Seeing Things in a Whole New Light
January 1, 2014 § Leave a comment
The first day of the new year is always one for looking ahead, towards the future, hoping for the best and even better.
May we all be as optimistic about the future as the author of this piece. And Happy New Year from the ‘buss.
A House of the Future
Ingenious Contrivances for Effecting Useful Ends
London World, May 1885
Lauriston is one of the houses of the future. The house of the next generation will have its electricity laid on, just as the home of the present has its water supply; and the coming chatelaine will prattle of her ”volts” and “amperes.” Like magic lurking in the wire, electricity will be everywhere ready at a touch to light a lamp or drive a coffee mill, to boil an egg or seal a letter. Obnoxious gas will disappear, and come to be regarded as a subtle poison. This, at least, is the creed of the electricians, and the beautiful house of Mr. Swan is a striking testimony to their faith.
Since Lauriston has been occupied by Mr. Swan, it has been fitted up, regardless of expense, with all the recent electrical improvements, and furnished with consummate taste in the modern style. A pearly opal globe over the gateway is the first sign we get of electricity as we enter the grounds; another pearly globe is suspended over the hall door. Here we are met by a tall, handsome north of England man, of more than middle age, with a Jupiter cast of head, waving with long gray locks, and a pair of penetrating eyes gleaming from beneath two bushy eyebrows. Mr. Joseph Wilson Swan, the pioneer of electric lighting, reminds one of the old Olympian gods, and he is well worthy, from his appearance, to wield the civilized thunderbolt.
Mr. Swan, like all other scientific men, is not a great talker, and while he moves about his elegant mansion like another Prospero, touching here and there a tiny knob and calling his beautiful lights into existence at his will, he seldom speaks The light itself is more elegant than words.
A sumptuous drawing-room of great beauty is hung with graceful foliated chandeliers of hammered brass, the ends circling up in sprays, each of which is tipped with a flower-like lamp, the lighted bulb appearing like a golden stamen out of pale blue petals. When fully lighted, each of these chandeliers is a most beautiful object to look at, indeed, the most attractive in a charming room. The bulb being of ground glass, the heated filament is
Quite Lost in a Soft Glow
of rich and suffused light. There is nothing to dazzle the eye and pain the nerve; all is soft and soothing. Besides the chandeliers there are wall-brackets holding lamps in front of crystal panels, or sconces, placed against the wall. Any or all these lamps can be lit at pleasure, in passing from one part of the room to another, and the veranda without can be lighted on summer evenings at a moment’s notice without the use of match or servant. One beauty of the electric light is that it lends itself to artistic treatment in a way which no other illuminant comes near.
Whither a wire can be led, there the light may be produced; and the fact that it is completely isolated from the outer air renders it as easy to manipulate or plant as a piece of glass. The brightest colors and the most delicate gilding are untarnished by it, and have their beauty illustrated to its radiance. Moreover, as the light itself is a beautiful thing, its very presence is an ornament.
In Mr. Swan’s dining room the chandelier lamps are enclosed in globes of the new crinkled glass, which look like melting blocks of ice illuminated from within by fairy lamps. The effect is very pretty and refreshing, the light being light and pure. Two standard lamps on the spacious table are connected in the circuit of the electric current through the table and coverlet by means of bare bodkins of brass, which come into contact with wires running up from the floor. In the middle of the table, between the standards, is a large Japanese calabash stuffed with fresh-blown roses, among which electric lights are cunningly hid. At a touch of the finger on some invisible key, these lamps are filled with yellow lustre and seem to blossom like the flowers themselves. Another touch and the golden fruit of an artificial lemon tree standing on a sideboard is filled with light in every pore from lamps concealed within the hollow rind. A third pressure of the finger, and a small contrivance hanging from the wall by a silken cord is soon to glow red hot. This is an electric cigar-lighter, which is intended for post-prandial services.
No matches or candles are evidently required in Mr. Swan’s house; and yet there seems to be as little waste of electric current as possible. Thus a person can light his way up stairs or about the house late at night by switches or press-buttons in the wall, which light up a lamp in advance of him and extinguish those behind. In this respect he
May be Said to Travel with His Light,
or at least call it into existence as he needs it. In the same way one can light his bedroom up before entering it and darken it on leaving, by simply pressing a key at the door. Or, again, one can switch the light from his toilet-table to his desk or sofa; and in one of the bed-rooms, reserved for invalids, there is a lamp just over the pillow, which the patient may employ to read at night, and extinguish by the feeblest effort. Every part of Mr. Swan’s house is lighted by electricity, from the nursery above, where the lamps are hung from the ceiling out of the children’s reach, to the coal-cellars below the library, of course, the light is acquisition, as it Is excellent for literary work, both on account of its purity and coolness.
In the kitchen there is a little dynamo-electric motor, which, when traversed by the current shunted by a lamp or two, will drive a sewing-machine or a coffee-mill with ease. In the warm days of summer it may be used to work a fan or punkah. Moreover, the same current can be made to ring electric service bolls, or fire and burglar alarms, thus helping to guard the house; and it would also be easy to utilize it in the telephone in speaking to a distance. There are some seventy lights on the premises, including those along the garden paths and over the gate ways to speed the parting guests at night. All of those are, however, not required each night and some are only lit when there is company.
The current is supplied by two small dynamos driven by a gas engine, and an accumulator is employed as a supplementary store of current for use by day or when an extra number of lights are used. “You see,” says our host, as he shows us round the small engine-room behind the house, where those appliances for generating the current are installed— “you see it is a simple matter to start the engine. I have only to touch this key, and the dynamos begin to work by sending a little of the current in the accumulators through them. Sir William Thomson showed me that wrinkle.”