You are on page 1of 27

The First Wellsians: A Modern Utopia

and Its Early Disciples

ROBERT CROSSLEY
University of Massachusetts Boston

ALTHOUGH THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY dates the first


example of the adjective “Wellsian” to 1912 and the first use of the
term as a noun to 1916 in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the phe-
nomenon appears to predate the terminology. The first Wellsians came
into being shortly after A Modern Utopia was published in 1905 and
immediately began to acquire fervent young readers who wanted to
imitate—and indeed become—the Samurai of H. G. Wells’s imagining.
In midsummer of 1905 a young Englishman in search of a career while
schoolmastering in Darjeeling wrote in nearly identical words to two
friends, one in the United States and one in England, about his lat-
est intellectual passion: “Have you yet read H. G. Wells’ ‘Modern Uto-
pia’?… If I had the time, I would write him an open letter on it; I hope,
even as it is, to do so on my way home. His ‘Samurai’ idea is epoch-
making, & I want to found an order in accordance with its principles.”1
In itself, Maurice Browne’s outpouring was not an unusual response
to A Modern Utopia, a book like Anticipations (1901) and Mankind in
the Making (1903) that drew younger readers to Wells as a polemicist
and social prophet. At Cambridge University Amber Reeves, an under-
graduate, the daughter of two prominent members of the Fabian Soci-
ety, soon to become a fixture in Wells’s life, banded with other women to
form the Utopians, an organization founded as a result of the publica-
tion of A Modern Utopia and dedicated to the development of “scientific
habits of thought in every department of life” and to active work in
pursuit of a more just and efficient social order.2 A third young reader,
J. H. Skilton, got directly in touch with Wells himself in 1906 with the
ambition of establishing, under Wells’s direction, “a public organisation
on the lines of your Samurai—open to anyone who will conform.”3 To
the name of Skilton, who eventually aligned himself with the Order of
Samurai envisioned by Browne, there is attached none of the minor
fame or notoriety associated with Amber Reeves and Maurice Browne.

444
CROSSLEY : WELLS

His activity on behalf of Wellsian ideals has never before been studied
but ultimately he may be the most affecting and most serious of the
first Wellsians.
Wells himself had self-consciously identified the younger generation
as the most appropriate, and most desired, audience for the work he
was doing at the opening of the twentieth century. He worked, with
little success, for a “reconditioned Fabian Society” that would be run by
eager young people coming out of high schools, technical colleges, and
universities who would turn what Wells thought of as a tedious and
ineffectual group of talking heads into a dynamic socialist party. “The
order of the Fabian Samurai perished unborn,” he would later lament,
but the idea of leading a revolution of the young energized Wells in
early middle age.4 In Mankind in the Making he made his case explic-
itly: “Without the high resolve of youth, without the constant accession
of youth, without recuperative power, no sustained forward movement
is possible in the world. It is to youth, therefore, that this book is finally
addressed, to the adolescents, to the students, to those who are yet in
the schools and who will presently come to read it, who being still plas-
tic can understand the infinite plasticity of the world. It is those who
are yet unmade who must become the makers.”5
Of all Wells’s efforts in the first decade of the century at forecasting
the future and agitating for social transformation it was A Modern Uto-
pia that most fully engaged the imaginations of the new generation.
Set in a parallel world (“the planet of my dreams,” Wells called it) and
narrated by a “Voice” closely identified with the actual Wells, the book
was full of provocative and iconoclastic ideas about information tech-
nology, women, race, and the nature and governance of a world state.
But it was the chapter on “The Samurai”—the “voluntary nobility” who
instigate and lead the utopian society and who constitute Wells’s ver-
sion of the Guardians in Plato’s Republic—that struck the profoundest
chord in youthful readers.6 As an undergraduate at Cambridge Maurice
Browne had been a member of “The Querists,” a club devoted to reform-
ing the world “in the light of Plato, Aristotle, and Mr. H. G. Wells.”7 Two
years later, from his distant vantage in South Asia, he began incubat-
ing one of the earliest versions of an H. G. Wells Society and dreamed of
converting the fictional Samurai into a real-world “voluntary nobility.”
When Browne returned to England and visited Harold Monro in April
1906 the nebulous fantasy of the previous year started taking shape.
Monro, a college friend who shared Browne’s literary aspirations and
who was married to Browne’s sister Dorothy, started a notebook on his

445
ELT  54 : 4  2011

own thinking about the founding of an order of Samurai and on his ef-
forts to follow the disciplines practiced by Wells’s Samurai. In May he
wrote:
One of the most important things to be borne in mind in founding the
Samurai is that we are not in Utopia. Wells’ Samurai are Utopian. They
may exist 300 years hence but at present they would cut ridiculous figures.
All the same his model is by far the best we know of and his conception
the truest. But our present object should be as much as possible to adapt
the “perfect” man to his imperfect environment. A Samurai must be the
best product of the time. He cannot soar ahead of the time until he has
gained the popular confidence. He must not hold himself aloof or alienate
sympathy. The Samurai are to be joyous, not ascetic and doleful, but joyous
without wine or a full stomach or drugs or frivolity.8

Browne joined Monro in meatless meals, regular physical exercise,


teetotaling, and other practices drawn from the Samurai’s “austere
rule of living” described by the narrating “Voice” in A Modern Utopia.9
Monro dedicated himself to practicing self-control and wrote tortured
notations in his diary when he strayed from temperate indulgence in
food and drink. For him, the Samurai rules constituted a paradigm
for personal behavior and even a path to salvation: “The Samurai will
be the Priesthood of the new religion, the nobility of the new state.”10
While Monro pursued his disciplines compulsively, Browne quick-
ly tired of them and fastened on another, more literary project: the
creation of a new publishing house that would promote Wellsianism.
Monro was dubious about the prospects of securing a critical mass of
subscribers to put the press on a sound financial basis. “I don’t foresee
success for it,” he told Browne, but he agreed to participate in the ven-
ture.11 By the end of 1906, having drawn in several more supporters,
Browne was ready to approach Wells himself for the first time with a
draft of the prospectus for the Samurai Press and a trial balloon for
an organization of young samurai over which Wells might preside. “I
am certain,” Browne wrote, “that the Samurai idea is the one among
your ideas by which you set particular store & that you will give full
consideration to any serious attempt at its realization.” To this point
Browne’s small group had not informed Wells about their projects “in
order to avoid thrusting on you the onus of accepting or declining a
responsibility that we should have had no right to put before you.” But
now, with the press about to issue its first volume in January 1907,
the would-be samurai were hoping for a closer association with Wells
as mentor. And, Browne could not resist mentioning, all those “at the
heart of the group” were young men between the ages of twenty-five

446
CROSSLEY : WELLS

and thirty. (In A Modern Utopia the Samurai begin their training at
age twenty-five.)12
Wells’s biographer David Smith speculates that Browne’s young men
constituted the first organized group to respond to A Modern Utopia.13
In fact, Amber Reeves’s Utopians got a head start and Wells actually
joined that group as a member, although his motives may have been
as much amorous as philosophical. Cajoled into attending meetings of
the Utopians, Wells soon began an affair with the twenty-year-old un-
dergraduate, which produced a child.14 This most scandalous of Wells’s
many affairs has been told at length elsewhere, but no published ac-
count emphasizes the Utopians and the prominent role Reeves played
in their short history. Many of the fewer than two dozen members of
the Utopians were fellow undergraduate women at Cambridge’s Newn-
ham College, and some professional women signed on too. The Utopi-
ans debated how strictly they should emulate the Samurai of A Modern
Utopia. A proposed rule against lying late in bed, for instance, was
protested by nurses and others who worked evening shifts and could
not pledge to rise by 8 a.m.15 Other difficulties in achieving consensus
were directly related to the youth of the collegiate members. Rules per-
taining to household routines were particularly troublesome for those
who didn’t live in their own homes and could not impose regulations
on their families who, presumably, were not eager utopianists. And a
major challenge to the Utopians was rectifying a gender imbalance in
the organization. “Our greatest need at the present moment is men,”
Reeves wrote to Wells.16 That may partially explain why on a member-
ship list she enclosed in a letter to Wells’s wife Jane one of the two
male names on the roster of nineteen members is that of H. G. Wells—a
dutiful or a seductive gesture towards his young disciple.17 In a glanc-
ingly indirect allusion to the Utopians in the posthumously published
narrative of his various extramarital adventures Wells suggests that
his vanity as an author was also flattered by Reeves’s attention: “She
became my adherent and a great propagandist of Wellsism at Newn-
ham College.”18
The major surviving document of the Utopians is a beautifully print-
ed and bound pamphlet, The Utopians. Rules, with a handwritten date
1906–1908, in the H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Library.
It lays out in detail the qualifications for membership in the society
and the principles and practices each member was expected to observe.
Among the seven conditions for membership were an age requirement
(eighteen years, minimum), an annual subscription fee, competence in

