|Lesson No. 4
The Great God Gun
A. G. Gardiner
A few days ago I saw the Advent of the Great God Gun. The godde Aphrodite, according to ancient mythology, rose out of the foam of the sea, and ti great God Gun, too, emerged from a bath, but it was a bath of fire - fire so white an intense that the eyes were blinded by it as they are blinded by the light of th unclouded sun at midday. Our presence had been timed for the moment of his coming. We stood in great chamber higher than a cathedral nave, and with something even less than th dim religious light of a cathedral nave. The exterior of the temple was plain even tc ugliness, a tower of high, windowless walls faced with corrugated iron. Within was a maze of immense mysteries, mighty cylinders towering into the gloom above, great pits descending into the gloom below, gigantic cranes showing against the dim skylight, with here and there a Cyclopean figure clad in oily overalls and with a face grimy and perspiring. The signal was given. Two shadowy figures that appeared in the darkness above one of the cylinders began their incantations. A giant crane towered above them and one saw its mighty claw descend into the orifice of the cylinder as if to drag some Eurydice out of the hell within. Then the word was spoken and somewhere a lever or perhaps only an electric button, was touched. But at that touch the whole front of the mighty cylinder from top to bottom opened and swung back slowly and majestically, and one stood before a pillar of lame forty feet high, from whence a wave of heat came forth like a living thing. And as the door opened the Cyclopes above - ’strange Dantesque figures now swallowed up in the gloom, now caught in the light of the furnace - set the crane in motion, and through the open door of the cylinder came the god suspended from the claw of the crane that gripped it like the fingers of hand. It emerged slowly like a column of wild light - mystic, wonderful. All night it had stood imprisoned in the cylinder enveloped by that bath of incalculable hotness, and as it came out from the ordeal, it was as white as the furnace within. The great hand of the crane bore it forward with a solemn slowness until it paused over the mouth of one of the pits. I had looked into this pit and seen that it was filled nearly to the brim with a slimy liquid. It was a pit of oil—tens of thousands of gallons of high flash rape-oil. It was the second bath of the god. The monster, the whiteness of his heat now flushing to pink, paused above the pit. Then gravely, under the direction of the iron hand that held him suspended in mid-air, he began to descend into the oil. The breech end of the incandescent column touched the surface of the liquid, and at that touch there leapt out of the mouth of
the pit great tongues of flame. As the red pillar sank deeper and deeper in the pit the flames burst up through the muzzle and licked with fury about the ruthless claw as if to tear it to pieces. But it would not let go. Lower and lower sank the god until even his head was submerged and he stood invisible beneath us, robed in his cloak of oil. And there we will leave him to toughen and harden as he drinks in the oil hungrily through his burning pores. Soon he will be caught up in the claw of the crane again, lifted out of his bath and lowered into an empty pit nearby. And upon him will descend another tube, that has passed through the same trials, and that will fit him as the skin fits the body. And then in due course he will be provided with yet another coat. Round and round him will be wound miles of flattened wire, put on at a tension of unthinkable resistance. And even then there remains his outer garment, his jacket, to swell still further his mighty bulk. After that he will be equipped with his brain and the wonderful mechanism of breech and cradle - and then one day he will be carried to the huge structure near by, where the Great God Gun in all his manifestations, from the little mountain ten-pounder to the leviathan fifteen-inch, rest shining and wonderful, to be sent forth with his message of death and destructions. The savage, we are told, is misguided enough to ’bow down to wood and stone.’ Poor savage! If we could only take him, with his childlike intelligence, into our temple to see the god that the genius and industry of civilized man has created, a god so vast that a hundred men could not lift him, of such incredible delicacy that his myriad parts are fitted together to the thousandth, the ten-thousandth, and even the hundred-thousandth of an inch, and out of whose throat there issue thunders and lightnings that carry ruin for tens of miles. How ashamed the poor savage would be of his idols of wood and stone! How he would abase himself before the god of the Christian nations!
