Edward Page Mitchell (1852-1927),
Science Fiction Pioneer:
Time Travel, Hegel, and More


Edward Page Mitchell was an editor for the New York Sun and a pioneer of the science fiction genre, an initiator or innovator of several of its sub-genres—time travel, teleportation, invisibility, faster-than-light travel, mutants, mind transfer, thinking computers and cyborgs.

The first fictional presentation of a time machine is credited to Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau (1887) but the first bona fide science fiction story featuring time travel is more difficult to fix. The main Wikipedia article on time travel lists a number of candidates. As far as unambiguous naturalistic time travel (e.g. not involving sleep, dreams, etc.) are concerned, one candidate is Alexander Veltman’s 1836 Predki Kalimerosa: Aleksandr Filippovich Makedonskii (The forebears of Kalimeros: Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon), in which the narrator rides to ancient Greece on a hippogriff. Other examples are cited, which are ambiguous, involve dreams or supernatural agents. Mitchell's 1881 short story The Clock That Went Backward, while not involving an actual machine, is unambiguously naturalistic, involves a device, and is at least as sciencefictiony as a comparable episode of The Twilight Zone. Morine claims that some count this as the first SF time travel story.

For additional background on the time travel subgenre and early science fiction more generally, see the links on the companion web page Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau: El anacronópete — The First Time Machine in addition to those below. Some chronologies are more complete than others. Time travel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia is a good place to start. Note that most often left out of account is Pierre Martin Désiré Eugène Mouton’s “L'historioscope” (1883), which can be found in English translation in News from the Moon. According to the blog referenced:

Eugène Mouton’s The Historioscope is perhaps the most impressive story in the collection. A historian researching ancient trade patterns meets a very eccentric old gentleman who has invented a means of actually seeing the past, literally. The idea is cleverly developed.

Mitchell's landmark science fiction tale should pique our interest also for the reference to Hegel’s philosophy in it, unaccounted for in the available online materials listed below.

In marked contrast with the general indifference [to the history of Leyden] was the enthusiasm of Professor Van Stopp, my chosen guide through the cloudiness of speculative philosophy.

This distinguished Hegelian was a tobacco-dried little old man, with a skullcap over features that reminded me strangely of Aunt Gertrude’s.

And later:

I sought to draw him out on Hegel, with whose chapter on the complexity and interdependency of things I was just then struggling.

“You do not grasp the return of the Itself into Itself through its Otherself?” he said smiling. “Well, you will, sometime.”

The professor, on Aunt Gertrude’s clock going backwards:

“I thought you Hegelian enough,” he continued, “to admit that every condition includes its own contradiction. Time is a condition, not an essential. Viewed from the Absolute, the sequence by which future follows present and present follows past is purely arbitrary. Yesterday, today, tomorrow; there is no reason in the nature of things why the order should not be tomorrow, today, yesterday.”

The narrator cannot accept the notion of time reversal.

“Your intelligence has no wings. You follow in the trail of Compte and his slimy brood of creepers and crawlers. You speak with amazing assurance of your position in the universe. You seem to think that your wretched little individuality has a firm foothold in the Absolute. Yet you go to bed tonight and dream into existence men, women, children, beasts of the past or of the future. How do you know that at this moment you yourself, with all your conceit of nineteenth-century thought, are anything more than a creature of a dream of the future, dreamed, let us say, by some philosopher of the sixteenth century? How do you know that you are anything more than a creature of a dream of the past, dreamed by some Hegelian of the twenty-sixth century? How do you know, boy, that you will not vanish into the sixteenth century or 2060 the moment the dreamer awakes?”

I assume Mitchell is referring to Auguste Comte. Following their adventure back in time, the professor concludes:

“We hear much,” said the Hegelian professor, reading from a notebook in his usual dry, hurried tone, “of the influence of the sixteenth century upon the nineteenth. No philosopher, as far as I am aware, has studied the influence of the nineteenth century upon the sixteenth. If cause produces effect, does effect never induce cause? Does the law of heredity, unlike all other laws of this universe of mind and matter, operate in one direction only? Does the descendant owe everything to the ancestor, and the ancestor nothing to the descendant? Does destiny, which may seize upon our existence, and for its own purposes bear us far into the future, never carry us back into the past?”

