The First Atlantic Telegraph
“ In the name of the Prophet: —Figs! ”
“EH, bien, Sare! wiz you Field and ze uzzers ! Zey is ver’ good men, sans doute, an’ zey know how to make ze money ; mais — gros matérialistes, I tell you, Sare! Vat zen ? I sall sink I know, I ! Oui, Monsieur, I, César Prévost, who has ze honneur to stand before you,— I am ze original inventeur of ze Télégraphique Communication wiz Europe ! ”
It was about the period when, with the fast world of cities, De Sauty was beginning to become type of an “ ism ”; already the attention of excitement-hunters had travelled far from Trinity Bay, and Cyrus Field had yielded his harvest. Nevertheless, to me, who had just come to town from a quiet country seclusion into which news made its entry teredofashion only, the performances of the Agamemnon and Niagara were matters of fresh and vivid interest. So 1 purchased Mr. Briggs’s book, and went to Guy’s, to cut the leaves over a steak and a bottle of Edinburgh ale. It was while I was thus engaged that the little Frenchman had accosted me, calling my attention to his wares with such perfect courtesy, such airy grace, that I was forced to look at his baskets. And looking, I was induced to lay down my book and examine them more closely; for they were really pretty, — made of extremely white and delicate wood, showing an exquisite taste in their design, and being neatly and carefully finished. Then it was, that, having apparently noticed the title of my book, M. César Prévost had used the language above quoted, and with such ernpressement of manner, that my attention was diverted from his wares to himself. I looked at him with some curiosity.
He was a little old Frenchman, lean as a haunch of dried venison, and scarcely less dark in complexion, — though his color was nearer that of rappee snuff, and had not the rich blood-lined purple of venison. His face was wofully meagre, and seemed scored and overlaid with care-marks. Nevertheless, there was an energetic, nervous, almost humorsome mobility about his month; while his little beady black eyes, quick, warm, scintillant, had ten times the life one would have expected to find keeping company with his fifty years. In dress, he was very threadbare, and, sooth to say, not over-clean ; yet he was jaunty, and moved with the air of a man much better clad. I was impressed with his appearance, and especially with his voice, which was vibrant, firm, and excellently intoned. It is my foible, perhaps, but I am always charmed with bonhommie, I class originality among the cardinal virtues, and I am as eager in the chase after eccentricity as a veteran fox-hunter is in pursuit of Reynard. M. César promised a compensative proportion of all three qualities, could I only “draw him out”; and besides, he was not like Mr. Canning’s “Knife-Grinder,”—for, evidently, he had a story to tell.
Observing my scrutiny, he smiled; a singular, ironical smile it was, yet without a particle of bitterness or of cynicism.
“ Eh, bien ! ” said he ; “ you stare, Monsieur ! you sink me an excentrique. Vraiment! I am use to zat, — I am use to have persons smile reeseeblement, to tap zere fronts, an’ spelt of ze strait-jackets. Never fear, — I am toujours harmless! Mais, Monsieur, it is true, vat I tell you :
I am ze original inventeur of ze Atlantic Telegraph ! You mus’ not comprehend me, Sare, to intend somesing vat persons call ze Telegraph, — such like ze Electric Telegraph of Monsieur Morse, — a vulgaire sing of ze vire and ze acid. Mon Dieu, non ! far more perfect, — far more grrand, — far more original! Ze acid may burn ze finger, — ze vire vill become rrusty, — ze isolation subject always to ze atmosphere. Ah, bah ! Vat make you in zat event ? As ze pure lustre of ze diamant of Goleonde to ze distorted rays of a morsel of bottle-glass, so my grrand invention to ze modes of ze telegraph in vogue at present! ”
“ Monsieur,you shall tell me about it,” said I, pointing to a seat on the other side of the table ; “ sit down there, and tell me about your invention, and in your native language, — that is, if you can spare the time to do so, and to drink a glass of Bordeaux with me.”
He accepted my invitation as a gentleman would, sipped his wine like a connoisseur, passed me a few Compliments, such as any French gentleman might toss to you, if you had asked him to join you in a glass of wine in one of his city’s cafés, and then proceeded with his story. My translation gives but a faint echo of the impression made upon me by his life, vigor, and originality; but still I have striven to do him as little injustice as possible.
“ Monsieur, it is ten years since I accomplished, put in practice, and evoked practical results from this international communication, which your two peoples have failed to establish, in spite of all their money, their great ships, and the united wisdom of their savans. I am a Frenchman, Monsieur,—and, you know, France is the congenial soil of Science. In that country, where they laugh ever and se jouent de tout. Science is sacred ; — the Academy has even pas of the army ; honors there are higher prized than the very wreaths of glory. Among the votaries of Science in France, César Prévost was the humblest, — serviteur, Monsieur. Nevertheless, though my place was only in the outermost porch of the temple, I was a faithful, devoted, self-sacrificing worshipper of the goddess; and therefore, because earnest fidelity has ever its crown of reward, it happened to me to make a grand discovery, — a discovery more momentous, it may be, than that of gunpowder or the telescope, — ten million hundred times more worth than the vaunted great achievement of M. le Professeur Morse. Not that its whole import came to me at once. No, Monsieur, it is full twenty years now since the first light of it glimmered upon César Prévost’s mind, and he gave ten years of his life to it — ten faithful years
— before it, was perfect to his satisfaction. Ah, Monsieur, and ’tis more than one year now that I have been what you see me, in consequence of it. Eh, bien! I shall die so, — rightly, — but my discovery shall live forever.
