H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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

. (page 8 of 21)
Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 8 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


* That interesting book by Mr. George Sutherland, Twentieth-
century Inventions, is very suggestive on these as on many
other matters.

122



CERTAIN SOCIAL REACTIONS

The wife of this ideal home may probably have
a certain distaste for vicarious labor, that, so far
as the immediate minimum of duties goes, will
probably carry her through them. There will
be few servants obtainable for the small homes of
the future, and that may strengthen her sentiments.
Hardly any woman seems to object to a system
of things which provides that another woman
should be made rough-handed and kept rough-
minded for her sake, but, with the enormous diffu-
sion of levelling information that is going on, a
perfectly valid objection will probably come from
the other side in this transaction. The servants
of the past and the only good servants of to-day
are the children of servants or the children of the
old labor base of the social pyramid, until recently
a necessary and self-respecting element in the
State. Machinery has smashed that base and
scattered its fragments; the tradition of self-re-
specting inferiority is being utterly destroyed in
the world. The contingents of the abyss, even,
will not supply daughters for this purpose. In the
community of the United States no native-born
race of white servants has appeared, and the eman-
cipated young negress degenerates towards the
impossible which is one of the many stimulants
to small ingenuities that may help very power-
fully to give that nation the industrial leadership
of the world. The servant of the future, if indeed
she should still linger in the small household, will

123



ANTICIPATIONS

be a person alive to a social injustice and the un-
successful rival of the wife. Such servants as
wealth will retain will be about "as really loyal
and servile as hotel waiters, and on the same
terms. For the middling sort of people in the fut-
ure maintaining a separate m&nage there is noth-
ing for it but the practically automatic house or
flat, supplemented, perhaps, by the restaurant or
the hotel.

Almost certainly, for reasons detailed in the
second chapter of these Anticipations, this house-
hold, if it is an ideal type, will be situated away
from the central "town" nucleus and in pleas-
ant surroundings. And I imagine that the sort
of woman who would be mother and mistress of
such a home would not be perfectly content unless
there were a garden about the house. On account
of the servant difficulty again, this garden would
probably be less laboriously neat than many of
our gardens to-day no "bedding -out/' for ex-
ample, and a certain parsimony of mown lawn.

To such a type of home it seems the active, scien-
tifically trained people will tend. But usually,
I think, the prophet is inclined to over-estimate
the number of people who will reach this condi-
tion of affairs in a generation or so, and to under-
estimate the conflicting tendencies that will make
its attainment difficult to all, and impossible to
many, and that will for many years tint and blotch
the achievement of those who succeed with patches

124



CERTAIN SOCIAL REACTIONS

of unsympathetic color. To understand just how
modifications may come in, it is necessary to con-
sider the probable line of development of another
of the four main elements in the social body of the
coming time. As a consequence and visible ex-
pression of the great new growth of share and
stock property, there will be scattered through the
whole social body, concentrated here, perhaps,
and diffused there, but everywhere perceived, the
members of that new class of the irresponsible
wealthy, a class, as I have already pointed out
in the preceding paper, miscellaneous and free
to a degree quite unprecedented in the world's
history. Quite inevitably great sections of this
miscellany will develop characteristics almost
diametrically opposed to those of the typical work-
ing expert class, and their gravitational attraction
may influence the lives of this more efficient, fin ally
more powerful, but at present much less wealthy,
class to a very considerable degree of intimacy.

The rich share-holder and the skilled expert must
necessarily be sharply contrasted types, and of the
two it must be borne in mind that it is the rich
share -holder who spends the money. While oc-
cupation and skill incline one towards severity
and economy, leisure and unlimited means involve
relaxation and demand the adventitious interest
of decoration. The share-holder will be the decora-
tive influence in the State. So far as there will
be a typical shareholder's house, we may hazard

