Here I am with the double handicap of the graveyard slot
(straight after lunch) and opposite an X-Files video. But what
I have to talk about is something of an X-File: the strange
case of HG Wells, Albert Einstein and Physical Optics.
Perhaps the most common question you're asked as an sf
author is: "Where do you get your ideas from?" And that question
has never had more point than when asked of HG Wells, about his
first novel The Time Machine . And once I was invited to come
and talk here - at Imperial College, where Wells began work on
The Time Machine - I knew I had a topic I had to dig into.
Now, The Time Machine was 100 years old in 1995, and it
remains a wholly remarkable book. With its novel premise of time
travel as a matter of engineering, and its 'desolating myth' of
man's decline in the far future, it was hailed as a work of
genius on its first publication, and it caused an explosion of
interest in the possibilities of time travel and the fate of
humanity on the far future.
And one of the most remarkable aspects of Wells's book is
its scientific vision. The language Wells uses of a four-
dimensional spacetime - of time as a 'direction' - is familiar
to us now; it's the language of Einstein's Relativity: or rather,
Minkowski's geometric formulation of the theory of Special
Relativity, with time presented as a fourth dimension, in
addition to the three of space.
Now, in 1886 or 1887 - when Wells started to work on the
tale that would become The Time Machine - there was much
speculation about the existence of a fourth dimension. And many
of the elements of Special Relativity were in the air. In
particular, in 1887 was published the result of the celebrated
Michelson-Morley experiment on the anomalous behaviour of light.
And Einstein would eventually come up with his theory by
pondering the peculiar properties of light.
But, remarkably, The Time Machine - with all its
relativistic language - was published, in 1895, a decade before
the publication of Einstein's first Relativity papers. And
Minkowski's geometric formulation was not presented until even
later: 1908, in a talk in Cologne called "Space and Time".
It's true that in 1895, Albert Einstein was already
speculating on the relativistic consequences of Lord Maxwell's
formulation of the laws of light and electromagnetism. What would
happen if you could travel with a beam of light through space?...
But in 1895 Einstein was only sixteen years old.
So where did HG Wells get his idea from? How did he come up
with what we would recognise as a relativistic explanation of
time travel, so many years before Einstein? Did he know about
four-dimensional geometry, and Michelson-Morley?
And what has Imperial College got to do with it?
Now, I have to tell you that what follows is my own answer
to these questions, based on my own research, sometimes going
back to the source documents. The fact is the various biographers
and literary analysts of Wells have tended to avoid digging too
deeply into the scientific origins of books like The Time
Machine, perhaps because they tend in general to hail from the
Eng-lit side of the arts-sciences divide. To such scholars,
General Relativity perhaps is an alien a topic as post-modernism
is to, well, me.
I'll start with a brief summary of the plot of The Time
Machine. Then I'll talk about how Wells wrote the book; what I
want to demonstrate is that Wells's ideas on time travel were
pretty much fixed by 1887 or 1888, here at Imperial, so wherever
he got his pre-Relativity ideas from, that was when he got them.
Then I'll try to reconstruct what Wells must have been reading
and hearing when the ideas started to form.
The Time Machine is the story of a late-Victorian
scientist - who we know only as The Time Traveller. Actually, the
Traveller is more of an inventor, or engineer, than a scientist.
He puts together a bicycle-like Time Machine, in a boarded-up
conservatory on the back of his house in Richmond. The
introduction of the book depicts a dinner party one Thursday
evening in which the Traveller discusses the principles of time
travel - and we'll talk more about that later. Then, the next
morning, the Traveller boards his Machine for his first journey
After his journey through time the Traveller finds himself
on a lawn with rhododendron bushes, in the shadow of a huge White
Sphinx, in the year 802,701 AD. At first the world seems idyllic:
the climate is lush and sunny, and England has become a huge,
somewhat dilapidated garden.
The Traveller meets gentle, rather childlike people called
the Eloi. He befriends one, a female, called Weena. It seems to
the Traveller that humanity has advanced to an extraordinary
degree, to the point where nature has been conquered, and
humanity has become decadent.
But eventually he begins to uncover a darker side of the
idyll. The Eloi's physical needs are met by an altogether more
unpleasant race called the Morlocks, who live beneath the earth
in huge caverns filled with machinery. (The way Wells reveals the
existence of the Morlocks, hint by dark hint, is reminiscent of
the techniques of a modern horror novel - and, incidentally,
that's another aspect of the book which has largely been left
unexplored, as far as I know.)
