by Dr Gillian Sheehan
and John McGivering)
|notes on the text|
What chariots, what horsesThe Story
Against us shall bide
While the Stars in their courses
Do fight on our side ?
'We can't tell on what system this dam' dynamo of our universe is wound, but we know we're in the middle of every sort of wave, as we call 'em.'Harries inherits £1 million and a big income, and funds a nursing-home for Vaughan and a laboratory for Loftie. At Harries's behest, and despite the 'professional' scepticism of the doctors, they study specimens of tissue taken from cancer patients. They observe curious ripples, 'tides' as it were, that seem to vary with the time of day, and are different from patient to patient. They experiment with mice, and find a tidal flow in their tissues also, and that when they are treated for dangerous conditions, this is more likely to be successful if they are operated on at the 'flood'. Mrs Berners, one of the cancer patients, needs another operation, and they apply the same principle, operating at midnight, when her 'tides' are at the flood, near the date and time of her birthday, and with her lying on a particular compass bearing. The operation is much more successful than they had expected.
To get the emotion of such a story, the sense of the exacting and complex toil, of the endless recording of minute facts, the emergence of unexpected questions, the startling moments when the shadow of a colossal and distant truth is glimpsed — an intellectual passion, humanised in this case by being focused on a particular petient so that the measure of what pure knowledge means when applied to human pain can be kept in view — Kipling needed to draw on the detail of a specific line of enquiry. He could not achieve the effect by means of general terms, and it is not likely that he could, even with expert help, make use of any authentic research, past or present...[This. as described in "The Eye of Allah" was the suppression by the Church of the invention of the microscope as early as the thirteenth century; Ed.]
He was forced to make the project and the procedure 'unprofessional'. So he turned to the stars, whose influence on human lives was a commonplace in the India he knew, as he showed in Kim and much later in "The Debt", and had been a commonplace in England, three hundred or so years before... The vision in "The Astrologer's Song" of the predominance of the stars over all earthly things is restored on a vaster scale when Harries ... describes the ultimate heavens as 'all one generating station of one Power drawn from the Absolute, and of one essence and substance with all things.' This "The Threshold" tells us, was also the vision of 'resolute, unsatisfied Ionia', but the truth had been 'choked at birth' , and the imagination loops back to "The Eye of Allah", and ties it up to the greatest historical example of the delayed dawn of knowledge.
the governing idea is that men who look through microscopes should talk to men who look through telescopes, the atom becomes more and more like a universe and there are phenomena in both for which we cannot account.Noel Annan, in his essay “Kipling’s Place in the History of Ideas”, in Kipling’s Mind and Art, (Andrew Rutherford, Ed.) looks at various stories where Kipling is ahead of his time, and remarks of this one that:
a new discovery in science would create a new social problem ….. a moral to those who imagined that a problem has only to be scientifically examined for the “correct” solution to be found. If Kipling admired the strides made in psychology and medicine and engineering, he also intended to demonstrate how limited were their potentiality and accuracy.Angus Wilson (page 332) regards the story as a failure, but the grounds for his saying so are not clear. Wilson continues:
Kipling is anxious to assert what, I think, all but a few scientists will agree: that, in many of the most important scientific discoveries, an intuitive leap often carries the worker forward at a vital moment in an experiment, however much his discovery made from intuition must be checked and rechecked by deductive observed tests before it can be accepted.John Coates, on the other hand, is enthusiastic (page 86) discussing the diverting ingenuity with which the researchers overcome obstacles and sidestep the 'fated' death of their patient.
Kipling’s friend, the surgeon Bland-Sutton, was astonished by this tale which he said was as much in advance of the times as its author’s flying stories. Kipling was, in fact, anticipating by many years the research into biorhythms.Charles Carrington (page 475) calls this:
a story that repays study ... the revival of an old notion that stimulated the astrologers in antiquity but had led them astray.Some further references