“But pardon, Monsieur,— I see that you are impatient. You shall immediately hear all I have to say, — after I have, in a few words, given you a brief insight into the nature of my invention. Come, then ! — Has it ever occurred to Monsieur to reflect upon that something which we call Sympathy ? The philosophers, you know, and the physiologists, the followers of that coquin, Mesmer, and the bêtes Spiritualists, as they now dub themselves,— these have written, talked, and speculated much about it. I doubt not these fellows have aided Monsieur in perplexing his brain respecting the diverse, the world-wide ramifications of this physiological problem. The limits, indeed, of Sympathy have not been, cannot be, rightly set or defined ; and there are those who embrace under such a capitulation half the dark mysteries that bother our heads when we think of Life’s under-current, — instinct,—clairvoyance,
— trance, — ecstasy, — all the dim and inner sensations of the Spirit, where it touches the Flesh as perceptibly, but as unseen and unanalyzed, as the kiss of the breeze at evening. Sans doute, Monsieur, ’t is very wonderful, all this,— and then, also, ’t is very convenient. Our ships must have a steersman, you know. And, par example, unless we call it sympathetic, that strange susceptibility which we see in many persons, detect in ourselves sometimes, what name have we to give it at all ? Unless we call it sympathy, how shall we define those mysterious premonitions, shadowy warnings, solemn foretokens, that fall upon us now and then as the dew falls upon the grass-leaf, that make our blood to shiver and our flesh to quake, and will not by any means permit themselves to be passed by or nullified ? ’T is a fact that is irrepressible ; and, in persons with imagination of morbid tendency, this spontaneous sympathy takes a hold so strong as to present visibly the image about which there is concern,—and, behold ! your veritable spectre is begotten ! So, again, of your ‘ love at first sight,’ comme on dit,—that inevitable attraction which one person exerts towards another, in spite, it may be, both of reason and judgment. If this be not child of sympathy, what parentage shall we assign it ? And antipathy, Monsieur, the medal’s reverse,—your bête noire, for instance, — expound me that! Why do you so shudder at sight of this or that innocent object ? You cannot reason it away, —’t is always there; you cannot explain it, nor diagnose its symptoms,—’t is a part of you, governed by the same laws that govern your ‘ elective affinities’ throughout. But note, Monsieur ! You and I and man in general are not alone in this : the whole organic world — nay. some say the entire universe, inorganic as well as organic — is subject to these impalpable sympathetic forces. Is the hypothesis altogether fanciful of chemical election and rejection, — of the kiss and the kick of the magnet'? Your Sensitive-Plant, your Dionea, your Rose of Jericho, your Orinoeo-hlossom that sets itself afloat in superb faith that the ever-moving waters will bring it to meet its mate and lover,
— are not these instances of sympathy? And tell me by what means your eye conquers the furious dog that would bite you, — tell me how that dog is able to follow your traces, and to find the quail or the fox for you, — tell me how the eat chills the bird it would spring upon,
— how the serpent fascinates its victim with a flash of its glittering eye. Our ‘ dumb beasts ’ yet have a language of their own, unguessed of us, yet perfectly intelligible to them, — how? We call this, Instinct. Eh, bien, Monsieur.' what is Instinct, but Sympathy?
“ Bah! it amounts to nothing, all this, if we only look at it in such relations. For centuries have stupides bothered their brains about such matters, seeking to account for them. As well devote one’s time to puzzling over ‘ Ælia Lælia’ ! Mysteries were not meant to be put in the spelling-books, Monsieur. Ah, bah! a far different path did César Prévost pursue! He studied these phenomena, not to explain them, —being too wise to dream of living par amours with such barren virgins as are Whence and Why (your Bacon was very shrewd, Monsieur). What cared I about causes ? Let Descartes, and Polignac, and Reid, and Cudworth, et id omne genus, famish themselves in this desert; but ask it not of César Prévost! He is always considerate to the impossible. He says this, always: — Here we have certain interesting phenomena ; their causes are involved in mystery impenetrable; their esoteric nature is beyond the reach of any microscope;—what then ? My Heaven ! let us do what we can with them. Let us seek out their relations ; let us investigate the laws regulating their interdependence,—if there be such laws; and après, let us inquire if there be any practical results obtainable from such relations and laws.
“ You follow me, Monsieur ? Eh, bien! This was the system, and César Prévost came speedily to one law,—a law so important, that, like Aaron’s serpent, it put all the rest out of sight forever, engrossing thereafter his whole attention. This law, which pervades the entire animal economy, and is of course important in proportion to its universality, is as follows : — The sympathetic harmony between animals, other things being equal, is
IN INVERSE PROPORTION to their rank in that scale of comparison in which man is taken as the maximum of perfection. Consequently, man is most deficient in this instinctive something, which, for lack of a better term, I have ventured to style ‘sympathetic harmony,’ while the simplest organization has it most developed. This last, you perceive, Monsieur, is only inductively true ; —when we get below a certain stage in the scale, we find the difficulties of observation increase in a larger ratio than the augmented sympathy, and so we are not compensated; ’t is, for instance, like the telescope, where, after you have reached a certain power, the deficiency of light overbalances the degree of multiplication. Knowing this, my first aim was to find out what animal would suit best, — what one that could be easily observed was most susceptible, most sympathetic. ‘T was a long labor, Monsieur; I shall not tire you with the details. Enough that I found in the snail the instrument I needed,— and in the snail of the Kooky Mountains the most perfect of his kind. You smile, Monsieur. Eh, bien ! ’t is not philosophic to laugh at the means by which one achieves something. Smile how you will, ’t is a fact that in the snail which is so common and grows to such an enormous size in the valleys and on the slopes of your great Cordilleras 1 found an animal combining a maximum of sympathetic harmony with the greatest facility of being observed, the best health and habits, and the utmost simplicity of prononcée manifestation. But, you ask, what seek I, then? My Heaven, Monsieur! there was the grand Idea., — the Idea upon which I build my pride, — the Idea that is mine! When it came to me, Monsieur, this Idea, a great calm filled all my soul, and I felt then the spirit of Kepler, when he said he could wait during centuries to be recognized, since the laws he had demonstrated were eternal and immutable as the Great God Himself! Yes, Monsieur! For in that crude, undeveloped Idea were already germinating the wonders of an achievement grander than any of Schwartz, or Guttenberg, or Galileo. Oh, this beautiful, grand simplicity of Science, which was able, from the snail itself, the very type and symbol and byword of torpidity and inaction, to evolve what was to conquer time and space,—to outrun the wildest imaginings of Puck himself !
—What a coltish fire of enthusiasm pranced in the worthy little Frenchman’s veins, to he sure !
