The Life and Thought




Translated from the Russian





Originally published in Russian under the title

Translated by Moura Budberg

This edition published 1966
© Sidgwick and Jackson 1966

Printed in Great Britain by
C. Tinling & Co. Ltd., Liverpool, London & Prescot for
Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd
1 Tavistock Chambers, Bloomsbury Way
London, W.C. 1


I SHOULD LIKE to say a few words about this book which I have translated with much emotion in re-living periods of H. G. Wells’s life and work, and with the affection due to my long friendship with him.

As I have gone through the always reverent, often critical, sometimes naïve pages, it has occurred to me how much H. G. would have approved of the author, with his determination, intelligence, and courage. For indeed, an author must have courage as well as determination and intelligence to embark upon a critical work of this kind, about a writer he has never met, from a country he does not know and the politics of which it may be difficult to understand. Yet so eager and wholeminded is his approach that I believe he has succeeded in making a worthwhile, vivid contribution to our knowledge of Wells.

Yes, I feel quite sure H. G. would have been delighted to read this painstaking, if controversial study of his work. I am only sad he is not here to launch into a violent discussion on the conflicts and contradictions that undeniably existed.



1  Foretaste of History 1
2  Between the Past and the Future
        [see analysis of The Time Machine]
3  The Call to Changes 98
4  Facing the Changes
        [2: Religion instead of Revolution]



Facing Page
H. G. Wells as a young man 50
        Courtesy of Frank Dickins  
H. G. Wells in 1935 50
H. G. Wells as a young man 51
H. G. Wells as a young man 66
        Courtesy of Elliott and Fry  
H. G. Wells with Bernard Shaw 66
H. G. Wells’s second wife, Amy Catherine Robbins  67
H. G. Wells demonstrating his hatred of capitalism  130
        Courtesy of Ronald Procter  
H. G. Wells with the American Ambassador, John G. Winant 131
        Courtesy of Planet News  
H. G. Wells at the banquet given on his seventieth birthday,
        with J. B. Priestley
        Courtesy of Keystone View  
H. G. Wells with Henry Ford  146
H. G. Wells with Henry Ford, Nelson Doubleday,
        Edsel Ford, and one person unidentified
H. G. Wells at the Reichstag Fire enquiry held in
        Carey Street in 1933  
        Courtesy of Sport General Press Agency    
H. G. Wells in 1935    147


IN THE RUSSIAN edition this book is called simply Herbert Wells. It is not so much a biography of Wells the man, as the biography of Wells the writer.

It is difficult for an author to judge his own work. Perhaps therefore I may quote a review from the Moscow periodical Novi Mir. “Kagarlitski’s book on Wells,” says the reviewer, “reads like a tragedy where the stage is our century and the main character—Wells’s conception of the world; we are the audience that anxiously watches the vicissitudes of this intellectual tragedy.” If this is true the book perhaps should, in fact, be called The Life of H. G. Wells. For Wells’s life was of the intellect. He has remained for us a thinker and a writer, not merely an interesting personality.

He has also, of course, remained a personality. In my opinion there is no dividing line between man and writer. The link is complicated but it is solid. I have tried in this book to give the human face of Wells. For one who has only seen him on the cinema screen, and in the newspapers, this has not always been an easy matter. But I have been supported by my belief in the vital and unbreakable connection between man and writer. Wells—the man whom the reader will see in this book—is as much the Wells I have seen on the screen or heard about from people who knew him, as the Wells I have absorbed from his own books. Not necessarily from those of his books that bear the noticeable


marks of autobiography. Sometimes out of his deeply theoretical works.

