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The Victories of Peace - I page 3

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While the arts which cherish and sustain human life achieved greatness thus rapidly, the agencies by which men seek to destroy each other advanced with equal step. The Crimean war directed the attention of inventive minds to the improvement of warlike implements, and an astonishing success rewarded their efforts in this department. The musket of the Napoleonic wars was loaded tediously at its muzzle and fired by the uncertain spark struck by a flint out of steel. It was smooth-barrelled, and no one therefore could predict or control the course which its missile would pursue. Its utmost range was under two hundred yards. That primitive weapon ha given place to a musket whose breech opens to receive the charge, whose' rifled barrel enables the possessor to shoot to a hairsbreadth, whose range is sevenfold that of the old musket, whose action is so swift that, skilfully wielded, it will slaughter twenty human beings per minute (The slaughter actually effected fully bears out the pretensions of the new weapon. In the Duke of Wellington's campaigns only one bullet in 600 took effect. At Speichern the Germans disabled one Frenchman by the expenditure of 279 cartridges. At Worth the practice was better, and one shot in every 147 told. According to Russian statistics, one Turk was struck down in the late war for every 66 shots fired; but these figures are probably to some extent conjectural). The wooden ships with which Nelson gained his victories, and whose undefended sides were riven, by the shot of the enemy, are superseded by vessels clad in armour so massive that almost no weight of shot can pierce it. We have artillery which will throw, with unerring precision, a mass of iron weighing two thousand pounds to a distance of five miles. By the help of electricity we can send against hostile ships an explosive force whose discharge will scatter their timbers to the waves, and utterly destroy the hundreds of brave men who form their crews. Mechanically these inventions are very admirable. It is not, however, beyond hope that civilized man approaches the close of his fighting era, and that the perfecting of the implements of slaughter may be coincident, or nearly so, with their disuse.

Increased command over the necessaries of life by the masses of the people is justly held to mean, not only increased comfort, but an improved moral condition. Judged by this unerring test, the recent history of Great Britain is profoundly gratifying. Her people have it in. their power now to consume much more largely than their fathers did of those commodities on which their well-being depends. The true value of our commercial legislation, of our amazing mechanical progress, can be ascertained not otherwise than by its power to raise the condition of the people. No preceding generation of men has witnessed changes so vast and so beneficent.

During the thirty years which followed the repeal of the corn laws the purchasing power of the people experienced an enormous increase. Where in the year 1845 the average consumption of foreign wheat and flour was only seventeen pounds for each of the population, in 1875 it was one hundred and twenty-four pounds. The use of sugar had more than trebled - having risen from fifteen to fifty-one pounds. Tea had undergone a similar increase, - from one and a quarter to four pounds (Nations differ strangely in regard to their use of tea. The annual consumption of America is one and a half pound per head. In Prance tea is almost unknown. The provincial Frenchman never sees it). The use of foreign, bacon had multiplied ninefold, - from less than one pound to fully nine pounds. In butter and cheese the increase was threefold. Thirty years ago we imported eggs at the rate of four to each of the population.; now the average is over twenty. Side by side with this increased importation from abroad, our consumption of home-grown articles of food has largely increased. So much larger a number of persons can now afford the use of wine, that the consumption of this beverage has risen from one quarter to rather more than one half gallon. It is an additional evidence of well-being that the use of spirits has increased much less rapidly than that of other articles. In 1840 the average was nearly five-sixths of a gallon for each person; in 1873 it was not quite one and a quarter gallon (In 1742 the consumption of spirits in England and Wales averaged 3J gallons for each of the population).

These prosaic details write for us a history beside which the annals of our greatest wars sink into insignificance. They reveal to us the toiling millions of our population rising out of wretchedness and debasement, and becoming able to possess themselves of the comforts of life. They give us warrant to believe that the foundations of a corresponding improvement iii moral condition, are being laid. Nothing in the history of a nation, can compare in value with this.

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