H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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

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advent of the " explosive " or " storage of force " engine.



owned motor carriage. This, for all except the
longest journeys, will add a fine sense of personal
independence to all the small conveniences of first-
class railway travel. It will be capable of a day's
journey of three hundred miles or more, long be-
fore the developments to be presently foreshadowed
arrive. One will change nothing unless it is the
driver from stage to stage. One will be free to
dine where one chooses, hurry when one chooses,
travel asleep or awake, stop and pick flowers, turn
over in bed of a morning and tell the carriage to ,
wait unless, which is highly probable, one sleeps

And, thirdly, there will be the motor omnibus,
attacking or developing out of the horse omnibus
companies and the suburban lines. All this seems
fairly safe prophesying.

And these things, which are quite obviously

* The historian of the future, writing about the nineteenth
century, will, I sometimes fancy, find a new meaning in a familiar
phrase. It is the custom to call this the most " Democratic "
age the world has ever seen, and most of us are beguiled by the
etymological contrast, and the memory of certain legislative
revolutions, to oppose one form of stupidity prevailing to an-
other, and to fancy we mean the opposite to an " Aristocratic "
period. But, indeed, we do not. So far as that political point
goes, the Chinaman has always been infinitely more democratic
than the European. But the world, by a series of gradations
into error, has come to use " Democratic " as a substitute for
" Wholesale," and as an opposite to " Individual," without
realizing the shifted application at all. Thereby old " Aris-
tocracy," the organization of society for the glory and preserva-
tion of the Select Dull, gets to a flavor even of freedom. When
the historian of the future speaks of the past century as a Demo-



coming even now, will be working out their many
structural problems when the next phase in their
development begins. The motor omnibus com-
panies competing against the suburban railways
will find themselves hampered in the speed of their
longer runs by the slower horse traffic on their
routes, and they will attempt to secure, and, it
may be, after tough legislative struggles, will
secure the power to form private roads of a new
sort, upon which their vehicles will be free to travel
up to the limit of their very highest possible speed.
It is along the line of such private tracks and roads
that the forces of change will certainly tend to
travel, and along which I am absolutely convinced
they will travel. This segregation of motor traffic
is probably a matter that may begin even in the
present decade.

Once this process of segregation from the high-
road of the horse and pedestrian sets in, it will

cratic century, he will have in mind, more than anything else,
the unprecedented fact that we seemed to do everything in heaps
we read in epidemics ; clothed ourselves, all over the world, in
identical fashions ; built and furnished our houses in stereo
designs ; and travelled that naturally most individual pro-
ceeding in bales. To make the railway train a perfect sym-
bol of our times, it should be presented as uncomfortably full
in the third class a few passengers standing and everybody
reading the current number either of the Daily Mail, Pearson's
Weekly, Answers, Tit Bits, or whatever greatest novel of the
century happened to be going. . . . But, as I hope to make
clearer in my later papers, this " Democracy," or Wholesale
method of living, like the railways, is transient a first make-
shift development of great and finally (to me at least) quite hope-
ful social reorganization.



probably go on rapidly. It may spread out from
short omnibus routes, much as the London Met-
ropolitan Railway system has spread. The motor
carrier companies competing in speed of delivery
with the quickened railways will conceivably co-
operate with the long-distance omnibus and the
hired-carriage companies in the formation of trunk
lines. Almost insensibly, certain highly profitable
longer routes will be joined up the London to
Brighton, for example, in England. And the
quiet English citizen will, no doubt, while these
things are still quite exceptional and experimental
in his lagging land, read one day with surprise in
the violently illustrated popular magazines of
1910 that there are now so many thousand miles
of these roads already established in America and
Germany and elsewhere. And thereupon, after
some patriotic meditations, he may pull himself