This Life of Wells (let us call it that, because I have worked further on it for the English version, which comes out three years later than the Russian one) is the first Russian book about the great Englishman. The only exception is a small brochure by Eugene Zamiatin (1922) which is in fact a separate edition of his preface to Wells’s complete works. But I am certainly not claiming to have “discovered” Wells for the Russian reader. Wells has been the subject of many articles in Russia over the years, by many writers—and a great number of people have read him. The reader of this book will come across material concerning Wells in Russia. We had here—and it happened in England, too—a short period when Wells’s popularity waned, but at the present moment his work is very widely read and much discussed again. I might just mention that the fourth and the largest edition of Wells’s work consisting of fifteen volumes in all was brought out in 1964 and I was fortunate enough to be its editor. Almost all the fantasies and novels (some of which were translated for the first time), thirty-seven stories and many articles, were included in the collection. The size of the edition surprised even people steeped in Wells and accustomed to the fantastic—350,000 copies were printed! Before that, in 1956, I helped in the preparation of a two­volume edition of Wells’s selected works. About the same number of copies were printed, and simultaneously another publisher issued three volumes of Wells, and printed 225,000 copies. But I can remember how surprised we were at the incredible success of The Invisible Man in 1954. It was Wells’s first book to be published after an interval of nine years and the printers were hard put to keep up with the demand for copies. Each new impression was sold within two or three days. I would estimate that the total number of copies sold must have been about a million. And his popularity is the same today. In fact Wells has been read in Russia for just as long as he has been read in England.

It is understandable that the appreciation of his work underwent some changes. From the well-known “narodovolets” [1]

1 A member of a political party at the beginning of the century that wanted liberty for the peasant.


Tan-Bogoraz, who in 1909 wrote a long preface to the first edition of Wells’s complete works—to Eugene Zamiatin, then Lunacharsky, [2] author of a preface to an edition in 1930, and from them to the Wellsian students of the thirties, fifties, sixties, it is easy to see how the Russian attitude to Wells was to develop.

This is not the place to discuss those points which will be of interest only to the Wells specialist and to talk of the differences of opinion between myself and those others who have written about Wells before me. But in so far as I have the honour to be the first Russian writer on Wells to be translated into English, I would like to say a few words about my own personal attitude.

Three recent books on H. G. Wells are now, I think, of peculiar interest: those by Ingvald Raknem, Bernard Bergonzi and W. Warren Wagar. Mr. Raknem’s H. G. Wells and his Critics, which is of great help to every student of Wells, reached me too late to be of use in the Russian edition of this book and I have been unable to make many revisions for this English edition. I am indebted to Mr. Bergonzi’s The Early Wells for many interesting observations. True, our approaches to Wells differ, but as shown by Mr. Bergonzi’s article ‘The Visions of H. G. Wells’ (The New York Review of Books, 5 November, 1964) his own attitude has changed a great deal since 1961.

When this book was already at the printers I read Mr. Warren Wagar’s excellent work H. G. Wells and the World State. It is always a joy to find that someone has, even broadly speaking, arrived at the same conclusion as oneself. For me it was also very salutary. I had found an ally whose work confirmed my own point of view. Though I had time to mention the book in my own work only fleetingly, on 31 May, 1962, I wrote a long review of Mr. Wagar’s work in the Literaturnaya Gazeta. I do not know if Mr. Wagar has heard of it but I take this opportunity of expressing my deep respect for him.

But I would like to mention one point on which Mr. Wagar and I differ. In his book Mr. Wagar also is sometimes inclined to present as Marxist points of view which I would sooner have called vulgarly sociological. When any critic expresses a primitive point of view on an author this only indicates that his familiarity

1. Minister of Education after 1918.


with Marxism has failed to help him develop in himself a wide and profound attitude to literature. Marxism in itself has nothing to do with it.

I do not believe anyway that anyone can pretend to be expressing the last word of Marxism on any given question. Nor does this book attempt to express an abstract and irrefutable “Marxist point of view”. It isn’t written by an “exponent of points of view”, but by an individual, a man who has written for almost twenty years about literature and the theatre, a husband and a father, who has lived almost permanently in Moscow, the Moscow of 1948, ’53, ’56, ’64—in other words a real man, a citizen who, like millions of others, has happened to meditate on life, on men, on the times we live in. . . . I have already mentioned that one of the people who have most helped my understanding of life was Wells. Alongside this, life’s experience and my belief in the rightness of Marxism have helped me to form my own opinion of Wells. All this I have attempted to express in this book.

