JF Ptak Science Books Post 1859
I found this interesting 400-word bit in the 18 July 1895 issue of Nature (A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science) and of course still very much alive and still a great publishing scientific powerhouse. As Wells' treatment of time as a fourth dimension was still quite speculative, and his creation of the time machine as we now came from his hands, and as its reception by some literary journals was not very cordial, it is particularly interesting to see the positive review from this science journal. As reported by Paul J. Nahin in Time Machines, Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics and Science Fiction (published by Springer Verlag in a second edition in 1999, a graceful book of splendid observations with an introduction by Kip Thorne, Cal Tech's Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics), Wells' book was seen as "hocus pocus" and a "fanciful and lively dream" by The Spectator and "bizarre" by the Daily Chronicle. [This item is available for purchase via our blog bookstore, here.]
Nature's editors says of the book:
"...apart from its merits as a clever piece of imagination, the story is well worth the attention of the scientific reader, for the reason that it is based as far as possible on scientific data..."
"It is naturally in he domain of social and organic evolution that the imagination finds its greatest scope."
"From first to last the narrative never lapses into dullness."
And so Wells--who had cleaned up and rewritten an earlier version of this book from 1888--received a happy review from one of the leading scientific magazines of the time. It is not because of a wide interest of Wells in the fourth dimension per se that Wells wrote the book, but rather in rattling Victorian sniffy conceits of his day.
*Time as the fourth dimension is a concept not much older than Well's idea, one of the earliest publications of the idea appearing ten years earlier (and written anonymously by "S") in Nature. Charles Hinton, the person we most associate with the introduction of the fourth dimension (or at least so on a popular level) didn't really establish time as the fourth dimension. (Hinton led a colorful, or at least interesting life--he was a brilliant guy, and also a convicted bigamist who was married to George Boole's daughter, and creator of an automatic baseball pitching machine. His books on the fourth dimension certainly were influential, and in the estimation of Florence was a contributor to the ideas of the coming modern art movements of the 1890-1910 period.)
And there were certainly many who came before Wells on the subject of the fourth dimension (though not many on the subject of time as the fourth dimension): R.C. Archibald wrote on d'Alembert's (1754) use of time as a fourth dimension (in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society for May 1914); Cayley's "Analytical Geometry of n-Dimensions (Cambridge Mathematical Journal, 1843); Grassmann's Die Lineale aus Dehnungslehre (1844); Riemann's 1854 effort on curved space (translated in 1873 for Nature by W. Kingdom CLifford); Beltrami's introduction of the pseudosphere in 1868; J.J. Sylvester (again in Nature for 30 December 1869); Hermann von Helmholtz and his curvature for three-dimensional spaces; and Poincare's work in 1900, among others. There is a rich field of these efforts, beautifully investgated for the general reader by Linda Dalrmple Henderson in her classic The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton 1983).