ROMANCE, PROGRESS, AND ROSE-TINTED SPECTACLES

Submitted by Editor on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 06:50

This work by Archibald Williams (1871–1934), currently displayed in the window of bookbinders and sellers The Gently Mad on Inverleith Row, optimistically anticipates numerous life-improving innovations from the distant perspective of 1902.

They include:

Wireless telegraphy – High-speed telegraphy – The telephone; wireless telephony – The phonograph; the rotographophone; the telephonograph – The telautograph – Modern artillery; rifles; machine guns; heavy ordnance; explosives; in the gun factory – Dirigible torpedoes – Submarine boats – Animated pictures – The great Paris telescope – Photographing the invisible; photography in the dark – Solar motors – Liquid air – Horseless carriages – High-speed railways – Sea expresses – Mechanical flight – Type-setting by machinery – Photography in colours – Lighting.

book cover

Williams, a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, was the author of over 30 works; most of them about engineering and ‘things worth making’. In The Romance of Modern Inventions, his object was ‘to set before young people in a bright and interesting way, and without the use of technical language, accounts of some of the latest phases of modern invention and also to introduce them to recent discoveries of which the full development is yet to be witnessed’.

Thus we find him waxing cheerfully on arms:

Intermediate between hand-borne weapons and artillery, and partaking of the nature of both, come the machine-guns firing small projectiles with extraordinary rapidity.

Since the United States made trial of Dr. Gatling's miniature battery in the Civil War (1862–1865), invention has been busy evolving more and more perfect types, till the most modern machine-gu is marvel of ingenuity and effectiveness.

Regarding advances in heavy ordnance:

The days of hand-to-hand fighting have passed, the mêlée in the ranks may be seen no more, in a few years the bayonet may be relegated to the limbo of the coat-of-mail or the cast-iron culverin. Yet the modern battle-scene bristles with the most death-dealing weapons which the ingenuity of man has ever constructed. The hand-drawn machine-gun discharges in a couple of minutes as many missiles as a regiment of Wellington’s infantry, with a speed and precision undreamt by him. The quick-firing long-range naval guns now in vogue could annihilate a fleet or destroy a port without approaching close enough to catch a glimpse of the personnel of their opponents. The deadly torpedo guards our waterways more effectually than a squadron of ships.

All resources of civilisation have been drawn upon, every triumph of engineering secured, to forge such weapons as shall strike the hardest and destroy the most pitilessly. But strange and unexpected the result! Where we counted our battle-slain by thousands we now mourn over the death of hundreds; where whole regiments were mown down our ambulances gather wounded in scattered units. Here is the bright side of modern war.

Clearly, for all his future gazing, Williams did not foresee the conflict that would follow in 12 years' time.

Or the Internet, where his work is now partially available for free here.

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