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


Plain Common Sense

“WHAT are ideers?” said Mr Edward Albert Tewler.

“What good are they? What good do they do you?”

Young Tewler had no answer.

“You get these here books,” said Mr Tewler senior.

“You don’t ‘ave to read ’em. It can’t be good for your eyes, especially nowadays with all this light-saving and everything. And what, do you get out of them?” He paused for his own contemptuous reply. . . . “Ideers!”

“I made good,” Mr Tewler continued, trampling over the rebellious silence of his offspring. “And why? Because I took jolly good care to steer clear of all these Ideers. I made up my mind and I did. What the world wants of a man is Character — and you can’t have much character left if you’ve muddled yourself up with Ideers. See! I ask you —‘ow I made good?”

“You got the G.C.,” said young Tewler. “We’re all proud of you.”

“Very well,” said Mr Tewler senior conclusively.

There was a pause. “All the same,” said young Tewler.

“Ah!” said his father.

“All the same,” said young Tewler. “You got to keep up with the times. Things do change.”

“You don’t change human nature. There’s such things as the Eternal Verities, ‘Enery. Ever ‘eard of ’em?”

“Yerss. I know. But all this stuff that’s getting about. Like abolishing distance, stopping this air war, having a sort of federal world. If we don’t end war, war will end us. All that.”

“Claptrap,” said his father. “Bawls.”

“Well,” said his offspring. “I was reading a book —”

“There you go!”

“Well, he said anyhow, he wasn’t talking about Ideers. He was talking about facts. That’s what he said. Just as you and me might be.”

“Facts! What are these precious facts of ‘is? In a book!”

“Well, I’m telling you. He says that what with all this invention and discovery that’s been going on life isn’t the same as it used to be. We’ve got so that everybody’s on our doorstep. We’ve got power, more than we ever ‘ad, so as to be able to smash our world to bits. And ‘e says we are smashing it to bits. And what he says is that whether it’s hard, whether it goes against the grain, we can’t go on in the old way. We got to exert ourselves. War, ‘e says, will last for ever unless we get a lot of new things going. . . . ”

“Now listen to me, ‘Enery. Who is it ‘as been putting all these Ideers into you? — for Ideers they are, say what you like. Who is it, I ask? Some one who’s written a book? Eh? Some professor or journalist or something of that sort? Some devilish clever chap who isn’t reely anybody at all. Somebody who’d just jump at the chance of getting a ‘undred pounds for writing a book to depress people and not mind what happens. Well, let’s come down to brass tacks. Put him on one side there. As it might be — so. Now here on the other ‘and you’ve got real people, thousands of those who know. Here’s our great Leader. Don’t he know anything, ‘Enery? Who are you and your book-writer to criticise and sit in judgment on ’im? Here’s all these men of experience in the government, older than you are, wiser than you are, brought up to deal with just these particular things. Here’s business men with great businesses, businesses you haven’t the beginnings of a notion. Don’t they know anything? No? You got ideers about India. Have you ever bin to India, ‘Enery? They ‘ave. You’ve got notions about Japan. What do you know of Japan? There they are, they got the best science, the very fullest information, the knowledge, they’ve learnt everything they could teach ’em at the universities, let alone the experience, and along comes some — some unresponsible scribbler with his ideers . . . Unresponsible scribbler, I said, and I repeat it, unresponsible, with his twopenny-halfpenny ideers, arguing and suggesting. ‘E knows this and ‘e knows that. And everybody else is wrong. And off you fly!”

“Well, the world now isn’t so particularly satisfactory. . . . Falling to pieces like. . . . Don’t seem to settle down; does it?. . . . ”

“It’s as right as it can be. What do you know of the difficulties they got to contend against? You got to trust ’em. Who are you to set yourself up?”

“All the same you can’t help thinking —”

“Think? yes — I admit that — you got to think, out think in the right way. Think like people round you think. Don’t go rushing about like a dog with a wasp in his ear, with ideers that don’t stand to reason. All this talk of a new world! Brave new world it would be! As the saying goes. Brave New World! Stay put where you are, boy. Do you want to be queer? Do you want to go about talking all this sort of thing just to be larfed at? Suppose — now suppose even there was something in all that stuff you get in books. There’s ‘undreds of books saying this that and the other thing. Who’s to tell you which is right? I ask you. I do put it to you, ‘Enery.”

Edward Albert Tewler’s face was very grave and earnest and full of parental solicitude. His voice lost its faint flavour of querulous protest and became simply affectionate. “You’ll grow out of all this, ‘Enery,” he said. “It’s a sort of measles of the mind. It rubs off. I had it. Not as bad as you, I admit, for I didn’t run the same risks. I was never a great reader, thank God, and when I did read I stuck to safe books. Still I know how it goes. . . .

“Frinstance I was brought up a bit narrer. My mother, she was an angel if ever was, but she was narrer. She got narrer. She was too good to suspect them as got ‘old of her. When it came to Total Immersion and all that and going to meeting Sunday after Sunday I struck. It wasn’t that I lost my faith. No. It grew. It broadened out, my boy. Simple earnest Christianity, says I, and none of your Creeds and Ideers and complications. And that’s what I am, a Simple Believing Christian in a Christian Land. The Lord died to save us, ‘Enery, me and you, and there’s no need to make a song about it. Or risk ketching your death of cold as they wanted me to do. Trust in God and honour the King. That’s good enough for me. Yes.”