We may even hazard some details about these
special roads. For example, they will be very
different from macadamized roads; they will be
used only by soft-tired conveyances ; the battering
horse-shoes, the perpetual filth of horse traffic,
and the clumsy wheels of laden carts will never
wear them. It may be that they will have a surface
like that of some cycle-racing tracks, though since
they will be open to wind and weather, it is perhaps
more probable they will be made of very good
asphalt sloped to drain, and still more probable



that they will be of some quite new substance al-
together -whether hard or resilient is beyond my
foretelling. They will have to be very wide they
will be just as wide as the courage of their pro-
moters goes and if the first made are too narrow,
there will be no question of gauge to limit the later
ones. Their traffic in opposite directions will
probably be strictly separated, and it will no doubt
habitually disregard complicated and fussy reg-
ulations imposed under the initiative of the rail-
way interest by such official bodies as the Board
of Trade. The promoters will doubtless take a
hint from suburban railway traffic and from the
current difficulty of the Metropolitan police, and
where their ways branch the streams of traffic will
not cross at a level, but by bridges. It is easily
conceivable that once these tracks are in existence,
cyclists and motors other than those of the con-
structing companies will be able to make use of
them. And, moreover, once they exist it will be
possible to experiment with vehicles of a size and
power quite beyond the dimensions prescribed by
our ordinary roads roads whose width has been
entirely determined by the size of a cart a horse
can pull.*

Countless modifying influences will, of course,
come into operation. For example, it has been
assumed, perhaps rashly, that the railway in-

* So we begin to see the possibility of laying that phantom
horse that haunts the railways to this day so disastrously.



fluence will certainly remain jealous and hostile
to these growths: that what may be called the
"Bicycle Ticket Policy" will be pursued through-
out. Assuredly there will be rights of a very compli-
cated sort at first, but once one of these specialized
lines is in operation, it may be that some at least
of the railway companies will hasten to replace
their flanged rolling stock by carriages with rubber
tires, remove their rails, broaden their cuttings
and embankments, raise their bridges, and take
to the new ways of traffic. Or they may find it
answer to cut fares, widen their gauges, reduce
their gradients, modify their points and curves,
and woo the passenger back with carriages beauti-
fully hung and sumptuously furnished, and all
the convenience and luxury of a club. Few people
would mind being an hour or so longer going lo
Paris from London, if the railway travelling was
neither rackety, cramped, nor tedious. One could
be patient enough if one was neither being jarred,
deafened, cut into slices by draughts, and con-
tinually more densely caked in a filthy dust of
coal; if one could write smoothly and easily at a
steady table, read papers, have one's hair cut,
and dine in comfort* none of which things are

* A correspondent, Mr. Rudolf Cyrian, writes to correct me
here, and I cannot do better, I think, than thank him and quote
what he says. " It is hardly right to state that fifty miles an
hour ' is the limit of our speed for land travel, so far as existing
conditions go.' As far as English traffic is concerned, the state-
ment is approximately correct. In the United States, how-



possible at present, and none of which require
any new inventions, any revolutionary contri-
vances, or indeed anything but an intelligent ap-
plication of existing resources and known princi-
ples. Our rage for fast trains, so far as long-dis-
tance travel is concerned, is largely a passion to
end the extreme discomfort involved. It is in the
daily journey on the suburban train, that daily
tax of time, that speed is in itself so eminently
desirable, and it is just here that the conditions of
railway travel most hopelessly fail. It must
always be remembered that the railway train,
as against the motor, has the advantage that its
wholesale traction reduces the prime cost by de-

ever, there are several trains running now which average over
considerable distances more than sixty miles an hour, stoppages
included, nor is there much reason why this should not be con-
siderably increased. What especially hampers the develop-
ment of railways in England as compared with other countries
is the fact that the rolling-stock templet is too small. Hence
carriages in England have to be narrower and lower than car-
riages in the United States, although both run on the same
standard gauge (4 feet 8/4 inches). The result is that several
things which you describe as not possible at present, such as,
' write smoothly and easily at a steady table, read papers, have
one's hair cut, and dine in comfort/ are not only feasible, but
actually attained on some of the good American trains. For
instance, on the present Empire State Express, running between
New York and Buffalo, or on the present Pennsylvania Limited,
running between New York and Chicago, and on others ; with
the Pennsylvania Limited travel, stenographers and typewriters,
whose services are placed at the disposal of passengers free of
charge. But the train on which there is the least vibration of
any is probably the new Empire State Express, and on this it
is certainly possible to write smoothly and easily at a steady