447
ELT  54 : 4  2011

a foreign language, and sound mental health (though how this last con-
dition was to be verified is unstated). But the requirement that most
clearly establishes the Utopians as a Wellsian society is the third on
the list: “Every member must have read ‘A Modern Utopia’ before join-
ing.”19 The obligatory keenness for A Modern Utopia can be seen in the
details of the “Common Rule” members of the Utopians were required
to follow, since many provisions mimic in letter or spirit the behaviors
of Wells’s fictional Samurai. A number of activities are forbidden, in-
cluding gambling, swearing, drugs, “playing games professionally,” and
“sweet food eaten merely for pleasure.” Some provisions are evidently
intended as purgatives for the class privileges most of these Utopians
enjoyed: a required average of three hours’ hard work at least five days
of the week and forgoing the use of servants “as much as the circum-
stances allow.” Each Utopian was to devote time to improving physical
health through exercise and diet, to be engaged in civic improvement,
and to broaden intellectual horizons by reading “at least six modern
books every year,” works of fiction not to count. But the most telling
expectation for the Utopians, bespeaking both the Wellsian and the
Fabian character of the organization, was centered on the performance
of “some kind of active social work” and the collection of data and sta-
tistics relevant to that work.
The Utopians had high-minded ambitions and established an infra-
structure that included a governing committee, a secretary and trea-
surer, general meetings, reading lists for members, and a newsletter,
the Utopian News. But by 1908 this first of the Wellsian societies had
utterly disappeared (save for the few relics in the Illinois Archive), per-
haps the victim of the older Fabians’ outrage and the public brouhaha
occasioned by the Reeves-Wells affair and the resulting pregnancy.20
The case of Browne and Monro as early Wellsians is marked by the
same kind of lofty rhetoric and self-conscious austerity as Reeves’s
Utopians, but more evidence of their activities has survived. An ex-
cellent, well-documented study of Browne and Monro’s effort to draw
Wells into their small group of utopianists is available in Dominic
Hibberd’s biography of Monro. Hibberd provides a uniquely rich ac-
count of the development—and ultimate failure—of the Samurai Press
and of the abortive goal of establishing an Order of the Samurai, but
he is, naturally enough, most interested in two things: what light the
­Samurai ideal casts on Monro’s troubled psyche and the dynamics of
the on-again-off-again friendship with Browne during this formative
period of career building.21

448
CROSSLEY : WELLS

What has not yet been fully told is the story of the Order of the Samu-
rai from the perspective of Wellsian discipleship and in light of the par-
allel effort of Amber Reeves’s group to enact Wellsian social principles.
Both Reeves’s Utopians and Browne and Monro’s Samurai rose and
fell in the shadow of Wells’s spectacularly public failure to reshape the
Fabian Society in his own image. Throughout 1906 and much of 1907
Wells was on the offensive against the leadership of the Fabians—in-
cluding Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Hubert Bland, Edward Pease, and
George Bernard Shaw. He believed they lacked a grand vision and
focused too heavily on compromise and bureaucratic detail. He cam-
paigned to oust them from the executive committee of the Society and
replace them with more radical activists, including himself. Had he
succeeded, the Fabian Society might have been remade as something
very much like an H. G. Wells Society, but Wells was outmaneuvered by
the politically adept “Old Gang” of Fabian leaders and, with bitter feel-
ings, he withdrew to the margins of the organization. His relationship
to the Fabians is neatly visualized in a remarkable stained glass win-
dow—designed by Shaw, executed by artisan Caroline Townshend in
1910, and currently installed at the London School of Economics (Fig.
1)—depicting various luminaries of the Society, with Wells at the bot-
tom left of the window gleefully thumbing his nose at the rest of them.22
Ironically, at the very time that the Fabians were rejecting his offer to
show them the way into the future, his young disciples were clamor-
ing for his leadership. Their amateur efforts to create a utopian cadre
of Samurai constitute a mostly invisible subplot to the main action
taking placed on the public stage of Fabian meetings. But if Wells felt
any sense of vindication from the enthusiasm of his youthful adherents
while his reforms were being so soundly rejected by the Old Gang of
Fabians, there is nothing in the record to corroborate that speculation.
On the evidence of surviving correspondence Wells’s behavior towards
the young Wellsians was strikingly reserved and ambivalent, as if his
desire to lead the young was more notional than substantive.
Wells was encouraging in his initial response to Browne and Monro,
if not as fully engaged as he was with Reeves’s group. But perhaps
more is to be learned from the schemes to develop a Wellsian Order
of Samurai from the player who has gotten almost no attention at all.
James Harold Skilton, about whose life little is known apart from what
is revealed in his series of letters to Wells, emerges as the most iconic,
and finally the most disillusioned, of the first Wellsians.23 A clerk in the
City of London, recently married, and almost certainly not a university

449
ELT  54 : 4  2011

Fig. 1  The Fabian Window

Caroline Townshend  1910

Courtesy of Beatrice Webb Memorial Trust

450
CROSSLEY : WELLS

graduate, the twenty-six-year-old Skilton had been bitten by A Modern


Utopia and although his very first letter to Wells has disappeared, the
earliest one in the Illinois Archive, written in late September 1906,
suggests that Wells was urging him to contact an existing group of ad-
herents to Wells’s vision of utopia, which clearly could not be Browne
and Monro’s, about which he was ignorant at that time. In his letter
Skilton worries that the rules might exclude someone like him.24 That
group almost certainly was Reeves’s Cambridge Utopians, since Wells
knew they were looking for males and he had just written to its sec-
retary Alice Franklin, telling her that he could not attend the group’s
next meeting (“I am a disgrace to the Utopians—you will have to expel
me”).25
In any case, before Browne and company began to ask whether Wells
might himself serve as leader of their circle of aspirant samurai, he
was already encouraging Skilton to proceed “in the way of realising”
the aims of A Modern Utopia while firmly declining to be any group’s
pied piper. “Now you, I thought, and still think,” Skilton wrote rather
plaintively, “with all your knowledge & experience, and more disci-
plined purpose, could readily command a following, which might easily
be made an universal power. However––––”26 In his reply, now lost,
Wells seems to have suggested that the creation of an actual order of
Samurai might not be practicable, but he did not abandon the man or
his search for a way to be socially useful. Most of the few details we
have about Skilton’s life come from a single letter to Wells in which
he states that he is married, has an annual income of £200, lives in a
drafty and “horribly jerry-built” house, cannot afford a servant, spends
no more than £3 a year on theater tickets, takes only walking-tour
holidays, and can never afford to bank any savings.27 While neither
Monro nor Browne was well-off financially at this time, their class
backgrounds, their educations, their cultural connections, and their
habits of life were strikingly different from Skilton’s. After Skilton told
Wells that he had been wanting to join the Fabian Society but did not
know any members who could sponsor his candidacy, the November
1906 issue of the Fabian News reported J. H. Skilton as a new member,
supported by H. G. Wells and Mrs. Wells.28
Early in 1907 Wells apparently put Skilton in touch with Browne, for
the next time we hear of him is in a letter in which Skilton writes to
Harold Monro to say that he has been in communication with Browne
with ideas about how to found an Order of the Samurai. But here, at
the beginning of his association with the Browne-Monro circle, Skilton

