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The Time Machine
by H(erbert) G(eorge) Wells

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`In another moment we were standing face to face, I and this

fragile thing out of futurity. He came straight up to me and

laughed into my eyes. The absence from his bearing of any sign

of fear struck me at once. Then he turned to the two others who

were following him and spoke to them in a strange and very sweet

and liquid tongue.

`There were others coming, and presently a little group of

perhaps eight or ten of these exquisite creatures were about me.

One of them addressed me. It came into my head, oddly enough,

that my voice was too harsh and deep for them. So I shook my

head, and, pointing to my ears, shook it again. He came a step

forward, hesitated, and then touched my hand. Then I felt other

soft little tentacles upon my back and shoulders. They wanted to

make sure I was real. There was nothing in this at all alarming.

Indeed, there was something in these pretty little people that

inspired confidence--a graceful gentleness, a certain childlike

ease. And besides, they looked so frail that I could fancy

myself flinging the whole dozen of them about like nine-pins.

But I made a sudden motion to warn them when I saw their little

pink hands feeling at the Time Machine. Happily then, when it

was not too late, I thought of a danger I had hitherto forgotten,

and reaching over the bars of the machine I unscrewed the little

levers that would set it in motion, and put these in my pocket.

Then I turned again to see what I could do in the way of


`And then, looking more nearly into their features, I saw some

further peculiarities in their Dresden-china type of prettiness.

Their hair, which was uniformly curly, came to a sharp end at the

neck and cheek; there was not the faintest suggestion of it on

the face, and their ears were singularly minute. The mouths were

small, with bright red, rather thin lips, and the little chins

ran to a point. The eyes were large and mild; and--this may

seem egotism on my part--I fancied even that there was a

certain lack of the interest I might have expected in them.

`As they made no effort to communicate with me, but simply

stood round me smiling and speaking in soft cooing notes to each

other, I began the conversation. I pointed to the Time Machine

and to myself. Then hesitating for a moment how to express time,

I pointed to the sun. At once a quaintly pretty little figure in

chequered purple and white followed my gesture, and then

astonished me by imitating the sound of thunder.

`For a moment I was staggered, though the import of his

gesture was plain enough. The question had come into my mind

abruptly: were these creatures fools? You may hardly understand

how it took me. You see I had always anticipated that the people

of the year Eight Hundred and Two Thousand odd would be

incredibly in front of us in knowledge, art, everything. Then

one of them suddenly asked me a question that showed him to be on

the intellectual level of one of our five-year-old children--

asked me, in fact, if I had come from the sun in a thunderstorm!

It let loose the judgment I had suspended upon their clothes,

their frail light limbs, and fragile features. A flow of

disappointment rushed across my mind. For a moment I felt that I

had built the Time Machine in vain.

`I nodded, pointed to the sun, and gave them such a vivid

rendering of a thunderclap as startled them. They all withdrew a

pace or so and bowed. Then came one laughing towards me,

carrying a chain of beautiful flowers altogether new to me, and

put it about my neck. The idea was received with melodious

applause; and presently they were all running to and fro for

flowers, and laughingly flinging them upon me until I was almost

smothered with blossom. You who have never seen the like can

scarcely imagine what delicate and wonderful flowers countless

years of culture had created. Then someone suggested that their

plaything should be exhibited in the nearest building, and so I

was led past the sphinx of white marble, which had seemed to

watch me all the while with a smile at my astonishment, towards a

vast grey edifice of fretted stone. As I went with them the

memory of my confident anticipations of a profoundly grave and

intellectual posterity came, with irresistible merriment, to my


`The building had a huge entry, and was altogether of colossal

dimensions. I was naturally most occupied with the growing crowd

of little people, and with the big open portals that yawned

before me shadowy and mysterious. My general impression of the

world I saw over their heads was a tangled waste of beautiful

bushes and flowers, a long neglected and yet weedless garden. I

saw a number of tall spikes of strange white flowers, measuring a

foot perhaps across the spread of the waxen petals. They grew

scattered, as if wild, among the variegated shrubs, but, as I

say, I did not examine them closely at this time. The Time

Machine was left deserted on the turf among the rhododendrons.

`The arch of the doorway was richly carved, but naturally I

did not observe the carving very narrowly, though I fancied I saw

suggestions of old Phoenician decorations as I passed through,

and it struck me that they were very badly broken and weather-

worn. Several more brightly clad people met me in the doorway,

and so we entered, I, dressed in dingy nineteenth-century

garments, looking grotesque enough, garlanded with flowers, and

surrounded by an eddying mass of bright, soft-colored robes and

shining white limbs, in a melodious whirl of laughter and

laughing speech.