He paused. He smiled indulgently at his past.

“A little religious trouble I did ‘ave even after that. I didn’t take things for granted. . . . That’s not my way. About the ark it was. Curious! I’ll tell you. You see, I bin to the Zoo and suddenly I doubted about whether the ark could ‘ave ‘eld all them animals. I did, ‘Enery. Being clever, that was. Being silly, my boy. It was the Devil put it into me to make a fool of me. Just as though God Ormighty couldn’t pack anything into anything if ‘E ‘ad a mind to. Why, if he’d wanted to. He could’ve put all them animals into a nutshell — all of them. Leastways — a cokernut, say. Easy —

“I saw the light, and so will you, ‘Enery. All this Brave Noo World of theirs! Bunkum New World, says I. Gord larfs at it. Ferget it! . . . You’ll grow out of it. At heart you’re sound, my boy. You’re the bulldog breed. At heart, when you’re put to the test, you’ll stand up to it as I stood up to it and come out right side up.”

The young man looked mulish still, but he said no more.

The conversation hung fire for a moment.

Then Edward Albert Tewler resumed. “I’m glad to have this talk with you. Now you are going away, I’ve been a bit worried. Seeing you reading so much. There’s other subjects I might talk to you about as father to son — but nowadays people seem to know such a lot. More than ever I did. We won’t go into all that, No. . . . You may be away a long time, and it’s not so easy to get about now as it used to be. I’ve never been much of a letter-writer. . . .

“There’s all this new sort of fever about. They say it’s the water. Doctors aren’t what they were. Sometimes when I get a fit of them night-stummick-aches of mine. Twisty they are. Make me ‘oiler. May be fancy, but one can’t help thinking. You may come back ’ere one of these days, my boy, and not find me. No good pulling a long face about it,

“Anyhow I’ve said my say to you. You can’t be too careful about those books. I’d burn the whole lot of them if I had my say, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. Except of course The Book. But those others. Right is right and wrong is wrong, and the simpler you are about that, the better. I’d say that to you, ‘Enery, if these was my last words to you. As maybe they are, almost. You’ll soon be packing. . . .

“That old cemetery there at Highgate. High up and quiet. It’s getting a bit crowded, but I guess they’ll find a corner for me. Don’t forget me, my boy, altogether. And don’t let me be forgotten altogether. Tomb of the Unknown Citizen. Eh? It isn’t much I ask for. You needn’t go to the expense of anything fulsome, my son. No. Just ‘ave my name put there, Edward Albert Tewler, G.C., plain letters on a plain slab, and then just this”— his voice fell a little as though the beauty of his own phrase overcame him: “Deeds not words. Deeds not words. That’s me, ‘Enery. . . . ”

So be it. You shall have him unadorned; you shall have his plain unvarnished record. Nothing fulsome about it. This is a plain straight story of deeds and character — not character in general but the character you get in characters. What they did, what they said — there must, you know, be a sound track to a picture nowadays — but nothing like thought, no sort of consecutive thought. No dissertations, no arguments, above all no projects nor incitements nor propaganda, shall break the flow of our narrative; no more of these damned “ideers” shall there be, than mice in the Small Cats’ House. For anything of that sort this tale will leave you unruffled. We just take what comes to us.

Whether it will leave you with quite the biography that floated in the mind of Edward Albert Tewler, G.C., behind that epitaph, is another matter. He scrutinised himself as little as he scrutinised the world about him. Simple as his life had been, he had forgotten many things about it. We cannot recall his past; we shall have to exhume it bit by bit.

One thing we may remark here, and that is that while he imagined he was doing things to the world, the reality was that the world was doing things to him. All he did from first to last was to react to it. “Deeds!” said he, but did he ever do anything to the world about him? It begot and bore him, it moulded and made him. He still lives, but it is the world around him that will decide when the time for his epitaph has come, This is the story of the Deeds and Sayings of Edward Albert Tewler. From his point of view. But like those amusing pictures you find in books on Optics that will turn inside out as you look at them, it is equally the story of this whole universe of Edward Albert Tewler, and he is just the empty shape of a human being at the centre of it — its resultant, its creature.

But here we touch upon the profoundest riddle in this affair called life. It has echoed down the ages. Can Edward Albert, in view of the fact that he is a creature, have such a thing as free will? Could something, a response not merely passive but Satanic, enter into and possess that shape? The answer No has never quite convinced mankind. But this is a matter we must postpone until the end. Plain story we have to tell, but if, in spite of that resolution, plain story leads at last to an insoluble dualism, thither we must go. We may find ourselves free to balance or take sides.

Young Tewler shall not trouble you again. We dismiss him and his poor belated mental fermentation here and now. Don’t ask me what became of him. It would only make you uncomfortable. Let me tell the plain tale of Edward Albert Tewler, G.C., who grew up in that great crowded sunset of human security between 1918 and 1938, before our wars were resumed in real earnest and men were changed to heroes in a night.

Here we have a picture of the modern novel. Look at it hard and alternately you see the vase, the social vessel, and nothing else, and then the social vessel vanishes and you see individuals and nothing else.

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