The Discovery Of The Food

: The Food Of The Gods And How It Came To Earth


In the middle years of the nineteenth century there first became

abundant in this strange world of ours a class of men, men tending for

the most part to become elderly, who are called, and who are very

properly called, but who dislike extremely to be called--"Scientists."

They dislike that word so much that from the columns of Nature, which

was from the first their distinctive and characteristic paper,
it is as

carefully excluded as if it were--that other word which is the basis of

all really bad language in this country. But the Great Public and its

Press know better, and "Scientists" they are, and when they emerge to

any sort of publicity, "distinguished scientists" and "eminent

scientists" and "well-known scientists" is the very least we call them.

Certainly both Mr. Bensington and Professor Redwood quite merited any of

these terms long before they came upon the marvellous discovery of which

this story tells. Mr. Bensington was a Fellow of the Royal Society and

a former president of the Chemical Society, and Professor Redwood was

Professor of Physiology in the Bond Street College of the London

University, and he had been grossly libelled by the anti-vivisectionists

time after time. And they had led lives of academic distinction from

their very earliest youth.

They were of course quite undistinguished looking men, as indeed all

true Scientists are. There is more personal distinction about the

mildest-mannered actor alive than there is about the entire Royal

Society. Mr. Bensington was short and very, very bald, and he stooped

slightly; he wore gold-rimmed spectacles and cloth boots that were

abundantly cut open because of his numerous corns, and Professor Redwood

was entirely ordinary in his appearance. Until they happened upon the

Food of the Gods (as I must insist upon calling it) they led lives of

such eminent and studious obscurity that it is hard to find anything

whatever to tell the reader about them.

Mr. Bensington won his spurs (if one may use such an expression of a

gentleman in boots of slashed cloth) by his splendid researches upon the

More Toxic Alkaloids, and Professor Redwood rose to eminence--I do not

clearly remember how he rose to eminence! I know he was very eminent,

and that's all. Things of this sort grow. I fancy it was a voluminous

work on Reaction Times with numerous plates of sphygmograph tracings (I

write subject to correction) and an admirable new terminology, that did

the thing for him.

The general public saw little or nothing of either of these gentlemen.

Sometimes at places like the Royal Institution and the Society of Arts

it did in a sort of way see Mr. Bensington, or at least his blushing

baldness and something of his collar and coat, and hear fragments of a

lecture or paper that he imagined himself to be reading audibly; and

once I remember--one midday in the vanished past--when the British

Association was at Dover, coming on Section C or D, or some such letter,

which had taken up its quarters in a public-house, and following two,

serious-looking ladies with paper parcels, out of mere curiosity,

through a door labelled "Billiards" and "Pool" into a scandalous

darkness, broken only by a magic-lantern circle of Redwood's tracings.

I watched the lantern slides come and go, and listened to a voice (I

forget what it was saying) which I believe was the voice of Professor

Redwood, and there was a sizzling from the lantern and another sound

that kept me there, still out of curiosity, until the lights were

unexpectedly turned up. And then I perceived that this sound was the

sound of the munching of buns and sandwiches and things that the

assembled British Associates had come there to eat under cover of the

magic-lantern darkness.

And Redwood I remember went on talking all the time the lights were up

and dabbing at the place where his diagram ought to have been visible on

the screen--and so it was again so soon as the darkness was restored. I

remember him then as a most ordinary, slightly nervous-looking dark man,

with an air of being preoccupied with something else, and doing what he

was doing just then under an unaccountable sense of duty.

I heard Bensington also once--in the old days--at an educational

conference in Bloomsbury. Like most eminent chemists and botanists, Mr.

Bensington was very authoritative upon teaching--though I am certain he

would have been scared out of his wits by an average Board School class

in half-an-hour--and so far as I can remember now, he was propounding an

improvement of Professor Armstrong's Heuristic method, whereby at the

cost of three or four hundred pounds' worth of apparatus, a total

neglect of all other studies and the undivided attention of a teacher of

exceptional gifts, an average child might with a peculiar sort of thumby

thoroughness learn in the course of ten or twelve years almost as much

chemistry as one could get in one of those objectionable shilling

text-books that were then so common....

Quite ordinary persons you perceive, both of them, outside their

science. Or if anything on the unpractical side of ordinary. And that

you will find is the case with "scientists" as a class all the world

over. What there is great of them is an annoyance to their fellow

scientists and a mystery to the general public, and what is not is


There is no doubt about what is not great, no race of men have such

obvious littlenesses. They live in a narrow world so far as their human

intercourse goes; their researches involve infinite attention and an

almost monastic seclusion; and what is left over is not very much. To

witness some queer, shy, misshapen, greyheaded, self-important, little

discoverer of great discoveries, ridiculously adorned with the wide

ribbon of some order of chivalry and holding a reception of his

fellow-men, or to read the anguish of Nature at the "neglect of

science" when the angel of the birthday honours passes the Royal Society

by, or to listen to one indefatigable lichenologist commenting on the

work of another indefatigable lichenologist, such things force one to

realise the unfaltering littleness of men.

