Tuesday, 21 January 2014


 The most original, audacious, and fascinating 'shocker' which has been published for many a long day is 'The Time Machine,' by H. G. Wells. It relates how a strange individual, whom the author calls the Time Traveller, invents a machine for whizzing through time, either into the past or future. When it is complete he starts away into thousands of years hence, and the account of this start deserves reproduction, for it must be pronounced a remarkable imaginative effort. Unfortunately it is rather long. You must picture the Time Traveller mounted on the saddle of a strange-looking machine, half bicycle, half engine, half aeroplane. He pulls a lever and starts with a jerk. 'The night came like the turning out of a lamp, and in another moment came to-morrow. The laboratory grew faint and hazy, then fainter and ever fainter. To-morrow night came black, then day again, night again, day again, faster and faster still. An eddying murmur filled my ears, and a strange dumb confusedness descended on my mind. I am afraid I cannot convey the peculiar sensations of time travelling. As I put on pace night followed day like the flapping of a black wing. I saw the sun hopping swiftly across the sky, leaping it every minute, and every minute marking a day. The twinkling succession of darkness and light was excessively painful to the eye. Then in the intermittent darkness I saw the moon spinning swiftly through her quarters from new to full, and had a faint glimpse of the circling stars. Presently as I went on still gaining velocity, the palpitation of night and day merged into one continuous greyness, the sky took on a wonderful deepness of blue, the jerking sun became a streak of fire, the moon a fainter fluctuating band, and I could see nothing of the stars save now and then a brighter circle flickering in the blue.' At length when the dials on the machine tell the Traveller he has reached 805,000 a.d., he begins fearfully to think of pulling up, and does so rather too suddenly. The result is very nearly annihilation. Fortunately neither he nor the machine, though much knocked about, are seriously injured. But a big mental shock awaits the Traveller. The world is not the least what he or anyone else expected it to be. The Traveller has landed not, as he thinks at first, in the Golden Age, but in the Sunset of Mankind. What this signifies I won't spoil the interest of the story or the elaboration of a highly ingenious theory by intimating. The Time Traveller's experiences are thrilling, especially when after his narrow escape from death at 'the hands of the subterranean race of blind cannibals he escapes on his machine still further into the future, finally all but assisting at the end of the world. He returns safely, however, and tells his incredible story to a number of sceptical friends. Their incredulity unfortunately tempts him to undertake another journey, and from this the Time Traveller never comes back. The tale altogether is, as I began by saying, a great effort of a sumptuous imagination. Mr. Wells beats Jules Verne hollow at his own game.

