H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

Boon, The Mind of the Race, The Wild Asses of the Devil, and The Last Trump; online

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Boon, The Mind of the Race,
The Wild Asses of the Devil,
_and_ The Last Trump

Being a First Selection from the
Literary Remains of George Boon,
Appropriate to the Times

Prepared for Publication by

An Ambiguous Introduction by


_First published in 1915_

(All rights reserved)


Whenever a publisher gets a book by one author he wants an Introduction
written to it by another, and Mr. Fisher Unwin is no exception to the
rule. Nobody reads Introductions, they serve no useful purpose, and
they give no pleasure, but they appeal to the business mind, I think,
because as a rule they cost nothing. At any rate, by the pressure of a
certain inseparable intimacy between Mr. Reginald Bliss and myself,
this Introduction has been extracted from me. I will confess that I
have not read his book through, though I have a kind of first-hand
knowledge of its contents, and that it seems to me an indiscreet,
ill-advised book....

I have a very strong suspicion that this Introduction idea is designed
to entangle me in the responsibility for the book. In America, at any
rate, "The Life of George Meek, Bath Chairman," was ascribed to me
upon no better evidence. Yet any one who likes may go to Eastbourne
and find Meek with chair and all complete. But in view of the
complications of the book market and the large simplicities of the
public mind, I do hope that the reader - and by that I mean the
reviewer - will be able to see the reasonableness and the necessity of
distinguishing between me and Mr. Reginald Bliss. I do not wish to
escape the penalties of thus participating in, and endorsing, his
manifest breaches of good taste, literary decorum, and friendly
obligation, but as a writer whose reputation is already too crowded
and confused and who is for the ordinary purposes of every day known
mainly as a novelist, I should be glad if I could escape the public
identification I am now repudiating. Bliss is Bliss and Wells is
Wells. And Bliss can write all sorts of things that Wells could not

This Introduction has really no more to say than that.
















The Back of Miss Bathwick and George Boon

§ 1

It is quite probable that the reader does not know of the death of
George Boon, and that "remains" before his name upon the title-page
will be greeted with a certain astonishment. In the ordinary course of
things, before the explosion of the war, the death of George Boon
would have been an event - oh! a three-quarters of a column or more in
the _Times_ event, and articles in the monthlies and reminiscences. As
it is, he is not so much dead as missing. Something happened at the
eleventh hour - I think it was chiefly the Admiralty report of the
fight off the Falkland Islands - that blew his obituary notices clean
out of the papers. And yet he was one of our most popular writers, and
in America I am told he was in the "hundred thousand class." But now
we think only of Lord Kitchener's hundred thousands.

It is no good pretending about it. The war has ended all that. Boon
died with his age. After the war there will be a new sort of
book-trade and a crop of new writers and a fresh tone, and everything
will be different. This is an obituary, of more than George Boon.... I
regard the outlook with profound dismay. I try to keep my mind off it
by drilling with the Shrewsbury last line of volunteers and training
down the excrescences of my physical style. When the war is over will
be time enough to consider the prospects of a superannuated man of
letters. We National Volunteers are now no mere soldiers on paper; we
have fairly washable badges by way of uniform; we have bought
ourselves dummy rifles; we have persuaded the War Office to give us a
reluctant recognition on the distinct understanding that we have
neither officers nor authority. In the event of an invasion, I
understand, we are to mobilize and ... do quite a number of useful
things. But until there is an invasion in actual progress, nothing is
to be decided more precisely than what this whiff of printer's
shrapnel, these four full stops, conveys....

§ 2

I must confess I was monstrously disappointed when at last I could get
my hands into those barrels in the attic in which Boon had stored his
secret writings. There was more perhaps than I had expected; I do not
complain of the quantity, but of the disorder, the incompleteness, the
want of discipline and forethought.

Boon had talked so often and so convincingly of these secret books he
was writing, he had alluded so frequently to this or that great
project, he would begin so airily with "In the seventeenth chapter of
my 'Wild Asses of the Devil,'" or "I have been recasting the third
part of our 'Mind of the Race,'" that it came as an enormous shock to
me to find there was no seventeenth chapter; there was not even a
completed first chapter to the former work, and as for the latter,
there seems nothing really finished or settled at all beyond the
fragments I am now issuing, except a series of sketches of Lord
Rosebery, for the most part in a toga and a wreath, engaged in a
lettered retirement at his villa at Epsom, and labelled "Patrician
Dignity, the Last Phase" - sketches I suppress as of no present
interest - and a complete gallery of imaginary portraits (with several
duplicates) of the Academic Committee that has done so much for
British literature (the Polignac prize, for example, and Sir Henry
Newbolt's professorship) in the last four or five years. So
incredulous was I that this was all, that I pushed my inquiries from
their original field in the attic into other parts of the house,
pushed them, indeed, to the very verge of ransacking, and in that I
greatly deepened the want of sympathy already separating me from Mrs.
Boon. But I was stung by a thwarted sense of duty, and quite resolved
that no ill-advised interference should stand between me and the
publication of what Boon has always represented to me as the most
intimate productions of his mind.

