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May 26, 2024 24 mins

Margaret reads a classic anti-anarchist story by HG Wells written before Wells learned what was up.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Cool Zone Media.

Speaker 2 (00:10):
Book Club book Club book Club. Hello, and welcome to
cool Z Owned Media book Club, the only book club
where I do the reading for you. Maybe there's other
book clubs where other people do the reading for you,
but this is the only one where I'm going to
do it. The I in the aforementioned I is me
Marta Kiljoy. I am a fiction writer, and I also

(00:33):
read you fiction stories every Sunday. So we talk sometimes
on this show about how certain stories are of interest,
in particular because of how they shine a light on
the past by showing how at least one author perceived
the world around them and various social issues all while
telling a good tale. Plot is the engine that drives
the story forward and keeps the reader engaged. Another thing
we talk about even more often on both It Could

(00:55):
Happen Here and Cool People Did Cool Stuff is the
history of the labor movement, and in particular the history
of the anarchist labor movement. We do that because we're
drawn to do so, but also because well, anarchism is
one of the most maligned political ideologies in history, which
is impressive because pretty much all the other major political
ideologies around in the twentieth century managed some rather impressive

(01:17):
feats of mass death, oppression, and general fuckery. Usually though
those ideologies killed mostly but not exclusively, poor people on
colonized subjects. The anarchists they killed a few kings and
politicians and cops, and suddenly everyone was freaked out. I
am fascinated by the Anarchists Scare. The first Red scare
in the US around the end of World War One

(01:38):
targeted anarchists, primarily because anarchism, before the Bolshevik victory in
the Russian Civil War was pretty much the biggest name
in town for the revolutionary left in a lot of countries,
not everywhere, but a lot of places. I make it
a hobby of reading anti anarchist fiction because there's an
awful lot of it from around the turn of the century,
and I think it's fun, honestly. Sometimes it was written

(02:00):
by some of the best writers of the era. G. K. Chesterton,
Joseph Conrad, and H. G. Wells have all made boogeymen
of anarchists. We were pulp novel villains, wild eyed, crazy zealots,
and terrorists who sometimes had class politics and sometimes didn't.
Probably the best modern comparison is how the Western media
often presents Muslims today, or especially did during the height

(02:21):
of the global War on Terror. Today's story is one
of these stories about anarchist boogeyman. It's by an author
I generally think rather highly of. HG. Wells. He's got
a ton of famous books. You might have heard of
The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War
of the Worlds. He's known as the father of science fiction.

(02:41):
He was a scientist trained in biology. He was also
quite openly a socialist. He was part of the Fabian Society,
which one day I'll cover in more detail. Actually a
lot of the old science fiction writers were part of
the Fabian Society. It's kind of interesting to me.

Speaker 1 (02:55):
H G.

Speaker 2 (02:55):
Wells's book The Time Machine is a simple parable about
how have class divisions continue to deep and humanity will
become two separate species. It's also where the word time
machine comes from. Plus I think he coined the word
atomic bomb by prophesizing them in nineteen fourteen. He was
raised middle class in England and was apprenticed out as
a draper, which is a cloth merchant basically, and then

(03:17):
soon just became a wildly prolific writer. The story We're
going to Read is the title story of his first
book of short stories, and frankly it doesn't represent his
mature opinion on just about anything. This is very like
his first book, kind of energy, not just in terms
of fiction, but especially in terms of his political thought.
Which isn't to say that he becomes an anarchist, but

(03:39):
he later actually comes kind of close. While still working
with some of the major power players of the world.
He would go on to correspond with and influence both
Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. At one point he went
to the USSR to interview Stalin to try and convince him,
basically to stop being such a dick, which obviously didn't work. H. G.
Wells's nineteen forty The Rights of Man was the inspiration

(04:00):
for the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was
adopted in nineteen forty eight after Welles's death. Like all
actual socialists, H. G. Wells agreed with the anarchist vision
for the future, stateless and cooperative. He just disagreed with
the methods by which to reach it. In his book
New Worlds for Old, he wrote, the anarchist world, I

