To-day and to-morrow

[Cross-posted at Cliopatria.]

'To-day and To-morrow' was a series of over a hundred essays on 'the future' of a diverse range of subjects, which were published in pamphlet form by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. between 1924 and 1931. The authors are equally varied: some were acknowledged experts in their fields, others seem to have been chosen for their ability to provoke. Some of the 'To-day and To-morrow' essays have since attained classic status; most have been forgotten. But as a whole they are an impressive testimony to a vibrant, wideranging (and idiosyncratic) kind of British futurism, and I think they deserve more attention. Some of them have been reprinted from time to time, and if you're rich you can buy nearly all of them in collected volumes through Routledge, but otherwise there are so many they are are hard to track down. So I've tried to compile a definitive list of the series' titles (which are mostly classical allusions) with links to online sources for the texts and some sort of author biography, where available. Google Books has many of them, but only snippets or previews, so I've linked to other sources where possible. Additions and corrections are welcome.

Physically, they were very small books (pott octavo, to be precise), easy to slip into a pocket, and numbered only a hundred pages or so, in large type and generous margins. Their price was 2/6, about the same price as a cheap novel, but five times the price of the later, hugely successful Penguins. So they did not attract a mass readership, but do seem to have been much read by the chattering classes. (See Peter J. Bowler, Science for All: The Popularization of Science in Early Twentieth-Century Britain (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 2009), 139.) Many of the titles went through multiple impressions. And at least one was discussed in the House of Commons.

As I said, some of the essays are still well-known, at least to historians of science: for example the first two in the series, Daedalus, or Science and the Future (1924) by chemist J. B. S. Haldane, and Icarus, or the Future of Science (1924) by Bertrand Russell, the philosopher. Daedalus was Haldane's first book. His prediction in it of universal ectogenesis (i.e. the artificial creation of life, true test-tube babies) was its most startling feature, but he also discussed eugenics, the problems of peak oil and peak coal (Haldane's answer is, in part, wind power: he foresaw a Britain 'covered with rows of metallic windmills working electric motors which in their turn supply current at a very high voltage to great electric mains'), the creation of food from coal and atmospheric nitrogen, and so on. Russell was already famous (hence another book by him in the series, What I Believe, published 1925). Icarus was a bit more glum than Daedalus, as the titles perhaps suggest; he spoke of race suicide (of the white races, that is, due to birth control), the end of liberal ideas such as a free press, a despotic world state (though he thinks it would become more benevolent as time passed), the control of personality through hormones (possibly to create a compliant underclass). The apparent dominance of biological themes in many of the books is interesting. The 1920s were the great days of physics -- Einstein was a worldwide celebrity because of his theory of general relativity; the cornerstones of quantum mechanics were being laid in Germany; in the United States, Hubble was showing that the Universe was far bigger than anyone had imagined. But judging from 'To-day and To-morrow', it was evolution and its implications which gripped the imagination of the reading public. It's true that there are books on physics (Archimedes), chemistry (Hermes) and cosmology (Eos). But there are a number on aspects of biology (e.g., evolutionary psychology, Down's syndrome, the body of the future, Darwinism itself), and evolution seems to feature in many of the books, even when they ostensibly have nothing to with it. For example, Gerald Heard's Narcissus: An Anatomy of Clothes (1924) apparently makes the argument that fashion is evolution at work, that 'evolution is going on no longer in but around the man, and the faster because working in a less resistant medium'.

Another example of futurology from the series which is remembered today is J. D. Bernal's The World, the Flesh, and the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul (1929), particularly for its discussion of space travel. Rockets, solar sails, hollowing out asteroids to make space colonies -- Bernal spheres -- and ultimately interstellar colonisation. That's pretty heady stuff, and its not the sort of discourse we would usually associate with early twentieth-century Britain. But how unusual was it? Not that unusual, it can be argued. Olaf Stapledon published the wonderful Last and First Men the following year, which makes The World, the Flesh, and the Devil look stodgy and unimaginative by comparison. The British Interplanetary Society was founded in 1933. H. G. Wells had his Space Gun on screen in 1936; and much earlier, his First Men in the Moon. The British Empire even expanded into interstellar space in 1900. There was also (at least one) earlier example of spacemindedness in 'To-day and to-morrow', Hanno, or the Future of Exploration (1928), by J. Leslie Mitchell. I'm not sure what Mitchell's qualifications to discuss exploration were: later he was a key novelist in the Scottish Renaissance (again, as with Bernal, Haldane and Heard, this was his first book -- which says something for the judgment of Kegan Paul's editors). He served in various bits of the Empire in the Army and the RAF so perhaps that's it. I haven't read Hanno, and it's only available online in Google Books's snippet view, but judging from the word cloud it doesn't just talk about darkest Africa and Antarctica. Some of the most common phrases are 'extraterrestrial', 'Martian', 'lunar', and the names of several lunar craters and mares. So why haven't I heard of Mitchell before? (Not to mention André Maurois's 1927 parody of what sounds like a 'lunar panic' and subsequent war against the Moon, The Next Chapter.)

