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

The appetite for the marvellous is a universal one, and from the earliest dawn of literature until now there have always been stories eagerly read of all men. Ours is a scientific age, however, an age of easy unbelief, a questioning, doubting, faithless age, and we do not readily accept, even in the half-hearted, constructive way in which fiction must be believed to be enjoyed, any thing not home out by hard-visaged fact. We use gas and kerosene, and do not believe any longer in wonderful lamps, the scouring of which brings faithful genii to our presence as promptly as the tapping of a bell calls (or ought to call) Bridget or John Thomas from the kitchen. We cannot find Lilliput or Brobdingnag on the map, and so we turn all these things over to the children nowadays. We want wonder stories quite as our forefathers did, but we cannot get up the pseudo-belief in them which is absolutely necessary to their enjoyment. Science has destroyed the work of the classic wonder-mongers, not by proving the stories impossible, for that we knew already, but by creating in us mental habits fatal to their enjoyment.

No sooner was this evident than the world began to ask of science herself something in place of that which she had taken away, and Bulwer, with his remarkable faculty of discovering and adapting himself to new conditions, made more than one effort to create a new order of wonder stories suited to modem habits of thought. In “A Strange Story” and “Zanoni” he wove Rosicrucian dreams of science into a web of modern romance, and, failing in this, he conjured up the terrible “Vril-ya,” by supplementing the development theory with imagination. Even in this, however, he was only partly successful, and the modern wonder story—a wonder story which we practical, hard-headed, inquiring, fact-full people of today could in some sort believe—was not born until M. Jules Verne made a congenial marriage between science and fancy. By dint of using actual scientific facts and processes where they are at all practicable, and keeping his imagination in lines exactly parallel with those of science, when science itself will not do, he has succeeded in creating stories more marvellous than any of Scherherazade’s, but which nobody can help believing as he reads them. He uses actual, well-known things so constantly that his inventions never seem to be other than the most familiar facts of every-day life . . . He never ignores a difficulty likely to present itself to the mind of the reader, but calls attention to it instead, and provides against it in one way or another. Thus, in his account of the “Journey to the Moon,” he explains that the concussion produced by the sudden launching of the shell from the immense cannon would mash its occupants to a jelly in overcoming their inertia of rest, and provides an elaborate water cushion arrangement to break the force of the blow . . . The most utterly preposterous things are told with an attention to detail which makes plain, everyday fact of them.

SOURCE: Eggleston, George Cary. Review of: Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island (subtitled Shipwreck in the Air), American Homes, December 1874. Quoted in:

Moskowitz, Sam. “Lost Giant of American Science Fiction—A Biographical Perspective,” in The Crystal Man: Landmark Science Fiction, by Edward Page Mitchell, collected and with a biographical perspective by Sam Moskowitz (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973), pp. ix-lxxii; quotation, pp. xxxviii-xxxix.

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