The Coming Race

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The Coming Race is a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, published anonymously in 1871. It has also been published as Vril, the Power of the Coming Race. Some theosophists, notably Helena Blavatsky, William Scott-Elliot, and Rudolf Steiner, accepted the book as based on occult truth, in part.

The Coming Race (1871)


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  • I am a native of _____, in the United States of America... My father died shortly after I was twenty-one; and being left well off, and having a taste for travel and adventure, I resigned, for a time, all pursuit of the almighty dollar, and became a desultory wanderer over the face of the earth... In the year 18__, happening to be in _____, I was invited by a professional engineer, with whom I had made acquaintance, to visit the recesses of the ________ mine, upon which he was employed... (Chapter I)
  • The reader will understand, ere he close this narrative, my reason for concealing all clue to the district of which I write, and will perhaps thank me for refraining from any description that may tend to its discovery. (Chapter I)
  • my infinite surprise, streamed upward a steady brilliant light... As I drew nearer and nearer to the light, the chasm became wider, and at last I saw, to my unspeakable amaze, a broad level road at the bottom of the abyss, illumined as far as the eye could reach by what seemed artificial gas lamps placed at regular intervals, as in the thoroughfare of a great city; and I heard confusedly at a distance a hum as of human voices... Whose could be those voices? What human hands could have levelled that road and marshalled those lamps? (Chapter II)
  • The world without a sun was bright and warm as an Italian landscape at noon, but the air less oppressive, the heat softer. Nor was the scene before me void of signs of habitation. (Chapter III)
  • Its chief covering seemed to me to be composed of large wings folded over its breast and reaching to its knees; the rest of its attire was composed of an under tunic and leggings of some thin fibrous material. It wore on its head a kind of tiara that shone with jewels, and carried in its right hand a slender staff of bright metal like polished steel.
  • But the face! it was that which inspired my awe and my terror... The face was beardless; but a nameless something in the aspect, tranquil though the expression, and beauteous though the features, roused that instinct of danger which the sight of a tiger or serpent arouses. (Chapter IV)
  • A voice accosted me — a very quiet and very musical key of voice—in a language of which I could not understand a word, but it served to dispel my fear. I uncovered my face and looked up.
  • The stranger... surveyed me with an eye that seemed to read to the very depths of my heart. He then placed his left hand on my forehead, and with the staff in his right, gently touched my shoulder. The effect of this double contact was magical. In place of my former terror there passed into me a sense of contentment, of joy, of confidence in myself and in the being before me. (Chapter V)
  • I recognised at once the difference between the two sexes, though the two females were of taller stature and ampler proportions than the males; and their countenances, if still more symmetrical in outline and contour, were devoid of the softness and timidity of expression which give charm to the face of woman as seen on the earth above. The wife wore no wings, the daughter wore wings longer than those of the males. (Chapter V)
  • My guide uttered a few words, on which all the persons seated rose, and with that peculiar mildness of look and manner which I have before noticed, and which is, in truth, the common attribute of this formidable race, they saluted me according to their fashion, which consists in laying the right hand very gently on the head and uttering a soft sibilant monosyllable—S.Si, equivalent to “Welcome.” (Chapter V)
  • Yet I was the first creature of that variety of the human race to which I belong that they had ever beheld, and was consequently regarded by them as a most curious and abnormal phenomenon. (Chapter V)
  • All rudeness is unknown to this people, and the youngest child is taught to despise any vehement emotional demonstration. (Chapter V)
  • “For many generations,” said my host, with a sort of contempt and horror, “these primitive forefathers are said to have degraded their rank and shortened their lives by eating the flesh of animals, many varieties of which had, like themselves, escaped the Deluge, and sought shelter in the hollows of the earth; other animals, supposed to be unknown to the upper world, those hollows themselves produced.” (Chapter IX)
  • In prayer they address Him by a name which they deem too sacred to confide to a stranger, and I know it not. In conversation they generally use a periphrastic epithet, such as the All-Good. (Chapter XII)
  • But when Democracy... degenerates from popular ignorance into that popular passion or ferocity which precedes its decease, as (to cite illustrations from the upper world) during the French Reign of Terror, or for the fifty years of the Roman Republic preceding the ascendancy of Augustus, their name for that state of things is Glek-Nas. Ek is strife—Glek, the universal strife. (Chapter XII)
  • Pah-bodh (literally stuff and nonsense-knowledge) is their term for futile and false philosophy, and applied to a species of metaphysical or speculative ratiocination formerly in vogue, which consisted in making inquiries that could not be answered, and were not worth making (Chapter XII)
  • When what we should term the historical age emerged from the twilight of tradition, the Ana were already established in different communities, and had attained to a degree of civilisation very analogous to that which the more advanced nations above the earth now enjoy. They were familiar with most of our mechanical inventions, including the application of steam as well as gas. The communities were in fierce competition with each other. (Ch IX)
