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The Victories of Peace - I page 2

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Vast quantities of coal became necessary to supply the innumerable steam-engines which now gave movement to the productive machinery of the country. Mining took rank as one of the largest and most lucrative of our industries. So great was the consumption of coal that in time a fear seized the public mind that the supply would soon be exhausted; and this fear was not allayed till the report of a royal commission conveyed the soothing assurance that centuries of mining on the present scale would be required to exhaust our enormous coalfields. The quantity of coal annually raised is over one hundred and thirty million tons, - a production almost as great as that of all the world besides.

It was inevitable that a vast expansion of the demand for iron should attend the growth of our manufacturing system. When the French revolution broke out England was an importer of iron, and her own production did not exceed seventy thousand tons (In the earlier years of this century our home production of iron was 150,000 tons; our import was 40,000 tons. For the ten years from 1877-86, the average annual production was 16,335,000 tons. The iron trade received an immense stimulus after 1824, by a very simple improvement then made in the process of smelting. Hitherto a blast of cold air had been directed into the furnace while the ore was being smelted. Now the blast was heated to a very high temperature - 600 or 800 degrees - before being admitted to the furnace. An economy to the extent of two-thirds of the coal previously consumed was at once effected). Now it is close on seven million tons. So vast were the natural advantages enjoyed by England, so great the energy applied to their development, that we were quickly enabled to supply foreign countries with iron instead of receiving it from them. England has many competitors in the production of iron, but the quantity which they unitedly produce still falls short of hers.

Fifty years after James Watt gave his steam-engine to the world, the wind was still the only motive power at sea, and men still depended upon the horse to convey themselves and their productions on land. The large dimensions which the manufactures of the country had now attained called for greater facility of transport. The canal boat or the carrier's cart, moving at its leisurely two or three miles an hour, was inadequate to the requirements of a traffic which was growing with unexpected rapidity. The mail-coach, which at its best could traverse no more than two hundred miles in twenty-four hours, laid a debilitating restraint upon that free personal intercourse which is so essential in the conduct of business enterprises. More easy and speedy transport of men and commodities was again demanded, and the steam-engine was the agency by which it was to be supplied.

The idea of the steam-ship is older than the idea of the steam-carriage. In the sixteenth century, some forgotten genius made a feeble and fruitless attempt to apply steam to navigation. The imperfect mechanical skill of that early time was unable to give embodiment to so high a conception. A century later (1736), a patent was actually taken for a boat which was to be driven by steam. Towards the close of the century a small steamer was sailing on a loch in Dumfriesshire at the speed of seven miles an hour. In 1807 a steamer, devised by Fulton, sailed up the Hudson from New York to Albany. After the crowning success of that voyage, steam navigation grew apace. A little later there were steamboats on the Clyde, and steamboats plying from Glasgow to London and from Holyhead to Dublin. In 1838 the Atlantic was crossed by steamers. Then the final triumph of steam was assured, and the distant places of the earth were bound together by a new and closer tie than they had known before.

But still, while steam had become a moving power by river and sea, the land communications of all countries were maintained by the agency of the horse. From the earlier years of the century a steam-carriage was the dream of mechanicians. Men of inventive genius, withdrawing themselves from the vain and bloody enterprise which then absorbed the national care, sought to find an adequate mechanical embodiment for the splendid conception of steam locomotion. Many efforts, partially successful, were made, culminating at length in the final triumph of George Stephenson. The engine constructed by Stephenson for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway solved all doubts, silenced all objections, and inaugurated victoriously one of the grandest of industrial revolutions.

For several years the railway system extended itself with a timidity which the proved value of the invention did not warrant. Fifteen years after the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester line, there were only two thousand four hundred miles of railway in the United Kingdom; and the amount of capital invested in these undertakings was only eighty-eight million sterling. So slowly had the people been educated to a love of travelling that passengers numbered only thirty-three million annually. But in 1845 the British people were smitten with a wild and irrational passion for speculation in railways. The frenzy possessed every rank from peer to peasant. The most extravagant proposals were eagerly supported by a people too greedy of gain to examine the character of the enterprises on which they hastened to stake all they claimed as their own and often very much more. For a time advancing prices filled all speculative hearts with joy, and every one could tell a pleasant tale of profits gained by a few strokes of his pen. But the inevitable revulsion came in due time; and the receding wave swept remorselessly away the easy gains of the deluded crowd.

Under the impulse given by this mania the construction of new railroads was so rapid that in two years the capital embarked in these undertakings was doubled. In four years it had swelled out from eighty-eight million to two hundred and thirty million. A more judicious rate of progress was then established, and has been steadily continued, till now there are seventeen thousand miles of railway in the United Kingdom, for which the enormous outlay of six hundred and thirty million has been incurred. The operations of these railways yield a gross annual income of sixty million.

Commercial intercourse was now fully emancipated from the restraints which were laid upon it by insufficient means of transport. How largely this welcome liberty was made use of may be estimated from the circumstance that in 1875 the railways conveyed goods to the extent of two hundred million tons from the localities where they were produced to those where they were to be consumed.

Still more remarkable was the growth among the people of a disposition to travel. During the early portion of the century men had scarcely the means to go from home beyond such trivial distance as they were able to accomplish on foot. Human society was composed of a multitude of little communities, dwelling apart, mutually ignorant, and therefore cherishing mutual antipathies. At once the causes of separation were withdrawn. Men of different towns, of different countries, were permitted freely to meet; to learn how little there was on either side to hate, how much to love; to establish ties of commercial relationship; to correct errors of opinion by friendly conflict of mind. The dormant love of travelling, by which nature protects men from the evils of isolation, wakened into life so vehement that in 1875 the railways conveyed six hundred million passengers. Ancient prejudice melts away under the fuller knowledge gained by this ex-tended acquaintance. Peculiarities of dialect, of manners, of belief, grow indistinct, and the unity of the people becomes every year more perfect.

