“Wade’s Essence” is a short story by the English author H. G. Wells (1866–1946), first published in the New Budget in April 1895.
The story is told as a third-person narrative and concerns Wayde, a prominent politician who in earlier life had suffered from “constitutional doubt”, but had become successful owing to the effects of what he had believed to be a drug able to induce complete self-confidence, the “essence” of the title.
The story begins with Wayde sitting before the fire with his doctor friend Manningtree. In his hand Wayde is holding a small bottle of a fluorescent lavender-tinted liquid, wondering what the essence that had so changed his life for the better, this “Water of Success”, might contain. Manningtree, who had provided the essence, declines to say, commenting only that “You might wonder all day, and still be surprised … when I told you”.
The two men lapse into silence, and Wayde, a successful and rising politician, reflects on how much his life has changed over the past seventeen years, from being a conspicuous failure to where he is in life today. Wayde recalls the occasion seventeen or eighteen years earlier when he had first learned of the essence. He was playing billiards with Manningtree and missed an easy shot. After winning the game, Manningtree remarked that Wayde’s problem is the “disproprortion” of his character and mind: “You are always tripping yourself up. Some subtle doubt is always arising just at the wrong moment and spoiling your stroke.” Manningtree went on to admit that he himself used to suffer from similar self-doubts until he was introduced to a certain medication.
Wayde asked to try the medication, but Manningtree was evasive, claiming that he had very little remaining, and did not know how to make more. But Wayde persisted in his request over the following days, and eventually Maningtree relented, asking in return only that Wayde’s sign a note promising to pay Maningtree £7,000 when he becomes a cabinet minister. One week later Wayde took his first dose, and his life was transformed; for the first time he had absolute self-confidence.
Sitting with Wayde by the fire, Manningtree muses out loud on whether Wayde is now “fit to run alone”. Wayde resists the idea of weaning himself off the elixir, but Manningtree goes on to tell him that it is simply distilled water, tinted to make it seem like a medication, and that he had effectively hypnotised Wayde by making the elixir seem difficult to obtain. Devastated by the revelation, Wayde hurls his bottle of elixir into the fire and makes to leave. Realising the error of his admission, Manningtree attempts to persuade Wayde that he was only joking, but the latter is unconvinced and storms out the room.
It was my [Manningtree’s] gas inflated him, anyhow … and anyhow he has had a very good time for seventeen years. But he is done for … What an arrant coward!
- H. G. Wells bibliographyList of publications written by H. G. Wells during the more than fifty years of his literary career.