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The Victories of Peace - II

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The great outbreak of inventiveness by which our century is distinguished has left no province of human affairs unvisited. Heretofore men accepted as finally perfected every method and appliance which they inherited from their fathers. All at once the imperfections of their heritage seemed to become apparent. All at once an unlimited possibility of improvement seemed to reveal itself. Man's daily life was still burdened with rude and ineffective expedients which for centuries had undergone little or no amelioration. Each of these was now assailed by some thoughtful investigator, whose mind was quickened by the universal passion for improvement, and who, instead of seeing finality anywhere around him, saw only the point from which a new and gracious era of progress could take its opening. In its results this beneficent activity has incalculably enriched and beautified human life.

Nowhere has man more notably widened his empire than in his increased knowledge of his own body, and in his enlarged power to soothe its pains and cure its manifold disorders. Until lately, the healer of diseases groped in darkness - knowing imperfectly the purposes of the great organs, and utterly ignorant of their existing conditions. A series of wonderfully ingenious instruments now open to him the mysteries of the living body. The stethoscope, the speculum, the laryngoscope, the ophthalmoscope enable him to read with unfailing accuracy the progress of disease in the internal and hitherto inaccessible organs. The microscope, as it is now used, gives him to comprehend the exquisitely delicate organization with which he deals. The rejection of remedies applied in ignorance and the. adoption of effective methods of treatment have naturally accompanied this large increase of knowledge. The use of chloroform and other anaesthetics has relieved humanity from the unutterable anguish which, until thirty years ago, attended all important surgical operations. The adoption of lithotrity has nearly abolished the nameless horrors of lithotomy. Aneurism is arrested in its deadly course by a device so simple as the continued pressure of the finger upon the seat of disease. The contorted limbs of children are made straight and permanent lameness averted by a touch of the surgeon's knife relieving the undue tension of a tendon. But in nothing are the results of increased knowledge more acceptable than in the altered methods of treatment which surgeons now adopt. Middle-aged and elderly people remark a striking diminution in the number of mutilated persons who are to be seen in our streets. From of old the surgeon applied the knife with a readiness which we now recognize to have been as mistaken as it was lamentable. The reign of conservative surgery is of recent origin, but it is firmly established. Amputation, it has long been said, is the opprobrium of surgery. The careful surgeon has delivered his art from the opprobrium of needless amputation. He extirpates the offending shoulder, or elbow, or knee joint, leaving to its possessor the stiffened but otherwise serviceable limb.

Formerly the treatment of the insane was conducted under a lingering belief that these unhappy persons were possessed by devils. They were chained, often in darkness; they were beaten (In 1788 George III., although without any tendency to violence, was subjected to the restraint of the strait-waistcoat, and was struck by at least one brutal attendant); they were starved; they were exhibited for money to a cruel, jeering rabble. Everything was done to make the home of the intrusive demon undesirable. These severities aggravated the evils they ignorantly sought to remedy. A Parliamentary inquiry in 1815 produced a deep impression on the public mind, and fostered the belief that mental disease called for tender and indulgent treatment. In twenty-five years more that belief so strengthened that mechanical restraints were abolished. The professional keepers of the insane defended the methods of government in which they had been trained, and scorned, as the dream of inexperience, the suggestion that madmen could be ruled by kindness. But the persistence of one brave English doctor (Dr. Conolly) triumphed over their harsh traditions. The barbarous appliances of chains, and strait-waistcoats, and chairs of restraint were cast out of our asylums, and the reign of gentle and reasonable treatment was inaugurated. The effect was immediate and striking. Insanity, as it hitherto existed, underwent important modifications. The very types of the disease gradually changed. Its unhappy victims, no longer exasperated by continual severity, ceased to be afflicted by the demoniac frenzies which had rendered them so terrible, and gained a gentleness and submissive-ness to which they had hitherto been strangers.

It has always been of prime interest to men - savage or civilized - to evoke the heat which lies hid everywhere in nature, and kindle it into flame. Possibly the care which was taken to keep lights continually burning in certain heathen temples, and around which religious sanctions ultimately gathered, had its remote origin in the experienced difficulty of kindling light. But never was any widespread and urgent human want so imperfectly supplied. The earliest method of obtaining fire was by the friction of two pieces of dried wood.

The next was the striking together of steel and flint. These two rude methods of obtaining the indispensable assistance of fire have served man during almost the whole of his career. Only so recently as about the time of the first Reform Bill has he been able to command the services of a more convenient agency.