`The big doorway opened into a proportionately great hall hung

with brown. The roof was in shadow, and the windows, partially

glazed with coloured glass and partially unglazed, admitted a

tempered light. The floor was made up of huge blocks of some

very hard white metal, not plates nor slabs--blocks, and it was

so much worn, as I judged by the going to and fro of past

generations, as to be deeply channelled along the more frequented

ways. Transverse to the length were innumerable tables made of

slabs of polished stone, raised perhaps a foot from the floor,

and upon these were heaps of fruits. Some I recognized as a kind

of hypertrophied raspberry and orange, but for the most part they

were strange.

`Between the tables was scattered a great number of cushions.

Upon these my conductors seated themselves, signing for me to do

likewise. With a pretty absence of ceremony they began to eat

the fruit with their hands, flinging peel and stalks, and so

forth, into the round openings in the sides of the tables. I was

not loath to follow their example, for I felt thirsty and hungry.

As I did so I surveyed the hall at my leisure.

`And perhaps the thing that struck me most was its dilapidated

look. The stained-glass windows, which displayed only a

geometrical pattern, were broken in many places, and the curtains

that hung across the lower end were thick with dust. And it

caught my eye that the corner of the marble table near me was

fractured. Nevertheless, the general effect was extremely rich

and picturesque. There were, perhaps, a couple of hundred people

dining in the hall, and most of them, seated as near to me as

they could come, were watching me with interest, their little

eyes shining over the fruit they were eating. All were clad in

the same soft and yet strong, silky material.

`Fruit, by the by, was all their diet. These people of the

remote future were strict vegetarians, and while I was with them,

in spite of some carnal cravings, I had to be frugivorous also.

Indeed, I found afterwards that horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, had

followed the Ichthyosaurus into extinction. But the fruits were

very delightful; one, in particular, that seemed to be in season

all the time I was there--a floury thing in a three-sided husk

--was especially good, and I made it my staple. At first I was

puzzled by all these strange fruits, and by the strange flowers I

saw, but later I began to perceive their import.

`However, I am telling you of my fruit dinner in the distant

future now. So soon as my appetite was a little checked, I

determined to make a resolute attempt to learn the speech of

these new men of mine. Clearly that was the next thing to do.

The fruits seemed a convenient thing to begin upon, and holding

one of these up I began a series of interrogative sounds and

gestures. I had some considerable difficulty in conveying my

meaning. At first my efforts met with a stare of surprise or

inextinguishable laughter, but presently a fair-haired little

creature seemed to grasp my intention and repeated a name. They

had to chatter and explain the business at great length to each

other, and my first attempts to make the exquisite little sounds

of their language caused an immense amount of amusement.

However, I felt like a schoolmaster amidst children, and

persisted, and presently I had a score of noun substantives at

least at my command; and then I got to demonstrative pronouns,

and even the verb "to eat." But it was slow work, and the little

people soon tired and wanted to get away from my interrogations,

so I determined, rather of necessity, to let them give their

lessons in little doses when they felt inclined. And very little

doses I found they were before long, for I never met people more

indolent or more easily fatigued.

`A queer thing I soon discovered about my little hosts, and

that was their lack of interest. They would come to me with

eager cries of astonishment, like children, but like children

they would soon stop examining me and wander away after some

other toy. The dinner and my conversational beginnings ended, I

noted for the first time that almost all those who had surrounded

me at first were gone. It is odd, too, how speedily I came to

disregard these little people. I went out through the portal

into the sunlit world again as soon as my hunger was satisfied.

I was continually meeting more of these men of the future, who

would follow me a little distance, chatter and laugh about me,

and, having smiled and gesticulated in a friendly way, leave me

again to my own devices.

