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Littell's Living Age/Volume 5/Issue 57/Game of Chess by the Electric Telegraph

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What the changes are that are to take place in our social condition by the three great agents lately brought by science into action—steam, electricity, and the atmosphere—no human intellect can foresee. The more immediate effects are just visible. Of the speed with which we can travel we can form at present no exact estimate; but we can prove that we can communicate our ideas by electricity from one spot on the earth round the whole globe in one tenth of a second. The game of chess lately played at the two termini of the South-Western Railway is a popular illustration of what can be effected at present, though it by no means exhibits the marvellous powers which the electric telegraph may yet be brought to show. The only striking feature of this experiment was the regularity and precision with which information of the moves was uninterruptedly conveyed for a number of successive hours. The descriptions with which we have from time to time furnished our readers of the different electro-magnetic telegraphs, and more especially of that of Mr. Wheatstone, have enabled them to understand the mechanism which was brought into action. Owing to the anxiety to promote in the most liberal manner the objects of science which the directors of the South-Western Railway have always shown, we were enabled to be present at the distant station, Gosport, during the performance of the game, and enjoyed ample opportunity of witnessing the simplicity of the mechanical means which Mr. Wheatstone has adopted, the advantageous use he has made of the velocity of the electric current, and the distinct and lucid means he has employed of displaying the necessary signals. Of the game played by those distinguished professors of Chess, Mr. Staunton and Mr. Walker, we have little to say; the battle may be considered to have been rather one of rapid execution than slow calculation, as the object was more to test the powers of the telegraph than the skill of the players. It was, as might therefore be expected, a drawn game. The amateur of this beautiful science, however, might have derived a more than usual share of information, for, during the period when the player was in expectation of a reply from London, Mr. Staunton went over the probable moves which were about to be made by his adversary, and threw out various suggestions which were in themselves admirable lessons. This fortunately relieved the tedium which would otherwise have arisen from the circumstance of being obliged to wait sometimes more than ten minutes before the determination of the London player was made known. This, together with the well known conversational powers and lively observations of Mr. Staunton, distinguished as he is for gentlemanly manners and first-rate ability, enabled us to remain from eleven &clock until nearly six in the play-room, during which various messages, questions, and answers were unremittingly passed backwards and forwards, without in the slightest degree affecting the telegraphic communication which kept up the game of chess.

We may anticipate some most singular effects will be produced by the electric current. There is no reason why any great event might not be communicated at the same instant throughout the whole kingdom. The salutes fired on the occasion of her majesty's visit to the house of lords might be instantaneously repeated, at every station, on all the railways in England; for the electric flame fires gunpowder, and the explosion of the powder is at the same instant with the crack of the discharge. The expense of Captain Warner's long range is at once spared to the country; instead of blowing up a ship at the moderate distance of six miles by one of his projectiles, we shall he enabled to do so at the distance of a thousand miles. There is, indeed, no reason why one of the lords of the admiralty should not himself fire the guns of the batteries at Portsmouth, whilst calmly and quietly seated at the board in Whitehall. Nor is there any reason why the electric current may not be made to answer in the more peaceful or even the more elegant accomplishments of life. A galvanic arrangement might he made by which our accomplished pianiste, Madame Dulcken, might, with all that taste and skill which delights her London auditory, perform at the same moment for the gratification and enjoyment of Gosport and Southampton, and wherever a few wires could be conveniently transmitted. We might also observe that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ought to call upon every butcher to kill the animals used for food by electric galvanism. Each of these persons should have a small galvanic battery for this purpose. Not only is all pain shared to the poor lamb, "whom thy riot dooms to bleed to-day," but the meat is rendered more tender, and more delicate. It is more than half a century since Franklin commenced those experiments which the remorseless hand of war put a stop to, which have been the precursors of the wonders of the present day. He proposed to give a feast to electricians, when "a turkey is to be killed for our dinner by the electric shock, roasted by the electric jack, before a fire kindled by the electrified bottle; when the healths of all the famous electricians of England, Holland, France, and Germany, are to be drunk in electrified bumpers, under the discharge of guns from the electric battery" Were we to indulge in our prognostics of what will yet be done by the powers of electro-galvanism, we should be considered as visionary enthusiasts, and the laugh of the uninitiated would doubtless be loud and long, but already are some of the wonders made known, and nothing but the expense attendant upon them prevents them from being generally brought forward. By its means ships may yet be navigated on the ocean, our cities illuminated, the weather changed, life protracted, some diseases avoided; and we may use the language of him who first by electricity drew lightning from the clouds "I shall never have done, if I tell you all my conjectures, thoughts, and imaginations, on the nature and operations of this electric fluid."