On this date in 1866, (Herbert George) H.G. Wells was born to a working class family in Kent, England. Young Wells received a spotty education, interrupted by several illnesses and family difficulties, and became a draper’s apprentice as a teenager. The headmaster of Midhurst Grammar School, where he had spent a year, arranged for him to return as an “usher,” or student teacher.
Wells earned a government scholarship in 1884, to study biology under Thomas Henry Huxley at the Normal School of Science. Wells earned his bachelor of science and doctor of science degrees at the University of London. After marrying his cousin, Isabel, Wells began to supplement his teaching salary with short stories and freelance articles, then books, including The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898).
Wells created a mild scandal when he divorced his cousin to marry one of his best students, Amy Catherine Robbins. Although his second marriage was lasting and produced two sons, Wells was an unabashed advocate of free (as opposed to “indiscriminate”) love. He continued to openly have extra-marital liaisons, most famously with Margaret Sanger, and a ten-year relationship with the author Rebecca West, who had one of his two out-of-wedlock children.
A one-time member of the Fabian Society, Wells sought active change. His 100 books included many novels, as well as nonfiction, such as A Modern Utopia (1905), The Outline of History (1920), A Short History of the World (1922), The Shape of Things to Come (1933), and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1932). One of his booklets was Crux Ansata, An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church. Although Wells toyed briefly with the idea of a “divine will” in his book, God the Invisible King (1917), it was a temporary aberration.
Wells used his international fame to promote his favorite causes, including the prevention of war, and was received by government officials around the world. He is best-remembered as an early writer of science fiction and futurism. D. 1946.
“Indeed Christianity passes. Passes—it has gone! It has littered the beaches of life with churches, cathedrals, shrines and crucifixes, prejudices and intolerances, like the sea urchin and starfish and empty shells and lumps of stinging jelly upon the sands here after a tide. A tidal wave out of Egypt. And it has left a multitude of little wriggling theologians and confessors and apologists hopping and burrowing in the warm nutritious sand. But in the hearts of living men, what remains of it now? Doubtful scraps of Arianism. Phrases. Sentiments. Habits.”
—H.G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography, 1934, cited by Ira D. Cardiff, What Great Men Think of Religion, 1945