  • They had their rich and their poor; they had orators and conquerors; they made war either for a domain or an idea. Though the various states acknowledged various forms of government, free institutions were beginning to preponderate; popular assemblies increased in power; republics soon became general; the democracy to which the most enlightened European politicians look forward as the extreme goal of political advancement, and which still prevailed among other subterranean races, whom they despised as barbarians...(Ch IX)
  • This phase of society... was finally brought to a close, at least among the nobler and more intellectual populations, 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 or inanimate. It can destroy like the flash of lightning; yet, differently applied, it can replenish or invigorate life, heal, and preserve, and on it they chiefly rely for the cure of disease, or rather for enabling the physical organisation to re-establish the due equilibrium of its natural powers, and thereby to cure itself.(Ch IX)
  • The alleged discovery of the means to direct the more terrible force of vril were chiefly remarkable in their influence upon social polity... war between the vril-discoverers ceased, for they brought the art of destruction to such perfection as to annul all superiority in numbers, discipline, or military skill. The fire lodged in the hollow of a rod directed by the hand of a child could shatter the strongest fortress, or cleave its burning way from the van to the 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. (Ch IX)
  • All notions of government by force gradually vanished from political systems and forms of law.... here was no longer either the necessity of self-preservation or the pride of aggrandisement to make one state desire to preponderate in population over another.
  • The Vril-discoverers thus, in the course of a few generations, peacefully split into communities of moderate size... Each tribe occupied a territory sufficient for all its wants, and at stated periods the surplus population departed to seek a realm of its own. There appeared no necessity for any arbitrary selection of these emigrants; there was always a sufficient number who volunteered to depart.
  • These subdivided states... all appertained to one vast general family. They spoke the same language, though the dialects might slightly differ. They intermarried... maintained the same general laws and customs; and so important a bond between these several communities was the knowledge of vril and the practice of its agencies, that the word A-Vril was synonymous with civilisation; and Vril-ya, signifying “The Civilised Nations,” was the common name by which the communities employing the uses of vril distinguished themselves from such of the Ana as were yet in a state of barbarism.
  • The government...was based upon a principle recognised in theory, though little carried out in practice... that the object of all systems of philosophical thought tends to the attainment of unity, or the ascent through all intervening labyrinths to the simplicity of a single first cause or principle.
  • Even republican writers have agreed that a benevolent autocracy would insure the best administration, if there were any guarantees for its continuance, or against its gradual abuse of the powers accorded to it. This singular community elected therefore a single supreme magistrate... held his office nominally for life, but he could seldom be induced to retain it after the first approach of old age. There was indeed in this society nothing to induce any of its members to covet the cares of office. No honours, no insignia of higher rank, were assigned to it. The supreme magistrate was not distinguished from the rest by superior habitation or revenue. (Ch IX)
  • There were no professional lawyers; and indeed their laws were but amicable conventions, for there was no power to enforce laws against an offender who carried in his staff the power to destroy his judges. There were customs and regulations to compliance with which, for several ages, the people had tacitly habituated themselves; or if in any instance an individual felt such compliance hard, he quitted the community and went elsewhere. (Ch IX)
  • There was...much the same compact...“Stay or go, according as our habits and regulations suit or displease you.” But though there were no laws such as we call laws, no race above ground is so law-observing. Obedience to the rule adopted by the community has become as much an instinct as if it were implanted by nature. (Ch IX)
  • They have a proverb, the pithiness of which is much lost in this paraphrase, “No happiness without order, no order without authority, no authority without unity.” (Ch IX)
  • Poverty among the Ana is as unknown as crime; not that property is held in common, or that all are equals in the extent of their possessions or the size and luxury of their habitations: but there being no difference of rank or position between the grades of wealth or the choice of occupations, each pursues his own inclinations without creating envy or vying; some like a modest, some a more splendid kind of life; each makes himself happy in his own way. Owing to this absence of competition, and the limit placed on the population, it is difficult for a family to fall into distress; there are no hazardous speculations, no emulators striving for superior wealth and rank. (Ch IX)
  • All the members of the community considered themselves as brothers of one affectionate and united family. (Ch IX)
  • The chief care of the supreme magistrate was to communicate with certain active departments charged with the administration of special details. The most important and essential of such details was that connected with the due provision of light... Another department, which might be called the foreign, communicated with the neighbouring kindred states, principally for the purpose of ascertaining all new inventions; and to a third department all such inventions and improvements in machinery were committed for trial.