(04:22):
admit is our dream. Socialism is the preparation for that
higher anarchism. Painfully, laboriously, we mean to destroy false ideas
of property and self, eliminate unjust laws and poisonous and
hateful suggestions and prejudices, create a system of social right
dealing and a tradition of right feeling and action. Socialism
is the school room of true and noble anarchism, wherein

(04:45):
by training and restraint, we shall make free men. That was,
of course, fifteen or so years after he wrote this
anarchist terrorist boogeyman's story, which i'll read to you now,
The Stolen Bacillus by H. G. Wells. This again, said

(05:08):
the bacteriologist, slipping a glass slide under the microscope is
a preparation of the celebrated bacillis of cholera, the cholera germ.
The pale faced man peered down the microscope. He was
evidently not accustomed to that kind of thing, and held
a limp white hand over his disengaged eye. I see
very little, he said, Touch this screw, said the bacteriologist.

(05:32):
Perhaps the microscope is out of focus for you eyes
very so much. Just a fraction of a turn this
way or that. Ah, Now I see, said the visitor,
not so very much to see, after all, little streaks
and shreds of pink. Yet those little particles, those mere autonomies,
might multiply and devastate a city. Wonderful. He stood up, and,

(05:54):
releasing the glass slip from the microscope, held it in
his hands towards the window. Scarcely visible, he said, Scrutinizing
the preparation, he hesitated, are these alive? Are they dangerous? Now?
Those have been stained and killed, said the bacteriologist. I wish,
for my own part, we could kill and stain every

(06:15):
one of them in the universe. I suppose. The pale
man said, with a slight smile, that you scarcely care
to have such things about you in the living, in
the active state. On the contrary, we are obliged to,
said the bacteriologist. Here, for instance, he walked across the
room and took up one of several sealed tubes. Here
is the living thing. This is the cultivation of the

(06:38):
actual living disease bacteria, he hesitated, bottled cholera, so to speak.
Also obliged is me? I am obliged to cut to
ads and we're back. A slight gleam of satisfaction appeared

(07:08):
momentarily in the face of the pale man. It's a
deadly thing to have in your possession, he said, devouring
the little tube with his eyes. The bacteriologist watched the
morbid pleasure in his visitor's expression. This man, who had
visited him that afternoon with a note of introduction from
an old friend, interested him from the very contrast of
their dispositions. The lank black hair and deep gray eyes,

(07:32):
the haggard expression and nervous manner, the fitful yet keen
interest of his visitor. Where a novel change from the
phlegmatic deliberations of the ordinary scientific worker with whom the
bacteriologists chiefly associated. It was perhaps natural with a hearer
evidently so impressionable to the lethal nature of his topic,
to take the most effective aspect of the matter. He

(07:56):
held the tube in his hand thoughtfully, Yes, here is
the pestilence imprisoned. Only break such a little tube as
this into a supply of drinking water. Say to these
minute particles of life that one must needs stain and
examine with the highest powers of the microscope even to see,
and that one can neither smell nor taste, Say to them.

(08:18):
Go forth, increase and multiply and replenish the cisterns, and death, mysterious,
untraceable death, death, swift and terrible death, full of pain
and indignity, would be released upon this city, and go
hither and thither seeking his victims. Here he would take
the husband from his wife, hear the child from its mother,

(08:41):
hear the statesman from his duty, and hear the toiler
from his trouble. He would follow the water mains, creeping
along streets, picking out and punishing a house here and
a house there where they did not boil their drinking water,
Creeping into the wells of the mineral water makers, getting
washed into salad and line dormant in ices. He would wait,

(09:04):
ready to be drunk in horse troughs and by unwary
children in the public fountains. He would soak into the
soil to reappear in springs and wells at a thousand
unexpected places. Once start him at the water supply, and
before we could ring him in and catch him again,
he would have decimated the metropolis. He stopped abruptly. He

