Historians Reconsidered: H.G. Wells

Christopher Dawson profiles the historical writing of "the last of the encyclopaedists".

Wells’ Outline of History was one of the outstanding successes of the years that followed the first World War. Its success even astonished its author though few writers have possessed more abounding confidence in their universal powers. It was conceived at the same time as the League of Nations, when Wells’ own mind was preoccupied with schemes for world organization and when he was exasperated by the failure of the specialists to grasp the total issues on which the life of humanity depended. Thus it was a kind of enormous pamphlet—“a sort of general report and handbook”—which was intended to give the common man a plain account of the whole human drama in which he was inextricably involved. “Multitudes of people,” Wells wrote, “all the intelligent people of the world, indeed, were seeking more or less consciously to ‘get the hang’ of world affairs as a whole.” They “tried to recall the narrow history teaching of their brief school days and found an uninspiring and partially forgotten list of national kings or presidents. They tried to read about these matters and found an endless wilderness of books”. And so Wells felt himself inspired to bring .food to the hungry multitude in the wilderness. And he was right. He knew what they wanted and they accepted what he gave them, and the Outline of History sold by the million.

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