H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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The Passionate Friends


Author of "Marriage."




114-120 East Twenty-third Street - - New York




L. E. N. S.



















§ 1

I want very much to set down my thoughts and my experiences of life. I
want to do so now that I have come to middle age and now that my
attitudes are all defined and my personal drama worked out I feel that
the toil of writing and reconsideration may help to clear and fix many
things that remain a little uncertain in my thoughts because they have
never been fully stated, and I want to discover any lurking
inconsistencies and unsuspected gaps. And I have a story. I have lived
through things that have searched me. I want to tell that story as well
as I can while I am still a clear-headed and active man, and while many
details that may presently become blurred and altered are still rawly
fresh in my mind. And to one person in particular do I wish to think I
am writing, and that is to you, my only son. I want to write my story
not indeed to the child you are now, but to the man you are going to be.
You are half my blood and temperamentally altogether mine. A day will
come when you will realize this, and want to know how life has gone with
me, and then it may be altogether too late for me to answer your
enquiries. I may have become inaccessible as old people are sometimes
inaccessible. And so I think of leaving this book for you - at any rate,
I shall write it as if I meant to leave it for you. Afterwards I can
consider whether I will indeed leave it....

The idea of writing such a book as this came to me first as I sat by the
dead body of your grandfather - my father. It was because I wanted so
greatly such a book from him that I am now writing this. He died, you
must know, only a few months ago, and I went to his house to bury him
and settle all his affairs.

At one time he had been my greatest friend. He had never indeed talked
to me about himself or his youth, but he had always showed an
extraordinary sympathy and helpfulness for me in all the confusion and
perplexities into which I fell. This did not last to the end of his
life. I was the child of his middle years, and suddenly, in a year or
less, the curtains of age and infirmity fell between us. There came an
illness, an operation, and he rose from it ailing, suffering, dwarfed
and altogether changed. Of all the dark shadows upon life I think that
change through illness and organic decay in the thoughts and spirits of
those who are dear and close to us is the most evil and distressing and
inexplicable. Suddenly he was a changeling, a being querulous and
pitiful, needing indulgence and sacrifices.

In a little while a new state of affairs was established. I ceased to
consider him as a man to whom one told things, of whom one could expect
help or advice. We all ceased to consider him at all in that way. We
humored him, put pleasant things before him, concealed whatever was
disagreeable. A poor old man he was indeed in those concluding years,
weakly rebellious against the firm kindliness of my cousin, his
housekeeper and nurse. He who had once been so alert was now at times
astonishingly apathetic. At times an impish malice I had never known in
him before gleamed in little acts and speeches. His talk rambled, and
for the most part was concerned with small, long-forgotten contentions.
It was indistinct and difficult to follow because of a recent loss of
teeth, and he craved for brandy, to restore even for a moment the sense
of strength and well-being that ebbed and ebbed away from him. So that
when I came to look at his dead face at last, it was with something like
amazement I perceived him grave and beautiful - more grave and beautiful
than he had been even in the fullness of life.

All the estrangement of the final years was wiped in an instant from my
mind as I looked upon his face. There came back a rush of memories, of
kind, strong, patient, human aspects of his fatherhood. And I remembered
as every son must remember - even you, my dear, will some day remember
because it is in the very nature of sonship - insubordinations,
struggles, ingratitudes, great benefits taken unthankfully, slights and
disregards. It was not remorse I felt, nor repentance, but a tremendous
regret that so things had happened and that life should be so. Why is
it, I thought, that when a son has come to manhood he cannot take his
father for a friend? I had a curious sense of unprecedented communion
as I stood beside him now. I felt that he understood my thoughts; his
face seemed to answer with an expression of still and sympathetic

I was sensible of amazing gaps. We had never talked together of love,
never of religion.

All sorts of things that a man of twenty-eight would not dream of hiding
from a coeval he had hidden from me. For some days I had to remain in
his house, I had to go through his papers, handle all those intimate
personal things that accumulate around a human being year by
year - letters, yellowing scraps of newspaper, tokens, relics kept,
accidental vestiges, significant litter. I learnt many things I had
never dreamt of. At times I doubted whether I was not prying, whether I
ought not to risk the loss of those necessary legal facts I sought, and
burn these papers unread. There were love letters, and many such
touching things.

My memories of him did not change because of these new lights, but they
became wonderfully illuminated. I realized him as a young man, I began
to see him as a boy. I found a little half-bound botanical book with
stencil-tinted illustrations, a good-conduct prize my father had won at
his preparatory school; a rolled-up sheet of paper, carbonized and dry
and brittle, revealed itself as a piece of specimen writing, stiff with
boyish effort, decorated in ambitious and faltering flourishes and still
betraying the pencil rulings his rubber should have erased. Already your
writing is better than that. And I found a daguerreotype portrait of him
in knickerbockers against a photographer's stile. His face then was not
unlike yours. I stood with that in my hand at the little bureau in his
bedroom, and looked at his dead face.

