H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

The world set free; a story of mankind online

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Copyright, 191 4
By H. G. Wells

Printed in the United States of America


/HA 1(4










The Sun Snarers ,. . . ii

The New Source of Energy ...... 40

The Last War 89

The Ending of War . 149

The New Phase . . 210

The Last Days of Marcus Karenin . . . 265




The Sun Snarers

§ I.

The history of mankind is the history of the at-
tainment of external power. Man is the tool-us-
ing, fire-making animal. From the outset of his
terrestrial career we find him supplementing the
natural strength and bodily weapons of a beast by
the heat of burning and the rough implement of
stone. So he passed beyond the ape. From that
he expands. Presently he added to himself the
power of the horse and the ox, he borrowed the
carrying strength of water and the driving force
of the wind, he quickened his fire by blowing, and
his simple tools, pointed first with copper and then
with iron, increased and varied and became more
elaborate and efficient. He sheltered his heat in
houses and made his way easier by paths and roads.
He complicated his social relationships and In-



creased his efficiency by the division of labour.
He began to store up knowledge. Contrivance
followed contrivance, each making it possible for a
man to do more. Always down the lengthening
record, save for a set-back ever and again, he is
doing more. . . .

A quarter of a million years ago the utmost man
was a savage, a being scarcely articulate, sheltering
in holes in the rocks, armed with a rough-hewn
flint or a fire-pointed stick, naked, living in small
family groups, killed by some younger man so soon
as his first virile activity declined. Over most of
the great wildernesses of earth you would have
sought him in vain; only in a few temperate and
subtropical river valleys would you have found the
squatting lairs of his little herds, a male, a few fe-
males, a child or so.

He knew no future then, no kind of life except
the life he led. He fled the cave-bear over the
rocks full of iron ore and the promise of sword and
spear; he froze to death upon a ledge of coal; he
drank water muddy with clay that would one day
make cups of porcelain; he chewed the ear of wild
wheat he had plucked and gazed with a dim spec-
ulation in his eyes at the birds that soared beyond
his reach. Or suddenly he became aware of the
scent of another male and rose up roaring, his
roars the formless precursors of moral admo-



nitlons. For he was a great individualist, that
original, he suffered none other than himself.

So through the long generations, this heavy pre-
cursor, this ancestor of all of us, fought and bred
and perished, changing almost imperceptibly.

Yet he changed. That keen chisel of necessity
which sharpened the tiger's claw age by age and
fined down the clumsy Orohippus to the swift
grace of the horse, was at work upon him — is at
work upon him still. The clumsier and more
stupidly fierce among him were killed soonest and
oftenest; the finer hand, the quicker eye, the bigger
brain, the better balanced body prevailed; age by
age the implements were a little better made, the
man a little more delicately adjusted to his pos-
sibilities. He became more social; his herd grew
larger; no longer did each man kill or drive out
his growing sons; a system of taboos made them
tolerable to him, and they revered him alive and
soon even after he was dead, and were his allies
against the beasts and the rest of mankind. (But
they were forbidden to touch the women of the
tribe, they had to go out and capture women for
themselves, and each son fled from his stepmother
and hid from her lest the anger of the Old Man
should be roused. All the world over, even to this
day, these ancient inevitable taboos can be traced.)
And now instead of caves came huts and hovels,



and the fire was better tended, and there were
wrappings and garments; and so aided, the cre-
ature spread into colder climates, carrying food
with him, storing food — until sometimes the
neglected grass-seed sprouted again and gave a
first hint of agriculture.

And already there were the beginnings of leisure
and thought.

