Edison never sought Society; but "Society" has never ceased to seek him, and to-day, as ever, the pressure upon him to give up his work and receive honors, meet distinguished people, or attend public functions, is intense. Only two or three years ago, a flattering invitation came from one of the great English universities to receive a degree, but at that moment he was deep in experiments on his new storage battery, and nothing could budge him. He would not drop the work, and while highly appreciative of the proposed honor, let it go by rather than quit for a week or two the stern drudgery of probing for the fact and the truth. Whether one approves or not, it is at least admirable stoicism, of which the world has too little. A similar instance is that of a visit paid to the laboratory by some one bringing a gold medal from a foreign society. It was a very hot day in summer, the visitor was in full social regalia of silk hat and frock-coat, and insisted that he could deliver the medal only into Edison's hands. At that moment Edison, stripped pretty nearly down to the buff, was at the very crisis of an important experiment, and refused absolutely to be interrupted. He had neither sought nor expected the medal; and if the delegate didn't care to leave it he could take it away. At last Edison was overpersuaded, and, all dirty and perspiring as he was, received the medal rather than cause the visitor to come again. On one occasion, receiving a medal in New York, Edison forgot it on the ferry-boat and left it behind him. A few years ago, when Edison had received the Albert medal of the Royal Society of Arts, one of the present authors called at the laboratory to see it. Nobody knew where it was; hours passed before it could be found; and when at last the accompanying letter was produced, it had an office date stamp right over the signature of the royal president. A visitor to the laboratory with one of these medallic awards asked Edison if he had any others. "Oh yes," he said, "I have a couple of quarts more up at the house!" All this sounds like lack of appreciation, but it is anything else than that. While in Paris, in 1889, he wore the decoration of the Legion of Honor whenever occasion required, but at all other times turned the badge under his lapel "because he hated to have fellow-Americans think he was showing off." And any one who knows Edison will bear testimony to his utter absence of ostentation. It may be added that, in addition to the two quarts of medals up at the house, there will be found at Glenmont many other signal tokens of esteem and good-will--a beautiful cigar-case from the late Tsar of Russia, bronzes from the Government of Japan, steel trophies from Krupp, and a host of other mementos, to one of which he thus refers: "When the experiments with the light were going on at Menlo Park, Sarah Bernhardt came to America. One evening, Robert L. Cutting, of New York, brought her out to see the light. She was a terrific `rubberneck.' She jumped all over the machinery, and I had one man especially to guard her dress. She wanted to know everything. She would speak in French, and Cutting would translate into English. She stayed there about an hour and a half. Bernhardt gave me two pictures, painted by herself, which she sent me from Paris."
Reference has already been made to the callers upon Edison; and to give simply the names of persons of distinction would fill many pages of this record. Some were mere consumers of time; others were gladly welcomed, like Lord Kelvin, the greatest physicist of the last century, with whom Edison was always in friendly communication. "The first time I saw Lord Kelvin, he came to my laboratory at Menlo Park in 1876." (He reported most favorably on Edison's automatic telegraph system at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876.) "I was then experimenting with sending eight messages simultaneously over a wire by means of synchronizing tuning-forks. I would take a wire with similar apparatus at both ends, and would throw it over on one set of instruments, take it away, and get it back so quickly that you would not miss it, thereby taking advantage of the rapidity of electricity to perform operations. On my local wire I got it to work very nicely. When Sir William Thomson (Kelvin) came in the room, he was introduced to me, and had a number of friends with him. He said: `What have you here?' I told him briefly what it was. He then turned around, and to my great surprise explained the whole thing to his friends. Quite a different exhibition was given two weeks later by another well-known Englishman, also an electrician, who came in with his friends, and I was trying for two hours to explain it to him and failed."
After the introduction of the electric light, Edison was more than ever in demand socially, but he shunned functions like the plague, not only because of the serious interference with work, but because of his deafness. Some dinners he had to attend, but a man who ate little and heard less could derive practically no pleasure from them. "George Washington Childs was very anxious I should go down to Philadelphia to dine with him. I seldom went to dinners. He insisted I should go--that a special car would leave New York. It was for me to meet Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. We had the private car of Mr. Roberts, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. We had one of those celebrated dinners that only Mr. Childs could give, and I heard speeches from Charles Francis Adams and dif- ferent people. When I came back to the depot, Mr. Roberts was there, and insisted on carrying my satchel for me. I never could understand that."
