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The War of the Worlds
by H(erbert) G(eorge) Wells

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The Coming of the Martians



No one would have believed in the last years of the

nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly

and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as

mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their

various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps

almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scru-

tinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a

drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and

fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their

assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the

infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave

a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human

danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life

upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall

some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most

terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars,

perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a mis-

sionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that

are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish,

intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this

earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their

plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came

the great disillusionment.

The planet Mars, I scarcely need remind the reader, re-

volves about the sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles,

and the light and heat it receives from the sun is barely half

of that received by this world. It must be, if the nebular

hypothesis has any truth, older than our world; and long

before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon its surface

must have begun its course. The fact that it is scarcely

one seventh of the volume of the earth must have accelerated

its cooling to the temperature at which life could begin. It

has air and water and all that is necessary for the support of

animated existence.

Yet so vain is man, and so blinded by his vanity, that no

writer, up to the very end of the nineteenth century, ex-

pressed any idea that intelligent life might have developed

there far, or indeed at all, beyond its earthly level. Nor was

it generally understood that since Mars is older than our earth,

with scarcely a quarter of the superficial area and remoter

from the sun, it necessarily follows that it is not only more

distant from time's beginning but nearer its end.

The secular cooling that must someday overtake our planet

has already gone far indeed with our neighbour. Its physical

condition is still largely a mystery, but we know now that

even in its equatorial region the midday temperature barely

approaches that of our coldest winter. Its air is much more

attenuated than ours, its oceans have shrunk until they cover

but a third of its surface, and as its slow seasons change huge

snowcaps gather and melt about either pole and periodically

inundate its temperate zones. That last stage of exhaustion,

which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a present-

day problem for the inhabitants of Mars. The immediate

pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged

their powers, and hardened their hearts. And looking across

space with instruments, and intelligences such as we have

scarcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance only

35,000,000 of miles sunward of them, a morning star of hope,

our own warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with

water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with

glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches

of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas.

And we men, the creatures who inhabit this earth, must

be to them at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys

and lemurs to us. The intellectual side of man already admits

that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and it would

seem that this too is the belief of the minds upon Mars.

Their world is far gone in its cooling and this world is still

crowded with life, but crowded only with what they regard

as inferior animals. To carry warfare sunward is, indeed, their

only escape from the destruction that, generation after gener-

ation, creeps upon them.

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remem-

ber what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has

wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison

and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians,

in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of

existence in a war of extermination waged by European immi-

grants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of

mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same


The Martians seem to have calculated their descent with

amazing subtlety--their mathematical learning is evidently

far in excess of ours--and to have carried out their prepara-

tions with a well-nigh perfect unanimity. Had our instru-

ments permitted it, we might have seen the gathering trouble

far back in the nineteenth century. Men like Schiaparelli

watched the red planet--it is odd, by-the-bye, that for count-

less centuries Mars has been the star of war--but failed to

interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they

mapped so well. All that time the Martians must have been

getting ready.

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, in the vast pit sunk into their planet,

from which their shots were fired at us. Peculiar markings, as

yet unexplained, were seen near the site of that outbreak

during the next two oppositions.

The storm burst upon us six years ago now. As Mars

approached opposition, Lavelle of Java set the wires of the

astronomical exchange palpitating with the amazing intelli-

gence of a huge outbreak of incandescent gas upon the planet.

It had occurred towards midnight of the twelfth; and the

spectroscope, to which he had at once resorted, indicated a

mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with an

enormous velocity towards this earth. This jet of fire had

become invisible about a quarter past twelve. He compared

it to a colossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted

out of the planet, "as flaming gases rushed out of a gun."

A singularly appropriate phrase it proved. Yet the next day

there was nothing of this in the papers except a little note in

the DAILY TELEGRAPH, and the world went in ignorance of one

of the gravest dangers that ever threatened the human race.

I might not have heard of the eruption at all had I not met

Ogilvy, the well-known astronomer, at Ottershaw. He was

immensely excited at the news, and in the excess of his feel-

ings invited me up to take a turn with him that night in a

scrutiny of the red planet.

