Read PAST AND PRESENT MEANS OF COMMUNICATION of Lectures on Popular and Scientific Subjects, free online book, by John Sutherland Sinclair‚ Earl of Caithness, on

We may, I think, commence by saying, “Lord, so teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom,” for, as David says, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou visitest him? Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands, and hast put all things in subjection under his feet.” The difference of past and present means of communication are so great, that it is no easy task to enter into a discussion on the subject; but it leads one to gravely consider what is said in the 90th Psalm: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” To address an association such as I have now the honour and pleasure of doing, gives one a feeling of interest, as well as a feeling of responsibility, for as I have been kindly asked to close the course of lectures for this session, such an address is looked to in general with expectation. Do not hope for too much from me; but I trust that, when I have concluded, you will not be able to pay me the compliment an old Highland woman did to her minister on seeing him after church-service “Ah, maister, this discoursing will never do, for I wasna weel asleep till ye were done.” Having said this by way of introduction, I think it devolves upon me in some way first to explain what is the meaning of the subject of Communication. It may be briefly stated to be a means to an end an intercourse or passage of either the body from one place to another, or of the thoughts of one person to another. And as I begin with the communication of the body, I cannot do better than name some of the methods by which communication is carried on, and shall commence with Roads, Coaches, Railways, Canals, and Steamers. Then, for mind, I will take Books, Printing, Letters, Exhibitions, and Telegraphs.

Our age has so advanced, that though Methuselah lived nearly one thousand years, yet he in his age did not live as long as we do now. See what science and art have done for us. We now do more in one day than could be done in a month some very few years ago; and, as far as travelling about the world is concerned, I can say that I have been from John-o’-Groat’s House to Brighton, thence into Hertfordshire, thence back to London, from there to Edinburgh, thence to John-o’-Groat’s, and here I am before you, without fatigue, or a thought that I should not be present in time. What has enabled us to do this but the determination of man to communicate with his fellow-men, and his thirst for the knowledge of what is doing in places where he, as an individual, could not be present. When there were no roads, it was no easy matter to move about, so the people remained at rest. But the Romans, a people who aspired to conquer the world, were not a people to sleep and let things stand still. They began the making of roads in Britain, and to them we owe the first of our greatness. They saw, as every wise man now sees, that the first thing to the improvement of land and property is easy communication, and facilities for bringing the things needed for the improvement of the land, and the means also of export for the produce. The earliest roads were, as we may say, right on end; and the Roman roads, as I hear, have borne the traffic of two thousand years. I hope I may say that even a Roman road would not bear the traffic of a town like Greenock for anything like that period of time, or I fear the commerce of this populous and most thriving town would be in a bad way. The great Telford and Macadam are the persons to be thanked for our beautiful system of road-making, and no person can, I am sure, deny the utility of their plans. As I said, roads are a means of communication for the body, and also for the mind; and therefore, now that their advantages are seen, we should strive to further their advance in all districts.

Coaches. We come now to the means of communication on the roads for the body, and also for the mind, as both must go together viz., the coach and the carriage or cart (for before the roads were made we had no coaches). In the first place, these carts or carriages were rude and heavy waggons, without springs or other comfort; but still they served to convey the body, and the mind that went with it at last discovered, by degrees, that conveyances could be constructed so as to cause less wear and tear on animal life. The result of time and labour has been the elegant constructions of the present day. The first hackney-coaches were started in London, A.D. 1625, by a Captain Bailey. Another conveyance for the body, the sedan-chair, was introduced first into England in 1584, and came into fashion in London in 1634. The late Sir John Sinclair was called a fool because he said a mail-coach would come from London to Thurso. I am glad to say that he saw it, and it opened up a communication for the body and mind that has worked wonders in the far North. We now have a railway.