And withal the reef of Science that these little "scientists" built and

are yet building is so wonderful, so portentous, so full of mysterious

half-shapen promises for the mighty future of man! They do not seem to

realise the things they are doing! No doubt long ago even Mr.

Bensington, when he chose this calling, when he consecrated his life to

the alkaloids and their kindred compounds, had some inkling of the

vision,--more than an inkling. Without some such inspiration, for such

glories and positions only as a "scientist" may expect, what young man

would have given his life to such work, as young men do? No, they must

have seen the glory, they must have had the vision, but so near that it

has blinded them. The splendour has blinded them, mercifully, so that

for the rest of their lives they can hold the lights of knowledge in

comfort--that we may see!

And perhaps it accounts for Redwood's touch of preoccupation,

that--there can be no doubt of it now--he among his fellows was

different, he was different inasmuch as something of the vision still

lingered in his eyes.


The Food of the Gods I call it, this substance that Mr. Bensington and

Professor Redwood made between them; and having regard now to what it

has already done and all that it is certainly going to do, there is

surely no exaggeration in the name. So I shall continue to call it

therefore throughout my story. But Mr. Bensington would no more have

called it that in cold blood than he would have gone out from his flat

in Sloane Street clad in regal scarlet and a wreath of laurel. The

phrase was a mere first cry of astonishment from him. He called it the

Food of the Gods, in his enthusiasm and for an hour or so at the most

altogether. After that he decided he was being absurd. When he first

thought of the thing he saw, as it were, a vista of enormous

possibilities--literally enormous possibilities; but upon this dazzling

vista, after one stare of amazement, he resolutely shut his eyes, even

as a conscientious "scientist" should. After that, the Food of the Gods

sounded blatant to the pitch of indecency. He was surprised he had used

the expression. Yet for all that something of that clear-eyed moment

hung about him and broke out ever and again....

"Really, you know," he said, rubbing his hands together and laughing

nervously, "it has more than a theoretical interest.

"For example," he confided, bringing his face close to the Professor's

and dropping to an undertone, "it would perhaps, if suitably handled,


"Precisely," he said, walking away,--"as a Food. Or at least a food


"Assuming of course that it is palatable. A thing we cannot know till we

have prepared it."

He turned upon the hearthrug, and studied the carefully designed slits

upon his cloth shoes.

"Name?" he said, looking up in response to an inquiry. "For my part I

incline to the good old classical allusion. It--it makes Science res--.

Gives it a touch of old-fashioned dignity. I have been thinking ... I

don't know if you will think it absurd of me.... A little fancy is

surely occasionally permissible.... Herakleophorbia. Eh? The nutrition

of a possible Hercules? You know it might ...

"Of course if you think not--"

Redwood reflected with his eyes on the fire and made no objection.

"You think it would do?"

Redwood moved his head gravely.

"It might be Titanophorbia, you know. Food of Titans.... You prefer the


"You're quite sure you don't think it a little too--"


"Ah! I'm glad."

And so they called it Herakleophorbia throughout their investigations,

and in their report,--the report that was never published, because of

the unexpected developments that upset all their arrangements,--it is

invariably written in that way. There were three kindred substances

prepared before they hit on the one their speculations had foretolds and

these they spoke of as Herakleophorbia I, Herakleophorbia II, and

Herakleophorbia III. It is Herakleophorbia IV. which I--insisting upon

Bensington's original name--call here the Food of the Gods.


The idea was Mr. Bensington's. But as it was suggested to him by one of

Professor Redwood's contributions to the Philosophical Transactions, he

very properly consulted that gentleman before he carried it further.

Besides which it was, as a research, a physiological, quite as much as a

chemical inquiry.

Professor Redwood was one of those scientific men who are addicted to

tracings and curves. You are familiar--if you are at all the sort of

reader I like--with the sort of scientific paper I mean. It is a paper

you cannot make head nor tail of, and at the end come five or six long

folded diagrams that open out and show peculiar zigzag tracings, flashes

of lightning overdone, or sinuous inexplicable things called "smoothed

curves" set up on ordinates and rooting in abscissae--and things like

that. You puzzle over the thing for a long time and end with the

suspicion that not only do you not understand it but that the author

does not understand it either. But really you know many of these

scientific people understand the meaning of their own papers quite well:

it is simply a defect of expression that raises the obstacle between us.

