Thursday, September 5, 2013

Those inventions which abridge distance...

Courtesy: Will Anderson
From The History of England, from the Accession of James II - Volume 1 by Thomas Babington Macaulay:
Of all inventions, the alphabet and the printing press alone excepted, those inventions which abridge distance have done most for the civilisation of our species. Every improvement of the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually as well as materially, and not only facilitates the interchange of the various productions of nature and art, but tends to remove national and provincial antipathies, and to bind together all the branches of the great human family. In the seventeenth century the inhabitants of London were, for almost every practical purpose, farther from Reading than they now are from Edinburgh, and farther from Edinburgh than they now are from Vienna.
This is an entry for Althouse's Philosophy of Travel question. Macaulay precedes this summation with a long comical passage about the travails of the 17th-century country squire visiting London. He stands under waterspouts; he is misdirected by thieves; he mistakes harlots for maids-of-honor. The first point is really the most compelling: beware of foreign plumbing.

Wryly, I admit, Macaulay's theme simply resolves to the received wisdom Althouse has already identified:
It broadens the mind.
But give Macaulay some credit. He probably created the received wisdom.