The elements which compose this agency come from afar. Pine trees are brought from Canada or Norway, and cut by powerful and delicate machinery into innumerable little pieces. Sulphur, cast up by volcanic action from the depths of the earth, is brought from Sicily. The bones of innumerable generations of wild cattle are collected on the vast plains of South America, and the chemistry of Europe extracts phosphorus from them. The little pieces of pine wood, dipped in phosphorus and sulphur, form matches, which burst into flame on the slightest friction. So perfect is the machinery employed, that a few workmen produce matches by millions in a day. So cheap, consequently, is the price, that the wholesale dealer buys eight hundred for one penny.

Long after the power-loom had entered upon its career, and cloth was woven by machinery, nothing better than hand-labour had been found for sewing the cloth so produced into the forms required for human use. The poor needle-women of London still slaved during as many hours as they were able to keep awake, and received a daily sixpence or eightpence in requital of their toil. But at length an American mechanic invented a machine which could sew as much as six needle-women. The capabilities of this invention were promptly appreciated, and much attention was given to its improvement. In course of years there were twenty different machines, with an annual sale of millions. So highly were the powers of the sewing-machine developed, that it could be driven at the rate of three thousand stitches per minute. The demand for sewing increased with a rapidity altogether unexpected. The starving needle-woman ceased to be one of the scandals of civilization. In her place came the machine-girl, with her moderate hours of labour and her comfortable wages.

Some forty years ago, the surprising discovery was made that the light of the sun reflected from any object could be made to imprint on a smooth, sensitized surface a picture of that object in its minutest details. This beautiful discovery soon proved of the deepest interest to mankind. It was applied at once to portrait-taking. Hitherto the brush of the painter alone had preserved an imperfect resemblance of a few persons in each generation. The cost of the process permitted only a very few to avail themselves of it; of the others, no pictorial record was possible. The aspect of the men and women of an age was veiled impenetrably from those who came after them. Photography supplied a new link to connect the ages. It secured for all future generations of men a copious and vivid representation of their ancestors, - their appearance, their dress, their dwellings, their modes of life (Recently the power has been gained of preserving a still more wonderful memorial of departed generations. The phonograph stores up for an indefinite period the sounds of the human voice, and gives them off at the pleasure of the operator. Future generations will not merely possess ample pictorial representations of their ancestors; they will be able to listen to the sound of words which were spoken, it may be, hundreds of years before). Innumerable are the uses to which this beautiful art has been applied. One of the most interesting of these was suggested during the siege of Paris by the Prussians. The city was so completely encompassed that communication, with the outside world was altogether cut off. The messages of anxious friends in England were printed in the London Times. By a process of microscopic photography the page was copied on a morsel of paper scarcely larger than a postage-stamp, the letters being invisible to the unassisted eye. A number of these morsels were sent by carrier-pigeon into Paris. There, having been restored to their original dimensions, they were copied off by clerks, and delivered to the persons for whom they were intended.

Mechanical skill is a growth of the nineteenth century. A great mechanic (William Fairbairn) states that in the beginning of the century the human hand performed all the work that was done, and performed it badly. James Watt was nearly baffled in getting the first model of his engine made. His cylinder could not be bored; it could only be rudely shaped out under the hammer, and it leaked so abominably that steam could scarcely be kept on the engine. The roughly-fitted machine emitted a "horrible noise" as it moved. But the great inventions of the day called imperiously for more perfect tools and higher excellence of mechanical execution. Nor did they call in vain. In due time there came a race of great mechanicians, whose task it was to create a suitable embodiment for the conceptions of the inventors. Bramah of the patent lock was the first to construct machines for working in iron. He could not, without such help, attain the requisite precision in making the parts of his lock. One of his pupils was Maudslay, who devised the fixed slide-rest. Another was Clements, who made the first planing-machine. Nasmyth followed, with his steam-hammer Whitworth raised incalculably the standard of mechanical precision by inventing a machine which detects variations of the one millionth part of an inch. Innumerable contrivances followed for shortening processes of labour and obtaining accurate results. In half a century a vast, although comparatively unnoticed, revolution had been accomplished. Machinery had superseded the human hand. The workman was no longer the maker of any piece of work. He was merely the director of a machine, which produced its results with swiftness and precision infinitely superior to his own.

