Publication Date: August 14, 1946
Source: New York Times
Pages: 1 & 25
Special to The New York Times

H. G. Wells Dead in London at 79;
Forecast Atomic Age in 1914 Novel

LONDON, Aug. 13 - H. G. Wells, famous British novelist, historian and sociologist, who was considered one of the outstanding contemporary literary figures, died this afternoon at his home in Hanover Terrace, Regents Park, London, at age 79. He had been ill for several months.

[For many years Mr. Wells successfully fought diabetes, but in recent months his health had deteriorated, The United Press said. According to the news agency, Mr. Wells realized a few weeks ago that the end was near. To a friend who chided him about his inattentiveness in a conversation, the author said: "Don't interrupt me. Can't you see I'm busy dying?"]

During a career that spanned more than fifty years, Mr. Wells, by his writing and prognostications, often made world-wide news. As early as 1914, he predicted the atomic bomb in a novel, The World Set Free. Before that he had predicted the use of tanks in warfare and the growth of the airplane as an advanced weapon in battle. He also forecast the development of rockets.

Aside from his ability as a writer and herald of things-to-come, Mr. Wells was a profound sociologist. He was one of the leaders of socialist thought in England for many years and sought a world in which war and poverty would be eliminated.

Early in May 1944, the author of The Shape of Things to Come and Mr. Britling Sees it Through published a 205-page book, 42 and 44, in which he castigated many leading figures of our time, including Sir Samuel Hoare and Lord Vansittart. When writing of the late Beatrice Webb, he momentarily withheld his barbs - "she went down to the poor as the saints do." Calling this work "strong meat for babes," Mr. Wells published only 2,000 copies.

The eighty-odd books that H. G. Wells wrote (among them his Outline of History), his steady and numerous contributions to the press and to periodicals, and his many activities in other fields, were the proof of what would be superhuman energy to the average man.

Mr. Wells was a superman in many respects. Compared with contemporaries like Shaw, Bennett, Galsworthy and Chesterton, he differed from them by his extraordinary versatility. He never sought for literary style, but rather wrote down, almost invariably in apt and original phraseology, what he had to say in the most direct and abrupt manner.

In his wide range of writing there was scarely a subject upon which Mr. Wells did not touch. He wrote prophetically and fantastically of future wars. He philosophized on marriage and religion. He satirized - without the venom of some of his contemporaries - many weaknesses of social life. He had political aspirations, but was unsuccessful both times he presented himself for Parliament. He invented floor games for children, 'covered' important assignments for British and American newspapers, engaged in spirited debates with authors and scientists, and withal, seemed to find ample time leisure.

The Outline of History, generally regarded as Mr. Wells' most important work of non-fiction, is a model of tersity of expression and sense of perspective. Beginning as in the first chapter of Genesis, the author traced the major currents of events throughout the ages and concluded with a brief prophetic chapter, "The Next Stage of History."


Typically Wellsian, too, was his idea about a new and better world. He dreamed of an Utopia, with no Parliament, no politics, no private wealth, no business competition, no police nor prisons, no lunatics, no defectives nor cripples. He longed for a world under world government, for, he argued, in no other fashion is a secure world peace conceivable.

Mr. Wells foresaw the 1914 war with Germany thirteen years before it happened; he prophesied how the war would be fought, and he was correct in several striking details. He made no claims, however, to being a prophet. Personally a man of great charm, hospitable, cheerful and genial, he never posed as a great man of letters, developed no mannerisms, but remained a typical Englishman of the lower middle classes.

He was not born with any advantages of social or financial standing. His father, Joseph Wells, was a professional cricketer, and head gardener for Lord de L'Isle in Kent.

Herbert George Wells was born at Bromley, Kent, in the southeast corner of England, on Sept. 21, 1866.

His early struggles are best recorded in Kipps, probably the finest book he ever wrote. He was only 13 when he was apprenticed to a draper's establishment - emporium - in a coastal town about the size of Folkestone. Before that he had been apprenticed to a chemist and from that short phase he found much material for his great novel, Tono-Bungay.


Young Herbert George by dint of hard plugging gained scholarships that admitted him to the University of London and the Royal College of Science. There he studied under Prof. Thomas Henry Huxley. Presently he began to write literary articles, criticisms and short imaginative stories, in which he made use of the teeming suggestions of modern sciences. There was considerable demand for that sort of fiction in English-speaking countries, and his book The Time Machine, published in 1895, attracted much attention.

