Wells and Doyle in Southsea

In May of 1881, 15-year-old H. G. Wells was an apprentice at Hyde’s Drapery Emporium in Southsea (Portsmouth). It was a large, popular shop at 9 Kings Road, a place for men to get good clothes and other necessities. Wells was miserable there, living in the basement with other indentured lads and doing duties he was completely unsuited for. His experience there was the source of his novel Kipps.

In June of the following year, a 23-year-old named Arthur Conan Doyle arrived in Portsmouth, looking to set up a medical practice. He did so at No.1 Bush Villas, Elm Grove, in Southsea. He had tried to make his way in Plymouth, but according to this fell out with his partner, and came to Southsea with little money and no connections.

Kings Road, where the Drapery Emporium was, turns into Elm Grove as you walk along — they are two branches of the same street. Southsea was not that large in the 1880s. As Doyle’s practice expanded, it is very likely he would have required clothing suiting his station, and thus it is entirely possible he would have met the young clerk at Hyde’s.

In the summer of the following year, Wells finally convinced his mother to let him abandon the apprenticeship and left town, while Doyle remained and became active in public life there.

There is no evidence that Wells and Doyle met in Southsea, and neither mentions having done so to my knowledge. That isn’t surprising since neither was much of anybody yet. Doyle was spending his frequently unoccupied time writing stories.

They did meet later, and even were members together on the Allahakbarries, a literary cricket team founded by J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) in 1890 that wasn’t very good but contained people like G. K. Chesterton and P. G. Wodehouse, and other authors who liked using their initials. (Wells was a member but refused to play, which is odd since his father was a famous bowler.)

On a sideline, it was reading J.M. Barrie’s book When a Man’s Single (1888) that inspired Wells to stop writing articles about science teaching and instead write fiction stories for money.

On another sideline, A. A. Milne was also on the Allahakbarries cricket team. He was the son of J.V. Milne, who had run Henley House School and had employed H. G. Wells as science master in 1889. A. A. Milne was one of Wells’s pupils.

H.G. Wells, Sir Edward Sassoon, and telegraphy

Shortly after attending Alban O’Brien’s excellent talk on the Great War poet Siegfried Sasson, I was reading H.G. Wells’s The Sea Lady (as one does) from 1901 and came upon this dialogue:

“And in the next there’s the Sea Lady.”
“I thought she——”

“She’s a mermaid.”
“It’s no objection. So far as I can see, she’d make an excellent wife for him. And, as a matter of fact, down here she’d be able to help him in just the right way. The member here—he’ll be fighting—this Sassoon man—makes a lot of capital out of deep-sea cables. Couldn’t be better. Harry could dish him easily. That’s all right. Why shouldn’t he have her?”

I had to do some research. The “Sassoon man” must have been Sir Edward, Member of Parliament for Hythe and a promoter of cable telegraphy. Here’s a speech to Parliament in May 1900 demonstrating his enthusiasm.

Sassoon was a supporter of the All Red Line, an informal name for the high-tech communications network connecting the British Empire. A map from a 1903 book about the topic gives an idea of the system:

In his humorous novel, Wells was enjoying the idea that his character could defeat Sassoon for the Hythe seat, not as the better candidate, but as a champion of mermaids against deep-sea telegraphy cables. Surely Sasson’s deep-sea cables would threaten the mermaid habitat, and to have a real mermaid for his wife could garner sympathy and score votes against the opposition!

But there are some who would say that Edward Sassoon was a visionary, even if mermaids would not have liked him. He was rich, certainly. The Sassoons were already a wealthy family, and he had married a Rothschild. But he also seems to have had some concern for the public good. In 1910, he would try to get wireless telegraphy made compulsory on passenger ships. He failed, so it was a good thing the Titanic had a Marconi on board. After the Titanic sunk, Sassoon’s idea was made into law.

But his significance goes beyond using technology to make things happen. In the Journal of the Society of Arts (1900), Sassoon laid out his argument about why the government’s involvement was necessary when it came to the telegraph. Sassoon was able to see the place of telegraph in the history of communications. He argued that in the case of the railways, and then electricity and gas, private enterprise began the venture but then public interest had to be asserted against excessive rates, so why not the telegraph? Private companies had expanded and bought up smaller companies, creating monopolies. The public interest was manifest in the expansion of the technology, so government must step in.