Yet now the first rush of executorial emotion is over I can begin to
doubt about Boon's intention in making me his "literary executor." Did
he, after all, intend these pencilled scraps, these marginal
caricatures, and - what seems to me most objectionable - annotated
letters from harmless prominent people for publication? Or was his
selection of me his last effort to prolong what was, I think, if one
of the slightest, one also of the most sustained interests of his
life, and that was a prolonged faint jeering at my expense? Because
always - it was never hidden from me - in his most earnest moments Boon
jeered at me. I do not know why he jeered at me, it was always rather
pointless jeering and far below his usual level, but jeer he did. Even
while we talked most earnestly and brewed our most intoxicating
draughts of project and conviction, there was always this scarce
perceptible blossom and flavour of ridicule floating like a drowning
sprig of blue borage in the cup. His was indeed essentially one of
those suspended minds that float above the will and action; when at
last reality could be evaded no longer it killed him; he never really
believed nor felt the urgent need that goads my more accurate nature
to believe and do. Always when I think of us together, I feel that I
am on my legs and that he sits about. And yet he could tell me things
I sought to know, prove what I sought to believe, shape beliefs to a
conviction in me that I alone could never attain.

He took life as it came, let his fancy play upon it, selected,
elucidated, ignored, threw the result in jest or observation or
elaborate mystification at us, and would have no more of it.... He
would be earnest for a time and then break away. "The Last Trump" is
quite typical of the way in which he would turn upon himself. It sets
out so straight for magnificence; it breaks off so abominably. You
will read it.

Yet he took things more seriously than he seemed to do.

This war, I repeat, killed him. He could not escape it. It bore him
down. He did his best to disregard it. But its worst stresses caught
him in the climax of a struggle with a fit of pneumonia brought on by
a freak of bathing by moonlight - in an English October, a thing he did
to distract his mind from the tension after the Marne - and it
destroyed him. The last news they told him was that the Germans had
made their "shoot and scuttle" raid upon Whitby and Scarborough. There
was much circumstantial description in the morning's paper. They had
smashed up a number of houses and killed some hundreds of people,
chiefly women and children. Ten little children had been killed or
mutilated in a bunch on their way to school, two old ladies at a
boarding-house had had their legs smashed, and so on.

"Take this newspaper," he said, and held it out to his nurse. "Take
it," he repeated irritably, and shook it at her.

He stared at it as it receded. Then he seemed to be staring at distant

"Wild Asses of the Devil," he said at last. "Oh! Wild Asses of the
Devil! I thought somehow it was a joke. It wasn't a joke. There they
are, and the world is theirs."

And he turned his face to the wall and never spoke again.

§ 3

But before I go on it is necessary to explain that the George Boon I
speak of is not exactly the same person as the George Boon, the Great
Writer, whose fame has reached to every bookshop in the world. The
same bodily presence perhaps they had, but that is all. Except when he
chose to allude to them, those great works on which that great fame
rests, those books and plays of his that have made him a household
word in half a dozen continents, those books with their style as
perfect and obvious as the gloss upon a new silk hat, with their flat
narrative trajectory that nothing could turn aside, their unsubdued
and apparently unsubduable healthy note, their unavoidable humour, and
their robust pathos, never came between us. We talked perpetually of
literature and creative projects, but never of that "output" of his.
We talked as men must talk who talk at all, with an untrammelled
freedom; now we were sublime and now curious, now we pursued
subtleties and now we were utterly trivial, but always it was in an
undisciplined, irregular style quite unsuitable for publication. That,
indeed, was the whole effect of the George Boon I am now trying to
convey, that he was indeed essentially not for publication. And this
effect was in no degree diminished by the fact that the photograph of
his beautiful castellated house, and of that extraordinarily
irrelevant person Mrs. Boon - for I must speak my mind of her - and of
her two dogs (Binkie and Chum), whom he detested, were, so to speak,
the poulet and salade in the menu of every illustrated magazine.