Shortly before that he had written Select Conversations With an Uncle, but his next two works, The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man, became so popular that he was enabled to devote himself with a certain sense of security to purely literary work.

The works of Wells must be divided into several categories, which again should be sub-divided. There are the fantastic and the pseudo-scientific novels, the satirical and humorous novels, and the socialogical and historical works, interspersed with semi-political and philosophical works.

The first category includes The First Men in the Moon, The War in the Air, The Invisible Man, and many other novels, which alone would have made him famous. The second category includes The History of Mr. Polly, Kipps, and Tono-Bungay of early years and The Bulpington of Blup as late as 1933.

To the other type of books belong Marriage, An Englishman Looks at the World, The Soul of a Bishop, and many more. It is difficult to be precise about categories, however, for Mr. Wells astounded his readers by suddenly coming out with a book like The World of William Clissold, which gave him a vehicle for outspokenness on many men and many things of the day.

From his youth he had been a Socialist - if not a party member, at least in his opinions. He joined the Fabian Society, but stepped aside as soon as he became convinced that the Socialists were aiming at the complete control of labor under a new plutocracy less effecient than the plutocracy then existing.


Wells traveled a good deal, always with an aim to see things for himself. Thus, he went to Russia in 1920 and was the guest of Maxim Gorky at Leningrad. Later he wrote a series of articles entitled "Russia in the Shadows" which appeared in The New York Times.

In 1921 he came to this country and 'covered' the Washington arms conference for The New York World and he wrote hundreds of special articles for the daily press of this country.

When Adolph Hitler appeared in the public eye, Wells spoke of the Nazi regime as a "clumsy lout's revolution against civilization."

He was dubious first and later openly critical about the League of Nations, and in this matter, as in most matters of topical events, he was decided in his opinions. The League of Nations he compared to "a homunculus in a bottle trying to set up the reign of God on Earth."

Mr. Wells found the American scene fascinating, particularly as it revealed itself during the first administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After a trip to this country in 1934 he professed himself greatly interested in the operations of the "Brain Trust," the group of advisers with which Mr. Roosevelt had surrounded himself.

A year later, after Mr. Wells had again visited the United States, he found occasion to modify some of his views of the preceding year. The work of certain Brain Trusters, whom he called "social-minded technicians," disappointed him somewhat. He found men in Washington who do not "constitute a team, working together for a common end."


In 1935 Mr. Wells made one of his most important forays into the motion-picture world in Hollywood. Long appreciative of the motion picture as a form of art, Mr. Wells, on this occasion, did not hesitate to call it "the very greatest art, with the possibility of becoming the the greatest art form that has ever existed."

His motion picture The Man Who Could Work Miracles was a critic's success, although it did not sweep the public mind as Mr. Wells had hoped it would.

Mr. Wells came here again in 1937 for his first lecture tour in the United States. He told ship news reporters he did not expect war in Europe for another two years because "the nations are not quite ready." After visiting President Roosevelt for the third time since 1933, Mr. Wells said he did not see any danger of the President trying to make himself a dictator. He could not imagine a more honest man in control of a great State, he added.

After visiting the New York World's Fair and terming the British Empire exhibit "stupid" in its appeal to snobbery, Mr. Wells discounted the importance of the Fair in its professed role as an agency for world peace. "At the present educational level," he said, "world peace is an impossibility."

Mr. Wells denounced as an "outrage" the rewriting of his fantasy, The War of the Worlds, for the radio broadcast which caused a wave of mass hysteria in the nation on the night of Oct 30, 1938, when Orson Welles led thousands to believe that the "Men from Mars" were invading this planet and were spreading death and destruction in New York and New Jersey.


As the second World War approached, Mr. Wells again showed his prophetic vision early in 1939, when he visited Australia and urged closer relations with the United States for the protection of the down-under continent. Returning to London just before the outbreak of the war, he declared the United States under President Roosevelt's guidance held the greatest hope for the salvation of mankind.

In the same pamphlet he called Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain "ignorant and narrow-minded," Hitler an "unqualified horror'" Mussolini "vain, rhetorical," Stalin "honest, strong and human," though not of "overwhelming intelligence," and Japan's rulers "Nazis without a Hitler."

From the moment war was declared Mr. Wells, in his role as England's most famous pamphleteer, consistently expressed the conviction that the Nazis could not conquer the traditional bulldog spirit of the English common people, and just as consistently demanded shake-ups in the British War office and Foreign Office to get rid of antiquated ideas, Colonel Blimps and appeasers.

