Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/September 1876/Editor's Table
|←Correspondence|| Popular Science Monthly Volume 9 September 1876 (1876)
IN his pamphlet entitled "Paper-Money Inflation in France: How it came, What it Drought, and How it ended," President "White tells a very plain and direct, hut a very exciting story of national folly and infatuation. It sounds like romance, and but for the constant citations we should almost suspect that the writer is treating us to a satire on American finance. Yet he only gives us a cool, matter-of-fact delineation of a great national experiment in the substitution of irredeemable paper for coin as a circulating medium. The lesson brought out by this impressive narration is, that there are natural laws which govern the business operations of society just as inexorable as the physical laws that maintain the harmonies of the solar system or the physiological laws that control the life-processes of the human body. But in the realm of social operations this truth is not recognized. In consequence of public ignorance upon this point, and the stupid superstitions of the people regarding the potency of legislation, this great field of human effort is the intrenchment of imposture in a hundred shapes, where designing quacks and credulous dupes, calculating demagogues, purblind reformers, and humbugs of every stripe, have free course and unrestrained revel. This is a sphere in which it is believed that Nature can be cheated, and the consequences of human actions escaped. The laws that connect human well-being with self-restraint, that require present sacrifice for future good, and make comfort and competence dependent upon industry and frugality, are held to be the mere hard conditions of human lot, which, being evaded by many, may be avoided by all through cunning political schemes and proper legislative ingenuity. There are still millions in this country who have a kind of vague faith that irredeemable paper-money such as a government can print and scatter without limit is a means of national prosperity, a fountain of public wealth, an equalizer of fortunes, a blessing to the poorer classes, and a grand defense of society against the evils of poverty and privation. That it is an illusion and a snare, full of danger, and offering transient benefits at the expense of final disaster, it is difficult to make them understand.
Let people in this state of mind acquaint themselves with the experience of the French upon the subject by reading President White's statement. We give its leading points, quoting his own words freely: The year 1789 was one of stagnation and financial embarrassment in France. The nation had a heavy debt and a serious deficit, and there was scarcity of money and a want of confidence. This was a time of trial and a test of statesmanship. There were those who saw that the evil could only be remedied by patience, careful management, and the strict adherence to established financial principles. But others, as Dr. White says, were "looking about for some short road to prosperity, and ere long the idea was set afloat that the great want of the country was more of the circulating medium; and this was speedily followed by calls for an issue of paper-money." There was then a struggle. The dangers of such a course were vividly depicted on the one hand, and on the other it was maintained that it would be the salvation of France. On the 19th of April, 1790. the finance committee of the French Assembly reported that "the people demand a new circulating medium;" that "the circulation of paper is the best of operations;" that "it is the most free, because it reposes on the will of the people;" that "it will bind the interests of the citizen to the public good."
The Government had appropriated the vast property of the French Church, amounting in value to about four thousand million francs, and this was to be the security of the paper. Accordingly, in April, 1790, the "Government issued four hundred million francs in assignats—paper-money secured by a pledge of productive real estate, and bearing interest to the holder at three per cent." What could be more secure? It was maintained that such a currency would immediately prove itself better than coin.
"The first result of this issue was apparently all that the most sanguine could desire; the Treasury was at once greatly relieved; a portion of the public debt was paid; creditors were encouraged; credit revived; ordinary expenses were met, and the paper-money having thus been passed from the Government into the midst of the people, trade was revived, and all difficulties seemed past."
Possibly, if the Government could have stopped with these temporary advantages, no great harm would have been done. But the difficulty about money is, that there is never thought to be enough of it. The benefit of real money (coin) is to set a stubborn limit to this universal want—it cannot be got without earning-it or giving equivalent property for it. The curse of pseudo-money (irredeemable paper) is, that it panders to the universal greed because any amount of it can be manufactured and set afloat at any time. And so, of course, the French, after the first taste, wanted more. The further issue was stoutly resisted by the ablest men, but the current set so strong, and the demagogues were so plausible, that the measure was carried, and in September the Government issued eight hundred million assignats, "solemnly declaring that in no case should the entire amount put in circulation exceed twelve hundred millions."
