Popular Science Monthly/Volume 11/August 1877/Correspondence
HOW A PHILOSOPHIC SKEPTIC WAS RECONCILED TO RELIGIOUS FAITH.
IT has not been usual to regard Herbert Spencer as a reconciler of skeptical minds with religious verities; nevertheless he has labored with great power and earnestness to attain this end, and there has been varied and pointed evidence that this labor has not been thrown away. A letter recently published in the Chicago Times states a quite remarkable case of reconversion to Christianity, under the influence of the study of "First Principles." There have probably been many similar cases, though not so conspicuous, and it is not unlikely that there will be a great many more. Perhaps it would be well for our evangelical friends not to overlook this circumstance; and, when they have battered away at hardened old disbelievers in religion with the customary weapons to no purpose, to buy a copy of "First Principles," and, having mastered it, to try Spencer's short method as a last resort. The letter referred to relates to the return of the late Judge Alfred W. Arrington from what is termed "modern infidelity" to the Christian faith, largely through the influence of Mr. Spencer's book. The writer—Mr. C. C. Bonney—was an intimate personal and professional friend of Judge Arrington, and was familiar with the matter of which he writes. Mr. Arrington died in Chicago, December 31, 1867. The communication to the Times is as follows.—Ed.:
"'At the early age of eighteen years he commenced to preach, and at that time exhibited an oratoric power that resembled the inspiration of an Italian improvisatore. He drew large audiences, and excited the greatest enthusiasm. He continued to preach for several years at intervals, until he lost his childhood's faith; and, after fruitless attempts to find peace in other communions, ultimately abandoned revealed religion. He afterward sought in philosophy a solution of his intellectual difficulties; but, of course, with only partial success. He, however, never abandoned his search for truth. The different systems of metaphysics, from the Indian philosophers down to the latest schools of English positivism, were as familiar to him as the alphabet. The principles of the physical sciences were fully mastered, and their relations to each other and to human life. He sought in every quarter for the knowledge that would enable him to create a sound philosophy of life and morals. . . ."'The works of Herbert Spencer had a most happy effect upon his mind. He studied them with the greatest delight, and professed to find in them the possible union of science and religion. . . .
"I may add to the foregoing extracts that after this event he called his wife to his bedside, and said, among other things: 'Promise me, Leora, that you will assure my friends, especially my professional brethren, some of whom may have been misled by my skepticism, that when I returned to my faith in the Christian religion my mind was not enfeebled by disease, but that my intellect was as clear and strong as ever, and that it was not merely an assent to my early faith, but a conviction as clear as the light of the truth of the supreme miracle of the incarnation. To believe that is to believe all.'
"These are the words as I recall them, and as I believe, if his voice could reach us, he would ask to have them given to the public. His return from infidelity to faith began with his reading of 'The Unknowable,' and particularly the chapter on 'The Reconciliation,' in Herbert Spencer's 'First Principles.'
"I procured and read Mr. Spencer's book at Judge Arrington's urgent request, and learned its effect on his mind in subsequent conversations.
"Some enterprising publisher should give us a new edition of Judge Arrington's writings, with a more ample and detailed sketch of his life than has hitherto appeared. He was a man of extraordinary intellectual endowments, and the story of his life faithfully told would have all the charm of a noble romance.C. C. Bonnet.
"Chicago, February 17, 1877."
THE SUN-SPOT PERIODS.
To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.
In the course of an inquiry lately made in reference to the periodicity of cold seasons, and their coincidence with the greatest prevalence of the sun-spots, I came to the conclusion (the reverse of that reached by most of those who have written on that subject) that, while there is a recognized periodicity in the sun-spot maxima, and also a seeming periodicity in the recurrence of cold seasons, the cold winters, instead of falling coincident with, oftenest occur intermediate between, the maxima of the sunspots.
I think the coldest season of the present century was that of 1816, while the sun-spot maximum for that period is placed in 1817. Another remarkably cold winter, and one of which I have a vivid recollection, was that of 1856; while the nearest sun-spot maxima were in 1849 and 1860. Another unusually cold winter occurred in 1866, almost exactly intermediate between the maximum of 1860 and that which followed.
