I stumbled on this bit of grey literature
in the McGill University
Rare Books collection, where I was working for a year or so – one of the more interesting collections they have there is a series of bound pamphlets from England going back to the early 17th century (this one is from Redpath Historical Tracts, v. DLXVIII, 1797). London was awash in pamphlets, treatises, tracts, missals and other gray literature from the time of Pope
, until well into the late 19th century. There was, by Swift’s account in Tale of A Tub
(1704), so much to read flying around every where that it made him nauseous just contemplating the myriad opinions, facts, diatribes and rants being endlessly circulated by the new up-and-coming hacks of London and those spread about the Empire as a whole. It was, in a way, the English-speaking world’s first bona fide information explosion
In any case, this particular pamphlet runs just over 40p. and was composed by Richard Lovell Edgeworth
, Esquire. It was printed in Dublin
‘in the year of Our Lord’, 1797
, and for the price of one shilling
you could pick it up at books shops or coffee bars (which were all the rage at the time for a certain lettered class of leisured men, who found tea a little too plebian for their palettes, and were really interested in anything the French seemed to think was cool
). The numbers in brackets are the page references.
“When I heard of the French Telegraph, a new Object arose for my Exertions. I recalled to my mind experiments that I had tried so long ago as the year 1767, when I have practiced this species of aerial communication; and thinking that it might be peculiarly useful in this country, I constructed some machines with which I conversed, in August 1794, between Packenham Hall and Edgeworthstown (4)…then, in Nov. & Dec., 1974, the following paragraphs, written by some person unknown to me appearing in the Irish and English newspapers:
Drogheda, Nov. 19.
In The Star, Oct. 10, 1796, the following description of the ‘new’ French telegraph appeared. It is obvious that it is constructed on the ver same principles as mine, described in the paragraph which I have just quoted,
The Right Honorable the Speaker of the House of Commons has been the first in this country to prove the expediency of using the telegraph; on Saturday lasy on was erected on Mount Orid, near the Speaker’s at Collon, and another on the hill of Skreene, in the county of Meath, fifteen mils distant, where each party took their station, and when the necessary signals were made, the communicated to, and answered each other at that distance, in the space of five minutes.
The Telegraph.--- A new machine of this description has been lately erected on the top of the Pavilion of Unity, which forms a part of the palace of the Thuilleries, and which is to communicate with Germany, by a corresponding chain extending as far as Landan.(5)
No. 1 : A Proposal, Addressed to His Excellency the LORD LIEUTENANT of IRELAND, For the Establishment of a Corps of Men, to Convey Secret and Swift Intelligence. (6)
In the present state of Europe, and of Ireland in particular, it is unnecessary to expatiate upon the unity of speedy and swift intelligence…the Eye of the Government can be able to see the whole country like a Map before it, and its orders can be conveyed day or night, in a few minutes to every part of the Kingdom…(7)
If instant notice of alarm can be given upon the coasts, or of domestic disturbance, the Forces of Government can be directed to the point of danger; unfounded rumors can be stopped in their progress…almost as an Offence is committed it would be known at ever bridge and outlet of the district.
If with great celerity of communication entire secrecy can be connected; if it be impossible that any person concerned in the business, can decypher the intelligence which he is employed to convey; if the mode of communication can be indefinitely varied with difficulty or confusion; if the advantages of such an establishment extend to peace as well as war, in preserving domestic security, in promoting the exchange of commodities, in facilitating business, in preventing fraud…there can remain but on object to be considered – the expense. (8)
Why node-worthy? Well firstly, the spelling is amusing (note the rendition of tellograph, perhaps a poor translation from the French). Secondly, the language is vintage Enlightenment rationalism
at it’s best (…and people accuse me of composing long sentences
). Thirdly, I seriously doubt it’s available many places, given it probably only saw a print run in the area of 1000-2000 copies, and is, after all, a soft bound pamphlet
. Fourth, the discussion of the telegraph is uncannily prescient, especially given the state of electrical research in the late 1700s. Experiments with optical telegraphy
represented at this time were making the first attempts to make communications travel faster than a horse of boat. Light or electricity, in lingo of the time, speed intelligence across distances instantly – it was a cool new idea. Finally, Edgeworth immediately points out the potential of the semaphore
device as a political weapon of control and surveillance
– though, of course, he doesn’t use those terms.