The Works of H. G. Wells (Atlantic Edition)/Preface to Volume 4


Here, following up "The Sleeper Awakes" and "A Dream of Armageddon," is a book "Anticipations," which was written at the opening of the present century. Although in strict chronological order several other books intervened, the writer has put them in this order because the one arises in natural sequence out of the other. He does not want them to stand too far apart. After producing the rather scattered suggestiveness of "The Sleeper Awakes" and its associated short story, and stimulated perhaps by the fact that every one about him was summing up the events of the past hundred years, the writer set himself, with such equipment as he possessed, to work out the probabilities of contemporary tendencies as thoroughly as possible, and instead of a story make a genuine forecast.

This forecast was made just a quarter of a century ago, and the chief thing about it that strikes its author upon rereading it is that it is very largely contemporaneous. Much of the guessing in it has been amply confirmed; the Great War of 1914-18 was fairly well foretold, the decay of Petersburg, the renascence of France and the defeat of Germany. The tank appears in a footnote, sixteen years before it penetrated to the military intelligence of any country in the world. There was, however, the reader will note, excessive caution about the aeroplane, which is foretold as likely to arrive "very probably before 1950." Before 1910 the writer himself had experienced the pleasure of flight. Perhaps the most living part of the work is the analysis of democracy and the study of the development of new social elements in the second and third chapters. In 1914 the author wrote a brief introduction to a cheap edition of "Anticipations." It is sufficiently amusing to reprint here, and it will be found at the end of the original text of that book.

Next after "Anticipations" the writer has printed a paper he read to the Fabian Society in 1902 on the relation of Locomotion to Administrative Areas. This title may suggest a rather narrow and specialised interest, but it is, as a matter of fact, a discussion of quite fundamental importance to his conception of the necessity of reconstructing the social organisation upon a physically larger scale.

In 1902 the author wrote and published in the Fortnightly Review and the American Cosmopolitan a series of articles which were subsequently reprinted in book form under the title "Mankind in the Making." They dealt with the general problem of education. They were of unequal value; much that he said in them he has repeated in better form and so he has preserved here only two chapters, one dealing with the question of eugenics, and the other stating a case against the institution of monarchy. It is a case that has never been answered. He has also included a short passage on "Thought in the Modern State." Next he has put a lecture delivered at the Royal Institution in 1902, "The Discovery of the Future." It is a reasoned justification of the writer's distinctive attitude of mind towards political and moral questions.

Finally he has inserted in this volume a little pamphlet, "This Misery of Boots," which states the case for socialism as compactly and vividly as he can. It was written as a gift to the Fabian Society, which has continued to issue it as a propaganda pamphlet up to the present time.