Anticipations, celebrations, satires

A new post in the Anticipations and aerostatic warfare series – 2/3

Imaginary wars, projected onto the future of Europe as ominous warnings and political arguments, were part of the emergence of a conception of history pliable by human action. This colonisation of the future within fictional narratives at the end of the eighteenth century already had some significant precedents. One such precedent, The Reign of George VI,[1] was a curious novel – or rather a fictional treatise on the history of the future – published in London in 1763, which offered a fascinating proto-fantascientific remake of the Seven Years’ War. The anonymous author, dissatisfied with the terms of the Treaty of Paris, imagined that the dispute between France and Britain might end very differently in the future, leading to British supremacy over all of continental Europe and global maritime trade. The pamphlet was written in the form of a historical reconstruction of events that took place in the twentieth century, testifying to a mixture of genres between typical modes of historical-political reflection and propaganda and an emerging narrative invention.[2]

Another anticipation, published in 1778 during the turning point that was transforming the War of American Independence into a Euro-Atlantic conflict of vast proportions with the open involvement of France, had also testified to the capacity of war as a catalyst of cultural change. The pamphlet Anticipation: Containing the Substance of his M———y’s Most Gracious Speech to Both H——s of P—-l—–t, on the Opening of the Approaching Session printed in London promised to contain the transcript of a parliamentary debate yet to come.[3]

James Gillray, The Blessings of Peace and The Curses of War, 1795, detail © The Trustees of the British Museum
James Gillray, The Blessings of Peace and The Curses of War, 1795, detail
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The playwright and satirist Richard Tickell[4] had set up a mockery of the rhetorical battles that, in the House of Commons, were accompanying the progress of the conflict – from Edmund Burke’s complaints about the decline of the British Empire, to Charles Fox’s arguments about the unsustainability of a war on the American continent, from John Wilkes’ corrosive humour, to the Whig opposition to a war that armed American Indigenous peoples against the colonists and opened up space for speculation by unscrupulous traders.[5] With ten editions in 1778 alone, Parliament bursting into laughter during the actual session when some unsuspecting speaker fell into the linguistic tics mocked in the pamphlet, reviews and excerpts in newspapers such as The Morning Chronicle, and copies on the bedside tables of readers such as Horace Walpole, [6] Anticipation was a successful case of Revolutionary War-related futuristic satire.

If The Reign of George VI was characterised by a celebratory rhetoric – although the celebration of imaginary British victories of the future took place ex ante – the case of Anticipation exemplifies the fecundity of satire as a genre open to formal experimentation, capable of combining representation of the present and new literary uses of the future. Tickell’s pamphlet dealt with a future very close to the author’s and his readers’ present, and indeed it was precisely from the relative closeness between prediction and reality that the comic efficacy of the parliamentary portrait partly arose.

Even in the Napoleonic years between the end of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century, futuristic projections found in literary works about possible Franco-British wars exploited mechanisms of satirical commentary on the present. The Francophobic periodical The Anti-Gallican: Or Standard of British Loyalty, Religion and Liberty published, for example, in 1804, an advertisement for a non-existent play in which Napoleon’s plans to invade the island were mocked as farce: ‘Theatre Royal England. In rehearsal, and meant to be speedily attempted a farce in one act, called The Invasion of England. Principal Buffo, Mr. Buonaparte, Being his First (and most likely his Last) Appearance on this stage’.[7]

When compared to such written anticipations as The Anti-Gallican, what brings de Barges’ depiction closer to a modern science fiction sensibility is the prominent use of technology. The depiction of an enormous war balloon combines elements familiar to his contemporary viewer, immersed in the fashion launched by the Montgolfiers, and aspects devoted to a magnified and alienating continuation of the known invention. The idea of applying Archimedes’ principle to achieve human navigation in the air dates back at least to the 17th century by the Jesuit Francesco Lana de Terzi (1631-1687), who imagined lifting an aircraft by producing a vacuum in large copper spheres, which would thus be lighter than air.[8] This theorisation had given impetus to a number of fictional works that anticipated the first aerostatic flight, such as a novel of interplanetary travel written in German by Eberhard Christian Kindermann in 1744 and the poem in Latin hexameters Navis Aeria by Bernardo Zamagna in 1768.[9] Through the “aerostatic mania” that swept across Europe at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, balloons became a typical brand of early literature and illustration, playing a similar role to that which interplanetary rockets and spaceships would play in the literary, figurative, and film and television science fiction of the following century.[10]


Bernardi Zamagnae, Navis aeria et elegiarum monobiblos (Romae: Paullus Giunchius, 1768), copy at Fondazione BEIC, Milan, Italy, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – NonCommercial – NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