The flatly painted portrait of his father, my grandfather, hanging
there in the stillness above the coffin, looking out on the world he had
left with steady, humorous blue eyes that followed one about the
room, - that, too, was revivified, touched into reality and participation
by this and that, became a living presence at a conference of lives.
Things of his were there also in that life's accumulation....

There we were, three Strattons together, and down in the dining-room
were steel engravings to take us back two generations further, and we
had all lived full lives, suffered, attempted, signified. I had a
glimpse of the long successions of mankind. What a huge inaccessible
lumber-room of thought and experience we amounted to, I thought; how
much we are, how little we transmit. Each one of us was but a variation,
an experiment upon the Stratton theme. All that I had now under my hands
was but the merest hints and vestiges, moving and surprising indeed, but
casual and fragmentary, of those obliterated repetitions. Man is a
creature becoming articulate, and why should those men have left so much
of the tale untold - to be lost and forgotten? Why must we all repeat
things done, and come again very bitterly to wisdom our fathers have
achieved before us? My grandfather there should have left me something
better than the still enigma of his watching face. All my life so far
has gone in learning very painfully what many men have learnt before me;
I have spent the greater part of forty years in finding a sort of
purpose for the uncertain and declining decades that remain. Is it not
time the generations drew together and helped one another? Cannot we
begin now to make a better use of the experiences of life so that our
sons may not waste themselves so much, cannot we gather into books that
men may read in an hour or so the gist of these confused and
multitudinous realities of the individual career? Surely the time is
coming for that, when a new private literature will exist, and fathers
and mothers behind their rôles of rulers, protectors, and supporters,
will prepare frank and intimate records of their thought and their
feeling, told as one tells things to equals, without authority or
reserves or discretions, so that, they being dead, their children may
rediscover them as contemporaries and friends.

That desire for self-expression is indeed already almost an instinct
with many of us. Man is disposed to create a traditional wisdom. For me
this book I contemplate is a need. I am just a year and a half from a
bitter tragedy and the loss of a friend as dear as life to me. It is
very constantly in my mind. She opened her mind to me as few people open
their minds to anyone. In a way, little Stephen, she died for you. And I
am so placed that I have no one to talk to quite freely about her. The
one other person to whom I talk, I cannot talk to about her; it is
strange, seeing how we love and trust one another, but so it is; you
will understand that the better as this story unfolds. For eight long
years before the crisis that culminated in her tragic death I never saw
her; yet, quite apart from the shock and distresses of that time, it has
left me extraordinarily lonely and desolate.

And there was a kind of dreadful splendor in that last act of hers,
which has taken a great hold upon my imagination; it has interwoven with
everything else in my mind, it bears now upon every question. I cannot
get away from it, while it is thus pent from utterance.... Perhaps
having written this to you I may never show it you or leave it for you
to see. But yet I must write it. Of all conceivable persons you, when
you have grown to manhood, are the most likely to understand.

§ 2

You did not come to see your dead grandfather, nor did you know very
much about the funeral. Nowadays we do not bring the sweet egotisms, the
vivid beautiful personal intensities of childhood, into the cold, vast
presence of death. I would as soon, my dear, have sent your busy little
limbs toiling up the Matterhorn. I have put by a photograph of my father
for you as he lay in that last stillness of his, that you will see at a
properer time.

Your mother and I wore black only at his funeral and came back colored
again into your colored world, and in a very little while your interest
in this event that had taken us away for a time turned to other, more
assimilable things. But there happened a little incident that laid hold
upon me; you forgot it, perhaps, in a week or less, but I shall never
forget it; and this incident it was that gathered up the fruits of those
moments beside my father's body and set me to write this book. It had
the effect of a little bright light held up against the vague dark
immensities of thought and feeling that filled my mind because of my
father's death.

Now that I come to set it down I see that it is altogether trivial, and
I cannot explain how it is that it is to me so piercingly significant. I
had to whip you. Your respect for the admirable and patient
Mademoiselle Potin, the protectress and companion of your public
expeditions, did in some slight crisis suddenly fail you. In the extreme
publicity of Kensington Gardens, in the presence of your two little
sisters, before a startled world, you expressed an opinion of her, in
two languages and a loud voice, that was not only very unjust, but
extremely offensive and improper. It reflected upon her intelligence and
goodness; it impeached her personal appearance; it was the kind of
outcry no little gentleman should ever permit himself, however deeply he
may be aggrieved. You then, so far as I was able to disentangle the
evidence, assaulted her violently, hurled a stone at her, and fled her
company. You came home alone by a route chosen by yourself, flushed and
wrathful, braving the dangers of Kensington High Street. This, after my
stern and deliberate edict that, upon pain of corporal punishment,
respect and obedience must be paid to Mademoiselle Potin. The logic of
the position was relentless.