 South Australian Chronicle 10 August 1895



Some of the reviewers of that remarkable little book, 'The Time Machine,' pay Mr. Wells the dubious compliment of likening his subtle allegory to Jules Verne's fairy tales. Why, it is worth half a dozen such literary trivialities. As a combination of sumptuous imagination and yet fair logical reasoning, the work has, indeed, but seldom been equalled. I have referred to it briefly in my literary notes, but here is a more fuller descriptive notice. The writer says: —
 Mr. Wells's 'time-traveller' is an ingenious gentleman who has invented a machine which enables him to travel backwards and forwards along time, just as we all travel by boat or train backward and forwards along space. If we may take this liberty with the abstraction called space, why not also with the abstraction called time? Why not, indeed? Seated in the saddle of this machine lie goes at an incredible pace through time, days, nights, and years flying past him like a landscape on a railway journey. The consequent sensation is described with great spirit — ' I saw the sun hopping swiftly across the sky, leaping it every minute, aiid every minute marking a day .... [as the pace increased] the twinkling succession of darkness and light was excessively painful to the eye. Then, in the intermittent darkness, I saw the moon spinning swiftly through her quarters from new to full, and had a faint glimpse of the circling stars. Presently, as I went on, still gaining velocity, the palpitation of night and day merged into one continuous greyness ; the sky took on a wonderful deepness of blue, a splendid luminous color like that of early twilight; the jerking sun became a streak of fire, a brilliant arch, in space, the moon a fainter fluctuating band; and I could see nothing of the stars, save now and then a brighter circle flickering in the blue. The landscape was misty and vague.  I was still on the hillside upon which this house now stands, and the shoulder rose above me grey and dim. I saw trees growing and changing like puffs of vapor, now brown, now green ; they grew, spread, shivered and passed away. 1 saw huge buildings rise up faint and fair, and pass like dreams. The whole surface of the earth seemed changed — melting and flowing under my eyes. The little hands upon the dials that registered my speed raced round faster and faster. Presently I noted that the sun-bolt swayed up and down, from solstice to solstice, in a minute or less, and that consequently my pace was over a year a minute ; and minute by minute the white snow flashed across the world and vanished, and was followed by the bright, brief green of spring.'
At the year 802701 A.D. the time-traveller stopped, being still, of course, in the same place where he started, on rising ground in the neighborhood of Chelsea. Naturally, it is all transformed ; there is vegetation of infinite beauty, but the people of this new world are found not to be intellectual, moral, or physical giants, but a tiny, soft, 'Dresden-china race, about 4 ft. high, with frail and graceful figures and the intellects of five-year-old children. These pink, pretty creatures live on fruit, play and make childish love to each other all day long. All about the country-side are vast and imposing buildings, some already in ruin and others falling into decay. These are the relics of a past strong race, which the Dresden-china people use as sheep and cattle might the cloisters of a deserted abbey. But there are mysterious things about. ' Though they are shod and clothed and have plenty of food not one of them over does a stroke of work. Also, while they are gay and cheerful all day, they are possessed by a nameless terror by night. Gradually the time-traveller learns that they are only half the human race. There are strange shafts and deep wells at various intervals, which lead down to a great nether world where lives another race, a dwarfed and stunted white race of workers like owls, who hate the light and live and work in these caverns, where are all the tools and machinery and implements of production. These are the descendants of the workers who have gradually been driven underground by the greed of landlords and monopolising instincts of the propertied class. Mankind has, in fact, divided into two species:— "Gradually the truth dawned on me; that Man had not only remained one species, but had differentiated into two distinct animals ; that my graceful children of the Upper World were not the sole descendants of our generation, but that this bleached, obscene, nocturnal Thing, which had flashed before me, was also heir to all the ages.'
This, then, is the ultimate result of the gulf between rich and poor. The Haves, in the first instance, were above ground pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labor : — 'Ones they were there, they would no doubt have to pay rent, and not a little of it, for the ventilation of their caverns ; and if they refused, they would starve or be suffocated for arrears. Such of them as were no constituted as to be miserable and rebellious would die : and in the end, the balance being permanent, the survivors would become as well adapted to the conditions of underground life, and as happy in their way, as the Overworld people were to theirs.' So in the end the Have-nots get their revenge. The too-perfect security of the Over-worlders led them to a slow movement of degeneration, to a general dwindling in size, strength, and intelligence. The final stage is that they are practically kept by the nether-worlders as we keep cattle— fattened for a time, then killed and eaten. The nether worlders, however, hate the light, and will not emerge by day. But when darkness sets in they make their raids and carry off the Dresden-china people to their lair below. Hence the instinctive terror by night, to be forgotten when the sun rises, for the brains of the Over-worlders are so weak that they forget in the morning, and enjoy like sheep the pleasures of the day.
What the time-traveller does in this world of the future, and how he gets back, after many perils, the reader can discover for himself. The adventures have not much to do with the allegory, nor is the allegory to be taken too seriously. It would argue a lack of humor to remonstrate with Mr. Wells or to adduce reasons for supposing that the society of 800,000 A.D. will not be what is here imagined. We may, in any case, reflect that there is a fair interval for the world to enjoy itself in, and it would take a very altruistic man to be greatly concerned about a future in six figures. But this book is in great part very well written, and it gives a fanciful turn by no means without serious meaning to one side of the theory of evolution. 
South Australian Chronicle 27 July 1895

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