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The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds

H. G. Wells

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1 The Eve of the War

  • No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century tha_his world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater tha_an’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about thei_arious concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowl_s a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swar_nd multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fr_ver this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of thei_mpire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope d_he same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources o_uman danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them a_mpossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits o_hose departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other me_pon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionar_nterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as our_re to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool an_nsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surel_rew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the grea_isillusionment.
  • The planet Mars, I scarcely need remind the reader, revolves about the sun a_ mean distance of 140,000,000 miles, and the light and heat it receives fro_he sun is barely half of that received by this world. It must be, if th_ebular hypothesis has any truth, older than our world; and long before thi_arth ceased to be molten, life upon its surface must have begun its course.
  • The fact that it is scarcely one seventh of the volume of the earth must hav_ccelerated its cooling to the temperature at which life could begin. It ha_ir and water and all that is necessary for the support of animated existence.
  • Yet so vain is man, and so blinded by his vanity, that no writer, up to th_ery end of the nineteenth century, expressed any idea that intelligent lif_ight have developed there far, or indeed at all, beyond its earthly level.
  • Nor was it generally understood that since Mars is older than our earth, wit_carcely a quarter of the superficial area and remoter from the sun, i_ecessarily follows that it is not only more distant from time’s beginning bu_earer its end.
  • The secular cooling that must someday overtake our planet has already gone fa_ndeed with our neighbour. Its physical condition is still largely a mystery,
  • but we know now that even in its equatorial region the midday temperatur_arely approaches that of our coldest winter. Its air is much more attenuate_han ours, its oceans have shrunk until they cover but a third of its surface,
  • and as its slow seasons change huge snowcaps gather and melt about either pol_nd periodically inundate its temperate zones. That last stage of exhaustion,
  • which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a present-day problem fo_he inhabitants of Mars. The immediate pressure of necessity has brightene_heir intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts. An_ooking across space with instruments, and intelligences such as we hav_carcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance only 35,000,000 o_iles sunward of them, a morning star of hope, our own warmer planet, gree_ith vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent o_ertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretche_f populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas.
  • And we men, the creatures who inhabit this earth, must be to them at least a_lien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us. The intellectual side o_an already admits that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and i_ould seem that this too is the belief of the minds upon Mars. Their world i_ar gone in its cooling and this world is still crowded with life, but crowde_nly with what they regard as inferior animals. To carry warfare sunward is,
  • indeed, their only escape from the destruction that, generation afte_eneration, creeps upon them.
  • And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless an_tter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such a_he vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians,
  • in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in _ar of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fift_ears. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred i_he same spirit?
  • The Martians seem to have calculated their descent with amazing subtlety—thei_athematical learning is evidently far in excess of ours—and to have carrie_ut their preparations with a well-nigh perfect unanimity. Had our instrument_ermitted it, we might have seen the gathering trouble far back in th_ineteenth century. Men like Schiaparelli watched the red planet—it is odd,
  • by-the-bye, that for countless centuries Mars has been the star of war—bu_ailed to interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped s_ell. All that time the Martians must have been getting ready.
  • During the opposition of 1894 a great light was seen on the illuminated par_f the disk, first at the Salt Lick Observatory, then by Perrotin of Nice, an_hen by other observers. English readers heard of it first in the issue o_ATURE dated August 2. I am inclined to think that this blaze may have bee_he casting of the huge gun, in the vast pit sunk into their planet, fro_hich their shots were fired at us. Peculiar markings, as yet unexplained,
  • were seen near the site of that outbreak during the next two oppositions.
  • The storm burst upon us six years ago now. As Mars approached opposition,
  • Lavelle of Java set the wires of the astronomical exchange palpitating wit_he amazing intelligence of a huge outbreak of incandescent gas upon th_lanet. It had occurred towards midnight of the twelfth; and the spectroscope,
  • to which he had at once resorted, indicated a mass of flaming gas, chiefl_ydrogen, moving with an enormous velocity towards this earth. This jet o_ire had become invisible about a quarter past twelve. He compared it to _olossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of the planet, “a_laming gases rushed out of a gun.”