451
ELT  54 : 4  2011

immediately sets himself apart from the aesthetic preoccupations of


the socially privileged members of the group with a blunt assessment
of their publishing venture: “I gather that the Samurai Press has not
resulted as you hoped in the discovering of Samurai.” For Skilton, the
reason is evident: the press appeals to “the wrong quarter”—readers
of means and leisure “who find life on the whole much too excellent to
be greatly concerned to alter it.” And he proposes a more activist and
class-based approach. “I am convinced that if the Samurai are ever to
exist as a considerable body of devoted people, they will have to come
from those who are today submerged, uneducated, uncouth, and en-
tirely futile and helpless.” Because circumstances make it so difficult
for those potential Samurai to emerge on their own it is up to the core
group to recruit them.29 Monro thought Skilton “is going to be of very
real value to the cause,” but Browne and several others in the circle
quickly became irritated with Skilton’s activist agenda.30
The Samurai Press had been inaugurated with the lofty aim of facili-
tating the emergence and coordination of those nascent Samurai who
were, in the words of A Modern Utopia, “dispersed, hidden, disorga-
nized, undiscovered, unsuspected even by themselves.”31 The plan was
to bring out one sextodecimo chapbook per month, varying prose with
poetry, but always valuing “high seriousness,” inspiring ideals, and el-
egant style. Not surprisingly, the first three undiscovered utopianists
to be published did not come from Skilton’s “submerged” classes but
were named Browne, Monro, and Arthur Davison Ficke, the wealthy
young Iowa poet to whom Browne had written from India and on whom
he relied for infusions of cash to keep the press afloat. The initial vol-
ume, written jointly by Browne and Monro, Proposals for a Voluntary
Nobility, championed an aristocracy of intellect based on the highest
standards of earlier visionaries like Plato, Buddha, Christ, Leonardo
da Vinci, Shelley, and Emerson and a contemporary pantheon that in-
cluded Nietzsche, Maeterlinck, Tolstoy, and Bernard Shaw. The latest
in the line of these illustrious “voluntary nobles” was, of course, “the
clearest-sighted idealist in England, H. G. Wells.”32
“The idea [of the Samurai] obsesses me,” Browne wrote to Wells early
in 1907. But he acknowledged that he had no clear conception of how to
apply that idea in the world. “After all, I suppose the idea’s the thing.”33
Just how abstract the Samurai were for Browne and his colleagues
becomes apparent with a reading of the Proposals for a Voluntary No-
bility. Much of this manifesto is devoted to the cultivation of “nobil-
ity” and the “Samurai ideal” through discipline, the training of muscle

452
CROSSLEY : WELLS

and spirit, devotion to the unspecified collective good, good habits in


diet and hygiene, approved reading of the best classic and contempo-
rary authors, and a regimen of abstention from flesh, tobacco, alcohol,
narcotics, gambling, and an undefined “unchastity.” In a revealing pas-
sage the authors link their desire to “hasten the evolution of man” to
a litany of the trends and fads of the early-twentieth-century British
intelligentsia: “Fabian Societies, Simple Life Settlements, Vegetarian
Leagues, New Theologians, the Rationalist Press.”34 What Browne
and Monro offer is less a viable set of proposals for intellectual and
social renewal than a cult of idolatry, as Browne himself seemed to
acknowledge in describing the book privately as “a hotch-potch of tran-
scendentalism & H. G. Wells.”35 While drawing most of its principles
and procedures from details in A Modern Utopia, the Proposals for a
Voluntary Nobility manages to project a far more bloodless and pro-
grammatic “Samurai college” than anything Wells had imagined. For
the paradoxes and “shot-silk texture” in A Modern Utopia Browne and
Monro substitute mere contradictions and flatfootedness.36 A real-life
samurai must practice self-denial not for its own sake, we are told, but
as a demonstration of self-command and inner strength. Yet, despite
such disclaimers, the Samurai of Browne and Monro sound monastic,
masculinist, and faintly masochistic with their persistent preoccupa-
tion with instilling “manliness” in the aspiring nobles. A reviewer for
the Manchester Guardian was incredulous about the pamphlet’s obses-
sion with Spartan rituals: “It is hardly possible to avoid facetiousness
in discussing such proposals. We wonder what Mr. Wells thinks about
it.”37
In fact, Wells found this rendition of his fictional Samurai’s regimen,
without its context of intellectual vigor and political activism, arid.
Writing to Browne about “my dream of the Samurai,” Wells distanced
himself from his creation and from his disciples by comically aligning
himself with those too undisciplined and out of shape for membership
in an Order: “There are moments when I feel with Chesterton about
Wells and his confounded Samurai. They chase that great fat man roll-
ing through his dreams with stern relentless pertinacity.”38 Given the
callowness of the first product of the Samurai Press, it is noteworthy
that Wells did not simply write off Browne, Monro, and their friends.
He continued to correspond with them, arranged for them to attend
a Fabian lecture of his where they could mingle with some of their
heroes including Shaw and Edward Carpenter, met with them as a
group in London, and counseled them for the better part of a year on

453
ELT  54 : 4  2011

their efforts to establish an organization promoting a Wellsian social


vision. The group seems never to have amounted to much more than
a dozen people, not all of whom were seriously committed to the proj-
ect. Ficke, for instance, while providing money to support the Samurai
Press (which published his first book of poems, From the Isles) and
despite Browne’s claim that he was “at the heart of the group,” never
bought into the concept of the voluntary nobility—perhaps because he
was so clearly a member of the rather different American plutocracy.39
He warned Browne of the “danger of too much Wells” in the Propos-
als for a Voluntary Nobility, and writing to an American friend who
couldn’t stand Browne, Ficke spoke even more tartly of the aims of the
press: “One volume is out,—a wild one by Browne and another man,
proposing to revolutionize the world, with a complete cure guaranteed
after taking three doses.”40
Before long, Browne was tiring of his work at the press as quickly
as he had tired of vegetarian diets. “I am getting to hate the Samurai
Press, for at present it spells slavery to me,” he protested to Monro near
the end of February 1907. A few weeks later he griped that he no longer
had time to write poetry: “I wish to God the whole Samurai Press was
at the bottom of the sea.”41 Monro meanwhile was trying to enlarge
the circle of men interested in the press and, more so, in the proposed
Order of the Samurai. He struck up a friendship with Arthur Romney
Green, a furniture maker and a Fabian, and invited him to attend a
Samurai meeting. While Monro could see that Green was much more
interested in nationalization of the land and the abolition of the fac-
tory system than with physical and dietary disciplines, he felt encour-
aged that the number of potential Samurai was growing and he was
“burning to make real beginnings.”42 Browne passed other recruits on
to Monro, like the Staffordshire engineer Wilfrid F. Vernon, who wrote
eagerly to Monro about his “heartiest sympathy” for the Samurai idea,
although he was a believer in “trial and error” rather than theoretical
schemes for social improvement.43 Monro was thrilled; Vernon “simply
breathes Wells’ Engineering class in Anticipations,” he told Browne.44
But if he was starting to succeed at identifying those “dispersed, hid-
den, disorganized, undiscovered, unsuspected” Samurai at large in
the world, Monro was also confronted with the fact that some of them
would require a good deal of coaching and tutoring in order to achieve
voluntary nobility. “I am 24 and have read little,” Vernon confessed.45
The major event of 1907 for these Wellsians was an opportunity for
a private session with Wells to discuss the feasibility of inaugurating

