steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

"I don't know - I've never kippled."

"What is the lesson of history?" asks the marginal note on the last substantive page of A History of England by C. R. L. Fletcher and Rudyard Kipling (1911). I received my copy a day or two back - a large-format first edition, twice the size of the school edition published at the same time, though the content is the same. Admittedly it's not mint: it has been read by children - specifically B. Eversley, into whose hands it passed on 25th September of that year - but it's still complete, and a definite bargain at £0.99 on Ebay. I particularly like this impression of the south-east coast in AD 43:

AD 43

The books ends with a comparison of the authors' own times and those of a century previously - which is naturally of interest to a reader from a century further on. I won't quote the whole thing, but I was struck by their comments on the cheap cost of modern postage: "Letters [in 1815] cost twopence apiece for the smallest weight and the smallest distance; a single-sheet letter from London to Edinburgh cost 1s. 1d." News to me, I must admit.


The first railway was opened in 1829 between Liverpool and Manchester; already people are wondering when the first service of passenger airships will begin to cut out railways for long journeys, as electric tramways and motor-cars have begun to cut out horses and railways alike for short ones. The first steamship began to ply the Clyde in 1812; it was of three horse-power and moved at five miles an hour; the Mauretania, of 30,000 horse-power, now crosses the Atlantic in five days. During the Great War [i.e. the Napoleonic Wars] a system of wooden signals from hill-top to hill-top, worked by hand, would carry a message from Dover to London in about an hour; now the electric telegraph flashes messages round the world in a few minutes.

Do we hear the accent of the eugenicist, or merely of the cynic, in this remark?

The discovery of chloroform in 1847 has reduced human suffering to a degree which we can hardly conceive; and the other improvements in medicine and surgery have saved and prolonged countless useful, as well as many useless, lives.

We end with this peroration, which made my mother scoff when she looked it over yesterday. But if we may have counterfactual histories, counterfactual futures should need no justification.

In the common sense of the word 'happy', these and and a thousand other inventions have no doubt made us happier than our great-grandfathers were. Have they made us better, braver, more self-denying, more manly men and boys, more tender, more affectionate, more home-loving women and girls? It is for you boys and girls, who are growing up, to resolve that you will be all these things, and to be true to your resolutions.
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