#2 = Volume 1, Part 2 = Fall 1973
David Y. Hughes and Robert M. Philmus
The Early Science Journalism of H.G. Wells: A
This survey offers abstracts of H. G. Wells's science journalism, from his
earliest surviving efforts up to 1901 (with exception made for "The
Scepticism of the Instrument," included as an appendix to A Modern
Utopia (1905) but also essentially related to these early writings,
especially "The Rediscovery of the Unique," and thus an important
nexus between Wells's interest in science and his later sociological concerns).1
Without claiming to be exhaustive, the listing comprises 60 articles derived
from a comprehensive sifting of periodical contributions (some of them reprinted
in Certain Personal Matters) attributed to Wells by Geoffrey H. Wells or
by Gordon N. Ray, augmented by 30 previously unnoticed articles that we assign
to Wells on the basis of evidence found in the Wells Archive at the University
of Illinois (see below: CPM, GHW, GNR, and H&P). We have included all the
essays and reviews that we deem relevant to Wells's science fiction, as well as
two uncollected short stories of a somewhat essayistic nature (#2-3).
The 90 items listed here--most of them unsigned and unreprinted-make up an
otherwise unavailable record of Wells's overt scientific beliefs and shifts in
belief in the period before Anticipations--before, that is, he turned his
attention decisively toward sociological issues. While his science journalism
prepares for that development, it does not reveal Wells as committed to any
particular blueprint for society. It does, however, reveal him as committed to
science in its literary use as a basis for science fiction.
The reviews and essays fall into three groups, partly overlapping. One group
involves science education or science popularization; one expresses a more or
less passive delight in the wonders and mysteries of science; and the third
deliberately challenges received opinion by proposing novel or paradoxical ideas
and backing them up with an appeal to science. Of course, all three types reveal
Wells as attempting to widen the reader's range of perceived possibilities and
to encourage his power and desire to extend it for himself.
EDUCATION AND POPULARIZATION. Having dropped science teaching in 1893, Wells
as a journalist urged reform. The core of his position is the need for a
sequence of studies. Mind and hand should be trained in integrated class and
laboratory work leading step by step through the intellectual hierarchy of the
sciences. Common sense dictates that studies like metallurgy or physiology
should rest on prior study of physics and chemistry. Science consists neither in
technical proficiency nor in pure knowledge of fact but in a method of
discovery, and science teaching must impart that method. Wells is Baconian,
largely--he stresses inferential reasoning and slights mathematics--but he
prizes the inductive method itself, not its material fruits. (See # # 36, 47,
He is consistently Baconian concerning fields of learning as well as ways of
teaching. He mistrusts both the a priori state of academic psychology and
the non-repeatable data of psychic research. In a lighter vein, he intimates
that "pure" reason may be unhygienic; he shows up the usual
"proofs" that the earth is round as false inductions; and he deplores
the taxonomic pedantry of the South Kensington Science Library, which catalogues
the lives of entomologists under "Insects" and the subject
"Meteorology" before 1891 under "Physics" and after 1891
under "Astronomy." Lastly, recalling his education as having been in
many ways a typical one, he finds all his teachers deficient in the faculty of
significant inductive generalization, even at the Royal College of Science,
except of course T. H. Huxley. (See## 8, 10, 23, 26, 44, 53, 89, 90.)
In "Scientific Research as a Parlour Game" (#72) and especially in
"Popularizing Science" (#32), Wells states the requirements of works
of popularized science. Primarily, he urges the imparting of a sense of
intellectual discovery to the reader. The popularizer must shuck off specialized
language as a mark of "intellectual parochialism" and employ general
literary (or at least literate) English; his delight in technical problems must
be subsumed by the larger scheme that gives them significance; and he must build
up this scheme in an orderly causal and logical sequence in support of an
opening generalization, so as to give the reader an idea of scientific method.
The result, says Wells, is the pleasure of "inductive reading." Since
his model of what the popular exposition of scientific ideas should be like
closely parallels the plan of a number of his science fantasies, it is
significant that he also remarks that "the fundamental principles of
construction that--underlie such stories as Poe's 'Murders in the Rue Morgue, or
Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes' series, are precisely those that should guide a
scientific writer" (#32).
At this time, in mid-1894, he had done little science popularization himself;
he alludes instead to his experience "as a reviewer for one or two
publications" (#32), evidently referring to his Pall Mall Gazette science
reviews (listed for the first time in this survey). In these reviews, he
develops the critical principles that later work well for him in his Saturday
Review popularizations. The PMG reviews employ the technique of evaluation
through direct quotation (an analogue of the inductive policy). Among them are
slashing attacks on jargon, bad construction, false sentimentality, sham
induction, and amateurish theorizing: faint commendations of technical guides
and supernumerary surveys of already familiar fields; and unreserved
recommendations of original research presented lucidly as an imaginative and
encompassing vision (e.g., # 22).
Wells's own popularizations, despite their brevity, succeed through causal
connection of illustration and generalization. Sometimes these essays begin by
asking the question, what general principle does a given set of phenomena
illustrate, the answer being unknown. This provides "inductive
reading": the quality or significance of a phenomenon is revealed or
problematically raised as a function of its illustrating a principle of things.
For example: no conspicuously colored or scented flower exists without relation
to insects (#70); or, a recent transit of Mercury, though a minor event, might,
under proper conditions of weather and geographical accessibility, have helped
determine the presence or absence of an atmosphere on that planet as well as the
extent of its curious orbital aberrancies (#41). In general, the expository
essays on science manifest a reasonable care for accuracy, a strong emphasis on
factual up-to-dateness, and a sure eye for salient, problem-focusing detail (the
erratic behavior of Mercury that Wells singles out for attention, for instance,
not long afterwards gave Einstein evidence for his Theory of Relativity). (Other
examples of basically neutral expository essays: # # 45, 52, 62, 66, 80, 82.)
