“Orryvoyer” whispered the urchin. “Orryvoyer.”
“We will be returning soon,” the king said, “to our bright realm. Before we go, there are questions we must ask. In the first place, it has been said that there will be a man like John Ball; who is to be a bad naturalist because he claims that man should live like ants. What is the objection to his claim?”
Merlyn stood up and took off his hat.
“It is a matter of natural morality, Sir. The committee suggests that it is moral for a species to specialise in its own speciality.
“An elephant must attend to its trunk, a giraffe or camelopard to its neck.
“It would be immoral for an elephant to fly, because it has no wings.
“The speciality of man, as much developed in him as the neck in the camelopard, is his neopallium. This is the part of the brain which, instead of being devoted to instinct, is concerned with memory, deduction and forms of thought which result in recognition by the individual of his personality.
“This, by the way,” continued the old gentleman slowly, drawing a film over his eyes as if he were a weary, second-sighted vulture, “is why I have, during a lifetime extending backwards over several tiresome centuries, waged my little war against might under all its forms, and it is why I have rightly or wrongly seduced others into waging it.
“It is why I once persuaded you, Sir, to regard the Games-Maniac with contempt: to oppose your wisdom against the baron of Fort Mayne: to believe in justice rather than in power: and to investigate with mental integrity, as we have tried to do this long-drawn evening, the causes of the battle we are waging: for war is force unbridled, at a gallop.
“I have not engaged in this crusade because the fact of force can be considered wrong, in an abstract sense. For the boa-constrictor, who is practically one enormous muscle, it would be literally true to say that Might is Right: for the ant, whose brain is not constituted like the human brain, it is literally true that the State is more important than the Individual. But for man, whose speciality lies in the personality-recognising creases of his neopalliumas much developed in him as the muscles are in the boa-constrictorit is equally true to say that mental truth, not force, is right; and that the Individual is more important than the State.
“He is so much more important that he should abolish it. We must leave the boa-constrictors to admire themselves for being muscular athletes: Games-Mania, Fort Mayne and so forth are right for them. Perhaps the reticulations of the python are really some form of 1st XI jersey.
“We must leave the ants to assert the glory of the state: totalitarianism is their line of country, not doubt. But for man, and not on an abstract definition of right and wrong, but on nature’s concrete definition that a species must specialise in its own speciality, the committee suggests that might was never right: that the state never excelled the individual: and that the future lies with the personal soul.”
“Perhaps you ought to speak about the brain.”
“Sir, there are a great many things going on in this old brain-box; but for the purposes of our investigation we confine ourselves to two compartments, the neopallium and the corpus striatum.
“In the latter, to put it simply, my instinctive and mechanical actions are determined: in the former I keep that reason in honour of which our race has curiously been nicknamed sapiens.
“Perhaps I can explain it with one of those dangerous and often misleading similes. The corpus striatum is like a single mirror, which reflects instinctive actions outwards, in return for the stimuli which come in.
“In the neopallium, however, there are two mirrors. They can see each other, and for that reason they know that they exist.
“Man, know thyself, said somebody or other: or, as another philosopher had put it, the proper study of mankind is man. That is because he has specialised in the neopallium….
“He will always have to specialise in individuality, in recognition of himself, or whatever you may like to call it: it is because of the two mirrors reflecting each other that he can never wholly succeed as an unselfish member of the proletariat. He must have a self and all that goes with a self so highly developedincluding selfishness and property. Pray forgive my simile, if I have seemed to use it unfairly.”
“The second question deals with War. It has been suggested that we ought to abolish it, in one way or another, but nobody has given it the chance to speak for itself. Perhaps there is something to be said in favour of war. We would like to be told.”
Merlyn put his hat on the floor and whispered to the badger, who after scuttling off to his pile of agenda, returned, to the wonder of all, with the proper piece of paper.
“Sir, this question has been before the attention of the committee, who have ventured to draw up a list of Pros and Cons, which we are ready to recite.”
Merlyn cleared his throat, and announced in a loud voice: “PRO.”
“In favour of war,” explained the badger.
