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

Chapter 1

Species Homo Tewler

I AM telling the simple life story of one individual Londoner, and I am pledged not to stray from a plain objective narrative; nevertheless it has already been necessary to supplement this record of acts and deeds by statements of a more general nature, to place the story definitely” in its historical perspective. Just as if you are making a deposition about murder on the high seas you have, if possible, to indicate the latitude and longitude of the ship. It has been necessary, for instance, to indicate the r61e of the feudal and Christian traditions, if the story is to be read understandingly by an enlightened American or Russian or Chinese reader, or to have any value for that posterity to which, under the restrictions of the present paper shortage, it is mainly addressed. And now furthermore in one brief but concentrated section we must broaden our reference wider still and show not merely Tewler in terms of terrestrial latitude and longitude but Tewler in relation to the starry universe, to space and time and ideals . . .

We have already called attention to the general nature of the Metamorphosis through which Edward Albert passed out of his tadpole stage. We must expand a little more on that, because it explains why his love life, as we may call it, was widely different in its nature from the simple, concentrated, exciting and even beautiful romanticism, which the literature of our present social order is preserving for the inspiration of posterity.

In the plays and novels of that now rapidly vanishing past, from which, like people who have been salvaged from a severely bombed city, we are emerging stunned and uncertain; in that literature, I say, the characters are definitely described as being “in love with” so and so. This being “in love” is a specific concentration of desire and affection upon the “object”, who is always of the opposite sex, and it excludes all other interests. The character “falls” into it, It is presented as the common quality of all the humanity that is fit to print. A rake is a person in whom this state of mind is less enduring than usual, but when he is in it, he is in it as simply and entirely as a really good man. And most villains are made villains through scorned and unrequited love. The tragedies of life are when A is in love with B and B on the contrary loves G or anyhow does not return A’s love. The dark side of love comes up when B, for mercenary reasons, pretends to be in love with A. And further B may love C unknowingly when believing himself or herself to be in love with A. Moreover, there was a process, exactly parallel to religious conversion, when B “learnt to love” A, or gradually fell out of love with A and into love with C. Around this primary system of adult loves were grouped equally firm and invariable loves — of mothers, of sons and daughters.

Just as hardly anyone in that idealistic past, believed his religion, which was really far too complex and artificial for any human brain to understand and believe, but only liked to believe he.believed it, so the worthy generation into which Edward Albert was born liked to believe it had a simple, explicable, and generally acceptable “love life.” In each case there was a fundamental falsification of reality. The story our progenitors told was not how they were actually behaving. It was just how they wanted to believe they behaved. But why did they all, Edward Albert included, distort reality like that?

The normal human being, you may have observed, has a passion for autobiography. You have it yourself. If you deny it indignantly, that means merely that you have it in its more passive form. I have told you something that you resent because it does not tally with the story about yourself that you tell yourself. This passion becomes oppressively manifest5 for instance, in fellow-travellers on ships, whose minds have been relaxed by a flux of strangers at leisure, and it is particularly evident in general conversation in America. At bottom every American seems to be in a state of wonder at his own high and profound motivation, and as anxious to make himself believe it all as to convince you.

And this is natural enough, and was to be expected, because the riddles of human conduct are far more difficult than those of any other animal. The onrush of social life has come to this lonely-spirited ape, for that is what we still are fundamentally, at headlong speed, through a conspiracy of inventions and devices, in a few thousand generations, and he has found himself involved with an ever-expanding multitude of fellow-citizens, whom he is disposed to fear and to hate and to get the better of in almost equal measure.

This is no mere theorising, or it would be quite out of place here. This is simply a repetition in general terms of the case of Edward Albert Tewler as it has been put before you in the preceding two books, unobtrusively for the most part, but with an outbreak of explicitness in Book the Second, Chapter Three. It is the case of Homo Tewler > which includes all of us — Homo sapiens existing as yet only in the dreamlands of aspiration. This poor uncomfortable creature is continually doing its best to make a plausibly consistent story of its behaviour both to itself and the social world about it, and to be guided by that legend so as to escape an open breach with its environment. The urgency we are under to pull ourselves together and make an acceptable account of ourselves finds its outlet in these yarns about religious experience and consistent love that we force upon one another at every opportunity.

So it has been since the ancestral Tewler (Pithecanthropus Tewler) found himself coming down from his nice safe tree nests to the agoraphobia of the ground level and, with the most strenuous suppressions of his primary instincts, living in ever-expanding communities. He wants intensely to say,

“You can rely on me to do this. It is quite impossible for me to do that. But since I am a Moslem you cannot expect me to do that! No healthy Englishman would dream of . . . ”

He says such things to himself, and will hear of no other possibility of conduct outside their scope. The last thing he will do is to admit our common, essential and unavoidable incoherence. He fences himself about with taboos and customs and creeds, and the more energetic sort of people, themselves believing, have been only too ready to assist their weaker brethren and strengthen their own faith, by guiding and controlling them. This is right and lovely, and as for that? Oh! you’d never do that! The sage, the teacher, the priest, the guru, have kept their fingers pointing steadily away from fact towards the ideal.