THE WONDERS AND MYSTERIES OF SCIENCE; that is, the secrets of nature that
science discloses. Essays with such titles as "A Vision of the Past"
(#3), "An Excursion to the Sun" (#15), "From an Observatory"
(#43), and "Through a Microscope" (#54) are exercises in dissolving
the limitations of human perception. Through science we can imagine having
telescopic or microscopic eyesight or conceive of a life span enduring through
eons. Science thus can aid imagination and enlarge human understanding. True,
some deficiencies may not be remediable. If the moon were brighter, we might
never suspect the existence of the stars (#43); the human brain, not merely the
eye, is doubtless a provisional and unreliable instrument (#90), a mere
"bye-product" of the evolutionary process 60); and science itself is
merely a match-flare that "man has just got alight," beyond which is
"darkness still" (#4). Yet these arguments of human limitation bespeak
wonders and mysteries in nature discoverable, if at all, only through the
scientific method. Case in point: precise measurement of the weight and density
of gases reveals the existence of argon, the otherwise unsuspected element in
the air we breathe 61, 68 ,74).
At times Wells appears almost ready to abandon Baconian principles outright
and commit himself to a belief in a universe of unpredictables. At other times
he faces what he calls the "Calvinism of Science" (## 76, 84). That
is, when science enables man to take his bearings against the immensities of
nature, his sense of wonder and mystery and his fine free, sense of enlarged
vision may be overshadowed by a feeling of impotence amid inexorable forces (##
2, 43). The ability to envision the man of the year million confers no power to
alter the cosmic forces that will have shaped him (#12). This awareness on Wells's
part permits him to see that the scientific enterprise is apt to be regarded as
a "systematized Fetishism," a substitute for religious magic in
offering cosmic correspondences among phenomena well beyond the pale of cause
and effect (# 88).
On the other hand, always alive to the dialectical possibilities of the "opposite idea" ( # 5), Wells attributes to science "The Rediscovery
of the Unique" (# 4). Man is finally liberating himself from "the trim
clockwork thought" of the 18th century as evolutionary biology now teaches
that "All being is unique." There are no principles, no
ontological generalizations, but only individualities--"unique threads
flying," in Goethe's figure of the loom of time. Perhaps nothing is
impossible in nature and perhaps nothing is repeated. Perhaps, Wells suggests in
"The 'Cyclic' Delusion," the only universal principle is change, that
is, novelty and death in a cosmos moving "from the things that are past and
done with for ever to things that are altogether new" ( # 39). Yet such a
view renders science powerless to reveal nature's secrets because it amounts to
dissolving the system of uniformities upon which all science rests. For that
reason, Wells is only sporadically tempted by unpredictability.
UNORTHODOX SPECULATION was congenial fare to Wells. In part it was a matter
of intellectual play. Civilization was engendered by the flint and could have
been engendered by nothing else (#29); "mimetic" coloration is not
protective but irrelevant since most predators hunt at night and by smell (#59);
not only are rigid skeletons not needed for support of musculature, as witness
the octopus, but silica skeletons--if rigidity be desired--would far surpass the
lime-salt structures actually possessed by vertebrates ( # 81); on the moon
there may be considerable and continuous change, the possibility of which is
discounted without reckoning that such change might be invisible to us (# 77).
These are fair samples of sheer speculative play.
The most paradoxical of Wells's notions have to do with man's place in
nature, a theme so pervasive in these early essays (as in his science fiction)
that it is possible here to suggest only the briefest outline of his thought.
His starting point is unorthodox from any standpoint but that of mainstream
British biology, especially as exemplified by Thomas Huxley. Wells did not
really regard evolution as a "theory" at all. Whatever its
consequences might be, it was the central fact of biology, geology, and solar
physics. The corollary was that homo sapiens is an accident and an
episode. Essay after essay--at least until about 1896--hammers away at the
anthropocentric fallacy. Life could be built out of compounds other than carbon
( #48) and might somewhere have reached or surpassed man's present mental level
(## 30, 79). Animals (## 3, 50) and plants (#82) possess nervous organizations higher than
is commonly recognized, while the human brain is an instrument of dubious
precision ( # 90). Man, moreover, remains subject both to instinctual drives
inherited from ape-like ancestors and to the accidents and necessities imposed
on him by nature ( # 84); so that from both within himself and without he faces
powerful adversaries to his humanity. Natural law is as amoral and
un-"human" as it is universal and absolute ( # # 19, 28, 76).
After Wells came around to accepting--by early March 1895-Weismann's Theory
of Germ Plasm2 (which directly opposed the older Lamarckian theory
that acquired characteristics are inheritable), he gradually but decisively
turned his attention away from the long-range prospects of evolutionary change
through natural selection (as in The Time Machine) and towards the
immediate possibilities of what he termed "artificial evolution" ( #
84)--meaning education and behavioral engineering. Having discovered in The
Island of Doctor Moreau that mind presents more of an obstacle to
"individual plasticity" than does man's physical form, he concluded
that man may be redeemed from the bondage of cosmic biological laws only through
education ( # 85), which confirms him in his capacity of "artificial
man," "the highly plastic creature of tradition, suggestion, and
reasoned thought" ( # 84). Here Wells speaks as he would for years to come;
and by 1897 he already imagines the vanguard of the New Republicans, Samurai,
and Open Conspirators. "We may dream," he writes, "of an
informal, unselfish, unauthorized body of workers, a real and conscious
apparatus of education and moral suggestion . . . shaping the minds and acts and
destinies of men" (#86).
1We intend to explore this aspect of Wells's thought in some
detail in. introductory material for an anthology of Wells's hitherto
unreprinted writings, H. G. Wells and the Poetry of Science.
2For the dating of Wells's conversion to Weismannism, cf # 52; see
also "Incidental Thoughts on a Bald Head," CPM, pl58, first printed
PMG 60 (Mar. 1, 1895):10.
CPM. Wells's Certain Personal Matters (1897), which collects ##12,
35, 43, 54--the only articles, of those listed in this survey, except for 90,
that have been reprinted.
EIA. Wells's Experiment in Autobiography (1934).
FR. Fortnightly Review
GHW. Geoffrey H. Wells, The Works of H. G. Wells 1887-1925: A Bibliography,
Dictionary and Subject-Index (1926).