“ Eh, bien! Now, distance made no matter; it was forever subdued. I could as soon send messages to the Sun Itself as to my next-door neighbor! Smile on, Monsieur! Cesar Provost shall not be piqued at your incredulity. He also was amazed, prostrated, when all the stupendous consequences of his discovery first flashed upon his mind ; and it was very long before he could rid his mind of the notion that he was become victim to the phantasms of a ridiculous dream. Eh, bien ! ’t was very simple, once analyzed. Know one fact, and you have all. And this one fact, so simple, yet so grand, was just this:—That a male and female snail, having been once, by contact, put in communication with one another, so as to become what magnnetizers call en rapport the one with the other, continue ever after to sympathize, no matter what space may divide them. ’T is in a nutshell, you perceive,—and giving me the entire principle of an unlimited telegraphic communication. All that was to do was to systematize it. Tedious work, you may conceive, Monsieur; yet I did not shrink from it, nor find it irksome, for my assured result was ever leading me onward. Ah, bah ! what did I not dream then ?—Passons !
“ I was not rich, and so, to save the trouble and expense of importing my snails to Paris, — vast trouble and expense, of course, since my experiments were so numerous,— I came across the Atlantic, and fixed myself at a point near St. Louis, where I could study in peace and have the subjects of my experiments close at hand. I used to pay the trappers liberally to get my snails for me, instructing them how to gather and how to transport them; and to divert all suspicion from my real objects, I pretended to be a gourmet, who used the snails solely for gastronomic purposes,—whereby, Monsieur,” said César Prévost, with a humorons smile, “I was unfortunate enough to inspire the hearty garçons with a supreme contempt for me, and they used to say I ‘ vas not bettaire zan one blarsted Digger Injun!’ Mon Dieu! what martyrs the votaries of Science have been, always !
“ Eh, bien ! I shall not bother you with my experiments. In brief, let me give you only results, so as to be just comprehensible. Given my law, I had to find, first, the manner exactly in which snails manifest their sympathy , the one for the other,— c’est a dire, how Snail A tells you that something is happening to his comrade, Snail B. There was a constant law for this, hard to find, but I achieved it. Second, to make my telegraph perfect, and put my system beyond the touch of accident, I had to discover how to destroy the rapport between Snails A and B. Unless I could do this, I could never be sure my instruments were perfectly isolated, so to speak. ’T was a difficult task, Monsieur; for the snail is the most constant in its attachments of all the animal kingdom, and I have known them to die, time and again, because their mates had died, —
as your grand poet has it, Monsieur. Still, I succeeded, and I am very proud to announce it; — ’t was a great feat, indeed, — no less than to subvert an instinct! Third, I found out the way to keep them perfectly isolated, so as to prevent any subvention of a higher influence from weakening or destroying the previous rapport. Fourth, what sort of influence brought to bear upon Snail B would be sympathetically indicated most palpably in Snail A. So, Monsieur, you may fancy I had my hands full.
“ But I succeeded, after long labor. Then I spent much time in seeking to perfect an Alphabetical System, and also a Recording Apparatus, capable of exactly setting forth the quality of the sympathy manifested, as well as the number of the manifestations. When these things were all perfected, I should have a complete system of Telegraph, which no circumstances of time, distance, or atmosphere could impair, which would put on record its every step, and permit no opportunity for error or for accident.
“ Eh, bien ! Man proposes,— God disposes. Monsieur, when I began my experiments, when I devoted myself, my energies, and my life itself to developing and utilizing my discovery', my motives were purely, exclusively’ scientific. My sole aim was to win the position of an eminent savant, who, by conferring a signal benefit upon the race, should merit the common applause of mankind. But, as time wore on, as my labors began to be successful, as the grand possibilities of my achievement arrayed themselves before me, other dreams usurped, my brain. I, the inventor of this thing, so glorious in its aspect, so incomputable in its results,— was I to permit myself to go without reward? Fame? Ah, bah! what bread would Fame butter? ’T was a bubble, a name, an empty', profitless sound, this coquin of Fame ! ‘ Proximus sum egomet
mihi,' says Terence, — or, as your English proverb has it, ‘ Charity begins at home.’ I bethought me of the usual fate of discoverers and inventors,—neglected, scoffed at, ill-used, left to starve. The blesser of the world with infinite riches must nibble his crust au sixième. Why, then? Because, in their sublime eagerness to serve others, they forget to care for themselves. Eh, bien! One must still keep his powder dry', said your great Protector. This discovery was to double the effectiveness of men’s hands, —therefore, was grandly to enrich them. But could it not be also made a notable instrument, for wealth in one man’s hands ? Ah ! brave thought ! How, if, none the less resolved to give man eventually the benefit of my Idea, I should yet keep it in abeyance, till I had made my own sufficient profit out of it? It could be done; — surely, to use it well were less difficult than to have invented it. So dreams of wealth and luxury began to fill my brain. I would enrich myself till I had become a power, emphatically,—till all purchasable things were within my reach. Then I should likewise become a benefactor of the race ; for my intentions were liberal, and intelligence sustained adequately can effect miracles. Then, when I had made myself veritably the Apostle of Riches,
I would put the capstone to man's debt to me, by endowing him with knowledge in the uses of this great instrument whereby I had made myself so great. Ah, Monsieur, you see, Haroun Alraschid had set me on his throne for an hour by way of jest, and I imagined myself Caliph in Bagdad forever !
“ Full of such purposes, and of the fiery impatience of yearning begotten of them, I hastened to bring my work to efficiency for use. I had worked in silence, alone, secretly; for I dreaded to have my discovery guessed, my aims anticipated and foreclosed upon. But, hasten how I would, the processes were too slow for my means, — and just when, like the alchemist, my crucible promised the grand projection, came the dreaded explosion. My money exhausted itself! I found myself, a stranger in a strange land, without a dollar. Eh, bien, Monsieur! ’t is not in César Prévost to despair. Ah, in those days, especially, had I a heart big with the strength of hope! To accomplish my ends, a partner was needed at best, money or no money; so now it was only necessary for me to find one who to the essential qualities of heart and brain conjoined a puree of sufficient size. Before long, I came across the very man. Monsieur, when I recall the past, I behold many instances where I erred and was foolish; but the single bitter reflection I have is, that my own ruin involved the ruin of John Meavy, my partner and good comrade. I remember what he was when I found him,—happy, prosperous, large-hearted, — in every sense a noble man. I ruined him ! Ah. could I but—Eh, bkn ! ’t is too late, now; he is dead; requiescat! I have the bliss to know he found no fault with the end. — Passons !