And as long as the circumstances of the life of Homo Tewler have not changed too rapidly for these guides to accomodate themselves to the new conditions, his societies have been able to get along by clinging to this or that particular compromise with truth, which provided an effective method of cooperation. The cooperation might be imperfect, but it rubbed along.

For long ages Homo Tewler managed to pretend that his private imaginations and the more unpleasant realities of his behaviour were not actually there at all, that the misbehaviours of his fellow-creatures were “abnormalities” and lapses which he did not share —“Oh, quite impossible!”— or that they were due to diabolical possession of an exceptional tort. It was only with the advent of psychoanalysis that a complex tangle of fancies and dreams that he had hitherto denied and smuggled away, was dragged out shamefacedly as his “sub-conscious” into an almost too vivid light of day.

“What’s all this?” asked the psychoanalyst, “I’m really surprised at you,” like a conjuror taking a rabbit out of the good man’s hair. We all had a sub-conscious, he declared. Every one of us. All. But — we began to remember things we had been in the habit of dismissing from our minds. It was most disconcerting.

Freud and his psychoanalysts suffered from the disadvantages of a classical education, and in their researches into the concealments of their troubled patients, they found remarkable reminders of the sonorous taboo tragedies of the Greeks. Impressed by the irrational freaks of adverse incidents, and unable to believe the dreadful truth that Nature, pursuing a course as yet undeciphered, cares not a dam for her individual offspring, Homo Tewler has always pitted his poor cunning against the Indifference, in the hope of finding lucky and unlucky observances that will compel It to behave and misbehave. Magic was primitive science in practice, and its observance was Taboos. Taboos still rule our minds. We break a Taboo and nothing we believe will arrest the consequences. It is Fate. Scarcely anything will persuade us that Fate doesn’t care a rap about it, that the calm of the Indifference is unruffled. We keep on fussing. You mustn’t marry your mother-inlaw, even if you don’t know she is your mother-inlaw, or look, like Ham, at your parent’s ill-adjusted dress. Oh! it’s just awful for you if you do. If you meet a black cat or three magpies, cross yourself or go home and hide. But these scholar-psychiatrists chose to elevate their Greek classics to a sort of history of the human imagination, and invented (Jung chiefly) a great Oedipus complex, a lesser Electra complex and all the rest of the psychoanalysts’ Classical Walpurgis Night, to systematise our mental chaos. With these Fate dramas they entangled the Hebrew idea of original sin, which also manifestly arose out of a legend of a broken taboo and a curse. (You can’t be too careful.) Adler, as we shall see later, with his “inferiority complex”, came much nearer to the main reality of human imperatives.

A little less of the classics and a trifle more of biology, and the psychoanalysts would have understood that this “sense of sin” of theirs is neither more nor less than the natural discomfort of an imperfectly adapted animal to its environment. It has no more to do with some profound universal conviction of transgression than a coat that is tight under the arms or the wrong spectacles. Now that the environment of Homo Tewler has begun to change at a pace and to an extent that would have been absolutely incredible fifty years ago, a ruthless urgency calls upon him to adapt his mind and his way of living to these vast demands and become Homo sapiens indeed, before utter disaster overwhelms him. Can he? And will he? He is much more likely to give way to storms of taboo terrorism, to mutilate and prostrate himself, to seek to propitiate the offended fetishes by violent persecutions, to revert to inquisitions and witch smellings. . . .

At this point the Censor intervenes and objects that if this goes on, our story will cease to be a specific monograph upon Edward Albert Tewler and will become a general dissertation upon human life, which is precisely, says the Censor, what I undertook to avoid. I would dispute that, were I not afraid that the reader would take sides with the Censor, In the Introduction. . . .

But there is no need to wrangle. What I have said I have said. I will revert now to our “specimen” of Homo Tewler var. Anglicanus and tell how he lived into the opening phase of our world catastrophe and what he said and did then. I will do my utmost henceforth to stick still more closely to the record of his individual acts and experiences.

Yet I must admit here that I join with Mrs Richard Tewler in deploring the inaudibility of Mrs Humbelay. If only we could have heard those lost trailers of hers, we might have benefited greatly from her unlimited store of obscure and occasionally, what many people might be disposed to consider, obscene wisdom. I could have quoted her and that would have been indisputable story-telling. . . .

It has to be recorded then that Edward Albert never in the whole course of his life really loved or felt honest, generous friendship for any human being such as the codes of our literary tradition require. That demands an amount of deliberate mental synthesis of which his early education and upbringing had already rendered him incapable. How he worked out his own conception of an acceptable religious life has been told. He became a moderate Christian after the fashion of the majority of his fellow-countrymen, occasionally he went to church, some Anglican church, but he rarely did so unless there was nowhere else to go or he had some personal incentive, and he thought about his religion as little as he could. There it was, like a passport put away in a safe, and you did not bother about it until there was a call for it. Then out it came. “Pass Christian!” (“Them Atheists will look a bit silly!”) His sexual development was more confused and complicated than his religious history, it had become entangled with a number of factors in the metamorphosis which were essentially independent of sexual reproduction, and to that greater complex we must now address ourselves.

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