H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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

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have no idlers, and even grandmamma goes weed-
ing. His net produce is less than the production
of the larger methods, but his gross is greater,
and usually it is mortgaged more or less. Along
the selvage of many of the new roads we have
foretold his hens will peck and his children beg,
far into the coming decades. This simple, virtuous,
open-air life is to be found ripening in the north of
France and Belgium; it culminated in Ireland in
the famine years; it has held its own in China
with a use of female infanticide for immemorable
ages, and a number of excellent persons are en-
deavoring to establish it in England at the present
time. At the Cape of Good Hope, under British
rule, Kaffirs are being settled upon little inalienable
holdings that must inevitably develop in the same
direction, and over the Southern States the nigger
squats and multiplies. It is fairly certain that



these stagnant ponds of population, which will
go on stagnating until public intelligence rises
to the pitch of draining them into unwilling but
necessary motion, will on a greater scale parallel
in the twentieth century the soon-to-be-dispersed
urban slums of the nineteenth. But I do not see
how they can obstruct, more than locally, the
reorganization of agriculture and horticulture
upon the ampler and more economical lines mech-
anism permits, or prevent the development of a
type of agriculturist as adaptable, alert, intelligent,
unprejudiced, and modest as the coming engineer.
Another great section of the community, the
military element, will also fall within the attraction
of this possible synthesis, and will inevitably
undergo profound modification. Of the probable
development of warfare a later chapter shall treat,
and here it will suffice to point out that at present
science stands proffering the soldier vague, vast
possibilities of mechanism, and, so far, he has
accepted practically nothing but rifles which he
cannot sight and guns that he does not learn to
move about. It is quite possible the sailor would
be in the like case, but for the exceptional con-
ditions that begot ironclads in the American Civil
War. Science offers the soldier transport that he
does not use, maps he does not use, intrenching
devices, road-making devices, balloons and flying
scouts, portable foods, security from disease, a
thousand ways of organizing the horrible uncer-



tainties of war. But the soldier of to-day I do
not mean the British soldier only still insists on
regarding these revolutionary appliances as mere
accessories, and untrustworthy ones at that, to
the time-honored practice of his art. He guards
his technical innocence like a plumber.

Every European army is organized on the lines
of the once fundamental distinction of the horse-
and-foot epoch, in deference to the contrast of gen-
tle and simple. There is the officer, with all the
traditions of old nobility, and the men, still, by a
hundred implications, mere sources of mechani-
cal force, and fundamentally base. The British
army, for example, still cherishes the tradition
that its privates are absolutely illiterate, and such
small instruction as is given them in the art of
war is imparted by bawling and enforced by abuse
upon public drill-grounds. Almost all discussion
of military matters still turns upon the now quite
stupid assumption that there are two primary
military arms and no more, horse and foot.
"Cyclists are infantry," the War Office manual of
1900 gallantly declares in the face of this changing
universe. After fifty years of railways, there still
does not exist in a world which is said to be over-
devoted to military affairs, a skilled and organized
body of men, specially prepared to seize, repair,
reconstruct, work, and fight such an important
element in the new social machinery as a railway
system. Such a business, in the next European



war, will be hastily intrusted to some haphazard
incapables drafted from one or other of the two
prehistoric arms. ... I do not see how this
condition of affairs can be anything but transitory.
There may be several wars between European
powers, prepared and organized to accept the
old conventions, bloody, vast, distressful encoun-
ters that may still leave the art of war essentially
unmodified, but sooner of later it may be in the
improvised struggle that follows the collapse of
some one of these huge, witless, fighting forces
the new sort of soldier will emerge, a sober,
considerate, engineering man no more of a gentle-
man than the man subordinated to him or any
other self-respecting person.

Certain interesting side questions I may glance
at here, only for the present, at least, to set them
aside unanswered, the reaction, for example, of
this probable development of a great mass of edu-
cated and intelligent efficients upon the status and
quality of the medical profession, and the influence
of its novel needs in either modifying the existing
legal body or calling into being a parallel body
of more expert and versatile guides and assistants
in business operations. But from the mention
of this latter section one comes to another possible
centre of aggregation in the social welter. Op-
posed in many of their most essential conditions
to the capable men who are of primary importance
in the social body is the great and growing variety



of non-productive but active men who are engaged
in more or less necessary operations of organiza-
tion, promotion, advertisement, and trade. There
are the business managers, public and private,
the political organizers, brokers, commission agents,
the varying grades of financier down to the mere
greedy camp-followers of finance, the gamblers
pure and simple, and the great body of their de-
pendent clerks, typewriters, and assistants. All
this multitude will have this much in common,
that it will be dealing, not with the primary, in-
exorable logic of natural laws, but with the shift-
ing, uncertain prejudices and emotions of the gen-
eral mass of people. It will be wary and cunning
rather than deliberate and intelligent, smart rather
than prompt, considering always the appearance
and effect before the reality and possibilities of
things. It will probably tend to form a culture
about the political and financial operator as its
ideal and central type, opposed to and conflicting
with the forces of attraction that will tend to group
the new social masses about the scientific engi-

Here, then (in the vision of the present writer),
are the main social elements of the coming time:
(i.) the element of irresponsible property; (ii.)