“ When I first knew John Meavy, he was a merchant, living with the quiet ease of a well-to-do bachelor. Though he had been brought up to trade, the stain of money was not upon him. Generous, charitable, liberal of thought, he was the gentlest enthusiast in other men’s behalf that ever the sun shone on. It was the fact that he possessed fifty thousand dollars and was trustworthy that first drew me towards him ; but I had not known him long ere I gave him my ardent love, and thereafter thoughts of wealth were pleasant to me as much for his sake as for my own. John was a student, and a lover of Science, as well as a man of trade; and, in the first moments of our intercourse, I took care to let drop words that 1 knew would attract his curiosity and interest. Like all you Americans, John Meavy was a man of perfect faith in all that regarded ‘Progress,’ and especially did he believe in the infinite perfectibility of Science in the hands of an energetic people. This was the chord upon which I played, and the responsive note was easily evoked. He sought me out. came to me eagerly, and, by degrees, I divulged to him all my plans. He was ambitious to work for mankind, and I convinced him that I could give him the means to do so. My faith, Monsieur ! that John Meavy had not one least morsel of selfishness in all his character! How far was he from dreaming of wealth for its own sake, and for the voluptuous surroundings with which my fancy enlarged upon it! No, indeed,—my invention to John Meavy was nothing ; but, as a means to profit you and me and the rest, of us, ’t was a thing of the grandest import. So, at first, he would not have had us keep our secret for a day; but I—by a sophistry that is only sophistic when we add to the consideration man’s impotent and easily perverted will —brought him into my plans, showing him what an instrument for good vast riches would be in his hands. And he was the more easily persuaded because of the very grand purity of his nature. Sans doute, he felt it to be altogether true, what I told him, that, in his hands, a hundred million dollars would be worth more to mankind at large than the whole French kingdom. Mais, Monsieur, you cannot own a hundred millions and be good. As well expect to find the same virtue in London that prevails in a quiet country-town. You cannot filter oceans, Monsieur, and the dead fish in them will cause a stink. But 1 did not know this till afterwards.
“ So, having inoculated John, I bestowed upon him my confidence without reserve ; for I knew he was one to appreciate such treatment, and would repay me in kind. ‘ Here it all is, mon ami?' said I; ‘ this is my invention ; these the means for reducing it to practice ; money is all I need. If you will join me, and provide the funds required, we will enter into a partnership for ten years, enrich ourselves, and then give it to all the world.’
“’ Ten years ! must the world wait so long ? ’
“ ‘ The world has waited six thousand years for this century, camarade. We shall require so long to enrich ourselves. And then, remember,—the longer they are kept out of it, the more perfect will our invention he, and, consequently, the greater their profit from it. Science has suffered too much already by its sevenmonths’ children, my good friend. Eh, bien! What say you ? Will you be my partner ? ’
“ ‘ Yes, César, ’T is a noble scheme, such as only a noble man could originate. But, Prévost, do not speak to me of an equal partnership. I must not pattern after my country’s way of overlooking the inventor. Let us go into business upon this basis: — Prevost one share, John Meavy one share, Invention one share.’
“ ‘ Bah! John Meavy ! ’ I cried. ‘If I have discovered something, so also have you, namely: a pocket deep enough, a heart honest enough, and a faith strong enough to make that something available;— I expected sooner to find the philosopher’s-stone than all these, good friend. No. John Heavy,—if you share with me, you share equally. Then I shall be sure that you are equally interested with myself; so we shall succeed.’
“ Eh, Hen ! We arranged it; and that very day, after I had pointed out to John the state of my experiments, my noble comrade took me with him to his place of business, put all his books open before me, explained exactly the condition to his affairs, and concluded by giving me a check for five thousand dollars. ‘ There,’ said he, ‘ take that, pay your debts, provide for yourself, and go on and reduce your invention to the practical working you speak about. Meantime, I will wind up my business in readiness to join you. Six months from now, the firm of Prevost and Heavy, established to-day, will begin business together.’
“ Mon pauvre John Heavy !
“ Eh bien. Monsieur!” resumed the little Frenchman, after a short pause,— “ one cannot help one’s self, after it is too late. Allons, done! — I had lately, thinking over the matter in the light of my intense desire to begin a career, and under the pressure of urgent poverty, given up the notion of bringing my invention to absolute perfection as a system of telegraphing. Instead of elaborating a complete alphabet, I proposed to carry into effect a substitute already perfected, one simple almost beyond belief, needing few preparations, involving trifling cost, and capable of being made immediately operative. Further experience has taught me that the very same means, aided by a little deeper generalization, and an. arbitrary set of signals, would have given me an entire alphabet. But just now I had no time to extend my experiments, needing all my time to make sure and acquire skill in what was already achieved. I must insure against the chance of mistake ; for when we were applying our invention to the acquisition of money, any error would necessarily he fatal.
“ The six months went rapidly by, and before they were over I was all ready. But John said, ‘ Wait! ‘ He saw no need of hurry; and his affairs were not quite settled. Eh, bien! I tranquillized my eager, impatient soul by gaining an insight into the art of book-keeping and the theory and practice of trade. At last the probationary period expired, and, prompt to the hour, my comrade announced his readiness to begin our business. The friends of John Meavy were reluctant to have him leave St. Louis. They did not know what enterprise he was about to join in ; but they heard that I had some share in it, and they did not scruple to hint that I might he an adventurer, who would ‘ diddle’ him out of his money. However, John only smiled, and told me all they said, in his frank way, as if it were some good joke. So, finally, we took leave of St. Louis, and came to New York, to organize the great house of Meavy & Prévost: John bearing his share in the concern, forty odd thousand dollars, with many letters to persons of eminence and influence ; and I Carefully seeing to my share, — a few scientific works, some valuable chemical apparatus, and two dozen jars full of Rocky Mountain snails! Eh, bien, Monsieur ! my stock in trade was magnifique, iu comparison with that with which my compatriot Girard commenced business.