Anyway, the dark secret of the future world is that in
return for sustaining the Eloi, the Morlocks are using their
cousins as cattle: at the dark of each moon Eloi are culled and
butchered. The Traveller realises that far from being advanced,
both Eloi and Morlock are actually degraded forms of humanity.
They have evidently devolved from a split of mankind into an
upper and lower caste; and the lower caste had been thrust into
underground servitude. The Traveller observes:
"But, clearly, the old order was already in part reversed.
The nemesis of the delicate ones was creeping on apace.
Ages ago, thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his
brother man out of the ease and the sunshine. And now that
brother was coming back - changed!" ( The Time Machine ,
The Morlocks steal the Traveller's Time Machine. In the
second half of the book, we follow his efforts to get the Machine
back. He eventually succeeds, and escapes back to his present -
although he loses Weena to the Morlocks.
Back in the 1890s he updates his dinner companions with an
account of his adventures - which is supposedly the account we
read in the book - and then sets off into time again, to bring
back proof. But he never returns ... at least not until 1995. 
Now let's look at how Wells came to write the novel.
H.G. Wells started work on The Time Machine in the mid
1880s. In 1884 at the age of eighteen he'd come to the Normal
School of Science (later the Royal College of Science, eventually
later merged into Imperial). And the education Wells received
here was crucial in shaping the ideas that led to The Time
The courses he took here were enlightened, geared at
producing teachers of science. Wells did fairly well. He took
biology, maths, physics, geology, geometrical drawing, and
astrophysics. He got a first or second in every course he took
except astronomical physics, which he failed in 1886, but
repeated and passed in 1887. He did well in zoology, taught by
He left the school to take up teaching, fell ill and
returned to London after a football accident (which is another
story ... watch this space), and returned to London to finish his
degree. He went on to graduate in 1890 with first-class honours
in zoology and second-class in geology.
In the middle of all this, Wells began to conceive the ideas
that would lead to The Time Machine . He would produce his first
time travel story in 1888, and would keep redrafting it until its
final publication as a book in 1895.
Wells's first publication of a time travel story was called
The Chronic Argonauts. It was published in 1888, in three
parts, in the Science Schools Journal, a magazine Wells helped
to found here at the Royal College. Wells was just twenty-two at
the time. Argonauts doesn't bear much relation to The Time
Machine. It features a mad inventor called Moses Nebogipfel, who
is working on a time machine in a ruined manse in Wales. We don't
see any actual time travelling, but we do hear that Nebogipfel
kills a man in the past, and the climax of the story is the local
villagers storming the house, accusing Nebogipfel of witchcraft.
So this was a bizarre mad-scientist epic more reminiscent of Mary
Shelley's Frankenstein than anything by the mature Wells. Wells
was later embarrassed by this "imitative puerile stuff" (his
words), and would destroy every copy he found.
Over the next three years, Wells produced two more versions
of his story, which are now lost. But the first of these
introduced the idea of the upper and lower worlds in the future,
although mankind hasn't yet evolved into separate species. (This
story seems reminiscent of Wells's "A Story of the Days to Come"
(1897), and of his novel When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), which
feature dystopian arcologies. So we can speculate that, given the
common source of these works, Wells was developing, if
implicitly, a kind of 'future history' - a portrait of a
consistent future, with the upper-lower arcologies of "Days to
Come" prefiguring the evolution of the Morlock-Eloi duality.)
The second of these lost drafts got rid of Nebogipfel, and
showed a future world ruled by an elite who use mass hypnosis to
control their fellow humans.
In 1894 - by which time Wells had left the College - the
next draft was published in the National Observer magazine, as
three linked stories under the title of The Time Machine . The
date is 12,203 AD, and we now have the Victorian gentleman-
traveller of the final novel. The future is shown much as in the
final version, with the Morlocks named (but not the Eloi), and
the structure of the story is very similar, with the time travel
justification by spacetime dimensions as in the final novel. But
there is no Weena, and Wells shows the Morlocks rather plainly,
rather than revealing their existence horror-novel style through
the plot, and there is no voyage into the further future.
The editor of the National Observer, WE Henley, left the
magazine before the publication of Wells was finished. Henley
moved to another magazine called The New Review in December
1894 and commissioned Wells again, and the book was serialised
again, under the title The Time Machine .
