‘to turn their own Cannon against them & ridicule them’

Samuel Madden, Robert Walpole and anti-Craftsman satire @ BSECS Postgraduate and Early-Career Scholar Seminar Series

There is something mysterious in the history of the Memoirs of the Twentieth Century, an early speculative fiction novel published anonymously in London in 1733. Thanks to a testimony by the publisher William Bowyer, it is known that out of one thousand copies commissioned by the author, some nine hundred were eliminated fresh out of print.

Written by Samuel Madden, an Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with Hanoverian and Whig sympathies, the novel consists of a collection of diplomatic letters written in the 1990s, sent to the Lord High Treasurer in London from British ambassadors from a number of countries, which the narrator claims to have received from the future. A fine example of the emergence of a new secularized future, pliable through human action, the novel’s logical extrapolation is informed by a variety of underlying rationales, ranging from utopian achievements to the satiric mocking of the writer’s present.

Madden had discussed with Robert Walpole the advisability of using satire against the government’s opposition, around about the same time as the idea for the Memoirs was presumably taking shape. In a letter to the de facto prime minister, he had proposed launching a satirical counterattack against the Tories united around The Craftsman.

Drawing on limited but eloquent documentary evidence available, and locating Madden’s political reflections in its original context – British political debate in the late 1720s – this paper will discuss the mystery surrounding the destruction of the Memoir’s print run.

Join the BSECS Postgraduate and Early-Career Scholar Seminar Series 2021, June 24th.

All sessions take place on the last Thursday of the month between 3-4pm GMT/BST.

See the programme at this EXTERNAL LINK

Register at http://bsecs-pg-ecr.eventbrite.com

Satirical head of Sir Robert Walpole yawning, 1743. Engraving by George Bickham the Younger. Inscription content: With title in upper margin, and in the lower margin ‘Lo! What are all your schemes come to?’ followed by two stanzas of seven lines of verse from Pope’s ‘Dunciad’: ‘More he had said, but yan’d … And Navies yawn’d for Orders on the Main’. Signed in lower right below image ‘Publish’d by G.Bickham in May’s Buildings’ and on the left ‘1743 Dec 3’. The British Museum Collections Online, © The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "‘to turn their own Cannon against them & ridicule them’," in Geographies of Time, 22/06/2021, https://ian.hypotheses.org/1868.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Writing the History of Future Empires

Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-century Twentieth century at Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, Science Fictions

I am delighted to present a paper at Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, Science Fictions, the London Science Fiction Research Community 2020 conference, an online event in partnership with the London Chinese Science Fiction Group and Science Fiction Beyond the West.

I’ll be talking about A new and unexampled way of writing the history of future empires: Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-century Twentieth century, presenting the first results of an ongoing research on the future as a secularized imaginary space in eighteenth-century European culture through the case study of the Memoirs of the Twentieth Century. Published anonymously in 1733, the Memoirs is a work of speculative fiction in the form of an epistolary novel by the Irish writer Samuel Madden, an Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with pro-Hanoverian and Whig sympathies.

Madden’s novel is a fine example of the emergence of a new secularized future, pliable through human action. This research, using the Memoirs as a case study, places new emphasis on the role played by a new form of imperial and global interconnectedness in shaping and accelerating complex processes of time secularization.

First slide of Giulia Iannuzzi's presentation "A new and unexampled way of writing the history of future empires: Samuel Madden's Eighteenth-century Twentieth century", with author's name, paper title, conference details. In the background an eighteenth-century drawing of two angels observing the moon with a telescope.

My paper is scheduled as part of Panel 4B: Pliable Futures (chair: Tom Dillon), Saturday 12th September, 10:00-11:30 (GMT+1) – Panel Block 4:

  • Giulia Iannuzzi- A new and unexampled way of writing the history of future empires: Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-century Twentieth century
  • Sakshi Tyagi – Beyond Otjize and Medusae: Identity and Borders in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti
  • Mary Regine Dadole – Familiar Aliens: An Analysis of the Postcolonial Condition and the Politics of Science Fiction in Isaac Asimov’s “The Martian Way”.

