glyph#350: technology, science ... gifts and curses ... potential for destruction of civilization by tools of its own contrivance ... 19th century ... Charles Lamb ... matches, Lucifers ... arson, terrorism ... book, Paul Johnson, history, historian


The Match (Lucifer) — Gift of the March of Science

a question posed by Charles Lamb in 1830 is recalled by Paul Johnson in 1991

Charles Lamb, in a letter to George Dyer, 20 December 1830, after noting the use of a match (a Lucifer), newly invented, in an act of arson, concludes:

Can we ring the bells backwards? Can we unlearn the arts that pretend to civilize, and then burn the world? There is a March of Science. But who shall beat the drums for its retreat?

With this quotation Paul Johnson ends his magnificent work, The Birth of the Modern, appending only the following words:

Answer came there none, nor ever can.

The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830, by Paul Johnson, HarperCollins Publishers, 1991
September 4, 2006