Page:Melbourne and Mars.djvu/40

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38
MELBOURNE AND MARS.

appears as a solid gem; electricity is the force that welds the ten billion suns into that solid.

Ever since human life began to be civilised men have been trying to harness the various forms of force. The winds, falling water, steam, have all in turn played their part, and are still used in some places and for some purpose. I have no need to show how each of these are merely protean forms of the same face.

For several thousands of years we used these as our motive powers, and our world grew civilised and populous during this period. For some hundreds of years in the latter part of this time we used electricity. First it was a plaything of scientists, and then it began to he used as a messenger over the lands and under the seas. It was not long before we found that it could be made to carry and record sounds, and he would let us hear the voices of the long since departed. At this time it came into use as an illuminator, and the world became brilliant with the electric light.

Invention succeeded invention until steam was superseded as a motive power, and electricity had taken its place on sea and on land. To provide electricity winds, tides, falling waters and melting snows were all laid under contribution, and force was often carried by wire and used hundreds of miles from where it was generated. On the great plains where water had but little fall, and where the winds could not be relied upon, steam was used to generate electric force in great dynamos. This tended to rapidly use up all our combustible minerals, all surface combustibles having been used up long before. Peat, brown coal, lignite, oil shale, hard coal, bitumen, and such soft limestone as would burn with other substances hut not alone, got used up in turn, and our vast population of three thousand millions of people were brought face to face with one of the greatest problems that ever a mass of human beings were called upon to solve, viz., how to generate heat to cook their food and keep themselves alive on the surface of a cool planet without the aid of combustible materials.

A great inventor found out the method of releasing electrical force in slower vibrations, so that heat instead of light was produced; but at first there was little gain in this transaction, for the electricity itself had frequently to be produced by steam power. The gain was more apparent when wind and water were utilised. Millions of people felt relief when they could make their light into a fire hot enough to cook with, or into a nonradient warmth that made the winter temperature of their rooms something like pleasant.

There were still great districts in the north and south where neither fuel nor water-power were available, and the inhabitants were put to sore straits. Those who could left their homes and spent the winter in tropical regions, but the whole population could not migrate. In some instances a community would take possession of a dry cavern, store it with provisions, and spend