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NEW SERIES.-No. 23.
THOMAS ALVA EDISON. All kinds of seership are rare. The possessor of the gift of vision which the Scotch call second-sight, and which penetrates into a hidden sea of subtle ether that seems to play mysteriously about life's path, is not an individual whom we meet every day. But still more difficult to meet with is a person endowed with what we will call first-sight, that is, with the gift of clear and penetrating vision into the actual life that rolls around us. The generality have lack-lustre eyes and see nothing beyond their own noses ; a few take a lively interest in watching and sharing in anything bright, new, and original—these are souls not quite asleep. But they are very few indeed who are sufficiently awake to realise how marvellous a world this is in which we live; what huge sleeping powers lie within it, waiting only for the hand of man to rouse and direct their boundless activity.
Once, in “ Essays and Reviews," a man who ought to have known better (Baden Powell) said that "the meaning of moral laws controlling physical' is not very clear.” The meaning is this, that no degraded race is trusted with great powers. Were the leading races of the world to lose their orderliness and responsibility, with these qualities, we may be sure, would vanish their faculty of wielding the vast yet delicate mechanical powers to which they owe so much. Concurrently with the growth of civilisation these powers have developed. There were certain achieve. ments of ancient civilisations which vanished with their decline and have never re-appeared. Everyone who will help to put his discoveries to wise uses can help the inventor to invent. The poet will not compose if there is no hope of a listening ear; the singer counts upon, almost lives upon, the sympathy of his audience; the representative man would be as badly off without the people as popular units would be helpless with. out representative, or, to use an American expression, pivotal men.
Strange as it may seem, Mr. Edison, a seer whose seership is held to Matter, has many of the characteristics ascribed to the seer of occult things. He reaches the acme of discovery very often in the dead of
night; his face is not marked by the anxious gravity, the irremovable knots and furrows that mark laborious thought, but rather seems the face of one whose best things come by inspiration. Like the prophets of old, too, he is not of the world-wears shabby garments, does not care to be fêted, lives in his dreams. He might be a follower of the deity of the oracle, and say, "I have come to this land of Delphi, where, taking his seat in the very centre of the earth, Phoibos utters his chants to mortals, ever soothsaying to them that which is and that which shall be.” Mr. Edison, in showing us that which is, and which we have not seen before, is also declaring that which shall be. Readers of the late Lord Lytton's "Coming Race” will now at least be obliged to own that we need no longer fear a coming invasion of a superior class of humanity; we are learning to be the "coming race" ourselves.
Mr. Edison appears to regard nature as containing all possibilities, which have only to be seen to be utilised. He scornfully rejects the idea that he is possessed of genius, or of any quality superior to those of
The thing is there, and has but to be seen; this is the formula of his invention, and he is ready to give his time to look for it until it is seen. Anybody could do that. So, in truth-anybody with
— the right sort of eyes. In spite of his repudiation of genius, Mr. Edison has what has been described as its eminent characteristic—the capacity of taking trouble. A Chinese sage averred that, if an ordinary man succeeds by one effort, the superior man will succeed by ten; if the ordinary man succeeds by ten, the superior man is prepared to continue his efforts up to a hundred. Mr. Edison, in spite of his unclouded brow and youthful air of inspiration, is ready to extend his efforts to thousands. While intent upon his aim, he will try the most unlikely projects, follow the most wrong-headed schemes which sound science would greet with scorn, but in the end something in him-call it infallible instinct, luck, inspiration, perseverance, or anything else-leads him into the right direction. One result--a very trifling little button to all appearance, but the crucial part of an invention—was reached after no fewer than three thousand experiments.
Americans love celebrities; they delight in interviewing and lionising. This is carried to such an extent that a number of people, unworthy of any special notice, are "written up” by the less important papers, in the true American style. It is fortunate when the unwearying interviewer meets with a celebrity so genuinely interesting, so wonderful in his own way, as Edison the inventor. How many times has his house been described, his personal appearance, manners, and habits given to the public, though he is still but a young man! Yet every account of him is full of interest, because his character is so remarkable. Mr. Edison is the magician of the nineteenth century; he has made of modern America a land more wonderful than any fabled country of the Arabian
Nights. His discoveries, though so practical and full of usefulness, are many of them of a kind that fasten upon the imagination. When he said of the statue of Liberty which overlooks the sea, “I can make that statue speak so that it can be heard ten miles,” he touched a chord which must thrill through all imaginative persons. It is like returning to the days of one's youth when the wonders of Sindbad the Sailor were accepted in good faith, and all the marvels of fairy tales were believed to be true somewhere. It is small wonder that people travel only to look at a man whose powers so far transcend the formerly accepted limit of man's capacities.
Thomas Alva Edison came into the world—it has been said with a cigar in his mouth, for he is an inveterate smoker on the 11th February, 1847. He is thus quite a young man, but, judging by results, would seem to have already lived several lives.
He was born in a village which bears a name full of charming associations, but which belies them in itself. Milan, in Erie County, Ohio, is not a marble city, but an obscure and wretched canal hamlet. His father was a man of splendid constitution, versatile abilities, and a restless nature. He was in turn tailor, nurseryman, dealer in grain, in lumber, and in farm lands. These qualities have all been transferred to his son, whose strength is extraordinary, and whose restless temperament seems insatiable. But otherwise he is an apparition in the midst of a family which, though strong, has not been remarkable. His mother (Scotch, though born in Massachusetts) was of good education, having been a school teacher in Canada, and from her he obtained all the definite instruction that he ever received. On the father's side his ancestry can be traced back two hundred years, to a period when the family were extensive millers in Holland. In 1730 the Edisons emigrated to America, and it is a matter of special pride with the great inventor that he can call himself a “full-blooded American.” The new country has a power in the combinations of nationalities; the children of her vigorous soil hold in their veins the blood of other lands, and their characters are made strong by the mingling of elements. The Edison family have the Dutch sturdiness and the Scotch perseverance and canniness in their united stock. The race of Edisons has been long-lived. Edison's great-grandfather reached the age of 102, and his grandfather of 103 years; his father, , a man standing 6ft. 2in., in 1868 outjumped two hundred and fifty men belonging to a regiment stationed at Fort Gratiot, Mich. Thus Thomas Edison has a fine physical inheritance; and although he has never had more than two months' schooling in his life, yet his mother was a finelyeducated woman, and imparted a love of literature to her son. This was encouraged as far as possible, and his father used to pay him for every book he mastered. Thus, although he had an education which perhaps an Oxford man might regard as very desultory,