The fact of it is he was one of those people who will _not_
photograph; so much of him was movement, gesture, expression,
atmosphere, and colour, and so little of him was form. His was the
exact converse of that semi-mineral physical quality that men call
handsome, and now that his career has come to its sad truncation I see
no reason why I should further conceal the secret of the clear,
emphatic, solid impression he made upon all who had not met him. It
was, indeed, a very simple secret; -

_He never wrote anything for his public with his own hand._

He did this of set intention. He distrusted a certain freakishness of
his finger-tips that he thought might have injured him with his
multitudinous master. He knew his holograph manuscript would certainly
get him into trouble. He employed a lady, the lady who figures in his
will, Miss Bathwick, as his amanuensis. In Miss Bathwick was all his
security. She was a large, cool, fresh-coloured, permanently young
lady, full of serious enthusiasms; she had been faultlessly educated
in a girls' high school of a not too modern type, and she regarded
Boon with an invincible respect. She wrote down his sentences
(spelling without blemish in all the European languages) as they came
from his lips, with the aid of a bright, efficient, new-looking
typewriter. If he used a rare word or a whimsical construction, she
would say, "I beg your pardon, Mr. Boon," and he would at once correct
it; and if by any lapse of an always rather too nimble imagination he
carried his thoughts into regions outside the tastes and interests of
that enormous _ante-bellum_ public it was his fortune to please, then,
according to the nature of his divagation, she would either cough or
sigh or - in certain eventualities - get up and leave the room.

By this ingenious device - if one may be permitted to use the
expression for so pleasant and trustworthy an assistant - he did to a
large extent free himself from the haunting dread of losing his public
by some eccentricity of behaviour, some quirk of thought or
fluctuation of "attitude" that has pursued him ever since the great
success of "Captain Clayball," a book he wrote to poke fun at the
crude imaginings of a particularly stupid schoolboy he liked, had put
him into the forefront of our literary world.

§ 4

He had a peculiar, and, I think, a groundless terror of the public of
the United States of America, from which country he derived the larger
moiety of his income. In spite of our remonstrances, he subscribed to
the New York _Nation_ to the very end, and he insisted, in spite of
fact, reason, and my earnest entreaties (having regard to the future
unification of the English-speaking race), in figuring that
continental empire as a vain, garrulous, and prosperous female of
uncertain age, and still more uncertain temper, with unfounded
pretensions to intellectuality and an ideal of refinement of the most
negative description, entirely on the strength of that one sample. One
might as well judge England by the _Spectator_. My protests seemed
only to intensify his zest in his personification of Columbia as the
Aunt Errant of Christendom, as a wild, sentimental, and advanced
maiden lady of inconceivable courage and enterprise, whom everything
might offend and nothing cow. "I know," he used to say, "something
will be said or done and she'll have hysterics; the temptation to
smuggle something through Miss Bathwick's back is getting almost too
much for me. I _could_, you know. Or some one will come along with
something a little harder and purer and emptier and more emphatically
handsome than I can hope to do. I shall lose her one of these days....
How can I hope to keep for ever that proud and fickle heart?"

And then I remember he suddenly went off at a tangent to sketch out a
great novel he was to call "Aunt Columbia." "No," he said, "they would
suspect that - 'Aunt Dove.'" She was to be a lady of great,
unpremeditated wealth, living on a vast estate near a rather crowded
and troublesome village. Everything she did and said affected the
village enormously. She took the people's children into her
employment; they lived on her surplus vegetables. She was to have a
particularly troublesome and dishonest household of servants and a
spoiled nephew called Teddy. And whenever she felt dull or energetic
she drove down into the village and lectured and blamed the
villagers - for being overcrowded, for being quarrelsome, for being
poor and numerous, for not, in fact, being spinster ladies of enormous
good fortune.... That was only the beginning of one of those vast
schemes of his that have left no trace now in all the collection.

His fear of shocking America was, I think, unfounded; at any rate, he
succeeded in the necessary suppressions every time, and until the day
of his death it was rare for the American press-cuttings that were
removed in basketfuls almost daily with the other debris of his
breakfast-table to speak of him in anything but quasi-amorous tones.
He died for them the most spiritual as well as the most intellectual
of men; "not simply intellectual, but lovable." They spoke of his
pensive eyes, though, indeed, when he was not glaring at a camera they
were as pensive as champagne, and when the robust pathos bumped
against the unavoidable humour as they were swept along the narrow
torrent of his story they said with all the pleasure of an apt
quotation that indeed in his wonderful heart laughter mingled with

§ 5

I think George Boon did on the whole enjoy the remarkable setting of
his philosophical detachment very keenly; the monstrous fame of him
that rolled about the world, that set out east and came back
circumferentially from the west and beat again upon his doors. He
laughed irresponsibly, spent the resulting money with an intelligent
generosity, and talked of other things. "It is the quality of life,"
he said, and "The people love to have it so."