  • The College of Sages — a college especially favoured by such of the Ana as were widowed and childless, and by the young unmarried females, amongst whom Zee was the most active, and... among the more renowned or distinguished. It is by the female Professors of this College that those studies which are deemed of least use in practical life — as purely speculative philosophy, the history of remote periods, and such sciences as entomology, conchology, &c.—are the more diligently cultivated. (Ch IX)
  • The researches of the sages are not confined to such subtle or elegant studies. They comprise various others more important, and especially the properties of vril, to the perception of which their finer nervous organisation renders the female Professors eminently keen. (Ch IX)
  • There are a few other departments of minor consequence, but all are carried on so noiselessly, and quietly that the evidence of a government seems to vanish altogether, and social order to be as regular and unobtrusive as if it were a law of nature. (Ch IX)
  • Machinery is employed to an inconceivable extent in all the operations of labour within and without doors, and it is the unceasing object of the department charged with its administration to extend its efficiency. (Ch IX)
  • There is no class of labourers or servants, but all who are required to assist or control the machinery are found in the children, from the time they leave the care of their mothers to the marriageable age, which they place at sixteen for the Gy-ei (the females), twenty for the Ana (the males). (Ch IX)
  • These children are formed into bands and sections under their own chiefs, each following the pursuits in which he is most pleased, or for which he feels himself most fitted. Some take to handicrafts, some to agriculture, some to household work, and some to the only services of danger to which the population is exposed...
  • In their own way they are the most luxurious of people, but all their luxuries are innocent. They may be said to dwell in an atmosphere of music and fragrance. Every room has its mechanical contrivances for melodious sounds, usually tuned down to soft-murmured notes, which seem like sweet whispers from invisible spirits. They are too accustomed to these gentle sounds to find them a hindrance to conversation, nor, when alone, to reflection. But they have a notion that to breathe an air filled with continuous melody and perfume has necessarily an effect at once soothing and elevating upon the formation of character and the habits of thought. (Ch. XV)
  • Though so temperate, and with total abstinence from other animal food than milk, and from all intoxicating drinks, they are delicate and dainty to an extreme in food and beverage; and in all their sports even the old exhibit a childlike gaiety. (Ch. XV)
  • Happiness is the end at which they aim, not as the excitement of a moment, but as the prevailing condition of the entire existence; and regard for the happiness of each other is evinced by the exquisite amenity of their manners. (Ch. XV)
  • I was too much in awe of the thews and the learning of the young Gy to hazard the risk of arguing with her. I had read somewhere in my schoolboy days that a wise man, disputing with a Roman Emperor, suddenly drew in his horns; and when the emperor asked him whether he had nothing further to say on his side of the question, replied, “Nay, Caesar, there is no arguing against a reasoner who commands ten legions.” (Ch. XVI)
  • I had no doubt that Zee could have brained all the Fellows of the Royal Society, one after the other, with a blow of her fist. Every sensible man knows that it is useless to argue with any ordinary female upon matters he comprehends; but to argue with a Gy seven feet high upon the mysteries of vril, —as well argue in a desert, and with a simoon! (Ch. XVI)
  • They are not tormented by our avarice or our ambition; they appear perfectly indifferent even to the desire of fame; they are capable of great affection, but their love shows itself in a tender and cheerful complaisance, and, while forming their happiness, seems rarely, if ever, to constitute their woe. As the Gy is sure only to marry where she herself fixes her choice, and as here, not less than above ground, it is the female on whom the happiness of home depends; so the Gy, having chosen the mate she prefers to all others, is lenient to his faults, consults his humours, and does her best to secure his attachment. (Ch. XVII)
  • The death of a beloved one is of course with them, as with us, a cause for sorrow; but not only is death with them so much more rare before that age in which it becomes a release, but when it does occur the survivor takes much more consolation than, I am afraid, the generality of us do, in the certainty of reunion in another and yet happier life. (Ch. XVII)
  • Now, in this social state of the Vril-ya, it was singular to mark how it contrived to unite and to harmonise into one system nearly all the objects which the various philosophers of the upper world have placed before human hopes as the ideals of a Utopian future. It was a state in which war, with all its calamities, was deemed impossible, — a state in which the freedom of all and each was secured to the uttermost degree, without one of those animosities which make freedom in the upper world depend on the perpetual strife of hostile parties. (Chapter XXVI)
