Cornhill Magazine,  2 (1860), 61–73.

Electricity and the Electric Telegraph

[John Stephen]




Electromagnetism, Electricity, History of Science, Instruments, Experiment, Invention, Telegraphy, Internationalism, Progress, Hypothesis, Physiognomy, Wonder

People mentioned:

Francis Bacon (1st Viscount St Alban) , Edmond Halley , Charles F de C Dufay , Stephen Gray , Otto von Guericke , Benjamin Franklin , Luigi Galvani , Alessandro G A A Volta , Hans C Oersted , Dominique F J Arago , William Sturgeon , Michael Faraday

Institutions mentioned:

Royal Society

Publications cited:

Gilbert 1628

    In order to make 'the question of the application of electricity to telegraphy [...] more intelligible to the uninitiated' (65), Stephen traces the long history of the scientific understanding of electricity right back to William Gilbert. The 'first electric telegraph', he avers, was 'invented' in 1753 by the 'obscure' Scottish inventor Charles Marshall, another in the line of 'humble Scotchmen, who gave to civilization the steam-engine, the steam-ship, the electric telegraph, and the gas with which we light our houses and our streets' (66). In the nineteenth century, it is 'the "needle" instrument of Cooke and Wheatstone, the electro-magnetic one of Morse, and the electro-chemical one of Bain' (67) which 'form the grand type of the telegraphic system, and are more extensively used than any other' (67–68). The needle instrument, for example, is 'now in operation over probably 25,000 miles of wire in England and Scotland alone' (69). With the rapid spread of the telegraphic system, 'science, in this her most brilliant achievement' can bridge over the 'chasms which separate nation from nation and race from race' and will have an 'influence on the future of civilization it is impossible to estimate'. Nevertheless, the man of science remains in the position of a 'physiognomist' who 'may indeed decipher something of Nature from the aspect of her countenance, but [...] cannot see the workings of her inmost heart'. (73)

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