I am inclined to think that Redwood thought in tracings and curves. And

after his monumental work upon Reaction Times (the unscientific reader

is exhorted to stick to it for a little bit longer and everything will

be as clear as daylight) Redwood began to turn out smoothed curves and

sphygmographeries upon Growth, and it was one of his papers upon Growth

that really gave Mr. Bensington his idea.

Redwood, you know, had been measuring growing things of all sorts,

kittens, puppies, sunflowers, mushrooms, bean plants, and (until his

wife put a stop to it) his baby, and he showed that growth went out not

at a regular pace, or, as he put it, so,

but with bursts and intermissions of this sort.

and that apparently nothing grew regularly and steadily, and so far as

he could make out nothing could grow regularly and steadily: it was as

if every living thing had just to accumulate force to grow, grew with

vigour only for a time, and then had to wait for a space before it could

go on growing again. And in the muffled and highly technical language of

the really careful "scientist," Redwood suggested that the process of

growth probably demanded the presence of a considerable quantity of some

necessary substance in the blood that was only formed very slowly, and

that when this substance was used up by growth, it was only very slowly

replaced, and that meanwhile the organism had to mark time. He compared

his unknown substance to oil in machinery. A growing animal was rather

like an engine, he suggested, that can move a certain distance and must

then be oiled before it can run again. ("But why shouldn't one oil the

engine from without?" said Mr. Bensington, when he read the paper.) And

all this, said Redwood, with the delightful nervous inconsecutiveness of

his class, might very probably be found to throw a light upon the

mystery of certain of the ductless glands. As though they had anything

to do with it at all!

In a subsequent communication Redwood went further. He gave a perfect

Brock's benefit of diagrams--exactly like rocket trajectories they were;

and the gist of it--so far as it had any gist--was that the blood of

puppies and kittens and the sap of sunflowers and the juice of mushrooms

in what he called the "growing phase" differed in the proportion of

certain elements from their blood and sap on the days when they were not

particularly growing.

And when Mr. Bensington, after holding the diagrams sideways and upside

down, began to see what this difference was, a great amazement came upon

him. Because, you see, the difference might probably be due to the

presence of just the very substance he had recently been trying to

isolate in his researches upon such alkaloids as are most stimulating to

the nervous system. He put down Redwood's paper on the patent

reading-desk that swung inconveniently from his arm-chair, took off his

gold-rimmed spectacles, breathed on them and wiped them very carefully.

"By Jove!" said Mr. Bensington.

Then replacing his spectacles again he turned to the patent

reading-desk, which immediately, as his elbow came against its arm, gave

a coquettish squeak and deposited the paper, with all its diagrams in a

dispersed and crumpled state, on the floor. "By Jove!" said Mr.

Bensington, straining his stomach over the armchair with a patient

disregard of the habits of this convenience, and then, finding the

pamphlet still out of reach, he went down on all fours in pursuit. It

was on the floor that the idea of calling it the Food of the Gods came

to him....

For you see, if he was right and Redwood was right, then by injecting or

administering this new substance of his in food, he would do away with

the "resting phase," and instead of growth going on in this fashion,


The night after his conversation with Redwood Mr. Bensington could

scarcely sleep a wink. He did seem once to get into a sort of doze, but

it was only for a moment, and then he dreamt he had dug a deep hole into

the earth and poured in tons and tons of the Food of the Gods, and the

earth was swelling and swelling, and all the boundaries of the countries

were bursting, and the Royal Geographical Society was all at work like

one great guild of tailors letting out the equator....

That of course was a ridiculous dream, but it shows the state of mental

excitement into which Mr. Bensington got and the real value he attached

to his idea, much better than any of the things he said or did when he

was awake and on his guard. Or I should not have mentioned it, because

as a general rule I do not think it is at all interesting for people to

tell each other about their dreams.

By a singular coincidence Redwood also had a dream that night, and his

dream was this:--

abyss. And he (Redwood) was standing on a planet before a sort of black

platform lecturing about the new sort of growth that was now possible,

to the More than Royal Institution of Primordial Forces--forces which

had always previously, even in the growth of races, empires, planetary

systems, and worlds, gone so:--

And even in some cases so:--

And he was explaining to them quite lucidly and convincingly that these

slow, these even retrogressive methods would be very speedily quite put

out of fashion by his discovery.

Ridiculous of course! But that too shows--

That either dream is to be regarded as in any way significant or

prophetic beyond what I have categorically said, I do not for one moment