There are many others to whom I owe much. No man can say with truth that he is “self-made”. We all owe much to one another. I want to mention with infinite gratitude two men who helped me as a writer. One is my teacher Alexander Anixt, an expert on Shakespeare and the author of The History of English Literature, and the other David Daiches, Professor of English, University of Sussex, whose books have taught me a great deal. I would be happy to know that he has read this book by a man who considers himself his pupil. I am also grateful to Mr. James Knapp-Fisher who has made it possible for me to present my book to people who do not read Russian and to Maria Ignatievna Budberg whose participation in it is not only that of a translator. And I am particularly happy that my book on Wells will be available to his fellow-countrymen.

[end of x]


“LIFE AND THE world are fine. But not as an abiding place. As an arena—yes, an arena gorgeously curtained with the sea and sky, mountains and broad prospects, decorated with all the delicate magnificence of leaf tracery and flower petal, and feathers, soft fur and the shining wonder of living skin, musical with thunder and the singing of birds; but an arena nevertheless, an arena which offers no seats for idle spectators, in which one must will and do, decide, strike and strike back—and presently pass away.” [1]

In these words of the forty-year-old Wells we find a wealth of experience, and an awareness of the long, hard road that was still before him. They reveal the temperament of a fighter and the indestructible love of life of a man who had painted many a dismal picture and told many a bitter truth. He was not pleased with the world he lived in. This feeling of discontent never left him. “In the books I have written it is always about life being altered,” he wrote in the Experiment in Autobiography. “And I have never once ‘presented’ life. My apparently most objective books are criticisms and incitements to change.” Wells loved to disturb people, to shake the ground under the feet of the smug, to highlight all the evil around them and at the same time to suggest practical steps for the transformation of society. He always longed to be in the thick of things, in the centre of

1 New Worlds for Old.


the battle, because nothing in the world left him indifferent. Yes, the world is fine, but once allow yourself to be lured by this beauty and you will forget how many deformities are hidden beneath it. And for someone who speaks to millions of people it is not right to forget this fact for a moment. To hate ugliness does not mean to avoid it. There are few people who like to live in filth. But how many are there who after sweeping their little yards are convinced that all they have to do now is to wipe their feet more carefully as they come in from the street! They should be thrown out of their dingy, cosy little houses into the streets, into the world, the great, complicated, interdependent world where order is born of accidents, beauty from chaos, justice and humanity from cruelty and oppression. This world doesn’t merely please the eye. It threatens with constant dangers.

It was always so. And mankind learnt to overcome these dangers. It controlled rivers that carried away thousands of lives, it conquered disease, and turned the elemental powers of nature to the use of men. In no other century were there such possibilities to render the life of the individual secure. And never had mankind been threatened with such deadly danger.

History will always remember the day which forced great masses of people to become aware of the equality of their fate with the fates of all the people on our comparatively small planet, for so the cosmonauts describe it to us.

That day saw the summing up of a lifetime’s work. The first experiment had been made. There were many who remembered long departed teachers or those who were coming to the end of their days. They remembered their scientific boldness, their passionate love of mankind. Why are their pupils today buried in deep shelters? Indeed, as soon as it became apparent that success had been achieved, the best of them tried to make sure that the discovery would never be used. It is not difficult to guess why. We are speaking of the first explosion of the atom bomb.

The creators of nuclear physics had dreamt of something quite different. In 1909 Frederick Soddy, one of Rutherford’s closest collaborators, published the first popular book on the prospects of the use of atomic energy—The Interpretation of Radium. “The human race that learns how to transform energy, would have


little need to earn their bread in the sweat of their brow,” he wrote. Judging by the achievements of our engineers with comparatively limited sources of energy at their disposal, that race could have irrigated deserts, melted the poles and turned the whole earth into a blissful Garden of Eden.

Frederick Soddy lived to see the Hiroshima explosion. He died in 1956, a Nobel Prize winner, but in his later years he was preoccupied not only with chemistry but also with problems of sociology and political economy.

Not long before the bomb exploded over Hiroshima seven scientists from Chicago sent a petition to the United States Secretary of State for War in which they tried to persuade him to abandon the atomic bombardment of Japan. They wrote that science was no longer able to protect mankind from atomic danger. The only force that could do that was a new political organisation of the world.

