In 1898, a man bought a book for his 16-year-old nephew. "Many happy retoins [sic]. Uncle Spud," he wrote on a blank page at the front...
The book: H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, then just out in America from Harper & Brothers.The ripping tale of a Martian attack that set the mold for them all, it's almost more striking to a reader today for its turn-of-the-century detail: carriage-horse accidents, urgent telegrams, news only via newspapers.
Toward the end of the novel, the narrator gets ahold of a first post-attack copy of the Daily Mail: "I learned nothing fresh except that already in one week the examination of the Martian mechanisms had yielded astonishing results. Among other things, the article assured me what I did not believe at the time, that the 'Secret of Flying' was discovered."This was, of course, science fiction. But it was also prophetic.
Uncle Spud's teenage nephew — who stamped his name on the first page of the novel and read it religiously once a year — would himself go on to discover many secrets of flying. That nephew was Robert Hutchings Goddard, inventor of the liquid-fuel rocket.Goddard died in 1945. In the mid-1950s, a journalist named Milton Lehman began work on the rocket pioneer's biography, This High Man, published in 1963 by Farrar, Straus. A few months before publication, Lehman received a gift from Esther Goddard, Robert's widow. It was her husband's beloved copy of The War of the Worlds.
"For Milton Lehman, with gratitude," she wrote, underneath the inscription from Uncle Spud.Lehman noted the passage about the discovery of the Secret of Flying. "RHG?" he penciled eagerly in the margin. And, on the same frontispiece page where Spud and Esther had left their marks, he noted: "see p. 287 291!" In his own book, he mentions that at 50, Goddard wrote to the elderly Wells, thanking him for his inspiration. Wells wrote back: "Thank you for your fine letter. It's the sort of greeting one appreciates from people like you."
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Source: NPR Books