Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/54

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44
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and the chances be slightly in his favor of his not receiving the slightest injury.

A pressing subject of the present time is the economy of fuel. Members of the British Association have not neglected this momentous question. Many cases of waste arise from the existence of old and obsolete machines, of bad forms of furnaces, of wasteful grates, existing in most dwelling-houses; and these are not to be remedied at once, for not every one can afford, however desirable it might be, to cast away the old and adopt the new. In looking uneasily to the future supply and cost of fuel, it is, however, something to know what may be done even with the application of our present knowledge; and, could we apply it universally to-day, all that is necessary for trade and comfort could probably be as well provided for by one-half the present consumption of fuel; and it behooves those who are beginning to build new mills, new furnaces, new steamboats, or new houses, to act as though the price of coal which obtained two years ago had been the normal and not the abnormal price.

There was in early years a battle of the gauges, and there is now a contest about guns; but your time will not permit me to say much on their manufacture. Here, again, the progress made in a few years has been enormous, and in contributing to it, two men—Sir William Armstrong and Sir Joseph Whitworth, both civil engineers—in this country, at all events, deservedly stand foremost. Docks and harbors I have no time to mention, for it is time this long and, I fear, tedious address should close.

"Whence and whither" is the aphorism which leads us away from present and plainer objects to those which are more distant and obscure; whether we look backward or forward our vision is speedily arrested by an impenetrable veil. On the subject I have chosen you will probably think I have traveled backward far enough. I have dealt to some extent with the present. The retrospect, however, may be useful to show what great works were done in former ages. Some things have been better done than in those earlier times, but not all. In what we choose to call the ideal we do not surpass the ancients. Poets and painters and sculptors were as great in former times as now; so, probably, were the mathematicians. In what depends on the accumulation of experience we ought to excel our forerunners. Engineering depends largely on experience; nevertheless, in future times whenever difficulties shall arise, 'or works have to be accomplished for which there is no precedent, he who has to perform the duty may step forth from any of the walks of life, as engineers have not unfrequently hitherto done. The marvelous progress of the last two generations should make every one cautious of predicting the future. Of engineering works it may be said that their practicability or impracticability is often determined by other elements than the inherent difficulty in the works themselves. Greater works than any yet achieved remain to be