The Ascent of Man 08: The Drive for Power

Uploaded by Nerisvyre on 16.05.2012

~ Bass drummer beats intro
(Band plays hymn)
Revolutions are not made by fate, but by men.
Sometimes they are solitary men of genius.
But the great revolutions in the 18th century
were made by many lesser men banded together.
What drove them was the conviction that every man is master of his own salvation.
We take it for granted now that science has a social responsibility.
That idea would not have occurred to Newton or to Galileo.
They thought of science as an account of the world as it is,
and the only responsibility that they acknowledge was to tell the truth.
The idea that science is a social enterprise is modern.
It begins at the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution is a long train of changes, starting about 1760.
It is not alone.
It forms one of a triad of revolutions,
of which the other two are the American Revolution, that started in 1775,
and the French Revolution that started in 1789.
It may seem strange to put into the same packet an industrial revolution
and two political revolutions,
but the fact is that they were all social revolutions.
The Industrial Revolution is simply the English way of making those social changes.
I think of it as the English Revolution.
What makes it especially English?
Obviously, it began in England.
England was already the leading manufacturing nation.
But the manufacture was cottage industry
and the Industrial Revolution begins in the villages.
The men who make it are craftsmen:
The millwright, the watchmaker, the canal builder, the blacksmith.
What makes the Industrial Revolution so peculiarly English
is that it's rooted in the countryside.
We dream that the country was idyllic in the 18th century,
a lost paradise, like Oliver Goldsmith's Deserted Village.
That's a fable.
The country was a place where men worked from dawn to dusk
and the labourer lived not in the sun, but in poverty and darkness.
What aids there were to lighten labour were immemorial,
like the mill, which was already ancient in Chaucer's time.
The Industrial Revolution began with such machines.
The millwrights were the engineers of the coming age.
James Brindley of Staffordshire started his self-made career in 1733
by working at millwheels.
Brindley's improvements were practical
to sharpen and step up the performance of the water wheel as a machine.
It was the first multi-purpose machine for the new industries.
Brindley worked, for example, to improve the grinding of flints,
which were used in the rising pottery industry.
Yet there was a bigger movement in the air by 1750.
Water had become the engineers' element,
and men like Brindley were possessed by it.
Water was gushing and fanning out over the countryside.
It was not simply a source of power, it was a new wave of movement.
James Brindley was a pioneer in the art of building canals,
or, as it was then called, "navigation".
It was because Brindley could not spell the word "navigator"
that workmen who dig trenches or canals are still called "navvies".
Two things are outstanding in the creation of the English system of canals,
and they characterise all the Industrial Revolution.
One is that the men who made the revolution were practical men.
Like Brindley, they often had little education,
and, in fact, school education as it was then could only dull an inventive mind.
The other outstanding feature is that the new inventions were for everyday use.
The canals were arteries of communication.
They were not made to carry pleasure boats, but barges.
And the barges were not made to carry luxuries, but pots and pans
and bales of cloth, boxes of ribbon,
and all the common things that people buy by the pennyworth.
Technology in England was for use up and down the country far from the capital,
and that's exactly what technology was not in the dark confines of the courts of Europe.
For example, the French and the Swiss were quite as clever as the English,
and much more ingenious in making scientific playthings.
(Birds twitter)
But they lavished that clockwork brilliance on making toys for rich or royal patrons.
(Miniature organ music)
The French were the inventors of automation,
that is, making each step in a sequence of movements control the next.
(Machinery whirrs)
(Music resumes)
Fine skill of this kind could advance a man in France.
A watchmaker, Pierre Caron, who pleased the Queen became Count Beaumarchais.
He later wrote the play on which Mozart based his opera -
The Marriage Of Figaro.
~ Se Vuol Ballare from The Marriage Of Figaro
At first sight, The Marriage Of Figaro looks like a French puppet play,
humming with secret machinations.
But the fact is that it's an early storm signal of the revolution.
~ Aria continues
Beaumarchais, in fact, was involved in a secret arms deal with the American revolutionaries.
