Dr Moreau and universal human rights

To Henry Hunt, Esq., as chairman of the meeting assembled in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, sixteenth day of August, 1819, and to the female Reformers of Manchester and the adjacent towns who were exposed to and suffered from the wanton and fiendish attack made on them by that brutal armed force, the Manchester and Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry, this plate is dedicated by their fellow labourer, Richard Carlile. (A coloured engraving that depicts the Peterloo Massacre (military suppression of a demonstration in Manchester, England by cavalry charge on August 16, 1819 with loss of life) in Manchester, England. The banner the woman is holding should read: Female Reformers of Roynton — “Let us die like men and not be sold like slaves”). (Manchester Library Services) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is interesting to discover allusions to the Romantics in unexpected places.

For example, in a scene in Well’s novel, Island of Dr Moreau (1896), the protagonist, Prendick is running away from Dr. Moreau and his assistant. The protagonist believes mistakenly that he is in danger of being vivisected and turned into one of the Beast Men. Eventually, he is cornered and makes an impassioned plea to the Beast Men, who also take part in the pursuit under the Doctor’s leadership:  “You who listen! Do you not see these men still fear you, go in dread of you? Why, then, do you fear them? You are many—” (1, Chapter 13).  The sentence is never finished, but  I hypothesize the unsaid but implied end of it.

There is a poem,“The Masque of Anarchy”(2),  by a romantic poet, P. Shelley, the husband of Frankenstein’s author, which ends:

Rise, like lions after slumber

          In unvanquishable number!

         Shake your chains to earth like dew

         Which in sleep had fallen on you:

         Ye are many—they are few!”

The poem is dedicated to the victims of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819 and written in the same year. About 60 000 people gathered for a peaceful protest at St Peter’s FieldManchester demanding universal voting rights. They were attacked by the cavalry and at least 15 people died, 400 were injured. The riot was named after the anti-Napoleonic victory, Battle of Waterloo.

Therefore, despite their strange appearance and habits, Prendick is appealing to the universal humanity of the Beast Men. As a potential victim, he feels more in common with strange creatures than with two Englishmen in charge of them. The coming XX century will see the expansion of universal human rights in the former British Empire from white men of property to white women and non-white people. Including when the rights were not given but taken by “many” from “few”.

In fact, as I was surprised to discover that after the Peterloo Massacre proudly anti-revolutionary Britain was as close to a revolution as it would ever be. The government presided over by the anti-reformist, pro-landowner Duke of Wellington of the Waterloo fame, gave in in the end and implemented the voting reform.

 P.S. A movie We Are Many about anti-Iraqui war protests shows that the image of them and us, them in charge, us in the right and saying about it, is popular 200 years later

Works cited:

1) G.H. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau,

2) P.B. Shelley —  The Masque of Anarchy

H.G. Wells on 19th century Science

First edition cover. Image by Heinemann, via Wikimedia Commons.

I recently re-read The island of Dr. Moreau as a part of Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World course. I’ve read it in a Russian translation as a child, but the only thing I remembered was men made from beasts.  30 years later I had different thoughts and discovered some interesting things about the writer.

Let’s look at the scientists of the novel. It’s narrated by a gentleman of leisure, Prendrick, rescued from a shipwreck by a ship, which apart from the crew, carries some wild animals and a doctor, Montgomery. Montgomery says that he was a medical student in London:

“Sixteen years being bullied by nurses and schoolmasters at their own sweet will; grinding hard at medicine, bad food, shabby lodgings, shabby clothes, shabby vice, a blunder,—I didn’t know any better,—and hustled off to this beastly island”.

And here lies my personal discovery. I think that Montgomery modelled on the H. G. Wells himself. Wells did study in a private school, quite a bad one. He never was a medical student, but  he studied biology under  the famous evolutionist Thomas Huxley, and a biologist is often a medical doctor thwarted in his/her ambition.

After this Wells studied in Royal College of Science Association new school until 1887.  In his Experiment in Autobiography, Wells says about this period that he was constantly  hungry.

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