Monday, February 20, 2012

Portraits From Memory, "Chapter" Thirteen

“H. G. Wells,” pages 81-85

Russell and Wells met in 1902 as part of a grouping of a dozen or so fairly notable personages; the group was formed through the efforts of Sidney Webb. Russell and Wells bonded over the fact that they, alone within this group, were anti-imperialists and not supportive of war with Germany. Wells was the only member of the Webbinar to agree with Russell’s view that the Entente with France and Russia would soon lead to war.

Mr. and Mrs. Wells visited Russell at his home near Oxford, though the trip was not all sweetness and light. Russell puts a little of the blame upon his younger self, for not being sufficiently understanding of Wells’s unwillingness to publicly profess his (Wells’s) private view of the desirability of free love.

Wells’s pacifism evaporated with the onset of World War I, and Russell attributes (rightfully, it seems) the phrase ‘a war to end war [p. 83]” to Wells. Sidney Webb also supported the war, but fell out with Wells for other reasons, and was rewarded with ill treatment in some of Wells’s future novels.

Russell regained warm feelings towards Wells after the war, in part through shared opinions and admiration for the Outline of History (recommended by Russell in Education and the Good Life, Chapter 15). Wells “had immense energy and a capacity to organize great masses of material [p. 84].” He was a good conversationalist who took a disinterested approach when debating issues.

Wells made his mark through the quantity, not the quality, of his output – though there was high quality in some dimensions, too. “Politically, he was one of those who made Socialism respectable in England [p. 84].” Wells, to his detriment, was willing to shade his opinions for personal popularity.

“Wells’s importance was primarily as a liberator of thought and imagination [p. 85].” He influenced young people, and could initiate streams of thought in his readers. Wells was scientific, not superstitious, and he remained optimistic. [Russell sounds like he could be describing himself here.] His overall impact is as a force for good.

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