Man began to think. There were times when
he was fed, when his lusts and his fears were all
appeased, when the sun shone upon the squatting-
place and dim stirrings of speculation lit his eyes.
He scratched upon a bone and found resemblance
and pursued it and began pictorial art, moulded
the soft warm clay of the river brink between his
fingers and found a pleasure in its patternlngs and
repetitions, shaped it into the form of vessels and
found that It would hold water. He watched the
streaming river and wondered from what bountiful
breast this incessant water came ; he blinked at the
sun and dreamt that perhaps he might snare It and
spear it as It went down to Its resting-place amidst
the distant hills. Then he was roused to convey
to his brother that once Indeed he had done so —
at least that someone had done so — he mixed that
perhaps with another dream almost as daring, that
one day a mammoth had been beset ; and therewith
began fiction — pointing a way to achievement —



and the august, prophetic procession of tales.
For scores and hundreds of centuries, for
myriads of generations, that life of our fathers
went on. From the beginning to the ripening of
that phase of human life, from the first clumsy
eoliths of rudely chipped flint to the first imple-
ments of polished stone, was two or three thousand
centuries, ten or fifteen thousand generations. So
slowly, by human standards, did humanity gather
itself together out of the dim intimations of the
beast. And that first glimmering of speculation,
that first story of achievement, that story-teller,
bright-eyed and flushed under his matted hair,
gesticulating to his gaping, incredulous listener,
gripping his wrist to keep him attentive, was the
most marvellous beginning this world has ever
seen. It doomed the mammoths, and it began the
setting of that snare that shall catch the sun.

§ 2.

That dream was but a moment in a man's life,
whose proper business it seemed was to get food
and kill his fellows and beget after the manner of
all that belongs to the fellowship of the beasts.
About him, hidden from him by the thinnest of
veils, were the untouched sources of Power, whose
magnitude we scarcely do more than suspect even
to-day, Power that could make his every conceiv-


able dream come real. But the feet of the race
were in the way of it, though he died blindly un-

At last, in the generous levels of warm river val-
leys, where food is abundant and life very easy,
the emerging human, overcoming his earlier
jealousies, becoming, as necessity persecuted him
less urgently, more social and tolerant and amen-
able, achieved a larger community. There began
a division of labour, certain of the older men
specialised in knowledge and direction, a strong
man took the fatherly leadership in war, and priest
and king began to develop their roles in the open-
ing drama of man's history. The priest's solici-
tude was seed-time and harvest and fertility, and
the king ruled peace and war. In a hundred river
valleys about the warm temperate zone of the
earth there were already towns and temples, a
score of thousand years ago. They flourished un-
recorded, ignoring the past and unsuspicious of the
future, for as yet writing had still to begin.

Very slowly did man increase his demand upon
the illimitable wealth of Power that offered itself
on every hand to him. He tamed certain animals,
he developed his primordially haphazard agricul-
ture into a ritual, he added first one metal to his
resources, and then another, until he had copper
and tin and iron and lead and gold and silver to



supplement his stone ; he hewed and carved wood,
made pottery, paddled down his river until he
came to the sea, discovered the wheel and made the
first roads. But his chief activity for a hundred
centuries and more was the subjugation of himself
and others to larger and larger societies. The
history of man is not simply the conquest of ex-
ternal power; It is first the conquest of those dis-
trusts and fiercenesses, that self-concentration and
intensity of animalism, that tie his hands from
taking his inheritance. The ape in us still resents
association. From the dawn of the age of pol-
ished stone to the achievement of the Peace of the
World, man's dealings were chiefly with himself
and his fellow man, trading, bargaining, law-
making, propitiating, enslaving, conquering, ex-
terminating, and every little increment In Power,
he turned at once and always turns to the purposes
of this confused, elaborate struggle to socialise.
To incorporate and comprehend his fellow men
into a community of purpose became the last and
greatest of his Instincts. Already, before the last
polished phase of the stone age was over, he had
become a political animal. He made astonish-
ingly far-reaching discoveries within himself, first
of counting and then of writing and making rec-
ords, and with that his town communities began to
stretch out to dominion; In the valleys of the Nile,



the Euphrates, and the great Chinese rivers, the
first empires and the first written laws had their
beginnings. Men specialised for fighting and rule
as soldiers and knights. Later, as ships grew sea-
worthy, the Mediterranean, which had been a bar-
rier, became a highway, and at last, out of a tangle
of pirate polities, came the great struggle of
Carthage and Rome. The history of Europe is
the history of the victory and breaking up of the
Roman Empire. Every ascendant monarch in
Europe up to the last, aped Caesar and called him-
self Kaiser or Czar or Imperator or Kasir-i-Hind.
Measured by the duration of human life, it is a vast
space of time between that first dynasty in Egypt
and the coming of the aeroplanes, but by the scale
that looks back to the makers of the eoliths it is
all of it a story of yesterday.