Some entries are important in the history of military strategy, or at least the airpower parts of it: Basil Liddell Hart's Paris, or the Future of War (1925), and Haldane's Callinicus: A Defence of Chemical Warfare (1925). Paris falls pretty squarely into knock-out blow territory, a position Liddell Hart had mostly retreated from by 1939. Callinicus was infamous for its argument that poison gas was actually a humane weapon, since during the last war it had a low mortality and high recovery rate, compared with explosive and bullets. Haldane also favoured the knock-out blow line of thinking, though it wasn't his main concern. (He did downplay the risk of gas attacks on cities.) But again, there are other relevant titles which are less well-known. For example, Aeolus, or the Future of the Flying Machine (1927), by Oliver Stewart. While he didn't discount the possibility of a knock-out blow, Stewart did believe that air defence was possible (and he was a Great War fighter ace as well as an aviation correspondent). Or what about Janus: the Conquest of War (1927), by William McDougall? As a psychologist, maybe McDougall doesn't seem likely to have had a lot to say about aerial warfare. But as I've argued, he was perhaps the first person to propose a fully-fledged international air force. So there are interesting things here, when you look beyond the well-known titles. (Sadly for me, one title was advertised but seems not to have been published: Mercurius, or the World on Wings by C. Thompson Walker, billed as 'A picture of the air-vehicle and the air-port of to-morrow, and the influence aircraft will have on our lives'. Sigh.)

But I don't want to leave the impression that 'To-day and to-morrow' is just about science and technology. The future is presented as being much more than that. There are books on the future of Canada, of music, of Shakespeare, marriage, crime (and miscreant youth), Oxford and Cambridge (and another just on Oxford), humour, swearing (both by Robert Graves), psychical research. There's one on the future of Futurism (the kind with the manifesto) and another on the future of prophecy. There's C. E. M. Joad on the future of morals (Thrasymachus) and Sylvia Pankhurst on the future of international language (Delphos). Vera Brittain wrote on the future of monogamy (Halycon), J. F. C. Fuller on transport and on America (Pegasus, Atlantis), Arthur Keith on 'the problem of race' (Ethnos). An expatriate Scot who left for New Zealand some sixty years before was recruited to write about his former homeland, but another key member of the Scottish Renaissance was given the chance to respond in another volume. Anthony Ludovici wrote Lysistrata (1924), which one reviewer described as an anti-feminist but pro-feminine tract; Dora Russell provided a counterblast in Hypatia (1925), though her feminist credentials may have been undermined by being listed in the publisher's catalogue as 'Mrs Bertrand Russell'. So broad was the range of subjects that some don't seem to fit at all with the rest at all: dragons? aid for the best-seller? Then there's what isn't discussed. A decade later, you might expect such a series to be dominated by international affairs: the future of the League, the future of Germany, the future of dictatorships (which is the sort of thing the Penguin Specials were about, pretty much). There's not much of this here. It was a more peaceful time. There was plenty of anxiety but it was caused by problems seen on the horizon. And as for authors, the most famous British futurist of them all is missing -- no H. G. Wells! (Though an early biographer of his, Geoffrey West, is there, writing on the future of literary criticism.)

After more than a hundred volumes (I have 103 listed, though I may have missed some), 'To-day and to-morrow' came to an end. Interestingly, despite the very British flavour of many of the books, they were simultaneously published in New York by E. P. Dutton (which seems to have added a couple of its own), which perhaps suggests an even greater appetite for speculation about the future in America than in Britain. Certainly, the writing, publication and reading of these books tells us something about the way the future was constructed in those countries in the early 20th century. Max Saunders, who is in the English department at King's College London, has a research project going on 'To-day and to-morrow'; a conference was held a couple of years ago. Even in putting this post together, I can see there's a lot potential there, and I'll be looking out for any resultant publications!

