H G Wells's Text-Book of Biology


H G Wells’ first publication was the Text-book of Biology, published by the University Correspondence College Press. This was an institution founded in 1887, which provided support and material for distance-learning students on London University courses. 

How much did Wells know about bacteria?

In the section on bacteria Wells writes ‘Most epidemic diseases … are due to the multiplication of the spores of specific bacteria, and the destructive accompaniments of their development in animals and man. The phenomena of putrefaction, again, are due to the vital activity of bacteria.’ 

The end of the Martians 

The Martians are killed by taking in bacteria as soon as they begin to derive sustenance from Earth, specifically by draining blood from humans. After the arguments surrounding grafting and blood-transfusion in The Island of Dr. Moreau Wells was on safer ground in this fantasy scenario. 

How does Wells relate the death of the Martians to the Darwin/religion debate? 

It is only after the destruction of the Martians that the narrator discovers that they are fallible to bacteria, and Wells uses an ironic dig at Christianity to show his faith in Darwinism: what kills the invaders are ‘the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth … But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting-power’. After showing the fallibility of religion in the hopelessness of the curate’s attitude, after the collapse of the Martians Wells makes a reference to God, but sets it within a scientific mind’s self-correction – ‘For a moment I believed the destruction of Sennacherib had been repeated, that God had repented, …’

Full title:
Text-Book of Biology
estimated 1893, London
Book / Illustration / Image
H G Wells
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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Related articles

An introduction to The Island of Dr. Moreau: science, sensation and degeneration

Article by:
Roger Luckhurst
Fin de siècle, Visions of the future

Roger Luckhurst looks at H G Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau as a text that both provoked and explored feelings of disgust, reflecting late-Victorian questions and fears about vivisection, cannibalism and evolutionary degeneration.

An introduction to The War of the Worlds

Article by:
Iain Sinclair
London, Fin de siècle, Power and politics, Visions of the future

Writer Iain Sinclair discusses how H G Wells’s The War of the Worlds disturbed the public by combining journalistic sensationalism, scientific fantasy, suburban mundanity and fears of invasion.

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