Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/329

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
315
SCIENCE IN AMERICA.

political results! Herein, among other great events, we find the origin of the American civil war!

In Europe, the social effect of the use of steam was strikingly marked. Performing mechanical drudgery, it relieved vast numbers of the laboring-class, and gave them time to think. It concentrated them in factories and mills. Those industrial hives were pervaded by literary influences, perhaps not always of a kind that we should approve of. They became the seats of agitation in politics and theology, and, while this was the effect on the laboring mass, the owners or capitalists were accumulating enormous fortunes.

We may excuse the enthusiastic literature of the cotton-manufacture its boasting, for men had accomplished works that were nearly godlike. Mr. Baines, writing in 1833, states that "the length of cotton-yarn spun in one year was nearly five thousand millions of miles—sufficient to pass round the earth's circumference more than two hundred thousand times, sufficient to reach fifty-one times from the earth to the sun. It would encircle the earth's orbit eight and a half times. The wrought fabrics of cotton exported in one year would form a girdle for the globe, passing eleven times round the equator, and more than sufficient to form a continuous sheet from the earth to the moon." And let us not forget that, to give commercial value to this vast result, the capital chemical discovery of bleaching by chlorine was essential. Such was the condition of things in England just previously to the epoch in question. Necessarily, it was followed by great social results.

But there was something more. The locomotive absolutely revolutionized society. A man could now travel farther in an hour than he had previously done in a day. Again, it was clear that important political results were occurring. The effect of the railroad was to render nations more homogeneous, to destroy provincialism. It is actually true that language underwent a change. No one who has remarked the various dialects of the English counties prior to the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, and the homogeneousness of speech which is fast displacing them, can be blind to this. Simultaneously, a redistribution of the population took place. It was largely withdrawn from the open country, and concentrated in the towns.

In this statement I am recalling facts so common that they are familiar to us all. We all appreciate the immense social changes that took place just before 1845. Who in those times could fail to perceive that grand consequences must follow the expenditure of thousands of millions of dollars in the building of railroads, who, when he saw the labor of a year shrinking into the compass of a day, the travel of a day into the compass of an hour, the thought of man outstripping the velocity of light—who could be so obtuse as not to discern that a new agency had taken possession of the earth, that it