H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

Tono-Bungay : a novel online

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Thirty Strange Stories.
Tales of Space and Time.
Twelve Stories and a Dream.


Tlie Time Machine.

The Island of Dr. Moreau.

The War of the Worlds.

The Wonderful Visit.

The Invisible Man.

The First Men in the Moon.

The Food of the Gods.

The Sea Lady.

When the Sleeper Wakes.

In the Days of the Comet.

The War in the Air.



Mankind in the Making.

A Modern Utopia.

The Future in America.

First and Last Things.





Copyright, 1908, by

Copyright, 1908, by


The Davs BEronE Tono-Bunoay was Invented


Chnptcr the First: Of Bladcsovcr House, and My

Mother; and the Constitution of Society . 3

Chapter the Second: Of My Launch Iirto the

World and the Last I Saw of Bladcsovcr . 45

Chapter the Third: The Winibkhurst Appren-
ticeship 78

The Rise of Tono-Bunoay
Chapter the First: How I Became a London

Student and Went Astray Ill

Chapter the Second: The Dawn Comes, and My

I'ncle Appears in a New Silk Hat . . . 115
Chapter the Third: How We Made Tono-Bungay

Hum 168

Chapter the Fourth: Marion 186




The Great Days of Tono-Bungat

Chapter the First: The Hardingham Hotel, and

How We Became Big People . . . . 24S
Chapter the Second: Our Progress from Camdeir

Town to Crest Hill 270

Chapter the Third: Soaring 322

Chapter the Fourth: How I Stqle the Heaps of

Quap from Mordet Island . >. . . . S6l


The Aftermath of Tono-Bunoay

Chapter the First: The Stick of the Rocket . 401

Chapter the Second: Love Among the Wreckage . 435

Chapter the Third: Night and the Open Sea . 450






Most people in this world seem to live "in character";
they have a beginning, a middle and an end, and the
three are congruous one with anofrrel- and true to the
rules of their type. You cm spenk of them as being
oT this sort of people or tliat. They are, as tlicatrical
people say, no more (and no less) than " character
actors." They have a class, they have a place, they
know what is becoming in them and what is due to
them, and their proper size of tombstone tells at last
how properly they have played the part. But there
is also another kind of life that is not so much living
as a miscellaneous tasting of life. One gets hit by
some unusual transverse force, one is jerked out of
one's stratum and lives crosswise for the rest of the
time, and, as it were, in a succession of samples. That
has been my lot, and that is what has set me at last
writing something in the nature of a novel. I have
got an unusual scries of impressions that I want very
urgently to tell. I have seen life at very different
levels, and at all these levels I have seen it with a sort
of intimacy and in good faith. I have been a native
in many social countries. I have been the unwelcome
guest of a working baker, my cousin, who has since died
in the Chatham infirmary; I have eaten illegal snacks
• — the unjustifiable gifts of footmen — in pantries, and


been despised for my want of style (and subsequently
married and divorced) by the daughter of a gasworks
clerk; and — to go to my other extreme — I was once
— oh, glittering days! — an item in the house-party of
a countess. She was, I admit, a countess with a financial
aspect, but still, you know, a countess. I've seen these
people at various angles. At the dinner-table I've met
not simply the titled but the great. On one occasion
■ — it is my brightest memory — I upset my champagne
over the trousers of the greatest statesman in the em-
pire — Heaven forbid I should be so invidious as to
name him! — in the warmth of our mutual admiration,
r And once (though it is the most incidental thing in
/ my life) I murdered a man. ...
\ I Yes, I've seen a curious variety of people and ways
of living altogether. Odd people they all are, great
and small, very much alike at bottom and curiously
different on their surfaces. I wish I had ranged just
a little further both up and down, seeing I have ranged
so far. Royalty must be worth knowing and very
great fun. But my contacts with princes have been
limited to quite public occasions, nor at the other end
of the scale have I had what I should call an inside
acquaintance with that dusty but attractive class of
people who go about on the high-roads drunk but en
famille (so redeeming the minor lapse), in the summer-
time, with a perambulator, lavender to sell, sun-brown
children, a smell, and ambiguous bundles that fire the
imagination. NavTies, farm-labourers, sailormen and
stokers, all such as sit in 1834 beer-houses, are beyond
me also, and I suppose must remain so now for ever.
My intercourse with the ducal rank too has been
negligible; I once went shooting with a duke, and in
an outburst of what was no doubt snobbishness, did my
best to get him in the legs. But that failed.