* The future of the servant class and the future of the artist
are two interesting questions that will be most conveniently
mentioned at a later stage, when we come to discuss the domestic
life in greater detail than is possible before we have formed any
clear notion of the sort of people who will lead that life.



the helpless superseded poor, that broad base of
mere toilers now no longer essential; (iii.) a great
inchoate mass of more or less capable people en-
gaged more or less .consciously in applying the
growing body of scientific knowledge to the general
needs, a great mass that will inevitably tend to
organize itself in a system of interdependent educat-
ed classes with a common consciousness and aim,
but which may or may not succeed in doing so;
and (iv.) a possibty equally great number of non-
productive persons living in and by the social

All these elements will be mingled confusedly
together, passing into one another by insensible'
gradations, scattered over the great urban regions
and intervening areas our previous anticipations
have sketched out. Moreover, they are develop-
ing, as it were unconsciously, under the stimulus
of mechanical developments, and with the band-
ages of old tradition hampering their movements.
The laws they obey, the governments they live
under are for the most part laws made and govern-
ments planned before the coming of steam. The
areas of administration are still areas marked out
by conditions of locomotion as obsolete as the
quadrupedal method of the prearboreal ancestor.
In Great Britain, for example, the political con-
stitution, the balance of estates, and the balance of
parties preserve the compromise of long-vanished
antagonisms. The House of Lords is a collection



of obsolete territorial dignitaries fitfully reinforced
by the bishops and a miscellany (in no sense rep-
resentative) of opulent moderns; the House of
Commons is the seat of a party conflict, a faction
fight of initiated persons, that has long ceased to
bear any real relation to current social processes.
The members of the lower chamber are selected by
obscure party machines operating upon constit-
uencies almost all of which have long since be-
come too vast and heterogeneous to possess any
collective intelligence or purpose at all. In theory
the House of Commons guards the interests of
classes that are in fact rapidly disintegrating
into a number of quite antagonistic and conflicting
elements. The new mass of capable men, of which
the engineers are typical, these capable men who
must necessarily be the active principle of the
new mechanically equipped social body, finds
no representation .save by accident in either as-
sembly. The man who has concerned himself
with the public health, with army organization,
with educational improvement, or with the vital
matters of transport and communication, if he enter
the official councils of the kingdom at all, must
enter ostensibly as the guardian of the interests
of the free and independent electors of a specific
district that has long ceased to have any sort of
specific interests at all.* . . .

* Even the physical conditions under which the House of
Commons meets and plays at government are ridiculously



And the same obsolescence that is so conspicu-
ous in the general institutions of the official king-
dom of England, and that even English people
can remark in the official empire of China, is to be
traced in a greater or lesser degree in the nominal
organization and public tradition throughout the
whole world. The United States, for example,
the social mass which has perhaps advanced fur-
thest along the new lines, struggles in the iron
bonds of a constitution that is based primarily
on a conception of a number of comparatively
small, internally homogeneous, agricultural states,
a bunch of pre- Johannesburg Transvaals, com-
municating little, and each constituting a separate,
autonomous democracy of free farmers slave-
holding or slaveless. Every country in the world,

obsolete. Every disputable point is settled by a division a
bell rings, there is shouting and running, the members come
blundering into the chamber and sort themselves with much
loutish shuffling and shoving into the division lobbies. They
are counted as illiterate farmers count sheep; amid much
fuss and confusion they return to their places, and the tellers
vociferate the result. The waste of time over these antics is
enormous, and they are often repeated many times in an evening.
For the lack of time the House of Commons is unable to perform
the most urgent and necessary legislative duties it has this
year hung up a cryingly necessary Education Bill, a delay
that will in the end cost Great Britain millions but not a soul
in it has had the necessary common-sense to point out that an
electrician and an expert locksmith could in a few weeks and
for a few hundred pounds devise and construct a member's desk
and key, committee-room tapes and voting-desks, and a general
recording apparatus that would enable every member within
the precincts to vote, and that would count, record, and report
the votes within the space of a couple of minutes.



indeed, that is organized at all, has been organized
with a view to stability within territorial limits;
no country has been organized with any foresight
of development and inevitable change, or with
the slightest reference to the practical revolution
in topography that the new means of transit in-
volve. And since this is so, and since humanity
is most assuredly embarked upon a series of changes
of which we know as yet only the opening phases,
a large part of the history of the coming years
will certainly record more or less conscious endeav-
ors to adapt these obsolete and obsolescent con-
trivances for the management of public affairs to
the new and continually expanding and chang-
ing requirements of the social body, to correct
or overcome the traditions that were once wisdom
and which are now obstruction, and to burst the
straining boundaries that were sufficient for the
ancient states. There are here no signs of a mil-
lennium. Internal reconstruction, while men are
still limited, egotistical, passionate, ignorant, and
ignorantly led, means seditions and revolutions,
and the rectification of frontiers means wars. But
before we glance at these conflicts and wars cer-
tain general social reactions must be considered.