But where your behavior was remarkable, where the affair begins to touch
my imagination, was that you yourself presently put the whole business
before me. Alone in the schoolroom, you seem to have come to some
realization of the extraordinary dreadfulness of your behavior. Such
moments happen in the lives of all small boys; they happened to me times
enough, to my dead father, to that grandfather of the portrait which is
now in my study, to his father and his, and so on through long series of
Strattons, back to inarticulate, shock-haired little sinners slinking
fearfully away from the awful wrath, the bellowings and limitless
violence of the hairy Old Man of the herd. The bottom goes out of your
heart then, you are full of a conviction of sin. So far you did but
carry on the experience of the race. But to ask audience of me, to come
and look me in the eye, to say you wanted my advice on a pressing
matter, that I think marks almost a new phase in the long developing
history of father and son. And your account of the fracas struck me as
quite reasonably frank and honest. "I didn't seem able," you observed,
"not to go on being badder and badder."

We discussed the difficulties of our situation, and you passed sentence
upon yourself. I saw to it that the outraged dignity of Mademoiselle
Potin was mocked by no mere formality of infliction. You did your best
to be stoical, I remember, but at last you yelped and wept. Then,
justice being done, you rearranged your costume. The situation was a
little difficult until you, still sobbing and buttoning - you are really
a shocking bad hand at buttons - and looking a very small, tender,
ruffled, rueful thing indeed, strolled towards my study window. "The
pear tree is out next door," you remarked, without a trace of animosity,
and sobbing as one might hiccough.

I suppose there are moments in the lives of all grown men when they come
near to weeping aloud. In some secret place within myself I must have
been a wild river of tears. I answered, however, with the same admirable
detachment from the smarting past that you had achieved, that my study
window was particularly adapted to the appreciation of our neighbor's
pear tree, because of its height from the ground. We fell into a
conversation about blossom and the setting of fruit, kneeling together
upon my window-seat and looking up into the pear tree against the sky,
and then down through its black branches into the gardens all
quickening with spring. We were on so friendly a footing when presently
Mademoiselle Potin returned and placed her dignity or her resignation in
my hands, that I doubt if she believed a word of all my assurances until
the unmistakable confirmation of your evening bath. Then, as I
understood it, she was extremely remorseful to you and indignant against
my violence....

But when I knelt with you, little urchin, upon my window-seat, it came
to me as a thing almost intolerably desirable that some day you should
become my real and understanding friend. I loved you profoundly. I
wanted to stretch forward into time and speak to you, man myself to the
man you are yet to be. It seemed to me that between us there must needs
be peculiar subtleties of sympathy. And I remembered that by the time
you were a man fully grown and emerging from the passionately tumultuous
openings of manhood, capable of forgiving me all my blundering
parentage, capable of perceiving all the justifying fine intention of my
ill-conceived disciplines and misdirections, I might be either an old
man, shriveling again to an inexplicable egotism, or dead. I saw myself
as I had seen my father - first enfeebled and then inaccessibly tranquil.
When presently you had gone from my study, I went to my writing-desk and
drew a paper pad towards me, and sat thinking and making idle marks upon
it with my pen. I wanted to exceed the limits of those frozen silences
that must come at last between us, write a book that should lie in your
world like a seed, and at last, as your own being ripened, flower into
living understanding by your side.

This book, which before had been only an idea for a book, competing
against many other ideas and the demands of that toilsome work for
peace and understanding to which I have devoted the daily energies of my
life, had become, I felt, an imperative necessity between us.

§ 3

And then there happened one of those crises of dread and apprehension
and pain that are like a ploughing of the heart. It was brought home to
me that you might die even before the first pages of this book of yours
were written. You became feverish, complained of that queer pain you had
felt twice before, and for the third time you were ill with
appendicitis. Your mother and I came and regarded your touzled head and
flushed little face on the pillow as you slept uneasily, and decided
that we must take no more risks with you. So soon as your temperature
had fallen again we set about the business of an operation.

We told each other that nowadays these operations were as safe as going
to sleep in your bed, but we knew better. Our own doctor had lost his
son. "That," we said, "was different." But we knew well enough in our
hearts that you were going very near to the edge of death, nearer than
you had ever been since first you came clucking into the world.

