more logical? Nothing upon me but
    leather and allwool garments, within, cereals, fruit, nuts, herbs,
    and the like. Classification--order--man's function. He is here to
    observe and accentuate Nature's simplicity. These people"--he swept
    an arm that tried not too personally to include us--"are filled and
    covered with confusion."

    He ate great quantities of grapes and finished with a cigarette. He
    demanded and drank a great horn of unfermented grape juice, and it
    seemed to suit him well.

    We three sat about the board--it was in an agreeable little arbour
    on a hill hard by the place where Wassen stands on earth, and it
    looked down the valley to the Uri Rothstock, and ever and again we
    sought to turn his undeniable gift of exposition to the elucidation
    of our own difficulties.

    But we seemed to get little, his style was so elusive. Afterwards,
    indeed, we found much information and many persuasions had soaked
    into us, but at the time it seemed to us he told us nothing. He
    indicated things by dots and dashes, instead of by good hard
    assertive lines. He would not pause to see how little we knew.
    Sometimes his wit rose so high that he would lose sight of it
    himself, and then he would pause, purse his lips as if he whistled,
    and then till the bird came back to the lure, fill his void mouth
    with grapes. He talked of the relations of the sexes, and love--a
    passion he held in great contempt as being in its essence complex
    and disingenuous--and afterwards we found we had learnt much of what
    the marriage laws of Utopia allow and forbid.

    "A simple natural freedom," he said, waving a grape in an
    illustrative manner, and so we gathered the Modern Utopia did not at
    any rate go to that. He spoke, too, of the regulation of unions, of
    people who were not allowed to have children, of complicated rules
    and interventions. "Man," he said, "had ceased to be a natural

    We tried to check him with questions at this most illuminating
    point, but he drove on like a torrent, and carried his topic out of
    sight. The world, he held, was overmanaged, and that was the root of
    all evil. He talked of the overmanagement of the world, and among
    other things of the laws that would not let a poor simple idiot, a
    "natural," go at large. And so we had our first glimpse of what
    Utopia did with the feeble and insane. "We make all these
    distinctions between man and man, we exalt this and favour that, and
    degrade and seclude that; we make birth artificial, life artificial,
    death artificial."

    "You say _We_," said I, with the first glimmering of a new idea,
    "but _you_ don't participate?"

    "Not I! I'm not one of your samurai, your voluntary noblemen who
    have taken the world in hand. I might be, of course, but I'm

    "Samurai!" I repeated, "voluntary noblemen!" and for the moment
    could not frame a question.

    He whirled on to an attack on science, that stirred the botanist to
    controversy. He denounced with great bitterness all specialists
    whatever, and particularly doctors and engineers.

    "Voluntary noblemen!" he said, "voluntary Gods I fancy they think
    themselves," and I was left behind for a space in the perplexed
    examination of this parenthesis, while he and the botanist--who is
    sedulous to keep his digestion up to date with all the newest
    devices--argued about the good of medicine men.

    "The natural human constitution," said the blond-haired man, "is
    perfectly simple, with one simple condition--you must leave it to
    Nature. But if you mix up things so distinctly and essentially
    separated as the animal and vegetable kingdoms for example, and ram
    _that_ in for it to digest, what can you expect?

    "Ill health! There isn't such a thing--in the course of Nature. But
    you shelter from Nature in houses, you protect yourselves by clothes
    that are useful instead of being ornamental, you wash--with such
    abstersive chemicals as soap for example--and above all you consult
    doctors." He approved himself with a chuckle. "Have you ever found
    anyone seriously ill without doctors and medicine about? Never! You
    say a lot of people would die without shelter and medical
    attendance! No doubt--but a natural death. A natural death is better
    than an artificial life, surely? That's--to be frank with you--the
    very citadel of my position."

    That led him, and rather promptly, before the botanist could rally
    to reply, to a great tirade against the laws that forbade "sleeping
    out." He denounced them with great vigour, and alleged that for his
    own part he broke that law whenever he could, found some corner of
    moss, shaded from an excess of dew, and there sat up to sleep. He
    slept, he said, always in a sitting position, with his head on his
    wrists, and his wrists on his knees--the simple natural position for
    sleep in man.... He said it would be far better if all the world
    slept out, and all the houses were pulled down.