  • Here the corruption which debases democracies was as unknown as the discontents which undermine the thrones of monarchies. Equality here was not a name; it was a reality. Riches were not persecuted, because they were not envied. Here those problems connected with the labours of a working class, hitherto insoluble above ground, and above ground conducing to such bitterness between classes, were solved by a process the simplest, — a distinct and separate working class was dispensed with altogether. (Chapter XXVI)
  • Mechanical inventions, constructed on the principles that baffled my research to ascertain, worked by an agency infinitely more powerful and infinitely more easy of management than aught we have yet extracted from electricity or steam, with the aid of children whose strength was never overtasked, but who loved their employment as sport and pastime, sufficed to create a Public - wealth so devoted to the general use that not a grumbler was ever heard of. (Chapter XXVI)
  • The vices that rot our cities here had no footing. Amusements abounded, but they were all innocent. No merry-makings conduced to intoxication, to riot, to disease. Love existed, and was ardent in pursuit, but its object, once secured, was faithful. (Chapter XXVI)
  • The adulterer, the profligate, the harlot, were phenomena so unknown in this commonwealth, that even to find the words by which they were designated one would have had to search throughout an obsolete literature composed thousands of years before. (Chapter XXVI)
  • They who have been students of theoretical philosophies above ground, know that all these strange departures from civilised life do but realise ideas which have been broached, canvassed, ridiculed, contested for; sometimes partially tried, and still put forth in fantastic books, but have never come to practical result. Nor were these all the steps towards theoretical perfectibility which this community had made. (Chapter XXVI)
  • It had been the sober belief of Descartes that the life of man could be prolonged, not, indeed, on this earth, to eternal duration, but to what he called the age of the patriarchs, and modestly defined to be from 100 to 150 years average length. Well, even this dream of sages was here fulfilled—nay, more than fulfilled; for the vigour of middle life was preserved even after the term of a century was passed. With this longevity was combined a greater blessing than itself—that of continuous health. (Chapter XXVI)
  • Such diseases as befell the race were removed with ease by scientific applications of that agency — life -giving as life destroying—which is inherent in vril. Even this idea is not unknown above ground, though it has generally been confined to enthusiasts or charlatans, and emanates from confused notions about mesmerism, odic force...
  • Passing by such trivial contrivances as wings, which every schoolboy knows has been tried and found wanting, from the mythical or pre-historical period, I proceed to that very delicate question, urged of late as essential to the perfect happiness of our human species by the two most disturbing and potential influences on upper-ground society, — Womankind and Philosophy. I mean, the Rights of Women.(Chapter XXVI)
  • But among this people there can be no doubt about the rights of women, because, as I have before said, the Gy, physically speaking, is bigger and stronger than the An; and her will being also more resolute than his, and will being essential to the direction of the vril force, she can bring to bear upon him, more potently than he on herself, the mystical agency which art can extract from the occult properties of nature. Therefore all that our female philosophers above ground contend for as to rights of women, is conceded as a matter of course in this happy commonwealth. Besides such physical powers, the Gy-ei have (at least in youth) a keen desire for accomplishments and learning which exceeds that of the male; and thus they are the scholars, the professors—the learned portion, in short, of the community.(Chapter XXVI)
  • Most important on the bearings of their life and the peace of their commonwealths, is their universal agreement in the existence of a merciful beneficent Diety, and of a future world to the duration of which a century or two are moments too brief to waste upon thoughts of fame and power and avarice; while with that agreement is combined another—viz., since they can know nothing as to the nature of that Diety beyond the fact of His supreme goodness, nor of that future world beyond the fact of its felicitous existence, so their reason forbids all angry disputes on insoluble questions. Thus they secure for that state in the bowels of the earth what no community ever secured under the light of the stars—all the blessings and consolations of a religion without any of the evils and calamities which are engendered by strife between one religion and another. (Chapter XXVI)
