‘to no germs do we succumb without a struggle’

April 29, 2020

(Is a spoiler warning necessary for a book as old as The War of the Worlds? I don’t think so, but you are warned, anyway!)

Thinking about the virus, I remembered the end of The War of the Worlds, where bacteria are our best friends, defeating the Martians. It’s a great passage which I thought I’d post, although I’m not so sure that there are no bacteria on Mars? ‘Our microscopic allies’ does seem a strange phrase in the current climate, but it makes total sense in terms of the novel.

And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians—dead!—slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.

For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things—taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many—those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance—our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.

HG Wells The War of the Worlds

War_of_the_worlds_illustration_pearson
Warwick Goble

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