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Peter Risdon writes to draw to my attention what Mark
Twain wrote to Walt Whitman on this 70th
What great births you have witnessed! The
steam press, the steamship, the steel ship, the railroad, the
perfected cotton-gin, the telegraph, the phonograph, the
photograph, photo-gravure, the electrotype, the gaslight, the
electric light, the sewing machine, & the amazing, infinitely
varied & innumerable products of coal tar, those latest &
strangest marvels of a marvelous age. And you have seen even
greater births than these; for you have seen the application of
anesthesia to surgery-practice, whereby the ancient dominion of
pain, which began with the first created life, came to an end in
this earth forever; you have seen the slave set free, you have seen
the monarchy banished from France, & reduced in England to a
machine which makes an imposing show of diligence & attention
to business, but isn't connected with the works. Yes, you have
indeed seen much - but tarry yet a while, for the greatest is yet
to come. Wait thirty years, & thenlook out
over the earth! You shall see marvels upon marvels added to these
whose nativity you have witnessed; & conspicuous above them you
shall see their formidable Result - Man at almost his full stature
at last! - & still growing, visibly growing while you look.
After that the letter gets a bit mystical and religious for my
taste. But it's a fine specimen of nineteenth century rational
optimism at a time when `degeneration' was about to seize the
imagination of the intelligentsia.