I like reading old magazines, especially when I get tired of seeing today’s political agendas, and today’s political correctness between the lines of the modern ones. I suppose they have political agendas of their own, but at least they have the virtue of being different. A while back I was paging through a copy of “The American Mercury,” published in the days when H. L. Mencken was still its editor. If Mencken wasn’t the best editor this country ever produced, he’s definitely on the short list. When he praises a novel, you can be sure it’s not a puff piece for a literary pet. Well, in this mag, I was not a little surprised to find him waxing effusive over a novel by H.G. Wells, and one I’d never heard of: “The World of William Clissold.”
Now, I enjoyed reading “The Time Machine,” and “War of the Worlds” once upon a time, but never game them a second thought as serious works of literature. They certainly never impressed me as the sort of thing Mencken would waste time reviewing. My curiosity was duly piqued. I got the book. As usual, the Sage of Baltimore was right. “Clissold” is the genuine article.
If you’re a baby boomer, you’ll be fascinated. Wells wrote the novel when he was about 60, and it’s full of interesting insights and observations about the significance of reaching that age, what a post-60 future might look like, his observations on how others that age were dealing with life, etc. As with any great work of literature, I’m sure you’ll find reflections of your own thoughts as well, assuming you’ve managed to attain such a ripe old age.
Again, as with all good novels, “Clissold” is full of anecdotes that were surely drawn from Wells’ life experiences. For example, he tells the story of his visit to Geneva during the heighday of the League of Nations in 1922. There, among a host of other interesting types, he tells of meeting an old Indian. In his own words:
“I remember a charming Red Indian from Canada with a wonderful belt of wampum; it was a treaty all done in beads; by it the British Government gave sovereign dominion for ever and ever to the remnants of the Five Nations over a long strip of country running right through Canadian territories, territories in which prohibition and all sorts of bizarre moder practices now prevail. The Canadians were infringing the freedoms of that ribbon of liberty by sending in excisement and the like. So the Five Nations, with a grave copper face, wampum treaty very carefully wrapped in tissue paper, were appealing from the British Empire to mankind.”
As the cliche goes, “he couldn’t make stuff like that up.” And sure enough, one finds several references to the incident on the Web, for example, here and here. You’ll find more on wampum, along with a fascinating history of the Five Nations here.
There is much other food for thought in “Clissold,” including a rather heavy handed exposition of his world view and his rather Rand-like version of what mankind needs to do to save itself, a summary of which may be found in the Wiki article linked above. A closer look may be found here. Another chapter is devoted to a review of the news media of his day. Modern connoiseurs will surely find it fascinating. Other than that, I can only echo Mencken’s recommendation. This novel is well worth a read.