It seems to be taken for granted that the sun emits less heat during the time it is partially covered with spots. But is this a fact which is substantiated by experiment? It is easy to see that its light may be less; but light and heat, though originating and being propagated similarly, are not identical either in their effects or in the mode of propagation. Thin wave-undulations differ very greatly in length and frequency.
If two liquids of different colors and different specific gravity, and which do not readily mix, be poured into the same caldron, the lighter will rise to and cover the surface. If the one of the least specific gravity be the lightest in color, it will reflect light the most readily; and, if the contents of the caldron be agitated, so that the two liquids be made to show at the surface alternately, the reflection will be alternately greater or less, according as each liquid predominates at the surface.
Suppose that, instead of other agitation, heat be applied to the bottom of the caldron. Gradually, with the increase of the heat, upward jets are produced, and the darker liquid breaks through the lighter surface in the act called boiling. These dark fractures of the light surface—do they not correspond to the sun-spots?
In its ordinary state, the body of the sun is enveloped in, and covered by, an exceedingly bright surface, appearing to be slightly reticulated, called the photosphere. When this photosphere is undisturbed, we have the maximum of light. At other times, apparently by increased internal action, the uniformity of this photosphere is destroyed; titanic forces, acting from beneath, rupture it, and produce what to us is the phenomenon of sun-spots.
Now, is it not logical to infer that the increased action which ruptures the photosphere is accompanied by increased heat radiation? If it be, there is reason for the cold seasons falling not coincident with, but intermediate between, the sun-spot maxima.
Geo. W. Chapman.
A PRETTY BIG DOG-STORY.
To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.
The perusal of the interesting article on "Canine Sagacity," which appeared in the December number of The Popular Science Monthly, gave me great pleasure, and caused me to recall to memory a very remarkable case of the same character which came under my own observation about two years ago. I was then practising medicine in Galveston, Texas. One day I was called to see a patient, Mrs. Wechsler, the wife of a German butcher. As I entered the hall of the house where she lived, I was met by a large black dog, who under no consideration would let me pass, until Mr. Wechsler himself came to pacify him and assure him that it was all right. The dog then followed us into the sick-room, and, while I was examining the patient, the dog was watching all my movements most attentively. When I departed, I noticed that I was followed by the dog, who did not leave me until he had seen me enter my office. A few days after this the dog entered my office apparently very uneasy about something. The thought struck me at once that perhaps I might be wanted; so I put on my hat and followed the dog, who immediately started for home, where I found Mrs. Wechsler sick in bed, with no one in the house to attend to her. She was surprised at my timely call, and, when I told her that I had been called by the dog, she related to me what was even more astonishing. She had suddenly been seized by a violent attack of vomiting fifteen or twenty minutes previously, when the dog had picked up an empty tin pan and placed it beside her bed, before running for the doctor. This dog, who was only eight months old, had never received any kind of training. It is therefore evident that something like the following train of thoughts must have passed through his mind: Seeing me examine the patient and prescribe for her, he must have conceived the idea that I was the proper person to be there when she was sick. Having made up his mind on this point, the next thing to be done was to find out where I lived; and this he did by accompanying me to my office. Seeing her vomit, lie brought her a tin pan, which he probably had seen her use for that purpose, and then set out for my office. The dog called for me a number of times afterward, but never without my services were needed. He was never told to fetch me, but determined himself when it was necessary to do so.Yours, respectfully,
|John Sundberg, M. D.|
|Baltimore, December 4, 1876.|
To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.
Sir: In an article headed "Over-Consumption or Over-Production?" in your July issue, Mr. Bunce offers an answer to the question, "Why are the times so hard?" taking as his text Prof. Bonamy Price's article, "One per Cent.," which he pronounces to be illogical, fallacious, and based on unwarranted assumptions. It is not easy to disentangle Mr. Bunce's argument, but the following is believed to be a fair statement of the propositions it involves:
1. That the common ideas in regard to national extravagance are erroneous, it being something essentially different from individual extravagance.
2. That wasteful consumption has had nothing to do with commercial distress; that, on the contrary, destruction produces abundance.
3. That no part of the nation's capital has been lost in unproductive enterprises.
4. That the real cause of the trouble is over-production.
5. That the remedy lies in coöperation among producers to regulate production.
A refutation of these propositions is not the object of this letter; all that time and space will allow is to stand them up, stripped of verbiage, and see how they will look.
