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Cui Bono?

From: The Crack Of Doom

When I arrived at the Society's rooms on the evening for which I had an
invitation, I found them pleasantly lighted. The various scientific
diagrams and instruments had been removed, and comfortable arm-chairs
were arranged so that a free passage was available, not merely to each
row, but to each chair. The place was full when I entered, and soon
afterwards the door was closed and locked. Natalie Brande and Edith
Metford were seated beside each other. An empty chair was on Miss
Metford's right. She saw me standing at the door and nodded toward the
empty seat which she had reserved for me. When I reached it she made a
movement as if to forestall me and leave me the middle chair. I
deprecated this by a look which was intentionally so severe that she
described it later as a malignant scowl.

I could not at the moment seat myself voluntarily beside Natalie Brande
with the exact and final knowledge which I had learnt at Scotland Yard
only one week old. I could not do it just then, although I did not mean
to draw back from what I had undertaken--to stand by her, innocent or
guilty. But I must have time to become accustomed to the sensation which
followed this knowledge. Miss Metford's fugitive attempts at
conversation pending the commencement of the lecture were disagreeable
to me.

There was a little stir on the platform. The chairman, in a few words,
announced Herbert Brande. "This is the first public lecture," he said,
"which has been given since the formation of the Society, and in
consequence of the fact that a number of people not scientifically
educated are present, the lecturer will avoid the more esoteric phases
of his subject, which would otherwise present themselves in his
treatment of it, and confine himself to the commonplaces of scientific
insight. The title of the lecture is identical with that of our
Society--Cui Bono?"

Brande came forward unostentatiously and placed a roll of paper on the
reading-desk. I have copied the extracts which follow from this
manuscript. The whole essay, indeed, remains with me intact, but it is
too long--and it would be immaterial--to reproduce it all in this
narrative. I cannot hope either to reproduce the weird impressiveness of
the lecturer's personality, his hold over his audience, or my own
emotions in listening to this man--whom I had proved, not only from his
own confession, but by the strongest collateral evidence, to be a
callous and relentless murderer--to hear him glide with sonorous voice
and graceful gesture from point to point in his logical and terrible
indictment of suffering!--the futility of it, both in itself and that by
which it was administered! No one could know Brande without finding
interest, if not pleasure, in his many chance expressions full of
curious and mysterious thought. I had often listened to his
extemporaneous brain pictures, as the reader knows, but I had never
before heard him deliberately formulate a planned-out system of thought.
And such a system! This is the gospel according to Brande.

"In the verbiage of primitive optimism a misleading limitation is placed
on the significance of the word Nature and its inflections. And the
misconception of the meaning of an important word is as certain to lead
to an inaccurate concept as is the misstatement of a premise to precede
a false conclusion. For instance, in the aphorism, variously rendered,
'what is natural is right,' there is an excellent illustration of the
misapplication of the word 'natural.' If the saying means that what is
natural is just and wise, it might as well run 'what is natural is
wrong,' injustice and unwisdom being as natural, i.e., a part of
Nature, as justice and wisdom. Morbidity and immorality are as natural
as health and purity. Not more so, but not less so. That 'Nature is made
better by no mean but Nature makes that mean,' is true enough. It is
inevitably true. The question remains, in making that mean, has she
really made anything that tends toward the final achievement of
universal happiness? I say she has not.

"The misuse of a word, it may be argued, could not prove a serious
obstacle to the growth of knowledge, and might be even interesting to
the student of etymology. But behind the misuse of the word 'natural'
there is a serious confusion of thought which must be clarified before
the mass of human intelligence can arrive at a just appreciation of the
verities which surround human existence, and explain it. To this end it
is necessary to get rid of the archaic idea of Nature as a paternal,
providential, and beneficent protector, a successor to the 'special
providence,' and to know the true Nature, bond-slave as she is of her
own eternal persistence of force; that sole primary principle of which
all other principles are only correlatives; of which the existence of
matter is but a cognisable evidence.

"The optimist notion, therefore, that Nature is an all-wise designer, in
whose work order, system, wisdom, and beauty are prominent, does not
fare well when placed under the microscope of scientific research.


"There is no order in Nature. Her armies are but seething mobs of
rioters, destroying everything they can lay hands on.


"She has no system, unless it be a reductio ad absurdum, which only
blunders on the right way after fruitlessly trying every other
conceivable path. She is not wise. She never fills a pail but she spills
a hogshead. All her works are not beautiful. She never makes a
masterpiece but she smashes a million 'wasters' without a care. The
theory of evolution--her gospel--reeks with ruffianism, nature-patented
and promoted. The whole scheme of the universe, all material existence
as it is popularly known, is founded upon and begotten of a system of
everlasting suffering as hideous as the fantastic nightmares of
religious maniacs. The Spanish Inquisitors have been regarded as the
most unnatural monsters who ever disgraced the history of mankind. Yet
the atrocities of the Inquisitors, like the battlefields of Napoleon and
other heroes, were not only natural, but they have their prototypes in
every cubic inch of stagnant water, or ounce of diseased tissue. And
stagnant water is as natural as sterilised water; and diseased tissue is
as natural as healthy tissue. Wholesale murder is Nature's first law.
She creates only to kill, and applies the rule as remorselessly to the
units in a star-drift as to the tadpoles in a horse-pond.