Great were the rejoicings on every side. Gold was to lose all value, as it was a superfluity, and the nation was committed to the policy of inflation. But the old cry of the "lack of a circulating medium" soon broke forth again. A hundred millions were issued under the plea of a want of small notes. On June 19, 1791, less than nine months after the former great issue, six hundred millions more were put in circulation. Next came depreciation of the currency, a loss of its purchasing power, and a rise in prices. Some said that this was due to ignorance in the rural districts, and the remedy proposed was "education of the people." M. Prudhomme's newspaper, however, declared that "coin will keep rising until the people have hung a broker." People naturally began to be alarmed, and to convert the paper into coin and hoard it up. This was regarded as criminal, and Marat asserted that death was the proper penalty for persons who thus hid their money.
But, after the first stimulus of these issues, business soon became depressed, trade stagnated, the manufactories were closed, and thousands of workmen were discharged. Uncertainty and fluctuation of values followed, speculation set in, and, in the language of Louis Blanc, "commerce was dead; betting took its place." "In the cities now arose a luxury and license which is a greater evil than the plundering which ministers to it. In the country the gambling spirit spread more and more; nor was this reckless and corrupt spirit confined to business-men; it began to break out in official circles; and public men who, a few years before, had been pure in motive, and above all probability of taint, became luxurious, reckless, cynical, and finally corrupt....
"Even worse than this was the breaking down of morals in the country at large, resulting from the sudden building up of ostentatious wealth in a few large cities, and the gambling, speculative spirit fostered in the small towns and rural districts."
There was no stopping now. The artificial quickening had gradually run into a feverish activity, followed by intoxication, which had grown into a regular national debauch. Every issue 'of paper-money had made matters worse. But so deep was the infatuation that multitudes of people insisted that if there were only enough paper-money all would be well. On December 17, 1791, a new issue was ordered of three hundred millions more, and on April 30, 1792, still another three hundred millions were thrown out. The currency was now depreciated thirty per cent., and in July of the same year another three hundred millions were emitted. "Issue after issue followed at intervals of a few months until, on December 14, 1792, we have an official statement that thirty-four hundred millions had been put forth, of which six hundred millions had been burned, leaving in circulation twenty-eight hundred millions."
As articles of common consumption grew enormously dear, their holders became unwilling to sell them for the worthless currency with which France was flooded, and there then arose a demand that those who refused to make such exchanges should be punished with death. Laws were passed making the sales of goods compulsory at fixed prices in paper-money, which were, of course, inoperative. In 1793 there was an enactment forbidding the sale or exchange of specie for more than its nominal value in paper, under a penalty of six years' imprisonment in irons; and then twelve hundred millions more of the inflated currency was thrown out. "Toward the end of 1794 seven thousand million assignats were in circulation. By the end of May, 1795, the circulation was increased to ten thousand millions; at the end of June, to fourteen thousand millions; at the end of July, to sixteen thousand millions; and the value of one hundred francs in paper fell steadily first to four francs in gold, then to three, then to two and a half." The issues continued until, at the beginning of 1796, they amounted to over forty-five thousand million francs. One franc in gold was worth two hundred and eighty-eight francs in paper-money; sugar was five hundred francs a pound, and carriage-hire six thousand francs a day in the legal currency. Debts were, of course, now easily paid.
The madness continued, but its form was diversified. In 1796 "it was decreed that no more assignats be issued instead of them it was decreed that a new paper-money, 'fully secured and as good as gold,' be issued, under the name of 'mandats.'" Choice public real estate was set apart to secure this money, but it speedily depreciated ninety-five per cent. It was decreed that those who refused to take it should be fined and sent to prison, and that those who even spoke against it should incur the same penalties. But the end at last came. On July 16, 1796, "it was decreed that all paper, mandats and assignats, should be taken at its real value, and that bargains might be made in whatever currency the people chose. The reign of paper-money in France was over. The twenty-five hundred million mandats went into the common heap of refuse with the previous thirty-six billion assignats. The whole vast issue was repudiated. The collapse had come at last; the whole nation was plunged into financial distress and debauchery from one end to the other."
We have given the bare skeleton of facts contained in President White's pamphlet, but with nothing of his admirable analysis and exposition of the working of this great financial experiment. Let none fail to read and ponder the document. It is a lesson in one branch of political economy that our citizens cannot afford to neglect, and we are glad to be able to state that the publishers have issued an edition for universal circulation, as a campaign document needed at this time by both parties, and at a price so low that it may be distributed everywhere.