“Number One,” said Merlyn. “War is one of the mainsprings of romance. Without war, there would be no Rolands, Maccabbes, Lawrences or Hodsons of Hodson’s Horse.
“There would be no Victoria Crosses.
“It is a stimulant to so-called virtues, such as courage and co-operation.
“In fact, war has moments of glory.
“It should also be noted that, without war, we should lose at least one half of our literature.
“Shakespeare is packed with it.
“War is a way of keeping down the population, though it is a hideous and inefficient one.
The same Shakespeare, who seems on the subject of war to have been in agreement with the Germans and with their ravaging apologist Nietzsche, says, in a scene which he is supposed to have written for Beaumont & Fletcher, that it heals with blood the earth when it is sick and cures the world of the pleurisy of people.
“Perhaps I may mention in parentheses without irreverence that the Bard seems to have been curiously insensitive on the subject of warfare.
“King Henry V is the most revolting play I know, as Henry himself is the most revolting character.
“Number Three. War does provide a vent for the pent-up ferocity of man, and, while man remains a savage, something of the sort seems to be needed. The committee finds from an examination of history that human cruelty will vent itself in one way, if it is denied another.
“During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when war was a limited exercise confined to professional armies recruited from the criminal classes, the general mass of the population resorted to public executions, dental operations without anaesthetics, brutal sports and flogging their children. In the twentieth century, when war was extended to embrace the masses, hanging, hacking, cock-fighting, and spanking went out of fashion.
“The committee is at present occupied about a complicated investigation into the physical or psychological necessity.
“We do not feel that a report can be made at this stage with profit, but we think we have observed that war does answer a real need in man, perhaps connected with the ferocity mentioned in Article Three, but perhaps not.
“It has come to our notice that man becomes restless or dejected after a generation of Peace.
“The immortal if not omniscient Swan of Avon remarks that Peace seems to breed a disease, which, coming to a head in a sort of ulcer, bursts out into war.
“‘War,’ he says, ‘is the imposthume of much wealth and peace, which only breaks, shewing no outward cause why the man dies.’
“Under this interpretation, it is the peace which is regarded as a slow disease, while the bursting of the imposthume, the war, must be assumed to be beneficial rather than the reverse.
“The committee has suggested two ways in which Wealth and Peace might destroy the race, if war were prevented: by emasculating it, or by rendering it comatose through glandular troubles.
“On the subject of emasculation, it should be noted that wars double the birth-rate.
“The reason why women tolerate war is because it promotes virility in men.
“Finally, there is the suggestion which would probably be made by every other animal on the face of this earth, except man, namely that war is an inestimable boon to creation as a whole, because it does offer some faint hope of exterminating the human race.
“Con,” announced the magician; but the king prevented him.
“We know the objections,” he said. “The idea that it is useful might be considered a little more. If there is some necessity for Might, why is the committee ready to stop it?”
“Sir, the committee is attempting to trace the physiological basis, possibly of a pituitary or adrenal origin. Possibly the human system requires periodical doses of adrenalin, in order to remain healthy...Until this matter has been properly investigated the subject remains vague, but the committee desires to point out that the physiological need could be supplied by other means. War, it has already been observed, is an inefficient way of keeping down the population: it may also be an inefficient way of stimulating the adrenal glands through fear.”
“What other ways?”
“Under the Roman Empire, the experiment of offering bloody spectacles in the circus was attempted as a substitute. They provided the Purgation which Aristotle talks about, and some such alternative might be found efficient. Science, however, would suggest more radical cures. Either the glandular deficiency might be supplied by periodical injections of the whole population with adrenalin or with whatever the deficiency may prove to be or else some form of surgery might be found effective. Perhaps the root or war is removable, like the appendix.
“We were told that war is caused by National Property: now we are told that it is due to a gland.”
“Sir, the two things may be related, though they may not be consequent upon one another. For instance, if wars were solely due to national property, we should expect them to continue without intermission so long as national property continued: that is, all the time.