Now during this period of two hundred centu-
ries or more, this period of the warring states,
while men's minds were chiefly preoccupied by
politics and mutual aggression, their progress in
the acquirement of external Power was slow, rapid
in comparison with the progress of the old stone
age, but slow in comparison with this new age of
systematic discovery in which we live. They did
not very greatly alter the weapons and tactics of
warfare, the methods of agriculture, seamanship,
their knowledge of the habitable globe, or the de-



vices and utensils of domestic life between the days
of the early Egyptians and the days when Christo-
pher Columbus was a child. Of course, there
were inventions and changes, but there were also
retrogressions; things were found out and then
forgotten again; It was on the whole a progress,
but it contained no steps; the peasant life was the
same, there were already priests and lawyers and
town craftsmen and territorial lords and rulers,
doctors, wise women, soldiers and sailors In Egypt
and China and Assyria and south-eastern Europe
at the beginning of that period, and they were do-
ing much the same things and living much the
same life as they were in Europe In 1500 a.d.
The English excavators of the year 1900 a.d.
could delve into the remains of Babylon and Egypt
and disinter legal documents, domestic accounts
and family correspondence that they could read
with the completest sympathy. There were
great religious and moral changes throughout the
period, empires and republics replaced one an-
other, Italy tried a vast experiment in slavery, and
indeed slavery was tried again and again and
failed and failed and was still to be tested again
and rejected again In the New World; Christianity
and Mahometanism swept away a thousand more
specialised cults, but essentially these were pro-
gressive adaptations of mankind to material con-



ditlons that must have seemed fixed for ever.
The idea of revolutionary changes in the material
conditions of life would have been entirely strange
to human thought through all that time.

Yet the dreamer, the story-teller, was there still,
waiting for his opportunity amidst the busy preoc-
cupations, the comings and goings, the wars and
processions, the castle building and cathedral
building, the arts and loves, the small diplomacies
and incurable feuds, the crusades and trading jour-
neys of the Middle Ages. He no longer specu-
lated with the untrammelled freedom of the Stone
Age savage; authoritative explanations of every-
thing barred his path; but he speculated with a
better brain, sat idle and gazed at circling stars
in the sky and mused upon the coin and crystal in
his hand. Whenever there was a certain leisure
for thought throughout these times, then men
were to be found dissatisfied with the appear-
ances of things, dissatisfied with the assurances
of orthodox belief, uneasy with a sense of unread
symbols in the world about them, questioning the
finality of scholastic wisdom. Through all the
ages of history there were men to whom this whis-
per had come of hidden things about them. They
could no longer lead ordinary lives nor content
themselves with the common things of this world
once they had heard this voice. And mostly they



believed not only that all this world was, as it were,
a painted curtain before things unguessed at, but
that these secrets were Power. Hitherto Power
had come to men by chance, but now there were
these seekers, seeking, seeking among rare and
curious and perplexing objects, sometimes finding
some odd utilisable thing, sometimes deceiving
themselves with fancied discovery, sometimes pre-
tending to find. The world of every day laughed
at these eccentric beings, or found them annoying
and ill-treated them, or was seized with fear and
made saints and sorcerers and warlocks of them,
or with covetousness and entertained them hope-
fully; but for the greater part.heeded them not at
all. Yet they were of the blood of him who had
first dreamt of attacking the mammoth; every one
of them was of his blood and descent; and the
thing they sought, all unwittingly, was the snare
that will some day catch the sun.