Wells was far ahead of his contemporaries and of many of their descendants. He knew the breadth of vision that our century demands. He believed that science promises mankind a life in the Garden of Eden, but he knew that that garden concealed a yawning abyss that would destroy mankind.

Only five years after the publication of Soddy’s book, with its promise of a Garden of Eden, Wells’s famous novel The World Set Free appeared. It was a novel about atomic war, telling how, after bitter experience, mankind rebuilt the economic and political organisation of the world. The World Set Free is not one of those pleasant books that one keeps on one’s shelves in order to return to them now and then. It is a frightening book and only such brave minds as Frederick Soddy and Sinclair Lewis were able to appreciate it. The idea of the dangers to mankind that lurked in the development of science had occupied Wells long before that. The idea of the atom bomb only made it more vivid.

Wells did not merely suspect the existence of the abyss. He wanted to throw a bridge across it. And for that, he presumed, it was not enough to keep one’s own backyard clean. The world had to be transformed. And he turned to mankind with that appeal.

Wells was one of the first imaginative English writers to


accept socialism. His socialism may have been far from the scientific brand, it may have been inconsequential, but his capacity for assessing the world in socialist terms greatly enriched him as an artist of the written word. Socialism corresponded to Wells’s power for foretelling the future, to his huge range of thought, to his aspirations of transforming the world—to everything that made him in the words of one of his critics “the most serious of the popular writers of his time and the most popular of the serious”. [1] Socialism helped him to become aware of the world in those early years when he was stubbornly knocking at the door of culture and knowledge. And it was socialism that helped him to understand that if a man wants to remain a man he must fight not only for his own personal interests.

Wells’s struggle—in which he met success and great setbacks—ended in our lifetime. But in order best to understand his achievements, one must remember that his life’s work began almost a century ago, in a world very unlike our own . . . .

1 W. Wagar.

[end of xiv]

Summing Up

The sixty years of creative endeavour of this “great Englishman”, as J. B. Priestley called him, had come to an end. Wells wrote and published 110 books and about 500 separate articles. His readers had learned much from him. But at the end of his life the mystery still remained—what was he? Was he a writer, or a journalist? A populariser of the scientific outlook on the world? As a writer he produced books that were to become world classics before he was thirty-five. As a journalist he constantly contradicted himself. As a populariser he shared the fate of many like him.

For more than ten years before his death he began to be driven back into the past. Neither his fears nor his hopes had been confirmed, and other writers were becoming popular. The sales of his books fell off and there were not many books written about him. But it was his own fault.

Reading Wells leaves one with mixed feelings. Sometimes one is exasperated by the didactic, by the unfinished nature of the story and by the way he jumps from one subject to another. All his life Wells tried to write the naked truth about his heroes and himself and there is no need to conceal the fact that he did not always show ordinary, political or literary tact. But he was a great prophet and the grand daredevil of modern literature. One cannot judge his worth unless one adopts the same great scale that he adopted both in literature and in life.

His life began among people who well remembered the Chartist Movement in England and the revolutions of the middle of the last century in Europe. It ended within the memory of our generation. This year we shall be celebrating the 100th year since the birth of a writer who played an active part in historical events that determined the fate of many of us.


The summing-up of Wells’'s life is impossible even now, twenty years after his death. What he wrote belongs to the literary events, the meaning and significance of which are only grasped with the lapse of time.

What was he then, a writer, a journalist or a scientist? Perhaps more than anything else he was a man who tried to express the diversity of the world.

Robert Oppenheimer said at one of his lectures: “A man of science and a man of art always live on the verge of the inaccessible. They both have constantly to bring into harmony the new and the already known, to fight to establish a certain order in the general chaos. In work and in life they have to help one another. They can lay out the road that will link art and science and all the wide world with versatile, treacherous and valuable ties of universality. It is not easy to do it. We are faced with a difficult time, but we have to preserve our feeling of the beautiful, our capacity for creating it and to find that beauty in faraway, unfathomable and unfamiliar places.”

