How does one recognize genius? Where does greatness truly come from? I think most of the time, we take the people in our lives for granted, those that are right before us, destined for mighty acts of incredible significance.
On one of my frequent visits to Colquitt County Library, I once again found myself looking though the books that they so generously offer for sale, at a small pittance of their worth, and I picked up a copy of “The Chord Of Steel,” by Thomas B. Costain. It is short 238 page story of basically how a town named Brantford, Ontario, fared in the years that a family named Bell made their home there, and what lead up to the invention of one of the most amazing devices ever conceived, the telephone. This is a strange synopsis, but my reason, was not because I was so driven to know the history of this staple of our lives, but because of the author, of whom I speak in length of in my previous post, “The Silver Chalice.” I think he is a wonderful writer, and I know that when I read anything authored by him, I will be better for it.
In the forward of “The Chord Of Steel,” Mr. Costain credits his wife for the suggestion of this book. She apparently did so after, (I am surmising here), she listened to her husband talk about the significance of this story, and the fact that the world at large had no idea of what took place in this town during this relatively short period. Mrs. Costain, is reported to have said that since her husband was born and raised there, that he should assume the task of telling the story. She is credited with being his encourager when his energy flagged, and when he complained. You can’t beat a fellow that honors his wife like that.
The book opens with the Bell family arriving in Brantford, Ontario, but then retraces a bit of the family history, leading up to their moving there. It begins with Alexander Bell, the grandfather, who was a shoemaker in Scotland, who after deciding that his ambitions were elsewhere, married up, and became a professor of speech and elocution. Thus begins the generation devotion to the human voice.
The story then follows the son of the elder Bell, Alexander Melville, also a professor of speech, and their three sons, Melville James, Alexander Graham, and Edward Charles. The rest of the story is mostly dedicated to the second son, but this history is of a significant importance. Alexander Graham Bell, himself, has said that the telephone was the work of many men, and that the invention will never be completed. As it is with everything, who but our Lord, can know every man’s contribution, to every other man’s accomplishment?
The remainder of the book eagerly follows young “Alec” Bell, and his relentless, often discouraging, but ultimately rewarding pursuit to create the means by which our voice may traverse the globe.
As with my other literary ponderings, I’d like to share a favorite passage. It seems that young Alec has run out of financial resources in his determination, and has found himself in an umbrella repair shop, in front of a very respectable tavern, both owned and tended by one Jimmy Excell, a man of high morale fiber, and great kindness. The following conversation takes place:
The proprietor gave his caller a friendly nod, noticing that the young Mr. Bell seemed nervous. The latter stammered and his Adam’s apple, no doubt, gave a twitch.
“Yes, my boy?”
“Mr. Excell, I need money. I need it rather badly.” Jimmy Excell, who heard everything that went on in town, knew about the son of the Bell family and his experiments. “It is for the invention?”
“Yes, Mr. Excell. I have passed the – the experimental stage. It works. It will be a success. But there is still so much to be done. Improvements, you know, and materials and the cost of patents. And that takes more money than I have.”
“How much do you need?”
The dedicated youth swallowed with increased nervousness. It was a colossal sum he must ask.
“Yes my boy?”
“Three hundred dollars.”
The mender of the umbrellas laid down whatever task he had in hand and gave his visitor the benefit of a thoughtful stare. Then he left the room and his steps could be heard climbing the stairs which led to his living quarters above. When he returned, he carried a leather bag, tied carefully with a thick cord. This he opened and then shook out on the counter, ten-dollar bills, gold pieces, silver. He counted out three hundred dollars, which made a formidable mound. “There you are my boy.”
Alexander Graham Bell was a first too much taken by surprise to say anything. Then he stammered, “You will have a note for me to sign?
The elderly man shook his head. “Young man,” he said, “if your word is not good, then your signature will not be of value. I do not want a note.”
This book is well worth the short investment of time it requires to enjoy it. I found myself thinking after reading it, how prophetic were those words of Mr. Bell, when he said that the invention of the telephone” would never be completed. It continues to amazingly evolve at a breakneck speed even today!
So much more can be said of this body of work, but I must leave off, as I hear my cell phone vibrating. Please read “The Chord of Steel” by Thomas B. Costain.
An interesting note is that Mr. Costain passed away in 1965. He is buried in Farringdon Cemetery, in Brantford, Ontario.