Persistent repetition will finally influence the young mind, however gifted, and if Mr Wells had been subject to the discipline of what may be called an efficient education, he might have seen his sphere at the age of twenty-seven as slightly flattened—whether it appeared oblate or prolate is no consequence—and I could not have crowned him with the designation that heads this Introduction.
He is, in fact, normal just in so far as his gift of vision was undistorted by the precepts and dogmas of his parents, teachers and early companions.
Mr Wells’ romances have little or nothing in common with those of Jules Verne, not even that peculiar quality of romance which revels in the impossible. The heroes of Jules Verne were idealised creatures making use of some wonderful invention for their own purposes; and the future of mankind was of no account in the balance against the lust for adventure under new mechanical conditions. Also, Jules Verne’s imagination was at the same time mathematical and Latin; and he was entirely uninfluenced by the writings of Comte.
Mr Wells’ experiments with the relatively improbable have become increasingly involved with the social problem, and it would be possible to trace the growth of his opinions from this evidence alone, even if we had not the valuable commentary afforded by his novels and his essays in sociology. But his interest in the present and future welfare of man would not in the first place have prompted him to the writing of romance (unless it had been cast in the severely allegorical form of The Pilgrim’s Progress), and if we are to account for that ebullition, we shall be driven—like Darwin with his confounding peacock—to take refuge in some theory of exuberance. The later works have been so defensive and, in one sense, didactic that one is apt to forget that many of the earlier books, and all the short stories, must have originated in the effervescence of creative imagination.
Mr Wells must, also, have been slightly intoxicated by the first effects of reaction. A passage from The Future in America exhibits him somewhat gleefully reviving thoughts of the prison-house, and I quote it in order to account for his first exercises in prophecy by a study of contrasts. “I remember,” he writes, “that to me in my boyhood speculation about the Future was a monstrous joke. Like most people of my generation, I was launched into life with millennial assumptions. This present sort of thing, I believed, was going on for a time, interesting personally, perhaps, but as a whole inconsecutive, and then—it might be in my lifetime or a little after it—there would be trumpets and shoutings and celestial phenomena, a battle of Armageddon, and the Judgment.... To talk about the Man of the year Million was, of course, in the face of this great conviction, a whimsical play of fancy. The year Million was just as impossible, just as gaily nonsensical as fairyland....”