+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

how closely this odd conceit of the writers
of former days approximates to the actual
results of scientific invention ; for there
are not only the letters of the alphabet
around the dial, but there are also single
signs to denote complete words. The
cardinal point of difference is this: that the
predictors imagined some kind of occult
mystical connexion between the two dials;
whereas, in the practical telegraph, there
is a copper wire, with or without an
enveloping cable, extending from one to the
other, be the distance ten yards or ten
thousand miles. It was in 1745, so far as
is known, that a wire was first made to
convey an electric impulse to a considerable
distance; Dr. Watson stretched a
wire across the Thames near Westminster-
bridge, and sent an impulse through it
from one observer to another; it was,
however, merely a shock: not a signal to
be interpreted or discriminated. The first
talking through a wire, appears to have
been effected in 1787; when M. Lamond,
a French electrician, arranged two
electrical machines in two rooms of his house,
with a wire connecting them. He agreed
with Madame Lamond that the peculiar
movements of two little pith balls, excited
by an electric current, should denote
certain letters or words; and thus a kind of
conversation was carried on by working
the two electrical machines in turn.

Those who are old enough to remember
the Great Exhibition of 1851, held in the
first Crystal Palace, in Hyde Park, may
possibly call to mind the attention which was
bestowed at that time on some stanzas by
Chaucer, pointed out by one of his admirers
as a prediction of that grand display.
Striking it certainly is, in many respects.
The House of Fame, consisting of some
two hundred lines, is a fanciful description
of a mighty assemblage held in a palace
of glass; and considering that Geoffrey
Chaucer wrote it four hundred and seventy
years before the Great Exhibition was held,
there was quite temptation enough to quote
it. The poet, in a dream, fancied he was

       Within a temple y-made of glas!

The present Queen Victoria, as we know,
sat on a raised daïs on the opening day
(1st of May) of the Exhibition. Look at
Chaucer's words:

   In this lusty and rich place,
   All on high above a daïs,
   Satte in a See imperiall,
   That made was of ruby royall,
   A feminine creature
   That never form'd by Nature
   Was soche another one I saie.

Of course her Majesty would not have
accepted flattery quite so strong as this;
but we may pardon it in the poet. On the
Exhibition day some grand choral and
instrumental music was performed: this was
excellently prefigured by the poet:

   And the heavenlie melodie
   Of songes full of armonie
   I heard about her throne of song,
   That all the palace well y-rong.

Then the nave of the palace, full of the
gay trappings and the notable personages
which marked the opening day:

   Then saw I stoade on thother side,
   Streight downe to the doores wide,
   Of metall that shone out ful clere;
   But though they were of no richesse,
   Yet were they made for great noblesse.

If we want a prediction of all nations
coming to the palace of glass, the following
looks very much like it:

   Then gane I loke about and see
   That there came ent'ring into the hall
   A right great company withall,
   And that of sondry regions,
   Of all kind of conditions
   That dwelle on yearth under the Moone,
   Poore and riche.

And when we remember that the
exhibitors at that grand display competed for
such fame and honour as prize medals,
honourable mention, and the admiration
shared by millions of visitors, it only
requires a little stretch of the imagination to
fancy them addressing the Queen in the
following words:

   "Madame," said they, "wee bee
    That thou graunt us now good fame,
    And let our workes have good name;
    In full recompensacioun
    Of good workes, give us good renoune."

The language is here a little modernised
from Chaucer, but the quaintness of style
is preserved. These passages certainly go
far towards justifying the pleasant popular
idea that Chaucer pre-invented the Crystal
Palace and the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Defoe threw off many thoughts which
read very much like anticipations of the
London University, the Foundling
Hospital, the Royal Academy of Music, and
the Metropolitan Police. But these are
not so much inventions as establishments.
In the same light perhaps may be
regarded John Hill's scheme for a Penny
Post, broached in 1659. Jasper, a
Westphalian peasant, may be said to have
predicted or imagined railways and
locomotives, at a date when he certainly never