Bell ex­tols suc­cess of his first pub­lic lec­ture THE BELL LET­TERS

The Expositor (Brantford) - - WEEKEND -

In our world of elec­tronic and dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions, one won­ders what ev­i­dence of our day-to-day lives will ex­ist for our de­scen­dants in the next cen­tury. Mod­ern tech­nol­ogy has given us the abil­ity to be in al­most con­stant touch with one an­other. But, will our emails and texts still ex­ist a hun­dred years from now? For decades, let­ter writ­ing was of­ten an ev­ery­day oc­cur­rence for most peo­ple. Keep­ing in touch meant sit­ting down with pen and pa­per. Re­ceiv­ing a let­ter was of­ten an ex­cit­ing event, es­pe­cially from some­one miles away. And, for many, in­clud­ing Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell and his fam­ily, these let­ters were some­thing to be kept, not sim­ply dis­carded once read. The Bells were pro­fuse writ­ers and as a re­sult, their story can be told to­day through thou­sands of let­ters.

Born in Scot­land in 1847, Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell lived a unique life. In­flu­enced by his fa­ther, Melville, a pro­fes­sor of elo­cu­tion, and his deaf mother, El­iza; the loss of his broth­ers, Melville and Ed­ward, to Con­sump­tion; and mar­riage to his deaf pupil, Ma­bel Hub­bard, Bell left a legacy to the world that few could imag­ine liv­ing with­out. How this came to pass is best re­vealed through the let­ters be­tween these in­di­vid­u­als. Here, we present those let­ters to you.

This lengthy let­ter from Aleck to his fam­ily brought great news of pro­fes­sional suc­cess and a de­scrip­tion of a de­vice called the Pho­nau­to­graph. Aleck would go on to de­vise his own form of this de­vice, us­ing a hu­man ear. Salem, Mass. Bos­ton Wed­nes­day April - 1874 Dear Papa Mama Car­rie & Char­lie

I sent you copies of the var­i­ous Pa­pers con­tain­ing no­tices of my first Pub­lic Lec­ture from which you will see that it was a grand suc­cess. The at­ten­dance was not large -- prob­a­bly a tri­fle over 400 -- but the finest minds in Bos­ton were there. I had lit­tle op­por­tu­nity of speak­ing of the Uses of the sys­tem as Time was so short. Af­ter the lec­ture a lit­tle knot of about 20 peo­ple re­mained who plied me with ques­tions on var­i­ous points.

Dr. Runckle, Pres­i­dent of the So­ci­ety, was one -- and the re­sult has been that I have an in­vi­ta­tion to give a Sec­ond Lec­ture be­fore the So­ci­ety -- and the Pres­i­dent prom­ises me a full house. The lec­ture has at once placed me in a new po­si­tion in Bos­ton. It has brought me in con­tact with the sci­en­tific minds of the city.

I have been given free ac­cess to the In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy -- and per­mis­sion to ex­per­i­ment with Helmholtz’ ap­pa­ra­tus and with Scott and Koenig’s “Pho­nau­to­graph” and Re­volv­ing Mirror ap­pa­ra­tus.

It so hap­pens that the next Lec­ture be­fore the So­ci­ety is on the sub­ject of the Vowel Sounds as writ­ten by Koenig’s ap­pa­ra­tus. I have been in­vited to as­sist in pre­par­ing plates for ex­hi­bi­tion. I am to sound your scale of vow­els, and the curves as writ­ten on a smoked piece of glass will be thrown on the screen by means of the Lime­light.

The method of re­volv­ing Mir­rors will I think af­ford a very del­i­cate means of an­a­lyz­ing speech­sounds. A hole is cut in a gas-pipe and over it is stretched a thin mem­brane, rep­re­sented in dot­ted lines. A tube leads from this with a mouth piece just like Mamma’s tube. If you sing into the tube the mem­brane is set in vi­bra­tion -and af­fects the gas-jet. The flame dances up and down so many hun­dred times per sec­ond just as the mem­brane vi­brates. The mo­tion is ren­dered sen­si­ble to the eye, by means of four mir­rors placed on the cir­cum­fer­ence of a wheel. On turn­ing the wheel rapidly -- the re­flect­ing of the flame ap­pears as a broad band of light the height of the flame. Ev­ery mo­tion of the flame is pic­tured as a wave of light. Each dif­fer­ent vowel and con­so­nant presents a dif­fer­ent ap­pear­ance in the mirror.

