To the tail of these romances I may pin the majority of Mr Wells’ short stories. The best of them are all included in the collection published under the title of The Country of the Blind. In this form Mr Wells displays nothing but the exuberance of his invention. In the Preface to the collection he defines his conception of short-story writing as “the jolly art of making something very bright and moving; it may be horrible or pathetic or funny, or beautiful, or profoundly illuminating, having only this essential, that it should take from fifteen to twenty minutes to read aloud.” I can add nothing to that description, and would only take away from it so much as is implied by the statement that I cannot call to mind any one of these stories which is “profoundly illuminating” in the same sense that I would certainly apply the phrase to some of the romances. Jolly and bright they undoubtedly are, but when they are moving, they provide food for wonder rather than for enlightenment....
I cannot leave these romances without a comment on Mr Wells’ justification as preacher and prophet. Writing in the midst of the turmoil of war, I am vividly conscious of having had my mind prepared for it by the material I have here so inadequately described. All the misunderstandings, the weaknesses, the noisy, meaningless ambitions, the tepid acceptance of traditional standards, have been exposed by Mr Wells in these fantasies of his. And in The War in the Air, with just such exaggerations as are necessary for a fiction of this kind, he has forecast the conditions which have now overtaken us. We know—or we might know if we had the capacity for any sort of consequent consideration of our conditions—that in a reasonably conducted civilisation no such awful catastrophe as this senseless conflagration could have been possible. No doubt we shall profit by the lesson, but it is one that any individual might have learned for himself from these romances, without paying the fearful price that is now necessary. And because humanity is apt to forget its most drastic punishments, to revert to its original inertia as soon as the smart is healed, I feel that when the worst is over, these books will have a greater value than ever before. I believe that in them may be found just those essentials of detachment and broad vision which might serve to promote a higher and more stable civilisation.
I am willing to maintain that H.G. Wells is second to none as a writer of romances of the type I have just examined. I am less certain of his position as a novelist. He brings to his fiction the open-eyed recognition of realities, the fine analysis of modern conditions, the lucid consequent thought and the clean, graphic style that mark the qualities of his other method; he has that “poetic gift, the gift of the creative and illuminating phrase,” which,