Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 002

"A Phonogram Library." Public Opinion VIII:14 (January 11, 1890) p. 348, reprinted from the San Francisco Examiner.

Robert Browning is the first poet in the history of the world whose voice lives after death.  He survived long enough to win a touch of literal immortality from the hand of science.  The phonograph has preserved his voice, and if all goes well, Browning can speak in his own living tones to the unborn generations of a thousand years hence.   There is a chance now for some benevolent millionaire to win a unique distinction.   Let him found the first phonogram library on earth.  Let him give an endowment to be applied to the systematic collection of the voices of all the great singers, actors, orators, and poets of the world.  Let the emissaries of this library penetrate all the recesses of barbarism, and embalm the fugitive, shifting languages of African, Polynesian, and Indian tribes.  Let pronouncing phonographic dictionaries of all civilized tongues be compiled from the lips of the best orthoepists for comparison with the standards of the future.  In a hundred years the scientific, historical, and artistic value of such a library would be beyond all computation.  A stream of light would be thrown upon the laws of language.  At present we can only grope for the principles by which speech is developed.  We know how Greek and Latin were written, but we can only guess how they were spoken.  The phonograph will make philology an exact science.  It will do an equal service to art by enabling our descendants to compare their music and oratory with those produced by the masters of previous ages.   What a different thing the "Iliad" would be to us if we could hear its cadences in Homer's own voice.  How many commentators would find their occupation gone if Shakespeare and Moliere could recite us their own plays as they meant them to be delivered.