125



ANTICIPATIONS

that it will have rich colors, elaborate hangings,
stained-glass adornments, and added interests in
great abundance. This "leisure class" will cer-
tainly employ the greater proportion of the artists,
decorators, fabric-makers, and the like of the com-
ing time. It will dominate the world of art and
we may say, with some confidence, that it will
influence it in certain directions. For example,
standing apart from the movement of the world, as
they will do to a very large extent, the archaic,
opulently done, will appeal irresistibly to very many
of these irresponsible rich as the very quintessence
of art. They will come to art with uncritical, cult-
ured minds, full of past achievements, ignorant
of present necessities. Art will be something added
to life something stuck on and richly reminis-
cent not a manner pervading all real things.
We may be pretty sure that very few will grasp
the fact that an iron bridge or a railway engine
may be artistically done these will not be " art "
objects, but hostile novelties. And, on the other
hand, we can pretty confidently foretell a spacious
future and much amplification for that turgid,
costly, and deliberate anti - contemporary group
of styles of which William Morris and his asso-
ciates have been the fortunate pioneers. And
the same principles will apply to costume. A non-
functional class of people cannot have a functional
costume; the whole scheme of costume, as it will
be worn by the wealthy classes in the coming years,

126



CERTAIN SOCIAL REACTIONS

will necessarily be of that character which is called
fancy dress. Few people will trouble to discover
the most convenient forms and materials, and en-
deavor to simplify them and reduce them to beau-
tiful forms, while endless enterprising tradesmen
will be alert for a perpetual succession of striking
novelties. The women will ransack the ages for
becoming and alluring anachronisms, the men
will appear in the elaborate uniforms of "games,"
in modifications of "court" dress, in picturesque
revivals of national costumes, in epidemic fashions
of the most astonishing sort.

Now these people, so far as they are spenders
of money, and so far as he is a spender of money/
will stand to this ideal engineering sort of person,
who is the vitally important citizen of a progres-
sive scientific state, in a competitive relation. In
most cases, whenever there is something that both
want, one against the other, the share-holder will
get it ; in most cases where it is a matter of calling
the tune, the share-holder will call the tune. For
example, the young architect, conscious of excep-
tional ability, will have more or less clearly before
him the alternatives of devoting himself to the
novel, intricate, and difficult business of design-
ing cheap, simple, and mechanically convenient
homes for people who will certainly not be highly
remunerative, and will probably be rather acutely
critical, or of perfecting himself in some period of
romantic architecture or striking out some start-

127



ANTICIPATIONS

ling and attractive novelty of manner or material
which will be certain, sooner or later, to meet its
congenial share-holder. Even if he hover for a time
between these alternatives, he will need to be a
person not only of exceptional gifts, but what is by
no means a common accompaniment of exception-
al gifts, exceptional strength of character, to take
the former line. Consequently, for many years
yet most of the experimental buildings and novel
designs that initiate discussion and develop the
general taste will be done primarily to please the
more originative share-holders, and not to satisfy
the demands of our engineer or doctor, and the
strictly commercial builders who will cater for all
but the wealthiest engineers, scientific investiga-
tors, and business men, being unable to afford
specific designs, will amid the disregarded curses
of these more intelligent customers still simpty
reproduce, in a cheaper and mutilated form, such
examples as happen to be set. Practically, that
is to say, the share-holder will buy up almost all
the available architectural talent.

This modifies our conception of the outer appear-
ance of that little house we imagined. Unless
it happens to be the house of an exceptionally
prosperous member of the utilitarian professions,
it will lack something of the neat directness im-
plicit in our description, something of that inevit-
able beauty that arises out of the perfect attain-
ment of ends for very many years, at any rate.
128



CERTAIN SOCIAL REACTIONS

It will almost certainly be tinted it may even be
saturated with the second-hand archaic. The
owner may object; but a busy man cannot stop
his life-work to teach architects what they ought
to know. It may be heated electrically, but
it will have sham chimneys, in whose dark-
ness, unless they are built solid, dust and filth
will gather, and luckless birds and insects pass
horrible last hours of ineffectual struggle; it may
have automatic window - cleaning arrangements,
but they will be hidden by " picturesque " mullions.
The sham chimneys will, perhaps, be made to
smoke genially in winter by some ingenious con-
trivance ; there may be sham open fireplaces within,
with ingle-nooks about the sham glowing logs.
The needlessly steep roofs will have a sham sag
and sham timbered gables, and probably forced
lichens will give it a sham appearance of age.
Just that feeble-minded contemporary shirking of
the truth of things that has given the world such
stockbroker-in-armor affairs as the Tower Bridge
and historical romance, will, I fear, worry the lu-
cid mind in a great multitude of the homes that
the opening half, at least, of this century will
produce.