Wells lengthened his text and tried out a lot of new
material, much of which was never printed. Wells's manuscripts
included versions in which the Time Traveller journeys into the
past. He encounters a prehistoric hippopotamus, and travels to
1645 to meet Puritans. In one version, time travel kills him.
The version of the story eventually published in the New
Review was substantially the one that finally appeared, in May
1895, in book form. For the book, Wells did rewrite the
introduction, in which the Time Traveller justifies his Machine,
and he cut some sections of the final chapters in which the
Traveller journeys to the end of time. In the cut sections the
Traveller makes more stops, where we see more of the degradation
of life on Earth, and Wells drops broad hints that the sad
creatures we encounter are human descendants, further devolved
from Eloi and Morlock. But he cut all this, leaving the final
vision much more stark, but richly ambiguous. (Wells would later
do some tinkering with later editions, but that's beyond our
Now, the point of my relating that long and complex saga is
to show that the changes Wells was making, between 1888 and 1895,
were to do with the heart of the novel - the vision of evolution
in futurity - rather than the justification for time travel
itself. He wasn't really interested in the 'mechanics' of time
travel, except as a device - and as the spark that launched him
on the story in the first place - and he certainly wasn't
interested in following up some of the aspects of time travel
which would intrigue later generations of sf authors. It seems
clear that he thought this would detract from the main story he
had to tell.
So from his drafts, Wells cut ruthlessly any of the
history-changing possibilities of time travel - of modifying
the future, of perhaps averting the Morlock-Eloi catastrophe (in
my sequel I confront the Time Traveller with the history-changing
consequences of his first return to the 1890s). One of the best
and most famous examples of history-changing in later science
fiction is "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury (1952), a
poignant tale in which the time-travelling protagonist, despite
elaborate precautions, accidentally steps on a golden butterfly
in the deep past. When he returns to his present he finds himself
in a world altered subtly and darkly. And Wells steered clear
of time paradoxes. If I had a Time Machine I could go back and
murder my grandfather. There is a paradox (apparently) because
if my grandfather is killed before he sires my father, I could
never be born. But if I am not born, I cannot go back to murder
my grandfather... ad infinitum, and apparently without hope of
One entertaining exploration of such paradoxes in
science fiction is "All You Zombies" by Robert Heinlein (1959),
in which a man travels into the past to become his own father
and mother. Later, in fact, Wells showed that he didn't really
believe in time travel anyhow, and thought that history would be
pretty much immune to changes. In 1927 JW Dunne published a book
called An Experiment with Time, a serious study of time travel
which was at least in part influenced by The Time Machine .
Wells read this, and commented, according to Dunne, that he never
intended his description of time as a dimension to be taken
seriously. And in a lecture to the Royal Institution in 1902
called "The Discovery of the Future", Wells says "The portion of
the past that is brightest and most real to reach of us is the
individual past, the personal memory. The portion of the future
that must remain darkest and least accessible is the individual
future." Wells did believe you could prophesy trends on a large
scale, using the laws of physics to predict the return of a comet
or the death of the sun, for example - and, on the human scale,
using such statistical means as actuarial tables. But individual
futures would remain unknown. And of history-changing he says,
"I must confess I believe that if by some juggling with space and
time Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Edward IV, William the Conqueror,
Lord Roebery and Robert Burns had all been changed at birth, it
would not have produced any serious dislocation of the course of
destiny. I believe that these great men of ours are no more
than... the pen-nibs fate has used for her writing, the diamonds
upon the drill that pierces through the rock."
But we do know possibilities of history-changing and time
paradoxes did occur to Wells when he was working on The Time
Machine. As I said, in The Chronic Argonauts Nebogipfel is the
victim of a paradox when he kills the man in the past. And even
in the final version of The Time Machine Wells drops some hints
of the wider implications of time travel in the book's
introductory dinner party, in throwaway remarks about viewing
great historical moments - like the Battle of Hastings - or using
time travel to become rich through compound interest investments.
But Wells cut all this. He deliberately decided against
sending his Traveller back in time in the final draft - for it
is backwards travel which changes history, and causes paradoxes.
So the mechanics of time travel didn't actually matter much
to Wells's final novel. As he redrafted The Time Machine , Wells
was working towards his final, complex Morlock-Eloi fable of
evolution and social decay, and it was this aspect of the book
that the more mature Wells was interested in.