It is proposed to raise a statue in Munich in honor of the illustrious chemist Liebig. No man better deserves such a tribute, for the claims of Liebig upon the appreciation and gratitude of the civilized world are unique and unrivaled. Starting from obscurity, he made his way by the pure force of genius alone, selecting his line of study even in boyhood, when he was snubbed by his teachers for the stupidity of his choice; he gave himself to chemistry early, unreservedly, with the enthusiasm of a vehement nature, and pursued it with indefatigable industry almost to the day of his death. He became a leader in this field in early life, became the acknowledged master amid a host of powerful competitors, and died the greatest chemist in Germany. The influence exerted by Liebig in the advancement of his favorite science it is hardly possible to over-estimate. His original investigations, each of which pushed forward the branch of inquiry to which it was devoted, are numbered by hundreds, so that, as Dr. Hoffman, in his recent eulogy, justly observes, "Were we to consider merely the vast number and incalculable importance of the chemical facts which he has established, we should have to proclaim him one of the greatest contributors to chemistry at large that ever have appeared, while of organic chemistry we could not hesitate to consider him the very source and fountain-head."
Liebig was a great experimenter, but that is not his highest title to eminence as a chemist. He enriched the science by new methods of analytic research, and invented the apparatus which gave a new impulse to organic investigations and made an epoch in organic chemistry, and he vastly enriched the science by varied and extensive laboratory researches. But it was not merely by these inquiries that he made the deepest impression upon the mind of the age. He was not only an experimenter, but a thinker; not only a chemist, but a philosopher; and it was in his grasp of principles and the establishment of general laws that we recognize his highest genius. Chemical analysis, the revision and correction of old processes, and the elucidation of new facts, are of course important and meritorious things, and in this field men of moderate ability may make valuable and permanent contributions to the progress of science. But it requires the insight of a higher genius to pierce through the multitudinous mass of isolated results, and bring out the principles that reduce them to order and bring them into living correlation with the general organism of scientific truth. This was the distinguishing character of Liebig's work in the chemical field. When he began his labors, physiological chemistry had hardly a foothold of recognition. The vital force was supreme in the realm of life, and was held to suspend and override all chemical and physical agencies. Liebig made a revolution by showing that a true physiological science can only be established by interpreting vital processes in the light of chemical and physical principles.
But the scientific fame of Liebig has a yet broader basis. He is the father of agricultural chemistry. Not only did he contribute largely to the elucidation of fundamental problems in this branch of study, and first give to it its recognition and status in the scientific world, but by the skill of his pen, his power of exposition and untiring industry, he aroused a popular interest in the subject which was felt through all the nations of civilization. Though a chemist, his name became as familiar in the households of this country as those of Newton and Shakespeare, while his work was recognized as having a practical beneficence that involved alike the prosperity of individuals, communities, and states. For, to give an impulse to agriculture, and to arouse the thought and quicken the intelligence of the agricultural classes, was to contribute essentially to the advancement of civilization itself. Whoever thinks that this is an exaggerated estimate of the claims and character of Prof. Liebig, may read with profit the admirable discourse of Dr. A. W. Hoffman, of the University of Berlin, on "The Life Work of Liebig," delivered last year in London, and just published by Macmillan. It is not only a worthy tribute of a grateful pupil to his illustrious teacher, but it is a most admirable and discriminating estimate of the man in his relations to the progressive science of the age. We say, then, let all who believe in honoring the achievements of great men by erecting statues to their memories contribute toward the erection of this statue to Liebig. We ought to have one erected in the Central Park; but, if that be impracticable, let it be done in Munich. At the recent dinner given by the American Chemical Society to the foreign chemists connected with the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, it was announced that Dr. Hoffman asks from this country a contribution of $2,500 to complete the work. Chemists, as a class, do not abound in this world's goods, but $1,000 was pledged for the purpose on the spot. Our enterprising and successful agricultural friends should have a hand in this work; and, if any are disposed to help it on, their contributions may be forwarded to Prof. E. N. Horsford, of Cambridge, or to Prof. C. F. Chandler, of New York, who will forward any funds that may be intrusted to them to the foreign committee who have the work in charge.
Mr. E. S. Hamilton, considering himself very badly treated in our notice of his book, made some time ago, pays us off in an article which appears in our pages this month. He lays it on to the editorial back without mercy, and nothing remains for us but to kiss the rod and resume the subject. Perhaps we are obtuse, but, having again looked over his volume, and our remarks upon it, in the light of what he now says, we are still unable to see that we have done him the injustice of which he complains.
