From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables:
“Yes, my dear sir,” said Clifford, “it is my firm belief and hope that these terms of roof and hearth-stone, which have so long been held to embody something sacred, are soon to pass out of men’s daily use, and be forgotten. Just imagine, for a moment, how much of human evil will crumble away, with this one change! What we call real estate — the solid ground to build a house on — is the broad foundation on which nearly all the guilt of this world rests. Within the lifetime of the child already born, all this will be done away. The world is growing too ethereal and spiritual to bear these enormities a great while longer. The harbingers of a better era are unmistakable.”
“All a humbug!” growled the old gentleman.
“Then there is electricity, — the demon, the angel, the mighty physical power, the all-pervading intelligence!” exclaimed Clifford. “Is that a humbug, too? Is it a fact — or have I dreamt it — that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? Rather, the round globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence! Or, shall we say, it is itself a thought, nothing but thought, and no longer the substance which we deemed it!”
“If you mean the telegraph,” said the old gentleman, glancing his eye toward its wire, alongside the rail-track, “it is an excellent thing, — that is, of course, if the speculators in cotton and politics don’t get possession of it. A great thing, indeed, sir, particularly as regards the detection of bank-robbers and murderers.”
“I don’t quite like it, in that point of view,” replied Clifford. “A bank-robber, and what you call a murderer, likewise, has his rights, which men of enlightened humanity and conscience should regard in so much the more liberal spirit, because the bulk of society is prone to controvert their existence. An almost spiritual medium, like the electric telegraph, should be consecrated to high, deep, joyful, and holy missions. Lovers, day by day — hour by hour, if so often moved to do it, — might send their heart-throbs from Maine to Florida, with some such words as these ‘I love you forever!’ — ‘My heart runs over with love!’ — ‘I love you more than I can!’ and, again, at the next message ‘I have lived an hour longer, and love you twice as much!’ Or, when a good man has departed, his distant friend should be conscious of an electric thrill, as from the world of happy spirits, telling him ‘Your dear friend is in bliss!’ Or, to an absent husband, should come tidings thus ‘An immortal being, of whom you are the father, has this moment come from God!’ and immediately its little voice would seem to have reached so far, and to be echoing in his heart. But for these poor rogues, the bank-robbers, — who, after all, are about as honest as nine people in ten, except that they disregard certain formalities, and prefer to transact business at midnight rather than ‘Change-hours, — and for these murderers, as you phrase it, who are often excusable in the motives of their deed, and deserve to be ranked among public benefactors, if we consider only its result, — for unfortunate individuals like these, I really cannot applaud the enlistment of an immaterial and miraculous power in the universal world-hunt at their heels!”
“You can’t, hey?” cried the old gentleman, with a hard look.
h/t: Lapham’s Quarterly.