Hegel is also mentioned in Mitchell’s story “A Day Among the Liars” (in Collected Stories) and “The Soul Spectroscope: The Singular Materialism of a Progressive Thinker” (in The Tachypomp and Other Stories).

From “The Soul Spectroscope”:

The professor is firm in the conviction that modern science has narrowed down to almost nothing the border territory between the material and the immaterial. It may be some time, he admits, before any man shall be able to point his finger and say with authority, “Here mind begins; here matter ends.” It may be found that the boundary line between mina and matter is as purely imaginary as the equator that divides the northern from the southern hemisphere. It may be found that mind is essentially objective as is matter, or that matter is as entirely Subjective as is mind. It may be that there is no matter except as conditioned in mind. It may be that there is no mind except as conditioned in matter. Professor Dummkopf's views upon this broad topic are interesting, although somewhat bewildering. I can cordially recommend the great work in nine volumes, Koerperliehegelswissenschaft, to any reader who may be inclined to follow up the subject. The work can undoubtedly be obtained in the original Leipzig edition through any responsible importer of foreign books.

From “A Day Among the Liars”:

“Pardon me. It shows that Jenks was a practical man, as well as a philosopher. Busy as he was during his life, he took great interest in politics, like all sensible citizens. He was also a metaphysician. He closely followed contemporary speculative thought, inclining, until shortly before his death, to the Hegelian school. Every midsummer, he left the stocking mill to run itself and repaired joyfully to Concord to listen to the lectures in the apple orchard. It is my private opinion that Messrs. Plato, Kant & Co. bled him pretty heavily for the privilege. But at Concord Jenks acquired new ideas as to his duty to the race.”

Mitchell name-drops other philosophers and philosophies. In “The Professor’s Experiment” we see:

”You are an excellent young man in several respects," rejoined the doctor. "Abjure your gross materialism and Blanche is yours with all my heart. Your antecedents are unexceptionable, but you are intellectually impregnated with the most dangerous heresy of this or any other age. If I should countenance it by giving you my daughter, I could never look the Princeton faculty in the face.”

* * *

Here, then, were three people, two of them young and in love with each other, divided by a question of metaphysics, the most abstract and useless question that ever wasted human effort. But that same question divided the schools of Europe for centuries and contributed largely to the list of martyrs for opinion's sake.

* * *

“You have no more heart than one of your father's non-individualized ideas. You are not real flesh and blood like other women. You are simply Extension, made up of an aggregate of concepts, and assuming to be Entity, and imposing your unreal existence upon a poor Devil like me. You are unreal, I say. A flaw in logic, an error of the senses, a fallacy in reasoning, a misplaced premise, and what becomes of you?”

* * *

A plaster bust of Aristotle looked across the room into the face of a plaster bust of Leibnitz. Prints of Gall, of Pappenheim, of Leeuwenhoek, hung upon the walls. Varnished dissections and wet preparations abounded. In a glass vessel on the table at Strout'’s elbow, the brain of a positivist philosopher floated in yellow alcohol: near it, also suspended in spirits, swung the medulla oblongata of a celebrated thief.

* * *

“What you call your convictions,” continued the savant, “are matters of mental constitution, depending on adventitious circumstances. You are a positivist, an idealist, a skeptic, a mystic, a what-not, why? Because nature, predisposition, the assimilation of bony elements, have made your skull thicker in one place, thinner in another.”

An important subject for research is how a newspaper editor not only invents several themes in science fiction but imports references to Hegel and other philosophers into his work.


