Saturday, 18 January 2014

THE COMING RACE

" The Coming Race," 10s 6d (Blackwood and Sons).

 The Coming Race is a kind of modern Gulliver's Travels. The description of an ideal people is written with an eloquence and power which leave on the mind an impression of reality that at times is almost painful. The supposed narrator is a young American who goes forth to see the world. While exploring a mine in the company of a professional friend, he is struck by a light from below. He proceeds with his friend to lower himself by ropes to the spot whence the light appears, but the rope breaks, and his companion is killed in the fall. He finds himself, with retreat cut off, alone in a new world in the bowels of the earth. The inhabitants are of a race akin to man, yet scarcely human. They are of giant stature, using artificial wings, and their calm, passionless faces inspire a feeling of awe. After some discussion, the "Tish," or " small barbarian," as they styled the narrator, became the guest of one of the chief men of the community, and there he was enabled to make himself acquainted with the manners and institutions of the Vril-ye, as they designated themselves. There prevails a tradition among this race that their remote ancestors had once tenanted the surface world, and that one day they will return to it. Their knowledge of the forces of nature renders the weakest individual among them more than a match for the whole human race. Among themselves war at one time was exceedingly prevalent, but it was brought to a close "by the gradual discovery of the latent powers stored in the all-permeating fluid which they denominate Vril." "This fluid is capable of being raised and disciplined into the mightiest agency over all forms of matter, animate and inanimate. It can destroy like a flash of lightning, yet differently applied it can replenish or invigorate life, heal, and preserve." By its agency they can rend rocks, and from it they extract the oil for their lamps. " The fire lodged in the hollow of a rod directed by the hand of a child could shatter the strongest fortress, or cleave its way from van to rear of an embattled host. If army met army, and both had command of this agency, it could be but to the annihilation of each. The age of war was therefore gone." Mechanism was so highly developed that musical service was performed by automata acted upon by the all potent Vril. The Vril-ya women are larger, stronger, and cleverer than the mates, and claim and exercise the right of wooing on account of their larger capacity for living than the other sex. When they love it is their pleasure to obey. It is to this right of the initiative that the author owed his return to the upper world. Both Tee, the beautiful and accomplished daughter of his host, and another maiden of high degree fell in love with him. It was impossible that a Gy should be permitted to intermarry with a "Tish," and it was agreed to put him to a speedy and painless death. Tee, however, saves him. Blasting a passage through the rocks by means of her Vril staff, she flies upwards with to him in her arms to the mine from whence he had descended, and bids him adieu. There are many suggestions in this book which may set philanthropists and statesmen thinking.
8 August 1871


"The Coming Race," the authorship of which has been attributed to but denied by Mr. L. Oliphant, is a curious book, a sort of hybrid production, half Gulliver and half Munchausen but which nevertheless contains a large amount of wholesome truth, under the guise of the most outrageous and romantic fiction. It is a genial satire on men and things, on politics and politicians, on philosophers and "philosopheresses," on books and those who write them and read them, and on fifty other things beside that deserve to be satirized. The machinery of the tale is almost too romantic and improbable for even the nursery, but this is a matter of slight moment, as the reader is chiefly concerned with the sting of the book, rather than with the sheath in which that sting is enveloped. A young and adventurous American, travelling through one of the mining districts of England, visits a very deep mine in company with a professional friend, and they conjointly proceed to investigate certain phenomena, such as flashes of light and mysterious sounds, which our hero's friend had observed to issue from a very deep chasm in the mine. The American makes preparations to descend this chasm, and succeeds in doing so ; but his friend, in attempting the feat, falls down and is killed, and in his fall brings down with him the apparatus by which only our hero could hope to ascend again through the chasm. In this dilemma the young adventurer follows the light which had first lured him to descend and which now gradually leads him into a road lit up with curious lamps, and winding through a valley characterised by a strange agriculture, and an abnormal vegetation, both of which are described in picturesque language by the author. The country is peopled by the Vril-ya, a gigantic race of men who are the outcome of long centuries of progressive development, who have obtained complete mastery over the elements, and the meanest of whom is powerful enough to destroy whole races of mankind in a moment. The happiness possessed by the inhabitants of this subterranean Utopia, their form of absolutely despotic yet errorless government, the mode in which they have obtained the mastery of Vril or electricity, how the males have attained to complete hairlessness as the perfection of manly beauty through eons of natural and sexual selection, how the ladies or Gy-ei have got huge wings, and how all the mechanical labour required to supply the wants of the Vril-ya is performed by automata—are not all these things, as well as many others, recorded in our author's book ? Every one of his statements respecting them being as true as truth has ever been of late, and therefore worthy of universal credence
The book contains a love story. Zee, the daughter of our hero's host, a young Gy of queenly beauty, falls desperately in love with the Tish or man of the upper earth, but fails to win his love. The love passages between the enamoured Gy, and coy Tish are well worked out, but always after the model which every Benedict is so well acquainted with. Let any elderly gentleman who happens to read this notice of the " Coming Race," look on the nice old lady that sits in her arm chair by the fire in his sitting-room on a winter's evening, let him think of the time when the down on that lady's cheek outvied the blushing peach, and the loving look of her eye was to him an earthly heaven—and then let him call to mind all the unsufferable nonsense that he poured into her willing ear during moonlight rambles, and he will be master of all that the Gy could say to the Tish in her wondrous love-making. The only difference observable between human and subterranean love, as depicted by our author, consists in the superior purity and unselfishness of the latter. The Gy-ei, it should be borne in mind, have the privilege which the ladies of our race enjoy in leap year only, that is, of taking the initiative in matrimonial arrangements, and they marry for three years, although marriages are seldom dissolved. At the end of ten years, an An or male can take a second wife, and then the first wife may retire if she pleases as a matter of right. The whole race wear wings, but the wings of the Gy-ei, which are much larger than those of the Ans or male Vril-ya, are dropped entirely at marriage. The Gy-ei are larger, stronger, and cleverer than the males, yet when they love it is their pleasure to obey.
A few extracts will show the style in which our author shoots folly, not exactly as it flies, but when it has settled, and become part of our boasted civilization. Our readers in perusing the following passage will doubtless be reminded of Darwinism, the wranglings of our sages and saints, and many other characteristics of the world and age we live in. . . . .
14 October 1871


At a conference with scientists at St. Leonards, on the subject of the vast advances made on the useful development of electricity in modern times (says an English paper) the vicar of Norton Cuckney brought before them the singular forecast the late Lord Lytton had made in his novel of the "Coming Race," representing a subterranean world, lit up by electric fire, inhabited by a race vastly superior to man in beauty and power, through the agency of electricity, one day or other to emerge and sweep the present occupants of the platform of the earth away and bring about a new order of things. In the course of the discussion it was suggested that if the "Coming Race" came up a little later, in time we should, perhaps, be able to compete with them, and bring them to reasonable terms. The vicar mentioned that in a correspondence with Lord Lytton previous to his death he said that the title—" Coming Race "—was one of extensive meaning; that the English were in one sense, by almost universal dominion by sea and land, the competitors for the title; also that there was a vast scriptural meaning involved in the idea of a future possession of this world by beings of vast power in glorified humanity as joint heirs with Christ of the dominion of a renovated world, in which Lord Lytton acknowledged he also agreed.

29 April 1882

The death of Lord Lytton is the occasion of biographical and critical notices of the deceased novelist, and in these it is now mentioned for the first time that he was the author of the singular, book, " The Coming Race," which came before the public anonymously a short time ago. A good deal of guessing then took place as to its authorship, but suspicion was never directed to Lord Lytton.
 27 March 1873

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