`The calm of evening was upon the world as I emerged from the

great hall, and the scene was lit by the warm glow of the setting

sun. At first things were very confusing. Everything was so

entirely different from the world I had known--even the

flowers. The big building I had left was situated on the slope

of a broad river valley, but the Thames had shifted perhaps a

mile from its present position. I resolved to mount to the

summit of a crest perhaps a mile and a half away, from which I

could get a wider view of this our planet in the year Eight

Hundred and Two Thousand Seven Hundred and One A.D. For that, I

should explain, was the date the little dials of my machine


`As I walked I was watching for every impression that could

possibly help to explain the condition of ruinous splendour in

which I found the world--for ruinous it was. A little way up

the hill, for instance, was a great heap of granite, bound

together by masses of aluminium, a vast labyrinth of precipitous

walls and crumpled heaps, amidst which were thick heaps of very

beautiful pagoda-like plants--nettles possibly--but wonderfully

tinted with brown about the leaves, and incapable of stinging.

It was evidently the derelict remains of some vast structure, to

what end built I could not determine. It was here that I was

destined, at a later date, to have a very strange experience--the

first intimation of a still stranger discovery--but of that I

will speak in its proper place.

`Looking round with a sudden thought, from a terrace on which

I rested for a while, I realized that there were no small houses

to be seen. Apparently the single house, and possibly even the

household, had vanished. Here and there among the greenery were

palace-like buildings, but the house and the cottage, which form

such characteristic features of our own English landscape, had


`"Communism," said I to myself.

`And on the heels of that came another thought. I looked at

the half-dozen little figures that were following me. Then, in a

flash, I perceived that all had the same form of costume, the

same soft hairless visage, and the same girlish rotundity of

limb. It may seem strange, perhaps, that I had not noticed this

before. But everything was so strange. Now, I saw the fact

plainly enough. In costume, and in all the differences of

texture and bearing that now mark off the sexes from each other,

these people of the future were alike. And the children seemed

to my eyes to be but the miniatures of their parents. I judged,

then, that the children of that time were extremely precocious,

physically at least, and I found afterwards abundant verification

of my opinion.

`Seeing the ease and security in which these people were

living, I felt that this close resemblance of the sexes was after

all what one would expect; for the strength of a man and the

softness of a woman, the institution of the family, and the

differentiation of occupations are mere militant necessities of

an age of physical force; where population is balanced and

abundant, much childbearing becomes an evil rather than a

blessing to the State; where violence comes but rarely and

off-spring are secure, there is less necessity--indeed there is

no necessity--for an efficient family, and the specialization

of the sexes with reference to their children's needs disappears.

We see some beginnings of this even in our own time, and in this

future age it was complete. This, I must remind you, was my

speculation at the time. Later, I was to appreciate how far it

fell short of the reality.

`While I was musing upon these things, my attention was

attracted by a pretty little structure, like a well under a

cupola. I thought in a transitory way of the oddness of wells

still existing, and then resumed the thread of my speculations.

There were no large buildings towards the top of the hill, and as

my walking powers were evidently miraculous, I was presently left

alone for the first time. With a strange sense of freedom and

adventure I pushed on up to the crest.

`There I found a seat of some yellow metal that I did not

recognize, corroded in places with a kind of pinkish rust and

half smothered in soft moss, the arm-rests cast and filed into

the resemblance of griffins' heads. I sat down on it, and I

surveyed the broad view of our old world under the sunset of that

long day. It was as sweet and fair a view as I have ever seen.

The sun had already gone below the horizon and the west was

flaming gold, touched with some horizontal bars of purple and

crimson. Below was the valley of the Thames, in which the river

lay like a band of burnished steel. I have already spoken of the

great palaces dotted about among the variegated greenery, some in

ruins and some still occupied. Here and there rose a white or

silvery figure in the waste garden of the earth, here and there

came the sharp vertical line of some cupola or obelisk. There

were no hedges, no signs of proprietary rights, no evidences of

agriculture; the whole earth had become a garden.

`So watching, I began to put my interpretation upon the things

I had seen, and as it shaped itself to me that evening, my

interpretation was something in this way. (Afterwards I found I

had got only a half-truth--or only a glimpse of one facet of

the truth.)

`It seemed to me that I had happened upon humanity upon the

wane. The ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind.

For the first time I began to realize an odd consequence of the

social effort in which we are at present engaged. And yet, come

to think, it is a logical consequence enough. Strength is the

outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness. The work

of ameliorating the conditions of life--the true civilizing

process that makes life more and more secure--had gone steadily

on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had

followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become

projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the

harvest was what I saw!