(09:27):
had been told rhetoric was his weakness. But he is
quite safe here, you know. Quite safe. The pale faced
man nodded, his eyes shone. He cleared his throat. These
anarchist rascals, said, he are fools, blind, fools to use
bombs when this kind of thing is attainable. I think

(09:51):
a gentle rap. A mere light of the touch of
fingernails was heard at the door. The bacteriologist opened it
just a minute, dear, whispered his wife. When he re
entered the laboratory, his visitor was looking at his watch.
I had no idea. I wasted an hour of your time,
he said, twelve minutes to four. I ought to have

(10:12):
left here at half past three, but your things were
really too interesting. No, positively, I cannot stop a moment longer.
I have an engagement. At four. He passed out of
the room, reiterating his thanks, and the bacteriologist accompanied him
to the door. Then returned thoughtfully along the passage to
his laboratory. He was musing on the ethnology of his visitor.

(10:36):
Certainly the man was not a Teutonic type, nor a
common Latin one. A morbid product. Anyhow, I'm afraid, said
the bacteriologist to himself. How he gloated on those cultivations
of diseased germs. A disturbing thought struck him. He turned
to the bench by the vapor bath, and then very
quickly to his writing table. Then he felt hastily in

(10:57):
his pockets. Then he rushed to the door. I may
have put it down on the hall table, he said, Minnie.
He shouted hoarsely in the hall. Yes, dear, came a
remote voice. Had I anything in my hand when I
spoke to you, dear? Just now pause? Nothing, dear, because
I remember blue ruin, cried the bacteriologist, and incontinently ran

(11:21):
to the front door and down the steps of his
house to the street. Minnie, hearing the door slam, violently,
ran in alarm to the window. Down the street, a
slender man was getting into a cab. The bacteriologist, hatless
and in his carpet slippers, was running and gesticulating wildly
towards this group. One slipper came off, but he did

(11:42):
not wait for it. He has gone mad, said Minnie.
It's that horrid science of his, and opening the window
would have called after him. The slender man, suddenly glancing around,
seemed struck with the same idea of mental disorder. He
pointed to the bacteriologist said something to the case cabman.
The apron of the cab slammed, the whip swished, the

(12:04):
horse's feet clattered, and in a moment the cab bacteriologist,
hotly in pursuit, had receded up the vista of the
roadway and disappeared round the corner. Minnie remained straining out
the window for a minute. Then she drew her head
back into the room again. She was dumbfounded. Of course,
he is eccentric, she meditated. But running about London in

(12:27):
the height of the season too in his socks. A
happy thought struck her. She hastily put her bonnet on,
seized her shoes, went into the hall, took down his
hat and light overcoat from the pegs, emerged upon the doorstep,
and hailed a cab that opportunely crawled by. Drive me
up the road and round Havelock Crescent, and see if

(12:48):
we can find a gentleman running around in a velveteen
coat and no hat. Velveteen coat, ma'am. And no, at
very good, ma'am. And the cabman whipped up at once,
in the most matter of fact way, as if he
drove to this address every day of his life, much
like you can every day of your life participate in

(13:09):
buying stuff from ads. Here they are, and we're back.
Some few minutes later, the little group of cabmen and
loafers that collects around the cabman's shelter at Haverstock Hill

(13:32):
were startled by the passing of a cab with a
ginger colored screw of a horse driven furiously. They were
silent as it went by, then as it receded, that's
Airy X. What's he got? The writing is written out
like that, said the stout gentleman known as Old Toodles.
He's a using his whip. He is to rights, said

(13:55):
the ostler boy. Hello, said poor old Tommy Biles. There's
another blooming lunatic blowed. If there ain't it's Old George,
said Old Toodles. And he's driving a lunatic as you say,
Ain't he a clawing out the keb Wonder if he's
after Airy IX. The group round the cabman's shelter became

