Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Fire of genius" speech and Google Books

With the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, there were a lot of articles on Lincoln in February 2009. One was "Presidents who value science," by James J. McCarthy, which appeared in 323 Science 853 (13 Feb. 09).

There was an allusion to Lincoln's "fire of genius" speech, well-known to patent attorneys and the inspiration for the name of a blog, which has the text:

"The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things." Abraham Lincoln, Second Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions (Feb. 11, 1859).

The article in Science gave the date for the speech as April 6, 1858, the date of the "first" lecture, which was before the Young Men's Association of Bloomington, Illinois. An internet website states: In the speech below, you will see the combined text of what was once believed to be two speeches. When the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln was originally compiled, researchers did not know Lincoln had prepared only one.

IPBiz was going to check the text using a 1909 book that appears on Google books, and which IPBiz cited (and linked to) about one month ago, on 19 Jan. 2009, in the post
Obama and Lincoln. Surprise! The text of Lincoln's speech is gone. No longer available. Sikahema'd.

Returning to the Science article, which covered many points previously covered on Slashdot, one notes that Lincoln's speech did note:

Of all the forces of nature, I should think the wind contains the largest amount of motive power -- that is, power to move things. Take any given space of the earth's surface -- for instance, Illinois --; and all the power exerted by all the men, and beasts, and running-water, and steam, over and upon it, shall not equal the one hundredth part of what is exerted by the blowing of the wind over and upon the same space. And yet it has not, so far in the world's history, become proportionably valuable as a motive power. It is applied extensively, and advantageously, to sail-vessels in navigation. Add to this a few wind-mills, and pumps, and you have about all. That, as yet, no very successful mode of controlling, and directing the wind, has been discovered; and that, naturally, it moves by fits and starts -- now so gently as to scarcely stir a leaf, and now so roughly as to level a forest -- doubtless have been the insurmountable difficulties. As yet, the wind is an untamed, and unharnessed force; and quite possibly one of the greatest discoveries hereafter to be made, will be the taming, and harnessing of the wind. That the difficulties of controlling this power are very great is quite evident by the fact that they have already been perceived, and struggled with more than three thousand years; for that power was applied to sail-vessels, at least as early as the time of the prophet Isaiah.

The speech contains a "shoulders of giants" theme (in a context not unrelated to Biden's borrowing from Kinnock), in the same paragraph containing a reference to Mexican greasers:

But was this first inventor of the application of steam, wiser or more ingenious than those who had gone before him? Not at all. Had he not learned much of them, he never would have succeeded -- probably, never would have thought of making the attempt. To be fruitful in invention, it is indispensable to have a habit of observation and reflection; and this habit, our steam friend acquired, no doubt, from those who, to him, were old fogies. But for the difference in habit of observation, why did yankees, almost instantly, discover gold in California, which had been trodden upon, and over-looked by indians and Mexican greasers, for centuries?

There is an allusion to inventions in toys preceding full innovation:

The advantageous use of Steam-power is, unquestionably, a modern discovery.

And yet, as much as two thousand years ago the power of steam was not only observed, but an ingenius toy was actually made and put in motion by it, at Alexandria in Egypt.

What appears strange is, that neither the inventor of the toy, nor any one else, for so long a time afterwards, should perceive that steam would move useful machinery as well as a toy.

There was an allusion to invention, in the context of slavery:

still earlier, the invention of negroes, or, of the present mode of using them, in 1434.

Of patent law:

the first patent laws in 1624. (...)

At length printing came. It gave ten thousand copies of any written matter, quite as cheaply as then were given before; and consequently a thousand minds were brought into the field where there was but one before. This was a great gain; and history shows a great change corresponding to it, in point of time. I will venture to consider it, the true termination of that period called "the dark ages." Discoveries, inventions, and improvements followed rapidly, and have been increasing their rapidity ever since. The effects could not come, all at once. It required time to bring them out; and they are still coming. The capacity to read, could not be multiplied as fast as the means of reading. Spelling-books just began to go into the hands of the children; but the teachers were not very numerous, or very competent; so that it is safe to infer they did not advance so speedily as they do now-a-days. It is very probable -- almost certain -- that the great mass of men, at that time, were utterly unconscious, that their conditions, or their minds were capable of improvement. They not only looked upon the educated few as superior beings; but they supposed themselves to be naturally incapable of rising to equality. To immancipate the mind from this false and under estimate of itself, is the great task which printing came into the world to perform. It is difficult for us, now and here, to conceive how strong this slavery of the mind was; and how long it did, of necessity, take, to break it's [?]shackles, and to get a habit of freedom of thought, established. It is, in this connection, a curious fact that a new country is most favorable -- almost necessary -- to the immancipation of thought, and the consequent advancement of civilization and the arts. The human family originated as is thought, somewhere in Asia, and have worked their way princip[al]ly Westward. Just now, in civilization, and the arts, the people of Asia are entirely behind those of Europe; those of the East of Europe behind those of the West of it; while we, here in America, think we discover, and invent, and improve, faster than any of them. They may think this is arrogance; but they can not deny that Russia has called on us to show her how to build steam-boats and railroads -- while in the older parts of Asia, they scarcely know that such things as S.Bs & RR.s. exist. In anciently inhabited countries, the dust of ages -- a real downright old-fogyism -- seems to settle upon, and smother the intellects and energies of man. It is in this view that I have mentioned the discovery of America as an event greatly favoring and facilitating useful discoveries and inventions.

Next came the Patent laws. These began in England in 1624; and, in this country, with the adoption of our constitution. Before then [these?], any man might instantly use what another had invented; so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.

The Science article spoke of bringing telegraph to the White House [in fact, Lincoln went to the War Department office for telegraphed messages.] There was mention of the formation of the Dept of Agriculture in 1862 and of the NAS in 1863 (discussed on IPBiz). There was mention of improvement in weaponry (see story of Spencer rifle on IPBiz).

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