This letter from H G Wells to the editor of the Saturday Review is a response to a review ofThe Island of Dr. Moreau which was published in the same magazine in April 1896.
What did P Chalmers Mitchell say about the book that brought such a strong response from H G Wells?
P Chalmers Mitchell starts by praising H G Wells’s earlier work, but then complains that in this novel he ‘has put out his talent to the most flagitious usury’; in other works, he disapproves of it. He complains strongly about the amount of blood, the description of pain (‘unworthy of restrained art’), and the relentless horror of the story. It was acceptable at that time for reviewers to tell the story, and Moreau’s death is mentioned, and the boat with the corpses which drifts onto the island.
But mostly what annoys Mitchell is the science. Although he agrees that ‘there is scientific basis enough to form the plot of a story’, he refutes Wells’s claim, made in an afternote, that ‘the manufacture of monsters – and perhaps even quasi-human monsters – is within the possibilities of vivisection’. Mitchell states that ‘you can transfuse blood or graft skin from one man to another; but attempts to combine living material from different animals fail’.
How did Wells respond?
Wells points out the damage done to his reputation by the accusation of bad science – ‘the stigma of ignorance’ – but is able to call on the British Medical Journal report of a successful tissue graft between rabbit and man, published in October 1896. Mitchell responded by pointing out that this was not a graft of nervous tissue, any more than the use of catgut in surgery. And he pointed out the ‘huge advertisement my criticism seems to have given his book’.