454
CROSSLEY : WELLS

an Order of the Samurai. That meeting came on the heels of a paper on


the Samurai that Wells presented for discussion on April 11 before the
Fabian Arts Group, with Bernard Shaw, Beatrice Webb, and Edward
Carpenter as respondents. In the audience were some of the would-be
samurai, including three of the core group from the Samurai Press, all
in their mid-twenties: Browne, Monro, and the novelist Ralph Straus.
An article in the New Age reported that Wells spoke warmly of the need
“to get people with a fine enthusiasm for social reconstruction, who
would have faith in the ideas that enthusiasm inspired,” but he wor-
ried that such zeal might result in a priggish fidelity to the letter rath-
er than the spirit of his samurai idea. “Premature attempts to found
an order of Samurai will only end in arrogance and stupidity,” Wells
warned. “At present we have not enough ideas. It would be a stupid and
presumptuous thing to attempt to realise the idea.” Shaw leaped on
the famous “disciplines” practiced by the Samurai in A Modern Utopia,
finding little difference between a Samurai and a Tory who undergoes
the Oxford regimen of cold baths and daily shaves and receives a degree
“certifying his proficiency as a gentleman.” Webb perversely and hi-
lariously defended priggishness as an emblem of reformist leadership:
“The French encyclopedists were prigs. The Benthamites were a set of
prigs who gathered round the two consummately priggish Mills[es].
The Fabians were prigs. Mr. Shaw was a prig. Mr. Wells was a prig. Her
husband [Sidney Webb] was, perhaps, the best prig of the lot.”46
Though impatient with the Fabians’ contrariness, Wells was used
to controversy, but several of his young disciples in the audience who
loved being witness to Wells at work were offended by the discussion.
Browne, in particular, was giddy with excitement at being present and
“monopolized” Wells after the meeting broke up. “So we were rather in
the thick of things,” he exulted to his mother. But he told Ficke that
Wells’s speech was “fair,” the meeting “poor,” and the discussion “hope-
less,” and he cheekily described Wells as a “short, fattish” man with
a “high straining voice—a common voice.”47 (The “voluntary nobility”
were not strangers to noblesse oblige.) The same day Browne sent a
letter to Wells, deploring “the futility & irrelevance of the discussion”
and revealing a question he wanted to ask Wells but had been too dif-
fident to advance: “Were you content with the accomplishment of ideals
in idea? Or did you earnestly desire their translation into practice?”
Browne said he would be guided by Wells’s answer in deciding whether
or not to pursue “fighting the battles of the Samurai, for preference,
under your generalship.” Oblivious to Wells’s forthright expression of

455
ELT  54 : 4  2011

skepticism during his lecture, Browne used the rest of this lengthy
letter to implore Wells to meet personally with the key members of his
group and advise them how to bring an Order of Samurai into being.
He believed seven people, in addition to himself, could attend the meet-
ing: Monro; Monro’s wife Dorothy; Vernon; Romney Green; Skilton; and
two others, unnamed in the letter: Straus and Harold Murray.48 Fifty
years later in his memoir Browne belittled the group as “earnest arty-
crafty young persons with ideals and pimples,” and added to the list
of Monro’s recruits: John Drinkwater, Elizabeth Gibson, Wilfrid Gib-
son, Arthur Sabin, Eustace Miles, and Dimsdale Stocker.49 But in 1907
Browne was serious about the group’s ambitions and was determined
to persuade Wells to meet with the voluntary nobles on May 6.
Monro was doubtful, and he told Browne: “I am very sorry you have
written to Wells because I think Skilton is quite right in saying he
should be left alone for a year at any rate until we have done something
tangible with which we can approach him. Wells obviously knows his
own mind on the subject less if anything than we do.”50 Browne’s con-
fidential response reveals how shaky his commitments actually were
and how little he was interested in Monro’s effort to cultivate potential
new Samurai. Browne’s comments, in fact, adumbrate the coming de-
mise of the whole operation, despite his professed enthusiasms:
I’m glad I wrote to him, despite you & Skilton, because I am doubtful of the
practicability—not of the rightness—of the Samurai without him. In my
mind, the Samurai are secondary to poetry; & you must not forget that.…
I’m ready to help the Samurai in every way I can except organizing them,
as long as there are other people (as there are) competent of doing it. And
that is of course strictly between ourselves. I might be writing the second
part of Job, when I’m writing to Vernon & Skilton, & I grudge the time &
energy, since it is unnecessary: I want to fall in line, but not to lead it. All
this is rather brutal—or Skilton would think so; therefore I don’t say it to
him. But it’s my business to be a Samurai, not to arrange for others to be
Samurai. That again is brutal; but it’s true.51

Wells resisted the overture mildly, telling Browne (while perhaps si-
lently reflecting on his recent defeats in trying to reshape the Fabian
Society): “I have no organizing energy & very little organizing capacity.”
Articulating a sentiment remarkably similar to Browne’s own, Wells
said he wouldn’t “mind a talk with your little group,” but he would not
take a leading role in their efforts. “I think an ‘order’ could be created
by a man or group of men of the right sort now upon the lines of my
Samurai, but I am the last man to do it.”52 Wells did not record what
passed through his mind when he met with this group of disciples, but

456
CROSSLEY : WELLS

in his memoir Browne recalled that Wells was “strangely reluctant” to


be “roped in as godfather” to the Order of Samurai. Wells, as Browne
recollected nearly half a century later, was mostly silent during the
discussion and looked on “with a slightly pained expression and dis-
tressing detachment.”53 At the time, however, Browne exulted to his
American friend Ficke about the afternoon with Wells, “He is exactly
‘the Voice’! It was altogether satisfactory.”54 But Wells was not exactly
or unambiguously the Voice of A Modern Utopia; the young Wellsians
had overlooked or forgotten an important admission the book’s narra-
tor makes: “I write of these things as a fleshly man, confessedly and
knowingly fleshly, and more than usually aware of my liability to err; I
know myself for a gross creature more given to sedentary world-mend-
ing than to brisk activities.”55 If there was a touch of Wells’s character-
istically exaggerated self-mockery in this description, there was also
a good measure of truth in the artist’s distancing of himself from his
vision.
One of the aspirant Samurai was outspokenly unhappy with the
meeting and sought out further private time with Wells. Skilton had
had to work hard at getting the meeting with Wells scheduled in the
evening when he and Vernon, who both had day jobs, could attend.
Initially, Monro was unsympathetic (and obviously unused to what it
meant to answer to an employer). He wanted to go ahead with an after-
noon meeting, insisting that Skilton would just have to manage “some-
how if he has to strangle his taskmasters for it.”56 But although the
time for the meeting was finally changed, Skilton felt frustrated by it.
On May 9 he wrote to Wells: “I was much disappointed with the trend
of the discussion about the Samurai last night, but since I was only
here at the invitation of Browne & the others, I did not feel justified
in forcing my opinions at the expense of theirs. I do feel, however, that
what I have to urge is worthy of your consideration, & I venture to ask
if you will give me an opportunity of putting my views before you in a
personal talk.”57 From the moment of his joining Browne and Monro’s
circle, Skilton felt ill at ease and his comments in letters both to Wells
and to Monro suggest a cleavage within the circle of Samurai over aims
and methods, with Skilton always committed to a more political and
class-conscious activism. It was Skilton, more than anyone else, who
responded deeply to Wells’s Voice in A Modern Utopia when it charac-
terized the fictional Samurai as “a more militant organization” in the
earliest stages of the utopian effort at transformation.58