manding only one engine for a great number
of coaches. This will not serve the first-class
long - distance passenger, but it -may the third.
Against that economy one must balance the neces-
sary delay of a relatively infrequent service, which
latter item becomes relatively greater and greater
in proportion to the former the briefer the journey
to be made.

And it may be that many railways, which are
neither capable of modification into suburban
motor tracks, nor of development into luxurious
through routes, will find, in spite of the loss of
many elements of their old activity, that there
is still a profit to be made from a certain section
of the heavy -goods traffic and from cheap ex-
cursions. These are forms of work for which rail-
ways seem to be particularly adapted, and which
the diversion of a great portion of their passenger
traffic would enable them to conduct even more
efficiently. It is difficult to imagine, for example,
how any sort of road-car organization could beat
the railways at the business of distributing coal
and timber and similar goods, which are taken
in bulk directly from the pit or wharf to local cen-
tres of distribution.

It must always be remembered that at the worst
the defeat of such a great organization as the
railway system does not involve its disappearance
until a long period has elapsed. It means at first
no more than a period of modification and dif-



ferentiation. Before extinction can happen a
certain amount of wealth in railway property
must absolutely disappear. Though under the
stress of successful competition the capital value
of the railways may conceivably fall, and continue
to fall, towards the marine-store prices, fares and
freights pursue the sweated working expenses
to the vanishing point, and the land occupied sink
to the level of not very eligible building sites;
yet the railways will, nevertheless, continue in
operation until these downward limits are posi-
tively attained.

An imagination prone to the picturesque insists
at this stage upon a vision of the latter days of one
of the less happily situated lines. Along a weedy
embankment there pants and clangs a patched
and tarnished engine, its paint blistered, its parts
leprously dull. It is driven by an aged and sweat-
ed driver, and the burning garbage of its furnace
distils a choking reek into the air. A huge train
of urban dust trucks bangs and clatters behind
it, en route to that sequestered dumping-ground
where rubbish is burned to some industrial end.
But that is a lapse into the merely just possible,
and at most a local tragedy. Almost certainly
the existing lines of railway will develop and dif-
ferentiate, some in one direction and some in an-
other, according to the nature of the pressure
upon them. Almost all will probably be still in
existence and in divers ways busy, spite of the



swarming new highways I have ventured to fore-
shadow a hundred years from now.

In fact, we have to contemplate, not so much a
supersession of the railways as a modification
and specialization of them in various directions,
and the enormous development beside them of
competing and supplementary methods. And step
by step with these developments will come a very
considerable acceleration of the ferry traffic of
the narrow seas through such improvements as
the introduction of turbine engines. So far as
the high-road and the longer journeys go this is
the extent of our prophecy.*

But in the discussion of all quest : ons of land
locomotion one must come at last to the knots of
the network, to the central portions of the towns,
the dense, vast towns of our time, with their high
ground values and their narrow, already almost
impassable streets. I hope at a later stage to give
some reasons for anticipating that the centripetal
pressure of the congested towns of our epoch may
ultimately be very greatly relieved, but for the
next few decades at least the usage of existing
conditions will prevail, and in every town there

* Since this appeared in the Fortnightly Review I have had
the pleasure of reading Twentieth -century Inventions, by Mr.
George Sutherland, and I find very much else of interest
bearing on these questions, the happy suggestion for the ferry
transits, at any rate, of a rail along the sea bottom, out of reach
of all that superficial " motion " that is so distressing and of
all possibilities of collisions, which would serve as a guide to
swift submarine vessels.