Without the idea of time travel in the first place, there
would have been no novel. But it seems clear that Wells had
formulated his ideas on time travel by 1888, and wasn't
interested in developing them further, and he ruthlessly cut
anything which would detract from the grandeur of his central
idea - and he showed remarkable restraint in this, for some of
the stuff Wells cut would be sufficient to support lesser
writers' whole careers.... continued.
So where, at Imperial in 1887, did Wells get his idea? In foreword to a
1932 edition of The Time Machine , Wells
himself says: "[The idea of the novel] was begotten in the
writer's mind by students' discussions in the laboratories and
debating society of the Royal College of Science in the
eighties..." And in a biography by Wells's son, Geoffrey West,
we learn that the idea came during the reading of a particular
paper by another student in a college debating society.
The paper in question was about four-dimensional spaces,
and, probably, a four-dimensional space and time.
Nowadays, the idea of many dimensions is a common
mathematical tool. You can use it to visualise, and apply
geometric ideas to, any system with many variables: the motion
of a multi-particle system, for instance, or in optimisation
problems about, perhaps, stock quantities in a supermarket.
Some theories of physics posit that extra dimensions
actually physically exist - that they aren't just mathematical
conveniences. For instance some variants of superstring theories
describe 7, 8 or 13 extra dimensions. These are rolled up so
tightly we can't see them - but they determine the physical
constants (like the speed of light) that govern our universe.
In Wells's day, however, theories of multi-dimensional spaces were on the
fringe of physics and mathematics, but there
was a good deal of published speculation on the subject. One
authority on higher dimensions who we know Wells read (I'll
explain how we know later) was Professor Simon Newcomb. Newcomb
was an astronomer, who went on to become the President of the
American Mathematical Society - and he had been publishing papers
on the topic of four dimensions since 1877. He spoke to the New
York Mathematical Society on the subject, in December 1893. 
Newcomb's talk was a speculation on a variety of future
directions in mathematics. He touched on the "fairy land of
geometry". "When [the mathematician] enters fairy land he must,
to do himself justice, take wings which will carry him far above
the flights, and even above the sight, of ordinary mortals..."
Newcomb spoke of the idea of a space direction as the fourth
dimension, rather than time. As an example he talked about
escaping from an enclosed sphere by a four-dimensional transfer.
And he says, "Add a fourth dimension to space, and there is room
for an indefinite number of universes, all alongside of each
other, as there is for an indefinite number of sheets of paper
when we pile them upon each other". (Wells liked this image, and
would use it in two parallel-world novels, The Wonderful Visit
(1895) and Men Like Gods (1923).) Newcomb goes on to speculate
on curved-space geometries, mathematical techniques which would
inform much of the Relativity theory to come.
Now, as I've said Newcomb was talking about the fourth
dimension being spatial. The idea of time as the fourth
dimension, rather than space, is an old one. You can trace it
back to the eighteenth century . For example, in 1751 the
French physicist d'Alembert wrote of "a clever acquaintance of
mine [who] believes... that duration could be regarded as a
fourth dimension... [the idea] seems to me [to have] some merit,
if only that of novelty."
The most prominent thinker on spacetime geometry in Wells's
day was probably Charles Howard Hinton, who published a paper on
"What is the Fourth Dimension?" - the answer being "time" - in
1880. It was later reprinted in his "Scientific Romances No. 1."
(Hinton incidentally was an intriguing character . He was
British, and he took an MA at Oxford. He married Mary Boole, one
of the five daughters of George Boole, of Boolean logic fame. But
he left Britain in disgrace following charges of bigamy. He knew
Simon Newcomb, and Newcomb eventually got him a position at the
Naval Observatory in Washington DC. By the time he died in 1907,
Hinton was an examiner in the United States Patent Office.
