Sunday, October 28, 2012

H. G. Wells on Neaderthals, the Lure of Islands

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on  December 28, 2008)

The Neanderthals We Once Knew

Liberalism's egalitarian dogma, the insistence that all of the various breeds of mankind must be equal in their potential, would seem to be sorely tried by the spectacle of the Neanderthal man.   First, there is the great problem of the Neanderthals' disappearance without evidence of their assimilation into the ranks of modern humanity.  Secondly, the reconstructions of Neanderthal seemed to suggest a species of human distinctly and definitely lacking in intellect as compared to modern humanity.  They left virtually no cultural artifacts while their contemporaries, the Cro-Magnon people, at least left behind them imaginative cave paintings.   Despite all of this, though, modern publicists of the prehistoric adamantly insist that Neanderthals were in all ways our equals.  (One must wonder who or what denied them an equal opportunity to survive?)

H. G. Wells's The Outline of History again exhibits his good Anglo-Saxon common sense when he comes to consider the question of the disappearance of Neanderthal man.  Recognizing that their successors' refusal to take the women of the defeated side and interbreed with them must be accounted for somehow, Wells surmises that:

    " We know nothing of the appearance of the Neanderthal man, but this absence of intermixture seems to suggest an extreme hairiness, an ugliness, or a repulsive strangeness in his appearance over and above his low forehead, his beetle brows, his ape neck, and his inferior stature.  Or he -- and she -- may have been too fierce to tame.  Says Sir Harry Johnston, in a survey of the rise of modern man in his Views and Reviews:  ' The dim racial remembrance of such gorilla-like monsters, with cunning brains, shambling gait, hairy bodies, strong teeth, and possibly cannibalistic tendencies, may be the germ of the ogre in folklore. . . . '  "      

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 6, 2008 )

H. G. Wells on the Lure of Islands

The lure of islands appears again and again in literature.  One thinks of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and of Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island, of Jackson's Island in Twain's Tom Sawyer, of Robinson Crusoe's island, of the island of which Sancho Panza becomes governor in Don Quixote, of the island of Utopia in Sir Thomas More's work of that name, of the wanderings of Ulysses from island to island.   Having first read H. G. Wells's The Outline of History almost 55 years ago,  I am now slowly reading it again.  Recently, I came across this passage which may explain the lure of islands:

    "  Very soon the seafaring men must have realized the peculiar freedom and opportunities the ship gave them.  They could get away to islands; no chief nor king could pursue a boat or ship with any certainty; every captain was a king.  The seamen would find it easy to make nests upon islands and in strong positions on the mainland.  There they could harbour, there they could carry on a certain agriculture and fishery; but their specialty and their main business was, of course, the expedition across the sea.  That was not usually a trading expedition; it was much more frequently a piratical raid.  From what we know of mankind, we are bound to conclude that the first sailors plundered when they could, and traded when they had to.  "

This quotation is taken from the chapter "Sea Peoples and Trading Peoples" and concerns the period around 2000 B.C.

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