The message he put into the character of Figaro the servant is revolutionary.
The famous aria is a challenge:
Count, little Count
You may go dancing, but I'll play the tune
~ Se Vuol Ballare
That was what was going on under the courtly pattern of French society.
As formal as the garden of the Chateau at Villandry.
It seems inconceivable that the garden scene in The Marriage Of Figaro,
the aria that you've heard, should in their time have been thought revolutionary.
But consider when they were written.
Beaumarchais finished the play of The Marriage Of Figaro about 1780.
It took him fours years of struggle against a host of censors,
above all Louis XVI himself, to get a performance.
When it was performed, it was a scandal over Europe.
Mozart was able to show it in Vienna by turning it into an opera.
Mozart was 30 then. That was in 1786.
And three years later, in 1789, the French Revolution.
Was Louis XVI toppled from his throne and beheaded because of The Marriage Of Figaro?
Of course not.
Satire is not a social dynamite, but it is a social indicator.
It shows that new men are knocking at the door.
What made Napoleon call the last act of the play "The Revolution In Action"?
It was Beaumarchais himself in the person of Figaro pointing to the Count and saying,
"Because you are a great nobleman, you think you are a great genius.
You have taken trouble with nothing except to be born."
Beaumarchais represented a different aristocracy of working talent:
The watchmakers in his age, the masons in the past, the printers.
What excited Mozart about the play?
The revolutionary ardour, which to him was represented
by the movement of freemasons.
Or think of the greatest freemason of them all in that age - the printer Benjamin Franklin.
He was American emissary here in France at the court of Louis XVI in 1784
when The Marriage Of Figaro was first performed.
And he, more than anyone else, represents
those forward-looking, forceful, confident, thrusting, marching men,
who made the new age.
For one thing, Benjamin Franklin had such marvellous luck.
When he went to present his credentials to the French court,
it turned out at the last moment that the wig and the formal clothes were too small for him.
So he boldly went in his own hair
and was instantly hailed as the child of nature from the backwoods.
All his actions have the stamp of a man who knows his mind
and knows the words to speak it.
He published an almanac, which is full of the raw material for future proverbs.
"Hunger never saw bad bread."
"If you want to know the value of money, try to borrow some."
And to those who doubted the use of new inventions:
"What is the use of a newborn baby?"
He was alive to how things were said.
He made the first pair of bifocal spectacles for himself by sawing his lenses in half,
because he could not follow French at court unless he could watch the speaker's expression.
~ MOZART: Symphony No.36 "The Linz"
Men like Franklin had a passion for rational knowledge.
Looking at the mountain of neat achievements scattered through his life,
the pamphlets, the cartoons, the printers' stamps,
we are struck by the spread and richness of his inventive mind.
The scientific entertainment of the day was electricity.
Franklin loved fun. He was a rather improper man, but he took it seriously.
He recognised electricity as a force in nature.
He proposed that lightning is electric
and in 1752 he proved it.
How would a man like Franklin prove it?
By hanging a key from a kite in a thunderstorm.
Being Franklin, his luck held. The experiment did not kill him.
Only those who copied it.
Of course, he turned the experiment into a practical invention - the lightning conductor.
And made it illuminate the theory of electricity too.
Franklin and his friends lived science.
It was constantly in their thoughts
and just as constantly in their hands.
The understanding of nature to them was an intensely practical pleasure.
These were men in society.
Franklin was a political man,
whether he printed paper money or his endless, racy pamphlets.
His politics were as downright as his experiments.
Franklin changed the florid opening of The Declaration Of Independence
to read with simple confidence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
When war between England and the American revolutionaries broke out,
he wrote openly to an English politician who had been his friend,
"You have begun to burn our towns. Look upon your hands.
They are stained with the blood of your relations."
~ BEETHOVEN: Symphony No.3 "Eroica"
The red glow has become the picture of the new age in England.
In the sermons of John Wesley and in the furnace sky of the Industrial Revolution.
