Men Like Gods

Book the Third

Chapter the Third

The Service of the Earthling

H.G. Wells

§ 1

THE MAN to whom Mr. Barnstaple, after due inquiries, went to talk was named Sungold. He was probably very old, because there were lines of age about his eyes and over his fine brow. He was a ruddy man, bearded with an auburn beard that had streaks of white, and his eyes were brown and nimble under his thick eyebrows. His hair had thinned but little and flowed back like a mane, but its copper-red colour had gone. He sat at a table with papers spread before him, making manuscript notes. He smiled at Mr. Barnstaple, for he had been expecting him, and indicated a seat for him with his stout and freckled hand. Then he waited smilingly for Mr. Barnstaple to begin.

“This world is one triumph of the desire for order and beauty in men’s minds,” said Mr. Barnstaple. “But it will not tolerate one useless soul in it. Everyone is happily active. Everyone but myself. . . . I belong nowhere. I have nothing to do. And no one—is related to me.”

Sungold moved his head slightly to show that he understood.

“It is hard for an Earthling, with an earthly want of training, to fall into any place here. Into any usual work or any usual relationship. One is—a stranger. . . . But it is still harder to have no place at all. In the new work, of which I am told you know most of anyone and are indeed the centre and regulator, it has occurred to me that I might be of some use, that I might indeed be as good as a Utopian. . . . If so, I want to be of use. You may want someone just to risk death—to take the danger of going into some strange place—someone who desires to serve Utopia—and who need not have skill or knowledge—or be a beautiful or able person?”

Mr. Barnstaple stopped short.

Sungold conveyed the completest understanding of all that was in Mr. Barnstaple’s mind.

Mr. Barnstaple sat interrogative while for a time Sungold thought.

Then words and phrases began to string themselves together in Mr. Barnstaple’s mind.

Sungold wondered if Mr. Barnstaple understood either the extent or the limitations of the great discoveries that were now being made in Utopia. Utopia, he said, was passing into a phase of intense intellectual exaltation. New powers and possibilities intoxicated the imagination of the race, and it was indeed inconceivable that an unteachable and perplexed Earthling could be anything but distressed and uncomfortable amidst the vast strange activities that must now begin. Even many of their own people, the more backward Utopians, were disturbed. For centuries Utopian philosophers and experimentalists had been criticizing, revising and reconstructing their former instinctive and traditional ideas of space and time, of form and substance, and now very rapidly the new ways of thinking were becoming clear and simple and bearing fruit in surprising practical applications. The limitations of space which had seemed for ever insurmountable were breaking down; they were breaking down in a strange and perplexing way but they were breaking down. It was now theoretically possible, it was rapidly becoming practicably possible, to pass from the planet Utopia to which the race had hitherto been confined, to other points in its universe of origin, that is to say to remote planets and distant stars. . . . That was the gist of the present situation.

“I cannot imagine that,” said Mr. Barnstaple.

“You cannot imagine it,” Sungold agreed, quite cordially. “But it is so. A hundred years ago it was inconceivable—here.”

“Do you get there by some sort of backstairs in another dimension?” said Mr. Barnstaple.

Sungold considered this guess. It was a grotesque image, he said, but from the point of view of an Earthling it would serve. That conveyed something of its quality. But it was so much more wonderful. . . . 

“A new and astounding phase has begun for life here. We learnt long ago the chief secrets of happiness upon this planet. Life is good in this world. You find it good? . . .  For thousands of years yet it will be our fastness and our home. But the wind of a new adventure blows through our life. All this world is in a mood like striking camp in the winter quarters when spring approaches.”

He leant over his papers towards Mr. Barnstaple, and held up a finger and spoke audible words as if to make his meaning plainer. It seemed to Mr. Barnstaple that each word translated itself into English as he spoke it. At any rate Mr. Barnstaple understood. “The collision of our planet Utopia with your planet Earth was a very curious accident, but an unimportant accident, in this story. I want you to understand that. Your universe and ours are two out of a great number of gravitation-time universes, which are translated together through the inexhaustible infinitude of God. They are similar throughout, but they are identical in nothing. Your planet and ours happen to be side by side, so to speak, but they are not travelling at exactly the same pace nor in a strictly parallel direction. They will drift apart again and follow their several destinies. When Arden and Greenlake made their experiment the chances of their hitting anything in your universe were infinitely remote. They had disregarded it, they were merely rotating some of our matter out of and then back into our universe. You fell into us—as amazingly for us as for you. The importance of our discoveries for us lies in our own universe and not in yours. We do not want to come into your universe nor have more of your world come into ours. You are too like us, and you are too dark and troubled and diseased—you are too contagious—and we, we cannot help you yet because we are not gods but men.”

Mr. Barnstaple nodded.