“ By John’s advice, we began our operations in a plain, quiet way, as exporters of breadstuffs. This we did, first, that the firm might make itself well enough known, and gain the confidence of the Bourse, so that the doors might be open to our subsequent operations; that I, secondly, might learn the business, and secure the proper recognition as John’s partner. Meantime, John was making himself familiar with the way to practise my invention; and both of us, gaining daily assurance of our power by reason of the discovery, were also daily increasing in love and confidence for each other. Happy days, those, Monsieur ! Eh, bien ! had the invention only proved a fiction then!
“ In another six months we had matured our plans, and, as our present business seemed lamentably slow in the light of my gigantic projects, I was eager enough to begin work in earnest. I had proved our telegraph thoroughly, and, ere I set out for London, to establish there a branch of the house of John Meavy & Co., I advised my good comrade to venture largely, so as to turn our capital over as often as possible, for there was no room for doubt or fear. But John did not guess how high I dreamed of rising in fortune ; he had no ambition to rival the Rothschilds.
“ Monsieur, let me explain to you now the system of work we had agreed upon, and each slightest detail of which was perfectly familiar to us from constant manipulation, so that mistake or mishap, from any conceivable cause, was utterly impossible.
“ Our business, nominally the buying of breadstuff's for exportation, was really one of speculation upon the New York market as affected by the European markets, — a species of brokerage, which, Ostensibly and in the eyes of the world attended by great risk, was really a thing of specifically safe and certain profits, thanks to the telegraphic system, the secret of which we alone possessed. In our tentative efforts, we fixed upon flour as the best-adapted subject for our experiments, being a commodity simple to deal with, and requiring fewer complications in our arrangements than anything else. But, in my own private mind, I had resolved, that, as soon as our capital had grown large enough, and our credit was become sufficiently extensive, we would change our business to that of buying and selling cotton, as a better speculative; or, perhaps, would enter upon that grand arena of sudden fortune and sudden, ruin, the stock-market. For the present, however, flour suited us well enough. It is well known, that, at that time, much more than at present, the price of breadstuffs in New York was regulated by the price in Liverpool. But Monsieur is not a merchant, I think? Eh, bien! — then I must take care to make myself intelligible. You know, Monsieur, that, in the stock-market especially, and more or less in every other kind of speculation, the greater part of the transactions are fictitious, to a certain extent. Par exemple: you buy or you sell so many barrels of flour, at such a price, on time, as It is called, — that is, you engage to receive, or to deliver, so many barrels, at the prices and in the times agreed upon, in the hope, that, before the period of your contract comes round, prices will have so varied as to enable you to buy, or sell, the quantity bargained for, upon terms that will give you a profit. In a word, you simply agree to run the risk of a change of prices such as to give you a profitable return. The operation is identical with that of betting that such a card will be turned, or that such a horse will win in a race, or such a candidate be elected president. On ’Change we are charitable enough to suppose each speculator possessed of data such as to make his venture seem reasonable to himself. This is the system, and, though very like gambling, it has the advantage of presenting to men of small means the chance of large profits, provided they are willing to run the risk; since, while with a capital of ten thousand dollars I could make an actual purchase of only two thousand barrels of flour at five dollars a barrel, the profit on which, at an advance of twenty-five cents per barrel, would be very small,— by risking all my money upon a single venture, and leaving myself a ‘ margin ‘ of fifty cents to cover the greatest probable decline In price per barrel, I may purchase ‘ on time ’ all of twenty thousand barrels, the profit upon which, at the same rate, would be equal to fifty per cent, of my entire capital. This is the legitimate system by which such rapid fortunes are made and lost upon ‘Change. Now suppose, that, operating in this way, you are in possession of a secret means of intelligence, instantaneous, to be relied on, peculiar to yourself, — does not Monsieur perceive that it insures one a fortune incalculable, and to be made within the shortest time? If I to-day learn that to-morrow’s steamer will bring news that cotton has advanced one cent a pound, of course I am justified in buying cotton to the utmost extent that my capital and credit will afford me means, being sure of selling it to-morrow at a higher price; and if I am continually in the receipt of similar information, I can turn my capital over fifty times in a year, and double it every time. There is actually no limit to the possible fortune of a man who is so favored, provided he conjoins prudence and boldness to his manner of transacting business. The supplying of such secret and unshared information to the firm of John Meavy & Co. was the end of my invention, Monsieur. I was to go to Liverpool, and act as signaller, while he was to stay in Few York, receive the information, and buy or sell in accordance with it.
“ Our apparatus was very simple. At each terminus of our line, so to speak, we had a room, inaccessible save to ourselves. These rooms, darkened, and carefully kept at a fixed temperature, contained nothing, save, in one corner of each, a chronometer regulated with precision, and, in opposite corners, a set of boxes, containing each a snail. At the signalling end, at a fixed hour, which the chronometer gives with the greatest accuracy, and when I know that my partner, by agreement, will be present at the other end to receive intelligence, I go into my room, informed as to the condition of the Liverpool market, and prepared to transmit particulars of the same to him. Here are two boxes, divided into three compartments each, and a male snail in each compartment. If flour is down, offering a chance for profit in New York upon ‘ time ’ sales, I approach the box marked minus, the three snails of which are called x, y, and z. I take up a little tube,— such a one as is used by chemists to drop infinitesimal portions of any liquid; I dip this into a vial marked No. 1, containing a solution of salt in water, — there is a row of these vials, the solution in each being of a different strength, — and then, with the moistened tube, I touch snail x, or snail y. or snail z, or any two of them, or all three, once, twice, three times, or repeatedly, according to the news I wish to signal, — noting the effect of the poison, and recording the particulars in a book kept for the purpose,— recording them with a nicety of intelligent discrimination such as can be obtained only by long and practised observation. I send an abstract of this record by every mail to my partner, so as to verify onr results and to detect immediately any derangement. At his end of our line the brave John Meavy waits before two similar boxes, in each compartment of which is a female snail. He is a skilled observer, and his quick eye beholds snails a, b, c exactly (through sympathy) repeating the effects I am producing in
x, y, z,—though the distance between
them is over three thousand miles! He knows the meaning of these slight effects, and, going upon ’Change, buys or sells with a perfect assurance of profit.