I'm sorry I haven't done the whole lot though. . . ,


You will ask by what merit I achieved this remark-
able social range, tliis extensive cross-section of the
British social organism. It was tlie Accident of Birth.
It always is in England. Indeed, if I may make the
remark so cosmic, everything is. But that is by the
way. I was my uncle's nephew, and my uncle was no
less a person than Edward Ponderevo, whose comet-like
transit of the financial heavens happened — it is now
ten years ago ! Do you remember tlie days of Ponde-
revo, the great days, I mean, of Ponderevo? Perhaps
you had a trifle in some world-shaking enterprise ! Then
you know him only too well. Astraddle on Tono-
Bungay, he flashed athwart the empty heavens — like a
comet — rather, like a stupendous rocket! — and overawed
investors spoke of his star. At his zenith lie burst into
a cloud of the most magnificent promotions. What a
time that was! The Napoleon of domestic con-
veniences! . . .

I was his nephew, his peculiar and intimate nephew.
I was hanging on to his coat-tails all the way through.
I made pills with him in the chemist's shop at Wimble-
hurst before he began. I was, you might say, the stick
of his rocket; and after our tremendous soar, after he
had played with millions, a golden rain in the sky,
after my bird's-eye view of tlic modern world, I fell
again, a little scarred and blistered perhaps, two and
twenty years older, with my youth gone, my manhood
eaten in upon, but greatly edified, into this Thames-
side yard, into these white heats and hammerings,
amidst the fine realites of steel — to think it all over
in my leisure and jot down the notes and inconsecutive
observations tliat make this book. It was more, you
know, than a figurative soar. The zenith of that career
was surely our flight across the channel in the Lord
Roberts /?....

I warn you this book is going to be something of an


agglomeration. I want to trace my social trajectory
(and my uncle's) as the main line of my story, but as
this is my first novel and almost certainly my last, I
want to get in, too, all sorts of things that struck me,
things that amused me and impressions I got — even
although they don't minister directly to my narrative
at all. I want to set out my own queer love experiences
too, such as they are, for they troubled and distressed
and swayed me hugely, and they still seem to me to
contain all sorts of irrational and debatable elements
that I shall be the clearer-headed for getting on paper.
And possibly I may even flow into descriptions of people
who are really no more than people seen in transit, just
because it amuses me to recall what they said and did
to us, and more particularly how they behaved in the
brief but splendid glare of Tono-Bungay and its stiU
more glaring offspring. It lit some of them up, I can
assure you ! bideed, I want to get in all sorts of things.
My ideas of a novel all through are comprehensive
rather than austere. . .

Tono-Bungay still figures on the hoardings, it stands
in rows in every chemist's storeroom, it stiU assuages
the coughs of age and brightens the elderly eye and
loosens the elderly tongue ; but its , social glory, its
finaacial illumination, have fqded from the world for
ever. And I, sole scorched survivor from the blaze, sit
writing of it here in an air that is never stQl for the
clang and thunder of machines, on a table littered with
working drawings, and amid fragments of models and
notes about velocities and air and water pressures and
trajectories — of an altogether different sort from that
of Tono-Bungay.


I write that much and look at it, and wonder whether,
after all, this is any fair statement of what I am W


attempting in this book. I've given, I sec, an impression
that I want to make simply a hotch-potch of anecdotes
and experiences with my uncle swimming in the middle
as the largest lump of victual. I'll own that here, with
tlie pen already started, I realise what a fermenting
mass of things learnt and einotions" experienced and
tlicorics formed I've got to deal with, and how, in a
sense, hopeless my book must be from the very outset.
I suppose what I'm really trying to render is nothing
more nor less than7ttfp"-^ns one man has found it. I
want to tell — mysetf, and my impressions of the thing
as a whole, to say things I have come to feel intensely
of the laws, traditions, usages, and ideas we call society,
and how we poor individuals get driven and lured and
stranded among these windy, perplexing shoals and
channels. I've got, I suppose, to a time of life when
things begin to take on shapes that have an air of
reality, and become no longer material for dreaming,
but intertsting in themselves. I've reached the criticis-
ing, novel-writing age, and here I am writing mine —
my one novel — without having any of the discipline to
refrain and omit that I suppose the regular novel-writer

