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1851 Commencement Speech
by M. Edgar Richards


M. Edgar Richards' essay "Improvements of the Age" was the last of twelve student orations listed on the program for the July 3, 1851 commencement of Penn's College Class of 1851. The seven page manuscript of Richard's tongue-in-cheek commmentary on mid-nineteenth century progress is available here as both facsimile and transcription.



Facsimile pages :Title 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Transcription: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7


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Not content with using the means and powers with which a bounteous nature has endowed us our knowing mortal taxes his invention to supply any supposed deficiency of nature. Dare but to whisper a scarcity of pork and you are carried away by an avalanche of hickory hams. Complain of want of spices and wooden nutmegs are hailed down upon you.

Steam has taken the place of all natural motive power as the only element that has strength and activity sufficient to keep pace with the giant strides of improvement. The idea of travelling like our plodding ancestors at any speed consistant [sic] with safety to life or limb is rejected with contempt as partaking too largely of the spirit of the canal boat, that symbol of the amiable qualities of Job, transmitted to a race of people who eat, drink and sleep with a velocity commensurate with their locomotive propensities. But steam has not yet reached its ultimatum of usefulness. In a few years we will have our omnibusses [sic], drays and furniture cars flying along by steam, and instead of the old fashioned horse and carriage every family will keep a small locomotive. The time honoured [sic] race of coachmen b are destined to become extinct and our Lorry [illegible] like our knights of old will live only in....... continued on next page