H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

Anticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought online

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coming years will see. But here it is clear that
upon the probability of such a renascence depends
the extension of the language, and not only that,
but the preservation of that military and naval
efficiency upon which, in this world of resolute
aggression, the existence of the English-speaking
communities finally depends.

French and German will certainly be aggre-
gating languages during the greater portion of the
coming years. Of the two, I am inclined to think
French will spread further than German. There
is a disposition in the world, which the French
share, to grossly undervalue the prospects of all
things French, derived, so far as I can gather,
from the facts that the French were beaten by
the Germans in 1870, and that they do not breed
with the abandon of rabbits or negroes. These
are considerations that affect the dissemination
of French very little. The French reading public
is something different and very much larger than
the existing French political system. The number
of books published in French is greater than that
published in English; there is a critical reception
" 257



ANTICIPATIONS

for a work published in French that is one of the
few things worth a writer's having, and the French
translators are the most alert and efficient in the
world. One has only to see a Parisian book-shop,
and to recall an English one, to realize the as yet
unattainable standing of French. The serried
ranks of lemon-colored volumes in the former
have the whole range of human thought and in-
terest ; there are no taboos and no limits ; you have
everything up and down the scale, from frank
indecency to stark wisdom. It is a shop for men.
I remember my amazement to discover three copies
of a translation of that most wonderful book,
the Text-book of Psychology of Professor William
James, in a shop in TAvenue de T0p6ra three
copies of a book that I have never seen anywhere
in England outside my own house and I am an
attentive student of book-shop windows 1 And the
French books are all so pleasant in the page, and
so cheap they are for a people that buys to read.
One thinks of the English book-shop, with its
gaudy reach-me-downs of gilded and embossed
cover, its horribly printed novels still more horribly
"illustrated," the exasperating pointless variety
in the size and thickness of its books. The general
effect of the English book is that it is something
sold by a dealer in bric-&-brac, honestly sorry the
thing is a book, but who has done his best to remedy
it, anyhow! And all the English shopful is either
brand new fiction or illustrated travel (of Buns

258



THE CONFLICT OF LANGUAGES

with the Grand Lama type), or gilded versions of
the classics of past times done up to give away.
While the French book-shop reeks of contemporary
intellectual life!

These things count for French as against English
now, and they will count for infinitely more in the
coming years. And over German, also, French has
many advantages. In spite of the numerical pre-
ponderance of books published in Germany, it is
doubtful if the German reader has quite such a
catholic feast before him as the reader of French.
There is a mass of German fiction probably as
uninteresting to a foreigner as popular English and
American romance. And German, compared with
French, is an unattractive language; unmelodious,
unwieldy, and cursed with a hideous and blinding
lettering that the German is too patriotic to sacrifice.
There has been in Germany a more powerful parallel
to what one may call the "honest Saxon" move-
ment among the English, that queer mental twist
that moves men to call an otherwise undistin-
guished preface a "foreword," and find a pleas-
urable advantage over their fellow - creatures in a
familiarity with "eftsoons." This tendency in
German has done much to arrest the simplification
of idiom, and checked the development of new
words of classical origin. In particular it has
stood in the way of the international use of scien-
tific terms. The Englishman, the Frenchman,
and the Italian have a certain community of tech-

259



ANTICIPATIONS

nical, scientific, and philosophical phraseology,
and it is frequently easier for an Englishman with
some special knowledge of his subject to read
and appreciate a subtle and technical work in
French than it is for him to fully enter into the
popular matter of the same tongue. Moreover,
the technicalities of these peoples, being not so im-
mediately and constantly brought into contrast
and contact with their Latin or Greek roots as
they would be if they were derived (as are so many
"patriotic" German technicalities) from native
roots, are free to qualify and develop a final mean-
ing distinct from their original intention. In the
growing and changing body of science this counts
for much. The indigenous German technicality
remains clumsy and compromised by its everyday
relations ; to the end of time it drags a lengthening
chain of unsuitable associations. And the shade
of meaning, the limited qualification, that a French-
man or Englishman can attain with a mere twist
of the sentence, the German must either abandon
or laboriously overstate with some colossal worm-
cast of parenthesis. . . . Moreover, against the
German tongue there are hostile frontiers there
are hostile people who fear German prepon-
derance, and who have set their hearts against
its use. In Roumania, and among the Slav, Bo-
hemian, and Hungarian peoples, French attacks
German in the flank, and has as clear a prospect
of predominance.