This should sound familiar as today’s internet communications apps, ISPs, and companies effectively create monopolies on today’s communications. Sassoon’s public interest, however, had nothing to do with today’s focus on individual freedom. He saw the government’s involvement in the telegraph as necessary for cementing the British Empire together:

The moral connection of these outlying portions of the empire with the Mother Country has been sealed by and consecrated with blood, the way has been paved for confirming the strong sentiment thus evoked by establishing still firmer the bonds of material and common interests, which, as in this work-a-day world, form the only stable foundations, on which to secure the permanence and solidity of this vast Imperial confederation.

Sassoon would not be a popular figure today because he believed in the Empire, but there is no discounting his understanding of the significance of technology to national and commercial goals.

Edward’s son Philip would succeed him as MP upon his death. Philip served in the Great War as military secretary to Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who led the British Expeditionary Force from 1915. Siegfried was, I think, their cousin (the Sassoon family tree is rather complicated). So it all wraps up nicely!

Midhurst Mystery Solved!

For those who have been following my two “Midhurst Mysteries” about H. G. Wells — Which house was Horace Byatt’s? (2017 and 2018) and Did Mrs Allin help Wells? — I am excited to report that the latter was actually solved in August 2019, although I didn’t know it. (Bad researcher — no book orders for you!)

I only discovered this because of my Midhurst “connection”, Simon Wheeler of Wheeler’s Bookshop. He wrote to tell me that the Midhurst Society had a new website, with a page about South Street that could possibly help solve the mystery of Horace Byatt’s house. This page, part of a wonderful series of pages by the Society, surmised that the house was likely South Pond House, while I believe it was the house next door. But no matter! I was able to reach the Society through the new and beautifully designed website.

And that’s how I found about about Midhurst Magazine #30, published a year ago August. It contains an article by Mrs Allin’s great-granddaughter, Jennifer Chevis.

For those who don’t keep track of this stuff, the mystery was that Vic and Barbara Mitchell’s book, Midhurst Town: Then & Now, mentioned that Mrs Allin, the ironmonger’s wife, helped get Wells his job at Midhurst Grammar School as an assistant teacher. Mr Mitchell was wonderfully kind in responding to my query, but couldn’t recall where he obtained that information.

Who cares? Why is that even important? Because it’s one of the major turning points in Wells’s life. It would be his studies with Byatt, undertaken as independent study, that would enable his scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London. And that would lead to many, many other things.

In the meantime, I had surmised in my novel (fiction, but based on what I know) that Mrs Allin, being a motherly woman, would have taken Wells under her wing and convinced Horace Byatt to hire him with pay and let him return to Midhurst after having been a pupil-teacher at the school. Wells had attended briefly before his mother indentured him to a draper’s in Southsea, where he was miserable.

And now I find that I was absolutely right. Ms Chevis reports that Mrs Allin did indeed do this, taking an active interest in the young man’s life and persuading Byatt to pay him.

I’m delighted with all of this: the Midhurst Society’s accessible content and amiable people, and the generosity of Mrs Allin, and the potential for greater connection to a wonderful local history society. They have even graciously added a link to my Wells studies on their publications page.

Now, about Byatt’s house. . .

Before the Time Machine: Young H. G. Wells

For those who want to hear me rattle on about my research, here’s the recording from the talk I gave yesterday to the wonderful Victorian Britain group.

Before the Time Machine: Young H. G. Wells from Lisa M Lane on Vimeo.

Is this Wells’s dad?

I’ve been doing some research on Joseph Wells, H. G. Wells’s father. Why? For a single slide.

My upcoming lecture on Wells for the Victorian Britain group needs slides, and I had little to put on the slide for his father except stuff from his extraordinary cricket career. Well, it wasn’t that extraordinary, but he did bowl for Kent against Sussex in 1862, where he bowled 4 wickets in 4 balls. This was an extraordinary achievement (although I have had a cricket enthusiast explain it to me, I’m afraid I still don’t know why).

So I went looking for the estate where Joseph Wells worked before he came to Uppark, where he would meet Sarah Neal, who would be H. G. Wells’s mother.

According to H.G.’s autobiography, this would be Redleaf. Redleaf was an estate in Penshurst, Kent, where Wells was the gardener. He was born into this, because his father (also Joseph Wells) had been a gardener. And here it gets confusing, because the owner of the estate was also named Joseph Wells, although he was no relation.

This is the place in 1838, under William Wells. I’m sure it wasn’t any easier to garden in the 1860s. Young Joseph used to leave work and go play cricket nearby.

