EDWARD EVERETT HALE IN WOMAN'S HOME COMPANIONAugust11906
The Comforts of To-day
EDWARD EVERETT HALE IN WOMAN'S HOME COMPANION
What a really short space of time there is between the present-day world, with all its steam engines, its electric lights, its telephones and other wonderful inventions, and the day when all these things were unknown! Dr. Hale, the venerable chaplain of the United States Senate, points out how little interest is taken in the beginnings of these inventions and how everything is taken for granted.
IT is curious to see that most of the great steps of advance were made without the knowledge of the people who called themselves the rulers of the country. One wonders whether in the bottom of their hearts they thought they were the rulers of the country. In the year 1793, when George Washington was the president of the United States, and when the seat of the national government was at Philadelphia, a person named Thomas Jefferson was Secretary of State. There came into his office one day a man named Eli Whitney. He had the model of a machine for separating cotton seed from the fibers of cotton. Now it has proved that because of this machine invented by this man, and because it proved invaluable to the United States of America, nice cotton cloths for sheets, for shirts, or for anything elsq for which cotton cloth is needed, can now be made and sold even as cheaply sometimes as for three cents a yard. It has followed from this invention that the clothing of every human being in the world is more comfortable, and yet is far cheaper than it was in the year 1793. We do not care much for historical pictures now, but that would be a good picture which should represent Thomas Jefferson conversing with Eli Whitney. Jefferson was a Virginian, he had seen cotton growing, you would have said that he would have been speciallv interested in such an invention, but he seems to have been wholly unconscious of the importance of
Whitney’s invention. Simply he signed the papers for the inventor, but he makes no allusion to this patent in his voluminous diary and correspondence which continue to the year 1826.
Another illustration of the way in which the world steps forward is in the life of Robert Fulton. In early life I knew Mr. Edward Church. On a Spring morning in 1804 Mr. Church was sleeping in the same room in Paris in which Robert Fulton was sleeping, or trying to sleep. So Church told me this story. In the grey of the morning there was a,tap at the door which waked them both. The early tap was the prelude of the announcement that the little boat on the Seine River, which Robert Fulton had built for an exhibition of steam navigation, had broken in two, and that the boat and the steam engine were at the bottom of the Seine.
Alas and alas, Fulton had prepared this boat for an exhibition of the steamboat to a committee of the French Academy which Napoleon I. had named. The exhibition was to be on this very day, but a great storm had risen, the little steamboat was not strong enough, it had broken in two, and the steam engine was at the bottom of the river. In those days there wTere not many steam engines. Because that boat broke in two Napoleon never returned to Fulton.
Fulton came to America; he launched the Clermont steamer in 1807 on the waters of the Hudson, and the steam navigation of to-day began. It
began on American waters, and now there is not a cove or a river or a bay or an ocean in the world but what knows what you mean by a steamboat.
All the same I have Fulton’s letters under my hand, when he was living here in Washington, and the Government neither knew nor cared about his invention of the steamboat.
I do not know what the lady who reads this may think, but I wish she would think how her kitchen lire was started this morning. Here is, if you please, a letter written by William Temple Franklin in the year 1785, and here is the answer of his Parisian apothecary to whom he wrote. Franklin is to have some friends at dinner. He thinks it would entertain them to have the sight of a chemical match, and he writes to the druggist to know if he could favor them with one or two matches to show at the dinner party. And the druggist writes in reply that there are but four such matches in Paris, and of the four he sends to Franklin two for the entertainment of his friends.
Side by side with that letter, as we are binding and indexing our autographs, we will put in this note from a distinguished theologian in which he describes his experience, somewhere in the 1830’s, when his mother rouses him in the morning of a Winter’s day to say, “Joe, the fire hasgone out in the kitchen. Get up as soon as you can and dress yourself and take a pan and go across to your aunt’s and bring some hot coals with which to start the fire for our breakfast.” Dear reader, are we not too apt to take it for granted that we have sunlight and clear water and fresh air which the good God has given us, and are we not too apt to forget that it is only step after step that there came to us such miracles
as clothes and food and fire ? Surely we owe those to the fathers and mothers, and surely we ought to repay something to the grandsons and granddaughters.
Now, for the physical force which is used in weaving the cloth or the linen or the cotton. The highest authority in the world, which is the Labor Commission at Washington, tells me that in this business of physical force every man who chooses in any of the centres of industry has one thousand times the force at command which his great-grandfather had in the same place in the year 1800.
I think there were but five steam engines in the United States in that year, with a working power, perhaps, of two hundred horses. There is hardly a reader of these lines who, if he lay down the paper, cannot hear the whistle of some one engine which controls a larger power to-day. It is hard to familiarize ourselves with such contrasts.
That distinguished engineer, Mr. George Morison, told me that every first-class steamer which sails from New York to Liverpool develops more power than Cheops had at command for the building of the great Pyramid, which we used to call one of the Seven Wonders of the world. And it is not simply steam power which is harnessed bv the men of to-day for such purposes. Such cataracts as that of Niagara or the Spokane Falls, or as men have created at Lowell and Lawrence and Plolyoke and Paterson and Richmond, and a thousand other places, are releasing laborers from the drudgery of daily toil and making them into workmen. Never forget that while Labor wears down or wears us out, Work is the control of matter by spirit. So is it that when God lifts us to a higher
world we cease from our Labors, but our Works will follow us.