In quite a similar way the share-holding body
will buy up all the clever and more enterprising
makers and designers of clothing and adornment ;
he will set the fashion of almost all ornament in
bookbinding and printing and painting, for ex-
9 129



ANTICIPATIONS

ample, furnishing, and indeed of almost all things
that are not primarily produced "for the million,"
as the phrase goes. And where that sort of thing
comes in, then, so far as the trained and intelligent
type of man goes, for many years yet it will be
simply a case of the nether instead of the upper
millstone. Just how far the influence and con-
tagion of the share-holding mass will reach into
this imaginary household of non-share-holding effi-
cients, and just how far the influence of science
and mechanism will penetrate the minds and
methods of the rich, becomes really one of the
most important questions with which these specu-
lations will deal. For this argument, that he will,
perhaps, be able to buy up the architect and the
tailor and the decorator and so forth, is merely
preliminary to the graver issue. It is just possi-
ble that the share-holder may, to a very large ex-
tent in a certain figurative sense, at least buy
up much of the womankind that would otherwise
be available to constitute those severe, capable,
and probably by no means unhappy little estab-
lishments to which our typical engineers will tend,
and so prevent many women from becoming moth-
ers of a regenerating world. The huge secretion
of irresponsible wealth by the social organism is
certain to affect the tone of thought of the entire
feminine sex profoundly. The exact nature of
this influence we may now consider.

The gist of this inquiry lies in the fact that,
130



CERTAIN SOCIAL REACTIONS

while a man's starting position in this world of to-
day is entirely determined by the conditions of
his birth and early training, and his final position
the slow, elaborate outcome of his own sustained
efforts to live, a woman, from the age of sixteen
onward as the world goes now is essentially
adventurous, the creature of circumstances largely
beyond her control and foresight. A virile man
though he, too, is subject to accidents may, upon
most points, still hope to plan and determine his
life; the life of a woman is all accident. Normally,
she lives in relation to some specific man, and until
that man is indicated her preparation for life must
be of the most tentative sort. She lives, going
nowhere, like a cabman on the crawl, and at any
time she may find it open to her to assist some
pleasure-loving millionaire to spend his millions,
or to play her part in one of the many real,
original, and only derivatives of the former aris-
tocratic "society" that have developed themselves
among independent people. Even if she is a seri-
ous and labor-loving type, some share-holder may
tempt her with the prospect of developing her ex-
ceptional personality in ease and freedom and in
" doing good " with his money. With the contin-
ued growth of the share-holding class, the bright-
er-looking matrimonial chances, not to speak of
the glittering opportunities that are not matri-
monial, will increase. Reading is now the priv-
ilege of all classes ; there are few secrets of etiquette



ANTICIPATIONS

that a clever lower-class girl will fail to learn ; there
are few such girls, even now, who are not aware of
their wide opportunities, or at least their wide possi-
bilities, of luxury and freedom ; there are still fewer
who, knowing as much, do not let it affect their
standards and conception of life. The whole mass
of modern fiction written by women for women,
indeed, down to the cheapest novelettes, is saturated
with the romance of mesalliance. And even when
the specific man has appeared, the adventurous
is still not shut out of a woman's career. A man's
affections may wander capriciously and leave him
but a little poorer or a little better placed; for the
women they wander from, however, the issue is
an infinitely graver one, and the serious wandering
of a woman's fancy may mean the beginning of
a new world for her. At any moment the chances
of death may make the wife a widow, may sweep
out of existence all that she had made fundamental
in her life, may enrich her with insurance profits
or hurl her into poverty, and restore all the drift-
ing expectancy of her adolescence.