About Edward Page Mitchell


EDWARD PAGE MITCHELL
     Editor of “The Sun”

Edward Page Mitchell - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Edward Page Mitchell - Summary Bibliography

The Man That Time Forgot – Edward Page Mitchell and the Burden of Anonymity
by Peter Lang, Unwinnable: Video Games & Geek Culture (blog), September 27, 2010

Tracking The Invisible Man – The Man That Time Forgot Part 2
by Peter Lang, Unwinnable: Video Games & Geek Culture (blog), October 8, 2010

The (Manifest?) Destiny of Hollow Earth: Does Science Fiction Belong to America?
by Peter Lang, Unwinnable: Video Games & Geek Culture (blog), October 15, 2010

The Man That Time Forgot: Hard-Boiled Wonderland at the End of the States
by Peter Lang, Unwinnable: Video Games & Geek Culture (blog), November 2, 2010

May Day, 1871: The Day “Science Fiction” Was Invented
by Jess Nevins, io9 (site), April 29, 2011

The History of Matter Transmission
by Bill Lengeman, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, February 2010

Time Travel in Literature
by David Morine, The Time Traveller (site)

A New Book by Moskowitz: Edward Page Mitchell's The Crystal Man
review by R.D. Mullen, Science Fiction Studies, #2 (Volume 1, Part 2), Fall 1973

Albert Page Mitchell (1852-1927) (Edward Page Mitchell) (Tellers of Weird Tales blog)

The Story of the Sun: New York, 1833-1918 by Frank Michael O’Brien
with an introduction by Edward Page Mitchell
(source of photo at left, following p. 430)

1877-EL HOMBRE SIN CUERPO- Edward Page Mitchell / Manuel Rodriguez Yague
Un universo de Ciencia Ficción (blog), 10 Nov 2009

Sam Moskowitz: A Preliminary Bibliography
(Center for the Bibliography of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Cushing Library, Texas A&M University,
25 April 2005)



Stories by Edward Page Mitchell

The Clock That Went Backward (New York Sun, 1881)

Collected Stories
A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

The Tachypomp and Other Stories

Classic Horror Short Stories

Stories by American Authors, Volume 5 (The Tachypomp)


Bibliography

Mitchell, Edward Page. The Crystal Man: Landmark Science Fiction, collected and with a biographical perspective by Sam Moskowitz. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973. lxxii, 358 pp.

Mitchell, Edward Page. Memoirs of an Editor: Fifty Years of American Journalism. New York; London: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1924. xii, 458 pp.


The Crystal Man

Contents

Lost Giant of American Science Fiction—
A Biographical Perspective
by Sam Moskowitz
   

Science Fiction

The Crystal Man
The Balloon Tree
The Ablest Man in the World
The Tachypomp
The Man Without a Body
The Clock That Went Backward
The Senator’s Daughter

Old Squids and Little Speller
The Facts in the Ratcliff Case
The Story of the Deluge
The Professor’s Experiment
The Soul Spectroscope
The Inside of the Earth

Unknown-Fantasy

An Uncommon Sort of Spectre
The Cave of the Splurgles
The Devil’s Funeral
The Wonderful Corot
The Terrible Voyage of the Toad

Supernatural

The Devilish Rat
Exchanging Their Souls
The Case of the Dow Twins
An Extraordinary Wedding
Back From That Bourne
The Last Cruise of the Judas Iscariot
The Flying Weathercock
The Legendary Ship
The Shadow on the Fancher Twins

Neo-John Collier

The Pain Epicures
A Day Among the Liars

Future War Farce

Our War With Monaco

 
Note: Boldfaced introduction and stories appear in Moskowitz but not in the Project Gutenberg Collected Stories. “The Story of the Deluge,” “A Day Among the Liars,” and “Our War With Monaco” do not appear in the Classic Horror Short Stories. Only the essay by Moskowitz cannot be found online.
 

George Cary Eggleston on Science Fiction & Jules Verne (1874)

Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau: El anacronópete — The First Time Machine

Eugène Mouton: 19th Century Science Fiction Pioneer

«Le maître du temps» par Giuseppe Lipparini

The Man Who Was Solved by Dick Allen

H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine: Selected Bibliography

Alfred Jarry’s “How to Construct a Time Machine”: A Web Guide

Definition of ’Pataphysics by Alfred Jarry

Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources: A Selective Work in Progress

Exotica, Curiosa, Crankery, Hoaxes, Cultural & Intellectual Arcana: Selected Web Guide & Bibliography


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Uploaded 11 September 2011
Last update 22 October 2013
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