GM. Gentleman's Magazine.
GNR. Gordon N. Ray, "H. G. Wells's Contributions to the Saturday Review,"
The Library 16(1961):29-36.
GW. Geoffrey West [i.e., Geoffrey H. Wells], H. G. Wells: A Sketch for
a Portrait (1930). This writer was not related to H. G. Wells.
H&P. Hughes and Philmus. Of the 30 previously unattributed articles, one
is signed (#85), 13 are identifiable from Amy Catherine Wells's cue-titles
(quoted in the attribution bracket that appears below in each entry), and 16 (of
which six allude to, or are alluded to in, articles known to be by Wells) are
included on grounds of style and content. We decided to record these items after
studying all the issues of the Pall Mall Gazette from August 1893 through
May 1895, the inclusive dates for Wells's contributions to that paper. For
comparison we had twelve reviews in PMG that we knew to be Wells's, plus his
work for the Saturday Review and, more generally, the body of his other
essays and science fiction. Here we world like to acknowledge, in addition to
the aid of published bibliographical sources, the kind assistance of Professor
Harris Wilson, University of Illinois Wells Archive, and Professor J. P. Vernier,
University de Rouen.
PMG. Pall Mall Gazette.
SR. Saturday Review.
SSJ. Science Schools Journal. Wells was one of the founders of this
student magazine, and its first editor.
THE CHRONOLOGICAL SURVEY
# 1. Mammon. SSJ 1(Jan 1887):53-54. [GHW; signed "Walter Glockenhammer"].
Wells's thoughts on two paintings by G. F. Watts, Mammon and Visit to Aesculapius; together these canvases "signify ... that this nation is,
as it were, two dissevered parts ... ease, elegance, and pleasure are floated
to-day on an ocean of toil and ignorance and want."
#2. A Talk with Gryllotalpa. SSJ l(Feb 1887):87-88. [GHW; signed "Septimus
Browne"]. A dialogue wherein the anthropocentric view of the world
confronts the cosmic perspective of the "infinitesimal littleness of man.
#3. A Vision of the Past. SSJ 1 (June 1887):206-09. [GHW; signed "Sosthenes
Smith"]. A vision of reptilians in the distant past: they have three eyes
and believe the world was made for them, "the noblest of all beings who
have ever existed or ever will exist." When the time traveller points out
to them that this cannot be so for they will soon become extinct, they attempt
to refute him with an argumentumm ad stomachum. But he saves himself from
being eaten by waking up.
#4. The Rediscovery of the Unique. FR 50(July 1891):106-11 [Signed]. Science,
by making available the technological means for measuring minute differences
among apparently similar phenomena, substantiates the contention that "All
being is unique, or, nothing is strictly like anything else."
#5. Zoological Retrogression. GM 271(Sept 1891):246-53. [Signed]. Contrary to
popular belief, evolution is a process of twists and backslidings. Degeneration
is common and not always a dead end but sometimes "a plastic process in
nature." The degenerate upper Silurian mud-fish is the ancestor of the land
animals; and who knows the future of the "last of the mud-fish family,
man"? His varied existence and variable structure probably assure him
"a long future of profound modification." Yet nature may even now be
equipping some "humble" successor. "The Coming Beast must
certainly be reckoned in any anticipatory calculations regarding the Coming
#6. Ancient Experiments in Co-operation. GM 273(Oct 1892):418-422. [Signed].
The "element of individual competition [in the struggle for existence] is
over-accentuated in current thought" while biological cooperation has been
ignored. Wells gives a few examples of the kind of cooperation he is referring
to, pointing out that man himself "is an aggregate of [cooperating]
amoeboid individuals in a higher unity." The essay closes with speculation
on the social significance of this fact.
#7. Concerning our Pedigree. GM 274(June 1893):575-80. [Signed]. Muses, with
satirical overtones, on the evolutionary ancestry of man, which Wells follows
from the anthropoid apes backwards in time.
#8. At the Royal College of Science. Educational Times 46(Sept 1
1893):393-95. [H&P. About 1893-94, this paper "paid Low £50 a year as
editor, and another £50 a year for contributors. He and I found it convenient
that I should be the contributors--all of them" (EIA §6:6)]. Things
have changed little, Wells writes, since his student days at South Kensington;
and he hopes that through brief "glimpses of the hall, the lift and staircase, a
laboratory full of students, methodical teaching, and errant rebels sitting over
rare books in the 'Dyce and Forster,' or cultivating art in the picture
galleries" he can give the reader a student's view of that institution.
#9. On Extinction. Chambers's Journal 10(Sept 3 1893):623-24. [GHW].
Extinction--the "saddest chapter of biological science"--is a tragedy
as true as any by a Shakespeare, a Sophocles, an Ibsen. Perhaps, moreover, the
victims feel: perhaps the bison senses that those "seas of grass were once
the home of myriads of his race, and are now his no longer." The loneliest
of pinnacles is man's present triumph. Visions of the future must include the
doom hit upon in "The Last Man" of Thomas Hood: "the earth desert
through a pestilence, and two men, and then one man, looking extinction in the
#10. The Pure and Natural Man. PMG 57(Oct 16 1893):3. [GHW]. Wells's hero, a
rigid logician, recognizing that "the essence of all civilized ills"
is man's "entirely artificial life," has retired from society, gone
nudist, and abstains altogether from the use of soap, an alkali.
#11. The Dream Bureau. PMG 57(Oct 25 1893):3. [H&P]. With increasing
knowledge of dream-physiology, the time approaches for investigators "to
bring the control of dreaming as a fine art into the realm of
possibilities." We may imagine the dream-addict someday ordering up a
night's supply, of any sort he pleases.
#12. The Man of the Year Million. PMG 57(Nov 6 1893):3. [Reprinted in CPM as
"Of a Book Unwritten"; an apparently lost version, "The Past and
Future of the Human Race," went back to 1885--see GW §5:1--or perhaps
1887--see EIA §9:1]. As man evolves, says Professor Holzkopf of Weissnichtwo,
"the purely 'animal' about him is being, and must be, beyond all question,
suppressed in his ultimate development." He forecasts the hypertrophy of
the organs of intellect--hands, head, eyes--and the atrophy of the
"animal" organs--nose, external ears, digestive tract. Our
descendants, immersed in nutritive baths deep underground, will survive until
the sun itself burns out.