I've read an average share of novels and made some
starts before this beginning, and I've found the re-
straints and rules of the art (as I made them out)
impossible for me. I like to write, I am keenly inter-
ested in writing, but it is not m_v technique. I'm an
engineer with a patent or two and a set of ideas ; most
of whatever artist there is in mc has been given to
turbine machines and boat building and the jjroblem of
flying, and do what I will I fail to see how I can be
other than a lax, undisciplined story-teller. I must
sprawl and flounder, comment and theorise, if I am to
get the thing out I have in mind. And it isn't a con-
structed talc I have to tell, but unmanageable realities.


My love-story — and if only I can keep up the spirit of
truth-telling all through as strongly as I have now, you
shall have it all — falls into no sort of neat scheme
of telling. It involves three separate feminine persons.
It's all mixed up with the other things. . . .

But I've said enough, I hope, to excuse myself for
the method or want of method in what follows, and
I think I had better tell without further delay of my
boyhood and my early impressions in the shadow of
Bladesover House.


There came a time when I realised that Bladesover
House was not all it seemed, but when I was a little
boy I took the place with the entirest faith as a com-
plete authentic microcosm. I believed that the Blades-
over system was a little working-model — and not so
very little either — of the whole world.

Let me try and give you the effect of it.

Bladesover lies up on the Kentish Downs, eight miles
perhaps from Ashborough; and its old pavilion, a little
wooden parody of the temple of Vesta at Tibur, upon
the hill crest behind the house, commands in theory
at least a view of either sea, of the Channel southward
and the Thames to the northeast. The park is the
second largest in Kent, finely wooded with well-placed
beeches, many elms and some sweet chestnuts, abound-
ing in little valleys and hollows of bracken, with springs
and a stream and three fine ponds and multitudes of
fallow deer. The house was built in the eighteenth
century, it is of pale red brick in the style of a French
chateau, and save for one pass among the crests which
opens to blue distances, to minute, remote, oast-set farm-
houses and copses and wheat fields and the occasional
gleam of water, its hundred and seventeen windows
look on nothing but its own wide and handsome terri-


tories. A semi-circular screen of great beeches masks
the church and village, which cluster picturesquely about
the high road along the skirts of the great park. North-
ward, at the remotest corner of that enclosure, is a
second dependent village, Ropedean, less fortunate in
its greater distance and also on account of a rector.
This divine was indeed rich, but he was vindictively
economical because of some shrinkage of his tithes; and
by reason of his use of the word Eucharist for the
Lord's Supper he had become altogether estranged from
the great ladies of Bladesovcr. So that Ropedean was
in tlie shadows through all tliat youthful time.

Now the unavoidable suggestion of that wid*^paxk
and that fair large house, dominating churcli, village"
"aiid the country side7*was that they represented the
thing that mattered supremely in the world, and that
all other things had significance only in relation to
tluui. The}- represented the Gentry, the Quality, by
and througli~nTKr Tor WTfom^tlic rTsl'of the world, the
farming folk and tlie labouring folk, the trades-people
of Asliborougli, and the upper servants and the lower
servants and the servants of tlie estate, breatlied and
lived and were permitted. And the Quality did it so
quietly and thoroughly, the great house mingled so
solidly and effectually with earth and sky, the contrast
of its spacious hall and saloon and galleries, its airy
housekeeper's room and warren of offices witli tlie
meagre dignities of the vicar, and tlie pinched and
stuffy rooms of even the post-office people and tlie
grocer, so enforced these suggestions, that it was only
when I was a lioy of thirteen or fourteen and some
queer inherited strain of scepticism had set me doubt-
ing whether Mr. Bartlett, the vicar, did really know
with certainty all about God, that as a further and
deeper step in doubting I began to question the final
rightncss of the gentlefolks, their primary necestity in


the scheme of things. But once that scepticism had
awakened it took me fast and far. By fourteen I had
achieved terrible blasphemies and sacrilege; I had re-
solved to marry a viscount's daughter, and I had blacked
the left eye — I think it was the left— of her half-
brother, in open and declared rebellion.

