H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

In the fourth year; anticipations of a world peace online

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It is proposed in this book to present in as orderly an arrangement as
the necessarily diffused nature of the subject admits, certain
speculations about the trend of present forces, speculations which,
taken all together, will build up an imperfect and very hypothetical,
but sincerely intended forecast of the way things will probably go in
this new century.[1] Necessarily diffidence will be one of the graces of
the performance. Hitherto such forecasts have been presented almost
invariably in the form of fiction, and commonly the provocation of the
satirical opportunity has been too much for the writer;[2] the
narrative form becomes more and more of a nuisance as the speculative
inductions become sincerer, and here it will be abandoned altogether in
favour of a texture of frank inquiries and arranged considerations. Our
utmost aim is a rough sketch of the coming time, a prospectus, as it
were, of the joint undertaking of mankind in facing these impending
years. The reader is a prospective shareholder - he and his heirs - though
whether he will find this anticipatory balance-sheet to his belief or
liking is another matter.

For reasons that will develop themselves more clearly as these papers
unfold, it is extremely convenient to begin with a speculation upon the
probable developments and changes of the means of land locomotion
during the coming decades. No one who has studied the civil history of
the nineteenth century will deny how far-reaching the consequences of
changes in transit may be, and no one who has studied the military
performances of General Buller and General De Wet but will see that upon
transport, upon locomotion, may also hang the most momentous issues of
politics and war. The growth of our great cities, the rapid populating
of America, the entry of China into the field of European politics are,
for example, quite obviously and directly consequences of new methods of
locomotion. And while so much hangs upon the development of these
methods, that development is, on the other hand, a process comparatively
independent, now at any rate, of most of the other great movements
affected by it. It depends upon a sequence of ideas arising, and of
experiments made, and upon laws of political economy, almost as
inevitable as natural laws. Such great issues, supposing them to be
possible, as the return of Western Europe to the Roman communion, the
overthrow of the British Empire by Germany, or the inundation of Europe
by the "Yellow Peril," might conceivably affect such details, let us
say, as door-handles and ventilators or mileage of line, but would
probably leave the essential features of the evolution of locomotion
untouched. The evolution of locomotion has a purely historical relation
to the Western European peoples. It is no longer dependent upon them,
or exclusively in their hands. The Malay nowadays sets out upon his
pilgrimage to Mecca in an excursion steamship of iron, and the
immemorial Hindoo goes a-shopping in a train, and in Japan and
Australasia and America, there are plentiful hands and minds to take up
the process now, even should the European let it fall.

The beginning of this twentieth century happens to coincide with a very
interesting phase in that great development of means of land transit
that has been the distinctive feature (speaking materially) of the
nineteenth century. The nineteenth century, when it takes its place with
the other centuries in the chronological charts of the future, will, if
it needs a symbol, almost inevitably have as that symbol a steam engine
running upon a railway. This period covers the first experiments, the
first great developments, and the complete elaboration of that mode of
transit, and the determination of nearly all the broad features of this
century's history may be traced directly or indirectly to that process.
And since an interesting light is thrown upon the new phases in land
locomotion that are now beginning, it will be well to begin this
forecast with a retrospect, and to revise very shortly the history of
the addition of steam travel to the resources of mankind.

A curious and profitable question arises at once. How is it that the
steam locomotive appeared at the time it did, and not earlier in the
history of the world?

