H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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

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civilization of the past, and among the middling
class of people, at any rate, has sufficed, there comes
the great development of associations and tender-
nesses that arises out of intimate co-operation in
an established home, and particularly out of the
linking love and interest of children's lives.

But how does this fit into the childless, disunited,
and probably shifting menage of our second picture?

It must be borne in mind that it has been the
middling and lower mass of people, the tenants
and agriculturists, the shop-keepers, and so forth,
men needing before all things the absolutely loyal
help of wives, that has sustained permanent mon-
ogamic marriage whenever it has been sustained.
Public monogamy has existed on its merits that
is, on the merits of the wife. Merely ostensible
reasons have never sufficed. No sort of religious
conviction, without a real practical utility, has
ever availed to keep classes of men, unhampered
by circumstances, to its restrictions. In all times,
and holding all sorts of beliefs, the specimen hu-
manity of courts and nobilities is to be found de-
veloping the most complex qualifications of the
code. In some quiet corner of Elysium the bishops



of the early Georges, the ecclesiastical dignitaries
of the contemporary French and, Spanish courts,
the patriarchs of vanished Byzantium, will find
a common topic with the spiritual advisers of the
kingdoms of the East in this difficult theme the
theme of the concessions permissible and expedient
to earnest believers encumbered with leisure and
a superfluity of power. ... It is not necessary to
discuss religious development, therefore, before de-
ciding this issue. We are dealing now with things
deeper and forces infinitely more powerful than
the mere convictions of men.

Will a generation, to whom marriage will be no
longer necessarily associated with the birth and
rearing of children, or with the immediate co-opera-
tion and sympathy of husband and wife in common
proceedings, retain its present feeling for the ex-
treme sanctity of the permanent bond? Will the
agreeable, unemployed, childless woman, with a
high conception of her personal rights, who is
spending her husband's earnings or income in
some pleasant discrepant manner, a type of wom-
an there are excellent reasons for anticipating will
become more frequent will she continue to share
the honors and privileges of the wife, mother, and
helper of the old dispensation? And, in particular,
will the great gulf that is now fixed by custom
between her and the agreeable unmarried lady
who is similarly employed remain so inexorably
wide? Charity is in the air, and why should not



charming people meet one another? And where is
either of these ladies to find the support that will
enable her to insist upon the monopoly that con-
ventional sentiment, so far as it finds expression,
concedes her? The danger to them both of the
theory of equal liberty is evident enough. On the
other hand, in the case of the unmarried mother
who may be helped to hold her own, or who may
be holding her own in the world, where will the
moral censor of the year 1950 find this congenial
following to gather stones? Much as we may
regret it, it does very greatly affect the realities of
this matter that with the increased migration of
people from home to home amid the large urban
regions that, we have concluded, will certainly
obtain in the future, even if moral reprobation and
minor social inconveniences do still attach to cer-
tain sorts of status, it will probably be increasingly
difficult to determine the status of people who wish
to conceal it for any but criminal ends.

In another direction there must be a movement
towards the relaxation of the marriage law and of
divorce that will complicate status very confusinglv.
In the past it has been possible to sustain several
contrasting moral systems in each of the prac-
tically autonomous states of the world, but with a
development and cheapening of travel and migra-
tion that is as yet only in its opening phase, an in-
creasing conflict between dissimilar moral restric-
tions must appear. Even at present, with only



the most prosperous classes of the American and
Western European countries migrating at all
freely, there is a growing amount of inconvenience
arising out of these from the point of view of
social physiology quite arbitrary differences. A
man or woman may, for example, have been the
injured party in some conjugal complication, may
have established a domicile and divorced the erring
spouse in certain of the United States, may have
married again there with absolute local propriety,
and may be a bigamist and a criminal in Eng-
land. A child may be a legal child in Denmark or
Australia, and a bastard in this austerer climate.
These things are, however, only the first intimations
of much more profound reactions. Almost all the
great European powers, and the United States
also, are extending their boundaries to include
great masses of non-Christian polygamous peoples,
and they are permeating these peoples with rail-
ways, printed matter, and all the stimulants of
our present state. With the spread of these con-
veniences there is no corresponding spread of Chris-
tianity. These people will not always remain in
the ring fence of their present regions ; their super-
seded princes, and rulers, and public masters, and
managers, will presently come to swell the share-
holding mass of the appropriating empire. Eu-
ropeans, on the other hand, will drift into these dis-
tricts, and, under the influence of their customs,
intermarriages and inter -racial reaction will in-