  • I now saw but little of Zee, save at meals, when the family assembled, and she was then reserved and silent. My apprehensions of danger from an affection I had so little encouraged or deserved, therefore, now faded away, but my dejection continued to increase. I pined for escape to the upper world, but I racked my brains in vain for any means to effect it. (Chapter XXVI)
  • One day, as I sat alone and brooding in my chamber, Taee flew in at the open window and alighted on the couch beside me. I was always pleased with the visits of a child, in whose society, if humbled, I was less eclipsed than in that of Ana who had completed their education and matured their understanding. And as I was permitted to wander forth with him for my companion, and as I longed to revisit the spot in which I had descended into the nether world, I hastened to ask him if he were at leisure for a stroll beyond the streets of the city. His countenance seemed to me graver than usual as he replied, “I came hither on purpose to invite you forth.” (Chapter XXVII)
  • We soon found ourselves in the street, and had not got far from the house when we encountered five or six young Gy-ei, who were returning from the fields with baskets full of flowers, and chanting a song in chorus as they walked. A young Gy sings more often than she talks. They stopped on seeing us, accosting Taee with familiar kindness, and me with the courteous gallantry w which distinguishes the Gy-ei in their manner towards our weaker sex. (Chapter XXVII)
  • And here I may observe that, though a virgin Gy is so frank in her courtship to the individual she favours, there is nothing that approaches to that general breadth and loudness of manner which those young ladies of the Anglo-Saxon race, to whom the distinguished epithet of ‘fast’ is accorded, exhibit towards young gentlemen whom they do not profess to love. No; the bearing of the Gy-ei towards males in ordinary is very much that of high-bred men in the gallant societies of the upper world towards ladies whom they respect but do not woo; deferential, complimentary, exquisitely polished—what we should call ‘chivalrous.’ (Chapter XXVII)

Quotes about[edit]

  • There has been an infinite confusion of names to express one and the same thing... The chaos of the ancients; the Zoroastrian sacred fire, or the Antusbyrum of the Parsees; the Hermes-fire...the burning torch of Apollo ...the flame on the altar of Pan; the inextinguishable fire in the temple on the Acropolis...the fire-flame of Pluto's helm... the staff of Mercury...the Egyptian Phtha, or Ra; the Grecian Zeus Cataibates (the descending)... the pentecostal fire-tongues; the burning bush of Moses... the "burning lamp" of Abram... the Sidereal light of the Rosicrucians; the Akasa of the Hindu adepts; the Astral light of Eliphas Levi... and finally, electricity, are but various names for many different manifestations, or effects of the same mysterious, all-pervading cause — the Greek Archeus, or Archaios... Sir E. Bulwer-Lytton, in his Coming Race, describes it as the vril, used by the subterranean populations, and allowed his readers to take it for a fiction... Absurd and unscientific as may appear our comparison of a fictitious vril invented by the great novelist, and the primal force of the equally great experimentalist, with the kabalistic astral light, it is nevertheless the true definition of this force.
  • These people consider that in the vril they had arrived at the unity in natural energic agencies...under the more cautious term of correlation... I have long held an opinion, almost amounting to a conviction, in common, I believe, with many other lovers of natural knowledge, that the various forms under which the forces of matter are made manifest, have one common origin; or, in other words, are so directly related and naturally dependent, that they are convertible, as it were, into one another, and possess equivalents of power in their action.
  • First published in 1871, "The Coming Race"...Its premise is unflinchingly futuristic: the inevitable displacement of today's humanity by a more highly evolved "race." But the story unfolds in perhaps the last unexplored place on earth -- the "hollow" interior of the planet... The inhabitants of the interior, who call themselves the Vril-ya, have developed a civilization that far surpasses 19th-century Europe and America in its enlightened use of power. Drawing on an inexhaustible energy source called "Vril," which is controlled by sheer willpower, they have created what the narrator, a naïve American who literally stumbles into their realm, sees as a utopia -- a society without crime, war, poverty or gender inequality... No Vril-ya community exceeds 30,000 in population, on the grounds that "no state shall be too large for a government resembling that of a single well ordered family..." Female Vril-ya, "bigger and stronger" than the males, are the aggressors in courtship. Once married, however, they are "amiable, complacent, docile mates" -- so much so that they freely abandon the Vril powered wings that allow the young of the race to enjoy the effortless flight of angels.
    • Gerald Jonas, It Was a Dark and Stormy Galaxy, The New York Times (7 August 2005)

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