“We find, however, that they are interrupted by frequent lulls, called Peace. It seems as if the human race becomes more and more comatose during these periods of truce, until, when what you may call the saturation-point of adrenalin deficiency has been reached, it seizes upon the first handy excuse for a good shot of fear-stimulant.
“The handy excuse is national property. Even if the wars are dolled up as religious ones, such as crusades against Saladin or the Albigensians or Montezuma, the basis remains the same.
“Nobody would have troubled to extend the benefits of Christianity to Montezuma, if his sandals had not been made of gold, and nobody would have thought the gold itself a sufficient temptation, if they had not been needing a dose of adrenalin.”
“You suggest an alternative like the circus, pending the investigation of your gland. Have you considered it?”
Archimedes giggled unexpectedly.
“Merlyn wants to have an international fair, Sir. He wants to have a lot of flip-flaps and giant wheels and scenic railways in a reservation, and they are all to be slightly dangerous, so as to kill perhaps one man in a hundred.
“Entrance is to be voluntary, for he says that the one unutterably wicked thing about a war is conscription.
“He says that people will go to the fair of their own free-will, through boredom or through adrenalin deficiency or whatever it is, and that they are likely to feel the need for it during their twenty-fifth, thirtieth, and forty-fifth years. It is to be made fashionable and glorious to go. Every visitor will get a commemorative medal, while those who go fifty time will get what he calls the D.S.O. or the V.C. for a hundred visits.”
The magician looked ashamed and cracked his fingers.
“The suggestion,” he said humbly, “was more to provoke thought, than to be thought of.”
“Certainly it does not seem a practical suggestion for the present year of grace. Are there no panaceas for war, which could be used in the meantime?”
“The committee has suggested an antidote which might have a temporary effect, like soda for an acid stomach. It would be of no use as a cure for the malady, though it might alleviate it.
“It might save a few million lives in a century.”
“What is the antidote?”
“Sir, you will have noticed that the people who are responsible for the declaration and the higher conduct of wars do not tend to be the people who endure the extremes.
“At the battle of Bedergraine Your Majesty dealt with something of the same sort.
“The kings and the generals and the leaders of battles have a peculiar aptitude for not being killed in them.
“The committee has suggested that, after every war, all the officials on the losing side who held a higher rank than colonel ought to be executed out of hand, irrespective of their war-guilt.
“No doubt there would be a certain amount of injustice in this measure, but the consciousness that death was the certain result of losing a war would have a deterrent effect on those who help to promote and to regulate such engagements, and it might, by preventing a few wars, save millions of lives among the lower classes.
“Even a Führer like Mordred might think twice about heading hostilities, if he knew that his own execution would be the result of being unlucky in them.”
“It seems reasonable.”
“It is less reasonable than it seems, partly because the responsibility for warfare does not lie wholly with the leaders.
“After all, a leader has to be chosen or accepted by those whom he leads. “The hydra-headed multitudes are not so innocent as they like to pretend.
“They have given a mandate to their generals, and they must abide by the moral responsibility.
“Still, it would have the effect of making the leaders reluctant to be pushed into warfare by their followers, and even that would help.”
“It would help. The difficulty would lie in persuading the leading classes to agree to such a convention in the first place. Also, I am afraid that you will find there is always a type of maniac, anxious for notoriety at any price, or even for martyrdom, who would accept the pomp of leadership with even greater alacrity because it was enhanced by melodramatic penalties.
“The kings of Irish mythology were compelled by their station to march in the forefront of the battle, which occasioned a frightful mortality among them, yet there never seems to have been a lack of kings or battles in the history of the Green Isle.
“What about this new-fangled Law,” asked the goat suddenly, “which our king has been inventing? If individuals can be deterred from murder by fear of a death penalty, why cannot there be an international law, under which nations can be deterred from war by similar means?
“An aggressive nation might be kept at peace by the knowledge that, if it began a war, some international police force would sentence it to dispersal, by mass transportation to other countries for instance.”
“There are two objections to that.
“First, you would be trying to cure the disease, not to prevent it.
“Second, we know from experience that the existence of a death penalty does not in fact abolish murder.