This is Abbeydale in Yorkshire,
an early centre for new processes in making iron and steel.
The masters of industry were the ironmasters,
powerful, more than life-size, demonic figures,
whom governments suspected, rightly, of really believing that all men are created equal.
The working men in the north and the west were no longer farm labourers.
They were now an industrial community.
They had to be paid in coin, not in kind.
Governments in London were remote from all this.
They failed to mint enough small change,
so ironmasters like John Wilkinson minted their own wage tokens
with their own unroyal faces on them.
Alarm in London.
Was this a Republican plot?
No, it was not a plot,
but it's true that radical inventions came out of radical brains.
The first model of an iron bridge to be exhibited in London was proposed by Tom Paine,
a firebrand in America and in England, protagonist of The Rights Of Man.
Meanwhile, cast iron was already being used in revolutionary ways
by the ironmasters like John Wilkinson.
He built the first iron boat in 1787,
and boasted that it would carry his coffin when he died.
And he was buried in an iron coffin in 1805.
Of course, the boat sailed under an iron bridge.
Wilkinson had helped to build that in 1779
at a nearby Shropshire town that is still called Ironbridge.
~ BEETHOVEN: Symphony No.3 "Eroica"
Did the architecture of iron really rival the cathedrals?
It did.
This was a heroic age.
Thomas Telford felt that, spanning the landscape with iron.
This is his aqueduct which carries the Llangollen canal across the River Dee.
The monuments of the Industrial Revolution have a Roman grandeur,
the grandeur of Republican men.
The men who made the Industrial Revolution are usually pictured as hard-faced businessmen
with no other motive than self-interest.
That's certainly wrong.
For one thing, many of them were inventors who had come into the business that way.
And for another, nearly all of them were not members of the Church of England,
but belonged to a Puritan tradition in the Unitarian and similar movements.
John Wilkinson was much under the influence of his brother-in -law Joseph Priestley,
who later became famous as a chemist, but who was a Unitarian minister,
who was probably the originator of the phrase "the greatest happiness of the greatest number".
Priestley in turn was scientific advisor to Josiah Wedgwood.
Now, Wedgwood we usually think of as a man who made marvellous tableware
for aristocracy and royalty.
And so he did on rare occasions when he got the commission.
For example, in 1774 he made a service of nearly 1,000 pieces
for Catherine the Great of Russia, highly decorated, which cost well over £2,000.
A great deal of money in the coin of that day.
But the base of that tableware was his own pottery - creamware.
And, in fact, all the 1,000 pieces undecorated cost less than £50,
and looked like that.
That's what the man in the street could buy at about a shilling a time.
That's what transformed the kitchens of the working classes in the Industrial Revolution.
Wedgwood was an extraordinary man. Inventive, of course.
He invented a way of measuring the high temperatures in the kiln
by means of a sort of sliding scale of expansion, for which he went into the Royal Society.
Josiah Wedgwood was no exception.
There were dozens of men like him.
Indeed, he belonged to a group of about a dozen men - The Lunar Society Of Birmingham.
They were called The Lunar Society because they met near the full moon,
exactly in order that people like Wedgwood,
who came from a distance to Birmingham, should be able to arrive.
But he was not the most important industrialist there.
That was Matthew Boulton, who brought James Watt to Birmingham
because there they could build the steam engine.
Medicine was important in that group.
So, one of the doctors who has remained famous, who belonged to The Lunar Society,
was Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin.
The other grandfather - Josiah Wedgwood.
Societies like The Lunar Society represent the sense of the makers of that revolution,
that very English sense that they had a social responsibility.
I call it an English sense, though, in fact, that's not quite fair.
The Lunar Society was much influenced
by Benjamin Franklin and by other Americans associated with it.
What ran through it was a simple faith.
The good life is more than material decency.
But the good life must be based on material decency.
It took 100 years before the ideal of The Lunar Society became reality
in Victorian England.
(Band plays Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus)
When it did come, the reality seemed commonplace, even comic,
like a Victorian picture postcard.