In spite of all that has happened since, I still remember

that vigil very distinctly: the black and silent observatory,

the shadowed lantern throwing a feeble glow upon the floor

in the corner, the steady ticking of the clockwork of the tele-

scope, the little slit in the roof--an oblong profundity with

the stardust streaked across it. Ogilvy moved about, invisible

but audible. Looking through the telescope, one saw a circle

of deep blue and the little round planet swimming in the

field. It seemed such a little thing, so bright and small and

still, faintly marked with transverse stripes, and slightly

flattened from the perfect round. But so little it was, so

silvery warm--a pin's-head of light! It was as if it quivered,

but really this was the telescope vibrating with the activity

of the clockwork that kept the planet in view.

As I watched, the planet seemed to grow larger and smaller

and to advance and recede, but that was simply that my eye

was tired. Forty millions of miles it was from us--more than

forty millions of miles of void. Few people realise the im-

mensity of vacancy in which the dust of the material universe


Near it in the field, I remember, were three faint points of

light, three telescopic stars infinitely remote, and all around

it was the unfathomable darkness of empty space. You know

how that blackness looks on a frosty starlight night. In a tele-

scope it seems far profounder. And invisible to me because

it was so remote and small, flying swiftly and steadily towards

me across that incredible distance, drawing nearer every min-

ute by so many thousands of miles, came the Thing they were

sending us, the Thing that was to bring so much struggle and

calamity and death to the earth. I never dreamed of it then

as I watched; no one on earth dreamed of that unerring


That night, too, there was another jetting out of gas from

the distant planet. I saw it. A reddish flash at the edge, the

slightest projection of the outline just as the chronometer

struck midnight; and at that I told Ogilvy and he took my

place. The night was warm and I was thirsty, and I went

stretching my legs clumsily and feeling my way in the dark-

ness, to the little table where the siphon stood, while Ogilvy

exclaimed at the streamer of gas that came out towards us.

That night another invisible missile started on its way to

the earth from Mars, just a second or so under twenty-four

hours after the first one. I remember how I sat on the table

there in the blackness, with patches of green and crimson

swimming before my eyes. I wished I had a light to smoke

by, little suspecting the meaning of the minute gleam I had

seen and all that it would presently bring me. Ogilvy watched

till one, and then gave it up; and we lit the lantern and

walked over to his house. Down below in the darkness were

Ottershaw and Chertsey and all their hundreds of people,

sleeping in peace.

He was full of speculation that night about the condition

of Mars, and scoffed at the vulgar idea of its having in-

habitants who were signalling us. His idea was that meteorites

might be falling in a heavy shower upon the planet, or that

a huge volcanic explosion was in progress. He pointed out

to me how unlikely it was that organic evolution had taken

the same direction in the two adjacent planets.

"The chances against anything manlike on Mars are a

million to one," he said.

Hundreds of observers saw the flame that night and the

night after about midnight, and again the night after; and

so for ten nights, a flame each night. Why the shots ceased

after the tenth no one on earth has attempted to explain.

It may be the gases of the firing caused the Martians in-

convenience. Dense clouds of smoke or dust, visible through

a powerful telescope on earth as little grey, fluctuating

patches, spread through the clearness of the planet's atmos-

phere and obscured its more familiar features.

Even the daily papers woke up to the disturbances at

last, and popular notes appeared here, there, and everywhere

concerning the volcanoes upon Mars. The seriocomic periodi-

cal PUNCH, I remember, made a happy use of it in the

political cartoon. And, all unsuspected, those missiles the

Martians had fired at us drew earthward, rushing now at a

pace of many miles a second through the empty gulf of

space, hour by hour and day by day, nearer and nearer. It

seems to me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with

that swift fate hanging over us, men could go about their

petty concerns as they did. I remember how jubilant Markham

was at securing a new photograph of the planet for the

illustrated paper he edited in those days. People in these

latter times scarcely realise the abundance and enterprise

of our nineteenth-century papers. For my own part, I was

much occupied in learning to ride the bicycle, and busy

upon a series of papers discussing the probable developments

of moral ideas as civilisation progressed.

One night (the first missile then could scarcely have been

10,000,000 miles away) I went for a walk with my wife. It

was starlight and I explained the Signs of the Zodiac to

her, and pointed out Mars, a bright dot of light creeping

zenithward, towards which so many telescopes were pointed.

It was a warm night. Coming home, a party of excursionists

from Chertsey or Isleworth passed us singing and playing

music. There were lights in the upper windows of the houses

as the people went to bed. From the railway station in the

distance came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and

rumbling, softened almost into melody by the distance. My

wife pointed out to me the brightness of the red, green, and

yellow signal lights hanging in a framework against the sky.

It seemed so safe and tranquil.



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