260



THE CONFLICT OF LANGUAGES

These two tongues must inevitably come into
keen conflict; they will perhaps fight their battle
for the linguistic conquest of Europe, and perhaps
of the world, in a great urban region that will arise
about the Rhine. Politically this region lies now
in six independent states, but economically it must
become one in the next fifty years. It will almost
certainly be the greatest urban region in all the
world except that which will arise in the eastern
States of North America, and that which may
arise somewhere about Hankow. It will stretch
from Lille to Kiel; it will drive extensions along
the Rhine valley into Switzerland, and fling an arm
along the Moldau to Prague; it will be the industrial
capital of the Old World. Paris will be its West
End, and it will stretch a spider's web of railways
and great roads of the new sort over the whole
continent. Even when the coal-field industries
of the plain give place to the industrial application
of mountain-born electricity, this great city region
will remain, I believe, in its present position at
the seaport end of the great plain of the Old World.
Considerations of transit will keep it where it has
grown, and electricity will be brought to it in mighty
cables from the torrents of the central European
mountain mass. Its westward port may be Bor-
deaux or Milford Haven, or even some port in the
southwest of Ireland unless, which is very un-
likely, the velocity of secure sea-travel can be in-
creased beyond that of land locomotion. I do

261



ANTICIPATIONS

not see how this great region is to unify itself
without some linguistic compromise the Ger-
manization of the French-speaking peoples by force
is too ridiculous a suggestion to entertain. Al-
most inevitably with travel, with transport com-
munications, with every condition of human con-
venience insisting upon it, formally or informally
a bilingual compromise will come into operation,
and, to my mind at least, the chances seem even
that French will emerge on the upper hand. Un-
less, indeed, that great renascence of the English-
speaking peoples should, after all, so overwhelm-
ingly occur as to force this European city to be
tri-lingual, and prepare the way by which the
whole world may at last speak together in one
tongue.

These are the aggregating tongues. I do not
think that any other tongues than these are quite
likely to hold their own in the coming time. Italian
may flourish in the city of the Po valley, but only
with French beside it. Spanish and Russian are
mighty languages, but without a reading public
how can they prevail, and what prospect of a read-
ing public has either? They are, I believe, already
judged. By A.D. 2000 all these languages will be
tending more and more to be the second tongues of
bilingual communities, with French, or English, or
less probably German winning the upper hand.

But when one turns to China there are the strang-
est possibilities. It is in eastern Asia alone that

262



THE CONFLICT OF LANGUAGES

there seems to be any possibility of a synthesis
sufficiently great to maintain itself, arising outside
of, and independently of, the interlocked system
of mechanically sustained societies that is develop-
ing out of mediaeval Christendom. Throughout
eastern Asia there is still, no doubt, a vast wilder-
ness of languages, but over them all rides the
Chinese writing. And very strong strong enough
to be very gravely considered is the possibility of
that writing taking up an orthodox association of
sounds, and becoming a world speech. The Jap-
anese written language, the language of Japanese
literature, tends to assimilate itself to Chinese,
and fresh Chinese words and expressions are con-
tinually taking root in Japan. The Japanese
are a people quite abnormal and incalculable,
with a touch of romance, a conception of honor,
a quality of imagination, and a clearness of in-
telligence that renders possible for them things
inconceivable of any other existing nation. I may
be the slave of perspective effects, but when I turn
my mind . from the pettifogging muddle of the
English House of Commons, for example that
magnified vestry that is so proud of itself as a
club when I turn from that to this race of brave
and smiling people, abruptly destiny begins draw-
ing with a bolder hand. Suppose the Japanese
were to make up their minds to accelerate what-
ever process of synthesis were possible in China!
Suppose, after all, I am not the victim of atmos-

