Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Tom's cats.

I've been reading up on the life of Thomas Alva Edison of late, which is why I've attached a link to a compilation of funny cat videos.

Mentioned by name in one of Milne's earliest pieces of scientific fiction, The Great Electric Diaphragm (May 1879) Edison is referred to later again in what must have one of his last, The Silent Witness (1899). The first is a story regarding the invention of wireless telephones the second an intriguing who-dunnit solved with the aid of phonograph technology.

Given the man's influence on the late 19th and early 20th centuries it should probably be no surprise that Edison received honourable mentions in several scientific romances of the period including E.E. Kellett's The Lady Automaton (1901) as well as getting star-billing in Garrett Putman Servis' Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898) which is available for download here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19141  

Servis' book, an unofficial sequel to The War of the Worlds (something Wells neither sanctioned nor liked), sees the inventor adapt left-behind alien technology before leading an armada of space ships on a mission to teach those pesky Martians a lesson. Despite neither reflecting Wells' concerns of colonialism or containing his self-reflexive warnings about the double-edged nature of technological progress the novel nonetheless has its moments, even if we never hear too much from or ever really learn a great deal about the eponymous hero.

Although I'll write more about each of the aforementioned Milne stories at a later date, what was particularly notable about his appearance in The Great Electric Diaphragm was that, despite the fact 'that Bell had beaten him in the race to patent the first authentic transmission of the human voice', Milne still chose to name-check Edison. 

At present I'm reading History of the Kinetograph, Kinetescope and the Kinetophonograph (1895) which was co-authored by W.K.L. Dickson, a former employee of Edison. As Dickson was a Scot working in this particular field and at that particular time I suspect I'll be reading and writing more about him too before long. However, for now I thought I'd leave you with an interesting quote from a passage in which Dickson discusses the challenges of finding new and novel subjects to be filmed on what must have been the world's first sound stage at Edison's laboratory in West Orange NJ:

"Cats have figured very amusingly in the laboratory shows. We had a consignment of these sent to us, fresh from their triumphs in Barnum's circus,but their Orange debut was delayed, not only on account of the weather, which was unfavorable, but by reason of certain ophthalmic troubles, induced by extensive clawing at each other's optics. We placed them in solitary confinement and doctored them with eye salve,an operation attended with piercing yells and much opposition, and by the time the sun saw fit to emerge from his blanket of clouds, the company was in condition to appear in their several feats of jumping hoops, trundling toy coaches, boxing, riding bicycles etc."

So there you have it: funny cat films were doing the rounds way before YouTube came along and even played their part in the development of cinema technology. So, the next time you attach one to an email or post one on Facebook you can argue that what you've done has some legitimate cultural significance.

Edison Biography http://www.thomasedison.com/biography.html