But of that in its place.

The great house, the church, the village, and the
labourers and the servants in their stations and degrees,
seemed to me, I say, to be a closed and complete social
system. About us were other villages and great estates,
and from house to house, interlacing, correlated, the
Gentry, the fine Olympians, came and went. The
countr}' towns seemed mere collections of shops, market-
ing places for the tenantry, centres for such education
as they needed, as entirely dependent on the gentry as
the village and scarcely less directly so. I thought
this was the order of the whole world. I thought Lon-
don was only a greater country town where the gentle-
folk kept town-houses and did their greater shopping
under the magnificent shadow of the greatest of all
fine gentlewomen, the Queen. It seemed to be in the
divine order. That all this fine appearance was already
sapped, that there were forces at work that might
presently carry all this elaborate social system in which
my mother instructed me so carefully that I might
understand my " place," to Limbo, had scarcely dawned
upon me even bj' the time that Tono-Bungay was fairly
launched upon the world.

There are many people in England to-day upon whom
it has not yet dawned. There are times when I doubt
whether any but a very inconsiderable minority of
English people realise how extensively this ostensible
order has even now passed away. The great houses
stand in the parks still, the cottages cluster respectfully
on their borders^ touching their eaves with their


creepers, the English countryside — yon can range
through Kent from Bladcsover northward and see —
persists obstinately in looking what it was. It is like
an early day in a fine October. The hand of change
rcsta on it all, unfelt, unseen; resting for awhile, as it
were half reluctantly, before it grips and ends the thing
for ever. One frost and the whole face of things will
be bare, links snap, patience end, our fine foliage of
pretences lie glowing in the mire.

For that we have still to wait a little while. The new
order may have gone far towards shaping itself, but just
as in that sort of lantern show that used to be known
in the village as the " Dissolving Views," the scene that
is going remains upon the mind, traceable and evident,
and the newer picture is yet enigmatical long after the
lines that are to rej)lace those former ones have grown
bright and strong, so that the new PLngland of our
children's children is still a riddle to me. The ideas
of deniocrac}', of equality, and above all of promiscuous
fraternity have certainly never really entered into the
English mind. But what is coming into it.*" All this
book, I hope, will bear a little on that. Our people
never formulates; it keeps words for jests and ironies.
In the meanwhile the old shapes, the old attitudes
remain, subtly changed and changing still, sheltering
strange tenants. Bladcsover House is now let furnished
to Sir Reuben Lichtcnstein, and has been since old
Lady Drew died ; it was my odd experience to visit
there, in the house of which my mother had been
housekeeper, when my uncle was at the climax of Toiio-
Bungay. It was curious to notice then the little differ-
ences that had come to things with this substitution.
To borrow an image from my minernlogical days, these
Jews were not so much a new British gentry as
" pseudomorphous " after the gentry. They are a very
clever people, the Jews, but not clever enough to sup-


press their cleverness. I wished I could have gone
downstairs to savour the tone of the pant^J^ It would
have been very different I know. Hawksnest, over
beyondj I noted, had its pseudomorph too; a newspaper
proprietor of the type that hustles along with stolen
ideas from one loud sink-or-swim enterprise to another,
had bought the place outright; Redgrave was in the
hands of brewers.

But the people in the villages, so far as I could
detect, saw no difference in their world. Two little
gills bobbed and an old labourer touched his hat con-
vulsively as I walked through the village. He still
thought he knew his place — and mine. I did not know
him, but I would have liked dearly to have asked him
if he remembered my mother, if either my uncle or old
Lichtenstein had been man enough to stand being given
away like that.