    You will understand, perhaps, the subdued irritation I felt, as I
    sat and listened to the botanist entangling himself in the logical
    net of this wild nonsense. It impressed me as being irrelevant. When
    one comes to a Utopia one expects a Cicerone, one expects a person
    as precise and insistent and instructive as an American
    advertisement--the advertisement of one of those land agents, for
    example, who print their own engaging photographs to instil
    confidence and begin, "You want to buy real estate." One expects to
    find all Utopians absolutely convinced of the perfection of their
    Utopia, and incapable of receiving a hint against its order. And
    here was this purveyor of absurdities!

    And yet now that I come to think it over, is not this too one of the
    necessary differences between a Modern Utopia and those finite
    compact settlements of the older school of dreamers? It is not to be
    a unanimous world any more, it is to have all and more of the mental
    contrariety we find in the world of the real; it is no longer to be
    perfectly explicable, it is just our own vast mysterious welter,
    with some of the blackest shadows gone, with a clearer illumination,
    and a more conscious and intelligent will. Irrelevance is not
    irrelevant to such a scheme, and our blond-haired friend is exactly
    just where he ought to be here.



    Section 3.

    I ceased to listen to the argumentation of my botanist with this
    apostle of Nature. The botanist, in his scientific way, was, I
    believe, defending the learned professions. (He thinks and argues
    like drawing on squared paper.) It struck me as transiently
    remarkable that a man who could not be induced to forget himself and
    his personal troubles on coming into a whole new world, who could
    waste our first evening in Utopia upon a paltry egotistical love
    story, should presently become quite heated and impersonal in the
    discussion of scientific professionalism. He was--absorbed. I can't
    attempt to explain these vivid spots and blind spots in the
    imaginations of sane men; there they are!

    "You say," said the botanist, with a prevalent index finger, and the
    resolute deliberation of a big siege gun being lugged into action
    over rough ground by a number of inexperienced men, "you prefer a
    natural death to an artificial life. But what is your _definition_
    (stress) of artificial? ..."

    And after lunch too! I ceased to listen, flicked the end of my
    cigarette ash over the green trellis of the arbour, stretched my
    legs with a fine restfulness, leant back, and gave my mind to the
    fields and houses that lay adown the valley.

    What I saw interwove with fragmentary things our garrulous friend
    had said, and with the trend of my own speculations....

    The high road, with its tramways and its avenues on either side, ran
    in a bold curve, and with one great loop of descent, down the
    opposite side of the valley, and below crossed again on a beautiful
    viaduct, and dipped into an arcade in the side of the Bristenstock.
    Our inn stood out boldly, high above the level this took. The houses
    clustered in their collegiate groups over by the high road, and near
    the subordinate way that ran almost vertically below us and past us
    and up towards the valley of the Meien Reuss. There were one or two
    Utopians cutting and packing the flowery mountain grass in the
    carefully levelled and irrigated meadows by means of swift, light
    machines that ran on things like feet and seemed to devour the
    herbage, and there were many children and a woman or so, going to
    and fro among the houses near at hand. I guessed a central building
    towards the high road must be the school from which these children
    were coming. I noted the health and cleanliness of these young heirs
    of Utopia as they passed below.

    The pervading quality of the whole scene was a sane order, the
    deliberate solution of problems, a progressive intention steadily
    achieving itself, and the aspect that particularly occupied me was
    the incongruity of this with our blond-haired friend.

    On the one hand here was a state of affairs that implied a power of
    will, an organising and controlling force, the co-operation of a
    great number of vigorous people to establish and sustain its
    progress, and on the other this creature of pose and vanity, with
    his restless wit, his perpetual giggle at his own cleverness, his
    manifest incapacity for comprehensive co-operation.

    Now, had I come upon a hopeless incompatibility? Was this the
    reductio ad absurdum of my vision, and must it even as I sat there
    fade, dissolve, and vanish before my eyes?

    There was no denying our blond friend. If this Utopia is indeed to
    parallel our earth, man for man--and I see no other reasonable
    choice to that--there must be this sort of person and kindred sorts
    of persons in great abundance. The desire and gift to see life whole
    is not the lot of the great majority of men, the service of truth is
    the privilege of the elect, and these clever fools who choke the
    avenues of the world of thought, who stick at no inconsistency, who
    oppose, obstruct, confuse, will find only the freer scope amidst
    Utopian freedoms.

