Greatest in History according to H.G.Wells

This is a newspaper article written by H.G. Wells published in 1935. The scanned version is not very readable, but the content is very interesting. I thought, I will republish it here for everyone's enjoyment.

Greatest In History
Mr. H. G. Wells names Jesus of Nazareth, Buddha, and Aristotle as having had greater effect on world history than any other known figures.

Who are the three greatest men in history?

SOME 13 years ago I was asked to name the six greatest men in the world, says,  Mr. Wells in the "Readers' Digest." I did so. Lately. I have been confronted with my former answer and asked if I still adhere to it. Not altogether. Three of my great names stand as they stood then-but three, I must add it, seem to have lost emphasis.

The fact is that there are not six greatest names to cite.There are only; three.

When I was asked which single individual has left the most permanent immpression on the world, the manner of the questioner almost carried the implication that it was Jesus of Nazareth. I agreed.

He is, I think, a quite cardinal figure in human history, and it will be long before Western men decide-if ever they do decide, to abandon his life as the turning point in their reckoning of time. I am speaking of him, of course, as a man. The historian must treat him as a man, just as the painter must paint him as a man. We do not know as much about him as we would like to know; but the four gospels, though sometimes contradictory, agree in giving us a picture of a very definite personality; they carry a conviction of reality. To assume that he never lived, that the accounts of his life are inventions, is more difficult and raises far more problems for the historian than to accept the essential elements of the gospel stories as fact.

Of course, the reader and I live in countries where to millions of persons believe Jesus is more than a man. But the historian must disregard that fact. He must adhere to the evidence that would pass unchallenged if his book were to be read in every nation under the sun. Now, it is interesting and significant that a historian, without any theological bias whatever, should find that he cannot portray the progress of humanity honestly without giving a foremost place to a peniless teacher from Nazareth.

The old Roman historians ignored Jesus entirely; they left no impress on the historical records of his time. Yet, more than 1900 years later, a historian like myself, who does not even call himself a Christian, finds the picture centering irresistibly around the life and character of this most significant.

It is one of the most revolutionary changes of outlook that has ever stirred and changed human thought. No age has even yet understood fully the tremendous challenge it carries to the established institutions and subjugations of mankind. But the world began to be a different world from the day that doctrine was preached, and every step toward wider understanding and tolerance and good will is a step in the direction of that universal brotherhood Christ proclaimed.

The historian's test of an Individual's greatness is: "What did he leave to grow? Did he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigour that persisted after him?" By this test Jesus stands first. As with Jesus, so with Buddha, whom I would put very near in importance to Christ. You see clearly a man, simple, devout, lonely, battling for light, a vivid human personality, not a myth.

He, too. gave a message to mankind universal in its character. Many of our best modern ideas are in closest harmony with it. All the miseries and discontents of life are due, he taught, to selfishness. Selfishness takes three forms-one, the desire to satisfy the senses; another, the craving for immortality; and the third is the desire for prosperity, worldliness.

Before a man can become serene he must cease to live for his senses or himself. Then he merges into a greater being. Buddha in different language called men to self-forgetfulness 500 years before Christ. In some ways he was nearer to us and our needs. He was more lucid upon our individual importance in service than Christ and less ambiguous upon the question of personal immortality.

Aristotle Next. I would write the name of Aristotle, who is as cardinal in the story of the human intelligence as Christ and Buddha in the story of the human will. Aristotle began a great new thing in the world--the classifying and analysing of information. He was the father of the scientific synthesis. There had been thinkers in the world before, but he taught men to think together. He was the tutor of Alexander the Great, whose support made it possible for him to organise study on a scale and in a manner never before attempted.

At one time he had a thousand men, scattered throughout Asia and Greece, collecting material for his natural history. Political as well as natural science began with him. His students made an analysis of 153 political constitutions. Aristotle's Insistence on facts and their rigid analysis, the determination to look the truth in the face, was a vast new step in human progress.

These are three great names. I could write down 20 or 30 names. For the next three places. Plato? Mohammed? Confucius? I turn over names like Robert Owen, tie real founder of modrern Socialism. I can even weigh my pet aversion, Karl Marx, for a place. He made the world think of economic realities, even If he made it think a little askew.

Then what of those great astronomers who broke the crystal globe in whic man's imagination had been confined and let it out into limitless space. Bacon's Predictions then in that original selection of mine. I find that my own particular weakness for Roger Bacon crept in. He voiced a passionate insistence upon the need for experiment and of collecting knowledge. He predicted more than six hundred years ago, the advent of ships and trains that could be mechanically propelled; he also prophesied flying machines. He, too, set men thinking along new, fresh lines, and left an influence that has lived for the benefit of all generations. But when I come to put him beside Christ, Buddha, and Aristotle-it won't do.

Do you want an American in the list? Lincoln, better than any other, seemed to me to embody the essential characteristics of America. He stood for equality of opportunity, for the right and the chance of the child of the humblest home to reach the higest place. His simplicity, his humour, his patience, his deep-abiding optimism, based on the conviction that right would prevail-all these seemed to typify the best that America had to give mankind. Put, against those three who are enduring symbols of brotherhood and individual divinity, of service in self forgetfulness, and of the intellectual synthesis of mankind, what was rugged Abraham Lincoln?  Do you really want an American in the list yet? America is still young.

I think I will leave it at three.

Herbert George Wells


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