#13. Angels, Plain and Coloured. PMG 57(Dec 6 1893):3. [GHW]. Catalogues
angels: the common white angel of "the oleograph, the Christmas card, the
illustrated good book, and the plaster cast"; the art angel of "fiery
red and celestial blue," "of brightness rather than sentiment";
and the biblical angel of the Hebrew and of Milton, "a vast winged
strength, sombre and virile."
#14. The Advent of the Flying Man. PMG 57(Dec 8, 1893):1-2. [GHW; but GHW
inadvertently masks the identity of this unreprinted essay by confusing it with
"The Flying Man," a short story reprinted in The Stolen Bacillus, which
appeared in PMG 60(Jan 4 1895):1-2]. Portrays the flying man, present and
future. The 19th and 20th centuries witness his fiascos and hardier triumphs. By
A.D. 21,000 (Wells adopts the quasi-visionary tones of #12) batlike swarms
darken the evening air, homing to suburban "rookeries" from the dome
of St. Paul's. The flying man holds the future: "Even now the imaginative
person may hear the beating of his wings."
#15. An Excursion to the Sun. PMG 58(Jan 6 1894):4. [H&P]. Praises the
plain style and the "inhumanity and serene vastness" of subject of Sir
Robert Ball's The Story of the Sun. The idea of electro-magnetic tides
brushing by "our little eddy of planets," unsettling our compasses,
making solar storms, then passing on to "the illimitable beyond" is
"so powerful and beautiful as to well-nigh justify that hackneyed phrase,
'the poetry of science.'
# 16. Reminiscences of a Planet. PMG 58(Jan 15 1894):4. [H&P; allusion in
#32]. Commends an "able and popular exposition of modern geology,"
Thomas Bonney's The Story of Our Planet. The earth's age and life-span
are the main topics of this review.
#17. The Very Fine Art of Microtomy. PMG 58(Jan 24 1894):3. [GHW]. Describes
the preparation of a variety of substances for observation under the microscope
and whimsically envisions a time when the slides prepared in that day will
become collector's items.
#18. The Province of Pain. Science and Art 8(Feb 1894):58-59.
[Signed]. After tracing gradations of animal and human pain, Wells concludes
that "the province of pain" may be no more than "a phase through
which life must pass on its evolution from the automatic to the spiritual."
#19. The Good Intentions of Nature Explained. PMG 58(Feb 9 1894):4. [H&P].
Wells regrets Edith Carrington's Workers Without Wage, a children's
nature book which holds up to "vile" man the "lowly goodness" of the "affectionate" spider and the "patient"
snail. Hiding nature's 'cruelty from children is bad practice.
#20. Life in the Abyss. PMG 58(Feb 9 1894):4. [H&P]. In this review of
Sidney J. Hickson's The Fauna of the Deep Sea, Wells recounts some
oddities in a field just opening up. He concludes: "our knowledge is in a
very pleasant phase; enough to stimulate the imagination, and not enough to
cramp its play."
#21. The Modest Science. PMG 58(Feb 19 1894):4. [H&P; allusion in 51 ].
To the general reader, says Wells, H. N. Dickson's Meteorology is
"exceptionally entertaining," combining "the most modern
conclusions" with accurate folk-knowledge of the still unpredictable ways
of the weather.
# 22. The Sun God and the Holy Stars. PMG 58 (Feb 24 1894):3. [H&P]. In
this review of Norman Lockyer's The Dawn of Astronomy Wells focuses upon
man's early closeness to the cycles of the sun and the stars. Now, Wells adds,
churches look onto gas-lit streets where "the Great Democracy circulates
for ever" and "the silent and eternal stars are forgotten."
#23. The Flat Earth Again. PMG 58(Apr 2 1894):3. [H&P; ACW: "The
Flat Earth Again"]. A dialogue in which a "perverse person"
challenges a schoolmaster to prove the earth round. "The point is that you
teach things at school as proofs the world is round that are no more proofs than
they are poetry."
# 24. Flint Implements, Old and New. PMG 58(Apr 3 1894):4. [H&P].
Recommends Worthington G. Smith's Man, the Primeval Savage to the general
reader for its accounts both of ancient bones and implements and of modern
forgeries of same.
#25. Decadent Science. PMG 58(Apr 5 1894):4. [H&P; allusions in 32, 72].
Demolishes Henry Pratt's Principia Nova Astronomica and its
"brand-new" solar system, "a very nice affair, with a Central
Sun, and a Polar Sun, and an Equatorial Sun, over and above the visible sun of
your vulgar astronomers."
# 26. The Science Library, South Kensington. PMG 58(May 3 1894):2. [GHW].
Slashes the cataloguing system of the Science Library of the Royal College of
#27. The "Polyphloisballsanskittlograph." PMG 58(May 8 1894):3.
[H&P; cf #25]. Spoofs apparatuses of unknown function exhibited by
unintelligible foreigners at Royal Society soirees.
#28. The New Optimism. PMG 58(May 21 1894):4. [H&P]. In reviewing
Benjamin Kidd's Social Evolution, not only does Wells doubt Kidd's belief
that nations survive in the struggle for existence by subordinating intellectual
development to "virtue, altruism, and the habit of self-sacrifice,"
but he questions the name "optimism" for a creed which gives the
future to Anglo-Saxons because they are "so stupid, so pious, so
#29. The Foundation Stone of Civilization. PMG 58(May 22 1894):3. [GHW]. A
cyclist with a tire ripped up by flints listens perforce to an old man's
dissertation showing that flints attended the demise of savagery and were, in
fact, "the only thing that could engender civilization."
#30. The Living Things That May Be. PMG 58(June 12 1894):4. [H&P;
allusion to # 2:3]. Finding J. E. Gore's The Worlds of Space
unimaginative with respect to extraterrestrial life, Wells suggests such
possibilities as a silicon base for life outside the earth.