“What could Utopians do with the men of Earth? We have no strong instinct in us to teach or dominate other adults. That has been bred out of us by long centuries of equality and free co-operation. And you would be too numerous for us to teach and much of your population would be grown up and set in bad habits. Your stupidities would get in our way, your quarrels and jealousies and traditions, your flags and religions and all your embodied spites and suppressions, would hamper us in everything we should want to do. We should be impatient with you, unjust, overbearing. You are too like us for us to be patient with your failures. It would be hard to remember constantly how ill-bred you were. In Utopia we found out long ago that no race of human beings was sufficiently great, subtle and powerful to think and act for any other race. Perhaps already you are finding out the same thing on Earth as your races come into closer contact. And much more would this be true between Utopia and Earth. From what I know of your people and their ignorance and obstinacies it is clear our people would despise you; and contempt is the cause of all injustice. We might end by exterminating you. . . .  But why should we make that possible? . . .  We must leave you alone. We cannot trust ourselves with you. . . . Believe me this is the only reasonable course for us.”

Mr. Barnstaple assented silently.

“You and I—two individuals—can be friends and understand.”

“What you say is true,” said Mr. Barnstaple. “It is true. But it grieves me it is true. . . . Greatly. . . . Nevertheless, I gather, I at least may be of service in Utopia?”

“You can.”


“By returning to your own world.”

Mr. Barnstaple thought for some moments. It was what he had feared. But he had offered himself. “I will do that.”

“By attempting to return, I should say. There is risk. You may be killed.”

“I must take that.”

“We want to verify all the data we have of the relations of our universe to yours. We want to reverse the experiment of Arden and Greenlake and see if we can return a living being to your world. We are almost certain now that we can do so. And that human being must care for us enough and care for his own world enough to go back and give us a sign that he has got there.”

Mr. Barnstaple spoke huskily. “I can do that,” he said.

“We can put you into that machine of yours and into the clothes you wore. You can be made again exactly as you left your world.”

“Exactly. I understand.”

“And because your world is vile and contentious and yet has some strangely able brains in it, here and there, we do not want your people to know of us, living so close to you—for we shall be close to you yet for some hundreds of years at least—we do not want them to know for fear that they should come here presently, led by some poor silly genius of a scientific man, come in their greedy, foolish, breeding swarms, hammering at our doors, threatening our lives, and spoiling our high adventures, and so have to be beaten off and killed like an invasion of rats or parasites.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Barnstaple. “Before men can come to Utopia, they must learn the way here. Utopia, I see, is only a home for those who have learnt the way.”

He paused and answered some of his own thoughts. “When I have returned,” he said, “shall I begin to forget Utopia?”

Sungold smiled and said nothing.

“All my days the nostalgia of Utopia will distress me.”

“And uphold you.”

“I shall take up my earthly life at the point where I laid it down, but—on Earth—I shall be a Utopian. For I feel that having offered my service and had it accepted, that I am no longer an outcast in Utopia. I belong. . . . ”

“Remember you may be killed. You may die in the trial.”

“As it may happen.”


The friendly paw took Mr. Barnstaple’s and pressed it and the deep eyes smiled.

“After you have returned and given us your sign, several of the other Earthlings may also be sent back.”

Mr. Barnstaple sat up. “But!” he gasped. His voice rose high in amazement. “I thought they were hurled into the blank space of some outer universe and altogether destroyed!”

“Several were killed. They killed themselves by rushing down the side of the old fortress in the outer darkness as the crag rotated. The men in leather. The man you call Long Barrow—”


“Yes. And the man who shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘What would you?’ The others came back as the rotation was completed late in the day—asphyxiated and frozen but not dead. They have been restored to life, and we are puzzled now how to dispose of them. . . . They are of no use whatever in this world. They encumber us.”

“It is only too manifest,” said Mr. Barnstaple.

“The man you call Burleigh seems to be of some importance in your earthly affairs. We have searched his mind. His powers of belief are very small. He believes in very little but the life of a cultivated wealthy gentleman who holds a position of modest distinction in the councils of a largely fictitious empire. It is doubtful if he will believe in the reality of any of this experience. We will make sure anyhow that he thinks it has been an imaginative dream. He will consider it too fantastic to talk about because it is plain he is already very afraid of his imagination. He will find himself back in your world a few days after you reach it and he will make his way to his own home unobtrusively. He will come next after you. You will see him reappear in political affairs. Perhaps a little wiser.”

“It might well be,” said Mr. Barnstaple.

“And—what are the sounds of his name?—Rupert Catskill; he too will return. Your world would miss him.”

“Nothing will make him wiser,” said Mr. Barnstaple with conviction.

“Lady Stella will come.”

“I am glad she has escaped. She will say nothing about Utopia. She is very discreet.”

“The priest is mad. His behaviour became offensive and obscene and he is under restraint.”

“What did he do?”

“He made a number of aprons of black silk and set out with them to attack our young people in an undignified manner.”

“You can send him back,” said Mr. Barnstaple after reflection.

“But will your world allow that sort of thing?”

We call that sort of thing Purity,” said Mr. Barnstaple. “But of course if you like to keep him. . . . ”

“He shall come back,” said Sungold.