263



ANTICIPATIONS

pheric refraction, and they are, indeed, as gallant
and bold and intelligent as my baseless conception
of them would have them be! They would almost
certainly find co-operative elements among the edu-
cated Chinese. . . . But this is no doubt the
lesser probability. In front and rear of China the
English language stands. It has the start of all
other languages the mechanical advantage the.
position. And if only we, who think and write
and translate and print and put forth, could make
it worth the world's havingl



THE LARGER SYNTHESIS



WE have seen that the essential process aris-
ing out of the growth of science and
mechanism, and more particularly out of the still
developing new facilities of locomotion and com-
munication science has afforded, is the deliques-
cence of the social organizations of the past, and
the synthesis of ampler and still ampler and more
complicated and still more complicated social uni-
ties. The suggestion is powerful, the conclusion is
hard to resist, that, through whatever disorders of
danger and conflict, whatever centuries of misunder-
standing and bloodshed, men may still have to
pass, this process nevertheless aims finally, and
will attain to the establishment of one world-state at
peace within itself. In the economic sense, indeed,
a world-state is already established. Even to-day
we do all buy and sell in the same markets albeit
the owners of certain ancient rights levy their tolls
here and there and the Hindoo starves, the Italian
feels the pinch, before the Germans or the English
go short of bread. There is no real autonomy any
more in the world, no simple right to an absolute

267



ANTICIPATIONS

independence such as formerly the Swiss could
claim. The nations and boundaries of to-day do
no more than mark claims to exemptions, privileges,
and corners in the market claims valid enough
to those whose minds and souls are turned towards
the past, but absurdities to those who look to
the future as the end and justification of our
present stresses. The claim to political liberty
amounts, as a rule, to no more than the claim of a
man to live in a parish without observing sanitary
precautions or paying rates because he had an
excellent great-grandfather. Against all these old
isolations, these obsolescent particularisms, the
forces of mechanical and scientific development
fight, and fight irresistibly; and upon the general
recognition of this conflict, upon the intelligence
and courage with which its inflexible conditions
are negotiated, depends very largely the amount
of bloodshed and avoidable misery the coming
years will hold.

The final attainment of this great synthesis, like
the social deliquescence and reconstruction dealt
with in the earlier of these Anticipations, has an
air of being a process independent of any collective
or conscious will in man, as being the expression
of a greater will; it is working now, and may
work out to its end vastly, and yet at times almost
imperceptibly, as some huge secular movement in
Nature, the raising of a continent, the crumbling
of a mountain-chain, goes on to its appointed

268



THE LARGER SYNTHESIS

culmination. Or one may compare the process to
a net that has surrounded, and that is drawn con-
tinually closer and closer upon, a great and varied
multitude of men. We may cherish animosities,
we may declare imperishable distances, we may
plot and counter-plot, make war and "fight to a
finish"; the net tightens for all that.

Already the need of some synthesis at least
ampler than existing national organizations is so
apparent in the world, that at least five spacious
movements of coalescence exist to-day; there is
the movement called Anglo-Saxonism, the allied
but finally very different movement of British
imperialism, 'the Pan - Germanic movement, Pan-
Slavism, and the conception of a great union of
the "Latin" peoples. Under the outrageous treat-
ment of the white peoples an idea of unifying
the "Yellow" peoples is pretty certain to become
audibly and visibly operative before many years.
These are all deliberate and justifiable suggestions,
and they all aim to sacrifice minor differences in
order to link like to like in greater matters, and
so secure, if not physical predominance in the
world, at least an effective defensive strength for
their racial, moral, customary, or linguistic dif-
ferences against the aggressions of other possible
coalescences. But these syntheses or other similar
synthetic conceptions, if they do not contrive to
establish a rational social unity by sanely nego-
tiated unions, will be forced to fight for physical

269



ANTICIPATIONS

predominance in the world. The whole trend of
forces in the world is against the preservation
of local social systems, however greatly and spa-
ciously conceived. Yet it is quite possible that
several or all of the cultures that will arise out of
the development of these Pan-this-and-that move-
ments may in many of their features survive, as
the culture of the Jews has survived, political ob-
literation, and may disseminate themselves, as
the Jewish system has disseminated itself, over
the whole world-city. Unity by no means involves
homogeneity. The greater the social organism,
the more complex and varied its parts, the more
intricate and varied the interplay of culture and
breed and character within it.