    (They argued on, these two, as I worried my brains with riddles. It
    was like a fight between a cock sparrow and a tortoise; they both
    went on in their own way, regardless of each other's proceedings.
    The encounter had an air of being extremely lively, and the moments
    of contact were few. "But you mistake my point," the blond man was
    saying, disordering his hair--which had become unruffled in the
    preoccupation of dispute--with a hasty movement of his hand, "you
    don't appreciate the position I take up.")

    "Ugh!" said I privately, and lighted another cigarette and went away
    into my own thoughts with that.

    The position he takes up! That's the way of your intellectual fool,
    the Universe over. He takes up a position, and he's going to be the
    most brilliant, delightful, engaging and invincible of gay delicious
    creatures defending that position you can possibly imagine. And even
    when the case is not so bad as that, there still remains the quality.
    We "take up our positions," silly little contentious creatures
    that we are, we will not see the right in one another, we will not
    patiently state and restate, and honestly accommodate and plan, and
    so we remain at sixes and sevens. We've all a touch of Gladstone in
    us, and try to the last moment to deny we have made a turn. And so
    our poor broken-springed world jolts athwart its trackless destiny.
    Try to win into line with some fellow weakling, and see the little
    host of suspicions, aggressions, misrepresentations, your approach
    will stir--like summer flies on a high road--the way he will try to
    score a point and claim you as a convert to what he has always said,
    his fear lest the point should be scored to you.

    It is not only such gross and palpable cases as our blond and
    tenoring friend. I could find the thing negligible were it only
    that. But when one sees the same thread woven into men who are
    leaders, men who sway vast multitudes, who are indeed great and
    powerful men; when one sees how unfair they can be, how unteachable,
    the great blind areas in their eyes also, their want of generosity,
    then one's doubts gather like mists across this Utopian valley, its
    vistas pale, its people become unsubstantial phantoms, all its order
    and its happiness dim and recede....

    If we are to have any Utopia at all, we must have a clear common
    purpose, and a great and steadfast movement of will to override all
    these incurably egotistical dissentients. Something is needed wide
    and deep enough to float the worst of egotisms away. The world is
    not to be made right by acclamation and in a day, and then for ever
    more trusted to run alone. It is manifest this Utopia could not come
    about by chance and anarchy, but by co-ordinated effort and a
    community of design, and to tell of just land laws and wise
    government, a wisely balanced economic system, and wise social
    arrangements without telling how it was brought about, and how it is
    sustained against the vanity and self-indulgence, the moody
    fluctuations and uncertain imaginations, the heat and aptitude for
    partisanship that lurk, even when they do not flourish, in the
    texture of every man alive, is to build a palace without either door
    or staircase.

    I had not this in mind when I began.

    Somewhere in the Modern Utopia there must be adequate men, men the
    very antithesis of our friend, capable of self-devotion, of
    intentional courage, of honest thought, and steady endeavour. There
    must be a literature to embody their common idea, of which this
    Modern Utopia is merely the material form; there must be some
    organisation, however slight, to keep them in touch one with the

    Who will these men be? Will they be a caste? a race? an organisation
    in the nature of a Church? ... And there came into my mind the words
    of our acquaintance, that he was not one of these "voluntary

    At first that phrase struck me as being merely queer, and then I
    began to realise certain possibilities that were wrapped up in

    The animus of our chance friend, at any rate, went to suggest that
    here was his antithesis. Evidently what he is not, will be the class
    to contain what is needed here. Evidently.


    Section 4.

    I was recalled from my meditations by the hand of the blond-haired
    man upon my arm.

    I looked up to discover the botanist had gone into the inn.

    The blond-haired man was for a moment almost stripped of pose.

    "I say," he said. "Weren't you listening to me?"

    "No," I said bluntly.

    His surprise was manifest. But by an effort he recalled what he had
    meant to say.

    "Your friend," he said, "has been telling me, in spite of my
    sustained interruptions, a most incredible story."

    I wondered how the botanist managed to get it in. "About that
    woman?" I said.

    "About a man and a woman who hate each other and can't get away from
    each other."

    "I know," I said.

    "It sounds absurd."

    "It is."

    "Why can't they get away? What is there to keep them together? It's
    ridiculous. I----"


    "He _would_ tell it to me."

    "It's his way."

    "He interrupted me. And there's no point in it. Is he----" he
    hesitated, "mad?"

    "There's a whole world of people mad with him," I answered after a

    The perplexed expression of the blond-haired man intensified. It is
    vain to deny that he enlarged the scope of his inquiry, visibly if
    not verbally. "Dear me!" he said, and took up something he had
    nearly forgotten. "And you found yourselves suddenly on a mountain
    side? ... I thought you were joking."