is a certain nucleus of offices, hotels, and shops
upon which the centrifugal forces I anticipate
will certainly not operate. At present the streets
of many larger towns, and especially of such old-
established towns as London, whose central por-
tions have the narrowest arteries, present a quite
unprecedented state of congestion. When the
Green of some future History of the English People
comes to review our times, he will, from his stand-
point of comfort and convenience, find the present
streets of London quite or even more incredibly
unpleasant than are the filthy kennels, the mud-
holes, and darkness of the streets of the seven-
teenth century to our enlightened minds. He will
echo our question, "Why did people stand it?"
He will be struck first of all by the omnipresence
of mud, filthy mud, churned up by hoofs and wheels
under the inclement skies, and perpetually defiled
and added to by innumerable horses. Imagine
his description of a young lady crossing the road
at the Marble Arch, in London, on a wet Novem-
ber afternoon, " breathless, foul-footed, splashed by
a passing hansom from head to foot, happy that
she has reached the further pavement alive at
the mere cost of her ruined clothes." . . .
"Just where the bicycle might have served its
most useful purpose/' he will write, "in affording
a healthy daily ride to the innumerable clerks
and such-like sedentary toilers of the central region
it was rendered impossible by the danger of side-




slip in this vast ferocious traffic." And, indeed,
to my mind at least, this last is the crowning ab-
surdity of the present state of -affairs, that the
clerk and the shop hand, classes of people posi-
tively starved of exercise, should be obliged to
spend yearly the price of a bicycle upon a season-
ticket, because of the quite unendurable incon-
venience and danger of urban cycling.

Now, in what direction will matters move? The
first and most obvious thing to do, the thing that
in many cases is being attempted, and in a futile,
insufficient way getting itself done, the thing
that I do not for one moment regard as the final
remedy, is the remedy of the architect and builder
profitable enough to them anyhow to widen
the streets and to cut "new arteries." Now,
every new artery means a series of new whirl-
pools of traffic, such as the pensive Londoner may
study for himself at the intersection of Shaf tesbury
Avenue with Oxford Street, and unless colossal
or inconveniently steep crossing -bridges are
made, the wider the affluent arteries the more
terrible the battle of the traffic. Imagine Regent
Circus on the scale of the Place de la Concorde.
And there is the value of the ground to consider;
with every increment of width the value of the
dwindling remainder in the meshes of the network
of roads will rise, until to pave the widened streets
with gold will be a mere trifling addition to the
cost of their "improvement."



There is, however, quite another direction in
which the congestion may find relief, and that
is in the "regulation" of the traffic. This has
already begun in London in an attack on the
crawling cab and in the new by-laws of the Lon-
don County Council, whereby certain specified
forms of heavy traffic are prohibited the use of
the streets between ten and seven. These things
may be the first beginning of a process of restric-
tion that may go far. Many people living at
the present time, who have grown up amid the
exceptional and possibly very transient charac-
teristics of this time, will be disposed to regard
the traffic in the streets of our great cities as a
part of the natural order of things, and as un-
avoidable as the throng upon the pavement. But,
indeed, the presence of all the chief constituents
of this vehicular torrent the cabs and hansoms,
the vans, the omnibuses everything, indeed,
except the few private carriages are as novel,
as distinctively things of the nineteenth century,
as the railway train and the needle telegraph.
The streets of the great towns of antiquity, the
streets of the great towns of the East, the streets
of all the mediaeval towns, were not intended for
any sort of wheeled traffic at all were designed
primarily and chiefly for pedestrians. So it would
be, I suppose, in any one's ideal city. Surely
town, in theory at least, is a place one walks
about as one walks about a house and garden,



dressed with a certain ceremonious elaboration,
safe from mud and the hardship and defilement
of foul weather, buying, meeting, dining, study-
ing, carousing, seeing the play. It is the growth
in size of the city that has necessitated the growth
of this coarser traffic that has made "Town" at
last so utterly detestable.