“It might, however, prove to be a temporary step in the right direction.”
The old man folded his hands in his sleeves and looked round the council table, doggedly, waiting for further questions. His eyes had begun to discharge their watch.
“He has been writing a book called the Libellus Merlini the Prophecies of Merlyn,” continued Archimedes wickedly, when he saw that this subject had been concluded, “which he had intended to read aloud to Your Majesty, as soon as you arrived.”
“We will hear a reading.”
Merlyn rung his hands.
“Sir,” he said. “It is mere fortune-telling, only gypsy tricks. It had to be written because there was a good deal of fuss about it in the twelfth century, after which we are to loose sight of it until the twentieth. But, oh Sir, it is merely a parlour gamenot worth Your Majesty’s attention at present.”
“Read me some part of it, none the less.”
So the humiliated scientist, all of whose quips and quiddities had been knocked out of him in the last hour, fetched the burnt manuscript from the fender and handed round a collection of such slips as were still legible, as if it had been a parlour game in earnest.
The animals read them out in turn, like mottos from crackers, and this is what they said.
“God will provide, the Dodo will remark.”
“The Bear will cure his headache by cutting off his headbut it will leave him with a sore behind.”
“The Lion will lie down with the Eagle, saying, At last all the animals are united! But the Devil will see the joke.”
“The Stars which taught the Sun to rise must agree with him at noonor vanish.”
“A child standing in Broadway will cry, Look mother, there is a man!”
“How long it takes to build Jerusalem, the spider will say, pausing exhausted at his web on the ground floor of the Empire State Building.”
“Living-space leads to space for the coffin, observed the Beetle.”
“Force makes force.”
“Wars of community, county, country, creed, continent, colour. After that the hand of God, if not before.”
“Imitation, μίμήσις, before action will save mankind.”
“The Elk died because it grew its horns too big.”
“No collision with the moon was required to exterminate the Mammoth.”
“The destiny of all species is extinction as such, fortunately for them.”
There was a pause after the last motto, while the listeners thought them over.
“What is the meaning of the one with the Greek word?”
“Sir, a part of its meaning, but only a small part, is that the one hope for our human race must lie in education without coercion. Confucius has it that:
In order to propagate virtue to the world, one must first rule one’s country.
“Have the rest any relevant meaning?” added the king.
“One further question before we rise. You have said that politics are out of order, but they seem so closely tied to the question of warfare that they must be faced to some extent. At an earlier stage you claimed to be a capitalist. Are you sure of these views?”
“If I said so, Your Majesty, I did not mean it. Badger was talking to me like a communist of the nineteen-twenties, which made me talk like a capitalist in self-defence. I am an anarchist, like any sensible person.
“In point of fact the race will find that capitalists and communists modify themselves so much during the ages that they end by being indistinguishable as democrats: and so will the fascists modify themselves, for that matter. But whatever may be the contortions adopted by these three brands of collectivism, and however many the centuries during which they butcher each other out of childish ill-temper, the fact remains that all forms of collectivism are mistaken, according to the human skull.
“The destiny of man is an individualistic destiny, and it is that sense that I may have implied a qualified approval of capitalism, if I did imply it. The despised Victorian capitalist, who did at least allow a good deal of play to the individual, was probably more truly futuristic in his politics than all the New Orders shrieked for in the twentieth century.
“He was of the future, because individualism lies in the future of the human brain. He was not so old-fashioned as the fascists and communists. But of course he was considerably old-fashioned for all that, and that is why I prefer myself to be an anarchist: that is, to be a little up-to-date. The geese are anarchists, you remember. They realise that the moral sense must come from inside, not from outside.”
“I thought,” said the badger plaintively, “that communism was supposed to be a step towards anarchy. I thought that when communism had been properly achieved the state would wither away.”
“People have told me so, but I doubt it. I cannot see how you may emancipate an individual by first creating an omnipotent state.
“There are no states in nature, except among monstrosities like the ants.
“It seems to me that people who go creating states, as Mordred is trying to do with his Thrashers, must tend to become involved in them, and so unable to escape.