#31. More Bacon. PMG 58(June 22 1894):4. [ H&P; allusion in # 32]. Expounds
the "scientific method" of Orville W. Owens Sir Francis Bacon's
Cypher Story. Owen pasted up the pages of all of "Bacon's"
works--The Faerie Queene, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Shakespeare's plays,
and the rest--and rolled them back and forth on a thousand feet of canvas until
every line mated with a physically distant one to produce a secret history of
Elizabethan profligacy. Two earlier Bacon articles--"Mysteries of the
Modern Press," PMG 58(Apr 23 1894):3, and "A Remarkable Literary
Discovery," PMG 58(May 3 1894):3--may also be by Wells.
#32. Popularising Science. Nature, 50(July 26 1894):300-01. [Signed].
Begins by pointing out the need for popularizing science, then criticizes how
scientists usually go about it (in language that is too technical and jargonized
or absurdly and condescendingly simplistic). "Intelligent common people
come to scientific books . . . for problems to exercise their minds upon ...
there is a keen pleasure in seeing a previously unexpected generalisation
#33. Luminous Plants. PMG 59(Aug 25 1894):4. [H&P; ACW: "Pr. v.
Kerner"]. In the interests of the "general reader," Wells
approves Anton Kerner von Marilaun's The Natural History of Plants (trans. F.
W. Oliver). In particular the section on luminous lichens and seaweeds inspires
him to regard the deepest growths (which overhang "the perpetual night of
the plant world" and glow red in utilizing their chlorophyll) as emblems of
apocalypse--"so to speak, the sunset of marine vegetation."
#34. The Pains of an Imagination. PMG 59(Sept 20 1894):3. [GHW] The author
used to be cursed with a restless florid imagination that led him about as if
tied by a string. But he cured himself of it: he proposed that it earn him a
living by writing a book, and it has never troubled him since.
#35. The Extinction of Man. PMG 59(Sept 25 1894):3. [Reprinted with a slight
addition in CPM]. Man is dominant today, but the fossil record never shows "a
really dominant species succeeded by it own descendants." Man
may be displaced by crustaceans, cephalopods, ants, or even plague bacilli--to
name but four possibilities "out of a host of others."
#36. Science, in School and after School. Nature 50(Sept 27
1894):525-26. Mainly in school: a critique of the predominant pedagogical
approach to science, which inculcates fact.-but not the method of discovery.
#37. Angels and Animalculae. PMG 59(Oct 9 1894):4. [H&P; ACW:
"Angels & Animalculae"]. Wells cheerfully labels J. W. Thomas's Spiritual
Law in the Natural World "what one may perhaps call the New Theology,
theology 'up-to-date,' " scientifically smartened up.
# 38. A.D. 1900. PMG 59(Oct 12 1894):3. [ GHW ]. In 1900 the giving of a
dinner party or the hanging of a picture may be forbidden by court order if
either is deemed unwholesome by Mrs. Hallelujah, Mr. Peahen, or other guardians
of public morality.
#39. The "Cyclic" Delusion. SR 78(Nov 10 1894):505-06. [GHW, GNR].
While the tendency to perceive every process as cyclical is "woven into the
texture of our being," many times this perception is delusive--e.g., one
day the sun will rise for the last time." On the cosmic level, "the
main course is forward, from the things that are past and done with for ever to
things that are altogether new."
#40. A Belated Botanist. PMG 59(Nov 13 1894):4. [H&P; ACW: "Belated
Botanist"]. E. Sandford, author of A Manual of the Exotic Ferns and Selaginella, is "an extreme expression of the specialist
type." Knowing all about the cultivation of ferns, he has not a suspicion of the
findings of botany in the last forty years--facts of fertilization,
reproduction, and classification--known to "almost any high-school
#41. The Transit of Mercury. SR 78(Nov 24 1894):555. [GHW, GNR]. Discusses
what is important about observing the planet Mercury as it crosses the sun's
disc. (See our introduction.)
#42. Mountains out of Molecules. PMG 59(Nov 29 1894):4. [H&P; allusion in
# 72 ]. Debunks both the thesis that "heat is a current of ether running in
and out of molecules" and the overblown style of its presentation in
Frederick Hovenden's What is Heat? A Peek into Nature's Most Hidden
#43. From an Observatory. SR 78(Dec 1 1894):594-95. [Reprinted in CPM]. If
our moon were brighter, the stars would be unsuspected: "We can imagine men
just like ourselves without such an outlook." What an enlargement of vision
it would be if that bright moon faltered in its luminosity, perhaps perturbed by
the passing of a dark star, and the skies were unveiled. There is a fear of the
night "that comes with knowledge, when we see in its true proportion this
little life of ours."
#44. Peculiarities of Psychical Research. Nature 51(Dec 6
1894):121-22.[Signed]. A review of Frank Podmore's Apparitions and Thought
Transference, and an attack on "research" into occult phenomena as
unscientific because unverifiable by repeated experiment.
#45. Fallacies of Heredity. SR 78(Dec 8 1894):617-18. [GHW, GNR]. Raises, but
leaves unanswered, the problem of what causes genetic "idiosyncrasy"--i.e.,
differences among offspring of the same parents, even between twins--which Wells
finds one of the fascinating enigmas of heredity.
#46. The Rate of Change in Species. SR 78(Dec 15 1894):655-56. [GHW, GNR].
One thing biologists have not emphasized about evolution is that the rate of
change in species, and hence their "plasticity," varies in direct
proportion to their fecundity and the span between generations. Thus "The
true heirs of the future are the small, fecund, and precocious creatures ... No
doubt man is the lord of the whole earth to-day, but the lordship of the future
is another matter."
#47. The Sins of the Secondary Schoolmaster. PMG 59(Dec 15 1894):1-2.
[H&P; ACW: "Sins of the Schoolmaster"; this, the last of three
parts, deals with science teaching; the two earlier parts appeared Nov 28 pp1-2
and Dec 8 pp1-2]. Generally ignorant of the present state of science,
schoolmasters must needs teach it anyway. They do so mechanically, without
sequential progression and without realizing that "not knowledge, but a
critical and inquiring mental habit, is the aim of science teaching."