457
ELT  54 : 4  2011

At this point in mid-1907 the notion of creating an Order of Samurai


had less than a year of life still in it, but it is fascinating to observe
the unknown Skilton coming forward as the prime mover when the
zeal of Browne and Monro began to cool and when the Samurai Press,
as Skilton correctly forecast, collapsed both as a commercial and as
a utopian enterprise.59 Shortly after the meeting with Wells, Browne
decided to decamp to Capri and Sicily, leaving Monro to manage the
unprofitable press as well as to mobilize the Order of the Samurai.
Monro’s last big push for the Samurai came in the form of a circulat-
ing book in which each member of the inner circle was to draft his
personal “creed” and annotate the drafts of others in the group. Finally,
the creeds were to be rewritten and circulated in eight copies with the
aim of arriving at a consensus on the intellectual platform for the Or-
der. But as the year went on Monro felt distracted and exhausted and
he accepted Skilton’s offer to type up and edit the drafts of the creeds
as they came in. By the end of 1907 Skilton had taken over nominally
as “secretary” for the group and in actuality as its chief organizer and
battery.
Wells dutifully submitted a creed of his own for the circulating book.
Consisting of six short paragraphs, it focused on his admission of his
own intellectual limitations, his agnostic conviction of an ordered
though incomprehensible universe, and his commitment to socialism
as a “practical” route to the collective “awakening” of the human spe-
cies. His final paragraph advertised his literary imagination and his
inadequacy as a guru—points he had been trying for a year to em-
phasize in his communications with the Samurai group: “For me my
master gift and passion is imaginative construction and especially in
relation to the making for humanity of an ideal world-state. To that I
seek to subordinate all my other gifts, powers and passions. But what
other people should plan and seek for themselves I cannot say.”60 Sev-
eral members of the group offered mild but still adulatory critiques of
Wells’s draft, but Skilton was typically more frank. In particular, he
fastened on Wells’s concluding statement and its aloofness from politi-
cal activism: “I am therefore forced to conclude that great as the work
of arousing enthusiasm and pointing the road may be, it yet fails of its
greatest possibility whilst it remains imagination only. And it is clear
that I cannot agree with your final sentence.”61
The draft creeds for the Samurai, along with the annotations and cri-
tiques of each member of the circle, magnified the fractures within the
group. Overt disagreements centered largely on three areas: metaphys-

458
CROSSLEY : WELLS

ical propositions about the relationship of the individual to the uni-


verse—and more nebulously to the divine; organizational strategies for
recruiting new Samurai; and the appropriate sexual and disciplinary
mores for a new society. Interestingly, Browne who in April expressed
irritation with what he feared was Wells’s merely conceptual interest
in the Samurai, produced fourteen typed pages of largely disembodied
reflections on his comrades’ discussions of good and evil, the body, love,
and the purpose of existence. All the creeds, he said writing from Italy,
“awakened in me a feeling of reverence such as I have only experi-
enced in regarding the highest manifestations of natural and human
excellence.”62 At the opposite end of the spectrum was Romney Green’s
disappointment with the creeds for their failure to address what he
regarded as the most crucial questions for each author:
What is his ideal of life? Is it, for instance, the “full life” spoken of by Mr.
Wells, or the “simple life” of so many other reformers?
Is he a Socialist, a Communist, or an Anarchist?
Is his Utopia really idealistic and romantic, like that, for instance of Wil-
liam Morris, or is it the well-fed, common-sense, mechanical Utopia of so
many economic Socialists?
Is his Utopia to be democratic, like that of most Socialists, or oligarchic,
like those of Plato and Mr. Wells?
Is his ideal of the sex relationship monogamic? Or is it eugenic, like that
of Plato and Lycurgus and the Oneida Communists? Or does he look, like
Mr. Wells in “In the Days of the Comet” for an idealized free love?
Does he regard art and science, and education generally, as ends in them-
selves, or merely as means to the temporal welfare of the human race?63

Skilton’s creed attempted to cut through what he saw as empty


metaphysics and the lack of strategic goals for social change in most of
the other testaments. He ignores “futile speculation” about the nature
of the universe and God’s existence to focus on the imperfections of
society which he holds responsible for all the suffering and discomfort
of humanity. For Skilton the poorly functioning society that shaped
his own existence provokes feelings of “shame and anger” but also a
resolve to create the social structures and institutions of the future
“by which alone Mankind can reach a happier state.” More explicitly
than anyone else in the group he grounds his vision and rationale in A
Modern Utopia because it offers an “ideal not inconceivably impossible
of achievement, and yet sufficiently remote to be ideal.” Reiterating
themes in his year-long tug-of-war with his colleagues Skilton’s creed
stresses alliances between the “comfortable” and the “submerged”

459
ELT  54 : 4  2011

classes and an activist agenda for change: “I am, I suppose, of a practi-


cal mould; dreams do not suffice me; I must have something definite
here and now; I must be doing.” And while others were abandoning
the disciplinary practices of Wells’s Samurai, Skilton continued to see
a fundamental connection between internal self-control and the capac-
ity to control external circumstances. With scarcely concealed scorn for
his more privileged comrades, he insisted that self-denial was easier in
proportion to the slenderness of one’s material possessions. In recruit-
ing and training new Samurai a required common rule of self-sacrifice
and personal discipline would “prove whether men are to be found who
will consent to surrender fleshly delights, and devote themselves to
more worthy things. If such men exist and can be brought into coop-
eration, they would surely achieve something; and if they do not ex-
ist, I have little faith in any very vital improvement being made in
the method of the progression of society.” Skilton’s creed drew strong
criticism from the two originators of the Samurai circle, both of whom
undoubtedly felt the sting in his words. Browne thought attributing all
human suffering to the failures of society an affront to individualism.
And Monro grumbled that if Skilton could not care about the universe
how could he care about anything?64
By the autumn of 1907 Skilton was doing all the editorial work of
compiling the handwritten commentaries on the creeds (most of which
were considerably longer than the creeds themselves) and circulating
them to the group. As the pile of paper grew, he worried that the cre-
ation of a viable organization was dragging.65 Harold Murray shared
Skilton’s desire to move on from the undergraduate debate mode: “I
think the time is now ripe for a meeting at which definite action, how-
ever tentative, should be taken.”66 What Monro rather grandly named
the first weekend conference of the Samurai Society was scheduled for
late December, and he invited Wells to stay with him and his wife if
he could attend the three-day meeting. Up until this time Wells had,
at least outwardly, been a genial and cooperative participant in the
group’s work, but now he decided to apply the brakes. He told Monro he
would not attend nor would he submit annotations to the other drafts.
“The plain fact about these Creeds is that I cannot spare the time to go
through them.” And he obviously found some of them banal and naive.
Romney Green, in particular, Wells told Monro, “wanders into sex and
all sorts of secondary questions.” (No surprise that Wells would not be
taken with Green’s insistence on enforced monogamy in Utopia.) If he
were to comment suitably on all the drafts for the creeds of “the embryo

460
CROSSLEY : WELLS

Brotherhood,” he would need to write a book to do so. And then the coup
de grâce: he asks Monro to forgive what may appear to be his arro-
gance, but “I cannot give to your brotherhood what I owe to the world.”
To soften the blow, he urged Monro not to abandon utterly the cause
of social change: “But do not be discouraged by the apparent fruitless-
ness of this symposium so far. I feel you are getting something out and
getting much valuable mental experience on the way. The world is not
going to be regenerated in a day, and its troubles now are due far more
to intellectual than to moral confusions.”67
This sounds like a drawing of the curtain on Wells’s involvement
with the voluntary nobles, but not quite. On 27 December 1907, Monro
presided at what proved to be the final meeting of the diminished cir-
cle of hopeful Samurai that included only Green, Skilton, Vernon, and
Murray.68 At that meeting Skilton officially took over as leader of the
effort to create a Wellsian society, but within a few weeks there were no
followers left for him to lead. He had been contemplating joining Am-
ber Reeves’s Utopians if his Order of the Samurai collapsed, unaware
that the Cambridge Utopians were also tottering towards extinction.69
Early in 1908, in a lengthy and hectoring letter, Skilton made a last-
ditch effort to enlist Wells’s support:
I want to see the Samurai idea tested; to prove whether there is anything
in this belief in our possibilities. But I have no authority with which to do
this, and if its realisation is to rest upon me it is obvious that it must fail.
And so I am forced to do my best to drag you into it.… Of course, I quite
appreciate your objections; our association would no doubt provide fine
fun for the light-minded. But after all you have some duty in the matter.
You should not write inspired books if you don’t want the aftermath. And
it is quite impossible for you to dissociate yourself from the idea now. Your
“Modern Utopia” does present the idea in its most attractive & expressive
form for the modern man, and it is the best basis yet available for a practi-
cal movement.
But, after all, this question of publicity is of no moment now. The first step
must be to find a few men who wish to follow a Rule, and to test them.
Time enough when they have passed the test to talk of finding others. To
discover and organise this first nucleus I must have your help; without it
the scheme fails. Each man must be allotted his peculiar disciplines, and
they must be allotted by someone whose authority will be recognised. You
are the only possible person. The thing must be done autocratically or it
will fail. I have satisfied myself of that by trial already.
Will you undertake it? To act as a kind of Appeal Court for this initial
association. It would not mean a great deal of work; I don’t suppose we
should number more than half-a-dozen, and after first fixing the disci-
plines you ought not to be troubled at all. And it would all be quite private.