Because it was not invented. But why was it not invented? Not for want
of a crowning intellect, for none of the many minds concerned in the
development strikes one - as the mind of Newton, Shakespeare, or Darwin
strikes one - as being that of an unprecedented man. It is not that the
need for the railway and steam engine had only just arisen, and - to use
one of the most egregiously wrong and misleading phrases that ever
dropped from the lips of man - the demand created the supply; it was
quite the other way about. There was really no urgent demand for such
things at the time; the current needs of the European world seem to have
been fairly well served by coach and diligence in 1800, and, on the
other hand, every administrator of intelligence in the Roman and Chinese
empires must have felt an urgent need for more rapid methods of transit
than those at his disposal. Nor was the development of the steam
locomotive the result of any sudden discovery of steam. Steam, and
something of the mechanical possibilities of steam, had been known for
two thousand years; it had been used for pumping water, opening doors,
and working toys, before the Christian era. It may be urged that this
advance was the outcome of that new and more systematic handling of
knowledge initiated by Lord Bacon and sustained by the Royal Society;
but this does not appear to have been the case, though no doubt the new
habits of mind that spread outward from that centre played their part.
The men whose names are cardinal in the history of this development
invented, for the most part, in a quite empirical way, and Trevithick's
engine was running along its rails and Evan's boat was walloping up the
Hudson a quarter of a century before Carnot expounded his general
proposition. There were no such deductions from principles to
application as occur in the story of electricity to justify our
attribution of the steam engine to the scientific impulse. Nor does this
particular invention seem to have been directly due to the new
possibilities of reducing, shaping, and casting iron, afforded by the
substitution of coal for wood in iron works; through the greater
temperature afforded by a coal fire. In China coal has been used in the
reduction of iron for many centuries. No doubt these new facilities did
greatly help the steam engine in its invasion of the field of common
life, but quite certainly they were not sufficient to set it going. It
was, indeed, not one cause, but a very complex and unprecedented series
of causes, that set the steam locomotive going. It was indirectly, and
in another way, that the introduction of coal became the decisive
factor. One peculiar condition of its production in England seems to
have supplied just one ingredient that had been missing for two thousand
years in the group of conditions that were necessary before the steam
locomotive could appear.

This missing ingredient was a demand for some comparatively simple,
profitable machine, upon which the elementary principles of steam
utilization could be worked out. If one studies Stephenson's "Rocket" in
detail, as one realizes its profound complexity, one begins to
understand how impossible it would have been for that structure to have
come into existence _de novo_, however urgently the world had need of
it. But it happened that the coal needed to replace the dwindling
forests of this small and exceptionally rain-saturated country occurs in
low hollow basins overlying clay, and not, as in China and the
Alleghanies for example, on high-lying outcrops, that can be worked as
chalk is worked in England. From this fact it followed that some quite
unprecedented pumping appliances became necessary, and the thoughts of
practical men were turned thereby to the long-neglected possibilities of
steam. Wind was extremely inconvenient for the purpose of pumping,
because in these latitudes it is inconstant: it was costly, too, because
at any time the labourers might be obliged to sit at the pit's mouth for
weeks together, whistling for a gale or waiting for the water to be got
under again. But steam had already been used for pumping upon one or two
estates in England - rather as a toy than in earnest - before the middle
of the seventeenth century, and the attempt to employ it was so obvious
as to be practically unavoidable.[3] The water trickling into the coal
measures[4] acted, therefore, like water trickling upon chemicals that
have long been mixed together dry and inert. Immediately the latent
reactions were set going. Savery, Newcomen, a host of other workers,
culminating in Watt, working always by steps that were at least so
nearly obvious as to give rise again and again to simultaneous
discoveries, changed this toy of steam into a real, a commercial thing,
developed a trade in pumping engines, created foundries and a new art of
engineering, and almost unconscious of what they were doing, made the
steam locomotive a well-nigh unavoidable consequence. At last, after a
century of improvement on pumping engines, there remained nothing but
the very obvious stage of getting the engine that had been developed on
wheels and out upon the ways of the world.

Ever and again during the eighteenth century an engine would be put upon
the roads and pronounced a failure - one monstrous Palæoferric creature
was visible on a French high road as early as 1769 - but by the dawn of
the nineteenth century the problem had very nearly got itself solved. By
1804 Trevithick had a steam locomotive indisputably in motion and almost
financially possible, and from his hands it puffed its way, slowly at
first, and then, under Stephenson, faster and faster, to a transitory
empire over the earth. It was a steam locomotive - but for all that it
was primarily _a steam engine for pumping_ adapted to a new end; it was
a steam engine whose ancestral stage had developed under conditions that
were by no means exacting in the matter of weight. And from that fact
followed a consequence that has hampered railway travel and transport
very greatly, and that is tolerated nowadays only through a belief in
its practical necessity. The steam locomotive was all too huge and heavy
for the high road - it had to be put upon rails. And so clearly linked
are steam engines and railways in our minds that, in common language
now, the latter implies the former. But indeed it is the result of
accidental impediments, of avoidable difficulties that we travel to-day
on rails.