Such was my telegraph, in its rudest outline ; but I had systematized it to a degree of far greater nicety. I provided entirely against man’s imperfect and defective powers of observation. These movements and squirmings, which, in snails x,
y, z, were the effect of a physical cause, (salt-water,) were, in snails a, b, c, the result of sympathy for x, y, z, as I have said,
— a result constant, determinate, and always to be depended upon. That is the law of their rapport, — not a theory, but a law, established by’ long, exhaustive, and conclusive experimentation. The reason for it I cannot assign,— did not pretend to investigate; but the fact I had ascertained: x, y, z, so touched, squirm, contract, and expand their articulations, and exude from their pores a certain slimy sweat, of agony it may be,—anyhow, a slimy exudation comes from them,
— and, simultaneously, and just as much in kind, degree, quality, everything,snails a, b, c repeat the process. Such is the law. constant as gravitation. Consequently, all that the operator has to concern himself about is. to understand that so many touches, with fluid of such intensity, to so many snails, and repeated so often, produce such and such an effect upon them, as, collectively considered, to convey, through a, b, c, a certain piece of information. Knowing this, skill in manipulation and accurate memory are all the qualities he requires to conjoin to such knowledge. But the observer has a much more delicate office to perform, and, until I invented my recording apparatus, the functions of this post could be discharged only roughly and imperfectly, so evanescent and complex the manifestations. But I discovered a chemical observer, employing tests that nothing could escape, nor any thing deceive. The clock that indicates the, hour for receipt of news puts in motion the filaments of certain delicate machinery connected with the boxes wherein are a, b, c. These snails are placed upon a gauze-like substance, which, though firm enough to support them undisturbed, permits both their natural excretions, and their exudations under excitement, to filter through readily. As soon as the hour comes, the machinery moves, and there begins to pass the recording paper, so to speak, which I invented, — a paper not meant to receive any vulgar mechanical impression, but one which, to the instructed eye, and by the aid of the microscope, sets forth in plain language the nature of the functional disturbance in each snail, its quality, its intensity, and its duration. I do not exaggerate, Monsieur. This paper, in a word, is chemically prepared, saturated in a substance that renders it perfectly sympathetic to whatever fluid exudes from the snail, and thus, and by means of its motion, it records the quantity and quality of the impression with unvarying accuracy. The observing hour over, the clock-work stops, the paper is examined, and the result recorded carefully. Par example: 1 touch snail x, once, twice, three times, with the weak solution, No. 1 ; John Meavy, receiving this fact, through the sympathetic report of snail a, the chemical paper, and the microscope, reads, as plainly as if it had been printed in pica type: 'Flour declined threepence.' If the fluid used is stronger, the touches more numerous, and bestowed upon y and z also, — then the decline or advance is proportionately great. Is it not a grandly simple thing, this telegraph of mine, Monsieur? ”
— I was dazzled, perplexed, — so entirely new, strange, incredible was all this to me; but I expressed to the little Frenchman, in what terms I could command, my profound sense of his genius anil originality.
“Eh, bien ! I went to Europe,” resinned he, “and John Meavy, my brave comrade, stayed in New York, buying and selling flour, and turning over his capital with a rapidity of success that surprised everybody; while his modest demeanor, his chivalry of manner, and his noble generosity won the admission of all, that Prosperity chose well, when she elected John for her favorite.
“ At the end of a year we were worth nearly half a million of dollars, and our credit was perfect. Then, however, John wrote for me to come home. He was engaged to be married, he said, wanted me to be present at the ceremony, and wished my aid in effecting some changes in our mode of business. I was not unwilling, for I also bad some suggestions to make. I was tired of my place as operator; I yearned to quit my post of simple spectator, and to plunge head-foremost into the strife of money-getting. Apart from my irksome position, I felt myself more fit for John’s post than he was. As the capital we worked with increased,
John waxed cautious, and, most illosically, announced himself afraid to venture,
— as if his risk were not as great with ten thousand as with a million ! This did not suit me. I felt myself capable of using money as mere counters, I divested it of all the terrors of magnitude, and thus I knew I could do as much in proportion with five million dollars as with five dollars. And the result, I was perfectly aware, would be to those achieved by John as the elephant in his normal strength compares with the elephant whose strength is to his size as the flea’s strength to his size. John could take the flea’s leap with five dollars, but was satisfied with the elephant’s leap with five million dollars.
“ So I took the next steamer, reached New York safely, and was most cordially welcomed by my noble John Meavy, who seemed exuberant with the happiness in store for him. Before he would say a word about business, be insisted upon taking me to his betrothed’s, and introduced me to his lovely Cornelia, he had chosen well, Monsieur: his bride was worthy a throne; she was worthy John Meavy himself, — a woman refined, charming, entirely perfect. At John’s solicitation, I was his groomsman ; I accompanied him upon his wedding-tour; and mine was the last hand he clasped, as he stood on the steamer’s deck, on his way to Europe to take my place at the head of the Liverpool house. How many kind words he lavished upon me ! how many a good and kindly piece of advice he murmured in my car at that farewell moment! Ah ! I do not think John wished to go thither; he was ever a home-body; and I am sure his wife disliked it much. But they saw it was my desire, they seemed to regard me as the builder-up of their fortunes, and they yielded without a murmur. Bête that I was! Yet I was not selfish, Monsieur. Building up in dreams my fortune Babel-high, I built up also ever the fortune of John Meavy and his peerless wife to a point just as near the clouds. Eh, bien ! it amounted to nothing in the end, all this; but —I was not selfish!
“ Our business was nominally the old one; but, in fact, in accordance with the new arrangements John and I had agreed upon, I was to begin cotton speculation, and John was to keep me informed regarding the fluctuations of the Liverpool market in that staple. My first efforts, though successful of necessity, were small.
I wished John to gain confidence in mv mode of conducting the business, before I ventured upon more extensive operations.