461
ELT  54 : 4  2011

It is, I know, asking a good deal of you, but I don’t believe you will mind
that if you are satisfied any good will come of it. And if you are satisfied
it is no good; well, so must I be, for I know I can do nothing without you.70

Wells took some time deciding how to respond to Skilton in a gentle


but decisive way. In fact, he took so much time that Skilton wrote again,
wondering if Wells intended to cut him off. In this second letter Skilton
reported that Monro had withdrawn his support and that the original
circle was effectively dissolved. “The affair is at an end,” he wrote, but
he intended to restart with just a few enthusiasts who would be de-
voted to “doing,” not just dreaming. He understood that Wells would
not want him “to start this association with a special reference to your-
self,” but he saw no way around alluding to Wells’s books in outlining
his program. He asked Wells if he would at least be willing to read and
comment on his proposed new guidelines.71 Wells first wrote to Monro
with his thoughts both on the dissolution of the group and on the prob-
lem of what to do about Skilton. “Skilton tells me you have given up
the idea of forming an organized Samurai Cult, an abandonment quite
in accordance with my own views. We are I think developing a school
of thought, a natural grouping of people round & about the old Fabian
organization & these people will I feel sure work out a way of living
to which my Samurai & so forth will be just contributing suggestions.
Skilton is still urgent to go on & I am dealing with him, but I do not see
that his efforts are likely to give us more than a hard artificial rather
barren group of ascetics.”72
The final scene was played out in February 1908 when Skilton sent
Wells a long typescript designed as a public announcement of an as-
sociation to be called “The Lesser Rule,” after the women’s auxiliary to
the Samurai in A Modern Utopia who observed a less strenuous disci-
pline than was required by “the Great Rule.”73 Some of this material
had been part of Skilton’s presentation at the December “conference” of
the Samurai, but there were now also revisions, dated February 1908.
Addressing his associates as “our small, and eminently discordant and
undecided circle,” Skilton was ready to jettison the name “Samurai” for
their organization. Recalling that, as Wells portrayed them in A Mod-
ern Utopia, the Samurai were free from ego and emotion and hedonis-
tic temptation, Skilton concluded that none of the members of the circle
had earned that title. Instead of a Samurai Society he proposed “a pre-
liminary organisation”—a kind of training camp—for those who would
prepare themselves for advancing “the Samurai idea.” Recruitment
of adherents to the Lesser Rule would be done through inserted ad-

462
CROSSLEY : WELLS

vertisements in “the next few books published by Wells.” Applications,


including a detailed questionnaire on the inquirer’s personal history,
would be posted to “The Organiser of the Lesser Rule” in care of the
Samurai Press—a reflection of Skilton’s long-standing wish to broad-
en the function of and audience for the Press. The Lesser Rule adopts
Wells’s classification of four types of mind—the poietic, the kinetic, the
dull, and the base—and lays out a scheme for self-improvement:
The Rule aims to exclude the dull and the base, to discipline the impulses
and emotions, to develop a moral habit and sustain a man in periods of
stress, fatigue and temptation, to produce the maximum co-operation of all
men of good intent, and, in fact, to keep adherents in a state of moral and
bodily health and efficiency. It is capable of revision and expansion, and it
is hoped that every year it will become a little better adapted to the need of
a general rule of life that all men may try to follow. Many small pleasures
are forbidden in order to weed out the self-indulgent, and because it is
thought that a constant resistance to little seductions is good for a man’s
quality.74

The program’s details reflect Skilton’s own life experience and his
alienation from Browne and Monro. Adherents of the Lesser Rule must
“work for their living,” contribute a portion of their salaries to the asso-
ciation, employ no servants, and at least once a week be at the disposal
of any member of the association who wishes to have a conversation.
Wells’s sparse annotations to this draft reveal a determination not
to be affiliated in any way with Skilton’s scheme and his unwaver-
ing aversion to disciplinary rituals. One paragraph, which claims that
this “notice is issued with the concurrence and support of Mr. H. G.
Wells,” is bracketed with the marginal note “omit” in Wells’s hand-
writing. An outline of the hierarchical structure of the organization
identifies Wells as “the Chief,” “the supreme head of the association.”
The marginal note is a simple “no.” An injunction “to maintain a strict
sexual purity and chastity” is wryly annotated by Wells: “This may be
very variously interpreted.” The requirement of cold-water baths Wells
labels “Doubtful.” Although the details of Wells’s response to Skilton’s
program, apart from these annotations, do not survive, his firm rejec-
tion of it can be deduced from Skilton’s final letter to Wells. At the end
of February 1908 Skilton replied in disappointment to Wells’s decision
not to endorse the Lesser Rule. “I think you are wrong in believing an
organisation unnecessary, and in advising me to drop it.” He declared
his intention to strike out on his own without Wells’s backing, despite
“the defects of my training.” Wells had apparently repeated his insis-
tence that the Samurai were an imaginative construct not designed

463
ELT  54 : 4  2011

for export from the text and proposed that “an organisation founded
on disciplines would consume more force than it engendered.” Here, as
he had done earlier with Browne and Monro, Skilton reverted to his
argument about the “submerged” classes: “The people I am after are
gropers who under present conditions are entirely without force; they
do nothing for the world; to set such people to work cannot be waste-
ful. It is the lost souls who need an Order.” Wells had urged Skilton to
consider that rituals and organizations were less vital than individual
commitments: “Each Believer must decide for himself.” And that led
Skilton to his final plea:
You abandon us to our own devices. But you forget we are not all Believ-
ers; that even those of us who are, have no certain & constant faith; above
all that we are not capable of deciding these things, and that we have no
means of finding others “with like training and congenial temperament.”
The need is for a nucleus to crystallise upon, a centre of attraction. Cen-
tres of attraction already exist—churches, YMCA’s, polytechnics, clubs of
all sorts. These may interest or amuse, they do not inspire & propel. They
exercise a certain influence for a little time, & then the embryo-samurai
relapses into an individualistic existence & knows no more fine aspira-
tions.… There is a great untapped source; sooner or later it will be known
& utilized; now it runs to waste.
Yours sincerely, J. H. Skilton75

After this letter, nothing more is heard of either an Order of Samurai


or a Lesser Rule. By the Spring of 1909 the Samurai Press had stopped
accepting new manuscripts and by the end of that year its nominal
and largely absentee publisher, Maurice Browne, declared it had “gone
finally to pieces.”76 Its bankruptcy marks the end of the short history
of the first Wellsians.
What, at last, is the point of this episode in failed utopianism and
what was the aftermath?
In notes written about ten years after the dissolution of the group
Browne thought back on the failure to come up with a consensual credo
that all the potential Samurai would accept. Given the inclination of
some members to include in the creed clauses on sexual purity and
monogamy, Browne found it “pathetic & ironic” that at about the time
of the breakup Romney Green eloped with Harold Murray’s wife. But
Browne had not really turned his back on the worthiness of the en-
deavor, though still conceived in perversely aesthetic terms: “The whole
story is at least an interesting sidelight on English social & literary
history a few years before the war, & at most a real step perhaps in the
organization of that Order which will one day arise of men & women