It is quite worth your while, or that of any young reader, to spend an hour or two in a visit to grandmother, who shall tell you from her own memory, and from what her mother has told her, of the clothing of a hundred years ago. When Grandma Lois or Grandma Eunice were little girls their father planted flax seed with special care in the very strongest and best-watered soil he had. When the Autumn came, if all things had worked well, there was flax to be pulled, not mowed, to be water retted or dew retted, as the case might be, or to be steeped in hot water. All this, indeed, if there were girls and men enough in the household to handle the flax when it was scutched — that is, broken for separation of woody cores from that which could be spun. Then it had to be cleaned, spun, woven, bleached, and finished by the members of the family, largely b\ the women. Little chance for Priscilla or for Lesbia or for Trvphena or Tryphosa to go to school, or to play with her water colors or her pencils. The flax had to be retted, then the flax had to be spun and woven. Each well-equipped family had its own wheels and its own loom, and before Eli Whitney had triumphed over endless obstacles, the tablecloths and towels and shirts and sheets and pillow cases for every familv were made from flax under the rooftree of the house where they all lived.
And thus far we have only provided for what we are still apt to call carelessly the linen of the household. For the blankets and the carpets, the petticoats, the trousers, the vests and the jackets and the coats of the men somebody had been raising the sheep and washing them and shearing
them ; somebody had been picking out the various qualities of the wool, and had been cleansing it for the loom ; somebody had been dyeing and weaving it, mixed with the linen, perhaps, or perhaps without it.
Hunt up some mountaineer in New Hampshire or North Carolina or Tennessee, who will show you a little of this alphabet of clothing. I have the letter at home in which my greatgrandfather, Richard Hale, wrote to his sons, Enoch and Nathan, who were students at Yale College, to instruct them about their new Winter’s clothing. He and their brothers, their mother, and their sisters had all been at work for the cloth, and now he says if one of them can get leave to ride over from New Haven to Coventry he can be measured for the Winter outfit for both and the clothes shall be made ready on the farm. Ah, me ! let the young gentlemen at New Haven rejoice that their eager studies of evolution and the correlation of forces, of the nice distinction between the optative and the subjunctive, and more important yet, the rights and the duties of a shortstop in baseball, need not now be interrupted for three days while he goes to his mother and is measured for his clothes.
Or if you go back into the history of “food,” Doctor Palfrey reminds us that the familiar proverb which speaks of “pork and beans” as the national dish of the Eastern States, what he calls the union of “the meanest of flesh with the poorest of vegetables,” points to a period of great poverty in the infant state. The proverbial “hog and hominy” of the Middle States and the south belong to the same period. The old jokes about a Cape Cod turkey, which is a phrase applied to the dried codfish which was one of the staples of New
England, is another reminder of the days when people lived largely on fish. There were then no ranches sending their thousands of cattle northward and eastward to the eater. As for breadstuffs, it was not a generation before the agriculture of the early planters had well nigh exhausted the soil of the sea-washed states. In default of English wheat Winthrop was buying corn from the Indians west of him for the mouths of Massachusetts Bay before his first settlers had lived a year in their new homes.
The late Josiah Quincy, who was a baby when the battle of Bunker Hill was fought, was the president of Harvard College when I was a student there. He was born and grew up in one of the most prosperous families in “The Bay.” He told me once that in his boyhood, while his mother always would have a loaf of white bread in the house, it would be for fit preparation for some distinguished visitor. He said that the staple food of the household, the bread put on the table morning, noon and night, was always the brown bread of New England, “rye and injun” is the specific term, made by the mixture of rye and Indian meal.
For myself I had never seen a field of wheat when I was twenty-two years old. The first I did see was on the eastern slope of Cayuga Lake in the Town of Aurora, in New York. Wheat is always a product of the frontier. The Rochester flour and the Richmond flour supplied the markets of America in the first half of the century. Now we go as far as the falls of the Mississippi for our best flour. And our great millers there speak of Buda Pesth as the Minneapolis of Europe.
Those of our readers who are living in flats in cities hardly know how life
is enlarged for the men and women who live on the frontier in houses which are each perhaps a mile away from any other home. Twenty years ago the dwellers in such lonely houses, especially the women who had to make home home, had no hardship or misfortune so great as that mere distance which separated them from brothers or sisters, perhaps, or fathers or mothers—indeed, from any other people. The separation came hardest on the women. For the men, they had to take the horses away, to go to the county town, or hither and thither where business or duty called them. But the mother of a family was left with the little children or the girl. Thousands of readers of these lines could write to us to say how dismal were the long days, not to say weeks, when you were shut up in such solitary confinement. For man is a gregarious animal, and so is woman.
But all this is changed now. Why, there are oui' friends of the Rosebud Indians scattered in their houses in South Dakota, they have hundreds of telephones, connecting cabin with cabin and house with house. And from Aroostook County, on the northeast, to Tia;juana, on the southwest, the same enlargement of life is going forward, as you connect people’s homes with telephonic wires.
Heaven first taught letters for some wretch’s aid,
For some banished lover or some captive maid.
But, as the English story says, perhaps the captive maid does not know how to read. Thanks to Mr. Bell and his telephone, she need not learn. White Feather has only to call Turtle Dove by her telephone bell and she may talk to her in Sioux Indian if she wants to, without inquiring
whether the word illimitable is spelled with three l’s or with seven. No week passes by that I do not receive some fresh and interesting testimony of the new cheer and the gladder life to different scattered homes by the great invention of the telephone.
Indeed, as I sat by a good fellow the other day, who had an ear-piece
at either ear and was listening to know if somebody were not talking to him from a ship five hundred miles off on the ocean, I learned a new lesson of the insignificance of space and the insignificance of time. The last century has given us the greatest blessings in teaching that lesson so well.
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