Railway travelling is at best a compromise. The quite conceivable ideal
of locomotive convenience, so far as travellers are concerned, is surely
a highly mobile conveyance capable of travelling easily and swiftly to
any desired point, traversing, at a reasonably controlled pace, the
ordinary roads and streets, and having access for higher rates of speed
and long-distance travelling to specialized ways restricted to swift
traffic, and possibly furnished with guide-rails. For the collection and
delivery of all sorts of perishable goods also the same system is
obviously altogether superior to the existing methods. Moreover, such a
system would admit of that secular progress in engines and vehicles that
the stereotyped conditions of the railway have almost completely
arrested, because it would allow almost any new pattern to be put at
once upon the ways without interference with the established traffic.
Had such an ideal been kept in view from the first the traveller would
now be able to get through his long-distance journeys at a pace of from
seventy miles or more an hour without changing, and without any of the
trouble, waiting, expense, and delay that arises between the household
or hotel and the actual rail. It was an ideal that must have been at
least possible to an intelligent person fifty years ago, and, had it
been resolutely pursued, the world, instead of fumbling from compromise
to compromise as it always has done and as it will do very probably for
many centuries yet, might have been provided to-day, not only with an
infinitely more practicable method of communication, but with one
capable of a steady and continual evolution from year to year.

But there was a more obvious path of development and one immediately
cheaper, and along that path went short-sighted Nineteenth Century
Progress, quite heedless of the possibility of ending in a _cul-de-sac_.
The first locomotives, apart from the heavy tradition of their ancestry,
were, like all experimental machinery, needlessly clumsy and heavy, and
their inventors, being men of insufficient faith, instead of working for
lightness and smoothness of motion, took the easier course of placing
them upon the tramways that were already in existence - chiefly for the
transit of heavy goods over soft roads. And from that followed a very
interesting and curious result.

These tram-lines very naturally had exactly the width of an ordinary
cart, a width prescribed by the strength of one horse. Few people saw in
the locomotive anything but a cheap substitute for horseflesh, or found
anything incongruous in letting the dimensions of a horse determine the
dimensions of an engine. It mattered nothing that from the first the
passenger was ridiculously cramped, hampered, and crowded in the
carriage. He had always been cramped in a coach, and it would have
seemed "Utopian" - a very dreadful thing indeed to our grandparents - to
propose travel without cramping. By mere inertia the horse-cart gauge,
the 4 ft. 8½ in. gauge, _nemine contradicente_, established itself in
the world, and now everywhere the train is dwarfed to a scale that
limits alike its comfort, power, and speed. Before every engine, as it
were, trots the ghost of a superseded horse, refuses most resolutely to
trot faster than fifty miles an hour, and shies and threatens
catastrophe at every point and curve. That fifty miles an hour, most
authorities are agreed, is the limit of our speed for land travel, so
far as existing conditions go.[5] Only a revolutionary reconstruction of
the railways or the development of some new competing method of land
travel can carry us beyond that.

People of to-day take the railways for granted as they take sea and sky;
they were born in a railway world, and they expect to die in one. But if
only they will strip from their eyes the most blinding of all
influences, acquiescence in the familiar, they will see clearly enough
that this vast and elaborate railway system of ours, by which the whole
world is linked together, is really only a vast system of trains of
horse-waggons and coaches drawn along rails by pumping-engines upon
wheels. Is that, in spite of its present vast extension, likely to
remain the predominant method of land locomotion - even for so short a
period as the next hundred years?

