Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 006

"The Phonograph," New York Times, November 7, 1877, p. 4.

The telephone was justly regarded as an ingenious invention when it was first brought before the public, but it is destined to be entirely eclipsed by the new invention of the phonograph.  The former transmitted sound.  The latter bottles it up for future use.  The telephone can furnish us with Talmage's sermons drawn directly from the wood, so to speak; but, with the aid of the phonograph, the same sermons can be stored away in the cellar, to be brought out years hence with their tones unimpaired by age, and their loudest yells as piercing and pervasive as ever.  It may seem improbable that a hundred years hence people will be able to hear the voice of Wendell Phillips in the act of delivering an oration, but the phonograph will render it possible to preserve for any length of time the words and tones of any orator.  It is unnecessary to explain the mechanical construction of the phonograph, but it may be said on general terms that if an orator empties his voice into the hopper of a phonograph, it will remain silent until some one sets a similar machine in motion, when the voice will instantly make itself audible, and will repeat in exact order the words of its former proprietor.

It is evident that this invention will lead to important changes in our social customs.   The lecturer will no longer require his audience to meet him in a public hall, but will sell his lectures in quart bottles, at fifty cents each; and the politician, instead of howling himself hoarse on the platform, will have a pint of his best speech put into the hands of each one of his constituents.  A large business will, of course, be done in bottled sermons, and many weak congregations which are unable to pay a regular Pastor will content themselves with publicly opening a bottle of "Dr. Tyng," "Dr. Crosby," or some other popular ministerial brand, but the practice of personal preaching will be continued, since in no other way can a weekly opportunity be afforded to ladies for mutual bonnet inspection.

Another result will doubtless be a large consumption of orators at public dinners and in the home circle.  Whether a man has or has not a wine-cellar, he will certainly, if he wishes to be regarded as a man of taste, have a well-stocked oratorical cellar.   In stocking his cellar he will lay in several dozen of "Bob Ingersoll," or of "Senator Conkling," especially the celebrated Rochester vintage of the latter, for the use of those of his political friends who require strong stimulants.   As a pleasant and palatable table orator, he will select dry "Mark Twain," or possibly "Beecher," although the latter has rather too much body.  "Sparkling Cox," and "Effervescing Frothingham" would be appropriate for evening parties, and "George William Curtis" would unquestionably be very popular as a sweet and not too stimulating cordial.  The connoisseur of orators will become in time as great a bore as the connoisseur of wines.   He will be constantly saying to his guests "Try a little of that 'Anna Dickinson.'  I fancy you will admit that it is very nice, though, perhaps, a little too dry for an uneducated taste.  It cost me $48 a dozen, and is far superior to any 'Gail Hamilton' now in the market;" or, "I want you to give me your honest opinion of that 'Evarts.'  I got a dozen of it at a bargain the other day, and I flatter myself that it is the genuine thing."  The medical profession will prescribe orations instead of medical stimulants, and persons suffering from physical weakness will be told to take half a bottle of this or that orator at dinner, and a wine-glassful of "Ben. Butler" before going to bed.  The use of bottled orators will, of course, be carried to excess by weak or vicious persons, and it is sad to think to what wrecks men and women will reduce themselves by consuming, say three or four bottles of "Holland" or "Talmage" daily.  This, in its turn, will lead to the formation of temperance societies, the aim of which will be to pass a prohibitory law forbidding the sale of all varieties of bottled orators, and making no distinction between the pernicious "Citizen Swinton" and the mild and innocuous "Hayes."  Whether bottled orations can be adulterated by unprincipled dealers remains to be seen, but we may be sure that, if adulteration is practicable, it will be as difficult to buy a dozen of any pure native or foreign orator as it is to buy any pure champagne or madeira.

There is good reason to believe that if the phonograph proves to be what its inventor claims that it is, both book-making and reading will fall into disuse.  Why should we print a speech when it can be bottled, and why should we learn to read when, if some skillful elocutionist merely repeats one of "George Eliot's" novels aloud in the presence of a phonograph, we can subsequently listen to it without taking the slightest trouble?  We shall be able to buy Dickens and Thackeray by the single bottle or by the dozen, and rural families can lay in a hogshead of "Timothy Titcomb" every Fall for consumption during the Winter.  Instead of libraries filled with combustible books, we shall have vast storehouses of bottled authors, and though students in college may be required to learn the use of books, just as they now learn the dead languages, they will not be expected to make any practical use of the study.  Blessed will be the lot of the small boy of the future. He will never have to learn his letters or to wrestle with the spelling-book, and if he does not revere the name of the inventor of the phonograph, he will be utterly destitute of all gratitude.