“But perhaps what you say is true. I hope it is. In any case let us leave these dubious questions of politics to the dingy tyrants who look after them. Ten thousand years from now it may be time for the educated to concern themselves with such things, but meanwhile they must wait for the race to grow up.
“We for our part have offered a solution this evening to the special problem of force as an arbiter: the obvious platitude that war is due to national property, with the rider that it is stimulated by certain glands. Let us leave it at that for the present, in God’s name.”
The old magician swept his notes away with a trembling hand. He had been deeply wounded by the hedgehog’s earlier criticisms, because, in the secrecy of his heart, he loved his student dearly.
He knew now, since the royal hero had returned victorious in his choice, that his own wisdom was not the end.
He knew that he had finished his tutorship.
Once he had told the king that he would never be the Wart again: but it had been an encouraging thing to say: he had not meant it.
Now he did mean it, now knew that he himself had yielded place, had stepped down from the authority to lead or to direct.
The abdication had cost him his gaiety.
He would not be able to rant any more, or to twinkle and mystify with the flashing folds of this magic cloak. The condescension of learning was pricked in him. He was feeling ancient and ashamed.
The old king, whose childhood had vanished also, toyed with a slip left on the table. He was at his trick of watching his hands, when in abstraction. He folded the paper this way, that way, carefully, and unfolded it. It was one of Merlyn’s notes for the card-index, which badger had muddled with the Prophecies: a quotation from a historian called Friar Clynn, who had died in 1348.
This friar, employed as the annalist of his abbey to keep the historical records, had seen the Black Death coming to fetch himpossible to fetch the whole world, for it had killed a third of the population of Europe already.
Carefully leaving some pieces of blank parchment with the book in which he was to write no longer, he had concluded with the following message, which had once awakened Merlyn’s strange respect.
“Seeing these many ills,” he had written in Latin, “and as it were the whole world thrust into malignancy, waiting among the dead for death to come to me, I have put into writing what I have truthfully heard and examined. And, lest the writing should perish with the writer or the work fail with the workman, I am now leaving some paper for the continuation of itin case by any chance a man may remain alive in the future, or any person of the race of Adam may escape this pestilence, to carry on the labour one begun by me.”
The king folded it neatly, measured it on the table. They watched him, knowing he was about to rise and ready to follow his example.
“Very good,” he said. “We understand the puzzle.”
He tapped the table with the paper, then got to his feet.
“We must return before the morning.”
The animals were rising too. They were conducting him to the door, crowding round him to kiss his hand and to bid farewell. His now retired tutor, who must conduct him home, was holding the door for him to pass. Whether he was a dream or not, he had begun to flicker, as had they all. They were saying, “Good success to Your Majesty, a speedy and successful issue.”
He smiled gravely, saying: “We hope it will be speedy.”
But he was referring to his death, as one of them knew.
“It is only for this time, Majesty,” said T. natrix. “You remember the story of St. George, and Homo sapiens is like that still. You will fail because it is the nature of man to slay, in ignorance if not in wrath. But failure builds success and nature changes. A good man’s example always does instruct the ignorant and lessens their rage, little by little through the ages, until the spirit of the waters is content: and so, strong courage to Your Majesty, and a tranquil heart.”
He inclined his head to the one who knew, and turned to go.
At the last moment a hand was tugging at his sleeve, reminding him of the friend he had forgotten. He lifted the hedgehog with both hands under its armpits, and held it at arm’s length, face to face.
“Ah, tiggy,” he said. “Us have thee to thank for royalty. Farewell, tiggy, and a merry life to thee and thy sweet songs.”
But the hedgehog paddled its feet as if it were bicycling, because it wanted to be put down. It tugged the sleeve again, when it was safe upon the floor, and the old man lowered his ear to hear the whisper.
“Nay, nay,” it mentioned hoarsely. Clutching his hand, looking earnestly in his face. “Say not Farewell.”
It tugged again, dropping its voice to the brink of silence.
“Orryvoyer” whispered the urchin. “Orryvoyer.”