Mind in the Modern World

"Mind in the Modern World." The first Thomas Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Spring 1972. Then published in the Times Literary Supplement, Nov. 17, 1972, 1381-1385. Subsequently published as a small book by New York: The Viking Press, 1973.


In 1946, in the last year of his life, H. G. Wells published a little book which is surely one of the saddest and possibly one of the most portentous documents of our century. Much of its sadness lies in how far it is from being a good book. Wells was old and ill and sunk in despair over the Second World War; he still wrote with his characteristic assertiveness, but he no longer commanded the lucidity which had marked his prose for fifty years, and this last utterance is neither orderly in its argument nor perspicuous in its expression. Yet it does communicate its informing idea, which is as heartbreaking as the incoherence in which it is set forth. Actually, the whole import of the essay is contained in its title, Mind at the End of Its Tether. With that weary and desperate phrase Wells repudiated his once passionately held belief that the human race might find salvation, which is to say happiness, in the right exercise of its mental powers.

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