SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES, XX #59 (March 1993): 137-139.


H.G. Wells, Robert Cromie, and Literary Crime. David Lake, in an article in the latest Wellsian (#15:40-46, Summer 1992), brings to light (i.e., reprints) correspondence and other documents bearing on Robert Cromie’s charge that Wells plagiarized much of the “invention” in The First Men in the Moon (1900-01) from Cromie’s A Plunge Into Space (1890). What Lake does not discuss in his otherwise thorough and judicious account of Cromie’s accusation is an irony attendant upon the possibility that the accuser was hurling his stones from a glass house, so to speak.

That possible irony, involving something (morally) worse than the kind of (would-be) intellectual theft that Cromie alleged against Wells, has to do with the Jules Verne Connection. Readers of my Into the Unknown (California UP, 1970, 1983) may recall that I remarked (32-33) on a certain oddity about Verne’s fulminations against The First Men in the Moon in a famous—or infamous—interview with him published in T.P.’s Weekly in 1903. There Verne, attacking Wells for coming up with totally impracticable

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inventions, singles out The First Men in the Moon’s anti-gravitational sphere as the object of his particular ridicule. Verne, that is, was criticizing one of the features of this text that Cromie had been saying Wells lifted from his own work. What at the time struck me as strange about this was that the second edition of that Cromie title (1891) bears a preface supposedly written by Jules Verne and virtually hailing Cromie as another Verne.

It is, of course, possible that Verne had (developed) some memory disability in his last years. There is, however, another conceivable explanation for the discrepancy I noted—one which would not have occurred to me 25 years ago—namely, that Verne never read A Plunge Into Space. In the literal sense of those words, that is certainly true; I learned only recently from a very authoritative source (Arthur B. Evans) that Verne was wholly incapable of reading a novel written in English. He could therefore have had no firsthand knowledge of Cromie’s work (at least not if the catalogue of the French Bibliothèque Nationale is to be trusted: it lists no French translation of any Cromie title). To be sure, Verne might have been basing his commendation on someone’s French summary of A Plunge Into Space. But it may also be the case that Verne’s preface was entirely the concoction of Cromie’s publisher (Warne)—or even of Cromie himself (i.e., suggested, if not written, by him).

There may be extant documents somewhere that would rule this possibility in or out—documents which someone with the diligence and enterprise of a David Lake may yet recover. In the meantime, however, we can only speculate as to whether Cromie himself was directly or obliquely party to a kind of literary fraud, compared with which his charge of plagiarism against Wells would seem petty indeed (even if it were not roughly equivalent to any similar complaint that a partisan of Holinshed, say, might have levelled against Shakespeare). —Robert M. Philmus, Concordia University

Wells, Cromie, and Verne: An Addendum. As a follow-up to Professor Philmus’s observations on this matter, allow me to add that other evidence would tend to support his suspicions that Cromie (or his publisher) may indeed have written the brief Jules Verne preface to A Plunge Into Space (1891, 2nd edition).

First, it is virtually certain that Jules Verne did not read Cromie’s first edition of A Plunge Into Space (1890): Verne was not sufficiently fluent in English to read such a novel—despite the myth to the contrary perpetrated by his great niece and first “official” biographer, Allotte de la Füye. I offer as proof Verne’s own comments on the question in a (translated) interview taking place in 1895: “Unhappily, I can read only those works which have been translated into French” (Marie A. Belloc, “Jules Verne at Home,” Strand Magazine [Feb. 1895]: 212). And no French translation of this text seems to have existed at the time.

Second, I have found no mention of Robert Cromie, his publisher Frederick Warne & Co., or A Plunge Into Space in any of Verne’s available correspondence from the period, in the general catalogue of the Jules Verne Archives in Nantes, nor in any of the comprehensive bibliographies of

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Verne’s writings (other than those of Anglo-American origin). Of course, French bibliographies are sometimes very sketchy when it comes to English-language materials; but one would nevertheless think that any preface (even to a foreign novel) which had been supposedly written by Verne himself would have been noted and listed by French biographers at some point during the past century. But, then again, to my knowledge, no preface to any fictional work (other than to his own) has ever been attributed to Jules Verne, except this one.

Third, although Cromie and/or his publisher would seem to be the most likely source(s) for this preface, it is possible that there may more to this story than meets the eye. Consider the following: Vernian scholars now know that—in addition to his (at least) partial authorship of many of Verne’s posthumous Voyages Extraordinaires—Verne’s son Michael wrote and published (in England) at least two short SF stories (in English) around this same time, signing his father’s name to both of them: “In the Year 2889” (The Forum, 1889) and “An Express of the Future” (Strand Magazine, 1895). Although I have argued elsewhere that Michael himself had a very poor knowledge of English (“Le Franglais vernien [père et fils],” Modernités de Jules Verne [Paris: PUF, 1988]: 87-105), he nonetheless might have been a very active conspirator in this literary crime. —Arthur B. Evans, DePauw University

Copyright © Zvi Har’El
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