Monday, June 13, 2005

For soon after he'd found his niche at Midhurst, happily contemplating a career as a teacher and perhaps one day a headmaster, he got a letter in the mail. The results of several national exams he had taken were forwarded to the Normal School of Science, a new university in London organized to train the scientists that growing industry needed. His high marks made him eligible for a scholarship. Wells applied, and was astonished when he got in. He was the first in his family to go to a university.

On the edge of the elegant Kensington Gardens, near the legendary Albert Hall and the great Gothic spire of the Albert Monument, the Normal School of Science campus was a fantasyland of red and yellow brick buildings glistening in the fog: its architecture of turrets and spires, domes and arcades were part Camelot, part Arabian Nights.

For young H.G. Wells, arriving with his "cheap shiny handbag", notebook and colored pencils, it was "one of the great days of my life."

That first year was his most important. For several months he took his first science course from one of the most eminent men in England, T.H. Huxley, a scientist, statesman, education reformer who is remembered most today for being a friend and defender of Charles Darwin.

Learning Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection from Huxley himself would be HG's most important intellectual experience. It would shape and inform his writing for decades, particularly his scientific romances.

HG began making a name as a writer in his student days, when among other articles he published his first attempts at a time travel story in the student magazine he helped to establish. He found himself in London at the height of its power and influence, particularly in science and technology. The city was growing fast, and new newspapers and magazines were springing up. But HG didn't have it easy. His bad health and the effects of this new life took their toll. He tried to make a living as a writer, but was having a hard time.

Then he happened to read a passage in a book by J.M. Barrie (author of "Peter Pan") that suggested to him how he might write for a broader audience. He began getting more assignments, and started publishing a new version of his time travel story in serial installments. But that magazine was sold and his editor fired before the story was finished. Months later, when that editor got a new magazine, he asked Wells to write his time travel story again, and gave him some suggestions on how to make it more popular. The Time Machine was published successfully as a serial, and when it came out in book form, H.G. Wells was launched as an author. He was 29.

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