But if one reflects, it becomes clear that, save
for the vans of goods, this moving tide of wheeled
masses is still essential \y a stream of urban pedes-
trians, pedestrians who, by reason of the dis-
tances they have to go, have had to jump on 'buses
and take cabs in a word, to bring in the high
road to their aid. And the vehicular traffic of
the street is essentially the high-road traffic very
roughly adapted to the new needs. The cab is a
simple development of the carriage, the omnibus
of the coach, and the supplementary traffic of
the underground and electric railways is a by
no means brilliantly imagined adaptation of the
long route railway. These are all still new things,
experimental to the highest degree, changing
and bound to change much more, in the period of
specialization that is now beginning.

Now, the first most probable development is a
change in the omnibus and the omnibus railway.
A point quite as important with these means of
transit as actual speed of movement is frequency :
time is wasted abundantly and most vexatiously
at present in waiting and in accommodating one's



arrangements to infrequent times of call and de-
parture. The more frequent a local service, the
more it conies to be relied upon. Another point
and one in which the omnibus has a great ad-
vantage over the railway is that it should be
possible to get on and off at any point, or at as
many points on the route as possible. But this
means a high proportion of stoppages, and this is
destructive to speed. There is, however, one
conceivable means of transit that is not simply
frequent but continuous, that may be joined or
left at any point without a stoppage, that could
be adapted to many existing streets at the level
or quite easily sunken in tunnels, or elevated
above the street level,* and that means of transit
is the moving platform, whose possibilities have
been exhibited to all the world in a sort of mean
caricature at the Paris Exhibition. Let us imag-
ine the inner circle of the district railway adapted
to this conception. I will presume that the Parisian
"rolling platform" is familiar to the reader. The
District Railway tunnel is, I imagine, about twenty-
four feet wide. If we suppose the space given
to six platforms of three feet wide, and one (the
most rapid) of six feet, and if we suppose each
platform to be going four miles an hour faster
than its slower fellow (a velocity the Paris ex-

* To the level of such upper-story pavements as Sir F. Bram-
well has proposed for the new Holborn to Strand Street, for ex-



periment has shown to be perfectly comfortable
and safe), we should have the upper platform
running round the circle at a pace of twenty-eight
miles an hour. If, further, we adopt an ingenious
suggestion of Professor Perry's and imagine the
descent to the line made down a very slowly
rotating staircase at the centre of a big rotating,
wheel-shaped platform, against a portion of whose
rim the slowest platform runs in a curve, one could
very easily add a speed of six or eight miles an
hour more, and to that the man in a hurry would
be able to add his own four miles an hour by walk-
ing in the direction of motion. If the reader is a
traveller, and if he will imagine that black and
sulphurous tunnel, swept and garnished, lit and
sweet, with a train much faster than the existing
underground trains perpetually ready to go off
with him and never crowded if he will further
imagine this train a platform set with comfortable
seats and neat bookstalls and so forth, he will
get an inkling in just one detail of what he per-
haps misses by living now instead of thirty or
forty years ahead.

I have supposed the replacement to occur in the
case of the London Inner Circle Railway, because
there the necessary tunnel already exists to help
the imagination of the English reader, but that the
specific replacement will occur is rendered improb-
able by the fact that the circle is for much of
its circumference entangled with other lines of



communication the North- Western Railway, for
example. As a matter of fact, as the American
reader at least will promptly see, the much more
practicable thing is that upper footpath, with
these moving platforms beside it, running out
over the street after the manner of the viaduct
of an elevated railroad. But in some cases, at
any rate, the demonstrated cheapness and prac-
ticability of tunnels at a considerable depth will
come into play.

Will this diversion of the vast omnibus traffic
of to-day into the air and underground, together
with the segregation of van traffic to specific routes
and times, be the only change in the streets of
the new century? It may be a shock, perhaps,

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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 2 of 21)