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9 thoughts on “To-day and to-morrow

  1. Erik Lund

    I remember how disappointed I was when I discovered that _Paris_, the book that Liddell Hart based his claim to being the prophet of armoured warfare, was a commissioned work. Now, I appreciate just how intriguing the whole project was.
    Also, and because I never tire of pimping this guy on the Internet, the guy who actually did what Hart claimed to have done in _Paris_: http://rcdening.co.uk/life/basil.htm

  2. Post author

    Paris struck me as being a stronger argument for the primacy of airpower than tanks, but since I thought much the same of Fuller’s The Reformation of War that may be down to me and my own biases.

    I don’t think I’ve come across Dening before; can you expand? Higham doesn’t mention him in The Military Intellectuals.

  3. Erik Lund

    Colonel Dening was born in 1894 in Australia to a Foreign Service family. The Australia part is a weird synchronicity. I only found out yesterday when I tracked down the obituary linked to above. He went to Woolwich, like a real man, (yeah, I’m talking trash about Sandhurst, here), became a Sapper, had a good War, wrote books while in between Staff turns, and was killed in action at Dunkirk.
    He first came to my attention as the winner of the inaugural _Army Journal_ Bertram Stewart essay prize in 1922, the contest that Liddell Hart actuallly mentions being a runner-up in. I found it memorable mainly for describing APCs in some detail. I would imagine this and two subsequent prize essays found their way into his 1925 book. I have never seen that book, but I have read his 1937 reply to Liddell Hart’s talking up of air power. _Modern War. Armies, Not Air Forces, Decide Wars_. (For a military intellectual, he had a weak grasp of the proper use of the colon.)
    There’s nothing in this book to attract the likes of Azar Gat, but he is, I regret to say, a bit of a corrective to Higham. This is a lucid, correct, well-informed account of what a modern war would look like, the kind of thing that J. F. C. Fuller, Liddell Hart and Guderian could only wish were in their bibliographies. In general, tracking down the interwar writers of the _Army Journal_ was an education in the depth and richness of thinking in the interwar British army. And amongst these lucid thinkers, Dening stands out.

  4. Post author

    All the best British strategists have an Australian connection! Well, there was Monty. Okay, I take it back.

    Thanks for that. Doesn’t seem like either of Dening’s books can be found in the country of his birth. Was he reacting to any of Liddell Hart’s books in particular? I actually credit him as one the first to pull back from the knock-out blow theory, and in 1937 too, in Europe in Arms.

  5. Erik Lund

    D’oh. _Army Quarterly_, not _Army Journal_. I also finally remembered the other member of the stable that has been boosted in these parts: Walter Lindsell.
    As for specifics, I haven’t looked at UBC’s lonely copy of Dening’s _Modern War_ lately. It’s actually still in open stacks, so it won’t be that hard next time I get out to campus, but the Olympics are almost on us, and the day job is already getting gruelling, so please pardon me if I start getting a little rambly and disjointed….

  6. Brett there is a letter in the Trenchard papers from Brooke-Popham, who at the time of writing was Commandant at the RAF Staff College, who commented that while there was ‘nothing novel’ in Liddell-Hart’s arguement it was ‘interesting to see other people thinking along the same lines.’ It was suggested Trenchard should read a copy.

  7. Post author

    That’s interesting. Trenchard apparently did read it, because (according to Higham in The Military Intellectuals) he gave a copy to General Sir George Milne when the latter became CIGS in 1926, which led to Milne and Liddell Hart meeting and then to the formation of the Experimental Mechanized Force in 1927. But presumably Trenchard had hoped Milne would take notice of the parts of Paris about bombers more than the parts about tanks!

  8. Robbert-Jan Henkes

    In my copy of Stokes’ Perseus, or of Dragons, 1925, the Dutton & Co. US edition, I see that Rebecca West also contributed a volume to the series, enticingly called The Future of Sex. Was it ever published, does anyone know? I can’t find it anywhere.

  9. Post author

    I can’t find it either. Google Books does have an issue of Saturday Review (I assume an American publication, not the British one) from 1925 which says:

    To Dutton’s Today and Tomorrow Series, Rebecca West now contributes a new volume, “The Future of Sex.” Well, to judge by all the publicity Sex has been having of late years, its future ought to be bright!

    That makes it sound like it had either just been published or was just about to be published. Perhaps it was pulled at the last minute. The books in this series are so short that it could easily have been published elsewhere as an essay. West is a well-known figure, there should be something in one of her biographies.

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