crease; in a world which is steadily abolishing
locality, the compromise of local concessions, of
localized recognition of the "custom of the coun-
try/' cannot permanently avail. Statesmen will
have to face the alternative of either widening the
permissible variations of the marriage contract,
or of acute racial and religious stresses, of a vast
variety of possible legal betrayals, and the appear-
ance of a body of self-respecting people, outside
the law and public respect, a body that will confer
a touch of credit upon, because it will share the
stigma of, the deliberately dissolute and criminal.
And whether the moral law shrivels relatively by
mere exclusiveness as in religious matters the
Church of England, for example, has shrivelled
to the proportions of a mere sectarian practice
or whether it broadens itself to sustain justice in
a variety of sexual contracts, the net result, so
far as our present purpose goes, will be the same.
All these forces, making for moral relaxation in
the coming time, will probably be greatly enhanced
by the line of development certain sections of the
irresponsible wealthy will almost certainly follow.
Let me repeat that the share-holding rich man
of the new time is in a position of freedom almost
unparalleled in the history of men. He has sold
his permission to control and experiment with the
material wealth of the community for freedom
for freedom from care, labor, responsibility, cus-
tom, local usage, and local attachment. He may



come back again into public affairs if he likes
that is his private concern. Within the limits
of the law and his capacity and courage, he may
do as the imagination of his heart directs. Now
such an experimental and imperfect creature as
man, a creature urged by such imperious passions,
so weak in imagination and controlled by so feeble
a reason, receives such absolute freedom as this
only at infinite peril. To a great number of these
people, in the second or third generation, this free-
dom will mean vice, the subversion of passion to
inconsequent pleasures. We have on record, in
the personal history of the Roman emperors, how
freedom and uncontrolled power took one repre-
sentative group of men, men not entirely of one
blood nor of one bias, but reinforced by the arbi-
trary caprice of adoption and political revolution.
We have in the history of the Russian empresses
a glimpse of similar feminine possibilities. We are
moving towards a time when, through this con-
fusion of moral standards I have foretold, the press-
ure of public opinion in these matters must be
greatly relaxed, when religion will no longer speak
with an unanimous voice, and when freedom of
escape from disapproving neighbors will be great-
ly facilitated. In the past, when depravity had
a centre about a court, the contagion of its ex-
ample was limited to the court region, but every
idle rich man of this great, various, and widely
diffused class will play to a certain extent the moral



r61e of a court. In these days of universal read-
ing and vivid journalism, every novel infraction of
the code will be known of, thought about, and more
or less thoroughly discussed by an enormous and
increasing proportion of the common people. In
the past it has been possible for the churches to
maintain an attitude of respectful regret towards
the lapses of the great, and even to co-operate
in these lapses with a sympathetic privacy while
maintaining a wholesome rigor towards vulgar
vice. But in the coming time there will be no
great but many rich ; the middling sort of people
will probably be better educated as a whole than
the rich, and the days of their differential treat-
ment are at an end.

It is foolish, in view of all these things, not to
anticipate and prepare for a state of things when
not only will moral standards be shifting and un-
certain, admitting of physiologically sound m&n-
ages of very variable status, but also when vice
and depravity, in every form that is not absolute-
ly penal, will be practised in every grade of mag-
nificence and condoned. This means that not only
will status cease to be simple and become complex
and varied, but that outside the system of m&n-
ages now recognized and under the disguise of
which all other menages shelter, there will be a
vast drifting and unstable population grouped in
almost every conceivable form of relation. The
world of Georgian England was a world of homes ;
10 T 45


the world of the coming time will still have its
homes, its real mothers, the custodians of the hu-
man succession, and its cared -for children, the
inheritors of the future; but, in addition to this
home world, frothing tumultuously over and amid
these stable rocks, there will be an enormous
complex of establishments, and hotels, and sterile
households, and flats, and all the elaborate furnish-
ing and appliances of a luxurious extinction.

And since in the present social chaos there does
not yet exist any considerable body of citizens
comparable to the agricultural and commercial
middle class of England during the period of lim-
ited monarchy that will be practically unani-
mous in upholding any body of rules or moral
restraint, since there will probably not appear
for some generations any body propounding with
wide-reaching authority a new definitely different
code to replace the one that is now likely to be in-
creasingly disregarded, it follows that the present
code, with a few interlined qualifications and
grudging legal concessions, will remain nominally
operative in sentiment and practice while being
practically disregarded, glossed, or replaced in num-
berless directions. It must be pointed out that,
in effect, what is here forecast for questions of m$n-
age and moral restraints has already happened to
a very large extent in religious matters. There
was a time when it was held and I think rightly
that a man's religious beliefs, and particularly



his method of expressing them, was a part not of
his individual but of his social life. But the great
upheavals of the Reformation resulted finally in
a compromise, a sort of truce, that has put religious
belief very largely out of intercourse and discussion.
It is conceded that within the bounds of the general
peace and security a man may believe and express
his belief in matters of religion as he pleases, not
because it is better so, but because for the present
epoch there is no way nor hope of attaining unan-
imous truth. There is a decided tendency that
will, I believe, .prevail towards the same compro-
mise in the question of private morals. There
is a convention to avoid all discussion of creeds
in general social intercourse; and a similar con-
vention to avoid the point of status in relation to
marriage, one may very reasonably anticipate,
will be similarly recognized.