Among the more distinguished visitors of the electric- lighting period was President Diaz, with whom Edison became quite intimate. "President Diaz, of Mexico, visited this country with Mrs. Diaz, a highly educated and beautiful woman. She spoke very good English. They both took a deep interest in all they saw. I don't know how it ever came about, as it is not in my line, but I seemed to be delegated to show them around. I took them to railroad buildings, electric-light plants, fire departments, and showed them a great variety of things. It lasted two days." Of another visit Edison says: "Sitting Bull and fifteen Sioux Indians came to Washington to see the Great Father, and then to New York, and went to the Goerck Street works. We could make some very good pyrotechnics there, so we determined to give the Indians a scare. But it didn't work. We had an arc there of a most terrifying character, but they never moved a muscle." Another episode at Goerck Street did not find the visitors quite so stoical. "In testing dynamos at Goerck Street we had a long flat belt running parallel with the floor, about four inches above it, and travelling four thousand feet a minute. One day one of the directors brought in three or four ladies to the works to see the new electric-light system. One of the ladies had a little poodle led by a string. The belt was running so smoothly and evenly, the poodle did not notice the difference between it and the floor, and got into the belt before we could do anything. The dog was whirled around forty or fifty times, and a little flat piece of leather came out--and the ladies fainted."
A very interesting period, on the social side, was the visit paid by Edison and his family to Europe in 1889, when he had made a splendid exhibit of his inventions and apparatus at the great Paris Centennial Exposition of that year, to the extreme delight of the French, who welcomed him with open arms. The political sentiments that the Exposition celebrated were not such as to find general sympathy in monarchical Europe, so that the "crowned heads" were conspicuous by their absence. It was not, of course, by way of theatrical antithesis that Edison appeared in Paris at such a time. But the contrast was none the less striking and effective. It was felt that, after all, that which the great exposition exemplified at its best --the triumph of genius over matter, over ignorance, over superstition--met with its due recognition when Edison came to participate, and to felicitate a noble nation that could show so much in the victories of civilization and the arts, despite its long trials and its long struggle for liberty. It is no exaggeration to say that Edison was greeted with the enthusiastic homage of the whole French people. They could find no praise warm enough for the man who had "organized the echoes" and "tamed the lightning," and whose career was so picturesque with eventful and romantic development. In fact, for weeks together it seemed as though no Parisian paper was considered complete and up to date without an article on Edison. The exuberant wit and fancy of the feuilletonists seized upon his various inventions evolving from them others of the most extraordinary nature with which to bedazzle and bewilder the reader. At the close of the Exposition Edison was created a Commander of the Legion of Honor. His own exhibit, made at a personal expense of over $100,000, covered several thousand square feet in the vast Machinery Hall, and was centred around a huge Edison lamp built of myriads of smaller lamps of the ordinary size. The great attraction, however, was the display of the perfected phonograph. Several instruments were provided, and every day, all day long, while the Exposition lasted, queues of eager visitors from every quarter of the globe were waiting to hear the little machine talk and sing and reproduce their own voices. Never before was such a collection of the languages of the world made. It was the first linguistic concourse since Babel times. We must let Edison tell the story of some of his experiences:
"At the Universal Exposition at Paris, in 1889, I made a personal exhibit covering about an acre. As I had no intention of offering to sell anything I was showing, and was pushing no companies, the whole exhibition was made for honor, and without any hope of profit. But the Paris newspapers came around and wanted pay for notices of it, which we promptly refused; whereupon there was rather a stormy time for a while, but nothing was published about it.
"While at the Exposition I visited the Opera-House. The President of France lent me his private box. The Opera-House was one of the first to be lighted by the incandescent lamp, and the managers took great pleasure in showing me down through the labyrinth containing the wiring, dynamos, etc. When I came into the box, the orchestra played the `Star-Spangled Banner,' and all the people in the house arose; whereupon I was very much embarrassed. After I had been an hour at the play, the manager came around and asked me to go underneath the stage, as they were putting on a ballet of 300 girls, the finest ballet in Europe. It seems there is a little hole on the stage with a hood over it, in which the prompter sits when opera is given. In this instance it was not occupied, and I was given the position in the prompter's seat, and saw the whole ballet at close range.
"The city of Paris gave me a dinner at the new Hotel de Ville, which was also lighted with the Edison system. They had a very fine installation of machinery. As I could not understand or speak a word of French, I went to see our minister, Mr. Whitelaw Reid, and got him to send a deputy to answer for me, which he did, with my grateful thanks. Then the telephone company gave me a dinner, and the engineers of France; and I attended the dinner celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of photography. Then they sent to Reid my decoration, and they tried to put a sash on me, but I could not stand for that. My wife had me wear the little red button, but when I saw Americans coming I would slip it out of my lapel, as I thought they would jolly me for wearing it."