Steam. We proceed next to the grandest stage or, as it is said in the North, “We took a start.” What place have we to thank for this great start, but the very town in which I have the honour to give this closing address. Was not James Watt born here? The 19th January 1736 was a great day for England, Scotland, and the world at large, for that day brought into the world a man who, by his talents and by his observations of what others had done before him, was the means of bringing to a workable state that all-powerful and most useful machine, the steam-engine. The people of Greenock may well indeed feel proud of being citizens of a town that produced such a man; for though many places have given birth to great and valuable men, and persons who rendered the world vast and lasting service, yet, I may safely say, no one has surpassed James Watt in the benefits he has bestowed on the world, on its trade, its commerce, and its means of communication for both body and mind, as the producer of the steam-engine. There were not even coaches in his time, and his first journey to London was performed on horseback, a ten days’ ride, very different to our ten or twelve hours now-a-days. His life and determination show what a man can do, both for himself and his fellow-men, and are a bright example to be followed by all those especially who belong to such associations as the one I now have the honour to address. He not only thought, but carried out his thoughts to a practical issue, and, though laughed at, he still stuck to his great work, and by his perseverance gave to the world one of its greatest boons, and certainly its greatest motive power the steam-engine. The first use of the engine, as you well know, was the pumping of water. Rude were the machines made by Savory, Newcombe, and others, to achieve the desired end, but Watt, in his small room in the cottage at Glasgow, at last brought about a triumph that the world at large now feels and acknowledges. I will not go further into the history of a man so well known and appreciated, as his memory must be here, but will go on to say something briefly on the results of the operations of the mind over the material placed before it, to bring into form and make it practically useful for the advantage of man.

Steamers. Greenock must see and value the great power at her disposal in the steam-ship. She has now her large building yards, and it was from her yards that, in 1719, the first ship belonging to Greenock, and I believe built there sailed for America, and from that time the trade increased rapidly. And I believe Glasgow launched the first Scotch ship that ever crossed the Atlantic in 1718, only one year in advance of Greenock. The large building yards of Greenock bring into the town sums of money which, but for these yards, would go elsewhere, and deprive the community of many comforts, not to say luxuries. They are the means of carrying on the import and export trade of this thriving town in a way that could not otherwise have been done; famous as this place is for shipbuilding, spinning, and its splendid sugar-works. These latter you have indeed reason to be proud of, for there are few finer. The increase of importation of sugar is striking. In Britain in 1856, our imports of this article were 6,813,000 lbs., in 1865 it was 7,112,772 lbs. Though all this did not come to Greenock, yet from what you do in this trade, I think the word holds good that we as Scotchmen are sweet-toothed. You can now boast of a steam communication not only on the coast, but over the world. I had last year the pleasure of a cruise in the Trinity yacht “Galatea,” and does not she speak volumes for what can be done by your citizens? for that vessel was built by Mr. Caird, and even the ship seemed to feel that she came from the beautiful Clyde. What a difference now to the time of Henry Bell in 1812, who first started a steamer for passengers on the Clyde! We have now in Great Britain 2523 steamers, registering no less than 766,200 tons. Have not these improvements shown what means of communication do for body and mind?

Railways. Having said this much about steamers, I will turn for a short time to another means of communication for body and mind I mean the railways. Are not they a striking advance in science, and the bringing to bear the power of mind to work on the material that has been provided for our use by an all-wise God? It is but a few years since, comparatively speaking, they came into existence, and yet, from the time of George Stephenson (and his perseverance largely aided to perfect the railway), see what vast sums of money have been spent, what magnificent and noble structures have been erected, and what speed has been obtained for the communication of body and mind. Instead of the thirty miles from Manchester to Liverpool in 1830, we now have in Great Britain and Ireland 13,289 miles of railway. The total capital paid in 1865 was L455,478,000, and this has largely increased since then. An idea may be formed of the difference of the rate of speed in travelling effected, both before and after the introduction of railways, by such facts as the following: Two hundred years ago, King James’s groom rode six days in succession between London and York, and a wonderful feat it was deemed; whilst now, the same distance is performed in five hours. About 1755 to 1760, the London and Edinburgh coach was advertised to run between these cities in fourteen days in summer, and sixteen in winter, resting one Sunday on the road. So much for the growing desire for speedy intercourse for mind and body.

Suez Canal. There is an all-absorbing topic now before the public, and it is one that brings strikingly before us the thirst for communication of both body and mind to and from distant parts of our globe. It is one of deep importance to all who take an interest in the advancement of science I mean the Suez Canal. The Red Sea cannot but be familiar to us all a sea of the most profound interest, for there did the mighty Jéhovah work one of His most stupendous miracles, when He brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, and at the same time destroyed Pharaoh and all his host. But in how different a manner did the Lord work! By a word He caused the waters to go back, leaving a wall on the right hand and on the left, so that the people of Israel went through on dry land. This was not all. Were not His chosen people accompanied by a pillar of fire to give light in the night season, and a cloud of thick darkness to prevent the Egyptians coming near them during the day? Does not this show that His mercy is over all His works? For after He had brought out His people with joy, and His chosen with gladness, He overthrew their enemies in the sea in the same place where He had performed such wonders for the preservation of His people.