"It seems a far cry from a star-drift to a horse-pond. It is so in
distance and magnitude. It is not in the matter of constituents. In
ultimate composition they are identical. The great nebula in Andromeda
is an aggregation of atoms, and so is the river Thames. The only
difference between them is the difference in the arrangement and
incidence of these atoms and in the molecular motion of which they are
the first but not the final cause. In a pint of Thames water, we know
that there is bound up a latent force beside which steam and
electricity are powerless in comparison. To release that force it is
only necessary to apply the sympathetic key; just as the heated point of
a needle will explode a mine of gunpowder and lay a city in ashes. That
force is asleep. The atoms which could give it reality are at rest, or,
at least, in a condition of quasi-rest. But in the stupendous mass of
incandescent gas which constitutes the nebula of Andromeda, every atom
is madly seeking rest and finding none; whirling in raging haste,
battling with every other atom in its field of motion, impinging upon
others and influencing them, being impinged upon and influenced by them.
That awful cauldron exemplifies admirably the method of progress
stimulated by suffering. It is the embryo of a new Sun and his planets.
After many million years of molecular agony, when his season of fission
had come, he will rend huge fragments from his mass and hurl them
helpless into space, there to grow into his satellites. In their turn
they may reproduce themselves in like manner before their true planetary
life begins, in which they shall revolve around their parent as solid
spheres. Follow them further and learn how beneficent Nature deals with

"After the lapse of time-periods which man may calculate in figures, but
of which his finite mind cannot form even a true symbolic conception,
the outer skin of the planet cools--rests. Internal troubles prevail for
longer periods still; and these, in their unsupportable agony, bend and
burst the solid strata overlying; vomit fire through their self-made
blow-holes, rear mountains from the depths of the sea, then dash them in

"Time strides on austere.

"The globe still cools. Life appears upon it. Then begins anew the old
strife, but under conditions far more dreadful, for though it be founded
on atomic consciousness, the central consciousness of the heterogeneous
aggregation of atoms becomes immeasurably more sentient and susceptible
with every step it takes from homogenesis. This internecine war must
continue while any creature great or small shall remain alive upon the
world that bore it.

"By slow degrees the mighty milestones in the protoplasmic march are
passed. Plants and animals are now busy, murdering and devouring each
other--the strong everywhere destroying the weak. New types appear. Old
types disappear. Types possessing the greatest capacity for murder
progress most rapidly, and those with the least recede and determine.
The neolithic man succeeds the palaeolithic man, and sharpens the stone
axe. Then to increase their power for destruction, men find it better to
hunt in packs. Communities appear. Soon each community discovers that
its own advantage is furthered by confining its killing, in the main, to
the members of neighbouring communities. Nations early make the same
discovery. And at last, as with ourselves, there is established a race
with conscience enough to know that it is vile, and intelligence enough
to know that it is insignificant.[1] But what profits this? In the
fulness of its time the race shall die. Man will go down into the pit,
and all his thoughts will perish. The uneasy consciousness which, in
this obscure corner, has for a brief space broken the silence of the
Universe, will be at rest. Matter will know itself no longer. Life and
death and love, stronger than death, will be as though they never had
been. Nor will anything that is be better or be worse for all that
the labour, genius, devotion, and suffering of man have striven through
countless generations to effect.

[1] From this sentence to the end of the paragraph Brande draws
freely, for the purpose of his own argument, on Mr. Balfour's
"Naturalism and Ethics."--Ed.

"The roaring loom of Time weaves on. The globe cools out. Life
mercifully ceases from upon its surface. The atmosphere and water
disappear. It rests. It is dead.

"But for its vicarious service in influencing more youthful planets
within its reach, that dead world might as well be loosed at once from
its gravitation cable and be turned adrift into space. Its time has not
yet come. It will not come until the great central sun of the system to
which it belongs has passed laboriously through all his stages of
stellar life and died out also. Then when that dead sun, according to
the impact theory, blunders across the path of another sun, dead and
blind like himself, its time will come. The result of that impact will
be a new star nebula, with all its weary history before it; a history of
suffering, in which a million years will not be long enough to write a
single page.

"Here we have a scientific parallel to the hell of superstition which
may account for the instinctive origin of the smoking flax and the fire
which shall never be quenched. We know that the atoms of which the
human body is built up are atoms of matter. It follows that every atom
in every living body will be present in some form at that final impact
in which the solar system will be ended in a blazing whirlwind which
will melt the earth with its fervent heat. There is not a molecule or
cell in any creature alive this day which will not in its ultimate
constituents endure the long agony, lasting countless aeons of centuries,
wherein the solid mass of this great globe will be represented by a rush
of incandescent gas, stupendous in itself, but trivial in comparison
with the hurricane of flame in which it will be swallowed up and lost.

"And when from that hell a new star emerges, and new planets in their
season are born of him, and he and they repeat, as they must repeat, the
ceaseless, changeless, remorseless story of the universe, every atom in
this earth will take its place, and fill again functions identical with
those which it, or its fellow, fills now. Life will reappear, develop,
determine, to be renewed again as before. And so on for ever.

"Nature has known no rest. From the beginning--which never was--she has
been building up only to tear down again. She has been fabricating
pretty toys and trinkets, that cost her many a thousand years to forge,
only to break them in pieces for her sport. With infinite painstaking
she has manufactured man only to torture him with mean miseries in the
embryonic stages of his race, and in his higher development to madden
him with intellectual puzzles. Thus it will be unto the end--which never
shall be. For there is neither beginning nor end to her unvarying
cycles. Whether the secular optimist be successful or unsuccessful in
realising his paltry span of terrestrial paradise, whether the paeans he
sings about it are prophetic dithyrambs or misleading myths, no
Christian man need fear for his own immortality. That is well assured.
In some form he will surely be raised from the dead. In some shape he
will live again. But, Cui bono?"

Next: Force A Remedy

Previous: The Woking Mystery

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