Now there aren’t many pictures I’ve been able to find online of Joseph Wells. In fact, this is the only one that’s reliable:

So looking back at his son’s autobiography, I also find this:

Old Wells was interested in art, and one of his friends and a frequent visitor at Redleaf was Sir Edwin Landseer, the “animal painter,” who could put human souls into almost every sort of animal and who did those grave impassive lions at the base of the Nelson monument in Trafalgar Square. My father served as artist’s model on several occasions, and for many years he was to be seen in the National Gallery, peeping at a milkmaid in a picture called The Maid and the Magpie. Behind him in the sunshine was Penshurst Church. But afterwards the Landseers were all sent to the Tate Gallery at Millbank and there a sudden flood damaged or destroyed most of them and washed away that record of my father altogether.

Googling The Maid and the Magpie, I find a number of items, most an engraving by Samuel Cousins which was based on the original painting. It may have been “Edwin Landseer’s last great work”, but I wouldn’t know that unless I get access to the paywalled British Newspaper Archive (Google only showed me a bit of a teaser).

Is that him, peeking in? Could be. But the church. Wells said it’s Penshurst Church. But Penshurst Church (of St. John the Baptist) doesn’t have a spire, but rather a tower with little corner pinnacles.

Did it ever have a spire? I could find nothing saying it did, except this:

The Topographical Dictionary (of 1848, but close) is available at British History Online. So I looked, but although the church is mentioned, the spire steeple isn’t. And unfortunately, Getty has etchings of the church from 1840, with no steeple. Maybe Landseer took artistic license. A spire balances the picture better.

So is that Joseph Wells?

 

 

 

 

H.G. Wells and the biology lab at home

Even if H. G. Wells’s biology students weren’t ordered to stay home, most couldn’t access a biology lab. And yet they had to be prepared for the practical examinations in their field. Wells knew that many of them were working on their own, unable to afford a tutor. How could he best prepare his students?

At the time, Wells was employed by the University Correspondence College, so his students were at a distance, most of them in the UK. Since there were no good biology text-books available for at-home study, Wells wrote one (well, two — part one on vertebrates and part two on invertebrates and plants). Part One was published in 1893, and is his first published full book.

Wells, then 27 and not yet an acclaimed author of science fiction, was also teaching an on-site biology laboratory at Red Lion Square. The University Tutorial College (the UCC’s London branch) had set up excellent facilities. But not everyone could come to London. Some would save up for years just to come for the examinations.

Challenged by this problem, Wells dedicated the last part of his textbook to creating laboratory “practicals” at home. He called it “A Syllabus of Practical Work”.

In it, he explained how to set up ones kitchen table, find the appropriate specimens, and work them in conjunction with the instructional pages and diagrams. In the first edition he had done the diagrams himself, but the reviews had been less than enthusiastic. So in the second edition he asked his former student, now companion, Catherine Robbins, to do them:

 

Students must do the reading first, of course:

We would impress upon the student at the outset the importance of some preliminary reading before dissection is undertaken. No one would dream of attempting to explore a deserted city without some previous study of maps and guide-books, hut we find again and again students undertaking to explore the complicated anatomy of a vertebrated animal without the slightest, or only the slightest, preparatory reading. This is entirely a mistake.

He then provided a list of equipment needed:

For such dissection as the subject-matter of this book requires, the following appliances will be needed :
(a) Two or three scalpels of various sizes.
(b) Scissors, which must taper gradually, have straight

blades, and be pointed at the ends, and which must bite right up to the tips (or they are use- less). Two pairs, small and large, are advisable
(c) Forceps, which must hold firmly, and meet truly at the points.
(d) Two needles set in wooden handles.
(
e) An ordinary watchmaker’s eye-glass is very helpful, but not indispensable.
(f) A dissecting dish—an ordinary pie dish will do—
into which melted paraffin wax has been poured, to the depth of, say, three-quarters of an inch, and allowed to solidify. (This wax may be blackened by mixture with lampblack. If the wax floats up at any time, it can, of course, be remelted. Or it may be loaded with lead.)
(g) A rough table or board (for the rabbit and dog-fish).
(h) Blanket pins, and ordinary pins.
(i) A pickle or other wide-mouthed jar, and some
common methylated spirit.
(j) A microscope, with low power of 1 in. or 1/2 in., and
high power 1/6 in. or 1/4 in. Glass slips and cover glasses, and a bottle of very weak (1 per cent.) solution of salt.

