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Which has done the greater service to mankind
the Printing Press or the Steam Engine ?
FIRST SPEAKER. Sir, It is much to be feared that as we sail along the great and ever-widening ocean of civilisation, we forget the streams and sources which have helped to form it. It is but rarely that we look back and endeavour to estimate the influences which have made us what we
Deeply impressed with this truth, I have determined to-night to direct attention to the debt which we owe to two of the greatest causes of our mental, moral, and physical improvement, the Printing Press and the Steam Engine. These seem to me to be the most important inventions ever made by man, and to inquire into their value will doubtless lead us to extend the great advantages which they confer upon mankind. I wish to know to which of these inventions we are the more indebted ? and the best way to open the question will be to recount the benefits they have respectively bestowed upon the human race.
First, then; what has the Printing Press done
for man? The completest answer one can give to that question is, that it has extended knowledge. The consequences of this diffusion of knowledge have been both great and good. The consequences have been good inasmuch as they have imparted to us,-1. Information respecting our physical frame, which teaches us how to preserve our health and lengthen our life: II. Intellectual information, which enables us to distinguish betwen falsehood and truth, to profit by the example of the past, and to guide ourselves by the wisdom of experience and philosophy : and III. Moral information : which shows us good and evil, teaches us the beauty of virtue, and the value of religion.
And now: what is the nature and extent of our debt to the Steam Engine? It seems, at the first glance, that we chiefly owe to it the extension and improvement of Physical good. It has cheapened clothing, food, and fuel : it has strengthened our houses, and lowered the cost of building : it has opened, drained, and worked new mines, which without it never could have seen the light: it has enabled us to travel on land, at a rate of swiftness well nigh incredible, with no greater fatigue than if we were sitting in our parlours ; it has enabled us to traverse the sea at all times and in all weathers, in defiance of wind, tide, and tempest: it has relieved human labour in every department of personal fatigue: it has introduced us to all
paris of the world: has extended commerce: has promoted the mutual interchange of produce and manufacture: and it has made man practically acquainted with all the varieties of the human
But the benefits we owe to the Steam Engine do not stop here. We get intellectual and moral, as well as physical, good from it.
By freeing manual labour it developes mental intelligence. It gives men time to think and study. Formerly the great personal fatigue men underwent in the course of their daily labour not only prostrated, but absolutely weakened, their minds. This excessive toil led them further to desire stimulants to sustain them; and thus it mostly happened that they who spent their days at the loom spent their evenings at the ale-house.
The Steam Engine has helped to give the information, too, which it left people leisure to desire. It has made them acquainted with facts in every department of knowledge, and has enabled them to see and judge for themselves.
I said, further, that the Steam Engine had extended moral good : this will now be felt evident: for by acquainting us with facts it leads us towards truth; and truth in science will soon produce truth in morals. I will now leave the comparison between the value of the respective benefits of these two Great Inventions to the meeting.
SECOND SPEAKER. — Sir, When the opener of this debate said that the benefit resulting from the Printing Press consisted in the extension of knowledge, he gave us perhaps the best reason that can be imagined why we should vote for that invention rather than for the Steam Engine.
Look at the state of this country before the discovery of the art of printing, and then at it a century afterwards (when its value had become appreciated); and then you will see at a glance what it accomplished for us.
England, prior to the time of Caxton, was sunk in the grossest mental and moral darkness that one can well conceive on this side of barbarism. Arts and sciences there were none; even the simplest rudiments of education were unknown to the common people, nay even to the nobles: and the monks and priests monopolised every particle of information. The foullest licentiousness, the most intolerable tyranny, the wickedest cruelty, and the most detestable fraud and violence, existed in the land. Murder was continually perpetrated in the open street: no man's house or life was safe : the worst principles of our nature were in active and deadly exercise. We must add to this lamentable state of things, the fact that all orders of men were plunged deep in superstition: that they were led like idiot slaves by their spiritual masters: and that religion, save
in its penances and extortions, was quite a sealed and hopeless mystery to them. There was no order, no peace, no morality: but Crime and Ignorance, like two hideous monsters, ruled gloatingly over the chaos.
But as the sublime command of the Most High penetrated the original chaos of the universe, so did the printed word of knowledge penetrate the chaos we have just surveyed. It said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT, AND THERE WAS Light: and when this Light came, men saw.
“ Vice is a monster of such frightful mien,
The Printing Press showed this monster to men, and so led them, through abhorrence, to avoid it. It taught them, also, the infamy of slavery : slavery of every sort, bodily, mental, and intellectual. There is something essentially free in knowledge : something that always indisposes the mind of its possessor to irrational restraint: and this may be proved by the instance before us. No sooner did knowledge come, than freedom came. In the reign of Henry the Seventh, Caxton printed: in the reign of Henry the Eighth, personal slavery was for ever abolished in Britain. But it was not the mere body that was freed: the mind and soul were unshackled also. Great intellects arose, and liberated men from mental