In that English countryside of my boyhood every
human being had a " place." It belonged to you from
your birth like the colour of your eyes, it was inex-
tricably your destiny. Above you were your betters,
below you were your inferiors, and there were even an
unstable questionable few, cases so disputable that you
might for the rough purposes of every day at least,
regard them as your equals. Head and centre of our
system was Lady Drew, her " leddyship," shrivelled,
garrulous, with a wonderful memorj' for genealogies
and very, very old, and beside her and nearly as old.
Miss Somerville, her cousin and companion. These two
old souls lived like dried-up kernels in the great shell
of Bladesover House, the shell that had once been gaily
full of fops, of fine ladies in powder and patches and
courtly gentlemen with swords; and when there was no
company they spent whole days in the corner parlour
just over the housekeeper's room, between reading and
slumber and caressing their two pet dogs. When I


was a boy I used always to think of these two poor old
creatures as superior beings living, like God, somewhere
through the eeiling. Occasionally they bumped about
a bit and one even heard them overhead, which gave
them a greater effect of reality without mitigating their
vertical predominance. Sometimes too I saw them. Of
course if I came upon them in the park or in the shrub-
bery (where I was a trespasser) I hid or fled in pious
horror, but I was upon due occasion taken into the
Presence by request. I remember her " loddyship "
then as a thing of black silks and a golden chain, a
quavering injunction to me to be a good boy, a very
shrunken loose-skinned face and neck, and a ropy hand
that trembled a halfcrown into mine. Miss Somerville
hovered behind, a paler thing of broken lavender and
white and black, with screwed up, sandy-lashed eyes.
Her hair was yellow and her colour briglit, and when
we sat in the housekeeper's room of a winter's night
wanning our toes and sipping elder wine, her maid
would tell us the simple secrets of that belated flusli.
. . . After my fight with young Garvell I was of
course banished, and I never saw those poor old painted
goddesses again.

Then there came and went on these floors over our
respectful heads, the Company; people I rarely saw,
but whose tricks and manners were imitated and dis-
cussed by their maids and valets in the housekeeper's
room and the steward's room — so that I had them
through a medium at second hand. I gathered that
none of the company were really Lady Drew's equals,
they were greater and lesser — after the manner of all
things in our world. Once I remember there was a
Prince, witli a real live gentleman in attendance, and
that was a little above our customary levels and excited
us all, and perhaps raised our expectations unduly.
Afterwards, Rabbits, the butler, came into my mother's


room downstairs, red witli indignation and with tears
in his ej'es. " Look at that! " gasped Rabbits. My
mother was speechless with horror. That was a sover-
eign, a mere sovereign, such as you might get from any
commoner !

After Company, I remember, came anxious days, for
the poor old women upstairs were left tired and cross
and vindictive, and in a state of physical and emotional
indigestion after their social efforts. . . .

On the lowest fringe of these real Olympians hung
the vicarage people, and next to them came those am-
biguous beings who are neither quality nor subjects.
The vicarage people certainly hold a place by them-
selves in the typical English scheme; nothing is more
remarkable than the progress the Church has made —
socially — in the last two hundred years. In the early
eighteenth century the vicar was rather under than
over the house-steward, and was deemed a fitting match
for the housekeeper or any not too morally discredited
discard. The eighteenth century literature is full of
his complaints that he might not remain at table to
share the pie. He rose above these indignities because
of the abundance of younger sons. When I meet the
large assumptions of the contemporary cleric, I am apt
to think of these things. It is curious to note that
to-day that down-trodden, organ-plaj'ing creature, the
Church of England village Schoolmaster, holds much
the same position as the seventeenth century parson.
The doctor in Bladesover ranked below the vicar but
above the " vet," artists and summer visitors squeezed
in above or below this point according to their appear-
ance and expenditure, and then in a carefully arranged
scale came the tenantry, the butler and housekeeper,
the village shopkeeper, the head keeper, the cook, the
publican, the second keeper, the blacksmith (whose
status was complicated by his daughter keeping the


post-office — and a fine hash she used to make of tele-
grams too !) the village shopkeeper's eldest son, the
first footman, younger sons of the village shopkeeper,
his first assistant, and so forth. . . .

All tliese conceptions and applications of a universal
precedence and much else I drank in at Blndcsover, as
I listened to the talk of valets, ladies'-maids, Rabbits

Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsTono-Bungay : a novel → online text (page 1 of 32)