And suggestions of where to obtain them:

Animals for dissection may be obtained from the recognised dealers, who usually advertise in such scientific periodicals as Nature, Natural Science, and Knowledge. Sinel (naturalist, Jersey) is the most satisfactory dealer in dog-fish in our experience; Bolton (Malvern) will supply Amphioxus through the post. Frogs and rabbits may be obtained anywhere. The tame variety of rabbit is quite satisfactory for the purpose of dissection.

And instructions on how to do away with Fluffy:

I know I certainly have chloroform around the house.

But the point is that yes, many things one wouldn’t ordinarily think of as being doable at home, can be achieved with a little money and some ordering by mail. Students at the University Correspondence College had a high success rate in the Matriculation, Intermediate, and Bachelors examinations in Biology.

 

Log books and protest

As part of an unenthusiastic effort to flesh out a paper that I gave at a conference last fall, I have been doing some research. I ordered a book titled “Teaching Britain” by Christopher Bischof through our Interlibrary Loan service. I sat down to start reading it, and the introduction sounded eerily familiar. Then I remembered — I’d heard Bischof give a presentation on his book at the conference!

In one chapter he discusses one of the sources he used, a type of source that’s neglected. I’m a huge fan of neglected sources: that treasure trove of diaries found in the attic, the sketches from the police journal nobody’s looked at, the stockpile of manuscripts left in an obscure archive. On my next trip to London, I’ll be looking at menus for the restaurants in the South Kensington Museum. Love this stuff.

His seldom-consulted items are log books. How could I not have known that the Revised Code of 1862 forced headmasters to keep daily logs of their school, reporting anything that might be a challenge to educating the children according to the code? According to Bischof, these schoolmasters immediately began using the books to not only record events, but opine about their educational woes. The officials tried to ban such personal opinions, but to no avail. The log books are thus a rich source of information, and not just that Mrs Smith was out ill for a whole week. Masters wrote about the rules they didn’t like, and how they were hampering education.

One of the things they were unhappy about, Bischof considers in a separate chapter: “over-pressure”. The Revised Code introduced “payment-by-results”, where schools earned grants based on their pupils’ performance on the big examination. Some children felt so much pressure they had emotional problems. One young lady committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.

I know a bit about the exams: H. G. Wells passed many of them, and was glad to do it. Not only did he earn grant money for the school, but he got himself a scholarship. The purpose of the exams was not only to exert pressure on schoolmasters to do better. It was to allow those capable of good scholarship, even at the poorest schools, to earn places at advanced secondary schools and colleges. This was a ticket to a better future. Wells’s scholarship took him to the Normal School of Science, where he studied under T. H. Huxley. Such an opportunity would never have been presented to a lower-middle class boy without the examination system.

There are obvious parallels to today’s arguments about student pressure and standardized testing. But Bischof also argues that the log books show a self-identification of teachers as professionals. They felt they had a right to complain, that they were the arbiters of what made for good education. This is also a parallel. While professors at big universities may get social respect, school teachers, and those of us at community colleges, do not. We are often not treated like professionals. So I feel a certain kinship with the schoolmasters using the logs to protest. I’ve done as much myself in program reviews and other forms I’ve been forced to complete. At least the Inspectors in 1862 were required to read them.

The Bradlaugh-Besant Trial

As a historian who teaches many “fly over” survey classes, I think my story of birth control activism is probably the same story told in many American classrooms. Margaret Sanger* takes center stage, and the years of focus are around 1913 or so.

This is despite the fact that birth control has been around for as long as people have been in a position to think about whether they want more children. I am familiar with the Ancient Egyptian sponge (soaked in the juice of the tips of acacia trees for spermicide), the medieval use of pennyroyal as an abortificant, and the efforts of professional doctors to make midwifery illegal for their own ends (always, of course, with the excuse of fighting quackery).

But here I am, studying the young H. G. Wells, and I’m reading the sections of his autobiography when he’s in Midhurst at the age of 18 or so, and he writes:

The Bradlaugh Besant trial had occurred in 1876 and the light of sanity was gradually breaking into the dark places of English sexual life. There was perhaps a stronger belief current then that births were completely controllable than the actual facts warranted. Now under the stimulus of Plato’s Utopianism and my quickening desires I began to ask my imagination what it was I desired in women.

What is the Bradlaugh Besant trial? I am ashamed to say I have no idea. So I Google it, of course. Apparently, a book by Charles Knowlton had been around for decades, but around 1876 the Society for the Suppression of Vice seems to have encouraged the prosecution of its publisher, Henry Cook, for obscene pictures. Cook spent two years at hard labor, and another publisher pleaded guilty in a similar case.