But this impending dissolution of a common
standard of morals does not mean universal de-
pravity until some great reconstruction obtains, any
more than the obsolescence of the Conventicle Act
means universal irreligion. It means that for one
morality there will be many moralities. Each
human being will, in the face of circumstances,
work out his or her particular early training as
his or her character determines. And although
there will be a general convention upon which the
most diverse people will meet, it will only be with
persons who have come to identical or similar con-



elusions in the matter of moral conduct and who
are living in similar manages, just as now it is only
with people whose conversation implies a certain
community or kinship of religious belief that
really frequent and intimate intercourse will go
on. In other words, there will be a process of mor-
al segregation* set up. Indeed, such a process is
probably already in operation, amid the deliques-
cent social mass. People will be drawn together
into little groups of similar menaces having much
in common. And this in view of the considera-
tions advanced in the first two chapters consid-
erations all converging on the practical abolition
of distances and the general freedom of people to
live anywhere they like over large areas, will mean
very frequently an actual local segregation. There
will be districts that will be clearly recognized and
marked as "nice," fast regions, areas of ram-
shackle bohemianism, regions of earnest and act-
ive work, old - fashioned corners and hill - tops.
Whole regions will be set aside for the purposes of
opulent enjoyment a thing already happening, in-
deed, at points along the Riviera to-day. Already
the superficial possibilities of such a segregation
have been glanced at. It has been pointed out that
the enormous urban region of the future may pre-

* I use the word " segregation " here and always as it is used
by mineralogists to express the slow conveyance of diffused
matter towards centres of aggregation, such a process as, for
example, must have occurred in the growth of flints.



sent an extraordinary variety of districts, suburbs,
and subordinate centres within its limiting bound-
aries, and here we have a very definite enforce-
ment of that probability.

In that previous chapter I spoke of boating cen-
tres, and horsy suburbs, and picturesque hilly dis-
tricts, and living places by the sea, of promenade
centres and theatrical districts ; I hinted at various
fashions in architecture, and such like things, but
these exterior appearances will be but the outward
and visible sign of inward and more spiritual dis-
tinctions. The people who live in the good hunt-
ing country and about that glittering grand-stand
will no longer be even pretending to live under the
same code as those picturesque musical people
who have concentrated on the canoe-dotted river.
Where the promenaders gather, and the bands are
playing, and the pretty little theatres compete, the
pleasure-seeker will be seeking such pleasure as
he pleases, no longer debased by furtiveness and
innuendo, going his primrose path to a congenial,
picturesque, happy, and highly desirable extinc-
tion. Just over the hills, perhaps, a handful of
opulent share-holders will be pleasantly preserving
the old traditions of a landed aristocracy, with ser-
vants, tenants, vicar, and other dependents all com-
plete, and what from the point of view of social
physiology will really be an arrested contingent
of the abyss, but all nicely washed and done good
to. will pursue home industries in model cottages



in a quite old English and exemplary manner.
Here the windmills will spin and the water-falls
be trapped to gather force, and the quiet-eyed mas-
ter of the machinery will have his office, and per-
haps his private home. Here about the great col-
lege and its big laboratories there will be men and
women reasoning and studying ; and here, where
the homes thicken among the ripe gardens, one
will hear the laughter of playing children, the
singing of children in their schools, and see their
little figures going to and fro amid the trees and

And these segregations, based primarily on a
difference in moral ideas and pursuits and ideals,
will probably round off and complete themselves
at last as distinct and separate cultures. As the
moral ideas realize themselves in manage and habits,
so the ideals will seek to find expression in a litera-
ture, and the passive drifting together will pass
over into a phase of more or less conscious and in-
tentional organization. The segregating groups
will develop fashions of costume, types of manners
and bearing, and even, perhaps, be characterized
by a certain type of facial expression. And this
gives us a glimpse, an aspect of the immediate
future of literature. The kingdoms of the past
were little things, and above the mass of peasants
who lived and obeyed and died there was just one
little culture to which all must needs conform.
Literature was universal within the limits of its



language. Where differences of view arose there
were violent controversies, polemics, and perse-
cutions, until one or other rendering had won its
ascendency. But this new world into which we
are passing will, for several generations at least,
albeit it will be freely inter - communicating and
like a whispering gallery for things outspoken, pos-
sess no universal ideals, no universal conventions;
there will be the literature of the thought and effort
of this sort of people, and the literature, thought,
and effort of that.* Life is already most wonder-
fully arbitrary and experimental, and for the com-
ing century this must be its essential social history,
a great drifting and unrest of people, a shifting
and regrouping and breaking-up again of groups,
great multitudes seeking to find themselves.