Often has the spot been crossed by our steamers; and though some may, and I trust do, bring to mind the stupendous miracle, yet it, like many other thing’s, is regarded as a matter gone by. Here now we have the Red Sea brought under our notice in a most striking manner, and one that leads us not only to feel the greatness of the power of man over material things, but I trust it may also lead us to see our littleness when compared with Him who made us. We, that is the nations which brought about this great canal, have had to spend years and vast sums of money to carry out the end aimed at, and under the Divine aid it has been brought to a successful termination. But see what God did! Did the Almighty consult engineers, or take soundings and levels, or ask the laws of Nature if He could or would succeed? Nay, one word was enough. He spake, and that was sufficient the waters stood up in a heap. We, however, have succeeded in bringing the Red Sea and the Mediterranean into connection with each other an achievement that strongly shows the determination of man. It is a boon, indeed, to the commerce of this country, and I hope also of many others, as by enabling ships to pass through, the transhipment of cargo is now done away with, and the distance to the other side of the globe reduced to its minimum. Engineers may truly be proud of the day that brought this great and noble work to a completion; and I trust they will thank the Lord who hath crowned their strenuous efforts with success.

Books. Having got thus far as regards the conveyance of the body, we must now turn to the communication of the mind, and the thoughts of one individual as conveyed to another, and this leads one to speak of books. What are they but the means of communication of the thoughts of great men, and a distribution of those thoughts for the benefit of their fellows, by bringing before them matters of interest in the history of our own country and that of others. The great object to be looked to is the selection of our books the variety is now so great; and I grieve to say (and I think I am right) that the sensational works of the present day have a tendency to lead the mind into a train of thought that is flippant and unsteady, and I would warn young people against them. When we look to such works as those of Sir Walter Scott, Macaulay, and many others of the same kind, we find food for the mind, the benefit of which cannot be over-estimated.

Printing. The spread of knowledge through the world is indeed a boon which cannot be too highly extolled; but the thoughts of man could not thus have been circulated had it not been for the printing-press. See what science and art have done for us in this most perfect and beautiful machine! When we go only to one example, the “Times” newspaper, and consider the amount of information it circulates each day through the world, it strikes one forcibly what man has been allowed and enabled to do for the benefit of himself and his fellow-men. What we have brought the printing-press to, is shown in 20,000 copies of the “Times” being thrown off in one hour, and the advantage it has been to the advancement of literature in our now being able to buy such works as those of Sir Walter Scott for sixpence a volume.

Having gone so far, I must not detain you for more than a brief period. You have had such an able and interesting course of lectures given by men of high talent, that little remains for me except to close this course with congratulation to the Association in being able to procure those individuals to give their valuable time to this desirable object; for what in life is more interesting than the imparting the knowledge we may possess to others who desire to acquire it, seeing that there is no way in which moral and social intercourse is more advanced and developed. Still, before closing, I must ask for a short time to go into one or two other subjects. And first, I will take one of the greatest importance to the commerce of this country, and one that has shown what the mind has done for communicating the thoughts of one person to another at far distant places I refer to the telegraph. The land is not only covered with wires, but even the vast depths of the great ocean are made to minister to our requirements. The world, we may say, is encircled with ropes, and instant communication has been the result. What has achieved these great results but the mind of man applied to science! And see in what a multitude of ways this application of mind has been made to work! What does it bring into play? Why, we have mining to produce the metal to make the wire; we have the furnace, hammers, and wire-drawing machines to produce the wire from the raw material. We have the forest then to go to for gutta-percha, for land poles, and for tar to preserve the cables. We have the farmer for our hemp. We have the chemist, we have the electrician, we have the steamer, and a great number of other requisites before the silent but unerring voice of the needle brings the thoughts of one man in America to another in this town in an instant of time. Accidents and mistakes will occur in the best-regulated works of all kinds, but I hope not often. One as to the telegraph I must tell that happened during the Indian Mutiny. The message meant to say that “The general won’t act, and the troops have no head.” The transformation was curious, namely, “The general won’t eat, and the troops have cut off his head.” If men would only consider well this grand achievement, they would be led indeed to say and feel, with all humility and thankfulness, that God has truly given him dominion over the works of His hands, and has put all things in subjection under his feet.