I seem to see him still, hurrying but not dismayed, in flight from the
camera of an intrusive admirer - an admirer not so much of him as of
his popularity - up one of his garden walks towards his agreeable
study. I recall his round, enigmatical face, an affair of rosy
rotundities, his very bright, active eyes, his queer, wiry, black hair
that went out to every point in the heavens, his ankles and neck and
wrists all protruding from his garments in their own peculiar way,
protruding a little more in the stress of flight. I recall, too, his
general effect of careless and, on the whole, commendable dirtiness,
accentuated rather than corrected by the vivid tie of soft
orange-coloured silk he invariably wore, and how his light paces
danced along the turf. (He affected in his private dominions trousers
of faint drab corduroy that were always too short, braced up with
vehement tightness, and displaying claret-coloured socks above his
easy, square-toed shoes.) And I know that even that lumbering camera
coming clumsily to its tripod ambush neither disgusted nor vulgarized
him. He liked his game; he liked his success and the opulent
stateliness it gave to the absurdities of Mrs. Boon and all the
circumstances of his profoundly philosophical existence; and he liked
it all none the worse because it was indeed nothing of himself at all,
because he in his essence was to dull intelligences and commonplace
minds a man invisible, a man who left no impression upon the
camera-plate or moved by a hair's breadth the scale of a materialist

§ 6

But I will confess the state of the remains did surprise and
disappoint me.

His story of great literary enterprises, holograph and conducted in
the profoundest secrecy, tallied so completely with, for example,
certain reservations, withdrawals that took him out of one's company
and gave him his evident best companionship, as it were, when he was
alone. It was so entirely like him to concoct lengthy books away from
his neatly ordered study, from the wise limitations of Miss Bathwick's
significant cough and her still more significant back, that we all, I
think, believed in these unseen volumes unquestioningly. While those
fine romances, those large, bright plays, were being conceived in a
publicity about as scandalous as a royal gestation, publicly planned
and announced, developed, written, boomed, applauded, there was, we
knew, this undercurrent of imaginative activity going on, concealed
from Miss Bathwick's guardian knowledge, withdrawn from the stately
rhythm of her keys. What more natural than to believe he was also
writing it down?

Alas! I found nothing but fragments. The work upon which his present
fame is founded was methodical, punctual and careful, and it
progressed with a sort of inevitable precision from beginning to end,
and so on to another beginning. Not only in tone and spirit but in
length (that most important consideration) he was absolutely
trustworthy; his hundred thousand words of good, healthy,
straightforward story came out in five months with a precision almost
astronomical. In that sense he took his public very seriously. To have
missed his morning's exercises behind Miss Bathwick's back would have
seemed to him the most immoral - nay, worse, the most uncivil of

"She wouldn't understand it," he would say, and sigh and go.

But these scraps and fragments are of an irregularity diametrically
contrasting with this. They seem to have been begun upon impulse at
any time, and abandoned with an equal impulsiveness, and they are
written upon stationery of a variety and nature that alone would
condemn them in the eyes of an alienist. The handwriting is always
atrocious and frequently illegible, the spelling is strange, and
sometimes indecently bad, the punctuation is sporadic, and many of the
fragments would be at once put out of court as modern literature by
the fact that they are written in pencil on _both sides of the paper_!
Such of the beginnings as achieve a qualified completeness are of
impossible lengths; the longest is a piece - allowing for gaps - of
fourteen thousand words, and another a fragment shaping at about
eleven. These are, of course, quite impossible sizes, neither essay
nor short story nor novel, and no editor or publisher would venture to
annoy the public with writings of so bizarre a dimension. In addition
there are fragments of verse. But I look in vain for anything beyond
the first chapter of that tremendous serial, "The Wild Asses of the
Devil," that kept on day by day through June and July to the very
outbreak of the war, and only a first chapter and a few illustrations
and memoranda and fragments for our "Mind of the Race," that went on
intermittently for several years. Whole volumes of that great
hotchpotch of criticism are lost in the sandbanks of my treacherous
memory for ever.

Much of the matter, including a small MS. volume of those brief verses
called Limericks (personal always, generally actionable, and
frequently lacking in refinement), I set aside at an early date. Much
else also I rejected as too disjointed and unfinished, or too
eccentric. Two bizarre fragments called respectively "Jane in Heaven"
and "An Account of a Play," I may perhaps find occasion to issue at a
later date, and there were also several brief imitations of Villiers
de l'Isle Adam quite alien to contemporary Anglo-Saxon taste, which
also I hold over. Sometimes upon separate sheets, sometimes in the
margins of other compositions, and frequently at the end of letters
received by him I found a curious abundance of queer little drawings,
caricatures of his correspondents, burlesque renderings of
occurrences, disrespectful sidenotes to grave and pregnant utterances,
and the like. If ever the correspondence of George Boon is published,
it will have to be done in _fac-simile_. There is a considerable
number of impressions of the back of Miss Bathwick's head, with and
without the thread of velvet she sometimes wore about her neck, and
quite a number of curiously idealized studies of that American reading

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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsBoon, The Mind of the Race, The Wild Asses of the Devil, and The Last Trump; → online text (page 1 of 12)