Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.

By H. G. Wells

(English novelist, 1866–1946; author of many strange romances of modern science, and later, of penetrating studies of social injustice and hypocrisy. The present novel tells of the career of a financial potentate who begins life with a patent-medicine business)
IT was my uncle’s genius that did it. No doubt he needed me—I was, I will admit, his indispensable right hand; but his was the brain to conceive. He wrote every advertisement; some of them even he sketched. You must remember that his were the days before the Times took to enterprise and the vociferous hawking of that antiquated Encyclopædia. That alluring, button-holing, let-me-just-tell-you-quite-soberly-something-you-ought-to-know style of newspaper advertisement, with every now and then a convulsive jump of some attractive phrase into capitals, was then almost a novelty. “Many people who are MODERATELY well think they are QUITE well,” was one of his early efforts. The jerks in capitals were, “DO NOT NEED DRUGS OR MEDICINE,” and “SIMPLY A PROPER REGIMEN TO GET YOU IN TONE.” One was warned against the chemist or druggist who pushed “much-advertised nostrums” on one’s attention. That trash did more harm than good. The thing needed was regimen—and Tono-Bungay!  1
  Very early, too, was that bright little quarter column, at least it was usually a quarter column in the evening papers: “HILARITY—TONO-BUNGAY. Like Mountain Air in the Veins.” The penetrating trio of questions: “Are you bored with your Business? Are you bored with your Dinner? Are you bored with your Wife?”—that, too, was in our Gower Street days. Both these we had in our first campaign when we worked London south, central, and west; and then, too, we had our first poster,—the HEALTH, BEAUTY AND STRENGTH one. That was his design; I happen still to have got by me the first sketch he made for it.….  2
  By all modern standards the business was, as my uncle would say, “absolutely bona fide.” We sold our stuff and got the money, and spent the money honestly in lies and clamor to sell more stuff. Section by section we spread it over the whole of the British Isles; first working the middle-class London suburbs, then the outer suburbs, then the home counties, then going (with new bills and a more pious style of “ad”) into Wales, a great field always for a new patent-medicine, and then into Lancashire. My uncle had in his inner office a big map of England, and as we took up fresh sections of the local press and our consignments invaded new areas, flags for advertisements and pink underlines for orders showed our progress.  3
  “The romance of modern commerce? George!” my uncle would say, rubbing his hands together and drawing in air through his teeth. “The romance of modern commerce, eh? Conquest. Province by Province. Like sogers.”  4
  We subjugated England and Wales; we rolled over the Cheviots with a special adaptation containing eleven per cent. of absolute alcohol; “Tono-Bungay: Thistle Brand.” We also had the Fog poster adapted to a kilted Briton in a misty Highland scene.…  5
  As I look back at them now, those energetic years seem all compacted to a year or so; from the days of our first hazardous beginning in Farrington Street with barely a thousand pounds’ worth of stuff or credit all told—and that got by something perilously like snatching—to the days when my uncle went to the public on behalf of himself and me (one-tenth share) and our silent partners, the drug wholesalers and the printing people and the owner of that group of magazines and newspapers, to ask with honest confidence for £150,000. Those silent partners were remarkably sorry, I know, that they had not taken larger shares and given us longer credit when the subscriptions came pouring in. My uncle had a clear half to play with (including the one-tenth understood to be mine).  6
  £150,000—think of it!—for the goodwill in a string of lies and a trade in bottles of mitigated water! Do you realize the madness of the world that sanctions such a thing? Perhaps you don’t. At times use and wont certainly blinded me. If it had not been for Ewart, I don’t think I should have had an inkling of the wonderfulness of this development of my fortunes; I should have grown accustomed to it, fallen in with all its delusions as completely as my uncle presently did. He was immensely proud of the flotation. “They’ve never been given such value,” he said, “for a dozen years.” But Ewart, with his gesticulating hairy hands and bony wrists, is single-handed chorus to all this as it plays itself over again in my memory, and he kept my fundamental absurdity illuminated for me during all this astonishing time.  7
  “It’s just on all fours with the rest of things,” he remarked; “only more so. You needn’t think you’re anything out of the way.”  8

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