You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 3

Metamorphosis of Man

SO the child Edward Albert passed on through boyhood, and approached that peculiar reconstruction in the human life-cycle known as adolescence.

“Peculiar”, like every other word in this conscientious narrative, is written with deliberation. It is a metamorphosis. The change is indeed not so wide as it is between tadpole and frog, but it is much more marked in man, my zoologist friends tell me, than in most others of the land animals about us. Your cat, for example, does not undergo anything like the same transformation. It does not suddenly grow hair in unexpected places, change its miaow to a leonine roar, lose its teeth, and get a new set, become spotty and gawky with chemical and nervous uncertainty. Your kitten grows into a cat, “but gradually and gracefully, it is a specialised and completed creature from the moment it opens its eyes on the world, and it has no metamorphosis at all. The human animal has, and Edward Albert, following the la\v of our species, metamorphosed.

Perhaps it is a new idea to you that man undergoes a ^metamorphosis much more after the fashion of a frog than do most other land animals. But it, is not my fault that you do not know that. I have done my feeble utmost to help in saving you and our world from the dismal mess of antiquated misconception and misrepresentation, self-satisfaction and blank ignorance in which we wallow so tragically today. I have fought the academic classical tradition tooth and nail. If the idea of a metamorphosis is a new one to you, you have only those wretched impostors who pretended to educate you to blame. If you find anything perplexing and unusual in what is written here, here and in the first Chapter of Book the Third, ahead of you, it is due to their default. A few of is who have had the good fortune to get some real education have tried to supplement your possible deficiencies We made you and we have tried in vain to force into school and college use, a group of encyclopaedic books of which The Science of Life is the one most relevant here. You can get it now in a single volume brought up to the date of 1938. You ought really to read it all, because you cannot begin to understand our world or face the present gigantic challenges of life without it.

But for our present purposes all I would direct you to consult is a diagram and the accompanying text taken from an article in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society by Dr W.G. Gregory. You will find it put as an Appendix at the end of this book. If you look at that and the one that precedes it, condensing what is known about the evolution of the Placental Mammals, you will grasp what I am saying here about a human metamorphosis and what I shall have to say further in Book the Third, about the extreme primitiveness of the Hominida in the scale of being. Because otherwise you will not realise the extreme primitiveness of Edward Albert in the scale of being. You can check back Dr Gregory in your Encyclopaedia in the articles Primates and Tarsias. You can supplement Dr Gregory if you like by inspecting a little lemuroid creature, the Spectral Tarsier, Tarsier Spectrum, in any Zoological Garden or collection of stuffed animals. It is an inhabitant of Malaya, and it has something dimly suggestive of our Edward Albert in its look and movements, a small, tailed, nocturnal, furry and rather scared Edward Albert. One of its fossil Eocene cousins, by the by, was so human in its bones that it was christened Tetonius homunculus, the primordial Little Man (Strubei). It is much nearer to your actual ancestor than the black magnificent gorilla, that formidable gentleman. It was close to our ancestor and the ancestors of all the monkeys and apes, but while they branched off from our family tree on a line of their own, from which there is no returning, becoming our cousins in various degrees, the Tarsier sub-order, came right on to the Hominids and us.

And after that much information, which ought to be totally unnecessary^ you may begin to realise why I shall presently be urging you to change the name of the species Homo sapiens to the more modest one of Homo Tewler. I shall be sorry if it causes you some trouble to follow me in this. I shall not blame you, but I must condole with you. You are the innocent victim of your upbringing. None of this is digression. I promised to write about Tewler and I write about Tewler now. I have to put him in his place in the universe. Which we share. I will tell, you everything I know about Tewler, I will dissect and demonstrate on the creature, but for the few years of life that remain to me, I will be damned if I write a single propitiatory or mitigated line about our ancestry to please all the Tewlers in the world. We are a lowly and infantile breed, There is hardly a quadruped in the Zoo that is not more modified, evolved, distinguished and finished than ourselves. Go and look at the grace and finality of a tiger for example, or a gazelle, or a seal . . .

As his metamorphosis proceeded, two new sets of problems invaded Edward Albert’s mind. It was borne in upon him that he had to do certain things called earning a living, and simultaneously that complex of impulses, taboos, terrors and repressions, that onset of sex and sex education, which his mother had apprehended so anxiously, gathered about him and closed in upon him. Let us take the simpler issue first.

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30