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Looking Backward -- England 100 Years Hence

Culture & Entertainment

An 1891 View of the 1990s

The following article from the Montgomery Express and Radnor Times of 31 March 1891 shows an 1891 version of what life might be like in the late 20th century.

"LOOKING BACKWARD

ENGLAND 100 YEARS HENCE

The following which gained the prize at the Effel Fach eisteddfod for the best letter supposed to be written in the year 1991, is published by request.

26th Dec 1991.

My Dear Morgan,

I have just finished perusal of a bundle of old newspapers of the year 1890, and some books of the same period, which I unexpectedly came across in the other afternoon. I have read them with considerable interest and noted with surprise the number and variety of the conveniences that are now provided for us, which were a century ago unknown, and which existed only in the imagination of scientists who, perhaps had little faith in the realisation of their own ideas.

Of the inventions since 1890 volumes could be written. The science which has perhaps made the most progress, and which has become most largely utilised in the furtherance of other discoveries, is that of electricity. We have it on every hand. The electric light is now generally used and has supplanted gas, while the subtle current in everywhere displacing steam as the motive power for all kinds of machinery; our homes are connected by means of the telephone with places of worship and with the leading trades people. Aerial travelling, in those days a myth, is now an assured reality and the extent of the development of the science of aerostatics seems to be unlimited. The magnificent 'airships' of the present day easily covering 5 miles a minute throw into insignificance the 'iron horse' of our forefathers with its maximum speed of 60 miles per hour.

The substitution of electric locomotives for steam engines, without the alterations which have been made in the track and cars have greatly increased the ease and facility of journeys by rail. The danger which attended the old railroad travelling is now reduced to a minimum in consequence of approved appliances and methods of working. Who knows, but that having realised the dream of Jules Verne in his "Clipper of the Clouds" we may soon see the further accomplishment of his fancy in a "Voyage to the Moon".

Socially and politically our country has made enormous progress. Education has advanced by leaps and bounds. Intermediate education, then in long clothes, may now be safely trusted to walk alone, and is general all over Great Britain, the result being that we are now the best educated people in the world. The orthography of those days must have been very difficult of acquirement as compared with the phonetic spelling now in use, and the ability to read is now gained with less than half the laborious course of instruction which was then necessary. Shorthand, then the accomplishment of very few but those whose professional duties required it, is now made the medium of correspondence between persons of all classes by its compulsory teaching in our schools.

The legislature, by raising the standards of education amongst the working classes and by means of a uniform wage, exterminating the system of sweating so largely in vogue amongst our ancestors, has placed master and workman on a more equal footing, and thereby put an end to the strikes and lockouts which were the causes of so many empty homes and starving families.

A great and beneficial change has taken place in Parliament since 1890. The House of Lords, that clog to the wheel of progress, has now been abolished and our legislature is therefore a strictly representative body; party has been done away with and the man, whether he be duke, lord, bishop or tradesman now represents the people.

The Disestablishment, granted to gallant little Wales nearly a century ago is now extended to the whole of Great Britain, thus producing a religious equality to which we may ascribe the more healthy moral tone now pervading our land.

Ireland, which in 1890 was in a terrible state of coercion and oppression is now prosperous and happy with a parliament of its own.

The temperance party after a long and patient struggle is now beginning to see the effect of its labours in the large decrease in the drink traffic, as shown year by year in our exchequer returns; and crime, one of the effects of its demoralising influence, shows a corresponding diminution.

The good work which General Booth started has been carried on most successfully, greatly to the advantage of the country at large. The immense territories of Africa, over which our king rules rival in size and importance the colonial possessions of this country in Asia, and the dusky subjects of our sovereign, living in what in 1890 was called 'darkest Africa' are rapidly approaching the degree of civilization - scarcely inferior to that of the inhabitants of Europe - attained by their swarthy cousins of the Indian peninsula.

The advancement in science and art which has opened up so many new fields of labour, and the good government and wise laws under which we live, mark out the present century as one of progress, a conclusion which is happily substantiated by the prosperous condition of our country at the present time.

I remain yours, etc.

PS I intend spending the next week or so at the North Pole. I shall go there by the serial ship "Hafren" which leaves London on Monday and reaches the above locality on Tuesday morning."

Modern passenger jets travel at about 550 mph.



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