The Human Wheel

Aside from the obvious illustrative debt to Brewster’s kaleidoscope, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.’s “Human Wheel” gives voice to some interesting thoughts on the human condition which I feel it pertinent to note:

THE starting-point of this paper was a desire to call attention to certain remarkable AMERICAN INVENTIONS, especially to one class of mechanical contrivances, which, at the present time, assumes a vast importance and interests great multitudes. The limbs of our friends and countrymen are a part of the melancholy harvest which War is sweeping down with Dahlgren's mowing-machine and the patent reapers of Springfield and Hartford. The admirable contrivances of an American inventor, prized as they were in ordinary times, have risen into the character of great national blessings since the necessity for them has become so widely felt. While the weapons that have gone from Mr. Colt's armories have been carrying death to friend and foe, the beneficent and ingenious inventions of MR. PALMER have been repairing the losses inflicted by the implements of war.

. . .We should not tell the whole truth, if we did not own that we have for a long time been lying in wait for a chance to say something about the mechanism of walking, because we thought we could add something to what is known about it from a new source, accessible only within the last few years, and never, so far as me know, employed for its elucidation, namely, the instantaneous photograph.

The two accomplishments common to all mankind are walking and talking. Simple as they seem, they are yet acquired with vast labor, and very rarely understood in any clear way by those who practice them with perfect ease and unconscious skill.

Thinking about this inventive conflation of walking and talking, of war and technology, I was struck by the historical affinity between war and methods of articulation. Warblogging anyone? Understanding the human bleat hasn’t become much easier since the Civil War. Holmes was more optimistic about it though:


Posted by Jeff at February 4, 2005 4:51 PM

February 2005 (1)