Saturday Review of Literature (October 30, 1926), p. 254.
Dr. Abbott was out for fun when he wrote his friendly little geometrical romance, and
it is good to see that the old wine is no worse for its new bottle. It is still a pleasant
tonic, and an excellent stimulant for boys. Hitherto, only a few have enjoyed Flatland. It is now a pleasure in store for many.
Yet there is oddity in its reappearance at this time. The obvious reason for
republishing is that in recent years we have waked up to the importance of what is
loosely called ``the'' fourth dimension. An ingenious and easy narrative, introducing a
fourth dimension by simple geometrical analogy, putting its eye-straining argument in
words of one syllable, is therefore sure of a sale. Tanquam ex ungue leonem. I suspect
Basil Blackwell of this cool logic. He must be at the bottom of it. It is a shrewd notion,
so far as publication is concerned. By all means let us buy the book, in this time of
scientific quickening. But let us not be confused in reading it. The introduction suggests
that Dr. Abbott was a prophet paving the way for the revelation of the theory of
relativity; this is a gallant claim which ought to be denied. An A B C is given here, but so
far as progressive scientific thought is concerned, it is an A B C of the wrong alphabet.
The words of one syllable are in the wrong language. It is helpful, in that mental exercise
is beneficial; but not more directly. One may go further, and say why. It is because
Flatland is in the kingdom of literature, and not in the kingdom of science. The quality
of thought behind the little book is not a quality of thought which is successful in
scientific theory. Flatland has not been without influence; but its influence cannot be
traced in such a book as Whitehead's Science and the Modern World. It can be traced in
such a book as Where the Blue Begins.
An engaging fable, worthy of being remembered for its individual, literary merits --- it
thus appears somewhat oddly, among the books dealing with that rebuilding of scientific
abstractions, which is the most notable architectonic achievement of our age. Flatland
was invented as one would invent a game. It is the product of ingenuity, acting on
material which has amusing possibilities. To paraphrase what Johnson said of Swift's
Lilliput, ``That rascal hasn't used an abstraction anywhere.''
Flatland is by no means up to Lilliput. The
latter was an accident; the former is a straightforward
jeu d'esprit, written in the age of ingenuity, in spirit
very close to the early H. G. Wells or Jules Verne, and more
loosely akin to some adventurers in mysticism. It is not in
the stream of serious thought; but those who like backwaters
will enjoy it.
--- Frank V. Morley