In 1771, the first edition of Louis-Sébastien Mercier‘s L’an deux mille quatre cent quarante was published. By depicting a Paris and Europe centuries in the future, it constituted a milestone in the development of a future-related utopian imagination. The chrono-traveller, awakened centuries after having dozed off, is told how wars are literally fought with the pen, by sending the books of jurisprudence and theology kept safe in the vaults of libraries among the enemy, and how armed violence has been extinguished by educating the rulers of the world in philosophy and reason.[11] In 1786, the author added a chapter to the new edition in which the balloon became the protagonist of the conquest of the air and enabled the development of new fast connections between the continents of the globe.[12]

Operettas and plays, adventurous novels and detective stories, anonymous publications or those of international literary greats such as Edgar Allan Poe continued to feature futuristic uses of the balloon throughout the 19th century.[13] The trope became recurrent and distinctive in the adventurous proto-science fiction of authors such as Jules Verne.[14] In the European cultural space speculative fiction set in the future embodied a new imagery related to techno-science, including systems of communication and transport and the astonishing speed of their development. Narratives and illustrations expressed awareness of globalisation processes, and participated to a communicative circuit that was expanding its audience at a rapid pace, thanks to the growing presence of popular publications.[15]


[1] The Reign of George VI. 1900-1925: A Forecast Written in the Year 1763, London, Printed for W. Nicoll at the Paper-Mill, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1763.

[2] G. Iannuzzi, Waging Future Wars: Imagined Conflicts and the Birth of a Global Consciousness in the European Mind, in Waging War and Making Peace: European Ways of Inciting and Containing Armed Conflict, 1648-2020, edited by M. D’Auria, R. Petri, J. Vermeiren, Berlin, De Gruyter, forthcoming.

[3] [R. Tickell], Anticipation: Containing the Substance of his M———y’s Most Gracious Speech to Both H——s of P—-l—–t, on the Opening of the Approaching Session. Together with a Full and Authentic Account of the Debate Which Will Take Place in the H—e of C—–s, on the Motion for the Address and the Amendment. With Notes, London, T. Becket, 1778; modern edition: R. Tickell, Anticipation: Reprinted from the First Edition, London, 1778, With an Introduction, Notes and a Bibliography of Tickell’s Writings by L. H. Butterfield, New York, King’s Crown Press, 1942.

[4] W. F. Rae, revised by Rebecca Mills, ‘Tickell, Richard’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004 revised 2010, doi: 10.1093/ref:odnb/27431.

[5] L. H. Butterfield, “Introduction”, in Tickell, Anticipation: Reprinted, pp. 1-19, see p. 16; in this volume see also pp. 70, 76; G. H. Guttridge, The Whig Opposition in England during the American Revolution, in: “The Journal of Modern History”, no. 6, 1,1934 pp. 1-74.13.

[6] L. H. Butterfield, “Introduction”, pp. 7, 11-12.

[7] “The Anti-Gallican: Or Standard of British Loyalty, Religion and Liberty”, London, Vernor and Hood, Poultry and J. Asperne, Cornhill by J. and E. Hodson, 1804, 16; British Satire, 1785-1840, Volume 1, edited by John Strachan, Steven E Jones, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, 109-111.

[8] F. Lana de Terzi, Prodromo ovvero saggio di alcune inventioni nuove premesso all’arte Maestra […], Brescia, Rizzardi, 1670, 52-61.

[9] E. C. Kindermann, Die Geschwinde Reise auf dem Lufft-Schiff nach der obern Welt […], Berlin, 1744; B. Zamagna, Navis aeria et elegiarum monobiblos, Roma, Paolo Giunchio, 1768.

[10] I. F. Clarke, A. Roberts, J. Clute, D. Langford, ‘Balloons’, 2021, in SFE: The Science Fiction Encyclopedia, edited by J. Clute, D. Langford, P. Nicholls, G. Sleight,, accessed 20 January 2022.

[11] S. E. Cooper, Patriotic Pacifism: Waging War in Europe, 1815-1914, New York, Oxford University Press, 4-5.

[12] L.-S. Mercier, L’an deux mille quatre cent quarante: Rêve s’il en fût jamais; suivi de L’homme de fer, songe, Amsterdam, Changuion, 1786, 3 vols., see vol. 2, pp. 304-09.

[13] Clarke, Roberts, Clute, Langford, ‘Balloons’; E. A. Poe, ‘Mellonta Tauta’ (1849), in Poe, Comedies and Satires, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, and New York, Penguin, 1987, 219-32.

[14] J. Verne, Cinq semaines en ballon (1863), Paris, Bookking International, 1995.

[15] SF and Globalization, edited by D. Higgins and R. Latham, monographic issue of Science Fiction Studies, no. 118, 2012.

This blog post is adapted from Giulia Iannuzzi, Guerre del futuro: Anticipazioni e aerostati da battaglia, dall’invasione napoleonica della Gran Bretagna al conflitto mondiale del 1937, in Ragioni Comuni 2017-18, ed. Ilaria Micheli (Trieste: EUT, 2022), 127-142. ISBN: 9788855113076, eISNB: 9788855113083.


Cite this blog post
Giulia Iannuzzi (2023, March 15). Anticipations, celebrations, satires. Geographies of Time. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from

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