464
CROSSLEY : WELLS

dedicated to poetry & the service of beauty.”77 In fact, these first Well-
sians can be regarded as, if not the vanguard of a new social or artistic
order, harbingers of later organizations devoted to the promotion of
Wells’s ideas, values, and works: Cosmopolis, which existed for several
years in the mid-1930s and with which Wells, once again, had an am-
bivalent relationship, and the international H. G. Wells Society which
was founded in 1960 and persists as a scholarly organization to this
day.78
By the time he made his notes on the Samurai in 1918 Browne had
long since emigrated to the United States where he married the ac-
tress Ellen Van Volkenburg and the two of them founded the Chicago
Little Theatre; after his divorce Browne returned to England in the
mid-1920s and enjoyed a successful career as actor, playwright, and
theatrical entrepreneur until his death in 1955. Harold Monro’s ca-
reer was distinguished by his founding of London’s celebrated Poetry
Bookshop and an important magazine, The Poetry Review, but his own
poems never achieved the celebrity of those of Pound, Eliot, and the
other modernists he championed. He maintained his connections with
many of the old Samurai, especially Browne and Romney Green, but
his personal life was marked by depression, furtive activity in the gay
underworld, and severe alcoholism leading to his death in 1933.
And the other Samurai? Romney Green continued to design furni-
ture and build boats and was a notable figure in the Arts and Crafts
movement. The engineer Wilfrid Vernon became a major in the Royal
Air Force during the Great War and went on to become an explosives
expert in the Second World War and a Labour Party M.P. in the post-
war years. Ralph Straus achieved some success as a novelist and critic
and especially as a biographer of Dickens. But J. H. Skilton appears to
have vanished from the historical record. Two months after he sent his
final letter to Wells Skilton became the father of his first child. Within
a few years he advanced from clerk to manager, according to the bare
details of the 1911 census, and in 1913 his name and that of his wife
appeared on the passenger list of a ship that sailed from Southampton
to New York. But apart from these slender documentary fragments of
information, we have nothing about Skilton’s life after the Samurai
affair. No more letters and no trace of continued reformist activity ap-
pear after February 1908. Nevertheless, a last word for Skilton comes
from Maurice Browne—this time from a note made in 1933 when, once
more, he was rereading the creeds of the old Samurai group. He found
most of the proposals for the Order of the Samurai, including his own,

465
ELT  54 : 4  2011

overstated and verbose. But there was an exception: “It’s noticeable


that Skilton—toward whom, if I remember right, the rest of us were
rather sniffy—writes much the toughest-minded stuff.”79 Although
Wells had finally let Skilton go in 1908, Browne’s verdict is probably
correct, for Skilton, despite his lack of sophistication, was probably the
most Wellsian, the most utopian of the lot.

Notes
1. Maurice Browne to Arthur Davison Ficke, 6 July 1905 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne
Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan). Compare his letter to Harold Monro,
written on the same day and also in the Michigan Archives.
2. The Utopians. Rules [1906–1908], 3 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Library).
3. J. H. Skilton to H. G. Wells, 29 September 1906 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Li-
brary).
4. H. G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography (New York: Macmillan, 1934), 564, 565.
5. H. G. Wells, Mankind in the Making (New York: Scribner’s, 1904), 367.
6. H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (1905), Gregory Claeys and Patrick Parrinder, eds. (London: Pen-
guin, 2005), 174.
7. Maurice Browne, Too Late to Lament: An Autobiography (London: Gollancz, 1955), 57.
8. Harold Monro notebook, May 1906 (Harold Monro Papers, Box 6, Folder Q, Charles Young
Library, Special Collections, UCLA).
9. Wells, A Modern Utopia, 174.
10. Harold Monro notebook, October 1906 (Monro Papers, Young Library, UCLA).
11. Harold Monro to Maurice Browne, 6 December 1906 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne
Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
12. Maurice Browne to H. G. Wells, 26 December 1906 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois
Library). See the age requirement for the Samurai in Wells, A Modern Utopia, 187.
13. David C. Smith, H. G. Wells, Desperately Mortal (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 101.
14. Several of the earliest letters of Amber Reeves to Wells, most on the stationery of Newnham
College, Cambridge, are focused on the formation of The Utopians and her successful campaign to
interest Wells in the organization. Although there are no dates on most of these letters they are con-
jecturally dated to 1905 and 1906. For the first extensive treatment of the affair with Amber Reeves,
based on correspondence sealed to previous biographers, see Michael Sherborne, H. G. Wells: Another
Kind of Life (London: Peter Owen, 2010), esp. 189–95, 205–11.
15. Amber Reeves to H. G. Wells, undated (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Library).
16. Amber Reeves to H. G. Wells, 12 March, no year given (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois
Library).
17. Amber Reeves to Amy Catherine (Jane) Wells, undated but with an enclosed constitution for
the Utopians dated May 1906 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Library). This letter lists
the names and addresses of the seventeen women and two men (including Wells) who were currently
members of the Utopians. A letter from the Utopians’ secretary Alice Franklin to Wells, 23 July 1907,
lists him as one of the members of the governing committee for 1907–1909 (H. G. Wells Archive, Uni-
versity of Illinois Library).
18. H. G. Wells in Love, G. P. Wells, ed. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1984), 73.

466
CROSSLEY : WELLS

19. The Utopians. Rules [1906–1908], 7 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Library).
20. In addition to Wells’s own narrative of his relationship with Amber Reeves in H. G. Wells in
Love (73–86), see also the detailed discussion, intertwined with an account of Wells’s troubled associa-
tion with the Fabian Society, in Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie’s H. G. Wells: A Biography (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1973), 250–70.
21. See Dominic Hibberd, Harold Monro: Poet of the New Age (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001), 29–56.
22. A very full account of Wells’s fight for control of the Fabian Society is in the MacKenzies’ H.
G. Wells, 184–235. See also Smith, H. G. Wells, Desperately Mortal, 102–16; Sherborne, H. G. Wells:
Another Kind of Life, 170–85.
23. J. H. Skilton (as he signed all his surviving correspondence) was actually James Harold Skilton
(1880–1949), a native of Surrey and a London accountant who married Harriet Bruce in 1904. Dur-
ing the years of his association with the Samurai organization and with Wells Skilton lived in the
northeast London suburb of Woodford Green. For the few details about Skilton in this essay that are
not derived from his letters I am grateful for the genealogical and documentary research of my wife
Monica McAlpine and Professor Ruth Levitas of the University of Bristol.
24. J. H. Skilton to H. G. Wells, 29 September 1906 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Li-
brary).
25. H. G. Wells to Miss Franklin, c. mid-September 1906, Letter 653, The Correspondence of H. G.
Wells, David C. Smith, ed. (London: Pickering and Chatto, 1998), II: 128. Smith’s note says that Miss
Franklin is “unknown”—but she must be the same Alice Franklin whose other surviving letters to
Wells are in the Archive at Illinois. Earlier, in June 1906, Wells had had an extensive conversation
with Violet Paget (“Vernon Lee”) about the practicability of a society constructed along the lines of A
Modern Utopia. See Smith, H. G. Wells, Desperately Mortal, 100–101.
26. J. H. Skilton to H. G. Wells, 29 September 1906 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Li-
brary).
27. J. H. Skilton to H. G. Wells, 8 December 1907 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Li-
brary). The letter includes a detailed itemizing of Skilton’s budget for a year.
28. J. H. Skilton to H. G. Wells, 1 October 1906 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Library);
Fabian News, 16.2 (November 1906), 52. It was a busy season of sponsorship for the Wellses; the
October 1906 issue of Fabian News (44) lists them as proposers for Amber Reeves’s candidacy for the
Society.
29. J. H. Skilton to Harold Monroe [sic], 20 April 1907 (Monro Papers, UCLA Library). Skilton’s
misspelling of Monro’s name suggests that this may be his first contact with him.
30. Harold Monro to Maurice Browne, 21 April 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne Pa-
pers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan). The letter includes Monro’s transcript of
a sonnet by Skilton titled “The Superman.” In Harold Monro: Poet of the New Age Hibberd observes,
“The other Samurai thought Skilton was excessively lower-middle-class” (49).
31. Typescript, “Prospectus of the Samurai Press 1907” (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois
Library). The prospectus quotes from A Modern Utopia, 363.
32. Maurice Browne and Harold Monro, Proposals for a Voluntary Nobility (Norwich: Samurai
Press, 1907), 9.
33. Maurice Browne to H. G. Wells, 21 January 1907 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois
Library).
34. Proposals for a Voluntary Nobility, 8.
35. Maurice Browne to Arthur Davison Ficke, 5 February 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice
Browne Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
36. In prefatory remarks about the “shot-silk texture” of his book (A Modern Utopia, 6) Wells de-
fined the elusive mix of imaginative dreaming and philosophical argument at which he aimed.
37. Cutting from Manchester Guardian, 23 March 1907 in Samurai Press Scrapbook (Ellen Van
Volkenburg-Maurice Browne Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
38. H. G. Wells to Maurice Browne, 3 January 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne Pa-
pers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan). This is a typed excerpt made by Browne
from the letter. In the mid-1920s, when he needed money, Browne sold all his original letters from