Now, it is difficult to say why we should expect
the growing girl, in whom an unlimited ambition
and egotism is as natural and proper a thing as
beauty and high spirits, to den3^ herself some
dalliance with the more opulent dreams that form
the golden lining to these precarious prospects.
How can we expect her to prepare herself sole-
ly, putting all wandering thoughts aside, for the

132



CERTAIN SOCIAL REACTIONS

servantless cookery, domestic Kindergarten work,
the care of hardy perennials, and low-pitched con-
versation of the engineer's home? Supposing,
after all, there is no predestinate engineer! The
stories the growing girl now prefers, and I imagine
will in the future still prefer, deal mainly with the
rich and free; the theatre she will prefer to visit
will present the lives and loves of opulent people
with great precision and detailed correctness; her
favorite periodicals will reflect that life ; her school-
mistress, whatever her principles, must have an
eye to her "chances." And even after Fate or a
gust of passion has whirled her into the arms of our
busy and capable fundamental man, all these
things will still be in her imagination and mem-
ory. Unless he is a person of extraordinary men- .
tal prepotency, she will almost insensibly deter-
mine the character of the home in a direction quite
other than that of our first sketch. She will set
herself to realize, as far as her husband's means
and credit permit, the ideas of the particular sec-
tion of the wealthy that have captured her. If she
is a fool, her ideas of life will presently come into
complete conflict with her husband's in a manner
that, as the fumes of the love potion leave his brain,
may bring the real nature of the case home to him.
If he is of that resolute strain to whom the world
must finally come, he may rebel and wade through
tears and crises to his appointed work again. The
cleverer she is, and the finer and more loyal her

133



ANTICIPATIONS

character up to a certain point, the less likely this
is to happen, the more subtle and .effective will be
her hold upon her husband, and the more probable
his perversion from the austere pursuit of some
interesting employment towards the adventures
of modern money-getting in pursuit of her ideals
of a befitting life. And meanwhile, since "one
must live," the nursery that was implicit in the
background of the first picture will probably prove
unnecessary. She will be, perforce, a person not
only of pleasant pursuits, but of leisure. If she
endears herself to her husband, he will feel not
only the attraction but the duty of her vacant
hours; he will not only deflect his working hours
from the effective to the profitable, but that occa-
sional burning of the midnight oil that no brain-
worker may forego if he is to retain his efficiency
will, in the interests of some attractive theatrical
performance or some agreeable social occasion,
all too frequently have to be put off or abandoned.
This line of speculation, therefore, gives us a
second picture of a household to put beside our
first a household, or rather a couple, rather more
likely to be typical of the mass of middling sort
of people in those urban regions of the future than
our first projection. It will probably not live in a
separate home at all, but in a flat in "town," or
at one of the subordinate centres of the urban re-
gion we have foreseen. The apartments will be
more or less agreeably adorned in some decorative

134



CERTAIN SOCIAL REACTIONS

fashion akin to, but less costly than, some of the
many fashions that will obtain among the wealthy.
They will be littered with a miscellaneous literature
novels of an entertaining and stimulating sort
predominating and with bric-a-brac ; in a child-
less household there must certainly be quaint dolls,
pet images, and so forth, and perhaps a canary
would find a place. I suspect there would be an
edition or so of Omar about in this more typical
household of "moderns," but I doubt about the
Bible. The man's working books would probably
be shabby and relegated to a small study, and even
these overlaid by abundant copies of the Finan-
cial something or other. It would still be a ser-
vantless household, and probably not only without
a nursery but without a kitchen, and in its grade
and degree it would probably have social relations
directly or intermediately through rich friends with
some section, some one of the numerous cults of
the quite independent wealthy.

Quite similar households to this would be even
more common among those neither independent nor
engaged in work of a primarily functional nature,
but endeavoring quite ostensibly to acquire wealth
by political or business ingenuity and activity,
and also among the great multitude of artists,
writers, and that sort of people, whose works are
their children. In comparison with the state of
affairs fifty years ago, the child-infested household
is already conspicuously rare in these classes.