§ 3-
Such a man was Leonardo da Vinci, who went
about the court of Sforza In Milan in a state of
dignified abstraction. His commonplace books
are full of prophedc subtlety and Ingenious /
anticipations of the methods of the early avi-
ators. Diirer was his parallel and Roger Ba-
con — whom the Franciscans silenced — of



his kindred. Such a man, again, in an earlier
city was Hero of Alexandria, who knew of the
power of steam nineteen hundred years before
it was first brought into use. And earlier
still was Archimedes of Syracuse, and still earlier
the legendary Daedalus of Cnossus. All up and
down the record of history, whenever there was
a little leisure from war and brutality, the
seekers appeared. And half the alchemists were
of their tribe.

When Roger Bacon blew up his first batch of
gunpowder one might have supposed that men
would have gone on at once to the explosive en-
gine. But they could see nothing of the sort.
They were not yet beginning to think of seeing
things ; their metallurgy was all too poor to make
such engines, even had they thought of them. For
a time they could not make instruments sound
enough to stand this new force, even for so rough
a purpose as hurling a missile, their first guns had
barrels of coopered timber, and the world waited
for more than five hundred years before the explo-
sive engine came.

Even when the seekers found, it was at first a
long journey before the world could use their find-
ings for any but the roughest, most obvious pur-
poses. If man in general was not still as abso-
lutely blind to the unconqucred energies about him



as his Paleolithic precursor, he was at best pur-

§ 4.

The latent energy of coal and the power of
steam waited long on the verge of discovery, be-
fore they began to influence human lives.

There were no doubt many such devices as
Hero's toys, devised and forgotten, time after
time, in courts and palaces, but it needed that coal
should be mined and burning with plentiful iron
at hand before it dawned upon men that here was
something more than a curiosity. And it is to be
remarked that the first recorded suggestion for the
use of steam was in war; there is an Elizabethan
pamphlet in which it is proposed to fire shot out of
corked iron bottles full of heated water. The
mining of coal for fuel, the smelting of iron upon
a larger scale than men had ever done before, the
steam pumping engine, the steam engine and the
steamboat, followed one another in an order that
had a kind of logical necessity. It is the most
interesting and instructive chapter in the history
of human intelligence, the history of steam from
its beginning as a fact in human consciousness to
the perfection of the great turbine engines that
preceded the utilisation of intra-molecular power.
Nearly every human being must have seen steam,
seen it incuriously for many thousands of years;



the women in particular were always heating wa-
ter, boiling it, seeing it boil away, seeing the lids
of vessels dance with its fury; millions of people
at different times must have watched steam pitch-
ing rocks out of volcanoes like cricket balls and
blowing pumice into foam, and yet you may search
the whole human record* through, letters, books,
inscriptions, pictures, for any glimme«r of a reali-
sation that here was force, here was strength to
borrow and use. . . . Then suddenly man woke
up to it, the railways spread like a network over
the globe, the ever-enlarging iron steamships be-
gan their staggering fight against wind and wave.

Steam was the first comer in the new powers,
it was the beginning in the Age of Energy that
was to close the long history of the Warring States.

But for a long time men did not realise the im-
portance of this novelty. They would not recog-
nise, they were not able to recognise, that anything
fundamental had happened to their immemorial
necessities. They called the steam-engine the
" iron horse '' and pretended that they had made
the most partial of substitutions. Steam machin-
ery and factory production were visibly revolution-
ising the conditions of Industrial production,
population was streaming steadily in from the
countryside and concentrating in hitherto un-
thought-of masses about a few city centres, food



was coming to them over enormous distances upon
a scale that made the one sole precedent, the com
ships of imperial Rome, a petty incident; and a
huge migration of peoples between Europe and
Western Asia and America was in progress, and —
nobody seems to have realised that something new
had come into human life, a strange swirl different
altogether from any previous circling and muta-
tion, a swirl like the swirl when at last the lock
gates begin to open after a long phase of accumu-
lating water and eddying inactivity. . . .