(Hinton achieved a certain notoriety as an inventor himself,
for example of an automatic baseball pitcher. It shot balls with
charges of gunpowder and could be adjusted to produce a pitch of
any speed or curve. The Princeton team practised with it for a
while, but after a few accidents the batters were afraid to face
Hinton speculated widely on higher dimensions. He used the
fourth dimension to justify ghosts, God and an afterlife. He
wrote an ambitious book about a flatland - a two-dimensional
world. This was more ambitious than the more widely known
Flatland of Edwin Abbott; it featured physically reasonable
two-dimensional stars and planets, and the plot was a socialist
Hinton developed a method of building models of four-
dimensional structures (in three-dimensional cross-sections)
using hundreds of small cubes, labelled and coloured to represent
'height' in the fourth dimension. (You might have seen one of
Hinton's representations of four-dimensional cubes, in Salvador
Dali's Corpus Hypercubus (1954), which shows Christ crucified
against an opened-out Hintonian hypercube. And in Robert
Heinlein's "And He Built a Crooked House" (1941) a Californian
architect builds an opened-out Hinton hypercube - and an
earthquake shakes it into the real thing.) By working with his
cubes for many years, Hinton maintained he taught himself to
think in four dimensions. "For my own part, I think there are
indications of such an intuition..." But Hinton's method would
attract critics, who said his "visualisation" amounted to a
dangerous form of autohypnosis.
Now Hinton certainly influenced later thinkers on spacetime
geometry. But did HG Wells read Hinton? We do not know. It's
interesting that it is Hinton who seems to have coined the term
"scientific romance", to title collections of his speculative
essays and stories, in 1886 and 1898. This is, of course, the
phrase that Wells would later use to label his own science
fiction. And even if Wells didn't read Hinton he may very well
have seen the favourable review of his "Scientific Romances"
which appeared in Nature in 1885 . Nature was a weekly
news sheet at the time, the nearest thing to a "pop science"
paper like our own New Scientist, and we know Wells read it.
The Nature review summarises Hinton's ideas of spacetime
as a rigid four-dimensional geometry, with movement being
generated as an illusion, by an object passing through a three-
dimensional surface. "Each part of the ampler existence which
passed through our space would seem perfectly limited to us. We
should have no indication of the permanence of its existence...
Change and movement seem as if they were all that existed. But
the appearance of them would be due merely to the momentary
passing through our consciousness of ever-existing realities."
A few weeks later Nature published another brief piece on
the fourth dimension. This was a letter by an author who signed
himself (or herself) only as S.  This letter was evidently a
response to the Hinton review. "What is the fourth dimension?...
I propose to consider Time as a fourth dimension... Since this
fourth dimension cannot be introduced into space, as we commonly
understood, we require a new kind of space for its existence,
which we may call time-space. By picturing to ourselves the
aggregate formed by the successive positions in time-space of a
given solid during a given time, we shall get the idea of a four-
dimensional solid, which may be called a sur-solid... As an
example of a solid which satisfies this condition sufficiently
well, is afforded by the body of each of us. Let any man picture
to himself the aggregate of his own bodily forms from birth to
the present time, and he will have a clear idea of a sur-solid
Who was S.? Nobody knows...
So this is the material around, and accessible to Wells, at
the time. Maybe Wells read the Hinton review, and S.'s reply. Or
maybe Hinton, and S., were referred to in the paper Wells heard
in the famous college debate.
Certainly, the idea of spacetime geometry - the vision of
space and time as a sort of huge museum, with historical events
fixed like exhibits, amongst which the explorer could wander -
caught Wells's imagination. Wells wrote a paper on the subject
called "The Universe Rigid" (which was never published). And he
began to think of the idea as the seed for a new sort of time
travel story. (There had been such stories before The Time
Machine, of course, but these were generally fantastic. They'd
featured such 'justifications' as angels and reincarnations. For
example, Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee made it to Camelot
through a blow on the head.)
Let's look now at the final novel. You can clearly see Wells's influences - what he must have read - in the language
with which the Time Traveller justifies his Time Machine, to his
guests at the famous dinner party the night before his first
venture into Time.
The Traveller says, "Any body must have extension in four
directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and -
Duration... There are really four dimensions, three which we call
the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time..." (The Time
The Time Traveller briskly dismisses the idea that the
fourth dimension could be a spatial direction, as propounded by
"foolish people [who] have got hold of the wrong side of the
idea." He mentions Professor Simon Newcomb, who was "expounding
this to the New York Mathematical Society only a month or so
ago". ( The Time Machine , p4.) Well, as we've seen, Newcomb was
a real scientist. And he really did talk to the New York
Mathematical Society, in December 1893 (which, incidentally,
dates the Traveller's dinner party as January or February of
1894). And Newcomb's talk was reprinted in full in Nature, and
we know Wells read Nature, so this is how he must have heard
of Newcomb's talk.
