« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
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 common man. 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 Feb. ruary, 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 sturdi. ness 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,
it had that great and good result which so often systems of education fail to produce—tho awakening of a passion which developed into a habit of knowledge seeking. It is true that this thirst for information must be a part of Edison's nature, or he could not have pursued knowledge with such an unfailing passion; but it is also true that to teach a child to read for himself and to desire information, is both a rarer and more effectual education than any college cramming or school system. His mother was industrious and ambitious; these qualities she imparted to him, and the habit of concentrated study which he early acquired has been of incalculable value to him. As a child, though not noticed in any way as being brilliant or remarkable, he was always busy, full of experiments and ideas. He was anxious to get to work when very young, and at the age of twelve he went as train-boy on the Grand Trunk Railway. He obtained the exclusive newsdealers' right between Detroit and Port Huron; he made a dollar a day at this time, which small fortune he handed over to his mother. When he first went to Detroit he began to read in the library, and started with the idea that he could read the whole of it. Under this impression he read through fifteen feet of a bottom shelf, and then gave up the attempt and adopted the more practical plan of selecting books from the general mass. In the course of this extraordinary progress of fifteen feet he had gone through Newton's “Principia," Ure's scientific dictionaries, and Burton's " Anatomy of Melancholy.” There is something Titanic in the ideas this boy had of what he could accomplish; and certainly, when one reflects that he did accomplish fifteen feet of dry treatises without any skipping, it is plain that he was an omnivorous reader. Mr. Edison distinguished himself, while on this railway as train-boy, by turning a car, which was unused because it had neither springs nor ventilation, into a laboratory ; but his great deed during this part of his career was pub. lishing and printing a weekly paper on the train, called the Grand Trunk Herald. This wonderful paper was sold at 3 cents, and its subscribers numbered several hundreds. It was printed by the most primitive method, that of pressing the sheets with the hands upon the type, and on one side of the paper it was blank. The contributors were baggagemen and brakesmen. George Stephenson, our great engineer, when passing over the railway, saw Edison busy at his travelling printing office, and ordered an extra edition for himself. The Herald was shown by some traveller to the London Times, and was noticed as being the only news. paper printed on a railway. The paper ran for six months; but, alas! one day the water in Edison's phosphorus bottle evaporated, the fiery drug fell on the foor and ignited the car. The conductor with difficulty extinguished the fire, thrashed Edison, and threw the materials out of window, so that the successful career of the Grand Trunk Herald came to an unexpected termination. Its history is interesting because the features of it are characteristic of Mr. Edison's way through life: diffi. culties appear to add zest to his determination.
Telegraphy, from his first elementary insight into it, absorbed and interested him; became, indeed, a hobby. He made innumerable experiments in the cellar at home; the oddest of which was attempting to generate a current by means of rubbing a couple of cats vigorously at each end. The result was unsuccessful, perhaps partly in consequence of the very sudden departure of the cats. But soon Edison got a helper in his hobby, and this in consequence of an act of bravery and humanity on his own part. At Mount Clements station the operator's little boy of two years old crept in front of the cars ; Edison sprang from the train and snatched him away, barely saving his life. The child's father offered to help Edison learn telegraphy, in gratitude for the brave act, and after that, when Edison had got to the end of his route, he would return to Mount Clements, working there at night upon his favourite study. After some five months of this he was able to obtain work in the telegraph office at Port Huron. He left it in six months because remuneration promised for extra work was not paid. After this he wandered about a good deal. He was perhaps a little too active in mind for the peace of superintendents. For instance, at Canada, the operators were required to report “six” every half-hour to the circuit manager. Edison got out of this by inventing a machine which would write the fgure six and sign his office calls while he quietly slept. Although for various reasons he lost situations, he never seems to have lacked them, for operators were in request. At Cincinnati, where he worked a day wire, and “subbed” for the night men whenever he could obtain the privilege, he reached a new platform in his work. After he had been there three months, a delegation of Cleveland operators came to organise a branch of the Telegraphers' Union. On a certain evening the whole force struck, with a single exception, and left the office to go upon a great spree. When Edison came in as usual to practise, and found the office so nearly deserted, he took the press report as well as he could, and worked on through the night. The next day he was rewarded by an increase of salary and one of the best wires in the office, the Louisville. Bob Martin, considered one of the fastest senders in America, worked the Louisville end, and from the experience obtained by working with him, Edison dates his reaching this new platform—that of first-rate ability as an operator. Among his fellow-workmen at this time, Edison got the nickname of “luny” or crazy man ; this was earned in a very innocent fashion, principally perhaps by his total indifference to dress, his passion for reading and for solving “impossible” problems. But it is aptly suggested that his pleasure in working at all hours had a great deal to do with it. A love of work for its own sake must be a very unintelligible quality to the ordinary workman, from what is generally seen of him. Edison could be induced to do other men's work, out of his good nature, and sometimes, when surrounded by dissolute and idle companions, would accomplish an enormous amount of labour. He would lend money, or he would spend it in books and apparatus, but in other respects he was abstemious almost to stoicism. In 1868 he appeared in Boston, where he began to find some real success. He was one of the most accomplished operators, and here some of his inventions began to be noticed. Yet he entered New York in a disconsolate and dispirited state, to find real success after the years of wandering which had preceded it. He hung round the office of the Gold Indicator Company for some days, when first in New York; their apparatus were constantly out of order, and at last one day Edison “ happened in ” just as a catastrophe of the kind had occurred. The superintendent was out, and Edison offered to fix the machinery. The president was amazed, but, being in despair, allowed him to try. He soon succeeded, and the next day he was offered an important post with the Company. He invented a printer of stock and gold quotations which they at once adopted; the Western Union Telegraph Company took him up. His fortunes had turned. He devoted himself to telegraphic inventions, and from thenceforth he“ kept the path to the Patent office hot with his footsteps.” Edison's inventions soon replaced the old apparatus of the gold and stock telegraphy, and the two companies who employed him paid him a large salary for the privilege of the first option of purchase of all his inrentions relating to telegraphy. He started a great electrical manufacturing establishment at Newark, which was formed of three large shops and two laboratories; here he employed 300 men, and was himself the busiest man in America.
Mr. Edison is a phenomenon in his defiance of the ordinary rules of weakness which man is subject to. On one occasion he had accepted a very large order for improved printers. The first instruments for practical use proved a failure, and he could not discover the defect, till at last he took four or five of his best men and retired with them to the top floor of his factory, with the remark that they would never come down till the printer worked. He laboured for sixty consecutive hours, and when he left that top floor the printer did work. After sixty hours of such labour most men would have a brain fever, but Mr. Edison can rebuild his strength by a sleep of thirty hours. He says, however, that after going without sleep longer than usual he grows nervous, and ideas flow rapidly into his mind. This extraordinary capacity for labour places him in a very fortunate position; when he sees an idea he is capable of pursuing it to the last. He chooses his assistants not only for their skill and their willingness to do what he wishes, but also for physical endurance, which is very necessary to him. For himself he knows of no difference between day and night. Work appears to be the