Man from 1818 Predicts USA of the Future | Stephen Basdeo

Originally printed in The Pocket Magazine in 1818; transcribed in 2021 by Stephen Basdeo, a writer and historian based in Leeds.

One of the things I like to do as an occasional book collector is to find odd volumes of nineteenth-century periodicals—and I picked up a copy of volume 3 of The Pocket Magazine for £2 from a book shop in York a few weeks ago. I like old periodicals as some of the most interesting insights into people’s thoughts can be found in the many letters they wrote to the editor which were then printed in the magazine.

In the following letter reproduced below, one British writer who is named “H,” made a prediction as to the fate of the then young United States 500 years into the future. Among many other things he predicts ‘automaton physicians’ (the automation of medicine is certainly taking shape already) and a voyage to the moon using wings! (as well as people who doubted that the said voyage to the moon ever took place) Perhaps some of the other things this writer predicted over 200 years ago might one day come true as well!

Masthead of The Pocket Magazine (Stephen Basdeo Personal Collection)

America, in the Year 2318

Sir,—I am really delighted with the speculations of your ingenious correspondent, D——. Yes, Sir, his is quite correct in the idea that [Europe] is hastening fast to decay, and that the New World will arrive at a degree of prosperity unknown to the inhabitants of this miserable portion of the earth. Like travellers lost in a trackless desert, and enveloped in utter darkness, our barbarous and ignorant contemporaries wander around, ever fancying that they have found themselves on the road to perfection, yet ever finding themselves deceived. And why is all this? It is because the self-conceited inhabitants of Europe will not condescend to imitate the wisdom of America […] Hail! Blest Columbia! Thou art become a happy retreat for those whom the tyranny of ancient governments have driven from their houses […] I venture, as the once celebrated Francis Moore, physician and astrologer, annually saith, “for the information of the curious,” to predict the following improvements: Improvements which time may verify when the hand that now writes them, has long mouldered in the clammy soil, or whitened in the chill and ungenial air of Britain.

New York, Dec. 1, 2318.—“The celebrated automaton physician has arrived here, and has already begun to perform some of his usual miracles. Since he has been here, we ourselves have been witnesses to one of his surprising cures. A man whose arm had been amputated some years ago, being brought to him, was, to the utter astonishment of all who knew him, rendered after a few days, as whole as he had ever been in the very spring of his existence. […]

Baltimore, December 1, 2318.—“As many of our readers in distant parts of the country have doubted whether the voyage to the moon ever did take place, we do again assure them, upon our veracity, that the information was literally correct. This aerial journey must indeed appear to many who hear of it as a most extraordinary undertaking; particularly when it is recollected, that in the dark ages of English credulity, it was imagined that tubes two hundred and forty thousand miles in length, besides being exposed to many other insuperable objections, would break with their own weight. Yet such were the tubes used by our adventurers, and such were absolutely necessary to supply them with air from the dense atmosphere of our earth. At the period to which we allude, when every science was fettered with the adamantine chains of system, it was also thought impossible for goose-quill, or any other wings, to be of service where the air was so rare as to offer no resistance. This idea the undertaking of now under consideration has fully disproved; for, after the wonders one goose his quill has performed, what must we not expect from the labours of a number united […]

Washington, Dec. 1, 2318.—“The antiquarian society has lately come to a determination of reprinting several works which have long ceased to excite the attention of the refined taste of modern times. These works, though utterly devoid of every qualification requisite to please the classic reader, are yet curious inasmuch as they let us into the manners, customs, and ideas of our ancestors. In doing which they form, as it were, one link in the endless chain of eternity. They are to be accompanied with notes and a glossary: and the laborious work has already been undertaken by several of our literati. Those the transcription of which is already commenced, are Tragedies and Comedies, written by William Shakespear; Paradise Lost, an Epic Poem, in Blank Verse, by John Milton; Mother Bunch’s Fairy Tales; a work usually known by the name of Principia, written by one Newton; the History of Jack the Giant Killer; and a periodical publication, on ethics and social duties, called the Rambler, written by Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Advertisement.—“The public are respectfully informed that the patent cloud attractors and cloud repellers are now brought to their highest state of perfection. Gentlemen possessing this invaluable discovery may vary the quantity of heat and cold, dryness and moisture, on their estates, according to their pleasure. Made and sold by the patentee at his warehouse […]

Frederick, New Brunswick, Dec. 1, 2318.—The workmen employed in sinking the immense pit in the neighbourhood, have lately discovered a most extraordinary phenomenon. It is a spring of liquid fire, possessing in an eminent degree every known chemical and culinary quality, obtained from the burning of wood, coals, &c. Yet so singular is it in its properties, that it communicates caloric in any quantity, it will burn forever without diminution; it will not ignite any other known body, and is so harmless that the animal may continue in the midst of the flame for any period without being scorched, singed, or otherwise injured.”

Such, Sir, is the result of my speculations on futurity. It now only remains for me to refer them to your superior judgment for admittance or rejection; to return you my most sincere thanks for the insertion of my former communication, and to assure you that I am the most fervent friend of your publication.


[1] H. ‘America, in the Year 2318’, The Pocket Magazine, vol. 3 (London: John Arliss, 1819), pp. 5–10.

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