#48. Another Basis for Life. SR 78(Dec 22 1894):676-77 GHW, GNR]. There may
be non-organic elements which "would afford the necessary material basis
for a quasi-conscious and even mental superstructure," such as the
silicon-aluminum cycle, which inspires Wells with "visions of silicon-aluminium
#49. Electricity. PMG 59(Dec 22 1894):4. [H&P]. A review of J. A.
Fleming's Electric Lamps and Electric Lighting and R. Mullineux
Walmsley's The Electric Current. The one is a "readable volume"
for nontechnical people, the other a second-hand handbook of batteries,
circuitry and "professorial disregard" of "the real substance of
electrical engineering" today, the dynamo.
#50. The Mind in Animals. SR 78(Dec 22 1894):683-84. [GHW, GNR]. In this
review of C. Lloyd Morgan's An Introduction to Comparative Psychology, Wells
intimates that he has a higher opinion of animal intelligence than Morgan:
"It may be that Professor Lloyd Morgan's dog, experimenting on Professor
Lloyd Morgan with a dead rat or a bone, would arrive at a very low estimate
indeed of the powers of the human mind."
#51. The Sequence of Studies. Nature 51(Dec 27 1894):195-96. [Signed].
Reviews three scientific textbooks and criticizes them all for the absence
"of that progressive reasoning process which is the very essence of genuine
scientific study"--that is, the process of establishing evidence for why
something is a scientific fact.
# 52. The Biological Problem of To-day. SR 78(Dec 29 1894):703-04. [GHW, GNR].
A brief expository critique of August Weismann's Theory of Germ Plasm, against
which the main objection is that the immortality of germ cells seems to be
another version of mystical theories of the preformation of all individuals at
the beginning of time. Cf #85.
#53. The Position of Psychology. SR 78(Dec 29, 1894):715. [GHW, GNR]. Uses
George Trumbull Ladd's Psychology, Descriptive and Explanatory to launch
an attack on the state of contemporary psychology, which Wells regards as being
weighed down by unscientific assumptions.
#54. Through a Microscope. PMG 59(Dec 31 1894):3. [Reprinted, slightly
modified, in CPM]. "All the time these creatures are living their Vigorous
fussy little lives in this drop of water they are being watched by a creature of
whose presence they do not dream." "Even so, it may be, the [observer]
himself is being curiously observed."
#55. The Darwinian Theory. PMG 60(Jan 1 1895):4. [H&P; ACW:
"Darwinian Lectures"]. For the general reader, A. Milnes Marshall's Lectures
on the Darwinian Theory is "the clearest modern exposition"; and,
says Wells, "when such dark speculations as those of Weismannism" are
used by the "small fry of science" to belittle Darwin, Marshall's is
"a needful tribute to the memory of the greatest biologist" of all
#56. About Telegraphs. PMG 60(Jan 5 1895):4. [H&P; ACW:
"Telegraphs"]. Praises A. L. Ternant's The Telegraph (tr R.
Routledge) for it.,, wide-ranging historical exposition of the development of
various telegraph systems, ancient and modern.
#57. The Diseases of Trees. SR 79(Jan 19 1895):102-03. [GHW, GNR]. A review
of R. Hartig's The Diseases of Trees, together with a brief discussion of
#58. The Limits of Individual Plasticity. SR 79(Jan 19 1895):89-90. [GHW, GNR].
"It often seems to be tacitly assumed that a living thing is at the utmost
nothing more than the complete realization of its birth possibilities.... We
overlook only too often the fact that a living being may also be regarded as raw
material, as something plastic, something that may be shaped and altered . . .
and... developed far beyond its apparent possibilities." "There is in
science... some sanction for the belief that a living thing might be taken in
hand and so moulded and modified that at best it would retain scarcely anything
of its inherent form and disposition; that the thread of life might be preserved
unimpaired while shape and mental superstructure were so extensively recast as
even to justify our regarding the result as a new variety of being." Wells
argues in favor of this idea by using familiar examples, such as those drawn
from surgery: "If we concede the justification of vivisection, we may
imagine as possible in the future, operators, armed with antiseptic surgery and
a growing perfection in the knowledge of the laws of growth, taking living
creatures and moulding them into the most amazing forms." Cf The Island
of Doctor Moreau, §14.
#59. The Colours of Animals. PMG 60(Jan 25 1895):3. [H&P; ACW:
"Mimicry of Animals"]. Whereas the man in the street supposes that
"everything is trying its very best to resemble something else," the
truth is that "many of such resemblances are still unaccountable and
apparently quite accidental." Wells cites as his main source F. E.
Beddard's Animal Colouration.
#60. Bye-Products in Evolution. SR 79(Feb 2 1895):155-56. [GHW, GNR].
"Modification . . . involved in the change [designated] A," required
for successful adaptation, brings with it "other consequent changes . . .
the directly unserviceable and yet absolutely necessary modifications B, C, and
D"; hence, "a perfectly useless organ" may be just this kind of
"bye-product" and does not necessarily pose an objection to the theory
of natural selection. Wells then goes on to speculate on whether the higher
attributes of mind might be such "bye-products" of evolutionary
#61. The Newly Discovered Element. SR 79(Feb 9 1895):183-84. [GHW, GNR]. A
popularized account of Lord Rayleigh's discovery of argon. "All their lives
[people] had, without knowing it, been breathing argon."
#62. The Centre of Terrestrial Life. SR 79(Feb 16 1895):215. [GHW, GNR]. On
the basis of the geological theory that continental land masses have persisted
fundamentally unchanged in scope in geological time, Wells reasons that
terrestrial life must have begun in the higher northern latitudes and "In
the struggle for existence between the older and newer type [i.e., species],
generally the newer prevailed and drove the older southwards."
#63. The Duration of Life. SR 79(Feb 23 1895):248. [GHW, GNR]. "The
business of the animal seems to be, not to live its own life, but to reproduce
its own kind, and the term of life at its disposal is adjusted accurately to the
special difficulties of this purpose." The generalization also applies to
man under natural conditions.