(14:17):
animated chorus, Go it, George, it's a race. You'll catch him.
Whip up. She's a goer, she is, said the ostler boy.
Strike me giddy, cry on Toodles. Sorry, I fucking can't.
It's written this way, and I can't do a British accent,
so I'm just trying to read it the way it's written. Here,

(14:39):
I'm a going to begin in a minute. Here's another coming.
If all the kebs in Hampston ain't gone mad this morning.
It's a field male this time, said the ostler boy.
She's a following him, said Old Toodles. Usually the other
way around. What she got in her hand looks like
I at fuck, what a bloomin lark. It is three

(15:04):
to one on Old George, said the ostler boy. Next
many went by in a perfect roar of applause. She
did not like it, but she felt that she was
doing her duty, and whirled on down Haverstock Hill and
Camden Town High Street, with her eyes ever intent on
the animated back of Old George, who was driving her
vagrant husband so incomprehensively away from her. The man in

(15:29):
the foremost cab sat crouched in the corner, his arms
tightly folded and the little tube that contained such vast
possibilities of destruction gripped in his hand. His mood was
a singular mixture of fear and exultation. Chiefly he was
afraid of being caught before he could accomplish his purpose.
But behind this was a vaguer but larger fear of
the awfulness of his crime. But his exultation far exceeded

(15:52):
his fear. No anarchist before him had ever approached this
conception of his ravat show valiant. All those distinguished persons
whose fame he had envied dwindled into significance beside him.
He had only to make sure of the water supply
and break the little tube into a reservoir. How brilliantly
he had planned it, forged the letter of introduction, and

(16:14):
gotten into the laboratory. How brilliantly he had seized his opportunity.
The world should hear of him at last. All these
people had sneered at him, neglected him, preferred other people
to him, found his company undesirable, should consider him at
last death, death, death. They had always treated him as
a man of no importance. All the world had been

(16:37):
in a conspiracy to keep him under. He would teach them. Yet,
what it is to isolate a man? What was this
familiar street, Great Saint Andrew's Street? Of course, how fared
the chase, he craned out the cab. The bacteriologist was
scarcely fifty yards behind. That was bad, he would be
caught and stopped. Yet he felt in his pocket for

(16:58):
money and found half a sovereign. This he thrust up
through the trap and the top of the cab into
the man's face. More, he shouted, if only we get away.
The money was snatched out of his hand. Right you are,
said the cabman, and the trap slammed, and the lash
lay along the glistening side of the horse. The cab swayed,

(17:18):
and the anarchist, half standing under the trap, with the
hand containing the little glass tube upon the apron to
preserve his balance. He felt the brittle thing crack, and
the broken half of it rang upon the floor of
the cab. He fell back into the seat with a curse,
and stared dismally at the two or three drops of
moisture on the apron. He shuddered, Well, I suppose I

(17:42):
shall be the first phew. Anyhow, I shall be a martyr.
That's something. But it is a filthy death. Nevertheless, I
wonder if it hurts as much as they say. Presently,
a thought occurred to him He groped between his feet.
A little drop was still in the broken end the tube,
and he drank that to make sure. It was better

(18:04):
to make sure, at any rate he would not fail.
Then it dawned upon him that there was no further
need to escape the bacteriologist in Wellington Street. He told
the cabman to stop and got out. He slipped on
the step. His head felt queer. It was rapid stuff,
this cholera poison. He waved his cabman out of existence,

(18:26):
so to speak, and stood on the pavement with his
arm folded upon his breast, awaiting the arrival of the bacteriologist.
There was something tragic in his pose. The sense of
imminent death gave him a certain dignity. He greeted his
pursuer with a defiant laugh. Vive la anarchy. You are
too late, my friend. I have drunk it. The cholera

(18:49):
is abroad. The bacteriologist from his cab beamed curiously at
him through his spectacles. You have drunk it, an anarchist,
I see now. He was about to say something more,
and then checked himself. A smile hung in the corner
of his mouth. He opened the apron of his cab
as if to descend, at which the anarchist waved him