In the first place, concerning national extravagance, after pronouncing the idea ordinarily held to be "peculiarly erroneous," Mr. Bunce says: "We think it can be shown that expenditure in the case of the individual, and expenditure in the case of a large number of individuals, have certain essential differences, the difference being that the income of the former is absolutely fixed, while that of the latter is wholly expansive." As it stands, this proposition must mean that wastefulness, a bad thing in the case of the individual, becomes in the case of an aggregate of individuals a good thing; it means that, each man's income being fixed, he cannot safely live beyond it; but, if we add together a "large group" of these incomes, they become "wholly expansive," whatever that may be, and cannot be too recklessly spent; it means, in short, that the whole is something totally different from the sum of its parts.
Mr. Bunce tells us that "a community is rich because it consumes abundance being the product and consequent of excessive destruction." And here is the proof: "It is evident that the immense consumption of coal has made coal cheap and abundant. It has rendered possible the employment of vast capital in the erection of costly machinery for working, transporting, etc. . . . It is true, the consumption of coal is increased by cheapness, but it is only by extravagance that the machinery by which it is made cheap is put in operation. We have an immense wealth of coal because we consume coal so extensively!" This rule, we are told, works in all, or nearly all, our staples, and the conclusion is, "that in all staple things a nation is rich because it consumes." Was ever the operation of the law of supply and demand so grotesquely construed? That the demand for a commodity stimulates the activity of supply is most true, and, where increase is possible, the supply is increased until the widest area of demand is filled at a minimum cost, but it is only by economy that this minimum can be reached. It is surely only necessary to remember that, no matter what the employment of capital or appliance of machinery, every ton of coal moved a foot represents a given unit of force in the total sum available for supplying human needs, and that, when so used, it cannot be applied to other work, in order to see the full absurdity of the proposition that the nation is the richer if the product be wastefully destroyed instead of being husbanded and prudently used!
The third point made, that no part of the capital of the country has been lost in unproductive enterprises, deserves, perhaps, a little fuller attention because of the peculiar reasoning by which it is sought to be sustained. Mr. Bunce says that these works were largely carried on by what he calls "released energy, by labor not otherwise required," and that so far "the community is not the poorer by a mite in consequence." He is willing to admit that, by the purchase of iron abroad, etc., we have lost a part of our "surplus," but he declares that "the assumption that it impaired our capital is wholly groundless." With such a use of terms, it becomes needful to define what is meant by capital in an economic sense, and to point out the difference between it and the capital stock and surplus of a bank or a life-insurance company. The latter are terms used to designate what a book-keeper knows as the fictitious accounts which show the amount of assets of a corporation; it is a purely artificial division which has been found convenient in keeping accounts, and has no analogue in the accumulations of a community. The word capital, as used by Prof. Price and economists generally, means the nation's accumulated stock of food, clothing, and the other necessaries of life. So long as these commodities remain unconsumed, they are called free capital; when they are employed to sustain laborers engaged in building a warehouse, a bridge, or a railway, the capital is said to become "fixed," or sunk in such enterprise. If the investment is a paying one, returning the cost with interest, the capital is in time released; if it loses money, ultimately becoming worthless, then the capital is fixed forever, or lost. And the true cost of these works to the community is correctly expressed by the price paid for them, Mr. Bunco to the contrary notwithstanding; for, traced to its ultimate source, the cost of the material used is simply the amount of labor that has been put upon it. Of the vast amount of labor which has been so misapplied, not one stroke can be considered as "released energy—labor not otherwise required." It was labor that was needed elsewhere, as is plainly proved, if proof were needed, by the sharp competition and high wages paid for it. But the assertion that there is no labor that could not be put to better use than to throw it away, needs no proof. "But," he asks, triumphantly, "how is it if the savings of a country have been impaired that capital, at the same moment, should be seeking investment at any rate of interest, that all financial circles are choked with an excess of money?"