The vowel presents the ap­pear­ance of waves the shape of the teeth of a saw. If is sounded, the teeth be­come notched. A most beau­ti­ful kind of lace-work pat­tern re­sults from [sym­bol]. I can give you no idea of the ex­ceed­ing beauty of this lovely pat­tern. [sym­bol] gave a sim­i­lar net­work of a blue light sur­mounted by blobs of crim­son light at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals.

I go to the In­sti­tute this af­ter­noon to make some ex­per­i­ments.

I have been un­able to write be­fore this as I had -- af­ter the lec­ture -- to pre­pare the 4th num­ber of the Pi­o­neer.

The In­sti­tu­tions have agreed to the ex­pense of for­ward­ing the man­u­script -- and it is al­ready prov­ing a grand suc­cess. The fourth num­ber has been very lit­tle la­bor to me -- and the oth­ers prom­ise to be self-sup­port­ing. I have re­ceived within the last week, -- 80 pages (!) of mat­ter writ­ten in Vis­i­ble Speech -- from the pupils and teach­ers of the Bos­ton School and the Clarke In­sti­tu­tion. The First Num­ber of the Pi­o­neer reached Hart­ford on Mon­day -and now I may ex­pect con­tri­bu­tions from the Amer­i­can Asy­lum. Al­to­gether there is ev­ery chance of its turn­ing out a grand suc­cess.

With all my hard work I am able to say -- thanks to good Mrs. San­ders -- that I am in ex­cel­lent health. Of course I still have the usual headaches af­ter lectures or ex­cite­ment -- but on the whole I am in splen­did physique. I am sorry that I have been un­able to go home at this time. The Bos­ton Schools have had a weeks hol­i­days -- and I could have given my­self a weeks rest. I felt how­ever that I could not af­ford a jour­ney home at the present time -- and so con­tin­ued at work. I have been suc­cess­ful in ev­ery other way than pe­cu­niar­ily. As I have to pay Miss Locke -- I have been only pay­ing ex­penses so far.

Lit­tle Ge­orge and his sis­ter are down with the measles just now.

Ge­orge was taken un­well on the very day I wanted his as­sis­tance. I had to hunt up Mr. Gold­smith to sup­ply his place -- and he read his speech with­out any prepa­ra­tion to speak of. Poor Miss Locke was quite mor­ti­fied by her fail­ure to “whis­tle”. She could have done so. Her first at­tempt re­sulted in merely [sym­bol] and as the au­di­ence took it up at once with a burst of ap­plause -- I did not think it nec­es­sary to make a sec­ond at­tempt. The re­porters how­ever men­tioned it -- and Miss Locke vows she will whis­tle next time!!!

My suc­cess in lec­tur­ing has shown me the im­por­tance of im­promptu speak­ing.

I al­ways suc­ceed best when I have least writ­ten mat­ter to rely upon.

A man­u­script makes me ner­vous. Is it not strange? I find I can talk per­fectly freely to a large au­di­ence when I could not say any­thing to half-a-dozen peo­ple.

I do not un­der­stand it at all. The Bos­ton D. Ad­ver­tiser sent down to me the day be­fore the lec­ture, ask­ing for the wood­cuts which il­lus­trated the pam­phlet on “The Na­ture and Uses of V.S.” These how­ever are at present at Hart­ford il­lus­trat­ing an ar­ti­cle in some en­cy­clo­pe­dia.

The Ed­i­tor told me that he had re­ceived a let­ter from Ed­ward Atkin­son ad­vis­ing him to re­port my lec­ture in full. The Ed­i­tor said that the New York Tri­bune was in the habit of re­port­ing Sci­en­tific lectures and giv­ing il­lus­tra­tions -- and he did not see why the Ad­ver­tiser should not do so also. I told the Ed­i­tor that if he would get the il­lus­tra­tions copied -- I would pay the En­graver’s bill.

They ac­cord­ingly sent down and had the whole thing ex­e­cuted the day be­fore. I am writ­ing this on a ta­ble in the Smok­ing-Car -- so you must not won­der if my sen­tences may ap­pear a lit­tle out­ree.

I shall re­turn Mr. Niven’s let­ter to you this week. I have saved one dozen copies of the Ad­ver­tiser for you. Please send me the names of any peo­ple you would wish to send it to and, if I have not al­ready done so -- I shall for­ward. I sent one di­rected to “Ge­orge Coats Esq., Paisle.”

I have sent off 110 copies. Sorry your in­cu­ba­tor was a fail­ure. Love to all and ev­ery­one. Your af­fec­tion­ate Aleck. Prof. A. M. Bell, Brant­ford, Ont. The Bell Let­ters are an­no­tated by Brian Wood, cu­ra­tor, Bell Home­stead Na­tional His­toric Site.

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