It's comic to think
that cotton underwear and soap could work a transformation in the lives of the poor.
Yet, these simple things,
coal in an iron range, glass in the windows, a choice of food,
were a wonderful rise in the standard of life and health.
By our standards, the industrial towns were slums,
but to the people who had come from the cottage,
a house in a terrace was a liberation from hunger, from dirt and from disease.
It offered a new wealth of choice.
The bedroom with a text on the wall seems funny and pathetic to us,
but for the working-class wife, it was the first experience of private decency.
Probably the iron bedstead saved more women from childbed fever than the doctor's black bag.
These benefits came from mass production in factories,
and the factory system was ghastly.
The school books are right about that.
But it was ghastly in the old, traditional way.
Mines and workshops had been dank, crowded and tyrannical
long before the Industrial Revolution.
The factories simply carried on, as village industry had always done,
with a heartless contempt for those who worked.
Pollution from the factories was not new either.
Again, it was the tradition of the mine and the workshop
which had always fouled their environment.
We think of pollution as a modern blight, but it's not.
It's another expression of the squalid indifference to health and decency
that for centuries had made the plague a yearly visitation.
The new evil that made the factory ghastly was different.
It was the domination of men by the pace of the machines.
The workers for the first time were driven by an inhuman clockwork.
The power, first of water, and then of steam.
It seems insane to us.
It was insane
that manufacturers should be intoxicated by the gush of power
that spurted from the factory boiler without a stop.
Even the Sunday schools warned children
that "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do."
The change in the scale of time in the factories was ghastly and destructive.
But the change in the scale of power opened the future.
Matthew Boulton of The Lunar Society, for example, built a factory which was a show place
because Boulton 's kind of metalwork depended on the skill of craftsmen.
Here, James Watt came to build the spectacular symbol,
the sun -god of all power - the steam engine.
In 1776, Matthew Boulton in Birmingham was very excited
about his new partnership with James Watt to build the steam engine.
When Boswell came to see him that year, he said to him grandly,
"We sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have - power."
It's a lovely phrase, but it's also true.
Power is a new preoccupation, in a sense, a new idea in science.
The Industrial Revolution,
the English Revolution turned out to be the great discoverer of power.
Sources of energy were sought in nature.
Wind, sun, water, steam, coal.
The question suddenly came up, why are they all one?
What relation exists between them?
That had never been asked before.
Until then, science had been entirely concerned with exploring nature as she is.
But now the modern conception of transforming nature had come up.
Sadi Carnot, a French engineer, looking at steam engines like this, old engines,
founded, in essence, the science of thermal dynamics, the dynamics of heat.
Energy had become the central concept in science,
and its main concern was the unity of nature, of which energy is the core.
And not only in science.
You see, the surprise is that while this is going on, what is going on in literature?
The up-rush of Romantic poetry round about the year 1800.
How could the Romantic poets be interested in industry?
Very simply.
The new concept of nature as the carrier of energy took them by storm.
They loved the word "storm".
A young, German philosopher, Friedrich von Schelling, exactly in 1799,
started a new form of philosophy,
which has remained powerful in Germany -
Naturphilosophie, philosophy of nature.
From him, Coleridge brought it to England.
The late poets had it, and the young Wedgwoods, who were friends of Coleridge's,
and, indeed, supported him.
All poets and painters were suddenly captured by the idea that nature is the fountain of power,
all whose different forms are expressions of the same central force, namely energy.
And not only nature.
Romantic poetry says in the plainest way
that Man himself is the carrier of a divine, at least a natural, energy.
The Industrial Revolution created freedom in practice
for men who wanted to fulfil what they had in them,
a concept inconceivable 100 years earlier.
But hand in hand, Romantic thought inspired those men
to make of their freedom a new sense of personality in nature.
It was said best of all by the greatest of the Romantic poets William Blake.
Very simply: "Energy is eternal delight."
~ Fairground music
The key word is "delight", the key concept is liberation,
the sense of fun as human rights.