And what a voracious deity he is! Here in the great arsenal of Woolwich one passes through miles and miles of bewildering activities, foundries where the forty-ton hammer falls with the softness of a caress upon the great column of molten metal, and gives it the first crude likeness of the god, where vast converters are sending out flames of an unearthly hue and brightness, or where men clothed in rime and perspiration are swinging about billets of steel that scorch you as they pass from the furnace to the steam-press in which they are stamped like putty into the rough shape of great shells; shops where the roar of thousands of lathes drowns the voice and where the food of the god is passing through a multitude of preparations more delicate than any known to the kitchens of Lucullus; pools of silence where grave scientific men are at their calculations and their tests, and where mechanics who are the princes of their trade show you delicate instruments gauged to the hundred-thousandth of an inch that are so precious that they will scarcely let you handle them; mysterious chambers where the high explosives are handled and where the shells are filled, where you walk in felt slippers upon padded floors and dare not drop a pin lest you wake an earthquake, and where you see men working (for what pay I know not) with materials more terrible
than lightnings, themselves partitioned off eternity only by the scrupulous observance of the meticulous laws of this realm of the sleeping Furies. A great town - a town whose activities alone are equal to all the labour of a city like Leeds - all devoted to the service of a god who lies there, mystic, wonderful, waiting to speak his oracles to men. I see the poor savage growing more and more ashamed of his wood and stone. And this, good savage, is only a trifling part of our devotions. All over the land where-ever you go you shall find furnaces blazing to his glory, mountains shattered to make his ribs, factories throbbing day and night to feed his gigantic maw and to clothe his servants. You shall go down to the great rivers and hear a thousand hammers beating their music out of the hulls of mighty ships that are to be chariots of the god, in which he will go forth to preach his gospel. You shall go down into the bowels of the earth and see half-naked men toiling in the blackness by the dim light of the safety-lamp to win that wonderful food which is the ultimate food of the god, power to wing his bolts. You shall go to our temples of learning and the laboratories of our universities and see the miracles of destruction that science, the proudest achievement of man, can wring out of that astonishing mystery coal-tar. You shall go to our ports and watch the ships riding in proudly from the seas with their tributes from afar to the god. And behind all this activity you shall see a nation working day and night to pay for the food of the god, throwing all its accumulated wealth into the furnace to keep the engines going, pawning its future to the uttermost farthing and to the remotest generation. And wherever the white man dwells, good savage, the same vision awaits you -. where Rhine unto the sea, And Thames and Tiber, Seine and Danube run, And where great armies glitter in the sun, And great kings rule and men are boasted free. Everywhere the hammers are ringing, the forests are falling, the harvests are being gathered, and men and women toil like galley slaves chained to the oar to build more and more of the image and feed him more lavishly with the food of death. You cannot escape the great traffic of the god though you go to the outposts of the earth. The horses of the pampas are being rounded up to drag his wagons, the sheep of Australia are being sheared to clothe his slaves, the pine trees of Lapland are being split for his service, the silence of the Arctic seas is broken by the throbbing of his chariots. As a neutral, good savage, you shall be free to go to Essen and see marvels no less wonderful than those you have seen at Woolwich, and all through Europe from Bremen to the Golden Horn the same infinite toil in the service of the Great God Gun will greet your astonished yes. Then, it may be, you will pass to where the god delivers his message; on the sea where one word from his mouth sends a thousand men and twenty thousand tons of
metal in one huge dust-storm to the skies; on land where over hundreds of miles of battle front the towns and villages are mounds of rubbish, where the desolate earth is riven and shattered by that treacly stuff you saw being ladled into the shells in the danger rooms at Woolwich or Essen, where the dead lie thick as leaves in autumn, and where in every wood you will come upon the secret shrines of the god. At one light touch of the lever he lifts his head, coughs his mighty guttural speech and sinks back as if convulsed. He has spoken, the earth trembles, the trees about him shudder at the shock. And standing in the observatory you will see far off a great black, billowy mass rise in the clear sky and you will know that the god has blown another god like unto him into fragments, and that in that mass that rises and falls is the wreckage of many a man who has looked his last upon the sun and will never till the home fields gladden the eyes of those he has left in some distant land. And then, to complete your experience, you shall hear from the prophets of the Great God Gun the praises of his gospel, how that gospel is an abiding part of the white man’s faith, how it acts as a moral medicine to humanity, purging it of its vices and teaching it the higher virtues (a visit to the music halls and the Strand at midnight will help your simple mind to realize this), and how the words of the poet, uttered in
That civilization doos git forrad Sometimes upon a powder - cart were in truth the words of eternal wisdom.
I see the poor savage returning sadly to his home and gazing with mingled scorn and humiliation at his futile image of wood and stone. Perhaps another feeling will mingle with his sadness. Perhaps he will be perplexed and puzzled. For he may have heard of another religion that the white man serves, and it may be difficult for his simple mind to reconcile that religion with the gospel of that Great God Gun. NOTES
A. G. Gardiner (1865 - 1946) was one of the most distinguished figures in English journalism and Editor of the ’Daily News’ from 1902 to 1919. Under the pseudonym of Alpha of the Plough he contributed a delightful series of essays, out of which the present essay is taken. Page
19. advent arrival, appearance Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty who sprang from the foam of the sea near Cythera, an island. chamber large room.