The Voice of Nature
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 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
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....
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
"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,
"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.
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
(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
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.
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
"I know," I said.
"It sounds absurd."
"Why can't they get away? What is there to keep them together? It's
"He _would_ tell it to me."
"It's his way."
"He interrupted me. And there's no point in it. Is he----" he
"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?"
"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."
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_."