The operation was done at home. A capable, fair-complexioned nurse took
possession of us; and my study, because it has the best light, was
transfigured into an admirable operating-room. All its furnishings were
sent away, every cloth and curtain, and the walls and floor were covered
with white sterilized sheets. The high little mechanical table they
erected before the window seemed to me like an altar on which I had to
offer up my son. There were basins of disinfectants and towels
conveniently about, the operator came, took out his array of scalpels
and forceps and little sponges from the black bag he carried, put them
ready for his hand, and then covered them from your sight with a white
cloth, and I brought you down in my arms, wrapped in a blanket, from
your bedroom to the anæsthetist. You were beautifully trustful and
submissive and unafraid. I stood by you until the chloroform had done
its work, and then left you there, lest my presence should in the
slightest degree embarrass the surgeon. The anæsthetic had taken all the
color out of your face, and you looked pinched and shrunken and greenish
and very small and pitiful. I went into the drawing-room and stood there
with your mother and made conversation. I cannot recall what we said, I
think it was about the moorland to which we were going for your
convalescence. Indeed, we were but the ghosts of ourselves; all our
substance seemed listening, listening to the little sounds that came to
us from the study.

Then after long ages there was a going to and fro of feet, a bump, the
opening of a door, and our own doctor came into the room rubbing his
hands together and doing nothing to conceal his profound relief.
"Admirable," he said, "altogether successful." I went up to you and saw
a tumbled little person in the bed, still heavily insensible and moaning
slightly. By the table were bloody towels, and in a shallow glass tray
was a small object like a damaged piece of earthworm. "Not a bit too
soon," said the surgeon, holding this up in his forceps for my
inspection. "It's on the very verge of perforation." I affected a
detached and scientific interest, but the prevailing impression in my
mind was that this was a fragment from very nearly the centre of your

He took it away with him, I know not whither. Perhaps it is now in
spirits in a specimen jar, an example to all medical students of what to
avoid in an appendix; perhaps it was stained and frozen, and
microtomized into transparent sections as they do such things, and
mounted on glass slips and distributed about the world for curious
histologists to wreak their eyes upon. For a time you lay uneasily still
and then woke up to pain. Even then you got a fresh purchase on my
heart. It has always been our custom to discourage weeping and outcries,
and you did not forget your training. "I shan't mind so much, dadda,"
you remarked to me, "if I may yelp." So for a day, by special
concession, you yelped, and then the sting of those fresh wounds

Within a fortnight, so quickly does an aseptic wound heal up again, you
were running about in the sun, and I had come back, as one comes back to
a thing forgotten, to the first beginnings of this chapter on my desk.
But for a time I could not go on working at it because of the fear I had
felt, and it is only now in June, in this house in France to which we
have come for the summer, with you more flagrantly healthy than I have
ever known you before, that my heart creeps out of its hole again, and I
can go on with my story.



§ 1

I was a Harbury boy as my father and grandfather were before me and as
you are presently to be. I went to Harbury at the age of fourteen. Until
then I was educated at home, first by a governess and then by my
father's curate, Mr. Siddons, who went from us to St. Philip's in
Hampstead, and, succeeding marvellously there, is now Bishop of
Exminster. My father became rector of Burnmore when I was nine; my
mother had been dead four years, and my second cousin, Jane Stratton,
was already his housekeeper. My father held the living until his
resignation when I was nearly thirty. So that all the most
impressionable years of my life centre upon the Burnmore rectory and the
easy spaciousness of Burnmore Park. My boyhood and adolescence
alternated between the ivied red-brick and ancient traditions of Harbury
(and afterwards Christ-church) and that still untroubled countryside.

I was never a town dweller until I married and we took our present house
in Holland Park. I went into London at last as one goes into an arena.
It cramps me and wearies me and at times nearly overwhelms me, but
there it is that the life of men centres and my work lies. But every
summer we do as we have done this year and go to some house in the
country, near to forests or moorland or suchlike open and uncultivated
country, where one may have the refreshment of freedom among natural and
unhurried things. This year we are in a walled garden upon the Seine,
about four miles above Château Galliard, and with the forest reaching up
to the paddock beyond the orchard close....

You will understand better when I have told you my story why I saw
Burnmore for the last time when I was one-and-twenty and why my memories
of it shine so crystalline clear. I have a thousand vivid miniatures of
it in my mind and all of them are beautiful to me, so that I could quite
easily write a whole book of landscapes from the Park alone. I can still
recall quite vividly the warm beauty-soaked sensation of going out into
the morning sunshine of the Park, with my lunch in a little green Swiss
tin under my arm and the vast interminable day all before me, the
gigantic, divinely unconditional day that only boyhood knows, and the
Park so great and various that it was more than two hours' going for me
to reach its eastern fences. I was only a little older then than you are

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