“Meantime, John’s letters put me in continual fine spirits. He kept his telegraphic apparatus at home, and so was much with Cornelia. He and his wife, he said, were very happy; people could not love one another more than they did. He blessed me a thousand times, because my invention had taken him to New York, and so had enabled him to meet Cornelia. But—ah, these ‘ buts,’ Monsieur ! — if you will search long enough the brightest, the clearest blue sky, you will always find some little speck, some faint film of cloud, — ’t is your ‘but,’ Monsieur! — John fancied his wife was not altogether so happy as it was possible for her to be. She did not like the cold, colorless Liverpool, nor the foggv people there. She pined a little, perhaps, for old home-associations, wrote John. Could I not think of some means to increase her content? I knew the human heart so well; I was such a genius, moreover. Ah, bah! Monsieur, ’t is the old song: I felt myself capable of sweeping the little cloud from the sky also, as I had done everything else, — I, this sublime genius ! Monsieur, a moment look upon him, this genius, this triple blind fool! Eh, bien! I considered: — Cornelia, like all tender, susceptible people, owes much to little things. She will not have to remain there long; meantime, can I not revive in her mind the associations to which she is used, and so both make her happy and bless my good comrade, John Meavy? How, then ? Once, during John’s wedding-trip, we had stopped one evening in a little country-town, and while we were there, talking pleasantly by the open window, a mockingbird, caged before a house across the way, had struck up a perfect symphony of his rich and multitudinous song. Cornelia was delighted beyond measure, and seemed to yearn for the bird. John tried to buy it; but it was a pet; its owners were well-to-do, and would not sell: so Cornelia had to go away without it, and I fancied she was greatly chagrined, though, of course, she said nothing, and seemed soon to forget it. So now the notion came to me:—I will send Cornelia a mocking-bird. Its music will charm her,— its notes will recall a thousand sounds of home, — it will give her occupation, something to think about and to care for, until more important cares intervene,—and so it will help to banish this triste mood of ennui. Eh, bien ! I soon had a very fine bird. Ah, Monsieur, I cannot tell you what a fine bird was that fellow,— Don Juan his name, — such an arch-rascal! such a merry eye he had! such a proud, Pompadour throat! such volumes of song ! such splendid powers of mimicry ! I kept him with me a week to test his gifts, and I began to envy Cornelia her treasure,—he was so tame, so bold, so intelligent. In that week, by whistling to him in my leisure hours, I taught him to perform almost perfectly that lively aria of Meyerbeer’s, ‘ Folic è quei che l’ oro aduna,’ and also to mimic beautifully the chirping of a cricket. Well, I sent Don Juan out, and received due information of his safe arrival. The medicine acted like a charm. Cornelia wrote me a grateful letter, full of enthusiastic praises of ‘her pet, her darling, the dearest, sweetest, cutest little bird that ever anybody’ owned.’ And I was more than rewarded by the heartfelt thanks of my noble John Meavy. Diantre ! had I only wrung the thing’s neck!
“ Eh, bien ! The period upon which I calculated for my grand speculative coup had nearly arrived. Owing to a variety of circumstances, the cotton-market had for some months been in a very perturbed condition; and I, who had closely scrutinized its aspects, felt sure that before long there would be some decided movement that would make itself felt to all the financial centres. This movement I resolved to profit by, in order to achieve riches at a single stroke. I had recommended John to increase his observations, and keep me carefully preadvised of every change. But I did not tell him how extensively I meant to operate, for I knew ’t would make him anxious, and, moreover, I wished to dazzle him with a sudden magnificent achievement. Well, things slowly drew towards the point I desired. There was a certain war in embryo, I thought, the inevitable result of which would be to beat down the price of cotton to a minimum. Would the war come off? A steamer arrived with such news as made it certain that another fortnight would settle the question. How anxiously, how tremulously I watched my telegraph then, —noting down all the fluctuations so faithfully reported to me by John Meavy, — all my brain on fire with visions of unwonted, magnificent achievement! For two days the prices wavered and rippled to and fro, like the uncertain rippling of the waters at turning of the tide. Then, on the morning of the third day, the long-expected change was announced, and in a way that startled me, prepared though I was, — so violent was the decline. Down, down, down, down to the very lowest! reported my faithful snails. I did not need to consult the sympathetic paper, for the agonized writhmgs of the poor animals spoke plainly enough to the naked eye. I seized my hat, rushed to my office, and began my grand coup. Eh, bien ! I shall not go into details. Suffice it to say, for three days I was in communication with cotton men all over the country ; and, without becoming known abroad as the party at work, I sold ‘on time’ such a quantity of ‘the staple’ that my operations had the effect to put down the prices every where; and if John Meavy’s report were correct, our profits during those three days would exceed three millions of dollars ! Having now done all I could, and feeling completely worn out, I went home, for the first time since the news, flung myself upon a bed, and slept an unbroken sleep during twenty-four hours. After that, refreshed and gay, I went once more to the operating-room to see what further reports had arrived since I had received the decisive intelligence. Decisive, indeed! Monsieur, when I looked through the glass lids into the boxes, there, lay my snails, stiff and dead ! Not only my faithful ones, a, b, c, but likewise the plus ones, d, e, f! Yes, there they lay, plus and minus, each in his compartment, convulsed and distorted, as if their last agonies had been terrible to endure ! Stiff and dead! Mon Dieu, Monsieur! and I had pledged the name and credit of the house of John Meavy and Co. to an extent from which there could be no recovery, if aught untoward had happened! Eh, bien, Monsieur! César Prévost is fortunate in a very elastic temperament. Yet I did not dare think of John Meavy. However, if the thing was done, it was too late for remedy now. Eh, bien ! 1 would wait. Meantime, I carefully examined to see if any cause was discoverable to have produced these deaths. None. ’T was irresistible, then, that the cause was at John’s end. What? An accident,— perhaps, nervous, he had dosed them too heavily; but — I dared not think about it, — I would only — wait!
“ Eh, bien, Monsieur ! It would be seven days yet before I could get news. I waited, — waited calmly and composedly. Mon Dieu ! they talk of heroism in leading a forlorn hope, — César Prévost was a hero for those eight days. I do not think about them even now.
“ On the third day came a steamer with news of uncertain import, but on the whole favorable. By the same advice a letter reached me from my old comrade, John Meavy : his affairs were prosperous, he and his wife very happy, and Don Juan more, charming than ever.
“Monsieur, the fourth day came,—the fifth,—the sixth,—the seventh,—finding me still waiting. No one, to see me, could have guessed I had not slept for a week. Eh, bien! I will not dwell upon it!