So National Reformer journalists Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant republished Knowlton’s book (Fruits of Philosophy, or the Private Companion of Young Married People) on purpose, as an act of civil disobedience. The courts were willing to let them off if they stopped printing and selling it, but they refused and suffered fines and imprisonment.

Naturally the next step here is to find the book, which I did at Internet Archive. This version is 1845, but it was originally published in 1831. There’s quite a bit about sex in there, and for those who make jokes about Victorians not knowing about the clitoris, well obviously some of them did:

A number of issues are dealt with fully, with marriage as the solution for all elements of natural desire:

Notice how this also does not fit our, um, preconceptions. But I was seeking the contraceptive information, which was nearer to the end. Knowlton mentions the “baudruche”, or condom, as useful in “checking” conception. He’s also discusses the sponge:

He recommends using the sponge with “some liquid that acts chemically upon the semen”. He follows with a long section on thorough douching within five minutes of congress, also with some alum or chemical agent.

Fantastically modern, useful, and effective information, this. When I had some people read this section and guess what era the book was written, invariably they thought the 1910s. I would have thought so too. But no, it’s 80 years before that. Other sports fans have known about this stuff for years.

But it was news to me. I do explain to my students, who tend to see history as the story of inevitable and consistent progress, that knowledge, excuse the expression, comes and goes. In some ways, less is commonly known about birth control now than in the 1970s or, in this case, the 1830s (and revived in the 1870s thanks to the Bradlaugh-Besant Trial). For the difficulties of the most recent generations, I blame the pill. Unlike the brilliant cervical cap (just try to get fitted for, or even find, one of those), or even the diaphragm, the pill requires absolutely no knowledge of ones body whatsoever. Use the knowledge or lose it. My first thought was that Fruits of Philosophy might be pretty useful to some of my students. And heck, it’s less than 40 pages long.

A couple of facts needed checking. Despite the court case charges, there do not appear to be any pictures (at least in the 1845 version), and Wells meant 1877 for the trial instead of 1876. Good stuff all the same.

 

[*Margaret Sanger and H. G. Wells had a sexual relationship when he was older, and no child seems to have resulted, which is more than one can say of a couple of his other encounters.]

The mysterious M. Birt

Another post on the mysteries and fascination of doing research!

So I’m checking the transcriptions of various articles by H. G. Wells, and I’m working on a book review he did for the Saturday Review in 1895. The book was Abelard and the Origin and Early History of Universities by Gabriel Compayré. And I get to this:

I often run into this sort of name dropping in Wellsian articles. Since I’m annotating his work, I need to find out who M. Birt is. I assume M is “Monsieur”, though it could be a first initial. I do what I always do, grabbing some of the quote and Googling it in quotation marks. Nothing.

This is unusual, but it’s happened before. Not everything published is available online, of course. So I try to hunt down M. Birt with search terms: Birt + 19th + century + education, Birt + 19th + century + university.

There’s a printer named Birt in Seven Dials, there’s a Rodger Birt who wrote recently about a 19th century photographer. A theologian at Leeds…nope. This looks promising:

He seems to be some sort of astronomer, so I search for a first name. Scroll up 15 pages. William Radcliffe Birt. Google that then.  Oooh, he was a leading selenographer. I know that word now: he liked mapping the moon. But what does that have to do with medieval universities? Maybe he wrote something about them. Try Google Books — all astronomy. Internet Archive. Nothing. Nothing? Take out his middle name. An obituary. An astronomer, and died decades before. Hathi Trust. Nope. Maybe it’s not him.

Back to Google. Birt + university. Lots of acronyms. Birt + medieval + university. Google changes Birth to “birth”, but if I wish I could see what ratings Paul Birt at University of Ottowa is earning on RateMyProfessors.

Back to plan A, the quotation. I try “This is the way with learned bodies.” Nothing. F*** Google. Switch to Dogpile.

Try M. Birt medieval university. Hmmm…

Germany? Entirely possible.

Change search to t + birt + medieval + university. He’s there in Google Books. A modern classicist. No, that’s not it. Back to archive.org. Search theodor birt german. All the books are in German. I don’t read German. Back to Google: Theodor Birk. Wikipedia!

Great! Except none of his publications are in English. The most popular one with a close date is Das antike Buchwesen in seinem Verhältnis zur Literatur (1882). Something about ancient books. Maybe he did medieval stuff too?

