The Works of H. G. Wells (Atlantic Edition)/Thought in the Modern State


It may seem to the reader that my stress upon the supreme necessity of literature springs from the obsession of a writer by his own calling; but, indeed, that is not so. We who write are not all so blinded by conceit of ourselves that we do not know something of our absolute personal value. We are lizards in an empty palace, frogs crawling over a throne. But it is a palace, it is a throne, and it may be the reverberation of our ugly voices will presently awaken the world to put something better in our place. Because we write abominably, under pressure, unhonoured and for bread, none the less we are making the future. We are making it atrociously no doubt; we are not ignorant of that possibility, but some of us, at least, would like to do it better. We know only too well how that we are out of touch with scholarship and contemplation. We must drive our pens to live and push and bawl to be heard. We must blunder against men an ampler training on either side would have made our allies; we must smart and lose our tempers, and do the foolish things that are done in the heat of the day. For all that, according to our lights, we who write are trying to save our world in a lack of better saviours, to change this mental tumult into an order of understanding and intention in which great things may grow. The thought of a community is the life of that community, and if the collective thought of a community is disconnected and fragmentary, then the community is collectively vain and weak. That does not constitute an incidental defect, but essential failure. Though that community have cities such as the world has never seen before, fleets and hosts and glories, though it count its soldiers by the army corps and its children by the million, yet if it hold not to the reality of thought and formulated will beneath these outward things, it will pass, and all its glories will pass, like smoke before the wind, like mist beneath the sun; it will become at last only one more vague and fading dream upon the scroll of time, a heap of mounds and pointless history, even as are Babylon and Nineveh.