It is doubtful if either the Latin or the Pan-
Slavic idea contains the promise of any great
political unification. The elements of the Latin
synthesis are dispersed in South and Central
America and about the Mediterranean basin in
a way that offers no prospect of an economic unity
between them. The best elements of the French
people lie in the western portion of what must
become the greatest urban region of the Old World,
the Rhine-Netherlandish region; the interests of
north Italy draw that region away from the Italy
of Rome and the south towards the Swiss and
south Germany, and the Spanish and Portuguese
speaking half-breeds of South America have not
only their own coalescences to arrange, but they

270



THE LARGER SYNTHESIS

lie already under the political tutelage of the United
States. Nowhere except in France and north
Italy is there any prospect of such an intellectual
and educational evolution as is necessary before
a great scheme of unification can begin to take
effect. And the difficulties in the way of the Pan-
Slavic dream are far graver. Its realization is
enormously hampered by the division of its lan-
guages, and the fact that in the Bohemian
language, in Polish and in Russian, there exist
distinct literatures, almost equally splendid in
achievement, but equally insufficient in quantity
and range to establish a claim to replace all other
Slavonic dialects. Russia, which should form the
central mass of this synthesis, stagnates, rela-
tively to the western states, under the rule of
reactionary intelligences; it does not develop,
and does not seem likely to develop, the merest
beginnings of that great, educated middle class
with which the future so enormously rests. The
Russia of to-day is, indeed, very little more than
a vast breeding-ground for an illiterate peasantry,
and -the forecasts of its future greatness entirely
ignore that dwindling significance of mere numbers
in warfare which is the clear and necessary conse-
quence of mechanical advance. To a large extent,
I believe, the western Slavs will follow the Prus-
sians and Lithuanians, and be incorporated in the
urbanization of Western Europe, and the remoter
portions of Russia seem destined to become are,

271



ANTICIPATIONS

indeed, becoming abyss, a wretched and disorder-
ly abyss, that will not even be formidable to the
armed and disciplined peoples of the new civiliza-
tion, the last quarter of the earth, perhaps, where
a barbaric or absentee nobility will shadow the
squalid and unhappy destinies of a multitude of
hopeless and unmeaning lives.

To a certain extent, Russia may play the part
of a vaster Ireland, in her failure to keep pace with
the educational and economic progress of nations
which have come into economic unity with her.
She will be an Ireland without emigration, a place
for famines. And while Russia delays to develop
anything but a fecund orthodoxy and this simple
peasant life, the grooves and channels are growing
ever deeper along which the currents of trade, of
intellectual and moral stimulus, must presently
flow towards the west. I see no region where any-
thing like the comparatively dense urban regions
that are likely to arise about the Rhineland and
over the eastern States of America, for example,
can develop in Rus'sia. With railways planned
boldly, it would have been possible, it might still
be possible, to make about Odessa a parallel to
Chicago, but the existing railways run about
Odessa as though Asia were unknown; and when
at last the commercial awakening of what is now
the Turkish Empire comes, the railway lines will
probably run, not north or south, but from the
urban region of the more scientific central Euro-

272



THE LARGER SYNTHESIS

peans down to Constantinople. The long-route
land communications in the future will become
continually more swift and efficient than Baltic
navigation, and it is unlikly, therefore, that St.
Petersburg has any great possibilities of growth.
It was founded by a man whose idea of the course of
trade and civilization was the sea wholly and
solely, and in the future the sea must necessarily
become more and more a last resort. With its
spacious prospects, its architectural magnificence,
its political quality, its desertion by the new com-
merce, and its terrible peasant hinterland, it may
come about that a striking analogy between St.
Petersburg and Dublin will finally appear.