Mr. Hamilton admits that our main accusation—and almost the only one—was, that his book is "old." Let us see, then, what ground he has for protesting against this position. Had he designated his volume by its secondary title, "A Review, Historical and Critical, of the Progress of Thought in Social Philosophy," which would have better described it, our criticism would have been uncalled for; but by putting it forth under the name of "The Present Status of Social Science" he invited attention to it as a report, up to date, on a highly-important and rapidly-developing subject. The Popular Science Monthly had but little interest in the historical and critical features of his work; but it was interested in its claim to inform its readers of the present attitude of a great science. Taking it up from this point of view—the view challenged by the author in the adoption of his title—we said it was "old." Not that we have the slightest objection to old books if they are good, or to old ideas if they are true, but only that it becomes sometimes necessary in science to discriminate between past and present conditions, although the past be quite modern. We did not, of course, consider the book old in the sense of the Assyrian inscriptions, but rather in the sense of a last year's almanac, which, although recent, still fails to indicate the present status of astronomical movements.
We said in our notice that the author "seemed to have but an obscure conception of social science," the implication of course being that his book is behind the age. He replies that "social science is a very large science," and may present different aspects to its different cultivators. But surely this need not imply obscurity in the conception of the science itself. Astronomy, geology, and biology, are very large sciences, and, no doubt, present different aspects to investigators in the same field, but this by no means necessitates vagueness or obscurity in the ideas of the aim, subject-matter, or methods, of either. There is common and well-determined work to be done in each, regardless of its extent.
But we were not left to inference in imputing to the author obscure conceptions upon the subject, for, according to him, no others are at present possible. In the first chapter of his book he says that "this important science has not yet attained to just, clear, and definite ideas as to its true and proper ends, and consequently it has not yet learned how even to begin its inquiries properly, how to direct its efforts, or systematize its observations. For this is precisely the present condition of social science." The obvious conclusion from this is, that as yet there is no such science. Its "status" is therefore in substance nothing, and in place nowhere, while the attempt to state it must needs be superfluous and impossible. This is a view that might have been held any time these thousands of years, and we think may be properly characterized as "old."
Mr. Hamilton labors to show that he was right in holding Herbert Spencer responsible for his "Social Statics," and denies that the modifications of opinion, which the author of that work declares he has undergone since its publication twenty-five years ago, are to be regarded as "important." Well, that depends upon the estimate he puts upon accuracy of representation. Mr. Hamilton's view of what is "important" in such cases will certainly not pass muster among scientific men, who are generally and properly emphatic in the assertion of their rights in this particular. They insist upon being judged only by the latest expression of their views, and chemists, physicists, and physiologists alike refuse to be bound by the old editions of their works. Mr. Spencer's modifications of opinion were held so important by himself that he strenuously resisted the republication of the book in this country when out of print in England; and, when overruled in this, he interposed a preface, warning his readers that it was no longer a truthful expression of his views. While not absolutely repudiating it, and while still adhering to its general conceptions, he yet declares that the theory which it enunciates has been so variously modified and further developed that he does not abide by its detailed applications. Several positions in the work are explicitly disavowed, and it is obvious that his changes of view affect its whole complexion. Mr. Hamilton attacked his chapter on "The Evanescence of Evil" with results satisfactory to himself; yet he could hardly fail to see that the argument of that chapter is merged in the great principle of Evolution, which has received its almost entire scientific development since the date of "Social Statics," while Mr. Spencer has been a leading student of that subject, and made it the foundation of his philosophy.
But Mr. Hamilton had before him Spencer's direct assertion that the doctrine underlying that part of the hook (which contained the discussion on "The Evanescence of Evil") as there stated is but an adumbration of the view which he now holds. Is there no "important" difference between the dim foreshadowing of a principle and its distinct presentation with the limits and qualifications that result from years of research and reflection? Mr. Spencer declared, besides, that he could not revise "Social Statics" without great labor; and what does this imply but that the changes of the work would have to be extensive and important? Moreover, he has been long engaged upon the systematic extension of the subject to which his first book was dedicated, and he expresses the hope to set forth in due time "the developed conclusions of which 'Social Statics' must be regarded as a rough sketch."