  • A singularly appropriate phrase it proved. Yet the next day there was nothin_f this in the papers except a little note in the DAILY TELEGRAPH, and th_orld went in ignorance of one of the gravest dangers that ever threatened th_uman race. I might not have heard of the eruption at all had I not me_gilvy, the well-known astronomer, at Ottershaw. He was immensely excited a_he news, and in the excess of his feelings invited me up to take a turn wit_im that night in a scrutiny of the red planet.
  • In spite of all that has happened since, I still remember that vigil ver_istinctly: the black and silent observatory, the shadowed lantern throwing _eeble glow upon the floor in the corner, the steady ticking of the clockwor_f the telescope, the little slit in the roof—an oblong profundity with th_tardust streaked across it. Ogilvy moved about, invisible but audible.
  • Looking through the telescope, one saw a circle of deep blue and the littl_ound planet swimming in the field. It seemed such a little thing, so brigh_nd small and still, faintly marked with transverse stripes, and slightl_lattened from the perfect round. But so little it was, so silvery warm—_in’s-head of light! It was as if it quivered, but really this was th_elescope vibrating with the activity of the clockwork that kept the planet i_iew.
  • As I watched, the planet seemed to grow larger and smaller and to advance an_ecede, but that was simply that my eye was tired. Forty millions of miles i_as from us—more than forty millions of miles of void. Few people realise th_mmensity of vacancy in which the dust of the material universe swims.
  • Near it in the field, I remember, were three faint points of light, thre_elescopic stars infinitely remote, and all around it was the unfathomabl_arkness of empty space. You know how that blackness looks on a frost_tarlight night. In a telescope it seems far profounder. And invisible to m_ecause it was so remote and small, flying swiftly and steadily towards m_cross that incredible distance, drawing nearer every minute by so man_housands of miles, came the Thing they were sending us, the Thing that was t_ring so much struggle and calamity and death to the earth. I never dreamed o_t then as I watched; no one on earth dreamed of that unerring missile.
  • That night, too, there was another jetting out of gas from the distant planet.
  • I saw it. A reddish flash at the edge, the slightest projection of the outlin_ust as the chronometer struck midnight; and at that I told Ogilvy and he too_y place. The night was warm and I was thirsty, and I went stretching my leg_lumsily and feeling my way in the darkness, to the little table where th_iphon stood, while Ogilvy exclaimed at the streamer of gas that came ou_owards us.
  • That night another invisible missile started on its way to the earth fro_ars, just a second or so under twenty-four hours after the first one. _emember how I sat on the table there in the blackness, with patches of gree_nd crimson swimming before my eyes. I wished I had a light to smoke by,
  • little suspecting the meaning of the minute gleam I had seen and all that i_ould presently bring me. Ogilvy watched till one, and then gave it up; and w_it the lantern and walked over to his house. Down below in the darkness wer_ttershaw and Chertsey and all their hundreds of people, sleeping in peace.
  • He was full of speculation that night about the condition of Mars, and scoffe_t the vulgar idea of its having inhabitants who were signalling us. His ide_as that meteorites might be falling in a heavy shower upon the planet, o_hat a huge volcanic explosion was in progress. He pointed out to me ho_nlikely it was that organic evolution had taken the same direction in the tw_djacent planets.
  • “The chances against anything manlike on Mars are a million to one,” he said.
  • Hundreds of observers saw the flame that night and the night after abou_idnight, and again the night after; and so for ten nights, a flame eac_ight. Why the shots ceased after the tenth no one on earth has attempted t_xplain. It may be the gases of the firing caused the Martians inconvenience.
  • Dense clouds of smoke or dust, visible through a powerful telescope on eart_s little grey, fluctuating patches, spread through the clearness of th_lanet’s atmosphere and obscured its more familiar features.
  • Even the daily papers woke up to the disturbances at last, and popular note_ppeared here, there, and everywhere concerning the volcanoes upon Mars. Th_eriocomic periodical PUNCH, I remember, made a happy use of it in th_olitical cartoon. And, all unsuspected, those missiles the Martians had fire_t us drew earthward, rushing now at a pace of many miles a second through th_mpty gulf of space, hour by hour and day by day, nearer and nearer. It seem_o me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that swift fate hanging ove_s, men could go about their petty concerns as they did. I remember ho_ubilant Markham was at securing a new photograph of the planet for th_llustrated paper he edited in those days. People in these latter time_carcely realise the abundance and enterprise of our nineteenth-centur_apers. For my own part, I was much occupied in learning to ride the bicycle,
  • and busy upon a series of papers discussing the probable developments of mora_deas as civilisation progressed.
  • One night (the first missile then could scarcely have been 10,000,000 mile_way) I went for a walk with my wife. It was starlight and I explained th_igns of the Zodiac to her, and pointed out Mars, a bright dot of ligh_reeping zenithward, towards which so many telescopes were pointed. It was _arm night. Coming home, a party of excursionists from Chertsey or Islewort_assed us singing and playing music. There were lights in the upper windows o_he houses as the people went to bed. From the railway station in the distanc_ame the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling, softened almost int_elody by the distance. My wife pointed out to me the brightness of the red,
  • green, and yellow signal lights hanging in a framework against the sky. I_eemed so safe and tranquill.