- The First Wellsians: A Modern Utopia and Its Early Disciples
Although the Oxford English Dictionary dates the first example of the adjective "Wellsian" to 1912 and the first use of the term as a noun to 1916 in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, the phenomenon appears to predate the terminology. The first Wellsians came into being shortly after A Modern Utopia was published in 1905 and immediately began to acquire fervent young readers who wanted to imitate—and indeed become—the Samurai of H. G. Wells's imagining. In midsummer of 1905 a young Englishman in search of a career while schoolmastering in Darjeeling wrote in nearly identical words to two friends, one in the United States and one in England, about his latest intellectual passion: "Have you yet read H. G. Wells' 'Modern Utopia'?... If I had the time, I would write him an open letter on it; I hope, even as it is, to do so on my way home. His 'Samurai' idea is epoch-making, & I want to found an order in accordance with its principles." 1 In itself, Maurice Browne's outpouring was not an unusual response to A Modern Utopia, a book like Anticipations (1901) and Mankind in the Making (1903) that drew younger readers to Wells as a polemicist and social prophet. At Cambridge University Amber Reeves, an undergraduate, the daughter of two prominent members of the Fabian Society, soon to become a fixture in Wells's life, banded with other women to form the Utopians, an organization founded as a result of the publication of A Modern Utopia and dedicated to the development of "scientific habits of thought in every department of life" and to active work in pursuit of a more just and efficient social order. 2 A third young reader, J. H. Skilton, got directly in touch with Wells himself in 1906 with the ambition of establishing, under Wells's direction, "a public organisation on the lines of your Samurai—open to anyone who will conform." 3 To the name of Skilton, who eventually aligned himself with the Order of Samurai envisioned by Browne, there is attached none of the minor fame or notoriety associated with Amber Reeves and Maurice Browne. [End Page 444] His activity on behalf of Wellsian ideals has never before been studied but ultimately he may be the most affecting and most serious of the first Wellsians.
Wells himself had self-consciously identified the younger generation as the most appropriate, and most desired, audience for the work he was doing at the opening of the twentieth century. He worked, with little success, for a "reconditioned Fabian Society" that would be run by eager young people coming out of high schools, technical colleges, and universities who would turn what Wells thought of as a tedious and ineffectual group of talking heads into a dynamic socialist party. "The order of the Fabian Samurai perished unborn," he would later lament, but the idea of leading a revolution of the young energized Wells in early middle age. 4 In Mankind in the Making he made his case explicitly: "Without the high resolve of youth, without the constant accession of youth, without recuperative power, no sustained forward movement is possible in the world. It is to youth, therefore, that this book is finally addressed, to the adolescents, to the students, to those who are yet in the schools and who will presently come to read it, who being still plastic can understand the infinite plasticity of the world. It is those who are yet unmade who must become the makers." 5
Of all Wells's efforts in the first decade of the century at forecasting the future and agitating for social transformation it was A Modern Utopia that most fully engaged the imaginations of the new generation. Set in a parallel world ("the planet of my dreams," Wells called it) and narrated by a "Voice" closely identified with the actual Wells, the book was full of provocative and iconoclastic ideas about information technology, women, race, and the nature and governance of a world state. But it was the chapter on "The Samurai"—the "voluntary nobility" who instigate and lead the...