“The others you can keep,” said Mr. Barnstaple. “In fact you will have to keep them. Nobody on Earth will trouble about them very much. In our world there are so many people that always a few are getting lost. As it is, returning even the few you propose to do may excite attention. Local people may begin to notice all these wanderers coming from nowhere in particular and asking their way home upon the Maidenhead Road. They might give way under questions. . . .  You cannot send any more. Put the rest on an island. Or something of that sort. I wish I could advise you to keep the priest also. But many people would miss him. They would suffer from suppressed Purity and begin to behave queerly. The pulpit of St. Barnabas satisfies a recognized craving. And it will be quite easy to persuade him that Utopia is a dream and delusion. All priests believe that naturally of all Utopias. He will think of it, if he thinks of it at all, as—what would he call it—as a moral nightmare.”


§ 2

Their business was finished, but Mr. Barnstaple was loth to go.

He looked Sungold in the eye and found something kindly there.

“You have told me all that I have to do,” he said, “and it is fully time that I went away from you, for any moment in your life is more precious than a day of mine. Yet because I am to go so soon and so obediently out of this vast and splendid world of yours back to my native disorders, I could find it in my heart to ask you to unbend if you could, to come down to me a little, and to tell me simply and plainly of the greater days and greater achievements that are now dawning upon this planet. You speak of your being able presently to go out of this Utopia to remote parts in your universe. That perplexes my mind. Probably I am unfitted to grasp that idea, but it is very important to me. It has been a belief in our world that at last there must be an end to life because our sun and planets are cooling, and there seems no hope of escape from the little world upon which we have arisen. We were born with it and we must die with it. That robbed many of us of hope and energy: for why should we work for progress in a world that must freeze and die?”

Sungold laughed. “Your philosophers concluded too soon.”

He sprawled over the table towards his hearer and looked him earnestly in the face.

“Your Earthly science has been going on for how long?”

“Two hundred—three hundred years.”

Sungold held up two fingers. “And men? How many men?”

“A few hundred who mattered in each generation.”

“We have gone on for three thousand years now, and a hundred million good brains have been put like grapes into the wine-press of science. And we know to-day—how little we know. There is never an observation made but a hundred observations are missed in the making of it; there is never a measurement but some impish truth mocks us and gets away from us in the margin of error. I know something of where your scientific men are, all power to the poor savages! because I have studied the beginnings of our own science in the long past of Utopia. How can I express our distances? Since those days we have examined and tested and tried and retried a score of new ways of thinking about space, of which time is only a specialized form. We have forms of expression that we cannot get over to you so that things that used to seem difficult and paradoxical to us—that probably seem hopelessly difficult and paradoxical to you, lose all their difficulty in our minds. It is hard to convey to you. We think in terms of a space in which the space and time system, in terms of which you think, is only a specialized case. So far as our feelings and instincts and daily habits go we too live in another such system as you do—but not so far as our knowledge goes, not so far as our powers go. Our minds have exceed our lives—as yours will. We are still flesh and blood, still hope and desire, we go to and fro and look up and down, but things that seemed remote are brought near, things that were inaccessible bow down, things that were insurmountable lie under the hollows of our hands.”

“And you do not think your race nor, for the matter of that, ours, need ever perish?”

“Perish! We have hardly begun!”

The old man spoke very earnestly. Unconsciously he parodied Newton. “We are like little children who have been brought to the shores of a limitless ocean. All the knowledge we have gathered yet in the few score generations since first we began to gather knowledge, is like a small handful of pebbles gathered upon the shore of that limitless sea.

“Before us lies knowledge, endlessly, and we may take and take, and as we take, grow. We grow in power, we grow in courage. We renew our youth. For mark what I say, our worlds grow younger. The old generations of apes and sub-men before us had aged minds; their narrow reluctant wisdom was the meagre profit, hoarded and stale and sour, of innumerable lives. They dreaded new things; so bitterly did they value the bitterly won old. But to learn is, at length, to become young again, to be released, to begin afresh. Your world, compared with ours, is a world of unteachable encrusted souls, of bent and droning traditions, of hates and injuries and such-like unforgettable things. But some day you too will become again like little children, and it will be you who will find your way through to us—to us, who will be waiting for you. Two universes will meet and embrace, to beget a yet greater universe. . . . You Earthlings do not begin to realize yet the significance of life. Nor we Utopians—scarcely more. . . . Life is still only a promise, still waits to be born, out of such poor stirrings in the dust as we. . . . 

“Some day here and everywhere, Life of which you and I are but anticipatory atoms and eddies, Life will awaken indeed, one and whole and marvellous, like a child awaking to conscious life. It will open its drowsy eyes and stretch itself and smile, looking the mystery of God in the face as one meets the morning sun. We shall be there then, all that matters of us, you and I. . . . 

“And it will be no more than a beginning, no more than a beginning. . . . ”

Men Like Gods - Contents    |     Book the Third - Chapter the Fourth - The Return of the Earthling

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