#64. Yards Sacred and Profane. PMG 60(Mar 4 1895):4. [H&P; ACW:
"Measures"]. With a perfunctory nod to reform, Wells turns with relish
from the rationalized standards urged in Wordsworth Donisthorpe's A System of
Measures to Donisthorpe's account of such "natural" standards as
the hand's-length or the ox's "furrow-long...... growing," says Wells,
"visibly out of the soil." In spirit, this review recalls # 22.
# 65. The Visibility of Colour. PMG 60(Mar 7 1895):4. [H&P; ACW: "Colour
Vision"; GNR links this cue-title to SR (Sept 14 1895), but ACW enters it
under PMG only and in a group all published by mid-April; and, the SR (but not
the PMG) review is uncommonly bland for Wells]. Wells welcomes W. de W. Abney's Colour
Vision, "a fairly exhaustive account of the sensations of colour from
the scientific side" and a work particularly stimulating to "the
artist and art critic among those who find pleasure in untechnical scientific
books addressed to the general reader."
66. Discoveries in Variation. SR 79(Mar 9 1895):312. [GHW, GNR]. A discussion
of new biometric studies of variation in species, wherein Wells observes:
"Variation occurs in every direction [i.e., all possibilities are tried],
with complete symmetry; it does not occur in a definite direction as if it were
following some inherent tendency of the animal to develop in a particular
fashion. These minute variations offer a fair field for natural selection to
reject or select."
# 67. Rudis Indigestaque Moles. PMG 60(Mar 13 1895):4. [H&P; ACW: "Rudis
Indigestaque Moles"]. A review of Sir Archibald Geikie's Memoir of
Sir A.C. Ramsay, in which one eminent geologist shuffles the life of another
into a detritus "shaken up together and thrown down before the
#68. The Strangeness of Argon. PMG 60(Mar 15 1895):3. [H&P; ACW: "Argonn"].
Many are the curious properties of argon, not least the lateness of its
recognition. "Surely there are still wonders left in the world, and the
healthy discoverer may keep a good heart yet, though Africa be explored."
(See also # # 61 and 74). In PMG 60(Mar 18 1895):4, replying to factual
criticisms, Wells, "without any indecent shame," admits to errors of
detail and proposes that "occasional inaccuracies" are less injurious
to the general reader than the "permanent boredom" visited upon same
by technical writers.
#69. Death. SR 79(Mar 23 1895):376-77. [GHW, GNR]. Complex organisms are
mortal but "death is not inherent in living matter. Protoplasm may live
forever." Nevertheless, "mortal man and the immortal protozoa have the
same barren immortality; the individuals 'perish, living on only in their
descendants ... the type alone persists."
#70. Insects and Flowers. SR 79(Apr 6 1895):440-41. [GHW, GNR]. Discusses
examples of pollination by various insects.
#71. Pygmy Philosophy. PMG 60(Apr 11 1895):4. [H&P; ACW: Pigmies";
GNR links this cue-title to SR (July 13, 1895), but ACW enters it under
"Sat Review" and "PMG" in title-groups published no later
than April, and only the PMG entry is crossed off (indicating publication);
also, the SR review, but not the PMG review, is uncommonly colorless for Wells].
Rejects the efforts of J.L.A. de Quatrefages, in The Pygmies (trans.
Frederick Starr), "to establish the high moral standards of these primitive
people, and to imply the primordial elevation of humanity."
#72. Scientific Research as a Parlour Game. SR 79(Apr 20 1895):516. [GHW, GNR].
A review of I. W. Heysinger's The Source and Mode of Solar Energy, pointing
out Heysinger's ignorance in equating solar energy with electricity and making a
general attack on this kind of dilettantism.
#73. In the New Forest. SR 79(Apr 27 1895):544-45. [GHW, GNR]. Mentions some
animals to be met with in the forest and raises some questions about their
#74. The Protean Gas. SR 79(May 4 1895):576-77. [GHW, GNR]. A quizzical
discussion of the controversy surrounding the discovery of argon.
#75. The Influence of Islands on Variation. SR 80(Aug 17 1895):204-05. [GHW,
GNR]. "Isolation on islands has played a larger part in the evolution of
the animals and plants than is usually attributed to it" since this
isolation, which according to modern geological findings is intermittent, gives
rise in its periodicity to "an immense number of new species" among
which natural selection takes place whenever the island resumes its connection
with the mainland.
#76. Bio-optimism. Nature 52(Aug 29 1895):410-11. [Signed]. A review of The
Evergreen by Patrick Geddes et al., in which Wells rejects Geddes' arguments
against the idea that the struggle for existence is the prime mechanism in
evolution: "As a matter of fact Natural Selection grips us more firmly than
it ever did, because the doubts thrown upon the inheritance of acquired
characteristics have deprived us of our trust in education as a means of
redemption for decadent families." Moreover, "a static species is
mechanical, an evolving species suffering." "The phenomena of
degeneration rob one of any confidence that the new forms [of life] will
be...'higher'... than the old."
#77. The Visibility of Change in the Moon. Knowledge 18(Oct
1895):230-31. [Signed]. While it is popularly believed that the lunar surface
has not changed, there is every reason to suppose that it has, and that this
change has escaped observation not only because the process of lunar
transformation would be less noticeable than its terrestrial counterpart, but
also because "the eye that watched [the moon] was set against the
expectation of change."
#78. Concerning the Nose. The Ludgate l(Apr 1896):678-81. [Signed].
Light-hearted speculation, with satiric undertones, on the future evolution of
the inexplicable human nose. "The nose of to-day ... is in . . . a
transitory and developing stage. One may conceive 'advanced' noses, inspired
with an evolutionary striving towards something higher, remoter, better-we know
not what. We seem to need ideals here."