Now, so much capital is represented by the existing type of railways,
and they have so firm an establishment in the acquiescence of men, that
it is very doubtful if the railways will ever attempt any very
fundamental change in the direction of greater speed or facility, unless
they are first exposed to the pressure of our second alternative,
competition, and we may very well go on to inquire how long will it be
before that second alternative comes into operation - if ever it is to do

Let us consider what other possibilities seem to offer themselves. Let
us revert to the ideal we have already laid down, and consider what
hopes and obstacles to its attainment there seem to be. The abounding
presence of numerous experimental motors to-day is so stimulating to the
imagination, there are so many stimulated persons at work upon them,
that it is difficult to believe the obvious impossibility of most of
them - their convulsiveness, clumsiness, and, in many cases, exasperating
trail of stench will not be rapidly fined away.[6] I do not think that
it is asking too much of the reader's faith in progress to assume that
so far as a light powerful engine goes, comparatively noiseless,
smooth-running, not obnoxious to sensitive nostrils, and altogether
suitable for high road traffic, the problem will very speedily be
solved. And upon that assumption, in what direction are these new motor
vehicles likely to develop? how will they react upon the railways? and
where finally will they take us?

At present they seem to promise developments upon three distinct and
definite lines.

There will, first of all, be the motor truck for heavy traffic. Already
such trucks are in evidence distributing goods and parcels of various
sorts. And sooner or later, no doubt, the numerous advantages of such an
arrangement will lead to the organization of large carrier companies,
using such motor trucks to carry goods in bulk or parcels on the high
roads. Such companies will be in an exceptionally favourable position to
organize storage and repair for the motors of the general public on
profitable terms, and possibly to co-operate in various ways with the
manufactures of special types of motor machines.

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

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

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

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

We may even hazard some details about these special roads. For example,
they will be very different from macadamized roads; they will be used
only by soft-tired conveyances; the battering horseshoes, the perpetual
filth of horse traffic, and the clumsy wheels of laden carts will never
wear them. It may be that they will have a surface like that of some
cycle-racing tracks, though since they will be open to wind and weather,
it is perhaps more probable they will be made of very good asphalt
sloped to drain, and still more probable that they will be of some quite
new substance altogether - whether hard or resilient is beyond my
foretelling. They will have to be very wide - they will be just as wide
as the courage of their promoters goes - and if the first made are too
narrow there will be no question of gauge to limit the later ones. Their
traffic in opposite directions will probably be strictly separated, and
it will no doubt habitually disregard complicated and fussy regulations
imposed under the initiative of the Railway Interest by such official
bodies as the Board of Trade. The promoters will doubtless take a hint
from suburban railway traffic and from the current difficulty of the
Metropolitan police, and where their ways branch the streams of traffic
will not cross at a level but by bridges. It is easily conceivable that
once these tracks are in existence, cyclists and motors other than those
of the constructing companies will be able to make use of them. And,
moreover, once they exist it will be possible to experiment with
vehicles of a size and power quite beyond the dimensions prescribed by
our ordinary roads - roads whose width has been entirely determined by
the size of a cart a horse can pull.[8]

Countless modifying influences will, of course, come into operation. For
example, it has been assumed, perhaps rashly, that the railway influence
will certainly remain jealous and hostile to these growths: that what
may be called the "Bicycle Ticket Policy" will be pursued throughout.
Assuredly there will be fights of a very complicated sort at first, but
once one of these specialized lines is in operation, it may be that some
at least of the railway companies will hasten to replace their flanged
rolling stock by carriages with rubber tyres, remove their rails,
broaden their cuttings and embankments, raise their bridges, and take to
the new ways of traffic. Or they may find it answer to cut fares, widen
their gauges, reduce their gradients, modify their points and curves,
and woo the passenger back with carriages beautifully hung and
sumptuously furnished, and all the convenience and luxury of a club. Few
people would mind being an hour or so longer going to Paris from London,
if the railway travelling was neither rackety, cramped, nor tedious. One
could be patient enough if one was neither being jarred, deafened, cut
into slices by draughts, and continually more densely caked in a filthy
dust of coal; if one could write smoothly and easily at a steady table,
read papers, have one's hair cut, and dine in comfort[9] - none of which
things are possible at present, and none of which require any new
inventions, any revolutionary contrivances, or indeed anything but an
intelligent application of existing resources and known principles. Our
rage for fast trains, so far as long-distance travel is concerned, is
largely a passion to end the extreme discomfort involved. It is in the
daily journey, on the suburban train, that daily tax of time, that
speed is in itself so eminently desirable, and it is just here that the
conditions of railway travel most hopelessly fail. It must always be

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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsIn the fourth year; anticipations of a world peace → online text (page 1 of 20)