The conference programme includes:

a plenary session on  SF & Translation with Sawad Hussain, Emily Jin, Guangzhao Lyu, Dr. Sinéad Murphy, Dr. Tasnim Qutait,

keynotes by Dr. Nadine El-Enany, Florence Okoye

a Creator Roundtable with Chen Qiufan, Larissa Sansour, Linda Stupart, chair: Angela Chan,

a rich schedule of panels exploring borders in science fiction, and particularly “borders as politicised tools used to uphold empires, divide communities and police the bodies of those most marginalised”.

Here’s the conference webpage: http://www.lsfrc.co.uk/category/beyond-borders/.

 If you wish to attend the event, please visit the ticket tailor event page for the conference at this link.

At this link a set of conference documents, including the programme beautifully designed by Sinjin Li.

The London Chinese Science Fiction Group and Science Fiction Beyond the West are partner of this event and the programme includes a number of contributions on contemporary Chinese science fiction. I’ve been interested in the reception of Chinese science fiction in Italy for quite some time now. From my archive, here’s in full open access an essay I published in 2015, an interview with the translator Lorenzo Andolfatto (Chinese-Italian), and one with Massimo Soumaré (Japanese-Italian).

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Writing the History of Future Empires," in Geographies of Time, 09/09/2020, https://ian.hypotheses.org/1493.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Historicizing the Future

… I must acquiesce, and be content with the Honour and Misfortune, of being the first among Historians (if a mere Publisher of Memoirs may deserve that Name) who leaving the beaten Tracts of writing with Malice or Flattery, the accounts of past Actions and Times, have dar’d to enter by the help of an infallible Guide, into the dark Caverns of Futurity, and discover the Secrets of Ages yet to come.

Samuel Madden,  Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (London: Printed for Messieurs Osborn and Longman, Davis, and Batley …, 1733) vol. 1, 3.

Contemporary historiography has highlighted the role played by a spatial dimension in the birth of a speculative imagination which, in modern-age Europe, exploited fantastic and philosophical motives, and was rich in theological and spiritual interests.1 The Copernican revolution opened up cosmic space as a possible home to other planets and civilisations. From Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moon (1638) to Cyrano de Bergerac’s The Other World (1657), up to Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralités des mondes (1686), the seventeenth century reflected on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and saw the flourishing of interplanetary voyages, explorations of the moon and more remote celestial bodies, close encounters with distant civilizations, including the possibility of being visited by extra-terrestrials beings on Earth (e.g. Charles Sorel’sL’Histoire comique de Francion, 1623, progenitor of the imaginary visits of alien humans in Europe).2

Cultural historians and scholars of speculative fiction usually locate in a late-modern period the appearance of a temporal dimension exploited as a means of dislocation from the writer’s reality, and thus as a source of cognitive estrangement.3 However, while some see in the consequences of the same Copernican revolution the crucial condition thanks to which the imagination first became able to work outside the temporal horizon of Biblical time,4 others place the shift from a spatial-based to a temporal-based speculation as late as the eighteenth century,5 or take the year 1800 as a conventional watershed.6 In his comprehensive anthology of British future fiction, I. F. Clarke identifies a turning point during the nineteenth century, but traces from the seventeenth century onwards the first developments of a temporal imagination, in consequence of which “the geographies of utopian fiction evolved into the historiographies of a new literature.”7

The conceptualization of a future intimately linked to the present and shapeable by human action can in fact be traced back to the emergence of new ideas and sensibilities towards historical time, which matured gradually during the modern age.8 Anglophone and francophone literatures offer extrapolations of near-future scenarios as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century. 

A play such as A Larum for London (published anonymously in 1602) implicitly suggests that a Spanish sack of London might replicate the horrors of 1576 Antwerp,9 John Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis (1667) imagines London reborn after the Great Fire, political prophetism nourishes works such as Aulicus his Dream of the King’s Sudden Comming to London (anonymous, 1644)10 and Jacques Guttin’s Épigone, Histoire du siècle futur (1659). The future is home to a model society towards which the English Parliament is invited to work in A Description of the Famous Kingdome of Macaria (1642) attributed to Samuel Hartlib.11 These narrations offer possible and counter-factual histories used to make a point about the politics of the day, whether through ominous predictions, practical indications, or – in the case of Guttin – as the backdrop to adventurous plots.12 Squibs, satires, or exotic romances, these texts represent a step towards a secularized history13 and conceptualizations of the future that their late-modern and early-contemporary descendants will come to embody, without yet constituting a genre, nor focusing their inventions and extrapolations on those techno-scientific wonders that would only later take centre-stage.14