WE are now in a position to point out and
consider certain general ways in which
the various factors and elements in the deliquescent
society of the present time will react one upon
another, and to speculate what definite state-
ments, if any, it may seem reasonable to make
about the individual people of the year 2000 or
thereabouts from the reaction of these classes we
have attempted to define.

To begin with, it may prove convenient to specu-
late upon the trend of development of that class
about which we have the most grounds for cer-
tainty in the coming time. The shareholding
class, the rout of the Abyss, the speculator, may
develop in countless ways according to the vary-
ing development of exterior influences upon them,
but of the most typical portion of the central body,
the section containing the scientific engineering
or scientific medical sort of people, we can postu-
late certain tendencies with some confidence. Cer-
tain ways of thought they must develop, certain
habits of mind and eye they will radiate out into


the adjacent portions of the social mass. We
can even, I think, deduce some conception of the
home in which a fairly typical example of this
body will be living within a reasonable term of

The mere fact that a man is an engineer or a
doctor, for example, should imply now, and certainly
will imply in the future, that he has received an
education of a certain definite type; he will have
a general acquaintance with the scientific inter-
pretation of the universe, and he will have ac-
quired certain positive and practical habits of mind.
If the methods of thought of any individual in
this central body are not practical and positive,
he will tend to drift out of it to some more congenial
employment. He will almost necessarily have a
strong imperative to duty quite apart from what-
ever theological opinions he may entertain, be-
cause if he has not such an inherent imperative
life will have very many more alluring prospects
than this. His religious conclusions, whatever
they may be, will be based upon some orderly
theological system that must have honestly ad-
mitted and reconciled his scientific beliefs; the
emotional and mystical elements in his religion
will be subordinate or absent. Essentially he
will be a moral man, certainly so far as to exer-
cise self-restraint and live in an ordered way.
Unless this is so, he will be unable to give his
principal energies to thought and work that



is, he will not be a good typical engineer. If sen-
suality appear at all largely in this central
body, therefore a point we must leave open here
it will appear without any trappings of sentiment
or mysticism, frankly on Pauline lines, wine for
the stomach's sake, and it is better to marry than
to burn, a concession to the flesh necessary to
secure efficiency. Assuming in our typical case
that pure indulgence does not appear or flares and
passes, then either he will be single or more or
less married. The import of that " more or less "
will be discussed later; for the present we may
very conveniently conceive him married under the
traditional laws of Christendom. Having a mind
considerably engaged, he will not have the leisure
for a wife of the distracting, perplexing personality
kind, and in our typical case, which will be a typical-
ly sound and successful one, we may picture him
wedded to a healthy, intelligent, and \oya\ person,
who will be her husband's companion in their
common leisure, and as mother of their three or
four children and manager of his household, as
much of a technically capable individual as him-
self. He will be a father of several children, I
think, because his scientific mental basis will
incline him to see the whole of life as a struggle to
survive; he will recognize that a childless, sterile
life, however pleasant, is essentially failure and
perversion, and he will conceive his honor involved
in the possession of offspring.



Such a couple will probably dress with a view to
decent convenience ; they will not set the fashions,
as I shall presently point out, but they will incline
to steady and sober them; they will avoid exciting
color contrasts and bizarre contours. They will
not be habitually promenaders, or greatty addicted
to theatrical performances; they will probably
find their secondary interests the cardinal one
will of course be the work in hand in a not too
imaginative prose literature, in travel and journeys
and in the less sensuous aspects of music. They
will probably take a considerable interest in public
affairs. Their m&nage, which will consist of father,
mother, and children, will, I think, in all proba-
bility, be servantless.

