Here Schuster apparently discussed matter and antimatter annihilating each other.

Had anyone suggested before this that matter could be transformed into energy? (If indeed that is what is implied by annihilation or perhaps he meant just disappearing with no energy release.)

Or had others seen matter and energy being convertible, and what Einstein did was quantify this conversion?

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    $\begingroup$ As you can see from the article linked by Wikipedia, Schuster (1898) does not discuss conversion of matter into energy. His "annihilation" produces "potential matter" with no gravity or inertia. But mass-energy conversion was discussed since 1881, when it was suggested by Thomson under the rubric of electromagnetic mass. It did not involve annihilation, and was the direct presursor to Einstein's theory, which reinterpreted it kinematically. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Sep 15 at 7:53
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder to what extent his speculations are a culturally/historically-specific development arising from 1800s religious and sociological issues involving good and evil? $\endgroup$ – Dave L Renfro Sep 15 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ @DaveLRenfro that's a highly philosophical question & unlikely to have any objective answer even if Schuster kept a detailed diary full of his personal views $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Sep 15 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl Witthoft: I intended this as a rhetorical question, somewhat implying that our present context, in which antimatter is a part of standard physics, likely strongly prejudices our thoughts in ways different than what someone at that time may have been thinking about. $\endgroup$ – Dave L Renfro Sep 15 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ @DaveLRenfro: who knows what motivated such a silly letter, to be frank. I note also that the letter following Schuster's was, no kidding, about a snake that had eaten a frog. We forget how naive people of the 19th century could sometimes be which is of course not to say that people of the 21st are not. $\endgroup$ – releseabe Sep 15 at 14:18

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