Naturally, the marching men of the age expressed the impulse in invention,
so they produced a bottomless horn of plenty of eccentric ideas
to delight the Saturday evenings of the working family.
(Bell rings)
~ Accordion music
To this day, most of the applications that lumber the patent offices are slightly mad,
like the inventors themselves.
We could build an avenue from here to the moon lined with these lunacies,
and it would be just about as pointless and as high-spirited as getting to the moon.
~ Can -can music
Consider, for example, the idea of the zoetrope,
which is quite as exciting as an evening at the cinema
and comes to the point rather quicker.
Or the automatic orchestra, which has the advantage of a very small repertoire.
~ Can -can music
All of it is packed with home-spun vigour, which has not heard of good taste.
It's absolutely self-made.
For every pointless invention for the household, like the mechanical vegetable chopper,
it comes up with one superb one, like the telephone.
At the end of the avenue of pleasure,
we should certainly put the machine that is the essence of machine-ness.
It does nothing at all.
~ Mechanical music
The men who made the wild inventions and the grand ones came from the same mould.
Think of the invention that rounded out the Industrial Revolution as the canals had begun it:
The railways.
They were made possible by Richard Trevithick,
who was a Cornish smith, and a wrestler and a strongman.
He turned the steam engine into a mobile power pack,
by changing Watt's beam engine into a high-pressure engine.
It was a life-giving act, which opened a bloodstream of communication for the world,
and made England the heart of it.
We're still in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. We'd better be.
We have many things to put right in it,
but it has made our world richer, smaller and, for the first time...
I mean that, literally - our world, everybody's world.
From its earliest beginnings, when it was still dependent on water power,
the Industrial Revolution was terribly cruel
to those whose lives and livelihoods it overturned.
Revolutions are.
Yet it became in time a social revolution.
It established that social equality, the equality of rights,
above all intellectual equality, on which we depend.
Where would a man like me be, where would you be, if we had been born before 1800?
We still live in the middle of the Industrial Revolution
and find it hard to see its implications, but the future will say of it
that in the ascent of man it is a step, a stride, as powerful as the Renaissance.
The Renaissance established the dignity of man.
The Industrial Revolution established the unity of nature.
That was done by scientists and Romantic poets,
who saw that the wind and the sea and the stream,
and the steam and the coal are all created by the heat of the sun,
and that heat itself is a form of energy.
A good many men thought of that, but it was established above all by one man -
James Prescott Joule of Manchester.
I must tell you a funny story about him.
In the summer of 1847, the young William Thompson,
later to be the great Lord Kelvin, the panjandrum of British science, was walking.
Where does a British gentlemen walk in the Alps?
From Chamonix to Mont Blanc.
And there he met...
Whom does a British gentlemen meet in the Alps?
A British eccentric.
James Joule carrying an enormous thermometer
and accompanied at a little distance by his wife in a carriage.
All his life he had wanted to demonstrate that water,
when it falls through 778 feet,
rises one degree Fahrenheit in temperature.
And the waterfall here is the ideal.
It's not all of 778 feet, but he would get half a degree Fahrenheit.
He didn 't, of course, actually succeed.
As you see, the waterfall is too broken by spray for the experiment to work.
The story of the British gentlemen at their scientific eccentricities is not irrelevant.
It was such men who made nature Romantic.
The Romantic movement in poetry came step by step with them.
We see it in poets like Goethe, who was also a scientist,
in men like Beethoven.
We see it first of all in Wordsworth.
The sight of nature as a new quickening of the spirit
because the unity in it was immediate to the heart and mind.
Wordsworth had come through here in 1790,
when he had been drawn to the continent by the French Revolution.
In 1798, he said in Tintern Abbey what could not be said better.
"Nature then to me was all in awe
I cannot paint what then I was
The sounding cataract haunted me like a passion."
"Nature then to me was all in awe."
Joule never said it as well as that.
But he did say, "The grand agents of nature are indestructible."
And he meant the same thing.
~ BEETHOVEN: Overture to Egmont