Wednesday, 7 February 2018

'42 to '44: A Contemporary Memoir Upon Human Behaviour (1944)

This is a collection of 35 essays disposed into two sections, ‘the Heritage of the Past’ and ‘How We Face the Future’. Nothing new in that, although Wells didn’t intend this volume for wide distribution, and instructed his publisher to limit the print-run to 2000 copies. In the preface Wells says ‘I have issued it deliberately as an expensive library book, and I intend it to remain an expensive library book. There will be no cheaper edition issued at any time and I doubt if second hand copies will ever become abundant.’ Wells hurried his publishers into print because his doctors had told him he had only months to live, although in fact he lived for almost another two years. The volumes includes journalism on the prosecution of the war, some pieces on the necessity of orienting the coming peace towards a Wellsian transnationality, and various other pieces (such as Wells’s obituary of his old frenemey Beatrice Webb).

The volume also includes, as an appendix, the dissertation elderly Wells wrote and submitted to the Royal Society. It became one of the odd ideés fixes of Wells’s dotage that he ought to be elected a fellow of this august institution. His friends tended to agree and blamed political bias amongst those fellows voting ‘no’ on his election, although it’s just as likely that the Society's disinclination to elect him has to do with Wells’s lack of significant scientific discovery or invention. At any rate, the elderly Wells forced the issue by submitting a D.Sci dissertation to the extra-mural department of the University of London. Its title was ‘A thesis on the quality of illusion in the continuity of the individual life in the higher metazoa, with particular reference to the species homo sapiens ... accepted by the University of London for the doctorate of science’. Julian Huxley gave him feedback on the dissertation draft, the University awarded him the degree, he published it in this vol, but the Royal Society remained unimpressed. Wells never was elected a fellow. Shame, really.

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