I had almost forgotten one other point of communication for mind, and, though at the risk of trying your patience, I must mention it, as its increase has been so large, and its advantages so manifold and untold. I mean the penny-postage. I am not going to enter into it at any length, but the increase of correspondence has been so large, that Sir Rowland Hill’s name should not be left out of a lecture treating on subjects such as this one is intended to do. I will content myself by merely telling the increase of correspondence, and leave you to judge for yourselves as to its benefits. The number of letters in 1839, before the penny-postage, was 82,470,596, and in 1866 it was 597,277,616. Judge the difference!

Coming to the results of communication, I have one subject to bring before you, and as it has shown to such a large extent the benefits of international communication, I trust a few words on it may not be out of place. The subject is the great International Exhibitions that have been held in various countries in the last eighteen years. The first idea of holding such great exhibitions emanated from a man whose name cannot be held in too great estimation by all. Few men were gifted with such rare talents as he was, for there were few subjects, whether in science, literature, or art, that he was not intimately acquainted with. This man was the late Prince Consort. He conceived the idea that if the products of the various countries of the world could be brought together under one roof, the knowledge these would convey of the machinery, cultivation, science, literature, and arts practised in the various parts of the globe would tend to stimulate and advance the mind by showing that we had not only ourselves to look to, but that in a great measure we had to depend on others for the many blessings we now enjoy; and also lead us to see how needful to our prosperity and comfort is a constant communication with those who can communicate to us that knowledge which otherwise we could not obtain. Certainly the results have proved that he was right. Could anything have been more interesting or instructive to all than a visit to the Great Exhibitions of 1851 or 1862, or that of Paris in 1867. The public interest is at once shown when I tell you that 6,039,195 persons visited the latter, and the receipts in money were L506,100. There, all and every one had before him at a glance the subject most suited to his taste, with a full description of the country which produced it. From the largest machine, the heaviest ordnance, the most brilliant and precious stones, the finest silks, lace, furniture, carriages, the greatest luxuries for the table, and, in fact, everything needful for the use of man; all were there, and all to be seen and studied by the inquiring mind, or to be regarded as very wonderful by those who went to the Exhibition as a sight. Few, I venture to say, ever left these buildings except wiser than when they entered. It could not fail to strike one, if one only gave it a moment’s reflection, and asked himself, how has all this been brought about, but that it was the result of the communication of the minds of certain individuals with those of others, and by a concentration of the products of various countries to enlighten the mind as to the vast intelligence of the world at large.

In conclusion, I feel now that I have spoken long enough for any lecture, though I have not by any means exhausted the subject of communication of either past or present; but I should feel grieved if I exhausted your patience. All things, as we well know, must have an end, except that life to which we are looking forward and striving to gain, where we shall cease from our labours and be at rest. We have been endued by our Maker with thought and mind, talents to be used for our benefit, and not wrapped up in a napkin till our Lord’s return, but to be placed out so as to bring in either the five or the ten talents. And, as you all know, we are answerable for the manner in which we employ them. May the result prove that we have used them aright.

The progress of means of communication of mind and body have been gradual but steady, and I think may be represented by human life from its childhood to manhood, as beautifully set forth in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians 11th verse, where it is said, “When I was a child, I spake as a child; I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Is not this very much in keeping with our growth in communication? At first it was small, and we were content to hear of what others were engaged in without regard to time, as one day earlier or later was of little consequence. But now we are not children, but are become men in our interests and thirst for communication with each other. What should we say if we found the Express, as was written on the boy’s post-bag, busily engaged in a game of bowls on the road, regardless of the loss of time or money thereby occasioned? I think we should be inclined to write to the papers.

The results of communication are manifold, and day by day they are brought before us in a manner which shows the untiring wish of man for improvement both in social and commercial interests. These results are strikingly shown in the various subjects I have endeavoured to bring before you. Each and all of them are subjects for thought. What should we now be without, I may say, any one of them?

A well-regulated mind is the most desirable of all acquirements, and I know no better means of gaining this than by meetings of such institutions as this. Here you have intercourse with your friends, and you can gain from one another by friendly intercourse stores of knowledge, that to search for as individuals would take away much more time than you could by any means devote, and at the same time attend to the business of your calling. Here you have the means of amusement as well as of gaining sound information, and I trust no one here will ever have cause to regret the day when he came to associate with his friends, and hear what others could communicate, for “in the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom.”