Every Time I See an Adult on a Bicycle, I No Longer Despair for the Future of the Human Race

H. G. Wells? Robert Silverman? Diane Ackerman? Carie Dann? Heathcote Williams? Ali Smith? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: Apparently, the famous science fiction author H. G. Wells was a bicycle enthusiast. Here are three versions of a remark that has been credited to him:

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race.

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.

I fear that this is a misquotation. I have never seen a precise citation for this statement pointing to an essay, book, or speech created by H. G. Wells. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find substantive evidence supporting the attribution to H. G. Wells who died in 1946. The earliest close match located by QI appeared in the magazine “Bicycle USA” circa 1988 within a letter sent to the periodical. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1988 February, Bicycle USA, Volume 24, Section: Letters to the Editor, Quote Page 4, League of American Wheelmen, Bicycle USA, Baltimore, Maryland. (Note: QI has not yet verified this citation with … Continue reading

I encourage you to continue your efforts to make bicycling safer and more pleasant for the millions of bicyclists in North America. “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race” said H.G. Wells.

Robert Silverman
Montreal, Canada

QI does not know where the letter writer obtained this quotation. The long delay after the death of H. G. Wells greatly diminished the credibility of this citation.

Three different books by H. G. Wells have been suggested as the source of the quotation: “The Wheels of Chance” (1896), “The History of Mr. Polly” (1910), and “The Rights of Man” (1940). QI has explored these books, and the quotation was absent. Details are presented further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Every Time I See an Adult on a Bicycle, I No Longer Despair for the Future of the Human Race

References

References
1 1988 February, Bicycle USA, Volume 24, Section: Letters to the Editor, Quote Page 4, League of American Wheelmen, Bicycle USA, Baltimore, Maryland. (Note: QI has not yet verified this citation with scans or hardcopy; data and text are based on a match in Google Books; only snippets are visible; page number and date were extracted from Google Books and may be inaccurate)