H.G. Wells

One of the oddities of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation is that almost the only modern writer he mentions is – not Burkhardt, not Norbert Elias (both of whom may have influenced his views) – but H.G.Wells, who is referred to for a distinction between ‘communities of obedience and communities of will’: ‘he thought that the first produced the stable societies like Egypt and Mesopotamia, the original homes of civilisation, and the second produced the restless nomads of the north’ (p.127). The second reference is to the fact that the ‘aggressive, nomadic societies – what he called communities of will – Israel, Islam, the Protestant North, conceived their gods as male’ (p.143). The third time he reveals that he knew him: ‘I remember H.G. Wells, who was a kind of twentieth-century Voltaire, saying that he daren’t drive a car in France, because the temptation to drive over a priest would be too strong for him’ (p.209). He met Wells at Sybille Colefax’s in the early 1930s, but the reference is presumably to The Outline of History, which was published in 1920, when Clark would have been seventeen, intellectually impressionable and sitting his scholarship exams for Oxford, when Wells’ intellectual theorising presumbly left its imprint.

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4 thoughts on “H.G. Wells

  1. Have your read James Stourton’s recent biography on Kenneth Clark? he does not say much about the relationship with HG except that Clarke was a great admirer of his books when young, Stourton says that In Civilisation one can trace the writers Clark read at Winchester and Oxford – he quotes Michelet, Tawney and Ranke as well. I am enjoying this series on Civilisation but it doesn’t replace Kenneth Clark – he’s up there with E H Gombrich but then of course I was much younger when I first came across them and their influence deeper.

  2. edward chaney says:

    Re modern writers Clark mentions Roger Fry in passing but his enthusiasm for him retrospectively waned somewhat (encouraged by the clever young Graham Bell who helped him edit Fry’s posthumously-published Slade Lectures)… Is there any evidence that Clark was influenced by Elias? He was certainly influenced by Aby Warburg whom he saw lecture in Rome and described as ‘without doubt the most original thinker on art-history of out time’. What is lacking in Elias, for all his talk of manners and civilization, is an appreciation of the fundamental significance of ancient Egypt, an appreciation that Clark deepened thanks to the making of Civilization and as a result articulated in more detail in his superb ‘In the Beginning’ (1975) about which ‘last performance’ he was, as ever, absurdly modest…

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