GRAHAM MAGAZINE. VOL. XL.
PHILADELPHIA, JUNE, 1852. No.6.
PRINTING MACHINE, PRESS, AND SAW WORKS. R. HOE & CO.
Had it been possible for any human intellect, at the close of the eighteenth century, or the commencement of this its nineteenth successor, so to grasp and comprehend the development of science, its expansion and diffusion, and, above all, its application to the every-day wants and conveniences of ordinary human life, as to predict, only fifty years beforehand, anyone of the almost incredible marvels which have long ceased to move especial wonder, as being now established facts, witnessed by all eyes, and of occurrence at all hours, the owner of that intellect would not have been merely laughed at as a crazy, crackbrained enthusiast, but would have run a very reasonable chance of being consigned to the cell of a madhouse, as an incorrigible and incurable monomaniac.
The writer of these lines, lacking several years yet of the completion’ of his tenth lustre, clearly remembers how, within thirty years at furthest, to assert an opinion of the feasibility of lighting streets by gas was to be sneered at for a visionary, or regarded with suspicion as a probable speculator in the fancy, even by the best informed, and most enlightened classes. To the youngest of his readers the dictum of the then infallible Doctor Dionysills Lardner against the possibility of Ocean Steam Navigation-for, deny it now as he may, he can be clearly convicted of its utterance-is familiar as a household word. And now, what insigniticant town, to say nothing of innumerable private dwelling, innumerable factories and workshops, prison houses, as it were, and ergasteria, would it were otherwise! of plebeian labor, innumerable theatres, assembly-halls, and banquet- rooms, abodes of patrician pleasure, are not ablaze through the murkiest midnight, and light as the broadest day, with the released and radiant spirit, that lay so long enthralled and unsuspected in the hard heart of the swart coal mine ? And now, with what quarter of the world are we not in daily, if not hourly, communication by the united agencies of those two most irreconcilable powers, fire and water? Hardly one century has elapsed since the American Franklin revealed to the admiring world the scareely suspected fact, that the subtle spark elicited from the electrifying magazine. or from the hairs of a cat, rubbed contrariwise to their direction, is identical with the sovereign, all-pervading flash, ” Which issues from the loaded cloud, And rives the oak asunder.” And now, at this day, we sit quietly engaged in our study, or stand, even, as it may be, laboriously plying our trade of manual labor, and send that very lightning- flash, a tamed domestic influence, nay, but a very slave and pack-horse to our will, to speed our tidings to New Orleans, or to Newfoundland, and to bring us back the answer, before a second hour has lagged round the dial.
Time was, nor very long ago, when to receive news from Europe within thirty days, was esteemed a feat, if not a miracle, on the part of the carriers, Now, or ere a second summer shall have passed, the electric telegraph will be in operation to Cape Racc. the south-easternmost point of Newfoundland, and mail steamers will be cleaving the Atlantic far to the northward, to and fro, from the green shores of Galway. Then, within seven days at the utmost, the news of farthest Europe, news from the Vistula, the Danube, and the Don; news from the Tartar and the Turk, shall he sped, more swiftly than though they “had taken the wings of the morning,” to the uttermost parts of America, shall be read almost simultaneously on the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific, and sent far aloof among the oceanic isles of the southern hemisphere, even to drowsy China and remote Taprobane, by the almost unearthly powers of steam and electricity, and last: not least, the press.
The word is out-we have said it-the press-a kindred, not antagonistic, scarcely even rival, power to the two mighty elements we have named-since it has pressed both into its service; and itself, purely human in its origin, its influence, and its importance, purely material in “its age and body, form and pressure,” derives most of its incalculable puissance from the cooperation and subservience of the two mightiest. most unearthly, most immaterial, and most spiritual of essences, existing, or ,vhich have existed, in the universe. But we are not about to write an essay on the power, the infuence, the utility of the press. These are too generally appreciated and acknowledged, to render a single paragraph necessary. In the two first particulars of power and influence, the press is incomparable-not to be equaled by any instrument or agency of humanity that ever has existed. The extent of its utility-although still unquestionable-is limited and diminished,” cribbed. confined,” and curtailed by the weakness, the willfulness, and the wickedness of the very many men, unfit and evil-minded, who have thrust themselves forward, assuming to conduct it, and through it the Public mind, with no ulterior object nobler or higher than the misapplication of the weight and moral power with which it invests them, to all sorts of immorality and wrong, to which avarice, rapacity, ambition, and the insanc desire of demagogueism may impel them. This is, however, only to a limit that the press is an agency of time and mortality; and as such liable, of a necessity, to be perverted.
Perhaps it is rather to be wondered, that there are few base, dishonest, licentious, and self-seeking journals in circulation, than that there are any; and it is clear, that the general tone of thq reading world is so gradually and greatly improving, that few of those which now exist receive any considerable support, unless where they have the skill to introduce their false doetrines under cover of some specious sophistry, making them to wear the semblance of reforms. Even these, it may be observed, are daily becoming more and more transparent to the broad and keen eye of the public; and, in proportion as they are comprchended, lose their ill-acquired and abused populanty and power, in one word, the utility of the press, its beneficial influences, its charities, its diffusion of knowledge and true light, and its general maintenance of the right, out-balance, as by ten thousand fold, the occasional obliquities, injustice, falsehood, and advocacy of devil’s doings here on earth: which periodically disgrace its columns.