IN THE summer of 1878 Cyrus W. Field, who gained lasting fame when finally he had laid a working submarine telegraph cable between America and Europe, returned from one of his frequent trips abroad. He arrived home in the early afternoon, and at 5 o'clock I called upon him at his home in Gramercy square, which was then almost directly opposite that of Governor Tilden, the very house in which Tilden received the news, first of his election as president, and then of the doubt as to whether he or Hayes was elected.
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From the top of the stairs Mr. Field called out, bidding me to come up. He received me at the door of his dressing room. His face was well lathered upon one side, in his hands he held a razor, and from his soap-whitened lips came an apology: "You'll excuse me for asking you to come up while I am dressing for dinner. But I am going out to dinner, and I must hurry. I have some important news to tell certain men."
So while Mr. Field shaved and otherwise prepared himself for his appointment, we talked. Of course, there was much conversation about transatlantic cable communication, and Mr. Field rehearsed for me many of the now well-known difficulties that he met with and surmounted in his efforts to lay a permanent cable between the two worlds. Then rather suddenly--and in the midst at a reminiscent sentence, if I remember this little detail correctly at this late date--he broke off abruptly and stood gazing out of a nearby open window. His attitude was that of one in deep thought.
At last he faced me again.
"Do you know," he said in his characteristic quick staccato utterance, "on the last two or three trips that I have made to Europe, I have been doing a deal of thinking. Electricity is everywhere. All you have got to do is to capture it and control it. Now, if an electric current can be carried by wire under the sea, why can't it be carried by nature's own wire over the sea? I don't know how it can be done. The inventors will have to show that. But I don't for the life of me see any reason why we can't have some instrument on this side of the Atlantic, and some instrument on the other side, that will capture the electricity in the air and make it send a message. I don't know whether it will be in my day or not--inventions come thick and fast nowadays--but I am pretty sure that some day somebody will show how messages can be sent across the Atlantic through the air, without the aid of any wires whatever."
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A wonderful prophecy, you say, in view of the world famous triumph of Marconi, which came years after Mr. Field's death? And yet at the time that the father of the transatlantic cables made the prophecy to me out of his deep knowledge of things electrical, it made very little impression on me. In fact, I did not recall it to mind until all the world was marveling at Marconi's of sending electrical messages through the air without the aid of wires.
(Copyright, 1910, by E. J. Edwards.)
Tommorow Mr. Edwards will tell of "How Wendell Phillips Wrote a Famous Oration."