Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/241

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231
GEOGRAPHY AND THE RAILROADS.


rable example of the manner in which this should be done when he studied the relations existing between the geographical structure and the vegetation of different regions. Remarks upon the influence of soil and climate on plant-life are as old as the study of botany itself, but a scientific plant-geography has been developed only since Humboldt took the subject up. It has been followed by the study, upon similar principles, of geographical influences on animal life; and since Carl Ritter's time the diversified aspects of human civilization have been subjects of unceasing study from similar points of view. In this study, religious ideas, personal, civil, and legal rights, customs, and all the features of social and political life have been examined with reference to the influence of geographical conditions in shaping and modifying them. At first sight the management of railroads would seem to be one of the least amenable of all subjects to this method of consideration. Originating and brought to a considerable degree of perfection in England, the railroad system has been transplanted bodily into other countries, without considering any modifications of its methods necessary except in obedience to the most imperative exceptional physical requisitions. Yet modifications and individual differences of character have been impressed upon the railroad service of different countries by the silent working of varying geographical conditions. These differentiations were especially studied by the late Max Maria von Weber, whose theories respecting them are expounded in a posthumous work recently published in Berlin, in which he has considered the subject under the headings of the “Geography of Railroad Life” and the “Physiognomical Aspects of the Railroad Systems of Different Civilized Nations.”

We may in the first place regard the manner in which the function and service of the railroad system are dependent upon the form and relations of a country's boundaries. The construction of the railways in insular countries is governed wholly by mercantile considerations, while, in countries whose boundaries are exposed, military and political objects claim prominence. Thus, an English railway-map affords a most accurate picture of the relations of the country to production and trade, and of the office of the railroads as the medium of communication between the great coal and iron fields on one side and the world's mart on the Thames on the other side. But the ramifications of the German system would be incomprehensible to one who did not consider that, equally with mercantile requirements, the political interests of a congeries of small states, the central situation of the empire among a number of jealous and ambitious powers, and the great military deficiency of the absence of a natural eastern boundary, have exerted a dominant influence in its arrangement. The clearly mercantile features of the organization of the railroads in states whose natural boundaries give them security are thus neither more nor less appropriate than the military and administrative methods prevalent in states