`After all, the sanitation and the agriculture of to-day are

still in the rudimentary stage. The science of our time has

attacked but a little department of the field of human disease,

but even so, it spreads its operations very steadily and

persistently. Our agriculture and horticulture destroy a weed

just here and there and cultivate perhaps a score or so of

wholesome plants, leaving the greater number to fight out a

balance as they can. We improve our favourite plants and animals

--and how few they are--gradually by selective breeding; now a

new and better peach, now a seedless grape, now a sweeter and

larger flower, now a more convenient breed of cattle. We improve

them gradually, because our ideals are vague and tentative, and

our knowledge is very limited; because Nature, too, is shy and

slow in our clumsy hands. Some day all this will be better

organized, and still better. That is the drift of the current in

spite of the eddies. The whole world will be intelligent,

educated, and co-operating; things will move faster and faster

towards the subjugation of Nature. In the end, wisely and

carefully we shall readjust the balance of animal and vegetable

me to suit our human needs.

`This adjustment, I say, must have been done, and done well;

done indeed for all Time, in the space of Time across which my

machine had leaped. The air was free from gnats, the earth from

weeds or fungi; everywhere were fruits and sweet and delightful

flowers; brilliant butterflies flew hither and thither. The

ideal of preventive medicine was attained. Diseases had been

stamped out. I saw no evidence of any contagious diseases during

all my stay. And I shall have to tell you later that even the

processes of putrefaction and decay had been profoundly affected

by these changes.

`Social triumphs, too, had been effected. I saw mankind

housed in splendid shelters, gloriously clothed, and as yet I had

found them engaged in no toil. There were no signs of struggle,

neither social nor economical struggle. The shop, the

advertisement, traffic, all that commerce which constitutes the

body of our world, was gone. It was natural on that golden

evening that I should jump at the idea of a social paradise. The

difficulty of increasing population had been met, I guessed, and

population had ceased to increase.

`But with this change in condition comes inevitably

adaptations to the change. What, unless biological science is a

mass of errors, is the cause of human intelligence and vigour?

Hardship and freedom: conditions under which the active, strong,

and subtle survive and the weaker go to the wall; conditions that

put a premium upon the loyal alliance of capable men, upon

self-restraint, patience, and decision. And the institution of

the family, and the emotions that arise therein, the fierce

jealousy, the tenderness for offspring, parental self-devotion,

all found their justification and support in the imminent dangers

of the young. NOW, where are these imminent dangers? There is

a sentiment arising, and it will grow, against connubial

jealousy, against fierce maternity, against passion of all sorts;

unnecessary things now, and things that make us uncomfortable,

savage survivals, discords in a refined and pleasant life.

`I thought of the physical slightness of the people, their

lack of intelligence, and those big abundant ruins, and it

strengthened my belief in a perfect conquest of Nature. For

after the battle comes Quiet. Humanity had been strong,

energetic, and intelligent, and had used all its abundant

vitality to alter the conditions under which it lived. And now

came the reaction of the altered conditions.

`Under the new conditions of perfect comfort and security,

that restless energy, that with us is strength, would become

weakness. Even in our own time certain tendencies and desires,

once necessary to survival, are a constant source of failure.

Physical courage and the love of battle, for instance, are no

great help--may even be hindrances--to a civilized man. And

in a state of physical balance and security, power, intellectual

as well as physical, would be out of place. For countless years

I judged there had been no danger of war or solitary violence, no

danger from wild beasts, no wasting disease to require strength

of constitution, no need of toil. For such a life, what we

should call the weak are as well equipped as the strong, are

indeed no longer weak. Better equipped indeed they are, for the

strong would be fretted by an energy for which there was no

outlet. No doubt the exquisite beauty of the buildings I saw was

the outcome of the last surgings of the now purposeless energy of

mankind before it settled down into perfect harmony with the

conditions under which it lived--the flourish of that triumph

which began the last great peace. This has ever been the fate of

energy in security; it takes to art and to eroticism, and then

come languor and decay.

`Even this artistic impetus would at last die away--had

almost died in the Time I saw. To adorn themselves with flowers,

to dance, to sing in the sunlight: so much was left of the

artistic spirit, and no more. Even that would fade in the end

into a contented inactivity. We are kept keen on the grindstone

of pain and necessity, and, it seemed to me, that here was that

hateful grindstone broken at last!

`As I stood there in the gathering dark I thought that in this

simple explanation I had mastered the problem of the world--

mastered the whole secret of these delicious people. Possibly

the checks they had devised for the increase of population had

succeeded too well, and their numbers had rather diminished than

kept stationary. That would account for the abandoned ruins.

Very simple was my explanation, and plausible enough--

as most wrong theories are!



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