Down almost to the close of last century the British farmer cultivated the soil according to methods which had changed little for ages. The alternation of crops was unknown. No means had been found of restoring to the soil, by manuring, the elements of which the plant had deprived it. A field exhausted by frequent repetition of the same crop was suffered to lie waste for an indefinite period, till nature restored the expended capability. Drainage was practised, but on a scale as limited and in a form as rude as those which were in use among the Romans. The water which soaked the ground caused the crops to ripen late, diminished their quantity and impaired their quality; it stunted the growth of cattle (The average weight of the oxen and sheep sold in Smithfleld market has more than doubled since the middle of last century, owing to improved feeding and the increased care given to improvement of breed); it diffused ague and intermittent fevers among men. The implements of the farmer were of the most primitive type. His plough was a rude structure, which only scratched the surface of the ground. The sower went forth to sow equipped as he had been in Palestine eighteen centuries ago. The ripened grain was cut by means of the ancient reaping-hook. The "thresher's weary flingin'-tree," so painfully celebrated by Burns, still formed the sole agency by which grain was separated from straw.

During the whole period of the war the price of wheat averaged 84s. per quarter, a price which powerfully stimulated the energies of agriculturists. Vast areas of land, hitherto waste, were now reclaimed. Rents advanced so largely that the agricultural rental of Scotland, which had been 2,000,000 when the war began, was 5,250,000 when it closed. The return of peace brought back the reign of low prices, and farmers were compelled to give thought to the improvement of their processes. Artificial manures began to be used. In 1823 Smith of Deanston taught a system of deep drainage, which was rapidly adopted. It yielded larger (It was held that by this system of drainage grain crops were increased about thirty per cent., and grass crops about forty-five per cent) and earlier crops, and promoted the health both of man and beast. So well was the value of this improved drainage appreciated, that in 1846 Parliament offered a loan of 4,000,000, to be expended on drains. Science was now enlisted in the service of the farmer. The nature of the plants which it was his business to rear was carefully studied, and the food which conduced best to their growth was ascertained. Agricultural societies collected and compared the experience of observant farmers, and published it for the general good. Machinery was applied to sowing and threshing. In 1852 a machine for reaping was offered to farmers, and accepted with prompt appreciation. Three years later a plough drawn by steam was in use. Steam tillage turned up the soil to a greater depth than had been possible before, and was therefore more effective in the production of bountiful crops. It was not only better; it was, to an important extent, less expensive. British manufacturers have earned for themselves a good degree by the marvellous improvement effected upon all their processes. The British farmer has evinced enterprise and enlightenment not less creditable.

note. - During recent years some doubt has begun to be entertained in regard to the permanence of the industrial supremacy which Britain gained so rapidly. The country has been enduring a commercial depression exceptionally severe and prolonged. At such a time anticipations for the future more gloomy than circumstances actually warrant may be expected to prevail. But, after every reasonable, deduction has been made for this habit of the human mind under distress, it is impossible to deny that there are aspects of our industrial position well fitted to awaken anxiety in regard to the future. Our industrial eminence is in great measure the result of certain British inventions, of which we were able to make large use while our neighbours were engrossed by the work of invading other people's territories or resisting the invasion of their own. We held for many years a virtual monopoly of the mechanical appliances essential to industrial greatness. We made a vigorous use of our advantages; our commodities were cheap and good, and the world was satisfied to accept its supplies from us. We assumed it would always be so, and upon this theory we have accumulated on these islands vast aggregates of machinery and of labourers, for whom there could not possibly be found employment if foreign countries should undertake to manufacture for the supply of their own wants. But that in precisely what foreign countries have for many years been endeavouring, with much energy and success, to do. A strong and growing desire to establish manufactures exists in all civilized countries. No doubt, if they suffered British goods to enter freely, we could still hold our own against all competition. But we compete under the absolutely fatal disadvantage of heavy protective duties. For many years America has protected her youthful industries, at incalculable cost, but so effectively that the American manufacturer can now produce many articles - notably the lower grades of cotton cloths - more cheaply than his English rival. Moved, to some extent, by the success of America, the tendency to protect is becoming stronger on the continent of Europe; and the field which formerly was open to the manufactures of Britain becomes, year by year, more circumscribed. Our old outlets are failing us; our hopes must rest on the opening of new outlets. Not the least alarming feature in our position is the circumstance that in America and France much greater thought is given to mechanical improvement than is now the case in England. The English manufacturer has a disabling confidence in the methods which heretofore have led him to success. He rejects novelties, and is unwilling to be bored with experiments. In a world glowing with the love of progress and mechanical improvement, the mechanical conservatism of the English manufacturer is undoubtedly the most perilous form of dry-rot by which our industrial system can be invaded.

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Pictures for The Victories of Peace - II

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