Wells strived to do this all his life. He lived a long life—eighty years—but if one remembers the century in which his life was run, it seems a life of twice that length. He tried to express the very essence of the modern world, and to show modern man in his past, present and future. It made his task fruitful but it denied him as an artist the possibility of gathering the fruits of his labours.

Man’s knowledge of the world he lives in never stands still. With every century the horizons of that world have widened, have become three’dimensional with the great geographical discoveries, with aeronautics. Now again, with the great journeys into space, they have spread beyond the limits of the earth.

The world does not even preserve its former face. Every new discovery of the 20th century seems to confirm Lenin’s idea of the inexhaustible quality of matter. The estimation of events according to the system of similarities is often a deception. To realise how far science has moved from this stereotyped way of thinking it is sufficient to compare the present model of the atom, which can be explained only mathematically, with the Rutherford model of the atom, which followed the pattern of the solar system—the nucleus being the sun, the electrons being the planets. The


real unity of nature, which science increasingly confirms, lies far outside the limits of the system of similarities.

Modern science has led man to think beyond the limits of his personal experience. The world man lives in is daily becoming more varied. It is always new. Nor does man himself remain the same. He is learning all the time to know more about the new world he has struggled to create—and he must also learn about himself and his own role in this new world.

Why should one imagine that the narrow confines of art should harbour less conflict than one finds in life itself? Is there a hope that in the inner sphere of art this process will be more peaceful than it is in life—that art trying to reflect the new world will preserve the former correlation of its elements?

In art there is always a desire to concretise and at the same time to generalise. This duality of the artistic task presents the writer with many problems. In the period of the greatest success of critical realism in the past century this problem existed as before for each individual artist, but it retreated later into the silence and obscurity of the creative laboratory. The new world brought back to it all its sharpness, inasmuch as it infringed the former picture of the world. It forced art to have another look at the accepted aesthetic ideas and to give first importance to the question of the relationship between the general and the particular. And in so far as art did not succeed in uniting them, new tendencies began to appear, favouring only one side of this double task.

Wells was a writer not of the 17th or the 19th but of the 20th century, and that is why both these tendencies, each of which expresses the realities of the modern world, were dangerous for him. The tendency towards the general was particularly dangerous. For Wells, who never stopped fighting against bourgeois individualism, there was something curiously fascinating in this tendency. At times he called for an end to individualism and with it to art as a form of human activity which expresses it. In Anticipations he wrote that men of the future would express themselves not so much as individuals but as creatures capable of seeing reality in more general terms and thus of experiencing an aesthetic pleasure from useful things, not


necessarily counted as works of art. An engine or a bridge can be the work of an artist, he says. One needs only to have eyes to appreciate the beauty of absolute efficiency. As for the human emotions, thought is also an emotion, only a more subtle one.

Wells hoped to give a picture of the world’s diversity, and thought was for him the instrument of generalisation. But he could not help feeling that, due to such generalization, too much went lost. For all that he was an extremist, he remained fundamentally a realist. He could write very abstract things and on the other hand describe morals and manners; but neither this nor that kind of writing ever satisfied him. He dreamt of a literature which would provide a chemical “synthesis” of modern life. Man is more than his face, his manners and his love affairs, as Wells wrote in The World of William Clissold. Man must be seen in relation to the university and to history—only after that in relation to other people and to the whole of mankind. Wells’s need to understand the social conflict he saw around him was of paramount importance. But the ideas and thoughts of a character must be “characteristic of the man of his cast of mind and social position”, and a writer’s task is not only to show the different features of the given social type but “to show a unique, integral personality”. Such statements—and there are many of them in Wells—quite cancelled out his attacks on art because it was they that in fact corresponded to the basis of his convictions.

A man, in Wells’s opinion, brings his own will to bear in a chaotic world that knows no moral laws and only in this sense does he become real. Art is another demonstration of human will. Man creates it, it is human by nature and purpose, it carries a moral aim unknown to the outside world. It is the means of man’s assessment of the world and of himself. Were it to submit to the chaos of the outside world it would lose the element of man’s organising will. Therefore for Wells in the end art remains a separate and vitally important form of man’s activity, one of the forms of mankind’s existence as a whole.