467
ELT  54 : 4  2011

Wells. The text of this excerpt appears in The Correspondence of H. G. Wells, II: 151, but the recipient
is misidentified as Lewis Browne and the date is given incorrectly as June 3.07.
39. Maurice Browne to H. G. Wells, 26 December 1906 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois
Library). Ficke’s father, a German immigrant, is said to have been the richest man in eastern Iowa.
See William H. Roba, “Twins in My Cradle: Arthur Davison Ficke, Iowa Poet,” Books at Iowa, 39 (No-
vember 1983), 48.
40. The warning of “danger” is cited in Maurice Browne to Arthur Davison Ficke, 5 February 1907
(Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan);
Arthur Davison Ficke to Chance J. Hambleton, 24 March 1907 (Ficke Papers, Newberry Library,
­Chicago).
41. Maurice Browne to Harold Monro, 24 February and 15 March 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-
Maurice Browne Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
42. Harold Monro to Maurice Browne, 24 February 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne
Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
43. W. F. Vernon to Harold Monro, 23 April and 5 May 1907 (Monro Papers, UCLA Library).
44. Harold Monro to Maurice Browne, 27 April 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne Pa-
pers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
45. W. F. Vernon to Harold Monro, 20 May 1907 (Monro Papers, UCLA Library).
46. “First Public Conference on Mr. H. G. Wells’ ‘Samurai,’” The New Age, 1 (2 May 1907), 9–11.
The issue contained a half-page advertisement for the first several titles from the newly inaugurated
Samurai Press.
47. Maurice Browne to Marsie Browne, dated simply Sunday 07; Maurice Browne to Arthur Davi-
son Ficke, 21 April 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne Papers, Special Collections Library,
University of Michigan). Monro spent all his time after the lecture talking with Shaw, while Straus
took over Carpenter.
48. Maurice Browne to H. G. Wells, 21 April 1907 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Li-
brary).
49. Browne, Too Late to Lament, 86.
50. Harold Monro to Maurice Browne, 27 April 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne Pa-
pers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
51. Maurice Browne to Harold Monro, undated (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne Papers,
Special Collections Library, University of Michigan). Browne’s Job: A Dramatic Poem had been pri-
vately published in 1906.
52. H. G. Wells to Maurice Browne, 30 April 1907, Letter 684, The Correspondence of H. G. Wells,
II: 148. Again, the editor has misidentified Maurice Browne as Lewis Browne.
53. Browne, Too Late to Lament, 86.
54. Maurice Browne to Arthur Davison Ficke, 12 May 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne
Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
55. Wells, A Modern Utopia, 50.
56. Harold Monro to Maurice Browne, 3 May 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne Papers,
Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
57. J. H. Skilton to H. G. Wells, 9 May 1907 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Library).
58. Wells, A Modern Utopia, 177.
59. In Too Late to Lament (88) Browne reflected that the Samurai Press never made a penny and it
survived for just over two years on money that came mostly out of the pockets of Browne, Monro, and
Ficke.
60. H. G. Wells, “Credo” (Monro Papers, UCLA Library). A copy of Wells’s creed, with handwrit-
ten corrections, is also among the papers in the Browne Archive at Michigan and the Wells Archive,
University of Illinois Library. A transcript, with minor errors, appears in The Correspondence of H.
G. Wells, II: 198–99.
61. J. H. Skilton, “Comments” (Monro Papers, UCLA Library).

468
CROSSLEY : WELLS

62. Maurice Browne, “Comments on Samurai Creeds,” late 1907 (Monro Papers, UCLA Library).
There is also a typescript in the Browne Archive at Michigan.
63. A. Romney Green, “General Remarks” from “Comments on Creeds” (Ellen Van Volkenburg-
Maurice Browne Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
64. “Comments on Samurai Creeds” (Monro Papers, UCLA Library). There are two versions of
Skilton’s creed in the UCLA collection and I have drawn on both, but all quotations are from the
revised and expanded second version. Monro’s and Browne’s critiques were typed by Skilton from
handwritten submissions.
65. J. H. Skilton to Harold Monro, 1 October 1907 (Monro Papers, UCLA Library).
66. Harold Murray, note dated 24 November 1907 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-Maurice Browne Papers,
Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
67. H. G. Wells to Harold Monro, undated [late 1907] (Monro Papers, UCLA Library).
68. J. H. Skilton to Harold Monro, 2 January 1908 (Monro Papers, UCLA Library).
69. J. H. Skilton to Harold Monro, 12 October 1907 (Monro Papers, UCLA Library). In the let-
ter Skilton talks of joining “Miss Franklin’s Utopians,” alluding to Alice Franklin, the secretary of
Reeves’s group.
70. J. H. Skilton to H. G. Wells, 22 January 1908 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Li-
brary).
71. J. H. Skilton to H. G. Wells, 29 January 1908 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Li-
brary).
72. H. G. Wells to Harold Monro, 8 February 1908 (Wells Collection, Howard Gottlieb Archival Re-
search Center, Boston University). This portion of Wells’s letter to Monro was left out of the printed
text of letter 750 in The Correspondence of H. G. Wells, II: 209–10. Strangely, the words quoted in this
essay are attributed in Smith, Letter 605, to a letter from Wells to Victor Fisher, 29 November 1905,
II: 88. Here as elsewhere in Smith’s edition Skilton’s name is mistranscribed as Shelton.
73. See Wells, A Modern Utopia, 197–98.
74. From Wells’s copy of the 8-page typescript, without heading, on The Lesser Rule, signed by J. H.
Skilton and supplemented by a 2-page typescript dated February, 1908 (H. G. Wells Archive, Univer-
sity of Illinois Library). On the four types of mind see Wells, A Modern Utopia, 179–82.
75. J. H. Skilton to H. G. Wells, 27 February 1908 (H. G. Wells Archive, University of Illinois Li-
brary).
76. Maurice Browne to Arthur Davison Ficke, 17 April and 24 December 1909 (Ellen Van Volken-
burg-Maurice Browne Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
77. Maurice Browne, “Notes preceding the Creeds,” section dated 3 June 1918 (Ellen Van Volken-
burg-Maurice Browne Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).
78. See John Hammond, The H. G. Wells Society: The First Forty Years, 1960–2000: A Short History
(London: H. G. Wells Society, 2000).
79. Maurice Browne, “Notes preceding the Creeds,” section dated 1933 (Ellen Van Volkenburg-
Maurice Browne Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan).

469
Copyright of English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 is the property of ELT Press and its content may not
be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written
permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.