As Bronisław Baczko has argued,15 the topographical dislocation exploited in early-modern imaginary voyages may serve the purpose of constructing an ideal society untouched by the same historical processes experienced by the reader’s, so that history as known by the writer and the reader constantly informs the invention as a negative presence, by its absence. Utopian societies may consequently be described as a result of different histories, and characterized by alternate calendars and time-computing methods, such as in L’histoire des Sevarambes; peuples qui habitent une partie du troisième continent, communément appelé la Terre australe by Denis Veiras (1677-1679).16 Baczko discusses also what he calls utopia-proposals, such as Étienne-Gabriel Morelly’s Code de la Nature (1755), in which the utopian project may serve the purpose of showing a different yet possible continuation of history, freeing society from its past to offer a new beginning.17

A fantastic voyage: a ship has left the sea below and is sailing among the clouds, in a nocturnal sky. The caption below reads "The ship is caught up into the skies". Illustration from Lucian's wonderland: being a translation of the 'Vera historia' by Lucian, by St J. Basil Wynne Willson; with numerous illustrations by A. Payne Garnett (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), p. 47. Copy via InternetArchive.
“The ship is caught up into the skies”. Lucian’s wonderland: being a translation of the ‘Vera historia’ by Lucian, by St J. Basil Wynne Willson; with numerous illustrations by A. Payne Garnett (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), p. 47. Copy via InternetArchive. Non known restriction for scholarly use.

Continue reading “Historicizing the Future”

The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come

Fantastic narratives and illustrations as part of a broader social history of ideas of space and time

Ne soyez point en peine de ce Heros inconnu qui se presente à vos yeux. Encore qu’il ne soit pas ny de ce Monde ny de ce Siecle, il n’est pas si farouche ny si barbare, qu’il ne soit capable de faire un beau choix, & qu’il n’ait jugé aussi juste de vostre merite, que l’auroient pû faire tous ceux qui ont l’honneur de vous mieux connoistre.

JACQUES GUTTIN [MICHEL DE PURE], Épigone, histoire du siècle futur (A Paris: Chez Pierre Lamy, 1659), aij-p.nn.

My latest work on the conceptualisation of historical time in late modern and early contemporary European culture is now on Cromohs: Cyber Review of Modern Historiography.

Late modern and early contemporary imageries related to techno-driven globalization processes are to be found, in some of their most popular and graphic expressions, in visual and literary works of fiction. Made possible by the emergence of new ideas of a secularized historical time, early speculative fiction is an exceptional vantage point from which to observe the birth and development of popular themes and tropes related to those compressions of time and space, which increasingly characterized the world system between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century.

Louis-Sébastien Mercier, L’an deux mille quatre cent quarante (1774; nouvelle edition, Paris, an X [1801-1802]) vol. I, 12. Looking at the public notices posted on a wall, the protagonist realizes he has slept for 672 years. Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France.

In the European cultural space, and especially in mature publishing markets such as the French one, speculative fiction set in the future became an apt expression of new imageries related to techno-science, including new communication and transportation systems and the astonishing speed of their development. Narratives and illustrations interpreted the appearance of new forms of awareness of globalization processes, becoming part of a communicative circuit, which was expanding its audience at a fast rate, thanks to the increasing presence of the popular press.

In this phase of techno-scientific acceleration and tumultuous changes in cultural habits, speculative fiction began to depict a major shift that had been occurring in the European mind-set during the late modern era: the emergence of a plastic future. New ideas of the future were a consequence of new, secularized temporalizations of history. The conception of historical time as home to linear processes of development was in turn deeply influenced by a close encounter with “others,” by explorations, voyages and the availability of written, figurative and material sources regarding remote parts of the world, which documented Western forms of ethnocentric hierarchization and, at the same time, began the task of problematizing them.

Fantastic narratives and illustrations can be read as part of a broader social history of ideas of space and time, and work as litmus tests of the complex reconfigurations they underwent in the Western mind, as global interconnectedness brought new subjects and issues onto the stage.

Continue reading “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come”