"When I use a word," said Humpty Dumpty, scornfully, to Alice in Wonderland, "it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less." It is only by attributing a similar mental attitude to Mr. Bunco that the confusion of terms which marks his article is to be explained. Capital has been already defined; money, it may be simply said, is a measure of value, a medium, a commodity, at times a transient representative for capital, when there is capital to represent, but either may exist without the other. The reader will excuse these elementary definitions, as they seem to be called for. Savings, capital, money, it is hardly necessary to say, are not convertible terms; and it requires no profound reasoning to show that idle "money"—undoubtedly the immediate result of lessened trade—may find its ultimate cause in impaired savings. It is because savings have been impaired that economy and retrenchment are enforced; it is because people cannot save, and at the same time go on consuming high-priced commodities with the old recklessness, that prices fall and trade operations become restricted and less profitable; it is because commerce no longer offers high-paying investments, that money accumulates in business centres, and is offered, like other commodities, at low prices. And in view of the fact that it is the cost and not the amount of production that needs to be lowered in order to renew the activities of trade, this is a most cheering sign.
As has been said, the cause of our trouble, as assigned by Mr. Bunco, is over-production. That is to say, too much labor has been usefully employed, too much machinery has been put in motion, too much cotton has been spun, too much leather made—in short, not to particularize, the wants of the people have been too freely supplied. The economist will, of course, admit, as Mr. Bunco says, that there may be over-production of certain things, but the ill effects resulting from undue production of certain things would be partial and localized, and would tend rapidly to correct themselves. Nothing short of general overproduction would account for general depression. And so we are brought face to face with the proposition that there is an unhealthy excess of industrial energy in the world, and that it produces more of the necessaries of life than the workers can profitably assimilate!
A few words as to the proposed remedy. Of course, if it be admitted that over-production is the cause, the cure is obvious: it is to check production, and Mr. Bunco does not hesitate to recommend a coöperation of producers for that purpose. The adjustment of industrial activity cannot be left to natural laws, but combinations must be formed which shall see to it that the forge-fires are not relit, and that the idle operative shall remain idle. With millions of laborers waiting for work, this seems like heroic treatment, but there is no way to limit production but to limit the amount of labor employed. And now we begin to see how "peculiarly erroneous" have been the commonly accepted views. The man who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before; the inventor who, by machinery, increases and cheapens the aggregate of things made; the industrious and frugal operative, who works long hours and saves his earnings—have hitherto been regarded as useful members of society. But this is all wrong; the "tramp" is your true conservator of public welfare. He takes a share in that destruction which leads to abundance, and he at least cannot be charged with contributing to the evil of over-production.
Regarding the example of France, Prof. Price attributes the successful payment of the indemnity to the fact that France had "saved"—accumulated. It would perhaps have been better to say it was because she had acquired the habit of living within her means; but neither explanation would suit Mr. Bunce, who says it was solely due to the manner in which her savings had been held—they had been kept in old stockings, and, when unearthed, enabled the state to pay the German exactions. The admission that "saving" of any kind produced riches that were available under such an unusual strain is fatal to his position; but, passing this, nothing could be more incorrect than the assumption that the enormous levy was paid out of stocking-hoards. Less than ten per cent, of the sum was paid in coin from any source. The indemnity fund was drawn from three sources: 1. The exchanges of foreign trade (i. e., proceeds of current production); 2. By selling foreign bonds and stocks held in France (i. e., by converting the accumulated results of past production); 3. By money borrowed from foreign countries (i. e., by discounting the proceeds of future production). This done, and realizing that, though the levy was arranged, it was not made good, she has gone on producing with unparalleled vigor.
On the other hand, Germany, upon the strength of her acquired millions, proceeded to make serious drafts on her available industry: 1. By the maintenance of a large standing army; 2. By the employment of vast amounts of labor in constructing fortifications, iron-clads, and munitions of war; 3. By unproductive private enterprises, unduly stimulated by speculation. Of course, productive industry must be restricted; commodities have been made costly in price and poor in quality to such a degree that Prince Bismarck declines to allow Germany to compete in the Paris Exposition of 1878, because of the mortification which would result from a comparison of her products with those of other nations. Here, wages have been paid, and wages have been received; that which Mr. Bunce calls "diffusion" has gone on, and, according to his theory of over-production, Germany should have been spared the commercial evils that have been felt in other countries. The fact is, she is worse off to-day than any nation that has a sound currency, and one of her economic writers suggests with some bitterness that the way out of her troubles is to engage in one more war, as the result of which she should have to pay five milliards of francs.
|E. R. Leland.|
|New York, June 28, 1877.|