But Newcomb's talk wasn't actually all that relevant to The
Time Machine, because he was talking generally about a space
direction as the fourth dimension, rather than time. Perhaps
Wells was using the hoary old hard-sf author's trick of quoting
a real, prominent and reasonably relevant scientist, to give his
work some spurious plausibility.
After slagging off Professor Newcomb, the Time Traveller
goes on to discuss four-dimensional space and time. "I do not
mind telling you I have been at work upon this geometry of four
dimensions for some time. Some of my results are curious. For
instance, here is a portrait of a man at eight years old, another
at fifteen, another at seventeen, another at twenty-three, and
so on. All these are evidently sections, as it were, Three-
Dimensional representations of his Four-Dimensioned being, which
is a fixed and unalterable thing." ( The Time Machine , p5.)
In this passage, I contend, you can clearly see the
influences of the Nature articles I've mentioned, on Hinton and
by S. Recall the S. article: "Let any man picture to himself the
aggregate of his own bodily forms from birth to the present time,
and he will have a clear idea of a sur-solid in time-space."
Compare that to Wells's succession of portraits. And recall the
quote I gave from the Hinton review: "Each part of the ampler
[four-dimensional] existence which passed through our space would
seem perfectly limited to us...Change and movement seem as if
they were all that existed. But the appearance of them would be
due merely to the momentary passing through our consciousness of
ever-existing realities." Compare this to Wells's talk of a
"Four-Dimensioned being, which is a fixed and unalterable thing."
The closeness of the language in the Nature articles to
what's in The Time Machine - not to mention the "scientific
romances" link to Hinton - convinces me that Wells must have seen
these articles. He may have been pointed to them by other
students, after the famous college debate. One authority on
Wells, Professor AM Bork , has even speculated that Wells
knew the mysterious S. himself (or herself).
Or perhaps - we can but speculate - Wells himself was the
mysterious S.? Perhaps the article in Nature is an extract
from his "Universe Rigid" piece?
Sadly, I'm afraid we're never going to know for sure.
So that's the source of Wells's speculations about a four-
dimensional spacetime. But what about the physics of
Relativity? Is it possible the young Wells was aware of
Michelson-Morley and subsequent speculations, and was influenced
by them in the construction of The Time Machine ? The
Michelson-Morley experiment was notorious at the time Wells was
drafting The Time Machine , because it was proving impossible
to accommodate in any Newtonian framework. But the contemporary
debate around Michelson-Morley was all to do with the existence,
or not, of the "luminiferous ether", the hypothetical substance
that was supposed to be the "sea" on which light propagated as
waves. The ether theory had to be killed off before the
physicists could make themselves ready for Relativity. And a
generalist reader of Nature, as Wells was, would have had
trouble spotting the significance of Michelson and Morley. They
were there, however; in 1887 there is a brief review of their
report in the American Journal of Science. "From the delicate
researches here described... it is inferred that, if there be any
relative motion between the earth and the luminiferous ether, it
must be small..." 
The controversy over Michelson-Morley developed in the
following years, as Wells worked on The Time Machine . In the
pages of Nature you'll find, in 1892, a Dr Oliver Lodge
defending the ether hypothesis - saying that the ether must be
dragged along with the earth.  But wiser heads were coming
to terms with the true implications of the Michelson-Morley
experiment. By 1892, the Leiden physicist Hendrik Lorentz,
presumably in a desperate attempt to come up with a consistent
physical framework that could accommodate Michelson-Morley, had
devised a basic scheme of space-time contraction, which would
later form an integral element of Relativity. (Crudely, rulers
are shortened and clocks slowed by motion, to make observed
light-speed come out at a constant value, regardless of the
observer's velocity.) This was written up in a major treatise in
1895, and a few years later Lorentz and others began to proclaim
the death of the ether hypothesis, and physics was ready for
This stuff is rather austere, is couched in the language of
ether, and at the time must not have seemed as earth-shattering
as it does in retrospect. It is certainly not as sexy a topic
to a jackdaw mind like Wells's, as four dimensions. It's not
clear to what extent even Einstein himself - let alone Wells -
was aware of Michelson-Morley, and as we've noted it was not
until 1908 that Special Relativity was merged with four-
dimensional geometry, by Minkowski.
One authority on the behaviour of light Wells might have
seen, however, is the French astronomer and writer Camille
Flammarion. In 1873 he published a story called Lumen, about
an adventurer who travels back through time faster than light and
he witnesses, among other things, the end of the Battle of
Waterloo before the beginning.