A painter would not like to be critically judged by a rough sketch, and would consider it very important that judgment should be suspended until the work was finished—why not, then, a literary or a scientific artist? It was well enough, of course, for Mr. Hamilton to attack Spencer's old book, and riddle and ridicule it to his heart's content, if he thought it worth while. But, as his thesis was "the present status" of the great subject to which Spencer is devoting his life, he was bound in all fairness to let his readers know both how Mr. Spencer regarded his early treatise, and the import of his subsequent labors upon the same subject. Thirteen years before Mr. Hamilton's book was published Mr. Spencer had printed a programme giving a detailed outline of the course of thought by which alone, in his opinion, Sociology can be logically reached and scientifically unfolded. Mr. Spencer's position as a thinker was such as to command the high respect of eminent men, who indorsed his undertaking at the outset as one of great public importance. But of this Mr. Hamilton gives us no intelligible account, although Spencer's prospectus alone was a sufficient refutation of the statement that clear and definite ideas have not yet been reached regarding the true ends and methods of social science. The prominence that Mr. Hamilton gives in his own book to "Social Statics"—a work that Spencer, in elucidating the principles of social science, has left far behind—sufficiently shows that his treatment of the science of society is not up to date.
But, aside from the point of view we took in our very brief notice of Mr. Hamilton's book, we have no hesitation in saying it is a volume of much interest. It contains a good deal of valuable information and instructive discussion, "historical and critical, in relation to the progress of thought in social philosophy." It is only with regard to the social science which he professes to have triangulated, and fixed its latest position, that we think he is somewhat befogged—just sufficiently, perhaps, to entitle him to the perpetual presidency of the American Social Science Association.
This gentleman is evidently very much wanted in the United States. There is great anxiety to see him and hear him speak. The applications to secure lectures from him are numerous and urgent, the applicants being determined not to take no for an answer. It is a repetition of the experience with Tyndall four years ago, and the fact is significant, as showing that public interest in science is not a transient thing. In the case of Prof. Tyndall it was alleged by many that his brilliant experiments were the attraction, and that people went to his lectures impelled by the same motive that draws them to a pyrotechnic show. Of course, this was not true, but no such reason can be assigned for the desire to hear Prof. Huxley, as he never experiments. His chosen department of science is one of the most difficult, and the questions he discusses are profound. Undoubtedly in the great movement of thought in this age Prof. Huxley's topics are prominent, and many agencies have conspired to give them wide public interest; but we have to reckon Huxley's genius as one among the potent forces that in recent years have determined this course of public thought. Thus far we on this side know him only as a writer, and his remarkable powers in this respect are so well understood that nothing need be said about them here. But his accomplishments as a lecturer are quite equal to those displayed in his books. Said a distinguished English scientist the other day, who had come over as a Centennial juror: "And so Huxley is to be with you, and is going to lecture. Well, those w T ho hear him will have a treat, for as a scientific lecturer he is un-equaled. Next to John Bright I regard Huxley as the best orator in England; at any rate, in exposition, in elucidating a complex subject before a popular audience, we have no man to compare with him." Prof. Huxley's manner as a speaker is very quiet, and by those who like the vehement and demonstrative style it would be considered tame, but his discourse is clear, finished, deliberate, and strong. Nor, is it necessary that he should have a learned auditory to appreciate and enjoy his addresses. His command of his subject, of language and illustration, is so complete that he adapts himself with rare facility to the mental condition of his hearers. One of the most successful efforts we ever witnessed upon the platform was a lecture on physical geography given by Huxley to the working-men of London who filled to its last corner the large lecture-room of the Jermyn Street School of Mines. We had heard him before on ethnology at one of the "Friday evenings" of the Royal Institution before the élite of scientific London. It was an admirable discourse, and was listened to with the keenest attention and a lively pleasure, though how much of its success might be due to the cultivated character of the assemblage it was not then easy to say. But his Jermyn Street audience consisted of unlettered, hard-handed working-men, and yet there was not one among them that did not follow the speaker understandingly and with evidently as great enjoyment as the most cultured listeners. Prof. Huxley will be sure to please his American audiences, and, considering how much good he might do us, it is unfortunate that he cannot stay longer and speak in our chief cities. In the short course of lectures which he has consented to deliver in New York he will take up a subject which has long occupied him, upon which he is an authority, and which is certain to be treated in a manner that will gratify all who have the good fortune to listen to him. We announced last month that the lectures will take place on the 18th, 20th, and 22d of September, and that those desiring to secure seats could do so by registering their applications with D. Appleton & Co. The seats have been rapidly taken, and, as there is only a certain number of them, we must again remind those whom it may concern that when they are all bespoken no more can be had for love or money.