A Plea for Gas Lamps (1878, collected in Virginibus Puerisque, 1881)


by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 - 1894)

A well-wrought ‘illumination’ on how our material environment determines culture, habits and happiness.

Stevenson re-imagines the city before public lighting, each man with a lantern on his finger, then the era of inadequate oil-lights, followed by ‘biddable domesticated stars’ of gas, tended by the lamplighter sprites. Now London stands on the verge of electric lighting; he imagines the impact of a flick of a switch as viewed from Hampstead Hill, a Romantic sight that compensates for modernity’s dullness. But the title is fulfilled when he agrees with ‘the conservative’ that human relationships may flicker out in electricity’s harsh white glare.

Related recommendation: De Quincey’s ‘The English Mail-Coach’ (1849)

Origin: Britain

Themes: New Technology, Nature or Architecture/ Material Environment

Genres: Familiar or Personal, Spiritual or Philosophical Meditation, Topical essay or article

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