The sober Englishman at the close of the nine-
teenth century could sit at his breakfast-table, de-
cide between tea from Ceylon or coffee from Bra-
zil, devour an egg from France with some Danish
ham, or eat a New Zealand chop, wind up his
breakfast with a West Indian banana, glance at
the latest telegrams from all the world, scrutinise
the prices current of his geographically distributed
investments in South Africa, Japan and Egypt, and
tell the two children he had begotten (in the place
of his father's eight) that he thought the world
changed very little. They must play cricket, keep
their hair cut, go to the old school he had gone to,
shirk the lessons he had shirked, learn a few scraps
of Horace and Virgil and Homer for the confusion
of cads, and all would be well with them.



§ 5-

Electricity, though it was perhaps the earlier of
the two to be studied, invaded the common life of
men a few decades after the exploitation of steam.
To electricity also, in spite of its provocative near-
ness all about him, mankind had been utterly blind
for incalculable ages.

Could anything be more emphatic than the ap-
peal of electricity for attention? It thundered
at man's ears, it signalled to him in blinding
flashes, occasionally it killed him, and he could not
see it as a thing that concerned him enough to
merit study. It came into the house with the cat
on any dry day and crackled insinuatingly when-
ever he stroked her fur. It rotted his metals
when he put them together. . . . There is no
single record that anyone questioned why the cat's
fur crackles or why hair is so unruly to brush on a
frosty day, before the sixteenth century. For end-
less years man seems to have done his very suc-
cessful best not to think about it at all ; until this
new spirit of the Seeker turned itself to these

How often things must have been seen and dis-
m.issed as unimportant, before the speculative eye
and the moment of vision came ! It was Gilbert,
Queen Elizabeth's court physician, who first puz-



zled his brains with rubbed amber and bits of
glass and silk and shellac, and so began the quick-
ening of the human mind to the existence of this
universal presence. And even then the science of
electricity remained a mere little group of curious
facts for nearly two hundred years, connected per-
haps with magnetism, — a mere guess that — per-
haps with the lightning. Frogs' legs must have
hung by copper hooks from iron railings and
twitched upon countless occasions before Galvani
saw them. Except for the lightning conductor,
it was 250 years after Gilbert before electricity
stepped out of the cabinet of scientific curiosities
into the life of the common man. . . . Then
suddenly in the half century between 1880 and
1930 it ousted the steam engine and took over
traction, it ousted every other form of household
heating, abolished distance with the perfect wire-
less telephone and the telephotograph. . . .

§ 6.

And there was an extraordinary mental resist-
ance to discovery and invention for at least a hun-
dred years after the scientific revolution had be-
gun. Each new thing made its way into practice,
against a scepticism that amounted at times to hos-
tility. One writer upon these subjects gives a
funny little domestic conversation that happened,



he says, in the year 1898, within ten years, that is
to say, of the time when the first aviators were
fairly on the wing. He tells us how he sat at
his desk in his study and conversed with his little

His little boy was in profound trouble. He felt
he had to speak very seriously to his father, and,
as he was a kindly little boy, he did not want to
do it too harshly.

This is what happened : —

*' I wish. Daddy," he said, coming to his point,
" that you wouldn't write all this stuff about fly-
ing. The chaps rot me."

*' Yes? "said his father.

'' And old Broomie, the Head I mean, he rots
me. Everybody rots me."

" But there Is going to be flying — quite soon."

The little boy was too well bred to say what he
thought of that. " Anyhow," he said, " I wish
you wouldn't write about it."

"You'll fly — lots of times — before you die,"
the father assured him.

The little boy looked unhappy.

The father hesitated. Then he opened a
drawer and took out a blurred and under-devel-
oped photograph. " Come and look at this," he

The little boy came round to him. The photo-


graph showed a stream and a meadow beyond
and some trees, and in the air a black, pencil-like
object with flat wings on either side of it. It was
the first record of the first apparatus heavier than
air that ever maintained itself in the air by me-
chanical force. Across the margin was written:

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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe world set free; a story of mankind → online text (page 1 of 16)