135



ANTICIPATIONS

These are two highly probable m&nages among
the central mass of the people of the coming time.
But there will be many others. The manage &
deux, one may remark, though it may be without
the presence of children, is not necessarily child-
less. Parentage is certainly part of the pride of
many men though, curiously enough, it does not
appear to be felt among modern European married
women as any part of their honor. Many men
will probably achieve parentage, therefore, who
will not succeed in inducing, or who may possibly
even be very loath to permit, their wives to under-
take more than the first beginnings of motherhood.
From the moment of its birth, unless it is kept as
a pet, the child of such marriages will be nour-
ished, taught, and trained almost as though it
were an orphan ; it will have a succession of bottles
and foster-mothers for body and mind from the
very beginning. Side by side with this increasing
number of childless homes, therefore, there may de-
velop a system of Kindergarten boarding-schools.
Indeed, to a certain extent such schools already
exist, and it is one of the unperceived contrasts of
this and any former time how common such a sep-
aration of parents and children becomes. Except
in the case of the illegitimate and orphans, and
the children of impossible (many public-house
children, e.g.] or wretched homes, boarding-schools
until quite recently were used only for quite big
boys and girls. But now, at everv seaside town,

136



CERTAIN SOCIAL REACTIONS

for example, one sees a multitude of preparatory
schools, which are really not simply educational
institutions, but supplementary homes. In many
cases these are conducted, and very largely staffed,
by unmarried girls and women, who are, indeed,
in effect, assistant mothers. This class of capa-
ble school-mistresses is one of the most interesting
social developments of this period. For the most
part they are women who, from emotional fastidi-
ousness, intellectual egotism, or an honest lack of
passion, have refused the common lot of marriage,
women often of exceptional character and restraint,
and it is well that, at any rate, their intelligence
and character should not pass fruitlessly out of
being. Assuredly for this type the future has
much in store.

There are, however, still other possibilities to
be considered in this matter. In these Anticipa-
tions it is impossible to ignore the forces making
for a considerable relaxation of the institution of
permanent monogamous marriage in the coming
years, and of a much greater variety of establish-
ments than is suggested by these possibilities
within the pale. I guess, without attempting to re-
fer to statistics, that our present society must show
a quite unprecedented number and increasing
number of male and female celibates not religious
celibates, but people for the most part whose stand-
ard of personal comfort has such a relation to their
earning power that they shirk or cannot enter

137



ANTICIPATIONS

the matrimonial grouping. The institution of per-
manent monogamous marriage except in the ideal
Roman Catholic community, where it is based on
the sanction of an authority which in real Roman
Catholic countries a large proportion of the men
decline to obey is sustained at present entirely
by the inertia of custom and by a number of sen-
timental and practical considerations considera-
tions that may very possibly undergo modification
in the face of the altered relationship of husband
and wife that the present development of childless
manages is bringing about. The practical and
sustaining reason for monogamy is the stability
it gives to the family; the value of a stable fam-
ily lies in the orderty up-bringing in an atmosphere
of affection that it secures in most cases for its
more or less numerous children. The monoga-
mous family has indisputably been the civilizing
unit of the pre-mechanical civilized state. It must
be remembered that both for husband and wife in
most cases monogamic life marriage involves an
element of sacrifice; it is an institution of late ap-
pearance in the history of mankind, and it does not
completely fit the psychology or physiology of any
but very exceptional characters in either sex. For
the man it commonly involves considerable re-
straint; he must ride his imagination on the curb,
or exceed the code in an extremely dishonoring,
furtive, and unsatisfactory manner while publicly
professing an impossible virtue; for the woman it

138



commonly implies many uncongenial submissions.
There are probably few married couples who have
escaped distressful phases of bitterness and tears,
within the constrain of their, in most cases, practi-
cally insoluble bond. But, on the other hand, and
as a reward that in the soberer, mainly agricultural


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 8 of 21)