They will probably not keep a servant for two
very excellent reasons, because in the first place
they will not want one, and in the second they will
not get one if they do. A servant is necessary in
the small, modern house, partly to supplement the
deficiencies of the wife, but mainly to supplement
the deficiencies of the house. She comes to cook
and perform various skilled duties that the wife
lacks either knowledge or training, or both, to
perform regularly and expeditiously. Usually
it must be confesed that the servant in the small
household fails to perform these skilled duties
completely. But the great proportion of the ser-
vant's duties consists merely in drudgery that the
stupidities of our present-day method of house



construction entail, and which the more sanely
constructed house of the future will avoid. Con-
sider, for instance, the wanton disregard of avoid-
able toil displayed in building houses with a ser-
vice basement without lifts! Then most dusting
and sweeping would be quite avoidable if houses
were wiselier done. It is the lack of proper warm-
ing appliances which necessitates a vast amount
of coal carrying and dirt distribution, and it is
this dirt mainly that has so painfully to be re-
moved again. The house of the future will prob-
ably be warmed in its walls from some power-
generating station, as, indeed, already very many
houses are lighted at the present day. The lack .
of sane methods of ventilation also enhances the
general dirtiness and dustiness of the present-day
home, and gas-lighting and the use of tarnishable
metals, wherever possible, involve further labor.
But air will enter the house of the future through
proper tubes in the walls, which will warm it and
capture its dust, and it will be spun out again by
a simple mechanism. And by simple devices such
sweeping as still remains necessary can be enor-
mously lightened. The fact that in existing homes
the skirting meets the floor at right angles makes
sweeping about twice as troublesome as it will
be when people have the sense and ability to round
off the angle between wall and floor.

So one great lump of the servant's toil will prac-
tically disappear. Two others are already dis-



appearing. In many houses there are still the
offensive duties of filling lamps and blacking
boots to be done. Our coming house, however,
will have no lamps to need filling, and, as for the
boots, really intelligent people will feel the essen-
tial ugliness of wearing the evidence of constant
manual toil upon their persons. They will wear
sorts of shoes and boots that can be cleaned by
wiping in a minute or so. Take now the bedroom
work. The lack of ingenuity in sanitary fittings
at present forbids the obvious convenience of hot
and cold water supply to the bedroom, and there
is a mighty fetching and carrying of water and
slops to be got through daily. All that will cease.
Every bedroom will have its own bath-dressing
room, which any well-bred person will be intelli-
gent and considerate enough to use and leave
without the slightest disarrangement. This, so
far as "up-stairs" goes, really only leaves bed-
making to be done, and a bed does not take five
minutes to make. Down-stairs a vast amount
of needless labor at present arises out of table
wear. " Washing up " consists of a tedious cleans-
ing and wiping of each table utensil in turn,
whereas it should be possible to immerse all dirty
table wear in a suitable solvent for a few minutes
and then run that off for the articles to dry. The
application of solvents to window cleaning, also,
would be a possible thing but for the primitive
construction of our windows, which prevents any-



thing but a painful rub, rub, rub, with the leather.
A friend of mine in domestic service tells me that
this rubbing is to get the window dry, and this seems
to be the general impression, but I think it incor-
rect. The water is not an adequate solvent, and
enough cannot be used under existing conditions.
Consequently, if the window is cleaned and left
wet, it dries in drops, and these drops contain
dirt in solution which remain as spots. But water
containing a suitable solvent could quite simply
be made to run down a window for a few minutes
from pin-holes in a pipe above into a groove below,
and this could be followed by pure rain-water for
an equal time, and in this way the- whole window,
cleaning in the house could, I imagine, be reduced
to the business of turning on a tap.

There remains the cooking. To-day cooking,
with its incidentals, is a very serious business ; the
coaling, the ashes, the horrible moments of heat,
the hot, black things to handle, the silly, vague
recipes, the want of neat apparatus, and the want
of intelligence to demand or use neat apparatus.
One always imagines a cook working with a crim-
soned face and bare, blackened arms. But with
a neat little range, heated by electricity and pro-
vided with thermometers, with absolutely con-
trollable temperatures and proper heat screens,
cooking might very easily be made a pleasant
amusement for intelligent invalid ladies. Which
reminds one, by-the-by, as an added detail to our



previous sketch of the scenery of the days to come,
that there will be no chimneys at all to the house
of the future of this type, except the flue for the
kitchen smells. This will not only abolish the
chimney stack, but make the roof a clean and
pleasant addition to the garden spaces of the

I do not know how long all these things will take
to arrive. The erection of a series of experimental
labor-saving houses by some philanthropic per-
son, for exhibition and discussion, would certainly
bring about a very extraordinary advance in do-
mestic comfort even in the immediate future, but
the fashions in philanthropy do not trend in such
practical directions; if they did the philanthropic
person would probably be too amenable to flattery
to escape the pushful patentee and too sensitive
to avail himself of criticism (which rarely succeeds
in being both penetrating and polite), and it will
probably be many years before the cautious en-
terprise of advertising firms approximates to the
economies that are theoretically possible to-day.
But certainly the engineering and medical sorts
of person will be best able to appreciate the pos-
sibilities of cutting down the irksome labors of the
contemporary home and most likely to first de-
mand and secure them.

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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 7 of 21)