The safe life in the old order, where one did this
because it was right, and that because it was the
custom, when one shunned this and hated that, as

* Already this is becoming apparent enough. The literary
" boom," for example, affected the entire reading public of the
early nineteenth century. It was no figure of speech that "every
one " was reading Byron or puzzling about the Waverley mys-
tery, that first and most successful use of the unknown-author
dodge. The booming of Dickens, too, forced him even into the
reluctant hands of Omar's Fitzgerald. But the factory-siren
voice of the modern " boomster " touches whole sections of
the reading public no more than fog-horns going down channel.
One would as soon think of Skinner's soap for one's library
as So-and-so's hundred - thousand - copy success. Instead of
" every one" talking of the great new book, quite considerable
numbers are shamelessly admitting they don't read that sort
of thing. One gets used to literary booms just as one gets used
to motor cars ; they are no longer marvellous, universally signifi-


lead runs into a mould, all that is passing away.
And presently, as the new century opens out, there
will become more and more distinctly emergent
many new cultures and settled ways. The gray
expanse of life to-day is gray, not in its essence,
but because of the minute, confused mingling and
mutual cancelling of many colored lives. Pres-
ently these tints and shades will gather together
here as a mass of one color, and there as a mass
of another. And as these colors intensify and
the tradition of the former order fades, as these
cultures become more and more shaped and con-
scious, as the new literatures grow in substance
and power, as differences develop from speculative
matter of opinion to definite intentions, as contrasts
and affinities grow sharper and clearer, there must
follow some very extensive modifications in the
collective public life. But one series of tints, one
color, must needs have a heightening value amid

cant things, but merely something that goes by with much
unnecessary noise and leaves a faint offence in the air. Dis-
tinctly we segregate. And while no one dominates, while for
all this bawling there are really no great authors of imperial
dimensions, indeed no great successes to compare with the Waver-
ley boom, or the boom of Macaulay's history, many men, too
fine, too subtle, too aberrant, too unusually fresh for any but
exceptional readers, men who would probably have failed to
get a hearing at all in the past, can now subsist quite happily
with the little sect they have found, or that has found them.
They live safely in their islands ; a little while ago they could
not have lived at all, or could have lived only on the shameful
bread of patronage, and yet it is these very men who are often
most covetously bitter against the vulgar preferences of the
present day.



this iridescent display. While the forces at work
in the wealthy and purely speculative groups of
society make for disintegration, and in many
cases for positive elimination, the forces that bring
together the really functional people will tend
more and more to impose upon them certain com-
mon characteristics and beliefs, and the discovery
of a group of similar and compatible class interests
upon which they can unite. The practical people,
the engineering and medical and scientific people,
will become more and more homogeneous in their
fundamental culture, more and more distinctly
aware of a common "general reason" in things,
and of a common difference from the less functional
masses and from any sort of people in the past.
They will have in their positive science a common
ground for understanding the real pride of life,
the real reason for the incidental nastiness of vice,
and so they will be a sanely reproductive class, and,
above all, an educating class. Just how much
they will have kept or changed of the deliques-
cent morality of to-day, when in a hundred years
or so they do distinctively and powerfully emerge,
I cannot speculate now. They will certainly be
a moral people. They will have developed the lit-
erature of their needs, they will have discussed
and tested and thrashed out many things ; they will
be clear where we are confused, resolved where
we are undecided and weak. In the districts of
industrial possibility, in the healthier quarters



ol the town regions, away from the swamps and
away from the glare of the midnight lights, these
people will be gathered together. They will be
linked in professions through the agencies of
great and sober papers. In England the Lancet,
the British Medical Journal, and the already great
periodicals of the engineering trades, foreshadow
something, but only a very little, of what these
papers may be. The best of the wealthy will gravi-
tate to their attracting centres. . . . Unless some
great catastrophe in nature break down all that
man has built, these great kindred groups of cap-
able men and educated, adequate women must
be, under the operation of the forces we have con-
sidered so far, the element finally emergent amid
the vast confusions of the coming time.



IN the preceding four chapters there has been
developed, in a clumsy, laborious way, a
smudgy, imperfect picture of the generalized civil-
ized state of the coming century. In terms vague
enough at times, but never absolutely indefinite,
the general distribution of the population in this
state has been discussed, and its natural develop-
ment into four great but in practice intimately
interfused classes. It has been shown I kno\v
not how convincingly that as the result of forces
that are practically irresistible, a world-wide process
of social and moral deliquescence is in progress,

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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 9 of 21)