So much for the Pan-Slavic synthesis. It seems
improbable that it can prevail against the forces
that make for the linguistic and economic annexa-
tion of the greater part of European Russia and of
the minor Slavonic masses, to the great Western
European urban region.

The political centre of gravity of Russia, in its
resistance to these economic movements, is palpably
shifting eastward even to-day, but that carries it
away from the central European synthesis only
towards the vastly more enormous attracting
centre of China. Politically the Russian govern-
ment may come to dominate China in the coming
decades, but the reality beneath any such formal
predominance will be the absorption of Russia
beyond the range of the European pull by .the
, 8 273



ANTICIPATIONS

synthesis of Eastern Asia. Neither the Russian
literature nor the Russian language and writing,
nor the Russian civilization as a whole have the
qualities to make them irresistible to the energet-
ic and intelligent millions of the far east. The
chances seem altogether against the existence of
a great Slavonic power in the world at the be-
ginning of the twenty-first century. They seem,
at the first glance, to lie just as heavily in favor
of an aggressive Pan-Germanic power struggling
towards a great and commanding position athwart
Central Europe and Western Asia, and turning
itself at last upon the defeated Slavonic disorder.
There can be no doubt that at present the Ger-
mans, with the doubtful exception of the United
States, have the most efficient middle class in the
world; their rapid economic progress is to a very
large extent, indeed, a triumph of intelligence, and
their political and probably their military and
naval services are still conducted with a capacity
and breadth of view that find no parallel in the
world. But the very efficiency of the German
as a German to-day, and the habits and traditions
of victory he has accumulated for nearly forty
years, may prove in the end a very doubtful bless-
ing to Europe as a whole, or even to his own grand-
children. Geographical contours, economic forces,
the trend of invention and social development,
point to a unification of all Western Europe, but
they certainly do not point to its Germanization.

274



THE LARGER SYNTHESIS

I have already given reasons for anticipating that
the French language may not only hold its own,
but prevail against German in Western Europe.
And there are certain other obstacles in the way
even of the union of indisputable Germans. One
element in Germany's present efficiency must
become more and more of an encumbrance as the
years pass. The Germanic idea is deeply inter-
woven with the traditional empire, and with the
martinet methods of the Prussian monarchy.
The intellectual development of the Germans is
defined to a very large extent by a court-directed
officialdom. In many things that court is still
inspired by the noble traditions of education and
discipline that come from the days of German
adversity, and the predominance of the imperial
will does, no doubt, give a unity of purpose to
German policy and action that adds greatly to
its efficacy. But for a capable ruler, even more
than for a radiantly stupid monarch, the price a
nation must finally pay is heavy. Most energetic
and capable people are a little intolerant of un-
S3^mpathetic capacity, are apt on the under side
of their egotism to be jealous, assertive, and ag-
gressive. In the present empire of German} 7
there are no other great figures to balance the
imperial personage, and I do not see how other
great figures are likely to arise. A great number
of fine and capable persons must be failing to
develop, failing to tell, under the shadow of this

275



ANTICIPATIONS

too prepotent monarchy. There are certain limit-
ing restrictions imposed upon Germans through
the imperial activity, that must finally be bad for
the intellectual atmosphere which is Germany's
ultimate strength. For example, the Emperor
professes a violent and grotesque Christianity
with a ferocious pro-Teutonic father and a negli-
gible son, and the public mind is warped into con-
formity with the finally impossible cant of this
eccentric creed. His imperial Majest3 7 's disposi-
tion to regard criticism as hostility stifles the
public thought of Germany. He interferes in
university affairs and in literary and artistic
matters with a quite remarkable confidence and
incalculable consequences. The inertia of a cen-
tury carries him and his Germany onward from
success to success, but for all that one may doubt
whether the extraordinary intellectuality that
distinguished the German atmosphere in the early
years of the century, and in which such men as


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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 16 of 21)