That is precisely why he demanded so much of art. Man, as far as his everyday life is concerned, lives as before in a Newtonian world. But as a representative of modern knowledge he has already assimilated Einstein’s world. In each individual there


is a particle of “abstract” man. But he is, also, a concrete human personality with his place in the social struggle, his conceptions of Justice, his conscience, his difficulties. Wells wanted an art which could sum up all these complicated aspects of the world and of man, and because this task proved to be immeasurably hard, he dashed from one extreme to the other, experimented, tested and often destroyed what he had created. Wells did not fulfil himself as an artist, but his work, among other contradictions of the modern era, reflected the contradictions of modern artistic conscience.

Nevertheless he did too much for his work not to have borne fruit, and as time went by it became clear that even his mistakes were fruitful. His early fantasies have long since become classics and there is nothing surprising in the fact that the literature of fantasy now bears the mark of his genius. Even in the field where he was farthest from perfection, he exercised considerable influence on other writers. Wells, like Zola, wrote novels that often read like tracts. Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Vercors’ Men and Beasts and other intellectual novels belong, with Wells’s work, to a fruitful tradition. Wells wrote Utopias and political tracts. Historians and sociologists became more and more attracted by them. Time has shown where he went wrong but time, too, exposes those aspects of his thinking that were not properly appreciated by his contemporaries.

His thought seemed to obey laws of ballistics. He often missed close shots. But at long range many of the shots that appeared to his contemporaries to have misfired, had done nothing of the kind. It took time to show that he had hit the mark. Then he recovered his audience. His name was seen in newspapers together with the names of our contemporaries. His books once more began to attract readers. An H. G. Wells Society has been founded in England and issues a regular bulletin. The University of Illinois has regularly published material from his archives since 1958. The keeper of these archives—a distinguished literary critic, Professor Gordon K. Ray—is working on a biography of Wells. In 1961 the American historian W. Warren Wagar published his book H. G. Wells and the World State and Bernard Bergonzi published the first book about Wells’s scientific


romances, The Early Wells. Wells has much to say to the modern reader, who can find many an answer to his own eager questioning in his work.

That is not surprising, Wells lived in a period between two industrial and scientific revolutions—the one that ended more than a hundred years ago and the one we, his younger contemporaries, live in now. He lived between two world revolutions, the revolution that started in 1789 and the one that began in 1917. His life spanned two world wars, and in his last months he warned us of a third. He was deeply involved in all the problems of his time—problems which history has not yet solved.

Some of Wells’s shots did, undoubtedly, misfire, and sometimes his ideas were proved to be wrong. But most of them were premature rather than misguided. His literary experiments sometimes startled his contemporaries by being so out of step with their own notions of literature. But time passed and Wells’s most “absurd” experiments were reinstated. His scientific speculations seemed to his contemporaries to have nothing to do with science. But the years went by and science confirmed again and again that Wells’s direction had been the right one. Some of his characters’ thoughts seemed to have been artificially planted in their heads by the author. But after a lapse of time writers began to credit their characters more and more often with the very same thoughts, this time taken from life.

Wells, who had once straddled a time machine, did not leave it till the end of his days. He seems even after his death to retain the ability of giving time a reverse motion. Time is making the distance between H. G. Wells and us greater and greater. But his image, breaking the laws of perspective, is not getting smaller—it grows.

Wells was called after his death a great Englishman. Now we have the right to call him a great writer.

[end of 210]

SOURCE: Kagarlitski, J[ulius] [Iulii Iosifovich, 1926-2000]. The Life and Thought of H. G. Wells, translated from the Russian by Moura Budberg. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1966. xiv, 210 pp., 8 plates. (Originally published under the title Herbert Wells: ocherk zhizni i tvorchestva.) Title, copyright page, Foreword, List of Illustrations (vi), Author’s Preface (vii-x), Introduction (xi-xiv), Summing Up (205-210). Name also transliterated as: Julij Kagarlicki, Julij Kagarlickij, Julius Kagarlitski, Julius Kagarlitsky, Yuli Kagarlitsky.

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Moura Budberg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[Мария (Мура) Игнатьевна Закревская-Бенкендорф-Будберг ]

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