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.
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