#79. Intelligence on Mars. SR 81(Apr 4 1896):345-46. [GHW, GNR]. Argues that
if "there has been an evolution of protoplasm upon Mars, there is every
reason to think that the creatures on Mars would be different from the creatures
of earth, in form and function, in structure and in habit, different beyond the
most bizarre imaginings of nightmare." "No phase of anthropomorphism
is more naive than the supposition of men on Mars." A report in SSJ 2(Nov
1888):57-58, "Mr. Wells on the Habitability of the Planets," indicates
that at least part of the substance of what Wells advances in his SR essay had
already been formulated as early as October 1888.
#80. The Origin of the Senses. SR, 81(May 9 1896):471-72. [GHW, GNR]. A
discussion of the evolution of the nose, from primitive chemotropic, and the
eye, from primitive phototropic, mechanisms, and of the ear, as "an organ
for translating vibrations into touches."
#81. Concerning Skeletons. SR 81(June 27 1896):646-47. [GHW, GNR]. Begins by
raising the questions, why a skeleton of phosphate and carbonate of lime rather
than of silica, which would be sturdier and more durable; and why a skeletal
structure at all, which is "not simply explicable as a response to the need
for support and armature"; then grants that these are as yet unanswerable
questions, but suggests "that the line of advance in biology lies now along
the path of physiological chemistry [i.e., biochemistry]."
#82. The Life-of Plants. SR 82(Aug 8 1896):131-32. [GHW, GNR]. Points out
that the differences between animals and plants are not so great as most people
imagine. All plants have at least local motion, with the "lower forms of
plant life" moving "as actively as animal protoplasm"; moreover,
the process whereby plants absorb and assimilate nourishment is not so
mechanical as it is usually supposed to be.
#83. The Possible Individuality of Atoms. SR 82(Sept 5 1896):256-57. [GHW,
GNR]. The fact that oxygen, for example, responds in more than one way to
spectroscopic analysis means "that there are two kinds of oxygen, one with
an atom a little heavier than the other. And this opens one's eyes to an amazing
possibility ... that, after all, atoms might not be all exactly alike, that they
might have individuality, just as animals have."
#84. Human Evolution, an Artificial Process. FR 60(Oct 1896):59095. [Signed].
Because for various reasons man is not as much subject to the rigors of natural
selection as, say, rabbits, "man has undergone ... but an infinitesimal
alteration in his intrinsic nature since the age of unpolished stone,"
especially since civilization impedes the workings of natural selection.
Civilized man is a composite of the "natural man ... the culminating
ape" and the "artificial man . . . the highly plastic creature of
tradition, suggestion, and reasoned thought"; and save for the
"padding of suggested emotional habits" (Wells's definition of
morality), he is no different from the Paleolithic savage. Wells concludes by
saying that "in Education lies the possible salvation of mankind from
misery and sin"--i.e., the "suffering and 'elimination' "
entailed by the evolutionary process.
#85. The Acquired Factor. Academy 51 (Jan 9 1897):37. [Signed]. Wells
approves the constructive Weismannism of C. Lloyd Morgan's Habit and Instinct
(so like his own position in # 84). Morgan infers from analysis of the
proportionate shares of instinct and habit (i.e., education) in higher animals,
including man, that the human body and instincts are no longer evolving. The
mental environment alone evolves. Despite his brute ancestry, man can shape his
world through science, art, and education, and so "cease to be driven, a
dry leaf before the wind."
#86. Morals and Civilisation. FR 61(Feb 1897):263-68. [Signed]. "We must
needs regard social organization and individual morality as determining one
another." Wells takes sexual morality as an example of man's ethical
progress and then asks whether "a rational code of morality" cannot be
formulated at this point in man's history. "We may dream of an informed,
unselfish, unauthorised body of workers, a real and conscious apparatus of
education and moral suggestion ... shaping the minds and acts and destinies of
#87. Human Evolution: Mr. Wells Replies. Natural Science 10(Apr
1897):242-44. Defends the position taken in # 84 against objections raised by F.
H. Perry Coste in Natural Science 1O(Mar 1897):184-87. "My interest
in these theories [about the nature of man] lies chiefly in their application. .
. . After Darwin it has become inevitable that moral conceptions should be
systematically restated in terms of our new conception of the material destiny
#88. On Comparative Theology. SR 85 (Feb 12 1898):212-13. [Signed]. A review
of Grant Allen's The Evolution of the Idea of God (and of an anonymous
work called The [Cabalistic] Canon), which recommends Allen's book as one
"certainly ... to be read," but disagrees with Allen's notion that man
could have come in only one way to the worship of God: "it is certain there
are at least a dozen different ways ... by which a man may arrive at worshipping
"The modern method of inquiry, as Bacon described it, was of course a
systematised Fetishism," says Wells: science, that is, depends on a
fetishistic relation of cause and effect. Indeed, some scientists propound an
"intensely superstitious science" based on cosmic correlations having
nothing to do with cause and effect: witness the comparative anatomist's
penchant for finding structural correspondences among, say, all invertebrates.
Another, much less interesting, review of Allen's book by Wells is
"Grant Allen's 'Idea of God'," Daily Mail (Nov 27 1897):4.
[Signed]. #89. Huxley. Royal College of Science Magazine (formerly SSJ)
13(April 1901):209-11. [Signed]. A reminiscence of his student days under T. H.
Huxley: "I believed then he was the greatest man I was ever likely to meet,
and I believe that all the more firmly today."
#90. The Scepticism of the Instrument. Mind 13(July 1904):379-93. [Signed;
given first as a paper to the Oxford Philosophical Society, Nov 8 1903;
reprinted, altered and abridged about 15%, as an appendix to A Modern
Utopia (1905), and in the Atlantic Edition 9:335-54]. Develops ideas first
bruited in ## 4 and 83. Wells mistrusts the uniformity of formal logic because:
(1) it classifies "uniques as identically similar objects" under some
term that automatically accumulates a specious significance thereby; (2)
"it can only deal freely with negative terms by treating them as though
they were positive", and (3) it projects onto the same plane ideas which in
fact are stratified at various levels of meaning and thus renders contradictory
notions whose real relation to one another is complementary. In Wells's-universe
of uniques, "ethical, social and religious teaching [come] into the
province of poetry." Since philosophy, too, is self-expression, this essay
contains much autobiographical material.
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