Monday, June 15, 2015

A Contemporary Reaction to THE TIME MACHINE

"In A.D. 802,701."
By Richard Holt Hutton (1826-97).
The Spectator, July 13, 1895.

The reviewer, Richard Holt Hutton, was, according to Wikipedia (HERE), the son of a Unitarian minister who adhered to that religion until the last forty-four years of his life.

In his latter days, Hutton's "innovations and unconventional views about stereotyped Unitarian doctrines caused alarm" among his friends. His theological views "gradually came closer to those of the Church of England, which he ultimately joined. He brought to his study of theology a spirituality of outlook and an aptitude for metaphysical inquiry and exposition which made his writings more attractive."

When in 1861 he became joint editor and part owner of The Spectator, Hutton "took charge of the literary side of the paper, and gradually his own articles became one of the best-known features of serious and thoughtful English journalism. The Spectator, which gradually became a prosperous property, was an outlet for his views, particularly on literary, religious, and philosophical subjects, in opposition to the agnostic and rationalistic opinions then current in intellectual circles, as popularized by T. H. Huxley."
Small wonder, then, that when Hutton encountered The Time Machine (1895) written by that ardently opinionated agnostic rationalist Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), he was less than enthusiastic about the bleak determinism which the novel evinces:
Mr. H. G. Wells has written a very clever story as to the condition of this planet in the year 802,701 A.D., though the two letters A.D. appear to have lost their meaning in that distant date, as indeed they have lost their meaning for not a few even in the comparatively early date at which we all live.
The story is one based on that rather favourite speculation of modern metaphysicians which supposes time to be at once the most important of the conditions of organic evolution, and the most misleading of subjective illusions.
It is, we are told, by the efflux of time that all the modifications of species arise on the one hand, and yet Time is so purely subjective a mode of thought, that a man of searching intellect is supposed to be able to devise the means of travelling in time as well as in space, and visiting, so as to be contemporary with, any age of the world, past or future, so as to become as it were a true "pilgrim of eternity."
This is the dream on which Mr. H. G. Wells has built up his amusing story of "The Time Machine."
A speculative mechanician is supposed to have discovered that the "fourth dimension," concerning which mathematicians have speculated, is Time, and that with a little ingenuity a man may travel in Time  as well as in Space.
The Time-traveller of this story invents some hocus-pocus of a machine by the help of which all that belongs or is affixed to that machine may pass into the Future by pressing down one lever, and into the Past by pressing down another.
In other words, he can make himself at home with the society of hundreds of thousands of centuries hence, or with the chaos of hundreds of thousands of centuries past, at his pleasure.
As a matter of choice, the novelist very judiciously chooses the Future only in which to disport himself.
And as we have no means of testing his conceptions of the Future, he is of course at liberty to imagine what he pleases.
And he is rather ingenious in his choice of what to imagine.
Mr. Wells supposes his Time-traveller to travel forward from A.D. 1895 to A.D. 802,701, and to make acquaintance with the people inhabiting the valley of the Thames (which has, of course, somewhat changed its channel) at that date.
He finds a race of pretty and gentle creatures of silken organisations, as it were, and no particular interests or aims, except the love of amusement, inhabiting the surface of the earth, almost all evil passions dead, almost all natural or physical evils overcome, with a serener atmosphere, a brighter sun, lovelier flowers and fruits, no dangerous animals or poisonous vegetables, no angry passions, or tumultuous and grasping selfishness, and only one object of fear.
While the race of the surface of the earth has improved away all its dangers and embarrassments (including, apparently, every trace of a religion), the race of the underworld,—the race which has originally sprung from the mining population,—has developed a great dread of light, and a power of vision which can work and carry on all its great engineering operations with a minimum of light.
At the same time, by inheriting a state of servitude it has also inherited a cruel contempt for its former masters, who can now resist its attacks only by congregating in crowds during the hours of darkness, for in the daylight, or even in the bright moonlight, they are safe from the attacks of their former serfs.  . . .
We may expect with the utmost confidence that if the earth is still in existence in the year 802,701 A.D., either the A.D. will mean a great deal more than it means now, or else its inhabitants will be neither Eloi nor Morlocks.
For in that case evil passions will by that time have led to the extinction of races spurred and pricked on by conscience and yet so frivolous or so malignant.
Yet Mr. Wells's fanciful and lively dream is well worth reading, if only because it will draw attention to the great moral and religious factors in human nature which he appears to ignore.
- You can purchase Hutton's Aspects of Religious and Scientific Thought HERE, or save a lot of money and read it online HERE.
- The Norton Critical Edition of The Time Machine is for sale HERE.
- Last year we discussed some of H. G. Wells's works HERE.

Category: Science fiction criticism

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