    I turned round upon him with a sudden access of earnestness. At
    least I meant my manner to be earnest, but to him it may have seemed

    "You," I said, "are an original sort of man. Do not be alarmed.
    Perhaps you will understand.... We were not joking."

    "But, my dear fellow!"

    "I mean it! We come from an inferior world! Like this, but out of

    "No world could be more out of order----"

    "You play at that and have your fun. But there's no limit to the
    extent to which a world of men may get out of gear. In our

    He nodded, but his eye had ceased to be friendly.

    "Men die of starvation; people die by the hundred thousand
    needlessly and painfully; men and women are lashed together to make
    hell for each other; children are born--abominably, and reared in
    cruelty and folly; there is a thing called war, a horror of blood
    and vileness. The whole thing seems to me at times a cruel and
    wasteful wilderness of muddle. You in this decent world have no
    means of understanding----"

    "No?" he said, and would have begun, but I went on too quickly.

    "No! When I see you dandering through this excellent and hopeful
    world, objecting, obstructing, and breaking the law, displaying your
    wit on science and order, on the men who toil so ingloriously to
    swell and use the knowledge that is salvation, this salvation for
    which _our_ poor world cries to heaven----"

    "You don't mean to say," he said, "that you really come from some
    other world where things are different and worse?"

    "I do."

    "And you want to talk to me about it instead of listening to


    "Oh, nonsense!" he said abruptly. "You can't do it--really. I can
    assure you this present world touches the nadir of imbecility. You
    and your friend, with his love for the lady who's so mysteriously
    tied--you're romancing! People could not possibly do such things.
    It's--if you'll excuse me--ridiculous. _He_ began--he would begin.
    A most tiresome story--simply bore me down. We'd been talking very
    agreeably before that, or rather I had, about the absurdity of
    marriage laws, the interference with a free and natural life, and so
    on, and suddenly he burst like a dam. No!" He paused. "It's really
    impossible. You behave perfectly well for a time, and then you begin
    to interrupt.... And such a childish story, too!"

    He spun round upon his chair, got up, glanced at me over his
    shoulder, and walked out of the arbour. He stepped aside hastily to
    avoid too close an approach to the returning botanist. "Impossible,"
    I heard him say. He was evidently deeply aggrieved by us. I saw him
    presently a little way off in the garden, talking to the landlord of
    our inn, and looking towards us as he talked--they both looked
    towards us--and after that, without the ceremony of a farewell, he
    disappeared, and we saw him no more. We waited for him a little
    while, and then I expounded the situation to the botanist....

    "We are going to have a very considerable amount of trouble
    explaining ourselves," I said in conclusion. "We are here by an
    act of the imagination, and that is just one of those metaphysical
    operations that are so difficult to make credible. We are, by the
    standard of bearing and clothing I remark about us, unattractive in
    dress and deportment. We have nothing to produce to explain our
    presence here, no bit of a flying machine or a space travelling
    sphere or any of the apparatus customary on these occasions. We have
    no means beyond a dwindling amount of small change out of a gold
    coin, upon which I suppose in ethics and the law some native Utopian
    had a better claim. We may already have got ourselves into trouble
    with the authorities with that confounded number of yours!"

    "You did one too!"

    "All the more bother, perhaps, when the thing is brought home to us.
    There's no need for recriminations. The thing of moment is that we
    find ourselves in the position--not to put too fine a point upon
    it--of tramps in this admirable world. The question of all others of
    importance to us at present is what do they do with their tramps?
    Because sooner or later, and the balance of probability seems to
    incline to sooner, whatever they do with their tramps that they will
    do with us."

    "Unless we can get some work."

    "Exactly--unless we can get some work."

    "Get work!"

    The botanist leant forward on his arms and looked out of the arbour
    with an expression of despondent discovery. "I say," he remarked;
    "this is a strange world--quite strange and new. I'm only beginning
    to realise just what it means for us. The mountains there are the
    same, the old Bristenstock and all the rest of it; but these houses,
    you know, and that roadway, and the costumes, and that machine that
    is licking up the grass there--only...."

    He sought expression. "Who knows what will come in sight round the
    bend of the valley there? Who knows what may happen to us anywhere?
    We don't know who rules over us even ... we don't know that!"

    "No," I echoed, "we don't know _that_."
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