Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/49

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37
THE PRACTICAL MAN AS AN OBSTRUCTIVE.
THE PRACTICAL MAN AS AN OBSTRUCTIVE.[1]

IN prosperous times those engaged in manufactures are too busy earning and saving money to attend to a reorganization of their plant; in had times they are too dispirited and too little inclined to spend the money, that in better times they have saved, in replacing old and wasteful appliances by new and economical ones, and one feels that there is a very considerable amount of seeming justification for their conduct in both instances, and that it requires a really comprehensive and large intelligence and a belief in the future, possessed by only a few out of the bulk of mankind, to cause the manufacturer to pursue that which would be the true policy, as well for his own interests as for those of the community. But there is a further and a perpetual bugbear in the way of such improvements, and that bugbear is the so-called "practical man," and he was in my mind when, in previous parts of this address, I have hinted at the existence of an obstacle to the adoption of improvement.

I do not wish the section for one moment to suppose that I, brought up as an apprentice in a workshop, and who all my life have practised my profession, intend to say one word against the truly practical man. On the contrary, he is the man of all others that I admire, and by whom I would wish persons to be guided, because the truly practical man is one who knows the reason of that which he practises, who can give an account of the faith that is in him, and who, while he possesses the readiness of mind and the dexterity which arise from long-continued and daily intercourse with the subject of his profession, possesses also that necessary amount of theoretical and scientific knowledge which would justify him in pursuing any process he adopts, which in many cases enable him to devise new processes, or which, at all events, if he be not of an inventive quality of mind, will enable him to appreciate and value the new processes devised by others. This is the truly practical man, about whom I have nothing to say except that which is most laudatory. But the practical man as commonly understood means a man who knows the practice of his trade, and knows nothing else concerning it; the man whose wisdom consists in standing by, seeing but not investigating the new discoveries which are taking place around him; in decrying those discoveries; in applying to those who invent improvements, even the very greatest, the epithet of "schemes;" and then, when he finds that beyond all dispute some new matter is good and has come into general practice, taking to it grumblingly, but still taking to it, because if he do not he could not compete with his

  1. Extract from the opening address of the chairman of the Mechanical Section of the British Association, at Brighton.