But a still more wonderful mastery over the secrets of nature was now to crown the patient researches of science, and yet more closely to unite the scattered families of men. It was found that the same mysterious and terrible power which flashes out of the heavens in storm was ready to traverse continent and sea with the speed of thought, bearing the messages which men desired to convey to each other. After many experiments, with constantly growing success, a line of telegraph was constructed on the Blackwall Railway and used for the transmission of railway signals. A little later the telegraph was taught to print the messages which it bore. The railway companies hastened to construct telegraphs beside their lines, at first for their own purposes only, but soon for those of the public also. The uses of this marvellous invention spread with rapidity, and soon extended across the sea. Dublin was connected with London; Dover with Calais. In a short time there followed the bold conception of stretching an electric pathway in the depths of the Atlantic, and uniting Europe with America. Ere long all civilized countries were thus connected. Across all lands and seas, the mysterious agency which man had subjugated obediently carried his commands.

In England the state acquired, by purchase, all telegraphs, and so extended the system that soon every village in the kingdom enjoyed the inestimable privilege of instantaneous communication with every part of the inhabited globe.

This use of electricity possesses for us an interest especial and unique. It is the first human invention which is obviously final. In the race of improvement, steam may give place to some yet mightier power; gas may be superseded by some better method of lighting. No agency for conveying intelligence can ever excel that which is instantaneous. Here, for the first time, the human mind has reached the utmost limit of its progress.

[One of the most remarkable and most useful applications of electricity is the telephone, by which audible conversation can be carried on between persons many miles apart.

Another instance of the marvels of science ministering to the common wants of man is that of the electric light. A single electric lamp shines with the strength of one hundred of the most powerful gas jets, and with a pure white light like that of the sun. Already it has been adopted in railway stations, in factories, in shops, in houses, in light-houses, in coal-mines, and in the streets of large cities. By its use building operations are carried on by night as well as by clay. Both gas and electricity are now largely used as the motive power of engines in place of steam.]

The union of distant localities by railway and telegraph quickened the interest which men felt in the concerns of each other, and awakened an incessant thirst for news. The weekly journals which had hitherto satisfied the desires of the limited number who cared to read them, were now utterly insufficient. It became necessary that the daily history of the world should be compiled, in such hasty manner as might be possible, and printed every morning in newspapers. It was further indispensable that these newspapers should be cheap, and yet of high intelligence and literary excellence. The abolition of the tax which had hitherto fettered newspapers, and, in a few years more, the abolition of the tax on paper, made both of these things possible. The price of nearly all newspapers was reduced to one penny, - a charge so low that even poor men could afford the indulgence of a daily paper. From these circumstances there resulted an increase of newspaper circulation which there are no means to compute, but which we know to be enormous (We can tell the increase in the number of journals, although not the increase of circulation. In 1857 there were 711 newspapers published in the United Kingdom. In 1870 there were 1754. The annual circulation has been estimated, or it may more correctly be said guessed, at one thousand million. Forty years ago the post-office, carried 36,000,000 newspapers; now it carries 250,000,000). With increased revenues came a higher excellence of literary workmanship, and a consequent increase of influence over the minds of men. Every morning the same topics are presented to all minds, generally with moderation and intelligence, often with consummate skill. These topics furnish themes of thought and conversation for the day. Public opinion, which is now the governing power of the empire, is thus formed, expressed, intensified, and guided to the discharge of the great function which it has assumed.

The enormous increase of the demand for newspapers rendered it indispensable that swifter methods of printing should be found. From the date of its invention down to the close of 1814 there had been almost no improvement on the printing-press. A rude machine, yielding at its best no more than. 150 copies per hour, was still universally employed. In 1814 the Times set up a press of German construction, worked by steam, and giving 1100 copies per hour. Many years passed without further notable improvement. The urgent necessity arose for more rapid printing. By various steps we have at length attained to machines which satisfy every requirement. A machine, driven by steam, is fed with huge rolls of paper, and gives out newspapers, cut and folded, at the rate of 25,000 copies per hour. A simple process of stereotyping makes it easy to supply from one set of types an indefinite number of such machines (Perhaps the most striking contrast in the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1870 was the press at which Benjamin Franklin once laboured, and near it the Walter machine, throwing off its hourly seventeen thousand copies of a newspaper).

The shipping which conveyed the emancipated commerce of Great Britain with foreign countries grew with the traffic to which it ministered. At the beginning of the century our shipping amounted to two million tons. Under the stimulus of the war it rose to two million and three-quarters. Many gloomy years followed the return of peace. At first the number of our ships remained stationary, and then the painful process of decay began. For years there was a steady decline, until English shipping was smaller by three hundred thousand tons than it had been thirteen years before. "With the coming in of better times, maritime industry was prompt to assert its ancient vitality, and a steady growth was again experienced. When free trade gave us extended commercial relations with the world, the increase became more rapid, until in 1875 our tonnage had swelled out to six million, and the annual arrivals and sailings of our own and foreign ships ran up to the huge aggregate of forty-five million tons.

Much thought was now bestowed upon mechanical improvement, and the power of invention received unexampled stimulus. For one hundred and fifty years prior to the middle of the eighteenth century the patents granted for mechanical inventions were at the average rate of eight per annum. From 1763 to 1852 the annual rate was two hundred and fifty. During the next eighteen years it was over two thousand. In 1877 it was three thousand two hundred (It is not, however, to be supposed that we are more inventive than any of our neighbours. France issues annually nine thousand patents, and the United States twelve thousand. An unwise patent law still discourages invention in Britain, and gives our industrial rivals an important advantage).

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