- H. G. Wells in "Nature," 1893-1946: A Reception Reader
John S. Partington has done readers and scholars of Wells a great service by collecting his contributions to the eminent journal Nature in one volume. Over the past decade, Partington has earned a reputation as an important Wells scholar; in addition to having edited The Wellsian from 1999 to [End Page 176] 2009, Partington has authored Building Cosmopolis: The Political Thought of H. G. Wells (2003) and edited three collections, "The Wellsian": Selected Essays on H. G. Wells (2003), H. G. Wells's Fin-de-Siècle: Twenty-first Century Reflections on the Early H. G. Wells (2007), and (with Patrick Parrinder) The Reception of H. G. Wells in Europe (2005). To this already prodigious output, he adds this carefully edited volume of writings by Wells and about Wells published in Nature spanning Wells's entire career from his first contribution in 1893 to his obituary in 1946.
Partington provides a cogent and persuasive explanation for the need for this volume. Wells's association with Nature was long and fruitful; Partington calculates that Wells published "twenty-five separate items in the journal, be they reviews, essays or letters to the editor, while his works received fifty-three reviews during the same period" (1). Moreover, notwithstanding the central importance of science in Wells's oeuvre, Wells's scientific writing has not been collected on any large scale beyond the pieces published in H. G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction edited by Robert Philmus and David Hughes (1975). Partington notes the different aims of the Philmus and Hughes collection and his own. The stated purpose of the former is to allow the reader to trace the development of Wells's thought in the final two decades of the nineteenth century. In contrast, Partington's volume covers a much broader span of time, and what strikes the reader is not so much the evolution of Wells's ideas as "the consistency of Wells's thought from the 1890s to the end of his life" (2). If Philmus and Hughes demonstrate "how Wells came to terms with the debates around evolution, . . . turning from the notion of biological inheritance in humanity to that of cultural inheritance," Wells's writing in Nature "reveals the increased urgency with which Wells propagated such cultural inheritance through his promotion of the scientific method in all aspects of life, of education as the key driver of behavioural change and of his encouragement for scientific freedom and the need for independent research, unencumbered by private patronage or state sponsorship" (2). A final reason for collecting Wells's work in Nature is the eminence of the journal itself and the prominent role Richard Gregory, a lifelong friend of Wells's, played as editor of the journal from 1897 to 1939. Despite its reputation and Wells's relationship with Gregory, however, little scholarship has been done on the subject. Neither of the major biographies by David Smith and by Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie give more than a brief [End Page 177] mention of Nature's place in Wells's career. A collection of Wells's writings in Nature thus provides a springboard for further study of the important connections among Wells, Gregory, and Nature.
The book is organized into three sections. The first consists of all of Wells's work that appeared in the journal, which Partington divides into "13 sections where Wells's writings were initiators of an issue" (4). Partington includes all the correspondence that resulted as well, so, for example, section 1.6 contains Wells's essay "The Discovery of the Future," two letters to the editor in reference to it, and Wells's response. Pertinently for readers of Utopian Studies, what becomes clear as one reads through these materials is the utopian impulse that pervades Wells's writing throughout, which is particularly pronounced in his writing on education. Wells's utopianism manifests itself in many guises, from satires on contemporary societal ills to prophecies of future dystopian or utopian...