He was one of the leaders in the upsurge of public opinion which swept Prime Minister Chamberlain out of office in 1940, charging him with conducting a "grossly incompetent" government.

Even after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, Mr. Wells kept up his hammer blows in the press for further reforms in the army and diplomatic service. He created an international sensation with an interview on his arrival in New York on Oct 3, 1940, when he attacked Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, as exemplifying the "Bourbons" and appeasers, whom he accused of "criminal lethargy" in the conduct of war. He insisted that the elimination of Lord Halifax was essential and that other members of the government should also go.

When news of Mr. Wells' statements reached London, there was a vitriolic debate in the House of Commons, during which Earl Winterton demanded what the Government meant by allowing "a man of that type to go to America." The Government's reply, delivered by Capt. Osbert Peake, Under-Secretary for the Home Office, was that Mr. Wells was free to say what he liked, at home or abroad, and that it would injure British interest in the United States to let the notion get around that only hand-picked Government spokesmen would be allowed to lecture here.

During the period of the Nazi-Soviet pact Mr. Wells insisted that there was "not the remotest possibility" that Russia would join the Axis. As early as September, 1941, three months after Hitler launched his attack on Russia, Mr. Wells was urging a large-scale British offensive on the Continent of Europe, on the ground that Hitler's entanglement in Russia had placed him in almost the same vulnerable position as Napoleon, shortly before his end.


Early in 1942, Mr. Wells produced a novel, You Can't Be Too Careful, which critics here declared started out as a story-telling book reminiscent of his earlier and delightful History of Mr. Polly but which wandered off into the familiar Wellsian sociological tract. Its central character was Edward Albert Tewler, a man with an inbred fear of "ideers" who was, Mr. Wells said, you or me.

At the age of 76, a year later, Mr. Wells earned a doctorate in science at London University with a thesis discussing personality. He called it: "Quality of Illusion in the Continuity of the Individual Life in the Higher Metazoa, with Particular Reference to Homo Sapiens." The Metozoic Age was one of great reptiles, walking and flying, but in the thesis Mr. Wells concerned himself with John Smith, one of the endless varieties of Smiths, whom he found to be "definitely a degenerate creature in the sense that he presents no collective resisitance in the face of change."

Despite his lifelong opposition to the monarchy which was to reach a head in a bitter warning to English royalty just before his death to quit the throne before it was rudely pushed off, Mr. Wells was treated by Lord Horder, King George's physician, when he became ill in April 1944.

Regaining his health, the novelist and pamphleteer in the crisis occasioned by British intervention in Greece in December, 1944, was opposed to Winston Churchill in a left-wing paper article headed "Churchill Must Go." Mr. Wells called the Prime Minister a "Would-be British Fuehrer," conceded that Mr. Churchill had served Britain as a fighting symbol, but contended that he had outlived his usefulness.

After the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945, Mr. Wells was asked to comment on the terrible new weapon he had envisaged. He said: "This can wipe out everything bad - or good - in this world. It is up to the people to decide which."

In November, 1945, Mr. Wells left his literary and sociological testament, Mind at the End of its Tether, in which he despaired of the existence of the human animal, predicting that "he will have to give place to some other animal better adapted to the fate that closes in."


Mr. Wells' attack on British royalty came only a month ago. In a virtually unprecedented attack upon British monarchs, he asked whether the royal family was involved in the "huge" sums that the House of Commons had been "told" Mussolini had paid Sir Oswald Mosley, British Fascist pre-war leader. If the royal family was involved, Mr. Wells declared, "then there is every reason why the House of Hanover (he used the Germanic title which was changed to the House of Windsor during the first World War) should follow the House of Savoy into the shadows of exile and leave England free to return to its old and persistent republican tradition."

Mr. Wells did not explain the "involvement" nor was there any suggestion in the alleged revelation that the royal family was in any way connected with the reported payments. The royal household would not even dignify the implications with a denial and George Bernard Shaw, then on the eve of his ninetieth birthday, snorted "nonsense."

Mr. Wells wife, the former Amy Catherine Robbins, died in 1927. They had two sons.

Publication Date: August 16, 1946
Source: New York Times


J. B. Priestley Delivers Eulogy for Noted British Author

LONDON, Aug 16 - The body of H. G. Wells, noted author and historian, was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, London, today. Mr. Wells died Tuesday at the age of 79. Besides members of the family, those present included Lord Beaverbrook, J. B. Priestley, author, and David Low, cartoonist, and his wife.


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