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The strong would be fretted by an energy for which there was no outlet…

I’m reading H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine. In the early going, it appears to have aged well. For a 111-year-old book, it still reads like good science fiction to me.

Not long after The Time Traveler’s arrival in the year 802,701 A.D.:

I thought of the physical slightness of the people, their lack of intelligence, and those big abundant ruins, and it strengthened my belief in a perfect conquest of Nature. For after the battle comes Quiet. Humanity had been strong, energetic, and intelligent, and had used all its abundant vitality to alter the conditions under which it lived. And now came the reaction of the altered conditions.

Under the new conditions of perfect comfort and security, that restless energy, that with us is strength, would become weakness. Even in our own time certain tendencies and desires, once necessary to survival, are a constant source of failure. Physical courage and the love of battle, for instance, are no great help—may even be hindrances—to a civilized man. And in a state of physical balance and security, power, intellectual as well as physical, would be out of place. For countless years I judged there had been no danger of war or solitary violence, no danger from wild beasts, no wasting disease to require strength of constitution, no need of toil. For such a life, what we should call the weak are as well equipped as the strong, are indeed no longer weak. Better equipped indeed they are, for the strong would be fretted by an energy for which there was no outlet. No doubt the exquisite beauty of the buildings I saw was the outcome of the last surgings of the now purposeless energy of mankind before it settled down into perfect harmony with the conditions under which it lived—the flourish of that triumph which began the last great peace. This has ever been the fate of energy in security; it takes to art and to eroticism, and then come languor and decay.

Even this artistic impetus would at last die away—had almost died in the Time I saw. To adorn themselves with flowers, to dance, to sing in the sunlight: so much was left of the artistic spirit, and no more. Even that would fade in the end into a contented inactivity. We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity, and, it seemed to me, that here was that hateful grindstone broken at last!

H. G. Wells, The Time Machine

Makes me think about the peaceful world I want to live in, and wonder what we might lose if there were no hardship and strife. I liked the part about the fretting, from which I drew the title for this post, since I often feel harassed by an unidentified ambition for which I’ve been unable to find — or to pursue — a long term, satisfying outlet. But I don’t necessarily think that puts me in with “the strong.” I feel weak when my grandiose fantasies subside.

Hey! This book is in the public domain and free for all. That makes me happy.

(Note to self: donate money to Project Gutenberg) (Even though I’m reading in a 1968 paperback book that combines The Time Machine with The War of the Worlds. Project Gutenberg is just a great site, and I love having it available to pull excerpts from and to point people at, among other things. It’s a beacon of free culture.)