Idea! Maybe the quotation is translated from the German. Use Google Translate. Put in part of the quotation. Get German translation. Get Google to translate German result. Not making sense. Try “medieval university” translated, with his name. Nothing.

Besides, Wells didn’t speak German, or if he did he couldn’t have done it well. And he wouldn’t bother translating for an article he’d dashed off for money. It just didn’t make sense. And why would Theodor Birt be messing around in the Middle Ages anyway if he was a classicist? It was all too obscure. By now it’s midnight and I’ve had it up to hear with M. Birt.

Plan A again. I try Googling, “Peripatetics when all the world”. The article by Wells that I’m transcribing comes up, which is nice. But right below it is this:

That’s strange. It’s the book Wells is reviewing. Isn’t the quotation from M. Birt? I take a look. The quote is actually from Campayré’s book. But something is a little different:

That’s not M. Birt. It’s M. Biot. The printer (not Birt the printer) got it wrong. It’s a typo. A 124-year-old typo that has had me searching all over for a mysterious Mr Birt in the middle of the night.

Biot. M. Biot. Campayré calls him a historian of science. Google: Biot + history + science. First link is a dead end, some kind of anagram. Second link goes to some Memoir in Google Books. Score! It’s the Report of the Council to the Forty-third Annual Meeting of (scroll up) the Royal Astronomical Society, 1864. Not astronomy again? But there it is, in all its glory, a little biography:

Ah, Jean-Baptiste. Google the full name. Wikipedia. Oh, no, all the books are in French. Translate: université médiévale…

But, the important thing is, I know it’s a typo, and I know that it’s Compayné quoting and not Wells. That will have to do for what is, quite literally, a footnote to history.

 

War of the Worlds

Right now, the entire population of the UK is glued to the television, watching BBC’s three-part War of the Worlds.

I want to watch it too, but there’s a problem, and it’s not iPlayer (which you can’t view legally in the U.S.). It’s that I haven’t read the book.

What? you say. How can you not have read War of the Worlds? It’s true. I am not actually a big science fiction fan. That’s not how I got into researching H. G. Wells, and my work mostly stops when he publishes The Time Machine in 1895. I have read that book, and The Invisible Man, and Ann Veronica, and some short stories (the latter mostly because I enjoyed both watching and criticizing the accuracy of The Infinite Worlds of H. G. Wells). I have meant for some time to purchase an old copy of War of the Worlds, but as soon as I enter a bookstore I forget my list.

So the closest I’ve gotten to the story is a 1975 TV movie about the making of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio program (wherein I learned that the sound of the Martian ship opening was created by a jar screwtop echoing in a toilet bowl). I confess that I haven’t even heard the radio program itself, although I make it available to my students.

I can tell you that the story of the radio program causing people to believe that the Martians were landing in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, is a hoax about a hoax. I believed the TV movie, and only found out later that it didn’t really happen. People (normal people, anyway) did not think the Martians were invading, even if they were primed to hear about what Hitler was going to do next in Europe. And people from New Jersey just aren’t that gullible. Orson Welles ended up owning the story, though, and he and H. G. Wells met up later, in 1940, to chat on radio. (People loved that, but I think it’s one of the most awkward conversations ever, those two enormous egos in the same room.)

So, I thought I’d better read the book before watching the BBC special. Yes, of course it’s online. That’s not how I want to read it, but I started it just to confirm that the language used at the beginning of the special (ok, I peeked for a minute) was Wells. I got as far as this passage about Mars:

During the opposition of 1894 a great light was seen on the illuminated part of the disk, first at the Lick Observatory, then by Perrotin of Nice, and then by other observers. English readers heard of it first in the issue of Nature dated August 2. I am inclined to think that this blaze may have been the casting of the huge gun. . .

Researcher googles on! Bring up MiraCosta College library databases. Find Nature. Hone to 1894. Order by date. And there it was: “A Strange Light on Mars”, Nature 50, no 1292, 2 August 1894. It’s not long.

As it happens, Wells was writing for Nature at this time; in fact, the following issue in September featured his article on “Popularising Science”. Could Wells have read this, and gotten inspired to write War of the Worlds three years later? Certainly.

Could he have written this column? Yes, it’s possible — he did write unattributed bits for money, like the Science Notes in the Journal of Education. I can’t prove it, of course, but it’s interesting, that bit at the end about the Martians seeing us. . .

Now off to the bookstore!