“ The morning of the eighth day came. I breakfasted, read my paper, smoked my cigar, and walked leisurely to my counting room. I answered the letters. 1 sauntered round to bank, paid a note that hail fallen due, got a check cashed, and, having counted the money and secured it in my pocket-book, I walked out and stood upon the bank-steps, talking with a business-friend, who inquired after John Meavy. ’T was a pleasant theme to converse about, this, — for me !
“ A news-boy came running down Wall Street, with papers under his arm. ‘ Here you are!’ he cried. ‘ Ex tray ! Steamer just in ! Latest news from Europe! All ‘bout the new alliance 1 Consols firm,— cotton riz ! Extray, Sir ? ’
“ I bought one, and the boy ran off as I paid him and snatched the paper from his hand.
“ ‘ You gave that rascal a gold dollar for a half-dime,’ said my friend.
“ ‘ Did I ? ‘
“ A gold dollar ! I wondered very quaintly what he would say, when, in a few days, he heard of the failure of John Heavy & Co. for three millions of dollars. A gold dollar!
“ Eh, bien, Monsieur ! I shall not dwell upon it. Enough, —we were ruined. I had played my grand coup, and lost. For myself, nothing. But — John Meavy ! Oh, Monsieur, I could not think ! I went to my office, and sat there all day, stupid, only twirling my watch-key, and repeating to myself, — ‘A gold dollar! a gold dollar ! ’ The afternoon had nearly gone when one of my clerks roused me: — ‘ A letter for you, Mr. Prévost; it came by the steamer to-day.’
“Monsieur,” said the little Frenchman, producing a well-worn pocket-book, and taking out from it a tattered, yellow sheet, which he unfolded before me, — “Monsieur, you shall read that letter.”
It was this : —
“MY DEAR CESAR:—
“ You must blame me and poor Don Juan for the suspension of your Telegraph. I write, myself, to tell you how careless I have been; for poor John is in such a state of agitation, and seems to fear such calamities, that I will not let him write; — though what evil can come of it, beyond the inconvenience, I cannot see, nor will he tell me. You must answer this immediately, so as to prove to John that nothing has gone wrong ; and so give me a chance to scold this good husband of mine for his vain and womanish apprehensions. But let me tell you how it happened to the poor snails.— Don Juan is so tame, that I do not pretend to keep him shut up in his cage, but let him fly about our sitting-room, just as be pleases. Tbe next room to this, you know, is the one where we kept the snails. I have been helping John with these for some time, and it is my custom, when he goes on ‘Change, to look after the ugly creatures, and especially to open the boxes and give them air. Well, this morning,—you must not scold me, César, for I have wept enough for my carelessness, and as I write am trembling all over like a leaf, — this morning, I went into the snail-room as usual, opened the boxes, noted how well all six looked, and then, going to the window, stood there for some minutes, looking out at the people across the way preparing for the illumination to-night, (for we are going to have peace at last, and every one is so rejoiced!) and forgetting entirely that I had left open both the door of this room and that of the sitting-room also, until I heard the flutter of Don Juans wings behind me. I turned, and was horror-stricken to find him perched on the boxes, and pecking away at the poor snails, as if they were strawberries! I screamed, and ran to drive him off, but I was too late, — for, just as I caught him, the greedy fellow picked up and swallowed the last one of the entire six! I felt almost like killing him, then ; but I could not, — nor could you have done it, César, had you but seen the arch defiance of his eye, as he fluttered out of my hands, flew back to his cage, and began to pour forth a whole world of melody !
“ My dear César, I know my carelessness was most culpable, but it cannot be so bad as John fears. Oh, if anything should happen now, by my fault, when we are so prosperous and happy, I could never forgive myself ! Do write to me as soon as possible, and relieve the anxiety of
“ Affectionately yours,
The little Frenchman looked at me with a glance half sad, half comical, as I returned the letter to him.
“ Eh, bien, Monsieur! ” said he, shrugging his shoulders, — “ you ’ve heard my story. ’T was fate, — what could one do ? ”
“ But that is not all, — John Meavy,” — said I.
The little Frenchman looked very grave and sad.
“ Monsieur, my brave camarade, John Meavy, had been brought up in a stern school. His ideas of credit and of mercantile honor were pitched very high indeed. He imagined himself disgraced forever, and — he did not survive it.”
“ You do not mean ”—
“ I mean, Monsieur, that I lost the bravest and truest and most generous friend that ever man had, when John Meavy died. And that dose of Prussic Acid should properly have gone to me, whose fault it all was, instead of to him, so innocent. Eh, lien, Monsieur ! his lot was the happiest, after all.”
“ But Cornelia?” said I, after a pause.
The little Frenchman rose, with a quiet and graceful air, full of sadness, yet of courtesy; and I knew then that he was no longer my guest and entertainer, but once more the chapman with his, wares.
“Monsieur, Cornelia is under my protection. You will comprehend that— after that—she has not escaped with impunity. Some little strings snapped in the harp. She is touchée, here,” said he, resting one finger lightly upon his forehead, — “ but ’tis all for the best, sans doute. She is quiet, peaceable,— and she does not remember. She sits in my house, working, and the bird sings to her ever. ’Tis a gallant bird, Monsieur. And though I am poor, I can yet make some provision for her comfort. She has good taste, and is very industrious. These baskets are all of her make; when I have no other employ, I sell them about, and use the money for her. Eh, bien ! tis a small price,— fifty cents; if Monsieur will purchase one, he will possess a basket really handsome, and will have contributed something to the comfort of one of the Good God’s protégées. Mille re~ merciements, Monsieur, — for this purchase,—for your entertainment, — for your courtesy!
“ Bon jour, Monsieur ! ”
About half an hour after this, I had occasion to traverse one of the corridors of Barnurm’s Hotel, when I saw a group of gentlemen, most of whom sported "Atlantic Cable Charms ” on their watchchains, gathered about a person who had secured their rapt attention to some story he was narrating.
“ Eh, bien, Messieurs! ” I heard him say, in a peculiar naive broken English,
“ it would be yet seven days before I could get ze news,— and — ‘wait. Oui! calmlie, composedlie?, with insouciance beyond guess, I wait ”—
“I wonder,” said I to myself, as I passed on, “ I wonder if M. Cesar Prévost’s account of his remarkable invention of the First Atlantic Telegraph have not some subtile connection with his desire to find as speedy and remunerative a sale as possible for his pretty baskets!”