(19:10):
a dramatic farewell and strode off towards Waterloo Bridge, carefully
jostling his infected body against as many people as possible.
The bacteriologist was so preoccupied with the vision of him
that he scarcely manifested the slightest surprise at the appearance
of many upon the pavement with his hat and shoes
and overcoat. Very good of you to bring my things,

(19:33):
he said, and then remained lost in contemplation of the
receding figure of the anarchist. You had better get in,
he said, still staring. Minnie felt absolutely convinced now that
he was mad, and directed the cabman home on her
own responsibility. Put on my shoes, certainly, dear, said he,
as the cab began to turn and hid the strutting

(19:55):
black figure, now small in the distance, from his eyes.
Then suddenly something grotesque struck him, and he laughed. Then
he remarked, it is really very serious, though. You see
that man came to my house to see me, and
he is an anarchist. No, don't faint, or I cannot
possibly tell you the rest. And I wanted to astonish him,

(20:17):
not knowing he was an anarchist, and I took up
a cultivation of that new species of bacterium. I was
telling you of that infest and that I think cause
the blue patches upon various monkeys, And like a fool,
I said it was asiatic cholera. And he ran away
with it to poison the water of London. And he
certainly might have made things look blue for this civilized city.

(20:40):
And now he has swallowed it. Of course I cannot
say what will happen, but you know it turned that
kitten blue, and the three puppies and patches and the
sparrow bright blue. But the bother is I shall have
all the trouble and expense of preparing some more. Put
on my coat on this hot day? Why because we
might meet Missus Jabber. My dear Missus Jabber is not

(21:04):
a draft. But why should I wear a coat on
a hot day because of missus? Oh? Very well? The end? Okay,
I like this story because it's so trashy. It's like,
ahhe Wells is the father of science fiction, and this
is just like a vaguely racist, shitty, anti anarchist book.

(21:26):
Like you know, He's like going on to try and
be like that man who came in. He was like
the wrong kind of white. You know, he wasn't too tonic,
he wasn't you know, like he's like trying to play
what ethnicity is this man, because he's like weird and
can't be trusted, and he's like tall and lanky and evil,

(21:46):
and he's also like a total insult right the anarchist
in this story, he's like everyone treated me wrong and
I'm going to show them all. And that is not
that's not the anarchist vibe. I don't believe it was
the anarchist vibe back then either at all. But you know,
I mean, the story was written before HG. Wells's serious

(22:06):
involvement in socialist politics. It was, like I've written, I think,
right before he joined the Fabian Society, and certainly you know,
fifteen years before he was talking about how anarchism is
the goal of every socialist in very explicit terms. I
wasn't able to find him like reflecting on this story.
And I'd be really interested if anyone out there knows

(22:27):
what he thought about this story later, because it's so
bad it's entertaining. I hope you found it entertaining and
the little like trick ending at the end like oh,
just he's gonna turn blue. Well done, well done, HG Wells,
You weird fucker. Men hate their wives. That is just
like a thing throughout history. And that is why here

(22:49):
on this podcast we stand wife guys. And this is
not a wife guy story. This is all like I'm
thinking about saving all of London or whatever, and my
wife is only thinking about me looking weird in front
of the neighbors, because that's all women think about, even
though she's like on call for him at all times.

(23:11):
Ith She Wells did not go on to treat women
with a He was not known for his fidelity in
his marriages. Marriage I don't remember. He was with a
lot of people. I don't remember how many of them
married him. I reached the point where I'm out of
things to say. I'll see you next week on another
episode of Cool Zone Media book Club. And if you

(23:34):
want more from me about history, you can check out
cool People who Did Cool stuff. And if you want
more from not me about dot history, you can check
out it could happen here. Talk to you all soon.

Speaker 1 (23:47):
It could happen here as a production of Cool Zone Media.
For more podcasts from cool Zone Media, visit our website
cool zonemedia dot com, or check us out on the
iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts
you can find for it could happen here, Updated monthly
at coolzonemedia dot com slash sources. Thanks for listening.

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